last month after derek webb announced he was preparing to release a new album to be titled ctrl, we discovered an intriguing album description offered on his distributor’s website. the description read:
the convergence of soft acoustic guitar with hip-hop influenced rhythmic sensibilities and a heavy leaning on samples from turn of the century recordings of ‘sacred harp’ acapella recordings
well, we should’ve known that that description would make complete sense once we actually heard the album.
and as of midnight last night (i was fortunate to get my hands on it this past weekend because we previewed it at eikon on sunday), we’ve finally heard it.
i’ve spent the last several days listening to it on a pretty nonstop loop and i am glad to report that ctrl doesn’t disappoint.
this is a whole new sound for webb. continuing the evolution of his sound over the course of his career, this album is truly uncomparable, sonically, to any of his previous work. if anything, it might be the place where mockingbird meets stockholm syndrome (with just a pinch of i see things upside down).
of course, referenced in the above description is something called “sacred harp”. so what is sacred harp? you can read a full description here, but in essence, it’s a form of a capella choral music that is part of the larger tradition of shape note music. ultimately, it’s the absolute least likely thing one might sample for an album produced in the year 2012.
and yet webb does it masterfully on ctrl. the cinematic opening track, and see the flaming skies, is bracketed by these samples, whereas in other tracks like blocks, the sample serves as a bit of a benediction. the most succesful use is the standout track pressing on the bruise in which the sacred harp samples are fluidly woven into the track, almost as if he recorded the choral music specifically for the track.
lyrically, it’s the most abstract album he’s made. there are certainly themes (ranging from death to cultural engagement to, broadly, issues of the extent of human control) but they’re far less spelled out than in albums like mockingbird or even stockholm syndrome. ctrl is certainly webb’s most mature album, offering listeners an opportunity to sift through and wrestle with the lyrical themes he’s exploring.
with the progression of his sound over the last several projects (stockholm syndrome, feedback & the sola-mi album), he had the opportunity with this album to make this album over the top. his biggest accomplishment, though, might just be his restraint. both in the writing process as well as on the production end, webb has edited himself in ways that might just make ctrl his strongest collection to date.
it’s hard to get a good sense of an album without hearing a little of it. i highly encourage you to visit his website in order to purchase the album (several album tiers available). to whet your appetite, though, here’s my initial favorite tracks.
pressing on the bruise
i feel everything