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Half-handed Casiotone
April 23, 2007 10:59 PM   Subscribe

Half-handed Cloud upends the common conception of what Christian music should sound like. Part of a constellation of artists that include Brother Danielson and Sufjan Stevens, John Ringhofer crafts quirky, ramshackle indie pop songs with explicit Christian themes. Interviews: 1, 2, 3, 4. Reviews: 1, 2, 3. Videos: 1, 2, 3, 4.
posted by Falconetti (65 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, I'm looking forward to this discussion.

But seriously, thank you. I'd not heard about this guy before. Danielson is one of my favoritest bands ever.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:44 PM on April 23, 2007


There's no logical reason why Christian music can't be "good". It all depends on whether you're starting with a bunch of Christians who want to play in a band, or if you're starting with a bunch of musicians who happen to believe in god.

Spoken as the honorary un-saved member of a now extinct Christian band.
posted by Jimbob at 11:50 PM on April 23, 2007


Let me be the first to say that Christians should under no circumstances be allowed to make music.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:56 PM on April 23, 2007


I'm just coming in here to say that Sufjan IS my god. Well, one of them anyway.

Sufjan himself has said that he didn't want to use his music as a forum for Christianity anyway, he's not preaching anything, he's just a singer that happens to be Christian.
posted by liquorice at 12:58 AM on April 24, 2007


I'm not a Christian, by any measure (though I have friends that are), and I find Sufjan to be extremely enjoyable, well done and engaging music, even when the themes and lyrics are explicitly Christian, as was the case on Seven Swans, and large chunks of both Michigan and Illinois. Those albums were largely responsible for me realising Christian music needn't be bad just because it's Christian themed. Perhaps it's the intent that's key, as liquorice says is the case : he's a great musician, as far as I'm concerned, fashionableness or current backlash-unfashionableness be damned.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:08 AM on April 24, 2007


I enjoy Bruce Cockburn's explicitly-themed Christian music, not the least because his politics are pretty far to the left. I mostly enjoy his music, though, because it's very good.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:34 AM on April 24, 2007


Just to add to the Christian music love-in, Lift To Experience was a great band that combined great vocals with loud, shimmering guitars and made some great music, and it wasn't until I listened carefully that I figured out it was totally Christian, like singing scripture Christian... but still good.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:37 AM on April 24, 2007


http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=55758992

Myspace link for more songs. It was pretty cloying at first but I kind of like "I got a letter" now.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 1:55 AM on April 24, 2007


Jimbob writes 'There's no logical reason why Christian music can't be "good".

What about the fact that the Devil has all the best tunes?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:15 AM on April 24, 2007


It's not the worst Christian music I have ever heard.
posted by chillmost at 2:15 AM on April 24, 2007


flapjax at midnite writes 'Let me be the first to say that Christians should under no circumstances be allowed to make music.'

With the sole exception of the Louvin Brothers.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:50 AM on April 24, 2007


the Devil has all the best tunes

Devil Got My Woman

Sympathy for the Devil

Devil Went Down To Georgia

Devil in Disguise

Devil With a Blue Dress

Devil in Her Heart
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:59 AM on April 24, 2007


With the sole exception of the Louvin Brothers.

I hear ya, Peter! And of course, just about anything here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:04 AM on April 24, 2007


Dear God. Half-Handed Cloud opened for me back in 2000. It was ... strange. I always wondered what happened to him.
posted by mykescipark at 3:06 AM on April 24, 2007


Hey liquorice - did you hear any Sufjan's Christmas box set? There's an amazing song on there called 'Sister Winter'...
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:11 AM on April 24, 2007


Boogie with Allah.
posted by DenOfSizer at 3:25 AM on April 24, 2007


What, no Pedro the Lion love?

Besides, Why should the devil have all the good music?
posted by absalom at 4:06 AM on April 24, 2007


Christian music has been just fine from Scarlatti to, like, Verdi (just like Chrsitian art in general, from Hagia Sophia to the Sistine Chapel, seems to still be doing quite fine, too -- even if, of course, in Hagia Sophia's case the Turks kind of fucked that up about 600 years ago). but yeah, if one uses "Christian" instead of "American fundamentalist Protestant" then I guess, yes, the born-again American followers of that strangely pro-rich, pro-warfare American Jesus don't seem to be doing much interesting work (and it is quite fitting that they had to wait for a Jew to show'em how it's done).

I do agree that one of the worst decisions taken by the Catholic Church was to cease its support for the arts -- not that there's exactly a Brunelleschi around to do some good work, but nowadays the really cool architects are making secular museums and skyscrapers, and interesting composers of religious music are, again, Jews.

but then the Vatican is too busy hatin on the fags and protecting the spermatozoa to bother with the timeless art it once so cannily financed.
posted by matteo at 4:09 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Then the Vatican is too busy hatin on the fags and protecting the spermatozoa to bother with the timeless art it once so cannily financed.

The Vatican is doing everything it can to stay relevant [note the recent Limbo kerfuffle]. Even Catholics don't have time for them anymore. The only people I see going into churches are tourists.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:18 AM on April 24, 2007


I just listened to the song you linked to, chuckdarwin, and of course found myself falling into its trance during the first play. Music is highly personal, and not everyone is going to find the same piece as moving as me but I find most of Steven’s music to be practically transcendental. It opens up this creative flow inside me that runs through my veins and fulfills me in a way I didn’t realise could be possible through music. In particular, the song Seven Swans is utterly majestic. If songs were a place, I’d wish for that to be my ultimate destination.

And see, I didn’t even know Pedro The Lion were Christian, if music is good it’s good regardless of its religious affiliation.
posted by liquorice at 4:23 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


> There's no logical reason why Christian music can't be "good".

Nice of y'all to say so.

- Johann Sebastian Bach, Henry Purcell, Thomas Tallis, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Josquin Desprez, Johannes Ockeghem, one or two others
posted by jfuller at 4:44 AM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Why should the devil have all the good music?

"God went down to Georgia
he was looking for a soul to heal"

That's why.
posted by eriko at 5:04 AM on April 24, 2007


But seriously.

Christian music can be very, very good -- indeed, the entire Baroque period of music is basically church music (jfuller hints at this by mentioning His Bachness.)

Christian rock is often horrid, because one of the points of rock and roll is arguing against authority and cultural norms, and Christian rock explicitly does the opposite.

Also, Stryper.
posted by eriko at 5:06 AM on April 24, 2007


one or two others

Mavis Staples!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:21 AM on April 24, 2007


Thanks! Though I must take this opportunity to publicly bemoan the dearth of Danielson Famile clips on youtube.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:25 AM on April 24, 2007


Add to the list of Christian-yet-good musicians the amazing Low, whom I am quite excited about seeing tomorrow night.

...oh, and throw in Eisley, whose 'Room Noises' album has been a secret vice of mine for some time.

I think we sometimes need reminding from time to time that not all Christians necessary fit it with the awful caricature the religion has become.
posted by popkinson at 5:29 AM on April 24, 2007


Christian Rock is often horrid, because one of the points of rock and roll is arguing against authority and cultural norms, and "Christian Rock" explicitly does the opposite.

Just thought that was worth repeating. I added the quotes and capitals, though, because (as it seems to be understood), there's music by Christians, and there's "Christian Rock."

Me, though, I prefer "Gnostic Christian Rock." Philip K. Dick style. I haven't ever heard anyone playing in this style, but if you hear of anyone, I'd be glad to give them my ears.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:34 AM on April 24, 2007


John Ringhofer is quite the quirk, and I think a major point that hasn't been made in the post is that he doesn't use Half-Handed Cloud to preach, or even talk about how awesome his god is. There aren't any sappy ballads.

I can't speak for his other albums, but all of the lyrics on Thy is a Word and Feet Need Lamps are rewordings of Bible stories (quite a bit of Old Testament, too) from Ringhofer's cockeyed perspective. He likes to use obscure older stories rather than the tired Jesus-is-so-great stuff. Ringhoefer's music comes from the Christian culture, not the Christian genre.


Also, the dude writes fucking adorable songs.
posted by tylermoody at 5:35 AM on April 24, 2007


Oh, and - Johnny Cash, Elvis - the list could go on forever - Christians rockers, but not Christian Rock. Same goes for pretty much most of Soul and early Country and Blues.

Let's not kid ourselves into thinking that "Christian Rock" is anything other than a crappy "corporate marketing strategy" induced genre that's ruining it for everyone else.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:38 AM on April 24, 2007


I've said it before and I'll say it again: John Tavener. Some of the most heartwrenchingly beautiful music you will ever hear.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:50 AM on April 24, 2007


Christian rock is often horrid, because one of the points of rock and roll is arguing against authority and cultural norms, and Christian rock explicitly does the opposite.
Agreed. In short: Rock is the Devil's music. Let's keep it that way.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: John Tavener. Some of the most heartwrenchingly beautiful music you will ever hear.
Seconded. And he's Orthodox Christian. I submit that we and the Catholics have a better sense of aesthetics compared to many of the groups that produce "Christian Rock." I'll leave it to Fred Clark to explain why, but the short answer is:
Christianity has traditionally held a high view of vocation. Christians believe that the artisan, tradesman or professional has the opportunity and obligation to glorify God by striving for excellence at his or her craft. The primary duty of a Christian plumber, in other words, is to be a good plumber. And the primary duty of a Christian artist is to be a good artist. This is true whatever one's calling: doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, online copyeditor.

This teaching goes way back -- at least to Aristotle (as rechristened and adopted by Aquinas). But a competing understanding has arisen in American evangelical Christianity. From this perspective, the primary duty of every Christian regardless of vocation is evangelism. Everything else is just a means to this end.
...
In this view vocation is unimportant. The standards of your craft become secondary to your duties as a member of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. This is particularly problematic for the Christian artist, whose art is now made a means to an end, i.e., propaganda.
posted by deanc at 6:34 AM on April 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


because one of the points of rock and roll is arguing against authority and cultural norms

Hasn't Rock itself been a cultural norm for the past thirty years or so?
posted by crumbly at 6:37 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


liquorice It opens up this creative flow inside me that runs through my veins and fulfills me in a way I didn’t realise could be possible through music. In particular, the song Seven Swans is utterly majestic.

I think it's because you and I both respond to minimalism - ever listened to Steven Reich or Phillip Glass?

And see, I didn’t even know Pedro The Lion were Christian, if music is good it’s good regardless of its religious affiliation.

Neither did I, but I am a fan of their stuff. I'm an atheist, make no bones about it, but a lot of the best music ever written has been an attempt to connect on a metaphysical level... as noted upthread, Daddy JS springs to mind.
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:00 AM on April 24, 2007


The Vatican is doing everything it can to stay relevant [note the recent Limbo kerfuffle].

So, is the pope now turning his back on Chubby Checker?

How low can you go?
posted by breezeway at 7:05 AM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Let me be the first to say that Christians should under no circumstances be allowed to make music.

Not even a little Bach ? Oh flapjax , though hast forsaken me.
posted by nola at 7:11 AM on April 24, 2007


Thou*
posted by nola at 7:14 AM on April 24, 2007


Also among musical Christians of note, the murderer-prince Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) wrote harmonically jarring and beautiful madrigali spirituali while seeking to disinter the bones of his uncle to help cure his madness.
posted by breezeway at 7:21 AM on April 24, 2007


Even though I'm not Christian, Sufjan Stevens is my current favorite. I love his complex instrumental arrangements.
posted by mike3k at 7:27 AM on April 24, 2007


Not even a little Bach ? Oh flapjax , though hast forsaken me.

nola, even though I'm not Christian, Bach is my current favorite. I love his complex instrumental arrangements.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:33 AM on April 24, 2007


I belong to a Pagan church that sometimes runs services for hundreds of people. They try to choose music that will "work" for as much of the congregation as possible. And nine times out of ten, it seems, they wind up using re-written Christian music — hymns, carols, Gospel or Bluegrass classics with the Jesus taken out.

The devil may have all the good music for dancing, drinking and screwing to, but God — the Christian God — gets all the good joy and praise songs in our culture.

Occasionally we do get music that was written specifically for pagan worship. And I have to say, most of it's awful — dull, didactic, heavy-handed. I think deanc's objection to mainstream Christian Rock applies just as well to this stuff. The authors were trying to write Pagan Music first, and good music a distant second.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:43 AM on April 24, 2007


because one of the points of rock and roll is arguing against authority and cultural norms

Hasn't Rock itself been a cultural norm for the past thirty years or so?


As you well know,
only 1950's caricatures are applicable in threads
pertaining to religion.
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:15 AM on April 24, 2007


Re: Pedro the Lion is Christian

Listen to Control much?
posted by tylermoody at 8:56 AM on April 24, 2007


Do a search for Anathallo - Floating World on Amazon or itunes or whatever. This album truly pushes the limits of music...Christian or no. I also think that mewithoutYou - brother/sister is a truly awesome album. Asides from that, I've yet to find any overtly Christian bands that aren't formulaic crap. Well...actually, since being born again, Jeremy Enigck(of Sunny Day Real Estate, Fire Theft fame) has done some pretty good stuff. OK-I'm punchin' out.
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 8:57 AM on April 24, 2007


Pedro the Lion *are* Christian-but they(like Sufjan) do not like to be considered a "Christian band"...just Christian that are in a band.
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 8:59 AM on April 24, 2007


I just read everything I've missed in this thread, and there's a lot that sparked my interest.

1. Here's a great essay by Lorin Stein about the Louvin Brothers. Fascinating and sad.

2. Rick Moody wrote an equally good essay about Danielson a couple years ago, for The Believer. It doesn't seem to be online anywhere, but if you can find the issue, check it out. It's great.

3. Very little discussion has thus far been given to the actual topic of the post. If you haven't watched this kid's videos, do it. They're silly and wonderful.

4. Another great (and very progressive) Christian band: Five Iron Frenzy.

5. There's a pretty iffy distinction people make when talking about Christian music, between archaic and non-archaic. It's okay to use all those Latin Bible passages, and it even might even be okay to sing about Jesus in a fake Southern accent while playing a banjo, but you sure as hell better not write a non-ironic contemporary song about Jesus.

This bugs me for all sorts of reasons. First of all, a lot of those Catholic oratorios and masses were written entirely reverently, and, in all cases, their funding was completely earnest. Just like contemporary Christian music. To allow one kind of Christian music based on some sort of imagined historical tradition--but hate another based on the earnestness of its practitioners--is obnoxious and mean.

6. I spent a long time as what I guess you'd call an evangelical Christian. During that time, I went to a lot of xian music festivals and bought lots of CDs. A lot of them were rubbish, but many of them are still extremely good, definitely better than anything else I would have been listening to when I was 13. Imagine a band like Danielson getting played on MTV in the early 90s. It wouldn't have happened.

My point is that although the Christian music machine is shrewd in some ways, it's also stunningly supportive of innovation. It was putting money into ska, pop-punk, and hardcore before those things had been proven marketable. Not to mention supporting completely bizarre acts. And that's pretty cool.

7. Which is not to say that I don't dislike the Christian music industry. I often do. For an example of me disliking Christian music, check out this classic roll truck roll comment.

8. How is Sufjan "just a Christian who happens to be a musician"? Have you people fucking listened to Seven Swans?
posted by roll truck roll at 9:07 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hundred Year Storm.
posted by quonsar at 9:11 AM on April 24, 2007


the Bad Brains are my favorite Christian rockers.
posted by jtron at 10:03 AM on April 24, 2007


Call me old-fashioned, but I think Christian music peaked with Mozart's Requiem. Hell, I think maybe all music peaked with Mozart's Requiem.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:24 AM on April 24, 2007


Um, I like Current 93...do they count?
posted by everichon at 10:33 AM on April 24, 2007


Oh, yeah! Bad Brains! Hell, yeah.
posted by everichon at 10:33 AM on April 24, 2007


The devil may have all the good music for dancing, drinking and screwing to, but God — the Christian God — gets all the good joy and praise songs in our culture.

I can think of quite a few joy and praise songs for Satan -- heavy metal is full of 'em. Check Manowar - "Bridge of Death", Mercyful Fate - "The Oath", and Morbid Angel - "Chapel of Ghouls" for starters. There are also plenty of these songs for Norse gods, Celtic gods and heroes, etc etc... an entire folk metal genre, even.

And that's just the more mainstream stuff. There's a ton of honest and powerful stuff being written in praise of Pagan gods and Satan in the underground. Mail me if you want more info.
posted by vorfeed at 11:42 AM on April 24, 2007


David Tibet (Current 93) may have taken to calling himself "Christian" these days, but I don't think too many Christians would be comfortable with his work.
posted by malocchio at 1:15 PM on April 24, 2007


I don't think too many Christians would be comfortable with his work

I reckon not. ;o)
posted by everichon at 2:50 PM on April 24, 2007


although the mental picture of a congregation singing along to "in menstrual night" is somewhat entertaining...
posted by malocchio at 3:35 PM on April 24, 2007


8. How is Sufjan "just a Christian who happens to be a musician"? Have you people fucking listened to Seven Swans?

I'm not sure I gather your point. Yes, his music makes references to biblical passages and whatnot but shock!horror! so does songs created by aethiest bands!

After Stevens's sparse, explicitly biblical Seven Swans, critical discussion turned from songcraft to debates about Stevens's religion and the propriety of singing about one's beliefs. "I don't think music media is the real forum for theological discussions," says Stevens. "I think I've said things and sung about things that probably weren't appropriate for this kind of forum. And I just feel like it's not my work or my place to be making claims and statements, because I often think it's misunderstood." link.
posted by liquorice at 4:24 PM on April 24, 2007


Erm... maybe my use of the word "fucking" threw you off. Obviously he's not interested in framing himself as some sort of inspirational or didactic artist. That's clear from every interview with him ever, and also from his music.

But it's also obvious--to me, anyway--that his music comes from earnest beliefs. As far as I can tell, to talk about his songs as though they were not inherently Christian would pretty much require not listening to them.

Just like George Oppen's poetry is inherently socialist. You don't need to be a socialist to appreciate it, but to ignore its politics requires never going beyond a surface reading.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:31 PM on April 24, 2007


No one ever said that his music didn't have his Christian faith entwined within his songs, my point is that he's not trying to preach anything to the listener nor push an agenda and those are the connotations linked with Christian music, which makes him different from that. But that may be only obvious to me.
posted by liquorice at 4:41 PM on April 24, 2007


Call me old-fashioned, but I think Christian music peaked with Mozart's Requiem.

Okay. You're old fashioned.

Bad Brains kick Mozart's ASS! Yeeeeeeaaaahhhh!!!! Sail on! Sail on! Sail on sail on!!!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:47 PM on April 24, 2007


liquorice, I apologize if I offended you. I agree re: Sufjan.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:51 PM on April 24, 2007


That's okay, I could have been clearer about what I meant. Group hug time!
posted by liquorice at 5:03 PM on April 24, 2007


Me, though, I prefer "Gnostic Christian Rock." Philip K. Dick style.
Smileychewtrain, try these guys :)

The problem with Christian music and Christian rock especially is that the modifier doesn't really describe the music itself, like "hard rock", "Hungarian folk", "acid house" or "free jazz". What is it about this music that makes it Christian? Pretty much just the words? So I say feh, this music isn't Christian, or any religion, it's just music. Music, ye shall be judged, and any among thee who doth not swing shall be condemned for an eternity of don't meaning a thing.
posted by Area Control at 5:55 PM on April 24, 2007


I worked with a guy who turned me on to xian ska music. The Supertones aren't bad. Their song "louder than the mob" freakin rocks.
posted by vronsky at 6:57 PM on April 24, 2007


Oh, why did this turn into a thread about Christian Rock? Half-handed Could is good! I opened one of my mefiswap discs with "We're not getting Well."

My drive-by commenter opinions -

Pedro the Lion - Dave Bazan is (like most of us), a complex man who is (unlike most of us) willing to express complex feelings in public forums. Using any single one of his songs, or even any single one of his interviews, to try and define what he believes is a futile waste of time. Dude makes good records. That's what matters.

Sufjan - He's just a shy Dave Bazan, who likes banjo a lot more.

Low - Awesome? Yes. Christian? Maybe not so much. I'd hesitate to call Mormons christians, despite a belief in the divinity of Christ.

And Quonsar, seriously. Is Hundred Year Storm the next iteration of Braid? They're taking more than a few pages out of the Bob Nanna/Braid/Hey Mercedes book.
posted by god hates math at 9:35 PM on April 24, 2007


That sister winter song is my latest obsession song. Thank you Metafilters!
posted by Mister Cheese at 12:52 AM on April 25, 2007


<hank> You're not making Christianity better, you're making rock and roll worse... </hank>
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:03 AM on April 25, 2007


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