Courtesy | Wiki­media Commons

There are some bands that are not notable for any single song or album, but still reside in the col­lective con­sciousness of society because they embody a uni­versal mood or state of mind. Their music is streamed con­stantly and is enjoyed by a broad audience, but it’s nothing more than nostalgia’s sub­liminal sound­track.

NEEDTOBREATHE is one of those bands. And they’re back. “Out of Body,” released August 28, 2020, is the band’s first in four years and in several ways, marks a new era in the band’s journey. 

Most would rec­ognize their past songs, but ask anyone to name their top hits off the top of his head, and he would struggle to come up with answers. Though their pre­vious three albums have all reached the top ten of the Bill­board 200, only one of their songs has made the Bill­board Hot 100. 

While this is not a surefire metric by which to determine the quality of an artist’s work — my favorite band, Thrice, has never had a song make it to the Top 100 — the dis­parity between an album’s success and the pop­u­larity of the songs on that album can be indicative of what people are looking for when they listen to a certain artist. 

But that said, NEEDTOBREATHE’s new album “Out of Body” offers more than just back­ground noise — it is a heartfelt sto­rybook of songs that com­pen­sates for its lack of standout moments with an uplifting aura that only the most stubborn skeptic would frown upon.

It’s  the first NEEDTOBREATHE album that does not feature Bo Rinehart, the younger brother of lead vocalist Bear. The recording process itself was also com­pletely new to the three remaining members, as they hit the studio at the outset of the pan­demic and camped out there until the album was fin­ished. For­tu­nately, Bear and multi-instru­men­talists Josh Lovelace and Seth Bolt managed to create a record that emerged unscathed from those com­pli­ca­tions.

The first track on the album, “Mercy’s Shore,” styl­is­ti­cally harkens back to their 2011 release “The Reck­oning,” which comes as a welcome return to form after the over­pro­duced and over­wrought “Hard Love” album. One cannot help but notice the middle-aged twinge to the lyrics of this track and others, and while it is not unsavory, it becomes  wearisome at points. 

This weariness, however, is com­bated by a con­stant barrage of hope and per­se­verance in the cho­ruses of the afore­men­tioned track, “Hang On,” and “Riding High.” The latter is espe­cially buoyant; its playful guitar riffs show that NEEDTOBREATHE is still very capable of enjoying them­selves, some­thing that is obscured by the band’s pro­clivity to beat the lis­tenever over the head with the same sort of struggle and redemption story in many of their songs.

“Alive” and “Child Again” balance this light­heart­edness and solemnity with their lively feel. 

They also are an indi­cation that NEEDTOBREATHE has a good chance at aging well. The trio has been making records since 2006 and are soon headed for their forties. The mid-career  the­matic and com­po­si­tional stag­nation heard in “Hard Love,” espe­cially fol­lowing a record as excellent as “Rivers in the Wasteland,” was wor­risome for the band’s future, but this album proves they have plenty more fight left in them. 

Only the very best albums escape having an entirely skip­pable track, and “Out of Body” does not manage to make this escape.  While Bear con­tributes a stellar, vul­nerable vocal per­for­mance in “Bottom of a Heart­break,”, the sur­rounding musical and lyrical content is entirely flat. “Who Am I” also approaches blandness but is saved from irrel­e­vance by its crafty folk-pop melody.

In con­trast, “Sur­vival” and “Banks” are standouts. In the past, NEEDTOBREATHE has col­lab­o­rated with artists like Gavin DeGraw to great effect— and  “Sur­vival” con­tinues the trend.  The track fea­tures fellow trav­elers Drew and Ellie Holcomb, and the husband/wife duo reju­venate the energy of the tune. Their fea­tured melodies bring levity and amplify the song’s message of jubilant per­sis­tence.

“Banks” is the inversion of “Who Am I” in that it does not whine or boast, but it offers to the beloved a sincere, yet joyful promise of love. The song nimbly avoids romantic plat­i­tudes while exclaiming, “I wanna hold you close but never hold you back, just like the banks to the river. And if you ever feel like you are not enough, I’m gonna break all your mirrors.” This song, Bear explained, is a ded­i­cation to the spouses of the band members, and there is no better track on the album to serve that purpose.

Though it does not reside at the summit of musical craft, “Out of Body” is a solid album that is not only suited for blaring through car speakers on a summer drive, but also an album  for con­tem­plative lis­tening. And, if a Hillsdale student needed more reason to give the record a spin, the band did take its name from these words of  Socrates: “When you desire wisdom and insight as badly as you need to breathe, then you shall have it.” And in this case, maybe NEEDTOBREATHE’s wisdom is worth the listen.