It’s really popular to bash Christian music these days. Examples include:
“It’s just trying to copy mainstream but not cuss.”
“It’s too happy all the time.”
“My mom likes it.”
Each of these has been used and will be used again against CCM. And I get it; I’m a product of WOW Hits just like the rest of you. Point of Grace was the Christian Spice Girls. Apologetix was the Christian Weird Al (10 points if you remember them). Plus One was the equivalent of N’Sync and SuperChic(k) the equivalent of JoJo. I could go on, and I’m sure someone else has; however, I believe that Christian music isn’t dead. There are bands and artists creating music that does not try to simply mimic “secular” radio but is transcendent in its worship. They are out there, and Christian music, although at times rightfully critiqued, does not deserve the amount of shade it’s being thrown (current level of shade thrown equivalent to a Baha Men concert under palm trees).
Without further ado, the definitive (as picked by me) top ten list of bands or artists who are Christians and make great music:
10. Judah and the Lion
These guys are the new kids on the block (not to be confused with New Kids on the Block). When I listen to their stuff, I just feel like they "get me." They're twenty-somethings who try and enjoy life and love God. While they're at it, they make great music.
9. Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
This husband, wife, and neighbor band are just real. They are the Nashville friends you’ve always wanted to get coffee with. They’re equally fun and serious, raucous and serene. And Drew Holcomb sports one of music industry’s healthiest beards. If that’s not Americana/Folk I don’t know what is.
Also, THIS VIDEO.
8. Page CXVI
I have to be honest on this one. I don’t know them very well. I discovered them on Spotify a few months ago or so and have loved listening to them ever since. They’re mission is to make oft-forgotten hymns accessible to people again. Simplistic and minimalist, Page CXVI rocks (in a worshipful, atmospheric way, of course).
7. King's Kaleidoscope
They originally became famous for covering classic hymns in new ways, often incorporating a horn section and a little reggae. Recently releasing their first full LP, King's Kaleidoscope is like having a worship party with a big band. I'm pretty sure they look through some inventory of musical instruments for inspiration for their songs. Somehow they pull a Missy Elliot and work it.
6. John Mark McMillan
This guy is the original hipster. You may remember David Crowder*Band’s cover of his song “How He Loves,” and the ensuing church youth group debate of “Sloppy Wet” or “Unforeseen.” Well, John Mark is the “Sloppy Wet” kind of lyricist, and his songs are deep, mesmerizing, and poetic. He is the type of artist that you give your undivided attention to; he’s the Kendrick of the indie worship scene. For another experience, listen to his albums in chronological order and notice the evolution of his sound.
Gungor’s been doing this creative/worship thing for forever. They are the original hipsters. If all you know of Gungor is “Beautiful Things” (which is an amazing song in its own right), do yourself a favor and listen to their newer music. Somehow they pull off different styles and colors with the ease of a horse jockey at a Gap Kids. "Long Way Off" (below) is one of my favorites with closing lyrics of "When the waves of time/ Wash the shores stark clean/ Of the memories, the last of me/ With my castles gone to the constant sea/ Will you stay with me/ Stay with me." That's music.
4. Jon Foreman
Switchfoot. Fiction Family. Solo material. The man does it all, but it is his solo material that makes this list. Coming out with seasonal EPs in 2008 and another four arriving this year, Foreman knows how to write honest, though-provoking stuff. Just take verse three from his newest song “Patron Saint of Rock and Roll” as an example: “There’s a park downtown/Where the homeless get ignored/Where the church next door is a crowd/Singing “Blessed are the poor”/Where the Mercedes drive away/Muttering, “Druggies, drunks, and whores”/Where the bumper sticker displays/”My copilot is the Lord.”” Talk about a slap to the spiritual cheek; I’d turn mine for more lyrics like that.
Needtobreathe is definitely the most famous band on this list, and I almost hesitated in including them simply for their popularity. However, popularity does not always mean sell-out. I mean, have you listened to their most recent album Rivers in a Wasteland? Probing lyrics matched with authentic Americana/Rock that doesn’t sound forced or contrived. They also have a great backstory and documentary out there about the ups and downs of the band.
2. Future of Forestry
If you haven’t listened to Future of Forestry, you’re probably not alone. For some reason their music hasn’t become huge, in large part due to it’s lack of radio-friendly singles. The music is orchestral and large in scope; if it were an activity it would be paragliding through Yosemite. It seems adventurous and daring and yet also intimate and thoughtful. Future of Forestry knows how to get it done.
1. Josh Garrels
JOSH. GARRELS. I don’t know what else there is to say about the man. In order to retain control of his music, he created his own record label that only consists of him. Each album he produces is given away for free for a certain amount of time, which he considers to be his “first fruits” to the Lord. The music itself is much like Gungor in its ability to seemlessly switch between genres; his sultry voice and striking falsetto connect each track to each other and the listener. There are any number of songs that could be included, and I could create a top ten list of his songs alone. Seriously, he’s that good.
Finally, lucky for you I’ve created a Spotify playlist featuring these artists and a few others that are making great, Christian music.