I have a love-hate relationship with worship music. On one hand, the idea of a group of people in the same room, a multitude of different voices, cultures, backgrounds and lifestyles united in song is an absolutely beautiful thing. This act should be one in which Christians from all sides of the spectrum lay down their differences and come together. The relationship between music and a congregation is a tactile one; it’s one where a united spirit can be felt among the participants.
On the other hand, it’s no secret many worship songwriters are just playing the game, trying to get that coveted licensing deal. But in as tactile a way true worship can be felt, so can the feeling of being sold — and that’s exactly what Aaron Gillespie’s latest release, Grace Through the Wandering, feels like.
No one is arguing with Gillespie’s songwriting or musical ability. From his flashy drumming-while-singing in Underoath to the pop sensibility of the Gillespie-fronted The Almost, he has a firm grasp on music that feels genuine and passionate and technically sound. Grace Through the Wandering is musically competent and perfectly produced with its layers of instrumentation and sheen. But its problem was never in those areas. The album feels anything but genuine; rather, it feels like a group of songs crafted for the sole purpose of being licensed to churches. It’s the sound of someone selling out while singing love songs to Jesus (and we’ll keep trying to ignore the cringe-worthy, hipster-Americana take on “Come Thou Fount”).
Which leads us to the burning question: Does the world really need another worship album for the American Evangelical? Even starting with the artwork — like so many mainstream worship albums before it — we’re first greeted with a safe photo of Aaron, which subtly implies what this album is really about. The songs are arranged simply enough to break down into basic chord structures. For the most part, the melodies are geared toward the lowest common denominator, easily sung by anyone.
Lyrically, it’s nearly absent of vulnerability or struggle. In general, it’s odd we don’t see more of this, which correlates to our best template of worship songwriting: David’s Psalms. It’s called Grace Through the Wandering, and there is a little bit of alluding to needing grace and being lost, but the vast majority of these songs are about feeling good in one’s standing with God.
I might be being unfair to Gillespie. He might be totally genuine, but it doesn’t feel like it. I know he can write very intimate, interesting worship songs — listen to “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape” from Underoath’s They’re Only Chasing Safety. But to see him write just another pop-worship album released on a big label with big distribution feels a lot like selling out.
If you want incredibly musical, inspired and passionate worship albums, like to bands like Ascend the Hill (O, Ransomed Son is an absolute game changer), The Ember Days or even the Glorious Unseen. Save your time and money and listen to them instead.