Friday, April 9, 2010

New Music Friday - Josh Garrels

Blog posting from TheBlahBlah

I’m not even sure what I can possibly say about Josh Garrels, other than the fact that he brings some of the most authentic and unique music to the Christian indie scene.  He writes songs that would be considered overtly Christian, but most likely so Christian that you would never hear them on any contemporary Christian station or like avenues.

The music is a mixture of classic beats with a modern folk twist. I saw him for the first time when I was at a conference in California, and I honestly think people didn’t know what to do with him.  He was using some old school beats, like from the 40’s and 50’s, mixed with his masterful guitar playing and amazing voice.  I left that night at that coffeehouse greatly encouraged, and very surprised that someone this good has been under the radar for so long.
Blog posting from StereoSubversion

Josh Garrels’ new Lost Animals represents for the Indiana native another move towards the prolific—a collection of 10 tracks that cover a wide range of styles. This is Garrels’ second record in two years, his last being 2008’s Jacaranda, which received plenty of critical acclaim. Folks who know Josh Garrels understand that he is equal parts music, ministry, and poetry—and that the artistic result of such a combination is nothing if not an honest representation of a truly energized soul.

For starters: Lost Animals opens with a classic Garrels take on the famous hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King,” which was adapted from St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun by William H. Draper around the turn of the 17th century. As is usually the case, Garrels’ version of the song goes much further than any contemporary reprise, focusing on the original chorus and infusing it with his own poetic verses—the first of which opens with an awed contemplation of the centipede. “All Creatures” is as excellent a track as any from Garrels to date, as it reels in the idea of “sacred music” and recasts it with superb vocals, instrumentation (guitar, mandolin, horns, organs, accordion, etc.), and beats. It is more than obvious how much attention Garrels is paying to detail these days.

Moving on, Garrels pulls a refrain from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for his own piece, “Rainbow,” which describes a wonderful place for “weary travelers” to rest. “107” is an expansive soundtrack that melds rambling guitars, Asian strings, and a host of other sounds in a “psalmic” homage. “The Pig Farm” is a simple melody that brings Nick Drake to mind—very pastoral. And the country motif continues with “Indiana Sky.”
“Just Doin’ Your Thing” has been expertly placed at the halfway point. It has the simple, bluesy smokiness of a timeless southern spiritual. Immediately following is the beautiful “Be Set Free,” which develops like a summer storm on the open prairie—you can hear it coming from miles away. Once the beat and vocals chime in, you’ve already been (willingly) drenched. “Patterns” explores a more electronic vein, with interesting synth pads, strings, noisemakers, and reverb that sound like an Amon Tobin remix. “Children of the Earth” and “And What Remains” round out the album, with even more unique sound.

Lost Animals is one of Garrels’ best and most meaningful releases to date. The very title of the record expresses some of Garrels’ favorite lyrical themes—hope for the lost, human brokenness, and the beauty/complexity of creation. Garrels’ Christian faith comes through unashamedly, but not at the expense of the music, which in this writer’s opinion breaks down religious stereotypes rather than reinforces them. If this record is more a collection of “lost animals” from Garrels’ past work, he has positioned them with astonishing clarity.

Josh Garrels is an artist who seems to know exactly where he’s going, and he’s not bypassing one single leg of the journey to get there. Not surprisingly, the music he’s making along the way greatly benefits from his focus.