My musical tastes tend to be peculiar, probably not what you would expect from a Presbyterian pastor. It probably all started when I was brought up as a kid listening to Bach, the Kingston Trio and the Beatles, all roughly at the same time. Adventure, eclecticism, and unpredictability are held in high esteem for me when it comes to music. Theologically speaking, this is perfectly consistent with the presentation in the Bible of a God who is creative, brimming with ideas, and definitely unpredictable.
This year I’m presenting 10 favorite songs rather than 10 favorite albums, which means I’m not necessarily affirming the full albums from which these songs come. Nor am I necessarily endorsing all that is said in these songs. They are simply tunes that drew me in, and I offer them here for your consideration:
1. Seasons (Waiting on You), Future Islands
Infectious new wave throwback highlighted by the soulful vocals of lead singer Samuel Herring, whose energetic performance generated attention when the band played on David Letterman earlier this year.
2. Red Eyes, War on Drugs
“Lost in the Dream” is a solid and consistent album, getting lots of nods for best album of the year. Some killer guitar riffs make this a standout track from the record.
3. Falling in Love Again, Joyce Manor
Some songs are melodic and well-written, but have no energy; other songs have lots of energy, but no melodic value. Bring these two together and I’m all in, as Joyce Manor does both in this brief tune and on the rest of their very brief album, which sadly is only about 20 minutes long. But sometimes brevity is a virtue…
4. Water Fountain, Tune-Yards
This song is bursting out of its skin, gushing one idea after another, so full of instrumental and vocal flourishes that it rewards the listener richly on repeated listens.
5. Digital Witness, St. Vincent
Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, has a wonderfully keen ability to merge the chaotic with the catchy, and does so masterfully throughout her self-titled album released this year.
6. I Love My Dad, Sun Kil Moon
In a rock n roll world not known for cultivating respect and admiration for parents, it’s refreshing to hear Mark Kozelek sing about all the valuable lessons he learned from his dad. “He said you gotta love all people, pink, red, black or brown, and then just after dinner/he played me the album ‘They Only Come Out at Night’ by Edgar Winter.” Makes me miss my own father. See my review of this entire album here.
7. Just a Little Boy, Swans
No doubt this is the creepiest song on the list. It’s a slow, brooding 12 minutes in length, so it requires patience, but it pays off, reaching its climax when Michael Gira bellows, “I need looooove!”
8. Sharon Shouldn’t, The #1s
Retro punk in the vein of the Ramones, Undertones, and Buzzcocks. Nothing new, but some parts of our recent musical past we don’t want to forget.
9. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight, U2
Bono addresses the problem of sexual abuse in the church, lamenting that God’s servants could sleep so peacefully after such unspeakable transgressions. “Hope is where the door is when the church is where the war is.” You can read my review of U2’s new album is here.
10. Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade, Ariel Pink.
This song reminds me of a little child who doesn’t know what he’s doing but unwittingly comes up with something surprisingly good. Not sure why Ariel Pink runs his songs through a low-fi Sesame Street aesthetic — it either makes him utterly unique or kind of laughable. Time will tell.