I'm a little late reviewing the March release of The Art of Celebration by Rend Collective. This is the first release by the band under their shortened name (formerly Rend Collective Experiment) and my, does it exceed expectations. Even though this unique Christian worship group is Irish home-grown and produced, I originally heard of the group three years ago through an American friend of mine, who's been a long time groupie of the band.
Back then Rend Collective Experiment had just released Homemade Worship for Handmade People, a brilliant follow-up to Organic Family Hymnal which is equally as good. I was immediately hooked on their raw, unpolished, and Psalm-like music. The indie group walked into the limelight with 2013 Campfire, an acoustic recording of some of their staple songs. I was so excited with the announcement of a new release, and I was not disappointed. For a day at least, The Art of Celebration was the number one selling album on iTunes, and it's not hard to see why. Rend Collective's energy and joy, is infectious.
Rend Collective has never been a band that takes itself too seriously, and I guess it's because they don't believe seriousness to be a virtue. Lead singer Gareth says "seriousness is not a fruit of the Spirit, but joy is" and it really shows in this album. As a full time cynic, this mentality is a breath of fresh air. Rend Collective promotes a lifestyle of celebration, not in the superficial and fickle celebration of circumstance or material gain, but in the evident truths of the Christian life: in acceptance, in being a part of the Bride of Christ, in being forgiven, and indwelt by the Spirit.
This is exactly the message the church needs to hear at this moment in history. Take it from a wide-eyed Irish MK who suddenly found herself in American Fundamentalist culture: a lot of Christians are sleeping (including myself). Caught up in the act of trying to look like the Christian we were told we should resemble, we lost our joy in the truths of the gospel; in actually enjoying God. I've recently come to the conclusion that every time I sin, I desire something in that moment more than I desire God. If I were to live a life of complete enjoyment of God, I would have no temptation to sin. Suffice to say I think Rend Collective has hit the nail on the head with this release.
The album begins with a call to this kind of celebration (defining it as an active choice) "We're choosing celebration, breaking into freedom...we cast aside our shadows, trust you with our sorrows." This is followed by the foot-stomping anthem, Burn Like A Star. Seriously, if the lyrics and tone of this track don't bring you to rejoicing then I just don't know...I just don't. The third song My Lighthouse is the first song on the album to have been released as a single and I just love, love this song. It's fun, it's catchy, and the simple imagery of God as a lighthouse, shining in the darkness, leading us home is memorable and effective. More Than Conquerors is an active battle cry. Sin has been conquered!!! God is our strength and power over it!! WE ARE FREE! I also love the line that speaks of God's "resurrection power". Think about that, God overcame the power of death!
We will not bow to sin or to shame, we are deviant in your name. You are the fire that cannot be tamed, You are the power in our veins; our Lord, our God, our Conqueror!
This track is followed by the more subdued, but no less powerful prayer, All That I Am. This intimate, acoustic track includes the voices and claps (and whistles) of the band in worship together, laying their all before God: "its only in surrender that I'm truly free."
Immeasurably More has more of a mainstream (that was hipster of me) sound, that makes one think of...maybe Chris Tomlin? Oh yeah, he helped write this song! That's why! No matter, it still has a distinctive Rend Collective sound, reminiscent of the powerhouse sound of Desert Soul from Homemade Worship.
Finally Free uses the great imagery of God's mercy raining from heaven "like confetti at a wedding" and celebrating "in the downpour" and God's heart being "wild with colour like a never ending summer" burning away the "winter of my cold and weary heart." The idea of freedom being linked to the goodness and beauty of God and His grace is such a biblical one and in sync with the theme of simply enjoying God for who He is. The poetry and beauty of this song (heightened by the use of some good aul' Irish uilleann pipes) make it one of the strongest on the album.
Create In Me is both a prayer and a joyful cry. Praying to God to "create in me a clean, clean heart, create in me a work of art, create in me a miracle, create in me something real and something beautiful" turns into the joyful cry "You're not finished with me yet, by Your power I can change, I can change", combining the prayer in Psalm 51:10, with the promise in Philippians 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (ESV).
Strength of My Heart mixes a traditional rock sound with synthetic, pop strings in an anthem of God's love for us being our strength. Simplicity tributes God as the reason we sing and celebrate, and encourages Christians to come back to their "first love."
Boldly I Approach (The Art of Celebration) is hands down, the best song on the album. The power and truth behind these lyrics have me seeking encouragement from it again and again.
By grace alone somehow I stand, where even angels fear to tread. Invited by redeeming love, before the thrones of God above, He pulls me close with nail-scarred hands into His everlasting arms...Boldly I approach Your throne. Blameless now I'm running home. By your blood I come, welcomed as Your own, into the arms of majesty...This is the art of celebration, knowing we're free from condemnation. Oh praise the One, praise the One, Who made an end to all me sin
The album is finished with a live version of My Lighthouse and a remix of Joy. This album hasn't a false step in all of it's 13 tracks. The Art of Celebration may be the best Rend Collective (they will always be Rend Collective Experiment to me) ever produced and that's saying something. It's uplifting without being cheap or gimmicky, it's encouraging without being fake, and it's theologically joyful. If you've never heard Rend Collective I would encourage you to start here and work your way back, but either way I don't doubt you'll become instant fans. Hope you had a great Monday dear readers! Be joyful!
Oh and by the way, Rend Collective is Aaamazing live! My friend Heather and I had an epic adventure in Louisville to see them as a supporting act to Kari Jobe shortly after the release of this album. We sadly did not get the opportunity to meet the band in person but we did meet band member Ali, and she's super lovely!