The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Review | Zach Bryan’s ‘Boys of Faith’ showcases artist’s growth, features impressive collabs

Courtesy of Genius
Cover art for Zach Bryan’s Sept. 22 EP “Boys of Faith”

Zach Bryan’s newest project, an extended play titled “Boys of Faith,” is a poignant and authentic addition to the artist’s discography. 

The five-song EP, released on Friday, features collaboration tracks with Noah Kahan and Bon Iver, as well as solo pieces that blur the lines of genre and weave through different elements of Bryan’s sound. 

Due to its proximity to Bryan’s self-titled album — released on Aug. 25 — this drop was largely unexpected by fans.

Tracks on “Boys of Faith” broadly reckon with feelings of nostalgia and explore the passage of time through snapshots of Bryan’s childhood, young adulthood, old lovers, friends and family.

At the time of its release, “Boys of Faith” concurrently topped the Billboard Hot 200 and Billboard’s Country, Rock & Alternative, Americana/Folk and Rock album charts. 

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The Oklahoma native is largely regarded as an alternative country artist and has recently gained notoriety on social media with his 2022 hit “Something in the Orange.”


Nine Ball

The opening song of the project is a blues-y tune with a jaunty, varied accompaniment.

As a story, “Nine Ball” explores the complexities of fatherhood and masculinity through the perspective of an adolescent boy.

The song showcases Bryan’s raspy vocals and uncanny storytelling ability, coupled with a funky instrumentation that seems distant from most of the artist’s other work. The narrative of “Nine Ball” seemingly focuses on an alcoholic father who uses his son’s impressive skill at billiards in order to feed a burgeoning gambling addiction.

“I don’t wanna bet, but my daddy wrote a check/ That I bet his ass could never cash/ He’s bettin’ on the eight ball landin’ in the sidewall/ Cold-blooded killer if you ask,” Bryan sings.


Sarah’s Place (ft. Noah Kahan)

The second track on the album is a collaboration with Noah Kahan, an up-and-coming folk artist who has gained acclaim in recent years on TikTok with indie tracks including “Stick Season” and “Dial Drunk.”

 “Sarah’s Place” finds itself in a true middle ground between the gritty country roots of Bryan’s sound and the acoustic indie ballads characteristic of Kahan. The song features a catchy, indie-reminiscent chorus laced with welcome harmony.

“Sarah’s Place” is a bittersweet, nostalgic plea to a missed connection from years ago who has seemingly moved on to bigger and better things. The track feels like an ode to the feeling of fleeting youth and the now-separated people we associate with positive memories.

“Sarah’s Place” acknowledges the necessity of distance between the speaker and his estranged lover while recognizing the discomfort associated with letting go. 

“Don’t come back, lover, I’m proud you’re under the skyline/ We always knew you were the better half of our good times,” Bryan sings.

This line seems to be the speaker admitting that his ex had a brighter future than his own. Bryan’s knowledge that he was a temporary part of the recipient’s life is what gilds this largely sweet tune with a glistening sadness.


Boys of Faith (ft. Bon Iver)

The title track of the EP, “Boys of Faith,” is largely a duet between Brian and Bon Iver singer Justin Vernon. 

The song leans into Bon Iver’s trademark indie sound while showcasing elements of country in its instrumentation and harmonies. Although this song is sonically distant from Bryan’s solo work, it is evident that the artist is able to express the same raw emotion on the indie canvas as he does in his signature country tunes.

“Boys of Faith” is a mournful depiction of the passage of time, formatted like a letter to a childhood friend.

“I’m gettin’ old by the day/ You said it gave your heart somethin’ to believe in/ ’Cause boys like us fade away,” Bryan sings.

The narrative of “Boys of Faith” evokes an internal conflict between the dreams we relish as children and the realities of less-glamorous adulthood. 


Deep Satin

“Deep Satin” is the most signature Bryan-esque song on this EP. 

With a slow country cadence and deeply genuine lyrics, the storyline of “Deep Satin” communicates the pain associated with being reminded of an old flame. The solo track is vocally Bryan’s most impressive on the project with passionate riffs and a deliberately slowed cadence filled with emotion.

“You in Manhattan rollin’ in deep satin/ Was a painful and wonderful drug/ Is that song stuck in your head?/ ‘Friend of the Devil by the Dеad’/ Or is that just what your friends want me to be?/ ’Causе if that’s the case, then that’s just what I’ll be,” he sings.

“Deep Satin” exemplifies all that is beautiful about Bryan’s songwriting, from his intentional word choices to the sonic composition of each instant in the track. If one song from this album is introduced to the daily music rotation of country fans, it’s this one.


Pain, Sweet, Pain

The EP’s finale is exactly what its title suggests: mournful, reflective and teetering on uncomfortably human. 

The track perfectly encapsulates the struggle of experiencing a prolonged period of hardship. The track’s speaker seems to experience pain throughout several aspects of life, particularly when the difficulty begins to compound.

“Pain, Sweet, Pain” begins with a slow, explicitly mournful section before introducing a red dirt, folky instrumental that speeds up the progression of the story — almost forcing the listener to experience a full range of emotion. 

The most powerful lines in the song are repeated several times for emphasis as the narrative progresses.

“Pain, sweet pain, let’s learn somethin’ from it/ I see the top, brother, and I might just summit/ I’ve been pinin’ and pinin’ for so damn long/ Thinkin’ it’s about time someone else is strong,” Bryan sings.

Pain, Sweet, Pain” is a unique song not just on this album, but in general. Fans of Bryan’s typical country flavor and his newer social media crowd are both likely to appreciate the messaging and sound of this track.


Bryan is an adept storyteller with a penchant for vocalizing emotion that is all too relatable and familiar for his listeners. The “Boys of Faith” EP is emblematic of growth in the artist’s career — both in the consistent quality of his music and in his work as a storyteller. 

With a memorable list of collaborators and a satisfying narrative thread, “Boys of Faith” is impressive — although it may not be the favorite project of Bryan’s existing fans who have developed a taste for his Appalachian country twang.


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About the Contributor
Lisa Chasanov, Managing Editor for Reporting
Howdy! My name is Lisa, my game is delivering quality news to your phone screen, coffee table and recycling bin. Since fall 2022, I have had the honor of writing, editing and often-unsuccessfully pitching content for The Daily Illini. During my time at the 152-year-old news source, I have served as a reporter at our news desk, summer editor and assistant news editor. Most recently, after a rewarding year of bringing you hard-hitting stories such as “Uncut: Dissecting Circumcision” and “‘Surf’s Up’ could be the film of the summer,” I have taken over as managing editor for reporting. In my free time, you can find me performing open heart surgery in dark alleys, communicating telepathically with small woodland creatures and engaging in otherwise dubious activities. If you would like to summon me for any reason, you can find me at [email protected]. Good Yard. Stay tuned for more.
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