Number 4. David Crowder Band - A Collision (September 27, 2005)
An old gospel choir sings in a slow, melancholy tone: "Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world…" The old hymn fades into the second movement - an acoustic guitar picking over a restrained percussive backbeat, and you can almost feel the dark clouds roll in. The frontman's voice adds to the driving build-up: "How long…… 'til you hear us?" The refrain wafts along until fading again, with only the long, sad note of a violin carrying over. Suddenly all is cut off with a quick drum hit that ushers in the wild and frisky banjo. The dark clouds are lifted with an abundance of handclaps and rejoicing. "Lift up your heads, lift up your heads…" What crazy mastermind is behind this unexpected welding of gospel, electronica, and hillbilly-bluegrass into a seamless work of art? And that's just two of the twenty-one tracks! What genius can concoct an old country version of a classic hymn, a cover of a Sufjan Stevens song, a movement from a classical composer, and a song with electronic loops that gets played on Contemporary Christian radio - and fit it all on one album with a unified theme? The one and only David Crowder…
I was introduced to Crowder in high school by hearing "O Praise Him" on the CCM radio. I gently mocked his slightly shaking voice, completely unaware of the worship juggernaut he would become - and the importance he would have in redefining worship in my life.
I divide my paradigms about worship into three distinct phases. The first was my childhood, where I didn't really understand what made those songs different than any other song. The second period started in junior high, where under youth pastor Mark Willis I gained an understanding that these songs were being sung to God. My favorite songs were the ones that were surrendering to God or asking him for strength and growth, but I didn't much care for the ones that just declared things about God being strong or holy or whatever. I mean, yeah, that's true, but I thought worship was about singing to God, not just about him.
It was at the beginning of my college years that I began to gain an understanding of that true nature of praise, as I began to see more and more evidence of God's provision and faithfulness in my life and the lives of those around me. The simplest lines of a song or a Scripture would fill me with great joy, not because of the verse or song itself but because of the truth reflected in the verse. I struggled to explain these feelings, often with romantic metaphors.
The song that most completely captured this paradigm for me was one I first heard at a Friday night youth worship service I attended for awhile in my first year of college. I didn't even know "You Are My Joy" was by David Crowder at that time; I just knew it fully represented the joy that filled me: "And I cannot hold it in, and remain composed / Love's taken over me, so I propose / The letting myself go, I am letting myself go / You are my joy, you are my joy, you are my joy, you are my joy!"
Ian McIntosh's Awakened is the epitome of that third phase for me, but I might not have been able to receive that album in the same manner had David Crowder not paved the way. I believe it was not until my longtime friends and roommates Garrett and Sam were singing and trying to play that song on guitar that I realized it was actually a David Crowder song. I then realized that I already knew a few other songs from the same album, and, buoyed by Garrett's hearty recommendation, I began to check out the entirety of A Collision.
In addition to the expressions of joyful praise found in "You Are My Joy" and several other songs, this album also represents the height of creativity in songwriting. I hinted at the genre-bending in the opening paragraph. David Crowder is obsessed with the looping software known as Reason, and he mixes in his electronic loops with their real drummer and all of the other instruments without sounding, uh, crowded, even when they keep slipping in and out of bluegrass, gospel, and so forth. The album flows very well, changing and growing and building and maintaining your interest as it unfolds, despite its 72 minutes (unlike their latest opus, Church Music, which for the most part feels like an hour of "Can You Feel It?" on repeat). Even the interlude tracks are better than a lot of bands' regular tracks. ("Be.. more… quiet now… and wait… for… a voice to say…")
The album's flow is enhanced by its intricate symbolism, some of which is explained in an "interview" at the end of the album, and some of which can only be explained by Garrett, who somehow has access to information I cannot find anywhere on the Internet. A Collision is about death and rebirth, framed around a motif that represents a rising lark from a piece from classical composer Vaughn Williams… it's about this collision between Divinity and depravity that raises us from our depths, in spite of our inadequate understandings and responses… it's something about the old symbol of an atom that we now know doesn't really represent what an atom looks like. "What we mean to say is that the elements of worship are inadequate, much like the atom depiction," Crowder says. "But this is what we have, you know? It helps us carry the idea." Garrett can wax prolific about the unfolding moods and themes of the album through the ordering of the songs (and his explanations actually don't sound too far-fetched).
The passion that David Crowder pours into his craft, and his desire for excellence, is truly inspiring. And yet, in spite of all this grand posturing, Crowder and Co. refrain from taking themselves too seriously. The [a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nSd9bVMTNQ"]mock-animé evil-squirrel music video[/a] for "Foreverandever, Etc" ranks among my all-time favorites, and the [a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSTfgsjmiW8"]story behind it[/a] is a classic example of Crowder's subtle sense of humor.
Last but not least, A Collision represents a link among us four roommates and our college years. Despite each of our varied tastes and preferences, A Collision is a rare album that all four of us completely enjoy. And what is worship if it does not have unity?
Thanks, David Crowder, for helping us use what we have. That's why you're sitting at Number Four.
The numbers don't lie. Six of the top eight most played songs in my iTunes library are from Ian McIntosh's Awakened, and for a time he claimed the entire top ten. Unlike the musicians on the list so far, you may have never heard of him… so who is he, where did he come from, and what did he do to nab one of the ten places in my heart that represent this decade?
I was introduced to Ian McIntosh by my cousins and their mother (my first cousin once removed…?), who gave my family copies of his album and adamantly insisted that this was the most amazing worship music. To be honest, I expected it to be one of those intense, ambient charismatic CDs with rousing lyrics about more fire and God moving and all of that stuff that is nice and all but not exactly what I like to put on when I just want to worship God and thank and praise him. Well, I actually got something that is exactly what I like to put on when I just want to worship God and thank and praise him. In fact, Awakened perfectly solidified my current paradigms about worship and God (although I will talk more about the transition to that paradigm farther into the list).
When you think of worship leaders and songwriters in the Christian music scene today, you think of middle-aged men strumming on guitars, singing their slightly scruffy voices into radio-ready choruses. Ian McIntosh shatters that perception. He's a keyboardist in his young 20's who fiddles around with electronic loops and often sneaks into a falsetto that is clearly not intended for a sing-a-long with your local congregation. Yet his album is so full of genuine worship that even now if I play it while doing homework I have to stop for a bit and just praise God. His lyrics are simple, but because of everything that I have seen God do, they resonate in my soul as truth and fill me with such a joy that I cannot help but smile: "I was made to love… I am fully loved… you are always good, God… All I want is to be near you, all I need is to see you…" It is an emotion born not out of the song itself but out of the truths contained in the song.
The loops, layers, and piano melodies combine to beautifully accompany the lyrical expressions. My favorite track by far is the title track, "Awakened," which is constructed from the elements of an infectious piano riff and various rhythms and loops that build and come and go until it bursts into a climax, declaring Rain, rain down, rain down your love! with such jubilance that it makes me want to run outside in the rain (cool summer rain, by the way, not this week's November freeze) and just declare praises to God for the incredible love he has shown me… it's not something that can easily be explained, but if you know what I'm talking about, then I don't have to explain how joyous and refreshing and freeing and wonderful it is. Ian McIntosh's album perfectly captured that concept in music, and that's why, even though I discovered it later (summer 2008) than all of the other releases on this list, it's one of the ones I have listened to the most, and a solid representative of my most important musical releases of the decade.