Monday, May 27, 2013

Music Review: Thunder After Lightning by downhere

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Different takes on some familiar songs and some rare gems
Cons: A few of the unfinished songs don't go anywhere
The Bottom Line:
Some rare downhere songs
Let's you see works in progress
And produce some treats

downhere Presents Their First Collection of B Sides

After the success of their third studio release, Wide Eyed and Mystified, Canadian Christian band downhere decided to release a collection of songs that didn't make their release.  And we aren't talking about one or two songs, but fourteen all new tracks and three work in progress versions of hits from the disc.  The result is Thunder After Lightning.  Not all the songs are gems, but some of them are pretty good.

The thing to know about this disc is these are full on demos.  They included all four members of their band in the recording sessions.  While occasionally you'll find something that needed to be remixed, most of these songs could pass for a studio recording.

The disc starts with the dramatic piano opening of "Close to Midnight."  It's only after a few seconds of that that the driving drums and electric guitar come in.  The fast pace fits the song well as it sings about time winding down until we face God and account for our lives on Earth.  Lead singer Marc Martel really shines here as he adds some passion to his vocals.

The title track is another great cut.  "Thunder After Lightning" is a slower, quieter track and relies heavily on guitar.  The song talks about the mess that is human relationships.  It's actually one of their most poetic songs as they sing about being "an island who wants other islands near."  They even talk about how fights reveal weaknesses on both sides.  The song always hits me with something new whenever I listen to it.

In the obviously not quite finished category is "15."  This is a four minute song that consists of one verse and the chorus repeated several times.  But I've got to admit I still like the song.  The guitar during the musical interludes is quite pretty.  And Marc and band mate Jason Germain harmonizes beautifully on the chorus.  I'd like to see what they would do if they had turned this into a full-fledged song about fame.

Another unfinished song is "Sing This Song."  This time, the song comes in at 58 seconds.  This has a strong beat and starts out to be quite the rock song.  Unfortunately, after the verse and chorus, it just stops.  I always forget how short it is, so I find the abrupt ending rather annoying as I'm just getting into the song.

Then there's the challenge of "Someone."  Again, we've got a great mix of piano and guitar, and the melody is in a minor key.  It's just unsettling enough to make us pay attention to the call to go out and live our faith.

"Whatever Happens" has such a strong expression of faith.  The verses talk about some pretty hard times.  In fact, they bring to mind pictures of David from Psalms crying out as he is hiding from King Saul.  But the chorus expresses such surrender, saying, "I'm ok with/Whatever happens."  It's short at only 2:20, and it's another song I wish were longer.  Marc sings this one in almost a falsetto on the chorus, and it works well.

But to me the most interesting tracks are the final three on the disc.  All these of these songs did make it onto Wide Eyed and Mystified, but in different forms.  "Jesus, Ellipsis" is the most dramatically different.  It became "The Real Jesus," and you can definitely recognize the quiet, piano driven melody of both the verses and chorus.  However, most of the lyrics are very different.  The emphasis is still on the difference between how we often portray Jesus today and the Jesus of the Bible.  I like both versions, but I might actually give the edge to this one.

"1000 Miles Apart" is actually pretty close to the finished version.  It's still got the catchy melody and syncopated rhythms as well as the hummed chorus.  In fact, I can't quite see how they changed this one up.

There are some minor differences with "A Better Way."  A few of the lines are tweaked in the final version.  But this is the song where you can most notice the need for mixing.  The chorus has Marc and Jason singing different lines at different times.  While Marc's lines come through just fine, it's really hard to hear Jason.  Since this is one of my all time favorite downhere songs, it does bug me a little.  It always makes me want to pull out the finished product and listen to it a time or twenty.

This is a glimpse into the creation process, at least at this particular point in downhere's career.  While some of the songs obviously were abandoned half finished, there are some great songs hidden here.  As a result, I'm very thankful for a chance to get the songs on Thunder After Lightning.

CD Length: 1:00:13
1. Close to Midnight
2. I'm All About You
3. I Can't Lose Forever
4. Find Me
5. Not About Wings
6. Thunder After Lightning
7. 15
8. The Invitation
9. Whatever Happens
10. Story in the Making
11. Don't Be So
12. Sing This Song
13. Someone
14. Closer to Me
15. Jesus, Ellipsis
16. 1000 Miles Apart
17. A Better Way

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