The Modern Post, 'Grace Alone'
By Jonathan Nelson
September 12, 2012
Jonathan Nelson writes on theology and music. He currently resides in Durham, NC, and is pursuing graduate work at Duke Divinity School.
This review calls for a disclaimer. I am a long-time Thrice fan. Beginning in my teens with The Artist in the Ambulance and culminating in my mid-twenties with the fantastic Beggars and Major/Minor, Thrice has always been very important to me—both musically and personally. Understandably, I was not thrilled by the recent announcement of their hiatus.
And so, try as I might to let objectivity guide my pen, my love for the last two Thrice albums largely influences my thoughts on the latest musical endeavor of Thrice’s frontman, Dustin Kensrue: the Modern Post.
The Modern Post’s Grace Alone EP is a set of worship songs released by Mars Hill Music—an affiliate of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash. The Modern Post leads worship at the Orange County, Calif., branch of the Mars Hill movement (a movement renowned for it’s brazenly controversial leader, Mark Driscoll).
Nonetheless, the Modern Post does not showcase Kensrue. Compared to his work in Thrice, Kensrue is very subdued on this release. Even compared to Thrice’s softer work, Kensrue’s gruffly soulful voice is suppressed here. He's now surrounded by a whole new set of Mars Hill–associated musicians and soaked in a very different sound. Musically, most of Grace Alone is akin to Diiv, Surfer Blood, or The Drums. It sounds meticulously crafted with its thin bass sound, light guitar hooks heavy on reverb, layered synths, and a tight drum sound that characterizes music in the vein of the aforementioned bands. Hence, this tightly produced EP lends itself to a pretty even-tempered listen.
It was, therefore, a bit surprising to read drummer Lee Neujahr say, “We wanted the songs to be dynamic, and even somewhat urgent and aggressive.” Surely the EP is upbeat and evokes a joyous tone, but it is hardly urgent and aggressive. On the contrary, it sounds premeditated and subdued—even diffident at times. This is mostly evident in Kensrue’s vocals. He proclaims the emotive story of the graceful God who saves sinners in the depths of their sin. Yet partly due to production and partly due to Kensrue accommodating his voice to the Modern Post sound, the joy of the proclamation is not matched in the vocal sound. This is evident in the chorus of the first song, “Just as I Am,” and in the last phrase uttered in “White as Snow.” Of course, this discrepancy is not because Kensrue does not mean what he sings but because the recorded music does not exactly fit the words.
However, this comparatively suppressed emotion is most likely because Thrice wrote rock songs for entertainment, whereas the Modern Post writes worship songs for participation. In the Modern Post, Kensrue is not projecting his emotion onto others. Instead, he is inviting others to worship through word and song. As they are words that draw upon the biblical message, they are words that have provoked deep-felt joy in Christians of many ages. In this way, the Modern Post affords listeners the opportunity to experience the joy of grace Kensrue has been sharing before the Modern Post ever struck a chord.