Sara Groves defies almost everything one could ever assume about Christian Contemporary Music. Need a catchy hook for radio? Sara gently ushers in her listeners with soft pianos. Need a singable, up-tempo chorus? Sara's choruses often pass us by without us even realizing it. Need to try to write something in a way that most of the audience can relate to? Sara writes about her life and her observations in her own way. And over the course of 15 years and nine albums, she has only distanced herself more and more from the common trends. Certainly, Sara Groves is not unique in these particular respects; indeed, many artists would say they already do all of those things. But few do it so well, and that is why Sara Groves has remained popular, and continues to get more popular, in spite of her bucking the trends.
And that brings us to Floodplain. While Groves has certainly given us upbeat and externally joyful music in the past, her music has been getting more and more understated in recent years, and Floodplain takes the cake when it comes to understatement. Just read these lines from "Signal," "All the cliches about how much I love you are true / As big as the sky and up to the moon / A million-zillion, infinity-plus-one." Any hint of pretension or triteness is completely overwhelmed by her warm delivery and the organic background. The same thing goes for the "On Your Mark," whose chorus is the famous race-initiating words "On your mark, set, go." The fact that Groves is able to make this juxtaposition work so well is only further proof of her confidence in her own talent and comfort in her trademark style.
The moments are sparse where Groves allows the tempo to pick up and get more bouncy, but that urge is fulfilled by the quick strumming and upbeat drums of the internet-inspired "Second-Guess Girl," addressing how often we tend to seek wisdom in a world where the best and worst of humanity is so literally at our fingertips ("Is this confidence born of a calling / is this ego and pride before falling / are we standing to fight for what's right / are we angry and hopelessly blind?"). On the other end of the spectrum is the ensuing title-track, whose imagery of "some hearts are built on a floodplain" is a beautifully nuanced metaphor for how people's hopes, dreams, and aspirations are built on an oft-flooded ground, living in constant fear of flooding, yet feeling unable to escape, all the while third parties cannot (or will not) understand their own feelings of helplessness. Written as a double metaphor, the floodplain mentioned is dually inspired by Sara's journey with anxiety and depression, as well as her love and sympathy for the impoverished. Few songs Sara has written have ever been so convicting.
While the album is full of quality songs (I haven't even given mention to many noteworthy inclusions for the sake of brevity), as with many of Grove's albums containing complex themes and simple, organic music, it does take a certain mindset and repeated listens to really appreciate Floodplain in all its depth. It is a mature listen requiring a patience that most listeners almost certainly won't give it. But those who do give it its deserved patience will at worst appreciate the simplicity of the music and the sincerity of the lyrics, and at best will wholeheartedly fall in love with Sara's warmth and profundity. But as I said earlier, Sara writes from her heart, not bothering to cater to her listener's desires or any attempt to be anything she is not. While some might chalk that up as being unambitious or a failure to stretch oneself artistically, I cannot help but think that choosing to go against the trends time and time again speaks more to an artist's integrity than any attempt to "stretch oneself" in any attempt to cater.
- Review date: 11/6/15, written by Mark Rice of Jesusfreakhideout.com