The Updraft Imperative
Luna will be available 28th March
THIS is the fourth time (I think) 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; 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) – music that aims to change beliefs or convert thinking, but not musical opinion. It is great having faith; 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 is some snobbiness and discrimination; 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 seen as 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; give 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; 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 2017 and you have to go further: even Dylan understood ‘going electric’ was the way forward so 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; 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 and promotes the effects and receptiveness of belief; yet, its music and projection go further – 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: yet, the God-directed effuse; the faith-will-conquer-all mandates were not quite potent enough to change my thinking; get into my heart. That is a minor flaw: the album (and the band) is 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 – not 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: producing some fantastic and varied sounds. From The Temper Trap to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: there is 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. Over in Sydney; Rock bands like Royal Headache are emerging – with their tremendous music (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; 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; ignoring less-obvious areas (their folly!). The Updraft Imperative have shown, not just in Brisbane terms but globally, how good they are; 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: 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- inspired by the great Rock bands. When it comes to the sound that was laid-out on the album, there were heady and weaving riffs; strong-armed percussion work; compositions that changed composure and delineation whilst catching the listener by surprise. So much depth and originality and 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, yet not too overdone and polished. The lyrics mixed Christian themes with universality of love. What defined the album, in my mind anyway, was that mix of doubt and hope; the uncertainties of faith and offering heart and words (to those who were doubtful and unsure). In a lot of ways, when it comes to the new tracks, the boys are back in business. All the motifs and components remain. They have not radically altered their sensibilities. The greatest leap is their confidence and performances. The new songs (Luna and Pieces of my Past) sound bolder and more assured; the boys are even more assured- 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 licks and lines – the best guitar work of the band’s career. In addition, the percussion work is more rhythmic and potent: more fills and emotion perfectly augmenting every 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. This bodes well (for a future album) as the music is at its most exciting. The boys get better with age and time.
When it comes to Luna, I must admit, I am not sure its origins/inspiration but does not disappoint. With our hero in fine voice, sounding seduced and meaningful, the song reveals its background: our man has lost sight of the moon (“This is a song for the moon”). The opening notes are tender and sparse – little shades of Pink Floyd (and their Dark Side of the Moon work comes out) – as you strain into the speakers. Differing from songs like Pieces of my Past; Lunar has a different tact: it looks at the tide rising; reflected in the moon’s beauty – romantic notions and images pour out. Whether directly referencing the moon, I suspect there are relationship suggestions, or not, you are entranced. The Updraft Imperative brings in their core of dark-and-light: the moon is sinking; the darkness is coming into place; those insecurities and fears hove into view. As the vocals kick-up (and are layered), the track gains intensity: something has been “stolen from the sky”; there is emptiness and sense of longing. The moon is lonely tonight. Meteorological metaphor and seasonal capriciousness is introduced; romantic ideals and personal investigation. Stunning images and wordplay tangle; the song remains controlled and composed. There is no reason for this pain (it seems) as the rain that is falling. The need for God to show his love; banish the pain and woe.
I was wondering about the origins, as our hero seems pained and disappointed. Maybe going through some personal struggles – as suggestions of broken wings and birds are brought in with suffering and redemption. Why fix (that broken wing) and teach a bird to sing only just to break her again? Deep and vivid images; the vocal radiates with hurt and confusion – why is (our man) so conflicted? The chorus is huge and rushing: the vocals are shivering and spine-tingling. The composition remains reigned-in (as not to steal focus) yet hugely effective. Unlike Pieces of my Past, where the guitars solo-ed and wailed, here, they blend into the vocals; add to the mood- remaining quite sombre and empathetic. It seems “a careless world is waiting just outside”; the desire/supplication to “bring her home” – whether talking about a person (or the moon itself) I am not sure. After the vocal outpourings, filled with passion and huge emotional force, there is a moon-lit coda. The guitar twinkles and glistens (eliciting images of a star-lit night) to represent the solitude of the sky. The percussion remains teasing and slight, adding little smashes and punches (to keep proceedings anxious and tense). In the closing stages, the boys unite: the chorus comes back around; the vocal more tortured while the guitar howls and exorcises. When the ending comes, and the band have done their work, there is that lingering mystique and wonder. Curious as to (how things worked out) the song leaves some questions – and plenty of wonderful memories.
A counterbalance of Pieces of my Past, and a song that has a different aim and heart, both are equally stunning- you are loathed to pick a winner. Both show the band at their peak; really at their best. The music sounds effortless and natural. The performances are exceptional and faultless. Carrying on their themes of doubt and spiritual guidance; the band offer new slants and angles and keep things fresh- not compromising their ethics and ideals. On Luna – where things are more romantic and soul-searching – you get that lightness and spirituality. That is what The Updraft Imperative do so well: their music is deep and rich; they blend sounds and genres whilst ensuring everything is of the highest order. With fantastic production, that allows everything to shine and seduce; without being too polished, you have a phenomenal song that remains in the mind. It will have you coming back to rediscover little notes and riffs; lyric insights and nuance. Already a fan of the band – and having preconceived notions of new music – I was shocked and stunned. I am confident (when the next album comes out) it will not only enthral existing fans: it will recruit a wave of new acolytes, keen to discover a wonderful band.
The music world is in need of a shake-up: getting out of the traditional mindset; 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. They 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 past their younger days (phrased that as diplomatically as I could muster). This maturity and experience does wonders and 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 show they have lost none of their drive; that common touch is still firm. Their endless endeavour 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 on Luna. The media attention and fan-love have spurred them and led to a creative explosion. Luna is just the beginning. What amazes me about the band, and continues to do so, is their balance of sounds; their integrity and passion – 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. The boys have affection for their fans – and have a great manager behind them – so the music reflects those elements of trust and joy; ambition and urgency.
Having spoken with Murray a while back (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 rehired and galvanised and been back in the studio – they will soon unveil their sophomore album. On that subject, the irons are still in the fire: the songs are being penned and we shall know more in time. With Pieces of my Past out and Luna in the ether- two of the band’s finest songs – they both continue (and break-away from) Chair. That album mixed hard-hitting compositions with multi-part messages: faith and God’s love; broken love and relations; simple homespun pleasures. 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. They are buoyed and driven by their previous success and clearly on a natural high. Whilst these two numbers – especially Luna – are more emotion/passion-led, and play a slightly softer side, that is not to say (their upcoming songs) will be like this. Chair contained calmer moments; 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 but 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 tied acts (the Melbourne/Sydney bands) are more ambitious and substantive; varied and spectacular. They are 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 but have been out a while now. There are many other city-mate bands producing wonderful music. When it comes to Electro.-Pop and synth.-led sounds; some tremendous (and 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 – showcasing some of music’s most hard-working and forward-thinking musicians. The Updraft Imperative are on a noble charge and they are improving by the release. Their new track show just that. Luna possesses 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) have been misled by its big players. That idea of sappy and uninteresting songs is a rather cliché image/make-up. The Updraft Imperative are not your sweater-wearing, guitar-totting ‘preachers’: strumming aimlessly and grinning aimlessly. 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 – yet their music digs deeper and unites all. It goes beyond the borders of religion and belief.
Years after I reviewed Chair, there is no hyperbole; just shock and stun. I knew back then a great band was upon us; something very special indeed. I left my atheism at the door; did not go in single-minded: that openness led to great revelation and joy; music that (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 – 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; their fanbase is expanding; their media portfolio is looking mighty fine. The boys may be seeing a membership switch, and losing their original drumming comrade, yet the music sounds at its most exhilarating. Luna is one of their best statements. It is phenomenally assured and compelling: a song that demands repeated plays just to get to the bottom of it. 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; a bit more passion and energy. The band has never sounded as alive and ready. I know the future holds interviews and gigs; recording sessions and plans. It is an exciting time to get involved. The Updrafters – the name given to the band’s fans – want your recruitment; they 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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