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.