Wide-Eyed and Mystified
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2006 1 May
- The More
- A Better Way
- Dying to Know You
- I Will Follow Your Voice
- Little Is Much
- Forgive Yourself
- 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
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.
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
Countering those tracks are beautiful ballads like "A Better Way," intended as the ultimate love song demonstrating Christ's sacrifice for us. Its huge pop sound avoids formulaic adult contemporary by allowing the band to infuse it with their distinctive musicianship—in a song like this, Glenn Lavender's bass and Jeremy Thiessen's drums are just as fundamental to the arrangement as everything else. Equally moving is "Unbelievable" as it shows God's love expressed through centuries of church hymns and tradition, and "1,000 Miles Apart" could well be Downhere's weightiest song yet, using acoustic Beatle-esque to address subtle racial divisions today.
Perhaps most significant is the way this band so effectively fuses ministry with artistry, capable of openly expressing their faith without resorting to the same tired turn of phrase that compromises to many Christian bands. You've surely heard songs about surrender and forgiveness in pursuing a personal relationship with God, but Downhere communicates in a way distinctive to their ideas. In this way, they come across as genuine and introspective as Sara Groves, Nichole Nordeman, and even the bold Derek Webb with a song like "The Real Jesus," challenging our modern day impressions of the Son of God.
It's hard to call this Downhere's best work simply because they've always been this good, so let's just say they've found "A Better Way" to diversify their sound while giving character to all their songs. The band hits their stride with