Centricity Music / Elektra Records
Release Date: August 28th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Mercy’s Shore
- Hang On
- Survival (feat. Drew & Ellie Holcomb)
- Child Again
- Out of Body
- Who Am I?
- Riding High
- Bottom of a Heartbreak
Currently right now one of the most popular and respected bands in both Christian and mainstream media markets (probably according to both listeners and critics; and alongside bands and artists such as Switchfoot, Owl City, Lifehouse, Relient K, for KING & COUNTRY, and Skillet!), Needtobreathe are a band whom I have increasingly been actively following and listening to over the past few years, and have been respecting more and more. Branching out and recording plenty of songs specifically directed to the mainstream media, the South Carolina quartet comprised of brothers Bear and Bo, and good friends Seth and Josh; with the four having wowed us again and again with their honest lyrics, catchy music and southern rock goodness, also providing us with plenty of inspiring and thought provoking messages to ponder over as well.
With their most successful and critically acclaimed full length studio album HARD LOVE more than four years old (you can read my review here!); the 12 track collection of pop rock goodness showed us once again what a force Bear, Bo, Seth and Josh are right now, and how they’re definitely a band to be reckoned with both now and into the future. Providing us songs that compel us to dwell upon and ponder the deep issues of life, in their last couple of albums alone (Rivers In The Wasteland and HARD LOVE), there were plenty of songs that personally impacted and spoke to me, such as “Wasteland”, “Multiplied”, “Brother”, “Testify”, “Hard Love”, “The Heart”, “Happiness” and “Difference Maker”.. Fast forward to now, and here we are, blessed with another Needtobreathe release. Since that time in 2016, Bear’s brother Bo has left the band, and we’ve also been fortunate to hear new projects from the group, inclusive of Hard Cuts: Songs from the Hard Love Sessions, Forever On Your Side (Niles City Sound Sessions), and Acoustic Live Vol. 1; but now with a label change (from Atlantic to Centricity) and their Centricity Music debut Out Of Body, we are now presented with one of the most impacting Needtobreathe albums yet, and my absolute favourite album of 2020 thus far!
We went into this album with a theme. We had this idea of losing ourselves in this project and being completely open to whatever would happen. I think that the idea of Out Of Body is different for each of us in different ways. For me, it was losing my preconceived thoughts of what the band has been, and what my life had been up to this point. Finding that I need to take it one day at a time, and walk into this next season wide-eyed and open to whatever. You can hear that there’s a thread of innocence throughout the whole record that brings that idea back into the forefront. It’s also so amazing that we get to be a part of this band, and after years we still love it. There’s a feeling of being outside of ourselves, and surrendering into the process.
We went in not just wanting to have fun, but needing to have fun. Nearly everyone in the band has kids. Everyone gets to watch their kids be fearless and have fun, and run at things. For us when we go to make a record, we think, “What does this record need to be? We need to do a song like this, and like that.” In the past, we’ve made records where we’ve been too inside of our own heads. So for Out Of Body, we wanted to release all that. We wanted to release our ego and have a high expectation but low attachment. We just decided to have fun and trust one another in the process. If one of the guys said, “Hey, you should try this.” I was going to try it. We leaned into that, and we did have a lot of fun. These songs took twists and turns that we weren’t anticipating, but we just went with it.
Out Of Body probably in my opinion is one of the most cohesive NEEDTOBREATHE albums I’ve ever listened to. Sure, I had been a fan in the past- particularly when I heard their album Rivers In The Wasteland in 2014, yet there’s something about Out Of Body that strikes a chord with me, that inspires, encourages, and reveals raw honesty and vulnerability. NEEDTOBREATHE have never been one to shy away from the hard and difficult issues of life, and that rings true especially on this release. Album opener “Mercy’s Shore” is undoubtedly a highlight and definitely one of the best album openers I’ve heard in a long while, as Bear passionately relays to us through imagery that this life we’re striving so hard to make right for ourselves, will one day fade away and will not matter anymore, and we’ll find ourselves in heaven if we are believers, on ‘mercy’s shore’. It’s a simple concept of focusing on the eternal prize rather than the transient, but on this track the message is never preachy, as Bear cleverly and subtly relays parts of the gospel message to us so as to include people from all other walks of life. The poppy energetic bass guitar prominent “Alive” is next, and while not as spiritual in nature, does speak about the ever-true concept of not letting life pass you by, and instead living life to the fullest, given that circumstances and situations beyond our control can alter drastically without a moment’s notice (like COVID-19 has altered everything this year!).
“Hang On”, the album’s first single, is typical southern rock/gospel/pop/shades of country, as Bear and co. earnestly encourage us all to hang onto hope and hang onto the promise of a better day, and to hang onto the promise that God is always here with us, as “…Innocence is something that is hard to recapture after its gone. It’s like falling in love for the first time with no preconceived thoughts or experiences to base your feelings off of. It feels like nothing else matters and anything is possible. As we grow older, we lose that little by little. This song is a plea to hang on to that feeling of being a fool, releasing control of our inhibitions to find freedom and childlike wonder again…”; while the joyful, cheerful, energetic celebration and ball of fun that is “Survival” has Drew and Ellie Holcomb on guest vocals, and is in essence an honest prayer to God, an admission in letting Him know that we need Him for our survival- this song is also one of the many from NEEDTOBREATHE’s discography that I can listen to over and over, and become even more impressed and amazed by just how simply good it is!
The joy and the celebration continue with the musically subdued, reflective and contemplative ballad “Child Again”, whereby Bear highlights to us his need to have more of a childlike faith in Jesus, a more simplistic view of the world in order to stay sane, belting out ‘…in the cosmic light, in the by and by, I wanna see Your heart, through my younger eyes, I wanna hear Your voice, in the rain and wind, I wanna know it’s safe to be a child again…’; while the midpoint of the project is the title track, and a toe tapping and danceable number where Bear, Josh and Seth yearn to be ‘out of their bodies’, in the sense that they long to be in true face-to-face community with others, and not just in their own little worlds all of the time. “Who Am I”, co-written with country superstar Thomas Rhett, is another personal highlight on this album (who am I kidding, they’re all personal highlights!), as we are met with a fervent humbleness and gratitude yet still questioning of the boundless and endless love of God. As we’re in constant awe of God loving us unconditionally, Bear eloquently asks ‘…the way I push You through it what You had to see, I’m a train wreck, I’m a mess, You see the best and the worst in me, still I can’t imagine that I’ve learned Your trust, I don’t understand where Your love comes from…’, and we are all met with the realisation that God does indeed love us all that much. It’s a concept that is mindboggling, but true.
“Banks”, one of the promotional singles from the band, is probably one of the most personal songs on Out Of Body, as we are met with a love-letter type track from a parent to a child, from the band to their wives, or even from the three bandmates to departing member Bo. Quite possibly, “Banks” can also be viewed as being sung from God’s point of view to each of us. Regardless of how you view the song, you’ve got to admit though… this song does pull at our emotions and give us all of the feelings. And if you’re not emotional by the end, then are you really human? Juxtpositioning this vulnerable and honest moment is the next track, the southern rocker “Riding High”, which gives the band a chance to let loose and keep southern rock alive, through their unbridled joy and celebratory moments in this track specifically with Bear relaying that the band are always going to do everything one hundred percent and nothing half way; while “Bottom Of A Heartbreak” is one of the most confronting yet much needed songs from this year, and quite possibly ever!
Depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness haven’t been tackled in a song as much as this one, yet with everyone still in lockdown and quarantine all around the world in some shape or form, I’d imagine that “Bottom Of A Heartbreak” would be very therapeutic to those going through the deepest valleys. While this song doesn’t provide answers, the constant questioning and wrestling here will nonetheless and undoubtedly provide comfort and healing to those suffering and in pain, while those of us on the outside looking in should be a friend in need to those around us who need it, especially after hearing this song! Out Of Body then ends with the emotional and poignant “Seasons”, whereby Bear relays that “…this is one of the first songs we had written for this record. We go through so many ups and downs in life and sometimes you just need to know that the people around you are in it for the long haul. With everything going on in the world as we release these songs, it feels like the appropriate way to end the record. We’re all in this together…” It’s a song about comradery, about mateship, about staying by someone even through all of their issues that maybe scare us, and through all of the ups and downs. Particular during quarantine and COVID-19 when everything else in the world is uncertain, “Seasons” is what we all need to hear this year. And by extrapolation Out Of Body is the album we all need to hear, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
With Out Of Body, we finished up the record with way more material than we normally have for a record. Most of the time there’s 5-10 songs that you leave, and you may never play again. You might not put it on the main album, but they might come out on a deluxe record or something. But for this project, we had about 50 songs. So there’s lots of other material that we have that we love a lot. The idea is trying to figure out how to get that stuff out quicker. We had four years between Hard Love and Out Of Body, so we don’t want to wait that long again. We’re going to try to figure out a creative way to get back into the studio as soon as we can. Right now the world is a crazy place and we can’t tour right now, so the next best thing for us is to continue to be in the studio and try to make as much music as we can.
Everyone’s going through a season right now that has elements of uncertainty. It’s a painful time, and there are so many different strains on us in so many different ways. Like Josh was saying earlier, we finished this record feeling more united than we ever have. Yet at the same time, we’re still going through a process of healing. So pray for healing and restoration.
Nobody’s perfect, and we certainly aren’t. Oftentimes our songs are just trying to struggle well through the tough stuff in life. I don’t know if there’s ever been a season where that hasn’t been the case. We’re just learning as we go.
So there you have it- Bear, Seth and Josh have done it again (it’s weird not to write ‘Bo’ in that sentence!), creating a musical and lyrical masterpiece in the strongest album lyrically, musically and vocally of 2020 thus far (alongside albums from Lindsay Ell, Matthew West, Echosmith, Colony House and Charles Billingsley!); as they examine and dive deep into issues that are relevant across society, while ensuring that their faith in God and testimony of how Jesus is who He says He is, shines through the music and lyrics! With “Hang On”, “Survival”, “Who Am I”, “Banks”, “Bottom Of A Heartbreak” and “Seasons” all being my favourites; I already can’t wait to listen to whatever NEEDTOBREATHE decide to do next! Well done Bear, Seth and Josh; I will definitely recommend your music to many of my friends and acquaintances! How about a Christmas album next?
3 songs to listen to: Survival, Who Am I?, Bottom Of A Heartbreak
RIYL: Colton Dixon, Daughtry, Switchfoot, Lifehouse, The Fray, One Republic, Skillet