Re:hymns Is and Isn’t Your Grandma’s Music

Lindsay Williams

Artist: Page CXVI
Title: re:hymns
Label: Independent

Ancient hymns for a new generation . . .

With a band name like Page CXVI, carved from page 116 of a particular edition of The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, it’s not surprising that the music from their latest album contains a unique, artistic flair. Couple that with the fact that the band asked singer-songwriter Derek Webb to mix the seven-song EP, and re:hymns takes on a whole new perspective.

The re-mix project is a conglomeration of songs from their previous four EPs—all collections of hymns. The band—made up of Reid and Latifah Phillips and Dann Stockton—is more of a movement than a band, more of an experiment than a sure thing, more of a work of art than a statement. Re:hymns is anything but traditional. These ancient songs come alive thanks to the brave, unconventional nuances the band and Webb create. There’s something pure that shines through radiantly in the minimalism of the sincere vocals set to a kaleidoscope of sound.

Unpretentious synthesizers and electronic elements converge to create a new world full of original sights, sounds and emotions. Webb’s masterful experimental touch makes re:hymns something out of a fairytale. Latifah’s unassuming, innocuous vocals strip any unbelief out of the most cynical of listeners. It’s easy to get lost in the discord of her voice and the curious instrumentation.

From the first frictional notes, it’s clear these hymns have been completely transformed. Latifah’s deep alto takes the lead on the entire collection—all at once distinct and moody. Each selection evokes very different sentiments, from the textured dissonance of “Doxology” to the divergent loveliness of “Be Still My Soul;” to the atmospheric sounds of “In the Sweet By and By,” the ethereal swirls of “Holy Holy Holy” and the steady drum beat of “Rock of Ages.” Even the closing selection, “Wash Me Clean,” though a modern hymn written in 2010, is every bit as rich as its oldest equivalent.

“Joy” is the most unusual “re-imagined” track. While the content of the song should conjure images of delight, Latifah’s delivery is anything but joyful. It’s sorrowful and incongruous with the lyrical content of the song. After discovering the singer took to her piano after losing her father to cancer, the song takes on a completely new meaning. The fresh bridge is a powerful addition that makes the song blossom in a remarkable way: “And I can’t understand/ And I can’t pretend that this will be alright in the end/ So I’ll try my best, and lift up my chest, to sing about this ... joy.”The song actually ends with a solemn refrain from “It Is Well.” It is by far the most perplexing yet spectacular song on the album.

Page CXVI forges its own unique path with re:hymns, thanks to the band members’ creativity and Webb’s left-of-center ingenuity. It’s not for everyone, but for a new generation of worshippers who want solid, pure theology set to cutting edge music, this is a fascinating offering unlike anything in the Christian space.