Album Review: ‘Original Mixtape’ EP

by Callahan Jones

In The Brilliance’s “Original Mixtape” EP, released in early March, the worship group presents an enjoyable 18 minutes of music. It’s the least focused in the scope of any work that they’ve released to date.

For those unfamiliar with The Brilliance, it is an ever-evolving group centered around the musical compositions of arranger and pianist John Arndt and lyrics and vocals of worship pastor David Gungor. On their debut full-length album “Brother,” released in 2015, the duo focused on arrangements centered around piano and strings, while the lyrics of the songs praised God’s love and Christians love each other.

The Brilliance’s sophomore effort “All Is Not Lost,” released in early 2017, had many similar stylings, but also introduced more modern implements of worship music, such as synthesizers and electronic drums.

“Original Mixtape” returns more to the musical style of “Brother” and the group’s early EP “For Our Children,” focusing on slow string, piano and acoustic guitar based arrangements, while sometimes bringing in brass, a bass guitar or drums to add more punch to specific passages.

The EP opens with “Hands and Feet,” a song made up of a beautifully droning cello and repeating piano chords. The song focuses on Christ using Christians as his hands and feet to accomplish His work in the world. It is a song of petition, addressing God and asking Him to use them according to His will.

“Rescue Me” follows, a short (minute-and-a-half) song petitioning God for salvation and comfort. It is backed up entirely by a deceptively upbeat acoustic guitar part that almost defeats the message of the song, but upon further reflection helps convey a sense of hope. It is about hopefully praying for God’s help, not screaming out into an emptiness out of desperation.

This hopeful prayer is immediately followed up by “Mercy,” easily the most beautiful song on the album. Haunting strings lay out a bed of dissonant chords, under which Arndt sets up for the melody with soft, chorded piano playing. The song itself is reminiscent of some of Psalms. Just like those psalmists, Gungor calls out in desperation for mercy from God, who he goes as far to call “distant.” He begs God to come near and bring peace to the world, hearing “His children’s cry.” This style of songwriting isn’t often seen in the realm of Christian music and is refreshing to hear, as it accurately reflects what many Christians have felt and cried out to God themselves at one time or another.

“Mercy” immediately goes into “The Sun Will Rise,” an appropriate reminder of truth after the raw and emotional song that preceded it. Another short minute-and-a-half affair, the happy tune urges the listener to remember that “The sun will rise” anew once again, bringing the hope of a new day, and to “lay their burdens down” and “dry all their tears” in the light of God’s mercy and love.

The EP ends on “Christ Be With Me,” a benediction-like track that focuses on the fact that Christ is everywhere with us and within each other. Based on a prayer by St. Patrick, it brings an appropriate ending to this EP, closing the project out with the recognition that Christ will always be with us. It is backed by simple and beautiful piano chording, just like much of the rest of the album, letting the focus rest on the true words that Gungor sings.

On the whole, “Original Mixtape” is a deceptively deep album, that communicates much about the continual struggles, rewards and truths of the daily walk in a relationship with Christ in a surprisingly short package. If I had any one complaint with it, it would be that it is too short. But, that is part of the beauty of it, so much is communicated in so little time.

I would heartily recommend this EP to anybody who is looking for some calm and meditative—yet a little bit different—Christian music to listen to.

Callahan Jones is a junior journalism major and the Digital and Design editor for Cedars. In his free time, he enjoys making coffee, being overly critical about music and playing games with friends.

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