“The Rain Falls Sideways” by Benjamin Daniel

I’m going to try, and probably fail, to not overdo it with this review because I think the music is perfectly capable of speaking for itself. In fact, this won’t even be a traditional review at all. Instead, I want to issue a challenge to anyone who will read this. It’s a simple challenge but one that I think will be incredibly rewarding if you actually follow through on it.

Listen to the opening track, “Westward”, on Benjamin Daniel’s new album, The Rain Falls Sideways. That’s it. Find a quiet place in your home, grab your best set of headphones, and listen to that one song. I’m only asking for a little over 6 minutes of your day. I think you can set aside 6 minutes. My hypothesis is pretty simple: I am reasonably confident that if you love good music with depth, honesty, and beauty, you are going to fall in love with this song. And once that happens, you are going to want to listen to the rest of the album.

To put a finer point on it, “Westward” is my favorite song of 2024. This in no way is a criticism of the rest of album, as it is truly fantastic. But some songs are like magic. They burn and shine and imprint themselves on your soul and you feel like you’ve always loved them but are constantly discovering something new in them to love even more. If that sentence makes sense and if you felt a sort of shared sentiment as you read it, you and I are kindred spirits. Yet not everyone is like us.

Many people enjoy music, some even love it. And while their love of music speaks to them and becomes a part of their life’s soundtrack, it doesn’t burrow into their innermost being like it does for us. For us, music is our lifeblood. It breathes its essence into us, and we become a part of it. A part of the story. Each song we love feels created just for us, and when we find a new song to love, we plunge it deep inside and absorb it into our spirit, mind, and body. It becomes as much a part of us as our lungs or our skin. Life without it would make as little sense as life without our eyes.

“Westward” is precisely that kind of song. It is a transcendent gift for lovers of profoundly poetic and melodic music. Each minute is a new experience, a treasure to discover. And when you think the song has done all it can do, it adds another lovely and arresting moment of beauty. But don’t take my word for it. Step up to my challenge and listen to the song yourself.

The Rain Falls Sideways by Benjamin Daniel…an actual, sort of review of the album

What follows “Westward” is a lovely, breathtaking, moving, and challenging album. While I believe the opening track is the strongest on the album, the rest of the songs are perfectly comfortable in its company. Benjamin Daniel does what the best songwriters do. He peels back our defenses with his words, poking, prodding, delving into our collective subconscious. It is the best kind of spiritual music.

Questions abound. Fear, doubt, anger, and confusion get their moment in the light, but that light proves too strong for them. Eventually, each fall away in the face of a deeper, more profound hope. A hope built on something greater than the greatest fear or doubt could ever be. It’s real stuff, not the sanitized, bubble-wrapped sloganeering found in so much of popular Christian music. There’s real pain, real change here. Actual living with all its complications and uncertainties. But there is real hope and faith too, which reframe the pain and struggle in terms that have true spiritual resonance.

Benjamin Daniel writes with a level of vulnerability that is both refreshing and a little bit scary. He gently poses questions we’ve all asked, some that we’ve only whispered in the deepest places of our souls, and his words lay our souls bare. Whether it’s the quiet brokenness of “Returning the Favor”, the final movement of what I, in my imagination, consider a four-song suite near the end of the album, or the cascading layers of emotion in the title track, all pretense is pushed aside for absolute clarity and honesty.

Nearly 700 words into this thing and I haven’t even begun describing what the album sounds like. Everyone hears different things when they listen to music. Each of us has different areas we gravitate towards, so it is nearly impossible to accurately make these sorts of comparisons. I’ll say this, if you are fan of Andrew Peterson’s poetic substance, with glimpses of José González, Sufjan Stevens, and Andrew Belle, you will find plenty to love. Or, if you want to hear what Jimmy Eat World or Anberlin would sound like if they were reimagined by a singer/songwriter, Benjamin Daniel might be just who you are seeking.

After the sublime opener, listeners are treated to a unified tapestry of sound and emotion. In some ways, the album is a heady blend of nostalgia drenched memories and heartbreaking reflections. More profoundly, it’s a spiritual chronicling of the mountaintop glories and the deep valley despairs, with a special focus on relationships and community. Those kindred spirits who fight for us and with us on our long journey of sanctification.

Most steps in this journey are uncertain, the footing precarious and unsure. Yet every step is met with hope and grace. As Andrew Peterson put it, “But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?” Benjamin Daniel creates art from that place. A place of doubt and fear but one that is not overcome. The light of hope buoys the faintness of our hearts.

The Rain Falls Sideways acknowledges this tightrope of faith. On our own, we are left with emptiness and chaos. Clinging to our Saviour is the only way through the madness. We have this hope, even when the world feels too big. There is peace in accepting this reality. With production by Asher Peterson and Allen Odell that is at times lush and expansive, and at other times sparse and intimate, Benjamin Daniel takes listeners along for the ride. The ups and downs, the highs and lows. From the midtempo surety of “Take Hold” to the gentle serenity of “Magic Dust” to the tenacious romp of “Lights Out”, the album moves us through an emotional gamut.

If “Westward” is the magnum opus of the album, the closing track, “The End that Never Came” is its spiritual twin. Bookending the album with these two explosive cries of faith is a masterstroke. Again, every song on the album is worth your time but please don’t miss the intro or outro. And while I issued a challenge earlier in this “review”, I would highly recommend you work through the album from beginning to end. It is thematically connected, each song a different part of the landscape Benjamin is painting. And trust me, it’s beautiful. If you let it, it will dig deep into your heart and leave you better than you were before. That’s what great art does.

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite lyrics from the album, though it pains me to only include this small sampling as the lyrics alone are worth exploring more thoroughly. This is from the third track on the album, ‘The Morning Sun Above My House (From My Backyard Swing)” The album’s heartbeat is captured in these two stanzas. The ache in our chests, the cry for love, the hope and joy and goodness of our Lord. It’s all there.

This one’s for the aching in our chests
A cry for love, a cry for rest
Up to the One Who loves us best
Out from a temporary mess
Into the hope of the oppressed
We really need it, God

This one’s for a once-forgotten boy
Who reemerged with every toy
The cruel world could not destroy
When cruelness was counted joy
For all the goodness You employ
The joy, we see it, God

Much like Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia, art needn’t be safe, but good. Music that matters should move us. It should shake and startle, break down and remake. The Rain Falls Sideways does all of this and more. Listen to “Westward” and then listen to a little bit more. I suspect you will walk away motivated to consider the unsurpassed goodness of God even in the midst of life’s most painful moments.

Thank you, Benjamin Daniel for taking us on this journey with you. We are better for it.

(Editor’s Note: We have included the Spotify playlist below or you can go to Benjamin’s Bandcamp page to listen to and buy his music.)

Phill Lytle
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Phill Lytle

Phill Lytle loves Jesus, his wife, his kids, his family, his friends, his church, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, 80s rock, the Tennessee Titans, Brandon Sanderson books, Whiteheart, Band of Brothers, Thai food, the Nashville Predators, music, books, movies, TV, writing, pizza, vacation...

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