At Last, Music | Posted September 13, 2011 Staff Reviewer
Michael and Lisa Gungor have been making music with a rotating cadre of musicians since 2003, but they didn't see much recognition until the release of their breathtaking project Beautiful Things in early 2010. Part worship album, part experimental (Gungor likes to call it “liturgical post-rock”), the album sent out ripples that eventually reached the radio with widespread success of the title track, “Beautiful Things.”
A year and a half later, Gungor is returning with an ambitious project titled Ghosts Upon the Earth. This is an album shaped around reflections on the human experience, from creation to completion in salvation.
The bright track “Brother Moon” draws on a wide variety of instruments to create a unique layering of sound. The song explores the ways God reveals Himself through creation. The language manages to feel traditional and poetic while remaining fresh. “Church Bells” follows, a track that plays like a prayer for the Church.
Some tracks speak of creation. The mellow, beautifully constructed “Crags and Clay” gives us a picture of God pouring His life into His creation and calling it beautiful. “Let There Be” begins as a musical picture of chaos, a scattered guitar part and almost random piano notes held together by Lisa Gungor's voice as she sings: “Darkness hovering, grasping everything.” The track builds and becomes more complete, drawing in the haunting voices of a boys' choir and thundering percussion. Other tracks deal with death, as in the pulsing, ultimately triumphant song “When Death Dies.”
Most of the tracks deal with the in-between, with humanity's temporary sojourn on a broken Earth. A constant push and pull drives the album, almost a call and response between God and His children. The heartfelt cry, “I am Yours,” in “Every Breath” is countered by the narrative of “Ezekiel,” a metaphor following the way God's people reject Him even after He has rescued them. These tracks display quiet, drifting acoustic guitar and piano supporting frail vocals.
As the album progresses it refuses to allow generalizations, constantly taking on a new twist just when it seems to be traveling a definite path. “Wake Up Sleeper,” a call to reject apathy and hypocrisy, seems to weave three or four musical genres together seamlessly with its use of guitar, banjo, fiddle, a strong bass line, and some brilliant synthesizer work towards the end.
The energetic closing track, “You Are the Beauty,” pulls together many of the musical and lyrical themes of the album, declaring the beauty in all of God's gifts, echoing back to the chorus of the opening track: “You are everything beautiful.”
This album works to cement Gungor songs as some of the most creative, honest, and thought-provoking work of the past decade. They write worship songs that turn convention inside out, and they do it with breathtaking grace and creativity. Although seemingly devoid of obvious commercial “hits,” Ghosts Upon The Earth is, at last, music--complex, intensely thoughtful, beautifully worshipful, and very much worth listening to over and over again