Consider the Birds
hile the quote unquote Evangelical religious right continues to seemingly alienate all under the epithetical label of "non-believers", somehow a branch of no less fervent believers has emerged and had success in the atheism-drenched alternative rock scene. Somehow these artists have managed avoid sacrificing even an iota of their beliefs, and at the same time appeal to an audience notorious for hostility towards the Christian faith.
Take, for example, David Eugene Edwards, lead singer of the band Sixteen Horsepower and who’s third record under his solo moniker of Woven Hand, entitled Consider the Birds, is easily the most Christ-influenced work he has conceived of yet (which, for those familiar with his past work both solo and with 16HP, is quite an accomplishment.) The grandson of a fiery Nazarene preacher in Colorado, it can be assumed that the only book allowed in his house as a child was the holy one. Thus, Edwards has an intense and innate knowledge of the Bible. It's not uncommon to find at least for or five scriptural references in his lyrics, often times not references at all, but literal transcriptions of lines into song.
Because of this unabashed religiosity, you would expect those who do not share his faith to recoil from his Bible-infused tongue. Instead, Edwards' band Sixteen Horsepower and his solo project, Woven Hand, have not only been embraced by secular American audiences, but more so by the even more secular European landscape. Some of Edwards' most rabid fans are from France and Germany, countries hardly known for Christian church-going.
All this begs the question: why does Edwards' brand of religious-soaked music work? And why is it able to bridge the gap to people not of the Christian faith, while so many other similar bands fail so miserably?
To attempt an answer:
First of all, Edwards is not on a "Christian" record label. While his label, Sounds Familyre Records, is run by the possibly even more vocally Christian leader of the Danielson Famile, Daniel Smith, it is not your stereotypical Christian record label. It's a record label which just so happens to have Christians on it.
Secondly, Edwards doesn't fall into the common trap of Christian musical artists who believe that they must exude bright, cheerful, uplifting joyousness from every pour. On “Speaking Hands”, he begs of the Lord to “provoke [his] soul” and admits that alone, he cannot carve the splinters from his own hands. Edwards gives praise to the Lord, but in the same breath questions whether he is deserving of the love and graces his God provides. This allows for a more universally applicable understanding of Edwards' message: it's not about condemning "unbelievers", because Edwards believes he is imperfect and deserving of condemnation himself.
Thirdly, his musical instrumentation does not sound stereotypically "Christian." On a cursory listen to Consider the Birds, one wouldn't immediately label it as having the sonic qualities of most contemporary music being made by Christian artists. But on closer inspection, one can hear reverberations of Middle-Ages Ascetism, Gregorian chant, East European Folk-cum-Catholicism, and at the core, Southern Gothic, Old-Testament, fire-and-brimstone Christianity. But most Christians either don't see these parallels, don't want to see these parallels, or simply can't get past the "darkness" of Edwards' music. The contemporary Christian music industry is built around a pocket-sized book filled with common, easily recognizable clichés which allow the listener to, without effort, identify the artist in question as a Christian. Instead of having to critically analyze the artist’s words, the listener is given a barrage of rote Christianese couplets so that the artist’s religiosity is unquestionable, because, of course, if the artist knows the secret language, his faith must automatically be sound.
There is a tendency in today's Christian music scene to believe that the only type of music Christians should make is bubbly, happy-go-lucky, life-is-great worship music. But the fact of the matter is that Christianity is not like that at all. Christianity is not the easy, worry-free lifestyle that is often portrayed in Christian music. I recently passed a billboard with the terse question and answer: “Stressed? Jesus is peace.” What kind of message is this giving to unbelievers? That Christianity is an end-all-be-all solution to the entirety of life’s problems? That life with Christ is a life absent of pain and struggle? Every honest Christian would agree that that is not the case. Instead of solving one's problems, Christianity gives the newly "saved" person an entirely different set of problems. Life is just as hard, with the difference being that eternal salvation is at the end of the path, and we have a heavenly guide to help us through this mortal, passing world—a fact that Edwards understands all too well.
Reviewed by: Gentry Boeckel
Reviewed on: 2004-11-04