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God & Music

Giving Jesus The Business 2015

So, what’s out there?

Standouts this year so far include Declaration, by Kevin Lemons and Higher Calling, Best Days by Tamela Mann, Hillsong United’s Empires, Majestic by Kari Jobe, Andy Mineo’s Neverland EP. Also: Anomaly by Lacrae, Ricky Dillard and New G’s Amazing, Michelle Williams’ Journey To Freedom, Help by Erica Campbell (one-half of Mary Mary), and Israel and New Breed’s Covered: Alive in Asia.

Over the last year Gospel and Christian music has taken on new forms of sharing the word of God through music. We are moving forward from traditional ways of singing and writing about God and creating new ways to spread the same message to a new generation by sounds from Trap, Pop, EDM (Electronic Dance Music), and Rap. Some of 2015’s best songs:

10: I Luh God by Erica Campbell featuring Big Shizz
This song is great for kids who are new in Christ; a simple expression of love to the savior that is 100% appropriate for kids. Yes this is a trap beat (a Halloween-ish, dark sound created by dark inharmonics (dissonant or “corrupted” chord structure) with lots of bass in a slow tempo which, for some evokes a negative vibe or even the occult) but that doesn’t hinder the message from going forth. The vocals could have been done a bit better so that the lyrics are better understood, but a great song overall (see Priest’s review in sidebar).

As I see it, if God created music, he created all of it, not just certain notes. It is our cultural perception that “colors” music as godly or not. For instance, a lot of African tribal drumming might sound a lot like “I Luh God.” That would be tribal Africans praising His name.

Igor Stravinsky's ballet, The Rite of Spring, incited a riot in 1913 as members of the audience booed loudly in response to the inharmonic notes accompanying the unrecognizable bassoon's opening solo. The show wasn't even half way over before people were throwing punches. —About.Com

Erica In The Trap: Much ado about something. "Luh" works.

Favor, Power & More

9: Touch The Sky by Hillsong United
I absolutely love this song. This is a more personal song that encourages worship with this line, “I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground,” meaning, I become more and more connected to God the closer I get to the ground because being on my knees is a sign of humbling myself, and therefore I must humble myself when I am in his presence. The mix was perfect in my opinion, but it felt like it took a little bit to get the song moving instrumentally. I know we want to be in His presence and enjoy being in Him, but at a certain point a track and synths and piano is not going to be enough. You have to move it along at some point. I love the lead vocalist; she is awesome. Her voice matched perfectly with the sounds and she gives you that pure “Here I Am To Worship” vibe. Well done.

8: King Of Glory
by Kevin Lemons and Higher Calling
What a great way to start a Sunday morning service! This particular song is a great way to welcome God into the room and allow His presence to flow through the service. Not only is the instrumentation awesome, but the choir is amazing. Their sound is a true gospel choir sound, vibrato and all, but I have one suggestion. Can we calm down the vibrato towards the end so we can understand what the choir is saying? Other than that, very good song to have in your daily worship.

7: Healing Virtue Flow by Deitrick Haddon presents LXW
Yes, this is a young gospel choir doing something that is more on the traditional synth heavy Christian song scale. The brightness of the synths makes the song more pleasing to the ear and, when you add the bass and the drums, it just enhances from there. We want God to heal us from not only all diseases, but from all infirmaries. This song is perfect to declare healing throughout the land.

6: There Is Power by Lincoln Brewster
Lincoln Brewster is no stranger to the church praise and worship scene, but the song “There Is Power” is simply great. A very simplistic way of doing an old favorite so that more people can declare that there is, in fact, power in the name of Jesus. This is one song that was mixed wonderfully. You can hear every change each instrument makes and the vocals are not so far back nor so far forward, but they sit in the middle cruising. Loved this!

Touch The Sky: Hillsong makes a case for being closer to the ground.

In The Mix

5: Amazing by Ricky Dillard and New G
What can be said about this song? There is only one word to describe it, and that is AMAZING. The words are not hard to learn at all and it provides us with a very universal sound that can work in any church. The recording itself could use a bit of work; at a certain point the instruments became a bit much and the choir sounded like they were turned up to pretty much battle the band. At that point the choir sounded a bit distorted coming through the speakers, but it came back together quick.

Mixing a choir is a very difficult job; you want the band to have enough presence to provide a strong foundation, but you also need to “seat” the choir vocals within that enveloping sound in such a way that we can hear them. This is managed largely through the creative use of compression, but sometimes inexperienced choirs can insist, “Turn me up! Turn me up!” which then makes the choir actually harder to hear because they begin to sound too brassy while the band ends up sounding tinny and anemic. This is the major difference between live sound and a studio mix. There is a careful balancing act and there are trade-offs, meaning you hear different things in different places in the track; you don’t always have the choir as “up front” as they may want or expect.

4: Alive by Hillsong Young and Free
Very catchy upbeat pop song that is all about giving praise to the Savior. He is alive in us and those who are alive in Him are alive as well. So why not celebrate that? The song was recorded well in my opinion. Every instrument blended together great and it made for an easy-listening tune.

3: In Jesus Name by Israel and New Breed
Now, this song is old, but Israel brought it back to life with an all-new remake and I will say it is much, much better than the original. Just the way the instrumentation is so smooth yet it still hits you in your face at times is an amazing feeling. And the vocals are right in the front so that you can hear all of the intricate and very detailed harmonies.

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Lady In Waiting: No PNet music review would be complete without a mention of our dear Kentucky sister, the amazing, witty, funny, brilliant, beautiful Adrianne Archie, whose new CD "Redeemed" is due soon.
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2: I’ve Got Favor by New Direction
This choir is a gospel favorite that has always been ahead of the curve with their style and sound. The song is pretty self-explanatory: I’ve Got Favor, enough said! Lets talk a bit about the production of this song. The song is already on a high plane right from the intro with smooth yet punchy drums mixed with a click track (a timing device meant to keep a live performance at a preset pace). Editor’s note: I hate, hate, hate, hate click tracks, much preferring a more natural, human rhythm which, yes, tends to speed up and slow down, like the Kahler Human Clock Michael Jackson used to use which sent out midi clock timing to musical director Greg Phillinganes’ computers from the drummer’s kick. —Priest, butting in

The softness of the piano, keyboards, and organ and the drive of the bass guitar and the accents of the horns gives “Favor” a warm, enveloping sound. Vocals were recorded very well the choir sounds amazing sitting on top of the instruments, but not so much that they are overpowering. Simplicity is key! “Favor’s” lyrics are so simple that by the time you get to the middle you have already learned the entire song and can sing along. The mix is very well thought out. The main part is the choir of course, but the band supports them very well in this song; nothing was overpowering in any way.

And, my pick for song of the year (or, at least so far):

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Finally, A Song That Actually Offers Christ: Anthony Brown's Group Therapy for the world.
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What We're Worth

1: Worth by Anthony Brown and Group Therapy
“You thought I was WORTH saving.” Just think about the sacrifice that God made when he sent Jesus. He loved the world so much that he gave His one and only to save us all from our sins. We have fallen short and continue to fall short, but God still says we are worth saving. Jesus died because I was worth it; Jesus became a new covenant between mankind and God because I am worth it. That’s what makes his song #1 on my list.

The song was well composed, but I will say that the recording itself could have been mixed and edited a bit better. The vocals sound great very full and the notes are on point, but, with a song like this in my mind, the instruments can be a bit more punchy; meaning I want to feel the intensity of the instrumentation as it becomes more and more dynamic. The electric guitar can be blended a bit better especially when the instrument gets into the higher range. The vocals are already up there so lets not drown them out with the guitar. The lyrics are simple and powerful. Sometimes simplicity is best, especially when you are trying to sell music. There is a place for those super-wordy songs, but the meaning can get lost and you can lose your audience.

And, that’s what I’ve got so far; your mileage may vary. Bottom line: there’s a lot to like in Christian and gospel music these days, where some of the best innovation in music is taking place.

Dominique Robbins
23 August 2015

Dominique Robbins is a columnist for HIM Magazine. A music producer and artist, Dom has released four projects and two full mixtapes and is now working on an album that will be split into two EP projects. He is a Christian who loves God, has a heart for God’s people from ALL walks of life, and plans to take the next step in bringing the word of God to many more people.

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