That’s it. I’ve had it with mainstream music.
I spent a lot of time road tripping this summer, which means a lot of time scanning through radio stations trying to find something to entertain (or at least keep me awake). What I found was an underwhelming collection of catchy beats glorifying the same three themes – sex, money, and having a great party. Sure, the hooks are memorable, but these messages are not good for us to listen to, even if we don’t believe them. Besides, the music itself is generally unimpressive.
But it doesn’t have to be like this! There are other choices out there, and it’s time to unveil it. If you, too, are sick of a summer of “we’re up all night to get lucky” and “we can’t stop” garbage that deteriorates our brains and souls, a new school year is a great time to recommit to filling our minds and ears with music that is good musically, true lyrically, and more beautiful all around.
Here’s just a tip of the iceberg that is wide world of great tunes:
Ben Rector: You want catchy pop beats without sacrificing thoughtful, witty lyrics or good ol’ fashioned musicianship? Then Ben Rector is your man. With Christian undertones (and overtones) and a generally healthy outlook on love (less “I can’t live without you, baby”, more “I’ve been low and lost without you”), Ben is my go-to great-mood musician. Plus, his Facebook and blog updates are always fun and clever; for example, he just released this adorable video to promote his new album The Walking In Between which dropped August 20. Listen to “Ordinary Love” and “Follow You.” And he’ll be touring this fall at a concert hall near you. Lucky you.
Alpha Rev: Even though this band has been around since 2005, I’ve only just discovered how great they are. Once voted the #1 indie band from Texas, this group of extremely talented musicians comes together to form a sound reminiscent of Coldplay meets Mumford (check out “Sing Loud”). I’ve heard few bands portray themes of the human condition – heartbreak, death, and love – quite as honestly and dynamically as Alpha Rev. They are also on tour this fall, though the dates and locations are more limited. If you get a chance to see them, you’re in for a great show.
Wait, there’s more! Matt Wertz, Dave Barnes, Steve Moakler, Deas Vail, Lights, Mat Kearney
Indie Folk/Alternative Country
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: I know you’re already in love with this band because of its name… at least that’s what happened to me. But I didn’t know what loving this band meant until I saw their Facebook page, which reads, “Our goal has been to bring our hope-filled songs to those who are stuck in the darkest places in this world.” You just can’t beat that. Except you can…with the music. I’ll let you experience this California folk troop for yourself. Start off with “Hold On” and the prodigal son-inspired “Brothers.”
Sleepy Turtles: The only thing I love more than this band’s raw, melancholy sound is its own description- “a band threaded in the old tradition of folk: humans sharing the human condition.” Maybe it’s the deep, poetic nature of folk music that helps bands perfectly identify their own sound, but I won’t dare try to explain it better myself: “Life’s mysteries are carried in the embrace of melody and harmony, immersing imagination and bringing serene regeneration to the listener.” It’s true. Try “Morning Song” and “A Reason to Hope.”
Wait, there’s more! Ben Howard, Josh Mhire, Friendly Savages, Ryan Adams, Glen Hansard
Daniel Martin Moore: Not exclusively a Christian artist, this Kentucky born musician unites southern charm and bluesy folk in his Gospel album, In the Cool of the Day. As the album name would suggest, as I listened, I found my heart happy and resting in the presence of God. This would be great for a work/study break, to recollect and get a little encouragement to keep on going. Not only are Moore’s other albums equally lovely, but part of his proceeds go to eradicate poverty in Appalachia. Check out his other causes and funny posts on his Facebook page.
The Glory Collective: Call me a sucker for interesting covers of traditional hymns, but this group’s live album Shine is a revelation…literally. Inspired by the Glory conference, a group of young Catholic singers came together for this project, “seeking to be a part of something bigger where truth and beauty meet to transform culture.” With moving renditions of “O God Beyond All Praising” and “Veni Per Mariam”, I can’t wait until this gang comes together again to give us more beautiful music.
Wait, there’s more! Matt Maher, David Crowder Band, Jimmy Needham, Rhett Walker Band, Run Kid Run, Gungor
Dallas String Quartet: If you really can’t let go of your Top 40 hits, at least give this electric string quartet a shot. They cover popular songs like “Secrets” and “Firework”, no distracting or demoralizing lyrics, just instruments.
Thelonious Monk: Nope, not a real monk, but he was a pretty groovin’ jazz pianist. I always find that listening to upbeat and bluesy tunes helps get me through a long to-do list (and makes me wish I grew up in pre-WWII America). Plus, jazz is really the only musical art form that America can truly call her own.
Wait, there’s more! Jingle Punks Hipster Orchestra, Vitamin String Quartet, Dave Brubeck, Glenn Miller, John Coltrane
The music we listen to has a profound impact on our souls, for better or for worse. Because music has the power to move our whole being, we can be changed spiritually, emotionally and mentally without even knowing it. While the music above is pretty great (in my humble opinion), nothing really compares to the resounding beauty and complexity of Bach’s Mass in B minor or even in the bold and spirited fanfare of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. These are the melodies that lift our souls heavenward and point to a greater reality.
And remember, God speaks to us in the silence, so don’t be afraid to turn down the jams, even the classical ones, every now and then.
Peace, love and happy listening.