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Rend Collective brings good news

The Rend Collective has exploded onto the international state in recent years.

By Colleen Taylor

In the past, music was almost always religiously inflected. Popular songs in the 18th and 19th centuries, those sung at gatherings and parties, were most often hymns. Similarly, most of America’s greatest musical inventions—Gospel, blues, country, and folk—began as religious worship, or at the very least, invoked religious themes and lyrics. Nowadays, however, we think of religion as a decided antithesis of good modern music. Rock n’ roll and Christianity just don’t mix—or do they? The Rend Collective—a popular Christian band out of Bangor, Co. Down —is proving these stereotypes wrong with each hit they make. I confess that each time I set out to review the Rend Collective, I feel trepidatious, uncomfortable around their unabashed, upfront Christian message. But each time I listen, I find my prejudice and pre-conceived stereotypes quickly and easily collapsing. Whether you’re Christian or not, this band is just plain good, and their music is jubilant and spiritual—in the human as well as the divine sense. Their latest album release, “Good News,” may be their most modern and catchy yet.

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Within the last few years, the Rend Collective has exploded onto the international stage, raking in millions of YouTube hits and top spots in the Christian Music Charts. Since the release of their alt-pop project “Homemade Worship by Handmade People,” the Rend Collective have become the forerunners of their transatlantic musical community, paving the way with their modern sounds. This band incorporates raspy vocals, powerful rock rhythms and even some electronic reverb. They have become renowned for their animated live shows, drawing in fans in Ireland, the UK, and the States alike. Their musical energy has enlivened crowds in some of the biggest world venues in the world, including Madison Square Garden. In 2015, they released “As Family We Go.” The album reached number 19 in the overall UK album charts, making it the highest ranking Christian album debut in the UK. It not only affirmed the band’s international status but also proved their cross-categorical appeal as well.

But I don’t want to treat the Rend Collective like another species of rock band, “the Christian band.” Such classification does injustice to the quality of their music, which can easily hold its own with non-denominational rock bands, and, frankly, forwards the identity politics that has resulted in so much hateful politics and negative news reports—the kind of news their album explicitly seeks to counter. As bandmember Gareth Gilkeson has said, “There’s a lot of bad news out there, but no matter what we have good news.” So, I want to review the Rend Collective in that spirit, without prejudice and without denominational categorization. I want to review them according to the great album they’ve just released in mid-January, and that alone—because it really is good news for Irish rock.

What works particularly well in “Good News” is the sense of drama. The first track on the album, “Life is Beautiful,” begins with a mashup of what first sounds like the symphonic conclusion to a 1940s Hollywood film, then transitions into a set of Irish flutes, and finally, a gentle crescendo into quick, rhythmic rock-folk melody. What a way to start an album. “Good News” also strikes me as more experimental than some of their earlier albums, like “As Family We Go” and “Campfire.” I was excited to hear some more traditional Irish and Americana sounding ballads on the album, such as “I Will Be Undignified” and certain instrumental moments in “Resurrection Day.” There are also clear contemporary pop influences threading their way through the album. I hear something of Ed Sheeran in the acoustic version of “Counting Every Blessing.” “Marching On,” which to me, is one of the best tracks on the album, elegantly meshes the band’s standard folk-rock rhythms with electronic influences. “Marching On” is very modern sounding. It could easily be on the U.S. Top 40 charts along with Charlie Puth or DNCE. This is a skillfully crafted dance tune, one that might feel as natural in a nightclub as a Christian concert. The key difference, however, is that the Rend Collective sounds far less syndicated than your typical Top 40 hit. You can tell this band didn’t put their music into a pop music production machine. It sounds authentic and emotional, but also cutting-edge.

As “Good News” makes clear, the Rend Collective can easily embrace their many identities and many influences. Their music is pop, rock, folk, electro, Irish, Christian, global, and many more. They don’t fit in the box of what a pop band or Christian band looks like. And that’s what makes them appealing to both religious and nonreligious fans. Their latest album showcases their ability to seamlessly combine multi-genre musical influences, arrange dynamic instrumentals, and sing with soul. Give it a listen—at the very least, it can distract you from all the bad news.

Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column each week in the Irish Echo.