PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Gungor: I Am Mountain

Gungor fancies itself the auteur outfit in Christian music, a fact that I Am Mountain provides compelling evidence for even as it wears its influences a little more than obviously.


I Am Mountain

Label: Hither & Yon
US Release Date: 2013-09-24
UK Release Date: Import

Christian music has a lot of issues, not the least of which is the fact that it distinguishes itself as "Christian" in the first place. The religious tag implies that any music that doesn’t go out of its way to actively identify itself as such must necessarily be opposed to Christianity or is, to use the much-abused word, "secular". There was a time when so-called Christian music was in its golden age, peaking in the mid-to-late '90s with essential records like DC Talk’s Jesus Freak, which manages to both be engaging musically and forthcoming about its religious convictions. The latter can exist in the same sphere as the former without detracting from it. As it stands now, however, Christian music is plagued by myriad problems. Its metal bands are perpetually stuck in the dead-and-gone stylings of metalcore, once interesting bands like Skillet have opted for rote, Nickelback-esque alt-rock, and the majority of what sells and dominates the radio amounts to footnotes to Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United. The trend in American politics involving right-wing Christianity’s disenchantment with and separation from "secularizing" and "globalizing" forces seems particularly true of the Christian music as a whole.

Michael Gungor, a man who is not ashamed to let his Christianity show, stirred up a lot of internet attention last year when he questioned the notion of Christian music in an astute blog post. "We call it Christian," he writes, but it’s certainly not based in Christianity. It is based on marketing. That’s it. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but it wouldn’t be true." (Or, as one might alternatively call it, the “Eric Cartman Theorem.”) As someone who has toured “as a Christian artist,” Gungor is well equipped to make a statement on the follies of the name, but musically he’s leagues above his colleagues in sophistication. With releases like 2010’s Beautiful Things, Gungor, whose surname became the name of the musical collective he performs with, shows an apt skill of genre-hopping, playing off of tropes and themes from blues, indie, and post-rock. Few if any artists openly shaping their music to some overtly Christian expectation are as audacious as Gungor in this regard, and with I Am Mountain he and his band, including his wife Lisa, continue in this adventurous streak.

Sigur Rós has been a key influence on the music of Gungor ("The Earth is Yours" from Beautiful Things is a poppier take on that band’s Takk…), a fact still very much the case with I Am Mountain. The title track, which opens this LP, utilizes a piano sound straight from the Icelandic post-rock playbook before building into a catchy, wordless pop crescendo, accented by some Anathema-esque vocal interplay between Gungor and his wife. Gungor has referred to his style of music as "liturgical post-rock" before, which bears itself out on the textural streak running throughout I Am Mountain. In some ways, the band isn’t doing a whole lot that’s sonically innovative here. Anyone familiar with the obvious reference points can see where these songs inevitably go. Contextually, however, Gungor brings a gamut of styles to an audience that might not otherwise hear them, a noble feat in a genre that has been defined by stagnation for the past great while.

When I Am Mountain gets familiar, though, it helps that this merry band, just as it did on Beautiful Things, isn’t content in relying on, to use Wittgenstein’s phrase, a one-sided diet of examples. "Beat of Her Heart" mixes European folk chord patterns with spaghetti-western guitars. "Finally" does Radiohead circa King of Limbs better than Radiohead itself did. A mean slide guitar dominates the compelling alt-country of "God and Country", which kicks off the album’s folky second half. All of these various experiments give I Am Mountain its restless spirit, which ends up being its greatest achievement. In refusing to capitulate to the generic demands of the Christian music market, Gungor shows that being devout isn’t anathema to making great music. Hell, even the nonbeliever should find a great deal to like in I Am Mountain. After all, the grand silliness of the Christian/secular divide is that it presumes religious or philosophical disagreement must mean the establishment of irreconcilable factions. If nothing else, Gungor demonstrates the capability of music to break down those harmful boundaries.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.