I mean, there are several things I like: a good clear voice that's not nasal or raspy (Rick Florian of White Heart, Loyd Boldman of Prodigal), keyboards/piano (David Meece, Crumbächer) poetic/deep/insightful lyrics (everything Terry Scott Taylor has ever breathed on), a good dancing beat (basically the entire 1980s)...
But the other night one more ingredient clicked in my mind: I like bigness.
The 1980s (especially rock and, to an extent, pop) are notorious for 'big' production. Lots of instruments, lots of layers, lots of space -- music that could, and often did, fill arenas and stadiums. Late at night, go crank up the local '80s station and notice how sooner or later your mental pictures start going into outer space even if the song isn't about outer space. The production is just so big, so open, that your mind just starts to fly on its wings and suddenly you're meandering past galaxies.
You don't have that kind of space in a hipster song. There's nothing between the moaning vocal and the acoustic guitar. It's so flat and listless. Rock used to glitter and sparkle and have shape -- big shape, like a cathedral's ceiling. There were layers you could dig through -- drums, bass, keys, multiple guitars, vocal harmonies -- and they all had different dynamics. I realised I like music that lets me escape, distracts me, lets me fly, fires my imagination, releases me to the stars. It awakens my sense of wonder, and these days I need as much of that as possible. Hipster music doesn't do that, and worship music especially doesn't do that (worship music should though, in my opinion -- how are you going to inspire wonder in a congregation about a God you can only praise with flat, listless, bland, boring music?). (For more on that rant, see here.)
This doesn't just apply to '80s rock either -- choral music and symphonic music have a similar effect. Both have been widely used in the church and still capture the hearts of young and old in any religion today. Coincidence?
I'm not saying we have to go back to '80s arena rock. It's not everyone's thing, and that's cool. But can we at least kill this hipster music thing so we can have a resurgence in inspiring music? Please?