Listening to Music – Erosion or Accumulation?

The title of this post comes from Russ Bremeier’s weekly Music Connection Newsletter from Christianity Today. It’s a helpful way to keep up on what’s happening in the Christian music world. Here’s the introduction to one of his recent emails:

Have you ever noticed how an impression of a song or album can change with repeated listens? Thank goodness it doesn’t happen too often for me, but there are times when I’m nagged by the feeling that I got a review wrong because my opinion of the album has since changed. Depending on that change, I call it erosion or accumulation.

Erosion occurs when an album I initially love begins to wear on me—not within the first two or three spins, but maybe after five listens, or a year after an album’s release. I don’t want to give examples here, but I’m sorry to say that there are a few discs we’ve put on our annual Best Albums list that I’ve enjoyed less with time. I’ve also noticed from my own listening that erosion happens a lot with modern worship music—so many new songs remind me of great songs from five to ten years ago that I end up growing tired of both the new and the old.

Accumulation is the opposite of erosion, occurring when albums seem to get better with each listen. I typically notice this with dynamite songwriting, when a strong lyric suddenly resonates more because I hear it in a new way or it takes on deeper meaning after a new life experience has occurred since the last listen. It also happens with newfound musical nuance in the performance or some “hidden” layer to a textured production. Though I’m still only on my third listen, Brooke Fraser’s Albertine continues to connect with me more and more in both ways.

It’s only natural for our tastes to change with time and repetition. Sometimes it’s because of changing musical trends, sometimes we simply outgrow the music, and sometimes we hear music with new ears or a fresh perspective that causes us to reconsider it…It scares me sometimes that we become so obsessed with the new and the instantaneous that we miss out on deep and lasting truths by judging things as too simple or too subtle, based on things like an artist’s performance or a pastor’s presentation. After all, while some things lose meaning and erode with repetition, others take root and accumulate with time.

There are two reasons I appreciated what Russ says here. First, I think he’s identified a common tendency among Christians when it comes to the songs we sing and the music we listen to. If we don’t like it immediately, if it doesn’t affect us right away, if it seems too hard to sing or comprehend the first time through, we decide it’s a bad song or CD. It just might be bad, but not always. There are some songs that grow on you over time and become more meaningful and significant through repetition. The measure of a truly great song is not whether it affects me the first or second time, but whether it can affect me the 30th time. That’s why the most “singable” worship song isn’t always the best one to sing.

The second reason I referenced this post is because I’ve also been listening to Albertine by Brooke Fraser. Brooke is a pop star in New Zealand but also a part of the music team at Hillsong church in Sydney, Australia. When it comes to songs for corporate worship, I haven’t been a big Hillsong fan. Their songs can tend to be strong on the music side, weak on the lyrical side, and heavy on the subjective side.  But Albertine is a collection of artist songs, not corporate worship songs. I’ve listened to it over a dozen times and enjoy it more with each listen.

Each song is creatively produced, tastefully arranged, thoughtfully and poetically written, and beautifully sung. “Shadowfeet,” the opening track, describes the transience of this life and declares that when “the world is falling out from under me I’ll be found in You, still standing.”  “Love is Waiting” is a haunting and tender song about a woman’s commitment to withhold affection for the present because “love is waiting till we’re ready, till it’s right.” “Albertine” is the name of a girl Brooke met when she visited Rwanda. She wrote the song to tell the world about the need in that country, referencing James 2:17: Faith without deeds is dead. “C.S. Lewis Song” explores how if I never find anything in this life that satisfies me completely it must mean that “I was not made for here.” “Faithful” is a reminder to those who are enduring suffering that as I wait for God, “maybe I’m made more faithful.” The CD closes with a piece called “Hymn” where she sings that her solitary ambition is “to only dwell in Thee.”

I would love to see Brooke put out another artist CD like “Albertine” with some clearer references to the gospel, more specific pointers to the atoning death of Christ as the foundation, power, and hope of our lives. Maybe that’s for next time.

It’s still a great CD. And iTunes is offering it for $5.99 right now. Worth checking out.

UPDATE: The iTunes download is $9.99 again. Still a great deal.

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17 Responses to Listening to Music – Erosion or Accumulation?

  1. henny July 16, 2008 at 9:04 PM #

    I’m also not a big Hillsong fan for the same reasons. Thanks for the reference to Albertine. Will certainly try to look it up. Sounds like a good one. The Lord bless you today.

  2. Rich July 17, 2008 at 1:52 AM #

    What are some examples of songs that have “accumulated” for you?

    I’d love to hear some examples from Bob and anyone reading…

    “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” by Stuart Townend would be one for me.

  3. Bob Kauflin July 17, 2008 at 6:50 AM #

    Rich,

    Great question! A few that come to mind are:

    Before the Throne of God Above (music by Vikki Cook, words by Charitie Bancroft)
    In Christ Alone (Townend/Getty)
    The Power of the Cross (Townend/Getty)
    The Glories of Calvary (Steve & Vikki Cook)
    A more recent one is All I Have is Christ by my son, Jordan.

    Many more. Thanks for asking the question.

  4. Nicki O'Donovan July 17, 2008 at 10:57 AM #

    Some of the songs that have accumulated for me are:

    Receive the Glory (Bob Kauflin)
    Oh the deep, deep love (Samuel Trevor Francis/Bob Kauflin)
    Through the precious blood (Mark Altrogge)
    Your grace is enough (Matt Maher)

  5. Alan Smith July 17, 2008 at 9:11 PM #

    I am also an accumilator with a “live setting” twist. For instance, after listening to the demo tracks a couple of times for the upcoming Worship God conference I was like “eh, so-so”…however I am confident that those songs will “come alive” to me in the live corporate worship setting at the conference. I catch myself in this mode alot of times when we teach new songs on a Sunday morning. Even though I feel good in the new song lyrically and musically, when the congregation joins in, the song will “come alive” to us as a church. Of course we have had the opposite happen plenty of times too where we repeat a new song for several weeks just absolutlely sure the congreagation will grow to like it but the song usually dies a horrible death just over a longer period of time.

  6. Rich July 17, 2008 at 9:15 PM #

    By the way, as far as Hillsong is concerned, I do dig that “Lead Me To The Cross”. Is that Brooke Fraser?

  7. Nick Coller July 18, 2008 at 1:57 PM #

    Hey Rich,

    Yep, that’s Brookey all right. I can’t believe you northern hemispherians (if that’s not a real word, it should be) are only just getting Albertine – I bought it for my sister two years ago, and it’s a fantastic album.

    Bob, I’ve felt similar things about some Hillsong songs (especially having been to the conferences), however it seems that they’re doing a lot better these days. What did you think of “Saviour King”?

  8. Bob Kauflin July 18, 2008 at 5:49 PM #

    Nick,

    I keep forgetting that there are people reading this blog on the other side of the world…

    You bought Albertine for your sister, but do you have it? Just curious.

    I’d agree that Hillsong writing in general is getting better. So often, though, there will be one or two lines in an otherwise great song that are unclear, man-focused, or more driven by emotion than biblical clarity. When you add the visual production to some of the songs it can be difficult to focus on the truth that’s being sung. But I’m usually seeing videos of conferences and not a Sunday meeting of the church.

    Haven’t listened to Saviour King closely, but will do so in the near future. In fact, I’m listening right now. I’ll share some more thoughts in the near future. Thanks for reading the blog, Nick.

  9. Scott July 18, 2008 at 9:50 PM #

    I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or if all your blog readers went to iTunes for the $5.99 Brooke Fraser album, but iTunes is now in the process of increasing the price to $11.88. It was good while it lasted, alas I waited until I got home from work to purchase it and now I’ll pay $6 more.

  10. Nick Coller July 20, 2008 at 12:26 AM #

    Yeah Bob, I listened through Albertine a few times and even played Deciphering Me for a friend’s school performance. I agree with your analysis that it’s a CD that gets better the more you listen to it – I haven’t heard it in ages though, I may have to borrow it off her when I get back.

    I’ve not been to Hillsong’s services, but I have heard some tapes of Brian Houston, and certainly from those his teaching is much more God-focused in the context of the local church than you see in the conferences. And having heard Darlene Zschech’s teaching on worship, their basis is all in the right place.

    I don’t know if you’ve listened to anything by Reuben Morgan? His lyrics are usually pretty top notch – especially “More Than Life” and “For All You’ve Done” (he was one of their worship leaders, I’m not sure if he still is or not). And his song “What the Lord Has Done in Me” is one of the best ‘accumulating’ songs I know – right up there with “In Christ Alone” and “To Live is Christ” by Parachute Band/Youth Alive.

  11. Nick Coller July 20, 2008 at 12:27 AM #

    Oh yeah, and looking forward to seeing you at WorshipGod08! :)

  12. Sean Carter July 20, 2008 at 2:27 AM #

    I agree with you bob. Brooke is doing a great job crossing over especially in New Zealand. I am grateful that belivers like Brooke are reaching a broader audience. I too would like to hear Hillsong gain more depth, maybe if the songs of hillsong had more scriptural depth American Idol singers couldnt mask a worship song by only changing one word. :)

  13. Eric July 21, 2008 at 11:33 PM #

    Great topic. It’s been on my heart for years. “In Christ Alone” and “The Power of the Cross” are songs we’ve used that definitely fall into the Accumulation category. Sometimes you can ‘smell’ those kind of songs right away.

    Oftentimes, though, you cannot sense Accumulation early on. I long for a different mindset among both leaders and congregations than the “write it, record it, use it” immediacy that drives our worship plannning. Listening to and using songs privately for a very long time, before adding them to songsets is a practice I

  14. Eric July 21, 2008 at 11:42 PM #

    (sorry, premature send…)

    a practice I would like to employ more often. I think of two songs… Parachute Band’s “All The Earth” and Redman’s “Lord, Let Your Glory Fall” that I hesitated with for over a year. I even tried them out in worship rehearsals. There was no initial “release” to use them. But they endured in my spirit and now that they are in the songlist, they are effective and deep when we use them. I am appreciative of how they (just 2 examples) were allowed to “accumulate” in me first.

  15. Analisse July 24, 2008 at 10:48 AM #

    i cannot believe you said that hillsong is weak on the lyrical side! wow i think their lyrics are amazing and life changing. Brooke fraser happens to be m favorite female artist too.

  16. Cody July 30, 2008 at 11:40 AM #

    I have not used much of Hillsong’s stuff over the years either, but have recently used “Mighty to Save” in our services. Simple yet powerful.

  17. jordan August 12, 2008 at 12:28 PM #

    Yes, I wonder how well O Sacred Head Now Wounded went over on “release Sunday.” Not the easiest sing or lyrical acquisition, but WOW!

    I think one of the biggest problems today is a corpus of songs that says, “Oh God I want to worship you and praise you…” without ever declaring the “why”….you can never get enough cross and resurrection in songs in my opinion. Is the foundation for our praise.

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