Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Abel-The Honest Love

One of the hardest things in writing about music is reviewing Cds that are neither great nor awful. It’s easy to get excited and write a glowing review when the artist is someone great like The Beatles or Queen. It’s also easy to cut to pieces a horrendous album with some well placed verbal knives. But to a review a CD that is good, but not great, puts a strain on the writer. If you don’t write the review well, the reader will come off thinking that it is either really good or really bad, which is not what you were aiming for in the first place.
Abel’s debut EP, The Honest Love, gives me such a problem. While I might not put it in the realm of amazing albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Brother, Sister, or The Essential Kenny G, I would not hesitate to recommend it to any of my friends.
Abel’s sound could best be described as Christian arena rock mixed in with some indie influences. While the sound of the band faintly echoes Coldplay or similar groups, the song structure of the band shows less mainstream influences. Kevin Kniefel’s voice doesn’t sound like many of the Chris Martin imitations out their. He has sort of a quavering, nasally voice, sometimes sounding a bit like a higher-pitched and rawer Counting Crows, sometimes more like an indie Five For Fighting, and he uses it to its full potential, going from whispering to falsetto to yelling. Musically, it spices up the arena rock genre with syncopated bass and drums, and more complex guitar parts than are usually absent in this sort of music. “Dressed Like a King” features a lilting beat of the kind that’s missing in this kind of music, and throws in a frantic bridge that amps up the tension, before culminating in a guitar solo (and not one of those repetitive, three-note motifs that Coldplay passes off as guitar solos.) “Song Of Simon” (I assume that means Simon Peter) begins like a song to raise up your lighters to, and then suddenly becomes fierce and intense, with the singer describing Christ’s crucifixion, and ends on a redemptive note.
It’s the last three songs on the EP that shine, though. “The Honest Love” starts out sounding like something that might sound like something you might hear on a cruise ship, and ends as something driving and catchy, a great song to listen to driving in a convertible. A bossa nova version would be one of the most awesome songs ever. “My Melody” sounds like the song that Coldplay was trying to copy when they wrote “Yellow”. And the finale, “The World Sings”, features a great bridge that will have you singing along, and closes in some calm piano. Coldplay is musical white bread compared with Abel’s wheat.
Lyrically, the band is pretty solid. There’s no amazing poetry here, but there’s less repetitive choruses, and vapid sweet nothings than on many other more famous Christian pop-rock artists. The lyrics have a bit more bite than what gets played on mainstream Christian radio-can you imagine Sanctus Real singing “Though I am trying/I’m not like Christ at all.” The only problem with the lyrics is that sometimes they are a little vague or confusing, such as “You have held my heart with truest eyes so blue” (talking about Jesus), or the story of a child waiting on his dad to come home from war in “Dressed Like a King”, which seems to be sort of randomly thrown in. Occasionally poetry shows up, as in “Song of Simon” which begins with “I went to the cross and crossed my heart and hoped to die.” It’s almost a mewithoutYou line, and hopefully is a preview of good song writing to come.
The biggest downside to this album is its production. The drums are mixed in too loud, in my opinion, so that when the drummer starts hitting on the cymbals it becomes hard to listen to The echo-y sounds can sound cool, and in the hands of a master they can be amazing, but they can also give the impression that the album was recorded in a cave. Less polished production works for groups like The White Stripes because their music is less polished, but when it comes to arena/pop-rock, more polished production gives it a more ethereal sound. However, it is their first EP, so this problem may be solved in the future.
Abel may not be a revolutionary band such as Queen or Nirvana, but in a few years and with some more experience in song writing they could easily become a first-among equals in their field. Their music is catchy, pop enough to be radio friendly, and better than anything on K-Love or Air1. If you find this EP in some Christian bookstore, pick it up, or better yet, go to one of Abel’s shows and show your support for a new band with the potential to be a force in Christian music.

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