Monday, September 23, 2013

Music Review: The Mantis and the Moon by Son of Laughter

How in the history of this blog have I never had a standalone "Music Review" feature before now? No better time to correct it, I suppose.

It is not a new thing for regular readers of this blog for me to share that I, for the most part, have given up on what constitutes Contemporary Christian Music. I listened to it almost exclusively in late high school and most of college, but at some point I caught onto the fact that a lot of it seemed to be the same six cliched spiritual phrases over the same three acoustic guitar chords, with hardly any artistic depth to speak of. I held onto a few favorites who seemed to buck that trend and let the rest go for quite a long time.

As the years went on, I started to discover that there seemed to be a new kind of Christian musician transcending this saccharine wasteland of hackery, boasting both musical originality and lyrics that truly explore, question, and celebrate the vast spectrum of faith and discipleship. They actually sing about social justice, or doubts, or divine presence or divine absence, or rejoice in the beauty of creation without resorting to the same worn phrases.

Son of Laughter, aka Chris Slaten, is one such artist in this new vein. This little EP, The Mantis and the Moon, is a poetic ode to faith themes dripping with a soulfulness that more aptly captures the complexity and mystery that such things deserve.

Take the song "Grace is Gold," for instance. It is, in fact, a song about divine grace, but that acknowledges that such grace is something that we are given in the midst of our flaws:
If you're afraid we'll see inside through your hardened scars and wounds so wide... everybody lacks; don't cover up the cracks.
Grace is gold for broken banks to hold. Don't let it hide.
Grace makes gentle those parts of ourselves that we'd rather no one know about. So why hide them, if they have been redeemed as well? In a sense, this question could be asked of Christian music in general: why hide the bad stuff? Why not go ahead and sing about the scars and sores that are an inevitable part of one's life and faith? Son of Laughter acknowledges the importance of this, and treats it with the perfect balance of honesty and delicacy.

From a musical standpoint, Son of Laughter may most clearly resemble Paul Simon. This was my first thought as I listened, and I've seen other reviews of this album make the same comparison. SoL has a light touch with his acoustic guitar that is complemented well with a variety of other stringed instruments and percussion. The album in general gives off a whimsical vibe even when addressing more serious themes, perhaps living up to the artistic name that Slaten has adopted for himself.

This is the sort of album that could give someone like me who has long written off CCM a chance to revisit that opinion. More importantly, it is an album that has integrity in musicality and in message. Its underlying joy is infectious, and its themes grounded yet hopeful. I greatly look forward to Son of Laughter's next outing after this.

(I was sent a free download of this album to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)