T.R. Ragland

Praise Where Praise is Do

T.R. Ragland
Praise Where Praise is Do

Beautiful Eulogy's latest record, honest in content and poetic in form, retreats into the countryside away from the rustling distractions of the city. "Worthy" calls the navel-gazing streetwalker into a starlit pasture of contemplation beyond the convenient visible.

The eclectic trio from Portland, Oregon subtly reveal the driving purpose of their album in the track-listing. Yes, the titles themselves summarize the song's subject matter, but if you look closely at the first letter of each track title, you'll find that they spell "W-I-S-D-O-M-M-O-D-S-I-W". Front to back, Beautiful Eulogy intentionally crafted everything about this record to communicate wisdom to the listener amidst a culture of confusion and information overload. As Odd Thomas states in the introductory monologue, "We have lost our eyes for the unseen and have swallowed the false hope of the visible." Luckily for us, Odd Thomas, Braille and Courtland Urbano have reminded us of what we so unhappily lost.

REMARKABLE HONESTY

Though the album is unapologetically didactic, Beautiful Eulogy does not speak from above but amongst the listener. They successfully articulate our predicament because it is their own. The album works as a kind of autobiographical liturgy; the listener follows the artists as they actively worship.  Ample use of keys melodically arranged with soft strings and vocals, coupled with deep, hollow synths give the album the weighty impression of walking into a gothic cathedral. The strategic use of silence throughout the album also suggests the artists' desire to shape space for reflection and meditation. "Worthy" beautifully marries the psalmist with hip-hop, contextualizing theology and breathing life into the culture.

"Weight" and "Immanuel" function as directional sign post for the project. The key lines in each focuses on the eye; "We have lost our eyes for the unseen," and "Lift up your eyes." The guts of the album convinces us why we ought to forsake our temporal focus and look upward. "If..." emphasizes the fleeting nature of all created things that we can cling to; wealth, pleasure, family, influence, and more. All such treasures can be taken away, and disqualify them as sources of perfect security. Then Braille proclaims, "If I have [God] I can lose everything, and still consider it gain." The whole plot ultimately hinges on the possession of Christ and Him crucified and resurrected.

"Sovereign" extols God for being infinitely beyond all that we can imagine and ruling all of creation without rival. The chorus affirms God's unchanging nature which provides consistency and peace for His worshippers. Then, to reflect our common humanity they ask the tough questions: did God create everything and abandon it? And, with so much evil how can we be sure God is even good? The song closes by pointing briefly to the cross of Christ and gives the listener room to reflect over the recurrent keys.

"Doxology" answers the questions by praising God for His activity in creation and personal displays of grace to the individual. Braille shouts, "because the gospel is true, there is always reason to rejoice" no matter the presence of evil. Odd Thomas follows Braille's confession with a petition for God to "open in [him] a fountain of faithful praise" that he may magnify the Creator rather than descend to idol worship. "Overture" -- which could either mean prelude or an initiating move towards a new relationship -- is an instrumental which solely utilizes the piano, and marks a turning point in the ambiance of the album.

AWARENESS OF HUMANITY

If the album created a sense of incline leading to this point, Messiah dives deep into the heart of humanity. Both Braille and Odd Thomas's verses are filled with confessions of humanity's fickle worship and negligent pursuit of pleasure. Though they know they "can't always rely on [their] desires, [they] treat them like a messiah." Idolatry is a key concept throughout the album because it is the fruit of wrongly esteeming worth to creatures rather than the Creator. Of idols Odd Thomas says, "these gods make promises but always lie to us, the kind of lies that says they'll keep us safe and satisfy us." The disgruntlement of our society finds its root in idol worship and Beautiful Eulogy seeks to expose this facade so that we can find true security and satisfaction.

Mosaic converges with Messiah in the middle of the album, and if Messiah exposes the root of the problem, Mosaic reveals the soul soothing solution. Braille, overwhelmed by the cares and afflictions of this life, recounts trouble after trouble to eventually attest that "in our weakness is where the gospel meets us, the beauty of redemption revealed in our broken pieces." Then, Aaron Strumpel  sings what may be the most heartfelt lyrics on the album:

Shadows crashing right over me right through me and my

Thankfulness for this life is busted up certainly but you

Go to the bedrock of my inmost being

Sowing seeds of gratefulness you see me

This life is hard. Though there are moments so blissful that all darkness seems to dissipate, there are also times so devastating that all good appears to have been a mirage, and thanksgiving feels impossible. However, gratefulness is a superfood for the soul.

GLORIFYING GOD

Immediately following this utter awareness of humanity's weakness, "Omnipotent" audaciously praises God for His infinite power despite humanity's finite limitations. "The weakest man I know is the man I see in the mirror, but it's ok to be inferior when you know God is superior." The first flowering of true security is revealed in these lines. Rather than trying to appear strong, Braille and Odd Thomas confess their weakness before God, and find peace in knowing that He possesses all strength. "Cause in the depths of my weakness is when my strength gets perfected."

Next, Art Azurdia (featured in their previous album Instruments of Mercy) again provides a brief exposition on the subject of authentic faith. He states that "faith is not a call to believe in things when common sense tells you not to." Our society has radically shoved the idea of faith into a corner as an illegitimate source of truth. Faith is accused of being without evidential foundation, yet Azurdia suggests that authentic faith must be based in "reasoned, careful, deliberate, intentional thought...upon God and His promises." Azurdia powerfully states:

Authentic faith is not merely believing in God. It is believing God

Taking God at his word, living in obedience to his revelation whatever the cost because you know down deep in your bones that God will always do what he says, that his speaking is his doing.

Authentic Christian faith trusts in a real God who has made and secured real promises to His creation, and humanity finds satisfaction in the truth of this reality.

MAKING IT PRACTICAL

For those who may feel as if all of this has been irrelevant philosophizing, "Slain" crashes into our socio-political moment without delay. "Slain" is the only track that begins with drums; everything about this song hits home. This track only comes after a reorientation of the heart, which illuminates the artists' eyes to the injustice taking place around them. Rather one actively participated or formerly turned a blind eye to injustice, Odd Thomas declares "there's a direct correlation between your profession of faith and your expressions of grace towards the helpless." The hook echoes a solid bar of Braille's from "Organized Religion" on their previous album: "Virus in my iris; I was blinded, closed my eyelids, see my Savior laying down His righteous life and saying 'I forgive.'" The concept of eyes and vision resurfaces, and, after first being shaped by their faith, the artists recognize where their "blindspots" are and address them accordingly.

FIXING OUR EYES ON THE INFINITE

The album ends with "Immanuel" and "Worthy". Again, as listers we are exhorted to lift our eyes from the temporal to the infinite, salvific story of the gospel of Christ. Odd Thomas eloquently summarizes God and man's relationship in stating, "We are not like Him, but He loves us...the great uncreated and the created, no longer separated; He is Immanuel, God with us." The two tracks seamlessly transition and the trio invite the listener to ascribe worth to the one who rightfully deserves it.

To be fair, "Worthy" is not a lot of things, but what it seeks to be, it accomplishes ten-fold. If you're crafting a party mix or searching for trunk rattling bass, you won't find it on Worthy. However, if you are simply looking for good music, burdened by life's troubles, or desperate for meaning in life Worthy will blow you away.

T.R. "Ty" Ragland is a husband, teacher, journalist, and graduate student at the University of Dallas studying Humanities. Ty yearns to see truth made accessible to the public sphere through all art forms. Ty is the co-founder and associate editor of The Grounds Journal.