In case you’re interested (which you certainly may not be), I didn’t do a 2010 book list because, honestly, most of the books I read this year weren’t from this year, but, from what I did read this year, I read a lot of Cormac McCarthy and really liked it.
I love music. A lot. And I’m one of those guys who also loves year-end lists. I love to see what stood out from the year to other people. I love to find things that I missed. What oftentimes happens is that, if you look at year-end lists, you find that there are certain circles within which you tend to agree with more than others.
But what happens when you don’t line up with those lists with which you expected to? That’s what happened to me this year. Is it because I’m getting older? Or is it just that I didn’t think many of albums I expected to like were as good as other people did? I’ve been a bit disappointed with how similar most people’s year-end picks are. While people used to lean towards “indie” music to actually be independent, it has largely become nothing more than another commercial racket.
I mean, I liked the Arcade Fire’s album, I liked Vampire Weekend but neither were very moving for me. And yet, those albums topped many lists. Did I miss something or is there some sort of pressure to be considered “hip” by making sure certain bands appear in your list? Maybe I’m just too cynical? Whatever it is, I realized that this year, my list is pretty different from many others I’ve seen. For what it’s worth, here are my top 25 favorite albums of 2011, perhaps notable as much for what’s not listed this year as what is?
First, a word of explanation about two albums that might have been near the top of the list this year but don’t appear, and why. First, The Medicine by John Mark McMillan and second, Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons. You see, the music industry is a weird animal. Mumford and Sons was my #2 pick in 2009 because I first heard it in 2009. A friend recommended it and I downloaded it as a European release. But, it was released in the US in February of 2010. So, it will appear on many people’s 2010 lists and I probably could have included it again but it just didn’t seem right. John Mark McMillan finds himself in a similar situation. Though his album The Medicine was originally released in 2008, he was picked up by a label and the album found a 2010 re-release. So, for me, it’s not truly a 2010 album, though “Skeleton Bones”could certainly qualify as song of the year for me anyways! So, you may say that it’s technicalities that kept them off my list, but I say that it’s technicalities that put them on yours.
Yes, it’s repetitive. Yes, they play home-made instruments. Yes, they seem strangely sedate for playing such infectious music live but there’s something a Konono Nº1′s music that has always grabbed me. 2010 saw another stunning release from this band:
While Messenger didn’t grab me quite the way Pug’s Nation of Heat EP did, Pug has demonstrated once again that Bob Dylan is still the most influential voice in American music and that, when we listen close enough, he can give a musician their own voice as well. Pug doesn’t do anything new, but what he does do, he does extremely well. Sometimes the best music is also the most straightforward:
Yes, Wovenhand (or is it Woven Hand?) has a very distinct sound. Yes, you know it’s David Eugene Edwards when you hear it. But somehow, they manage re-creating themselves within their defined sound around lyrics that contain more Scripture references than many sermons. And they do so in bars and festivals across Europe. People are often offended by the lyrics yet they keep coming back for more:
Ever since seeing Burr open for Bill Mallonee several years ago, his music has been part of my life. He explores themes of loss, redemption, love and heartache in an almost typical alt-country/folk way. But he does so in a way that’s all his own. He is quickly developing his own sound and the confidence to continue growing. O Ye Devastator is a superb album throughout and only makes me more excited to watch this artist develop.
Just when it seemed to me that Doug Burr had a lock on the top spot in this list, late in the year came along Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives. I kept thinking that I knew the name “Drew Grow” and then realized that he played with one of my favorite bands, Five O’Clock People. But here, Grow comes out, after a series of EPs, with a fully developed sound all his own.
I have had the privilege of calling Mark Whiten my friend for a lot of years now. He and and I share our love of music with others through the sporadic music/interview podcast that we do together: The Habañero Hour (or keep up on Facebook). Here are his picks of the year:
01. Neulore – Apples And Eve
03. Hark the Herons-S/T
04. Drew Grow & The Pastors Wives
05. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
06. Broken Records-Let Me Come Home
07. Fang Island – Fang Island
08. Joe Pug – Messengers
10. Sleigh Bells – Treats
11. Horse Feathers-Thistled Spring
12. Mid-American-Fake Homes
13. Mt. Desolation-S/T
14. Moving Mountains – Pneuma and foreward
15. Jonsi- go
16. Doug burr – Oh, Ye, Devestator
17. Titus Andronicus_The Monitor
18. The Pressure Room -Wide Of The Mark
19. Colonies – Thirty Thousand
20. These New Puritans -Hidden
21. Crippled Black Phoenix – I, Vigilante
22. Arcade Fire- Suburbs
23. Black Rebel Motorsycle Club – Beat The Devil’s Tattoo
24. Sleeping At Last – Yearbook project
25. Mighty Tiger – Western Theater
26. Shapes Make Stars – These Mountains Are Safe
27. The National – High Violet
28. Golden Triangle – Double Jointer
29. Seabear – We Built a Fire
30. Midlake -the courage of others
31. Wovenhand-The Threshing Floor
32. Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz
33. Warpaint-The Fool
34. Sandra McCracken – In Feast or Fallow (2010)
35 Beach House-Teen Dream
36. Backwards – The Buffalo Still Roam
37. 6he Black Keys – Brothers
38. Aaron Strumpel-Vespers I & II
39. Devo – Something For Everybody
40. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Anticipated albums 0f 2011:
The Cave Singers – No Witch
Favorite Song of 2011:
House of Heroes – “God Save The Foolish Kings” from Suburba
Jeremy Larson – Salvation Club
Immanu El- Moen/They’ll come, they come
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Up from Below
Band of Skulls – Baby Darling Doll Face Honey
I hesitate to say the “best” movie of the year because I really didn’t see all that many movies this year, though I did see some good ones (Toy Story 3 and Spike Jonez’ I’m Here, etc.) but the one that stood out to me this year was Get Low. As I’ve been thinking this year again about the centrality of the Gospel in daily life, I’ve been thinking about the stories that define each one of us, how we long to be in community and how we long to know and be known and be forgiven and how sin mars each of these pursuits. Such are the themes of this great movie:
The transition between years always prompts reflection and anticipation. It’s the perfect time to ponder what we learned in the year past and what we hope to accomplish in the one to come. The in-between time of the holidays provides the perfect context for both celebration and reflection, anticipation and examination.
Our “spheres of being” focus. I am a child of God, a husband, a daddy, a friend, a pastor, a music-lover, etc. etc. etc. But the center to all of these is the Gospel. I hesitate to write about this because “gospel-centrality” has become both a buzz word and a point of contention for many evangelicals. But, as I reflect on 2010 and anticipate 2011, the biggest thing that stands out to me is exactly that: “Gospel-centrality.” Tim Keller, Steve Timmis, Tim Chester, Jeff Vanderstelt and Caesar Kalinowski have helped me deepen my understanding and “practice” of Gospel living.
Having grown up in American Evangelicalism, and realizing that, in many ways, I am one of its “products,” I have become tremendously convicted that much of American “ministry” simply assumes the Gospel as its foundation. When we speak of the Gospel, it is in broad, general terms primarily dealing with how we “get into heaven” when we die. It is hardly the focus or foundation of much of our ministry. Instead, we stand on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and wonder why our people are self-centered consumers.
It’s an interesting situation, because these are not things that I didn’t “know.” But I’m beginning to think that part of the Christian life is re-learning things you already “knew” in deeper and brighter ways. I have been reminded that the Gospel is our motivation for obedience; that, as a pastor, I can’t simply put expectations of living on people and expect that they’ll live that way if the Gospel is not our foundation. I have been reminded that the Gospel is our identity, not just a doctrine to be spouted.
The Gospel should inform our every thought and every conversation. We should be “fluent” in it the way we become fluent in language. We should speak it and demonstrate it to one another in daily life and we will not live “on mission’ until we are saturated in the Gospel. We will never exhaust the glories of Calvary. Even angels long to gaze into these truths. The answer to our (true) problems is always at our fingertips and the Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave lives in us! The Gospel is the true and better story that gives us our identity, our strength, our security, our joy, and our motivation. It is what defines us and sweeps us up into something greater than us.
In the time of transition, sometimes it’s best just to remember that we need t0 re-center, to stand again on the only foundation that will not fail us.
My good friend and co-elder at Church of the Cross, Wade, recently e-mailed this quote by Sebastian Heck. It was much needed and came at the right time for me. I hope it encourages you as well:
As with our entire Christian walk, our hope does not come from the situation we are in. More often than not, Christian hope actually rises despite the situation. As believers, we are not called to live comfortable and easy lives. We are called to live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). It is ‘through faith and patience’ that we ‘inherit the promises’ (Heb. 6:12). We are called to suffer even as Christ Himself suffered (1 Peter 2:21). Thus, we are not called to minister, evangelize, and plant churches only in places that promise quick success because they are ‘white for harvest’ (John 4:35), but also in those areas that seem more like valleys of dry bones (see Ezek. 37:1-14).
As I’ve said before, I love Jesus and I love music but I don’t always love most music about Jesus. The reasons for this are many and varied but they essentially boil down to this: for many “Christian artists,” music is simply a propaganda vehicle to “get out the message.” The music often rings shallow though it deals with eternal truths. I love musicians whose faith shapes and molds them as artists and flows naturally through their work, even though you probably couldn’t buy them at a “Christian bookstore” (which has everything to do with distribution and promotional deals rather than actual content but that’s a post for another day).
One artist in this realm is David Eugene Edwards, the heart and writer behind 16 Horsepower and Woven Hand (or is it Wovenhand?). Yes, I understand that his music is not for everyone, there is often a dark tone and rough sheen to the music but his lyrics often contain more Scripture than many so-called “Christian artists.” He deals with themes of sin, redemption, loss and fulfillment over the course of a body of work that clearly demonstrates he is more than a one-trick pony.
I recently came across this documentary on Edwards called The Preacher that I wanted to pass along to you. I couldn’t find a file with the whole thing in one single file so it is here broken up into five segments. It’s an interesting look into Edwards’ home life and he provides several glimpses into the defining moments of his life. I found it to be very intriguing. Enjoy.