Like Neil Young and Rich Mullins before him, Derek Webb has matured into a fearless artist who delights in betraying expectations, and making art that explores detours, departures and roads less traveled. Take his latest album, Ctrl, which features Webb picking up his acoustic guitar after a long layoff from the instrument. For Webb fans who know and love his past work with Caedmon’s Call, his return to unplugged sounds should come as welcome news: They adore this latest record from start to finish.
That said, you’d better brace yourself. On Ctrl, Webb places his acoustic axe in the service of his most ambitious project to date. It tells the tale of an unnamed character that melts the lines of physical and virtual realities until it’s hard to tell man from machine, the digits from the DNA. Yet the emerging story is so much Webb’s, fans can be forgiven for mistaking this work for a 21st century confessional.
Ctrl at turns sounds terrifying and tight, soulful and transcendent. The magic comes as a direct result of Webb pitting primitive, organic sounds against programmed, looped textures as his character sinks further into his dystopian fever dream. “The juxtaposition of primitive and future was part of the basic framework from the beginning,” Webb says.
To that end, Webb makes abundant use of Sacred Harp singing (also known as shape note singing), a form of acapella choral music that took root in the American south. But he morphs those four-part harmony singers into digitized samples that take on the tremulous quality of ghosts without a home.
Webb’s singing also adds to the emotional wallop, as he tried something else brand new: He sang all the songs on the album, in their exact album sequence, in one 36-hour stretch. The exhaustion you hear by the closing track is real, and it reflects the fray he felt as his vocal cords began to splinter.
“The 36 hours included six hours of sleep, so you get a sense of the journey I’m going on and the exhaustion I’m feeling. That was just another way of burying meaning; the character at the end is exhausted and has been on a journey. I felt more connected to the content of the songs through that experience.”
Webb enjoys the fact that Ctrl, with its futuristic sound and shape, also marks a homecoming for longtime listeners who’ve stayed away for a while.
“I’m already hearing from folks online who felt alienated by the last few records, and they seem to really love this one,” Webb says. “So this is an opportunity for people who jumped ship somewhere along the way to find a way back on board.
Click on the grey button at the bottom of the page to get a FREE DOWNLOAD of Derek’s song “Reanimate” from the new record, and pick up the album at your favorite store today!