Jars of Clay
- Wednesday, March 04, 2009
In order to find balance, neither of two sides can exist without the other.
It's that dichotomy of living in the physical and human world that Jars of Clay explores in their new project
Good Monsters, giving both longtime listeners and new fans a glimpse at the veteran band's creative dichotomy as well.
It's not about eradicating one side to glorify the other. It's about figuring out how to reconcile one with the other. It's about finding the good within the monster.
Speaking of finding balance between two, it's within the first two seconds of the opening track that you'll realize Good Monsters is unlike any Jars of Clay album you've heard before.
It's certainly a departure from the band's most recent recorded work, 2005's acoustically driven hymns collection Redemption Songs. When guitarists Stephen Mason and Matt Odmark make their blisteringly electric entrance on the track Work, when Charlie Lowell's piano slices through, when the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Sands and drummer Jeremy Lutito make their presences felt, and when vocalist Dan Haseltine reveals, "I have no fear of drowning/it's the breathing that's taking all this work," you sense you're in for a little different experience than you've had from these guys in the past.
It's transparency by design, an expressed desire to speak truth, as they see it, at the very moment they experience it. "There's more urgency in these songs. There's more honesty," Haseltine says. "In a way, we're weighing in on the bigger conversations we've kept ourselves out of for a long time. The conversations about relationships or social justice, but recognizing we don't have to be the voice of the church."
At the same time, much of the lyrical content on Good Monsters hone in on intimate emotions. "I had a talk early on with Matt talking about the lyrics, that some of these songs were focused in on such a small amount of an emotion," Haseltine continues. "Jars has pretty much tried to focus on some 'big picture' ideas. When we write songs, the lyrics can tend to be pretty lofty, and this season has represented more of being comfortable with not sharing the whole front end or back end of a story, but just sharing the moment you're in."
But what spurred the dual notion of creating a big, loud, in-your-face musical experience that also chronicles the minutiae of a momentary feeling? Again, it's the dichotomy of the internal and the external. "First, there was this singular intention of making a real rock 'n' roll record," Mason says. "The other part was to take what Dan was wrestling with and communicate a lot of the ideas about community and reconciling the best of who we are with the truth of our own darkness. Those are two different things that happened independently and yet worked well together naturally."
Those items fit together in lockstep through tracks like the opener Work and the follow-up track Dead Man, the album's first single, which wraps internal conflict in the record's most upbeat musical setting. It emerges on Mirror and Smoke, a collaboration with former Sixpence None The Richer singer Leigh Nash; on Light Gives Heat, a treatise on how ill-natured the attempt at good works can sometimes be; and on the epic Oh My God, a three-part exploration on both purposeful and unintentional intersections with God.
"I think there are more lyrics in that one song than there were on our entire last record," Haseltine says of Oh My God. "People all have their reasons for crying out to God. Some of those are really deep, deep doubts, and one of the questions in that third verse where it asks whether Jesus is real or not. Growing up in the church, I was scared to death to ask that question, because I didn't know whether the Gospel could stand up to the scrutiny. There are times when I wrestle with that even now, but it's a question that needs to be asked."
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