When I was younger, the only things that kept me interested at church were the crispy wafers my mom shared with me (since I refused to attend Sunday school) and the part at the end where everyone shakes hands and hugs those around them. Food and pinched cheeks were enough to keep me entertained, but if The Welcome Wagon were singing their ethereal hymns I believe I would have changed into a hallelujah chiming choirboy.
The latest project from Asthmatic Kitty features a married couple, the Reverend Thomas Vito Aituo and his wife Monique, who belt out heartwarming tunes about God, Jesus, and the love surrounding them. It sounds polarizing, but once you give their debut album a twirl, Welcome To The Welcome Wagon, you’ll hear music far from the gospel compilations sold on TV next to Ron Popeil contraptions. Their refreshing sound is due in part to the guiding hand of Sufjan Stevens, whose influence is immediate once you hear the twinkling piano touches, grandiose choruses, and horns as moving as Army bugle wake-up calls. Even with Sufjan’s statesmanship shining through, at the heart of every song is the “simple desire to know their Maker—and to know each other—more intimately.”
Vito, who was a self-described agnostic, experienced a spiritual awakening at the age of 20 that drove him to enroll at Princeton Theological Seminary and study to be an ordained minister. He is currently the senior pastor of a church he planted in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2005, the Resurrection Presbyterian Church. His wife Monique was raised on a farm in the same small town as Vito. She moved to New York to study art at Columbia University, then dabbled as a pre-school teacher and craftmaker for Martha Stewart. Music was brought into their household when Vito bought a guitar with the simple desire to sing hymns with his family. Without having any previous training and not knowing how to read notes, the two worked around it by making up new tunes to old words.
This living room dynamic transfers well onto the album with songs like “Up On A Mountain,” which features the couple singing in tandem, until they are joined by a call and response chorus and a horn section impersonator. A more Sufanesque track would be the erupting choruses and bluesy guitar solos of “I Am A Stranger.” Those touches fade into the background to make way for Vito’s gentle voice, and eventually they all merge at the end forming a mosh pit of melodies. The lyrics are deeply entrenched in Christian culture, but it never feels overly pushy or preachy. It just sounds like the sincere words of an honest couple singing their beliefs into the sky.