Monday, November 5th, 2018

For King & Country – Joy.

Reeling, watching the Jukebox scores…


Thomas Inskeep: This shouldn’t work: it’s essentially a trop-house banger suffused with CCM pleading, accented by a 100-person choir on the chorus, like your worst Coldplay nightmare or something. But this rules. The positive message gets me where I live (basically: the news is numbing, but I’ve gotta choose joy), the choir is perfectly utilised (just on the word “joy” in the chorus), the Smallwood brothers’ vocals have just enough of an urgent edge to them to relay that they’re serious about which they sing. And this may be the best trop-house record I’ve ever heard — it’s got tempo, which is key, and it surges. There’s not a drop, there’s a lift, basically. And almost every time that choir belts “JOY!” I get chills. The lyrical nod to the classic Christian hymn “Down in My Heart” gives my brain happy pre-teen church flashbacks, too. There’ve been precious few better singles in 2018 — if I could I’ve give this a 15.

Alfred Soto: I sang the hymn “Down in My Heart” enthusiastically during my confirmation ceremony, and it’s no stretch for a band using an ampersand to goose the joy with a little electronic sass. But they do stretch “Joy.” to interminable lengths. I do so hate manufactured euphoria.

Jonathan Bradley: Combining trop-house with Swedish House Mafia is a service to future archivists of the 2010s, but my dismay relates to matters spiritual rather than historical. What joy is this of which For King & Country sing, a joy that is so dour and drained of hope? What god is theirs who is so removed from ecstasy, from transcendence?

Nicholas Donohoue: Level it to my Catholic theology goggles, but nearly every instance of Contemporary Christian Music instinctively makes me growl “Protestants” for the duration of the song, which is not fair and not always accurate. If joy can be achieved or even put in focus in this ditty by GOD, or the Spirit, or a sense of morality: Wonderful! As a song, however, it never rises to a joyous noise, nor even reaches low enough to show contrast from a gloomy world, which thus makes the choice for joy flaccid. If you’re going to take from the best of LGBTQ motifs and soundscape, do it justice, don’t goulash it.

John Seroff: The abysmal video’s heavy-handed, patriarchal smarm helped crystallize the issues I have with this glib CCM/EDM slice of revanchist determinism: now, more than ever, “turn that frown upside down” is not a valid mission statement, especially when you are yourself the fucking problem. That these nerdlingers choose to present their tepid message cloaked in the appropriated disco sound of those their ideology would seek to oppress suggests they’re both entirely aware of what they’re doing and who they’re trying to sway. Don’t get fooled.

Taylor Alatorre: God’s Not Dead 4: Raise Your Voice (2019). Synopsis: a young EDM producer is climbing up the Beatport charts with his tropical house creations, but is growing disillusioned with the hedonistic lifestyles and spiritual emptiness of the festival circuit. Meanwhile, a veteran Christian rock band, whose lead singer is in a strained marriage, must search for a new sound after their vocally secular, limousine liberal record executive says that guitars and gospel choirs just don’t sell with the kids anymore. The producer and the singer meet while praying in the same Hollywood church, which aside from them is conspicuously empty. They agree to collaborate on the band’s next album, but first they must face down a rival DJ’s baseless claims of plagiarism, as well as an entertainment media that’s implacably hostile to successful Christian artists. After a dramatic courtroom scene in which the judge is convinced by the producer’s vivid account of divine inspiration, the lead singer’s wife rushes up the courthouse steps and tells him that the band’s music has inspired her to keep their marriage going. A news alert informs us that the record executive has stepped down from his company after one of his Latina interns, who keeps her late father’s cross hidden under her shirt, leaked millions of dollars worth of sexual harassment settlements to the Daily Caller. For King & Country’s “Joy.” plays over the end credits. 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, A+ CinemaScore rating.

Iain Mew: More like For “King” & Country. 

Will Adams: So we’ve got a Years & Years song where the religious text isn’t metaphorical but literal — fine. It’s all a bit obvious, both sonically (vaguely tropical dancepop) and lyrically (actual Psalm 23 quotes), but it still amounts to an ear-catching product that’s more robust than what CCM typically offers.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Earlier in the decade, Hillsong Church started up a new worship group called Hillsong Young & Free that took over Hillsong United’s role as the premiere band catering to their youth ministry. It made sense: Hillsong United’s The Joshua Tree-isms were no longer novel in the CCM world, and their influence had already been firmly established in Australia, and all the USA and UK, and to the ends of the (Protestant) earth. There needed to be change, and surely the church couldn’t associate contemporary pop trends and memeable content with their more formal, mature endeavors. They were the first serious and sustained attempts at EDM-esque CCM I had seen, and their newest record even featured a song that was reminiscent of Hillsong fanboy Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” Music that’s primarily created for a Christian worship service, especially one that’s potentially filled with a doubting and apathetic youth, requires audience buy-in; “Joy.” is music whose shelf life is determined by airtime on K-Love, a radio station whose listeners are committed to hearing CCM regardless of any fondness for the music. The goals and limitations of congregation-minded worship music can encourage groups to eschew standard pop song structures and tropes, sometimes leading them to find a distinct and recognizable musical identity. It’s incredible to me that there’s comprehensible sense to the combination of: 1) third-wave post-rock tremolo picking; 2) tropical house vocal sample warbles; 3) anthemic acoustic worship balladry; and 4) sustained ambient interludes that exist on the new Hillsong Young & Free album. On the other hand, “Joy.” feels like it was birthed from naïve ambition. It’s like the duo had a sudden stroke of inspiration to make music that was way out of their scope, turning it into a moral duty to provide a Christian alternative to secular radio. This is ultimately a result of how ahistorical it sounds, both to the genres its aping and the duo’s own discography. While I’m intrigued by the similarly odd confluence of genres here, there’s a greater, damning contrast between the cries to “let [joy] move you” and the song’s stiff rhythms and strained vocals. That they interpolate “Joy in my Heart” is an admission of the song’s very failures: this sounds cold and alienating, so they throw in a familiar Sunday School song to convince you it doesn’t. To my ears, there’s a world of difference between artists who are tied to a church’s worship ministry and those who are simply part of the creatively bankrupt CCM industry. Even if I had known nothing of For King & Country, a single listen of “Joy.” informs me that they’re part of the latter.

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