Rarely am I enchanted with an entire album on the first listen – it usually takes me about three or four rotations before I feel familiarized enough with the music (and the artist expressing it) to feel as though I’m experiencing it fully; and even then, typically there will be one or two songs I’ll just never find compelling, no matter how many times I listen.
This wasn’t the case with She Waits, the latest release from Nashville based band The Gray Havens. Far from it. I went into it anticipating something typical of the Christian music genre: sermon-hued with predictable song structures, a heavy focus on mercy and renewal, over-production. I don’t say this as a dig at Christian music, or at the industry: I think plenty of the stuff that fits that niche is worthwhile, valuable, and creative. But I didn’t expect to be beguiled – which, turns out, I was.
The Gray Havens are David and Licia Radford, a husband and wife duo who have been kicking around on the music scene since 2012. Both originally from Illinois, they met while on a mission trip. David was an American Idol contestant, and Licia is a talented mandolinist and ukulele player. She Waits is their third album, and was released early this past October (2018): and it is very good.
Right off the bat, the masterful (and distinctive) production caught my attention. On the titular first track, the tone is warm, spacious, and vibey – and somewhat restrained. Production-wise, this set the tone for the overall approach to this set of songs: despite layers of sound design that move from hiphop to indie-rock to world, no song comes off feeling shrink-wrapped or pedantic (which is an enormous feat, from an artistic and audio perspective). Nothing sounds slapped together; nothing lands with the unimaginative thud of a short-cut.
While a few songs savor strongly of Ben Rector and Jon Foreman (See You Again, Forever, Morning Light), that’s not a bad thing; if anything they throw into focus the true spokes of the album, which are curiously dark, intensely woven songs such as “Crows”, “High Enough”, and “Three Birds of Babylon”. Apart from electronic sound design, woodwinds and the violin add additional strokes of a bleakly beautiful atmosphere at certain areas, supporting the lyrical telos of the project. She Waits is, more than anything, a reckoning with death. Death of the body, death of the soul, death of whatever it is that keeps us from entering our true home and our true identity. These songs approach death with a sense of hope that pierces through the gloom. “All our hopes will turn to sight, beyond the veil, in the morning light.”
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