September 26, 2010

christian (indie) music: a guide for the perplexed

Just so we're clear, I've always counted myself among the perplexed. Most articles from people like myself (who haven't actively sought out "Christian music" since they were a misguided youth) begin with a narrative or anecdote from personal experience. While I'm certainly not short on those, I'm not going to bother this time. Nor do I intend to give a you a genealogy of Christian rock, create a list of "indie" musicians who self-identify as Christians, sing the praises of Asthmatic Kitty, or discuss the strange (but fitting) history of some of Menomena's members. There are books and magazines that do that (although as far as I know they're still meant for hipsters of the Christian variety). I'm sure that at some point, perhaps in the near future, one of the many critics who grew up in the CCM cloister (apparently there are quite a few of us) will publish a detailed analysis of the Christian pop music phenomenon.

This is all just a roundabout way of introducing a recently published review of Starflyer 59's latest record by cokemachineglow's Chris Molnar. He offers some helpful advice to those of us who simply don't get why this bizarre subgenre should exist, and I think I agree with him.
In his review for 2008’s Dial M, Conrad asserted that “the best move this band can make isn’t stylistic but personal.” In other words, the negative effects of Christianity make Starflyer 59’s persistence within the Christian music industry immoral and inconsistent with their large, quality, and rarely religious body of work. I disagree: for me, as with Conrad, it was the impressive original roster of Tooth & Nail which helped make the bizarre nature of a Christian upbringing bearable. Those bands, including the Danielson Famile, Poor Old Lu, and eventually MewithoutYou, remain common points between me and anyone from a similar background. If I hadn’t heard Pedro the Lion’s Whole EP (1997)—released on Tooth & Nail—in the listening booth at Family Christian Stores, it would’ve taken me that much longer to emerge from the bubble, to grapple with the immateriality of the limits Christian music imposes on itself. Labels like Tooth & Nail seemed to once grapple in secret, hiding bands more ambiguously identified with Christian music behind a brand permissible to religious parents while introducing variety and perspective to music-hungry teenagers allowed precious little. They are, in other words, doing God’s work.
I suppose I was lucky. Much of the pressure to discover my music at the local Christian bookstore was self-generated: when I thought I'd covered the terrain and was still unable to locate an artist that I could honestly like, it was relatively easy to focus my energy on musicians that actually appealed to me. It's a shame I was never introduced to Starflyer 59 or Pedro the Lion. I might have lasted a bit longer.


  1. This rocks. (Had to pun sorry!) The picture at first is striking, and I guess a bit tacky but I think it could be used as a good "faith outreach" ice breaker.

    God does rock!

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