Review Date: 06/03/2014
Review By: Iain Moss
Release Date: 09/28/2012
Rating: [usr 9]
Before we get too much further into 2014, I wanted to review a couple of albums and music videos which either released in 2013 or I came across in 2013 which REALLY caught my attention and the world needs to know about. The first of these reviews was for Twelve24’s Tell The Truth free album which you can read here, and the second of these reviews is for an incredible debut album entitled Go Stop Go by the band of the same name from down under. The other reviews will be coming over the next couple of weeks so stay tuned for those but, for now, here’s my in-depth review of one of the best albums I came across in 2013…
Go Stop Go, made up of Matt Ruys and Jared Wrennall, released their self-titled, and self-funded, debut full length album in September 2012. Due to their relative obscurity however, it went majorly unnoticed, apart from their base of dedicated fans from their home down under. Two music videos for songs off the record have been produced, one for the lead single “If You Want It,” and one for “Home,” the second single, which was shot on location at Bombay Beach on the shores of the Salton Seas and was directed by Mark Tierney. I only came across Go Stop Go’s music and ministry at the end of last year thanks to stumbling across the latter video, and I immediately fell in love with what I heard and I just knew I had to connect with them and get to know them and their hearts behind the music. From chatting to Matt Ruys and listening to the album, I just knew I had to help spread awareness for this special indie band from down under and thus this review came about. Let’s take a closer look…
Go Stop Go are known for their “Raw and exposed vocals, stadium drums, retro-synths, electro beats, soul-stroking keys, sensitive acoustics & crunching guitars” or, as one reviewer on iTunes simply put it, “Beautifully crafted honest alt gospel.” If ever there were 5 words to describe Go Stop Go, whether that be the band or the album, it would be those ones – Go Stop Go are the epitome of that statement, “Beautifully crafted honest alt. gospel.”
In their bio it states, “Matt and Jared got to know each other through mutual friends in the local music scene. And, being in a similar head space both mentally and spiritually, eventually decided to give co-writing a go. Both agree something “very natural and unforced happened” when they sat down for their first writing session. So natural in fact that at the end of a weekend in a bach at Ngunguru with a bottle of Jameson and a guitar, they had nine new songs in need of a home. It was clear soon after that the songs already had one.”
It’s this “natural” fit they describe that comes across crystal clear in the second single, and second track, off the record, “Home.” The gentle music, the soft yet powerful vocal performance from Matt, and the cleverly crafted honest lyrics that cater to a wider audience while still keeping the message clear, all mesh seamlessly and effortlessly together to form a track which will put you immediately at ease no matter what your situation may be, and it’ll send some shivers scuttling down your spine while it’s at it. God’s presence and love can clearly be felt throughout this hope-filled track and, as the track is so memorable, that love and hope will be felt for hours after as you continually sing it to yourself in your head throughout your day.
The message of their debut album Go Stop Go, and all of the songs thereon, is, as Matt Ruys recently shared with me, “one of a real relationship with a real God. I grew up in one of New Zealand’s most violent, poorest, gang-ridden neighborhoods. As a child I was attacked and beaten. The experience left me with epilepsy, which I suffered from age 9 till a life-changing experience of God’s hand on my life at 16. With music, God pulled me out of that environment and took me first into full time ministry, and then to a record deal with EMI as a pop/r&b solo artist, as a producer/writer for pop artists, and as an artist manager (I discovered Brooke Fraser and secured her deal with Sony Music, overseeing the making of her debut ‘What To Do With Daylight’). But for me, Go Stop Go is the album I was always meant to make.” He went on to share, “My heart is to speak to those who look at Christianity and think, “That’s just too out of touch” or “I could never be good enough to make the grade”. I try to be as honest as I can lyrically, avoiding “Christian words” while keeping the message clear. God pulled me out of the mire & clay. I pray He uses my songs as a tool to do the same for others.”
This message is emphatically brought across throughout Go Stop Go, but especially through “Home,” through lyrics such as, “A place without pretense/ Where I am more than flesh and bone/ And so I’ll lower my defense/ Now I know I’m not alone/ I know you’ve made a place for me/ I’m home” and “When I had lost my way and found my tears/ When everything was broken you repaired, made new/ And your love it pulled me through/ I am home now.”
This formula of mixing that message with the aforementioned music/vocals style is what epitomizes Go Stop Go and, although safe, works beautifully throughout the album and has the desired effect upon the listener. Throughout the album, Matt Ruys’ special vocals shine strongly and are the main focal point to this album. Musically, the album certainly doesn’t break any new ground, nor does it look to, and things are kept as basic as possible but that’s most definitely not a bad thing as it only helps rally around and accentuate Ruys’ vocals.
Preceding “Home” on the album though, and opening up Go Stop Go, is the jazzy and groovy “If you Want It.” Covering all of the prodigal son, free will, real life, repentance and acceptance as subject matter throughout the song, “If You Want It” takes us on a journey through God’s love and conveys the most wonderful thing about the aforementioned love, that it comes to us and meets us just where we’re at. “But it’s yours if you want it, Yeah it’s yours if you change your tune, But it don’t need your validation for it to be true, And if it starts you can’t stop it, Let it in and it’ll fill every room, It’s got no expiration, It’s forever in you.”
Following “Home,” and led mainly by the gentle strokes of an acoustic guitar and the ivories of a piano, “Love Don’t Fail Me” features vocals from New Zealand artist Miriam Clancy and explores Matt’s experience after the sudden loss of a very close friend and musical collaborator. At around the half way mark, a soft rhythmic drum pattern is added into the mix, giving it a gentle jazz feel to it at times which only adds to the overwhelming sense of struggle that emerges through Matt’s heartfelt lyrics, “Darkness plants a seed/ with worn and weary feet/ when all is veiled in grief oh I sing/ Light don’t fail me/ And I’m just trying to understand/ Love don’t fail me/ And I’m just trying to see the plan/ Love don’t fail me/ If my design is by your hand.”
Following on from the deep “Love Don’t Fail Me” is the love song appropriately titled “This Love.” “This Love” opens up with a combination of distorted synths and drum patterns which sound almost like a generator or a piece of factory machinery starting up, before the convicting strumming of a guitar and gentle beat of a bass drum join in. This combination provides the soundscape for the entire track, albeit with slight variances, and really helps convey the love Matt, and Go Stop Go, have for our Lord and Savior. After a gentle and slightly timid opening verse, Matt’s vocals become really strong and bold from the second verse onwards as he confidently sings, “I’m still the same today as I was on the day when we first met/ I’m more than found forgiveness/ I wanna be your friend/ I saw your face when I placed the stars/ Knew your name, your hopes, your fear/ and every time you walked away/ I was always there.”
Often in life we may feel alone, but you’re never truly alone and “This Bed” addresses this next. Recorded live one stormy night in a bach at a New Zealand beach called Piha, the musical backdrop is simply an acoustic guitar with the rumbling sounds of the ocean in the background to provide a moving soundscape behind the captivating lyrics. Simplistic throughout, the lyrics encourage the listener to not give up and that they’re not alone. Sung in such a way that sounds vulnerable, they take on an almost introspective tone, causing the listener to feel the pain of someone who feels as though they’re alone. And for those who are the ones who feel alone, the song as a whole reassures them that that’s not the case, but one verse in particular, and probably my favorite verse on the whole album, provides them with a hope for tomorrow as Matt powers out, “There is a peace that we can’t understand/ There is a love that we can’t comprehend/ And there is forever like there is today/ And there is an ear for the things that you pray/ There’s a tomorrow where everything’s new/ And there is no wall that you can not break through/ There is a freedom that comes with the truth/ Nothing can separate this love from you.”
One of the stand out tracks on the album, and one of my personal two favorites, “Stripes” bucks the main musical trend running throughout Go Stop Go as the music takes on an upbeat groovy jazz feel. The lyrics themselves take on a stronger and more forceful nature and, combined with the backing track and Miriam Clancy’s vocals once again, take the song towards the precipice of alternative rock territory. Providing perhaps the most vivid lyrics on the whole album, “Stripes” portrays in a spine tingly manner that we are all alive and healed through Jesus’ sacrifice upon that cross. “There on that lonely tree/ Deep within the grain/ I see the red flowing down down/ It paints away the pain/ And Your scars they wear every wrong, every shame.”
Continuing the worshipful theme, “Here” was a worship song Matt originally wrote for his church but it always used to start from the second verse onwards. Matt himself explains why, and where the first verse suddenly appeared from, “It actually used to start from the second verse line, “And so I’ll sing.” It wasn’t until I went into the studio that a new first verse poured out of me, and the word “And” finally made sense. All in God’s time I guess.” In all honesty the song only really starts to take off from that second verse onwards as Matt’s vocals take on the defiant tone found throughout the rest of the album, but it’s the first verse that subtly makes it all work and works as the perfect lead in for the track. Led mainly by an acoustic guitar, before more sounds, including seriously on point drums, are added in to great effect to further accentuate the defiant lyrics, “Here” takes a defiant stance in the truth that Jesus saved us all and many a listener is sure to be found passionately belting out the following lines, “I will not live in fear because You saved me, You paid for me, I know I’m only here because You made me, Your Love embraced me, I will not live in fear, The ground may shake me, but it can not take me.”
Although it may seem a strange choice for a relaxing chill-out album, “Space” incorporates distorted synths and electronic sounds to great effect as they wrap around the lyrics to elevate them effectively. That being said though, “Space,” although lyrically solid and sung beautifully by Matt once again, just lacks the extra oomph found throughout the rest of the album and therefore, for me, unfortunately takes home the wooden spoon trophy for the weakest song on the album.
“The Greatest” brings that aforementioned oomph back in abundance as right from the outset it will have listeners’ feet a-tappin’ and singing along. Taking on the roles of one of the liveliest songs on the album and one of the strongest, “The Greatest” takes us back into alternative rock territory. With a chorus of a wide range of sounds to lead the way and the sense that Matt’s having fun singing it, the track continues the lyrical trend found throughout Go Stop Go as it portrays the comfort found in knowing your eternity is taken care of thanks to God’s unending love. “Like a tree by the water, I am full and I’m alive, I’m a son, I’m a daughter, I am your heart’s delight, And I know I know that tomorrow will be fine, I know I know that I’m part of a grand design.”
The rhythmic strumming of an acoustic guitar and the poignant keying of a piano combine on “Breathe Under Water” to carry us on an introspective journey of baptism and learning to “breathe under water” when we fall short without God, “It’s clear to to me that I’ve spent a lifetime wrapped up in myself, Too lost in my shadows, and too proud to say I need help, Now I need the tide to wash over and away this cloud, So I’m leaving the land for the sea, I’m making the choice to be free.” Dominated by acoustic atmospherics, the track builds and fades beautifully as it encourages us to spend time each day learning to live with God as our guide and mentor, and is sure to become many listeners’ soundtrack to their lives as a result.
Go Stop Go is then rounded out in the only way that feels right for this album, with the redeeming “Wash Away,” and Matt recently shared with me why he felt that “Wash Away” was the only way to end this album, “My righteousness is like dirty rags. With this album, I set out to be as honest and real as possible. To create a record that reflects a real relationship, warts and all, with a very Real God. Wash Away felt like the perfect way, the only way, to end the album.” Groovy in feel, “Wash Away” takes us on an introspective journey through redemption for all of our sins, our dirty rags, our scars and so on, as Christ washes away all of our inadequacies. Matt’s vocals take on a deeper, almost more sincere tone, before becoming celebratory in nature as the track progresses towards the following verse which is sure to have many listeners joining in and belting out the lyrics with arms held high and hearts abandoned, “Wash away, You always mean what you say, Wash away, You always hear when I pray, There’s a truth to be known, And a door that wont close, And a newness that comes with each day, So I let go of doubt, And I’ll come to you now, Knowing I’m not alone in the fray, You wash away.”
I’ve used the word ‘introspective’ several times throughout this review and there’s a very good reason for that. Although it is a beautifully relaxing album which will put many listeners at ease, the whole album forces you, the listener, to take a close look at yourself and reflect upon your life, your journey, your beliefs, and so on. The lyrics throughout are poignant and spot on, the vocals are stunning, the music is simple and quiet and yet groovy, and the arrangement of the three to bring the most out of the other is top notch and almost faultless.
My only slight quandary with this album is the one-off use of a swear word in “If You Want It.” Although I completely understand why the ‘s’ word is in there and it does add to the “realness” of the album that Matt talks about at the start of this review, in my opinion it just leaves a sour taste in the mouth, has no place in being there, and takes away from not only the great song, but from the album as a whole. But then again I’m not in the target audience that that song is aimed at…
That slight issue aside, Go Stop Go is an incredibly relaxing album and is must have album, even for my fellow hard rockers out there, as everyone needs to relax with relaxing music every now and then, and this is the perfect aid for that. Personally, to see Go Stop Go reach their full potential, I’d like to see them push slightly further into the alternative rock area on those type of songs, as “Stripes” and “The Greatest” show they have it within them, but that’s not to take away from what is a beautifully put together album.
If they can achieve this kind of musical prowess on their debut album, then the future looks extremely bright for the future of this small pairing from down under! Watch out world, Go Stop Go are coming for you! With Go Stop Go being a self-funded project with no big machine behind them though, they really are in the hands and ears of word-of-mouth promotion, so please do spread the word about this wonderful album and band by sharing this review all over the place!
So what are you waiting for? Grab a refreshing beverage and a deckchair, find somewhere serene and quiet to just sit and marvel at God’s creation, plug in your headphones and let this album from Go Stop Go transport you into a relaxing and happy trance like state…
Be sure to check out the two music videos for “If You Want It” and “Home” below. Like what you hear? You can buy Go Stop Go’s self titled album on iTunes here.
Arranged by Jared Wrennall&Matt Ruys
Produced by Jared Wrennall and Matt Ruys
Recorded and Engineered by Neil Balldock with Ben Knapp at Roundhead Studios, Auckland, New Zealand
Mixed by Neil Baldock
Mastered by Steve Smart at Studios 301, Sydney, Australia
Artwork and Design by Kelvin Soh
Miriam Clancy – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Chip Matthews – Bass
Scotty Pearson – Drums on ‘Wash Away’