Christian music that doesn't suck?

alice's picture

Hi all, given a comment by JMG at this month's open post I just had to post and ask folks -- would anyone be willing to share it if they find christian music that doesn't suck?

In the spirit of the moment I would like to share one of my favourite christian prayer songs -- 'Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God' from Taize, and this is a recording made in Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But maybe I only like it because of the religious content? Would any brave people out there like to tell me, does it suck from your perspective? I actually know plenty of christians for whom the Taize prayer style doesn't do anything, they just think it is very boring, so it might be another of those things where a very small number of people like it and it leaves most people cold. But I had to ask in the spirit of enquiry.

And please fellow christians do post your favourite music if you dare to run the gauntlet and find out what other people think of it =D

David Trammel's picture

I tend to have a music stream going off of Youtube when I work. Its predominantly instrumentals or the vocals where they aren't really using words. Some of them include religious inspired works from Europe that are beautiful. I'm not big on most modern stuff though I do listen to classic rock in the car, lol.

alice's picture

Hi David, there definitely are some beautiful older works of christian music around. Do you like Samuel Barber's 'Agnus Dei'? (Video link of a Dutch choir singing it on Youtube.)

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I saw that comment!

By far the best... as David mentioned, is those oldies but goodies. Thinking Twelfth century here. But due to Hildegard von Bingen's music being written down, it has been able to be recorded by modern vocal groups. This album, Canticles of Ecstasy, performed by Sequentia is one of my favorites. I use it frequently for meditation and to create a sacred stillness within my space (both of these very important in these times!)

I also had a dream last week where I was in an Armenian Chapel and they were playing some music that was very similar to Hildegard's. I started looking into Armenian Liturgical Chant. Their music developed differently than some of the other monastic chant, but it is just as beautiful and magisterial.

As far as contemporary Christian music goes my favorite artist by far (and outside of any Christian aspects is Current 93 headed up by David Tibet. Their album Thunder Perfect Mind is an all time favorite:

My favorite Current 93 album though is Of Ruine or Some Blazing Star:

If you don't want to listen to the whole thing, than at least check out Dormition and Dominion:

I also really like the album Theology by Sinead O'Connor. She converted to Islam recently but her versions of some of the Psalms are awesome.
Psalm 91:

My wife and I were due to see her this past spring but it got canceled due to Covid. I'm still excited to see her in 2021 when she got rescheduled.

There are probably a lot more Christian musicians making music that isn't say, specifically Christian.

I'm a big music geek, so I fear I could crazy on this thread posting songs .... so I'll stop before I get out of control.

alice's picture

Thanks for joining in the fun JPM.

Dare I ask if you think the Taize song above sucks??

Looking forward to listening my way through your links.

alice's picture

Got to say I tried to listen to the tracks you linked by Current 93 and it just gave me the wiggins. Ugh. No, not for me, couldn't get past 1 min of any of those.

The Armenian church music is great and I like the various interpretations of Hildegard that are around.

Particularly interested in whether any modern christian music can be found which is agreed to be any good.

Sinead O'Connors stuff is ok too, bless her, I can take or leave.

What do people think of Kirk Franklin's 'OK'? Used to sing a lot of his tunes in a community gospel choir a while back. Good fun. In fact the gospel choir scene as a whole is a lot of fun. I might have to find one local to where we live now.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Certainly Current 93 is an acquired taste. I see David Tibet as one of England's great Bards - in the tradition of William Blake. He is a visionary Christian who isn't afraid of magic or delving into apocalyptic themes you hardly find elsewhere in Christian music. He is what I would say is an esoteric Christian. But yup, to each their own. & Thank you for at least giving them a shot!

I did have some other ideas for good, non-sucky Christian music that I will put in a new comment. More on the traditional folk and country gospel end of things.

alice's picture

I saw this in JMG's comment thread so adding it to our discussion here.

Kimbra -- 'Black Sky'.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

After writing my initial comment yesterday I realized the Christian music I really like outside of chant is probably all traditional folk & country gospel. So here are a few in that vein. I think this is closer to what most people would like (outside of my own strange and eclectic tastes):

Wayfaring Stranger - Rhiannon Giddens version:

I'm a Long Time Traveler Here Below

Village Churchyard : Ralph Stanley

Sleepers, Awake! The Incredible String Band

...That's enough again for now... & thanks for bringing up the topic!

To answer your question though I don't think the Taize song sucks, but it's not really to my aesthetic taste (as C93 probably isn't except to a cult following). I do like the flute part. It kind of gets better as it goes on, but not something I'd put on a lot.
This is more to my taste in that vein. John Tavener, Lamentations & Praises, as done by Chanticleer:

I think the problem with mainstream Christian music is it just got into pop music too much. It tried to do that to appeal to people who liked pop, but lost the inherent appeal found in traditional forms -or even new forms that hadn't lost the soul & imaginative connection.

alice's picture

The Rhiannon Giddens one is beautiful, have added that to one of my playlists, thanks for sharing it.

The Taverner is -- ok ish, can take or leave.

I think Taize is really participatory music for prayer, not listening music, if that makes sense. They publish inexpensive books with the music and words written out in four part harmony with chords to about a hundred of the songs, dozens of languages represented, though many are in English and Latin, and they also produce other books with the solo and instrumental parts. I used to be in a church where we had four good voices and we used the Taize songs and some from Iona as prayer music. I like that the texts are meaningful and the music is simple enough to learn easily by heart so it's possible to really pray it, and that's definitely the intention of the Taize community. It's not intended as music for entertainment.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Well, that's interesting. I've never encountered it before. I know when I've gone back to the church I was raised in I've been horrified that they got rid of the old hymn book and everything is this watered down pop music. Not to put down any denominations -in spirit I'm a Universalist- but it seems a lot got lost when churches stopped having liturgies and just people speaking from pulpits. It's a big loss when the songs everyone knows by heart go away. I think it is good to have the kind of songs you can sing alone, or in a congregation if that is your thing, where you can get to that point of communion which is what its all about anyway.

alice's picture

I was really struggling to articulate my understanding there about participatory prayer music -- I wasn't sure if it was just special pleading of no convincing value -- and I am glad it seems you get what I was striving inadequately to communicate. Yes, the Taize style just needs a few people who can read music and sing or know by heart a few tunes, and there's a rich harmonic prayer experience, some even work just as a chant for one voice. Using the songs of Taize gave real depth of prayer to the house church we were attending at one time. Also amongst people who use these songs for community I find there's a real sense of their spiritual power as prayers we can use to help us along in our daily lives, at least in places where singing is allowed. But some people I know do just find these dreary and boring.

Another few I like -- Bless the Lord my soul;
'Mon âme se repose' or English version 'In God alone my soul can find rest and peace.
And this one doesn't really translate to sing in English but also a great prayer imo if you have a little German'Aber du weißt jetzt den Weg für mich' (Gott, lass meine Gedanken sich sammeln zu dir/ Bei dir ist das Licht, du vergisst mich nicht/ Bei dir ist die Hilfe, bei dir ist die Geduld/ Ich verstehe deine Wege nicht/ Aber du weißt den Weg für mich.) *I have now put the link in for this one in case anyone couldn't find it before =D

This thread makes me wonder what kind of music Martinists use -- think JMG commented a while back he would be a martinist if he was christian so I am guessing he sensed spiritual power there.

Edited typo; just edited again to fix a link and again as I broke the comment trying to use an angle bracket as an arrow =D

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Good question about the Martinists. I'd be curious about that as well. I like the version of Bless the Lord. In the second song I like the flute (or recorder?) I really like any religious music with guitar and / or harp. King David was a bard methinks and the harp is such a soothing instrument to this savage beast.

Thanks for turning me on to Taize.

I also remembered this other group I really like, and actually am friends with the guitar player from... he happened to move to Cincinnati, by way of England, New York, where he was a member of The Trees Community, and now here. We've jammed together. Anyway, The Trees Community were basically hippie Christians from the 70s and put out one LP "The Christ Tree". They did free improvisation around the psalms and would perform at churches and cathedrals. My favorite song of theirs is their version of Psalm 42.

Peace be with you!

alice's picture

Tried to listen to 'The Trees' but I am stuck thinking -- sounds like they smoked too much weed, just weird boring atonal. I probably have hopelessly old-fashioned taste in music to go along with my hopelessly old-fashioned taste in pretty much everything else. I hope it's not off-putting that I don't like some of what you are posting. I am totally open to the same from others in this thread, and I think it's fun.

It’s been awhile, but Iona always hit the right spot for me.
I should check out their new stuff.

Going even further back, I loved Second Chapter of Acts.

alice's picture

Thanks for chiming in LL, I will have a listen =D

alice's picture

Couldn't quite get the Iona -- the live track I could find to listen to, kind of proggy, I guess I struggle with less structure in the music I listen to?

I wrote 'Iona' above but realize now it's not the same crowd as this -- I was referring to the Iona Community songs like this one, 'Santo Santo Santo' again music for singing and, used by lots of the same people who sing Taize.

Found this from Second Chapter of Acts listenable, from their album 'Singer Sower'.

alice's picture

I can get that one too, thank you.

For 2nd Chapter of Act, this is their iconic piece from 1977

alice's picture

Thanks for posting this LL, for me that is catchy and listenable.

I really feel that, because music is so emotional and is a communication between your soul and the artist’s, what clicks with your heart is going to change depending on who you are and your stage of life.

It’s kind of sad, but I’ve almost completely shifted to listening to podcasts Instead of music. I used to have a rule where I listened to a album at least 3 times before giving up. Oddly I often grew to like some initially difficult songs best, and some I liked on first listen seemed boring later. That’s how I started liking rap 15 years ago - through listening three times to the Christian rap band, Grits. (I could acclimate to the music because the words weren’t scaring me away.)

You guys seem to have more sophisticated tastes than I. I grew up singing Southern Baptist Hymns in a small Alabama town and later went to several Pentecostal churches that focused on cheerfully singing scriptures and then back for a while to Baptist churches to find that “praise band” music had taken over.

I haven’t had time to listen to y’all’s links, but I’ll let you know when I do.

Thinking more about the purpose of music and what qualifies as good - I listened to the first Taize link. It’s good because it’s participatory. (And holding candles while singing in a cathedral doesn’t hurt either!)

A lot of Christian music is about singing together, some is about helping people keep their thoughts focused where they want, and some is about learning or being encouraged by the artist. I’m not sure if the listeners care about it being “good” music if it does its job. I also think it might have to do with the size of the genera. If for example, 10% of musicians are “good”, that’s a lot more “good” music in the bigger secular field. Plus the music on Christian radio Is trying to please too many people which tends toward lameness, and some good Christian musicians don’t want the label because it’s too limiting.

alice's picture

All good points here LL and plenty to think about. I have spent a lot of time over the past few years shifting my own energy to improve my health and I think one result of that is I don't want to move too far emotionally from the path I have found which is healthy for me. So maybe not as open as I previously have been to things that don't sound good, the emotional energy is going to put me off if it doesn't fit with what is good for keeping me on the path I am on. So prob v picky. I am hoping it's fine for me to be picky and say whether stuff appeals to me, while also encouraging others to do the same -- to be happy with what each of us finds to be beneficial and pleasing?

I was more open when I had teenagers - hard to keep up with them. :-)

alice's picture

Just to add to the thread, wonder if anyone else might like these two songs

Shir Shel Boker by Israeli duo Yonina

Adir by Meshorerim choir

I'm not sure I have come across any christian music that's as good as either. I am often inspired by a sense of spiritual maturity in Judaism, the kind of which which I am lookingfor hints of amongst the christian world.

alice's picture

Influenced by plainsong, Paulette Meier is a Quaker who is recording music for chanting using the words of Quaker mystics. Anyone like this one: 'Keep within'?