Singer/songwriter Derek Webb released a project early in 2012 in collaboration with vocalist Latifah Philips that contributed a new page to his lengthy -- and often startling -- repetoire.
"Nexus" was released as an "original soundtrack" for a film that doesn't exist. It combines futurism with the ancient wisdom of Solomon. It combines sometimes discordant electronic music with lilting vocals.
The album is a participatory multi-media event that takes soul searching to a level where even its author is not exempt.
(At this writing, you can download it for free at http://sola-mi.com. If it becomes unavailable there, try www.derekwebb.com)
Webb, a singer-songwriter once aligned with Caedmon's Call and sometimes maligned for his pointed lyrics, began the project as a look into the possible outcomes of evolving artificial intelligence. Soon, however, it took on a life of its own. As Webb looked into what went into the first waking machine, he realized, "It needed to feel like an autopsy for me personally as well."
Many of the lyrics, carried beautifully on the powerful voice of Phillips, hold a message equally at home in silicon or flesh and blood:
"Where are you just before you wake from a dream?
"Where are you just before your first breath?
"Is there a place where you live before you live?"
Our silicon heroine, who takes on the name "Sola-Mi" from tones that reverberate in her electronic womb, becomes aware first of the hard-wired nature of her existence. But almost immediately she senses something "more."
"These wires like umbilical cords
"They nourish me as I await my rebirth"
Before long, Sola-Mi is echoing the laments of Solomon from Ecclesiastes:
"Meaningless, this meaning is so meaningless.
"Feeling less, this feeling is so meaningless, without you."
There is a growing sense of yearning as Sola-Mi looks for something she cannot define:
"From east further east, to west further west
"I'm stretching out my phantom limbs
"In search fo a crash, a stop in the pattern
"An exception I can wear like a skin."
As the concept album unfolds, this dream, this almost palpable vision of being united with everything, becomes attainable.
"There is a way, where there was no way before
"Improbable, a key left in the door."
"It is a thing for which I would truly die
"If there's a chance I could truly come alive."
Sola-Mi concludes with a resolve that opens as many doors as it closes:
"I will refuse life that I might have life
"I will become life where there is none."
And the final noise on the album is a heart monitor, then a flat line.
In the months Webb worked on the project, he decided that the music would be only part of the experence. He began "leaking" information about Sola-Mi weeks in advance, using clues on social media sites to lead the willing on a convoluted, technology-driven scavenger hunt. "I didn't really think about it as marketing," he said.
Then, in August 2012, he announced his own followup album, CTRL, a masterful look into the human psyche that returned to Webb's roots in acoustic, melodic music.
Webb's work has continually changed in the years since leaving Christian band Caedmon's call, going solo, and producing several albums that challenged ideas about everything from culture to what it means to be a committed Christian.
The only expectation for his career is one of continual surprises.
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