Chris Renzema – Manna Pt. 1 Review

Author: Gabriel Wolthuis

Singer-songwriter Chris Renzema has built a career out of expressing feelings of doubt, faith and hope with a level of maturity and humility difficult to find in the Christian music landscape. Hailing from the nearby city of Grand Rapids, he found success early in his career with the single “How to Be Yours”, a beautiful song lamenting his feelings of being disconnected from God and struggling to find faith. Despite not being signed by a label nor receiving airplay on Christian radio stations, his debut album You Be the Branches was well received by audiences, and he since has signed for Centricity Records and has been releasing music with staggering quantity and quality, finishing a total of 34 original songs between 2020 and 2023. His newest piece of work, Manna Pt. 1, is an exciting addition to an already impressive discography and a clear improvement on the lyrical and musical direction of his previous project Get Out of the Way of Your Own Heart. 

The opening track, “Not Giving Up on You”, is a brief commentary on faith communities around him falling apart in the midst of a wave of deconstruction. While his musings come off as a little cheesy, he sticks the landing by never coming across as angry or insincere, and the song gives some frame of reference for where he’s coming from on the following tracks. At only seven tracks (Manna Pt. 1 is part one of what is supposed to be a two-part album), just about every track stands out in different ways. “Hereditary” is a hard-hitting tune about inadequacy and religious cognitive dissonance disguised as a sweet, Americana-tinged ballad with great guest vocals provided by fellow indie singer-songwriter Jess Ray. On “Faith!?”, Chris acknowledges the many unanswered questions that go along with truly engaging faith and spirituality while also channeling his inner indie-rocker, and “Manna (after all these years)” is a slow, contemplative cut taking inspiration from Moses and his many, many years of relying on God’s blessings. Building from some basic acoustic guitar playing and swelling to a satisfying crescendo of folk-pop goodness, this song is an excellent showcase of an artist who knows how to get the most out of a strong lyrical theme and simple musical ideas without detracting from either with overembellishment. 

However, the clear high point of this album is the one-two punch of “Holy Ghost” and “God & Prozac”. The latter is a somber track wrestling with his tremendous difficulty of dealing with depression while simultaneously pursuing a career of trying to express hope and joy through music. The melancholy, faded vocals set the tone perfectly, and the spectral wail of the electric guitar combined with the crystal clarity of his lyrics creates an environment that invites listeners to have a small insight into his angst and feelings of hopelessness. Meanwhile, “Holy Ghost”, the emotional climax of the album, is one of his best songs yet. Beginning with a story about discovering a particular religious revival to be a sham in spite of wanting to feel at peace, he proceeds to grapple with the internal fight between skepticism and true belief. Combined with propulsive indie-rock instrumentation and a jump-to-falsetto bridge that is reminiscent of early Coldplay in the best possible ways, this track is a tremendous accomplishment of songcraft that demonstrates why Chris Renzema is a cut above just about all of his contemporaries. 
In short, Manna Pt. 1 is short, but there’s no wasted space in the tracklist, full of good instrumentation and earnest lyricism that indicates promising evolution as an artist. With yet another solid set of songs (and more of this sort on the way), Chris Renzema continues to demonstrate why he is one of the most exciting artists on a spiritual music scene that is sorely in need of music with this level of emotional honesty and maturity.


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