Unlike the mainstream representation, there are actually many bands who create good art and aren’t afraid of labelling themselves as Christian.
Before we get into this list, allow me to define a “Christian band.” I don’t believe that this is a very accurate title, but for convenience’s sake I am using it here to mean the following:
- A band or musician labelled as a Christian both in their personal and professional life.
- A band or musician easily identified as a Christian by their lyrics and language in real life.
There are plenty of bands who fall under this definition that don’t make good music or write good lyrics. Here are seven bands, plus two honorable mentions, that fit the definition above and also exhibit excellent art and behavior.
I have to admit that I have a bit of a hometown bias for these guys. Kings Kaleidoscope is a relatively new Seattle outfit from a church rich in solid independent Christian bands. Of all the bands from this church, Kings Kaleidoscope sticks out as the strongest of the bunch. Their debut Becoming Who We Are is incredibly ambitious, but it ultimately works. The only songs I could I have done without are the two covers. The album is very noisy, with bombastic brass and percussion layers coming alongside explosions of guitar and underscored by complex electronic arrangements. It brings to mind the creativity and ground-breaking nature of David Crowder Band (who stands as an honorable mention for this list). Many songs are drawn straight from scriptural wording, but they rarely fall into cliché patterns, and they retain an honesty and intensity that’s fitting for their forward musical style.
I haven’t seen any other Christian songwriter who is more willing than Warbler to tackle political and cultural hot topics in his music. I cringe when I hear Warbler’s lyrics, but that isn’t because they are poorly penned or sung. I’m uncomfortable because the straight-shot truth hurts. Warbler preaches from a Biblical perspective to the most pressing matters of our time. Mix in some masterful picking and strumming and some progressive elements and you get one of the most convicting musicians I have ever heard. Warbler’s self-titled album is a bit rough around the edges, but his upcoming release Sea of Glass is setting up to be outstanding.
I’m surprised that John Ringhofer (aka Half-handed Cloud) hasn’t garnered more of a following in over a decade-and-a-half of making music. A quick look through the album and song titles from his expansive discography hints at the massive whimsicality found within the songs themselves. But Half-handed Cloud isn’t a comedy act; they are serious about their craft in lyrics and music. Many albums contain 20+ tracks, but most of the songs are incredibly short. These dense works can leave the listener out of breath at the end, but the ride is well worth it. Imagine a manic composer conducting a ragtag orchestra, and you probably have a good idea of what Ringhofer sounds like in action. Arrangements are complex, and some featured instruments include rhythmic zipper, backpack guitar, and stomping. Half-handed cloud is a delight, and Ringhofer is a frequent collaborator and label-mate with indie darling Sufjan Stevens (another honorable mention for this list). I did an interview with John Ringhofer on my own blog, WE\ARE\MIRRORS. You can read it here.
No list like this would be complete without Lecrae. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of rap and hip-hop, but Lecrae is an excellent example of how Christian artists should operate in and out of the mainstream. His lyrics, music, and behavior are a model of true Christianity in the arts. It’s nearly impossible to deny Lecrae’s talent and passion, which is why he has become a respected and influential voice in both Christian and secular culture.
I contemplated whether or not Gungor even fit in my definition of a “Christian band” since their lyrics can sometimes be hard to decipher. But, given their grouping on the Billboard charts and their coverage by Christian-run media outlets (particularly concerning the controversies they’ve undergone), I decided to include them here. Theology aside, Gungor’s art drips with excellence from every musical pore. Their lyrics are pointed, raw, and Biblical. It’s evident from the way they execute their work that they are in love with Jesus. They don’t have as clean of an image as some of the other artists on this list, but they will certainly appeal to the “unorthodox” Christian supporters of art. (A postscript: try not to mist up watching the above video).
John Mark McMillan
John Mark McMillan proves that worship songs can be both sing-able and excellent. The success of “How He Loves” is proof of this, using imagery that’s easy to sing but not clichéd and overdone. His musicality has only gotten better, drawing influence from decades past and also from contemporary masters. McMillan’s music and lyrics resonate with the whole being: soul, spirit, and body.
Troubadour Parade is the youngest group on this list, and they have currently only released an EP: Where All the Kids Belong, which was released last year. Indie pop is perhaps the genre least-populated by Christians, so it’s refreshing to see excellent work put forth by Christians in this field. Troubadour Parade channels influence from 80’s synthpop and the synthpop of today (think CHVRCHES and Passion Pit) and even a dose of psych-rock. These songs probably won’t make it into any Sunday services, but the lyrics are worshipful nonetheless. Troubadour Parade has an exciting horizon ahead of them with their blend of enthusiastic praise melodies and contagious beats.
A note on our honorable mentions:
With their own unique approach, David Crowder Band brought contemporary indie trends into the Christian music subculture. They were always a bit obtuse, but always fresh. Unfortunately, Crowder has yet to find footing on his own (as can be said of the rest of his band, now known as the Digital Age). Since the band most worth acknowledging is no longer unified, they are not included on this list officially.
Sufjan Stevens does not fit my definition of a “Christian band” found at the beginning of this post, but I mention him here because he is one the most skilled Christians currently making music. His lyrics and arrangements can be strange and sometimes even estranging, but when his work hits home, it hits hard. Sufjan is for more discerning Christian listeners, but he is at the forefront of Christian-made art (and perhaps art in general).
This list is in no particular order, nor is it comprehensive. We’d love to hear who you would add to it and what you thought of our list. Sound off in the comments!