My Favorite Music of 2015

2015 is now in the books so it’s time for my annual recap of the music I liked. It’s not a list of the best music and it’s not even all music that actually came out in 2015, but it’s a nice way for me to tie a bow on the year and group together the music I’ll remember when I think back to this year.

First: The albums that I didn’t really have time to form an opinion on
Mutemath: Vitals
Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams
Hamilton: Soundtrack
Honestly, all of this music arrived about the time I switched to Christmas music so I really haven’t listened to any of them more than once. Coldplay and Mutemath are known entities, so I’m sure they are pretty good. Hamilton is an interesting twist on a musical. I had my musical theater phase 25 years ago so I’m kinda past that format, but the hip-hop element of the soundtrack might draw me back in.

The Top 5
The Lone Bellow: Then Came the Morning
Ryan Adams: 1989
Anberlin: Never Take Friendship Personal: Live
The Oh Hellos: Dear Wormwood
Stranger Kings

The Lone Bellow album and the The Oh Hellos albums are very strong efforts following my discovery of the bands in 2013. I love the Ryan Adams version of 1989 because I always kinda felt like Taylor Swift was playing a character, like the bad girl she sings about on the album is a wink and a nod as she says “okay, boys this is what you want me to be.” On the other hand, I can totally buy Ryan Adams as the unstable, mercurial romantic partner. I also like how the stronger songs on Ryan Adam’s version are the weaker ones from Swift’s original album (and vice-versa, as good as Adam’s tracks are they can’t touch the classic singles from the original.)

The Stranger Kings albums is a great combination of some classic 80’s New Wave with a breath of fresh air and I am very happy to hear familiar musicians like Herb Grimmaud, Jr and Holly Nelson again.

…and the Anberlin live album, it’s from last year, but I’m just not ready to let go of Anberlin yet. The crowd is on fire and screaming along to every song on this live concert recording.

The Next 5

Over the Rhine: Live From Nowhere Farm
Wilco: Star Wars
Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
Josh Garrells: Home
Copeland: Ixora/Twin

I’ve been gradually drifting away from Over the Rhine, their current sound is not my favorite style. However, this little live album from their fundraiser for their new barn/performance center is a very good snapshot of what they sound like now in concert. The addition of Bradley Meinerding on guitar, mandolin and backing vocals is the missing piece that I’ve been craving for the last couple of years from OTR. The Sufjan Stevens album is brilliant, but it’s also hard to listen to, partly because it’s so raw emotionally and partly because I’ve gotten used to the bombastic and loud Sufjan Stevens. The Copeland album is a repeat from my “Top Albums of 2014” list, but the Twin additional album gives the songs a new dynamic that it’s almost like rediscovering it again and it’s grown on me so much this year.

My Favorite Music of 2014

Now that the year has wrapped up, it’s time to figure out my favorite music of 2014. It’s impossible to talk about music in 2014 without talking about Taylor Swift’s 1989. The album dominated sales for the year and it some ways it reminds me of the year Adele dominated the music scene with 21. Much like there is no shame in an old guy like me listening to 21, I don’t think there should be any shame in listening to 1989. That being said, while it is audio candy, it misses the list. The album style fits the title perfectly, I feel like I could have been listening to “Style” on my car radio on Power 99 in my Plymouth Horizon. However, it’s not lyrically very interesting to me, and maybe it shouldn’t be because I’m not a girl in my teens/twenties. Much of the album sounds defeatist, the relationship is going to end poorly before it even begins. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist in my romance. So, great sounding album and very much hummable, but not on the list.

On to the list…

Kye Kye – Fantasize
A terrific sophomore effect that is simply hypnotic in sound. Paper Route’s Chad Howat has done an incredible production job on an album that excites and soothes.

The Choir – Shadow Weaver
I have really enjoyed the recent increase in activity by The Choir in the last five years and each album that they have released since Burning Like The Midnight Sun has been better than the album before it. This is the noisiest one with lots of Marc Byrd’s influence. Steve Hindalong’s lyrics are as quirky and creative as ever, no one does a turn of phrase like he does.

Jeremy Casella – Death In Reverse
Casella has near-singlehandedly created a gorgeous sounding album loaded with longing for paradise. It is an album that inspires. I think of joy when I hear this album and that is a rare thing in music these days. He has managed to make an album that is not cliched with Christian platitudes but it still loaded with a want and a need to connect with the Creator.

Coldplay – Ghost Stories
It seems like ever since Coldplay released Parachutes I have been wanting them to realize another one like it. This is as close to a second Parachutes as we have gotten. The album sounds so good even if it is so sad with Chris Martin’s very public separation bleeding into the lyrics and even if “Sky Full of Stars” sounds like every anthemic song they have done before, it’s not possible not to dance along to it.

Anberlin – Lowborn
I’ve already written a review about this album, but I’ll repeat myself a little bit. Lowborn is a fine swan song for a band going out on their own terms and the bittersweet tone fits the situation perfectly.

Lecrae – Anomaly
It’s past time to start taking Lecrae seriously. The album crackles with anger against injustice, sarcasm against social unbalance, and even gives some humor. Alongside artists like Propaganda, I am very happy to hear hip-hop artists taking on both their faith and social concerns in an upfront manner.

Steve Taylor – Goliath
The tour from this album was a whole lot of fun but the best part is that Taylor has moved back in the saddle with such ease reprising his role as the “clown prince of Christian music.” Taylor leaves no sacred cow unskewered on an album that snarls with loud guitars and drums and I hope there is more to come from this legend.

Anberlin – Lowborn review

“We’re heading nowhere/It’s not close to them/Even horizons can fade
Hope says she’s never a saint/they’re all waiting on a prayer/If we’re heading nowhere”

Anberlin released their final album, Lowborn this week and it is an album that definitely has a feel of finality about it. It is easy to view the album through the colored lens of knowing this is the last album to pull out the parts that spell a closing, but I wonder had we not known would we read the clues in between the lyrics and figure it out? I suspect so.

I’ve seen faces I may never see again
I’ve been places I never could have dreamt

The album is a bit of a change for a band known for fist-pumping anthems. I’ve always wondered if they were a band simply born 20 years too late. Lowborn is a much more ponderous, somber album. The instrumentation is simpler and guitar fireworks are limited to a few songs. Some of the songs, like “Stranger Ways” and “Hearing Voices” feel more rooted in the 80’s alterna-pop of New Order and Depeche Mode. “Dissenter” is the odd track out. With the screaming and industrial drumming, it feels like a relic from the early days when the pre-Anberlin band was ending the band Anberlin was beginning. The lyrics on the album, often cryptic in past albums seem more razor sharp here, as if Stephen Christian is running out of time to say what he has to say.

I’ve loved where I’ve been
Yes I love where I’ve been
But my heart’s where I’m going

The song order is different than the typical Anberlin formula. There is no climatic end to the album. The album was constructed in three different studios and fortunately it has meshed well together, it doesn’t feel very disjointed. However, it is telling that album was put together in so many locations. This is a band that didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the same room to work this out.

Memories circle like birds of prey
Waiting for the right mind to drive insane
Don’t look back there’s nothing to see
Regret is nothing more than a lovers disease

Vocalist Stephen Christian says he has been looking for a way out of the band for over a year now. When he approached the rest of the band about leaving, everyone else confessed that they were ready for a break as well. It’s not the stereotypical fight and bust up and that ends the band, but more five people slowly drifting each in different directions.

Not sure what tomorrow brings
Not sure why a caged bird sings
Don’t ask cause I don’t know
No idea just where to go
High hopes and higher dreams
May not have everything

So, with no future planned, it’s impossible to escape the finality of the album. Over and over again, the songs reference not looking back, not having regrets, and soberly accepting the present. It’s possible there might be solo works or a new different band formed out of the remnants of Anberlin, but if so, no one is talking about it. Instead, what we the listener are left with is the end of an era.

Everyone wants to know God
But they’re afraid of what they’ll find
Everyone wants to know God
But they want to live like he died.

I can identify with the end of an era. It feels like I’ve been mourning one for a while now. There are people and places in my life that I will probably never see again. One lesson that I have been painfully learning this summer is that God will forgive sin, but most times He will not remove the consequences or events from the sin. There are wounds that will not heal and relationships will sever forever. I’ve witnessed a lot of this during the past few months. I am thankful that I am not the one wounded, but I also left wondering who I have wounded and scarred with my words and actions.

I feel as if I am in a transitional period of my life. When I was younger I was always eager for the next stage of life. I wish I was as optimistic as I used to be. I don’t really know what is coming next, my children are slowly starting to write their own stories and I feel like I am slowly having to loosen the rope, let them go a little more. We’re still a long ways from cars, boys, and even (gulp) college, but it’s approaching. I feel like much of my story has been wrapped up in raising them and now as I’m releasing them I have to find my own story again. I’m comforted, however, that I have strong support from home. If we are to enter another new unknown, I’m glad to face it with my family.

It’s not losing it all, if we have each other
In the end it’s all, in the end it’s all that matters
If we take this chance, and it falls to pieces
In the end you’re all, in the end you’re all that matters

How could I say goodbye?
We’ve come too far to turn back now
Who are we without each other?
Too entwined to untangle now

SHEL at Decatur Court House


I haven’t figured out the right age or band for my daughters’ first concert. I heard about a free concert in downtown Decatur by the Colorado band named SHEL and I thought that would be perfect. However, we played pretty hard during the afternoon and by the time the evening came around they were already starting to wear down and I decided it would probably be smarter to leave them with the grandparents. It was probably the right decision, I think they would have enjoyed the show but I don’t think they would have had the patience for the whole thing.

That’s too bad, because SHEL probably would have been the ideal band to see. The band is composed of four sisters with bluegrass influenced pop. I compare them to a less technical, more whimsical version of Nickel Creek. That’s not an indictment on their talent. There’s not any Chris Thile-like fretboard runs, but they still make beautifully interwoven music on mandolin, piano, violin, and drums. The youngest of the sisters even adds a little bit of beat-boxing, which makes me laugh for some reason. Their songs range from light-hearted songs like “The Latest and Greatest Blueberry Rubber Band” to the more serious “Try To Scream.” There was a short intermission and while the sponsors raffled off some prizes, the ladies milled around the stage, even posing for pictures and letting little girls try on their custom designed hats.

Atlanta is not as quirky as a city like Austin or Portland, but if there is an unusual part of town, it’s Decatur. I enjoyed people-watching during the show. There was a guy with the Coors tall boy dancing around by himself and I was afraid there was going to be an incident when he approached the stage. He asked the mandolin player a question and I don’t know what her response was but he laughed and walked away. There was a bride and groom that emerged from the courthouse, going around the building and back in, presumably to their reception. In the middle of the concert he shouted out to everyone, “WE JUST GOT MARRIED!” I also like spotting the people who were on “date night.” There were the couples that were on that Date Night, the one you get every couple of months thanks to the babysitter. Then there were also the couples that clearly weren’t married yet and were still dressing to impress each other.

The only complaint I had was that the band wasn’t really visible in the gazebo (as seen in the picture above.) The fence around it made it difficult to see very much unless you walked right up to the stage, and I wasn’t going to be that one creepy guy standing at the front staring at four teen/20’s girls. That’s a small complaint though. The night seemed certain to be rained out but instead I enjoyed a pleasant night on my own on the square in Decatur.

No Cornerstone


Many years this weekend would be spent packing suitcases, getting all of my recording equipment, cleaning the camera, packing batteries upon batteries upon batteries, and making sure all of the memory cards are clear. I’d be hopping in a car and traveling out to the middle of nowhere in Illinois. I’d be sitting out in the heat, the cold, the mud, the rain, the dust, and getting pounded by loud thudding music from Noon to 2 AM each day for a week. This year I’ll be doing none of that.

2012 was the last year for Cornerstone Festival and admittedly, I’ve been a little bit in denial. The 2012 festival was so hot and so draining that I spent more time concentrating on how sweaty and tired I was more than that I was at the last Cornerstone Festival. I kept thinking at some point something miraculous would save the festival. The finality set in when the property was sold. Scott, the festival co-director, sent me photos of the ground flooding with water running down the hill of the former mainstage. Then I saw the photos of fields plowed where tents used to be and it was time to accept that the festival was not coming back.

So, there are no tents. There are no bands. No lemon shake-ups. No ribeye sammiches. No awkward conversations with musicians. No late drives back to the dorm giggling uncontrollably about some dumb joke. There is no long road-trip and saddest of all, no gathering of friends out in a field miles from anything. I’ve been mourning in my own way, watching some beautiful videos of last year’s festival and listening to some of my recordings. It’s been a big year of transition for our little group, with all the babies (and Lord willing, the White triplets joining the ranks) we’ll have added six children. That’s a lot of babies and would surely have impacted our meeting this year. I had planned to skip the festival in 2012, but went since it was the last, so I’m trying to think of this year as my year off. There’s another music festival starting up not too far away in Champaign, Illinois that will be similar, but not the same. I bought a ticket even though I’m not traveling up there, because I really do hope they have a successful first year. Maybe with every death there is a birth somewhere to make up for it. I don’t know if that festival will become our festival or not, but we’ll have to wait and see, maybe I’ll check it out in 2014.

For this year, however, I’m taking a Sabbath. I’m going to enjoy staying home with my girls as it will be the first Fourth of July we’ve celebrated together since they were 1. Normally, I run the Peachtree Road Race when I’m not at Cornerstone, but I’m taking a break from that, too. We’ll watch some fireworks somewhere (maybe on TV since it looks like it may rain) and we’ll do something fun. That hasn’t prevented the profound sense of loss I’m feeling and I’m a little mopey this week. I’ve had a year to prepare for this, but inevitably when the seasons change and I have those feelings as I count down to the week like it’s Christmas, there is nothing when I get to 0 this year. I’m letting myself be a little sad, as long as it doesn’t bleed into the other parts of my life, and I’m trying to hold on to a little bit of hope. Call me hopelessly optimistic, somewhere in my mind I dream of something that will emerge in the next ten years and some music festival will fill the place of Cornerstone Festival and my children will run around with the other “Cornerstone kids” and tell us all about the crazy bands they want to go see. In the meantime, we’ll tell our stories and try to keep the memories lingering for a little longer.