My Favorites of 2013

For those curious about what helped form and move me in 2013, here is a list of my favorite things. I hope you enjoy!

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SONGS

It was a really good year for music. Highly anticipated albums from Josh Ritter, Arcade Fire, Shad, Typhoon, and Volcano Choir (Justin Vernon's side project) were released. Some new artists emerged on to the scene as well. Among my favorites are the Olms, the Lone Bellow, Jake Bugg, and Air Review. I've tried to limit my choices to no more than ten when applicable.

Favorite Songs of 2013

  1. Song for Zula by Phosphorescent [link]
    "Yeah then I saw love disfigure me into something I am not recognizing..."
  2. Weight by Mikal Cronin [link]
    "No, be bolder, golden light for miles, sing for love in colder portions of my mind, I'm not ready for the weight again..."
  3. Artificial Light by Typhoon [link]
    "But I have no other place to keep you safe, but in my shaky ever shaking melody..."
  4. Love Don't Go by the Family Crest [link]
    "Oh, old love, you wanna step outside, find a place to run and hide?"
  5. Broken by Jake Bugg [link]
    "I'm waiting for you for I'm broken down..."
  6. Light by Sleeping at Last [link]
    "I’ll give you everything I have. I’ll teach you everything I know. I promise I’ll do better."
  7. Ithaca by Tyler Lyle [link]
    "In a beautiful dream you were walking. In the city by the sea and you wanted me like I wanted you I wish that were true..."
  8. America's Son by Air Review [link]
    "Would the poor be on my mind? Would the wretchedness I try to hide carry me away, would I be saved?"
  9. My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me by Little Green Cars [link]
    "So long you're gone just like I always knew but I'm still here waiting for you..."
  10. The Mute by Radical Face [link]
    "And through them days I was a ghost atop my chair. My dad considered me a cross he had to bear and in my head I'd sing apologies and stare..."

To listen to the rest of my favorite songs from 2013, click on this Spotify list. There are many, many more songs that I've enjoyed this year.

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ALBUMS

My favorite songs often differ from my favorite albums, though some collaboration may exist. There are some albums that I really enjoy from start-to-finish but don't really have a stand-out track on them. Yet, it's still one of my favorite albums. Conversely, there are some songs that locate themselves on albums that are just terrible. If not for one great song, the album would be terrible. So, the following is a list of my favorite albums of the year [in order]:

  1. Typhoon: White Lighter
    Typhoon is an indie symphony of terrific melodies, dynamic instrumentation, and aggressively cynical yet hopeful lyrics. And I love everything about it. This may be my favorite album of the last five years even. I was able to see Typhoon in Chicago in September and they were equally great in concert.
  2. Volcano Choir: Repave
    I'm a big fan of Justin Vernon. Not only is an accomplished front man and songwriter of Bon Iver, he's also a pretty great producer. He produced one of my favorite albums of last year; Kathleen Edwards' Voyageur. While the similarities to Bon Iver are fairly labeled against Volcano Choir, it's no doubt that through a few listens that this is something different. It's indie rock at its finest. 
  3. Radical Face: The Family Tree: The Branches
    I first fell in love with Radical Face after the 2007 release of "Ghosts." I love Ben Cooper's voice, his percussive use of instruments, and the poetry he weaves throughout his songs. Beautiful and lovely stuff. 
  4. Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In
    This album harkens back to the wonderful country and western singers that predates my time. Rose is like a more talented Zooey Deschanel [don't shoot me, oh violent She & Him'ers, because it's true.] I'm surprised at how under-the-radar that she's stayed, especially since this is her second great album.
  5. Hey Marseilles: Lines We Trace
    It's a band composed of a gentle and subdued vocals, an often prominent accordion player, and flowing violin and cello parts, among other things. You can tell that the band isn't just influenced by modern indie rock, but classically trained musicians that light up other worlds known to modern listeners. This all results in songs of depth in an increasingly shallow indie-rock world. 
  6. Josh Ritter: The Beasts in the Track
    I'm a big Josh Ritter fan. His music has been foundational to my emotional development over the years. Perhaps I'm being a bit too overdramatic, but still. He's been a constant in my headphones for quite some time. He's one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the modern generation. He writes of love, loss, war, peace, and everything in between. He's worth a listen.
  7. Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg
    I'm in love with 50's and 60's rock and roll. If you've got to the 70's and 80's, then you've went too far for me. Jake Bugg was 17 or 18 years old when he recorded his self-titled debut album. Yet, his vocals, song structures, and lyrics are reminders of the great songwriters from your grandparents age. Hipster-warning: This album is probably best listened to on vinyl.
  8. Keaton Henson: Birthdays
    Henson is reportedly a slightly reclusive sufferer of stage fright. Most of his performances are in small art galleries, clubs, and/or museums. He sings in a falsetto in many of his folk-rock songs, yet it comes together in beautiful ways. His music is fragile and delicate, but stands strong in the face of whatever he's writing against... love lost, painful pondering, and lies being told. 
  9. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
    The National's albums are meant to be dissected. They are meant to be enjoyed all the way through, from the first beat to the last lyric. When I was first listening to their latest album, I liked some of the songs but nothing really jumped out at me. Admittedly, I have a very high standard for one of my favorite bands. However, when I let the entire album play over and over again, I started to understand the flow and appreciated it in a new light. I really, really like this album.
  10. Mikal Cronin: MKII
    Mikal Cronin came out of nowhere to me. I think he was one of the great Spotify recommendations that I followed throughout the year. For those more versed in indie music, he's not new. I've loved listening to this indie rock album. It's well-thought, not overly produced, and refreshing in a crowded indie-rock genre. 

Other albums I've enjoyed but didn't make the top-10: Air Review [Low Wishes], Arcade Fire [Arcade Fire], Bombadil [Metrics of Affection], Brooke Waggoner [Originator], Evening Hymns [Spectral Dusk], Five Iron Frenzy [Engines of a Million Plots], Foy Vance [Joy of Nothing], Frightened Rabbit [Pedestrian Verse], Leagues [You Belong Here], Lily Kershaw [Midnight in the Garden], Little Green Cars [Absolute Zero], The Lone Bellow [The Lone Bellow], Mandolin Orange [This Side of Jordan], Noah & the Whale [Heart of Nowhere], The Olms [The Olms], Penny & Sparrow [Tenboom], Phosphorescent [Muchacho], Shad [Flying Colours], Twenty One Pilots [Vessel], Villagers [Awayland], 

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FILM

The following list will likely be lame. I didn't watch many films this year for whatever reason. There are some that I enjoyed, however. Notably absent from the list are the critically acclaimed films from this year that I haven't had time to see yet: namely 12 Years a Slave, Her, Gravity, and Captain Phillips among others.

Favorite Films I Watched in 2013

  1. Of Gods and Men [trailer]
    This is cheating as it was originally released in 2010. But, I just watched it this year and was profoundly affected be it. It tells the story of a group of monks living peacefully during the 1996 Algerian Civil War. It can be slow at times, but that's part of the monastic feel that appealed to me. Watch this film. 
  2. Undefeated [trailer]
    I'm cheating again. This was released in 2011 but I watched it on Netflix just this year. It's still on Netflix for those that want to enjoy it. The summary on wiki:  The film documents the struggles of a high school football team, the Manassas Tigers of Memphis, as they attempt a winning season after years of losses. The team is turned around by coach Bill Courtney, who helps form a group of young men into an academic and athletic team.
  3. Iron Man 3 [trailer]
    I loved it. RDJ's supreme confidence as Tony Stark is just so much fun to watch. 
  4. Sound City [trailer]
    My favorite rock-n-roller David Eric Grohl directed a documentary about the famous-but-now-defunct recording studio Sound City. Grohl's own band [a little known band from Seattle called Nirvana] recorded at Sound City in 1991. But, it's as much about history as it is about the signs of the digital times and the future repercussions of digital progression and advancement. 
  5. Warm Bodies [trailer]
    My guilty pleasure choice. The inner-teenager within us all loves a good young adult fiction piece from time to time. Warm Bodies is funny, creative, and tells the story of someone coming back alive from the chaotic mess of depression... or is it back alive from being a zombie? Or is it a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet? The zombie genre is overplayed, sure. But this was fun. 
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BOOKS

Like my film list, I will modify my "favorite of..." list for books to include the books that I've read for the first time this year. There are so many books that I never get a chance to read the year they are released. I want this list to include those that I've read for the first time this year even if they were released in 2012 or before. Most of the books I read are to help prepare for sermon series or education writing. Some were assigned by a professor, some were recommending by friends, and some were just found by chance. Here's a list of my 10 favorite books that I read for the first time this year:

  1. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson [Amazon]
    Someone check my temperature: a Congregationalist Calvinist has the #1 book on my list this year. But rarely have I fell in love with literary characters as much as I did in the Gilead. I typically don't read a ton of fiction, but Robinson's talent at writing fiction is indisputable. I absolutely loved this book. It was written in 2004.
  2. Come Out My People!: God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond by Wes Howard-Brook [Amazon]
    Originally released in May 2012, this book goes through the entire narrative of Scripture connecting the dots of empire and imperialism and the Kingdom of God. Howard-Brook was a lawyer but left law to become a theologian at Seattle University, a Jesuit Catholic University. Though I don't know this for sure [as I'm too lazy to look it up], I believe that Howard-Brook and his wife are now Mennonites, which would totally fall in line with the content of his book.
  3. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman [Amazon
    It's unfortunate that you probably have never heard of Howard Thurman. Thurman's life is truly something remarkable. After growing up in the segregated south [b.1899], he graduated as the valedictorian of Morehouse College. He became a pastor and then the first dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University. He helped found and pastor the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. He then became the first black dean at Marsh Chapel at Boston University. He was profoundly influential on Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders while demonstrating what true racial diversity can look like in his life and career. This book was written in 1949.
  4. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns [Amazon]
    The Evolution isn't a terribly long book at only 192 pages, but it's an important read to help clarify some rhetoric on the many sides of the cosmology debate that Christians have vigorously and admittedly maintained over the last few hundred years. Enns earned his Ph.D. at Harvard and teaches at Eastern University. This book was released in 2012.
  5. The Parables of the Kingdom by Robert Farrar Capon [Amazon]
    This book dates back to 1985, when I was four years old. No one read it to me then, so I decided to read it at 31. This is the first book in Capon's parables trilogy. Capon's attempts to connect Christ's parables with the entirety of the narrative is commendable and even enjoyable to read. I found this book very helpful in better understanding the often misunderstood implications of the Kingdom parables of Christ. 
  6. Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness by Jean Vanier & Stanley Hauerwas [Amazon]
    The Bible makes all sorts of peculiar statements about the last becoming first and the weak becoming strong in God's economy. What does this mean? It's tough to believe that this is true when everything I see suggests that the strong become stronger and the weak become weaker. Hauerwas is an ethicist from Duke (now retired). Vanier founded the L'Arche Communities. The do a great job at exploring this tension. This book was written in 2008.
  7. The Longing for Home: Reflections at Mid-Life by Frederick Buechner [Amazon]
    You can pick this book up on Kindle for $.99. It is a collection of some thoughts and essays by Buechner first published in 1996. Buechner talks about home being twofold: the place that we remember and the place that we dream about. This book served a purpose as we were fighting some of my health issues this year. 
  8. Community That Is Christian by Julie Gorman [Amazon]
    Gorman's book is a primer for small groups in churches, but it's really much more than that. It's about the nature of community and how relationships are formed. I'm a bit skeptical of one-size-fits-all small group models. This book helped solidify some thoughts on the importance of community and how to organically handle and foster community development in a place like State Street. This book was written in 2002.
  9. Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert Lupton [Amazon]
    We feel a sense of calling and vocation to the urban center of our small city. It's a transient and difficult area to work that often leaves us with frustrations and challenges. Lupton's words were encouraging and hard to read. They challenged the status quo of how ministry is done in urban arenas. They also gave hope that, though the Church has sought to abandon these areas, Christ has not. It's a good read for those passionate about ministry at the center of the city. This book was written in 2010.
  10. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate by Justin Lee [Amazon]
    I read this at the same time that our book club read Jeff Chu's "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" with our book club at church. Both seek to tackle a difficult question; how will the church proceed in a complex world with complex questions about the nature of human sexuality? It's no secret that the Church has not handled these questions well in the past. So much hate and division has happened that looks nothing like Christ. I found both books to be a breath of fresh air in this debate. This book was written in 2012. 

OK. It's your turn. What books/music/movies/albums did I miss that I should check out? Maybe it'll make my 2014 list.