Three years since the release of Light Up the Sky, The Afters haven't kept themselves terribly visible in the industry. After becoming household names with two solid albums that appealed to mainstream audiences, the band released Light Up the Sky in 2010 which attuned the band's direction, mainly radio pop, for the long haul. Life Is Beautiful does little to change that situation, but with twelve tracks speaking to the vast subject of life's ups and downs, The Afters take a decent shot at the always-timely topic.
This being the second album with drummer Jordan Mohilowski and bassist Dan Ostebo, Life Is Beautiful maintains the poppier sound from Light Up the Sky - less on the aggressive, dirty guitars and more on the light synths and fluffy soundscapes. While this description could sound inherently negative, especially when the much-celebrated I Wish We All Could Win and Never Going Back to OK still clearly outshine the rest of their discography, the sound they choose for Life Is Beautiful works appropriately with the subject matter, taking the listener away from whatever situation they are currently in to focus on the message at hand. The most upbeat moments come with the album opener "Every Good Thing" and "Love Is In the Air," songs that do indeed keep the emotions high for artistic measure. On the other hand, "Broken Hallelujah" keeps the picture fair and balanced by speaking of leaving our pain to God when the future feels dubious ("Even I know I don't know what Your plan is, I know you bring beauty from these ashes"), undeniably a relatable topic for many.
An album like Life Is Beautiful gets a passing grade, even if the seasoned band doesn't take nearly as many risks as they should. This being album number four, The Afters should be churning out masterpieces on a reliable basis, and from a musical standpoint, Life is Beautiful can often feel like the same rigmarole as the last time around, which comes as a bit of a letdown with it being the result of three years of songwriting . Tracks like "Find Your Way," the title track, "Waiting for an Answer," and "With You Always" border on the trite and forgettable side, as they just aren't compelling in light of brighter and more polished moments on the record. While they attempt to be in the same spirit of the rest of the record's sanguinity and carry the message along, they merely fill the tracklisting to meet the album's quota and detract from the overall product.
Life Is Beautiful keeps everything in eternal perspective, but sometimes at the expense of a radio-friendly sound that doesn't break much ground. But in the midst of discouragement, disappointment, and overall disarray, an album like Life Is Beautiful speaks directly to these injustices and sets the record straight about the true hope Christians have, exploring both the joys and woes of life with a realistic, but spiritually optimistic, lens. A gentle reminder to listeners of both where their hopes lie and from where their blessings flow, Life Is Beautiful appeals to any believer's walk.- Review date: 4/14/13, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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