by Sam Robinson
Less than two years after the release of their self-titled debut album (which you voted as your favourite album of 2013), Seattle band Citizens & Saints return with Join the Triumph. Sure, they’ve expanded their name in that time and split from the Mars Hill Music label, but the music is just as bright, joyous and Christ-centred as ever.
Fans of the debut album might be surprised by the amount of electronic sounds on this record. There’s a stack of synth-based songs, many with 80s influences, but I believe these serve to expand the bouncy pop sounds that filled the debut album to a much fuller sound. In my opinion Join the Triumph improves on Citizens.
The album opens with The Strife is Over, a heavy electronic track featuring a strong warped synth motif over a driving beat. It’s one of the standout tracks on the album – a massive celebration of Jesus’ triumph over the grave and that we’re included in the victory. ‘Our risen King is on his throne, and soon his saints are welcomed home. All glory be to Christ alone! Alleluia!’
There is a Fountain is a very bouncy pop arrangement of the classic hymn that continues the party. It leads into single You Brought Me Back to Life which is undoubtedly one of the best songs of the year. The production is tight with an 80s edge, and a bridge that still hits me hard months after first listen – ‘You are the resurrector / You conquered the grave / You pulled me from the water / Free from my chains, and risen to live!’ It’s a glorious song about new life in Jesus.
The Mighty Hand of God continues the retro sounds, this time complete with slap bass. The song reflects on our union with Christ and how in him we are secure, he will never let us go. There’s a surprise acoustic guitar breakdown with cool gang vocals: ‘Even though our hearts are prone to wander, we could never run beyond his reach.’
The first sign of a softer song arrives with You Have Searched Me. It’s a track that lead singer Zach Bolen told us that he wrote from Psalm 139 and Romans 2, exploring the truth that God knows us intimately (including our sin!) and still loves us. The song goes one step further to ask for help to live for him. It’s reminiscent of Oh God from the self-titled debut. Thematically it moves well into Be Thou My Vision, featuring a great beat and a lovely female harmony.
The next two tracks are new versions of Mars Hill Music songs, each surprisingly different than the originals. Oh! Great is our God (originally by The Sing Team) trades the laid-back campfire sing-along vibes of the original for a layered danceable calypso beat that shifts between the verse and chorus. It’s more driving, and expands the song to become a real party track of praise. Ghost Ship’s The Gospel is transformed into warped, gritty electronica with a rave cave chorus and super grimy bass. I’m not joking. Although it might take a while to adjust to these new arrangements, I really think they’re mighty bold and fit with the upbeat feel of the album.
As the title might suggest, Greatly To Be Praised is a song of praise to God for all that he has done. ‘Worship the God of mercy who gave his life to set us free.’ Although most of the songs are fit for a Sunday church service, this one in particular should become a staple around the world in the coming years.
The final two tracks on the album are quite contemplative and anthemic. Father You Are All We Need, based on The Lord’s Prayer, builds dynamically into a very big atmospheric soundscape across the space of six minutes. The verses focus on the prayer, and the chorus is a response to it. ‘Thank you’ is the resounding line that will helpfully stick in your mind.
Wonderful hymn Before the Throne starts with Zach and a piano but builds to the point of explosion and breaks into a surprising beat that fits the rest of the album.
Join The Triumph is a very strong record. It’s oozing with rich electro-pop sounds but is even richer in carefully-written sound theology that reminds us of all that God has done for us in Jesus, and that he is greatly to be praised for it. I am certain that fans of the original will lap this up, and that it will encourage the universal church to sing praises to our God with joy and passion. From me, Join the Triumph gets a full five stars.