Los Angeles has a history of breeding religious cults, many of which have dabbled in music (the Manson family, the Source). Now there’s Bodies of Water. The religion might not be outré (the band is Christian, as many of its lyrics will attest to), but the music is definitely big, group-inclusive (the core band is a foursome, but live its personage can reach double digits) and ecstatic. The groups sounds so impassioned it’s compelling: A Certain Feeling, Bodies of Water’s second full-length, is a mixture of prog-rock, Christianity and Broadway musicals, and it’s largely successful.
Most of the nine songs on the album work with the same formula: The band will noodle around with some intro material before inevitably ending up with horns blaring and throats blazing. Opening tour de force “Gold, Tan, Peach, and Grey” is a good introduction to this structure. After churchy vocals in the beginning, the song rumbles along like it’s going to be a cover of “Get Back” before band leader David Metcalf comes in singing about birds. It’s not long until the rest of the band joins him with vocals that ascend toward the heavens. After some big production key changes, the song winds up with Meredith Metcalf (David’s wife) howling the song’s title.
And that’s just the first track. Others follow its roadmap. “Under the Pines” sounds like Black Mountain before becoming another group sing-along. “Darling, Be Here” starts with more heavy riffage and Meredith zooming in on keyboards like she’s Ray Manzarek; yet again, the song soon shifts into Jesus Christ Superstar mode. Same goes for “Even in a Cave.” After some free-jazz exploration and four lines of hushed vocals, guitars start building up a la Kinski before it’s back to Broadway’s snappy horns.
Needless to say, when Bodies of Water deviates from this formula, it’s a welcome respite. “Only You” is a song of deep yet dark devotion, something Bat for Lashes might do. Only Meredith sings on it, but the song works best when she lets a mournful clarinet take the place of her voice. If you don’t think a somewhat geeky Christian band should attempt a reggae sound, as Bodies of Water does briefly on “Water Here,” don’t worry: Part of the joy of the band’s eccentricity is that the music doesn’t stay in one place for too long. That song’s sense of environmental dread is revisited on the nice little closer “The Mud Gapes Open,” which utilizes piano work reminiscent of “Karma Police.”
As all over the map as A Certain Feeling is, it’s much more concise than the band’s 13-track debut, Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink. There’s not much extraneous fluff here, except maybe “If I Were a Bell,” the least memorable track. Like Danielson or Sufjan Stevens, Bodies of Water is able to win over the nonbelievers with songs even Satan couldn’t resist singing along to.