Release Date: November 5th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Bird’s Eye View
- Mood Swings
- Wish It Was That Easy
- Got Me Like This
- Might As Well
- Odyssey – Epilogue
Signed to Gotee Records way back in 2016; singer/songwriter Hollyn unveiled her debut album One Way Conversations in 2017 (which we reviewed here!), containing the smash hit singles “Can’t Live Without” and “Love With Your Life”; as well as lesser known hits “In Awe” and “Lovely”. Though the album was poignant, emotional and honest; Hollyn’s subsequent singles weren’t as big as her first two. With radio silence from Hollyn until 2018 (her singles “Everything and More” and “Isaac”) and 2019 (her EP bye sad girl.); I assumed that maybe she’d be a one-album wonder (as in only one full length album). It’d be sad, but I would accept it, mainly because out of hundreds and hundreds of artists who record their debut album, only a few of them make it past album number 2 and onto the road to stardom. Perhaps the fame and the attention was a bit too much, but whatever the case, I naively thought that Hollyn may not release anything ever again. It wouldn’t be cool, but I’d eventually learn to live with it. Because that’s part of the music business right? Artists come, and artists go. However just this past month or so, Hollyn unveiled her brand new full length album Holy Rebellion– and boy is it an honest and vulnerable release. Dare I say it; I reckon it’s Hollyn’s most vulnerable release ever, and perhaps one of the most vulnerable albums of the year!
I had a different title picked out for nearly a year before finishing the album. Each song meshed together quite well, but simultaneously was uniquely different. We wanted to somehow capture the overall flow generated between the singularity of each track. Since the entire album is solely me throughout, the name has to embody who I am from the heart forward.
For the last couple of years, a bunch of people has been prompting me to find out the meaning behind my name. I was hesitant because my name was pretty basic on the surface. Holly Marie. Holly is a plant, a bush so I don’t know how cool that is. However, I did some research looking at the synonyms of the word Holly and the word “holy” kept popping up. Also, the name Marie means “to rebel against or become bitter.”
Together, Holy Rebellion was the result and there we have it. At this point in my life when I discovered this, what I was being asked by God to do and go forward with was quite outside of what is normal. When I read this interpretation, something clicked. The most transformative and pivotal moments of my life were quite different than expectations of other people and they just felt right to me. They felt holy in line with God’s calling. So, the team decided to go with Holy Rebellion as the title.
Like it’s predecessor bye sad girl., Holy Rebellion seems to be, at least at first glance, a mainstream album first and foremost. There is no worshipping Jesus here, or singing about the Christian life. For all intents and purposes, you’d say that Hollyn has gone ‘mainstream’ for this release. Yet there’s something about this batch of songs that still tug at my heart and nonetheless create healthy discussion and conversation, as they challenge the status quo and bring about the explorations of topics that sometimes Christian music doesn’t really talk about. As mentioned in the latest interview with New Release Today, Hollyn reveals to us that she’s still a Christian- and I am reminded that just because a ‘Christian’ artist doesn’t sing about Jesus, doesn’t mean they aren’t a believer. And in this sense, Hollyn’s latest album encourages and inspires, and lets us know that life is complex, and that there are plenty of ups and downs in life, but with God and friends and family beside us, we can conquer anything we set our minds to.
The album opens with “Bird’s Eye View”, a poppy, happy-go-lucky, radio friendly jam that essentially celebrates living life to the fullest and not worrying about the intricate details that goes on each and every day. A melody that reminds me of Matthew 6:25-34 about worry, this song speaks about taking a relaxed approach to life and a long-form view of every situation. It’s this approach that I reckon we must live by, and Hollyn’s opener brings cheer, happiness and an infectious injection of passion. “Mood Swings” follows, and musically is vastly different to anything Hollyn has done. Thematically the song speaks about feeling low, down and uncertain about things, and also knowing that it is ok to feel these things; with Hollyn likening going through life as going through mood swings. Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you know a lot, sometimes you don’t know much. This song, though not sounding like ‘Hollyn’, still has its place, even though it’s hard for me to ‘get into’ it; as Hollyn reminds us that it’s ok to not feel ok sometimes, and it’s ok to be vulnerable and honest about what you’re feeling, as mentioned deeper in a behind the song post: I overthought every decision. I battled with opinions and pleasing people to the point of exhaustion. 90% of the voices I heard told me that my vision was impossible. the expectations and dreams of what I wanted to do with my life, who I wanted to be, it all felt so out of reach and impossible to accomplish in the environment I was in. I simply wanted to GROW. I wanted to TRY. I wanted to explore my gifts. I remember asking God for a friend that would give me the space to create without limits and who would pour into my creative voice and trust me – low and behold, Austin Davis came into the picture. This song + the ones you’re about to hear, gave me the hope to keep using my voice in a way that might not make sense now, but will for the future and those who are living there already. here’s to creating with friends + stepping into ownership of who you were made to be! Lean into wisdom and God will bring the right people in the moments you need them most! WE NEED YOUR VOICE!
The rest of Holy Rebellion has plenty of lyrical double meanings or even triple meanings, but Hollyn reminds us that we all have layers as humans, and sometimes we need to sit amongst the uncomfortable feelings for a while in order to understand what God is saying to us. “Wish It Was That Easy” is one of the most vulnerable and honest songs Hollyn has ever recorded, as she probes and wonders why people aren’t that open and honest to each other, wondering also ‘…what if we could talk like we got nothin’ to prove, maybe we could be something more than what we do…’, but then concludes in the chorus that it’s not that easy to be open to people, although she wishes it was. “Maybe?”, a song about asking God what His plan is with everything we don’t understand and everything that doesn’t fit into our neat, nice boxes; reminds us also that sometimes things in life don’t have answers that can be tied up in a bow, and sometimes it’s necessary to sit in the ‘maybes’ and the ‘I don’t knows’ of life. Life is complicated and messy this side of heaven, and Hollyn’s “Maybe?” attempts to give us more clarity and comfort in a fallen world; while the laid back, subdued, reflective and honest ballad “Got Me Like This” has Hollyn singing about her love for her husband, and that ‘…You got me singing all of the time, You got me dreaming outside the line, and somehow it only gets sweeter with time, You’re the only one that, You’re the only one that’s got me like this…’.
“Might As Well”, an honest, vulnerable and emotional ballad, speaks about the persona having a panic attack of sorts because of a relationship that has gone sour, and hoping against hope that the relationship can go back to the simplicities and the joy of being. It’s a heartbreaking song that could’ve been based on Hollyn’s past, or maybe someone else; but the reality is that this song speaks about living through the pain and surviving the extreme circumstances, just to get to something better on the other side. “Opinions”, a track about not being too fussed or concerned with the haters, and instead to take criticism and critiques as water of a duck’s back, Hollyn reminds us that I let the opinions of people mean more than the voice of truth. I’m thankful for all of the times I wrestled with my inner self in order to have the courage to speak up and use my voice. Remember, your peace is not worth compromising. Be strong, be courageous, be all you were made to be! Opinions mean nothing in light of the truth! “Headspace”, similar in theme to Riley Clemmons’ song of the same name, speaks about the war in Hollyn’s head, and the fact that she wants to listen to God’s voice, and thus this song is her trying to say no to the devil. There’s lots of imagery here, and maybe I’m reading too much into this song that I need to, however this song also reminds us that we need to protect the wellbeing of our mental health as well as our physical, emotional and spiritual heath.
“Tension”, one of the most controversial and polarising songs Hollyn has ever recorded (due to the presence of Hollyn wielding a knife in the seemingly disturbing music video), is perhaps one of the most powerful and confronting songs from Hollyn ever, as Hollyn questions God and His plans once again. Some comments on the music video for Tension reveal that people are worried for Hollyn’s faith, but after reading a Facebook post, it seems to me that Hollyn is singing from a doubting point of view, which isn’t even her viewpoint at the moment: My favorite line in “Tension” is: I need you to protect me from the what if’s, to direct me and to guide it, with the precision of a knife. Because of that, I wanted the visuals for this song to portray what it feels like when life is uncomfortable, you feel numb, and the tension of waiting has taken over your hope and longing for more. I’ve found myself there many times, and when I do, I always have a choice: let the season tear me apart and resist change, or let God open me up and, like surgery, remove what needs to be removed from my life so that I can be the healthiest version of me. You’ll notice at the end of the video, the knife is coming out of a pot and growing like a plant, it then finds its way to me. representing that… in the end, I want to always choose to water the painful things that are meant to be there so that I can use it as a tool to heal, comfort others, and create. Art is up for interpretation, and with that, it’s critics, but in case you were curious… there’s my take on “Tension”. Originally I thought “Tension” was pretty weird, but I guess if you take the time to sit with this song, it truly is directing difficult questions to God and allowing Him to respond back and to lead us to what He wants for our lives. Holy Rebellion then ends with the 8 minute medley “Odyssey/Epilogue”, whereby Hollyn gives thanks to God, and concludes that ‘…in my mind, in my soul, when my heart needs a home, You’ve always been there, I can tell You anything, I don’t need to worry, I have my eyes set on You…’. Overtly reminding us all that Jesus is all that we need, Hollyn has taken courage and bravery to the nth degree on this album, and has travelled against the norm. She should be proud of this unique effort to show us a different side to herself.
My decision to become an indie artist has been a slow-moving transition lasting the last two or three years. During this time, I was processing my journey related to my voice, music, and comfortable space for those passions to live. Thinking back, I loved and enjoyed working with pop icon TobyMac during my time spent with the label.
However, the natural transition of developing a more mature voice and audience kind of sparked the overall transition to an indie artist. I wanted to process and talk about (sing) about deeper issues than your normal surface-level content found on a pop record. Situations that revolved around real-life pain and struggles and how to heal from each of those spiritually and mentally.
Music, for me, is a therapeutic release. Leaving the label allowed me to begin an adventure of discovering myself. In the end, it was an amazing mutual exchange between Toby and me. We both realized I needed to break free from the structure, pattern, and the audience most fans of Gotee artists’ draw. I realized most of my audience didn’t come from the space as a “Christian” artist doing pop records.
I want fans to walk away with a sense of discovery and ask questions. Questions like, “how do I feel?” Those who are surprised by the overall content and sound, I hope they’re at least open to receiving and processing everything. Like any artist, I want fans to connect personally with the content as a means of an outlet.
To connect with how I feel and what I’m expressing may be exactly how they think and feel but do not know how to express such verbally or in a written form. When I listen to music, that’s what I look for. To relate to another artist’s journey and see how it fits within my daily walk, struggles, and victories. That’s all we all want, to feel heard, understood, and relatable.
Sky is the limit for Hollyn (maybe in the mainstream, maybe not!), as we anticipate what she has for us next. Maybe a full-length Christmas album or a covers album? While One Way Conversations was enjoyable, personally I reckon it wasn’t that ground-breaking nor memorable (sorry, Hollyn!); but Holy Rebellion is a different kind of Hollyn that is definitely growing on me. If this is Hollyn’s start in the mainstream and if she carries onto minister to those who do not know Him; then that is fantastic. Perhaps Hollyn is going back to Christian music, and this release is just an exploration as a side project near and dear to her heart. Either way, Holy Rebellion has a lot of multilayered lyrical content here, and is indeed Hollyn’s best thus far, and a standout in 2021! So…what are you waiting for guys? Check out this album, enjoy listening, and remember that God speaks through anything He wants to!
3 songs to listen to: Bird’s Eye View, Maybe?, Opinions
RIYL: TobyMac, Selena Gomez, Little Mix, Kacey Musgraves, Riley Clemmons, Sheryl Crow, Mat Kearney, Owl City