Art rock is a subgenre of rock that aspires to elevate music from entertainment to “true” artistic expression. It specializes in avant-garde sounds, rhythms, and unconventional elements. They are is also an emphasis on challenging lyrical content. Despite its associations with prog rock, Art rock does have a more nuanced interest and a much more eclectic sound. It is often said that Art rock is more challenging, noisy, and unconventional.
The birth of Christian art rock is hard to identify, and never really took off as a formalized movement or subgenre. Bands as far back as the mid 70s were experimenting with their sounds and producing some novel records. Steve Taylor was particularly popular in the 80s, and was both unconventional and groundbreaking. In the 90s prog rock sensation Neal Morse became a Christian and began to produce albums that merged his Christian faith with experimental rock. In other words, the history of Christian art rock centers more around select individuals popping up at different times than it does around the development of a whole genre within Christian music. Still, some of these individuals and groups have done some amazing work. And many have seen the importance and value of shifting their music and performance away from pure entertainment and making bold statements about life, faith, death, and culture – something about which Christians, of all people, should have profound things to say.
Here are my top ten favorite Christian art rock songs:
1. “Meltdown (at Madame Tussaud’s)” by Steve Taylor
A new wave song about the futility of fame and the mortality of all, using the famous London was museum as a metaphor.
2. “The Earth Isn’t Humming” by Frodus
A math rock take on the devastation of war. This song was later covered by the band Thrice.
3. “Carousels” by Mewithoutyou
Looking for meaning, and knowing that without God we’d still be wandering.
4. “Mouth Like a Magazine” by Showbread
Who knew a rocks song about gossip could be so awesome!
5. “Cuckoo!” by Neon Horse
Goth rock take on failed parenting…”you’ve got only yourself to blame.”
6. “Torches Together” by Mewithoutyou
The beauty of community never sounded so powerful!
7. “Eight Hours Away from Being a Man” by Roadside Monument
A lyrically cryptic (and whisper sung) math rock song that shows the range, precision, and tightness of this underrated band.
8. “Used To” by Mutemath
An electronic song about leaving a place, but not wanting to.
9. “Gentleman” by Mewithoutyou
Lyrically deep, and powerfully performed, about the madness of unrequited love.
10. “Dreams” by King’s Kaliedoscope
Imagination is a divine gift given to help us taste the spiritual.