Josh Garrels isn’t a new face to Calvin, or unpopular either. At last year’s Festival of Faith and Writing, popular demand moved the Josh Garrels show from the Recital Hall to the main auditorium. Closing his set with hip-hop-folk fusion “The Resistance,” he remarked whether the song deserved to be played in such a grand room. Mostly assuredly, the song, and his work as a whole, is well worth the enthusiasm.
Garrels has grown from the relatively unknown folk artist whose has quietly put out six albums in the last ten years. His most recent full release, Love & War & the Sea In-Between, garnered considerably more press, with Christianity Today naming it the best album of 2011. And in true indie spirit, Garrels gave his album away from free for a full year, with its successor, Love & War: B Sides & Remixes, now free as well. Both albums illustrate everything unique about Garrels as an artist, distinguishing himself with the ability to work in different music styles and poetic lyricism. Much like Gungor, Josh Garrels is raising the bar for music with strong Christian themes.
Garrels appropriates various musical styles effectively in his work, making Love & War a diverse listening experience. Besides his folk roots, Garrels ventures in various musical styles from rap on “The Resistance,” to eastern European sounding strings on “Sailor’s Waltz.” It not only adds flavor to the album, but uses the music to reflect various subjects of the songs. Garrels uses the direct and socially conscious nature of rap to address broken systems, while “Sailor’s Waltz” fleshes out the lyrical imagery later on the album:
“I was born into a system constructed for failure
It’s a sinking ship manned by drunken sailors . . .
My rest is a weapon against the oppression
Of man’s obsession to control things
Look at the long line of make believe kings
The lord of the flies wants you to kiss his ring
Follow new rules with invisible strings
And become a puppet in the diabolical scheme
How do good men become part of the regime
They don’t believe in resistance.“
Garrels explores styles while using them to effectively illustrate his ideas, a process that ultimately uniquely marks his music as his own.
But Garrels is also a poet, with a keen sense of rhyme and metaphor. Tracks such as “The Resistance” and “Farther Along” illustrates not only eloquence in his prose (three years in theological training likely helps), but some remarkable internal rhyme as well, songwriting you rarely see in contemporary music. Love & War also has traceable, overlying metaphors of the flame, the anchor, and the sea representing God’s presence, his strength, and the chaotic world around us, respectively. Leaning away from the current trend of albums becoming merely a collection of singles, the album is instead cohesive, a meditation on seeking the divine amidst the chaos and brokenness of our world. It’s these poetical traits that perhaps best distinguishes Garrels from other artists by examining the world through a Christian lens for in ways seldom seen in most popular music.
Working with such rich material, Mason Jar Music has plenty to work with. A collective of audio/visual artists working to present organic performances in unique settings and spaces, they’ve recently made remixes and new arrangements of his songs of his latest songs. Their most prominent collaboration has been The Sea In Between, a film of live performances of Garrels and Mason Jar on the beautiful outdoors of Mayne Island, British Columbia. With highly skilled musicians, Mason Jar remixed and rearranged Garrels’ songs “Processional” and “White Owl,” adding new layers of texture and movement to each piece. With both Garrels and Mason Jar Music, there is a high attention given to craft, making each artist quite worthy to highlight during the Festival of Faith and Music.
- Jacqueline Ristola