Last year, I wrote about a few songs that spoke incredibly deeply into my situation. 2014 has been a mixed year, with many new challenges and many joys. The first few months were among the most difficult of my working life and I really needed a major change, but the last eight actually turned out to be among the best. This isn’t a best of 2014 list – at least two of the songs come from 2013 – but they are some of the songs and albums I’ll remember 2014 by.

Sailboat – Ben Rector

2013 was just a big year, trying to finish off a Master’s degree after hours in addition to being a husband, working full time in an unhealthy environment and wanting to change, as well as being involved in a church community. A new year can often bring a renewed sense of purpose and direction, but this year, I wasn’t feeling it. There was big stuff happening, and even though I didn’t have the pressure of assignment deadlines, the strain of the previous year hung over me. It can make you think you’re not going anywhere but searching, waiting for a second wind of new life. Sailboat appears on The Walking in Between by Ben Rector

Bright Fire – The Honey Trees

I don’t remember how I came across this duo from California but I will remember the layers and lyrical imagery of this dream pop album Bright Fire. Dream pop, according to the Wikipedia, is distinguished by a focus on textures and moods rather than riffs, whispery vocals and introspective or existential lyrics. This is the first time I’ve encountered the genre, so I don’t know whether it is good dream pop, but the feelings of falling and recovering what is lost, set against the magical soundscapes hit a chord with me. At times, the vocals blend into the music so it takes some listening to get their lyrics; apparently that’s part of the genre too. But never mind that. Fall into the canvas of smooth voices, rich strings and electric pianos that is Bright Fire. Highlights are Nightingale, Like A Thousand Stars, Ammon’s Horn.

Good Light – Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors

I’ve been going through an Americana phase the last couple of years. Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors 2013 album Good Light has been one of my go-to albums since I discovered the band on Under The Radar in August. It’s a feel good album, about living life in appreciation of its beauty, the people and places that make it so rich and, well, good. I particularly like The Wine We Drink, a beautiful duet about the sweetness of grace in love; a fine wine that fills the soul with delight. I love voices accompanied by minimal instrumentation, and here the exposed, vulnerable music reflects the intimacy and uniqueness of sharing a life with another and being known and loved regardless of one’s imperfections.

Another song that struck me on the album was Tennessee, and its deep sense of connection to a place. It just got me thinking about what my place means to me. How much do I really love my place, my city. Not just like, but truly love by seeking the best for it? There can be a tendency to swing between snobbery (or irritating unhelpful patriotism), and wishing it was some place else. Places form us, yes, but we also form our places. This year and hopefully in the next year too, I’ve had opportunities to explore some exciting things at work that could make our place better. It’s kinda cool to be able to do that.

Good, honest and also a bit of fun, Good Light leaves you feeling thankful for all the good things in life, and just a little more love for your neighbors.

You can grab Good Light free at Noisetrade for the next week. Leave a tip.

As Sure as the Sun – Ellie Holcomb

Ellie Holcomb, wife of Drew Holcomb (and one of The Neighbours) also released an album of her own, As Sure As the Sun. Funded by a highly successful kickstarter campaign, the album is laden with the fruit of theological reflection, alluding to heaps of Scripture passages throughout. Ellie’s Southern voice soars in the hope filled The Broken Beautiful and folk influenced anthem Marvelous Light (based on 1 Peter 2:9) and mellows out in bluesy I Want To Be Free.

There’s a real humble and hopeful Psalms flavor to the whole album that begins with As Sure As The Sun, and offering us a glimpse of what responding to God’s faithfulness looks like lived out: Love Never Fails is as clear an application of 1 Corinthians 15 as you’ll hear anywhere set to a memorable, catchy tunes:

Love doesn’t strut
It is not proud
Love will make sure to seek others out
Love doesn’t try to keep the score
It sides with forgiveness

Help me to trust that this is true
Help me to love like You do
Oh, Lord help me to live like
Love never fails

How our world needs this kind of love. How we need to live like this. That’s not always easy.

Blood Oranges in the Snow – Over the Rhine

Ohio-based duo Over the Rhine have created a gem with their latest Christmas album, Blood Oranges in the Snow. It’s enchanting, nostalgic folk infused with the spirit of many popular carols while its wintry imagery evokes both the magic of the northern hemisphere Christmas and the tension that life doesn’t always feel that way (My Father’s Body based on O Come O Come Emmanuel). This is reality Christmas music. The album also looks forward (If We Make It Through December) and up-in-and-out (Another Christmas) to ultimate questions of where we as individuals and a society find hope, particularly poignant given the events of the last week here in Australia:

This old world so sweet and so bitter
Seeds of violence we humans have sown
And these weapons we still love to handle
May our children have strength to let go

When we look at the stars after midnight
Sparkling rumors of redemption at play
Can we still hear the echoes of angels
Who were singing that first Christmas day

‘Cause we’ve committed every sin
And each one leaves a different scar
It’s just the world we’re living in
And we could use a guiding star

I hope that we can still believe
The Christ child holds a gift for us
Are we able to receive
Peace on earth this Christmas

If you’re looking for something good, true and beautiful that goes deeper than the standard commercial carol fare, or maybe you’re feeling your year or the world isn’t all you wanted it to be, definitely give this one a go.