disclaimer: this is neither about Christian music or Owen Holmes.
Gospel music, in the traditional sense, is a type of music inspired by both Christian hymns and work songs sung by African Americans as early as the 1700s. The music can be characterized by repetition, usage of choirs, and dominant vocals and of course by its dealings with religious themes (generally Christian.) While talking about Gospel may conjure up thoughts of Yolanda Adams, sitting in the back of a Baptist church as a child, seeing the Titus Harvest Dome on television, or your mother talking about BeBe and CeCe Winans in 1996 (or maybe this only refers to my mother..) and talking about music that deals with religion makes people think of Switchfoot (maybe? or Underoath?) but bands like Sun Hotel, Young Jesus, Jeremiah Akin and Gator Ghost have found a new avenue to explore their thoughts on theology in Post-Gospel.
Just as Gospel music did not originally begin as a genre that was tied specifically to Christianity and Christianity alone, Post-Gospel can be a fairly agnostic field and even has it’s share of atheist players. What it does is take the images learned by it’s artists in their youth and use them in the music to create a sense of familarity if nothing else. For people who grew up in the Bible Belt, perhaps living right between two churches, as many Jacksonville families do, Post-Gospel music has elements that remind us of childhood and feel like home in a less cloying way than reruns of of old TV shows. Artists like Andy Hull, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen serve as fine examples for how religious images and subtexts are cleanly drafted into wordly or secular music without insisting anything about religion. In the well-known “Hallelujah,” Cohen refers to tales of David and Samson all while still discussing love and sex. He also does this in the equally artful, though less known ballad “Light As The Breeze.”
“she stands before you naked
you can see it, you can taste it,
and she comes to you light as the breeze.
Now you can drink it or you can nurse it,
it don’t matter how you worship
as long as you’re
down on your knees.
So I knelt there at the delta,
at the alpha and the omega,
at the cradle of the river and the seas.
And like a blessing come from heaven
for something like a second
I was healed and my heart
was at ease. ”
Again, this is a just a juxtaposition of the spiritual and sexual, but its a good one and Cohen doesn’t publicly or explicity claim to believe in God or Jesus himself. But these images he uses of prayer , the fertile crescent, and God’s nicknames easily strike chords with people who spent hours or years of their life sitting in churches whether or not it was by their own accord. Another way I think I could explain this is to say that baseball fans are likely to respond well to baseball references and metaphors even if they themselves don’t play the sport. A baseball fan still knows the language of the game and the images of it are clear in their mind so they may use those things as metaphors for love or sex or struggle just as someone who knows the language of the church may employ images of David, Goliath, and God to convey those same thoughts even if they don’t play the game of religion (so to speak.)
My primary reason for even attempting to barely organize all those thoughts and explanations into two sort of paragraphs was because I want to talk about Young Jesus. Their last release, an 11-track album called Home, was released six months ago but it isn’t talked about enough. The band hails from Chicago and their knack for singing songs about friendship and young adult angst is pretty impressive. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they aren’t a band that grows on you, they do, but the initial connection is a pretty easy on to make. Their song structure recalls that of certain hymns but the blues and folk influences are what make them stand out. The repetition of lyrics in some songs like “Family and Friends” and “Away” is incessant but its done so well. This is a band that could easily reach fans of acts like MeWithoutYou or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Somewhere on the same spectrum but not quite at the other end is Florida’s own Gator Ghost. Gator Ghost comes from Panama City and from the relics of former bands like Eileen and Porchlights and their first release came out just four months ago but like Young Jesus they are still not getting quite the attention they deserve. The Matt Via EP they put up on Bandcamp uses such post-gospel tactics are gang vocals and stomping used as percussion but otherwise has a much more contemporary and further from folk sound. They sound like a southern rock band who listens to Manchester Orchestra should, or to put it another way, they are probably best possible band to listen to if you liked Maylene and the Sons of Disaster 5 years ago but your tastes have since settled down. Their sound is swampy and guitar driven but the emphasis on the beautifully delivered vocals makes the band sound much more grown up.
I’ve said a lot but I still want to mention Sun Hotel and Right Away Great Captain. The two acts are pretty far apart but this is a pretty loosely constructed genre. Sun Hotel is from Louisiana and I’m pretty sure they are the only band I’ve mentioned that actually uses the phrase “post-gospel” themselves. Their last release was all the way back in fall 2011 but they also have folky feel that compliments Young Jesus and a bit of swampiness that pairs well with Gator Ghost so they are worth mentioning if only just for supplemental listening. Right Away, Great Captain on the other hand released the Church of The Good Thief this month. The 15 track album was part 3 in a series and tells a linear story of a fisherman coming home to his wife who cheated on him while he was away. Musically there are less sing-a-long parts and stomping rhythms than in the other acts but lyrically Hull stands above most all his peers.
Essentially, I could have just said that these are some bands you might like if your parents took you to church as a kid but now you like music blogs and maybe still like God or maybe don’t . I could have also said that this is music perfectly fit for certain youth in America now since economic struggle often crosses over into to spiritual struggle. Either way, you should look up these bands and pay for their music because it’s all available online and well worth the 6-10 dollars.