Release Date: September 8th 2015
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Burning Bright
- I Will Love Again
- Stop Before I Start
- The Choice
- I Won’t Cry
- The Love of the Lord Endures
- Breathing Room
- It is Well
‘…life is such a journey, of mountains and valleys, storms and sunshine but it is beautiful and unique to each and every one of us. We all have a story unlike anyone else’s- you don’t have to be anyone other than who God made you to be. I have found the greatest impact I have had on people is when I am being myself, when I am transparent, honest, and a little bit goofy…’ Being an indie artist can seem like a big feat in the midst of record deals, labels and a whole lot of record labels backing albums that receive much attention and publicity. But for indie worship/pop artist Julie Elias, staying indie and true to her pop/indie roots has made her continuously unique. Releasing her new album Unbroken this coming week, we see Julie venture from her worship music style that she had on her latest album Love Rain Down into the genre of indie rock and pop as this new album appears to be her strongest, both musically and lyrically.
Reminding me lyrically and musically of artists like Jaci Velasquez, Rebecca St. James and Avalon, it is the lyrical similarities to music from the 90s, while also having a unique personality about herself which she injects into her music, that make Julie an artist to watch in the upcoming months ahead. Julie’s career has been quite a whirlwind up to this point- studying musical theatre when she was younger and ending up in Hollywood, where she guested in various TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: New York, Bones, Flash Forward, Community and more. Now focusing on Christian music, Unbroken is a collection of songs full of heart and hopefulness as the 90s music sound compliments itself with the CCM style present in many Christian radio melodies currently. From the rock edge of the title track, to the emotiveness of “Butterfly” and the radio accessibility of “Home”, Julie’s upcoming album is one to enjoy if you love modern pop/rock, with a 1990s style music twist.
The first radio single from her album, “Home”, is as catchy as it is poignant and meaningful. Underneath all the bouncy-ness that is presented through light electric guitars and a piano riff, Julie starts the song with poignancy in the relatable words of how ‘…it all goes crazy sometimes, wanna pause my life and rewind, but no, life doesn’t work that way…’ Reminding me thematically like Francesca Battistelli’s “When the Crazy Kicks In”, we are presented with a day to day quandary- that sometimes indeed, life can be too much for us to handle. We may have great days and we may have difficult days. Yet this song is of comfort to us, even in the song title- to be titled ‘home’ is a reflection and reminder- where is our home? Where is our identity? The song alludes to ‘home’ being in Christ Jesus, and that we can always come to Jesus to be our spiritual home even when we may feel like we can’t retreat to our physical home for whatever reason. A great song to be the first single, Julie’s vocals in “Home” alone (see the pun…?) ought to be enough for any listener to check out the album when it drops this week.
Many of the songs on the album are quite unique musically, lyrically and thematically, making Julie possibly one of the most musically diverse indie artists I’ve heard for a long time. “Burning Bright” starts off the album with a powerful and eclectic electric guitar riff intro that draws us into a song with a theme of shining our lights in the darkness and in the places where Christ’s love is needed the most. The chorus is most poignant and emotive, with Julie powerfully asserting that God’s light will ‘…shine in the darkness, the darkness will not overcome, you won’t be defeated, the Saviour has already won, don’t be afraid, stand in His strength, shine a light, burning bright…’, placing the emphasis not on us, but on the power and magnificent nature of Christ as we be a witness for Him in an age that needs Him the most. “Unbroken”, the title track, and the album’s rockiest melody, employs vocal distortion and guitar heavy undertones to remind us of the message of moving on in various circumstances, picking up the pieces that result from events and trusting that God will make something great out of moments of despair and dissolution.
In a similar thematic vein, “I Will Love Again”, the most vulnerable track on the album, speaks about moving on in a romantic sense, as evidenced by the title of the track. With a light keyboard instrumental undertone and Julie’s passionate and hauntingly refreshing vocals, we are met with a topic that isn’t necessarily discussed within Christian music- what happens if we have loved and lost for whatever reason? While I’m not sure whether this song is written about Julie personally or for another, but the topic and message is clear- that in spite of our own romantic histories, Christ knows best, and knows who we’ll end up with. In spite of our own choices, and even if we have chosen wrong partners before, we will love again as what this song declares, that ‘…this won’t be my story’s end, a chapters done but there’s not damsel in distress, and this won’t be my only chance to see a childhood dream finally come true, and I will love again…’ A song that’ll hit a chord with many people who may be in the same boat as the persona in this song, Julie’s vulnerability in this song alone, coupled with “Home”, makes Unbroken become one of my top 5 albums of 2015 so far!
Throughout the rest of Unbroken, Julie delivers song after song of emotion and heartfelt praise as we see versatility and uniqueness written all over these melodies. “Butterfly” is a powerful metaphor, as we see how the wonder we look at a butterfly and the intricateness of such a creature is just a fraction of what Jesus sees in us; while “Stop Before I Start” is a keyboard prominent anthem about holding our tongues if we are on the verge of saying something to someone out of anger and disdain. As Julie admits she needs to ‘…stop and breathe, nothing else needs to be said, let the silence fall like rain…’, we are all encouraged to stop before we speak, to think before we act and to ask for guidance before we leap into giving well-meaning advice but at the wrong time. “The Choice” emphasises the keyboard as this jazzed up nearly-three minute power-pop song about realising that there are some things in life we can choose and other things in life that are up to God. Having the power to choose can be a dangerous but still rewarding thing, and this song delves on that and hopefully gives us a reminder to always think before we choose and make decisions.
“Why”, a 3 minute song to a bully about why they hurt their victims in the way they do, isn’t necessarily your conventional CCM pop melody, but it is a necessary one that’ll make us think about our own past, whether we were the bullies or victims, and reconcile with that; while “I Won’t Cry”, one of Julie’s personal favourites, delves into country music and speaks about the topic of revenge, and what our take on it as Christians should be. As Julie describes herself; ‘…that’s definitely one of the more angsty songs I have written and, ugh, being angry and wanting revenge are such real human emotions but nothing we can do can change it; it has to be up to God…’ “The Love of the Lord Endures”, originally recorded by ex-CCM artist Joy Williams in her 2003 album By Surprise, is recorded again by Julie and in fact, Julie’s recording is as poignant and emotive, maybe even more so, than the original. Singing about how God’s love endures above every circumstance we’re in, Julie has done Joy’s song justice. Also presenting to us “Breathing Room”, her popular radio single from her 2012 album A Wild Rose, and “It is Well”, a newly recorded worship cover originally by Bethel Music, as bonus tracks, these two melodies round out an album that is personally one of my favourites of 2015 so far- even after hearing the album a few times over the last few days, I’d say it’s on par quality-wise with other albums like Doxology (Aaron Shust), This is Not a Test (TobyMac), Reborn (Finding Favour) and Set Free (Joy Lippard).
‘…all cultures have music. It is the most universal of all languages. Music enhances words to something so much bigger, something that you feel throughout your whole body. Many times you can just hear a melody and you know right away if it is happy, confused or sad and then the words just complement it- to combine this with the influence and spirit of God makes for an immensely powerful medium by which to share Him with the world…’ With three albums under her belt, Julie Elias is just getting started in the CCM industry. While still relatively new compared to seasoned veterans like Francesca Battistelli, Kerrie Roberts and Natalie Grant; the album is great production-wise. With powerful drums and a vocal that I reckon is one of the most underrated in the Christian indie music industry; Julie’s new album is one to treasure if you are a fan of indie worship music, CCM, pop, or a combination of the three. With an overarching atmosphere that harkens back to the 1990s, Julie’s unique representation of the songs shows us that there can be a place where CCM and 1990s style music are married and it works. From the title track, to “Home”, “Butterfly”, “I Will Love Again” and “The Love of the Lord Endures”; Julie’s efforts ought to be commended and rewarded. Well done Julie, for presenting one of my favourite albums released in 2015! Definitely within my top 5. Who knows, maybe in a few months and after a few more listens, it’ll climb further up my favourites list…
3 song to listen to: Butterfly, I Will Love Again, Home
RIYL: Kerrie Roberts, Natalie Grant, Avalon, Francesca Battistelli, Rebecca St. James