I have to be careful. For the last four months, I have been obsessed with a chase, a scavenger hunt, a game (the Derek Webb side project SOLA-MI). And honestly, I love it. I am by all means a geek when it comes to being involved with music. I have been drawn to it since I was young and have been trying to get a part of it ever since.
So, with that said, I am about to attempt something really hard. I am not going to give the geek review of this album. Honestly, I think this album is good enough to not have to dig too deep, but rewards those who might want to . . . like the 4th season of The Wire. That being said . . .
Derek Webb – Ctrl
I can’t do this without some history. Derek Webb was in Caedmon’s Call and won over people who loved acoustic guitars and harmonies. And then he did solo stuff where he was still playing acoustic and singing well, but started having fewer foul lines. Then he went electronic and made some people long for the Old Derek Webb. Now he’s released his first acoustic-driven album in the last 5 years. But wait . . . well, there’s a little more.
Ctrl is an album that takes on desires, control, and the question of how much is too much? So how does he sonically represent this? With a few synths/beats that creep in. And with a . . . choir. But not the most usual choir. It is a manipulated choir representing the tradition of shape note singing. Top it off with the guitar being a nylon string (ok, this is geeky) that sounds different than the normal bright steel string.
Are you with me? Nylon guitar. Beats. Shape Note. Ok, now would be a good time to hear it (or download it, this sampler’s free) - http://noisetrade.com/derekwebb
Now, after hearing this, know that these are some of the strongest tracks, but the rest are like the silver medalist in the weight lifting, just as great. But what’s more, this is an album that asks to be listened to straight through. Do you know the difference between a Katy Perry CD and this? Katy Perry has a bunch of singles written for her to dominate radio. This album gives you a longer form, one that begs you to absorb and take it in. This is not meant to be the next big club album, but one that you can come back to over the years and still find reward in.
And that is why I said that I couldn’t do this review without a little history. I was never into the Caedmon’s Call years, and some kids in Texas tried to tell me to get this awesome album called She Must and shall Go Free, but it frankly was just too predictable for me. Not lyrically, but sonically. I had my acoustic band niches filled. But three years later when Brian Nixon put on The Ringing Bell with its rocking guitars and confrontational imagery, I got it. And I have stuck with it.
Derek has defined himself as an artist and not just a songwriter. Songwriters look for quantity, but artists develop and hone and, when they come out with a project, it’s going to affect you. I’ve heard some say that this is a step back to the Old Derek Webb, but for those that have followed the path have seen the progression and know that this is something completely different.
Shoot, I’m getting geeky. But really, the reward of listening to music, really listening, is something that I cannot get over. In the theme of Ctrl, I think that radio serves some purposes, but I cannot see a way that it doesn’t look for a common denominator and center on that. You may like country, rap, rock, or adult contemporary, but you tune in for a predictable thing you can ignore. It’s a way to control the smaller things in life, to have something that doesn’t require reaction. But for when that gets old, what’s deeper?
Dig into this album. Get the free counter-part SOLA-MI, a much louder but still nuanced album, and join the conversation. However you approach it, know this: an artist worked on it. You may not get it all at first, but that’s why you come back.