Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
One of my favorite things I get to do in this column is highlight Christian artists who have been able to defy the odds by creating music that is both unique and challenging. Unfortunately, from within the bubble of the Christian subculture, artists like these seem to be few and far between. But that’s when we get to the band under spotlight this week: mewithoutYou. The band’s insatiable creative energy has been separating them from the crowds of lookalikes and wannabes for years now. Their newest album has only cemented their position as leaders in what music from a Christian worldview should look like.
Outside the infectious hooks and passionate vocals, the thing that has always drawn me to the band is frontman Aaron Weiss’s PhD-grade narratives. The band’s newest album, Ten Stories, takes mewithoutYou’s impeccable storytelling craft and set it in the context of something resembling a concept album. This is good news for those of us who love to analyze lyrics. If you’re new to the band, I’d highly recommend listening to Ten Stories with the lyric booklet in hand because this story has got it all: disparate lovers, self-sacrificing heroes, and beautiful imagery. It’s a fascinating piece of historical fiction that is certain to keep people interpreting Weiss’s yelps for years to come.
The amazing thing about mewithoutYou’s success though is that it surpasses the bounds of what the Christian music industry could have ever contained. The band has brought in fans from across genres and subcultures — nonbelievers and “secular” folks included. When you consider the fact that the band’s lyrics consist mostly of Bible stories and fictional myth-poems, it’s clear that mewithoutYou is onto something here. But Weiss isn’t the first Christian songwriter to use creative narrative in their songs to talk about deep spiritual issues.
Artists like Sufjan Stevens have also used storytelling to talk about their spirituality and draw in those outside the faith community. Are these artists providing a new way forward for Christians to effectively express themselves in the public space of music?
If so, I’m convinced that it’s these artists’ uncanny ability to tell beautiful stories that has drawn so many fans to their music. It makes me wonder if we’ve been going about this whole thing the wrong way all this time. After all, nobody wants to hear mouthfuls of theology and apologetics in our art, regardless of whether or not we agree with them. What we are all looking for is something dynamic and personal — something that puts these ideas and worldviews in context. If we are trying to use our Christian perspective to create authentic works of art, maybe we need to start telling more stories and spouting less theology. After all, that’s what the Bible spends most of it’s time doing.