The Updraft Imperative
Pieces of My Past
Pieces of My Past will be available soon.
Christian-Rock; Rock; Alternative
THIS is the second time I am with the Brisbane-based…
Christian-Rock band. In the first review for the band- when assessing their debut album Chair– I was impressed by the quality and sound of the music. Far away from what I expected it was not what you’d call ‘typical Christian-Rock’. My previous exposure- like a lot of people I guess- comes from television and media examples. The odd band here and there that would be described as Christian-Rock. The music being played by these bands is defined by its optimistic and faith espousal: Never really winning you with its sound or hardness; the music is often bland and segregated- not designed to capture non-believers; more designed for the converted and confirmed. That is all very well- making music for Christians- about your love or God- but it doesn’t have to be that way: Christian-Rock does not have to be just faith; foreign to those who think differently. Take me, for example. I am a confirmed and committed atheists (no human, event or circumstance will change that) and will never believe in God yet I am a huge fan of The Updraft Imperative. Having listened to other Christian-Rock bands- mainly based out of the U.S. – I was off-put and cold. I forget their names- there was a tortured pun or church-related name involved- yet the music was always the same: Acoustic-based and overly-gleeful; subjects don’t stray far from belief and its power. It is great having faith and holding onto something you believe in: If you’re a religious musician- and have that platform and aim- then why not aim further and wider? Beyond the churches and Sunday concerts; past the clandestine venues- when do we hear Christian-Rock bands? Perhaps it is a societal fault: There are some snobbiness and discrimination while people are not willing to embrace the music without even hearing it. Perhaps that is true; yet there is an opportunity at hand: Playing electric guitar- and infusing Rock and grit into your sound- does not betray belief. It is not an affront to anti-religious sentiment. Keep the messages true and you are not offending anyone or selling-out the Christian faith. Before I end this point- and mention Australian music- let me introduce our featured band:
“Formed in their school days in the country town of Dalby, Queensland, Josh and Murray’s friendship spans over 20 years. In the time during and after high school they both honed and refined their individual and distinct musical styles. In 2009, having both moved to Brisbane, the pair decided to get together to write a selection of songs, encompassing both their unique musical styles and their passion for honest, challenging lyrics. Known simply as ‘Updraft’, the pair recorded a rough 10 track EP, ‘Reflections’. Recording took place in Murray’s garage on an old analogue recording desk and an even older, more unreliable free computer – with Murray both recording and playing guitar, bass and drums. Laura (Murray’s wife) commented that the resulting demo “sounded much better than it should” due entirely to the low tech facilities available to them at that time. By late 2012, Josh and Murray had been joined by Pete on drums. With the full support of their families, the trio made the brave decision to self-fund the professional recording of an album – using some tracks from the earlier demo ‘Reflections’ in addition to some new tracks written as a three piece. While recording ‘Chair’, the band decided their name needed more impact. ‘Updraft’ was a direct reference to Isaiah 40:31 – ‘… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ To stress the bands shared belief that as Christians, we should always be seeking and working towards something higher, a name that gave a strong reminder of this was agreed. And so, ‘The Updraft Imperative’ was born. The 10 track album, ‘Chair’ was recorded over a four week period and produced by James North. The band credit James for both his brilliant recording and production skills, but perhaps more importantly for his understanding of what the trio wanted to convey through the album and his direction in how to achieve this while also reflecting and capturing their unique style. ‘Chair’ was released in December 2012. With their significant background of support through live performance and leading worship, The Updraft Imperative album tracks were included for airplay on local stations in Australia. In June 2014, the band were offered support in promoting their music in the UK. A whirlwind of airplay, radio interviews and album reviews has ensued, not only on the UK, but worldwide. The storm of media attention happening overseas has stirred further interest back home.”
I will return to the band at the end of this section, but for now, to end my point- with regards the rigidness of Christian-Rock. There is this fear about the music: If it is too Rock/Alternative-based does that water-down its aim? The design of Christian music- and anything that plays in this genre- is to promote faith and belief by giving thanks and praise to God- without trying to preach and judge. Faith is a powerful thing yet there is power to be gained: By making the music more captivating and popular- thus drawing in more ears and eyes- you are likely to succeed and certainly get more listening. Unless you are Bob Dylan, an acoustic guitar (and a voice) leaves you restricted- something the modern music scene is forgetting. It is 2016 and you have to go further. Even Dylan understood ‘going electric’ was the way forward. You cannot be stuck in the past (Christian music has this stuffy and middle-aged image still). What impressed me about The Updraft Imperative- aside from their cool name and the quality of their music- was its contemporary sound. They are not stuffy or boring; they are not insanely happy and saccharine- acts like The Polyphonic Spree can come across as such. Chair is an album that is very faith-orientated- promotes the effects and redemptiveness of belief- and very true. Its music and projection go further by rivalling the best of the Rock scene. Masters of music’s finest components- a catchy and big chorus; tight and compelling performances; nuanced songs- the album stunned me. The only reason I marked it ‘low’- or lower than most reviews- is its religious messages. Those messages promulgate strength and joy; giving and togetherness. The God-directed effuse- the faith-will-conquer-all mandates- were not quite potent enough to change my thinking and get into my heart. That is a minor flaw: The album and the band are filled with majestic layers and plus-points. Arriving with new material (insights into what their new L.P. will contain) it is great to have them back- I shall reflect on that soon. Before I get to the band- and their past work and current movements- it is worth mentioning Australian music. Being based in Brisbane- one of the hottest and most fervent Australian music hub- it is worth looking around. In terms of the Brisbane music scene past and present; some great bands have surfaced: Powderfinger and The Saints; The Go-Betweens and The Veronicas; The Riptides and The Grates. Away from the Queensland city it is Melbourne that leads the way: They are producing some fantastic and varied sounds. From The Temper Trap to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; there are some fantastic sounds happening there. In the U.K. and outside Australia, a lot of our exposure to the Australian music scene comes from T.V. shows like Neighbours and Home and Away. Totally Mild are one of Melbourne’s best current bands: Their dreamy Electro.-cum-Pop blends have captivated critics; they are one of the world’s best bands. Over in Sydney, Rock bands like Royal Headache are emerging. The city has produced acts like INXS, AC/DC and The Vines. Australia is showing itself to be the secret diamond: The country producing the best new music and the finest new sounds. Totally Mild and Royal Headache are perfect examples. With The Updraft Imperative revitalising and showcasing Christian-Rock’s potential- and a wealth of great Alternative acts coming through- the country is really shining; mixing-it-up with the U.K. and U.S.’s best. There is clearly a great mood and wave coming through; a rich vein of form- more eyes should be trained here. Too many media eyes are focused on Britain and America and ignore less-obvious areas (their folly!). The Updraft Imperative have shown- not just in Brisbane terms, but globally- how good they are and what diversity can be found- they are the finest Christian-Rock band on the scene. After a terrific debut album, I was keen to investigate their new sounds and see what is in their mind.
The boys’ previous work (Chair) is the best comparison piece: I wanted to see how they have evolved and changed and how the new material stacks up. The album was a bold and brave testament: The band mixed U.S. Rock elements- hints of Bruce Springsteen and Queens of the Stone Age- with some Classic-Rock elements. There were some ‘Australian elements’ to the music- local bands and native sounds- yet it was mainly U.K./U.S.-based Rock bands that came through. When it comes to the sound that was laid-out on the album, there were heady and weaving riffs with strong-armed percussion work. Compositions changed composure and delineation and caught the listener by surprise. So much depth and originality; a lot of flair and passion, the performances were consistently electrifying and tight. You could hear the kinship and closeness: The songs were well-rehearsed and solid. Everything sounded immaculate and not overdone and polished. The lyrics mixed Christian themes with the universality of love. What defined the album- in my mind anyway- was that mix of doubt and hope and the uncertainties of faith. In a lot of ways- when it comes to the new track- the boys are back in business. All the motifs and components remain: They have not radically altered their sensibilities to fit into market expectations and moulds. The greatest leap is their confidence and performances. The new song sound bolder and more assured. The boys are even more confident and I am not sure what has caused this. Maybe motivated by momentum- and their wave of support- there is an extra layer/level at work. In that same sense, the performances are more emphatic and developed. The guitars fuse genres and sounds- they did on the album but do so more abundantly here- and pull it off with aplomb. There is Grunge and Desert-Rock licks; great little ticks and lines: The best guitar work of the band’s career. In addition, the percussion work is more rhythmic and potent with more fills and emotion- perfectly augmenting the track. The vocals are full-bodied and more determined: That sense of campaign and convert comes through like every word is utterly crucial. You cannot deny that force in every note. This bodes well for a future album as the music is at it most exciting- the boys get better with age and time.
Pieces of My Past is instantly memorable: The initial notes and moments hit the mark and get right inside the mind. The opening moments are a cascade of flowing strings and teasing percussion- the introduction settles in and builds the atmosphere. There is an underlying sense of funk and dance; something quite toe-tapping and exciting. Mixing Jazz and Funk elements with some Rock and Pop sounds- it is a complex and mesmeric beginning. Building from these simple (yet hugely gripping) notes, the song expands as our hero comes to the mic. It is unclear who he is talking to- as the ‘you’ in the lyrics could be a friend or lover; someone offering advice- yet it seems like there is some conflict. Given the song’s explanation- and what Josh has disclosed- it seems to fit right in: There’s a doubter and detractor: Someone who is putting pressure at our hero’s feet. Our man needs to find his own way and he will win his own battles. There is a lot of doubt and hardship ahead: Some testing times and need to find answers; find God’s grace in their own manner. From the new Christian’s point-of-view, there is a lot of judgement and expectation: They do not realise it is not that easy to find answers and sort things out- they need support and not judgement. The opening lines reveal these concerns: “You look at me/and you say that I need to change things in my life/so I can be free”. It is not as easy all that: As our hero explains- they want him to “pull out the bad” and put good in its place- that is an over-simplification. We are hearing the subjective voices- those that seem naïve and judgement- those resonant and disappointed tones come through. The vocal is alive and determined; soulful and spiked cleverly layered and punctuated to add maximum effect. The hero- from the point of the recent Christian- has a broken spirit and wants to be able to see the light- he is not able to reconcile these issues at the moment. There are self-doubts and hesitancy; introspection and examination: The need for God to guide the way and find his love and grace. Before you start predicting where the song might head and where the composition leads, there is spectral and (rather Doctor Who theme-sounding) snake; something that slithers and weaves- tied with a rushing and funky guitar line. The combination is hugely effective. Instantly bonding Rock hardness with something spiritual and haunting here is the sonic representation- those doubts and conspiring thoughts- unleashed in a multifarious and wonderful moment. Vivid images and metaphors are unveiled- never employing cliché or faux-emotion- as our hero lays his heart out in the spirit of the song’s subject. There are pieces of the past on the floor that he cannot sweep up. With too much to sort out- before he can obtain transcendence and deliverance- epiphany is not that simple and easy. Our man is on his knees; he wants to find answers and a light: He is struggling to battle through the darkness whilst desiring a higher plain. The past is a powerful force and its ghosts linger on. It is hard to rebuild your life; simply change everything. Non-Christians can find relatability and familiarity: We all have been in a situation where we need to find change and transformation- the battle is always hard. Pieces of My Past is troubled and doubtful: Our man looks inside himself and does not need “another voice” in his head. There’s too much chaos and chatter; he needs peace and solace so he can find direction and peace. The song really showcases the band’s musical flair. Not contented to lay-out a simple and generic coda, the guitars rapture and yowl: There are jump riffs and scratches whilst the drum skittles and punches. Compacted and dangerous; psychedelic and entranced, the composition mutates and variates. All of this keeps the song alive and unpredictable. Amidst the scenes of pain and doubts- our man confesses every day is a struggle; a battle in a sense- the guitars trip and vibrate; the percussion hisses and swaggers. The band are not your average Christian-Rock band- I know they are influenced by the likes of Rage Against the Machine and Queens of the Stone Age- and show this diversity and Rock love. Keeping the song urgent and dizzying- that will appeal to fans of the above- they do not lose sight of the core: Those doubts and fears with the need to discover God’s light and find direction. You can sense that desperation and desire: The need to find God and meaning is almost a sexual frustration; an aching passion comes out. In the closing stages, the vocal becomes more dramatic and wracked: Our hero is bleeding-out his heart to the full. That soulfulness-cum-restraint is a stunning blend. Supported by his brothers-in-arms, the song never loses its passion. Little shades of Crowded House comes out- whether consciously or not; the vocal has a Finn-esque quality- as the track concludes and leaves you impressed.
The music world is in need of a shake-up: Getting out of the traditional mindset and embracing something different and fresh. A lot of modern bands tend to be young- early-20s-mid-30s- and play certain genres (ordinarily Alternative, Rock, Indie; and variations on these genres). The Updraft Imperative are a good case in point: A band that are distinct and new; are not the tried-and-tested formula. The boys aren’t exactly ‘getting-on’ in years- they are still gazelle-like in energy- yet are over their younger days (phrased that as diplomatically as I could muster). This maturity and experience work wonders; comes out in their music- their combined years create rich and instructive tracks; inspirational and deep moments- that we can all embrace. Not concerned with media expectations and conforming to an ideal; they are fun guys having a ball- making music they love; paens to faith and its power- they should compel many up-coming bands. Re-writing the rules of Christian-Rock, they have the cross-border appeal: Strong enough to break through barriers- faith and music- to reach new audiences. Their latest cut shows they have lost none of their drive: That common touch is still firm; their endless endeavor and quality is here. Perhaps a step-up from Chair’s best- the boys sound more confident and tight; inspired and motivated- they have been driven by success and support. The media attention and fan-love has spurred them; lead to creative explosions- this duo of songs is just the beginning. What amazes me about the band- and continues to do so- is their balance of sounds; their integrity and passion and how much music means to them. From following them on Twitter and Facebook I know how much they love their fans and how productive they are- radio interviews and new gigs; fresh writing sessions and jams. The boys have affection for their fans and a great manager behind them: The music reflects those elements of trust and joy; ambition and urgency. Having spoken with Murray (the band’s guitarist) in a brief- but technically fraught- video chat; he is pumped and ready. The band have experienced some upheaval- including a split with their long-time drummer, Pete- and had to stay strong. In the face of adversity and uncertainty, the boys are looking ahead: They have re-hired and galvanised- looking to get into the studio and unveil their sophomore album. On that subject: The irons are still in the fire whilst the songs are being penned. We shall know more in time. With Pieces of My Past forthcoming, they both continue- and subsequently break-away from- Chair and its terrific sound. That album mixed hard-hitting compositions with multi-part messages- faith and God’s love; broken love and relations; simple homespun pleasures- but here they are venturing into new territory. Those compositional elements are all there: That fantastic genre-fuse and cross-pollination, yet the boys sound like stronger songwriters.
Buoyed and driven by their previous success they are clearly on a natural high. Whilst their latest track is more emotional/passion-led- and play a slightly softer side- that is not to say their upcoming songs will be like this- Chair contained calmer moments and I’m sure their new album will, too. It is left for me to end on two notes: Those touched-on in the introduction (Australian music and Christian-Rock). Australia is the world’s most surprising musical country: Not in a bad way; it just seems like a revival happening- cities Melbourne and Sydney are producing some stunning bands. Not just your generic and tired acts (the Melbourne/Sydney bands) are more ambitious and substantive; varied and spectacular- going deeper and further than their peers. In the Rock and Punk arenas; some young and hungry bands are emerging- Royal Headache (not so young) are the leaders. When it comes to Electro.-Pop and synth-led sounds, some tremendous female-led artists are popping-up- normally found in Melbourne. I am not sure what it is about the cities and why you find certain music in each, yet I am glad there is such fervency- in Melbourne, Sydney and the bigger cities- as it is setting the music world alight. The media are being forced to take note; widen their scope and sights- and give their respects to Australia. Away from the more ‘obvious’ locations, the likes of Brisbane are starting to emerge and showcasing some of music’s most hard-working and forward-thinking musicians. The Updraft Imperative are on a noble charge; they are improving by the release- their new track show just that. Pieces of My Past possess plenty of emotion and softness; some openness and vulnerability- those emphatic and spirited riffs/compositions take charge. That is why I love the band- well one reason anyway- and their music: they subvert expectations; seamlessly blend Rock swagger with words of faith and love; hope and heartache. I think a lot of people have preconceived notions of Christian-Rock and have been misled by its big players- that idea of sappy and uninteresting songs; rather cliché image/make-up. The Updraft Imperative are not your sweater-wearing, guitar-totting ‘preachers’: Strumming aimlessly and grinning aimlessly with no real point. The Brisbane boys are a genuine Rock band: They have that authority and desire; their niche is the Christian message- it is not preached or heavy-handed; it is blended into the mix- so you would barely notice. That is the biggest asset the band possesses: On the one hand they appeal to fellow Christians- and have a sermonising edge to the music- yet their music digs deeper and unites all. It goes beyond the borders of religion and belief. Months ago- when I reviewed Chair– there was no hyperbole; just shock and stun: I knew a great band was upon us; something very special indeed. I left my atheism at the door and did not go in single-minded: That openness led to great revelation and joy through music I would not normally have uncovered. Whilst my religious views are not changed- you do not need to be a Christian to understand the music’s appeal- my musical outlook has been radicalised: I have been compelled to dig into the genre and unearth fellow Christian-Rock gems to see what else is out there. The Updraft Imperative should foster a surge of like-minded bands: Those unwilling to follow their example are foolish indeed! The band’s social media ranks are growing as their fan-base is expanding- their media portfolio is looking mighty fine. The boys may be seeing a membership switch- and losing their drumming comrade- however the music sounds at its most exhilarating: Pieces of My Past is their best statement; phenomenally assured and compelling- a song that demands repeated plays just to get to the bottom of them. There is some secrecy at the moment- as to when the new album will be ready- but one thing is for sure: There will be new music and it will be fantastic. Staying close to Chair’s hallmarks- the mix of sounds and themes; those incredible performances- there is a notable quality increase and a bit more passion and energy. The band have never sounded as alive and ready. I know the future holds interviews and gigs; recording sessions and plans- an exciting time to get involved. The Updrafters- the name given to the band’s fans- want your recruitment and are looking for your love. On the evidence put forth- and with Chair’s wonder still winning hearts and minds- why would…
YOU refuse them?
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