Here is what we sent Paul. Maybe it will help some of you formulate your own thoughts.
We started using your stuff about 6 years ago in our worship context. We found it a good place to develop our philosophy of worship. So we’ll start with a discussion of the older pieces and try to move forward.
The first thing is the sound. Dissonant sounds, minor chords, elevated difficulty, and complexity of form gives these songs a sound we had never heard in church before. It is lovely and rich, but challenging: people have to wrestle with the songs in order to learn them, which causes them to become more meaningful. This also respects the participants by acknowledging their ability to do so. It proves that worship music isn’t an isolated genre, but can stand on its own in the secular world. Outside musicians can look to it and benefit musically. It can contribute to the culture. This makes these songs particularly useful for us as a missional church, but also as a people who ourselves exist in a larger context: they don’t require a cultural shift as we walk through the doors, from secular to religious. Unchurched people who have come to the Village and heard your music have come back again because of it. These are people who are familiar with the place of music in secular society, who have made sense of life through music, have gone to concerts before and experienced emotional interactions similar to those that may happen in worship; so this new experience resonates and makes sense – it translates.
We often get comments from musicians on Isaiah 55 for its use of the “devil’s chord”: the embracing of something formerly abandoned as evil now reclaimed for the creation of something good. The haunting sounds of many of the songs have a way of communicating beyond words that life isn’t always happy, doesn’t have to be happy, and that we are free to groan with creation and feel the weight of our circumstances even while we respond to God in worship. This relieves the pressure often communicated in Christian worship music to praise God with a sense of denial.
We like that each song has a distinct sound and that many of them include instrumental bridges which make the songs feel like whole pieces of music which can stand on their own, while providing space to enjoy the experience and absorb the impact of the words.
On top of that, you’re able to bring God into the conversation lyrically without referencing Christian culture. This brings us to content. Unlike other music that’s often used for worship, your work doesn’t make emotional statements, but allows space for varying emotional responses. The music itself may provoke emotion, as may the concepts involved lyrically, but people aren’t pushed into stating a specific emotion or being expected to experience one at all by the music itself. Any ‘I’ statement is usually from a prayer or a passage of scripture which claims a desire to believe truth or to act biblically. There is a sense of the music being objective, not simply subjective: it often makes specific truth statements from God or from each other which are biblically based and clarify what worship looks like lived out. [Stand Firm has you identifying our place w/o forcing individuals into a box (“this is what some of us were” as opposed to “this is what I was”), along with an invitation into what God has given us. It also has good musical shifts – grungy chorus contrasted w/ melodic verse.] The first person has been largely replaced with the second or third person, thus recognizing our communal state.
Your frequent use of metaphor further allows a sense of space. These metaphors are placed, but not explained, which infuses the songs with beauty, depth, and substance, and gives people room to interpret the lyric into their own lives, not dumbing down the music by explaining the metaphors (Example: Stand Firm [bombed out city], Mercy Stands [His golden feet]). Yet this is all balanced by solid scripture statements and a call to action. These songs also include imagery that is not strictly metaphorical, but illustrates the compassion of God [the image of Him listening and seeing with loving hands, laughing w/ affection] or tells true stories [Isaiah 55 is expanded from the direct quote… “bring your empty hands and your pockets full of the things that don’t satisfy”].
There’s also the element of invitation: “Come home tonight”… “Stand firm – don’t be burdened again” … “Come to the riverside”, which provides both space and direction for a response, an interaction with God. This further respects the participants by allowing them to be speaking truth to each other through the music, inviting each other to something greater, and to not only thinking about God, but actively responding.
Finally, we appreciate the heavy, direct use of scripture in these songs. This music states truth objectively in a culture where that rarely happens. It gives people something to hang onto and also promotes discussion of biblical concepts. It’s been part of our teaching structure, in a similar way to the former use of hymns to teach doctrine.
Structurally, we prefer the more complex pieces to the simpler ones. We use Man of Sorrows and Psalm 46, but the pieces that include lyric bridges feel more substantial (Prayer, Stand Firm, Mercy Stands, Is 55). Still, the more straightforward and simple statements of scripture have been helpful in giving people chunks of truth to memorize and wrestle with.