Music Review: Split the Sky by Chris Quilala

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May 17, 2017
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Music Review: Split the Sky by Chris Quilala
Chris Quilala - After My Heart

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Track Listing

Welcome Here
After My Heart
Because of Your Love
Won My Heart
Only One God
Surrendered (feat. Kari Jobe)
The Length of the Cross
Heart's Cry
All To You
Heaven Came For Me

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Chris Quilala is an artist on the Jesus Culture Music label and serves as worship pastor for Jesus Culture Church in Sacramento, CA. Chris has been involved in Jesus Culture since it was founded and he is an integral part of the Jesus Culture leadership team. He is a talented and anointed worship leader and musician with a love for the presence and power of God. He has a heart to write songs that will bring freedom and strength to the local church.

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Split The Sky
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Chris Quilala is already a familiar name in Christian worship, having been one of the lead worshippers for Jesus Culture since it's beginning. So it is a bit of surprise that this is his debut solo album. Being already known brings a certain amount of pressure to a debut release, but also you have an established audience. Sometimes we jump to conclusions before the first note has even been played and I think if that is your tendency then you know what you are expecting here, standard Jesus Culture guitar-led worship which swells and builds into a mighty vocal. If that is what you are expecting then you might be in for a surprise.

Straight away we can see that the guitar is not the instrument of choice for this album as "Welcome Here" starts with some layered synths before bringing in the understated lyrics, and jumping into the chorus with some interesting drum patterns. This gives this introductory song welcoming the Holy Spirit a rather atmospheric feeling with a few odd electro-sounds running though the soundscape. The album title "Split The Sky" comes from the first line of "After My Heart". So often we look at what we give in worship, this track looks at what God has done in order to get our attention. While this doesn't explicitly mention the Cross, it does talk about tearing the veil, just to allow us to have an encounter with God and the lengths God goes to to pursue us.

This theme is continued through the atmospheric "Because Of Your Love" which features a soft vocal backed by a slightly more solid one with space between them providing emphasis to the words of the verses. This is a great song which again looks to the cross, this time saying "Even when my lost heart / Was unlovable / You spread Your arms out / You laid Your life down for me / Now I'm set free". This has such an understated vocal against a fairly busy background, it shouldn't work, it really shouldn't but it allows for enough emphasis to actually put the attention onto the lyrics.

"I was a wasteland, where nothing could grow / But everything changed when, You called it Your Home / Now I'm a kingdom, You sit on the throne / Broke my defenses, made me Your own" is the first verse of "Won My Heart" and it just shows the brilliant lyricism that Chris brings to this album, it continues the theme again of God going out of His way for us, but at the same time there is a surrender given by the worshipper.. There are some great worship songs that continue to explore this theme of God's pursuit and our response. "Only One God" is vertical worship singing of God's majesty and our wonder. "Encounter" gives us God revealed in nature and in us personally with a chorus which asks for the Holy Spirit to fall on us again to have a real encounter with the divine.

The next track brilliantly uses the beautiful vocals of Kari Jobe to help with this duet. This is explicit in the idea of surrender in a way many of our songs aren't, often there are glib offerings that are general, but this track eloquently tells God that we renounce our rights, because of God's love. This is surrender not because it is required by because it is our desire! This is in contention for the best track on the album, it's definitely the most touching emotionally!

"The Length Of The Cross" reminds me of some of the later DC Talk songs, or maybe something from Tobymac, once again the light touch on the vocals emphasis the lyrics, over a busy backing, ultimately it's the cleverness of the writing again that breaks through. "There is no height / there is no depth / greater than the length of the cross."

This album has not done away with the guitars totally, the complete soundscape that is layered here is built on many different synth and electro-pop sounds giving this a really modern feel without going quite so far as to enter the EDM styling, the music is secondary to the heart of worship . The guitars do pop up from time to time and in the middle of "Reign" there is an effect laden guitar solo that fits right in with this eclectic production.

The final trio of tracks bring this album to a nice and chilled out ending. "Hearts Cry" is about the desire to be more like Jesus, to be a reflection of Him, again the lightness of the vocal is apparent and this one has been likened to Chris Martin from Coldplay! "All To You" brings the beat back a little, but the album finishes on the very ambient "Heaven Came For Me". With a slow building introduction this track has all the hallmarks of a modern hymn. I say that with a soft spot for those old hymns, this feels like one of those. This particular track along with many others are written out of the pain of losing his son a couple of years ago, and yet choosing to praise God through that grief. With that in mind it brings more feeling to the verse "Your grace was there at my weakest moment / Your joy was found in the midst of pain / You have redeemed all that hell had stolen / Through even death You are faithful".

For a lot of people the talking point of this album is the of synth and electronic sounds and it is true these are used to great effect and it's great to see someone who is normally associated with live guitar-led worship pushing and trying something different in the Christian worship arena. However for me the bigger revelation was the depth of the lyrics, written out of the painful experience mentioned above, this shows a true comfort in the pursuit of God for us. Even in those moments when it feels like our prayers have not been answered and our world is devastated, even then we have a sense that the Holy Spirit is there with us. Sometimes it's not until we look back we realise that presence in the moment. Out of this comes these beautiful songs, and what a great vocal talent Chris is, from the lighter touch to a more forceful vocal this album has a lot going for it and I for one have really enjoyed it. Some of those songs have connected with my soul and I will be returning to them again and again!

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