Track listing: The Only Road I Know, 'Til I Return, The Great Endeavor, Might Fall, Another Day, Waiting For YouAmid The Crash is an eponymous debut album built upon a two impressive pillars: the phenomenal musicianship of the band's members and the indomitable spirituality of lyricist/guitarist/vocalist, JR Taylor. The album is clearly inspired by Taylor's devout Christianity, and it is rock music. Yet it lies far from "Christian rock," even with the great variety that genre has enjoyed in recent decades.
There are many roads that promise hope but there's only one that leads me home
- "The Only Road I Know"
Taylor writes with a mission. His words' serious tone are not random utterances woven around random melodies. There exists a purpose in Amid The Crash's songs, to explain one man's passion and the resulting ups, downs, and challenges derived from it. What does not come through in the lyrics is the joy you might expect from a religiously based album. There is no ever-present smile here, no hand-holding strains of "Kumbaya." Those may surface on future recordings (though I doubt it), but Amid The Crash focuses almost entirely on our souls' work to be done, on the difficulties of striving yet coming up short, and on the struggle of a high-striving plight that ends with the realization that we are all still humans...imperfect in every way.
Here I am, crying out, hoping I have surrendered, but it seems I can't let go all the way
- "'Til I Return"
I also do not want to convey that Amid The Crash is an exercise in self-loathing and negativity. Quite the opposite, in fact. The positivity just emanates not so much from song lyrics as it does from the music itself. The significant uplifting vibe comes almost entirely from the melodic structures and the ensemble's musical performance. While "Waiting For You" somberly refers to the Rapture, "we are waiting for You while the sun is fading away and the moon is turned to blood," the band is all-out wailing on their instruments amidst a wall of major chord delight. Similarly, the album opens with a sonically inspirational "The Only Road I Know," its swayable groove and soft vocal leading nicely into a crisp, sweet-melodied chorus.
Earth and sky will fade but what you say will stay
- "The Great Endeavor"
What cannot be emphasized enough, aside from the lyrics, topics, chords, and moods, is that these three men can play their instruments. "'Til I Return" may be Taylor's most impressive song, vocally, simply for the power he demonstrates during the choruses. On guitar, his speed impresses frequently, as do his varying combinations of effects, achieving just the right tone for each song. Jim Shields' bass playing compliments Taylor's guitar, at times doubling it on hairy harmony leads. On the rhythm front, though, Shields also lays down mind-numbing grooves—not as eratic as Les Claypool but every bit as impressive. And on drums, Ty Cobb is a living, breathing machine, pulling off fills of blazing speed amidst multi-metered grooves without missing a note (and he's as spot-on live as in the studio). For a musician, Amid The Crash brings smiles similar to pulling out an old King's X record. When players are just monsters on their instruments, it makes for fun listening.
Still a struggle lies within my heart and my doubt; if I weren't so afraid of falling I could just let go
- "Might Fall"
But Amid The Crash is about the songs—what they mean, why they were written, and why a listener would want to hear the songs time after time on their iPod. And that's where it all comes together: these songs are not just for devout Christians looking for a rock music fix. The album is for anyone who's experienced inner conflict, has been disappointed at their own shortcomings, or wants to believe there's a grander purpose to it all. Though Taylor writes of his experience in his own religious context, his stories represent a human experience to which we can all relate.