We’re all searching for truth.
Los Angeles natives (Angelenos), in their unique spiritual ideologies, search for their truths in a community that is heavily influenced by the entertainment industry. But Los Angeles-based singer Brother James takes his cues from another place.
His EP, “Seek,” addresses heavy topics such as birth, life, and death through a spiritual lens. It feels like it’s looking not to the ad-drenched landscape of Hollywood, but to the breadth and depth of nature. Despite its heaviness, the string accompaniments and unique vocal arrangements combine to make an EP that lights a candle in all the darkness of this world.
The first song, “The Other Side,” is an inquisition about spiritual beliefs. It starts with a question that begins at birth.
What if when you were a baby
You were born to the wrong side?
The song delves deeply into the search for truth. Brother James repeats his questions with “what if” to open up all the possibilities for spiritual growth. He often switches from a low, whispery tone to a soft falsetto, as though these questions are secrets that a higher power has given him.
He switches to this soft falsetto in rare moments of the song, such as when singing,
Do you think you would be brave enough
To seek out what was true?
This lyric, sung in this tone, is a glimpse inside yourself to find your own bravery and courage. It is like the Lion and his quest for his heart in the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”— the hope is that you have your strength inside you all along.
The last line of “The Other Side” comes to a full circle. Brother James starts with birth, and now ends with a glimpse into life after death.
What if God was not the person
That you always thought he was
What if God looked like
The other side?
The EP’s second song, “Safety Net,” is sung mostly in that sweet falsetto voice that Brother James used on occasion in the first song. The first line keeps you in suspense of the song with its potent images of birth mortality.
The nurse removed me in a rush
You feared that I had already breathed my last.
This song reminds me of the Angeleno singer-songwriter, Phoebe Bridgers, with its concrete, intimate images of death. Brother James then sings,
As my skin turned blue
You didn’t know what to do
You feared my first day was my last
Do you remember now?
This song is a story that you can relate to, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever had to deal with death in such a personal, intimate way. The interesting comparison that Brother James draws between the concepts of a safety net and a noose in a later verse creates a dark, macabre tension in the song that also resonates with anyone dealing with suicidal ideation.
So as I tried to breathe
You hold me close
Because I can’t tell safety net from noose
When it’s hard to tell
It’s hard to know where I can go.
He then repeats the first line as the last line of the song, as though to tie the threads together.
The final song, “Witness,” opens with a rich blend of violins and a rich acoustic guitar. Unlike the other two songs, this song calls for you to recognize the illusory power of life and death that not many people notice.
You’ve been given sight
Enough to glimpse the abyss
Both the dark and the bright that other people miss
And I know it’s harder
To live on that cliff
To see the world with those eyes
Is it a curse or a gift?
This intimate weaving of life and death in one song though does not come across as dark or macabre. The chorus proves that.
I take your hand
I’m by your side
I’m reaching out
And oh, you’ll find a place
To call home.
Brother James then sings about how he will be there for this anonymous person (most likely a friend going through a difficult time) to witness their pain. The idea of a witness in nondenominational Christian theology is that you can uplift people who are different from you by affirming the testimony of their own unique story. Witnessing isn’t a chance to push beliefs down their throats – it’s a powerful chance to share their truth.
And oh, the heavy weight you hold
I’ll witness it
You need to know
You’re not alone
Brother James reaffirms faith in a subtle way. His EP shows that, in a world full of darkness, good people do exist. It is a record that tackles many spiritual themes in a way that doesn’t burden you.
Instead, it gives you hope for another new day.