My Favorite New Albums of 2016 (So Far)

I hope everybody had a great Independence Day and holiday weekend! Insert obligatory “Can you believe the year’s half over? Where does the time go?” comment here.

If you didn’t guess I thought I’d share some of my favorite new albums that have come out in the first half of the year but I have to be honest: I’ve not been as diligent seeking out new music as I’ve been in years past. I mostly just listened to Bob Dylan for the first three months of the year but some artists I enjoy put out new material and there’s been a few discoveries.

The list in alphabetical order and a few thoughts on each:

Andrew Bird, Are You Serious? I used to listen to a lot of Andrew Bird in college and then I moved to California and listened to less Andrew Bird. This is a solid outing. The lyrics aren’t as inventive or experimental as previous albums which I think makes this album more approachable than others of his. Favorite Track: “Truth Lies Low”

Bifrost Arts, Lamentations: Simple Songs of Lament and Hope Vol. 1 Oh man! This album is so good. You’d think an album called “Lamentations” would be a major bummer, it’s not. I mean it’s not easy listening by any stretch of the imagination. Bifrost Arts is a collective a musicians that are writing songs for the church based heavily on psalm texts, ancient prayers, etc. Their albums feature chants, folk song, praise choruses. Favorite Track: “Wisdom and Grace (Psalm 90)”

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book I’ve been pretty enamored with Chance the Rapper’s music since seeing him kill it on SNL late last year. The mixtape he released earlier this year is easily my favorite album so far this year. There’s not a single track on the mixtape that isn’t amazing. Chance is honest and transparent but every lyric and note is dripping in joy. Also it may be the only secular album to sing about “The exalted Christ”. Tyler Huckabee wrote a must-read review of the album over at Gradient: Chance the Rapper’s ‘Coloring Book’ is Exactly what 2016 Needed  Favorite Track: “Same Drugs”

The Gray Havens, Ghost of a King And my second favorite album. If the band name didn’t clue you in this music sounds like Tolkien wrote a pop Christian album. There’s only one track that feels like a misstep in its radio-friendliness except that it services the whole album by introducing a new musical theme. This a concept album that develops like symphony. Favorite Track: “At Last, The King”

Honeysuckle, Honeysuckle This is a very new album to me, I’ve only listened to it a handful of times since being turned on to it by NPR’s All Songs Considered mid-year wrap up of new albums. I like it a lot so far, it feels like a less polished Punch Brothers though the production quality and harmonies are top notch.

Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp I discovered this album from the same NPR show and have listened to several times over already. The synth pop has a 90’s vibe to it and the lead singer’s voice is super clear. There’s some fun jams here. I’m looking forward to spending more and more time with this one.

Kings Kaleidoscope, Beyond Control This was my most anticipated album of the year and I’m afraid it doesn’t match up to my expectations. But! That’s not to say it isn’t a good sophomore effort. Kings Kaleidoscope symphonic/indie/ska groves are second to none. You’d think a ten piece band would sound clutter but there’s not a false note on the album. My problem is with the lyrics – these songs are less congregational and more confessional so the lyrical polish from their first album is lacking.Favorite Track: “A Prayer (explicit)”

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The artwork on Beyond Control is the best artwork though. How cool is this image?!

Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger If you like Paul Simon’s music you’ll like this. I do and did. Favorite Track: “Wristband”

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool I’m not a good Radiohead fan. I like “Creep”, In Rainbows is my favorite of their albums, I’ve not listened to King of Limbs yet… I’m not sad enough to love Radiohead the way you’d think a guy of my pallet would so take this with a grain of salt: This is a great album, it sounds like Radiohead playing with the lushest of string arrangements which is a very good thing. Favorite Track: “Present Tense”

Zachary Bolen, 1001 Alyssa and I were talking about how we wished there was music that dealt with the reality of drama of ordinary life without being melodramatic and overwrought. Here is an emotionally honest, simple album doing does just that. Bolen is the lead singer of Citizens & Saints but this album forgoes their electronic sound in favor of classic acoustic rock. This is also not an overtly Christian album – though themes of grace and mercy lace throughout. Favorite Track: “Give It Time”

Here’s a playlist with two tracks from each album:

If you want to find some more good music you can check out the NPR show I mentioned here: Your Favorite New Musicians of 2016 (So Far). And if you’re looking for other good new music here’s Paste’s write up of new music so far this year: The 25 Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)

 

My Favorite New Albums of 2016 (So Far)

The Glorious “And Yet!” of God

When I spend time away from the gospel narratives I form an image of Christ with my third eye’s lens smothered in Vaseline. I consider his kindness to hurting people and his love for broken people; in my mind he’s docile and gentle. I’ll pay lip service to how wild and unsafe he is per Mr. Beaver’s reasoning but my image is more white-tail deer standing majestically in a harvested corn field than prowling lion. But when I reread the gospels I am reminded of Christ’s severity and fierceness.

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I read the Gospel of Luke last week. Jesus is kind, hospitable, and loving but he is also divisive, hard, and demanding. There were times as I read where I cowered from what Christ preached. “Take up your cross…,” “Let the dead bury the dead…,” Ah what?

If the Bible offends us the problem isn’t the Bible, and if it doesn’t offend we’re reading it wrong.

Constantly in the gospels Jesus can be found turning up the heat until it is unbearable. It’s easy not to steal, just don’t take someone else’s stuff. But Jesus ups the ante: It’s not just wrong to steal, it’s as egregious of an offense to covet. The best way to not commit adultery? Keep your hands to yourself. But Jesus goes even further, keep your eyes to yourself. In fact, you’d be better off just plucking out your eyes. White lies? Damnable. I never killed nobody, except according to Christ’s standards I’ve got blood stained hands. Jesus at one point commands anyone who will hear to be:

…Perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5.7

And he says all that in the same sermon.

About four years ago the Holy Spirit began me on a path of discovering and learning about a fascinating theological concept: “Law and Gospel.” I’m a novice in my understanding and the following are novice thoughts. So, if I misrepresent or am in error have grace and gently guide me in the right direction.

Let’s define some terms:

Law: The easiest way to understand the law is whenever you come across a command to “Do” or “Be.” The Law has three purposes 1) It is a curse to law-breakers. 2) B.asic I.nstructions B.efore L.eaving E.arth; a good, the best, way to live your life. 3) The ideal standard of righteousness that God accepts.

Gospel: The quickest way to understand the gospel is the word, “Done.” It is Christ’s work on the cross that gives life to those that are dead. The Gospel is unmerited favor.

You and me? We love The Law. We roll up our sleeves and Git ‘Er Done. We’re self made men; we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps; we earned this with our own blood, sweat, and tears; we got dirt underneath our nails; we don’t need no charity; in seven easy steps we can be the best us now.

But let us consider the classic hymn “Slip Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon:

God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re working our jobs, Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

In our mundane lives of work and play it’s easy to begin thinking we’re alright. “I’m not so bad,” we tell ourselves, “I don’t smoke, cuss, or chew. And I don’t go with girls that do.” We begin to think we’re doing just fine. As Mr. Simon sings, we think we’re headed in the right direction but we’re not.

The nearer we think we get to fulfilling the law the further away we are from satisfying Christ’s impossible words.

Reading the Gospel of Luke I realized: I’m not ok.

The Law shines a spotlight on my heart and the zipper of the well behaved monster I dress up as shows. I read Jesus’ teaching and am crushed. In light of what Jesus says I am a fraud. I don’t love my enemies, I won’t sell all that I have and give it to the poor, my cross sits in a shed until a more convenient time.

Martin Luther writes:

The Law is a mirror to show a person what he is like, a sinner who is guilty of death, and worthy of everlasting punishment. What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead the way to grace. God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted. It is His nature to exalt the humble, to comfort the sorrowing, to heal the broken-hearted, to justify the sinners, and to save the condemned. The fatuous idea that a person can be holy by himself denies God the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore first take the sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness and its brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with its message of a Savior who came into the world, not to break the bruised reed, nor to quench the smoking flax, but to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to grant forgiveness of sins to all the captives.

1e1d81a6c073a4319f29a528e087d3e4And yet, oh the glorious “And yet!” of God, when I am devastated by my inability to meet my own, let alone God’s, standard the Spirit rushes in, lifts my head, and fixes my eyes on the cross. There hanging on the tree Christ says: “It is finished.” He didn’t come to abolish The Law, he fulfills it. On the cross when we’re adulterous, envious shrifts Christ is faithful and generous. When we hate our enemies, Christ dies for his.

The Gospel is not an invitation to try harder. The Gospel is what happens when we come to the end of our trying as failures. Christ didn’t die to make us more decent. He bore our sin and our death instead of us and he rose from the grave conquering all of our lawlessness. And we have been bound to him in death and raised with him to life. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the tomb now dwells in us. Our sins – my sins! – are no longer credited as ours – mine! – instead Christ’s righteousness is.

The Glorious “And Yet!” of God