All About Love | Posted April 03, 2012 Staff Reviewer
To accomplish his fourth studio release, Till the Sunrise, Juno Award-winning independent artist Matt Brouwer looked to friends, community, and the Internet. The project, produced by Michael Omartian was funded by Kickstarter. Additionally, Brouwer used Skype to hold songwriting sessions with friends for six of the eleven tracks. His first album since his 2010 marriage to wife Hannah, Till the Sunrise has love written all over it.
Rather than take a sequential, song-by-song approach, I'm going to talk about songs that are thematically tied. As previously mentioned, this record is largely inspired by Brouwer's wife, Hannah. Let's start with her songs. The album opens with "Till the Sunrise," a carefree love song born out of Brouwer's newfound contentment in marital unity. The track was inspired by a night he and Hannah spent on the beach in Hawaii gazing up at the stars. Brouwer captures the feelings that accompanied his new beginning in marriage and the eternity and promise he glimpsed in the stars.
Two more songs were written with his wife in mind. "One in a Million" is a highly percussive, bouncy pop tune about falling in love with your one perfect match. Fans of Brandon Heath will enjoy this song as Brouwer expresses the jubilance and exuberance one feels when love blossoms. On the flip side, "Wish You Were Here," written in New York City during his first time apart from Hannah, explores the melancholy of separation. Where Brouwer once would have felt at home alone on the road, he now finds himself lonely in surroundings that hold no joy or meaning.
To craft "Thornside," an album highlight, Brouwer mines 2 Corinthians 12:7, where the apostle Paul mentions a "thorn in his side." This gritty Americana number feels a little bit outlaw country, using Wild West imagery to paint the town of Thornside. The song explores how God uses pain and suffering to make us stronger. Thus, Brouwer sings, "I've been waiting for this thorn in my side to set me free." Brouwer's spirited performance makes this a track you won't want to miss.
A couple of songs deal with darkness, but from the hopeful perspective of coming out of darkness into light, from hopelessness into the shelter of God's love. "Tonight" is about the freedom that comes from starting afresh when we surrender control and rest in faith, trusting our safety and security to God. The piano-driven "Ocean" describes the fear we experience as we drift "lost on the ocean," as well as the peace that pervades when we glimpse God's light piercing through the night. Brouwer employs lighthouse imagery to describe Jesus' love: "Peace like a river is surrounding me / when my whole world is a raging sea / Only Your light is what my soul has found / Lost on the ocean."
Brouwer further explores God's love with songs that describe His reach and power, as well as His steadfast commitment to us. The Psalm 139-based "Everlasting" is a melodic, affirming moment of worship, praising God's everlasting love that not only reaches, but surrounds us and never lets go. Similarly, the optimistic "Love Can Find a Way," written with husband and wife team JJ and Dave Heller, paints love as patient, far-reaching, and saving. Brouwer and Heller's vocals combine to great effect as the two sing on the chorus: "Love is patient / It doesn't mind / Even if it has to wait a lifetime / When you think you can't be saved / Love can find a way."
Brouwer takes his exploration of God's loving commitment to us a step farther with the emotive "Someone Else's Arms." On this tune, informed by the book of Hosea, Brouwer and producer Omartian use moody piano and weeping electric guitar to create a soundscape that portrays the tender, forgiving heart we find in God, the faithful lover who awaits the return of the wayward spouse with open arms.
On "One For Another," a co-write with Jill Paquette, Brouwer sings about Christian love and the need for community. Musically, the song has a lot to offer. It creates a landscape of sound with jaunty piano, guitar, drums and percussion, layered background vocals, and strings. Lyrically, though, the verses are a little wordy. Had the melody been tighter, I think the song's message would have greater impact.
The record ends on a bittersweet note as it explores loss and grieving on the vulnerable "Outside, Inside." What began as a reaction to the devastating tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, took a personal turn as Brouwer unexpectedly found himself singing about his father's death from his mother's eyes. It's a haunting song that demonstrates how our world is turned upside down by loss. Artistically, the piece feels like a bookend to "Till the Sunrise," as each reflects a moment in the life cycle of love. I can't help but feel the album could use one more track to reestablish a hopeful mood rather than ending on such a somber note. However, since answers aren't always provided and help does not always come immediately, it's nice that Brouwer does not minimize feelings of loss by glossing over the pain.
Matt Brouwer's Till the Sunrise is an album about love, commitment, and community. The songs touch on many shades of love, including romantic, Divine, and brotherly, as well as the pain that comes from losing someone we loved. The album's production is pristine and the instruments come through crisply, creating an attractive backdrop for Brouwser's honest, personal reflections on life, love, marriage, and faith.