Groans Too Deep for Words

A new breed of bands sees instruments as more than accompaniment for praise lyrics.
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Does it sock you in the gut? Does it buckle your knees? Does it take your breath away?” These are the questions Marc Byrd asks himself when he writes music for his band, Hammock.

Chances are that you’ve sung “God of Wonders,” a song Byrd cowrote, at church. But you may not know his labor of love, Hammock, which has released three full-length albums of blissfully atmospheric melodies and almost entirely no lyrics. Composed of Byrd and Andrew Thompson, Hammock writes spacious songs full of echoes and spacey keyboards, and sometimes features ethereal vocals from Byrd’s wife, Christine Glass, and lush cello accompaniment from Matt Slocum of Sixpence None the Richer.

Hammock belongs to the genre loosely known as post-rock. With deep roots in independent rock music (some trace it to the 1960s), post-rock has emerged in the last 10 years as a phenomenon typified by bands like Sigur Rós, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Explosions in the Sky (whose music is the opening theme for NBC’s Friday Night Lights). While these bands use rock instruments and the occasional horn or string section, they have more in common with classical music, building long, symphonic compositions with swelling emotional climaxes.

Post-rock is increasingly being made and used by people of faith both inside and outside church contexts. The aesthetic might be called post-worship—a stylistic and ideological move away from praise choruses and toward instrumental music as a vehicle for praise and reflecting God’s glory.

“I do think the current move in many Christian circles toward post-rock is a trend that seems to mimic the influx of postmodernism,” said Brent Thomas, teaching pastor at Grace ...

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