Once a year I compile a list of quality Christian artists whom I think should be on your radar (and playlists), if they aren’t already (see my 2019 list and 2020 list). I try to pick artists who are both musically interesting and unapologetic about their faith—whose music is not ambiguously Christian but explicitly and sincerely so, in authentic yet non-cheesy ways.
In making these lists I try to focus on artists who are newer and more under the radar, and I try to suggest artists from a variety of genres as well as different parts of the world. This year’s list includes artists from the U.S., U.K., Namibia, Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia, for example.
I also choose artists who are inspired by Scripture and devotional in tone, while defying stereotypes and pushing stylistic boundaries of what we’re used to in contemporary Christian music. The good news is there are many artists who fit these criteria—there’s no shortage of excellent indie Christian music today. The bad news is I can’t keep up with it all—so if there are artists you recommend for future lists, please share them on the TGC Arts and Culture Facebook page.
In the meantime, check out the music of the artists below. I compiled a playlist sampler on Spotify and Apple Music that will give you a good introduction to their music. Some will be more appealing to you than others, depending on your taste, but I hope there’s something of interest here for everyone.
Based in Manila, Philippines, Darla Baltazar is a self-described “singer-songwriter, bedroom producer, and content creator” who has produced Christ-centered, lo-fi, jazzy worship from her home since becoming a Christian in 2017. I’m always looking for artists whose music is not “my dramatic life and a little bit of God” as much as “God is the most interesting part of my life.” Darla fits the bill. Her music gloriously puts the spotlight on God.
- Songs to sample: “No Good Thing,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” “Weaned (Psalm 131),” “God Is Good”
Muncie, Indiana–based Levi Dylan Sikes (aka Former Ruins) is one of the most “indie” artists on this list, but his atmospheric music—which evokes The National and is self-described as “post-cynical folk rock”—is lyrically meaty and spiritually substantive. In 2020 he released a sharp debut album, Large Startling, as well as a Christmas EP, Fruit of Winter, and he’s working on a new album for release in 2022.
- Songs to sample: “Chaplain,” “Slow Embrace (When Dylan Dies),” “World,” “Cars of Our Youth”
Gable Price and Friends
“The Killers if they were a Christian band” is an apt description of this refreshing band, made up of (you guessed it) Gable Price and four of his musically talented friends. Their debut album, Fractioned Heart, was one of my favorite releases—Christian or otherwise—in 2020. Featuring a driving guitar sound and lyrics with theological and cultural teeth (see “You Are My Country”), the Northern California–based band is one to watch.
- Songs to sample: “Communion,” “Underdressed,” “Not Safe,” “Dead Man”
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Ellie Holcomb just released her third full-length album, Canyon, and it’s her best yet (read TGC’s recent interview with her about the album). Married to fellow artist Drew Holcomb (don’t miss their duet covers, like “Fields of Gold”), Ellie has an exciting few months ahead, including some tour dates with Lauren Daigle and her own headlining show at the Ryman Auditorium on August 19 (purchase livestream tickets).
- Songs to sample: “Canyon,” “Sweet Ever After,” “Red Sea Road,” “The Broken Beautiful”
A rising star in the Christian hip-hop world, Georgia-based Hulvey just released his first full-length record, Christopher. The 22-year-old’s talents have rightly impressed some of Christian hip-hop’s biggest names, including Lecrae (who collaborated on Hulvey’s single “Reasons”). “[Hulvey’s] explicit faith-driven messages are refreshing, but then he is also a very talented craftsman,” Lecrae told The Christian Post. “He has a knack for making hit records.”
- Songs to sample: “Can’t Tell It All,” “Reasons,” “Washed in the Blood,” “Everything”
“Worship hip-hop” artist IMRSQD (shorthand for “I am rescued”) has a unique indie sound that blends soul, hip-hop, lo-fi, jazz, reggae, and R&B. The Namibian artist released Guitars, Trumpets, and Gospel in 2020, collaborating with producer Moflo Music. With influences ranging from Chance the Rapper to Gorillaz, IMRSQD is releasing bold, eclectic, unabashedly gospel-centered songs unlike anything else in contemporary Christian music.
- Songs to sample: “Pink Lemonade,” “Always on Time,” “Sad Song,” “Patience”
JUDAH. is the solo worship project of Judah Akers, lead singer of Judah & The Lion—one of Christian alternative’s most successful bands of the last decade. Earlier this year Akers released 3 + 7, featuring stellar collaborations with Jon Foreman (“Don’t Know If I Believe It”) and Jon Guerra (“You’ve Done the Rest”), the album is musically interesting and devotionally inspiring. Bonus points for the most rocking version of Ephesians 3:18–21 I’ve ever heard.
- Songs to sample: “Fullness of God,” “Hallelujah’s Song (Psalm 103),” “Don’t Know If I Believe It,” “Remember What It Cost”
Brisbane, Australia–based Eliza King makes devotional worship music inspired by Scripture and a deep love for the church. Music isn’t King’s day job—she’s a high school English teacher—but it’s been lovely to see her trickle out new songs over the last year, including a very nice Christmas EP, Receive Him. Like fellow Aussie Tenielle Neda (featured on this list in 2020), King’s music has an elegant sincerity to it that refreshes the soul.
- Songs to sample: “I Shall Not Want,” “God Sees Me,” “Risen Man,” “The Lord’s Prayer”
One of the most promising singer-songwriters in Nashville these days, Taylor Leonhardt blends the pedal steel sounds of Americana/alt-country with beautifully honest lyrics about life and faith. Her 2017 debut, River House, is worth checking out as we wait for her anticipated follow-up. With fellow talent Jess Ray (featured on this list in 2019), Leonhardt makes up one-half of the indie worship duo Mission House, whose music I also recommend.
- Songs to sample: “Everything,” “Lights Gone Out,” “Poetry,” “Mother’s Daughter”
Steven Lufkin has been releasing music under the moniker Lovkn since 2018. With a sound that draws from folk-pop, soul, and blues, Lovkn’s joyful indie vibe occasionally evokes Jack Johnson or Josh Garrels. Of all the albums of hymns released in 2021 so far (and there have been many), Lovkn’s Hymns I might be my favorite. I’ve never heard a danceable version of “I Surrender All” before, but I’m here for it.
- Songs to sample: “New Life,” “Faithful to Remain,” “Solid Rock,” “I Surrender All”
Maverick City Music
At a time when the Christian world seems to be fracturing in a thousand different tribalistic directions, worship collective Maverick City Music (MVM) offers a vision for how worship can bring tribes together. Since its debut in 2019 (Maverick City, Vol. 1), the creative output of MVM (featuring hundreds of collaborators) has been prolific, blurring the boundaries between gospel music and CCM in refreshing and needed ways.
- Songs to sample: “Old Church Basement,” “Promises,” “Doxology,” “Yes & Amen”
Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Phil J. brings a unique, soulful sound to Christian hip-hop. Alternating between singing and rapping, and incorporating harmonies and musically creative beats, Phil J.’s sound is original and upbeat. His Christ-centered songs are refreshingly full of hope and joy, as his aptly titled new album (Joy) captures well.
- Songs to sample: “Diamond in the Rough,” “Worth It,” “Love Your Neighbor,” “Wings,”
Whether releasing a new album with NEEDTOBREATHE, performing solo as Wilder Woods, at the CMT Awards with Carrie Underwood, or collaborating with everyone from Chris Tomlin to Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Bear Rinehart has had a prolific pandemic. The former preacher’s kid and college football wide receiver has become a major player in both CCM and country music, and for good reason.
- Songs to sample: “Into the Mystery,” “Power,” “Someday Soon,” “Child of Love”
London-based Sharyn (pronounced “shar-een”) is an emerging talent in the U.K. Gospel scene—nominated for best newcomer in the 2019 Premier Gospel Awards. Her worshipful music has an original sound to it—low-register vocals, R&B vibes, and occasional Afro House and U.K. Garage beats. Check out her just-released debut album, In Full Bloom, for a good sampling of her worshipful, atmospheric sound.
- Songs to sample: “Broken Hearts,” “Dreams,” “Sanyuka,” “Call Your Name”
If people claim Christian music is all schmaltz that sugarcoats reality, they haven’t listened to Andy Squyres. The Charlotte-based (by way of California) singer-songwriter makes beautiful, brutal music that wrestles with grief, pain, and the struggles of faith. Squyres’s 2015 debut, Cherry Blossoms—made in the aftermath of his friend being murdered by a home intruder—is stunning. But his 2021 follow-up (Poet Priest) is even more impressive and one of the best Christian albums I’ve heard in years.
- Songs to sample: “Dead Horse,” “No Resurrection,”“Love Never Fails,” “Cherry Blossoms”
Yaz Williams is a Kiwi singer-songwriter (now based in Australia) whose songs, as she describes them, are “stories, moments, and parables, inspired by the movements of my heart and the ebbs and flows of life in God.” Her debut album released this year, Something Like a Secret, is a beautifully simple but poetic, resonant, and worshipful collection.
- Songs to sample: “Nowhere Else,” “Beatitude,” “Independence,” “Stay ʼTil I Die”