Each Word Ringing True, As If Written for You: My Top 20 Out of the Grey Songs

Do you remember the first album you ever deliberately sat down and listened to all the way through? I certainly do. It was Out of the Grey‘s self-titled 1991 debut. And it turned out to be a record that imprinted itself upon me so deeply, it would come to shape my perception of what “the perfect pop album” should sound like.

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This Is My Call, to Sing the Melodies of You: My Top 20 Sixpence None the Richer Songs (and Top 5 Covers)

“There’s more to Sixpence than Kisses and Covers.”

I’m pretty sure I used that rather defensive statement as a review title at some point. Can you blame me? It’s one hell of a dilemma that a fan of a band faces, when they have some really great material in their back catalogue, some of it thrillingly dark and moody, and some of it surprisingly fragile and reverent, and suddenly they put a twee love song on their newest album and it becomes a sleeper hit a few years later. And you really, really love that song, and are happy that people have finally heard of this band that felt like one of your best kept secrets up until that point… but then comes the inevitable pressure to follow it up. And the record label doesn’t quite know what to do with the rest of the songs on their record. And the band starts releasing cover songs in an attempt to stay relevant, and then things just get super weird. That’s the story of Sixpence None the Richer in a nutshell. And it’s a sadder and more tragic one than you’d likely expect from a band who showed that much potential.

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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.

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This Is the Correlation of Salvation and Love: My Top 20 Anberlin Songs

There are favorite bands that I’ve known all along I felt a special connection with. Then there are bands that become favorites much later on, either because I didn’t know they existed until several albums deep into their discography, or I just didn’t think at first that they were for me. Anberlin is one of those weird cases where I was into the band from pretty much the beginning, but didn’t realize how deep of a connection I felt to their music until almost the end. I also didn’t realize how much it meant to certain other folks in my life until the clock was running out on our chances to actually enjoy the band’s music as a communal experience.

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Music in Every Sound: My Top 20 Iona Songs

“Ah, so that’s where murlough23 got his screen name from! I just assumed he was really into wine or something.”

Out of all the bands I’ve ever been truly fanatical about, Iona might have been the one that was the toughest sell for friends who I hoped I could convert to fellow fans. For starters, their music generally got tagged as either “Celtic rock” or even “new age”. That generally made folks think more of Enya, and I don’t know, the Titanic soundtrack or something, rather than the more complex and often long-winded style of progressive rock that they actually made. Here in the U.S., they were marketed as a Christian rock band, which I suppose is technically correct since a lot of their music was inspired by the history of Celtic Christianity, and a the band’s members were mostly Christians, but stylistically, they were a pretty lousy fit for Christian radio in any era. And from the perspective of potential American listeners, they were an import band, with their primary audience in the U.K. and rather limited exposure in the States, carried by a Christian record label that really didn’t know how to market them, and with their albums generally having a limited print run in an age when you couldn’t simply download an album from anywhere in the world with the simple click of a mouse.

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A Love with Intuition: My Top 20 Vienna Teng Songs

If I could write songs like anyone in the world, I’d want to write like Vienna Teng does.

I’m sure I’ve echoed this sentiment many times in all of the reviews I’ve written of Vienna’s music over the years. And while there quite a lot of songwriters I’ve admired enough to consider them influential over the years, she seems to be the one I come back to the most consistently and remain in awe of, somehow still finding interesting little nuances I hadn’t considered before in songs of hers that I’ve loved for nearly two decades now. I knew pretty early on that I had stumbled across something special when I first heard her music – all it took was two songs performed on solo piano at an intimate live show way back in the spring of 2003 for me to first feel that tug deep within me, telling me I wanted to write something that communicated such powerful imagery wrapped in curious metaphor, and yet she was so intimidatingly good at it that I was pretty sure I’d never be able to come anywhere near it. But perhaps that’s the point. Vienna is such a restlessly creative individual who constantly challenges her own status quo. So maybe the best way to be inspired by her is to not try to mimic her at all. And therein lies the paradox.

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Taking the Scenic Route: My Top 20 Jars of Clay Songs

“Jars of Clay? Are they still around?”

I’ve gotten that reaction from a lot of people when I tell them that Jars of Clay is my all-time favorite band, or when they notice me wearing one of the old, raggedy shirts I bought at one of their concerts ages ago. I try to take it in stride, because to most of the world, the band is considered a one-hit wonder. (Heck, there’s even a YouTube show about one-hit wonders that I got into because they did an episode on the band’s mid-90s crossover hit “Flood”.) Even to folks who were super into Christian rock and came of age around the same time I did, who are more familiar with the band’s work than just the one song, they tend to like the band’s first album and not really know or care about much of their work after that point. It gets difficult to explain to folks that: (a) Yes, they still make music after all these years, (b) Yes, they’re all still Christians, (c) No, they never had another mainstream hit and they were probably better off not angling for one, and (d) They’ve massively improved as artists since that already excellent first album.

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