LABEL: SPARROW RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 19, 2012
The Heartbeat is probably the most ambitious debut I’ve listened to. Bellarive definitely know how to take a risk, releasing their distinctive debut to an unassuming world with all its idiosyncrasies intact. The Heartbeat is offbeat, atypical and wacky worship album; an anomaly in a world of the stock, straight-forward, standard praise anthem. Although I can’t honestly say that I loved every second, I loved that every second was completely unexpected.
Things kick off with the stirring title track. As with any new band, comparisons abound and Bellarive is no exception. Here they sound most like Leeland, but throughout the album, one can pick out the influences of many (great) bands including Gungor, U2, mewithoutyou and David Crowder*Band.
Bellarive are first and foremost a worship group and nowhere on The Heartbeat is the passion for worship clearer than on “Love Has Found Us”. It is a breathtaking piece about how only Jesus can satisfy. From surrendering ourselves in “Here We Are” to realising that He is all that we need in “Measures of Rest” and wanting to be only where He is in “The Heartbeat”, each track expertly explores an aspect of our relationship with God.
Bellarive made the unusual (read: controversial) decision to include a soliloquy in “Tendons”. It’s an emotive and poetic monologue, delivered without restraint, considering our wretchedness, God’s love and the need to rip up the tendons that entangle us. The group from Orlando are not novice songwriters. The Heartbeat is full of poignant lines and superb lyrics; everywhere else in the album trite clichés are refreshingly absent. They can write with clarity and passion as exhibited in a fantastic line from “Hope is Calling” – “Heart beats are the rhythm of Your grace”. Yet “Tendons” is an obvious departure from the rest of their record. What is adds in zeal, it lacks in articulacy. The first listen, it was just a cool surprise; the second time, I thought it merited further listening but by the third time, I found the little speech more annoying than anointed. It stands out – but not necessarily in a good way.
What truly sets Bellarive apart is how they transform conventional anthems into avant-garde showpieces. One spin of “I Know You” and you’re captivated. They overturn existing preconceptions of worship by employing everything from digital beat overlays, eerily haunting harmonies and discordant electronic interludes juxtaposed with minimalist string arrangements. They are constantly pushing at musical boundaries, no more so than the zany yet resplendent instrumental track ironically named “Sing”. The weakest track on the album is undoubtedly also the safest one, “The Father’s Heart”. Although a respectable effort, it doesn’t exhibit the same heart-stopping drama one comes to expect from Bellarive.
The show ends with aplomb. The closer goes a long way in making up for the mis-step in “Tendons”. “Stories” is nothing short of magnificent; successfully bringing all that is great about the album into one eight-minute long finale. The refrain “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah oh! / For heaven came down” closes out the album perfectly. This is what inspirational experimental music should sound like.
The Heartbeat is definitely the most ‘indie’ label release I’ve heard all year. It’s one of the most adventurous listens too, an uncommon distinction for praise and worship affairs. It’s organic, visceral and engaging. The age-old debate between accessibility and art, convention and creativity, can be difficult for veterans to navigate, yet Bellarive took the challenge on. As T.S. Eliot once said ‘Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.’ Who knows where Bellarive will wander next time?