Music

NEEDTOBREATHE: Rivers in the Wasteland

Even folksier than anything else they've done, Rivers in the Wasteland is uneven but not unexciting.


NEEDTOBREATHE

Rivers in the Wasteland

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2014-04-15
UK Release Date: 2014-04-15
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Believe it or not, Christian music can be really quite excellent. It can be liturgical (as in Gungor and Hillsong), controversial (like Daniel Amos or Steve Taylor), vital (in the way of DC Talk), fun (like Five Iron Frenzy) and incredibly complex (let's not forget Phil Keaggy).

NEEDTOBREATHE is none of those things.

They are, however, a shining example of a Christian artist enjoying success in the mainstream. NEEDTOBREATHE was the perfect band at the perfect time, dropping their first album -- a straightforward rock affair -- just as the Contemporary Christian Music scene was gasping its final breath as a relevant genre. As their fans grew and matured in their tastes, their music followed suit, morphing into a pleasing, vanilla southern-rock sound reminiscent of Mumford and Sons crossed with The Fray. It's pleasing, yes, but not terribly interesting.

Their newest record Rivers in the Wasteland takes yet one more step away from their pop-rock roots -- riding a fixie, twirling a handlebar moustache and wearing raw denim jeans and suspenders directly into the folk-rock heartland.

It makes sense. Mumford, Dawes, The Civil Wars and the other folkish bands NEEDTOBREATHE try to emulate also litter their lyrics with quasi-spiritual themes and comforting platitudes. NEEDTOBREATHE's are a bit more openly evangelical in their origin, but only just.

"Wasteland" opens the record, opting for the slow burning ballad to start rather than the instant impact of "Oohs and Ahhs" that kicks off this record's predecessor The Reckoning. The lyrical refrain of "If God is on my side / Then who can be against me" is warm and inviting, but I'm not sure many theologians would endorse its usage here, in the face of growing old rather than, say, spiritual warfare.

"State I'm In" ramps things up with Beach Boys-like vocal layering and cut-time, bluegrass energy -- Definitely the strongest moment on the record. Other standout tracks are "Oh, Carolina" a perfect Creedence Clearwater Revival homage to the American south. "Rise Again" is about as folksy as it can get, complete with tambourine percussion, mandolin and acoustic guitar rumbling with locomotive-like momentum over a gospel-tinged melody celebrating the afterlife.

We crawled through the abyss then we came through the other side

Heaviness is only temporary the daylight will soon break in

The sunlight can change a heart in the wake of a bitter end.

Oh I know I'm gonna rise again

Set my sights on where I'm going

And my goodbyes to where I've been

The biggest turn on the record comes on "Where the Money Is", a surprising pop-rock interlude. The band can't resist quieting down and letting the acoustic guitar take center stage at the bridge, but the rest of the song is percussive bass, smooth electric lead and twinkling keys. I love the southern rock growl of frontman Bear Rinehart over the perfectly poppy instrumentation. I actually just love that song. And "Brother" is cheesy and practically begging to be used in the background of some Grey's Anatomy montage, but hey, it probably deserves to be.

The low points on the record come when the band tries to get too clever with the lyrics. Christian artists have a habit of being brilliant with wordplay -- consider the many Newsboys cuts like their ode to consumerism "Fad of the Land", Relient K's catalog of effortlessly memorable hooks and Steve Taylor's entire career. So there's a precedent for NEEDTOBREATHE to try their hand. This time, most of it falls flat.

The biggest offender is "More Heart, Less Attack", a whimpering, unimpressive closer which doesn't seem to have anything to do with cardiac arrest beyond trying to be pithy. "The Heart" tries to obscure the fact that it has nothing at all to say by saying it with a heavy-handed rural vernacular. "Difference Maker" aspires to be a deep, thoughtful takedown of false teachers and televangelist types, but for some reason ends up making Bear sound holier-than-thou on the misfire.

There's lots and lots of good Christian music out there. Sadly, there is precious-little great Christian music. Often, it's only the good that makes it out into the broader world of music. That's the case on Rivers in the Wasteland. There's plenty to like, and it's a rich addition to the evolving catalog of NEEDTOBREATHE as a band.

But these rivers run too shallow to irrigate this wasteland.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.