I’m doing this column a few days early this time around, so I can talk about a few holiday releases I’ve been taking in before Christmas actually arrives for a change! There are also a few non-seasonal stragglers I’ve managed to squeeze in this month, despite how busy I’ve been re-listening to the best of the year and the decade.
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Jax Anderson, Joe Henry, and The Flaming Lips, plus seasonal music from Jars of Clay & SHEL, Future of Forestry, Andrew Peterson, Plumb, Sara Groves, and Nichole Nordeman.
Here are the albums that I had the toughest time making it all the way through in 2018. At the top of the list are the merely mediocre records that I almost wanted to rescue from the “dishonorable” pile, but that just didn’t have enough good to outweigh the bad. As you get further down, the list gets more and more abysmal, to the point where I can’t even come up with a track highlight to make a case for why it’s not all bad.
It’s time to kick off my yearly obsession with counting things that it really makes no sense to put in order. More detailed write-ups on the full lengths albums that captivated me this year are to follow, but for now, here’s a haphazard list I’ve compiled of 100 songs that moved me this year… some physically, some emotionally, some both.
The beginning of a new year, 2010, and a new third digit in our numbering system for years that indicates I’ll likely never see another year with “0” in that slot for the rest of my lifetime, means that for the first time, this relatively young music fan gets to look back at entire decade (these things being commonly delineated by that third digit even if the technical scientific approach says our decade isn’t over until the beginning of 2011) and try to sum it all up in terms of the music that was meaningful to me over the course of nearly a third of my life. That’s right, I’m just a smidgen over 30, which means that the 2000’s (or the “Ought Nots”, as I’ve decided to call a decade of learning what not to do in retrospect) were my first full decade of being a true music fan. I might have come of age and finished high school and college in the 90’s, and I have my fair share of nostalgic tunes to whisk me back to those days. But this most recent decade was when I truly opened up, with the advent of file sharing and social networking making it remarkably easy to burst the bubble of “Christian music only” that I started out with, to go beyond the basic pop/rock styles largely dominant on the radio, and to really dig deep and find my own musical personality, unburdened by rumors of danger beyond the comfortable fences I had previously built for myself.
In the fall of 2008, I was struggling with the idea of change. Some doors were closing in my life – experiences I had greatly enjoyed had come to their natural end, and my natural instinct was to fight that. My whole concept of what it meant to be a Christian in a contentious political climate leading up to the election that year was changing pretty radically. And I can see in this set of songs I put together at the time that there is a lot of coming and going represented in the lyrics here, a lot of leaving people and reuniting, and a lot of need for the assurance that no matter how much change we go through, how much we kick and scream and protest what God is trying to do in us or in the world around us, or how much our very concept of faith might evolve as we leave behind the innocence of youth, God’s love for us is the one permanent thing that will never change.
I’m just now realizing how richly nostalgic a lot of the summer imagery is within this set of songs I put together ten years ago. In August of 2008, Christine and I embarked on a truly epic road trip through the Southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. With the exception of our previous trip to Las Vegas, Christine had never been to any of these states before, and I hadn’t been to that part of the country in quite a while myself. On this trip we took in the Grand Canyon, Sedona, the Valles Caldera region of northern New Mexico, Santa Fe, some superlative sections of the Colorado Rockies, Salt Lake City, three Utah National Parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion), and finally Vegas on our way back to L.A. It took 12 days, and it tested my limits as a driver in ways that taught me to think more carefully about how many hours on the road I’d be committing myself to on future trips. But it was a great bonding experience that taught us we could enjoy nothing but each other’s company for long stretches of time out on the open road, and to this day it’s one of my most fondly remembered trips.
In with the New:
My Morning Jacket
As always, it’s interesting to look back on these homemade compilations many years later and see if any themes emerge. The spring of 2008 was a pretty happy time in my life, so these songs aren’t tied to personal experiences per se. But I can tell that I was mulling over some heavier themes. Like what God would have to say about American Christianity’s relationship to the rest of the world. Or how I would know as a parent when to protect a child from experiencing emotional pain and when to let them go ahead and learn the lesson on their own. Or whether love was more of a feeling or a conscious choice. Or the joy of a two-minute punk song. (That last one’s not a particularly heavy theme. It was just a fun observation.)
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Olivia the Band
Andrea Corr (as a solo artist – appears later with The Corrs)
Not having seen Christine’s parents since late 2006, we took an “off-season vacation” in late January/early February to go back to Oahu and visit them. This was a much cheaper trip than usual – no side journeys to outlying islands or overnights in Waikiki hotels or anything like that. Just low-key relaxation in suburban Mililani – and of course the usual driving around and exploring the island that I can never resist doing. Most of these songs aren’t tied to memories of that trip in the direct sense, but any good vacation offers its fair share of moments to pause, take in the peace of a beautiful place far from home, and reflect on personal issues I’m dealing with at that point in time, ways that my beliefs and passions are being shaped and challenged, etc. Listening to this batch of songs ten years later, it’s pretty clear that I was on the verge of some of those changes.
In with the New:
Jon Foreman (as a solo artist – appears earlier with Switchfoot)
Out with the Old: