Introduction: Alright, let’s hop right back onto the nostalgia train with Andy Hunter. This album’s a bit shorter at only six songs but perhaps I need a shorter review this week anyway. As I’d mentioned a couple weeks ago in the Exodus review Andy Hunter was my very first EDM artist, so a lot of his earlier stuff is extremely nostalgic to me. His first two albums in particular are the most sentimental to me as I’d discovered them both around the same time (my very first Andy Hunter song was on this album) and seeing as I’d reviewed the first of these two albums, it only makes sense to piggy off that nostalgia into the second (with an apparent Mind.in.a.box intermission form last week but the whole theme of R.E.T.R.O. was nostalgia anyway so it still works).
Andy Hunter – Open My Eyes (7.25): Of course, like with all of his albums, we must begin with a high tempo blood pumper to get the energy flowing for the rest of the album. Unlike Go, which has nearly two minutes of ambience and build-up before running into the upbeat tempo, this song has about… two seconds before bringing that energy into the forefront. The stabbing notes that play in unison with the drumbeat serve as the most memorable aspect of this song as they’re used a few times throughout the song. It’s fun, but honestly compared to many of the other album openers I’ve heard, this one is rather unimaginative. I’m not saying the whole energetic mood is moot because of its compared mediocrity to the rest of Andy’s discography. I just feel like there could have definitely been a few more moments to focus on some slightly more interesting melodies than the pounding stabs. Take the melody starting at 2:50 for example. I could definitely use more of that. And the break that comes in nearly directly afterword is great too
In fact, I think that break is my favorite part of the song. I briefly considered this to be a build-up from nothing, but really, Open My Eyes has a way of going from 0 to 100 quite instantaneously so there’s not really much of a build-up involved. It just sort of happens. But while we’re in that calmer 0 area, there’s some good guitar riffs and strings that provide a nice breather in the middle of the rest of the song. It’s not fantastic, but it does stand out and give an ok bit of variety to the rest of the song. There are perhaps a few other moments here and there that give a little bit of flavor to the song as well, but they aren’t quite as notable as this one.
Open My Eyes also has a few lyrics so I’m going to be taking a brief look at those before moving on to the next song. There’s not excessively much to talk about though. Like I mentioned in Exodus, Andy Hunter does include Christian themes in his music, so this song is quite likely a prayer to God to open his eyes to his glory and to breathe new life into his world. I really don’t have much depth to go into for that though, so we’ll be moving on now.
Andy Hunter – Come On (8): Honestly, I would have preferred it if Andy Hunter had started off the album with this blood pumper. Maybe it’s just because it shares a few similarities with Go, but it also might just be because I prefer the energy in this one over Open My Eyes. Perhaps I’ll get into both of those.
First off, let’s look at the similarities between this and Go, starting off with some of the obvious ones. Even before listening to a single note, the titles give off a similar vibe. Both of them seem to have a sense of urgency. A call to abandon one’s present location and to run somewhere new). Only difference is Go sounds like it calls for one to travel away from the speaker, while Come On beckons one to come with the speaker. Am I reading way too far into this? As always, that’s a definite yes.
There are also some similar musical elements that appear in both this and Go. This song, unlike Open My Eyes, actually takes a slight bit of time to get started. It builds off the ambience that Open My Eyes ended on (more seamless transitions in this album. They never reach the same heights as they did in the last half of Exodus but they still create an enjoyable immersive experience as one song bleeds into the next) and slowly builds up with some suspenseful drumbeats and growing ambience before the song kicks into high gear. Yes, this build-up isn’t even quite half the length as in Go. But that’s a bit better than the practically nonexistent 2 seconds in Open My Eyes.
Plus, there’s more dedication to the breakbeat drumbeat that gave Go a lot of its energy. Open My Eyes had some of this, but it also felt quite regulated to a four on four tempo at some points in the song thanks to the pounding stabs introduced at the beginning of the song. Seeing as I’m quite a fan of some good syncopation, this song gets a bit of an advantage over Open My Eyes. There’s also a build-up from nothing in the middle that works quite similarly to the one in Go, providing a quick step back to the initial build-up to give a breather in the middle of the song.
Other than that, it’s a bit tricky to figure out what to highlight musically. While Open My eyes didn’t really have too much in particular to point out, Come On has so many things to point out that I’m having troubles figuring out what to leave out. First off, one of the most energizing parts of the song is the rapid bassline coming from a distorted guitar underlying much of the song. I swear that this bassline is playing sixteenth notes in relation to the drumbeat and the song was already fast as it was. There’s also a few other good instruments I’d like to highlight including the slower bassline that has one rolling note every measure, as well as the other guitar melody (I think it’s guitar) that comes in for the second half of the song.
Lyrics are rather simple for this one. Come on and Can You Hear Me are both just hype-up phrases with no deeper meaning. 1, 2, 3 and 4… that’s counting. Counting isn’t anything special. The only lyric that has any possible significance is “Your Kingdom Come” which is part of the Lord’s Prayer that refers to God’s future glory. So there is something there, but I have no deeper thoughts on it.
Ah well, the lyrics are inconsequential this round. The music makes this a pretty solid energetic track anyways.
Andy Hunter & Christine Glass – Alive (9.25): This was it. The very first Andy Hunter song to reach my ears. This was the song that started it all with my taste in electronic music. My taste has developed and expanded a lot in the years since, but this beauty still captures my attention to this very day. A combination of things drew me to this song and to Andy Hunter as an artist in general. First off, I hadn’t heard anything like this up until this point in my life. Despite my obsession with music nowadays, I hadn’t really spent much time seeking it out until my early teenage years. Oh, I’ve definitely love music all my life, but in my single digit years, I just listened to whatever my parents put on for a good while (and none of it was electronic). However, once I got an MP3 player of my own, I started broadening my horizons a bit and Alive is what drew me in to Andy Hunter and the many subgenres of electronic music. Alive is where it all began.
The place where Alive begins is off the toes of Come On. One more count-up to four and we head right back into the syncopated drumbeat that we’ve been playing through the entire album so far. However, the tone of the drums has changed slightly. Each drumbeat is played a bit more softly, and the snare is especially toned down a few notches. Oh, and then there’s the toms. The toms are just a fun little treat diverging from what I’ve heard from Andy so far and they give a nice touch to the song here and there. And to top it all off, this song has a surprisingly funky bassline for what I’d consider to be the beauty of the album. Doesn’t really stick to one tone or note so it seems to have a lot of variety to it.
This song also feels a lot less busy in comparison to the last two. It’s a lot easier to parse the various basslines and melodies from one another. And yet, while it is easier to separate the melodies within my mind, they still move as a unified force throughout the song. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that none of the melodies are really arguing over one another. Sure, some melodies are more dominant than others at certain points, but there’s nothing really overshadowed. The main melodies of the song come from a variety of sources. There’s the main synth that shows itself at several points within the song and serves as the most consistent presence of beauty. And in addition to that there’s some strings that rise and fall in the second half, eventually bringing the song to a close. Plus, there’s a piano that graces the song with its presence in the center of the song. That piano is responsible for my favorite moment in the song.
That’s right. It’s another build-up from nothing. The very first build-up from nothing to reach my ears. And I was immediately in love. All of the different instruments unite here with very little influence from the drums. And like, I said, none of them feel like they’re hogging the spotlight from the others. It’s quite impossible to really figure out how to explain how much this section affects my soul as it reaches Angelic levels of beauty (and I’m referring to both the general adjective as well as the song from Exodus). This is simply one of my favorite build-ups in all of Andy Hunter’s discography.
While Christine’s vocals are slightly outshined by that build-up, they still do deserve a mention. You may remember her from Amazing on the last album (she was the one to start off the female vocal half in the middle of the album). Here, her performance is exceptionally better. Her voice has a better chance of drawing me in to a state of calmness. In a way, her own voice can be included as one of the many instruments as her vocals don’t distract from the rest of the song, but she’s not overshadowed by the instrumental either. She’s merely another facet to the beauty that this song encapsulates. The lyrics she sings share a similar theme as they do with amazing. It’s a love song to God (though if you’re not into that thing, it could be heard as a nonsecular love song if you so desire). I don’t have any specific lyrics to point out, so we’ll be moving on.
Andy Hunter & Kate Westwall – Wonderful (7.75): Wonderful is the slowest paced song on this album, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most beautiful and relaxing. Alive already stole that spot. However, a slower song doesn’t have to be exceptionally beautiful and relaxing in order to be good. Wonderful is actually a wonderful example of that.
There is still some beauty to this track. Good use of strings as well as a tropical drumbeat throughout the song. Also really love, the guitar that’s played throughout the song. Not sure if this comparison will really resonate with my audience, but it does somewhat remind me of the type of guitar you’d hear in a lot of popular worships songs a decade or so ago. Lastly, there’s Kate’s lyricless vocals (she’ll contribute to the lyrics later), which give some final touches on the chill atmosphere created at the start of the song. However, many of the instruments introduced later somewhat conflict with this relaxation. Thankfully, it’s not badly executed like Show was. There’s no real interference between the two vibes. The song merely transforms into an ever so slightly more energetic mood.
Now, this slightly more energetic mood is mainly the work of some other synths that feel a little less natural than what I’ve shown so far. This is where the electronic comes in. Two synths here give this song a bit of bounce. There’s the more quickly paced beeping tone melody that’s only present for the chorus, and what sounds to be a synth made of a distorted vocal (you know me and distorted vocals, or you will, I haven’t quite gotten to that era of Infected Mushroom yet). That second synth is the better of the two and it has a more prominent role overall. In the first half of these bouncier sections it just plays a short note here and there along with the other synth, but after that it focuses on much longer notes that soar along with the guitar, creating the most iconic moments of the song in my opinion.
Now, once this slightly energetic transformation does occur, it is nice to see that it isn’t permanent. There are several points where the pure soothing tropical vibe comes back in without the electronic distractions, most notably in the final iteration of the chorus (which also features Kate as a vocalist so neat).
Speaking of the lyrics, this song once again seems to be a love song. It’s a bit simpler in comparison to Alive. Only four lines:
You are beautiful
You’re the reason why
You make me high
That last lyric is a bit odd in my opinion. Perhaps it’s the fact that I know that Andy Hunter is a Christian artist and he likely wouldn’t intentionally try to reference drugs within his music, seeing as that’s what the state of “being high” is often referred to. It’s probably simply meaning a state of emotion that’s supposedly akin to feeling high on drugs. High on love perhaps.
Andy Hunter & Neil Wilson – Lifelight (9.75): This song right here is surely the most nostalgic for me. Of the original sixteen songs I’d discovered at first, this is the one that stood out the most. This is the one I listened to on loop for hours upon hours. This is the one that was once my favorite song of all time. While that title has been usurped by several other songs since then, it still holds its own against the works of the hundreds of artists I’ve discovered over the years.
So, what is it about Lifelight that kept me coming back? It’s simply how powerful the music is. Alive may be more beautiful sure, and that song holds a special place in my heart as well as the song that started it all, but Lifelight is quite close in comparison to that level of beauty. And then it wins in other categories of musical superiority. Alive’s beauty relied a lot on its more relaxing immersive vibe (despite being the same BPM as the more energetic songs preceding it). Lifelight completely ignores the relaxation. Sure, there’s a build-up from nothing near the end of the song that maintains a temporarily chill atmosphere, but for the most part, Lifelight goes in the opposite direction. It’s energizing drive might not be as intense as Come On’s heavy hitting energy, but instead maintains a better balance, allowing that beauty to seep through.
While Alive and Lifelight may differ on how energizing they are, the two songs do share a not so secret weapon: the piano. While Alive used it as the focal instrument in its fantastic build-up from nothing, Lifelight integrates it in the song from the very beginning as the first melodic instrument and its presence persists throughout the entire song. It’s more noticeably present in the calmer verse sections, but that’s only because there’s not nearly as many instruments overshadowing it. By the time we get to the magnificent chorus of the song, the piano does have to drop down a few octaves in order to be heard over everything else and in doing so It changes from beauty to powerful. And seeing as Lifelight isn’t going to beat Alive in the beauty category, going for powerful is the correct choice
But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s take a step back. If I go straight to talking about the powerful verses, I’ll miss out on those great guitars in the second verse. Oh, they’re only there for a second but they do a great job of accompanying the pianos and helping the song reach its quick build-up into the fantastic chorus that serves as the heart of the song.
And oh, what a chorus. Each chorus begins with a quick drumbeat accelerating the song from the lesser sections, highlighting the dynamic difference between the verses and the chorus. The piano, as mentioned before, transforms into a powerful chord that resonates throughout the chorus. But I think it’s the strings that really take this chorus to the next level. There are soaring notes that play along with the chord progression, but more importantly are the lower notes. The lower notes constantly chanting underneath it all. The lower notes that take that piano’s resonance and accentuating it with the rolling notes. Those lower notes.
I would be a fool not to mention the build-up from nothing this song has. They get better and better as the album progresses (though Alive might be an anomaly as it’s better than the buildup from this and the last song). Still, this build-up does see a return of the softer piano, up a few octaves from the chords that have been struck for the past few minutes in order to be heard over the rest of the majesty. But in this build-up, they can keep up with the strings and the slower drumbeat without sacrificing their higher octave beauty. The buildup is a relatively short one, so it doesn’t take long to get right back into that energetic chorus that’s the heart and soul of this song. It’s still one of the best parts of the song though.
Lyrics of Andy Hunter songs are relatively inconsequential to my enjoyment these days. However, I feel that this one has a bit more of an emotional personal appeal to it that many of the other songs don’t quite obtain. Several of the songs in Andy Hunter’s discography are rather simple in lyrical concept. It’s your everyday worship song, but electronic. It’s a love song to God that’s electronic. It has a phrase or two with Christian themes in it… and it’s electronic. I feel like compared to all of these songs, Lifelight is a bit more fleshed out. Lifelight is about the light that shines out in the darkness of this world. Lifelight is about breaking through the death that preys on us all and embracing the life that we have in our hands. Lifelight is about the constant discovery of God’s glory as the world continues to surprise us with new forms of beauty. Lifelight is life itself, a light in the darkness.
Andy Hunter & Kate Westwall – To Life, To Love (8.5): The sirens sound as we transition from Lifelight to this last song. We’re at the finale. Kate Westwall returns from Wonderful to participate in the most technological song of the bunch. Definitely a step up from her first feature on the album despite how wonderful it was. It’s a step down from the majesty that is Lifelight but it still makes for a much better finale to the album than Intercessional did.
The sirens give way to a distant but powerful drumbeat. Then the growing ambience that creates an immersive atmosphere as the song begins to rise. Then the ticking of a clock as we countdown to the point where the beat truly drops in. Kate’s voice echoing a simple ditty of meaningless (but slightly catchy) syllables. And then it happens. The beat comes in.
This beat in this song is quite bouncy with a melodic tone hitting on the offbeat whenever possible. Combine that with perhaps a drumbeat that’s a bit harsher than the rest of the songs on the album and the contrast between the two really stands out. This offbeat tone serves as the basis for the rest of the instruments in this song. There are plenty of technological synths that stand out from the rest of the album, straying the line between melodic and simply rhythmic. It gives the song a unique feeling that works well with the bouncy bassline. Oh, and speaking of basslines, there’s another bass to this song, specifically a guitar strumming beneath the rest. That guitar serves as the main source of energy for the rest of the song.
The most memorable melody is the one that appears on either end of the build-up from nothing (which I always will inevitably talk about). It always makes me want to swing my arms around in circles for some reason. I can be a bit strange with my relationship between music and dancing sometimes. There’s plenty of other instruments and melodies that help flesh out the song a bit more, but these are the ones I felt needed the most highlighting.
And, as per usual, we have the build-up from nothing that I love Andy Hunter so much for. This is my second favorite on the album just after Alive. Here at the midpoint of the song, all the energy fades away except for one arp and a variety of strings that dance up and down in pitch for the first few seconds. They disappear in favor for the best moment of Kate’s vocals in the entire album. No lyrics, just beauty rising up and down as everything around her builds back up towards the energy that was lost. There’s a subtle melody in there that I like if I’m paying close enough attention. Otherwise it gets lost in the slightly syncopated drumbeat that makes itself present for this particular section of the song. Everything here works together nearly perfectly. Which is why this build-up is the second best on the album. Only thing holding it back from the top spot is that Alive’s build-up actually is perfect.
The lyrics in this one are a bit odd. First verse seems to make repeated references to the Garden of Eden, the original paradise that God had created before the fall of mankind. It might also represent the afterlife in heaven which is likely a paradise similar to the Garden. Could possibly just be the highest moments in life on Earth as one receives those glimpses of heavenlike beauties here in the present. It’s a bit cryptic and tricky to figure out but it is certainly referencing some sort of paradise and the wonderful life that arises from it. The second verse focuses deeper on the overwhelming desire to partake in this paradise, though it really almost sounds like a drug addiction… that’s the second time this album. Huh.
Well in an effort to make sure not to end this review on a druggy note. Let’s take a look at the chorus. Real simple stuff there. Not too much to talk about. There’s a lot of talk of unity either among an entire congregation of people or between two particular people (man and God I presume?). In the past, I’ve often opted for the former interpretation, but the second option is suddenly becoming equally likely in my view. Not really sure how to look at the song now. Well except for the fact that it’s a solid song. It’s quite a solid song. There. I said it. End Review.
Conclusion: Comparatively speaking, Life started out rough, but then it got better. You could interpret that as a statement on the actual life we’re living right now, but it works for this album too. Of course, I said comparatively as the “rough” in this case was Open My Eyes, which in reality is a good song. It’s just that everything that followed was clearly superior. Could the album have been improved if Open My Eyes was dropped? Maybe. But it doesn’t need much improving anyways as this proves to be the nostalgic highlight of Andy Hunter’s entire career for me. Songs like Alive and Lifelight definitely hold a special place in Andy Hunter’s discography for me as they’re my first and favorite songs from his. Maybe it’s just my nostalgic bias, but this was his peak in my opinion. Oh, he has plenty more good music to review later, but it doesn’t get quite as good as this one.
Final Score: (8.5/10)