Carlo kicks off a new five-part series with a Nashville, TN band that knows how to write about loss and grief as well as love and hope.

"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD."
—Psalm 150:6

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Moments of worshipful transcendence are everywhere—even within some popular music.

I wonder how many Christians have attended Paramore shows and wanted to lift their hands in surrender during the climactic bridge of “My Heart”: “This heart / It beats / Beats for only you." (Or is it "You"?) On the folk rock side of things, there are great articles online that discuss the raw spirituality of Mumford & Sons lyrics. And then there are the interviews with Christian singer-songwriter Eric Owyoung (Future of Forestry, Something Like Silas). Since I started following Owyoung's musical exploits back in 2004, he has never been shy in speaking of how his Sigur Rós concert experiences constitute some of the most worshipful experiences he has ever had—and he is not aloneAnd it is on this last note that I can certainly relate.

Now it's not that I’ve had similar “God encounters” at Sigur Rós shows. (One of my biggest life regrets up to this point: missing all the shows they’ve played in Southern California.) It’s just that both Pat and I, like Owyoung, have frequently found ourselves drawn into worship by artists who don’t even label their music as “worship.” Is this sacrilegious or misguided? Let us briefly explore further.

The Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós would normally be a shoe-in for a music series like this one, but I’ll skip over them for now in favor of some lesser-considered artists. 

Think about this for a moment: what does the “worship” label for music mean? To be sure, it may describe both the attitude of the artist while recording and the desired end for the listener. But there are some caveats: it doesn’t describe a genre of music (like “rock,” “hip hop,” or “electronic” might), and it certainly doesn’t follow that only artists with a “worship” label can inspire you to extol the glories of God. (Heck, I offer that if you were to take all the Thrice songs that have ever been written and bound up their lyrics cover-to-cover, you would come up with a more full-orbed biblical theology than if you had done the same for many CCM [Contemporary Christian Music] artists, who are often more limited in the kinds of truth they express. But this is another post for another time: “Five Biblical Themes ‘Thrice’ Explore that Many CCM Artists Don’t.”)

Don't misunderstand me though: my point is not that CCM or even what we commonly refer to as "worship music" is deficient. (My current favorite is Kings Kaleidoscope. And Hillsong United has been a long-standing fave!) Rather, my point is that man-made labels can limit the degree to which we can experience God through music and other forms of art. Yes, we need to be discerning- not every artist you listen to is going to build up your faith. However, when we avoid putting God in boxes, we open ourselves up to finding Him in the realms of the unexpected, the mundane, and the unobtrusively glorious.

With that lengthy intro, here is the first of five groups not labeled as “Christian” or “worship” artists who have often lifted my thoughts and affections heavenward. More will follow in succeeding days!

#1. PAPER ROUTE (rock/pop/electronic)

"Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God."
—Psalm 42:5

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Never mind that bassist Chad Howat contributed a remix to Hillsong United’s White Album last year (“Scandal of Grace”)—the Nashville group Paper Route have repeatedly disavowed any notions that they are a Christian band. Having said that, you’d be hard pressed to find a rock/pop album more honest and searching in its explorations of grief, loss, and hope than The Peace of Wild Things (2012). On this second full-length album, Paper Route capture the heart of the Davidic psalms in their wrestling through difficult circumstances. While the soulful “Glass Heart Hymn” laments poor choices amidst “hallelujah” choruses and questions (“O Lord, have you walked away from me?”), album ender “Calm My Soul” sees the band seeking solace in God after the heartbreak and tragedy of a year in the world:

I’ve seen too much this year
I long for it to pass
The type of memories
That turn a heart to glass
My mother named me well
My father worked the land
In dust my ribs were formed
And I’ll return again
Calm my soul.

Lest you think all their tunes are stately and somber, though—know that there are some genuinely fun pop/rock jams amidst the slow burners. See the video for “You & I” below. Paper Route recently signed to a major record label (Kemosabe/Sony Records), so expect to be hearing more from them soon. As for the next artist in this five part series? A hip-hop duo that proves sometimes words just get in the way. :)  --C.

RIYL: Coldplay, OneRepublic, Imagine Dragons, Owl City

[For more on Paper Route, check out their "About" page hereAnd for another article about bands who don't identify with the "Christian music" label, check out "Why Switchfoot Won't Write Christian Songs"!]

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