October 17, 2004

Consider the Birds

Woven Hand (2004, Sounds Familyre)
Consider the Birds

For the past two months or so, my Bible study has been delving quite deeply into the Old Testament (1st Samuel to be specific), and it’s been an eye-opening and troubling experience. Blame it on my evangelical background, or on modern Christianity’s apparently exclusive focus on the New Testament, but the Old Testament doesn’t seem like it even belongs in the same book at times. For starters, the God of the Old Testament seems like a completely different deity, one quite unlike the kind, loving Father described by Christ or the grandfatherly Santa Claus-type figure most people seem to view Him as these days.

In the Old Testament, the same God thunders and rampages through the stories of the Old Testament, His holiness and righteousness constantly putting Man in his place, His hosts raining judgment down upon the wicked, His prophets decrying tyranny and injustice. The stories of the Old Testament paint a picture of a strange and frightening world, one baptized in fire and blood where God walks among men at their own risk and blessing — His presence bringing fear and trembling as much as rescue and redemption.

David Eugene Edwards, the soul behind Woven Hand, made his bed in this world a long time ago, and the result has been some of the most powerful and vibrant “gospel” music currently being made. As the primary force behind Sixteen Horsepower, Edwards sings of salvation and damnation, the evils of the flesh and the miracles of Christ’s blood, and does so with all of the fire and conviction of a prophet and/or madman. With Woven Hand, however, Edwards turns more contemplative and introspective, fleshing out his other band’s traditional instrumentation with drones, loops, and atmospherics, but with no less impact or power.

Consider The Birds, Edwards’ second proper full-length as Woven Hand, and his first for Daniel Smith’s (Danielson Famile, Tri-Danielson) Sounds Familyre label, finds Edwards fully embracing his creaturely status. In nearly every song, he casts himself completely on the favor of a raging and unknowable God, using language that would not have been unfamiliar at all to David and the other psalmists.

Indeed, the very first words from Edwards’ lips — “Holy king cause my skin to crawl/Away from every evil thing” — imply his utter reliance. And yet, his fallenness is never too far from the surface. “Bleary Eyed Duty” is the sort of ode to marriage and fidelity one might expect from Flannery O’Connor. Here, Edwards sings of his weakness (“And when you leave me where do I go?/Already I’ve forgotten that you wait for me”) before finally surrendering to God’s sovereignty (“It is a comfort for me to know/You will it that I need her”).

The songs constantly find Edwards’ singing praises to God, and yet his haunted, wavering voice implies naught but fear and trembling. This isn’t the neutered pap that passes for 99% of the worship out there. This is haunted, lurching, wheezing stuff, and I suspect that most people will shrink back from much of the imagery here, either because it’s too direct or because it’s simply too old-fashioned to jive with our modern sensibilities.

Just what are we supposed to do with lyrics such as “The world will bow/The knees will be broken for those who don’t know how”, “Power glory dominion be unto the king… we will weave our voice together and sing/Forever round the throne”, or “What is the end of my troubled mind/To embitter to sin/Provoke my soul/Come Christ within”? I suppose some might dismiss them as “quaint” or “old-timey”, but Edwards doesn’t let us off that easily.

For starters, there’s the man’s voice. Simply put, Edwards has one of the most arresting voices in music today. Regardless of what he sings, it’s impossible to have any impression other than that he means every word with every fiber of his being. And then there’s the music.

Though more ambient and experimental than 16 Horsepower at times (check out the eerie piano, chanting, and spectral drones that spook “In The Piano”), Woven Hand is no less powerful (just listen to the yelps and searing violin of “To Make A Ring”). If anything, because Woven Hand is essentially a solo project, Edwards’ vision comes through completely undiluted and has even more impact.

Edwards has never made any attempt to hide his faith, but he’s rarely been as open and direct as he is here. One can’t help but wonder if his association with Daniel Smith (another free-spirited musician working on the fringes of Christian music) wasn’t somehow liberating.

Throughout Consider The Birds, one gets the vision of a man constantly wrestling with his God and his flesh, and finally reconciling the two by yielding to the former out of faith and/or exhaustion. And yet, despite Edwards’ constant surrender to God’s sovereignty throughout the album, this isn’t meek or timid music by any stretch of the imagination. Edwards’ struggle and surrender invigorates his music like no other, and the result is yet another staggering album from one of America’s most convicted (and convicting) songwriters.