There are a lot of Christians out there, and there are a lot of musicians out there, and like any good Venn Diagram these two groups must, at some point, overlap. And they do; many, many musicians admit to Christianity being their faith of choice. This is not a problem, in general most people who find a band they like, like that band regardless of who’s producing the music what whether they worship Jesus or Allah. However, while it is okay for individual artists to admit to being Christian, when a whole band declares themselves Christian people get uneasy. Tell someone you want them to listen to this new band you discovered, and they’ll be glad to sit down and listen, but ask them to sit down and listen to this new Christian band you discovered and they start to act uncomfortable, regardless of their faith. This is not necessarily due to the content of the lyrics (read as: Jesus), but is due to the fact that, quite simply a lot of Christian bands…well…suck.
Below: what most people think of when they think of Christian music (more or less).
For one of the groups most responsible for the evolution of music into a form of high art, the Christians sure have managed to take music to new lows in the past fifty years or so. It’s no wonder so many people have a bad view of Christian music; what was once meant to inspire now just panders to a mass of people who will buy anything that says “I love Jesus” enough times in the lyrics. Somewhere along the way someone figured out that there was an easy profit to be made in Christian music and ran with it, leaving artists with musical and spiritual integrity in the dust.
To prove that all is not lost, I have searched high and low through Christian music and assembled a slate of seven bands that prove that not every band that calls themselves Christian deserves your scorn. Many of these bands have struggled to make names for themselves, equally being bashed for being “too Christian” by some and “not Christian enough” by others, but one thing that can’t be argued is that these bands are making some damn good music.
1. The Devil Wears Prada
The Devil Wears Prada is a Christian metalcore band hailing from Dayton, Ohio, who gets more “Christian or not” arguing than most of the bands on this list, in spite of having a music video that centers on someone giving their life to Jesus. While the music may not be for everyone (as I said, metalcore), it’s hard to deny that these guys are indeed, quite talented. They are far from the only Christian metal band out there, but they are, in my opinion, the best and most listenable one I’ve ever heard. The Christian undertones of the lyrics are actually quite refreshing and, in some instances, truly insiring and thought provoking. In spite of (or perhaps caused by) all the controversy regarding their status as a Christian band, they’ve come a long ways, even going so far as to be featured on Warped Tour’s main stage this year. Plus, their strong anti-materialistic values are pretty awesome, as you don’t see a lot of that in modern music.
2. As Cities Burn
As I mentioned previously, The Devil Wears Prada is far from the only Christian metal band out there, and as I alluded to, a lot of them suck. Before the release of 2008’s Hell or High Water, I would have simply lumped As Cities Burn into the “suck” category of Christian metal, but in 2008 As Cities Burn release a much more progressive album that, while being far from the best album of 2008, was also quite a long stretch away from the worst. Once again, the music isn’t for everone, but most people would have to admit that it’s pretty damn listenable. The Christian overtones of the album slide nicely into place without feeling obtrusive, and I’ve found the album to be very easily enjoyed by non-Christians and Christians alike in this regard.
MuteMath is a particularly sneaky Christian band. Somewhere along the way, MuteMath soaked up enough indie-cred to find their way onto a lot of people’s ipods (my own included), without anyone figuring out that they were listening to what is, all in all, a pretty Christian band. I greatly enjoy MuteMath (who have a new album out in just four days), and their Christian-overtones have never once put me off. The only thing bad I have to say about this band is that one of their songs was featured in Twilight, but I’ll overlook it because the music video for the song I just posted is totally killer.
mewithoutYou is another Christian band that managed to pick up a lot of indie-cred with their music, even going so far as to share a stage with The Dear Hunter this year at several shows. mewithoutYou’s lyrics are intimidating works of art, that are Christian in the same sense that the Lord of the Rings is about World War II; if you don’t know what you’re looking for you’re going to miss most of it. The lyrics, purely as works of poetry, are quite lovely, even to someone who isn’t exactly a biblical scholar, and the music is pretty intriguing. You have to give them this; they’ve really brought indie style to Christianity in a much stronger way than any other band to date.
Sounding more like J-pop than Christian rock from the Pacific Northwest, Kaddisfly is an impressive band indeed. While many argue that they aren’t a Christian band, I would argue that they are, the overtones of their lyrics are quite spiritual, and with an obvious flavor of Christianity at that. The main reason against calling this band “Christian Music” is that they don’t fall into the stereotypes of what is commonly perceived as “Christian Music”, proving that the bitter taste left in people’s mouths by all that “praise Jesus, play powerchords” garbage makes it so that if a good band comes along with Christian themes in their music we don’t even want to call them Christian just so others will take them seriously.
While I didn’t feel like I could make a seperate space for this, the members of Kaddisfly minus the member who left last year started a new band in the wake of losing their fifth member to take their music in a new direction. Check it out; it’s good stuff.
6. Family Force 5
Other bands on this list have had their status as “Christian” called into question from time to time, but Family Force 5’s electro-crunk-rock-metal-pop-dance music has managed to offend the sensibilities of so many Christians that they don’t want to claim this band as one of their own, no matter how much they plug Jesus. Or maybe the issue is that, although at shows and in their materials Family Force 5 claim a strong Christian morale, their music is mostly about dancing and love and parties and other stuff that’s awesome. The tragedy here it that there’s a belief in a lot of right wing Christianity that dancing and having fun aren’t spiritually healthy things to do. Family Force 5 is out to turn that on its head. To quote Soul Glow Activatur (Famly Force 5’s lead singer), “To me, and pretty much anybody that’s under my age, most Christian music is a turnoff. I don’t want to be affiliated with that. I want to be affiliated with something that is great music.”
7. Sufjan Stevens
Of everyone on this list, this is the artist you’re most like to have heard or have heard of. Everyone saw Little Miss Sunshine, everyone has heard the song Chicago by Sufjan Stevens, but nobody knows the guy is actually pretty damn Christian. In case you honestly don’t know who he is Sufjan Stevens is an indie/folk musician from Illinois who makes music that is quite near divine even without the Christian overtones. While not all of his songs are about God the ones that are don’t make any attempt to hide it. Like his many friends on this list, his music has been attacked for not being Christian enough, to which he has responded that his music is about all aspects of his life, his Christianity being just one of the many things he might choose to write about. He has written quite a few songs related to his faith, some of them (including Casimir Pulaski Day, the song I’ve posted here), being quite interesting from a spiritual perspective. Sufjan Stevens is particularly unusual in that he makes music that doesn’t just praise God, but also questions God, and sounds totally awesome while doing so. Maybe if more artists took the example of Sufjan Stevens in this regard, Christian music would be seen as a valid art form by the outside world instead of the laughing stock it is now.
Or they could at least take a tip from modern Quaker music; we long ago perfect the art of awesome music.
HelloLion is a dedicated wordsmith, spending his time of manditory indentured blogging here at ProjectGroupThink. You WILL follow us on twitter @pgtblog. OBEY!