The last time I wrote about Showbread was for their album Age of Reptiles, a record which prompted a longform essay about the fallout from its release. The tl;dr version of that essay goes something like this: “Showbread released a loud, screaming record with huge Refused overtones. It came out when that sound was popular. The next album doesn’t contain much of any of that screaming. Fans were upset about it. The group continued to lose their fan base album after album.”
In that same essay, I wrote that this dissolution of fans was okay, because “Over the course of 10 tracks, Showbread did what they wanted. They always did what they wanted.”
That much is important to note, because their 2010 album Who Can Know It? stands in stark contrast both to Age and their breakout success No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical. The title Who Can Know It? refers to a passage in Jeremiah which reads: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (17:9). The line “The heart is deceitful above all things” is also the name of the final track on the record, a mammoth 11 and a half minute song.
Truth be told, and this will be obvious to anyone who has dug deep into the band’s catalog or has been a fan since their early Tooth & Nail days: Who Can Know It? bares little resemblance to any of the other albums in Showbread’s discography.
With the exception of just a couple of songs, this is a worship record that isn’t labeled as a worship record, and the band’s first at that. Those tracks, by the way, are “I Never Liked Anyone and I’m Afraid of People” and “Myth of a Christian Nation” (so-titled after the Greg Boyd book of the same name – Boyd being one of the few ‘theologians’ who has ideals I can identify with anymore. Well, some of them at least).
While the band is no stranger to worship songs, this is their first attempt at an album with a majority of them. Each album since No Sir has had one or two (see: “Age of Reptiles,” “The Fear of God,” “Matthias Replaces Judas,” both versions of “The Beginning,” etc.), but they’ve usually served as the quiet sanctuaries from madness.
So here’s the thing about Who Can Know It?, and this is going to make me sound like the biggest hypocrite in the world considering what I wrote about Age: it’s an album that will take patience, even for fans of the band. I’m a longtime fan of the group, have seen them 25+ times, they’ve stayed at my house, I slept on their hotel room floor at Cornerstone, etc. etc.… but as someone whose worldview has shifted drastically in a bunch of different directions, at times aimless as a tire swing,
Who Can Know It? is a product of the band’s notorious revolving door of musicians. For a band who grew a reputation for having 2 vocalists, multiple guitarists and even a keytarist, to see just 4 people on stage is even more disorienting than seeing the version of the band that featured, yes, their wives in masks playing keyboard fills.
From what I recall when the album came out in 2010, the band at that time consisted of just two original members: the Brothers Porter, Josh (aka Dies, lead vocalist and reformed guitarist) and Patrick (bassist). While I can’t speak to the reasoning for constant change in membership, I can certainly guess: as musicians/people grow older, they desire to do normal things like having a normal diet not always made up of Chipotle burritos, not having to drive 400+ miles overnight after playing an exhausting 30-75 minutes and packing up hundreds of pounds of gear and merch, and especially not having to sleep on the floors of randos.
The desire to write an album made up primarily of worship songs was, in my estimation, inevitable based on the conditions of Showbread over the years. As bandmates came and went, so too did the musicality of the group. As it was with the shift from No Sir to Age, after their dark double-album Anorexia / Nervosa came The Fear of God, a straightforward-ish raw rock album (by Showbread standards, that is). While Fear didn’t lack spunk and fight, it failed to resonate with a fickle fanbase. Another contributing factor could have been its release date: just a year after Anorexia / Nervosa, which as a concept release should have had more room to breathe.
So after the exodus of several more guitarists, Showbread’s line-up during the recording process for what would become Who Can Know It? was, shall we say, a skeletal operation. With creative say back in the hands of the Porter Bros., and a shifting musical landscape following a handful of tenuous years in the industry, at some point there was a concerted effort to deliver songs without the same devastating abrasion as they had produced in the past.
Which, by the way, isn’t to say that they didn’t always have a voice in the creative process – I’m sure they did, being ‘senior members’ and all – but when you have 7-11 voices versus half that, it makes the fight much easier to sway. And it also isn’t to say that there aren’t loud moments on WCKI?; they just number far less than past releases.
It’s as if the band sought to flip the percentage of time they spent yelling with the time they spent… not yelling. And that’s cool, because again, to take a step back and look at what is happening between the listener and the artist: it is not a transaction, but a reaction to a happening.
As Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum recently stated: artists need to be treated as artists, not as a merchant (or as Elverum put it, “a store that sells pants”).
I guess I’m just trying to giftwrap the fact that I don’t very much care for Who Can Know It?
And the beauty of art is: that’s alright. I respect them as people, and I respect the time and effort that went into the production of the album, but it is one that I do not regularly listen to in the scope of their other releases.
I love Showbread. I do. I consider them to be some of the most humble, hardworking, genuine musicians – and further, people – that I’ve ever met. They believe what they say, say what they believe, and live it out without condemning others for not believing the same thing, which, as I recall, is the proper way to be Christian.
While the albums lacks much of the frenetic pace and energy, its message reaches new, previously undiscovered topics. For instance, “A Man With a Hammer” tackles the powerful, canvassing love of Jesus even in the face of those who commit murder, adultery, domestic violence, abortion, rape and an ever-burgeoning list of other worst-possible-scenarios. But it’s sung in a such a nonchalant way with a mild pop sound that it almost removes the power of how hard those horrific possibilities should hit.
It’s a different, quote-unquote ‘mature’ Showbread; no longer the guys lighting themselves on fire for fun. No longer the guys shooting each other at close range with BB guns (also for fun). No longer the guys using drum cases to slide down perilous flights of stairs (which, though terrifying, still fun).
With two Showbread babies on the way (We’ll call them ‘Breadloaves’ for now), it’s my view that perhaps the future of the band is in doubt. The Cancer movie they’re producing for the album of the same name that followed Who Can Know It? could very well be the last Showbread product to be released.
But even as an auxiliary person to the band, someone who’s been a fan of theirs for almost a decade now, I’m proud of what they’ve done, how they’ve handled themselves along the way, and their commitment to their message.
So what if I don’t like an album by one of my all-time favorite bands? I’m an idiot. The shirt says so.
From what I think is their worship album, this is Showbread’s “Myth of a Christian Nation” –
Standout tracks: “Myth of a Christian Nation” and “The Prison Comes Undone”
Weakest track: “You’re Like a Taxi” – not big on whatever that initial keyboard sound is. Sounds like a trumpet.
RIYL: In this current iteration, I’d say Project 86, Far-Less, Thousand Foot Krutch… it pains me to write out those bands, let me assure you.