One of my favourite labels is the Asthmatic Kitty label. I got into the label through hearing Sufjan Stevens and it is a home for the leftfield and the quirky.
Many of the artists have a Christian faith, but it is not a ‘Christian’ label. I have written many many times about my struggle to cope with ‘Christian’ rock/pop music (is a wall a Christian wall if it is built by a Christian?): mainly due to it’s blandness, often not being in sympathy with the medium it uses & it’s pasticheness (not a word, but should be). Besides that: living in a vacuum marked ‘Christian’- mainly as it is ‘safe’- is hardly radical engagement with our world.
I recently the latest ‘Half Handed Cloud’ album. Half Handed cloud should not work: he sounds like someone had a cupboard and shoehorned all these instruments, sounds and rhythms in it and somehow made an album. If my head/internal dialogue had music, then this would be it: far too compressed with too much going on and so many digressions. And then the lyrics: fragments of Bible passages in a falsetto. It takes some getting used to it and you may never do so, but it always makes me so happy and I cannot explain why.
I have featured this before and I really like the playfulness:-
Years ago when I was writing an MA thesis called ‘Looking for Baby Jesus under the trash’ which was about mission theology and U2 (I could have been more specific, but most people’s eyes glaze over at that point), I discovered several musicians who were Christians but had nothing to do with the ‘Christian music scene’.
Regular readers of this blog will know a little of my history; soon after becoming a Christian in the mid 80s, someone introduced me to the ‘Christian music scene’. Even then, still a long way from the Victor Meldrew that I now have become, I thought that most of what I heard was rubbish. That is a harsh judgement, but I generally found derivative music, clichéd lyrics and bad production. It took an effort of will in the mid 80s to drink appalling Fair Trade coffee and like it; it took an even greater effort with ‘Christian Rock’.
Since that date I have been biased against it and from time to time I have tried to combat that prejudice; apart from one or two exceptions my opinion has not shifted. I think it was the producer T Bone Burnett who once said something like if a Christian bricklayer built a wall badly and sprayed ‘Jesus’ on it, it would not make it good. Likewise any music that is marketed as ‘Christian’; it has to be good music with integrity.
One musician I unearthed in my research was Sufjan Stevens and his record label ‘Asthmatic Kitty’; a home for leftfield, quirky and adventurous musicians; many of faith. I have CDs by Sufjan Stevens, DM Stith, The Welcome Wagon & the Danielson Family from that label. I recently got hold of a CD by Half Handed Cloud and it makes me smile so much. On first listen, it sounds scrappy- 25 tracks over 50 minutes, but then the mixture of musicianship, strangeness and instrumentation got me. Plus I like the title:-
‘As Stowaways in Cabinets of Surf, We Live-out in our Members a Kind of Rebirth’
It is always good to hear someone ploughing a musical furrow because they like it and they want to. It is ‘marmite music’: you either like it or loathe it.
The above video is not an album track, but it gives a flavour of who they are.