Beauty in the Broken

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Beauty in the Broken is still a praise & worship version of alterna-CCM. These (really) young men write gorgeously crafted songs, perfect for use in a modern church, and for being embraced by anyone who isn't afraid of their message. Granted, not all the lyrics are profound, but they are working in a particular medium and they're not supposed to be. Emo kids would dig the hooks -- though the production is hardly lo-fi (Sufjan Stevens this ain't!); U2 fans will dig the guitar sounds; and of course, those kids into CCM will flip their wigs for this. Musically, Beauty in the Broken isn't a sophisticated album so much as it is big and in-your-face modern rock. And it's honest; it's rapturous in all the right ways. These guys aren't wry or clever about their sentiments and are not afraid to show where they stand. They shout it from the rooftops, but they do it in songs that are disciplined and conscious of dynamics and texture. Where producer Matt Bronleewe brought them into the world on their last outing, it's Ed Cash who takes them to the next level. Bronleewe worked on three cuts here, and it's not clear if they were left over from the last album or they're new, but it hardly matters because Beauty in the Broken feels of a piece. There are some standout cuts, and the awfully titled "Everything Is Beautiful" is a crunchy roaring testament of love receiving and offering back God's love. "Captivate" is a midtempo rocker that is also a gorgeous prayer of brokenness and surrender -- the Neufeld brothers are fine singers and they emote purely, without artifice or forced drama. The acoustically based "Son of God" is simply weak. It may work in church, but it doesn't work as a rock & roll song. "Great Is the Lord" is as mighty as its title. It comes out of the box roaring and careening in barely controlled dynamic tension; it walks back from the edge a little in the verse but jumps over it in the bridge. This is what good anthemic rock & roll music should do, no matter the genre. The set ends with "Shipwreck," an atmospheric midtempo rocker with a fine melody and gorgeous vocals. Starfield aren't quite there yet; there are some duds here. It hardly matters. They've moved up a couple of notches from a worthy debut. In the wonderful days of rock & roll's golden age, when the major labels were not a couple of companies that controlled them all, A&R departments developed an artist over three or four albums before they worried about regaining their investment in them. These kids will no doubt get there -- there is simply too much talent for them not to. While one hopes they step outside the praise & worship ghetto and stretch out, they seem to like being there for now.

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