twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Three Album Heart

with 3 comments

I think a lot about art and faith. How our culture mashes them together, and how it tries to tear them apart.  While writing this I went to the website of a Contemporary Christian Music radio station, and was greeted by a  challenge to listen to nothing but “Christian” music for thirty days and see how my life would be uplifted and inspired. And I thought “Oh. Ok CCM station. You tell me exactly what Christian Music is. And I’ll totally do it. Can I still listen to Sigur Ros? The Decemberists? Mumford and Sons? What about LMFAO in hip-hop class? Or Taylor Swift with my pals who have an inexplicable love for sappy country ballads? Or those Guinness-swiggin’, kilt-wearin’ heroes of Irish Rock, Enter the Haggis? Where do I draw the line?”

Because here’s the danger with labels. They’re exclusive. Anytime you try to define what something is, you usually define what it isn’t. So when we say that there’s one radio station on the market playing Christian music, we’re also automatically saying that whatever we exclude from the station isn’t Christian. Whatever else out there is dangerous, so you better keep the dial on CCM109.3 24/7. And that’s just not the way music works. A desire to engage with the arts should come from a desire to expand your horizons, not to narrow them.

This post was inspired by my attempt today to sum up the music I love as a gift for a dear friend. Because she doesn’t buy much music for herself, I had to make  three CDs to cover all I wanted to share. Each volume came out to a particular theme. Yes, theme as in label as in what I ‘m railing against. But people like categories. So stick with it.

The first volume was called “Church Music.” It had all of that that big, sweeping, anthemic, super-chorus stuff we love to sing really loud in big groups, and which could probably be found on a CCM station and in the Sunday service of many an American church. And I do love that stuff. I do. There’s nothing quite like corporate worship, gathering to loudly declare who we are and what we believe, in waves of stirring, encouraging affirmation. This disc had tracks which have all been close to my heart and lead to intimate moments in a corporate worhship setting. Some favorites are Mighty to Save by Hillsong United, You’re Beautiful by Phil Wickham, and of course, How He Loves by John Mark McMillan. These songs are beautiful, passionate, and inspirational, most with a decided and intentional upward swing. And they’re written to be sung by groups of people who are reading the lyrics off of a slide projector, often led by a band of volunteer with a basic guitar/bass/drum set up. In short. They’re written to be sung on Sunday morning. And just as the world has always needed psalms and hymns, there will always be a place for church music with memorable choruses and poetic verses. It can truly be a beautiful experience.

The second volume was called “Heart Music.” It featured the songs which have been closest to my heart in the last few months and may never have been played on any radio station that isn’t publicly funded. These songs met me in dark places and spoke hope, reassurance, and solidarity into my heart. Some are by Christian artist. Most aren’t. But all are remarkably honest and beautiful in their own way. From unreleased Mumford & Sons gems like Sister and Lover of the Light to the folksy brilliance of Wagon Wheel by OCMS and Down in the Valley by The Head and the Heart, from the ethereal, hopeful wonder of Med Sud I Eyrum by Sigur Ros to the deep faith of  Audrey Assad’s piano ballad, The House You’re Building, this playlist is much more sonically diverse. The musical styles don’t all quite match up. Some sing about God directly. Some indirectly. Some not at all. Some of the lyrics speak of being lost and sad and alone. But somehow, because they dare to encounter these lower depths, their ascent to the highest, most exuberant peaks seems more honest. More real. More like the life I encounter every day. The raw human desires for peace, belonging, homecoming, and acceptance pervade the work of the many secular artists I grew up listening to. Everyone’s heart music is different, but there’s something about music that we allow into places of our self that nothing else can touch.

I made a third CD, filled with music that couldn’t be confined to either of the previous discs. This one was simply called Gungor. Partially because I wanted my friend to have the entire Ghosts Upon the Earth album and couldn’t bear to parcel out the tracks, but also because what I think Gungor is trying to do is vitally important. They’re looking to a generation of folks who were raised to distrust the musical shallowness and dishonesty they’ve encountered in radio-driven tunes (this isn’t just in CCM. Think about Top 40, country, hip-hop, pop, rock….they’ve all had their insipid moments) and who have turned instead to the honest creativity of  independently-fueled heart music. This generation is serious about God, but also knows that a lot of CCM stops short of what music can be. We long for music inspired by an infinite, passionate, overwhelming creator to hint at the redemption we have yet to fully experience. We ache for music written by other people to explain to us what it means to be human. And we gravitate towards music which tells the story of the interweaving of God’s beauty and our brokenness. To me, that’s what Gungor is all about. It’s not just the brilliant musical composition and deeply insightful lyrics. There are several bands I revere for those qualities. It’s that the music takes me beyond worship of the art itself into the vibrant, living presence of the eternal creator who made all things possible.

Music, like all art, isn’t inherently good or bad in and of itself. It is a vehicle which allows us to unleash and connect with a transcendence it is harder to encounter in an artless world. It is a tool. And, like all tools, the responsibility for damage or edification lies with the user. So I’m going to be a responsible consumer. I’m still going to listen to church music. I’m still going to listen to heart music. I may even get my groove on to some radio Top 40 every once in a while. And if I’ve learned anything from my encounter with Gungor, it’s to appreciate God flowing through all of it, transcending time and tempo and tradition to connect our hearts with His. And that’s worth celebrating.

(Michael Gungor’s  blog post, found here, inspired a lot of this line of thinking. Check it out. http://gungormusic.com/#!/2011/11/zombies-wine-and-christian-music/)

If you’re throwing a party – here are my “Heart Music” and “Church Music” Playlists.

HEART MUSIC

1)      Don’t Carry it All…………………….…….The Decemberists

2)      Helplessness Blues………………………………..Fleet Foxes

3)      Lover of the Light…………………………Mumford and Sons

4)      New Earth……………………………………….…….Zerbin

5)      Sister………………………………………Mumford and Sons

6)      Home is Not Places………………………..The Apache Relay

7)      The House You’re Building……………….……..Audrey Assad

8)      Down in the Valley……….………….The Head and the Heart

9)      Slow Your Breath Down………..………….Future of Forestry

10)  Orphan Girl……………………………………Horse Feathers

11)  Timothy Hay………………………..…………mewithoutYou

12)  The Perpetual Self, Or

“What Would Saul Alinsky Do?”……………….Sufjan Stevens

13)  Hold On to What You Believe…………….Mumford and Sons

14)  Wagon Wheel………………………Old Crow Medicine Show

15)  He Woke Me Up Again…………………………Sufjan Stevens

16)  Med Sud I Eyrum…………………………………….Sigur Ros

17)  Timshel……………………………………Mumford and Sons

18)  Sons & Daughters……………….………….The Decemberists

19)  Old Joy……………………………..…….Noah and the Whale

 CHURCH MUSIC

1)      Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) ………….Chris Tomlin

2)      Our God………………………………..……….Chris Tomlin

3)      Manifesto…………………………………..The City Harmonic

4)      Give me Faith………………………..……..Elevation Worship

5)      How He Loves……………………….…..John Mark McMillan

6)      I Will Waste My Life…………………….……..Misty Edwards

7)      You Won’t Relent………………………………Misty Edwards

8)      Marvelous Light……………………………..……Charlie Hall

9)      Mighty to Save (Live)…………………..……..Hillsong United

10)  The Stand (Live)…………………….……..…..Hillsong United

11)  You’re Beautiful…………………………………Phil Wickham

12)  Twenty Three………………………….……..Aaron Strumpel

13)  Centuries……………………………….…….Aaron Strumpel

Advertisements

Written by Taylor Webster

January 4, 2012 at 12:50 am

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Hey Taylor,

    I stumbled across this blog post when searching for people who are reviewing “Ghosts Upon the Earth”. I love what you have to say about “Christian” art, and also love your taste in music. You should check out http://greaterthanproject.com.

    Thanks!

    Dan

    Dan Miller

    January 5, 2012 at 7:54 am

    • Thanks for the recommendation and comment, Dan! Always encouraging to find out someone you don’t know is reading what you write. I actually went to Emusic and purchased Break Us by The Greater Than. I think it’s a great effort by a young group of artists, and would love to see how this group develops musically and lyrically five or ten years down the road. There’s a lot of potential for growth, and a strong sense genuine passion. For me, it’s most reminiscent of mewithoutYou. That’s a good thing. Keep on keepin’ on!

      twentybydesign

      January 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      • Glad to hear you liked it! We’d love it if you’d spread the word to anyone you know with similar tastes.

        Dan Miller

        January 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: