Release Date: August 26th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- The Cure
- Open The Clouds
- Life in the Death of Me
- Follow Through
- So Good To Me
- We are the Light
- Wait on You
- Sleep the Storm
- Can’t Deny Your Love
- Solid Rock (Acoustic)
‘…there’s a lot more praise and thanksgiving on this record. When we wrote the last record we were all literally living below the poverty line. We’d been doing that for years. We were leaving our families every weekend to play music and working odd jobs when we were home to try to make ends meet. Life was such an immediate struggle. But with the success of our last record, for the first time we were able to just focus on the music without having to worry about the electricity being turned off. That change in our lives as a band is an answer to prayers we’ve been praying for the last decade. We’re all in awe of what God has done, and that gratitude is present all over the record…’ Signed to Centricity Music, Unspoken have come a long way since their 2012 EP release 4 years ago. Fusing together hip hop, pop, soul, funk, acoustic, praise and CCM, Unspoken may be one of today’s most unique, energetic, interesting and powerful, even underrated bands that have spawned to life over the last few years.
Mixing together a little bit of Salvador, Jimmy Needham, Shawn McDonald, Dara MacLean, Chris August and newworldson together to form one of the most engaging and life-filling music I’ve heard in years, this 5 piece band that formed all the way in the Dominic Republic are certain to show us one of 2016’s best in Follow Through, releasing August 26th. The soul-pop sound brought to us by Unspoken is as fresh and enjoyable as it is needed- amidst the plethora of CCM, their new album attracts for all the right reasons. Releasing their debut EP, Get To Me, and their follow-up 2013 EP The World is Waking, to critical and commercial acclaim, it was their self titled debut 2014 album that really placed them on the map as a band certain to make waves both now and into the future. And that hasn’t changed with their 2016 release. Unspoken is able to infuse their Caribbean heritage into their music, and with the band climbing the charts with songs like “Call It Grace”, “Good Fight”, “Start a Fire”, “Lift My Life Up” and “Who You Are” impacting millions of fans around the world, lead singer Chad Mattson and co. have given us 14 tracks full of fun and seriousness, heart and emotion, enjoyable moments and moments where you just want to cry as we see things about ourselves and Himself that we may not have thought about in years. Unspoken’s fusion of a variety of musical styles is what I reckon will be their biggest asset, with many listeners responding positively to their heartfelt tracks, myself included. With the album comprising of entirely new tracks, as opposed to the amalgamation of the 2 EPs as well as a few new tracks in their 2014 debut, Chad and the rest of the band make this album a must have for anyone who loves CCM with a unique twist. Expect me to listen to Follow Through both now and in months to come!
With one of the most joyous outward expressions of faith and loved lived out in a 3 minute song, “Higher” presents to us one of the most fun-filled yet equally hard hitting songs that Unspoken have ever done. Clocking in at just under 3 and a half minutes, this trumpet led swinging 1960s throwback song showcases the truth above all truths- that if Christ is in our lives, He will lift us higher than we can possibly dream, even if we are right now in our lowest of lows. As Chad explains it, ‘…through all of our ups and downs one thing has never changed. God is worthy of our praise and we’re constantly going to use our talents and our platform to lift Him higher. We were a little surprised when Higher got picked as a radio single…[yet] sometimes the thing you think makes something too different for pop radio—in this case the Chicago-style horn section—actually turns out to be the thing that sets it apart just enough to make people sit up and take notice…’ “Higher” is a testament; that sometimes God can use the songs that are a little quirky and different to speak to us the most- in this case, a song that harkens back to 1960s America with horns and trumpets aplenty. An ingenious music video that released not too long ago (also for “Higher”) shows the band having fun while giving God the praise and honour He is due.
“Higher” reminds us all that the Christian life doesn’t have to be boring, and is a first radio single in an album full of songs that speak to the heart and soul of whomever hears it. Will it be the most popular radio single for the rest of the year? Maybe, maybe not. But regardless, the band have presented to us something that hasn’t been tried in a long time- a song released to radio that features horns as the forefront instrument (I think the last time it happened was in Carman’s “Sunday School Rock”…correct me if I’m wrong though). Well done to Chad and the rest of the band for such a rejuvenating song about how Christ always lifts us beyond our expectations, even if we may not think so at the time.
While a lot of the album is firmly planted in the celebratory nature of what it means to follow through, from dirt to grace, from hopelessness to hopefulness, and from dark to light, there are nevertheless still some songs that draw deep from personal experience. “The Cure” is one of them. Recently released as a video in 360°, the song is as pop as they come, with gang vocals and Chad’s passionate singing a la Nic Gonzales of Salvador; as the theme of how Jesus is the cure for the disease we all have which is a lifetime of death and despair, is unpacked in this three and a half minute song. But we ought not to be fooled by the pop/radio sheen that “The Cure” is packed in- underneath all the potential radio single musical layers, lies a song rooted in Chad’s realisation, that this world is broken and needs a remedy- ‘…I came out of the drug culture. From what I can tell it’s even worse now than it was when I was in it. We’re all looking for some kind of answers, some kind of fulfillment. That’s been the state of humanity for thousands of years. But the good news is, there’s something to fill that hunger. There’s something to heal that pain. There is a cure and it’s Jesus…’ A song that I reckon will be possibly a radio single in the near future, both “The Cure” and “Higher” start off the album well, anchoring the album and quite possibly being the strongest start to an album in 2016 thus far.
“Open the Clouds” and “Miracle” are some of the other promotional single tracks that released prior to the album release next week, while “Life in the Death of Me” is one of my favourites from the album. With a sway to its beat, the three minute dance pop number “Open the Clouds” tells of how sometimes, all we need is a simple prayer to the Lord, and He will open the clouds and rain down His mercy and grace, regardless of how we’re feeling at that particular moment. With a music video of the song releasing this year at an undetermined date, I can almost see, that however the video is presented, it will just be one big ball of energy and fun. “Open the Clouds” segues into “Miracle”, dare I say it, the second official single on Follow Through (that’s if they decide to make it that, if not the third then). Standing at 3:13, the song encourages us to never give up on the little miracles that God is showering over us on a daily basis. Sometimes we are all too consumed with our daily life that we fail to listen to what God is speaking to us and through us to others, and “Miracle” reminds us to never lose sight of what God is creating throughout the chaos and the mundane lifestyles we so often lead. Only a tad over three minutes, the message is relevant as ever, as Chad powerfully asserts for us to ‘…don’t you give up on your miracle, you’ve got to speak to the impossible, you’ve got to pray till your breakthrough breaks through the ceiling keep on believing…’
While not a promotional single, “Life in the Death of Me” is as autobiographical as they come, pressing into the life of lead singer Chad Mattson and how his experience and encounter with Christ prior to his acceptance of Him led to the basis and underlying message of the song. As bass player Mike Gomez explains, ‘…“Life in the Death of Me” tells the hard story of where Chad was and how once he was raised out of those baptismal waters he found life in the death of everything else that he let go. That hit me so straight because I believe that is the gospel. We lose our lives to follow Christ, but in him we find real life…’ As confronting as it is comforting, this soul-pop blend follows the theme that was once brought to life in the country hymn “Down to the River to Pray”. So is “Life in the Death of Me” a revitalised version of the ever-so popular hymn? Maybe. But it is also a song that speaks of redemption, as we are reminded through this standout, that ‘…where I am, what I was, take me down, raise me up, out of the water, changed, I found life in the death of me…’
As we reach the middle of the album, we expect the tracks to meander along, yet the band still presents to us near flawless song that are relevant to society and remind us all that God is still present in this crazy journey we call life. “Soldier” stands at 3:08, and boldly claims that even if we may not literally take up arms and travel to another country in the name of fighting for our own, we are all soldiers in our own way, fighting against others when our beliefs come under attack, or even fighting against ourselves, battling against the mind and what the devil tries to throw our way. While at times it may seem like Chad has difficulties in singing the high notes on the track, he does have a good stab at it, as he further shatters assumptions that bands are only moulded to sound a certain way when they’re directed towards lovers of CCM. “So Good to Me” is a slow-groove track and features the prominence of bass guitar and regular drum beats, to create a soulful light instrumentation sound as the message of how God has been good to us is brought to the fore, and how we ought to share that experience to whomever we are in contact with on a regular basis; while “We are the Light”, another upbeat CCM-esque drum heavy track, encourages us to travel into the unknown, knowing that we carry the Light which is Jesus with us, and that ‘…we take to the darkest places, into the shadows, into the heart of the battle, don’t have to fear the night, because we are the light…’
The title track brings the instrumentation down a little as acoustics drive a reflective moment of prayer and praise, with the message as timely as it is poignant and powerful- thematically similar to Casting Crowns’ “The Altar and the Door”, “Follow Through” begs the question- are we willing to dive in deep and follow wholeheartedly after Jesus, or are we trying to control everything that we can, thereby unintentionally believing that God doesn’t and cannot have everything in our lives in His plan? The standard edition of the album finishes with the worshipful “Wait on You”, a 5 minute gospel choir track that could fit right into Sunday worship services. Not your traditional worship song, this soul-gospel track encourages us all to wait on God during the moments when we can’t see any way forward, declaring that ‘…Lord we will wait on You, yes we will wait on You, You are still on Your throne, still in control…’ A song to declare during the difficult times and the times aplenty; “Wait on You” focuses our eyes and our gaze vertical, to a God who is ever present in our lives as He is in everyone else’s.
While “Wait on You” ends the standard version of Follow Through, 4 more tracks are present on the deluxe edition. If you’re like me, then you’ll probably be grabbing your hands on the deluxe version of the album…and with a piano pop melody, a Mexican inspired track, an African influenced song and an acoustic re-release, then these new 4 tracks are as diverse as ever, yet still echo a similar theme- that it is in God’s love where we find purpose and rest. “Sleep in the Storm” encourages us to view our difficulties and trials in a new way, treating them as though they are opportunities for us to seek God more, rather than difficulties that can often lead to us pushing Him away than us being drawn near; while “Can’t Deny You Love” harkens back to the early 2000s and reminds me musically of Carman’s “Just Like He Said”. Channelling Salvador musically, especially in this song, “Can’t Deny Your Love” is a testimony to how far God’s love will cover us and how He always finds His children, no matter how far they stray. “Roots” embodies an African choir and brings with it an international flavour as the band declare that they have roots in the Word and love of God; while “Solid Rock” ends the album on a subdued note, but needed thoroughly, as the band presents to us a powerful piano undertone and addresses the issue of suffering and losing in life if that is what is needed for us to draw near to God for everything we need.
‘…I don’t think we ever expected we were going to reach as many people as we’ve been able to reach. The fact we’ve been able to speak into millions of people’s lives is crazy. Thinking back thirteen years to when I was dealing with drugs and alcohol in a very serious way, to think I would one day have a wife and kids and a solid family and home life and then be playing music for a living—God is surely able to do more than we ask or imagine. That might be a big theme on the new record too. Something we’ve often said to each other in the last few months is ‘Look what the Lord has done.’ He’s just opened doors we didn’t think could be opened…’ Unspoken have shown us what a sophomore album should sound like. Upbeat and enjoyable, fast paced, enthusiastic, energetic, lyrically poignant and hard-hitting, Follow Through has no fillers, and each song speaks volumes. A multitude of styles and genres within these 14 tracks, it’s no wonder this quintet are fast becoming one of CCM’s best kept secrets, and one of the rising bands in recent CCM history. Since arriving on Centricity Music way back in 2012, and 2 EP’s 1 full length album and 1 acoustic album later; Follow Through comes at a time where Chad and the band deliver some of their best music they have ever written and recorded. Easily within my top 5 albums in 2016, this is an album that will continue to be on my iTunes playlist for a long time yet. Well done guys for such an inspirational and uplifting album!
3 songs to listen to: Miracle, Life in the Death of Me, Wait on You
RIYL: Salvador, Jimmy Needham, Shawn McDonald, Dara MacLean, Chris August, newworldson