Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday Review: Floodplain

Today I'll be talking about my favorite artist's brand new album:

If you're my friend on Facebook, you already know about this album. In fact, you're probably sick of hearing me talk about it, so I won't be offended if you choose not to read on. :)

Introduction: I did a review of Sara Groves' music in general some time ago. Her last album of all-new music, Invisible Empires, was released back in 2011. Her 2013 release had four new songs but was otherwise a compilation of material from her previous albums.* So it's been quite a while since we had a full set of new music from her. According to behind-the-scenes information via song commentaries, interviews and her profile on Fair Trade Services, the reasons were various, and included a period of artistic paralysis. The overarching themes, imagery, and tone of this album reflect that reality.

My Review: Floodplain is a relatively quiet album. I happen to be a fan of Sara Groves' quieter songs: They tend to be really impactful. Sometimes that impact is not apparent on the first listen or two, but I know that if I give them a chance, not only will I grow to respect, appreciate, and love them, but some of them will end up blowing my mind.**

I said one time that there's something healing about Sara Groves' music, and this album is a great example of that.

My first listen to Floodplain was like that; the impact of certain songs wasn't immediately apparent. So I listened to it again. And again. I listened to it on the bus ride to school and I listened to it on the bus ride back. I listened to it when I went for a long walk. I listened to it a couple of times at home while sitting still in a chair, concentrating on listening.

I listened to Floodplain and nothing else for over a week.^ It started out as an exercise, but I was right: Those more contemplative songs that Sara Groves writes? They're amazing, and this record is full of them. As a result, the entire album is amazing. I mean, I didn't think it was actually possible for her to create a record I'd like as much as Invisible Empires, but Floodplain is pretty darn good.

Let's take a look at the tracks,^* shall we?

1. This Cup. This is a lovely song; relaxing and well-written. Content-wise, it's an apt introduction to the various themes that crop up throughout the record.

2. Expedition. If you study this song and are not floored by the lyrics, you're doing it wrong.

This is one of my two favorite tracks on the album. Musically I like it a lot. It's one of those rare songs Groves does that's a little darker in sound. I also like the production, especially the slightly grainy quality of the verses.

As for the lyrics...

This song is poetry of the finest sort. The verses are excellent, and the way they interact with each other makes me giddy. The chorus is great and I love the bridge, usually my least favorite part of any given song. This is just superb writing. Hashtag ProfessionalJealousy.

3. Second Guess Girl. This is one of the more uptempo songs. It's got a nice rhythm and the lyrics invite the listener to consider their own responses to the issues of our day - it's thematically quite timely. There are some great turns of phrase in here, too.

4. Floodplain. This is a more melancholy song. Once I actually took in the lyrics, I liked it a lot. It might be my second-favorite song on the album (after tracks 2 and 7). It's really quite beautiful, and again, this one has a bridge I absolutely love.

5. Enough. Another quiet one, this song's not a favorite, but it's pretty and I like it. I find myself particularly drawn to the music and imagery in the chorus.

6. Native Tongue. This one's lyrically a bit more obtuse to me, even having listened to Groves' commentary about it. I enjoy the song, though, especially the chorus, and I trust it'll make more sense to me later.

7. I've Been Here Before. Another uptempo number, and my other favorite song on the record (sharing the honor with track 2).

I really enjoy the rhythm, I like the production, the tune is great, and I just absolutely love the content and the lyrics that convey it. So good!

There's a subtle ironic, self-deprecating humor in the first and final verses that I'm personally drawn to. The middle verses carry their emotions beautifully. Each verse is poetically tight and contributes to a nice thematic and emotional arc, and the chorus is excellent.

As a bonus, it's also just really fun to sing along with.

8. On Your Mark. This one's quiet and lyrically a bit mysterious. The style is a little different, too; a little jazzier. The extended metaphor of the verses is awesome, and I like the chorus.

9. I Feel the Love Between Us. Groves sometimes writes songs about her marriage, and this is one of those.

It's a nice song, with that darker musical quality that she so rarely delves into (and here it is, twice in one album!). It's also a simple song: Two short verses and an oft-repeated, one-line chorus.

Not being married, there's a thematic-emotional barrier for me, but man, I love the bridge, anyway. Again with the stellar bridge work on this album, Groves. #WhatsUpWithThat #MajorProps

10. Signal. Ever the mom, this one's about her kids. Again, bit of a barrier for non-mom me, but it's a nice song, and I love the creativity of the signal metaphor.

11. Your Reality. This is an interesting, understated, pretty song with some weighty content and nice turns of phrase. Beautiful verses.

12. My Dream. This song retells a story from Groves' grandfather. Like What Do I Know and Prayers for This Child, it deals with uncertainties and peace in a life of faith. Thematically it's a nice close to the album.

13. Expedition (Reprise). Basically a partial remix of the second track, it's a second close to the album that leaves you thinking about the themes from that beautiful song. That gives the record a nice aftertaste, if you will.

Put all these songs together and you have what I think is the most sonically and thematically cohesive of Groves' albums to date. It's also the most consistent in terms of stellar writing - each verse, chorus and bridge is extremely well-crafted, and I like all the melodies, too.

And I suppose I'd better stop gushing at some point...

Release Date: 6 November 2015
Music Tracks: 13
Run Time: 51 minutes
Record Label: Fair Trade Services

My Rating: 5 Gold Stars

*Hence its title: The Collection.

**Case in point: The Long Defeat, one of my all-time favorite Sara Groves songs. Before I "got it," I used to skip past it!

^I'm still listening to it almost exclusively. It's just so good!

^*Which you can preview in their entirety at New Release Today.

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