Everyone Moves Away – The Soundtrack of the Soul

10481858_298121743700397_3975414626893827198_nIn a clever turn, the music group Everyone Moves Away printed on their Facebook band page a rather revealing insight into what makes their music speak so beautifully and effortlessly to the humanity in all of us. For the “Location” section on their profile, they simply put: Earth.

This pithy statement speaks to the vast range of human experience and cosmic potential that EMA seeks to capture in the electric, near interstellar depth of their music. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to write a review of their first EP, titled I, in which I said the following:

“Hailing from the Music City itself, Nashville-based Everyone Moves Away is taking quite a unique approach to capturing the powerful and transcendent effect of music on each of us. Founded by music producers and writers of diverse backgrounds and projects, EMA represents the kaleidoscopic effect of varying styles and experiences blending into a unified, storytelling voice. […] The heart of EMA lies in the atmospheric, almost cinematic beauty of their music, a thrilling combination of lucid guitar phrases, sweeping ambient tones, electronica, and anthemic choruses that highlight frontman Chris Small’s soulful, yet melancholy vocals . In their debut EP I, EMA fluidly moves from the hauntingly-lovely dream quality of “East Lights” to the wild blood of the ever-hopeful “We’re Only Getting Closer.” Steeped in the natural harmony between music and memory, Everyone Moves Away explores what is most true and most raw to the depths of human experience.”

Now, I’d like to take the occasion to conduct a brief exploration of their most recent work, aptly titled II. For all the overwhelming intensity and spirit evident in their freshman project, II delivers power and feeling that only furthers the band’s firm command over musical and poetic effort.

  1. “Waiting for Futures” – The EP opens on an almost dizzying array of atmospheric sound, pulsating in and out to introduce the tone of the whole album. In effect, we are invited into a spiritual space, a devoted study of hope and melancholy that escalates dramatically as Chris Small, the frontman, lyrically unravels the beautiful chorus: “All we have is falling / What are you waiting for?” With this incredible opener, EMA shares the emotional richness of wistful yearning and passionate feeling, captured in a brief, yet moving lyric. A personal favorite. 
  2. “Collide” – A more pop, upbeat number, “Collide” takes the heart of the first track and transmutes it to a young, anthemic dance hit. Yet, for the stark contrast, the music doesn’t lose its sense of continuity. The song’s primary focus is on the steady beat as the guitars and Small’s vocals soar over the march, quite an artful choice to combine a pounding rhythm with lofty, elongated lyrical phrases.
  3. “The Pale Star” – The shortest track on the record, this song distills the solemn and pensive moments of EMA’s sound and creates a small but lovely “miniature epic.” To the film reel of II, “The Pale Star” is a simple snapshot, a moment.
  4. “With the Night” – Considering the full force and broad appeal of the song, “With the Night” seems to open with a sort of false start, a promise that the track will deliver a slow and soothing ballad as Small calmly drifts through the verse. Then, all promises break as he calls out to herald the chorus and the drums respond: “So what do we whisper now? / I can tell we’ve lost control / The sun is going down on us / We’ve never found ourselves so sure / Love is lost with the night”. Featuring a spoken-word piece (delivered by Small) during the bridge, “With the Night” is perhaps EMA’s most eclectic and surprising track to date.
  5. “Hollywood” – Seemingly a second-act to “Collide”, “Hollywood” starts right off the bat with vocals, drums, and a modulating bass synth, mingling to create a walking rhythm (get your earbuds and get moving!). The ambience and startling digital effects throughout the track make “Hollywood” an addicting, attractive pop wonder, perhaps underscored by Small’s haunting lyrics: “Everything is fantasy […] Our nights playing on a movie screen […] Will you dance with me one more time? One more time?”
  6. “A Lone Spark” – Another shorter track, “A Lone Spark” combines cloudy and foggy swells with a punctuated single note repeated like a dotted line as Small’s vocals fade in and out of transmission. Darker in tone and somber in effect, “Spark” brings us to the end, reminding us of the pain and loneliness of exile only to prepare us for the glory of home in their best track “Everything”…
  7. “Everything”  – “Everything with my eyes closed / I can see you come alive / And with our eyes closed / I can feel the sun” So concludes the beautiful quest. Small has led us through dream and memory, futures and sparks, and here we experience a wondrous resurrection as we “come alive” through the power and transcendence of music: “When we wake, we aren’t the same / Are we a dream inside the sky? / And everything that we can see is everything close to me”. The final phase of the song, and indeed the endnote of the record, is a glorious bursting forth of voices and instruments, electric and vibrant, loudly pulsing to a close as we are left singing along, with our own eyes closed, fully alive.

Everyone Moves Away’s music can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and on their website.

EMA is comprised of Chris Small (vocals, guitar, keys), Melissa Mattey (keys, vocals), and Tony High (keys, drums, percussion).


Deus Ex Machina

cos-01-miranda-kerr-november-deOne of the most powerful insights I’ve heard regarding the nature of worship is that our worship is transformative; in effect, we become like what we worship. 

G.K. Beale, who authored a book with a similar title, puts it this way: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” This concept has made its way through my mind quite often over the past few years, and I continue to dwell on its real-time implications in our modern culture.

I am currently teaching through Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with my British Literature students. Sir Gawain is a medieval poem that follows the challenges and trials of one of King Arthur’s most noble knights as he seeks to prove himself worthy of honor. As I’ve been rereading through the story, I have found myself quite struck by a particular quality of Sir Gawain’s quest. On the outside of his shield, the side he brandishes in the face of combat, is a pentangle, a five-angled star that symbolizes the ideal perfection and exaltation of a true knight. The chivalrous knight par excellence is brave, good, chaste, loyal, and unerring in his manner and conduct; he is the paragon of medieval society. The only problem is that behind the knight’s armor stands a mere man – utterly unable to achieve such a standard of perfection.

This notion of expectation vs. reality cuts deep to the bone of our American society. For example, I have encountered a number of young ladies in my classes over the years who are beside themselves trying frantically to reach the bar of feminine beauty and fashion that they feel our media culture has thrust on their small shoulders. “Whatever it takes to look like her” has become their mantra, “accept me!” their daily cry. And so, as an inevitable result, we have waves of girls dragging the ghosts of self-loathing, inadequacy, and shame down the halls. We have girls pushed toward seduction with their hearts stitched tight in straitjackets. In short, we have girls who are told to reveal as much and as little as they can – show your skin, hide your scars.

Prodded by the flood of advertising and celebrity mania, these young ladies are being converted to a hollow religion, a new devotion towards thousands of graven images carved on our magazine covers, spreading the lie that these are the women that girls ought to look like. But in our heart we know they are no longer really women; they are our feminine form of the deus ex machina – goddesses out of machines. Mangled by the digital scalpel, processed through the filters of Photoshop, airbrushing, and cosmetic overload, these women in the spotlight have become mere echoes, shadows of their true humanity. They are a part of a smoke-and-mirrors gimmick, a ruse. I can almost hear the Wizard now: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

Yet, the principle remains: we become like what we worship (Ps. 115:8). We reflect what we behold (2 Cor. 3:18). Contrary to what they are told, these young ladies pining for acceptance and worth by straining to look like cover girls are not becoming more beautiful; they are becoming less human. They are worshipping an image of edited humanity, images of women scrubbed of their flaws. This ache to see oneself as, and ultimately become, utterly flawless is a consequence of the primal temptation to be God. We are running Eden on repeat, reaching to take and eat of the fruit with every glance at the mirror.

How gracious is our God for spilling his blood, his real, warm, human blood, to buy us out of our cold, self-absorbed condition. May we yearn, like Moses, to see glimpses of God’s glory and, to quote the old hymn, “turn our eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face.” May we see Jesus and “behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). May we learn to acknowledge our brokenness, our failure, our human limitations and look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For we are most certainly becoming like what we worship; let us worship the God of mercy and of grace who forgives our sin and truly makes all things new.