When John Reuben recently completed work on his latest studio project, Gotee Records got a bit more than it bargained for--double, actually.
The first contained Reuben's already well-known incisive rapping and witty songwriting, full of fun and good humor. And he figured that's what Toby Mac & Co. would release-after all, the other album was, in his words, "a side project."
The side project dove deeper into the experimental side of John: Dark. Challenging. Deadly serious. Introspective. Raw. Unsettling. Political. Wickedly satirical.
"The difference is that, for the first time in a long time, I didn't feel hindered on the side project. I just wrote from the gut. Then I handed both albums to the label-and Gotee said that the more aggressive material needed to be heard."
From John Reuben's perspective "The Boy VS The Cynic" is "the best of both worlds". Seven songs from the side project with five songs from Reuben's sunnier, more accessible effort to sweeten the experience. The end result is a melodic/hip-hop/hard-rock rollercoaster ride filled with more depth-filled moods and thought-provoking perspectives than on any album the Columbus, Ohio-based artist has heretofore created-one that, in fact, carves out new territory on the musical map.
The opening salvo is the first single, "Nuisance," featuring guest vocals by Matt Theissen, Relient K's frontman and fellow Gotee artist. "We both got signed about the same time," Reuben recalls, "and I've always liked his voice and connected well with him. Matt's was the best voice I could get for the song."
Easily one of the catchiest, most accessible tunes on The Boy VS The Cynic, "Nuisance" sports hook-filled verses and a chorus (sung by Theissen) that won't quit. The tune's sweet beats, jangly guitars, and a playful organ adds inspired sunshine to a rather complex subject.
"To me this song is about complacency, whether in relationships or how we view the world in general," Reuben reveals. "It was inspired by numerous conversations I've had with people who were talking about what's wrong with the world-but nobody does the simple things to make those situations better."
While the power of "Nuisance" is Reuben's well-crafted mix of happy music with a serious theme, his lyrics here-poetic and artfully abstract-are the real mind-and heart-stretchers: the conversation lingered on and on and before I knew it, night had turned to dawn / and were we searching for the truth in all of it, or are we debating just to win the argument / cuz none of us want to hear about where we go wrong, this song could easily be from me to you or me to John / cuz I have the potential to be the guiltiest, my greatest strength is also my strongest weakness...
The primal need for solid belief in God is expressed in Reuben's second single, "Out of Control," an inventive hip-hop-alt-rock tune that offers an insightful take on brave leaps of faith: so where do you stand, it's either break or be broken / forget dry land I'd rather stand in the ocean and let the waves of devotion roll over me / irony, I had to suffocate before I could breathe / now I'm in a head space I've never been before ever since my feet hit the shore / I tell you it feels good...
On the flip side is "Follow Your Leader" (a metallic, minor-keyfist-pumper that details the darker sides of political and social agendas) and "What About Them?" (which declares that America isn't the only country God loves). And then there's "Chapter 1." This slice of black-as-night poetry astutely takes on our culture's worst qualities---and on an album where the songwriting is turned up several notches, it may be Reuben's most potent lyrical effort to date: there will be no parades no royal balls / just long days topped off with last calls for alcohol / go to sleep wake up and repeat the same routine / smooth skin dressed with wrinkles and brown eyes with dark rings / and entertainers sing of extremes that don't exist for you or me / when real life is reality TV no wonder our youth don't believe in anything...I could shout it in a room that's crowded but I doubt it'd make a difference / so ignorance will be my disguise 'cause 21st century America likes it's witchcraft civilized...
"One thing I don't like is people who try to educate everybody," he admits, "but I don't think I'm qualified, either. I'm not. I just kind of observe, and I hope my songs will be conversation pieces. And maybe someone will point out something to me that I haven't yet considered, and I'll realize, 'Oh yeah, that makes sense.' I'm not so committed to my point of view that I can't learn something new. I mean, I'm just 26, and I'm already starting to think along the lines of 'the older you get, the less you understand.' The more I grow, the more I realize how much I really don't know."
Reuben leaves you with moments of painful truth, but not without offering glimpes of hope-and one of his best is "All I Have," a brightly colored, acoustic-based track that encourages all of us to live life to spiritual fullest, even if it means letting go of all the things that we rely on in this world.
Faith and truth. direct, artful, honest, and, ultimately, loving. Reuben wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's so easy to simply get caught up in your career, wondering what's gonna work or not gonna work, what's gonna sell or not sell," Reuben notes. "But this album is something I wanted to say. And it was one of the most freeing and creative experiences of my life."