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The Fledgling State of the Contemporary Christian Music Industry

When people hear the term ‘Christian music,’ for the most part, they think of sub-par bands making lame, God-obsessed music. In a lot of ways, this is true.

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I’ve wanted to write a piece about this for a long, long time. The only problem was that I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to say, and I wasn’t quite sure how to say it. When dealing with any subject even abstractly related to ‘religion,’ or ‘Christianity,’ or ‘spirituality,’ you must come at it both fairly, and respectfully.

First off, I suppose I should present the angle that I come at this piece from: I believe in God. I consider myself to be a Christian. I read the Bible. I am not fanatical about my beliefs, and I never try to force my opinion (or ‘worldview’ if you will) upon anyone. I hate it when people associate me with those “crazy church people” that are always picketing some business for an inane reason, or ranting from a soapbox on things they know nothing about, claiming to be a representative for every person in existence that believes in God. Those types of people annoy me just as much as they do the next guy.

Now, from that background, I come at the topic of the current state of Contemporary Christian Music. Living knee-deep in the bible-belt of the Southern part of the United States; there are many very popular Contemporary Christian Music radio stations around here. (In the small-ish city I live, we can pick up at least three on the FM dial.) This being one of the most concentrated areas for the ‘Christian culture,’ many of the bands tour locally, and I’ve had the chance to see, and hear material from, many of them. For the most part, Contemporary Christian Music suffers from the same pitfalls that mainstream music suffers from. Almost every popular act sounds the same, and the airwaves are flooded with power-pop-rock and tweeny-girl-pop almost incessantly. Except for lyrical differences, the ‘Top Ten CCM Countdowns’ come off nearly identical to the ‘Mainstream Top Ten Countdowns’ a lot of the times. This is where I find the greatest problem.

It seems that all CCM is doing is taking whatever is popular in the mainstream, and making shaky, Christian-themed knock-offs to market. The problem began long-ago. The CCM radio stations and markets just evolved over the years: first as edgy, different options for younger demographics/families looking for music, and eventually it just became its own (very separate) little world. The CCM industry has its own awards show, as well as its own all-star acts. From as far back as I can remember there has always been a separatist issue present.

Now, I ’m not going to get preachy, but isn’t one of the basic necessities of Christianity to reach people with the message? To reach out into the masses, and be an influence? You should use any method available to get the message across. Dating back to before the Crusades there have been missionaries going into the world, to try and save people, to try and have an affect on people. Shouldn’t this very, very important aspect of Christianity transfer into the realm of its music? Instead of trying to reach the masses with great, inspired music written from a Christian worldview, most CCM acts instead opt to hide within the bubble, and cater only to those already living happily within it. Shouldn’t one of the main aspects of CCM be to reach out, and reach people? The CCM industry and ‘bubble’ as I like to call it is already so far-expanded, that it’s almost too late to change. All we can really do is adapt.

Recent success from popular bands such as Switchfoot and Relient K (pictured) show promise. Both are very popular pop-rock-puck bands just making good music. Period. The fact that they’re Christians, and good musicians, is all that makes a difference. It shows through in the lyrics in a non-heavy-handedly way, and it affects and reaches everyone: both people in the ‘bubble,’ and the ever-important rest of the world outside it. In my opinion, most CCM is nearly inaccessible to enjoy unless you’re already a Christian.

When people hear the term ‘Christian music,’ for the most part, they think of sub-par bands making lame, God-obsessed music. In a lot of ways, this is true. Much of the music to be found in CCM is bad (just as much mainstream music sucks). But if you just dig a little deeper you really can find some great acts. No matter what aspect or faith opinion (or lack thereof) you come at it from, there are great, accessible bands rocketing around under-the-radar; but still stuck inside the bubble, where the rest of the world can’t find them. Look no further than Mat Kearney (whose upcoming major label debut has both a bit of CCM, and mainstream indie buzz), Shane & ShaneMatthew WestShawn McDonald, and a plethora of popular hardcore bands for examples of good Christian acts. What most CCM bands haven’t realized yet is that you must make the method of delivery worthy of carrying the message.

It’s going to take good bands, with a Christian worldview, released in the mainstream market before anything is really going to happen. Old acts such as Jars of Clay and DC Talk have hinted at this success; and current acts like Switchfoot and Relient K are currently riding on a wave of it- but it’s going to take a lot more than those few examples to do any striving good. What the CCM market fails to realize, time and time again, is that if the music isn’t good; no one is going to want to listen to it.It all has to start with the music.

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Crossed Keys – Saviors

Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds

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Crossed Keys Saviors

Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.

Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.

For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.

(Hellminded Records)

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Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”

A glorious sound of a time gone by

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Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.

I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).

To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.

Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.

While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.

Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.

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