The Church of Philadelphia, The Church of Philadelphia

The Church of Philadelphia, The Church of Philadelphia

I’m the most secular person you’re likely to meet, these days, especially down here in the almost-South. My parents distrusted organized religion, so the only times I went to church growing up were for funerals or weddings. And in my adult life, it’s never been something I’ve really felt I needed, y’know? I’ve got no issue with how or what other folks choose to worship, by any means, but my own brand of spirituality is something I’m happy with. I’ve got no need to be “saved,” regardless of what creepy guys peddling flyers out in the parking lot seem to think.

At the same time, growing up in semi-rural Texas, I haven’t lacked for exposure to explicitly Christian music — I had friends who were into stuff that ran the gamut, at least back in the day, from Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith to Stryper and that godawful Christian grindcore band my friend Danny listened to just to piss his mom off (he wasn’t allowed to listen to anything but Christian music, so he had to get creative). And while I’ll grant that it may be fine for some, certainly, I thought the bulk of it was horrible. Pushy, pretentious, annoying, and just plain bad. To this day the words “Christian music” give me this weird tic in my left eye. It drags me kicking and screaming back to the rolling hills of central Texas as they were when I was a kid, all trees, abandoned cars, and creepy roadside churches with signs about the Apocalypse.

With all that in mind, I was a bit hesitant to review Woodlands band The Church of Philadelphia’s self-titled debut; this is a band that is pretty firmly in the “Christian rock” camp, with a serious message behind most of the songs. Could I really give it a fair listen, considering my own biases against this kind of thing? I like to think I’m generally open-minded and all that, but it’s hard to overcome a lifetime of conditioning. Could I listen to and appreciate the album just on its own merits? I wasn’t sure.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The Church of Philadelphia is definitely an overtly religious album, but it’s not accusatory or sappy, instead balancing somewhere in the realm of personal faith and love — and how the heck could I have a problem with that? The songs are intimate, about personal demons and the struggles of family to find their way in the world, and they’re done so earnestly they make it impossible to suppress a warm, unsarcastic smile.

Admittedly, the music helps. These folks, to put it bluntly, are freakin’ amazing musicians — they sound like they’ve grown up playing together each and every day (which may be the case, since at least a couple of members are family), bouncing effortlessly off of one another as the songs demand. They swing from stardust-soft atmospherics (“We Were Strangers”, “Kingdom of Hearts”) to gentle, Hem-esque folk (“Recover,” “Patiently”) to more urgent-sounding, more “rocking” tracks like “Never Give Up” or “This Time Around” without missing a beat, and the whole thing’s gorgeous throughout. Apparently these folks have quite a bit of experience under their belt, separately speaking (playing the Grand Ole Opry and opening for Roger Waters, for two), and it shows. I can honestly count on one hand the number of bands who do harmonies this well, for one thing — the vocals are heartbreakingly beautiful.

“This Time Around,” in particular, is the crowning jewel of the album, a heartfelt, earnest-as-all-get-out roots-rock stomper that comes off like Bruce Springsteen fronting The Arcade Fire at their most majestic. The song builds steadily from simple organ and drums to a near-frenzied, joyful roar, and it’s incredible, like a speeding train charging right out of the speakers. It’s the kind of song you’d run out and slap down $15 to hear, all by itself, only in this case it’s surrounded by seven other equally stunning tracks. Consider those a bonus prize.

[The Church of Philadelphia is playing 7/1/07 at The Proletariat, with Canada & The Papermoons.]
(self-released; The Church of Philadelphia --

Review by . Review posted Friday, June 1st, 2007. Filed under Reviews.

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One Response to “The Church of Philadelphia, The Church of Philadelphia

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Awesome News: The Church of Philadelphia Finally Returns, and With a New Album on the Way on March 25th, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    […] The Western Civilization, too, but that’s a slightly different story). The band sent me their self-titled debut EP seemingly out of nowhere, and despite some twitchiness on my part about my heathenish self […]

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