Review of the Citizens’ “Citizens” Album
Zach Bolen never wanted to be a worship leader until he started helping out at his local church in Savannah, Georgia. Less than a month after he quit his secular job, he received a phone call from Mars Hill Church. Bolen was asked if he ever considered taking up a position as worship leader at one of Seattle's Mars Hills U-district campus. To be offered such a position was no small feat. Mars Hill is arguably one of the fastest growing churches in the U.S. Started in 1996, it has grown into a church of 14,000 worshippers and certified by Outreach magazine as the 28th largest church in the U.S. alone. However, instead of putting his best foot forward in the phone interview, Bolen placed his foot in his mouth. Thinking that his chance was already blown to smithereens, Bolen was aghast when he was flown over to Seattle for an in-person interview not long after. Again, Bolen did not impress at his second interview. Sitting at a Mariners game with one of the lead pastors, Bolen said he and his family were moving to Seattle whether he was offered the job or not. The next morning, Bolen was accepted as one of Mars Hill's worship leaders. This is a story of grace - even when we think we have missed the mark not once but twice in a row, God still uses our imperfections for his glory. And this narrative of grace permeates right through the Citizen's first full length eponymous studio album.
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Over the years, Mars Hill has been known for senior pastor Mark Driscoll's books and his sermons. However, recently, they have decided to branch into the arena of worship music. Partnering with BEC Recordings (which also distributes the music of Hillsong United, Bebo Norman and Kutless), they have decided to release a series of albums from their various worship bands. To premiere such an enterprise, they released a Mars Hill Sampler earlier this year. The Citizens are the flagship artist. Fronted by Bolen, Citizens comprises Nate Garvey, Adam Skatula, Nathan Furtado and Tom McConnell. With its name inspired by Ephesians 2:1, Citizens are committed to making their allegiance to God known through this avant garde rock record.
Musically, Citizens have created a patented type of indie rock that flutters with the electronic beat of Switchfoot yet shimmers with the emotional intensity of Hillsong United. This means that when they do rock they do knock the ball out of the park. Such examples include the rabble-roused "Hail the King," the infectious pop anthem "Jesus!" (the exclamation mark included) and the flashy keyed-up "Made Alive." These are more than just tuneful entries; rather, they are so well-crafted that there is an inviting lure in each of these paeans challenging us to join in as the Citizens rock in praise of Jesus Christ. But not all is upbeat and rowdy; some gestation time comes with the slow scorching rock ballad "Oh God." Vocally Bolen truly nails this track; starting slowly with a quiet Neil Young-like rasp to a full blown emotional outburst of his declaration of faith, this is just the perfect illustration of how the intensity build up of one's voice can be so powerfully moving.
One of the distinguishing marks of the Citizens is that they are a class of their own when it comes to their take on hymns. Ever since their rendition of "Amazing Grace" from their former EP "Already/Not Yet," fans have pined for the way they tackle hymns. This time they have included two hymns "Praise to the Lord' and "I Surrender All." Bolen never just sings; he takes his time to build up the intensity, add in the choir and slowly augment the backings so that it intensifies to an explosive climax by the last verse. Indeed, the Citizens have mastered the art of making hymns sound alive and engaging. This is true not only of the hymns but the entire album. Above all, Bolen sings with a sense of honest gravitas; it is as if leading worship is more than just a day job. Rather, he sings with a deep seated passion that can only come from a man who knows grace.
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