Expectations are the worst. They can ruin a perfectly fine day, can't they? A good demonstration of this is a particular scene in (500) Days of Summer
, when a split screen with expectations on one side and reality on the other simultaneously shows a scenario in which the main male character goes to his love interest's party; the expectations side shows her kissing him when he first arrives, her showing great interest in what he has to say, and gladly accepting a gift he brought her. In the reality side, she gives him a friend hug, puts him on the spot by making him talk about himself to the rest of the party guests, and fabricating a false smile when she opens the gift he brought her. In the end we realize that his expectations set him up for disappointment, which is the very thing that happens so often in our lives.
I've learned to not have any form of expectations when it comes to Showbread. It's a good thing, too, because the mistake that many listeners will make going into Who Can Know It?
is thinking they have this band figured out. I've even witnessed long time fans of the band complain that the album is "too slow", "lacking the energy that made them who they were", or even "I can't listen to this unless I want to think deeply". Of those sentiments, the only one I would agree with in the slightest is the last one. However, I've found that as I've familiarized myself with the album, I can listen to it in any mood because it has a way of commanding my attention to shift to its heavy message, and ultimately, its beautifully composed music as well.
If you're familiar with Showbread, you know they've gained notoriety in the past for making some pretty chaotic music that was a strange hybrid of keytar, screaming, poppy hooks, hardcore punk, and in their later music, straight up rock, industrial and electronic elements, dark and heavy lyrical concepts...it goes on. I'd make the case that the only one of those that have remained constant are the lyrics; Josh Dies addresses many topics, and though he is a devout Christian, he doesn't shy away from discussing controversial issues like abortion (he talks about a woman paying to have her baby's brains sucked out in "A Man With a Hammer"), prostitution, drugs, patriotic idolatry ("Myth of a Christian Nation" deals with this), and more. Point is, this isn't your typical contemporary Christian band. You're not going to find praise and worship lyrics or phony "I love Jesus and He's so great" messages. Instead, you're going to find real issues, related to God or not, all the way to the core. Of course it helps that Dies writes in such a satirical manner that the lyrics are, in the least, fun to recite.
It is because of this focus on a heavy message that in Showbread's minds, the music takes a back seat. This has never been more apparent than on Who Can Know It?
, but before that statement tells you that the music is boring or uninspired, let me clear something up: on this album, you can add to the already massive list of Showbread's musical influences R.E.M., Weezer, The Eagles, and even indie pop groups like MGMT. Slow to mid-tempo songs rule this album, taking up the majority of it, but its vibe is constant; this record has a very distinct tone that I haven't found anywhere else in my iTunes library of 4500+ songs. Dies' vocal delivery is a very relaxed and soothing blanket over a warm and friendly musical tone driven by Drew Porter's simple yet excellent drumming and Patrick Porter's always meandering and entertaining bass lines. Garret Holmes' synth and piano tops it all off with tastefully placed notes and compositions, and best of all, it is never obnoxious or unwelcome. All four members play guitar and synth on the album, and whether that is the cause of the new, clean and crisp guitar tone Showbread has, or it's something else, it definitely works for this type of sound.
Since the vibe is so relaxed and the structure is so simple on Who Can Know It?
, it leaves more room for heart, and less room for flash. Showbread's last outing, The Fear of God
, was laced with guitar solos and loud synthesizers. While that is certainly a facet of the band's sound, it is essentially the polar opposite of the side of Showbread found on this album. This record seems to pay homage to the rock music of both the 70s and the 90s, when it was about having a good song that connected to your heart instead of writing complex compositions or being flashy. However, since Showbread has
kind of been flashy before, it's hard not to be a little disappointed with this record's sound if you're used to having immediate fun listening to this band. You should know by now that I've been making the case that expectations are the culprit for that perception of this album, and after comparing even my own initial verdict of this record to the current one after many listens, I can say with every amount of confidence that I am right.
Who Can Know It?
refers to the heart; Showbread makes the notion that there's no way to always correctly decipher even your own heart. It is because of this notion that the closing song "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things" is incredibly appropriate; when all is said and done, how can you be so sure you know anything? You have a belief system whether you admit it or not (believing in nothing is still a belief system, isn't it?) How do you know what you believe to be true is really true? That's the question this album is asking...and Showbread isn't excluding themselves (Dies repeatedly asks "What is truth? What is true?" in the closing track), and if you've asked yourself that question after listening, then the album has done its job. It's not trying to sound good to your ears (though I personally like it); it's trying to speak to your heart, to get you to know yourself better than you already do. After all, you may think you know your heart, but really, Who Can Know It?