Showbread has been destroying stages with their raw rock and no-holding-back message for more than ten years (and on a more well-known level since 2004 when they released their Tooth & Nail debut, No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical). After fulfilling their T&N contract (and going through many member changes since the debut), they've since taken a stronger focus on their goals as a ministry-centered band and have signed with the independent record label Come&Live! in order to fulfill their desire to give everything as a completely free gift (including a free tour in the works for 2011). This summer, Showbread started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for their latest album, raised it within the first week alone, and ended up raising two and a half times what they needed to record their album. Their first musical gift comes in the form of Who Can Know It.
In keeping with their evolutionary tradition, Who Can Know It? doesn't sound quite like any other Showbread album thus far. In fact, it's the only Showbread album to contain not one shred of screaming (Age of Reptiles came close, but it did have some screams). With the raw rockers being down to only four official members now, a tamer sound was very much expected - but that isn't the only reason for it. Vocalist Josh Dies makes no attempt to hide the fact that they don't like making the same album over and over again. So while Who Can Know It? is an odd listen the first couple of times through, it seems natural for the band to have taken the musical direction they have. And it's a good direction, especially for fans of their softer material from their Tooth & Nail albums. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for their slower songs, like "Matthias Replaces Judas" and "The Sky (Alpha)," so Who Can Know It? naturally appeals to me. It's also an album that could potentially bring in new listeners who were turned off before due to the harder sound.
That is, of course, if they can handle the brutally honest lyrics the songs contain. The first track is a good test, with somewhat graphic lyrics that remind us of our sinfulness. It's called "A Man With A Hammer," and it tells four very short-but-to-the-point stories, getting more heart-wrenching each time: a man contemplating murdering his family; a wife who cheats on her husband; a pregnant woman who "pays to have its brain sucked out" to save her future from being messed up; and finally, a man who decides to rape the girl lying in his bed. It's hard to take in, but you can almost feel the hurt and disgust in Dies' heart as he tells those tales. The song ends with an acknowledgement of Jesus' sacrifice for the wicked, reminding us that despite their sins, He still died for all of them. "A Man With A Hammer" ends up having the most extreme lyrics; the rest of the album is straight-forward lyrically, but nothing like this first track. "Deliverance" calls out the hypocrisy amongst some groups of Christians that preach Jesus but don't back it up. Dies says, "The Jesus that we're shouting in our neighbor's face looks nothing like the Jesus that You are." He also points out the flaws of the "American Christian" culture, which carries into a later track called "Myth of a Christian Nation." Lyrics like, "I know you think a flag has got something to do with being free, but what makes you think that matters to me?" help to question ourselves as to where we put our faith.
It's not all questioning and conviction here, though. The last three songs display a hope that the band has always woven into their songs. "You're Like A Taxi" is a song that Dies sings to Death. "To some you're like a prison when they've yet to taste freedom, and maybe you feel bitter because Jesus broke your kingdom, once you felt so powerful and power made you happy, but now you're like a ferry boat, now you're like a taxi" is a powerful reminder of Jesus' resurrection destroying the power of death, making death merely the taxi that takes us from here to the afterlife. It's a beautiful metaphor for what happens when we die. "Time To Go" sings of Dies' commitment to God in a time when He told him to let go of everything and follow Him. Friends and family withered away, but he held on, knowing God never changed. The album ends with the very lengthy "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" (which is a quote from Jeremiah 17:9, the same Bible verse that the album title comes from). It goes through doubt and uncertainty ("And now my spine is bowed by the boxes on my back, I don't know how to open them, I want to give them back, and yet You will not stir to ease this burden that I carry, it seems as though You've piled them up and treated me unfairly"), to finding truth ("I walk away from everything and find myself made free, in all the tangles of who I am the truth is that You love me, just as I was, just as I am, just as I will be, in all the tangles of who I am, the truth is that You love me"). Showbread has always been honest and upfront, but Who Can Know It? may be some of their most profound lyrics to date.
One thing that Showbread hasn't always been is mellow. As I mentioned, they've had their moments of softer rock, but it was always in between two loud and screamy songs. This time around, the rock tracks appear as often as soft tracks did on No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical (and when they do turn on the rock, it's not nearly as heavy as something from Age of Reptiles). The press release for Who Can Know It? described the sound as a "raw rock version of The Eagles and REM," and as odd as that may sound, it's not entirely inaccurate. However, it's still Showbread, and they do soft rock the way that Showbread does anything: brilliantly. On the other hand, Who Can Know It? does take a few listens before the beauty of it starts to really make itself known. The vocals are dominated by Dies' lower vocal range, giving it a droning sound. But again, after a couple listens, you start to appreciate it. Given the mostly darker nature of the lyrics (it is Showbread after all), the lower end vocals make sense and add a lot to the project. Musically, "Myth of a Christian Nation" and the latter half of "I Never Liked Anyone and I'm Afraid of People" are the only rock portions, while the rest of the album is composed of piano ballads and synth-laced alternative. The music has its simple moments, but the excellent musicianship Showbread's always had is still present (for instance, the bass lines are some of the best I've heard from the band). They also keep some of the progressive nature intact. Just as older tracks like "Stabbing Art To Death" (originally on Life, Kisses and Other Wasted Efforts) changed numerous times before the song was over, so does the final song on Who Can Know It?, "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things." It sounds different, but it's classic Showbread.
Through all the band's lineup and sound changes (not to mention fanbase changes, as they lose the fickle fans with each new sound), one thing hasn't changed: the quality. Showbread is an amazing band, and they consistently put out amazing music;- whether they're screaming or singing or whether they're playing loud power chords and punk beats or pianos and acoustic guitars. Whatever their current formula, they know what they're doing, and they're doing it right. It would be a shame to simply download this album so nonchalantly as we can so quickly do in this era of music. Download Who Can Know It? from Come&Live! (or buy a copy, as it's well worth the money) and invest in the lush music and poignant lyrics. Dive into it and enjoy music the way it was supposed to be made. And wherever Showbread goes from here, we'll be listening.- Review date: 11/17/10, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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