2016 has been a good year for great albums. But so far, only one has drawn me into listening again up to a dozen times: Lindsey Stirling’s Brave Enough.
The title in and of itself is appropriate for this record, because Ms. Stirling is trying out some new things. Usually relegated to instrumental electronic-influenced violin-heavy tracks, she branches out with this one. While her signature violin tracks are still without a doubt the main star, she brought in several collaborators, resulting in a diverse arrangement of songs, and – perhaps most shocking of all – actual lyrics (but we’re not complaining. This gives us an excuse to review it).
The uncanny excellence and breadth of this album can hardly be overstated. Traces of dubstep and dance influence can be found throughout tracks like “Lost Girls” and “First Light.” “Brave Enough” and “Where Do We Go” both have a singer/songwriter vibe, thanks in large part to contributing vocalists, combined with Stirling’s energy. “Don’t Let This Feeling Fade” would nearly be at home on a Lecrae album (who is one of the contributing vocalists on the track), and, perhaps the most impressive song on the album, “Mirage” is an Indian-influence track that would be right at home as background music for Esmeralda, or any other gypsy for that matter.
For all of this breadth, the lyrical content is extremely positive. Even when the songs approach lyrical themes that are so commonly so as to border on cliche, they’re done in a way that’s refreshingly positive and appropriate. For instance, while “Brave Enough” is focused on a lost relationship, it emphasizes how strong relationships are built on trust and, most importantly, openness. Christina Perry sings “Stripped away the walls I built/But no one ever has/The hardest part is never known/If we were meant to last.” Simultaneously, we know that love is hard, it takes bravery, and you’d better be willing to give, not just to get.
Broaching a more direct topic of faith, “Where Do We Go?” asks very directly what we do “When our prayers are answered/But the answer is no,” and concludes in the second verse that “You’re still with me.” Similarly, in “Don’t Let This Feeling Fade,” Lecrae urges us to ask “What really matters in life?/Is it a sprint or a marathon?” and “I never do it to lose, but losin’ occurs/And when I do it for the love, lose never hurts.” The only negative point I can bring out is the theme of “Love’s Just a Feeling,” which really seems to go against the song I just mentioned. As a whole, lyrical themes this strong and contemplative are rarely found, particularly on an album with this many contributors. Bringing in several outside people to work with doesn’t always work well (see Relient K’s Collapsible Lung), but clearly it has done Lindsey Stirling a great deal of good.
All of that said, not every song is a knockout. It does start with several. “Lost Girls” is a strong track, “Brave Enough” is possibly my favorite vocal song on the album, and the next two songs (both instrumental) are commonly switching places for my favorite overall song in this set. However, while generally I think the frequent intermixing of styles works really well here, some songs work better than others. While I love the lyrics of “Don’t Let This Feeling Fade,” I don’t think Stirling’s style worked as well with the rap/hip-hop genre. Much of “Something Wild,” also, is unfortunately forgettable. “Love’s Just a Feeling,” in addition to not having as positive of a lyrical theme as the other songs, isn’t as strong a song as many others here.
But there are many in that second category. Brave Enough is quite unlike Lindsey Stirling’s previous albums, even while retaining elements of her signature sound. It’s energetic, full of emotion, and encompasses a very wide breadth of influences, vocalists, and writers. In short, this is one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year.