Thursday, January 3, 2019

Infinite Entropy: The Collection brings more heartfelt music to your “Beautiful Life”

Sacred symphonic pop meets the heart-pounding and fist-waving folk rock, these revivals of the aughts have faded from fashion into formula. It’s a predictable passion, or an unsung underground, or worse, and lately, the trendsetters have turned to other genres. This fan still finds his heart in folk music, but unless you are at the stature of Musgraves or an Isbell, it seems the tastemakers are passing you by. Just look at how the Mumfords have fallen off the radar as they went more rock or how the enormous success of the Avetts seems more as a niche act now. Or at least these are my impressions.  

Enter a songwriting voice from North Carolina named David Wimbish. His voice soars like a Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, or Chris Martin, and his lyrical vision is as large or larger as these giants, even though Wimbish’s audience is smaller. When I first encountered this ramshackle troupe called The Collection, barefoot and bold at a steamy summer festival, they were on the unwashed leftish perimeter of the contemporary Christian scene. But the honest words on Entropy have traveled far enough away from religious rock to no longer settle even awkwardly into that box, if the canon of Wimbish works ever really did.

Entropy is not without its Biblical allusions, but have no illusions, there’s enough doubt, drink, dust, and divorce behind us to ever deem this worthy of the pop playlists of praise band hymnody. The Collection’s career spans three albums and an epic EP since 2011, and it’s all incredible, every record and every song. There have been lineup changes, personal injuries, and more than one broken-down van on a highway shoulder somewhere, with fans rallying with donations to get them back on the road.

I did not rank my best albums of 2018, but this is as good as anything I heard this year. Of course as a long-time traveler with the Collection, I am far from an unbiased critic. I just love this group, but I would not set aside time to scribble an album review if I were not over-the-top in my support. See, my loose criteria for a great album are fairly easy to follow, yet hard to achieve completely, and yet this set succeeds on all fronts. The lyrics are profound and provocative poetry without fail. The sound is stunning on every track, as all the songs stick to the insides of the listener's soul and linger long after several spins. The emotional resonance is an endearing ache but also a cathartic release.

For a band with a style that’s consistent across a career, there’s none of that stagnant sameness that sometimes sinks in. Each track stands out, not just the hopeful anthems, like the contagious motivational melodies of an opening love bomb called “Beautiful Life.”  

Other standout songs like “Left Of Your Joy,” “Carolina Coast,” “Becoming My Own Home,” and “Bandages Of Time” have the concurrent power to break your heart and get stuck in your head. “Wedding Party” is a haunting confessional track that triggers thoughts for me about my struggles with faith, fidelity, and addiction. “The Silence” sticks us with this slippery tricky moral quandary: “If you don’t make your bed, you don’t have to lie in it.” Part of me wants to scream, “no, you know it doesn’t work that way,” but that makes the track no less stunning.

If I had to guess, every David Wimbish record is at root about finding himself as a singer, writer, producer, and person. While soul-searching-as-sound can misfire as both predictable and depressing, it’s not like that here, not at all. This record, while far from sappy and sentimental, remains strikingly sincere in those ways that invoke awe and wonder. So I am extremely grateful that The Collection did not head down the religious road to get pigeonholed as a praise band, but this does not make their sound now any less sacred and holy.  

One definition for Entropy is “gradual decline into disorder,” but with this album bearing that word as its title, I also intuit an increasing incline into infinity. It’s just so much good, so much food for your soul. - Andrew William Smith

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