TUESDAY REVIEW – GUNGOR (GHOSTS UPON THE EARTH)

Gungor – Ghosts Upon The Earth
Ghosts Upon The Earth is the much anticipated follow-up to the band’s much beloved Beautiful Things album. Fans of Gungor have waited a long time for this project and it seems that the project has not disappointed those who were patiently waiting for it.

I’m always a little nervous about reviewing records that already have received some sort of far-reaching “seal of approval” among worship leaders because anything I might say about the deficiencies of a given record run the risk of offending.

Believe me, that is NOT my intention.  As I say very often around here, I review worship records on their merits as a worship resource for the church where I lead. I try not to review records for the whole world, but rather the world where I live.

LET THERE BE
This sprawling, dissonant opener sets the tone for the whole record. Ambient vocals, sweeping section changes and folk instrumentation abound. Whereas Beautiful Things had a few band-centric songs with frequent forays into more non-linear, emotive songs, this record seems to be the opposite. The artsy explorations are the norm. More opening prayer than full song, this track is a broad Creation account. Lyrically, it reads like a poem and the church of today doesn’t have too many worship songs about Creation. However, for the place I lead, I don’t think the song is very beneficial. First of all, the instrumentation is way more intensive that my band setup. We just don’t have the instruments you would need for a song like this. While I think that the song is very interesting as a performance piece, there’s not much that’s formative for corporate worship.

BROTHER MOON
Michael Gungor’s skill as a groove-pop writer is in full evidence here. The song manages to walk a fine line between a bluesy bounce and a downbeat, heavy acoustic rock song. The song has a great melody and some nice surprising chord changes. Definitely fun to listen to and crank up! Lyrically, there’s some weirdness here with regard to corporate worship. Personifying both the moon and the wind as my “brother” is kinda’ strange especially when the chorus changes tenses. In the verses, I’m singing to my brother the moon and the wind and then in the chorus I’m singing to God. Now, person changes aren’t that rare in worship music, but I couldn’t get past it when it builds sections where I’m singing to the moon and the sun. There are some good worship elements here – the chorus is great and the bridge is an excellent thing to sing. However, the bridge especially has a weird phrasing that would be a challenge for my congregation.

CRAGS AND CLAY
Another creation-song here that seems to be the next phase in the approach started back in song 1. Props for some thematic writing and development here! This may be the most congregational song on the project. The range on the vocals could be a challenge as it jumps from girl to guy and then to male falsetto. (Dropping a step or two might make that easier.) In my opinion, the song sometimes feels like it more an exultation of the actual creation than the Creator, which I’m not that hip on singing.

THE FALL
Theologically and poetically, this song is stellar. It paints a beautiful picture of sin’s effect on the world. I was leery of the title of “Ghosts Upon The Earth,” but hearing in the context of this song makes a lot of sense. I also dig the lament nature of the song and how the song has very obvious man/God sections. It is a musical conversation exposing the fallen nature of man and God’s faithfulness. This is an excellent performance piece that would work in any church. Congregational worship, it isn’t.

WHEN DEATH DIES
Gungor got folks excited about the record by releasing a live performance on the internet. Their considerable musical skill is more than evident in this song. I’m not sure exactly what this song is, however. It’s certainly imaginative and makes more use of nature imagery, but I can’t imagine any congregational worship setting where I’d use this song in my church.

CHURCH BELLS
With the recent work of Mumford & Sons and The Decemberists, a lullaby-like song with such an old-timey feel is bound to be a hit. It’s a simple tune that’s obviously about giving God praise for His goodness. It’s a short simple piece with a great melody…it would be perfect for a drama or a video!

WAKE UP SLEEPER
More nice, bouncy funk from these players. This prophetic piece is a soulful warning to those who would abuse and misuse the God’s Word. Instrumental fills in this thing are stellar, somehow strong in the sparse vibe of the song. However, the pre-chorus section of the song has more of that crazy phrasing that’s totally works within the song but would definitely lose my congregation. I dig hearing the song, but wouldn’t use it.

EZEKIEL
Probably the most “normal” song on the record. Not a long of hard breaks in between sections, key stays pretty consistent, melody is linear. (However, drummers will dig that vamp at the end.) Definitely a redemption song that’s dark enough to paint a nice picture.

VOUS ETES MON COURE (You Have My Heart)
The back half of this record seems to move from the redemption of creation to the redemption of man. Good melody and beautiful mellow vibe. Some churches dig singing stuff in other languages. I don’t know that we’ve ever done that at Bethel. I’m not sure different languages for different sections would work for us. It also seems to be a song sung from the perspective of God, a type of song that’s sometimes more challenging to fit into a setlist of worship.

THIS IS NOT THE END
This big choral number has a great piano part and a nice crowd vocal. I dig songs about Heaven and there aren’t many out there for worship. This is a BIG song that would require a lot of planning and execution to do it justice, but it could be a nice song for memorial services or worship sets built around our coming King. There’s a lot of riffing and instrumentation here. This song doesn’t follow a very specific pattern (verse 1, chorus, verse 2, chorus, etc.) With some adjustment it could be a cool song for a church to sing.

YOU ARE THE BEAUTY
Opens with a nice acapella chorus. Remember when I mentioned Mumford & Sons earlier? Yeah, this one is like a mix of Mumford, Bill Monroe and Nickel Creek. Once again, lots of instrumental work and a simple song listing the gifts God gives that make Him beautiful. I might consider the song for worship if I could skip the verse, “Breath and sex and sight / All things made for good in love divine.” Not that I don’t believe that, but I’m not sure it would communicate well in my church.

EVERY BREATH
I like the electric guitar opening. Song works great as a closer, recapping most every sentiment expressed in the record. Simple lyrics, good melody, but once again song changes tempo and vibe toward the end, which would be a challenge to do in my church. I’d pass on this one.

This band is great. They are creative and they’re releasing something that’s unique and fresh. But I don’t think it’s a record that’s designed for corporate worship within most of our churches.

Before all my readers jump on me, let me tell you what I’m thinking about this project.

Everything I hear and read about Gungor seems to be from musicians. They talk about this band constantly and how amazing the music is and how everybody in the church should buy the records. A lot of worship resources seem to be very big on Gungor.I’m interested to hear from worship leaders on the music of Gungor. If that’s you, I have two questions.

  1. Would these albums work in the church where you serve?
  2. What Gungor songs have you done and how did it go?

Who else has heard Ghosts Upon The Earth? Did you like it? Hate it?

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5 comments

  1. Blake Russell (@blakerussell)

    I’d have to agree with your review Todd. I’m like you, I can imagine where any of these songs would really fit in a worship set, not just on Sunday morning, but at Great Escape.

    I’m one of thew few musicians I know who just doesn’t go bananas about this album. It’s a little too quirky for my taste (and I like a lot of different music)… and I get worried sometimes people want to like it just because its different and all their musician buddies say its good.

  2. Aaron Laird

    Thanks for the thoughtful review Todd!

    I too, worry about the theological implications in the treatment of nature here. I can’t say enough good about the instrumentation, but I don’t see much of their music (past or present) useable for “the world where I live,” as you aptly call it. Performance pieces maybe, but time can tell a lot, and my setlists are going to wait on Gungor to further develop their presence in the worship world.

    On a side note, a Christian leader in our Church recently asked me where I thought worship music was headed stylistically and instrumentally. I quickly responded with – go check out Gungor. I believe we need to move from worship power-trios, to more creative use of instruments. Not that we’re behind any curve, but I think we’re called to higher things creatively. Anyone know of a good xylophone brand? Yeah, me either, but I’m working on it.

  3. Johnny Simmons

    I only know them from the song “Beautiful Things” which I played at a for-hire worship leading gig. I thought it was a good song (for a shoegazing hipster kind of thing, which I appreciate though it’s not my bag) but it didn’t make any sense to me in a corporate worship environment. The words were nice but seemed weird for people to sing together.

    Which I think is a demonstration of where we are in some circles these days. Having fuzzied up the line between that with which we entertain ourselves and that with which we offer worship, it’s confusing as to how we are to “consume” some of the music out there, because its purpose is unclear, or maybe the artist missed what they were aiming for.

    I’m all for musicality in the worship (Lord knows we need to break out of our U2/Coldplay rut) and artfully crafting new songs for the Church, but I think there’s a lot of confusion about what the content of that should be.

    So I’d listen to this band any day of the week, but from my (again limited) experience, I’m not interested in what they seem to be about as music for my Church.

  4. Johnny Simmons

    Incidentally, in calling to the sun, moon, whatever to praise the Lord, they are squarely in the limits of orthodoxy. The Psalms and other passages do the same, as well as ancient writers (check out the Benedicite, Omnia Opera Domine or “All Creatures of Our God and King”).

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