My first introduction to Soul-Junk was at Cornerstone 1998, when they played an after-midnight set with the Danielson Famile. I’d just spent the night dancing to Joy Electric and watching MC Hammer, and I was tired and exhausted when Soul-Junk began. Their music was the very definition of quirky, with band members all over the stage, playing Casio keyboards and children’s toys before hitting the stage for a little breakdancing. Suddenly, someone from the audience got on stage and began hopping around, only to take off his fake leg and start wave it around like a maniac. Needless to say, it was the most surreal concert experience of my life.
When I received Soul-Junk’s new album, that image immediately leaped to my mind, and I wondered if the music would live up to that bizarre sight. Soul-Junk’s music, like that of Danielson, virtually screams “cult following.” That, combined with the fact that I’d never heard their music outside of a live setting (and one that I witnessed while half-asleep, to boot), left me wondering just what exactly I’d hear.
Imagine, if you will, if Ween did for hip-hop what they did for country music when they released 12 Golden Country Greats. Or better yet, imagine if the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique had been a praise and worship album. Yes, you heard me; a praise and worship album. 1956 is primarily influenced by hip-hop, but Soul-Junk takes a “kitchen sink” approach to it all, throwing in elements of folk, jungle, country, downtempo, and techno. The result is quite an exhilarating ride; just check out that banjo-meets-jungle breakdown on “How We Flow.” Soul-Junk charts an interesting musical course, and you can tell they have a blast doing so.
But the real pleasure of 1956 is that it’s as inventive and interesting lyrically as it is musically. Glen Galaxy is unabashedly joyful about his Christianity, and several songs are devoted to simply praising and thanking God. On “Lordy Child,” over floating keys and children’s backing vocals, Galaxy sings “We haven’t received a, a spirit of fear but of adoption/by which we see God as sons and daughters.” “Dry Bones” is a call for spiritual renewal, with lyrics like “Oh my people, I will open up your graves/and I’ll bring you back from them/I will call you back to life.”
But the strongest (and most inventive) lyrics occur when Galaxy is taking a critical look at the Church, with barbs at legalism, conservatism, and hypocrisy. On “Pumpfake,” he immediately starts off dropping bombs:
I seen what you call the Church getting chubby in the waist
So if I ain’t to your taste, have some peace, take some grace
But let the innertube out religion’s middle
Where tradition reigns supreme and the Spirit’s second fiddle
He doesn’t pull punches, and like the Apostle Paul, he encourages believers to examine their faith and put aside legalism and traditionalism. It’s like David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) if he had two turntables and a microphone.
Granted, 1956 does seem a bit unabalanced when you’ve got a mellow, acoustic jam stuck between manic excursions into joyful hip-hop. 1956 is at its strongest when dropping phat beats and quick rhymes. Whatever the case, it’s easily some of the most creative music I’ve heard coming out of the Christian scene in a long time, which explains why I’ve had a hard time prying it out of my stereo. In an interview, Galaxy states that he wants Christian creating music that defies genres, that serves only as an outlet for God-given creativity and imagination. With that statement, Galaxy may just as well have been describing his music.
Or, to put it another way, if I had a fake leg, you better believe I’d be waving it high over my head if I heard something as funky as “How We Flow” or “3PO Soul” come over the speakers. Give up your props people… this is what joyful noise is all about.