The music industry of today thrives on a lack of originality. There are particular types of sound that sell, so if an artist can pull off that sound decently enough, throw in enough mindlessly catchy beats, and overproduce it, it's quite possible that it could be a #1 hit. I've even noticed something similar to this in the "Christian music industry." So it is refreshing indeed when a band like Gungor releases an album like Beautiful Things, where creativity, diversity, excellent lyrics, and sheer talent abound, and it's for that reason that Beautiful Things is quite possibly one of the finest works ever to hit the world of "Christian music."
Beautiful Things begins with the amazing "Dry Bones," a song that starts off softly with just an acoustic guitar and a piano, but eventually explodes into a frenzy of electric guitars and soaring vocals crying out to Jesus for restoration ("Jesus, you're the one who saves us/ constantly creates us into something new/ Jesus, surely you will find us/ surely our Messiah will make all things new.") It's a powerful and memorable opener, and Gungor's desperate cries are quickly answered in the title track that follows. "Beautiful Things" is a worshipful song that, instead of crying out for Jesus to bring life, acknowledges that He does indeed, "Make beautiful things out of the dust." It's a soft and worshipful track that is easily an album highlight if not the best track on the album, as it reflects on the creative and restoring power of God. These first two tracks set the tone for the album lyrically by setting the focus on God making things new, and they powerfully introduce what is already shaping up to be a phenomenal album.
Gungor shifts to hope for God's future restoration in "Brighter Day," the album's biggest rocker, while also acknowledging the present working of God's kingdom in our hearts ("Let it come/ love is here and love is coming/ heaven is breaking open." The rocking guitars and powerful vocals carry this song through as one of the most fun songs on the album. "Heaven" follows and, though it is short on lyrics, acknowledges, "Heaven is comin' down to the world." It's an all-out gospel-style track highlighted by guest vocals (and, I assume, songwriting) by Israel Houghton. It's an outrageously catchy and fun song, though it is probably among my least favorites on the album as it feels a little out of place and, as I already mentioned, is short on lyrical content.
As "Heaven" winds down, the album shifts gears with the quiet and beautiful "You Have Me." The lead is given to a finger picking banjo part, and although it is practically the only instrument used for most of the song, it is a perfect fit to the soft vocals and worshipful lyrics, which recall how God has sought after the singer, and reveal the appropriate response to the saving power of God ("You have me/ You have my heart completely.") "Cannot Keep You" comes next with another soft and worshipful tune, this time giving more emphasis to the piano and acoustic guitar. This time the focus is on the way we tend to try and keep God contained in virtually anything and make these things idols ("We cannot keep you in a church/ we cannot keep you in a Bible/ or it's just another idol to box you in... we've worshiped all our idols/ we want all that to end"), but the chorus reminds us that there is none like the Lord with the wonderful lyrics, "Who is like the Lord?/ the Maker of the heavens/ who dwells with the poor/ He lifts them from the ashes/ and seats them among princes/ who is like the Lord?" Though it took longer to grow on me than some of the other tracks on the album, I have to say "Cannot Keep You" is among Gungor's best recordings to date.
A delightful toy piano then leads into "The Earth Is Yours," which is another instant highlight. It is a simple but beautiful worship song that poetically describes creation giving glory to the Creator and singing, "Holy, holy Lord/ the earth is Yours," with a quiet but absolutely wonderful sound. Even after so many fantastic songs, "The Earth Is Yours" sounds excellent and fresh... but half of the album is still left. "Call Me Out" follows with a delightfully unique sound driven by drums, piano, and the banjo again, and later the song moves into a chorus full of pounding electric guitars, making a surprisingly diverse and irresistibly catchy array of sound and another fantastic track.
A softer tone is hit again as the album starts to wind down, but the quality doesn't let up much, if at all. "Please Be My Strength" isn't the most interesting song musically, but some skillful acoustic guitar work carries the lyrics that embody a state of knowing that you can't do anything on your own, and you need to rely on God's strength. "Higher" might be the mellowest song on the entire record, but it's also one of the most worshipful as Gungor sings, "Your name is sweeter than the rain/ that falls upon the face of dry and weary lands... Your name be praised/ and be lifted higher." The sincere desire for God to be glorified is what makes "Higher" special. Next, "Late Have I Loved You" seems to wonder why anyone would ever do anything with God but run to Him. It is another quiet and touching song to add to the list.
The quiet nature of the previous three songs then gives way to the joyfully upbeat "People Of God," which simply calls out, "People of God, rise up/ rise up and shine God's love/ we are the light of the world," and reminds us, "if we don't have love, we're left with nothing." The nine-minute "We Will Run" closes off the album beautifully by reminding the listener to run to God to seek out the restoration that so many of the preceding songs sang about ("We will run to You/ turning from our sin we return to You/ Father, heal Your world, make all things new." Lisa Gungor's voice finally shares the lead with Michael's in this beautiful closer, and about halfway through the track's running time, a peaceful piano-led instrumental section brings the phenomenal record to a close, giving the listener a few minutes to reflect on the amazing music and lyrics they heard in the album's running time of nearly an hour.
I think it would be very difficult to dislike Gungor's masterpiece Beautiful Things. Musically it's about as fun, beautiful, and diverse as it can be with the band still feeling right at home on every song, and the lyrics are nicely worded and constantly focused on the Lord. Even after a few months of owning it, I'm still excited about how fantastic it is. I have no higher recommendation in the entire music industry when it comes to an album that's so musically creative and lyrically rock solid. Gungor has achieved true excellence with this record, and it would be a shame for anyone to miss it.