In one word, Hillsong United’s Zion is: beautiful.
Now let me break it down for you.
There are no complaints. I appreciated all the musical details about Zion, even the cheesiness of A Million Suns. It’s about time that the worship music scene got the memo on how the rest of the world has been in a relationship with electronica and it’s time for us to catch up. There were moments when I felt like Hillsong United took all the elements I love about Miike Snow, Phoenix, Bag Raiders, Sleepwalk Circus, Explosions In The Sky; put them in a blender, and then started tagging worship lyrics to whatever came out of the blender.
I’m not complaining.
Of course, I realize that the electronica feel may not be for everyone, but remember Best Friend (also not the world’s best album name, but hey, it worked)? Remember how everyone was like, “oh wow, this is fantastic, but I don’t know how I’m going to play this in church, it sounds like it may be too loud, and electric guitars are, you know, “rock music”… ohwaitcrap, we can play it in church!” Of course, for some churches it took about five years to actually playing songs from Best Friend, but they got there eventually.
John (youth pastor at Joy Christian Fellowship in lovely Intramuros) and I had this conversation where he said, “It may be that we are on a different musical wavelength than those who listen to normal worship music, but I can still appreciate “singability by the group” as a valid criterion for setlist selection.” To which I say: just look at the kids who dance and sing along to Foster The People and Avicii. We just need to stop looking at worship music from the lens of Mighty To Save and Chris Tomlin, even though I feel like Zion was the love child of “Found” (from the album “Mighty To Save”) and anything by Brooke Fraser.
I’m also glad that there are no obviously sad or happy songs here. You know how churches automatically lump happy/fast songs into “praise,” and the slow and solemn ones into “worship?” There will be some churches who will go, “wait, which one’s praise? Which one’s worship?” And I will happily answer them with “all of it.”
Mood, flow, production, all those other details
One of the things that I always appreciated about Hillsong United albums is that it’s one chunk. One must go through the entire album, and in my case, whenever I get a Hillsong United album, I try to schedule a quiet night in my room so that I can both appreciate and worship with it. Listening to Zion was like unwrapping a beautiful book and reading a story. Even better when you have the CD in your hand, and you go through that gorgeous inlay with its hipster-ish landscapes.
It’s better if you listen to the album while looking through the inlay, because then you’ll realize that it all fits. It’s a good enough substitute to simulate that experience when you’re traveling and you’re listening to this really good song, and everything (the sunlight, the movement of the car, etc) clicks and it’s a magic moment.
Of course, just like any journey, there are dragging parts and maybe even an awkward transition somewhere… but it does not take away anything from the album.
Did I mention that the inlay is gorgeous?
And because this is a worship album, extra attention towards the lyrics. Hillsong has gotten some criticism some years back because of the intensely personal angle of its worship songs, as some churches would rather take a more Godly point of view when they’re worshipping. All valid, of course. Congregational worship is, just like individual worship, as personal to that group of people as it is to that individual worshipping. We all have our quirks and preferences. So for some congregations, they worship through hymns, while others worship by jumping up and down and yelling key phrases like “ALWAYS!” Or “GOD IS GOOD! ALL THE TIME!” For some congregations, a strict criterion would always be Biblical basis, while others are fine with Bible-based interpretations of faith. Now before anyone goes on to debate about this, just shelf it for now and let’s go back to Zion.
I appreciate the defiant and strong hope that is steeped deep in each song here in Zion, a battle cry that goes with our daily Christian walk. I appreciate that while most songs are not blatantly Biblical, it always comes from a point of view that seems to come from a deeply personal relationship with this beautiful, powerful God. The songs acknowledge the strangeness of God, marvelling at His holiness, and nakedly honest about the frailty of life, and how we rely on Him.
Again, the landscape scenes in the inlay make some more sense to me as I listened to the album. As with me, I worship more when I see the mystery of His creation unfold before me. Just look at this world, just take one good look, and see if it does not compel you to sing loud praises to God.
I already wrote at length about Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) here, so you already know that’s one of my favorites.
I also love Up In Arms, which is quickly becoming my battle cry these days. Just look at this line: “Your love has got me up in arms again and this hope won’t let me go.” Makes me want to grab my sword and just go slay bears and lions, and maybe a Goliath or two.
Stand and Wait is another favorite. “I will stay should the world by me fold, lift up Your name as the darkness falls. I will wait and hold fast to Your word. Heart on Your heart and my eyes on You.” Enough said, yeah?
Ailene: But I think I like it this way, the fact that it’s not something I can sing with a congregation. I put this on when I’m worshipping and it feels like they’re singing the anthems of my heart.
John: This album, while it may create conundrums in the traditional worship churches (never mind the conservative ones)– they write the songs of my heart.
Now let’s give away some CD+DVDs.
We have two Zion CD+DVDs here that need to go to their rightful owners. Here’s how you’re going to assert that you are the rightful owner of that CD+DVD.
What you need to do is find an old photo or take one of a landscape/scenery/anything that goes along with Philippians 4:8. Put your favorite verse on it or a line from one of your favorite worship songs on it, like so (think Overgram):
To make things less complicated, we’re only going to run this through Twitter and Instagram. Which means you have until 11PM (Philippine time) on Sunday, March 31, 2013 to upload that photo on Twitter and Instagram and then tag us, @TheAilene and @JohnHofilena (that applies for both Twitter and Instagram). Don’t forget to put the hashtag: #ZionIsMine.
A couple of neutral people and a representative from House Of Praise will pick three of those photos based on: creativity, originality, aesthetic niceness, cuteness, and again everything according to Philippians 4:8.
We ship to anywhere. Really.
Addendum: April 8, 2013. WE’VE GOT WINNERS!
Sorry it took a while to announce this, I was out and about last week and when I got home we didn’t have Internet. Heh. After our unbiased judges went through all the photos, the #ZIONISMINE winners are:
These three will be receiving Hillsong United’s latest album, Zion, by mail. Yes, it’s the CD+DVD one. Will be sending everything out this week. Congratulations, guys! And thanks for all the healthy participation!