06 March 2009

10 actually great Christian rock songs

This has been sitting by in the queue since I read Daniel Radosh's similar list last summer and resolved to eventually do one of my own. Well, it's finally time for me to dive deep into my memory of years spent drowning in the world of Christian music to see what I can find worth recommending. Are there ten righteous in all of Sodom?

Note that this is not meant to be an authoritative list of the ten best Christian rock songs of all time, and will necessarily revolve around the few years I spent listening to the stuff. Links and videos are provided when I can find them, if you have to occasionally drop $.99 to hear one of them, hopefully it will be worth it.

10. "Little Green Men" - Project 86 (2002)

While their frequent touring mates P.O.D. were blitzing the airwaves with ubiquitous party-metal in the early '00s, this band was crafting a song cycle channeling Don DeLillo and the world of mass consumption. It's not special, and lyrically drifts into laborious forced-beatnik territory, but Project 86 mostly avoids the banality of most nu-metal of the time.

9. "Fairpoint Diary" - Over the Rhine (2001)

Karin Berqvist is the best vocalist you've never heard. Even with a cold, which she had when I saw them in October 2003, Berqvist sounds like she could sing life into a sheet of granite. Of course, that this album was the soundtrack to a brief fling certainly didn't hurt its cause either.

8. "Kiss My Lips" - Bon Voyage (1999)

Everyone remembers the other, more verbose, song about kissing by a Christian rock band in the late '90s, but which one would rather play while in the act? A bunch of pretty 10-cent words, or Jason Martin and his wife Julie during his wall-of-sound phase? This was the only album the Martin couple released under this moniker, and it was mostly banned from Christian bookstores which couldn't abide any sexual suggestions in music, even under the auspices of marriage. Good Christian musicians apparently only have sex with Jesus.

7. "C-Minor" - Mewithoutyou (2006)

Aaron Weiss is no Leo Tolstoy, but this musical prophet of ascetism is keeping the tradition of Christian anarchists alive and well. I wouldn't have guessed it after hearing the band's first album in 2002; an attractive and literate but terribly immature set of post-hardcore songs bellyaching about an ex-girlfriend. Hopefully, we will someday have a hundred more like them.

6. "Cast It At The Setting Sail" - Danielson (2006)

Daniel Smith's family-and-friends art-rock crew is perhaps best described as a Sunday School sing-along gone horribly, horribly right. Amidst the weirdness, though, the band manages to pack more profundity into simple songs of faith than dozens of Nashvegas bands. After years being seen as a odd stepchild on Christian punk label Tooth and Nail, they moved to the secular indie imprint Secretly Canadian in 2001 and had a minor breakout with the 2006 album Ships. Here they are buoyed by the oboe skills of sometime-associate Sufjan Stevens.

5. "I Want to be a Clone" - Steve Taylor (1982)

Before he became a multimedia mega-producer, Taylor was one of the first true rebels in the insular world of CCM. He was unafraid to court a little trouble from the ultra-stodgy industry, and often found it through satirical numbers like this one and "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good" from I Predict 1990. Taylor has re-cloned "Clone" numerous times; here's a video of a punk-influenced version from 2003.

4. "Solar System" - Vigilantes of Love (1998)

VoL was one of a number of Christian bands through the years that has fallen into the musical purgatory of being too churchy for mainstream audiences and not churchy enough for the world of Christian radio (though they were, amazingly, nominated for a Dove Award in the mid-90s). Long past the band's heyday, Bill Mallonnee still travels the country playing to crowds of all sizes, but mostly small ones.

3. "Zzyzx Scarecrow" - Stavesacre (1997)

In a world where Creed seemed to have every third song on rock radio, it's baffling how this band never found a sniff of mainstream success. This song was presumably written as an anti-abortion number--they're a dime a dozen in Christian music--but I find the notion of the wrath of God pouring forth for the loss of innocent blood to have an entirely different meaning after the world of the past six years.

2. "Dig" - Adam Again (1992)

Before there were most of the bands on this list, there was Adam Again (serendipitous that). They were one of the pioneering bands to make "Christian rock" outside of the Nashville system a viable proposition. This song would probably top many similar lists--I know it's the favorite of a number of people--but I'm putting it second, just to be a little iconoclastic.

1. "The Fleecing" - Pedro the Lion (2004)

It would be hard to measure how many people David Bazan has led into the wilderness while, in his words, "preaching the gospel of doubt." He's written two concept albums on the commoditization of life and faith, but I'm picking one of his most straightforward meditations, which, coming from him, seems all that more meaningful.

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