2013 was an incredible year of music. Artists are using production, sound, and their instruments in groundbreaking ways. I, for my part, worked at being a more attentive and active listener. Somehow, music never sounded so sweet. I went to fewer live shows but diversified the ones I did attend. My rotation also broke more into the cringeworthy Worship genre. (Michael Gungor writes very honestly on this subject, even as the leader of a "Christian" band, and about how sometimes music in the genre has a strange "soulless" sheen to it. In part, I agree with him, and it is for this reason I call the genre cringeworthy. He's since written a response to his first essay sort of correcting himself a bit but the initial premise and discontent remains intact. As I explore bands who write expressly about their faith in music, I'm finding more music that doesn't make me roll my eyes, or want to throw up, and I've even found some stuff that I liked.... a lot.)
At the beginning of the year I made a goal to learn more about the Love of God, and just more about Him in general (1 John 4:8 would say that there is no difference). Even though I've identified as a Christian all my life, I know surprisingly little about this purported Love that was made incarnate on Christmas day, and of which God is the source. I didn't feel like I had ever experienced it, though I would have told you I knew what love was, and that I had felt it before, romantic, fraternal, and familial. It's amazing how if you ask God for things, he actually gives them to you. He tells us he will do this, over and over and over, but still I have a hard time believing Him. I asked to know more about Love, specifically His Love for me, and He responded by teaching me. Simple as that. But it's also the most complex lesson I've ever embarked on. When you ask to know more about Love and the one who created it answers, you better strap on a crash helmet because s*** gets REAL.
Because of this quest, a lot of the music I connected to this year was related to love, what it is and what it isn't. It's not hard to find music about love, of course, but I started to listen for different characteristics being sung about love. In my relationship with my parents, and where they are in their lives, I also started to hear songs about death or the journey of life in different ways, and connected to those as well. Again, between the themes of love and the journey of life, we've pretty much covered 99.9% of all music ever written. I guess I'm just comforted to know that other people have questions and feelings about these subjects, and can write much better than I can about them.
So without further ado, my list:
It is divided into four sections. The first three are thematic and build off one another, and the fourth is just my hodge-podge of songs that don't really have a deeper meaning, I listened to them constantly this year and just wanted to share them. There are links to the lyrics if you click on the title of each song.
Section the first: The Mirror Has Two Faces
I learned a lot about how I have both a true self and a false self this year. The one that I live from is the one that I feed, and they both exist in me. These songs all speak to that inner conflict and doubt about the big questions: why are we here? Is there someone out there? What am I supposed to do? Is what I'm feeling true? They all touch on the struggle between right and wrong in ourselves.
1) Just Beneath the Surface - Dawes
"...there's another one of me
At the root of all my trouble, in the twitch before I speak
With thoughts and revelations even I could not accept
So just beneath the surface is where he will stay kept..."
2) Second Child, Restless Child - The Oh Hellos
This song perfectly describes the journey of my soul this year. I'd been hanging on to a lot of stuff, and believing a lot of lies. Also, I am the second child of three, and I am restless! I love how even though it speaks about leaving everything you've ever known, it's hopeful. It is right and a good and joyful thing to do that. This song always stirs me.
3) Ya Hey - Vampire Weekend
Undeniably, Ezra Koenig's asking big questions about religion in his life on this darker, deeper album. Ya Hey = Yaweh. Ut Deo means "as a God" in Latin. I think he makes a direct appeal to God with this song, demanding to know who He is, "you won't even say your name, only I Am that I Am". He says maybe he's made a mistake not believing but also that there's a lot of reason not to. I can relate. But what made this one of my songs of the year was the last verse that he speaks near the end. He says "My soul swooned, as I faintly heard the sound/Of you spinning "Israelites"/Into "19th Nervous Breakdown". Sometimes when I hear a particularly amazing lineup of music, I think God is behind it too. He absolutely speaks to me through music.
4) Lost in the Supermarket - The Clash
The subject of a blog post from earlier this year, this is an anthem for everyone who is unsure of who they are and looking for identity in the wrong places. Brilliantly written (this song, not my blog post).
5) If I Loved You - Delta Rae
It's almost hard to listen to because of how much I relate to the words she's singing. The man she's singing about, I have known him, I have said the words she sings almost verbatim. The soulful pleading, letting go of something you want so badly because it's not true, it's not right. It's a painful battle. This song was a reminder of the choice I made that led me into the journey of fully accepting my true self, and starting to live from it.
Section the Second: Here is Love
Love is the place where the journey begins of living from your true self, and finding integration between your true and false self, ending the war between them. It is about forgiveness, letting go, courage, vulnerability and renewal.
6) Imitation of Life - Gregory Porter
First, let's just dwell on how gorgeous this man's voice is. Next, without love, you're only living an imitation of life. Yes, that is true. Living from love does all the things he says it does in this song. It is the place we begin, and without it, the world is without color, without sound, without its root.
7) Dust to Dust - The Civil Wars
(A late addition to the list). When this album came out this year I ate it all up. But "Dust to Dust" stands alone in its beauty and message. It's coaxing out of loneliness called to me. One of my biggest discontents this year was feeling left behind in the love department, forgotten and overlooked. I didn't hear this song as a call from a particular man, known or unknown in my life, but from heaven above. Who sees through me? Who wants me to find rest? Who calls to me to let him in to burn away all that I should leave behind? Whom does my life reflect, for better or worse? Who has been standing there, waiting for me this whole time, and even before that? Who is the real answer to loneliness? There is only one.
8) Level Up - Vienna Teng
Where the Civil Wars leave us, Ms. Teng picks us up and runs forward. "If you are afraid, come forth/ if you are alone, come forth now/ everybody here has loved and lost/ so level up and love again." Such an inspiring reminder not to dwell in pain after a loss or someone/something knocks the wind out of you. I'm here to tell you it is that pain that turns us into ash from which we arise and learn to live fully and completely. It's not something that happens just once either but is cyclical in nature. Don't be afraid. Begin again. Give more. This is the day, no other.
9) Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It - Stars
I don't know if there's better advice out there than the title of this song. Love must be guarded fiercely by the receiver as it implies trust and total vulnerability. When it is given, it cannot be given to control, or for an outcome, and in many cases it must be given undeservingly, expecting nothing in return. I love this band, and I think this song is an homage to New Order, which is awesome.
10) Tree to Grow - The Lone Bellow
The New American Bible translates Jeremiah 31:3 as "With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you." Most other translations say "everlasting love". The love we give to one another is indeed older than our souls. It precedes and goes beyond us infinitely.
11) Where You Go - Young Romans
I heard this at the end of an okay movie. Totally redeemed it. It's the sound of someone joyfully and fully experiencing the freedom love brings. "Give me your story, I'll give you mine."
Section the Third: Meet Your Maker
I've been thinking about mortality this year, mostly as it relates to my parents. All these songs take the pain and darkness of death but turn it into a praise of life too. They remind me to be always pointed in the direction that I want to go in, that it won't be a straight line, and that life now is beautiful. Don't be blind to it.
12) People Get Ready - The Kruger Brothers
I went to a bluegrass festival in April which was delightful start to finish, and there I discovered the Kruger Brothers. This rendition of People Get Ready is a beautiful message about the train we're all on and to keep in mind where it's headed. Also, just amazing banjo and guitar solos in it.
13) The Man Who Lives Forever - Lord Huron
I got way into Lord Huron this year. They sound very much like Fleet Foxes but their lush instrumentation makes me feel like I should be back at a Bedouin camp in the Sinai desert. (Also, hand claps!) It's excellent traveling music. I love how he's wrestling his own mortality here, because sometimes life is just so sweet, it's hard to imagine something else could be sweeter.
14) Ohio - Patti Griffin
How are so many great songs written about Ohio? Nothing happens there! Neil Young, The Pretenders, Over the Rhine, and now, Patti Griffin. It's a song about death, and how life is not lived in a straight line, it is the winding river. The blood running through our veins tells a story older than our own. Also, that male voice in there? Oh yeah, just Robert Plant. NBD.
15) Dance in the Graveyards - Delta Rae
This song rejoices in those that have gone before, hints at the joy that awaits us beyond the grave. It is not dark, it is not the end. Let us sing and dance together, and walk alongside those that came before, and will come after us.
Section the Fourth: Sharing is Caring
16) Wishing Well - Cheyenne Marie Mize
17) Rising Sun - All Sons and Daughters
18) Tell Me What Ya Here For - Fitz and the Tantrums
19) We Sink - CHVRCHES
20) Song for Zula - Phosphorescent
21) Old Skin - Olafur Arnalds
22) The Great Divide - The Mowgli's (this was originally in the 2nd section but it got bumped as I rethought my most meaningful songs, it just didn't fit when I took in the work as a whole).