It is I, the once-famed Firetunes album reviewer and “Millionaire” month-after reposter, Tynan “Iced-Tea” Friend, back with a review of this South Carolina rock band’s newest record, “HARDLOVE.”

Released Friday, nearly two years after their last “Rivers in the Wasteland,” HARDLOVE spent the weekend as the #1 album in America and currently resides at #3 on the iTunes chart. As a whole, the album is a fantastic mix of upbeat, heart-pounding jams (“GREAT NIGHT”), slow reflection-based songs (“NO EXCUSES”), and plenty of NTB’s classic powerful religiously-influenced soul-searching anthems (“TESTIFY”).

Overall, the theme seems to tend towards finding love and hope from loss and sorrow. Their first single from the album, “HAPPINESS” (which they performed on the Today Show this morning!), is a great mix of their acoustic guitar and percussion-based sing-a-long type songs with lyrics that are as haunting as they are inspiring. “WHEN I SING” takes a similar note, with a touch more complex vocal melodic lines sprinkled in the chorus.

If you’re looking for some windows-down summertime jams, turn up “HARD LOVE” and “GREAT NIGHT.” These two tend more towards the rock-heavy side of the group, relying on a firm melodic pulse while still keeping those beautiful and empowering lyrics intact. Be on the lookout for the synth-inspired bridge on “HARD LOVE”––a definite new direction (and successful one) for the group.

I’m not afraid to admit that my personal favorite songs on the record are, what I think, are the three sappiest ones. “BE HERE LONG” has a stunning set of lyrics (as expected) with that classic NTB soulful chanting background and an inventive and almost Coldplay-like bridge which sets up the last anthemic chorus perfectly (key change, anyone?). “CLEAR”, starting with a very similar motif to Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather,” is a stunning six-minute journey across what these guys do best: telling a story through melody. In this case, their story is of rebuilding a love once lost (yes, sappy, I warned you), and it is told so beautifully through ethereal hymn-like chants and a stunning acoustic rhythm section-based background. The best part of the song, though, is Bear’s solo part at the end of the song where he hits his high register with a grace and finesse that is seldom seen in today’s music. And finally, my personal favorite, “TESTIFY,” a stunning and empowering exposition of giving up your soul to find happiness and love (technically, in this song, it’s Jesus, but it’s open to interpretation). Beautiful chords, mandolin lines (reminiscent of their hit “The Outsiders”), and a chorus orchestration comprising what feels like a 25-piece orchestra in a concert hall––truly, I mean TRULY, powerful. Rarely, I feel, does music influence emotion with such strength and grace.

Take a listen to this album all the way through. Some parts are slower than others, yes, and much of it is different than what you’re used to hearing from these guys. But their new direction is a more accessible one, yet with all of the power and musical beauty that make NEEDTOBREATHE so damn unforgettable.

p.s. catch them on tour late this summer and throughout the fall. I’m headed there in Chicago, and it’s supposed to be a fantastic show:


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