The Normals are probably already forgotten after eight years, and I fear Caedmon’s Call is increasingly becoming a has-been among bands in the faith-based community. So let’s skip past the resumé recap and simply note that Andrew Osenga is a gifted guitarist, songwriter, producer, and artist in his own right, having churned out some of the best indie pop/rock you’ll find within the Christian music scene. And of course, being a Christian indie means that 1)Osenga has more artistic credibility than most, and 2)he also has less visibility than most (despite his history with The Normals, Caedmon’s Call, and other artists).
In fact, Osenga is so under the radar, I didn’t even know he had released a new album last December until three months after the fact. Though a little short with just nine songs, Choosing Sides is nevertheless a fine collection that further demonstrates Osenga’s ability to churn out shimmering and rootsy alternative pop reminiscent of Bill Mallonee and Neil Finn.
Among the highlights is an excellent full-band re-recording of his previously released acoustic gem “Swing Wide the Glimmering Gates,” offering a portrait of one coping with loneliness and insecurities while longing to be loved and accepted—an inspiring prayer for grace that ranks with The Normals at their best. Similar in theme is the slow and soulful “Waiting,” pleading to hear God’s voice while struggling with fear and temptation. (There’s something very reminiscent of Charlie Peacock about this one, in music and lyric.) “Rest” then is a terrific mesh of personable writing and intimate sound—just Osenga with his guitar—that focuses on quiet time with the Lord in prayer for peace and guidance.
Other tracks sweetly focus on Osenga’s wife (“She Finds a Way”) and children (“I Thank God for You”), while “I’m on Your Side” offers encouragement from a friend or loved one (perhaps God) to lay burdens down. “The Arms of Love” is a more upbeat highlight about hope that’s stylistically reminiscent of Coldplay and U2.
All good tracks, though I’ll admit as a longtime fan that Osenga has been more distinctive and creative with his writing and production on other albums; he sounds especially more status quo with the songs “Without You” and “What I Know Now.” But while I wouldn’t call Choosing Sides this artist’s strongest album to date, it’s certainly good enough to look into.
My hope is that Osenga will somehow follow in Derek Webb’s footsteps and gain some much needed publicity through creative marketing. He’s already done so by soliciting for song ideas and stories from fans at his site, and then cleverly making songs out of them. That’s the inspired sort of songwriting that we need more of in the Christian music industry.
Standouts: "Swing Wide the Glimmering Gates," "Rest," "The Arms of Love"