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Beat Breaker: “Strength & Beauty” by Citizens

 

Song Title: Strength and Beauty
Artist: Citizens (formerly Citizens & Saints)
Album: Single
Release: 2018
Genre: Indie

 

Drawing from the same ecclesiastical roots as King’s Kaleidoscope and Ghost Ship, Citizens (formerly Citizens & Saints) has produced three theologically emotional albums since 2013.  Drawing predominantly on hymnal and Psalmist literature, Citizens brings home sound theology and beautifully-crafted musical scores.

Since joining Humble Beast in 2017, “Strength and Beauty” is the first original work to emerge from the Seattle-based group. Following in the musical style of their reconstructed 2017 In Part album, “Strength and Beaut”y quietly pierces the soul with grief-stained hope.

 

Musical Breakdown

Diverging from a common song progression, “Strength and Beauty” jumps between verses, progressively telling a story of brokenness and defiled grace. The sole remnant of a chorus – the imploration to listen to the song of the broken – permeates only intermittently throughout the track.

While the first two verses progress, the melody remains uneventful as the lyrics tell the tale of God-given providence and grace defiled by the artist’s rebellion. Only once the third verse arrives does the melody escalate as the lyrics echo a nurtured, but wounded, hope. The song ends on a crescendo with joy and rhetoric.

 

Lyrics & Meaning

Throughout the first two verses, the artist describes both the natural gifts of life as well as corporate responsibility for the pain and sin profaning these gifts. Gifts like justice, grace, strength, and beauty are all described alongside the lyricist’s defiance.

The lyrics are telling and speak of incredible spiritual and social injustices.

Hatred taken over our eyes,
And we defend it,
Reform repentance.

Sound familiar? We need only look around us in society to see behavior where hatred is not only defended, but repentance is reformed to conform to a hate-filled theology. While this is not as explicitly social as other contemporaries (Lecrae or Propaganda, for example), the injustice described is no stranger to us.

Yet, Citizens takes this an uncomfortable step further. Coupled with the injustices is a repeated refrain emphasizing corporate responsibility for these acts.

“Deep in our blood”; “Hatred taken over our eyes”; “Violence stealing love from our lips”

I’ll reflect on this further below, but for the moment, it’s worth noting the ramifications of this claim. The pain Citizens described is not only universal— it must be owned, and it cannot be left unanswered for.

Before stepping into the third verse, Citizens calls the listener to hear the ‘song of the broken,’ affected by the injustices described in the earlier verses. While the described ‘broken’ appear somewhat ambiguous, it is unmistakable that the corporate responsibility accepted earlier causes the personalized pain described here.

As the third verse develops, the pronoun ‘she’ repeats, reflecting a personalized tone different from the rest of the track. Insofar as describing her as ‘a child’, one could interpret the child as being a metaphor for the broken.

 

Practical Application

The noticeable shift between the corporate first-person (‘our’) to the third-person (‘her’) crafts a relatable track with clear personal undertones. Quoting lead vocalist Zach Bolen, the Humble Beast biography for Citizens states,

“You can share as much as you want about the Gospel on Biblical terms, but the true power of the Gospel comes from you telling your story.”

Anyone would be hard-pressed not to agree with the personalized tones of Citizens’ new single. The stark question lingering for any listener is: how we will weave our own story into the lyrics?

Like the artist, our own stories are riddled with pain, stemming from the effects of sin. We have witnessed the strife, agony, uncertainty, and hopelessness. And while we can easily (and often times truthfully) point the finger at some else, we must also bear some blame.

The moment we grasp the weight of defiant rebellion in the face of the Almighty, we see the blood our hands have spilled. We have no excuse. The book of Romans describes it well, when Paul states in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Do you see the trickle of sin? From one man, to all. The same pain resonates in the song, as the free God-given gifts of grace are defiled and trampled. The same chapter later describes death as ‘reigning’ and bringing condemnation through the one man’s sin. The language paints a canvas where one action has rippled throughout history.

Thankfully, this is not where the song ends, nor where Paul finishes in Romans 5. For as “Strength and Beauty” struggles through the pain, it strives towards hope. Paul also describes this hope in the second Adam, through whom life and justification come. In Romans 5:20, Paul puts it poignantly, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

This is the cry of this song, of our hearts, and of redemption. The cry of enjoying a future glory where,” He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

As the song draws to a close, Zach asks the listener, ‘Do you see it?’ Take stock of this question.

It is far too simple to accept biblical truths about the Second Coming, but another to actually see how this truth gives us hope. Not just for the future, but for today. While we bear the responsibility for our sin, we do not bear the burden of making all things new. This is not an excuse for apathy, but a reason for seeking the kingdom today.

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Beat Breaker: “If You Want Love” by NF

Song Title: If You Want Love
Artist: NF
Album: Perception
Release: 2017
Genre: Rap/R&B

Producing three succeeding albums in three short years, NF has emerged as an increasingly popular artist within the rap genre, topping both secular and Christian charts. While some of his music holds explicitly Christian themes, the vast majority depicts his personal pain and struggles with mental health.

This has undoubtedly resulted in a popular following composed of like-minded individuals, who can relate with NF and his life experiences. Valuable in and of itself, these themes also create a theology on pain and suffering. As “If You Want Love” constructs this theology, it manifests a set of questions which, on their own, provide few answers.

Musical Breakdown

Settled halfway through his 2017 album, “If You Want Love” draws a smoother tangent from his usual fast-paced rap melodies. Following the  contemporary song pattern, the tune is composed of two verses, respectively subsequent choruses, a bridge, and a final chorus.

Throughout the verses, NF explores his personal experiences of struggling to find love and endured pain in the process. As an answer to this, the chorus repeats the wisdom he laments never receiving as he grew up, grounding the core theology of the song. The bridge concludes with continuing pain now mingled with the hope NF holds, of finally learning what it means to have love.

Lyrics and Meaning

The three core declarations within the repeating chorus reflect the core messages of two verses and bridge. By doing this, NF lays bare his life lessons in hopes of not only sharing these truths with his future children, but also with others who are hurting. In verse one, he cries,

“Ask me how I’m doin’, I’ll say ‘okay’
Yeah, but ain’t that what they all say?
Sometimes I think back to the old days
In the pointless conversations with the old me”

Here, NF reflects on not only the ways we hide our pain behind shallow answers, but also the regret and ruminating we experience with carrying unresolved hurt. As an answer in the chorus, NF declares,

“If you want love, you goin’ have to go through the pain”

From the Scriptures: Romans 5:3, one of many passages on suffering, highlights the necessity of pain in the growth of a Christian, ultimately culminating in hope (Romans 5:5) and the overflowing of the love of God in our hearts. However, examination of NF’s lyrics would suggest pain is meaningless and arbitrary in the pursuit of love. Contrary to this, Hebrews 12 reminds us that, firstly, because God loves His children, He will discipline them. Though painful at first, it produces good, holiness, righteousness, and peace (Hebrews 12:10-11).

Following on from this in verse two, NF explores his own desire to control and manipulate life to obtain love as he shares,

“I’ve always tried to control things
In the end that’s what controls me
Maybe that’s why I’m controllin’”

As a contrasting answer in the chorus, NF declares,

“If you want love, you goin’ have to learn how to change”

For NF, experience has taught him that one must grow and change, rather than attempt to control others to receive love. Reflecting on his older albums, this struggle is evident in many of his lyrics as he has sought to control his pain as a means of overcoming it.

Yet, this is where the narrative of the song and the Bible begin to differ more explicitly. Continuing on in Romans 5, verse 8 reminds us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While the Bible heavily emphasizes holiness and becoming like Christ, it equally declares that before we even considered change, let alone attempted, we were loved.

Drawing his lyrical sermon to a close, NF stresses his fear of missing out of on life because of his own pain. He sings,

“Talkin’ to the voices in my head, they make me think twice
Tellin’ me it doesn’t mean it’s wrong because it feels right
I’m scared one day I wake up and wonder where the time go
Talk about the past like it’s the present while I rock slow
I’ll sit in the living room and laugh with kids of my own”

Initially, in all of the confusion and search for love, he ironically misses out on what he so desires. Yet, his hope emerges as he realizes he, too, can share these lessons with others. This hope merges with his chorus as the final declaration goes,

“If you want trust, you gon’ have to give some away”

Arriving at one of most frustrating paradoxes of our humanity, NF acknowledges that in order to receive, we sometimes must give. Love is no exception. However, the great truth of Scripture expounded here is simply that we are not the first to give. Rather God is, for He gave His love first.

Practical Application

As “If You Want Love” unfolds, it begins to sound Psalm-like. Rich in their personal anecdotes and pain, the Psalms form both a source of outcry and praise for the Christian. The example of Psalm 51, following David’s murderous and adulterous deeds, paint one of the most sobering and heart-wrenching accounts of the pain of sin and pleading with God.

While not based on the deeds of David, NF’s lyrics describe equally personable pain. Yet, while Psalm 51, like all other Psalms, point us to God, NF’s lack of including Christ draws him further away from the truth he so desires.

The core critiquing text used in this article, Romans 5, paints a picture of hope for the Christian. The Pauline chapter declares, “The pursuit for love is over! Lay down your deeds! Rest in unconditional adoration from God.”

Do you want love? Yes, there is pain. Yes, there is change. And yes, you must give some away. But the Scriptures declare that the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ mean that we are also found within the love of God if we receive Christ as Lord and Savior (John 3:15; Romans 10:9-10). This is unmerited love. And though the world may cry that we must painfully search until we, hopefully, find love… the Bible makes clear how love has already been given in unimaginable abundance.

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Beat Breaker: “Alive” by Swedish Revolution and Matthew Parker

Song Title: “Alive – Original Mix”
Artist: Swedish Revolution & Matthew Parker
Album: #Pandastruction
Released: 2013
Genre: Electronic Dance Music
Spotify
MusixMatch Lyrics
Electronic Dance Music, or EDM, is the amalgamation of upbeat, driving rhythms and the incredible sounds you can make through a machine.  Just a few tweaks to a sine wave, and BAM! Musical excellence.
Well… not quite.  It takes a lot more to make a good EDM song.
In 2013, two EDM artists came together to create one of those excellent tunes.  Mixing great beats with great lyrical intent, Swedish Revolution and Matthew Parker crafted the original mix of their song Alive on Swedish Revolution’s album, #Pandastruction.
If you haven’t already, give it a listen; just make sure you get moving to the beat!

Musical Breakdown

The synth starts it off with an interesting pulse and large register of tones.  Next, the bass kicks in and the main melody starts.  Further introductions are made, and then some more layers get added in for an epic mix. The song continues in this ebb and flow manner, layers dropping out as the vocals drop in.
After sets of deconstruction and build up, the breakdown happens where a whole new set of layers get stacked on top of one another until it falls back to the original sounds.  The bass beat at 3:50 really ties everything together from the breakdown, bringing you back into the dance groove by the time the vocals pick back up.
The song blasts the chorus one more time with all the layers of beats and timbres mixing it. Slowly, the layers drop off one by one and the song comes to an end.

Lyrics and Meaning

Regret is a killer.  Looking back at past mistakes and things we’ve done that have hurt others can keep us trapped in a vicious cycle.  The wages of sin is death, and lingering regret is some extra baggage along with it.  While the lyrics of this song aren’t necessarily deep and complex, it’s a direct confrontation to that lie that you have to live in regret.
God you brought me to the truth, from a lie
Then I used to be so dead, now I’m alive
Everything inside screams
I’m alive! I’m alive!
If you know Jesus, he’s brought life to your once dead heart.  Remember when you first came to know Jesus?  Everything in life felt bright?  Or if you don’t have a singular time, surely you remember that inexplicable peace in troubling times, right?
Jesus’ sacrifice for you did more than just give you a 1-up or extra life.  It put you in a different game altogether.  The old rules don’t apply to you like they did before you met Jesus.  You don’t have to tear your clothes, rub ashes on your head or take out an animal for your sin anymore.  Jesus has taken care of that.
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
Ephesian 2:1-7 (NLT)
If you’ve repented, you don’t have to live in the regret, shame, or pain of the past.
You’re alive.

Practical Application

The best way to combat a lie is with the truth.
When the temptations come and you’re tempted to sin, just remember that you’re dead to those things now.  Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, said it well, “When [Jesus] died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)
When the enemy tries to bring up past regrets, just remember that Jesus has paid for those and that you don’t need to live in that regret.  In Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, he wrote, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
So when you feel under attack, turn this song on, sway to the beat or even belt it out.  Remember that you’re alive through Christ.
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Articles Beat Breakers Christian Music

Beat Breaker: “Dare You To Move” by Switchfoot

Song Title: Dare You To Move
Artist: Switchfoot
Album: The Beautiful Letdown
Released: 2003
Genre: Rock
The band that began its debut in 1996 as “Chin Up” would later take on the name we all know and love today: Switchfoot. I was only 5 years old when they appeared on the scene, and didn’t discover this band until I was a ripe young age of about 12. By that time, “Dare You To Move,” my absolute favorite Switchfoot song, was already nearly 3 years old and re-recorded on The Beautiful Letdown. Now, it’s almost reached adulthood, at 17 years. Feeling old yet? Yeah, me too.
When I got to thinking about what song I wanted to write about for my next Beat Breaker article, I knew it had to be this song purely because of the love I have for this band. These guys were – and still are – a huge inspiration for me as a musician. I still do what I can to emulate their style in my music, and I love learning to play their songs. Not just because the songs are fun to play, but because Switchfoot writes material with a deeper meaning.

Feel of the Song

This song is almost instantly recognizable by anyone who is a fan of Christian rock music. It starts with that famous acoustic guitar riff, and builds into the electric guitar driven style that is all too familiar from Switchfoot.
I love the diversity in this track. There’s quite a bit going on throughout; different things to listen for as you play it multiple times. The fact that the second and first verses are so different is one of my personal favorite things about this song. The first is introductory, led by an acoustic guitar while the second brings a bit more electric guitar, giving it a solid mix for the song to seamlessly flow. The level of skill displayed by the different members of the band is especially on display during this song; it’s part of the reason I suspect they still play it live at their shows.

Lyrics and Meaning

The song starts with the statement that we are all at the same place– we’re all here and we all have sins in our lives. “Welcome to the planet, welcome to existence.”
This first verse confesses the condition of the human race. We’re fallen people, and to some degree we’re all looking for somebody else to move first; nobody wants to be the first to move when you’re sure to fall again at some point in the future… but somebody has got to do it. Why not you?
A challenge is issued in the following chorus: “I dare you to move.” These words, the title of the song, charge us to pick ourselves back up after we fall. The hardest thing about that is that we are bound to fall again, but he dares us time and again to “pick ourselves up off the floor.”
The second verse reinforces how the human race is fallen as the first did, yet brings a contrasting realization– now that we realize the errors in our actions, we need to turn to a new way of life. “Between who you are and how you could be. Between how it is and how it should be.”
I love the conclusion offered in the bridge, for multiple reasons. Up until now, the song has shown us where we are as humans, issuing a challenge to pick ourselves up off the floor… but it hasn’t given any practical ways to do that. The bridge shows that maybe redemption is right at the place we fall and telling a beautiful story; that “salvation is here,” even though you can’t escape who you are as a sinful being. The fact that Jesus meets us right where we are is huge, because the fact of the matter is that we can’t escape sin on our own– He is the one who picks us up again.

Life application

This song is meant for encouragement. Sure, it begins with the harsh reality that we are a fallen race… but that’s where grace comes in and shines as good news. If you feel like your life isn’t worth living, that you’ve fallen so many times that you wonder if there’s a point in picking yourself up again… it’s because God has called us to repentance. He dares us to move from where we are, to where He wants us to be.
We can be reminded time and again that “forgiveness is right where we fell”. Here’s the reality of it all, God has forgiven our sins. We are called to live our lives aggressively for Him, not curled up on the floor in the fetal position. The Bible is full of stories of God using fallen people to do great things; He dared them to move and they moved.
Now it’s your turn.
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Articles Beat Breakers Christian Music

Beat Breaker: “New Years Eve” by Five Iron Frenzy

500x500Song Title: New Years Eve
Artist: Five Iron Frenzy
Album: The End is Here
Label: Self Released
Genre: Rock/Ska/Punk
You might wonder why, four weeks deep into January, I’m writing on a song about the final day of last year. Obviously, this was my plan all along– to refrain from publishing when most readers are busy celebrating with loved ones, and hit you with conviction just as motivation for 2017 is beginning to lose steam. Clearly, the timing has nothing to do with my own hesitation or procrastination…
Heh, okay that’s not true, but perhaps God will use the peculiar timing of this amazing song nonetheless. Five Iron Frenzy is an exceptionally thought-provoking and talented band (a better question may be why it took us geeks so many years to write about them), and “New Years Eve” is a gem that honestly expresses hardship, while illuminating genuine hope. Whether you entered 2017 with optimism or skepticism as your prevailing mood, there’s room for you to relate and true rest found in Christ within these lyrics.


Feel of the Song

I’ll keep this section short and sweet: Five Iron Frenzy is a ska punk band, that has steadily refined their sound since 1995 to what frontman Reese Roper explains as “rock with horns.” Brass instruments definitely keep things interesting, but otherwise it seems like familiar alternative rock with no shortage of energy. For “New Years Eve,” that passion is directed into an overall mood that’s relatively contemplative, emotional, and sweeping towards a hopeful crescendo.


Lyrics and Meaning

Read or listen (there’s a play button on the very top-left of this article) to these lyrics carefully, and you will notice that the verses have a very different attitude than that of the chorus. They aren’t completely separate, but their thoughts are certainly in tension against one another.
It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m full of empty promises
I half pretend to keep this time
Just like last year
The band is loud and I’m wandering the shadows
Wishing I was never here
I persevere
That’s most of the first verse, and the songwriter continues by describing crowds who raise their glasses and kiss the past goodbye as “whitewashed tombs.” I think we can safely assume that Reese’s issue is deeper than a history of embarrassing New Year’s parties… but before you conclude that he’s a total cynic toward the holiday and its potential for change, consider these words:
This New Year’s Eve, I’m waiting for tomorrow
My heart is on my sleeve, and yes I still believe
This New Year’s Eve, will turn out better than before
I’m holding on, still holding out
Until they close the door… on me
Through the chorus, we realize he still holds hope that somehow things will get better, remaining vulnerable with this expectation. Therefore, it’s not positive thoughts or enjoying a party that the songwriter opposes… but he is exposing how shallow and misled these festivities often are, glossing over obstacles which carry into January and promoting human willpower as the basis for improvement. “And then with thunderous praise and lofty adoration / A second passes by… yet nothing changes.”
As the end of the song draws near, frustration and regret descend to their darkest point. “I hate my skin, this grave I’m standing in / Another change of years, and I wish I wasn’t here.” Thankfully, this broken lament ultimately serves as contrast, as the following bridge and modified chorus very simply yet powerfully underscore where solid hope and infinite renewal are truly found.
A year goes by and I’m staring at my watch again
And I dig deep this time
For something greater than I’ve ever been
Life to ancient wineskins. And I was blind, but now I see
This New Year’s Eve, something must change me inside
I’m crooked and misguided, and tired of being tired
This New Year’s Eve, I’m waiting for tomorrow
My heart is on my sleeve, and yes I still believe, in You

Life Application

Perhaps, like the songwriter, your own experience since New Year’s has been characterized by tension. For as much as 2017 suggests bright opportunity… there are also dreams unfulfilled, people no longer in our life, and constant trials following us regardless of an arbitrary division in time. Sometimes the annual transition is more a painful reminder than anything.
But followers of Christ can look through and beyond their pattern of failure, all the way two thousand years back– when Jesus established the only meaningful division of history, by making an instrument of shameful torture into the means of eternal salvation. How much more will He faithfully nurture and preserve us, His bride?
Here are just a few truths of how God makes us new, and it’s a promise forever regardless of our prior experiences or present circumstances:
You are called a “new creation” (2 Corinthains 5:17), with your worth and identity securely anchored in what Jesus did for you. That means you actually can wave goodbye to the sin and guilt of your past now buried in Christ’s tomb, and choose daily to step into the newness of life purchased by His resurrection.
The Holy Spirit decided before time began, that it was a cool idea to make His home within you and never move out (Ephesians 1:13-14). He’s also described as bringing a new, softened heart to love and obey God… without which even the Israelites acted faithless despite witnessing His manifest presence and miraculous provision.
The Lord has already prepared good works for us to walk into (Ephesians 2:10)… not in the sense of tedious rituals or attempts to earn His grace, but rather as a loving overflow of our redemption– walking more and more like Jesus, building up the Church, making Him known in every nation, and appearing blameless before Him at the end before entering an eternal home where all things become new.
In light of this hope, the marker of a new year seems empty and small indeed. And yet, so far as these little reminders like the New Year or a birthday or the spring season point us to Who holds the future and gave us a new spiritual birth, they serve a helpful purpose.

Happy-New-Year-2017-Images-Wishes-Free-Download-a-678x381

Don’t lose hope. Keep wearing your heart on your sleeve. Believe fully in our wonderful God.