They Can’t Define Us Anymore: My Top 20 Gungor Songs

If you’ve never heard of Gungor at all, and your first question upon hearing a song of theirs is, “Is this a Christian band?”, then my answer is: Yes. No. Kinda.

Normally in this monthly column, I’m going to be writing about bands that are defunct, or at the very least have stopped recording and touring for the foreseeable future. Gungor is a curious exception, because there are literally days to go in the band’s farewell tour. A week or so from when I publish this, Gungor as a distinct musical entity will be considered a thing of the past. Its two members, Michael and Lisa Gungor, certainly have plans to continue making music, just not under that name. I’m intrigued to see what these two might cook up with all past constraints and preconceived notions completely gone. I feel like they’ve already done a bang-up job of challenging our assumptions, not just about the kind of music they make but about the parameters that define the Christian faith ourselves, over the years. It seems like now’s as good a time as any to honor the end of an era, and take a (shorter than my usual) walk down memory lane to revisit my favorite songs that the duo have put out in the eight years I’ve considered myself a fan.

Now if you’ve actually heard of Gungor, there are probably a few things that quickly come to mind. One, their signature song “Beautiful Things”, which is pretty much guaranteed to be the song of theirs that someone will know if they only know one song. Two, The Liturgists Podcast, in which Michael Gungor and friends discuss issues pertinent to the Christian faith from a more progressive angle. Three, the stifling amounts of controversy and online trolling that dogged the band later in their run. How the band came to respond to stuffy, conservative Christians who expected them to remain in a box and make warm, fluffy worship songs forever and ever amen, came to define their music as a form of thoughtful rebellion against the norms of the Christian music industry. I don’t even think the Gungors themselves were entirely comfortable giving a clear answer to the question of whether they made “Christian music” after a while, and while that sort of a non-answer from a popular CCM band might cause a lot of the faithful to gather their pitchforks and torches, I personally came to admire them for taking the road less traveled, and for being increasingly comfortable with their discomfort, to the point where their music became an absolutely beguiling thing for anyone to try to define.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this was coming when I first started getting into Gungor’s music back in 2011. Their debut record under the Gungor name, Beautiful Things, was really starting to make waves at that point (while they had put out some music before that as The Michael Gungor Band, the rename seemed to acknowledge a fresh start in their career that made Lisa a full creative partner), and they had been invited to come out on tour with another favorite worship-oriented Christian band of mine, the David Crowder Band, who at the time was in the process of saying farewell to their fans. (Look for a future column on the DCB one of these months.) Having gravitated away from the more predictable end of the contemporary worship scene, Crowder was one of the few artists in the genre I still had profound respect for at that point, and I saw their selection of Gungor as their opening act as a passing of the torch. Gungor showed enough promise to become “my new favorite worship band”, whatever that meant. They did so with arrangements that might have seemed unorthodox given the big, catchy choruses and wall-of-sound arrangements that Crowder’s fans were used to. Particularly on that tour, with just Michael and Lisa on stage (aided by the cello and beatboxing skills of Kevin Olusola, now better known as a member of Pentatonix), their approach was very “chamber pop”, echoing influences from some of my favorite indie artists such as Björk and Sufjan Stevens. (And occasionally following in the footsteps of Crowder, too. Nothing wrong with that.) And Michael was an absolute beast when it came to fancy fingerwork on the acoustic guitar, giving a few of their songs more of a funk/jam band sort of feel despite the stripped-down presentation. They had their catchy choruses and big audience participation moments here and there, but especially on the newer material they were previewing from their just-released Ghosts Upon the Earth, they seemed to rely less on getting an immediate, “Hey, this is fun and easy to sing along with!” sort of response from the audience, and more on getting them to think more deeply about concepts like, creation, the fall, and the redemption of humankind, and how that story was still playing out within us all today. I very slowly fell in love with Ghosts when I first got to hear it for myself, and especially when I saw the band perform the album live in 2012. It felt like a conscious choice to ditch all the cliched trappings of the genre, and write their own rulebook on what liturgical or “worship” music could sound like. (That rulebook would soon be ripped up and thrown out, of course, because this is a band that wouldn’t even let their own preconceived notions of what they should sound like box them in.)

Somewhere between the release of Ghosts and the making of 2013’s I Am Mountain, came Michael Gungor’s darkest season. He went through a crisis of faith, and decided to take the approach of deconstructing everything he believed, up to and including the very existence of God, and seeing what he was left with. Some of the tracks on Mountain document that process, including its scariest and most uncertain moments, but also its most liberating moments, where he was able to acknowledge and critique aspects of American evangelical culture that no longer made sense to him. This kicked off a process of reconstruction, in which he eventually found his way back to Christ, just without the trappings of a lot of the things he was taught growing up that were actually in conflict with the benevolent creator he found that he had to continue believing in despite having let go of that belief for a while. This is the sort of process that I could relate to personally – I may have never gone quite as far down the rabbit hole with it as he did, but I’ve been through enough seasons of doubt and despair, and shedding beliefs that no longer make sense, and gradually regaining a form of faith that is more comfortable with the mystery, and less arrogantly assured of being right while everyone else is wrong. So even when Gungor puzzled me with what they were doing musically (which was quite often at this point – were they rock? Electropop? Indie folk? Just what business did any of the two radically different tracks on I Am Mountain have butting right up against each other, anyway?), I felt a certain spiritual kinship with the band, that has stuck with me to this day. Seeing them again on tour in early 2014, I thought back to times when I had finally let go of long-held beliefs that no longer made sense, and it had felt incredibly risky and scary, and now here I was, grateful for having been brought to a place of peace about those decisions even though I approached them very much with fear and trembling at the time. There just aren’t a lot of Christian (or post-Christian or whatever you want to call them) bands who can give voice to that sort of a profoundly life-changing experience.

By the time word of Gungor’s brush with atheism got out, and especially during the One Wild Life era in 2015/2016 when the band was openly addressing how they felt at odds with conservative evangelical politics, our habit of denying and dismissing scientific concepts that superficially appeared to be at odds with the Bible, and even the notion that the Bible and its stories had to be understood as literal truth, the CCM audience had just about had it. Articles slamming the band’s lack of orthodoxy were posted on Christian media outlets with depressing regularity. Gungor was, for all intents and purposes, an underground band at this point, making and releasing music independently, on a rather ambitious schedule that saw them putting out a tripartite concept album in the span of about a year and a half. As their faith had been blown apart and pieced back together as a different version of itself, so had their creative process (and admittedly, some of their live performances in this era were a bit too spontaneous and avant-garde for me to really understand what was going on). All of this just served to put me more and more in their corner, as it revealed the willingness of insecure evangelicals to cruelly devour their own if that was what it took to silence uncomfortable questions and dissenting voices within their ranks. Aside from a few rather un-subtle songs that went unreleased until the group’s recent Archives collection cleared the vaults in preparation for the band’s dissolution, they never really got the chance to address their feelings on the state of American Christianity in album format during the Trump era. I can only suspect that Michael in particular is itching to dive more into some of this, and perhaps he feels a bit of sympathy for the completists who simply have to own everything Gungor put out even if they might feel morally conflicted about it, hence the promise to stop recording under that name and start something new instead. Time will tell what the future holds for the Gungors, but they’ve given me a strong and perplexing body of work, with some standout tracks that I’ve come to feel a strong emotional attachment to, due to how so many of them were there for me and seemed to sum up exactly what I was feeling during crucial points of challenge and change in my adult life.

1. Us For Them
(from One Wild Life: Soul, 2015)
Last year, in celebration of my 40th birthday, I wrote up a column in which I chose a song which I felt best represented my emotional, spiritual, musical, etc. development for each year of my life. Gungor was one of the rare artists to have a song selected for two separate years. If you’ll forgive me for repeating myself, I think my summaries from that column more than adequately sum up the feelings I still have about these two songs today. From the 2015 entry:

“I love how this song turns militant metaphors on their heads, by saying that God’s judgment is love and God wields mercy like a sword. It’s not only a song about God’s children being shown grace instead of wrath, it’s a very social justice-oriented song about the church needing to be inclusive instead of exclusive. ‘If it’s us or them, it’s us for them.’ Christianity, as a club where you’re either in or out, had ceased to hold any interest for me at this point. I had seen too much damage done by the church excluding people who didn’t fit into its cultural sensibilities or its misguided interpretations of Scriptural laws. This really hit home when my church, Evergreen, went through a season of deliberation regarding the inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in the church body, and ended up forming a support group for them called The Open Door as a result. If our church was attempting to be a genuine home for some of these Christians who had been turned away by other Christian communities, I wanted to be a part of welcoming them in. So our pastor recommended that I join the support group. Doing so pretty radically transformed my whole attitude about going to church. Rather than it being something I took for granted because friends had left over the years, or a lot of contemporary worship music struck me as stale, or I was just too darn lazy to get going in a timely manner on Sunday mornings, I was now interacting with people who couldn’t afford to take it for granted, because they were recovering from their past exposure to toxic faith communities who had told them they didn’t belong. Now they belonged, and that was precious to them in a way that should have always been precious to me. It shed new light on those songs and sermons, and just the simple experience of fellowship, that I had failed to fully appreciate for the treasures that they were. I learned a lot about privilege from that group of LGBTQ Christians and allies, many of whom were Asian-American or belonged to other ethnic minority groups as well, and who understood how the need to stand up for sexual minorities intersected with the need to stand up for victims of racial injustice, ableism, and other forms of discrimination. It taught me a lot about my privilege as a straight white American-born male. And I felt pretty strongly that if I was going to believe the Church – big C meaning the community of all Christians, not just one building – is a place where I belong, that can only be possible if it’s a place where I believe others belong without them having to look or act or understand their identities the way I do. Our group held a weekend retreat the following year, and since I had agreed to lead worship at that retreat, I couldn’t resist choosing ‘Us For Them’ as an unofficial theme for that weekend, because the song communicated my feelings on the subject so perfectly.”

2. Beautiful Things
(from Beautiful Things, 2010)
And from the 2011 entry:

“2011 was an excruciatingly difficult year. A combination of depression and anxiety issues that both my wife and I were dealing with in very different ways, and disagreement over how to implement our future plans for starting a family, led to a rift between us that took a very long time to heal. Have you ever gone through a dry season in life where it seems like you’re about to turn a corner into a new beginning, then it turns out to just be an illusion and you’re still going through the same old issues when you feel like they should have been over and done with forever ago? That was most of the year 2011 for us. It had been that way for long enough that I found it really difficult to muster up enough faith to believe it could change. I first heard this song, which was my introduction to Gungor, when it was performed as an interpretive dance at our church, with the dancers acting as flowers rising up from the barren ground. It made me curious enough to check out the band, and I was excited to discover that they had more of a fresh and creative take on contemporary worship than a lot of what I was hearing from other bands and on Sunday mornings at the time. Gungor did an acoustic opening set for the David Crowder Band on their farewell tour, and it felt like a passing of the torch from one worship band I had long admired who was hanging it up to another who I was just getting to know. Hearing ‘Beautiful Things’ in a live setting triggered the realization for me that these words represented the hope I still wanted to have that God could change us. As stagnant and unlikely to change as our situation felt at the time, I found solace in the idea that there was no ground too barren for God to bring forth new life from it. The resolutions to those long-standing issues wouldn’t come until a year or two later, but through the encouragement of friends, the wisdom of our pastors and our marriage counselor, and the common ground we discovered we still had as we enjoyed the Crowder/Gungor concert that night, we found enough resolve to stick with our commitment to love each other until the actual feelings of love, which seemed like they had lay dormant for most of that year, finally began to resurface.”

3. Crags and Clay
(from Ghosts Upon the Earth, 2011)
OK, I need to actually write something new now. I sort of surprised myself when I realized how high up this song landed on my list, because it’s one of the more low-key entries on Ghosts Upon the Earth, and it took me a while to even realize it was my favorite on that particular album (which, as you’ll soon see, has more entries on this list than any of their others). The first three songs on Ghosts all deal with creation; this one in particular has a special sense of hushed reverence to it, as it considers mankind being built up from mere clay, and how the rocks and mountains and tiny grains of sand all crying out in praise to God long before we were even made serves as an invitation for us to join a chorus that was already in progress. The production on this one is immaculate – it’s deliberately muted at the beginning, with the simple guitar strum in 4/4 seemingly at odds with the irregular rhythm of the piano, and then like a lot of Gungor’s best work, it all comes together in a grand crescendo, slowly clueing the listener in as to how everything really fits together. That gives the song an air of mystery that makes it an ideal reflection of what the Gungors are singing about. it’s simple enough to be adaptable for worship bands that just want to go over the four basic chords behind it and let everyone sing without needing all the bells and whistles. It works for me with or without all the production details, and I love how all of the little textures augment the album version rather than distracting from it. I have a special memory of playing this one in its most rudimentary form for my wife, as we sat on the beach and had our own little special date in early 2012, hours before we would see the band perform it live on their tour for this album.

4. You Have Me
(from Beautiful Things, 2010)
This was the song on Beautiful Things that most readily brought the Sufjan Stevens influence to mind, and signaled to me that I was dealing with a worship band that was pulling from a fair amount of indie rock influence, a refreshing change from the big stadium rock and radio-friendly pop-styled worship anthems I was getting rather tired of at the time. It’s not just the fact that there’s a banjo in this song that makes me love it, though. It’s got a very Psalm-like quality to it, which is appropriate since it’s essentially a rewrite of Psalm 139 in Gungor’s own words. Even at this early stage, I could tell that Michael had wrestled with some form of doubt, and with feeling far from God at some point in his life, and thus has related to that passage from the Bible where David had struggled with the very same thing. Songs like this, which acknowledge that our own ability to believe and feel 100% secure in our knowledge of God can be fleeting, but that God is still constant, mean more to me than any song making lofty promises to be holier ever could. It’s interesting looking back at this one now, knowing what the Gungors would go through only a few short years later. It seems at times like there’s a cycle to the progression of faith, and it ebbs and flows through periods of joy and certainty, and doubt and darkness. Hearing first-hand accounts from others who have gone through the darkest of times and lived to tell the tale will always be comforting to me. Lisa’s glockenspiel and backing vocals add a nice layer of awe and wonder to this song as well. No matter how far out on the edge of the universe they might wander, the vastness of God’s goodness is something they’ll never escape.

5. God and Country
(from I Am Mountain, 2013)
The most aggressive and angry song from I Am Mountain (and possibly in the band’s entire discography) found them throwing their two cents into the gun control debate, at a time when our nerves were still frayed from the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Michael was understandably outraged at how quick a lot of conservative Christians were to come to the defense of gun rights enthusiasts and dismiss the possibility of tighter restrictions on gun ownership out of hand, as if our nation’s obsession with guns had at some point managed to outweigh our concern for the lives of innocent children. Of course a song like this, that finds combatants on both sides of a war so wrapped up in their love of weapons and their hatred for each other that they can’t even remember what started the whole feud to begin with, is going to come across to some as standing on a simplistic “guns are bad” sort of soapbox, but I really think it’s more about illustrating how little nuance we seem to have left room for in the debate about where self-defense and personal freedoms should end and collective responsibility should begin. This isn’t a song that purports to have all the answers – it’s just taking us to task for not being intellectually honest with our questions. When it came galloping in with that spaghetti-Western styled guitar and that badass, bouncing rhythm reminiscent of Muse‘s “Knights of Cydonia”, it was enough to alert the listener that the Gungors were downright pissed off, and they didn’t care how many feathers they were gonna ruffle by getting it off their chests.

6. The Earth Is Yours
(from Beautiful Things, 2010)
This is one of the more straightforward praise songs in the Gungor canon, but I loved that it had bells and glockenspiel and staccato strings where you might normally expect a straightforward guitar/keyboard/drums/bass arrangement from most worship bands. Especially in the live version embedded below, which finds the group performing the song in a forest and using twigs and leaves for percussion, there’s an emphasis on the natural world existing as a thing that gives glory to God, and we can choose to take part. But our singing the song is not the thing that causes God’s glory to happen. It always was, is, and will be. (See also the band’s live album, A Creation Liturgy, for an ingenious bridging of this song with “Crags and Clay” – two very different moods and tempos, but subject-wise it’s like they were born to be fraternal twin songs.)

7. I Am Mountain
(from I Am Mountain, 2013)
Since a lot of Gungor’s music takes its inspiration from nature, it’s no surprise that the title track from their third album would expand upon that concept of mankind being formed from some of the most basic elements of the universe – rocks, dust, water… even some the same materials far-off constellations are made of. The bridge refers to us as “Momentary carbon stories/From the ashes, filled with Holy Ghost.” What’s easy to miss in what at first sounds like just a fun sing-along about creation, is the vast stretches of time and space that went into the formation of these elements. A New Earth Creationist could find a lot of nitpicks here, while someone whose beliefs leaned more toward Theistic Evolution would probably think, “Yeah, right on.” (You can probably guess which camp I’m in.) The whole “Genesis isn’t literal” controversy that one of their blog entries got them into really shouldn’t have been such a big surprise after this, in retrospect.

8. When Death Dies
(from Ghosts Upon the Earth, 2011)
This was the first song I ever heard Gungor perform live, and while the album version from Ghosts is pretty darn compelling, their live acoustic version with the aforementioned Kevin Olusola (seen sans audience in the video below) is what really caused my jaw to drop. There’s just so much going on at once here that I have to marvel at how preternatural each musician’s ability to play off of the others appears to be. Thematically, this one’s an important turning point on Ghost, having established the death and decay caused by “The Fall” in a previous song, but stating emphatically that a triumphant victory is close at hand over the physical world’s tendency to wither and painfully fade away.

9. You Are the Beauty
(from Ghosts Upon the Earth, 2011)
Also a barn-burner from Ghosts that I first got to hear in that opening set for Crowder, this one takes a country/bluegrass turn which is especially thrilling as a response to several somber/reflective songs in a row in the back half of the album, reminding us that such things as “breath and sex and sight” are all beautiful things that God has made, God has blessed, and God inhabits. While this one has a fun chorus that Michael and Lisa belt out at the top of their lungs, the real show-stopper here is the extended jam session at the end of the song, which was designed to be open-ended and malleable enough for Gungor to do something different with it seemingly every time they played it live. It’s mostly about the fancy fingerwork on Michael’s guitar, though. Oh my Lord, that man could make those strings sing.

10. Let It Go
(from I Am Mountain, 2013)
This song came out mere months before another song called “Let It Go” took the world by storm. That would have been colossally bad timing if radio was still a thing Gungor cared about at this point, but honestly I don’t think it made much of a difference. Gungor turned out a killer electropop/funk jam here, and most of the world never had a chance to notice, but those of us that did danced our asses off and called it good. This is easily the most upbeat track on I Am Mountain, even though it seems to be about feeling uncertain and paralyzed and having a hard time letting go of old habits or beliefs. This song wants to be the catalyst to loosening your grip on those old ways of thinking, so that you might experience true liberation. There will still be hard questions to ask and perhaps even old beliefs to pick up and re-examine in the morning… but for now, you’ve been through your own proverbial hell trying to figure this all out, and Gungor wants you to give yourself permission to take a well-earned break.

11. We Are Stronger
(from One Wild Life: Soul, 2015)
By Michael’s own admission, this happy-go-lucky song about unity could have easily turned out to be lightweight fluff. It’s pretty easy for Christians to say we’re better off as a unified body than we are individually. But a lot harder to put that concept into practice when we have to include people who remind us at inconvenient times that “Every black life matters/Every woman matters/Every soldier matters/All the unborn matter/Every gay life matters/Fundamentalists matter.” Nobody makes it through the bridge of this song without getting at least a little uncomfortable with one or more of those statements – not even Michael himself, who probably would have been happy at that point to wash his hands of the Fundamentalists altogether, but who had to grudgingly admit, they’re part of the body too. At a time when Christianity in America seems as divided as the political parties warring for control of our government, it’s helpful to have a reminder that we need to at least listen to, and find things to love about, one another. That does not mean we have to agree on everything… but at this point just having civil conversations would be a start.

12. Vapor
(from One Wild Life: Soul, 2015)
After coming out of a long period where Michael wasn’t even sure he could call himself a Christian any more, this was the first song he wrote to the entity he understood to be God once he started to find his way back. In some ways it hearkens back to the simply worded, yet profoundly arranged and performed hymns of praise that Gungor recorded earlier on. But that wider view of the universe, as heard on I Am Mountain, plays an important role, too, with Michael and Lisa both acknowledging the frail, fleeting, temporary nature of human existence against the backdrop of the universe, echoing a sentiment from the book of Ecclesiastes that gives the song its title. Great comfort is found here in the universe having a natural order, which Gungor is comfortable enough at this point to once again ascribe to God setting it all in motion, and as a result this song becomes another beautiful meditation on something much bigger than ourselves.

13. Let There Be
(from Ghosts Upon the Earth, 2011)
An interesting observation that I made when I reviewed Ghosts Upon the Earth is that in many (though not all) of its songs, when Lisa sings lead, she seems to be singing from the perspective of God, making a number of the songs feel like a dialogue between God and humankind. She starts the album off with one of the band’s most abstract and ambitious songs, her words rising up in somewhat disorderly fashion as vague hints of piano and other bits of instrumentation swirl about, slowly being pulled together into a cohesive melody. This is essentially a musical presentation of the creation of the universe in miniature, the Earth and stars and solar systems and galaxies exploding forth from what began as a formless void. You know it’s building toward something big when the choral backing vocals begin to echo her chorus, and when the phrase “Let there be light!” is finally completed, it explodes forth into a brilliant kaleidoscope of sounds and colors. Thinking back to the sense of awe I felt when Gungor opened with this song on their tour, the stage almost completely dark with Lisa singing all by her lonesome as the other band members stealthily took the stage behind her, for the veil to then be lifted, revealing all the elements of their sound in majestic concert with one another, I still get chills.

14. Alien Apes
(from One Wild Life: Body, 2016)
This is another funky jam in the vein of “Let It Go”, that turned out to be one of the rare upbeat moments amidst the rather confusing mish-mash of different sounds and moods that was the final third of the One Wild Life trilogy. The band had let go of pretty much any pretense of continuity in terms of genre or songwriting convention at this point, and I secretly suspect that, aside from having some extremely danceable fun while contemplating the humble origins of the human race, they kind of wanted to troll conservatives at this point, with a song title and premise that pretty much said, “Yeah, we’re cool with evolution. Your move.”

15. Brother Moon
(from Ghosts Upon the Earth, 2011)
While this song, which directly followed “Let There Be” on both the album and the subsequent tour for Ghosts, is incredibly upbeat and catchy, it makes you work for it a bit. The piccolo, piano, and bass in the intro section don’t immediately give away the time signature, and in several parts of the song the rhythm is so heavily syncopated and/or compounded that you’d swear it’s something other than a simple 4/4. Good luck figuring out where to clap if you want to keep the beat, is what I’m saying. Still a fun sing-along despite that, though. This is the song where the moon, stars, wind and waves all come out to play, as Gungor thanks the Creator for all of the elements coming together just right to support the life of a species on a planet that, with one factor just ever so slightly off, would be doomed to become either a fiery inferno or a cold, dead rock in the distant voice of space. (I’m extrapolating that last part, but the words “You’re holding us together” seem a lot more profound when you consider, as I imagine Gungor had when writing this song and album, the science behind how planets are formed, and how none of the ones we’ve discovered so far have the Earth’s unique properties.)

16. Let Bad Religion Die
(from One Wild Life: Spirit, 2016)
Spirit is perhaps the part of the One Wild Life trilogy that I understand the least – a lot of its songs are very catchy, but also rather esoteric. Then there’s this one, which hits like a ton of bricks right in the middle of the album, opening on the creepy image of a man with a bomb strapped to his chest, a girl with a bullhorn in her hand, both about to inflict their fanatical beliefs upon an audience that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Loudly preaching your beliefs to a crowd, however obnoxious, isn’t quite the same thing as blowing them up, and I don’t think Gungor intends to say that it is, but he’s recognizing a strain within both Islam and Christianity that can lead adherents to do increasingly judgmental and hateful things over time, as they get further and further isolated from society and the belief that their God actually loves people beyond the walls of their sanctuaries. The trilling woodwinds and bizarrely cheery instrumentation in the chorus here is certainly a strange choice, considering the somber verses, but I can imagine Michael feeling a sort of glee as he sings that if your belief is so fanatical that it leads you to silence all questioning voices, to belittle the people you claim to want to save, and even to justify taking human lives to make your point, that’s bad religion and the world is better off without such beliefs continuing to flourish. It’s not subtle AT. ALL. But then, neither are gun-toting maniacs who shoot up churches because they don’t like the color of someone’s skin, or who shoot up nightclubs because they don’t like someone’s sexual orientation. The mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in the summer of 2016 was fresh in my mind when I really started to delve into what this song was saying. I felt a sense of solidarity with my gay Christian friends who were shocked and even traumatized by the news, knowing it had happened in a place that was supposed to act as a “sanctuary” for people like them, and it could have just as easily happened in West Hollywood late on a Saturday night, or even as we all gathered as a support group on Sunday morning. I was touched that the church we attended together chose to hold a service in memory of the victims, rather than turning a blind eye and saying “Not our problem”. Whenever I hear this song, I remember those victims, and feel a little more emboldened to speak out against the kind of bigotry that would lead to us having to mourn further victims down the line.

17. Long Way Off
(from I Am Mountain, 2013)
This one’s more of a laid-back electro/piano pop song that urges us to consider the vastness of the things we don’t know. the Gungors are big science geeks, and they love learning about the universe and all of the nuts and bolts that went into making it the way it is. But a healthy attitude to have when you start to amass all those facts is that the smarter you get, the more you realize is out there for you to know that you don’t yet know. And beyond that, there’s an even wider sea of facts that you don’t even know you don’t know, because you haven’t yet conceived that such things could even exist. God is never explicitly named in this song, either as one of the things Gungor can’t admit to knowing, or even as the one in control, having knowledge of all those things we don’t yet know. At this point, one could argue that Gungor’s perspective was more akin to that of an agnostic. It’s a fascinating part of the process, and even coming from a Christian perspective, it serves as a healthy reminder that thinking we’ve got God all figured out is a surefire recipe for discovering that we’re not even a corner of a fraction of the way there.

18. Anthem
(from One Wild Life: Spirit, 2016)
This was initially my favorite song on Spirit, though I’m not going to pretend I had a super deep connection to it like I do to a lot of Gungor’s songs. Simply put, it’s a gem of a pop song sung by Lisa, making great use of a funky stop/start rhythm and some especially snappy drum programming, trying to capture the sound of a once dead heart coming to life, beating like the rhythm of a song that was always buried deep within your being. Like I said, a lot of the stuff on Spirit is pretty esoteric, and I don’t fully understand a lot of it… but I feel a song like this one on a gut level.

19. Already Here
(from One Wild Life: Body, 2016)
This was one of the more frenetic and challenging tracks on Body – I’m sure it must be a dark horse pick, because I have yet to see anyone else single it out as a favorite. I’m a sucker for weird time signatures and insane rhythmic workouts, so naturally I was going to gravitate toward this one. It’s basically “Procrastination: The Song”, confessing a tendency to always look forward to some idealized time in the future when everything feels right and you’re fully ready to get started on some task or embark on some journey. Lisa’s robotic repetitions of “Someday!”, combined with Michael’s barrage of excuses about things he’s waiting for, appropriately amp up the stress level as the song builds toward its abrupt and off-kilter conclusion. This is not a song you listen to in order to unwind and meditate. It’s a song you listen to when you’ve been putting off doing something important and you need your ass kicked into gear.

20. Lovely Broken
(from One Wild Life: Body, 2016)
Normally, I’m not a big fan of songs that exist just to offer such vague comforts as “You and I, we will be alright”. But in this unique duet that finds Lisa and Michael seeing two very different interpretations of the same glass of water, it’s an acceptable compromise between her sunny, optimistic view and his pessimistic, downright nihilistic one. The music even switches from major key with glistening piano chords, to minor key with moody and slightly unsettling bass notes, when the perspective switches from hers to his. It’s really well done and I love how the two voices eventually dovetail. It’s interesting to hear Lisa as the voice of reason and positivity while Michael fears for the absolute worst, knowing how hard the crisis of faith hit him, and wondering what sort of an impact that must have had on her. I know from my own experience that in marriage, especially when one or both of you are prone to depression, sometimes one person is left to hold up the light while the other is in complete despair. So while this song may seem to only conclude that in the end, good stuff happens and bad stuff happens and it’s all just a part of the delicate balance of the universe, I find profound wisdom in the idea that two people can interpret the same events very differently based on their own prior experience and disposition, and that their love for each other can carry them through those bleak times when one is tempted to stop believing there’s any good in the world altogether.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Finding the best cuts across a discography of six studio albums (three of which essentially comprise one long album) actually wasn’t as hard as it’s been for other bands that I’ve been into for much longer. Still, not everything I consider to be among the cream of the crop could be squeezed into the Top 20. So… here are a few more.

Dry Bones (from Beautiful Things, 2010)
Wake Up Sleeper (from Ghosts Upon the Earth, 2011)
Every Breath (from Ghosts Upon the Earth, 2011)
One Wild Life (from One Wild Life: Soul, 2015)
Wonder (from One Wild Life: Spirit, 2016)
Whale (from One Wild Life: Spirit, 2016)
Birth (from One Wild Life: Body, 2016)

4 thoughts on “They Can’t Define Us Anymore: My Top 20 Gungor Songs

  1. I’ve listened to pretty much only Beautiful Things before this point, but after reading this I think you sold me. I’m listening through the whole discography now.

    • Glad to hear it! Their albums can be rather uneven at times, but they’re definitely one of those artists where the favorite cuts vary wildly from one fan to the next. You’ll enjoy discovering your own list, for sure.

  2. Pingback: All Heaven Is Ringing: My Top 20 David Crowder Band Songs | murlough23

  3. Pingback: Kings Kaleidoscope – Zeal: Jumping From Jaded Heights | murlough23

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