My top five albums of 2014

Last year around this time I posted a list of my top ten songs from 2013. Over the past year, however, I’ve listened to more music–and more new music–than ever before. I’ve also been going to more live shows of my favorite artists than ever before. It’s too hard to pick another set of top ten songs, so this time I’ve broadened the scope.

If I could only listen to five albums from 2014 for the rest of my life, here’s what they would be:

1. Fading West – Switchfoot

Anyone who knows me remotely well knows that Switchfoot is my favorite band, so it’s natural that their latest album would the top spot of the year. Spotify data further backs this up as most of the tracks from Fading West topped my 100-most-played-songs list.

As I concluded in my review of the album:

“The subjects and the struggles of Switchfoot’s songs are timeless – brokenness and depravity, cultural numbness and consumerism, time and morality, hope and restoration. Rightly grappled with, those never get old. They probe the vast depths of our humanity with questions worthy of song. In Fading West, Switchfoot found a way to skirt the clichés by returning to the same eternal questions in a fresh musical context, reminding us that true hope is ‘anchored on the other side / with the colors that live outside of the lines.'”

2. Rivers in the Wasteland – Needtobreathe

I will always remember 2014 as the year that I truly “discovered” Needtobreathe. I had heard of them and listened to their hits on Christian radio in junior high and high school, and while I didn’t overtly dislike them, my attitude toward them had been pretty “meh”.

Seeing them live changed all of that. Aside from Switchfoot, it was my favorite concert of the year. I’ve grown to love these guys for many of the same reasons I like Switchfoot. Since opening for Taylor Swift a while back, they’ve been straddling the line between the Christian and secular music scenes (they played in the Thanksgiving Parade this year, for example), but they do it by writing stinking good songs. I think Rivers in the Wasteland is their best album to date.

3. When I Was Younger – Colony House

If one could conceive of an alternative/indie-rock act in the tradition of Switchfoot and Needtobreathe, it might look something like Colony House. Two of the band members are sons of Contemporary Christian Music legend Steven Curtis Chapman. They’ve clearly inherited some musical talent but refuse to live inside their father’s niche. The result is a punchy yet spiritually substantive freshman album that is uplifting without being cliche, guaranteed to cure a case of the Mondays as well as provide emotional solace to those facing the worst of life’s sufferings.

“We’ve got to roll with the punches, fight through the fire,” sings vocalist Caleb Chapman in one of the my favorite tracks. “When the trouble comes baby we can work our way around it / Love is a lesson to be learned with time / If we can climb the mountain then we can work our way around it.”

Tell me you don’t feel better already.

4. Talking Is Hard – Walk the Moon

This one only came out a few weeks ago, so I may be biased by the novelty of it and have yet to see if it will stand the test of time. What I do know, however, is that it features the hands-down best party song of the year, “Shut Up and Dance.” For what it attempts to be, that song is perfect. What Owl City’s “Good Time” was to my summer of 2012, Shut Up and Dance was to the fall of 2014. It has already sparked a number of impromptu dance parties with some of my best friends. It stands as the cornerstone and inspiration for my collaborative “Chairdancing” playlist on Spotify (which you should follow). And I already have no doubt that hearing it live when I see Walk the Moon this April will be one of the best moments of 2015.

There’s much to be said for the rest of the album too, which solidifies Walk the Moon’s dominance in the indie rock world. The opening track Different Colors hits the catchy, progressive, millennial sweet spot, and Aquaman closes it down with some nostalgia-heavy, emotive 80s vibes.

5. Before the Waves – Magic Man

This Boston synth-pop group has been described as a mashup of Death Cab for Cutie and Passion Pit. It’s an apt comparison that effectively sums why these guys are so fantastic. Their music is downright infectious, but it has enough freshness and a sense of romance and wanderlust (song titles include “Texas” and “Paris”, for example) so that hipsters can listen to it without feeling ashamed.

 

Honorable mentions

(read: albums that would make a top 10 list and really good EPs)

Strange Desire – Bleachers: Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff is a great artist in his own right.

Blonde – Ghost Beach: Self-dubbed “tropical grit-pop;” this is perfect escapist music if warm coastal locales and sticky-sweet electronic pop are your thing.

Supermodel – Foster the People: This is actually a really good sophomore album thanks to its heavy existential bent; I can’t figure out why it didn’t make more waves.

From the Spark EP – Grizfolk: I’d make this a centerpiece of any roadtrip playlist.

Parallel Play EP – Panama Wedding: All The People is the quintessential summer jam.

Smoke EP – House of Heroes: These guys might have my favorite album of all time in The End is Not the End. Their latest EP continues their signature, spiritually substantive, alt-rock.

The Edge of the Earth: Unreleased Songs from the film “Fading West” – Switchfoot: In addition to being an album, “Fading West” was also the title of a surf film that Switchfoot made; this EP of unreleased songs from the film made for a pleasant surprise later in the year.

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Suburbia and the stock backdrop

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Since moving to Washington, D.C. almost two years ago, I’ve been trying to figure out why I can no longer stand suburbia. Every time I go back out to the suburbs, I want to leave after 24 hours – if that.

At the end of last summer, I was driving back from a camping trip in West Virginia with a few friends, and we stopped at a Chick-fil-A in the suburbs on the way back. One of them made a comment about how the shopping center we were in comforted her because it made her feel like she was at home, with its plaza full of nice chain restaurants like Pei Wei and Chipotle and stores like Office Max and Best Buy.

I agreed. It reminded me of my own home in California. You can find plenty of shopping centers like that in Bakersfield or Santa Clarita.

My friend was from Texas, though. And we were in Virginia. You could have swapped out one for the other and no one would know any better.

A week or two later, while listening to an obscure Switchfoot song called C’mon C’mon, it hit me. The first verse goes like this:

You’ve been living life like it’s a sequel

And you’re already bored with the plot

As if the cast and the score

Are more money than before

But the script and the backdrops are stock

The backdrops are stock.

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That’s it. Songwriter Jon Foreman is speaking about life in a much more holistic, poetic sense than the place you happen to live, but in the chain-restaurant-stocked malls of America, gleaming with affluence, we see the “real life” embodiment of the stock backdrop. It’s like those internet stock photos that make blog posts look like a dime a dozen. The pictures are framed correctly and well-lit, the models are attractive, the scenarios they communicate are clear, but my goodness they’re boring. They’re so ubiquitous these days that we can spot a stock photo in a second. They’re better than no image at all, of course, but they carry the stale whiff of banality.

It’s colorful and pretty, but excessively pastiche, the suburban scene. How can Virginia, Texas, and California all look the same? Why the hundred-store-chains?

More money than before.

There’s something remarkable about how a person can drive 2,500 miles from coast to coast of the United States and eat at the same restaurant every stop of the way. It’s one of those unprecedented facets of our era of late-capitalism. I can understand why postmodern thinkers and urban hipsters feel like the wealth of the suburbs is just a façade of marketing tricks obscuring reality. I can understand how people worry that the suburbs turns our experience of community into a series of isolated dots on a map rather than warm circles of neighbors.

At this point I suppose some readers will conclude I’m saying corporate chains are dehumanizing. Maybe I am. “Dehumanizing” is probably a little too strong though.

As a middle-class consumer, I’m glad that Walmart exists and appreciate how it frees up my budget, but it doesn’t make the world a more interesting place. There are better sights to take in than shopping malls full of Foot Lockers and American Eagles and Forever 21s. There’s more to savor than Starbucks and TGI Fridays. There’s more to do on the weekends than catching a flick at your local AMC Theater.

I love how Switchfoot’s song ends:

So C’mon C’mon C’mon

Let’s abandon this darkness

Oh C’mon C’mon C’mon

Let’s follow this through

Yeah so C’mon C’mon C’mon

Everything’s waiting

We will live like fire and gold

When everything’s new

When everything’s new.

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“Variety is the spice of life,” goes the old cliche, but it speaks to something intrinsic in human nature: the drive to find newness. I have found the true wealth of cities to lie not in dollars or possessions, but in their trove of experiences: the bars and coffee shops; the parks and museums; the neighborhoods and architecture; the surrounding rivers, beaches, and forests; the people from so many tongues, tribes, and nations. Yes, there lies the city, living, pulsating, breathing all around you, an inexhaustible well of newness – flawed and wretched of course – but still a taste of life as it was meant to be.

ADDENDUM: Tyler Castle has a wonderful piece at Values & Capitalism entitled “How the Hipster Ethic Is Revitalizing the American Economy.” It takes a much less subjective and much more clearly articulated angle on the idea I’m trying to get across here.

A Silent Film on the Absurdity of Relationships

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One of my favorite songs right now is Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat by the alt-rock band A Silent Film. I remember when I first listened to it a couple weeks ago – it seemed like a nice jam with a pleasant melody, until I heard the second verse:

The Heart is deceitful above all things

So desperately wicked, and who can really know it? Are you listening?

And if you know what I’m talking about

Let me feel your heartbeat, let me feel your heartbeat beat beat

The first two lines are almost an exact quote of Jeremiah 17:9, the classic proof-text in the Bible about the depravity of man. They seemed out of place because the song then launched into a call for intimacy in the chorus:

When it’s closing time and the night is young, do you need a friend to help you on?

You can lean on me and I’ll carry our bones home

As the stars explode in the sky above and the pieces fall back down to earth

If you lean on me then I’ll let you feel my heartbeat, let you feel my heartbeat

I love these lines because they confront the absurdity of relationships head on. Theoretically friendship of any kind should not work. Assuming that the human heart is in fact deceitful above all things, desperately wicked, and unsearchable, then it would intuitively follow that any sort of meaningful relationship – romance, friendship, father, daughter, etc. – is a lose-lose proposition. I mean, let’s take the fundamental problem here, a wicked human heart, and put two or more of them right next to each other so that they can feel each other beat.

How could that ever work? When two self-centered entities come together, they tend not to dissolve into harmony. They clash and oppose one another; they take from the other to enrich themselves; they render judgment upon the other so that they can puff themselves up; they impose discomfort on the other so that they can have pleasure.

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It sure gives me pause, sometimes, about opening up, especially when under the hood of my generally nice-looking life you find a heart that is often distressed and insecure and looking down on others and consumed with its own well-being. It really isn’t all that attractive. It’s easy for me to feel justified in this fear because I will inevitably hurt the people I bring closest to me.

Living on the surface is much easier. The superficial feels safer, except that it’s just that – fake. You can’t sustain a lie indefinitely. You can’t keep all the pressures bottled up and out of sight and out of mind. It’s not good to be alone. Many suicides and overdoses and anonymous forums testify to this. People seem just fine and happy to the outside world, while on the inside sorrow destroys them. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if there’s anything worse than not being known – not being understood.

Experience, then, teaches us that isolation is no way to live. There’s nothing for it but to move into that dangerous space around people, accepting the risk. C.S. Lewis confronts the paradox in this much-quoted passage from The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Wrung and possibly broken. Possibly may be an understatement. The song acknowledges this in the opening lines:

The devil puts words in my mouth when we’re close

And you’re like the snow in spring, ever receding

Here we have the confession. When we start getting that heart-on-heart contact, I screw up. I say evil, hurtful things. I break you. And you understandably pull back from his. You try to shut yourself away so you can’t get hurt. But like that snow in spring, it leaves you melting into nothingness.

There is no greater asset in this world than the friend who sticks closer than a brother. As the ancient sage says in Ecclesiastes:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

If you know what I’m talking about, let them feel your heartbeat.

In the back country: A meditation on man’s relationship to nature

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The seething earth, it opens up and spits us out.

This vicious child, nature never wanted us

This vicious child, a cancer burning black into its heart.

A few weeks ago I spent a weekend at Prince William Forest Park in Virginia (pictured above and below), near Quantico, where the Marine base is. Two mornings in a row, I walked into the “back country.” At least that’s what the park rangers called it. It’s an area that, if not miles, is at least many hundreds of yards away from the nearest road or any people. I realized this is not remarkable isolated, but for an urban DC-dweller, it was enough to feel profoundly alone.

There’s something remarkably cathartic about nature, especially experienced in contrast to the city or suburbia. It evokes a sort of primeval Edenic memory. I saw beauty at all levels and from all viewpoints, from the small grey moths sent aflutter from disturbed grass underfoot and the carpet-y moss and tiny flowers, all the way to the vast expanse of the reservoir separating us from Marine territory, lined with hills of deciduous trees and brush, sky, clouds, and green glittering in the water in a landscape I’d like to paint. A crane flew by, no higher than the treetops, adding the perfect touch of disruption to the ambiance of twittering and chirping and water lapping and wind dimpling the lake.

It feels welcoming, like a big collective embrace of life, warm and calming, soul-stilling. Ah yes, “be still and know,” it says. Come weary one, and find solace, be at home. The colors are bright and lively at the beginning of summer. The cleansed air speaks to how life was meant to be. It whispers that the world should be better than the urban jungle or cookie-cutter suburbia or the dilapidated cabin I’m staying in. It echoes of a home that I have yet to find. Not where I grew up, and not where I live now, but Somewhere Else. . . ideal.

nature meditation 2

I’ve always felt it, right in front of me but always just behind the next river bend in the river or beach peninsula or mountainside boulder. Camping at Hume Lake in California’s Sequoias every summer, day trips to the beach in Santa Barbara, even driving through the Mojave Desert at dusk – it tapped into some deep-set sense of beauty and belonging. I never put my finger on what it was about hiking in the Sequoias or walking along Ventura beach in the surf that made me want to adventure like the explorers of old and drink more deeply of its beauty. I still can’t, but against the backdrop of city life and my digital workplace I sense it with more volume and clarity now.

Here on the east coast, in Prince William Forest Park, the world teems with life. It slinks between the plants as insects and fungi, every square inch of the forest, it seems, is a picture of vitality. Every puddle and fallen trunk is an active ecosystem in its own right, in balance, dancing the symbiotic steps of life together. Bugs creep and buzz; occasionally I see hints of larger, warm-blooded creatures like squirrels and deer; and beneath the lakes fish glide like shadows and sometimes burst into the world in a flash of droplets to seize some hovering insect that lingered too near the water.

Yes, nature is more vibrant than even the most densely packed, active city ever could be. It is beautiful and delicate.

But it’s also vicious and vile, and I recoil from the wood’s summer awakening. For all my embrace of beauty I feel unease and alienation. “Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth,” goes the fabled curse – and also needles and fangs and stingers. A mosquito comes near my ear, and I slap at the whine. I keep a lookout for snakes – the ranger warned they had been active this year. Flip flops were a bad choice. Near stale pools of warmed rain water, mud puddles on the trail, the whining grows. I forgot bug repellent; also a bad choice. At the reservoir I lay down a towel, clearing sticks that poke into my back and scattering tiny spiders and ants in the untouched grass.

I try to read – philosophy, longform journalism, the Old Testament – but every itch and twitch and buggy sound jerks me away. Sometimes a tick really has jumped on me, the bastards. Sometimes it’s nothing. But the point is that I’m not at ease, not all the way. The spiders don’t want me. The mosquitos only want my blood. This isn’t my home.

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Our relationship has issues. Nature draws me, or perhaps a better way to put it is that I am drawn to nature – the freedom of the woods calls. But nature doesn’t want me. It flees from me. It does violence against me. So many of these creatures are designed to bite, paralyze, kill. The bugs are tormentors. I curse them here just like I curse them when they are in my house. And they’re just the beginning. I need not digress into lake water, leeches, copperheads, poison ivy.

And so here in Prince William Forest Park I find a tension in my desire for beauty. In the woods I hear whispers of home yet feel profoundly misfit – on edge, discomforted. I even fear sleep in my dilapidated cabin because there’s a mouse running around and moths bumping against the shoddy screen windows. There are urban myths about spiders crawling in your mouth as you sleep. Here they seems plausible.

Those lyrics at the beginning are from a song called “Above and Below” by The Bravery. I like what it has to say about man’s relationship to nature. The seething earth opens up and spits us out. Disease saps our lives away. If nature is our Mother, she has cast us out of the cradle. But we keep venturing in to the forest, looking for new life.

Why?

Nature doesn’t want us, but that doesn’t mean she never did. The Edenic memory is in us all. It testifies that we did belong – once upon a time. There used to be harmony. The world used to be good.

I hope to God it will be good once again.

A word on air travel

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I like flying – in large part because air travel is one of the few environments these days in which I get uninterrupted blocks of time. Flying somewhere means a solid couple hours where I’m left to my own thoughts (I rarely talk to people on airplanes). It’s a good time to think, to pray, to read and write. On my last trip – from Washington, DC, to Texas, and back – I couldn’t even listen to music because I stream everything on my phone. And so silence; the dull, roaring white noise of engines and pressurized cabins and snoring – cruising along the jet streams at hundreds of miles an hour.

The takeoff and landing create a healthy bracket of perspective for the time alone because they remind me of my smallness and relative insignificance in the world. Even just looking down at a single city or neighborhood, I can feel it – thousands of homes and cars and stores and people splayed out below. That’s the world, and oh, what a tiny niche I have; what a meek little slice.

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And yet on the other hand, flying compresses our sense of space and time. It shrinks the world down to our palm-sized GPS’s. In five hours I can go from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles and barely see the 2,300 miles in between. I can traverse an entire content in the comfort of air conditioning and padded seats with orange juice served to me. That’s a remarkable feat of innovation and communication and engineering, and I’m thankful for it because I can see my family after just a few hours of travel time and for the cost of just a few hundred dollars.

But all the same it strikes me as a profoundly unnatural phenomena. As I take off and look down, I try to remind myself not to forget the bigness, not to grow bored with this world, and not to despair when it feels like I’ll never make much of a difference in the city below.

C.S. Lewis on the agony of coming to God

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Lately I’ve been stewing on what it means, as a Christian, to repent from sin and actually be transformed by God into His image. I have a heck of a time casting off certain vices, but I’ve found condolence in reading The Visionary Christian, a collection of excerpts from the more fantastical writings of C.S. Lewis. Three parallel scenes struck me for how they showcase what it is like to approach God as a flawed, finite creature. I’ve added italics for emphasis.

From The Silver Chair:

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answer this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion…
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion…and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted.”

From The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

Context: The boy Eustace has been turned into a dragon. The lion Aslan leads him to a pool that can help his injured leg, but first, the lion says, he must undress – take off his dragon skin. Eustace scratches off one layer of skin, but underneath it he is still a dragon. So he does it again, only to find another layer. After a third time, he is still a dragon.

“Then the Lion said—I don’t know if it spoke—You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…”
“Well, he peeled the beastly tuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeling switch and smaller than I had been.”

great divorce lizardFrom The Great Divorce:

Context: The ghost is a deceased soul somewhere in between heaven and hell in the afterlife. He has a lizard attached to him that acts much like a devil on his shoulder. An Angel approaches him and asks if he can kill it.

“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.
“I know it will kill me.”
“It won’t. But supposing it did?”
“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”
“Then I may?”
“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”
Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.
“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

The common thread in all of these stories is that any authentic approach to God is an utterly agonizing process. Casting off the sin that encumbers us (or rather, allowing God to cast it off) is the hardest, most painful thing that we can ever do. It will feel like a part of our essential self is being destroyed because our depravity is so ingrained in us that we cannot distinguish our actual self from it, much less separate ourselves from it.

But in the fact the opposite of death will happen – that is, death in any ultimately meaningful sense. The deep transformation that Lewis has in mind here purges the heart of evil and frees us to be our true selves as God intended us to be. And in the process – as the dragon scales are coming off or as the lizard is writhing in the throes of death or as we take those first tentative steps toward the Living Water that quenches all thirst – we experience even deeper within us a release, new breath, cleansing. And of course on the other side, once our thirst is quenched and the ugly skin is cast off and the reptile ripped off our backs, oh what joy await on the other side.

We see this idea echoed in the Bible. Jesus calls those who would follow him to deny themselves and take up their crosses – implements of torture and execution – and the writer of Hebrews notes that He suffered while being tempted. Paul describes a similar death-to-self experience in his letter to the Galatians, writing that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” And Peter connects suffering to the purging of evil when he writes that “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

If you would know your Maker in spirit and truth, you must be willing to suffer whatever it takes – any agony and any price. That means allowing God to carve out parts of you that seem integral to your identity, parts that may feel second-nature to you – those parts that you feel you can’t live without even though they keep you bogged down in a wretched mediocrity. There’s no other way to find true, unspoiled, unblemished life.

Andrew’s Top Ten Songs from 2013

Now that Christmas season has closed out the year, I’ve found it a good time to reflect on the past year and the music I’ve discovered.

Having moving from California to Washington, DC last January, 2013 has seen more transition in my life than any other year. Amid the transition into a new job, building new friendships, and generally learning how to adapt to a more urban lifestyle, I’ve found myself often turning to music as a source of entertainment, preserved memories, and emotional salve.

So without further ado, here are my (utterly subjective) top ten tracks for the year, and what they mean to me. Just as I’ve been doing with friends all year, I hope you’ll find at least one or two enjoyable new tracks yourself.

1. Spark – Fitz and the Tantrums

This great jam will always take me back to a weekend camping on the beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I hasn’t taken long to fall in love with the Atlantic, and this was probably the most helpful getaway I was able to make all year. On the 8-hour drive there and back, we played this song every hour on the hour, and it never got old.

2. Show Me What I’m Looking For – Carolina Liar

Since I settled into life in DC over the summer, I’ve been perpetually confronting the “So now what?” question. With admittedly vague – but quite relatable – lyrics, the refrain of this song has given voice to this millennial’s angst: “Save me, I’m lost. Oh Lord I’ve been waiting for you. I’ll pay any cost. Save me from being confused. Show me what I’m looking for.”

Also, even though my musical tastes have evolved, I still enjoy a good rock song like this one.

3. Anna Sun – Walk the Moon

I first heard this song through a good friend from California at the end of 2012. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I happened across it again early in 2013, something about it grabbed me. A fantastic road trip tune, it takes me back to late nights driving through Los Angeles with the guys. I’ve kept it in regular rotation all year.

4. Carry On – Fun.

It would take a lot of hands to count the number of times I listened to this song right before going to bed. The peak of the bridge fuels optimism and hope like nothing else in music. I also saw Fun. in concert this year. Out of all the shows I went to in 2013, their’s was probably the best.

5. Sleepwalker (Up All Night) – Owl City

I went through a pretty lengthy phase at work a while back listening to a lot of obscure Owl City tracks on YouTube. This is one of those songs, and it’s a straight-up jam. It consistently revved me up in the mornings and provided a great pick-me-up to get me through DC’s muggy summer afternoons. It also ensured that Owl City continues to be my definitive “happy music.”

6. The Sophomore – Ben Rector

Some of the best friends I’ve made in DC over the past year introduced me to Ben Rector. This song captures the youthful uncertainty that I’ve felt since moving to DC (see #2 on this list). It helped me break out of city’s hustle and bustle to slow life down for a few minutes and simple reflect. The chorus says it simply: “There’s so much I don’t know.” I don’t know much about Ben Rector as a music artist or a person, but whatever sentiment drove him to write this song, I’m pretty sure I feel it too.

7. Hear Me – Imagine Dragons

After Fun., Imagine Dragons probably put on the best show I went to in 2013, and even though I already liked them, I started binging on them after seeing them live. As such, I couldn’t deny them a spot on this list, and right now, Hear Me is my favorite song they play. Like Show Me What I’m Looking For, the refrain gives voice to the questions: “Can nobody hear me? I got a lot that’s on my mind. I cannot breathe. Can you hear it too?”

8. We Get Along – Infadels

I think this is the least cliché love song I’ve ever heard. It dwells on the everyday that makes relationships so powerful. “We get along,” simple as that, and it’s a delightful thing. It also uses a wonderfully creative analogy: “I was standing the middle of the crossfire aim / You’ve been standing there for centuries with your cover fire.” I can’t wait to ask a girl someday: Will you give me some cover fire? (I’m only half-joking about this)

On a personal note, this song will forever conjure very fond memories of my first spring in Washington, DC.

9. Who We Are – Switchfoot

Switchfoot is my all-time favorite band, so I devoured their Fading West EP when it came out this fall. I also saw them live in October for the third year in a row. With an opening line like “we were just kids,” Who We Are reminds me the past and where I’ve come from. It then takes me to the struggle of the present with my second-favorite lyric of the year: “just limited, misfit, itinerant, outcasts singing ‘bout the dissonance.” And most importantly, it gives me hope for the future: “we become what we believe in.”

In short, the boys from San Diego still got it.

10. Above and Below – The Bravery

Hands down the best song I’ve discovered this year. By capturing the meaninglessness of life in a post-fall world apart from God, this rant by The Bravery keeps one on the edge of despair and clinging to faith. Switchfoot had my second favorite lyric in Who We Are; this one has my favorite: “I must believe, stranded with this bitch called hope.”

That line captures the essence of human striving. Apart from Jesus, hope is indeed a bitch. And if there’s nothing to hope for, then why not fade away, turn your back, and disappear?