October 2, 2009
Here is my belated review of David Crowder*Band’s Church Music.
Who is David Crowder?
Crowder is the lead singer and principal songwriter for the band. He is a graduate of Baylor University (Waco, TX) where, as a student, he co-founded University Baptist Church in 1995. At UBC, he led the worship band which eventually became David Crowder*Band. They still lead the worship at UBC fairly often. One of the more significant events in Crowder’s life was the death of Kyle Lake, friend and pastor of UBC, who died in 2005 through an electric shock while performing a baptism.
In addition to the UBC context, Crowder and the band have been significant participants in the Passion collegiate movement — a gathering of bands, including Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, et al., and founder-evangelist, Louis Giglio. The bands take turns and tour colleges across the country. There is also an annual conference attended by tens of thousands of college students. It was through Passion, while an undergraduate, that I first learned about David Crowder*Band.
Church Music, the new album
In past interviews, Crowder has described the band’s music as “church music.” They have always paid homage to the hymnody of the Church with creative performances of “Come Thou Fount,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and more, including the opening track of Church Music, “Phos Hilaron (Hail Gladdening Light),” the oldest known hymn (c. 3rd-4th century) outside of the Bible. DC*B’s greatest ambition, however, is the creation of original church music for today. While the lyrics are fairly traditional (e.g., the singing of angels in heaven’s court is a favorite image for Crowder), the music is decidedly modern. It is best described as “progressive electronic rock,” as stated in a review by Kevin R. Davis (not me) at Amazon.com, but it is highly ecclectic, including some Southern folk styles.
This combination of evangelical hymnody and modern styles of music is at its most thorough and original form in Church Music, their fifth major studio album since their debut in 2002, Can You Hear Us?. DC*B have always been noted for their originality, but Church Music is their most recognizably distinct album. There is nothing that sounds like this. The layers of beats and keyboard synths are no longer ornamental, like in past albums; now they are seamlessly joined with the organic (guitars, violins, drums) as the controlling forces in the melodies. Nothing is sloppy here, oh like way too many indie bands that believe multiple layers in-itself constitutes brilliant songwriting. While listening to the album, there is never any doubt that Crowder knows exactly what he is doing with each arrangement. This is a long album: 17 full tracks, each produced with great care. Also, most of the songs are purposefully arranged where the melodies and tempo of the prior song is transitioned to that of the following song, which makes this the most cohesive album in the DC*B catalogue.
It’s too early to say how Church Music will wear in the long run. I think it could very well be considered their masterpiece, and it has already received a lot of acclaim. However, the heightened synthetic element could easily yield a longing among fans and critics for more of their organic styles. I predict that this will be the direction for their next album. I, for one, would like to see the banjo return.