The Bravest Experiment | Posted August 16, 2013 Staff Reviewer
When Falling Up announced that their latest offering, The Machine De Ella Project, would be two albums (a soundtrack to an audio book and another new album), I imagine fans were speculating on how the two would sound. I personally expected this album to be more in the tradition of Your Sparkling Death Cometh, while I expected Hours to be very much tied to the story. And while it certainly was tied to the story, it actually ended up being the logical sonic follow-up to Your Sparkling Death. But did that mean that this album would sound just like it?
Early previews of these songs made it clear that the answer was a resounding "no." In fact, Midnight on Earthship is arguably the biggest curveball yet from Falling Up.
Apparently, before the album's release, Falling Up had promised that this would be a worship album that didn't sound anything like other worship albums. And that's actually a pretty good summary of what this album sounds like. While Hours seemed to be everything that we expect from Falling Up, Midnight seems to sidestep almost all of it (save for Ribordy's soothing vocals, of course).
Make no mistake: this still sounds like Falling Up. But even a glance at the titles of the songs gives you an idea that this will be quite a different album. For one, many of the titles seem to avoid the perplexing and almost absurd phrasing that most of their songs have. Songs like "Who We Are," "Down Here," and "Summer Song" are the last titles you'd expect to see on a Falling Up album. Songs like "Sky Circles" and "Tomorrows" keep the mysterious titles alive somewhat, but even they seem more subdued, especially compared to the lion's share of titles from their other albums. And to add to all of it, most of these titles actually make sense as titles for the songs, even appearing in some of the choruses. It all seems to play a lot closer to the "rules" of music.
Despite how surprising the straightforward titles are (and how much they sound more like a pop album than a Falling Up album), the biggest change here is the music. Falling Up is no stranger to quiet songs and ballads, but they've yet to release an album composed almost entirely of these songs. While Hours unapologetically follows the experimental rock tradition Falling Up has established for themselves, Midnight on Earthship is even farther in the other direction. Perhaps that is why Hours feels like it rocks even longer than previous efforts, as Falling Up was intentionally keeping the two sides of their sound somewhat separate. And thus, this album is a lot more subdued than we've ever heard Falling Up before.
So how is the music? Quite great, actually. "Sky Circles" was a smart choice to open the album as it feels familiar enough to let us know that we have the right band. The chorus is soothing and uplifting, although the song is overall a sober one admitting brokenness. Maybe I am reading a bit too much into what the second verse talks about, but the image I am getting is quite dark and there doesn't seem to be a satisfactory resolution. This leads well into "Home," which even features some acoustic guitar. A lot of the songs are quite stripped down to almost border on acoustic.
Songs like "Bruise" keep some of the Falling Up ambiguity alive, but songs like "Greying Morning" and "Who You Are" are more direct than anything Falling Up has done before. The latter is an encouraging love note from God, proclaiming, "Who you are is golden / Who you are has always been enough / Who you are is such a miracle / You're such a miracle." Fine lyrics indeed, but not something you'd typically expect from a band fond of mysterious phrases and abstract ideas.
"Down Here" continues this trend with some truly fine poetry: "All that I have / To all that you gave / Is laboring breathing / To blood in my veins / And gold like the blood / That had to be suffered / So I could spend it away." The track's simple acoustic guitar backing is so unlike the band, and yet Ribordy sells it completely.
"Summer Song" and "Rooftops" follow in a similar mellow feel with uplifting moments sprinkled in. "Voices" strikes a nice balance between the abstract and the straightforward, such as with "Just cause I'm free it doesn't mean I'm not bound to love / I'm bound to grace so desperate / We're all a people of an injured heart / But that's what makes it perfect." The song carries a beautifully haunting melody with some light violin backing at times that gives it a soothing and somber veneer that feels like vintage Falling Up while still feeling at home in this uncannily soft approach to the album.
"Tomorrows" has a beautiful bridge to close out the album, and it's a perfect summary of the album and features the band's most direct and worshipful lyrics yet: "Oh Lord Jesus / I'm still trying / Wait for me / I stay today / And I'll run tomorrow / But I know you wait for me." It's a beautiful thought to close out the album, and the music rises to the occasion as well. The final ambient notes remind you one last time who you're listening to. And as they fade out, you get the feeling that you've just heard a band take a big sonic risk and totally pull it off.
The album art and title of this album feel totally right for Falling Up, and yet it's so different. There's enough here to make this feel right for the band, but the stripped back and straightforward approach most songs take is a welcome change. While the album might drift a tad too far into the mellow at times, it's a breathtaking musical venture. And as the second half of The Machine De Ella Project, it's a perfect complement to Hours.
Song to Download Now:
“Who You Are” (Get it on iTunes here.)