Favorites for 2017

Music That Captured My Attention 

Tall Heights

There are so many things to love about this band. I love the instrumentation: guitar, cello, drums, keyboards; the incredible falsettos and rich harmonies; the casual way the music keels back and forth from folk to pop. The sound is reminiscent of Lord Huron or Darlingside but has something all its own.

The lyrics are quirky, evocative, sometimes hard to follow, but more than anything else incredibly original. Take this lyric from their song, River Wider:  "The dog days of August/ And a feeling of being awake/ Oh my God, my whole damn world's/ Hotel walls and mind decay." Or this one from the song, Infrared, "I came along an empty planet/ Where I was born beside a lake/ The days were long and there was nothing in my eye/ Not a tear, not a bird, not a snake."

Here are a couple of my favorites from Tall Heights

Spirit Cold

Heirloom

Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Gidden's album, Freedom Highway, is a raw and earthy collection of story-songs, which map the history of slavery in America. Needless to say, this isn't a pop album, and it's not an easy listen. But it is beautiful. Giddens' voice is incredible. She can sing anything: classical, folk, jazz. She's an amazing talent, and the writing and execution of this concept album is superb.

Julie

At Purchaser's Option

Books That Stuck With Me

Jensen Beach, Swallowed by the Cold    This collection of connected stories, set in Sweden, possesses one of my favorite qualities-- a realism that makes the stories feel like memories or little cuttings of history. In this sense, Jensen Beach's work reminds me of Alice Munro. It's not pretentious or shocking but quiet and certain. It slowly works its way under your skin.

Keith Lesmeister, We Could Have Been Happy Here  In a similar vein with Beach, Lesmeister's fiction opts for a stark realism-- a gritty picture of the Midwest. These are stories that you will keep thinking about long after you've put the book back on your shelf-- or, more likely, passed on to a friend.

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday  What bothers me the most about memoir or personal essay is that it is so often turns into 250 pages of self-justification. Evans doesn't fall into that trap. Instead, her self-told story comes across as an honest quest for a deep experience following Jesus, as opposed to the politically-driven church experiences in which she was raised in the American south. 

Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger, Year of Small Things  This book tells the story of two families' attempts to find a deeper spiritual experience in the midst of everyday life in suburbia. The premise is interesting, but what makes the book compelling is the honesty and sense of humor of its authors as they confront the plagues of consumerism, busyness, and the other ways our society drives us away from God and from one another.