Music is a huge part of my life. Since I'm a contemplative personality type, I am often moved by music and use music to set environments for reflecting on Scripture and for prayer. Here are five artists/musicians that have helped me tremendously as of late. *Disclaimer: I tend to find artists that don't necessarily affiliate themselves with the Christian music industry as more genuine that some Christian artists. Though this is changing...

The Head and the Heart - After picking up "Down in the Valley" as a free download from Starbucks I had to hear more from this group. Sonically and lyrically they push and pull at the emotions in ways that few artists can do. Their arrangements are complex and their honesty is incredible. The name of the band identifies a battle that many people face in their walk with Christ - the battle between the head and the heart - which the spiritual mothers and fathers said would be solved by the "descent of the mind into the heart."

Josh Garrels - unique voice, unique songwriting, and a truly pilgrim heart make Garrels inescapable. His falsetto vocal runs draw close comparisons to another on this list (more on that in a moment) but the thing that makes Garrels so good is the unpredictable nature of his album, Love, War, and the Sea In Between. I don't want to say more for fear of ruining the experience. Go get it and thank me later.

Bon Iver - Starting when my friend Kyle posted a video of a live version of "Flume" from the For Emma album, I've been hooked on this guy. The recent self-titled album as well as the Blood Bank EP reveals an incredible variety of tones, instrumentation, and vocal range. The falsetto power of Justin Vernon is beyond compare, and the pain of songs like "Perth" on the self-titled album is worth the whole price. The moment on Blood Bank that is most surreal is the song "Woods" where Vernon uses auto-tune and overlays at least 15 different vocal tracks one at a time in an a cappella festival that I can't even describe in words.

Sleeping at Last - Not sure where I first heard this Wheaton-based group, but I'm glad I did. More atmospheric (think Sigur Ros, only in English) than the others in this list the songwriting is beautiful beyond compare. The Yearbook album is one that you could turn on, let it roll, and it would do the work of softening any environment. Vocally similar to artists in this list, which isn't strange, Sleeping at Last earns a place in my weekly playlist.

Gungor - I remember hearing "Beautiful Things" one Easter at Parkview and thinking, "This is okay." I was hesitant to jump in and truly give some time to Gungor until I listened to a preview of their album Ghosts Upon the Earth. Gungor takes a serious musical diversion from their past sound and basically throws every instrument created into this symphony of Scripture and sonic goodness. The lyrical sophistication is a massive jump from their previous work, and the mix of male and female vocals provides emotional range that truly makes certain songs work where otherwise they would have failed with a male lead.

What have you been listening to for the last 5 months?

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