Australian independent group Compliments Of Gus released their first Christmas album since their formation in 1997. Seasoned is essentially a ten-track lineup of original Christmas-centered songs with two additional traditional tracks, “Angels From The Realms Of Glory” and “Silent Night” (which is also accompanied by a funky version of “We Three Kings”). The band’s contemporary rock style will remind listeners of Big Dismal and MercyMe somewhat. When Compliments Of Gus aims for light rock tracks or ballads, the result is usually good, spiced up by some classical instruments. The folksy, upbeat “Advent Tune” is sound, and both “The Tide Will Always Win” and “The Gift” are both solid songs. But when the group runs with a rockier approach, the result is slightly less attractive, as lead vocalist Justin Michael’s voice becomes less effective. While “The Brave” is relatively good and more guitar driven, “Glorious Light” and “See The Star” come off as a bit lacking. Lyrically, Complements Of Gus approaches the Christmas theme from several angles. Themes range from how we relate to Christmas today, to setting the scene of Christ’s birth, to straight up worship. On “Coming Home,” the band vents their frustration about the commercialization of Christmas (“Jesus, can you tell me/did you wear out your welcome?/Why did we think we had a better story/We traded tinsel for your glory/Well all the babes are money changers/Where’s the baby in the manger?”). Still, the lyrics of “Glorious Light” ("Glorious light this spectacular night/The air is so sweet and my eyes opened wide/the freedom, this place of healing") or “Amazed” are just a bit underwhelming. Overall, Seasoned offers a good selection of good original Christmas tunes with good lyrics that any CCM fan should enjoy for at least a few spins. But some bland moments sprinkled throughout may prevent Compliments Of Gus’s Christmas album from getting any more than a few.
One of the many highlights of the Christmas season is all the new Christmas music from our favorite bands we get to enjoy. During the 2009 Christmas season, the independent contemporary band Compliments of Gus tried their hand at creating a Christmas collection in their album Seasoned. What's good here is that almost all of the songs on Seasoned are Compliments of Gus originals (except for "We Three Kings" and the awkwardly-structured "Silent Night"). What's not so good is that, despite the slight Third Day or NEEDTOBREATHE type of southern feel throughout, the band tends to stick to the standard AC radio style. That's not the bad part in itself, but with that sound comes a lot of songs that sound like imitations of other bands. "The Tide Will Always Win" and "Savior" bring to mind bands like Casting Crowns and MercyMe. The southern feel is light in those two songs, but the song that follows, "Amazed," is more soulful country than contemporary, with some banjo and piano accompanied by an old school country style drum beat and electric guitar. "Coming Home" continues in that sound, with a bit of organ in some of the verses and more of a defined country style guitar, sounding a bit like a hybrid of DecembeRadio and Big Dismal. The album starts and ends with completely different sounds as it transitions from beginning to end (to the band's credit, they pull off the transition nicely; it sounds pretty natural for them, not forced). The country songs are quite a bit of a change from the beginning of the album, where you'll get a taste of what a Hillsong Christmas album might sound like in "Glorious Light" and "Advent Song." Honestly, throw in some audience vocals and smooth out the lead vocals a little and it could almost pass as a product of the megachurch's worship team. The lyrics even follow suit with that sound. The chorus of "Advent Song" says, "Leave your sorrows at the door, come one come all and sing a song, come join the chorus, fill the air with a thousand voices, tell the world the Savior has come, celebrate 'cause Christmas time is here." Pretty standard stuff, which takes away from the Christmas feel (even with the mentions of Christmas and our arriving Savior). When it's all said and done, Seasoned is a pretty okay Christmas album. Unfortunately, I could see it potentially having a hard time getting the listener into the Christmas mood, as it mostly seems like a contemporary worship album that happens to be centered around the Christmas story. I would like to hear more of what Compliments of Gus has to offer outside of their Christmas music, but maybe with a more distinct focus on a single musical style.
Jared Haschek: Justin Michael, Jared Haschek, Rebecca Haschek (yes, they are married) and Matt Young are the four culprits here. We were all doing university together at the time, and a friend of ours was putting on a Christian event that needed a band. So we said we'd throw together a band for the night and over about 4 weeks, rehearsed this weird bunch of U2, Jars of Clay and Newsboys covers, added in a few originals, and did the gig. We really had no aspirations beyond that night, and I'm sure we sounded terrible. However, someone there asked us to play at their youth group, and someone there asked us to play at something else... and here we are 13 years later!
Jared: We really are influenced by great songs and great songwriters. We love the lyrical depth of Jars of Clay, the super-hooky Newsboys choruses, and the "soundtrack to your life" type writing of artists like Crowded House and Brooke Fraser. We really love artists that have something to say - there's already enough noise out there without us contributing to it further!
Jared: Well, these days we are all married with kids, so family rates really high on the spare-time meter. Personally, music really is my life, and I'm blessed that it's my job as well as my hobby. I also enjoy watching quality TV shows - my wife and I are right in the middle of season 2 of the West Wing at the moment.
Jared: There's so much cheesy music out there in the Christmas music genre, and we really wanted to contribute something that we felt was a bit... less cheesy! We actually had this "no cheese" motto for the whole writing and recording process, and I think we just about achieved it. It was also a great opportunity to write an album that really focused on Christ, so on this album, it's less about every day life type topics and more focused on God, our relationship with Him and what he has done, and continues to do, in our lives.
Jared: Yes and no. On the one hand, Seasoned is definitely in the same ballpark as our previous releases stylistically, however it's also a bit more mature I guess. There is a depth to it that perhaps we didn't have in the past - maybe it's just a part of getting older and experiencing more of life. We definitely went all out with the orchestrations on this project, and had some players from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play on a number of the tracks, which is something we haven't been able to do in the past.
Jared: That's an interesting question. Here in Australia, the Christian music scene is very small, so small in fact that it's almost impossible to make a living as a Christian artist. As a result, there really isn't such a thing as a Christian record label over here, just a community of independent artists doing their own thing around the country. That's not to say that there aren't talented people over here, there's just not a big enough buying public to support it at that level.
Jared: That there is a lot more grey in life than we often realize or would like to admit. Every story has at least two sides, and there's not always a right side and a wrong side. We need to be much quicker to reach out in grace than in condemnation, and the more we can be like Jesus, the better the world will be.
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