Sounds like … the adult contemporary and melodic rock popularized by MercyMe, The Afters, and Sanctus Real, with elements of piano pop similar to The Swift, Ben Folds Five, and Michael W. SmithAt a glance … Wide-Eyed and Mystified draws upon all of Downhere's songwriting and performance strengths to yield a smartly crafted pop/rock effort that measures up to their previous work, and at times, surpasses itTrack Listing The More Surrender A Better Way Dying to Know You I Will Follow Your Voice Little Is Much Stir Forgive Yourself Unbelievable The Real Jesus Remember Me 1,000 Miles Apart I Miss You Here

Downhere first hit the scene in 2001 with one of the strongest debuts in recent memory, a rich blend of smartly crafted adult contemporary that straddled comfortably between pop and rock. Just two years later, the Canadian band scaled back their production in favor of a more aggressive rock sound on their equally impressive So Much for Substitutes. But as is all too common with great acts in Christian music, the record label dropped them shortly after.

The odd part is, Downhere earned considerable industry clout and developed a very passionate following among fans. They just never seemed to muster enough radio support and album sales to make them the success many expected them to be. And considering the popularity of MercyMe, The Afters, Casting Crowns, and Sanctus Real in recent years, you'd think the similar but even better sounding band would prevail.

Thankfully, Downhere persevered since 2003 and has been granted a second chance with the newly formed Centricity label, thus providing a third chance for others to discover what they've been missing these last five years. Wide-Eyed and Mystified makes a perfect reintroduction for audiences because it showcases all of the band's strengths. It's clear that the foursome has gone back to the drawing board and searched for ways to improve upon their sound—how to properly mix their passionate balladry with energetic rockers, how to effectively blend keyboard textures with the heavier electric guitars, and how to balance between two very effective lead vocalists without sounding like two completely different bands.

Ah yes, those vocalists. Guitarist Marc Martel is clearly the primary singer with an ultra-tenor that has often been compared to Kevin Max, though now I'm beginning to think it's up there with Freddie Mercury. If you have doubts about that, listen to the brief hidden track at album's end. The guy actually seems to have improved with time, showing more range and nuance while singing lead or harmony—his head voice on the Coldplay-styled communion anthem "Remember Me" makes Chris Martin's sound relatively thin. But there are also some songs (usually ballads) for which a warmer and more soft-spoken tone is better suited. That's where Jason Germain (guitar, keyboards) shines, and it's amazing that two voices that sound so different can compliment each other so well.

Despite the stronger rock feel of Substitutes, that album was a little too homogenous sounding overall and neglected the band's equally effective softer side heard on their first album. Wide-Eyed successfully captures both styles. Combining a pounding piano with thick guitars, "The More" recalls the same kind of insanely catchy ear candy that Squeeze made twenty years ago, set to insightful lyrics about our lifelong faith walk with God. The equally driving rock of "Stir" expresses the importance of community and diversity in Christianity, while "Surrender" delivers terrific power pop reminiscent of Ben Folds Five with a simple message of trusting in the Lord. Then there's "Little Is Much," a soaring anthem as accessible as Casting Crowns or MercyMe while powerfully expounding on a recurring theme from Jesus' teachings concerning faith.