My Favorite Music of 2015

Back in June or so I wrote up a reflection of what I thought was the best music I had been listening to in the first half of the year, My Favorite Music of 2015 So Farand since the year is coming to its end I thought I’d roundup the music I enjoyed the most for the whole year.

Honorable Mention

  • A Head Full Of Dreams, Coldplay. My sense is that lyrically, like most of Coldplay’s catalogue, it will be mostly trite with a few winsome moments. But I’m predetermined to love disco and Coldplay so I’m digging what I hear thus far.
  • Floodplains, Sara Groves. I like Sara Groves a lot and was greatly looking forward to this album. When it initially released I listened to it once or twice, it’s good. It feels grown up in some ways but her music has always seemed more mature then some of her contemporaries. But I’ve not been tempted to go back for many listens. Though I’m sure I will in time.
  • Live at Coral Ridge, Chelsea Chen. One of my heroes in the worship leading world is Zac Hicks, his blog has been hugely influential to my worship ethos. His church released this contemporary organ concert earlier this fall. It’s super cool – it doesn’t at all sound stuffy like you’d imagine a church organ concert. I really appreciate his church’s sincere effort to bridge tradition and contextualization. This album of organ music did not feel out of place with anything else I enjoyed this year.
  • Coming Home, Leon Bridges. Earlier this year my little brother showed me a track from this album and I thought it was nice, if not a little bit derivative. After Bridges’ performance on SNL this past weekend I decided to give the album another try and I’m enjoying it immensely. I’ve had it on repeat for the past three days or so. It’s good enough to be on anybody’s year end, Best Of list…
  • All We Need, Raury. Sonically, I adore this album. The folk, hip-hop, jazz fusion is really something else and alone worth the price of admission. That being said, I find it to be lyrically irritating. Thank you, Earnest-19-Year-Old, I didn’t realize that love will fix the world. I’m glad you figured that out for us with your totally original philosophy.
  • So There, Ben Folds. This is classic Ben Folds, which I really enjoy – though less than when I was in high school/college. I chuckled like a nerdy 8th grade band geek at some of the prophane Music Theory double entendres. The three-movement concerto at the end is frustrating because it’s the best thing on the album but it’s so disjointed from everything else. I wish Folds had released it seperately but I get that he’s trying to bring symphonic music into the pop realm in a serious way so I’m torn.
  • 1989, Ryan Adams. Seriously, he made T-Swift even more sad. I wouldn’t say he improved what she wrote but Adams definitley highlighted her strengths in a unique way.
  • Carry The Fire, Dustin Kensrue. Maybe I had been expecting a worship album from his second solo outing so wasn’t prepared for what he released. But, and I mean this kindly, Kensrue released an incredible Bruce Springsteen album.

My Favorite Albums in the Second Half* of 2015

The Best “Pop Worship” Album of 2015 – Bright StarAaron Strumpel.a3693472148_10

I’ve been sort of listening to Aaron Strumpel for a few years now. His lyrics are great and his voice is unique but up until Bright Star I’ve had a hard time latching on to what he’s doing. I say “Pop Worship” lightly because it’s too broad of a definition. There’s been strong outings this year from Bethel, Hillsong, Tomlin, and other great big name bands with songs I’ve actually used in worship but there’s something musically and lyrically special about this one. It’s not as clean and accessable as those other albums but it’s much richer. This sounds how the Psalms feel. In fact, much of it is inspired by the Psalms.

The Best “Grown Ups Have Feelings Too” Album of 2015 – The Burning Edge of DawnAndrew Peterson7ab5224593af4756df517434_610x610

To understate it, towards the end of the summer and start of autumn I was particularly blue. I rode that wave through October when Andrew Peterson released this album. I wouldn’t say it healed me but the Holy Spirit used it in a major way (along with Psalm 42) to minister to me. Peterson’s musical, artistic, religious, and work ethos are aligned with my own as far as I can tell. This collection of songs, in a very grown up way, addresses life’s creaks and aches in a way that doesn’t reduce them to sensationalistic and ultimately shallow dramas. The language is rooted and earthy.

The Best “Seriously, Can You Guess How My Theology Informs My Politics?” Album of the Year – BrotherThe Brilliancebrother.jpg

The Brilliance are easily some of the best musicians in Christian music. These tunes are liturgical, radical, will challenge how you approach prayer, and just all around incredible. There’s some repeats from their earlier album which is why it took me so long to listen to it fully. But when I did I found some lyrics (I was already sold that the music was exceptional) that were in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and rooted in the liturgical language of the church. If we sang the title track in church I wonder what would happen. Anybody want to listen and weigh in?

The Best “My Hometown Library Wrote and Recorded an Album” Album of 2015 – Sermon On The RocksJosh Rittersermon.jpg

Josh Ritter is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard. Full stop. He’s exceptionally literate and that’s reflected in the lyrics. This album from beginning to end is laced with Biblical allusions, wit, good storytelling and more. Seriously though, it sounds like growing up in a well-read small town. Which, you know, that’s kind of my thing. These are the kind of songs I wish I was writing.

The Best “Music With a Message” Album of 2015 – Socially Just, NomiSa0527011412_16.jpg

Where I think Raury failed above in being too preachy, I think NomiS succeeds. This is album is not just a call to action but it’s an actual call to something. The world is a broken place, marred by the curse of sin. The last thing anybody needs is cheap, overwrought hippy platitudes and on the other end of the spectrum we don’t need a 10 Step Plan to Being Better either. The music is as good as the message. The tune Love God, Love People is dope as hell. Go support my friend NomiS now!

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for…

My Absolute Favorite Albums of 2015 (Ranked)
10. Bright Star, Aaron Strumpel
9. Brother, The Brilliance
8. Home, Josh Garrels
7. The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson
6. Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens
5. I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty
4. Sermon On The Rocks, Josh Ritter
3. Socially Just, NomiS
2. Psalms, Sandra McCraken
1. The Phosphorescent Blues, Punch Brothers


Aside from Sandra McCraken (there’s an All Sons & Daughter’s cover) all the artists I mentioned in this list and my mid-year list are included in this playlist:

*Not necessarily released in the second half, but all the same…

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My Favorite Music of 2015

“Proceed Accordingly” an interview with NomiS (@NomisHipHop)

I’m so excited for today’s post! Last week my friend Aaron Simon, the artist known as NomiS, released a new video and single from his upcoming album. I asked him if he’d be up for an interview and he graciously answered some questions. Before reading the interview you’ll want to watch the video.

Hey Aaron, thanks for taking the time to chat for a few minutes.

No problem, its my pleasure.

First and foremost, I have to say that I freaking loved “Traffic.”

Thanks, man. That puts quite the grin on my face. It’s always a great feeling when people respond and receive your art in the way you’d like them to.

Totally! So, before we get going I have to apologize this is the first time I’ve ever, you know, “interviewed” someone so… Could you real quick give us an idea of who you are?

Of course. So, I go by the moniker  of “Nomis”, I write songs and poems about things that I think are important, I’m from Oceanside California, and I’m intensely passionate about issues of social justice.

How long have you been writing and performing?

Yikes, let me think. I started writing consistently when I was 16 years old. I started performing and began to take it seriously back in 2004. I did a few small releases here and there, but my first official solo album/release wasn’t until 2008.

Has social justice been a theme of your work from the get go? Or, is that something you’ve grown into as an artist?

What’s interesting about the question is that the answer is “both”. I feel like it’s something I’ve grown into, but when I go back and listen to the old stuff, I hear traces of it throughout a lot of the songs. It’s like it was always in me but I didn’t know what to call it or what to do with it. Unfortunately, it took me far too long to figure it out. In hindsight I wish I would’ve embraced this overtly justice-centered approach to my music 5 years ago.

That makes sense. As I see it, it seems to be unique to you as an artist. I can recall a few artists that get behind an issue but none in the hiphop sphere, or at least not as overtly as you do in “Traffic”, “fLAW”, “The Wretched”, and other works. What’s your thinking behind writing these songs? Do you intend on writing pieces with a mission? Or, do you set out to write songs and the works you write end up having a mission?

I am 100% intentional about “writing pieces with a mission”, but that wasn’t always the case. It used to just come out sometimes naturally, but this is what I’m referring to in terms of wishing I embraced this 5 years ago. Being intentional is very crucial as an artist. Took me a long time to figure that out.

To what degree would you say intentionality is the responsibility of an artist?

With something as specific as “social justice” I dont think it’s a responsibility. I just think it’s wise as an artist to make it obvious as to what you stand for. If you want the people to rally behind you, make the banner you want them to raise very clear. That way they can decide if they want to stand with you or walk away. That being said, I do think every artist (or anyone with a platform) has a responsibility to be mindful of their platform and how they use it. As I say on my new album, “A person with a platform is a leader. Simply for the fact that he has one”.

I love that, “A person with a platform is a leader. Simply for the fact that he has one.”

Can I ask you a few question about “Traffic”?

Please do.

So, I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for when the video started. Initially, I was confused about the guy driving around, frustrated in traffic. I mean, we live in Southern California and traffic sucks, that’s just reality, but the frustration of the man in the narrative didn’t match my assumptions and the (wonderful) intensity of the music. It makes more sense as the video goes on but I’m curious why’d you start “Traffic” with such a mundane situation?

As you know, “Traffic” tells two stories. The latter story is the one that I want the listener to consume, process, and act on. The first story serves two purposes. The first is artistic being that it sets the tone for the second. If you noticed, the language and phrasing of the first verse is mimicked in the second verse. The second and more important purpose is perspective. The first story sets the tone of a situation most can relate to. We’ve all been late for something while stuck in traffic and in the moment it feels like the worst situation in the world. Our comfortable lives affect our perspectives so much, that being stuck in really bad traffic is a talking point over the dinner table as “the worst part of my day”. What a blessing our lives must be if being stuck in traffic is the worst part of our day. The second story is there to put that in proper perspective.

I felt that when watching, I was like, “Man, I hate traffic so much.” And then… That second story. Wow! It’s hard not to watch without your heart breaking. That opening shot with the man standing up – faceless. Yikes.

Sorry, that wasn’t a complete thought.

The facelessness of the man felt like an indictment on my own silence.

Wow… That’s deep. And that’s also the beauty of art.

So… I have a question about how the story ends. In fact, it’s the reason I asked for an interview: Why didn’t he brake fast enough? What was the thinking behind ending on such a dark note?

You aren’t alone. A lot of friends and family have texted me saying, “Man, I love the video so much! Why did she have to get hit by the car, though? Why couldn’t she get her freedom?”. Well, the answer is simple. If her story ends well in that situation, the viewer/listener gets to walk away from the story feeling good. If I allow you to exit your YouTube page happy, you will not feel compelled to respond. You won’t feel any need or desire to act, care, or remember that girl and her situation. My goal in writing the song was to bring awareness to human trafficking, and move people to feel the need to respond to it as such.

It worked. I’ve kept going back and back to the video since you released it this past weekend.

Excellent. Like I said in the beginning of this interview, “it’s always a great feeling when people respond and receive your art in the way you’d like them to.” Or better said, in the way you intended for them to.

That means it worked!

Absolutely. I think as an artist and a Christian I have a tendency, because my theology is built on happy endings, to want to skip Good Friday (if you will) and go straight to Easter. This video ending so bleakly, seems to resist that temptaion. Was it difficult for you in the writing process to resist that temptaion?

If I’m honest, no, it wasn’t. Happy endings are predictable. I like to keep people on their toes. Catch them off guard and give them something they weren’t expecting.

I love it! And I appreciate it. I don’t think the world operates on easy happy endings, I think that hope is far more heavy than assumed. “Traffic” suggests as much, the bleak feeling at the end with that call to action. Though it feels hopeless, what’s the point of a call to action if there’s not some hope things can get better?

Precisely.

We are operating on the same wavelength.

Right on.

I don’t want people to only feel sad. I want them to be inspired. I want them to feel like they need to do something! I’m trying to light a fire in people.

It’s working. “Traffic” and your other recent video “fLAW” have incited incredible conversations in my immediate sphere of influence.

Man, you’re just making my day, haha.

Awww, thanks! So, what can we do after our conversations to join in with you?

That’s the difficult, yet awesome, part about all of this. I know it can be hard to figure out, “Well, what do I do now?”. But, the great part is everyone can be involved in their own unique ways. I don’t expect the listener to hear my song and then decide they want to go write poems about human trafficking. I write songs/poems about it because I am a rapper and a poet. I was doing this before I was educated on the issue. Creating music is what I know how to do best, so that’s the vehicle I use to respond to things that are important. Use what you are gifted at as a starting point and proceed accordingly. Also, if you need more information before you can figure out what role to play, there are some great sources for info and action steps. Please take the time to visit Not For Sale  (NotForSaleCampaign.org) and International Justice Mission (IJM.org).

Thanks, NomiS! I love that idea of: “Use what you are gifted at as a starting point and proceed accordingly.”

I’ve got two more questions for you, if that’s ok.

Go for it.

You mentioned earlier that “Traffic” is a track off your new project, when can we expect to see that?

Yes! The new album is called “Socially Just” and should be releasing late September or early October this year. The album features guest appearances from some great artists such as Propaganda, JGivens, and of course John Givez who is on the “Traffic” single. You can pre-Order the album now at https://nomis.bandcamp.com

If you pre-order, you get “Traffic” sent to you instantly.

Sweet! I cannot wait. If “Traffic” is any indication, it’s going to be an incredible album.

Last question: we’ve talked about this before, and it’s a big conversation that everybody is having but… Marvel or DC?

Overall, Marvel all the way. I got a lot of love for DC, specifically Superman, Wonder Woman and the Joker. But as a whole, it’s Marvel all day for me!

Well, that opens a can of worms for next time… 

HAHAHA. For sure!

Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me about “Traffic.” I’m blessed and challenged by your work and cannot wait to hear the rest of “Socially Just.”

Thanks, Tommy.


Nomis-Traffic-ARTWORK

Pre-Order “Socially Just” now at https://nomis.bandcamp.com where you can also purchase his previous albums.

Follow NomiS for updates at:

Bandcamp: nomis.bandcamp.com
Facebook: NomiS (https://www.facebook.com/nomishiphop)
Twitter: @NomisHipHop
Instagram: @NomisHipHop
YouTube: NomiS “The Everyday Hero”
Website: http://nomishiphop.com

To learn more about human trafficking visit Not For Sale (NotForSaleCampaign.org) and International Justice Mission (IJM.org)

“Proceed Accordingly” an interview with NomiS (@NomisHipHop)