sketches: Christmas break poems








A few rough drafts which I hope to develop.

Only one of these reflects on the Advent season explicitly, but there is I think a theme of a long tiredness throughout all these drafts, which is a crucial component to Advent (think “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”). There are also poems written in response massive flooding and a mall burning down in my hometown within two or three days of each other. These are in their own rights Advent reflections.

December 15
I pick up tied-up trash bags;
you begin to weep—
the end of this long year is upon us.

I say “in the warm months before, where
and when did we sit,
stop, listen to ourselves?”

I say “these bags are filled with
the things we’ve held for months and seasons,
and it snows outside now.”

In your hands is your sobbing, laughing head.
“Thank you God,” you say—
“thank you, God.”

It is too cold to weep
when I step outside to toss the bags.
It is quiet again inside when I return.

There are too many things
to speak, and not enough silence to fill.

December 18
At the still point is the dance,
and I have not danced in so long.

At the end of a tired year
to speak of your birth is to speak
of your suffering—
we know this because we know your flesh and incarnation.

our body is your own, broken, bloody, tired, at war with itself,
but we forget that in your bodily pain
you laughed with full-blooded joy—

so now, Lord, slain
for the turning of all sorrow, grant us,
your people, your weary body, joy.

December 22, 2017
smoke from the mall.
video: red shirt, yellow shirt,
slow gray rising against bright blue.

“lord, save them, hallelujah,”
“shet shet shet” and
“poor people on the roof”.

the urgent song of the truck drowns
the prayers of the people.

“Lord, save them, haaaa—”

smoke in the mall—God, save them,
keep them alive, now and after.

December 23, 2017
are there songs to sing?

the name of these walls:
New City—now obsolete, and consumed.

are there songs to sing
at what remains of the toil
of tired hands, exhausted and seeking hearts—

are there other songs to sing
than dirges? but not even those,
for those have melodies and pulses that make sense.

weep, like the fiery force eating
the goods and stone and flesh,
consuming all as an impersonal sacrifice
in a temple which we now know is temporary,
an unknowable ritual, for which we have no songs.

December 25, 2017
sing again, God,
that we might remember how.

6,614 displaced families
dec. 21 floodings (tropical storm vinta)

the sound of the mountains: roar
and current—brown river emptying
onto unsuspecting sleepy city.

the sound of sky: no breath,
simply endless drum,
metal sheets and sheets of thunder.

the sound of water: terror
and loss. the sound of God:
quiet, opening hands that hold on—

New Mexico
this wild land breathes
softly, and I have earphones
plugged in


my top 10 albums – 2017

2017 was in general a rough year, and music released this year reflects that. We saw music that looked back to earlier sounds (Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” reeked so much of ABBA, I had to make sure it wasn’t a cover), and music that seemed to only look forward (“The old Taylor can’t come to the phone now” as the prime example). We saw many new artists, and first LPs from young artists: Khalid, Alessia Cara, SZA, Sampha, Daniel Caesar. We also saw second albums from younger artists which avoided the sophomore slump. These artists bring a weird but exciting mixture of snark, irony, fresh excitement, and maturity in sound. We saw established artists release new music, e.g. LCD Soundsystem coming back from retirement, sadder and angrier than before. Other acts—Fleet Foxes, Alt-J, The Shins, Sam Smith, Passion Pit, WALK THE MOON, Ed Sheeran, Queens of the Stone Age, Beck, and The xx—all released new music, but I either haven’t listened to these releases enough or didn’t think they were worth placing on this list.

Out of all the music released this year, here are my top ten albums.

But before that, albums which I thought of but didn’t place:

  • Kendrick, Arcade Fire, Lana. Solid stuff, but within the context of each of these artists’ discographies, these albums don’t quite hit the heights of earlier work.
  • Sampha – Process. A few beautiful tracks but another album on my list does the R&B vibe better.
  • Taylor Swift – reputation. I was hyped after Look What You Made Me Do, …Ready for It?, and Gorgeous dropped. But again, another album does what reputation was trying to do better.
  • Algiers – The Underside of Power 
  • SZA – Ctrl
  • Moonchild – Voyager
  • Big Thief – Capacity

10. Alvvays – Antisocialities

alvvays - antisocialities

Alvvays is a Canadian dreampop band. Dreampop is as much about atmosphere as it is about lyrics and melody; Alvvays strikes a balance between these elements in their second album outing. “Dreams Tonite” is heartwarming and wistful at the same time. “Plimsoll Punks” begins with a riff reminiscent of Nico’s “These Days,” but shifts into the driving power-chord sound of punk. “In Undertow” is a breakup song that playfully undermines the sadness of its lyrics with a reverb-filled, dreamy vibe. The vibe isn’t full-on pop-happy like, say, Passion Pit; in the midst of the upbeat there are tinges of regret. But, like waves hitting the shore again and again, we hear the repeated “There’s no turning back” of the chorus.

Highlights: “In Undertow,” “Dreams Tonite,” “Plimsoll Punks,” “Lollipop,” “Saved By A Waif”

9. The National – Sleep Well Beast


2017 was a lot of Sad Dad Rock™ for me. The National have been probably the best proponents of that sound in the last decade, and it’s actually incredibly impressive that they haven’t slumped since releasing Alligator in 2005. Sleep Well Beast takes the rock of previous National albums and adds a bit of Radiohead-manic electronic vibes, with a few stutters in the tracklist.

Sleep Well Beast’s themes revolve around both politics and (as usual) the natural deterioration of relationships. It takes work to maintain them, but the band suggests that it isn’t anybody’s fault in particular if a relationship fades away (“Guilty Party”). But it’s sad. And it isn’t to say that there aren’t moments of hope. “Dark Side of the Gym” is a sweet and oddly cute song, but at the track’s end comes a frenetic and choppy electronic instrumental straight out of Radiohead’s Kid A, leaving you with an unsettled sense. The same weird energy speaks into the strangeness of the political year. Both temporariness and failed policy weigh heavy on this album.

One extremely poignant moment is when frontman Matt Berninger sings to his kid, “Put your heels against the wall / I swear you got a little bit taller since I saw you / I’ll still destroy you.” Being at college away from my family on the other side of the globe, I was struck especially hard by this. I started bawling.

Highlights: “Nobody Else Will Be There,” “Day I Die,” “I’ll Still Destroy You,” “Guilty Party,” “Dark Side of the Gym”

8. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding


More Sad Dad Rock™. The War on Drugs works off their incredible work on 2014’s Lost in the Dream, an Americana/psychedelic expression of paranoia and emotional pain. A Deeper Understanding shows someone who is moving on and processing (“I can tell pain is on the way out now”). We hear plaintive contemplation and joie de vivre in different tracks. My main complaint is that it is a bit front-loaded. Not that the later tracks are bad, but that it’s hard to finish the whole thing because the best tracks are within the first seven.

A Deeper Understanding is incredible in how it wears its influences on its sleeve—Springsteen, Bryan Adams (the lead singer sounds a lot like Bryan Adams), psychedelic rock—and how it develops old sound into a new and distinctive style. It’s still that 80s-inspired rock, but with more echo and more verve and more sadness. A Deeper Understanding is a triumph in atmospheric production.

Highlights: Pretty much the first seven songs. Favorites are “Pain,” “Nothing to Find,” “Thinking of a Place.”

7. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism 

moses sumney - aromanticism

Moses Sumney’s R&B LP is a masterfully produced work. The piano work is immaculate, the electronic manipulation works seamlessly with the acoustic aspects, and Moses Sumney’s vocals are perfect. The chordal changes on some tracks are exquisite, more than usual for R&B albums (including Sampha’s almost-as-good Process). The instrumentation is sparse, but compelling.

On a thematic level, Aromanticism speaks from a jadedness with modern love, noting how lust is often confused for love and that now they seem to be the same thing. He proposes that an alternative that looks beyond “love,” an aromantic stance. We see so many of these albums criticize modern love; Aromanticism is rare in providing a potential solution. It’s escapist, and ultimately pointless, because it’s self-reflexive, and it’s a flaw. But Sumney is perceptive—and an amazing musician to boot.

Highlights: “Plastic” and “Doomed” are two of the best songs released all year.

6. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness


“And when I first saw you / the sky, it was such a natural blue.” Julie Byrne’s simple but moving lyricism shines against the ground of fingerpicked guitar. Not Even Happiness is a beautiful study in mood and word. Byrne’s lyrics draw from pastoral and confessional traditions, deeply tied to places in nature while being lucidly introspective. Her lyric sheets could almost stand apart from their music as a collection of poems. E.g.:

Blue palms glide in the light of a red moon
The Catalinas brought me to the West
And yes I have broke down asking for forgiveness
When I was nowhere close to forgiving myself

from “I Live Now As a Singer”

Her guitar abilities are incredible, and what’s more impressive is how the guitar doesn’t call attention to itself. But neither does it fade away; it complements the contemplative mood of Byrne’s words, producing one of the most coherent folk albums I’ve ever listened to.

Highlights: “Follow My Voice,” “Sleepwalker,” “Natural Blue,” “I Live Now As a Singer”

5. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream 


I’m so glad LCD came out of retirement. American Dream has some of their best work yet. I wasn’t aware that they were coming out with a new album until I woke up one morning and Spotify told me that they had. It was an incredible first listen. “oh baby” set the tone of the album: sadder, more serious. “how do you sleep?” made it clear that this album is also more biting. American Dream is about par with Sound of Silver, one of the greatest albums of last decade, and as a whole, better, I think, than This Is Happening.

There’s more of those tracks which I really don’t know how to call other than “sad dance-rock bangers” (Gorillaz’ new album Humanz has a few of these, too): “tonite” and “other voices” make you want to dance yourself clean, but they also make it clear the emptiness of the titular American dream. On “american dream,” James Murphy sings, “And you can’t remember the meaning / but there’s no going back against this california feeling.” The album ends with “black screen,” a 12-minute tribute to David Bowie, which I can’t listen to often because of its heaviness.

Highlights: “oh baby,” “tonite,” “how do you sleep?,” “call the police”

4. Gang of Youths – Go Farther in Lightness

gang of youths - go farther

This album was really slept on. Australian band Gang of Youths performed an incredible feat: making a 16-track anthemic rock album that isn’t tiring to listen to (and it’s a second album that doesn’t slump).

I first stumbled across the album when Spotify recommended it to me. Boy am I glad it did. Go Farther In Lightness is a rare album that hooked me because of its lyrics, not because of its music (I’m generally more a vibes listener than a words listener). It has some incredible lyrics. It also has some unfortunately cheesy high-school-English-project lyrics. Lyricist David Le’aupepe wrestles with some big topics: breakup, God, family, prayer, temporariness. Sometimes he handles this ambitious project incredibly well. Sometimes he handles the themes poorly (“Let Me Down Easy” is, coincidentally, the biggest letdown).

The backing music is fantastic. Like The War on Drugs, Gang of Youths displays its influences openly: old Arcade Fire, old National, Springsteen. But they push it forward, and even include some string instrumental tracks, which are absolutely gorgeous to listen to.

The album’s closer is a celebration of life, warts and all:

Say yes to sun! Say yes to pain!
Say yes to sticking with a city through a thousand days of rain!
Say yes to grace! Say no to spite!
Say yes to this! Say yes to you!
Say yes to me! Say yes to love!
Say yes to life!

Highlights: “Keep Me in the Open,” “The Heart is a Muscle,” “The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Sorrows,” “Say Yes To Life”

3. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

julien baker - turn out the lights

Confessional poetry in song form. Julien Baker caught my attention with her first album, Sprained Ankle. Like Julie Byrne, she’s lovable because of her lyricism, and that remains true in this her second album. Where Byrne relies on imagery for introspection, Julien uses a cutting honesty. I place Julien Baker’s album higher because it has more oomph.

Julien has a self-understanding that encompasses emotional, mental, relational areas of brokenness. She seeks truth but can’t seem to quite get there. It’s at times painful to hear her condemn herself or apologize for something she doesn’t have to (“All my prayers are just apologies,” she sings in “Televangelist”). She prays a lot, it seems: “Lord, Lord, Lord, is there some way to make it stop?” And:

So could you hear from heaven on earth

If I scream a little louder

I know you would have heard

Say there’s no way I could be further

If I scream a little louder I know you would have heard it

It’s painful to hear this, but what’s striking is that I think we’ve all felt like this at times. Julien expresses some faith, but it’s one that doesn’t leave much room for grace. That said, Julien’s album is one of the most moving ones I’ve ever heard.

Highlights: “Turn Out the Lights,” “Shadowboxing,” “Televangelist,” “Everything That Helps You Sleep,” “Hurt Less”

2. Lorde – Melodrama

lorde - melodrama

So when I said that I was hyped for Taylor’s new album, I was hyped because I thought she was shifting her sound towards Lorde’s art-pop vibe. I think Taylor’s album failed to capture the magic of art-pop. Within our cultural context, Taylor’s new music doesn’t have the ease of artistic expression that artists like Grimes, St. Vincent, and, well, Lorde enjoy. Taylor ended up sounding like someone trying to be the new Queen of Edge, rather than becoming Edgy™ herself.

All that to say: Lorde did what Taylor was trying to do better. Lorde’s edge feels effortless, largely because her music remains playful. Melodrama is a breakup album, backed largely by piano riffs and beats of the “sad-dance-rock-banger” type. She doesn’t really rely on drops here, but on hooks both instrumental and lyrical. “Supercut” uses both, having a smashing backing riff and a great lyrical hook: “It’s just a supercut of us.” “Green Light” is a dance track that uses a piano for rhythmic movement.

As a crowning achievement, “The Louvre” contains one of the greatest millennial lyrics ever: “I overthink your p-punctuation use.” Like who under the age of, like, twenty-five hasn’t done this? Lorde is a voice of my generation, and when her album dropped in the summer, I was like, “Yes.”

Highlights: “The Louvre,” “Liability,” “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” “Writer in the Dark,” “Supercut,” “Perfect Places”

1. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Memount eerie - a crow looked at meThis isn’t just an album. Maybe it isn’t album at all. It’s a document of grief. Phil Elverum’s wife dies, and he records the grieving process throughout months, using his wife’s instruments, recording himself singing in her room and other places she haunts. Elverum releases these tracks under the name Mount Eerie, one of his music projects.A Crow Looked At Me evokes grief in a way that no other album has done for me. There is no other album I know of that contains rawness, openness, a willingness to give up strong metaphor in order to grieve honestly. Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell and Sun Kil Moon’s Benji don’t come close to this. Crow is just a grieving man and his wife’s old guitar. He doesn’t sing as much as a speak over the guitar. The musical arrangement is simple; little production, little rhyming, little floweriness. But you hear his pain and feel within your soul a bit of his loss.

Death is real

Someone’s there and then they’re not

And it’s not for singing about

It’s not for making into art

When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb

When I walk into the room where you were

And look into the emptiness instead

All fails

My knees fail

My brain fails

Words fail

from “Real Death”

I can’t listen to this album repeatedly. I’ve only listened to it twice through. It’s on another musical plane, as it were. As a document of processing through death, it is a testament to the temporariness of this life and to voids that can’t be filled by any earthly thing and which we can only acknowledge. Even if Phil Elverum did have hope of life after death, it would still remain a fact that death is real, at least for now; it is, after all, the last enemy to be destroyed.


Did some writing over the weekend. Here are a couple of poems that came out of it:

father of all lights and of all songs which
shine through our loud vapor,

brother in our spoken gladness
and all our unspoken lows,

spirit through whom we learn
to weep words our stomachs want to say—

teach us home,
teach us to leave it

teach us homelessness,
teach us welcome

teach us travel
and teach us stillness

give us songs to make things right again, teach us
how to dance that we may revive our bodies,

and yet teach us silence, and the
silence of your suffering—

teach us to ask why and to be content
to hear nothing but thunder

teach us to die, and teach us
to live—teach us the beauty in both

teach us in our confusion and give us knowledge of
our ignorance—teach us your laughing grace and mercy

teach us your foolishness
and teach us to care—

father of flashes, bright and dull, brother in
our sadnesses, spirit who breathes us homeward—
teach us love, teach us yourself. amen and amen.


color sketches
Our room is color, the color of
sunfire on flag and country—
the heat of yellow, soft and harsh. Our room

is color, the color of earth,
of mud, bark of mango tree, of the river
under the bridge—our brown skin.

Our room is the color you liked
when you were younger—waxy blue:
rolling, endless, comforting, and terrible.

Our room is the black of laughter and
of suffocation, our room is
the white of hospitals. Our room is

the deep red of things
we have no words for—
the purple veins of our rages and fears.

Outside our room it rains the
perfect day. You say
I like this, I like this grey—

grey, the color of sky, for
it is like the color of soul.

Arcade Fire’s Everything Now and also a bit of D.F.W.

Arcade Fire’s new album Everything Now just came out, and it continues the band’s project of saying a lot of things about a lot of things. Among the things that Everything Now (EN) gets at are: riches, fame, party culture, (fake) love, youth, modern life, technology, God, death. They’ve tackled all these things before, but this time they’ve upped the scale, and so remain the Most Ambitious Band in the world.


If EN had a central theme, it would be excess. The album’s title gets at that, as do the song-titles “Everything_Now (cont.),” “Everything Now” (lead single), “Everything Now (cont.)” (all of which are separate tracks) and the songs “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content.” EN gets at excess mostly in the form of monetary wealth. A line from “Creature Comfort” has the narrator say that he’s “born in a diamond mine. / It’s all around [him] but [he] can’t touch it.” “Put Your Money On Me” reflects on money, human relationships, and death.

This is all pretty heavy stuff, but Arcade Fire presents their music fairly in a pretty accessible fashion (it’s definitely easier to listen to than their last album, Reflektor). Even in their musical choices they present excess. EN continues the disco/dance-rock trend that Daft Punk and I guess LCD Soundsystem embody. “Everything Now” (the track) reeks of ABBA. “Signs of Life” reeks of gaudy-colored bell-bottoms (the song does self-awarely use the lyric “those cool kids stuck in the past”). But other tracks are less dancey and more rock. If you lowered the sound fidelity of “Chemistry,” it wouldn’t be out of place on a White Stripes record. In many songs, the bass track would do a funk bassist proud. Arcade Fire takes in a bunch of different influences and by doing so presents excess in musical form, so that you’re getting bombarded by excess on the levels of both music and lyrics (form and content).

Is it all too much? AF is my favorite band on the planet, and if you said you think EN is too much, I’d say “That’s the point.” EN is trying to get us to reflect on what wealth is doing to us. If we can hear “I need / everything now! I can’t live without / everything now! / … ’til every room in my house is filled with s**t I couldn’t live without” and feel some resonance and say “What happened?”–EN has done its job.

“Creature Comfort,” which might be my favorite track from the album, returns to the themes of AF’s first album, Funeral. Its lyrics are some of the most depressive, but also resonant from the album:

Some boys hate themselves
Spend their lives resenting their fathers
Some girls hate their bodies
Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback

Saying God, make me famous
If you can’t just make it painless
Just make it painless

Assisted suicide
She dreams about dying all the time
She told me she came so close
Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record


It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want
On and on, I don’t know if I want it

This has thematic connection to the work of David Foster Wallace: feelings of self-loathing, confusion, and disgust permeate his work, as do struggles with death and suicide, which is what this song is largely about. The song, as well as Wallace’s work, poses suicide (or perhaps death in a metaphorical sense) as a potential escape from self-destructive, or at least endlessly pointless, habits of excess (“But you do it every time / Then you do it again” – “Signs of Life”) . Wallace says it isn’t, or that it doesn’t achieve what you think it will. Arcade Fire, both in “Creature Comfort” and the album as a whole, doesn’t seem to give one, but it does acknowledge that struggle.

“Signs of Life” does briefly mention God as a potential option to turn to for fulfillment:

Love is hard, sex is easy
God in Heaven, could you please me?

But the album is by and large parodic and not a vessel of hope. That’s fine, but parody only gets you so far (as D.F.W. acknowledged and struggled with).

TL;DR: Everything Now is a lot, but it’s worth listening to. I like it.


my ten favorite tracks of the 2010s so far

I had a thought earlier today that went like “LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ would be my favorite track of the 2010s if Arcade Fire’s ‘Modern Man’ didn’t exist.” And from that I decided to create a top ten of my favorite tracks of the 2010s thus far.

This isn’t a Greatest-Songs-of-the-Decade list, because lists like that aren’t very useful and I haven’t listened to enough music from the decade anyway. These songs are some of my favorite tracks, ones that I both listen to a lot and think have artistic merit. Some of these songs were really hard to select, because a top-ten list is more discarding options than picking them. Many of these songs have sad undercurrents, but then again most, if not all art does. Some have explicit lyrics as well, but they’re worth listening to if you can get past that barrier.

So anyway here they are:

10. Lana Del Rey – Video Games

“Video Games” (2012) I think is Lana del Rey at her best: lush instrumentation, acute lyrics delivered with a captivatingly sad voice. Its lyrics (“It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you / everything I do”) are at once ridiculously fawnish on the surface and tragic below it. The mood produced by the accompanying music heightens the tragedy. The song suggests a sense of doomed-ness to modern love.

9. J. Cole – She’s Mine Pt. 2

J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only (2016) is fantastic. The character and story he created and developed for the album are some of the most poignant in any genre. “She’s Mine Pt. 2” is my selection for this list because it’s the most lyrically striking track from the album. It’s written from the point of view of a father who loves his daughter, but it gets at American culture in general, incarceration and hyper-consumerism included. The piano-driven track is chill-sounding, but I think it’s meant to induce sadness, or at least a sober attitude.

8. Frank Ocean – Ivy

I’m only putting “Ivy” (2016) on here because it’s a really cute, heartfelt song from Frank that’s also nostalgic of youth (“I ain’t a kid no more / we’ll never be those kids again”).

7. Funeral Suits – All Those Friendly People

Funeral Suits might be the least recognizable artist from this list. They’re an Irish band whose album Lily of the Valley (2012) is one of my favorites. “All Those Friendly People,” which is from Lily, is one of my favorite tracks ever because it manages to be continuously energetic without being heavy. The unrelenting singing during the verse and the insanely catchy riff maintain hype without it ever being too much. And it’s also the only non-medical cultural artifact I know of that uses the word “anaesthetize.”

6. Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?

(English-major jargon ahead.)

If I were an English professor who had to teach song lyrics, I’d teach the songs of Britrock act Arctic Monkeys. Songwriter and frontman Alex Turner produces songs that aren’t just lyrically good because of the story they tell/picture they paint; they’re good because of the sonic quality of the lyrics themselves, which is to say the words of their songs sound good together. Alex Turner makes incredible use of internal and end rhyme and just assonance in general, sometimes inspired by dialect, like when he rhymes “summat” (a British variant of “something”) with “stomach” in 2006’s “When the Sun Goes Down.” Poet Simon Armitage admires their work, calling Turner “among the most poetic [of songwriters].” Their songs are also driven by some of the best rock riffs produced in any era.

“R U Mine?” (2013) is one of the best examples of all these things. The first verse is a masterpiece of verbal sound:

I’m a puppet on a string
Tracy Island, time-traveling diamond cutter-shaped heartaches
Come to find you fall in some velvet morning
Years too late
She’s a silver lining lone ranger riding
Through an open space
In my mind when she’s not right there beside me

You have the usual suspects like the alliteration in “silver lining lone ranger riding.” But you also have incredible rhyming. “String,” “morning,” and “riding” feel more like internal rhymes than like end rhymes because of how the song sounds (you really have to listen to it if you haven’t yet). “Come to find you fall in some velvet morning” is brilliant not just because of alliteration but also because of how the vowels naturally stress, giving the line a level of rhythmic power usually only found in poetry and rap.

And the riff is both ridiculously sexy and ridiculously well-integrated into the song. I’m linking a live version of the song because it’s stunning that Turner both plays the riff and sings.

5. Kendrick Lamar – u

I can’t find a link to a video, but that’s fine.

“u” comes from Kendrick’s 2015 masterpiece of an album To Pimp a Butterfly. It is hands down the most hard-hitting of tracks on an album that’s about incarceration, racial tensions (both inter- and intra-), greed, sex, whathaveyou.

“u” is divided into two parts. The first centers on the lyric “Loving you is complicated.” The loving is self-love. Here Kendrick struggles with emotions, confidence, and ego in light of his success as an artist.

The second half has Kendrick rapping in a higher voice that suggests that he’s speaking from drunkenness and despair. It’s almost painful to hear him angrily voice out his guilt, shame, and depression. The song only finds its light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel in the context of the whole album, which is fluctuates between status quo and hope of a better future. It helps that “Alright” comes after “u” in the album, which contains the line “if God got us then we gon’ be alright.”

4. Lorde – A World Alone

Lorde is a genius. She’s been praised by David Bowie, covered by Arcade Fire. She’s one of the best pop songwriters of our time. She sings about isolation. She sings about losing childhood. She sings about the Internet culture that has allowed people to freely make rude comments and gossip with little or no consequence. And her album Pure Heroine (2013) came out when she was only 17.

“A World Alone,” the last track from Pure Heroine, is about all the themes mentioned above, and it contains one of my favorite song-lines: “Maybe the Internet raised us or maybe people are jerks.”

3. The 1975 – Robbers

According to, I’ve listened to “Robbers” more than any other song. It’s a well-written tune. It tells a good story, which I think is based on a Tarantino short film. It isn’t The 1975’s best song, but it’s my favorite song of theirs.

There’s this one point near the end of the the song where the lead singer Matt Healy’s voice jumps between octaves and it sounds so heartfelt and sincere that you can’t help but get hit by the feels. The music video is also top-notch I think.

2. LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean

“Dance Yrself Clean” (2013) is my second-favorite track, but it’s kinda hard to articulate why. It might be that the song starts really low-volume but then gets you in the middle with the sudden burst in volume and energy. It might be the fact that it’s both an indie and a dance track: it makes you want to reflect on existence, or on the human condition, or on how non-mainstream you’re being aaand it makes you want to writhe awkwardly and dance your cares away. The middle dance section encourages us to “go and dance [ourselves] clean / … it’s [our] show.”

Thing is, the lyrics in the low-volume section get at the social anxiety of being unsure about whether people like you or not and needing desperately to know. You get that sense again at the end. “Dance Yrself Clean” ends quietly in a letdown after the hype of the dancefloor. You tried to dance yourself free of your worries–but in the end, what?

1. Arcade Fire – Modern Man

“Modern Man” (2010) is my favorite song from my favorite album of my favorite band.

Arcade Fire has always been about huge, sweeping issues. “Modern Man” is a perfect exemplar of what AF is about. It’s about the general uneasiness/malaise we have in our supposedly well-advanced and -developed time.

The narrator of the song finds himself waiting, standing in lines so much of his life. All this waiting is done in accordance to a story shaped by a modern vision. But the narrator realizes that it’s all deeply, fundamentally, like C.S.-Lewis-“made-for-another-world”-level unsatisfying and confusing (“In line for a number but you don’t understand”). “Something don’t feel right,” the song repeats, and eventually comes my favorite lines from my favorite song from etc. etc.:

If it’s alright
then how come you can’t sleep at night?

So why can’t you?

james k.a. and zadie smith on facebook

As [Zadie] Smith notes … “We know the consequences of this instinctively; we feel them. We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like. We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing ‘in’ the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us?” Twitter and Facebook are not just “media” that are neutral, benign conduits of information and communication; they are world-making and identity-constituting.  They invite and demand modes of interaction that function as liturgies. Like so many formative liturgies, they extort the essential by the seemingly insignificant, precisely by telling us a Story, capturing our imaginations to perceive the world in ways we don’t even realize. We imagine more than we know.

Christian worship invites us into a very different social ontology, through a different set of rituals—a counter-liturgy. Whereas the technological rituals we just considered reinforce a social imaginary in which I am the center of the universe, only related to others as an audience for my display, Christian worship is an intentionally decentering practice, calling us out of ourselves into the very life of God. That worship begins with a call is already a first displacement that is at the same time an invitation: to find ourselves in Christ … calling us out of ourselves and into the life of the Triune God, not to “lose” ourselves, but to be found in him. (James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom)

This is a timely rebuke—and one I’ll be needing constantly.