This site too slow? Try a mirror  --  Subscribe to the Guide  --  Find artist:
the Ectophiles' Guide: * Guide Home* What's new* * Alphabetical* Genre* Commentator* Location* Random artist* Search* Contact the editors* Credits

The Innocence Mission


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Alternative pop/folk

Status:

Most recent release, My Room In The Trees (2010)

See also:

The Innocence Mission site

Innocence Mission's MySpace page

Don Peris' site; The Ectophiles' Guide's entry for Don Peris

Karen Peris' page on CD Baby; The Ectophiles' Guide's entry for Karen Peris

Comparisons:

10,000 Maniacs/Natalie Merchant, The Sundays. (afries@zip.com.au)

Covers/own material:

Own and occasional covers

General comments:

The Innocence Mission's music, vocals, and even lyrics are quiet, the quiet of a grey rainy day. That mood is crafted very well and holds consistently. The music and melodies lack any strong hooks or rhythm that could disturb that mood. Karen Peris rarely raises her accented quiet small voice. Yet as the saying goes, still waters run deep. The lyrics reveal a deep emotional undercurrent. While the actual subject matter ranges all over the map, the songs share a central theme—emotional burdens. Songwriter Karen Peris barely hints at what caused the burdens, but describes the melancholy of a temporary burden, the pains of learning to bear a permanent burden, or even turning a burden into a joy. She even goes beyond the description to explain how such burdens can be borne, through seeing the good which is in everyone, including ourselves. In fact, I would dare to say "seeing that which is God in everyone", since religious faith is weaved inseparably into the lyrics, often explicitly. The quiet surface adds a lot of emotional depth to their music, subtle gentle deft pieces of work. (dbx@aa.net)

Glow is palpably different from Umbrella, which is also different, though perhaps not as different, from Innocence Mission. They are all very good albeit for different reasons. I have friends who love Umbrella but dislike Innocence Mission.
     I think Innocence Mission is less polished, rougher, but at the same time more visceral and engaging at times. Songs like "Clear to You" (my personal fave), "Surreal", and "Wonder of Birds", are rougher, yet unequalled in raw emotional energy on any later releases. On the other hand, there is something seductive and constant about Umbrella that is missing on Innocence Mission. It is much more even and polished, with, I feel, far more subtlety than songs like "Notebook", which is great, but a little too in-your-face (some probably will disagree), or raw.
     Umbrella is more "undulating" (oooh, that's exactly the word I was looking for before) than either of the other two, and has that rhythm as its theme. I would say that Umbrella is a total achievement and progression from Innocence Mission—it is a step up, but by adding more polish, they lose a bit of the immediacy of songs like "Clear to You" which make "Clear to You" all that more engaging.
     Glow, on the other hand, is very quixotic, wavy, almost psychedelic, with a major shift in sound to more dreamy guitars and more echoiness—definitely portraying if not a stark etherealness, then an ethereal sensibility. Almost a reminiscing tone to it, a looking back, a removal from the visceral immediacy in Innocence Mission. Yet, this calm portrays a quiet power all its own which makes Glow another breakthrough for the group, and particularly for Karen, who writes virtually all of the songs. You can almost see the coming together of Karen and Don (Peris—they are married)'s family. On the debut, songs like "Black Sheep Wall" and "Broken Circle"; contrasted on Glow with songs like "Keeping Awake" and "Happy, The End": "In this story we sit down on Luna Bridge and catch snow in our cupped hands and music is coming from the houses or it sings inside me. **I begin to mend. Oh happy, oh happy, the end, the end, the end**". Clearly the dysfunctionality and alienation she was feeling earlier is being displaced by healing and peace.
     Taken together, a beautiful set of albums depicting a human process as basic as they come. I say they're all equally great. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

Karen Peris has a childlike yet rich voice, which overlays acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums and, on the albums, keyboards. I would say if you like the mellower side of things and voices like Tanya Donelly's don't send you screaming from the room, you'll enjoy Innocence Mission. After repeated listens to Glow and a second chance to Umbrella I have to say that as far as I am concerned their eponymous debut (Innocence Mission) is by far their best, but I know my opinion is vastly in the minority. (meth@smoe.org)

Innocence Mission's albums always take a while to come into focus for me, but I've found that the more I play them the more I connect with them and they've all grown to be albums I love, Innocence Mission and Glow particularly. There's a subtlety to their music that takes a while to sink into my all-too-grabby-hook-conditioned ears, but it certainly rewards the patient listener. (Neile)

I already had Glow, and I liked that album more and more each time I played it, and I expected to like their other albums as well. Well, I did. In fact, it was kind of frightening, as the first time I played Innocence Mission I had such a strong sense of familiarity that I searched high and low for where I could have heard this album before, and if I had heard it before, why I didn't run out and buy it immediately at the time. I couldn't find a clue and so I came to the conclusion that I hadn't heard it before. Apparently it just hit home with me. It's my absolute favourite 'old' album of this year. Just perfect. And while Umbrella is sort of similar it doesn't move me as much (except for 'Revolving man')—it sort of feels forced, down, don't know what it is. Perhaps it's too polished and less direct. (Marion)

The Innocence Mission emerged from Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the late eighties bearing a folkish, atmospheric, airy-guitar style that owed as much to 10,000 Maniacs as it did to Simon and Garfunkel. Comprised of four schoolfriends, Mike Bitts (bass), Steve Brown (drums), Don Peris (lead guitar, keyboards) and his newlywed wife Karen Peris (vocals, guitar, keyboards), the band found a niche on A&M Records's roster upon the strength of the ep Tending the Rose Garden. Since then The Innocence Mission has been cultivating a personal, contemplative style that explores the most fragile regions of the post-punk, "enlightened", arty sound.
     The Innocence Mission (1989, A&M), the band's self-titled debut, if anything was strikingly unique (especially for its era). Karen's lyrics (on this record), obviously contrasting the literary sophistication of a Natalie Merchant and a John Lombardo (John and Mary and 10,000 Maniacs) or the imagination of a Morrissey, may seem plain at first glance, like random scribblings in a notebook; yet there is something to be said for their humility, which comes across as refreshingly honest. In those days Karen's words primarilly covered the desperate insecurity of youth. Above all, the shining point of the album is Karen's unique, childlike sorprano (comparable to Kate Bush), displayed at its most fledgling stage. That combined with Don Peris's beautifully chiming guitar style and the slower, more subtle rhythms is what makes this record such a beautiful listen. Some of the finer moments are the elegant "Mercy" and the consuming "Surreal" and "Wonder of Birds".
     The group's second album, Umbrella, (1991, A&M) is definitely more polished, and some might even say it loses a bit of The Innocence Mission's raw intensity. Yet, the melodies are stronger, as is apparent in the gorgeous opening track "And Hiding Away", and the rhythms become the focal point. Overall, it's a step up, with beautifully reflective lyrics that reach the most personal emotions of the listener with remarkable ease. It carries on the theme of emotional burdens (which seems to be the consistent topic of Karen's words) as well as childhood memories coupled with Catholic imagery. Karen's singing has also improved, and she seems to have a greater control over her voice.
     Glow (1995, A&M), the third album, wouldn't see the light of day for some time. But the wait was surely worth it, as this record displays The Innocence Mission reaching what is considered by the broad portion of their fanbase to be their peak. It is, as it is named, a brightly burning flame, swirly, driven by a more neo-psychedelic guitar jangle. Karen's voice having pleasingly settled, the melodies are easier while the rhythms are more intense. Karen's lyrics are no longer as desperate and emotionally burdened, expressing a settled comfort in her family life. The band's groove clearly flaunts the solidity of experience. It is their most upbeat record to date, although you wouldn't know it from the quiet single "Bright as Yellow" or the drifting ballad "Happy, the End". The passive energy of "Brave" and "Speak Our Minds" is utterly thrilling, as Don's gorgeous, chiming guitar riffs command the tunes eloquently.
     At this point things would shift dramatically in the world of The Innocence Mission. Unhappiness with their status on A&M and an overall feeling of security in their fanbase would lead the group to leave the label for more freedom on independant label Kneeling Elephant. Yet the more affecting change would occur in 1998 when Steve Brown would depart the band to fullfill a lifetime dream of opening his own restaraunt. The band didn't seem at all alarmed by his departure, despite the fact that it would delay the release of a new record. At the same time Don and Karen's difficulty in conceiving a child led to some unhappiness for the two (that no doubt would come across on the album). The recording process for Birds of My Neighborhood (1999, Kneeling Elephant) was slow and apparently comfortable for the remaining members, who chose not to add a new drummer. The new record is consoling, emotional, personal their quietest and most folkish yet. Birds of My Neighborhood may not quite match up to its innovative predecessors, but few artists can come across so astoundingly strong from such a stripped-down setting. The band seems more than comfortable where they are, and Don and Karen are quite content with their new baby boy. At the same time, this is clearly a veteran band, one that has proven their abilities with already classic records and their live shows remain fantastic and sold out. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)

Comments about live performance:

Saw Innocence Mission live—it was exquisite. Karen Peris has the voice of a goddess, delicate like a bird. I love their hollow-body guitar sound (for those of you guitar-geeks Don Peris plays a Gretsch '69—a true weepy guitar sound), their music is so beautiful in its simplicity. And...they are friendly and interesting people to boot! (groovy@his.com)

Recommended first album:

Innocence Mission or Glow

Recordings:


Innocence Mission

Release info:

1989—A&M—CD 5274

Availability:

getting harder to find

Ecto priority:

Must have for lovers of folkish rock

Group members:

Karen Peris—vocals, keyboards and keyboard sounds
Don Peris—guitars
Mike Bitts—bass guitars
Steve Brown—drums

Comments:

This is a wonderful album. All the songs are good, but I'm particularly taken with "Black Sheep Wall," "Curious," "Come Around and See Me.". This album has worn well over the years and I still enjoy it every time I hear it. Highly recommended. (Neile)

Umbrella

Release info:

1991—A&M—75021 5362 2

Availability:

getting harder to find

Ecto priority:

recommended if you liked the other ones

Group members:

Karen Peris—vocals, keyboards and keyboard sounds
Don Peris—guitars
Mike Bitts—bass guitars
Steve Brown—drums

Comments:

This album is more uneven than the first one, though it still has wonderful moments. (Neile)

Umbrella is even more boring than Glow. Innocence Mission is my favorite, by far! (scottz@best.com)


Bright as Yellow ep

Release info:

1995—A&M Records—31458 0967 2

Availability:

Wide on release, now out of print

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

As in Glow

Produced by:

Two tracks (from Glow) produced by Dennis Herring

Comments:

This was released shortly before the release of the band's third album Glow. It has two songs from that album, the title track and "That Was Another Country". There are also two non-album tracks, "Let's Talk About Something Else" and "Geranium Lake". To say the least I was pleasantly surprised to find out how good these two tracks are. "Let's Talk About Something Else" has a rolling, lazy kind of beat sort of like "Bright As Yellow", and it's absolutely beautiful. Karen's voice is utterly sensuous, more powerful than usual. "Geranium Lake" is very short, perhaps barely over a minute, and it's just Karen accompanied by Don on electric guitar. Whoa! The melody was amazing! Normally non-album tracks are somewhat less than what the artist is capable of, but these two songs were actually better than a lot of songs on Glow. Anyway, if you like The Innocence Mission, and you have all there albums, this should be the next thing you look for. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)

Glow

Release info:

1995—A&M Records—31454 0332 2

Availability:

widely available

Ecto priority:

High recommended

Group members:

Karen Peris—vocals, keyboards and keyboard sounds
Don Peris—guitars
Mike Bitts—bass guitars
Steve Brown—drums

Comments:

A truly delightful album. This one has just barely managed to usurp the place of their self-titled collection as my favourite Innocence Mission disc. The songs here have a maturity and depth and spirituality that is not only inoffensive and rare in contemporary music but seems totally organic and takes me along with it. Karen Peris has the most amazing voice! A powerful comeback. (Neile)

I heard Innocence Mission's "Bright as Yellow" on the local "alternacrap" radio station the other day...was so swept away by it that I swallowed hard and ran out to buy the CD (I'm trying to save up for my vacation...). Glow is truly mesmerizing, beautiful, wonderful! I've been recommending to all my friends who are into "girl" singers. (groovy@his.com)

i just haven't been able to stop listening to the new innocence mission, glow. it is amazing. i think it sounds a lot like their prior releases, except with a tiny bit of mazzy star and the sundays thrown in. i think that Karen Peris's voice just keeps getting better and better. (clsriram@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)

"Bright as Yellow" does indeed sound like Mazzy Star, at least it did until I got better acquainted with it. The album as a whole is pretty nice, even if it haven't yet grabbed me as strongly as the Innocence Mission album—however, I do not necessarily agree that this album is closer to Umbrella—it has its own special sound/mood/feel/whatever.... (jbr@casetech.dk)

Unfortunately, this band is turning out to suffer from O'Connor-Chapman Syndrome: brilliant debut, swift downhill slide thereafter. Sigh. (meth@smoe.org)

It's a nice CD, pleasant, very Sundays-ish, a bit Mazzy Star-ish, uncomplicated poppy songs. Can't think of other words than pleasant and nice yet, though. I like the family stories in the lyrics. (Marion)

Innocence Mission has never grabbed me much. I've only given each of the first two albums a few listens, and they seemed nice enough, but not too compelling. I don't know what it is about Glow though. I've instantly taken a shine to it. <ouch> It somehow snuck right under my skin, both lyrically and musically, and I've really been enjoying listening to it the last few days. (neal)

the first innocence mission album leaves me no choice but to turn into mewing pools of melted butter but frankly, glow hasn't sunk in for me yet. it's nice, but somehow nondescript. but then, that's how the second innocence mission album was for me as well. it was pleasant and enjoyable, but i could never distinguish one song from another either in my memory (shush, meth) or when listening to the album. i suspect that glow will eventually congeal and i'll come to adore it...but right now, i just like it. (woj@smoe.org)

I absolutely love this album; it's the first and the earliest Innocence Mission album I've heard and one of my favorite albums of the 90s, though I'm not sure when I acquired it. It just never fails to leave me charmed and happy. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Birds of my Neighborhood

Release info:

1999—Kneeling Elephant—0783 67810-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Innocence Mission fans mostly

Group members:

Karen Peris—acoustic guitar, organ, piano, nylon string guitar, electric guitar, vocal
Don Peris—acoustic guitar, electric guitar, nylon string guitar, tambourine, drum kit, organ, backing vocal, harmony vocal
Mike Bitts—upright bass, electric bass, refrain electric bass, backing vocal

Guest artists:

Steve Brown—drum kit

Produced by:

Innocence Mission

Comments:

My initial opinion still stands: this is my favourite Innocence Mission album; I love their new, almost slow-core approach. Even more so, because I don't expect it to become their usual style. One of my top ten albums of 1999. It is wonderfully stripped down and somber, it's all about space and silence and stillness. This is Innocence Mission reduced to its core elements, the voice and guitar with minimal embellishment. Notice how subtly they use the keyboards, how the drum kit appears only twice! It makes their previous records sound jangly in comparison. They were like busy summer days buzzing with activity, this one is like a quiet winter morning.
     I'm far from being disappointed, but I agree "Follow Me" is one weaker moment on this CD and I'd much prefer to hear another of their own tunes instead. (afries@zip.com.au)

Okay, yes, I'm disappointed. I loved Glow, and their first self-titled disc. This has some wonderful moments like the lovely "The Lakes of Canada" but also a skip-every-time tune, their cover of John Denver (ack!)'s "Follow Me"—a song I never liked even in the brief period when I liked John Denver. In a lot of ways this sounds like home demos, and if I'd been prepared for that I might not have been so let down, but the only song I listened to before buying this is "The Lakes of Canada" so I had no idea. There are some wonderful moments on this, but overall I'd say it's not going to win them any fans and might even lose them a few. It's too bad—I have loved their songwriting and Karen Peris' voice so much over the years. Unfortunately, this is just not a direction I am so interested in, which is too bad because Glow still knocks my socks off. Still, any Innocence Mission is better than no Innocence Mission at all! And there are such gems here like "Snow" and the previously mentioned "The Lakes of Canada". (Neile)


Christ Is My Hope

Release info:

2000—self-release

Availability:

By mail order from The Innocence Mission

Ecto priority:

Recommended only for fans, people who like hymns and spiritual songs, and/or someone who wants to help the Innocence Mission support their charitable causes

Group members:

Karen Peris—acoustic guitar, piano, vocals
Don Peris—acoustic and electric guitars, harmony vocals
Mike Bitts—upright and electric bass, harmony vocals

Comments:

This is the Innocence Mission doing something very dear to their hearts: a collection of spiritual/inspirational/devotional songs (their own, traditional songs, a 7th-century chant, etc.) and dedicating the profits to Food For The Poor and to food banks and shelters in their hometown. This and their earnest spirituality shows clearly on this collection. The music isn't my cup of tea, but I respect them for doing this and so wanted to support the project. The overall sound of these is not unlike Birds of my Neighborhood, so if you like that disc you will probably like this one. (Neile)

small planes

Release info:

2001—At-Source—7 44626 00512 3

Availability:

See website for availability

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Innocence Mission fans

Group members:

Karen Peris—bass guitar, piano, pump organ, vocal, acoustic guitar, hammond organ, baritone acoustic guitar
Don Peris—electric guitars, acoustic guitar, drums, bass guitar, tambourine, harmony vocal, nylon string guitar
Mike Bitts—bass guitar, tom tom, harmony vocal
Steve Brown—drums

Produced by:

the innocence mission

Comments:

The disc subtitles these: "Lost and Found Songs 1996-2001."

A really charming collection of odds and ends—mostly songs that remind me why I like the Innocence Mission. It's a mixture of lively pop songs and yearning slower songs. Pretty much vintage Innocence Mission. (Neile)


Befriended

Release info:

2002—Badman Recording—BRCD-971

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Innocence Mission fans

Group members:

Karen Peris—guitars, piano, organ/strings/vocals
Don Peris—guitars, drums, vocals
Mike Bitts—bass

Comments:

This is one of their most uneven albums. I really like "Tomorrow on the Runway" and "Sweep Down Early" but cannot bear "I Never Knew You From the Sun" and "No Storms Comes", which are too sentimental for my tastes. Their music has sometimes verged on the sentimental but usually has enough of a quirky spirit to transcend that. Here, for me, it falls into it too much. (Neile)

Now the Day Is Over

Release info:

2004—Badman Recording—BRCD-952

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of Innocence Mission, lullabies, or those who'd like to support the band's charity efforts

Group members:

Karen Peris—vocals, piano, pump field organ, guitar
Don Peris—electric, nylon, acoustic guitars, vocals
Mike Bitts—stand-up bass

Produced by:

Don Peris

Comments:

Now the Day Is Over is everything a lullaby album should be—innocent and sweet. The songs are rendered simply and without a lot of fuss. That simplicity is really what elevates this album over other lullaby collections I've heard. The recording seems to capture not only the style but the spirit of how you would sing to a child or with a small group of friends. The band's choices extend beyond traditional lullaby material to include classical music (done instrumentally), film classics, a spiritual, and a new song by Karen. That makes it as enjoyable for adults as for children. Perfect listening for bedtime or anytime you want something quiet and relaxing to listen to. And since part of the proceeds go to charity, you can feel good about your purchase too. (JoAnn Whetsell)

We Walked in Song

Release info:

2007—Badman Recording—BRCD-939

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Innocence Mission fans

Group members:

Karen Peris—voice, guitars, field pump organ, piano, Hammond organ
Don Peris—guitars, background vocals, drums, Hammond organ
Mike Bitts—upright and electric bass guitars

Guest artists:

Hunter Johnson—additional drums on "Lake Shore Drive"

Comments:

There aren't any real standout songs here, but that's okay because they all work together to make a quiet and lovely album. Think different shades of yellow, from pale butter to lemon bright. (JoAnn Whetsell)

My Room in the Trees

Release info:

2010—Badman Recording—BRCD927

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

Another really lovely album. Fans should be pleased, and the band should be proud. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Further info:

The Innocence Mission's cover of "Follow Me" appears on Take Me Home: A Tribute to John Denver (2000). They also have a track on Evensong's compilation album.

Write: the innocence mission, P.O. Box 837, Lancaster, PA 17608, U.S.A.


Thanks to Doug Burks, Jens P. Tagore Brage, Andrew Fries, and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

Why the ads?
the Ectophiles' Guide: * Guide Home* What's new* * Alphabetical* Genre* Commentator* Location* Random artist* Search* Contact the editors* Credits

DISCLAIMER: Comments and reviews in the Ectophiles' Guide are excerpted from the ecto mailing list or volunteered by members of the list. They are the opinions of music enthusiasts, not professional music critics.

Entry last updated 2013-12-14 19:10:06.
Please request permission if you wish to
reproduce any of the comments in the
Ectophiles' Guide in any context.

The Ectophiles' Guide to Good Music is copyright © 1996-2004 by the editors.
Individual comments are copyright © by their authors.
Web site design and programming copyright © 1998-2004 usrbin design + programming.
All rights reserved.