I Am Mountain, Literalism & the Christian Complex

I am Mountain

Obviously nobody likes to create art like this and immediately have to explain or defend it in the first 48 hours. – Chris McGrath

‘Liturgical post-rock collective’ Gungor released their third album, I Am Mountain, earlier this week. Received with intense praise, in its musical quality, I Am Mountain continues Gungor’s journey of innovation, trumping Beautiful Things and Ghosts Upon The Earth.

The album has received equally intense criticism, with some of the more common criticisms being: “It’s not ‘Christian’ enough”. “There’s too much mythological language”. “Where is the hope?”

As Michael Gungor writes on his own blog, “explaining poetry with prose can sometimes be counterproductive”. It’s not wrong of people to want answers. We all do. But I say this: not every art piece produced by Christians needs to be a comprehensive picture of the gospel of Jesus. Christian Contemporary Music has attempted that and runs the risk of being inauthentic: what, you’ve got it all figured out? Attempting to answer our own hard questions is overwhelming. Michael speaks more about that in his book The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse.

My dancer friend Kim Stevenson is quoted in WeMakeStuff Volume 01, saying: “We do not give God enough credit for how much He can work through our art without it being a literal story about winning souls. God is so real to me while creating that I know He is integrated throughout my work. We need to dive into work that is relevant, pushing boundaries and moving ahead. We need to maintain high standards in our craft, and God will do the rest”.

Even Jesus did not summarize the kingdom of God in one artistic composition. Further, he was famous for speaking metaphorically, not literally. He compared the kingdom of God to this and that, allowing the meanings to rise and connect from the deep places of his listeners’ subconscious.

My friend Steffen, a marketer, tells me that 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously rather than consciously. Art forms carry power in their ability to bypass the rational-logical conscious filters and speak to the “heart”.

The final song is a perfect example of art speaking to the heart: this track, which is an exquisite wordless symphony, could speak – without using words – the messages these critics are desirous to hear in this album. Unexpected. Ironic. The message is potentially left unreceived by people looking for literalism. Yet… “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

It’s upsetting that some self-professed “long-time fans” are upset with Gungor, as if they’ve let them down. Let me ask you, on what grounds do you support an artist? As long as they give you the right warm fuzzies? It’s okay for Gungor to put out an album that focuses on questions and even heavier material. Michael Gungor himself doesn’t see it as a heavy album (see video below), but if that’s what the band is experiencing, their art is how they process it. Shunning their material and criticizing them publicly for it is like ostracizing your friend because they are asking hard questions in their personal life. These criticisms reek of an inability to empathize. They stink of objectification and narrow-mindedness.

When we shut ourselves off the the artist’s process, and just expect them to deliver a product that we can consume, we’ve lost sight of the purpose of art. Art’s purpose is to ask the right questions, not deliver all the right answers.

Here’s a video about what Gungor say about it:

12 Notable Albums from 2012

2012 saw the rise to fame of new artists like the ubiquitous Carly Rae Jepsen and the baffling PSY through contagious singles, but the album charts saw material from a lot of veteran musicians returning to post their sixth albums (No Doubt), ninth (Cat Power), twelfth (Leonard Cohen) or even seventeenth albums (Bruce Springsteen). Artists both new and old have put out innumerable incredible pieces; here’s a sampling the year’s more successful, creative and/or influential albums:

Celebration Rock
The Vancouver rockers mince no words with the title to this short, rousing anthemic record.
Grizzly Bear has concocted something exquisite with the disparate sounds of Shields.
Coexist – The xx
Purposefully leaked by the British outfit to a single fan days before the official release, Coexist went viral and has enjoyed comfortable popularity since. The album is characterized by pulled-back dream-pop and R&B instrumentation with subdued anti-duets, evoking both tenderness and conflict.
bloom beach house
Bloom – Beach House
Suspicions about Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s ability to provide a follow-up to Teen Dream are put to rest with the hypnotizing Bloom: worth a two-year wait.
Battle Born – The Killers
The Killers play with past and present with epic Battle-Born. The synth-infused, reverberating guitar sound possesses all the arena-rock feel of U2 and Tom Petty, without tritely imitating them.
creation liturgy gungor
A Creation Liturgy
For whatever “Christian music” is in its broadest sense right now in North America, Gungor may be the most important independent band. Producing liturgical post-rock that is equally technical, artful and enjoyable, their rise to popularity and their message disregard church walls. In October, lead singer Michael published a book on creativity titled The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse.
provincial john samson
John K. Samson
Weakerthans frontman John Samson decided that for his first solo album, he’d write an apostrophic love letter to Canada. This album makes it onto this list partly for that fact, and partly because Samson does such an incredible job with his lyrics, examining topics from grad school to winter in Manitoba.
The London folk-pop quartet returns with a listenable yet stylistically similar follow-up to Sigh No More, pleasing fans, repulsing others, and nonetheless attracting considerable Internet buzz. The dulcent sound of “banjolin” has secured its comeback.
Gravity – Lecrae
Appearing prolific and full of potential with two albums out this year, Lecrae’s Gravity peaked at #1 on Gospel charts and #1 on Rap charts while his free mixape Church Clothes rose to #5 on the charts, featuring contributions from notable up-and-comers like Beautiful Eulogy.
Satellite Kite
Beautiful Eulogy
Derived from a theological analogy of a kite tethered healthily in a way that enables the kite to fulfill its true purpose, Satellite Kite brings fresh textures and fresh insights to the rap scene, intended, as stated in a lyric from the album, to “make you logically stop and think doxologically cause honestly a little bit of music and theology never really hurt anybody.”
Ten Stories
Three years after their last release, post-hardcore band mewithoutYou re-converged to begin writing again. Vocalist Aaron Weiss found inspiration in William James’ tale of a tiger that because of habit dared not leave its cage when opened by a circus train crash. Weiss finds stupendous symbolism in the story and uses his unique lyrical gift to paint allegories in tracing the stories of various animals with his characteristic spoken-word and sung vocals.