Elektra Records / Centricity Music
Release Date: July 29th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- What We’re Here For
- Into the Mystery
- Carry Me (feat. Jon Foreman of Switchfoot)
- I Am Yours
- Sittin’ in the Backseat
- Give Me A Chance
- Don’t Throw All the Good Things Away (feat. Natalie Hemby)
- I Wanna Remember (feat. Carrie Underwood)
- West Texas Wind
Never once in my life did I think that I would enjoy needtobreathe. For real. If you were to tell me a few years ago that I’d listen to this band on a regular basis and write a blog post about them being in a list that I believe to be the top 100 influential artists in modern music history, I’d laugh in your face. I will. Because when you think about it, needtobreathe aren’t really that famous. I mean, they are within the Christian industry for sure, but when you take the vastness of mainstream music and try to fit needtobreathe inside, I don’t think they’d even register. And maybe that’s ok. Let me just back up here a little bit. I started hearing needtobreathe and their music in the mid 2000s, sort of around when their 2nd album The Heat released. And around that time, I did hear of the band, but they weren’t that popular around that time- there were a few songs I heard at that moment- ‘You are Here’ and ‘Shine On’ to name a few. I knew that they were all Christians (or at least brothers Bear and Bo- lead vocalist and guitarist respectively- were). I knew they came from the South- South Carolina to be precise. And with all that information, I assumed that this band from the depths of Christian ‘hillbilly’ country was in fact that, a ‘hillbilly’ band, that I myself didn’t really seem to follow or even be excited about in my youth and teenage years. Besides, I was heavily listening to artists like Carman, Tim Hughes, Steve Grace, Delirious?, Matt Redman and Steven Curtis Chapman around that time. Needtobreathe certainly didn’t fit that mould. And thus…I didn’t push it. I heard a few songs here and there from the band and on I went in my growing up through my teens and early 20s. I was listening to what I was listening to. I was musically safe; and didn’t really feel as if there was any reason in the first place to even venture out of my ‘safe’ music bubble. Needtobreathe still was on the radio, and I did manage to catch a few Christ-centred songs from them over the years. And then came Rivers in the Wasteland and The Reckoning, two albums that I reckon propelled the band into international stardom and got the attention of mainstream media. The band blew up, figuratively, and the songs became much more appealing to both CCM and mainstream.
I decided to take a chance, and now here I am in 2020, and the band have grown on my quite a lot. The verdict? Yes, the band has taken their time for me to enjoy them and their songs, but what I will say is this- no they’re not popular, nor even famous, when looking at the grand scheme of things. But as I’ve said time and time again, popularity and influence need not be the same. And needtobreathe is the result of when influence is much more paramount to the band than fame and recognition. And yes, this selection into my own personal top 100 influential artists can be at the very least, a little controversial (alongside artists like Andrew Peterson and The McClymonts, that I’ve written about in my blog post series last year!), but as I’ve said, controversy is where discussion starts in what we believe to be influential or what we believe to be popular yet equally vapid. Bear, Bo and the rest of the band have created songs and albums that have tugged at the hearts and minds of ourselves who have followed their journey for years. The band are indeed influential to both people who love CCM, or mainstream or both. Critics of mainstream and CCM have both loved needtobreathe of recent years, one article stated that needtobreathe are ‘America’s most popular band you’ve never heard of’. That’s a big statement. And as I’ve listened to the band and their music on the regular for the last few years or so, I’ve come to appreciate the group all the more, and enjoy the ambiguity of the lyrics, understanding that needtobreathe are becoming like Skillet or Switchfoot- creating music for both CCM and mainstream to be impacted by and appreciate…and that is a good thing!
This above quote is the start of my blog that I wrote about needtobreathe last year- you can continue reading the blog here, but everything that I probably want to say about needtobreathe, in a nutshell, is expounded upon in the blog that I wrote last year. And just above is a teaser, to my own assertion that needtobreathe is indeed, as I wrote before, ‘America’s most popular band you’ve never heard of’. Bear, Seth, Josh, and the rest of the guys of the band, have crafted a career of delivering standout songs and hopeful melodies, tracks that have been reminding us all of the complexities of life, and the God above all, who uses life and all it’s happenings, to shape and mould us into the people we know He longs for us to be, both now and into the future. Since their inception into music more than 15 years ago, needtobreathe have been on a roll. Possibly one of the most unique, ingenious, emotive, poignant, lyrically impressive, and artistic bands to ever be in both Christian and mainstream music since Switchfoot and Skillet (and before then, U2), these men from South Carolina have been able to use their platform in both Christian and mainstream music to deliver heartfelt melodies and songs that stir the soul. With songs like ‘You Are Here’, ‘Something Beautiful’, ‘Slumber’, ‘Keep Your Eyes Open’, ‘Shine On’, ‘Washed by the Water’, ‘Streets of Gold’, ‘Difference Maker’, ‘Multiplied’, ‘Brother’, and more recently ‘HARD LOVE’, ‘TESTIFY’, ‘Forever on Your Side’, ‘Who Am I’, ‘Banks’ and ‘HAPPINESS’ being some of the standout songs the band have released in their career thus far, Bear Rineheart, Seth Bolt and Josh Lovelace (alongside Joe Stillwell prior to 2014 and Bo Rinehart prior to 2020) have indeed led us all listeners and fans of the band into a place and space where honesty, hope, encouragement, realness and a sense of being yourself, is brought to the fore.
After the highly successful HARDLOVE released in 2016, the band released Forever On Your Side (Niles City Sound Sessions), crafting together a collection of pop-rock melodies with a folk-pop edge, all the while trying to stay relevant musically with contemporaries of the mainstream industry (johnnyswim, Ben Rector, The Civil Wars, Colony House, Echosmith, to name a few)- the standout single ‘Forever on Your Side’, from the four-track EP, was something to be beheld, as this band slowly became a force to be reckoned with- in both CCM and mainstream. The band continued to thrive with the album Out of Body last year, the band continuing to stretch and challenge our own preconceptions on what we are to believe pop-rock music should sound like, and whether or now we believe wholeheartedly a band like needtobreathe can still survive within a sea of pop-rock/radio friendly artists that seem to try a lot, but nevertheless produce things that are very much similar to releases of the past, all for the sake of radio attention! Needtobreathe continued to travel from strength to strength with the release of their 2020 album Out of Body (reviewed by my brother here), and with the standout songs like ‘Hang On’, ‘Survival’, ‘Banks’ and ‘Who Am I?’, Bear and co. delivered what I have firmly believed, to be one of 2020’s best albums that year. Now fast-forward to the middle of 2021, and just less than a year into the release of Out of Body, we see another musical offering from Bear and co.- another brand-new studio album, Into the Mystery.
It can seem weird for a band like needtobreathe (let alone any other band), to record a brand-new album in very quick succession (COVID-19 aside, I mean, who does that, record 2 albums within one year- Out of Body released in August 2020, and Into the Mystery in July 2021). But as it were, COVID-19 struck (and still is striking around the world), and the band decided to do what they always knew best instead of touring- to write more songs. The band then recorded Into the Mystery– a collection of 12 songs, and over the course of three weeks, the band moved into an isolated historic house-turned-recording studio, to produce the album. While there really wasn’t much of a turnaround between the band’s 2020 and 2021 albums, what I will say is this- the short wait between albums has certainly been worth the wait, with Into the Mystery becoming one of my favourite albums from this band (alongside Rivers in the Wasteland), upon hearing singles like the title track, ‘I Wanna Remember’, ‘Carry Me’ and ‘I Am Yours’. One of today’s most meaningful bands (in both CCM and mainstream) of late, this album is no exception, and Into the Mystery is still fast becoming one of my favourite albums of 2021, up there alongside Phil Wickham’s Hymn of Heaven, Riley Clemmons’ Godsend and Delta Goodrem’s Bridge Over Troubled Dreams.
Releasing the title track as a promotional single earlier on during the year, ‘Into the Mystery’ acts as an anchor musically and lyrically, as the album delivers this underuntilised theme of going out into the mystery of life, and celebrating the unknown, not just in the title track, but throughout the album as a whole. Standing at a bit under 4 minutes, this light acoustically driven track is about travelling with your significant other, into places unknown and spaces and moments untraversed, to situations undetermined, and be ok with just going along the journey with our friends and family, all the while not knowing what comes next, but being ok with just taking one step in front of the other and following where the mystery of life takes us, no matter how dark or how joyful life becomes for us in the future. It is a song about trust, about surrendering in terms of things we know we can’t control (how this life goes), and to be as comforted as we can, knowing that as we travel this life with our family and friends, we don’t have to worry about being alone- we can celebrate together, we can laugh together, and we can cry as well. There’s a recent blog that I read delving deep into the song itself, and I know I can’t write as well as what was explored, and so I’ll let that blog expound on the song (and thereby the album as well). But what I will say is this- ‘Into the Mystery’ is as hauntingly refreshing as it is emotive and confronting. It’s a song that is needed during these moments of introspection and reflection during such a time as this. It’s a call to journey with our brothers and sisters into the great unknown, and to embrace the ‘I don’t know’ space, to have the peace with not knowing all the answers to questions, and to be ok with maybe never knowing the answers to some.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see this group of Southern rockers deliver poignant truths and emotive anthems that can be the soundtrack of our lives, especially in 2021. ‘What I’m Here For’ delves into this question that seems to boggle our minds since the dawn of time- what are we here for, especially now during this time of COVID-19? The song attempts to answer this age-old question- and delves into experiences in Bear’s past, and presents this understanding- that being famous isn’t all that it’s cut out to be, especially with the confronting lyrics of how ‘…I spent my twenties in the lights of the disco, trying to prove that I could be a hero, there were times when it felt like I was winning but looking back, it only lasted a minute, I watched my friеnds take over the radio, all it did was drill a holе in my ego, I forgot what goodness was outside my window, ain’t that the way the story goes…’ It is in this realising of how your early life was based upon assumptions of how you would think life were to go (but then ending up realising that what you thought was important, turned out to be the farthest thing from what you really wanted in the end), that I firmly believe ‘What I’m Here For’ can reach and impact listeners, as it’s challenged my own thinking of late, and how I live my life- for me, for God or for others? Or a little bit of each? ‘Sunshine’ delves into this theme about wanting to know all the answers to questions, and wanting to know what we should do, when life doesn’t go the way we believe it should. When things get crazy, and we don’t get to the light at the end of the tunnel (for whatever reason), will we still try to see the sunshine in the situations we’re in? Can we have joy that is a constant reminder of the people in our lives, rather than the fulfilment (or even dis-fulfillment) that comes with every changing season and the circumstances we face? Heavy topics for ‘Sunshine’, and given the upbeat nature (relative to the rest of the songs on the album) of the song, it can seem weird to feel like you want to bop your head to this track, even though the lyrics are heavy to follow?
‘Chances’ features acoustics, upon layers of vocals, and as the song progress, an orchestral feeling comes into play, as the song tries their hardest to channel British rockers Coldplay, with a song that speaks about taking chances and finding the courage the start dancing, no matter how unco-ordinated the dancing can seem to ourselves and others. We ought to be given grace and compassion as we step into ventures and places unknown, because though we’re going to be taking our chances with two hands, we’re probably not always going to undertake these chances right, because of the mystery we’re going to be walking into. ‘Chances’ can hopefully allow us to show compassion and respect to people still trying to grasp their chances, and hopefully people can extend the same courtesy to us, if we’re feeling the same. ‘Sitting in the Back Seat’ showcases a time in life when we were younger- life was simpler, we were less jaded, much more happy, maybe even more joyful and content with life, compared to now, when all we can think about is the paycheck, and social media. ‘Sitting in the Back Seat’ shows us an innocent part to our past (we all have it), and reminds us all that maybe the life we’re living right now, should shift more to the life we once lived before all the ‘advances’ in both social media and technology. ‘Give Me A Chance’ takes the theme presented in ‘Chances’ and runs with it a little deeper- this time, Bear is singing to his significant other, asking her to give him a chance to be the person he knows he can be, and the person he knows she wants, as he tries to be the man she’s proud of; while ‘Don’t Throw All the Good Things Away’, a duet with country musician Natalie Hemby (1/4 of the all-girl group The Highwomen), speaks of this idea of whether everything is worth it- the job, the career, the prestige and fame, if you throw away your relationships in the process. With a light acoustic guitar and a heavy presence of strings, ‘Don’t Throw All the Good Things Away’ is a reminder at best, and a warning at worst- for us to re-evaluate our own lives, to see what we’re giving up for something else. Needtobreathe brings anthems back to the fore with ‘Innocence’; a passionate cry and a longing to return back to the days of innocence when everything was much simpler and less laced with ulterior motives, while the album’s last track ‘West Texas Wind’ ends in a powerful fashion. With the song being one of the most emotional on the album, Bear sings about how he continuously needs God in his life. The song reflects on learning from mistakes; and dealing with life and growing older- heavy topics for a song that’s supposed to be the last track on the album (usually last-songs don’t necessarily introduce heavy topics such as ‘West Texas Wind’).
Which brings me to the songs ‘Carry Me’, ‘I Am Yours’, and ‘I Wanna Remember’- three songs that stood out for me from the album, and arguably, three of one of the best songs I’ve heard from the band in recent memory. ‘Carry Me’ features a duet with Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman, as this song speaks about how God carries us in places and spaces that we don’t necessarily think He is in. As we continue to learn more about God’s grace and mercy, His unending and undying love for each of us, we can’t help but chase after Him, longing for Him to carry us during the moments of difficulty, but also during moments of triumph too. God carries us in all circumstances, during the moments where the path seems very clear, but also during the times where we seriously need direction too. ‘I Wanna Remember’, a collaboration with country superstar Carrie Underwood, forays the band into the territory of country music, as the introduction of Carrie on a needtobreathe track, allows lovers of country music to listen to this great band, and vice versa- people who have appreciated the band for some time, can hear Carrie’s vocals, and maybe, explore more of country music (an underappreciated genre, IMHO!). The emotive duet is one where both Bear and Carrie trade vocals back and forth, the song about recalling the moments in your life that you don’t want to forget. While these moments can be universal and all-encompassing, the song itself specifically alludes to moments of falling in love, and moments with a significant other for a certain time- before the relationship changes in a certain capacity. ‘I Am Yours’, the current single on Christian radio, speaks to how God is ours and we are His. There is a sense of pride that comes when He calls us His children and we call Him our Father, a moment where realise that we are invited to the table, the feast that God has prepared for us for eternity. The declaratory lyric statement of how ‘…I am Yours, and You will always be mine…’ is a sense of hope that comes with such a final statement as that. As keyboardist Josh Lovelace depicts it, in an interview with NRT, ‘…“I Am Yours” is a song that our lead vocalist Bear Rinehart wrote during the early days of the pandemic. We were all at home, unable to tour or play music together. He sent me a rough demo of this song. Little did Bear know that it was exactly the song I needed to hear that day. Like so many others, I struggle with anxiety and find it difficult to let go of circumstances that are out of my control. Through 2020, there were so many questions racing in my head every day and I found myself bound to my fear and my doubts. What I love about this song is that it is a reminder of a consistent and perfect love that as humans, we can’t even begin to comprehend. Even in the hard times, when we are fearful of what is next, that love will always be there. The idea that we’re invited to the table at all is mind-blowing to me…’
This band from South Carolina completely and blew me away in a good way, and listening to their new album Into the Mystery solidifies this fact completely, and never once did I love a ‘mainstream’ band as I have right now- well, maybe Switchfoot…yeah, both needtobreathe and Swichfoot are indeed the bands that have inspired me on my own journey into different musical avenues and my very own appreciation of different styles over the years. But having said all that, needtobreathe are still on the end of ‘influential but not popular’, and maybe that’s ok. needtobreathe doesn’t have to be famous for them to reach the people they need to reach in this society. I’ve learnt that the music I listen to isn’t what ‘normal’ people listen to, and I’ve learnt to be different in that. Not many people may see the appeal of this southern-gospel-rock band, nor would they even agree that advocated for this band when I blogged about then last year, that’s ok. Hopefully from reading the blog, as well as reading the reviews of Out of Body alongside Into the Mystery, people can at least check out Bear Rinehart and his friends, even if it is only once, just to see how they are and whether they resonate with them or not. And maybe, just maybe, this band can impact like it always does to people who listen, myself included!
3 songs to listen to: Carry Me, I Wanna Remember, I Am Yours
RIYL: Jon Foreman, Switchfoot, Jillian Edwards, Colony House, Goo Goo Dolls, Lifehouse, The Fray, OneRepublic