“It’s the dark night of the soul / Never slept in a bed so cold / Can you hear me crying out / I’m aching and so alone”

The opening lines of Every Seed Must Die are oceans away from what one might expect on a Christian album. The way it is sung is even further away: plainly, almost withdrawn. The kind of tone that rises from the ashes of seasons of pain, suffering, and loss. It’s a sound that is nearly impossible to pull off, but is done so here with tenderness and conviction. This is a tough album. It’s tough to listen to, and it must have been wrenching to write. True art bleeds from its source. Every Seed Must Die is covered in redemptive blood.

Eric and Ash L’Esperance are The Promise Is Hope, a husband and wife duo from Worchester, MA. Their first album, Where We’ve Been And Where We’re Going , was a self-professed ‘joyous’ record. On the surface, their sophomore effort is anything but. Eric and Ash lost four family members to tragic deaths over the course of two years. They stared at the faces of cancer, mental illness, and suicide. They witnessed the slow disintegration of their faith community. Every Seed Must Die carries a profound weight of loss and doubt, and even more of faith and absolution. It weaves intimate folk storytelling with personal narratives, dialogues with God, confessionals, and eulogies. Eric and Ash display considerable songwriting depth throughout. Each song offers its own stark revelation. You can actually feel them working through their emotions from song to song, as if the songwriting process was equally cathartic and revelatory. It’s a wonder to behold.

The Promise Is Hope tapped Old Bear Studios and producer Chris Hoisington for Every Seed Must Die. Chris and the awesome folks at Old Bear are quickly becoming the de facto go-to’s for nonconformist independent Christian music. On this release, Chris opts for a less-is-more approach, allowing Eric and Ash’s vocals to take center stage above soft arrangements of finger-picked acoustics, pianos, cellos, and Mellotrons. The result is a sound that is fiercely, almost uncomfortably intimate. It’s raw, visceral, and completely exposed.

An album like this only goes as far as its vocals take it, and Eric and Ash L’Esperance lift us to heaven and back. Eric’s plainspoken laments occupy a space between Damien Jurado and Red House Painters-era Mark Kozelek. Ash’s heartfelt swoons recall Over The Rhine’s Karin Bergquist. They are extraordinarily effective on their own, and are achingly beautiful when they harmonize.  On “River”, Eric laments, “I’m a ship lost at sea / with nothing here to anchor me / no wind to fill my sails / why have you forsaken me?” only to follow with a delicate plea: “if your love were a river / on my back I would lay / let your love be a river / come and carry me away”. On “Lost & Found”, Ash humbly asserts, “I lost my family, I lost belonging, the veil was torn / I lost my ego, my self-reliance, I lost my pedestal / But I found you”. Every Seed Must Die pairs the trials of everyday life with the Eternal, that in order to fully live we must let go of ourselves and be reborn in Christ.

Every Seed Must Die is Eric and Ash letting go of heartbreak and finding hope in places they least expect. It’s a roadmap of tribulation led by their Navigator. It’s a delicate piece of artistry that breathes from their souls. It’s remarkably mature, both in emotion and in faith. And it’s authentic to the core. When their hearts break, so do ours. When they question injustice, so do we. And when they lift their voices to heaven in praise, we join in the chorus of song. This is is a journey to feel — to experience. It’s worth experiencing over and over again.

It’s more than just sound.

It’s transcendent.

*originally published in Altarwork

Jason Ramsey is the founder, owner, & CEO of Altarwork, a publishing & promotional outlet for all things worship arts.