A lot has happened since Fr. Claude “Dusty” Burns, AKA Fr Pontifex, released his first full-length studio album, Ordained. His rap debut was a mix of blues, jazz, Motown and backpacker beats that was a refreshing departure both musically and lyrically from typical top-40 hip hop fare. But after Christian evangelist Jefferson Bethke’s spoken word video, Why I Love Jesus, but Hate Religion, began to rack up YouTube hits by the millions in the Winter of 2012, Fr. Pontifex felt compelled to team up with Spirit Juice Studios out of Chicago to craft his own spoken word response, Why I Love Religion and Love Jesus, which itself is approaching the million view mark.
That relationship with Spirit Juice Studios led to more spoken word videos from Fr. Pontifex on other controversial topics regarding the Church: atheism, homosexuality, the intercession of the saints, and more. His sophomore album, The Symphony and the Static, can be seen as an appropriate synthesis of the college radio rap of Ordained and the summer blockbuster soundtrack musical vibe of his spoken word YouTube efforts.
In fact, the opening track and first single, The Overture (see music video below), is almost evocative of the theme from AMC’s The Walking Dead, with its urgent string accompaniments and steady buildup that seem almost appropriate for an NFL night game intro montage. It crescendos seamlessly into the dramatic No Mercy, with string samples that set the tone for a project that portends to be something different than your average rap album.
Perhaps the track most suited for radio play is In My Shoes, an infectious, sing-able, in-your face manifesto akin to some of Fr. Pontifex’s earlier efforts that have more of a personal creedal lyrical tone and rapid vocal delivery. Walk On, a more low-key but equally catchy tune seems almost as suited for airplay with its memorable hook and almost whispered vocals.
Other offerings, such as the more subdued Heart of Gold, sound more like excerpts from a prayer journal. Mindfield especially mulls the daily Christian struggle of doubt and faith: “Signs say this is the light/but it feels like a cold night/He said this is the way/I’m just hoping I heard it right,” and the refrain that any believer can relate to on an almost daily basis: “sometimes it clicks, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
The reflective spoken word style resurfaces in tracks like Soul Meta and Count the Cost, but perhaps the strongest offering in this category is the closing track, We Own The Night, a pleading insomniac’s prayer with a lullaby-like sample underneath, which takes the thematic form and structure of a psalm of lament, ending in ultimate trust: “death tries to move closer/but He owns the night.”
Some albums are collections of singles; some only make sense when listened to from start to finish. It’s clear that The Symphony and the Static is intended to fall into the second category. The sincere delivery, creative musical tinkering, frank honesty, and pastoral sensibilities laced throughout make it a project likely to gain attention even from listeners who don’t consider themselves fans of hip hop.
Matt Swaim is the Producer of EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show and the author of Prayer in the Digital Age, The Eucharist and the Rosary and co-author with Colleen Swaim of Your College Faith: Own It!
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