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Looking For Some Light - Albums & Songs Of The Year 2020 by Alex Caldwell

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Looking For Some Light - Albums & Songs Of The Year 2020 by Alex Caldwell

Looking For Some Light - Albums & Songs Of The Year 2020

Some Thoughts On The Music That Pointed Me Towards The Light This Year

At this point, it’s almost a universal truth that the whole world is waiting for the calendar to flip the page to the next year. My 2020 started with loud, pulsating music. I celebrated the new year by dancing in the middle of a city square with my family as a DJ spun funky (family friendly) dance tunes for all those who dared to brave the cold on a New England winter evening at midnight. The square that the festivities were celebrated in is flanked by a beautiful old church that the Puritans built more than two hundred years ago. The irony of dancing madly in sight of our Puritan forefathers was not lost on me as we counted down the seconds to a new year. As the clock crept towards 12:30 in the morning, my family and I wearily made our way back to our hotel, exhausted, but looking forward to the new year.

As you all know, things took a decided turn in the third month of the year, and the last true “normal” activity I participated in was a concert at a wonderful new venue in my area. It was a last-minute decision to go see one of my family’s favorite bands, Darlingside, on a school night.  (Drop everything right now and go listen to the complete works of this fantastic folk-rock quartet… I’m happy to wait.) Then, boom, the world turned upside down.

I recount this similar history to all of us, because music has always been more than just a background activity for my family. It literally soundtracks our year and provides a wide window of perspective and commentary for how our days and month get remembered and filed away. And on the very best occasions, it provides catharsis and themes for life, giving words and melodies for thinking through the days that you find yourself in.

And for me, this year was all about looking for the light. In a dark time when we’re on the precipice of losing more fellow citizens that we did in the days of the Civil War, my faith says that even in the most desperate times, the Lord is at work. This year, for many, life looked more like the Biblical book of Lamentations than the “happy Psalms”. But even in the midst of that burned out city of Jerusalem, the prophet Jerimiah says in chapter 3 Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

 

It seems to be burned in the human heart to look for hope, to “look for some light”.

 

And that’s why Colony House’s song “Looking For Some Light” became a theme (and theme song) in my life this year. Because when times get hard, and the comforts and normalcies of our lives are stripped away, we both look for some light (i.e. a truth that is higher than the comfort and security we used to know) and have a tremendous opportunity to share the light of hope that Jesus shines in our heart. How much panic and paranoia did you see and hear this year? That’s the sound of people’s presuppositions and paradigms shattering all around us. The things we looked to in a past age for hope (your bank account, your health, your job, etc.) have shown themselves to be rickety and temporary. And what is left behind needs to be cleared away to get a better view. That’s why I love the title of my favorite album this year; Leave What’s Lost Behind.

 

 

1.    Colony House – Leave What’s Lost Behind

 

I have a great love for band’s and artists that go for it, that is, reach for the stars and make the kind of music that can’t help but be termed “anthemic”. U2, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen and The Killers (and Pink Floyd and The Who before them) traffic in this sort of cinematic, swelling music that stirs the blood, and these sons of CCM icon Steven Curtis Chapman (who are on their way to stepping out of their dad’s shadow) created the kind of album that rises and crashes. The fantastic, spacey and wide open “Looking For Some Light” carries both a big melody and a big theme all at once:

I look around a room that's filled with faces
Every tear a window to the soul
Like silent unsung symphonies
The wild and the wonderful mysteries
Masterpieces I will never know

'Cause everybody's looking for some light
You know everybody's looking for
Some light

Oh, and when the world is weighing on your shoulder
When the sorrow's heavy on your soul
Carry on and sing it like a soldier
Saying, "Come on! Come on!
We're gonna make it home!"

'Cause everybody's looking for some light

 

From that bombastic opening to the swelling final track “The Hope Inside”, nothing moved me like this album. It’s the kind of big statement music that I’m looking for every year. And in this memorable year, this collection gave me new perspective and took me on a journey of hope.

 

 

2.    John Mark McMillan - Peopled With Dreams

JMM is always welcome in my house. And Peopled With Dreams could easily have made its way to the top of my list. With his wizened perspective on faith and his Bruce Springsteen-like voice, this writer of the beloved worship song “How He Loves” has moved far beyond just being associated with that song; releasing fantastic, thematic albums of poignant observations about being a follower of Christ in this troubling time when faith gets too easily hijacked by political or cultural considerations. The song “Pilgrim” has also served as a theme for me this year:

There is a heavenly city
That I'm compelled to find
Oh I love the flowers and trees
And, the smell of the grinding seed
And all the, beautiful things here in life

I, I'm a pilgrim here
On this side of the great divide
I'm a pilgrim here
But I walk with you for awhile

Nobody’s ever quite ready
But they all take the ride
Many have died, for the promise inside
They never got, to see it in their time

I, I'm a pilgrim here
On this side of the great divide
I'm a pilgrim here
But I walk with you for a while

 

3.    John Guerra - Keeper Of Days

John Guerra was a new name for me this year, but one listen to this album got me hooked. Hiding within its quiet, folky instrumentation are some of the fiercest, most incendiary, and thought-provoking lyrics released this year. Exhibit A: The fiery “Citizens”, a track that could fuel a Rage Against The Machine song, but veers more towards Bob Dylan at his most prophetic. 

(Lyrics printed in full because every line resonated with me.)

I have a heart full of questions
Quieting all my suggestions
What is the meaning of Christian
In this American life?

I'm feeling awfully foolish
Spending my life on a message
I look around and I wonder
Ever if I heard it right

Coming to you 'cause I'm confused
Coming to you 'cause I feel used
Coming to weep while I'm waiting
Tell me you won't make me go

I need to know there is justice
That it will roll in abundance
And that you're building a city
Where we arrive as immigrants
And you call us citizens
And you welcome us as children home

You were alone and rejected
Misunderstood and detested
You gave it all, didn't hold back
You even gave up your life

How can we call ourselves Christians
Saying that love is a tension
Between the call of the cross and
Between the old party line

Coming to you for the mothers
Who are all running for cover
There is a flood from their weeping
Tell me you won't make them go

I need to know there is justice
That it will roll in abundance
And that you're building a city
Where we arrive as immigrants
And you call us citizens
And you welcome us as children home

There is a man with a family
He has a wife and a baby
He broke the law just to save them
Working for three bucks an hour

Truly you said we were equal
Everyone's heart is deceitful
Everyone born is illegal
When love is the law of the land

Coming to you for the hungry
Eating the scraps of this country
Didn't you swear you would feed them
Tell me you won't make them go

I need to know there is justice
That it will roll in abundance
And that you're building a city
Where we arrive as immigrants
And you call us citizens
And you welcome us as children home

There is a wolf who is ranting
All of the sheep they are clapping
Promising power and protection
Claiming the Christ who was killed

Killed by a common consensus
Everyone screaming "Barabbas"
Trading their God for a hero
Forfeiting Heaven for Rome

Coming to you 'cause I'm angry
Coming to you 'cause I'm guilty
Coming to you 'cause you've promised
To leave the flock for the one

I need to know there is justice
That it will roll in abundance
And that you're building a city
Where we arrive as immigrants
And you call us citizens
And you welcome us as children home

Where we arrive as immigrants
And you call us citizens
And you welcome us as children home

Is there a way to love always?
Living in enemy hallways
Don't know my foes from my friends and
Don't know my friends anymore

Power has several prizes
Handcuffs can come in all sizes
Love has a million disguises
But winning is simply not one

 

 

 

4.    Jason Gray - Order, Disorder, Reorder

Here is what I wrote about this album in my review:

“Order, Disorder, Reorder is a rare beast, a true CCM "concept album" that masterfully drives home its theme with solid pop music craftsmanship. While perhaps not as musically adventurous as Gray's last full album, it is stacked with great melodies and heart-felt lyrics and performances. Gray is both a restless soul and a dependable artist, and there is nothing contradictory about those terms. Order, Disorder, Reorder is one of the most introspective and moving pieces of music you will hear this year.”

 

5.    Needtobreathe - Out Of Body

Here is what I wrote about this album in my review:

“Many artists desire to offer advice in their works, but NEEDTOBREATHE transcends that sometimes tired trope on Out Of Body. In a difficult year, the band has managed the sometimes-unwieldy trick of offering genuine encouragement to the listener without talking down to their audience. And in doing so, the band has offered up one of this tough year's best albums, full of moving, thoughtful lyrics and terrific melodies.”

 

6.    Rend Collective - Choose To Worship

Here is what I wrote about this album this year in my review:

“Rend Collective, that peppy Irish band with energy to spare, has always added an infectious level of authenticity to the modern worship scene. In a time when new praise and worship songs may elicit a cynical eye roll from many, Rend Collective has consistently shown themselves to be 100% honest and sincere in their desire to sing new songs long and loud to their Creator.

Ironically, a few months ago, the title of their newest batch of tunes, Choose To Worship would have drawn out a ho-hum response by many. But in the current troubles of our world, the title can serve to remind the listener that the word "worship" is both a noun and a verb. Worship is a direct choice that is made, regardless of the circumstances of the current moment. It may be an old cliché that "worship is a lifestyle," but Rend Collective do their best on this album to breathe life into a concept that is as old as the book of Psalms.

But pound for pound, dollar for dollar, Choose To Worship is a much-needed reminder of what the core of faith is, and that "worship" (like the word "love") is more than a thing, it is an action word and a choice we make, no matter the weather or circumstances outside our doors.”

7.    Elevation Worship - Graves Into Gardens

I knew that given enough time, the folks behind the Elevation Worship would one day produce a great, original and truly passionate worship album. Graves Into Gardens fits the bill, and provided me with my favorite corporate worship song of the year with its title track:

I searched the world
But it couldn't fill me
Man's empty praise
And treasures that fade
Are never enough

Then You came along
And put me back together
And every desire
Is now satisfied
Here in Your love (Hey)

Oh, there's nothing better than You
There's nothing better than You
Lord, there's nothing
Nothing is better than You (Oh)
(Yes, I know it's true)
(Come on, stand up, hey)

I'm not afraid
To show You my weakness
My failures and flaws
Lord, You've seen them all
And You still call me friend

'Cause the God of the mountain
Is the God of the valley
There's not a place
Your mercy and grace
Won't find me again (Come on, now)

Oh, there's nothing better than You
There's nothing better than You
Lord, there's nothing
Nothing is better than You
(I know it's true)

8.    Tyson Motsenbocker - Someday I’ll Make It All Up To You

Tyson Motsenbocker is an old soul and a West Coast guitar troubadour of a time gone by. His sharp, literary criticisms and observation on modern life and faith are worth your time to unpack. These lyrics from the sad and poignant drug overdose song “Fentanyl” capture the heartbreak of seeing a loved one waist away from a drug addiction (something that too many Americans face every day).

Rode our old motorbikes through Rancho, Santa Fe
Passed the Heaven's Gate mansion
Just a footprint where it lay
Before they tore it down to the ground

He handed me 300 and a pack of empty Marlboro
Told me to think of you, said I'll see how it goes
But I never did, 'cause everybody knows you

I want a second chance to talk
I want a second chance for you
Maybe you'd find Jesus or a twelve-step way through
But there's no goodbye calls with Fentanyl

Fentanyl, Fentanyl

Laughed at you in the parking lot the night you told me
Drove all the way to Baltimore without stopping to sleep
To watch the sun come up on the other side

Wide-eyed at the Atlantic tide
Maybe there's still something in there that I just can't find
To match how I feel about you leaving us behind
'Cause either way I think you hurt too bad for too long
 

 

9.    John Reuben – Self Titled

The sharp and witty (and don’t forget, humble) rapper John Reuben is welcome back to the music scene any time. Exhibit A: His self-titled album’s fantastic, slightly droll opening song “Secular Music”.

And I was always there for you
When you couldn’t listen to
Secular music
Secular music
And I would play your youth group
The alternative to
Secular music
Secular music

Sent away for pre-date to be raised by the fellowship
I guess it takes a village willing to live off the grid
Lost on me is your pop culture reference
Well I had no choice but to be alternative
Always had a birds-eye view from the pew
Always knew it’s an odd place
To try and make your power moves
How you gonna front when the church nursery’s your green room
And the set time’s early cause the kids got curfews?
We turned these absurdities into art
Every industry’s got an apple cart
But these were the days when distribution meant
The physical packages had to be boxed sealed and shipped
So I got a label and then got labeled
But I’m grateful cause that label made it capable to travel the globe
And talk to the faithful
Never know where a song might take you…

10.                       Off Road Minivan - Swan Dive

Old fashioned rock and roll is far from dead. These emo-rockers from Tooth & Nail records continue their winning streak with their great second album. The forceful opening track “It’s Harder To Make It Below Third” sounds like 80’s New Wave rock filtered through that romantic, heart-on-your-sleeve early 2000’s rock that I still love:

Warren Street left some shadows on my eye
Lovers walk toward the half-moon light
Broken bottle cuts into a woman’s face
Two young boys run but never could escape
They said "I don’t want your money, I want your soul"

Will we ever find our own way out of here?

Don’t go breaking my heart unless you let me go
(Let me go)
Can’t keep changing the rules we already broke
(Already broke)
All my life, nothing came my way
Everybody else is left to blame
Don’t go breaking my heart unless you let me go

And there is so much more great music released this year, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. My faith says there is always “light” out there, and these songs and albums helped me see it a little clearer. The good Lord is always at work.  For those who have “ears to hear” the music of faith - the authentic kind that fuels hope and life - it’s all around. I hope your faith increase this year.  Here’s to all the hills and valleys ahead, and the soundtrack that accompanies it.

May your fire burn brightly,

Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell

Jesusfreakhideout.com

           
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Next Friday, January 29, 2021
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