A plethora of compelling music has come from indie rock's complicated relationship with Christianity: Sufjan Stevens' folk hymns, David Bazan's tormented crises, the Thermals' blasphemous pop punk. These are the polar opposite of today's contemporary Christian rock, with its overt praises and Power Point presentation lyrics projected above the electronic drum set at the mega churches. Sometimes, the two paths cross in unusual ways. Here are the six best indie rock songs that sound like Christian rock songs. Feel free to let us know what we missed in our comments, but remember...WWJD?
6. Band Of Horses - "Funeral"
The candlelight vigil introduction to Band Of Horses' 2006 breakout single "The Funeral" is not a literal translation of a Sunday morning worship service, but the vibe is comparable. The cleanest of electric guitars picks slow chords like a pipe organ and vocalist Ben Bridwell comes off as particularly confessional - the line "to know you is hard" could refer to the struggle of faith if it wasn't preceded by "I'm coming up only to hold you under" (baptism maybe?). When the other Horses trot in, the song's rocking is a bit stifled by timidity. The guitars are too pristine, the drums too washy. A big difference between Band Of Horses and say, Skillet, is that BoH's non-rocking is a conscious decision.
5. The Hold Steady - "First Night"
What's a postmodern bar band album without a power ballad? "First Night" is the first breather track on The Hold Steady's strongest album Boys And Girls In America. But even at its best, The Hold Steady still makes questionable decisions. The way "First Night" comes together in a down-tempo waltz with a gospel piano, Craig Finn's vocals veering closer to the melodic half of his signature sing-speak delivery, misses whatever mark the band was attempting. Even Finn's references to prostitution and beer can't transform its context - you can imagine a carpeted auditorium of people with eyes closed, swaying slowly with their right hands in the air to let the spirit in.
"364 Days A Year" was under-appreciated local band Popular Mechanics' contribution to the 2010 Bert Dax Christmas compilation. Frankly, it's a song about taking acid on Christmas day and seeing Jesus in the hallucinations. Vocalist Dave Todd sings "Oh God" on infinite repeat in his bad trip, which could appear as an extended prayer if you miss his thirty second guitar/vocal exposition: "My friend Jesus Christ, you might be nice but common sense says I've gotta be high." 3. The Mountain Goats - "Old College Try"
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats is easily one of our greatest living songwriters. Often, his stripped arrangements and spiritual fascinations yield fascinating work - like The Life Of The World To Come, with each track named after a Bible verse. Once in a blue moon, the same elements drive Darnielle dangerously close to the easily digestible stylings of God-fearing radio. "Old College Try" is such an example, as the official strumming pattern of Christian rock pairs with an organ. Where usually Darnielle's abrasive voice would throw off any hint of normality, he sounds at points like an altar boy unsure of his range in the face of puberty. The hook - "I will walk down to the end with you" - is one of those great moments where "you" could be either a lady or God. We assume the former, since the next line is "If you will come all the way down with me" and most love letters to the heavens don't contain an ultimatum.
2. Death Cab For Cutie - "Marching Bands Of Manhattan"
Whatever level of awareness Ben Gibbard was channeling when he wrote "Marching Bands Of Manhattan" from 2005's Plans, he failed to notice that his melody was nearly identical to the Contemporary Christian staple "I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever."
1. Jeff Buckley - "Hallelujah"
If you've watched television, ever, you've probably heard Jeff Buckley's take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" score a dramatic program's most dramatic scene. Hell, John Cale's version was in Shrek. The song is so effective because of the way it shows the multiple contexts of the celebratory title. Jeff Buckley particularly favored the sexual connotations that might come with uttering "Hallelujah". Amen. The hook is very similar to the "Hallelujah" commonly sung in Catholic weddings. It sounds like Christian rock, but it could also pass a Buddhist rock or Hindu rock; it's an open-ended anthem of spirituality, adoptable for any time, place, or person in need of instant significance.