Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thoughts on Christian Music, and a Top Ten Christian Songs

“We're all Christians, although we're not a Christian band, per se. The most important thing to us is that we feel that we've been given a gift from God of being able to perform and to record for people. We basically just want to use that gift as we feel God would have us use it.” –Chris Thile of Nickel Creek

It’s surprising how passionate and and sometimes controversial the topic of Christian music is. The arguments and spats that break forth every time a band attaches faith or religion to an item are inevitable. Among topics that make Christian music divisive are:

  • The theology of the lyrics
  • The way the band dresses
  • Whether every song is about God
  • What kind of social stances the band takes
  • What kind of example the band members set

The Christian music landscape has transformed over the last two decades dramatically, and in part it may be because of the unnecessary pressure that we as Christians put on artists. Off the top of my head I can think of the blasting of Derek Webb for using the word “whore” in a song or the criticism of Jars of Clay for not boycotting Disney. Part of the reaction by bands is merely to shed labeling, instead becoming bands made up of Christians rather than a Christian band. Bands like Lifehouse, Switchfoot, and The Fray have found commercial success in this way without the undue pressure of conforming to the fickle and inconsistent demands of the Christian community at large (“"We are not a 'Christian band,' but I'm a Christian” said Lifehouse’s lead singer Jason Wade). Now a survey of the Christian music landscape shows a definite bent towards Christian worship, some of which is fantastic, but variety is particularly hard to come by unless you’re aware which bands are actually Christians.

Is this good or bad? It’s hard to say, but here’s my opinion. We as Christians often forget that the people in these bands are just that: people. People fall in love, so sometimes they write love songs. Some people like poetry, so sometimes they want to write lyrics that are more poetic. The more we forget that all bands are made up of individuals just like you and I, the more we lay expectations of perfection, somehow insisting that 20 year old band members will lyricize and talk and always act like preachers.

And what of non-Christian music? I know there are those who try to only listen to Christian music, and I won’t attempt to sway your personal preferences. But as the landscape shifts, options become numbered, and with lower numbers also comes lower quality. Me and this blog believe in good music, no matter the genre and religious classification. I believe God has gifted many bands with great talents, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with listening to a variety. Certainly there are bands that focus and sing about topics that I would personally avoid or that I wouldn’t want my future children to listen to. But take my favorite song, LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”, for example. The song is about moving away to pursue something, only to find out how terribly you want to go back to how things were, where your friends and family are close by. That sentiment is not Christian OR non-Christian…it is human.

At The Past and the Pending I believe in recommending songs that are amazing. I will not recommend poorly constructed Christian music or poorly constructed secular music. Due to my own faith—and the fact this is my blog, after all—I will also recommend music that touches my heart, and sometimes it will be Christian music that touches my heart. My faith is a very, very big part of my life and I make no effort to hide it.

With all of that said, here are the ten songs that I believe represent the very best of Christian music. I hope you found my thoughts interesting and like my list.

1) Jars of Clay – “World’s Apart”

The depth and yearning of the lyrics, combined with the slow building orchestration from a band that at this point was closer to coffee shop folk. The entire last sequence is of the track is some of the best music I own.

2) Nickel Creek – “Doubting Thomas”

The truth is, there may not be a song in the world that speaks to me lyrically more than this song. Beautiful as always, the song explores faith constantly burdened by doubt, a prayer that God forgives the fearful and doubting who want so badly to believe what so many of those around them seem to easily accept.

3) Switchfoot – “Dare You to Move”

To this day, this song still inspires me. Commercial success followed the band during this area, and I’m thankful that crowds began to flock to these concerts. “Dare You to Move” is a song about not giving it or letting go in a hard world.

4) Lifehouse – “Everything”

This misunderstood song is actually about God, despite its placement over dance scenes in sitcoms. Musically it’s Lifehouse’s best and most powerful work, which spans an actually impressive body of albums, and lyrically it’s as powerful a recognition of our own smallness every written.

5) Shawn McDonald – “Gravity”

The guitar skill and the single string rolling through the background lend this song a musical touch that is distinct. Coupled with the lyrics, you have a stellar track.

6) Caedmon’s Call – “Lead of Love”

In the olden days of Caedmon’s Call, their brand of music was interesting and unique, and “Lead of Love” was the lead song on their debut album. The lyric that begins the album “looking back at the road so far/this journey has left its share of scars/mostly from leaving the narrow and straight” still speaks volumes to me.

7) MercyMe – “Word of God Speak”

Years from now I imagine “I Can Only Imagine” will still be receiving airplay as decade-defining Christian worship song. My personal favorite from what is probably the best band going that 100% accepts the Christian music label, “Word of God Speak” showcases the vocal talent of Bart Millard, who’s voice may still be the best I’ve ever heard live.

8) The Listening – “Hosea in C Minor”

I love hearing a Christian band put this much emphasis on the music. The dark bass line makes for a foreboding sound, matching a tone of caution in a dark world. “You didn’t know you were sleeping with demons…You went your own way.” It’s amazing song from a band that needs to make more music.

9) Delirious? – “Our God Reigns”

Delirious is clearly a band that cares very much about the music, not leaving it as a background to be swallowed up by the lyrics. On “Our God Reigns” they get every aspect right, taking a classic three-word snippet and turning into a powerful praise song.

10) Downhere – “Great Are You”

The song construction, between the strings that lead you down into the chorus, and the piano that joins in as the chorus swells, would make this a good song regardless.

So there it is. A little bit longer than normal, but I appreciate the read as always.