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I‘m one of those people that reflexively balks at explicitly “Christian” music; especially when the lyrics have a worshipful or exhorting feel. A few songs into Civilized Creature’s new album, “A New Heart,” I was tempted to feel cynical by the explicit Christian spirituality—but I was too busy enjoying the complex arrangement and thoughtful verse to balk even a little bit. It is available as a free pre-release, with an exclusive bonus track, for Christ and Pop Culture members.Civilized Creature’s “A New Heart” is uncharted musical territory.
It’s been kind of a spiritually dry season for me lately, and “A New Heart” was exactly what I needed to hear. This album is jarring—in a good way. It jumps from syncopated symphonies that would be at home on a playlist with Bonobo or Nightmares on Wax, to erratic banjo-driven tunes and beats that could’ve been straight out of the movie Breakin’—sometimes all on the same track. These creative shifts prompted me to actually hear what Civilized Creature says.
It’s rather rare to come across something in music that is actually unique. But “A New Heart” is uncharted territory. Civilized Creature (aka, Ryan J. Lane) has created a set of songs that are utterly—both musically and lyrically—new, grounded by themes that are as old as time.
Maker of the stars / keeper of the heart / beginning and the end /
a king and a friend / lover of my soul / gave it up for all /
I can’t comprehend / your love will never end
You might expect those lyrics to be backed by a mediocre chord progression and subtle handbells that remind you how “encouraging” it is—which wouldn’t make those words less true but could make them less bearable for some. But “When I’m Awake” isn’t like that at all. It is a complicated and esoteric yet melodic track that goes where it wants.
The beauty of this music opened me up to really enjoy what was being said. Civilized Creature’s creativity and artistic license allows the words to mean what they’re really intended to mean.
Finding a new vessel to communicate gospel truth to people who need to hear it is almost as old as the gospel itself. The beauty of the Psalms, the chants of monastic orders, and Isaac Watts’ hymns are all a testament to that reality. That’s why “A New Heart” shines above a lot of the music with explicitly Christian themes: it’s creative not for the sake of being creative, but for the sake of truth telling.
The songs on “A New Heart” range from incredibly fun to reflective and sacred. “The Harder They Fall” has the groovy energy of Thievery Corporation at their best; “Named” could’ve fit seamlessly on Sufjan’s “Seven Swans”; and it’s hard to hear “Humble (A Meditation)” and not think of some soundscapes from My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”. But the songs on “A New Heart” don’t quite fit into any of those categories, which is certainly intentional, and it works.
Overall, listening through Civilized Creature’s “A New Heart” was a worshipful experience. It didn’t preach in a heavy-handed manner, nor did it manipulate my emotions—it just was. Civilized Creature refuses to compromise form or function, and in doing so has made a mighty fine album.
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