Release Date: September 25th 2015
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Eyes Up
- Ocean Deep
- Earth Shaker
- Be With Us Now (Emmanuel)
- Hold Them Close
- Hearts Collide
Building 429 has always been one the bands that have produced solid albums, without much fuss, and not even much recognition, when compared to other more publicised (but not necessarily more prolific or even poignant) bands like MercyMe, Casting Crowns, Newsboys or Third Day. Releasing their albums on labels like Word Records and Fair Trade Services, it is their trio of album releases on Provident Label Group (Listen to the Sound, We Won’t Be Shaken and now this new album Unashamed) that have proved the most lyrically mature from lead singer Jason Roy and the rest of the band. Making their mark right off the band with their powerful single “Glory Defined” way back in 2004 from their debut album Space in Between Us, Jason and the band have continued to assert their message of Ephesians 4:29 (of which their name of Building 429 has been derived)- and how we, as Christians, ought not to deliver words of disdain or heartbreak to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (or to anyone for that matter), but rather our words need to speak life and build each other up (that’s a paraphrase of Ephesians 4:29, not a word by word recital). Their new album Unashamed further exemplifies this fact; that we aren’t ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and whatever we say and do, should and ought to point to this fact and not take away from it. Fusing together rock, pop, worship and even piano only with their last track and arguably one of my favourite songs ever from the band, “Stronger”; Unashamed is the band’s best work yet, and a testament to their longevity, and their relevance in an industry sadly more focused on radio marketability than artistic integrity, endeavours and creativity (of which Building 429 continues to excel at with every album release).
Releasing their first radio single “Impossible” back in April 2015, Jason and the band have come to deliver songs with power, punch, poignancy and profound lyrical emotion, and “Impossible” is once again a song that highlights all these things. With French horns, tamborine, light acoustic guitars and a ‘woooh’ sound that makes this song fit straight into a jazz/rock set, “Impossible” states just that- that ‘…nothing is unreachable when the trust the God of miracles, we know, we know, we know, that there’s no such thing as impossible…’ Jason has never sounded better in his passion and enthusiasm, and with the combination of instruments that show that the band are exploring, ever so slightly, outside the comforts of pop/rock/radio format bands have so easily fallen into with the introduction of the radio song fit for K-Love or Air 1; “Impossible” stands tall as one of my favourite songs on the album, and one of the most ingeniously written and recorded tracks the band has produced since “Bonfire” back in 2013.
While boldly claiming and declaring that nothing is impossible for God, the band still remind us all about the struggles we face in everyday life on our walk with God. As Jason asserts himself, ‘…with We Won’t Be Shaken, we wanted to sow seeds of confidence, boldness and assurance. But, we realized we didn’t admit to the doubt and struggles of the believer, that the messiness of getting to the place of confidence and boldness is part of the journey that can’t necessarily be skipped over. We saw that as an opportunity for this album and believe that God has been a part of the whole process…’ Which is why many of these songs, “Impossible” included, aren’t necessarily as ‘sunny’ or ‘bright’ as songs on We Won’t Be Shaken, rather, the feel of the album in a whole is a sense of contentment, content that we will in fact be home whenever Jesus comes back, content in the fact that we are unashamed for the gospel, yet also content in the fact that this life and what comes with it isn’t necessarily as easy as what we may think when we give our lives over to Christ. Being unashamed doesn’t come with an easy life, which is spoken about in the title track. With a big bang of drums and Jason declaring from the outset that ‘…I am unashamed…’, we hear vulnerability straight from the first verse, that ‘…I’ve been down, I’ve been broken, but I believe what You’ve spoken, that You make all things new…’ It is easy to be unashamed for Christ when things are great, but when things aren’t so, that is when it takes courage and faith. The title track hopefully is an encouragement to many, to stand firm and bold no matter the situation, and to know that it is with our lives and how we live them that people will see whether we are unashamed about Christ or not!
It was sad when We Won’t Be Shaken wasn’t recognised for any Dove Award Nominations, yet if Unashamed is bypassed once again, then it would be on the verge of criminal. Looking at the album, we see a plethora of musical genres, and passion I’ve never seen from this band before. Sure, these songs may sound more radio friendly then their earlier Rise or Space In Between Us material, yet with renewed passion to declare the words #IAMUNASHAMED and an enthusiasm I’ve heard in Jason’s voice that I’ve never heard in any album this year since Lincoln Brewster’s Oxygen, then this travelling into radio format territory ought to be trivial right? While there is a tad too much ‘woah’s in “Earth Shaker”, and lyrics that could lead lovers of their previous material to somewhat cringe- ‘…I wanna be a sky scraper, reaching for You, reaching for You, I wanna be an earth shaker, be the game changer, that’s living for You, na, na, na, na…’, the song is nevertheless catchy to say the least. While not the most compelling track on the album, what this song shows us the lyrical prowess of Jason, that still in the midst of radio format songs like this, passion is emitted and a lyrical theme of us living for God and being the earth shakers He’s destined us to be is a theme for us to seriously consider, in the weeks, months and even years ahead.
“Be With Us Now”, “Hold Them Close” and “Hearts Collide” closely follow “Earth Shaker” in terms of the radio sleek format, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Rather, listening to each of these tracks, we see Jason vulnerability discuss issues close to his heart and hopefully ours, from praising and declaring for Christ to be with us, both now and into the future as we live our lives of struggle and trusting (“Be With Us Now”), and asking the Lord to watch over and hold close his family to Him, believing that Christ holds a family unit together, more so than the father of the household (“Hold Them Close”); to the hard rock “wooahh” littered “Hearts Collide”, with Jason proclaiming that our hearts with God ought to collide, that when people see us, they see God as we ‘…show ‘em what we’re made of…’ as His love and life radiate out of us in every aspect of how we live and act. And in spite of these three songs and the formulaic sound this album slightly slips into towards the end of the album, Unashamed is still one of my favourite albums of the year, period. With just a few songs that showcase greatness and move the album as a whole from ok, to great, and from great to awe-inspiring; Building 429 unveil melodies like “GO”, “Eyes Up”, “Ocean Deep” and album ender “Stronger”, songs that showcase their lyrical and musical maturity that further asserts my claim that they are one of the most relevant yet equally one of the most underrated and overlooked bands within the Christian music industry currently!
With a whistle, a piano riff, hand claps, and the opening line of how ‘…every day is an uphill climb, we’re pushing harder just to fall behind but we know the best is up ahead…’, “Eyes Up” is as musically packed with a plethora of everything new and fully welcome, along with a theme of rest as Jason and the band pick apart our notion to always be on the go to present a song titled “Eyes Up”, reminding us all that as we focus our eyes on Christ and His sacrifice, what we experience and how we live ought to overflow from the revelation we have, sometimes even daily. A song that they debuted during WinterJam 2015 as a demo and asked their fans of what they thought of the song, it was, and is a great feeling to hear this as the first song to Unashamed. “GO”, simply titled that, is as short as it is powerful- just a tad over 3 minutes, 3:08 in fact, yet within the confines of the song length, we are introduced to strong guitars, a theme of us going into the unknown because God says so, and repetition in the words of ‘GO’ (yet not done to the point of irritability), as Jason invites us to partake in hearing an electronically driven melody destined to be a fan favourite at live concerts. “GO”’s message is simple- that when Christ calls us to go, we go, no matter what, knowing His providence in those circumstances. The remaining two melodies, “Ocean Deep” and “Stronger”, are by far some of the best songs the band has ever conceived, and each of them could potentially be bigger and more impacting than “Impossible” ever was (in fact, “Oceans Deep” is a radio single right now, “Stronger” could be in the future).
As personal as they could come, “Ocean Deep” is my favourite song from Building 429, possibly ever. No, come to think of it, yes, ever. Standing at 3:51, the impact the song has, not just on me but hopefully on others, goes beyond the length of the song. Singing about his own personal life, Jason takes autobiography and gives it a new meaning making it relatable to the many. Stating from the outset, amongst the electric guitars and the vocal distortion, to ‘…look at me here in my frailty, I’ve been living a lie, believing that I could earn this, and would you look at us, we say we know Your love, and still we think if we fail, somehow You won’t be enough…’, we get a glimpse into what every person, Christian or not, may feel in their lives, that they love given to them that was unconditional from the start will start to become conditional, because as we look at ourselves, we realise that we aren’t are good as we believe we were, and we aren’t as repentant as we profess. Yet in spite of everything we have done and will do, God’s love is an ocean, washing over us and always washing over us in spite of what we think or believe. Though a radio song, this is a melody that I’m sure will be loved by those who enjoy radio format CCM and those who may stray from it and not touch it even with a ten foot pole. “Ocean Deep” is poignant, memorable, infectious, emotive, and hopefully life changing. Well done to Jason and Building 429, for creating a song that’ll be on my playlist in the years to come.
Enter in “Stronger”. Wow, I mean, just wow. Standing at 6 minutes 40 seconds, there is not a dull moment on the song- expect for how it ends which is a fade-out. Nevertheless, its message is universal. Which is what I reckon will be great for the melody, its ability to impact and affect listeners of both Christian and mainstream radio. With just a piano introduction, Jason’s words are ever more impacting, with the hauntingly provoking and compelling lyrics of how ‘…I want you to know, that I’m getting stronger with every punch you throw, I’m not staying down, staying down, oh no, I’m getting stronger with every word you say, I’m not staying down, I’m getting stronger…’ With the song obviously sung from the eyes of someone who was bullied, singing to his bully and declaring his strength in spite of that, the song could be read in a million different ways, but let’s just delve into two. We as Christians know that we are stronger because of Christ, which is a meaning that could be seen through this song, yet the message is equally valid in the form of overcoming bullying through being strong from within, from the encouragement of friends and family, and from the fact that we want to prove to our doubters and our bullies of how far we have come, that the words spoken over us don’t have a hold of us anymore. The universality of “Stronger” is what will work best for the band, and here’s hoping this song will be a crossover hit and have them more exposed and influential in the mainstream in the years to come!
Since debuting their label album in 2004 (and moving between three labels), the presence of Building 429 and their heartfelt songs are only going to continue with Unashamed, their most refined, powerful, impacting and compelling album of their career so far. With comforting yet confronting lyrics and edgy musicianship, Unashamed declares the timeless truth of us being unashamed of the gospel, yet never losing the reality of how sometimes life is hard and isn’t always rosy and peachy as the typical Christian life is often described as. One of Christian music’s most enthusiastic vocalists, Jason Roy and Building 429 continue to encourage us with songs fit to sing out in whatever occasion. From “GO” to “Eyes Up” as well as all-time favourites “Stronger” and “Ocean Deep”, this is an album not to be missed if you are a fan of artists like Kutless, Newsboys or Sanctus Real. Well done guys for such a career defining album, and one that’ll be within my favourite albums list at the end of the year!
3 song to listen to: Stronger, Ocean Deep, GO
RIYL: Kutless, Newsboys, Sanctus Real, Peter Furler, Hawk Nelson