A Side of Music to B, a play on words that headlines a two part blog post about the music that I listen to and my top tracks of the year. Part one is about a pop-punk band and the Psalms, and part two is a comment on my favourite bands and the best albums of the past year.
I read somewhere somewhat recently something along the lines of 'the music you listened to when you were young is a big part of who you are' (or, if you're still young, perhaps who you become). I say this as I listen to a tenth anniversary of the Relient K album Mmhmm, a re-release of one of the first CDs I ever owned.
The music on this album could be classified as pop punk with Christian themes. I say 'Christian themes' because it isn't a Hillsong-esque worship show. In the world of Mmhmm there are words of praise but they they "seem pathetic" (to quote When I Go Down) rather than glorious and beautiful.
I've been reading through Psalms and just thinking about it now, it's hard not to see parallels with Mmhmm and those old Hebrew hymns. In both sets of songs not everything is right and good and just. There are bad things going on in the world (Israel is being invaded, Relient K are trying to convince theirselves that they're More Than Useless) and there are bad people in the world. Those 'bad' people aren't just evil supervillians stroking cats or sadistic princes trying to marry a queen just to kill her for her kingdom (i.e. Frozen), in fact the "bad guys" are often the writers and singers of the songs.
The "bad guys" are often the writers and singers of the songs.
The nation of Israel has a long history of needing God's grace, just like the history of its individual people who don't always have it easy — whether because they've done wrong or maybe just because that's life. The author of Psalm 102 is credited as "an afflicted man" with the Psalm being written "when he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord".
These writers are human and they struggle. Just like me.
Just like me, they (the Psalmists, Relient K) have experienced God's grace. They've still continued to struggle after that and not everything has been fine but they're constantly trying to be more like God thanks to his gift of forgiveness. They know that they don't deserve it, that they can do nothing to gain God's love. To quote one of my favourite quotes from Mmhmm (from anything, in fact): "The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair".
That sums up Mmhmm for me. That sums up a lot of life for me.
The lyrics that conclude my absolute favourite song, I So Hate Consequences, really are what the Psalmists were about. I was only going to post a couple of lines, but they're so good I need to post them all. Here we go:
When I got tired of running from you I stopped right there to catch my breath
There your words they caught my ears
You said, "I miss you son. Come home"
And my sins, they watched me leave
And in my heart I so believed
The love you felt for me was more than
The love I'd wished for all this time
And when the doors were closed
I heard no I told you so's
I said the words I knew you knew
Oh God, Oh God I needed you
God all this time I needed you, I needed you
Mmhmm, along with other Relient K albums, have been a frequent part of my listening cycle. Other bands that have been in my ears these past ten years are Hawk Nelson and Switchfoot. These bands also involve "Christian themes" in their songs, and they don't seem to have it all figured out (besides being under God's grace).
Hawk Nelson is another pop punk sing/shout along, at least until its lead singer left a few years ago and the band dropped the punk. It now sounds more like Hillsong than the Hawk Nelson of old. Still, they're producing quality, and if their Diamonds album had been released this year, it would've made the list of my favourite new music (see below).
Switchfoot has made that list. Yet even now, as a successful band, they're not perfect people. Their frontman, Jon Foreman, has, like I have with Mmhmm above, frequently compared their new music to the Psalms. Their belief that "the shadow proves the sunshine" is a driving force behind their music and is one that I've held onto as I've grown up. In fact, it's the reason why this website is called Proving Sunshine — taking that belief and turning it into an action, a verb.
Relient K, Hawk Nelson and Switchfoot have helped define who I am and what I believe in.
This year, Relient K and Switchfoot have continued that by releasing new albums for me to listen to but recently I've being trying to expand my list of music artists and they're not the only ones to have made my list. So without further ado, here is a list of my favourite albums to have been released this year.
p.s. I've organised the list of eight albums into an "A side" and a "B side" and within that they're somewhat in the order of best to almost-best.
Air for Free
Yes, Relient K tops the list. But there's not much to separate this album from the others on side A. In fact, I've had to increase the number of albums on side A because they're all so good. Air for Free is Relient K gone full pop. The lyrics are as witty and good as ever, which is what was missing from their previous effort, Collapsible Lung. The first month this was out it must've taken up 80% of my music-listening. Still holds up. The title track is my favourite, with the lyrics perfectly matching the pace and tone of the music behind it.
House of Heroes
*colours. An album that makes my list with American spelling is doing very well indeed. Even though they're a fairly newcomer to my album rotations, I paid for this alt-rock band's newest CD on some backing website (Kickstarter or Indiegogo). The songs, a mixture of gritty rock and soft melodies, are based around a narrative of three characters trying to rule the streets, and just survive. Jesus Freak Hideout gave it 4 stars. I'd be pushing that to 4.75.
McHugh has been releasing music in Australia for years now, under either his name or "The Beautiful Girls" moniker. Waves is a nice selection of tracks from the singer-songwriter and is as good as Love Come Save Me, the first album of his that I ever listened to. A regular album in my ears that I play alongside other local artists who love their acoustic guitars (e.g. Stu Larsen (Australia) and Luke Thompson (NZ)).
Birds of Tokyo
Similar to Colors, Brace is driven by one main theme or story, as Birds of Tokyo focus on eschatology (it's very much concerned with the end of things). I've found this album similar to Birds of Tokyo's earliest work, which I enjoy more than their 'pop' albums of the past couple of years (i.e. that one with "Lanterns" on it). A bit more rock on this one.
Where The Light Shines Through
Musically more upbeat and less grungy than their previous albums, such as Vice Verses, WTLST still deals with difficult topics. Namely, life. I can't fault the album, though out of the songs I find "I Won't Let You Go" the most difficult to listen to. If the album title had a question mark at the end, the title track answers it with: "the wound is where the light shines through".
The only reason this album isn't higher up on the list is because I have great expectations for the quality of Luke Thompson's work. Like the artwork for the album cover, Hosts seems to be about something otherworldly, both in the lyrics and the song styles. Maybe that's why I don't rate it as highly as Thompson's other work. But I can't be too critical, it's definitely one of my favourite albums released this year. A great collection of songs to do nothing to.
This band has left their caps lock on for 2016 and forgotten the spacebar exists. I'll allow it since their music is so good. I've been aware of this band for a while but their country-vibe has never interested me until I decided to give this album a spin. Now I've realised that I've been missing out. So much so that I've now got most of their albums on my phone.
I like Skillet and I do like their second album but they're not my favourite band. However, if I want something loud to wake me up and get me up and out of bed, Skillet (and by extension, Unleashed) is ideal. But these shouting, screaming rockers are soft at heart and their lyrics reflect that. My favourite song on the album is 'Stars' with its chorus: "If you can hold the stars in place / you can hold my heart the same / whenever I fall away / whenever I start to break / so here I am, lifting up my heart / to the one who holds the stars".
- Abbey Road (The Beatles, released 1969) // Yes, like Clive Palmer, I did just discover The Beatles.
- Albatross (The Classic Crime, released 2006) // That release date is the only reason this CD didn't contend for my top albums of the year. I'm glad I discovered this band.
- Sometimes I Just Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Courtney Barnett, released 2015) // Does 2015 count as 2016? Another great Aussie singer-songwriter but with more punk.
- Mad Max: Fury Road — Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Tom Holkenborg, released 2015) // My go to CD this year while working. A great soundtrack for a great movie.
- Exhale (Thousand Foot Krutch) // Released this year, Exhale doesn't make Side A or B of my list. A similar band to Skillet (i.e. it needs to be played at full volume), this album is much better than the last TFK release, which did not require the speakers to be at full volume.
- By the River (Stu Larsen) // This didn't make my top albums because it's a single. It's also a demo, but that's okay. In fact, I prefer his demos to some of his other work, like his last album which was full of a background orchestra that distracted from the simple guitar and far-reaching vocals of Stu Larsen. My favourite solo artist? Probably.
So there's my favourite music of the year. I hope you enjoyed reading the description of some of my music but I have to admit that listening to music is much better than reading about it. Meaning, if you liked any of these descriptions then you should definitely check out the artist's.