Prime Cuts: Astronaut, Dimensions, Shine Forever
Overall Grade: 4/5
WE ARE LEO (WAL) didn't check their brains at the door when making this new record. While many of their peers are easily satisfied with banal lyrics of recycled clichés and the superficial two-dimensional tropes, this is not so with WAL's "The Rush and the Roar." Thoughtfully creative and viscerally moving, WAL doesn't just dwell on the trite. Rather, creating well-developed word pictures poetically unfolding along well-crafted melodic lines, the songs will leave you on the edge of your seats. Even the titles of their songs, such as "Astronaut," "61/Twenty-Three," and "Salt Life," have such an air of intrigue that have already whetted our appetite even before we press the play button.
WAL started seven years ago in Kenosha, WI when Starbucks barista & part-time missionary, David Duffield, and his brother, graphic designer & youth leader, Jonny Duffield, built a make-shift recording studio and started cranking out rough, but passionate demos. They soon teamed up with worship leader/guitarist, Doug Weier, and eventually, guitarist, John Panzer, to meld their music, style and message into a synth-driven, pop-rock band with up-front guitars & contagious, upbeat hooks.
WAL begin with their best foot forward as they open the disc with two of their most irresistible offerings, "Dimensions" and "Astronaut." With bright as a bulb beat and a melody that does rounds in your head, both songs are the personification of catchy. But it's not just the hooks, it's also about the words. "Dimensions" is written in the form of a prayer of how the protagonist was confronted by God on a blurry night on a backroad somewhere. "Astronaut" will have us floating in the euphoria of God's love as WAL celebrate without any restrain. "61/Twenty-Three," on the other hand, finds the song's seed thought unfold via Isaiah 61 and Psalm 23. Applying these Scriptures, "61/Twenty-Three" is a bubbling ode to God's healing in the midst of life's messiness and brokenness.
"Shine Forever" finds the boys stepping out of their comfort zone. Featuring their acapella-styled harmonies over an understated backing, the way their voices blend is just staggeringly gorgeous. With percussion that advances like the sound of crashing waves, the title cut "The Rush and the Roar" is a pop-centric piece that poetically speaks of how God's voice beckons us to come back to him. The variegated ways in which WAL try to portray God's voice via the crashing waves and the music on the highway, is itself an art to behold. Nevertheless, not all the songs here are about God, "Salt Life," for instance, is a love song where the protagonist dreams of taking his sweetheart for a romantic gateway by the sea.
However, two factors tend to discount this disc from having a 5/5 rating. First, other than "Shine Forever," most of the songs fall into the same upbeat tempo augmented by some slick sounding electronic drums. Considering that such a sound is protocol of today's pop music, this is acceptable. But to have the same percussion beat pumping across the bulk of the album can be tiresome on the ears. One would have wished WAL would vary their tempo a tad, maybe a piano ballad for a change?
Second, though Scripture is alluded to in various songs, their interaction with Holy Writ is at best superficial. "61/Twenty-Three" does not give enough dialogue with Scripture. The lyrics mention (almost) nothing of these two passages of Scripture (Isaiah 61 and Psalm 23) that formulate its titular. Many of the God-focused songs on the album are far too individualistic with reflections coming more from one's experience rather than a struggle with the Word of God. Neverthless, other than these two aforementioned constructive criticisms, "The Rush and the Roar" is a richly melodically textured album that will get us thinking as well as making us tap our toes.