I'm no stranger to the latest controversies concerning Michael Gungor's break from orthodox Christianity, in favour of a more palatable theology. Gungor's philosophy of music is a fine one, and the frustration he's had with the Christian music genre is something I can sympathize with: Christians are a difficult audience to please, and an artist shouldn't have to worry about pleasing anyone. However, it's sad to hear him not only reject orthodox theology, but also question the intelligence of anyone who holds to it. Judgement tends to be a two-way street it seems. All that said, I'm going to stay away from the topic as much as possible and just review this album for what it is: probably the best work Gungor has ever done.
I Am Mountain opens with the title track, a strong, beautiful intro, celebrating the duality of man. There are few songs written by Christian musicians (if you still count Gungor among this number) which are dedicated to celebrating the physical beauties of human existence, and this entire album makes a point at doing exactly that. I Am Mountain finds beauty in both the smallness and significance of humanity: the complexities of being both physical and spiritual.
"Momentary carbon stories
From the ashes, filled with Holy Ghost"
This track is followed by the strange, but beautiful number Beat of Her Heart. One of the best qualities of this album is how Gungor managed to pull together various genres and textures and make them work as a collective whole. While I Am Mountain is pretty standard indie anthem fare, Beat of Her Heart is completely different. This song recounts the tragic Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, and is reminiscent of old-time mediaeval court song, while also sounding oddly Western. Long Way Off is light, upbeat sounding pop that is anything but light in content. It speaks of the fleeting wisdom of man in all areas: science, philosophy and faith. It's a song that questions everything, and commits to nothing, working well with Michael Gungor's aversion to the idea of absolute truth. Wandering sung by Michael Gungor's wife Lisa, exclusively in auto-tune, is hauntingly beautiful, followed by Let it Go which combines synth-rock with 70s disco. Wayward and Torn is a folk, soul number, bringing to mind The Civil Wars meets The Lone Ranger-theme. God and Country is a brash, purposely antagonistic anti-gun and anti-war statement, that will get a few nods from pacifists and make no friends among gun-lobbyists. While Gungor's tactlessness brings a smile, a touch of subtlety would have worked better. It's hard not to cringe at finishing lines "those who live by the gun, die by the gun." I mean, what are you trying to say exactly? Nothing like a little edited Jesus to give your social issue some credibility. Hither and Yon is a transitional piece to Yesternite, a complex, inner turmoil of an individual wrestling with his spirituality. At first Gungor's vocals are accompanied by gentle classical guitar, and slowly strings, percussion and synth add more and more layers beneath the main theme, picking up pace and intensity as the author's turmoil becomes increasingly desperate. It's a song which could very well have ended in chaos, but Gungor times each element just right. In short, it's experimental song writing at it's best. The Best Part is simpler and more stripped down. Finally and Upside Down send the album off in a return to standard indie.
I have always appreciated Gungor as artists. It's so difficult not to enjoy and revel in art this good and this beautiful. I Am Mountain is frankly, a gorgeous latest effort from the group. It has moments of real honest emotion, exploration of faith, and the celebration of the physical as God created it. However, it is difficult not be disappointed in the souls behind the music. Disappointed may not be best word...sad, sad is the only word for it. But there is truth in all art, whether Gungor intended to or not, there is orthodox truth woven amongst his songs. Michael Gungor is a brilliant song writer who has a chip on his shoulder against orthodox Christians. Perhaps the best course of action would be to engage, not stone?