Standing Small’s “Asleep at The Oars, Dreaming of Freedom”

“Worshipful while not churchy, the songs seem to be individual prayers or confessions with which we can all, if we’re honest, comply.” -HE

Holly Etchison

out of 10

Standing Small
Asleep at The Oars, Dreaming of Freedom
August 6, 2010

“There must be some way outta here,” said the joker to the thief, “there’s too much confusion here, I can’t get no relief.” -Bob Dylan, “All along the watchtower”

“We live in a cynical world.” -Jerry Maguire

With fetching cover art, a line drawing that could be easily dubbed “the (fatigued) old man and the sea,” the guys in Standing small are presenting something of a joyful noise birthed in hidden places on their latest record, Asleep at The Oars, Dreaming of Freedom. A little Coldplay meets Mute Math meets “Amazing grace,” these fellas (Ryan Fletcher, Ben Howard, Corey Goins, and Joseph Dunlap) sing unabashedly of personal faults and failings- their very name a play on the diminishment of self. At the same time, their songs succeed in carrying you on waves of exhortation and praise from a place of stasis to gently lapped shores of recovered hope.

The album, as a whole, is carried by an urgent if humble plea to God and the listener; its message of self-effacement- its mission to pronounce a way out- is marked with an earnest intensity. It wasn’t, however, until about track five, “Call in The Troops,” that I became entirely persuaded of this fact. After a slow if interesting warm up, it is here the band really seems to begin feeling its own skin- a personal struggle is felt convincingly in its brooding sound; its lyrics read like a psalm of David written in the heat of battle:

I’m under fire and I’m about to be burned
Don’t hesitate to let me feel the wound
For I’m in need of a blessing
Called confessing my truth.

I’m such a liar
I don’t do a thing that I say
And I’m so tired
I need your hand to help me through.

That’s quite a confession for the “me” generation (although can any of us think of a generation that hasn’t been about “me”?); I always find it refreshing to hear someone say “uncle.”

“Covered” picks up the baton at this point with a guitar breakdown that screams “keep it coming, boys!”; the end utterly rocks, and the lyrics are nice:

Dreaming of a day when they will all say
How they once were blind
But now they see

The big, atmospheric sound of “Out of control” also does not disappoint; mid-way is another great guitar bit that could be a segue of a worship chorus some of us might know– I started singing “just a little while longer and I’ll see you, just a little while longer and we’ll be together.” The singer proclaims in an ecstatic moment:

He’s breaking down the walls
To show he’s the God of all.

Slow and nice, “Hallowed” offers (forgive me) sweet, quiet keyboard sounds, and an uplifted voice encourages:

He’s singing his song to those that will hear
And bringing a love to conquer our fear
Repentance of sin, the heavens rejoice.

It’s closer, “Two Hands” starts as an acoustic afterthought in a pleasant Pedro the Lion vein. The rest of the instruments accompany a sort of final blessing:

May the peace of God wash over us,
Tear down the thrones of our own two hands.

I for one feel edified. The connectivity of the songs thematically and musically does indeed provide a sort of spiritual rowing exercise down a fluid stream. Worshipful while not churchy, the songs seem to be individual prayers or confessions with which we can all, if we’re honest, comply. At the least, these guys are letting us in on what has worked for them, in a musically exultant way: In honoring something other, we are free of the selves in which we at times feel imprisoned in thought and action, free to be who we were made to be. “In His presence,” as the scripture says, “is fullness of joy.” I look forward to hearing about where Standing Small will next embark, confidently, with a passport reading “heir of salvation, purchase of God.”