Gungor’s newest album, I Am Mountain, is their best album yet. It’s simultaneously their worst album, letting shine their most pretentious ambitions, but there are way too many tasty moments to let that dampen the overall accomplishment.
I wouldn’t have thought it after the earthy tones of Ghosts Upon the Earth, but Gungor and electronica are a match made in new creation. The album begins as the past two albums have, geeking out about the earth. This time, however, the married duo approaches it through the lens of science, how we are made of the same material as stars and mountains, finding meaning in that rather than from God. Whenever I listen to it, I’m struck by the agnostic approach the song takes, with lyrics that could please anyone pondering humanity and its place among the stars. They are clearly trying to challenge the “Christian” label, which I’m afraid they may never escape, despite their persistent efforts.
Musically, it blows Gungor’s past catalogue out of the water. With a heavy dose of 80s synth, sometimes rocking a steady groove, at others reminiscent of Manheim Steamroller, before breaking out into a chorus of gang vocals, “I Am Mountain” is a monstrous step forward. The rest of the album doesn’t quite manage to fulfill the promise of the eponymous first song, which remains breathtaking through several listens, choosing to provide a varied experience rather than a tonally consistent one.
The following song, “Beat Of Her Heart,” is an attempt at mythical illusion in the same vein as Christians of centuries past, telling the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s a somber song, sung in the fashion akin to a cowboy strumming a guitar by a campfire with a subtle Mediterranean twist, and completely uninteresting. It really slows down the record after “I Am Mountain,” seeming more like an exercise in genre than a meaningful musical experience.
Two later tracks, “Wayward and Torn” and “God and Country,” fall into the same problem, feeling so genre-oriented that they become uninteresting—“Wayward and Torn” being a showcase of southern country romp, and “God and Country” being a spaghetti-western, unfortunately-sarcastic criticism of Christian gun owners. They might be interesting on a first listen, but any energy they once had gets lost in abiding strictly to the established format of each genre they attempt. These three songs—“Beat of Her Heart,” “Wayward and Torn,” “God and Country”—are the weakest points of the album, and I’ve grown accustomed to skipping them with each re-listen.
The album also loses energy if you do what Michael Gungor wants you to do and read any of his behind-the-song pieces on their website. If you listen to the album and enjoy it, I highly suggest ignoring his supplemental writing, since it could end up ruining your impression of each song he splays open—like a movie adaptation of a book sometimes ruins your images of the characters.
I’m very fond of one of the more simplistic songs on the album, “Long Way Off.” I’ve read some criticism that claims it’s poppy and schmaltzy, but I found it to be a yearning sentiment. Its structure is familiar, beginning with just a piano and Michael’s breathy voice, gaining volume and layers with each verse. Lyrically, it tells of a theist’s hope of God’s existence against persistent intellectual kickback, and it does so without any pomp and argument. It simply talks about the hope, and it’s lovely in that way.
“Let It Go” may sound like a genre piece, but it’s way too robust and groovy to dismiss, despite vague and forgettable lyrics. If you wanted, you could dance to this one, which is not something you could say about nearly any other Gungor song. Several moments in this 70s-infused song are skin-crawlingly good. I can already picture Gungor rocking this song live with several jam sessions interspersed.
Another song I loved, or perhaps a duo of songs, was “Hither and Yon” and “Yesternite.” Together they form an image of profound doubt. When Michael sings “yesternite the gods they disappeared from sight,” and a devastating alarm swirls behind his voice, it instills fear within me: the fear of being alone, of being lied to about something dear to my heart. It’s a haunted song, with a stunning conclusion.
I’m partial to the songs sung by Lisa, because I find her voice very tender and heartwarming. In particular, I love the song “Wandering,” in which she dabbles heavily with auto-tune to an incredibly vulnerable effect. From softly crooning lines like “I’ve been looking to you,” to the visceral, lonely wails at the end, Lisa enchants throughout.
The last song, “Upside Down,” I consider a noble failure. Its ending is gorgeous, but it fails to make its long, ambient beginning an interesting one. If ever a song’s purpose is in the climax, choosing to make every moment preceding it boringly slow to increase its impact, it only serves to frustrate me. A lot of modern artists fall victim to this trend when composing epic songs.
So, despite many forced moments, and many dull moments, I Am Mountain remains Gungor’s crowning jewel and shows a brighter future for them than I ever imagined. Like all great artists, they aren’t afraid to change; but still, it seems there is an unrealized potential within them, frightening in its power and abundance, which they have yet to discover themselves.