Christians have a tendency to get it all wrong when they try to appeal to mainstream pop culture. I remember during the heyday of my Christian upbringing, circa 1993 - 1994, two rather ill-advised Christian ad campaigns. The first was in reference to the LifeCall commercials of that era with a picture of a red cartoon devil, bearing the slogan "He's fallen, and he can't get up," which is actually rather hilarious and clever. The second, and less subtle, was a permutation of the milk slogan, reading only "Got Jesus?"
While these pop cultural parodies might be good for a quick smile, or ironic appropriation one to two years down the line, it's hard to believe that they're very effective at recruiting converts. No matter what form or medium it takes, it seems Christians have a knack for removing whatever was cool about an artform or genre to begin with.
Thankfully, this is not the case with Big Round Spectacles, a Christian folk outfit out of Denton, TX. If anyone's familiar with The Mountain Goats, you'll get the reference at the top of this title. While it's easy to sing the praises of a devilish death metal band, it's harder to feel super stoked on a confessional, twee extrapolation on Christianity, faith and life in the 21st century. But, we must always remember, we are music lovers first and foremost, and we must never judge an album before we've given it a fair shake.
I'm glad I laid my critical biases aside for a moment to really LISTEN to Big Round Spectacles release Nostalgia. This dense song-cycle of hyper-literate narrative over orchestral swirls and classical filigree owes a lot to another Christian tastemaker - Sufjan Stevens, and his classical folk suites, which sound more like War And Peace than Woody Guthrie.
Big Round Spectacles also sound a lot like artful piano pop from the likes of Randy Newman or Ben Folds. It gives Nostalgia a classy, classic, timeless quality that serves the songs well. Musically ambitious, it makes you lean in and really LISTEN, rather than judging.
Take, for instance, "Khoda" with epic, religious spoken word poetry about a soul striving to find their place in the universe, over a moving loom of classical strings. The line "How can I not take your name in vain / when you've got a thousand," speaks to what it is to be a Christian in the 21st century. Most religious/spiritual sorts that I know tend to have kind of an anarchic, underground take on following Jesus' teachings, as following any kind of belief system is about the most punk thing you can do in this age.
Big Round Spectacles do not beat you about the head with their spirituality; they're just speaking to their own experience and trying to make sense of their own existence. Same as any artist that's ever lived. So don't turn this off, because there's the occasional "Hosanna" or cry to god. That's the same as judging an album because of one or two curse words or some slightly controversial art on the sleeve. It's an artist’s job to express themselves, fully and completely, as well as something of the world we're living in. It takes all sorts, to keep this world turning. So "Judge not, that ye be judged," as Matthew 7:1 - 3 puts it. At least not until you've listened once or twice.
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