BadChristian / 2015
Pacific Gold's guiding principle of "Repurposed Hymns and Spiritual Songs" sounds at first like the last thing Christian indie needs right now. Though evangelicals suffered through decades of stultifying lowest-common-denominator worship music in the 90's and aughts, over the last six or seven years there's been a bit of a renaissance as groups like Page CXVI cracked open the great Protestant hymnbook again and re-familiarized the Church with their timeless power. It's a blessed trend, but it's also gone somewhat into overdrive - you can't search "Christian" on Bandcamp without stumbling over a couple dozen hymn-revival EPs on the first few pages of results.
Pacific Gold avoids contributing to the glut by going obscure - really obscure. Instead of giving us yet another indie folk take on "Be Thou My Vision" or "Come Thou Fount", it sounds like the five members of Pacific Gold dug around the most forgotten closet of an ancient chapel and used only the mustiest and moldiest of hymnals from which to source these songs. And "repurposed" is an understatement. Whereas much of the recent hymn-revival wave sounds like the old chestnuts took a trip to H&M for some fashionable new duds, Pacific Gold's renditions are more akin to crossdressers - completely unrecognizable, and for the most part looking fabulous.
Their full-length debut kicks off in sterling form with "A Day Is Coming", a Judgement Day fever dream where the tune is charmingly introduced with a simple whistle. The wisdom of transposing these old words shows immediately, with striking imagery of "all those saints of light, dressed in armor bright" sucked up into the sky to meet the Savior. It gets deliciously trippy at the end, with a reverse-taped solo on a 12-string guitar that sounds almost like George Harrison's sitar with its hypnotic psychedelic quality.
Christian psychedelia might sound novel, but it shouldn't. The roots of the Jesus Movement were deep in the psych scene's post-60's hangover, and ex-druggie converts like Dave Bixby and The Search Party made careers spiking their songwriting with their newfound Christianity. Portland's The Followers even recently made a couple albums channeling the spirit of the era. Sing My Welcome Home is dominated by that psych sound, but it's by no means the only influence - the chill, surf guitar-slathered "I Will Know Him" is unadulterated Vampire Weekend, while the gently warbling trumpet floating above "Shed a Beam of Heavenly Day" might draw comparisons to Midlake. And it's no surprise to learn that frontman Dan Koch is a huge Beach Boys fan - the winsome "Sweet Rivers of Redeeming Love" has a halting, buoyant chorus that's obviously the work of a student of Brian Wilson.
The vintage verbiage adds several layers of complexity to Sing My Welcome Home, and since the words are the only element carried over, the band is careful to curate only the most memorable sacred songs. For example, the nineteenth-century "Once I Had a Glorious View" reverses the usual polarity of devotional music, beginning in beatific union with God, then falling into despondency. The dire, Puritanical self-flagellation of the lyrics sounds almost humorous on the lips of an indie rock band in 2015 ("I once could mourn o'er dying men, and long their souls to win/I worked for their poor children, and warned them of their sin"), but only because we rarely hear divine judgement treated with such poetic gravity.
It's the less sonically adventurous tracks on Sing My Welcome Home where the antique verse feels underserved. Compositions like "Song in the Air" and "Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul" are pleasant, but there's not much distinctive about their instrumentation until the psych-inflected breakdown at the end. Pacific Gold has been slowly introducing its new psychedelic flavor in the string of EPs leading up to the release of this record, but on these tracks it still feels superficial.
Sing My Welcome Home's excellent album-opener bodes very, very well for that flavor, though. Dan Koch has said that "A Day is Coming" is the most recent track the band worked on, and the leading edge for where they're headed in the immediate future. Here's hoping they stay in touch with their inner Captain Beefheart and let it get weird.