These are my favorites, in no particular order. Except, “Engine Driver” is definitely my all time favorite.
Rox in the Box
The Crane Wife 3
We Both Go Down Together
The Engine Driver
Excellent article, Chris. Growing up, the first cassette I ever personally owned was “Beyond Belief” by Petra (it’s still kind of a guilty pleasure), and from there I progressed from all sorts of Christian stuff– from ska to shoegazer to Christian Punk/Horrorbilly (anyone besides me listen to Blaster the Rocketman?). In high school, I bought pretty much every Tooth and Nail album that existed, and I think there were a lot of creative bands on the label then. Then when I went to college in the 2000′s, something happened to Christian music. I guess part of it was that I expanded my musical horizons to include ‘secular’ music, but I also think the diversity that existed in the Christian music scene got snuffed out at some point. Not to say there wasn’t cheesy/terrible Christian music when I was in high school, it’s just a lot harder to find the creative stuff now. Sufjan is a bright light in a dark age of Christian music today.
Here’s my theory on what went wrong with the Christian music scene: the proliferation of the corporate (and I use corporate in both senses of the word) worship album in the mid-2000′s and on. Don’t get me wrong: as a Christian, I believe that worshiping God is good– a necessary part of a dynamic and healthy Christian life. Of course, the church and Christians usually screw it up. That’s understandable, though, being that we’re beings of finite intellectual and emotional capacity trying to worship a transcendental and mysterious God. The problem becomes that we try to cover up our inadequacy at worshiping God. We do it by boiling worship down to a formula– we essentially say– “hey, worship is hard and uncomfortable, so we’re gonna make it easier by putting it in the prepackaged box. The right chord progression here, just the right amount of synth pad over everything, and no lyrics a seventh grader couldn’t write (usually repeating Jesus’ name 100 times works, third commandment be damned). We’ll do the same with all the CCM songs on the radio.” And this becomes the status quo of “this is what Christian music should sound like.” The motions of worship, to adapt what Chris said. The church does the same packaging thing with God– “this is what God is, looks and feels like.”
All that to say, suddenly it became a trend to do these packaged ‘worship albums,’ and after awhile, Christian music forgot that God is sovereign over all things, not just stuff that’s comfortable in church. He’s ultimately sovereign over woods and animals and prostitutes and middle managers and despots and druggies and sex and yes, even dubstep. (In fact, he invented every type of music– humans just happened to have discovered it and later the devil took credit for the good stuff.) Christian music forgot that all truth is God’s truth– even truth that makes us uncomfortable, makes us wrestle with God.
Is it any wonder people my age are leaving the church in droves? They must sit in church and think, “is this all there is to God? Some open C chords, bad poetry, and an occasional canned food drive?” God deserves better than what we’ve shown him to be.
So my hat off to Sufjan– I hope he continues to confound, just as Jesus did and continues to do. I hope he’s able to continue to pry open a small crack to the infinite window that is the joy and mystery of God. Uh, just stay away from dubstep, Sufjan. That’s one confounded expectation too far.