For a while now I’ve had it on my radar – a review of Gungor’s “One Wild Life: Body.” The inner dialogue went like this: It’s a cool concept that married couple Michael and Lisa Gungor came up with, releasing a trilogy of albums in the span of a single year (“Soul,” “Spirit” and now “Body”). And you’ve always admired and respected Gungor’s approach to spirituality in music. Nuanced, creative and thoughtful; the antithesis of the worst “contemporary Christian music” has to offer. All done with the highest musical standard.
The thing is, Gungor’s offerings to the musical world are complex and diverse in a way that renders an honest review a bit of a challenge. For each track not only stands out from the ones before and after, but within each individual tune lie multiple layers of tone and construct, just begging to be peeled back. The result is something like trying to read Shakespeare or (for my pastor peeps) Barth for fun – in theory it can be done, but is it really worth the work?
For “Body,” it is.
The “One Wild Life” trilogy takes listeners on a journey from birth to death. The aptly titled “Body” captures the final chapter with a mix of eerie-beautiful melodies, arrangements and lyrics that simultaneously draw you in and push back.
Exhibit A: “Lovely Broken,” a song of mirrored celebration and lament. “Everything is lovely / Everything is bright / Everything is here because of glorious design,” Lisa Gungor sings in a beautiful major key. And in the very next measure, the key changes to minor, and Michael interrupts with: “Everything is broken / Everything is pain / Everything is dark and pointless, what is there to say?” This back-and-forth contrast occurs throughout the song. And yet both voices join together on the chorus: “See the night, see the sunrise / See the love, see the heartbreak / You and I, we will be all right.” Life is joy and hardship, serenity and struggle, both existing within a single body.
The musicality of “Body” is obvious from the outset: “Birth,” the opening track, transitions from the strange sounds of something far closing in to a beautiful guitar arpeggio where Michael’s halting tenor sings, “This world’s so harsh / Treble and bright / Home is the warmth of your voice.” It’s obvious that Michael and Lisa give great thought to the instrumentation of this and all songs on the album – every note has its place in the mix.
Each track on “Body” offers up its own unique musical contribution, each playing a particular role in the narrative: “Step Into The Light” as the abbreviated folk tune; “Alien Apes” as the 80s beat-driven delicacy; “Breath Within The Breath” as the chill electronica compilation; “To Live In Love” as the airy ballad. There is no real rhyme or reason to how this vast smorgasbord of tunes flow from one to the next – and truth be told, this can be a bit of a challenge on the listening ear. But at the same time, it forces the listener to greet each track with a fresh palette… and that’s not such a bad thing.
“Body” is a complete work of art – but there’s more going on here than meets the ear. Michael Gungor explains it best in a blog post written when the “One Wild Life” project was announced back in 2015:
“Our world is in a time of tremendous change and friction. We are splintered into a million pieces – ‘connected’ to each other in constantly new and innovative ways, yet somehow isolated and fragmented more than ever before. We believe that at the center of the division and disunity of our persons and our society is a lack of sight. Our eyes have grown dim to the wonder of our existence — of how fundamentally connected we already are to one another and to everything. This music is an attempt to see from a different vantage point. To experience it all with a perspective of gratitude and wonder.”
Nowhere is that wonder more present than at the album’s center, “Free.” At its heart it’s an unabashed gospel tune from start to finish, proudly celebrating the joy of life’s journey even as it nears its end:
In these sleepless nights
I can hardly breathe
I know that we’ll be free
And the choral refrain that never leaves you:
Let the light keep a-shinin’
Let it break into the darkness
All the love dares us to see
We’ll all be free
Trust me, you’ll be singing it in your head long after the .mp3 stops playing.
Gungor’s music is captivating in the sense that, with each new listen, you pick up on something you missed before. In that regard, it has the effect of continuously evolving with each new listen. It’s rare that recorded music does this. That alone is enough reason to give this album and its corresponding trilogy members a listen.
When STEVE LINDSLEY is not being a pastor, or sermonizing, or songwriting/giggling, or keynoting/leading music for various retreats and conferences, or teaching Old and New Testament at his local community college, or blogging, or running and swimming and practicing yoga, or playing pick-up basketball with his two sons and letting them win, or watching music competition reality TV shows with his love wife, it probably means he’s sleeping. Follow him on Twitter at @slindsley. Visit his blog.