Title Bout: Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come: The Mae Shi vs. The Civil Wars

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done, On Earth As It Is In Heaven. Wow, words look really important when you capitalize them. You can’t do “Kingdom Come” in lowercase, that’s for sure. Out of the thousands of religious phrases, this one sits in the top few as far as portent and finality go. When the Kingdom does come, all truth will be made known, and so everything else falls into irrelevance, or at least silence. There is also a tinge of the bloody about it: the Kingdom might have to arrive and assert itself forcefully, but arrive and assert itself it will. Whatever the end-times scenario, a musician can act as an eerie prophet.

To understand The Mae Shi’s “Kingdom Come,” you have to understand a bit of the context of the song. It is placed halfway through their album HLLLYH, and no, I’ve never figured out what that title meant. But the theme of the album is clear: a reckoning of Old Testament religion as glimpsed through the cracked lens of our modern age. With songs like “Lamb and the Lion,” “Young Marks,” “Book of Numbers,” and “7xx7,” there are no casual decisions made here by The Mae Shi. The music is frenetic electro-pop featuring wild yet beautifully structured and harmonized vocals. If you’ve ever turned your nose at a band because the singer is too shrill or shrieking (your words, not mine!) then this is definitely not your cup of tea, as catchy and thoughtful as the music undoubtedly is.

But give “Kingdom Come” a try, because there are hardly any vocals at all. The track passes a full 11 minutes in length, on an album where almost all the other songs gather around the 2:30 mark. Because of its placement, “Kingdom Come” not only gives a breather to the dizzying pop that precedes it (even as a fan I welcome a break from the hyper pace), it effectively creates an intermission that lets the album’s ideas simmer before phase two commences. And it does this through a style used only on this one song—dancey techno beats with wonderful rises, falls, and breakdowns, giving the song two or three personalities as it progresses. The ending even lets a few distorted, repetitive lines sneak in, something that sounds like “holy mountain, holy mountain.” The song’s boldness fits the title perfectly: it is as off-putting, inviting, mysterious, and essential as the Kingdom—all of a religion’s essential parts clicking and working in tandem—is meant to be. I would argue that the title of the song directly helps it earn its place on the album. No other title would do.

The Civil Wars’ song exists in a totally different framework: not in an album, but as part of the soundtrack for the film The Hunger Games (which is a pretty good collection of originals from a range of acts.) With The Civil Wars, we step firmly into modern folk-rock territory, where the band crafts its somber but catchy tunes that ride on the strength of the male-female complement. Their “Kingdom Come” swings between anxious fear—“run and hide”—to well-intentioned if wistful reassurances—“Don’t you fret my dear/ It’ll all be over soon.” The nervous tension could reflect the agony of a land that needs saving, or fear of the Kingdom which could shake up complacency. And if the Coming is imminent, justification kicks in: it must be better when it comes, and I must be invited to the right side, because the other option—enemy of the Kingdom—is too awful to contemplate.

The song must also be contemplated along with the movie it was written for, a dark tale not about religious forces but a stark political nightmare. The Kingdom could be negative, if seen as the embodiment of the repressive Capital, or positive, if meant to conjure a better world that could exist after a dramatic revolution. That line “Don’t you fret my dear/ It’ll all be over soon” is first very fragile, and could be the words of Katniss reassuring Prim even though she has little hope. It then gets repeated with mounting strength, perhaps following the protagonist’s character arc. The song’s low notes and carefully weaved vocal harmonies seem like warnings from ghosts in the woods Katniss hunts in. Is it wise to heed them? What’s best, to stand, run, cower, or defy? The Kingdom will come regardless.

Winner: These are getting harder and harder to judge. I thought I introduced two pretty different acts with last month’s “Daylight,” but here the song styles are stretched even further apart. The Mae Shi track is a lot of fun but not as rewarding as listening to the entire album (which though nearly perfect, is becoming obscure since the band never did anything further). The Civil Wars tune doesn’t even have a proper album home and so can only be considered as a standalone piece…which I suppose is fitting given whole point of the Title Bout exercise. Can anyone help me decide? Okay, let’s give it to The Civil Wars, since it’s easy to picture the troubadours with their guitars and angelic voices, wrapped in tatters at the side of a road as dark clouds gather overhead. The coming of the Kingdom should be nothing if not picturesque.

The Mae Shi – Kingdom Come (2008) – (audio)

The Civil Wars – Kingdom Come (2012) – (live video)

kingdom come

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