In the early 2000s, as the pop-punk glory days were coming to a close, a new crop of indie rock bands began to rise to prominence.
For artists who happened to be Christians — not necessarily “Christian artists” — questions about faith and a sense of authenticity were more evident than traditional CCM artists who were heard in church-music circles.
Here’s a look back at 10 Christian indie rock albums from the early ‘00s that still hold up.
(Also, here’s a similar note we included on our extremely official, not-to-be questioned “Definitive Ranking of Bands From Christian Pop Punk’s Glory Days”: Like a lot of “Christian music” genres, some of the bands have disputed the label of being “Christian” bands. But, for the sake of our rankings, we’ve chosen artists who have put out music on Christian labels, played at Christian festivals and who have at some point been generally associated with “Christian” music).
Catch For Us the Foxes – mewithoutYou
mewithoutyou’s spoken-word vocals and unflinching post-punk instrumentation creates an album that was truly unique when Catch for Us the Foxes released in 2004. Like the music itself, the lyrics are often complex, nuanced and moving.
Brother Is to Son – Brother Danielson
Sufjan Stevens collaborator and Danielson Famile member Daniel Smith has always been one of the most gloriously unique voices in indie folk. Not only is his falsetto voice immediately recognizable, he’s also known for taking the stage dressed as a giant tree. His 2004 solo album — under the Brother Danielson moniker — Brother Is to Son is full of cool arrangements, eclectic production and spiritually-inspired lyrics.
Emotion Is Dead – The Juliana Theory
The album’s title is the first signal that on 2000’s Emotion Is Dead, The Juliana Theory had abandoned their late-’90s emo sensibilities from Understand This Is a Dream. The Emotion Is Dead is a collection of indie pop singles, big anthems and experimental songs that were so ambitious that they landed the band a deal with Epic Records in 2001.
Where Shall You Take Me? – Damien Jurado
Damien Jurado isn’t exactly a traditional “Christian artist.” A prolific musician—he’s released dozens of albums, EPs and singles over his 20-year career — he’s garnered acclaim from mainstream critics and indie music publications and has had his music featured on a number of primetime shows, from One Tree Hill to The Blacklist. But even with his narrative style, Jurado’s Christian faith is never far away from the themes of his music.
Your Are So Good to Me – Waterdeep
Sure, this may not technically be an “indie rock” album, but You Are So Good to Me embodied indie sensibilities. When Waterdeep and frequent collaborators 100 Portraits started releasing music in the late ‘90s, they were doing something unheard of the in worship music genre: They were making unpolished, raw acoustic songs that sounded more like jam sessions than highly-produced radio songs. 2001’s You Are Good to Me ages so well because of its commitment to folky authenticity over trendy style.
You Should Be Living – Twothirtyeight
Twothirtyeight remains one of the era’s more underrated acts, but all three of their albums (released between 2002 and 2003), are still solid listens. Former frontman Chris Staples has gone on to work with a ton of notable artists (including Father John Misty), and continues to have an impressive solo career. His 2014 release American Soft was one of the year’s best singer-songwriter albums.
Throws Like a Girl – Vroom
One of the more obscure bands on the list, Vroom never really broke out, but 2000’s Throws Like a Girl was a smart, emotional indie-pop effort that never got the attention it deserved.
The Moon Is Down – Further Seems Forever
Chris Carrabba recorded one album with Further Seems Forever before leaving to pursue Dashboard Confessional, but The Moon Is Down remains a classic. It lacks some of the sentimentality of Carrabba’s later work, and instead replaces it with technical arrangements and unrelenting punk rock aggression.
The Beautiful Letdown – Switchfoot
Though it was a major-label release, The Beautiful Letdown was the ultimate indie-artist-hits-the-big-time story: With crossover hits like “Meant to Live,” “Dare You to Move,” “This Is Your Life and “Gone,” Switchfoot’s 2003’s album was a massive critical and commercial hit, selling more than 2 million albums. The record became a top-40 staple, and brought Switchfoot’s soulful California brand of indie-pop to the mainstream.
The Only Reason I Feel Secure (EP) – Pedro the Lion
David Bazan, former Pedro the Lion frontman-turned-solo artist, continues to write some of music’s most thoughtful songs about faith, doubt and God, even though he no longer considers himself a Christian. Like the cover of “Be Thou My Vision,” his EP The Only Reason I Feel Secure (which was released in 1999), is a stirring, vulnerable look at spirituality in conflict.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.