Review Summary: Let there be light
I was raised in a Christian home which means I heard a lot of contemporary Christian music growing up. Most of it all sort of runs together, and as my musical taste grew more diverse in high school, I pretty much left the genre behind. Gungor was a band I knew of because of their hit “Beautiful Things”, so one day when a friend of mine showed me the opener on this album “Let There Be”, a breathtaking musical retelling of the creation of the universe, I knew I had to give this album a try.
For those unfamiliar, Gungor was a contemporary Christian band made up by husband and wife duo Michael and Lisa Gungor. While the genre is mostly saturated with basic and repetitive songs, Gungor’s second album, “Ghosts Upon The Earth”, sets itself apart right from the first few notes. As an acoustic guitar trickles in, the listener is brought to the beginning of time. Fast paced strings enter with urgency. Then comes in a heavy drum and soon the listener is graced with a glorious crescendo: the universe has been created.
Gungor doesn’t stop with “Let There Be”. The entire album not only flips the genre cliches on its head, but elevates them to an unparalleled level . Sonically the album is incredibly diverse while still feeling very grounded and earthy. You’ll get your typical folk guitars, banjos and strings, but Gungor must have also looted a local school music department before they recorded. From the playful flutes on “Brother Moon”, to the glockenspiel in “Church Bells”, to the gondola ride mandolin in “Vous Êtes Mon Cœur”, you’ll hear pretty much every type of instrument you can think of on this record. Just when you’ve grown used to the lush folk atmospherics however, “Wake Up Sleeper” hits you with a boss battle synth during the song’s climax that somehow works.
Alongside the diverse instrumentation, the vocal talents of Michael and Lisa Gungor are also on full display. The melodies on the album are incredibly creative, often diverging from the confines of traditional scales, and the harmonies are exactly as tight as you would expect from a married couple singing together. Every song is a showcase of the wide spectrum of songwriting capabilities the band has, and while tracks “Crags and Clay” and “The Fall” halt the album’s momentum a bit, I could list pretty much every song as a highlight. “Brother Moon” is incredibly catchy and fun, “Church Bells” is lighthearted and playful, “Vous Êtes Mon Cœur (You Are My Heart)” is beautiful and touching, I could go on.
However, the album’s zenith comes with the track “Ezekiel”. The song is a heart-wrenching retelling of Ezekiel 16, which paints Jerusalem as an adulterous wife to God who continually did nothing but love and care for her while she prostituted herself to other nations/gods. The chorus changes with each succession going from “I gave my heart / My heart, my love” to “You broke my heart / My heart, my love” ending with “Come back, my love / My love, come back”. Michael Gungor croons these lyrics with some incredible melodies that weave in and out of a rhythm so complex, I’m not even sure how to count it. It’s a beautiful song that not only speaks of Israel's struggle to stay faithful, but of the very human struggle the listener might go through as well.
While the rest of the album is spent going against the traditional worship song formula with varied instrumentation, odd time signatures, key changes and vocal melodies that veer in and out of scales with ease, closer “Every Breath” does away with all of that and ends the album with a song that most closely resembles a traditional worship. That isn’t to say “Every Breath” doesn’t live up to the rest of the album’s quality. Far from it. Every Breath starts as a quiet somber reflection of the album’s themes and builds to a climax that would make Sigur Rós proud.
The first verse is a beautiful summation of the album’s lyrical and musical themes: “Every breath / Every moment life beats in my chest / Springs up from your hand / Creation resounds / With every color and every sound”. It is both an acknowledgement of the human struggle and a celebration of the triumphs of life in God’s vast creation. This is an album full of craftsmanship and heart and should be able to find an audience regardless of whatever your personal beliefs may be.