Upside Down Kingdom releases debut album

Wesley Stenzel, Staff Writer

Kieran Clark and Olivia Essen have had a busy year. In just the last semester, their worship music collective Upside Down Kingdom has played multiple mini-concerts on Westmont’s campus, in addition to leading a weekly worship night every Wednesday.  Perhaps their biggest achievement, however, is the creation of their debut self-titled album, which was released earlier this month. The 12-track album is the culmination of over a year’s work for the band, which also features Owen Carlson, Alyssa Beccue, William Ellzey, and several other talented musicians.

Clark, a multitalented guitarist and singer, and Essen, a remarkably strong vocalist, initially connected early in their freshman year, when they bonded in the Page multipurpose room over theology, tattoos, and the music of Will Reagan. The duo quickly realized their shared interest in creating worship music, and actually played together in Westmont’s prayer chapel on the same night that they first met. Their impromptu jam session evolved into a weekly worship night that drew in a host of other artists and musicians. 

The group’s songwriting has always been spontaneous. Essen said that the vast majority of their songs come from Clark improvising chords, and the addition of vocals comes instinctively from both singers.  “We didn’t intend to write songs––it just sort of fell into our laps, and we can’t stop,” said Essen. “I’ve really felt that when I’m writing, it’s not me. Sometimes it feels like I’m hearing it for the first time––like I didn’t actually think it before I sang it, and it just sort of came out.”

The group didn’t always intend to record an album, but eventually realized they could record music to fill a void that they saw in the existing body of worship music. “We were really upset with the music that’s out there because it’s not reflective of what most people are feeling,” said Essen.  “As much as there’s a time and place for joy, there needs to be time for mourning,” she said. “We have these books like Job and Ecclesiastes that don’t run away from the problems and scary things in life, so we need that in our worship music, too.”

The final product definitely reflects the group’s goals. It’s eclectic both sonically and emotionally, as the songs span a wide variety of genres and moods. There isn’t a weak track on the album, but several stand out as especially powerful. “Yoke” is a melancholy, acoustic cry for help, while “The Beatitudes” is an uplifting, reassuring piece that evokes hard-rock groups like Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins.  “Be at Rest” is a six-minute, laid-back beach rock track that lies sonically between Jack Johnson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with a hint of Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” thrown in for good measure. The album’s production, instrumentation, and vocals are all excellent––in fact, it’s so impressive and professional in quality that most listeners probably wouldn’t guess it was made by college students. There’s something for everyone on this album. “Upside Down Kingdom” is available on Spotify, iTunes, and other music platforms.

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