Are you like me and missing the days of creative Christian music? I can state it no simpler than this: The Arrows are the best example of intelligent faith-based artistry I’ve heard in a long, long time.
That’s not hyperbole on my part. The Arrows are the kind of artist Steve Taylor’s Squint Entertainment would have quickly sought after given the chance. More recently, I could envision the internationally-minded Inpop Records pursuing this Durban, South Africa duo for their label. But while I’d love to start a campaign to get The Arrows signed, it’s just not necessary nowadays with independent music. Frankly, a Christian record label would only find a way to screw up a very good thing—there’s no way this group would fit in with today’s stale Christian radio format.
The Arrows are formally comprised of vocalist/keyboardist Pam de Menezes and drummer Christie Desfontaine, though they apparently add musicians from show to show, adjusting to each gig as they see fit. Which works fine with their textured sound, reveling in the sort of quirky indie pop epitomized by the likes of Regina Spektor and Ingrid Michaelson—The Arrows describe it as “Electro-acoustic Nu-Jazz Pop” on their site, with piano and drums at the core, colored with the occasional synths, guitars, xylophones, strings, and more. In other words, they’ve brought the contemporary back to contemporary Christian music with their impressive talents.
Make Believe, The Arrows’ newly released independent debut, isn’t quite as strong as their self-titled EP from 2007. That project featured their brilliant Screwtape Letters styled “In the Words of Satan,” which has made the rounds on the Internet through a cleverly devised YouTube video. Of course, the length and heady concept don’t make it the most accessible song, but it’s the crown jewel of a short collection of sophisticated pop songs that are conversational and thoughtful.
This album is a little uneven by comparison, but it combines the brilliant songwriting with a more upbeat, radio-friendly sound. You can almost imagine “No Robots” being used for one of those flashy iPod commercials with its modern disco groove; shades of ABBA and The Cardigans. It too seems inspired by the writings of C.S. Lewis—Mere Christianity in this case—by making a case for why God gave us free will.
The energy continues with the alt-pop of “All In,” with crashing drums and piano similar to Coldplay. It’s a far more inventive way than most examples I’ve heard to express a desire for surrendering our lives to Jesus. Even better is “Walking on Water,” a driving pop song about the conflict between faith and doubt. “Lonely Soldiers” uses its upbeat piano pop to offer the relatable perspective of those who believe they’re unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness. “Ode to a Patient God” similarly plays like a quiet conversation with the Lord, sharing amazement that he would be so gracious and compassionate with us—I love the way it builds from a gentle electric piano to a multi-layered finale.
I will at least warn that “Entropy” uses a little bit of profanity (“What the hell’s going on here?”) in response to abortion, murder, and all around complacency to sin in the world today. Though perhaps unnecessary, it successfully conveys anger and frustration concerning our inevitable social decline—and honestly, I find myself asking the same question as they do. Besides, “Lovesick” proves an ideal response to the song, noting how the world’s lack of love makes us long all the more for Christ’s return and God’s kingdom come.
As creative as these two young women are with their music, not every song is a homerun. “World Interrupted” feels like an inferior version of the quirky jazz-pop that characterized “In the Words of Satan,” and it’s a lot more heavy-handed with its moralizing. “The Core” is a cleverly worded ballad about accepting Christ into our lives, but its melody becomes a little too repetitive for me. And the dance groove that propels “One for the Brothers” inspires mixed feelings with me, though at least it’s better than the gimmicky hidden track version of the song.
Make Believe is not a perfect album, but its close enough that you won’t care. I’d love to see The Arrows develop more as a “band” from here, though they’re already sounding terrific. The right experienced producer (Steve Taylor? Charlie Peacock?) could certainly help them make the next creative leap, provided that they keep their hands of this duo’s inventive, provocative, and compelling songwriting.
The Arrows don’t just write about scripture or rehash it. They apply it to the world around them, and they do so with artistry that draws the listener in, rather than conform to a well worn musical trend. Though these two have already set a high mark for themselves, I do believe we’ll be enthusiastically raving about The Arrows for some time.
Standouts: “No Robots,” “Walking on Water,” “Ode to a Patient God”