WP Review: 7 Best Tracks of 2015

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2015 was a year of grand triumphs for some, and of bitter defeat for others.  Hip-hop saw the release of an incredibly acclaimed album, and the pop scene soared with the triumphant return of Adele.  At the same time, indie veterans like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie released LP’s to disappointment from fans and critics alike.

But all is not lost, as a new cast of characters appears to be emerging from the wings.  Some have fully embraced the 21st century’s gradual shift toward a more intense, electronic sound.  Others have rebelled into a sort of folk revival, painting lush and intricate scenes with the sparest of instrumentation.  Either way, the face of music may look very different in a few years as these artists continue to grow and the stars of the 2000’s slowly wave goodbye.

We’re now halfway into this decade, and while some decry the music of this modern era, 2015 was home to a handful of standout tracks.  Here are some of the ones I most enjoyed, in the hopes that you will enjoy them too.

 

7.
“Sparks” 
| Beach House

Kicking Beach House’s fifth studio LP into high gear after its dreamy opening track is this dance of hazy vocals, guitar distortion, drum machine, and organ that is an atmosphere unto itself.  What makes this track stand out from the rest of the material Beach House has released this year is the way it melds these seemingly disparate components so cohesively.  Sonically, it’s unlike anything they’ve released to date, and I can only hope they continue to engage in such experimentation in the future.

6.
“Should Have Known Better” 
| Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens went back to his roots in 2015.  Nowhere on Carrie and Lowell are the electronic experimentations of The Age of Adz, and even the lush, orchestral Illinois seems but a distant memory.  Yet with nothing but his guitar and his whispery vocals, Stevens spins his most mature and haunting album to date.  “Should Have Known Better” is a deeply personal retrospective of the relationship between young mother and son, spun together by the poetry of its lyrics.  In a world where music often equals cacophony, the track stands as a reminder that sometimes, simpler is not only better but far more moving.

5.
“Stressed Out”
| Twenty One Pilots

Loyal fans of Twenty One Pilots will complain that people only like this song because it has just now skyrocketed to popularity months after Blurryface‘s initial release.  But the fact remains that “Stressed Out” is a tightly packaged synthesis of the band’s synth-driven alt-pop experimentation over the past six years.  It features some of frontman Tyler Joseph’s most relaxed, precise, and deft rapping aggressive poetry to date, and its lyrics strike a chord that fails to resonate with none.  The world is a stressed out place, and the burden of making money inescapable, but at least there are still glimmers like this one in the top 40, reminding us of home when we were young.

4.
“Hello” | Adele

It is almost embarassing for me to admit that a song with almost a billion views on YouTube from an album that has vastly outsold records I feel more deserving of acclaim is my fourth favorite song of 2015.  But it’s true.  I really do like this song.  It eschews the aural bombardment that most #1 hits these days entails, and isn’t afraid to give its subject matter five minutes of space to breathe.  And there’s no denying that while Adele’s voice may still be pointlessly auto-tuned, her delivery of the heartbroken lines in this song is moving in its emotion.  Indeed, her powerful vocals help set this song a cut above the rest of the pop charts, and I won’t deny that it’s something of a triumph in an otherwise bleak mainstream musical landscape.

3.
“Fourth of July” | Sufjan Stevens

Tucked amongst the many tear-stained tracks on Carrie and Lowell is “Fourth of July”.  The album’s centerpiece, it’s also the track that deals most explicitly with his mother’s death, a theme that runs throughout the album.  It’s a quiet serenade that invites one to listen intently, washing the listener in its distant, ethereal tones and its plaintive lyrics, even as the melody and the steady tempo of Stevens’ keyboard buoy the track until the end.  Underneath the surface of “Fourth of July” is the tension of staying afloat amidst tragedy, but it never runs aground, musically or lyrically.  Of an album full of gems, this one shines the brightest.

2.
“Let It Happen”
| Tame Impala

Of all the tracks on this list, “Let It Happen” is easily the one that takes the most risks.  It’s also one of the most sonically complex, not just in the interplay between the sounds, but the artistry of the sounds themselves, from the nasally synth during the intro, to the more atmospheric chords that flow throughout the piece.  And there’s no denying the cleverness of the way Kevin Parker utilizes the endlessly looped section in the middle.  Simply put, “Let It Happen” is a work of art, and it might have been a masterpiece if it just hadn’t dragged itself out so long.  But hey, even if you hate electronic-influenced music, give this track a spin, if just for the novelty of hearing how much Parker’s voice sounds like John Lennon’s.

1.
“Space Song”
| Beach House

Beach House never showed more consistency in their artistic vision than on their 2012 LP Bloom, but this year’s Depression Cherry did showcase a more refined sound that was absent from past releases.  Nowhere did this sonic growth showcase itself more than on “Space Song”.  Quite simply, it is the summation of everything Beach House has worked on up to this point.

I don’t think there’s a whole lot I could really say about this song, except that.  Every moment is perfectly placed, from the way the Alex Scally’s shimmering guitar fades on the verse to showcase Victoria Legrand’s incomparable vocals, to the breathtaking ascending synth line on the refrain and the rhythmic intonation of the line “fall… back… in… to… place…”.  It may not be Beach House’s most moving song (that honor would have to go to “Myth”), but it is a testament to their artistic ability, a late-night anthem whose dreaminess is sublime.  And it is, in my opinion, the best song to emerge out of Anno Domini 2015.


So what do you think?  What were your favorite songs of 2015?  What do you look forward to most about music in 2016?

As always, thanks for reading through to the end, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the music.  :)  Cheers!

Blessings and peace to you.

– L.

Post-Mortem

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Autopsy report conducted December 31, 11:50 pm EST.

Subject: Anno Domini Two-Thousand and Fifteen.

Cause of death: it’s compicated.

Other notes:  It would appear from preliminary examination of the body that the subject died of natural causes.  However, death may have been hastened by a number of causes, including but not limited to severe depression, distraction from electronic devices, and meme overdose.

What am I saying?  You can never get enough memes!

Look at it long enough.  You’ll see it.

Every time the end of the year rolls around, the first thing I think to write about is the fact that New Years celebrations are really kind of arbitrary.  Important things never happen on New Years or birthdays, only on dates of entire randomness and seeming insignificance.

On the other hand, one of the things I’ve realized more this year is that even if celebrations like those are arbitrary, that doesn’t mean they’re not important.  Even if one has to deal with annoying people singing annoying songs on stages with flashing lights and such.

The eve of a new year stands as a sort of moment of collective mindfulness.  Mindfulness of the fact that time passes more quickly than we often think.  It’s a moment when for once we slow down, take stock of where we stand and who we are.  Am I on the path I truly believe I’m meant to be on?  The path that God wants me to be on?

Of course, New Year’s Eve and our own birthday, fine and dandy as they are, i’m gonna keep typing the same thing over and over and see if mom notices.  I’m gonna keep typing the same thing over and over and see if mom notices.  I’m gonna keep typing the same thing over and over and see if mom notices.  I’m gonna keep typing the same thing

There is no denying now that you can read what I’m typing mom, because you started laughing, so don’t tell me it looks like a blur because you’re not wearing your reading glasses.

Haha.

This is our family.

Anyways,

Of course, every day of the year should be dedicated to this kind of mindfulness.  New Year’s Eve and our own birthday are fine and dandy, of course.  I, at least, sometimes have a tendency to shove mindfulness to the back burner of my head so I can focus on more important things.

But really, can we focus on important things if we’re not mindful of what “important” means?

Maybe you’re in a place where you’ve got the hang of mindfulness a lot more than I do.  And if so, that’s absolutely wonderful.  I’m just thinking out loud here.  :)

To be honest, I have no idea what 2016 will be like.  We’ll get a new president, which should be interesting.  And we’ll have an extra day of February, which should be fun.  Beyond that, only time and people who know more about the world than I do can tell.

It’s been the best of times.  It’s been the worst of times.  I feel like I’ve seen the flag flown at half-mast many times too often this year.  It’s a terrible world out there.  And yet there is such beauty in it.  One has to wonder how the two things can exist simultaneously; beauty and evil, goodness and pain.

I suppose we can only trust in God to reconcile the two in the end.  And ask Him for the strength and wisdom to further His kingdom in this world as we advance towards the next.

So here’s to another year of advancing.

And here’s to those moments when you’re bored, your iPod is out of batteries, and it’s late, but you stop and take the time to be thankful for being alive, for the fact that you’ve just come from church, that you’ve gotten to stroll briefly around downtown Manassas, VA, and that you’re listening to U2 with your dad.  (It’s been a long evening, but a good one.)  Moments of unusual, healthy, necessary silence in an otherwise cacophonous world.

That’s all I got.  To all of you my dear followers, I love you.

But it wouldn’t be a new year if I didn’t quote this song…

So everybody put your best suit or dress on
Let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogues bleed into one
I wish the world was flat like the old days
And I could travel just by folding the map
No more airplanes or speed trains or freeways
There’d be no distance that could hold us back

– “The New Year”, Death Cab for Cutie

To anyone and everyone reading this, I wish you a merry Christmastide, and a blessed new year.  Peace to you.

In Terra, Pax

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“What ever happened to White Christmases?” is kind of a silly question where I live, because they never existed in the first place.  To be honest, I hold nothing against any of the people who enjoyed a nice 6-inch-think sheet of snow outside their houses as they sipped their hot cocoa and opened gifts this morning…  But even I think that a high of 70 is a bit ludicrous.  Evidently it’s just not in the town budget to afford snow on Christmas Day, which is understandable.  It’s definitely in high demand this time of year.  As long as we get a respectable amount in January and February, I’ll be happy.

So, it was fog and not snow through which the streetlamps shone in the streets of the town below as I stood in the church parking lot last night.  And it was strange.  But I was kind of okay with it.

Funny how the more you think about things, the more sense they seem to make.  Because as I drove slowly through the ethereally backlit clouds of mist on the way home, it occurred to me that what I found so enchanting about misty evenings is being limited in how far you can see.  When the edges of reality are hidden behind a sheet of monochrome, one imagines that anything could exist behind them.  You could be on a cloud, or somewhere in Europe.  Or in an uninhabited, vaguely magical carbon copy of your own hometown.

And it occurred to me that this visual handicap is an appropriate metaphor for Christmas.  When Christ the Lord was born in Bethlehem, two-thousand and sixteen years ago, give or take, how few people realized the implications of his coming.  For though He appeared but the average child of a poor / middle class young family, His coming was heralded by an army of heavenly splendor, and a fantastical star illumining the sky.  And at the edges of reality, shrouded by the mist, lay His future, His Passion, death, and Resurrection: the future of the whole human race.

That such awe-inspiring power and divinity came down to earth contained in human form is a mystery we will never entirely understand, though many have explicated its essence well.  It too hangs over our lives like a mist, and is equally as enchanting and mystifying…

Just some thoughts this Christmas Day.  Or night, that is.  I hope you, dear reader are enjoying your evening, and I wish you peace, and joy, and a very merry Christmas, and pray to God to bless you abundantly.

But what would Christmas be without the annual Window Philosopher Christmas Playlist?  (And there is still plenty of time to enjoy it, right?  Epiphany’s still a ways off.  :)

God bless, and good night.  Christus est natus!  Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax, alleluia, alleluia!

Data-Determinism

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“In the information age, we have embraced the language and priorities of technological intelligence to the exclusion of more visceral and emotional ways of understanding human existence.”

– Bill McGarvey

read more (americamagazine.org)

In a world where technology is quickly establishing itself as a sort of pseudo-religion, articles like this one stand out as particularly timely and on point.  Source: America Magazine (a publication I highly recommend).


MLA source citation (good practice for college students…)

McGarvey, Bill.  “Data-Determinism.”  America 28 Sept. 2015: 40.  Print.

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On this lovely Autumn morning, a few things must be said:

  1. Hi.
  2. I hope this post finds all my fellow bloggers in good health and spirits.
  3. Just wanted to post something Ike because I kinda miss you all.

Of course, sometimes deciding what to post is the most difficult part.  Lately, the world has seemed a very serious and tragic place, judging by the news, and my propensity for silliness occasionally feels out of place.  Still, sometimes silliness has its place.

It’s about balance, really.  Nothing is 100% joy or sorrow, not one passing second of our lives.  Every emotion in existence is ringing through the atmosphere at light speed, guided by unseen paths to weave a tapestry of unimaginable complexity.

So, for anyone who needs a smile, these are for you.








And lastly, the one and only rap song in the world that I enjoy listening to.  Because if anyone were record such a glorious parody of rap as a genre, of course it would be the goofballs in Relient K.

Peace to you all.  Enjoy your weekend.

Like Wine Pairing, but Not Really (Also, Hi Again)

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Heyyo, peoples of the internet!  So… how’ve you been?  *sigh*  I hate being so busy.  I rather feel as though I’m neglecting you all.  But I’ve got a moment now, so I thought I would post something to cap off the evening.

An idea came to me the other day, you see (well, really two ideas).  The first is, since I am an avid listener of independent music, and, by His grace and blessing, a follower of Christ, to combine these two aspects into something interesting.  (Maybe.  Hopefully.)

The other idea is to post small pieces of Laudato Si, reflect on them, and open a space for discussion.  So that will be coming soon.  In the mean time… well, it’s probably easiest to just show you.

I thought I would take a look at what’s at number one on the Christian charts…

… and pair it with something indie.

Why?  Because I think these two songs offer some interesting contrast to one another.

Let me start off by saying I was pleasantly surprised by “Brother”.  Family and supporting one another are both awesome themes, and the song makes deft use of its genre.  I don’t understand why the Christian station near my house doesn’t play this kind of stuff.  I might listen to it regularly if it did.

Then we have “My Body Is a Cage”, a number vastly more subdued in tone that finds its crescendo two minutes in. Arcade Fire’s songwriting and ability to inspire emotion are not in full force here, but it’s still a fine song with some fantastical instrumentation, an anthem that in fact bears a lot of similarity to our first one.

The most obvious connection between the two lies in a single word: cage. Both songs speak of being locked inside a cage; Bear Rinehart has dropped the keys face down in the desert, while Win Butler maintains that the key is in his mind. They’re tied to each other by a desire to transcend the limits of this prison.

Still, a few things set these two songs apart from each other. The setting for “Brother” is a wilderness, while “My Body Is a Cage” takes place on an empty stage. Despite the implied barrenness of such a landscape, salvation is only as far away as the chorus for our first suffering hero, whose brother is by his side to help lift him up. And we all have someone like that, don’t we? It doesn’t matter how much of an introvert you might be. We need people; we need community. That’s part of what church is all about. You could go and worship God on your own terms, under a tree or somewhere cliché like that. But how would you know if you’d fallen? With whom would you share your moments of joy? After all, “Where two or three are gathered in My name”…

(I had to. I really did.)

Does salvation come at all in the second song? It ends almost like a cliffhanger… but I like to think so.

Though the two bands bear absolutely no relation to each other in real life, one could almost view “Brother” as a sequel to “My Body Is a Cage”. Butler cries out at the end of the song, “Set my spirit free!” He exists in a surprisingly Christian world, “living in an age that calls darkness light”, and like a puzzle piece, his last realization is that sometimes the key in your mind is not enough.

And then Rinehart appears walking out of the desert, reaches out his hand, and sings: “Brother, let me be your shelter”.

Red & Black

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if I paint the skyline
too close, and
force red and black
to define the pathways
you weave in the sky,
throw my paintbrush
to earth. sometimes
i bind myself to it
too closely.
one foot in front
of the other, begin
with a single
step.

(7 August 2015)

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No need to bother with the last five minutes of this one.  Unless you’re really bored or find it soothing.