THIS HEART I SURRENDER – Album Review: “THIS: FOUNDATIONS”

One of my recent music finds is an alternative rock band from Wisconsin with the rather endearing name of This Heart I Surrender. The other day I happened upon their debut album THIS: FOUNDATIONS, which dropped October 21st, and made the wise decision to give it a listen. I immediately liked it, so much so that I reached out to the band to let them know I would be featuring it on my blog.

Combining elements of emo-punk, metal and alternative rock, they create melodic, impactful rock music that sounds at once familiar, yet distinctly their own. Listening to their music, I hear an eclectic range of influences from bands like Sum 41, Bring Me the Horizon, Aerosmith and Blink-182, to name just a few that come to mind. According to their bio, “blaring guitars, strong vocal melodies, and beat thumping drums is what This Heart I Surrender is all about; the powerful hooky melodies and ear-candy moments will have you coming back wishing the song was longer.” After listening to their album, I can’t argue with that!

The engaging and talented four-piece consists of lead vocalist Jourdan Westenberg, drummer/beat maker Jairius Stolar, lead guitarist Kyle Conner, and bassist/guitarist Will Peters, who joined the band while recording of the album was underway, but ended up playing bass on all the tracks. (Unfortunately, the band already had photos taken of themselves before he came on board, hence the inclusion of only three band members in their photo).

THIS: FOUNDATIONS opens with the beautiful and cinematic neoclassical “OVERTURE“, which sounds like it could be part of the soundtrack to a fantasy adventure film or series like Game of Thrones. This overture was composed by This Heart I Surrender with the assistance of Larry Moore, who band vocalist Jourdan described as ‘a master of synthesized orchestration’. Indeed, Mr. Moore co-wrote, arranged and played the orchestral string parts for the entire album. Jourdan added that nearly every track includes an element of strings, and was intended as the connecting “sound” between songs.

Thinking it might be a concept album of sorts, I also asked about the album’s title, to which Jourdan responded: “If I had to describe the theme of the album it’s in the title. This is our first full length album, and we titled it ‘Foundations’ because it’s the foundations of us starting out. Our sound. Our style. All of it. A lot of the songs [touch on the idea] of a new beginning and being tired of the same old same old. Taking risks and moving forward toward something new.”

“OVERTURE” directly segues into “RAISE IT” a powerful and stunning rock anthem, featuring added vocals by Garett Rapp of Illinois metalcore band The Color Morale. The inspirational song is a clarion call to arms against forces who lie and distort the truth for the purpose of keeping us divided and fighting each other: “Falling short when we need to stand up strong. Why do we keep on deciding wrong? Faceless victims in the night, not knowing where the demons hide. So raise it up, raise it up! Let us spark a revolution today!” Jourdan and Garett’s dual vocals complement each other nicely.

Themes of love and loss are addressed again and again on the album. “THANK YOU” is a beautiful song of thanks to a loved one who’s no longer around, but who had a major part in shaping who we are now. Jourdan has a great voice, and his plaintive vocals are heartfelt and filled with emotion as he sings “I never expected to lose you. I never thought I’d say goodbye. I know there’s a promise to see you. I cling to that hope with my life. But until that day. All I can say is ‘thank you’. Thank you for all that you were for me. Thank you for everything.” And on “STAY“, he pleads for someone to stay with him and help him through a rough patch.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “MORE THAN A MELODY“, a gorgeous song that starts off as a gentle ballad with breathtaking acoustic and chiming guitars, then transitions into a stirring anthem, highlighted by soaring vocal harmonies and a terrific solo in the bridge. The lyrics seem to address a troubled relationship, and trying to remember the things that brought you together in the first place: “Remember what you are to me. You’re more than a melody? You’re more than a song. You’re more than a moment that’s fading along. Are we caught up in our mess? Broke in all that stress. Forgetting just who we are. We won’t forget.”

DEATH OF IT” is a fast-paced rock song, with driving rhythms and bold, jagged riffs. The lyrics speak of never giving up on your dreams, and to keep moving toward your goals: “I’ll keep my mind on this. I won’t give up or quit. Rushing, rushing around, don’t let my feet hit the ground. Never stop moving. Oh, this is the death of it.”

WELCOME TO COMPROMISE” has a bit of a Blink-182 feel. thanks to its lively groove and Jourdan’s fervent vocals. The bittersweet lyrics speak of reminiscing about a lost romantic relationship and what could have been: “I’ll always miss you and I won’t forget you. I’ve been wondering how you are, and how you have been. I’ve been wishing to go back relive the moments. Though I miss you, you’re always with me.

True to its title, “HAUNTING” is a hauntingly beautiful song, both musically and lyrically. Once again, I have to bring attention to the stunning guitar work, as well as the arresting melody and Jourdan’s commanding, emotion-filled vocals. The song is about struggling with emotional demons, and fighting to overcome them: “My demons haunt me no matter where I go./The war is raging and it’s never letting go. Sometimes I hold my head and wish that it would stop. Seems like a cycle that will never end at all. It’s all the same, haunting me. So let it rain./This isn’t who I want to be.”

Closing track “DAYS OF GOLD” speaks to those who are struggling day to day, hoping there’s something more for them in this life: “Back at it again repeating my steps. Still waiting for an answer if there’s one at all. Still sit here in the grind, thinking I’m made for more. I’m not looking for some glory, just a different story. I’m done with the same thing tonight. I’m holding on for a new light. I don’t know tomorrow, but still I will wait for a better day.” The song is a brilliant rock anthem, and I love how it closes with beautiful orchestral strings, bring the album full-circle. The guys really show us what they can do here, blowing our minds and dazzling our ears with their impressive musicianship, while Jourdan digs deep into his core, summoning all the passion he can muster to deliver a spine-tingling vocal performance. Watch and listen to them create musical magic:

THIS: FOUNDATIONS is an outstanding album, and a triumphant debut for This Heart I Surrender. All the hard work and effort they put into it really shows, for which they should be quite proud. It’s my honor to support them.

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