Grace Notes: The Prayer Chain, Teen Daze
Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.
The Prayer Chain
It could be argued that during the early 1990s, The Prayer Chain was the Christian alternative band. I know that for me personally, they — along with Mortal and The Violet Burning — opened my eyes to the fact that Christians could make music that avoided CCM’s usual clichés. But the band’s existence was a turbulent one, and they broke up shortly after their third album, 1995’s Mercury. The original version of Mercury was rejected by their label, who told them to return to the studio and produce something more sellable. Sixteen years later, the band has posted that original version, now titled Humb, for folks to hear. While listening to Humb, three things become clear. First, it’s easy to see why the label rejected the album: it’s dark and turbulent, with cryptic lyrics about sin, bitterness — and sexual pleasure. Second, parts of it haven’t held up too well over the years (grunge’s specter looms a bit large at times). And third, and most important, Humb contains some brilliant moments that reveal the band to be a juggernaut, particularly when they got all psychedelic a la The Verve on songs like “Creole” and “Mercury”. One can’t help but wonder what might’ve been had the band continued down this path, but even so, Humb is a fascinating document from Christian alt-rock’s early years.
I wrote about Teen Daze’s A Silent Planet — his musical “adaptation” of C.S. Lewis’ Out Of The Silent Planet — back in July when the EP’s first single was released. The full EP was released in early September, and can be listened to on Teen Daze’s Bandcamp site. If you remember that first single, it was an appropriately spaced out track, full of spiraling guitars and blissed out vocals. The rest of the EP doesn’t deviate from that too much, and the result is an often lovely and haunting collection of electronic pop that lands somewhere between Washed Out’s evocative “chillwave”, Boards of Canada’s bleary ambience, and M83’s epic shoegazing. My only real complaint is that the vocals are buried so deep in the immense layers of sound and/or slathered with so many effects as to be well-nigh indecipherable. To be fair, that’s par for the course for this genre, but I’m really curious to see if and how Lewis’ sci-fi prose manifested itself in Teen Daze’s songwriting.
Dude, C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy is one of my all-time favorite reads. I bought the trilogy for myself and my dad for Christmas 2008, and we read through them together and talked about them as we did. I think they are masterful, and sorrowfully overlooked in his body of work. “That Hideous Strength,” in particular, is a challenging read, but also a work of explosive imagination. The disembodied, reanimated head urging men to “Adore!” continues to haunt me.
Lewis, at least for me, taught me the importance of the imagination of faith. I grew up in the evangelical world, which prized strategies for sharing Christ with one’s neighbors. But all those strategies felt overly wooden, reductive, and ultimately flaccid. Lewis taught me that a compelling faith is one that has been fleshed out by the imagination and applied to life.
Oh yes, and I am a huge Prayer Chain fan. I have the original lyric sheet from “Worm,” torn from Eric Campuzano’s notebook. I asked for it via a mailed letter, and he gave it to me, along with a cassette that featured a whole live show from 1991, some outtakes from “Neverland,” and demos from the “Mercury” sessions. I still have it.
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