I’ve been looking forward to this album for a while. Civilized Creature’s debut release Beast of Formalities made my favorites list last year, so I was naturally excited when Ryan J. Lane teased an album early this year. The jump from debut EP to album generally results in major improvements and a greater artistic purpose. Having listened to A New Heart repeatedly, I can say that Civilized Creature certainly has expanded his sound since his last release while still staying true to his roots.
Eclectic doesn’t quite adequately describe Ryan’s style; it’s more than eclectic, if that makes sense. Folk, electronica, soul, jazz, folk, hip-hop, and psychedelia could all be used as genre classifiers, but no one classifier could completely cover the breadth of the sounds at play. Perhaps the most astounding part of this mix is that it all seems natural, not being forced together but readily blending into a unique sonic experience. The only exception would be album opener “Do What I Do Not Want To Do,” which under-delivers with its overly-ambitious structure.
After this slightly rough opening, though, the listener will find in A New Heart a wealth of spiritual, joyous, and contemplative pieces. Half of the tracks are instrumental, as was the case in Beast of Formalities. These have dramatically improved, as I had hoped going into the album. In fact, some of the standouts from the album come from these instrumental tracks. I find myself returning to “The Harder They Fall,” “Your Prince Has & Will Come,” and “Keepin’ On.”
The other tracks are not to be overlooked, however. The simple lyrics convey a spiritual earnest that doesn’t seem overdone or fabricated. Upon further listening, “Named” stands out as a favorite of the bunch. The lyrics speak of a restored identity based in Christ and not on the words of others. The music lays a simple groundwork, exposing more intricate layers as the song progresses. It shows a sense of balance and maturity that isn’t present as often in Ryan’s earlier work. It perhaps epitomizes how far he’s come and the exciting direction he is headed. These lyrical tracks give the album its most substantial moments, but the imbalance leaves the whole experience seeming less like a full album than perhaps it should.
In the end, though, A New Heart does stand on its own as a complete work – easily Ryan’s best to date. It builds upon the lyrical and musical dynamic of Beast of Formalities, and it is a lot more accessible than its predecessor. Civilized Creature is at home with stylistic oddities. There are sound juxtapositions here that you haven’t heard before, all the while exploring a spiritual relationship with the Creator. To sum it all up: A New Heart is a fresh, intelligent take on Jesus music.
You can stream and download A New Heart in the Bandcamp player below. If you prefer Noisetrade, you can download it here. Civilized Creature can be found on Facebook and Twitter. You can read our interview with Civilized Creature here.