Shine Is Dead; The Prayer Chain Not So Much

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Shine Is Dead; The Prayer Chain Not So Much

As the ‘80s slid into the ‘90s, music mor­ph­ing from day-​glo pais­ley pas­tel Span­dex to grungy flan­nel, the con­tem­po­rary Chris­t­ian music world remained on its same course set two decades ear­lier: a hand­ful of artists rid­ing if not lead­ing the sec­u­lar music curve, their reward con­sist­ing of being almost uni­ver­sally ignored by indus­try ele­ments in favor of tightly hew­ing to the soft­est side of what­ever was pop­u­lar pop three years prior. One mem­ber of the tiny fam­ily aware of what was going on was The Prayer Chain, a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia quar­tet whose gritty atmos­pher­ics and great leaps for­ward every time it hit the record­ing stu­dio endeared it to a loyal fol­low­ing. Although the band swiftly burned out, its one EP fol­lowed by three into two albums were gen­uine land­marks in Chris­t­ian alter­na­tive rock’s sec­ond generation.

Fast for­ward a cou­ple of decades, and The Prayer Chain has fol­lowed the lead of sev­eral other com­pa­tri­ots by putting together crowd­fund­ing cam­paigns with which to feed its fans vora­cious appetite for vinyl releases of albums pre­vi­ously avail­able solely on CD and maybe cas­sette. Both 1995’s Mer­cury and 1993’s Shawl have received the twelve inch treat­ment, the lat­ter tak­ing place on its twenty-​fifth anniver­sary. Some­where along the line of assem­bling reward pack­ages for Shawl’s re-​release, an idea was broached. How about get­ting together for a show? The enthu­si­asm for same was twofold: imme­di­ate and wide­spread. Thus, last sum­mer the at least briefly reunited band played two shows, one in Ana­heim and the other in Nashville, record­ing the for­mer. A cou­ple of months ago it was made avail­able. And oh, is it good.

Shawl 25th Anniver­sary Con­cert show­cases a band single-​handily destroy­ing the notion that you can’t go home again. The play­ing is crisp and uni­fied; the vocals spot on. Shawl was a tran­si­tion record between The Prayer Chain’s enthu­si­as­tic (if some­what generic) mod­ern for its time fairly hard rock­ing Whirlpool EP and the adven­tur­ous, bor­der­line avant-​garde sonic assault of what was orig­i­nally recorded as Humb but was muted by record com­pany pres­sure into Mer­cury. Vary­ing from the tribal stomp of “Crawl” to the fero­cious pound­ing sud­denly shift­ing into ethe­real whis­pers of “Never Enough,” with numer­ous bril­liant stops in-​between such as the heart­break­ing “Fifty-​Eight” in which a now grown child decries the earthly father who aban­doned him, Shawl was unlike any­thing con­tem­po­rary Chris­t­ian music had seen. It still sounds remark­ably fresh, and the live per­for­mance cap­tured on Shawl 25th Anniver­sary Con­cert does it full jus­tice. Also included are a few songs from Mer­cury and one from Humb, each bristling with power and panache.

There is of course a cer­tain sense of nos­tal­gia in such an album; mem­o­ries stirred of when we were the young lions ready to take on and over the world. This is as opposed to today, when we are the lions in autumn watch­ing the same Chris­t­ian music indus­try we intended to directly, or at the least indi­rectly, drag into the real world instead drag its audi­ence through an end­less parade of rice paper-​thin praise and wor­ship cho­ruses, with an occa­sional sprin­kling of sound-​alike artists per­form­ing vir­tual karaōke ren­di­tions of — you guessed it — what­ever was rid­ing high on the pop charts three years ago. Nev­er­the­less, we endure. Thank­fully, so does The Prayer Chain.

The album is avail­able on the band’s Band­camp site.

As the ’80s slid into the ’90s, music morphing from day-glo paisley pastel Spandex to grungy flannel, the contemporary Christian music world remained on its same course set two decades earlier: a handful of artists riding if not leading the secular music curve, their reward consisting of being almost universally ignored by industry elements in favor of tightly hewing to the softest side of whatever was popular pop three years prior. One member of the tiny family aware of what was going on was The Prayer Chain, a Southern California quartet whose gritty atmospherics and great leaps forward every time it hit the recording studio endeared it to a loyal following. Although the band swiftly burned out, its one EP followed by three into two albums were genuine landmarks in Christian alternative rock’s second generation.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and The Prayer Chain has followed the lead of several other compatriots by putting together crowdfunding campaigns with which to feed its fans voracious appetite for vinyl releases of albums previously available solely on CD and maybe cassette. Both 1995’s Mercury and 1993’s Shawl have received the twelve inch treatment, the latter taking place on its twenty-fifth anniversary. Somewhere along the line of assembling reward packages for Shawl‘s re-release, an idea was broached. How about getting together for a show? The enthusiasm for same was twofold: immediate and widespread. Thus, last summer the at least briefly reunited band played two shows, one in Anaheim and the other in Nashville, recording the former. A couple of months ago it was made available. And oh, is it good.

Shawl 25th Anniversary Concert showcases a band single-handily destroying the notion that you can’t go home again. The playing is crisp and unified; the vocals spot on. Shawl was a transition record between The Prayer Chain’s enthusiastic (if somewhat generic) modern for its time fairly hard rocking Whirlpool EP and the adventurous, borderline avant-garde sonic assault of what was originally recorded as Humb but was muted by record company pressure into Mercury. Varying from the tribal stomp of “Crawl” to the ferocious pounding suddenly shifting into ethereal whispers of “Never Enough,” with numerous brilliant stops in-between such as the heartbreaking “Fifty-Eight” in which a now grown child decries the earthly father who abandoned him, Shawl was unlike anything contemporary Christian music had seen. It still sounds remarkably fresh, and the live performance captured on Shawl 25th Anniversary Concert does it full justice. Also included are a few songs from Mercury and one from Humb, each bristling with power and panache.

There is of course a certain sense of nostalgia in such an album; memories stirred of when we were the young lions ready to take on and over the world. This is as opposed to today, when we are the lions in autumn watching the same Christian music industry we intended to directly, or at the least indirectly, drag into the real world instead drag its audience through an endless parade of rice paper-thin praise and worship choruses, with an occasional sprinkling of sound-alike artists performing virtual karaoke renditions of – you guessed it – whatever was riding high on the pop charts three years ago. Nevertheless, we endure. Thankfully, so does The Prayer Chain.

The album is available on the band’s Bandcamp site.