For the Vagabond Believer by Fringe (Review)

I hear a band with the talent and skill to be more than what they are, but instead, settling for a sound that doesn’t do their lyrics justice.
Bulletproof Music - Fringe

There’s always a problem I feel I face when reviewing Christian artists. On one hand, I want to support a fellow Christian’s ministry. Obviously, they feel it’s important enough to dedicate a serious amount of their time to trying to create and perfect it. And far be it from me to rain on their parade. Who am I to judge a ministry’s effectiveness? But on the other hand, there’s that “critical” part of me that needs to be honest and forthright with how I feel about art. And this quandary is keenly felt while listening to For the Vagabond Believer. This is a band that is certain to turn heads with their solid contemporary sound and passionate lyrics. But it left me feeling, dare I say it… bored.

I played this for my friend one day, and he quipped “It sounds like someone’s trying too hard to be like Pearl Jam.” I won’t go that far, but it gets pretty close to the point. Listening to Fringe, there’s no doubt that they’re trying to be intense and sincere in their music. They’ve got that whole rhythmic, heavy alternative sound down… and that’s just the problem. What makes it even worse is that I can tell they’ve got the talent to do even more. Unfortunately, they waste it on music that just seems too eager to launch into a Dave Matthews-esque freestyle jam, complete with Harnish’s impassioned Eddie Vedder/Scott Stapp/Dave Matthews vocals (yeah, I didn’t think that kind of combination was possible either). He may feel passionate about what he’s singing, but I feel more emotion in the hushed whisper of David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) and the off-key warblings of Scott Chernoff (Molasses).

The lyrics are the album’s strong point, which is surprising to me, since many comparable bands usually have some pretty inane, cliched lyrics. Poetic lines like “Let the touch of my hand melt all resistance, yield to me my love/When grace is received it closes the distance, and we are one” (“Believe”) paint a portrait of grace and forgiveness. The one song that leaves me with hope is the final song, “Let It Begin,” another powerful song about grace. Over subtle electronics and drum loops, Harnish sings “I might fall into nothing, nothing at all/But hope drags me back again to transcend/And life comes crashing back in” over soaring guitars. And yeah, it might be radio-friendly, but I wouldn’t mind hearing it while scanning the dial.

I’m sure that youth groups and Bible studies all over would lap this up. It’s solid and contemporary, and I’m sure it contains a hit somewhere on there. Tell them it’s a group of Christians, and they’ll lap it up even more. Heck, if you’re into anything that combines radio-friendly, alt-rock ditties with good Christian lyrics, than this is right up your alley. Unfortunately, I was hoping for more. Instead, I hear a band with the talent and skill to be more than what they are, but instead, settling for a sound that doesn’t do their lyrics justice, a sound that has been done before way too many times.

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