Tenth Avenue North, "Followers" (October 14, 2016)
When Tenth Avenue North burst onto the Christian music scene with their national release, Over & Underneath, they did not aim to be pioneers in the industry–instead they tread the musical paths paved by many bands before them. What set them apart from every other CCM band, however, was the tremendous amount of earnestness and emotion they displayed in the way they shared the love of Jesus through music. Subsequent albums, The Light Meets The Dark, The Struggle and Cathedrals, further solidified their status as a CCM band pushing for more openness and sincerity in the business, the latter even containing traces of creativity. Continuing their trend for writing a couple gut-wrenchingly emotional songs (“Empty My Hands,” “Times”) and deeply encouraging songs (“You Are More,” “By Your Side”) per album, the band’s latest release, Followers, adds one career highlight to each of those two categories, but as a whole, it is pretty much what you would expect from a CCM release.
Followers continues Cathedral‘s transition away from the band’s acoustic pop/rock roots towards a more produced sound, as evidenced by the colorful album art and shorter album length. Unlike Cathedrals, Followers is a little more by the books for what has proven to be successful on Christian radio in recent years. Big synths, chest-pounding electronic kick, and room-shaking bass are the dominant musical traits from track to track–and while not inherently a bad thing, their confidence and skill in this style is not as apparent as their stripped-down pop/rock approach. There is, however, one significant exception to this: the opening track, “Afraid.” With pulsating synths, electronic drums and sincere songwriting, this track rivals some of their best material. There are so many things that we can be afraid of: death, inadequacy, insignificance. “Afraid” reminds us that, because of Jesus, we don’t have to fear anything.
“Afraid” is followed by the most energetic song on the album, “What You Want”–a fun pump-up track with a strong hook that will have you declaring “what you want” to God’s will along with lead singer Mike Doheny. In the song, Doheny explains that there is only one leader and we are all followers who need to trust he has his best intentions for us. Other tracks like “One Thing,” “Sparrow” and “Control” reiterate this message with slightly different words and metaphors, which drives the point home, but in a way that is collectively redundant (even though they are individually good tracks). This is not a high-energy album, but it only slows down for the two ballads “I Have This Hope” and “I Confess,” both of which are more in line with the band’s previous sound. While the former is a nice piano ballad with soaring vocals in chorus and a good use of near rhymes, it’s the latter that truly exemplifies the band’s ability to craft an emotionally gripping composition. With a beautifully spacious acoustic-driven backdrop, “I Confess” reflects on the importance of confessing sins both privately to God and with close Christian friends: “yesterday it felt like it would never end / I couldn’t confess so I kept on falling.”
Followers is bookended with an excellent opener in “Afraid” and a powerful closer in “I Confess,” and between the two are eight solid but otherwise ordinary tracks. This album is more easily digestible than their previous efforts without sacrificing too much depth, so if you are new to the band or found that their previous efforts had too many slower songs, you’ll certainly want to check this out. It might not be the best CCM release this year, but it is a well-rounded album that is worth your time and money if you are a fan of the band or the genre.
– Review date: 9/27/16, written by Christopher Smith of Jesusfreakhideout.com