The boys behind Tenth Avenue North have been busy. In May, lifelong drummer Jason Jamison stepped down to pursue a career with the band’s ministry partner Compassion International.
In June, frontman Mike Donehey announced the band had launched a record label called ReMade Records (no doubt a nod to their song You Are More off their sophomore record The Light Meets the Dark) and signed Land of Color, the new name of the unsigned duo HOLY MNTN. The boys (namely guitarist-turned-producer Jeff Owens, whose production work went into it) were working hard to prep the new Land of Color’s self-titled debut EP.
Then, in August, fans noticed the band’s Instagram account was wiped clean. A solitary picture of a monkey statue in front of a bold yellow background was all that remained of the group’s account. In September, the band announced, via their longtime sermon series “Mike Donehey Teaching Videos” that new music was coming – and teased fans that it would be their most bold sound to date, and aimed to make it a collection of “Psalms of Lament,” and would address topics Christians run from speaking into. Six videos were released, explaining the songs that were to come.
While the album hadn’t officially dropped on the West Coast yet, Spotify released the album for those on the East Coast and I snuck in a listen. Enter below to find all the thoughts…
1 – Covenant
Donehey’s video on “Covenant” revealed the first song to be about his marriage, and the institution of marriage as a whole. His wife and him were surprised to find, after marrying his love, that attraction to other women (and his wife’s attraction to other men) did not leave. Now, rather than shame couples away from this, as Christians are sometimes ought to do, Donehey celebrates this because it means he has to make the continual effort to choose his wife and love her.
This isn’t the band’s first foray into love songs. Cathedral‘s “Stay” was revealed, in the accompanying devotional, to be about marriage as well, though the lyrics can easily be understood as a worship song. “Covenant,” however, makes its claims pretty strong. This is a love song cut and dry.
Lyrically, it’s a bit on the nose, and a bit messy, compared to the band’s past releases. But perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. The band promised to arrive with a different sound and message, and perhaps the messy construction is an analogy for the messiness of marriage. Musically, the track is an exacerbation of the pop-synth sound introduced to fans in the last full length Followers. It’s a cheap, pop radio knock off on the surface, but Owen’s decision to overlay some guitar strums adds the sophisticated level fans have come to love. Donehey’s vocals adds an interesting Adam Levineish gasp to the end of the chorus phrase and it’s a welcome elevation of his musical talent. Overall, this isn’t the band’s strongest release. But as for their message? It’s heard loud and clear.
2 – Secrets (Light Shine In)
Tackling sex addiction and pornography (a topic they haven’t shied away from in past tracks like “We Won’t Numb the Pain”) the message continues to be one of unabashed shamelessness, a message too many young people don’t hear from church staff and Christian circles when they come out with their secret addictions.
Long-time listeners, at the start of the track, will feel something like an updated version of the Cathedrals album. Donehey demonstrates the incredible nuanced vocal control concert-goers are familiar with, in his playing with melody and expectations. Musically, we get something very atmospheric and metaphorical. The verses are dark and subdued, much like we are in the darkness of our secret addictions, while the choruses feel bright and loud, like the boys are calling us into. The bridge strips it down and Owen once again plays with plucked strings, before swelling to the outro.
Altogether, this track feels pretty on par with what we’ve seen from them in the past. There’s no pushing the envelope, and not really a need to.
3 – Counterfeits
If “Covenant” was an exacerbation of their new pop-synth sound, and “Secrets (Light Shine In)” was a tackling of casual sex and porn, “Counterfeits” is the out-and-proud big sibling of both.
“Counterfeits” opens with an aggressive and retro-video-game-style synth melody. Lyrically, this is the strongest we’ve seen on the EP so far. The word play, allusion, and elongated words are TAN through and through. Snaps, a musical motif I haven’t mentioned in the earlier tracks but that was there, are more evident in this track.
Musically, it’s a fun, upbeat song that speaks full freedom into the problems and shames “Secrets” revealed. It pushes the envelope and merges a new TAN sound avenue (yes, I see what I did there), with their iconic Light Meets the Dark sound. Donehey’s voice continues to explore a more pop-like sound, and it suits him.
4 – Love Anyway
From its intro, this feels both like a redirected TAN sound (along the lines of perhaps Britt Nicole or Mandisa), and a continuation of their exploration. This has just a dab of the 2000’s college ministry sound Over and Underneath is well loved for in the chorus, but manages to make that tired direction feel fresh. The background vocals lend, at different times, a folksy sound and a gospel sound to the track that is welcome, complex, and delicious.
Lyrically, the band manages to find a direction that is on-the-nose enough to not be misconstrued without taking it to an uncomfortable “Covenant” degree. With a quiet spoken transition between chorus and verse, it feels more and more clear the band is taking Donehey’s voice into pop territory.
I love this song – its message, its sound, its exploration. It’s a breath of fresh air from the Christian community that has been marred by a good deal of hurtful political rhetoric masking as love. Tenth calls out the hypocrisy without making it feel like an attack. Beautifully produced, written, and performed.
5 – Afraid
In a (perhaps? I’ve listened several times and swear I hear a difference but I can’t put a finger on it so I might be crazy) slightly remixed edition of the Followers opening song, the song feels like a musical and thematic letdown. While I understand its inclusion in the EP, I question its placement. It feels like it would be a better finale (or even opening), and I wonder why the band didn’t choose to remake the track completely, and try something different with a song we knew well. I just can’t lie or say it another way – I’m disappointed. For an EP called The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say it feels like there’s some lingering fear and doubt in the ability to make something different.
6 – I’m Listening
This song made me cry and, in light of the anger, sadness, and confusion I’ve experienced in the months since multiple Christian leaders in my community have publicly mocked sexual violence survivors, that caused me a complex and painful faith crisis, is a gut-punching breath of fresh mountain air. I am so incredibly grateful to Mike and his teaching video on this topic.
Musically, it’s perfect thematically, and echos the heart-breaking and uplifting songs from past albums like “Oh My Dear” “Times” and “Break of Day.” It’s just so good and so healing.
Listen, listen, listen, to it and to each other.
The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say can be found on Spotify, Amazon, and wherever you get your music.
Bryce Van Vleet is a psychology undergraduate based in the Pacific Northwest. He is a lover of words (especially those from Mike Donehey), terrible video-game player, and frequent drinker of soda and other sugary drinks. He also writes short stories here and here.
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