John Mark McMillan is a Christian songwriter and musician generally most well-known for his original song, “How He Loves.” However, his music has not ended there. While it he may not have produced any tracks that infiltrated Christian radio quite the way “How He Loves” did, it is still a notable shift to what one might expect from the man who wrote one of Christian music’s most memorable (and sometimes hilariously controversial – “sloppy wet” or “unforeseen”!?!) songs.
In 2013, McMillan began a Kickstarter where he raised over $69,000 in order to produce and release Borderland, which was actually the first album released through his very own record label, called Lionhawk Records. On March 4, 2014, the album debuted at No. 4 on Billboard’s Top Christian Album chart. This is beautiful and notable because the album defies expectations in numerous ways. It is eclectic, both musically and lyrically. It is poetic and unique. It is a true piece of art.
The album opens with “Holy Ghost” which could inspire an article on the magnificence of its 3 minutes and 46 seconds alone. The introduction is simple. A gentle piano sets the stage for McMillan’s initial question,“Who are we sometimes I wonder: mercenaries or lovers?” Pensive vocals continue with optimistic piano, rolling into the haunting and memorable chorus:
“Dead in the water
Like lamb to the slaughter
If the wind doesn’t sing her song
And I’m speaking in tongues
Cause I need a Holy Ghost.”
Gorgeous strings enter and help the song to crescendo into what begins to sound like an orchestra masterpiece. A choir comes in behind his voice adding beautiful dynamics as the strings quicken and grow. John Mark joins in for a final chorus which finally explodes after over 3 minutes of anticipation. Cymbals, timpani, strings and piano bring the song to its climax and then just as quickly as it came, it is gone in literally 20 seconds. This song is a treat, and definitely one of our favorites.
John Mark’s vocals vary greatly in this album and we love it. His voice is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen and the late David Bowie. In “Love at the End” he stays mostly low and dark, bold and structured. The chorus is a change of pace, with higher vocals, but in a gentle falsetto. Quirky electric guitar and strings accents set this song apart. It has a curiously simple beat, but doesn’t sacrifice excellence with this. Moving to “Future / Past” we have a mellow introduction with saxophone elements. Piano and acoustic brings in a steady rhythm with vocals that have a very country feel to them. Drums break through in the chorus, which is a beautiful love song to the Lord:
“You are my first.
You are my last.
You are my future and my past.”
The track “Monsters Talk” is yet another change of pace. The infusion of saxophone, 80’s analog synth leads and string accompaniments draw the listener in. With each fresh take, there are more details to be discovered and new elements that will stand out.
In a press release, McMillan shared some personal thoughts regarding the album, “Borderland speaks to the idea of the ‘place between places,’ which is where I feel I’ve been living as a person, as an artist, and as a believer for a couple of years. While few things describe the Christian experience more than the ‘place between places,’ it is also a concept everyone can relate to. We all walk lines between work and family, love and responsibility, art and commerce, passion and business and so on. Many of these songs are my commentary from a life between the crevices and on the verge.” This is a gorgeous and perfect description for this album! John Mark has managed to create an album that is honest, relatable, and truly a poetic gem.
We encourage you to take a listen to the album Borderland. If you need a starting point, check out Nat’s favorite song, “Monsters Talk,” or Kate’s favorite, “Love At The End.” You can find John Mark McMillan’s music available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and his website.