What My 28th Year Sounds Like

I’ll turn 28 on Monday, which means it’s time for another birthday playlist. This will be the third year I’ve made an official playlist to celebrate my birthday, and I’ve honestly been thinking for months about what theme I should have. For my 26th birthday, I chose a song for every letter of the alphabet. Last year, I chose 27 songs that reminded me of literature I love. This year, I realized that I chose songs I wanted to be on the playlist and tried to find a theme to match. So instead of a strict theme, what I created is a chronology of the songs I’ve loved listening to this year.

Most of these songs are on albums released within the past year, and most of my favorite bands appear as usual (Arcade Fire, Muse, Mumford & Sons, and The Gaslight Anthem all make an appearance, with some new favorites). And the list is in chronological order, from the songs I obsessed over on my last birthday to the duo I’m currently obsessed with right now.

So…for the third straight year, here’s my birthday playlist (and here’s the link to the complete YouTube playlist). This is what the 28th year of my life sounded like:

1) “Abraham’s Daughter,” Arcade Fire, from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Two days before my birthday last year, I drove to Shelby, NC, where some scenes from The Hunger Games were filmed. I spent the first part of the summer listening to this album on repeat. This song was the sole reason I bought the album in the first place, and it’s my favorite track.

2) “Kingdom Come,” The Civil Wars, from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

My first introduction to The Civil Wars (who’ll make another appearance). I listened to this song on repeat almost as much as the previous song. This song captured the tone of the film so very well.

3) “Man On Fire,” Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, from Here

Before I bought this album, all I knew about ES&MZ was that they had toured with Mumford & Sons, which was enough to convince me of their worth. I actually downloaded the album after a great review in Entertainment Weekly, and I listened to it for weeks last summer. This was the first single from the album.

4) “Poison & Wine,” The Civil Wars, from Barton Hollow

Well, I also listened to a lot of this band in addition to Edward Sharpe. This song is my favorite from the album; it’s haunting and sad and beautiful.

5) “Dear Believer,” Edward Shape & the Magnetic Zeros, from Here

I loved “Man on Fire” first, but I love this song even more. I remember the moment I really listened to the lyrics for the first time. I stopped what I was doing, started the song over, and realized this is one of the most honest songs about faith I’ve ever heard. The repeated line “Maybe reaching for heaven is what I’m on earth to do” is golden.

6) “Survival,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

This was the theme song for the London 2012 Olympics, and the first we heard from their new album. We Muse fans had been waiting for years!

7) “Extreme Ways (Bourne’s Legacy),” Moby, from The Bourne Legacy soundtrack

With Jeremy Renner taking over the Bourne franchise from Matt Damon, we also got a new remix of Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” a song that I never grow tired of. In fact, this is my alarm clock every morning, too. Also, I love Jeremy Renner. Any song that makes me think about him is obviously a song I will love.

8) “In My Heart,” Moby, from 18

As much as I love “Extreme Ways,” though, this is my favorite Moby song, and sometimes, I wonder if this isn’t my favorite song of all-time, ever. The world just seems right when I listen to this song, and I spent many long nights grading while listening to this song on repeat. It keeps me sane and hopeful.

9) “Octopus,” Bloc Party, from Four

Another album I’d been waiting a long time for. Bloc Party had not released an album in four years and had even parted ways for awhile. I didn’t connect with this album quite like I had with previous albums, but I certainly like it, and it keeps me awake late at night, too.

10) “Madness,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

Even though “Survival” was a song that defined the summer, this album didn’t actually arrive until October. And, boy, was it worth the wait. Previous to the release, Muse received a lot of criticism for releasing a dubstep-influenced album. This is not the first album I would recommend to someone who has never listened to Muse, but for longtime fans, it’s very nearly perfect, I think. And “Madness” is one of the most addictive songs I’ve ever heard.

11) “I Will Wait,” Mumford & Sons, from Babel

This was the album I’d been waiting for the most out of all of the excellent albums released last fall. And it’s glorious. At this stage in my life, Mumford & Sons is the voice in my head, the one that I need to hear constantly.

12) “Hopeless Wanderer,” Mumford & Sons, from Babel

The first song on the album on which I hit “repeat.” This song seems like the definition of my 20s.

13) “Handwritten,” The Gaslight Anthem, from Handwritten

I love The Gaslight Anthem because they love music, and they’re nostalgic and hopeful. Brian Fallon pours his whole heart onto the page, and this song is fantastic.

14) “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from The Heist

I could write pages on this song. But I’ll just say this–at the end of the fall semester, one of my students gave an excellent presentation on why people should shop at thrift stores. I hadn’t heard this song at the time, so I didn’t realize that my student (and his classmates) had referenced the song throughout the presentation. When I did hear it, I was sad that I’d missed months of listening to it because it’s incredible. On the surface, it’s fun and ridiculous, and underneath that, it’s a critique of hiphop culture that’s gutsy. I love these guys so much.

15) “Follow Me,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

My favorite track from the new album. It’s a soaring, anthemic song about love, and I cannot get enough of it.

16) “Ho Hey,” The Lumineers, from their self-titled album

I first heard this song because my friends Jane & Walter played it for their last dance at their wedding in November. I bought the album shortly thereafter, and when I competed in a pop-culture quiz bowl tournament in December, I was the only person in the tournament to answer this question correctly. Winning.

17) “Little Talks,” Of Monsters and Men, from My Head is an Animal

I heard this song once over Christmas break, but never heard the announcement about the band. After that first time, I couldn’t stop thinking about this song. And on the morning of New Year’s Day, as I was driving home around 3 a.m., I finally heard the song a second time. As soon as I got home, I searched for the lyrics, downloaded the album, and thought my heart might burst from how glorious this song is. This album is INCREDIBLE. I’m so happy to live in a world in which Of Monster and Men make such great music. This song, for me, will always feel like a new year.

18) “Wagon Wheel,” Old Crow Medicine Show, from O.C.M.S.

Darius Rucker released a cover of this song, and I saw a lot of people on Twitter complaining about how the original was so much better. After a suggestion from a former student, I listened to the song again for the first time in years and remembered how great it was. And then I just kept on listening.

19) “Stubborn Love,” The Lumineers, from their self-titled album

My favorite song from the album: “Keep your head up / Keep your love.”

20) “Lakehouse,” Of Monsters and Men, from My Head is an Animal

I was so obsessed with “Little Talks” that I didn’t realize the beauty in all the other songs on the album for awhile. This song was a sort-of sleeper agent. After several weeks, I was struck by how beautiful it is.

21) “Keepsake,” The Gaslight Anthem, from Handwritten

My favorite track from the new album. The guitars and drums match Brian Fallon’s voice so perfectly.

22) “We Did It When We Were Young,” The Gaslight Anthem, from American Slang

I saw TGA live in March, and after that show, I slid this 2010 album in my car’s stereo and didn’t take it out for weeks. This song is slow, melancholy, nostalgic, powerful.

23) “Don’t You Worry Child,” Swedish House Mafia feat. John Martin, from Don’t You Worry Child EP

When I finally managed to listen to something besides TGA (sometime around mid-April), I realized Swedish dance music is awesome (and, once more, a great soundtrack for late-night grading).

24) “Radioactive,” Imagine Dragons, from Night Visions

I wish this song had existed when I was writing my thesis. Thematically, it’s perfectly dystopian. I also wish the rest of the album were as good as this song, but instead, they just sort of sound like a blend of Coldplay and OneRepublic with a big drum. (Disclaimer: I actually like both of those bands…I just don’t need a duplicate.)

25) “Sail,” AWOLNATION, from Megalithic Symphony

This song makes me want to run a marathon or punch someone in the face. It’s that good.

26) “Vipassana [Ryan Lewis Remix],” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from VS. Redux

I love hiphop. I never though I could love it this much, though. This is the first track from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ 2010 EP. This is a song about faith (not so much Christian faith, but faith nonetheless), and Macklemore’s lyrics are real and heartfelt. And he’s an incredible rapper. And he’s hot. (If you’ve read this far, you deserve my honest opinion, right?)

27) “Otherside (feat. Fences) [Ryan Lewis remix],” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from VS. Redux

Macklemore’s biggest hit previous to “Thrift Shop.” It’s a song about his addiction to drugs and alcohol and his decision to become sober. Crazy good stuff.

28) “Can’t Hold Us,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from The Heist

The video for this song premiered on YouTube in April. This is the song that convinced me to download The Heist, which then convinced me to download everything else that Macklemore has ever done, with or without Ryan Lewis. I sing this aloud in my car. I hear this song in my dreams. I talk about this whole album with anyone who will listen to me. I have a feeling this will be the song that defines my summer, the album I listen to on repeat for many more months. If this is the theme of my next year, it will be a good one indeed. 

ONWARD TO 29!

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On Intertextuality: Emerson, Meet Mumford

Ralph Waldo Emerson, founder of Transcendentalism and philosopher extraordinaire, occasionally amuses me. Take, for instance, this passage from Nature:

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Certain mechanical changes, a small alteration in our local position, apprizes us of a dualism. We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air.

Okay, that’s not actually the amusing part yet. Be patient. I really love this concept that a change in perspective makes the world seem new. The amusing part comes at the end of the paragraph. Imagine, if you will, our austere and brilliant Emerson in this position:

Turn the eyes upside down, by looking at the landscape through your legs, and how agreeable is the picture, though you have seen it any time these twenty years!

Oh, my, gosh, can you imagine Emerson bending over to look over Walden Pond though his legs? Hilarious!

So, now that we’ve laughed at Emerson a bit, let’s move on to something even greater. I was listening to Mumford & Sons this week (as I do pretty much every day), and I thought about these lyrics from their song “The Cave”:

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence when you know the maker’s land

Okay, so Mumford & Sons’ version involves a little bit of gymnastics rather than just bending at the waist, but I love that the idea of looking at the world in a different way appears in both of these texts.

I also appreciate the ideas presented about nature in the two: Emerson talks about freedom (emancipation) while Mumford talks about dependence. [Side note: after reading SPIN’s June cover story on Mumford & Sons in which Marcus Mumford talks about the importance of faith, I’m even more convinced that the biblical references throughout this album are very intentional.] At any rate, I think both Emerson and Mumford might agree that nature points to the existence of a Creator.

Now, for fun, watch this video of Mumford & Sons playing “The Cave” in a bookstore. Go on, you know you want to.

I struggle to find any truth in your lies.

My favorite song, “Awake My Soul,” by Mumford & Sons begins this way:

“How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes / I struggle to find any truth in your lies / And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know / My weakness I feel I must finally show”

Sometimes, I look at the people around me and wonder what kind of lies they’re believing. I think about the depth of my inner thoughts, and I recognize that, at any given moment, one of my beloved friends could be fighting an inner battle about which I know nothing. I wonder if their battles are like my own. Are those battles also buried so deeply, entrenched in years of self-doubt, that escape seems improbable–or impossible?

I’ve found that, even in all the end-of-semester busyness, I’ve been experiencing a bit of dissatisfaction lately, and I can see throughout patterns in my life that this dissatisfaction lies in years of self-doubt. What truly amazes me, however, is how absolutely pervasive this self-doubt can be.

One bad class period in which my students don’t respond to any of my instruction. One plagiarized essay. One student who turns in a late assignment. Any one of these incidents brings up questions that I hate to realize I’m asking myself: Do I really want to teach? Is this actually my calling? Am I making any difference? Why am I working so blasted hard for students who clearly don’t care?

This self-doubt leaks over into my own academic life. The grading scale at Gardner-Webb is strict; if I make anything below a 97 in a class, I lose my (pridefully-held) 4.0 average. A 96–a very honorable grade–will earn me a 3.66 in a class, which is bordering on unacceptable, at least to my perfectionist nature. After taking a midterm exam a few weeks ago, I walked out of my professor’s office thinking I had just blown my GPA. I didn’t feel as though I answered the questions thoroughly, and I did not feel as if I adequately expressed my knowledge of American Renaissance literature. Two weeks later, when my midterm was returned to me, I was astounded by my grade–a 99–and my teacher’s comments that the test was clearly too easy for me. I was also a little ashamed of the flood of relief that passed over me as I realized that I still, in fact, have an excellent chance of making above a 97 in the class as a whole. Just days before, I had followed the slippery slope of self-doubt down to questioning my entire future. If I don’t make an A in this class, I’ll lose my 4.0, and I won’t get accepted into grad school at Baylor (where I’m seriously considering entering a Ph.D. program). My pride as an exceptional student is constantly at war with my perceived identity: though I rarely voice the idea, I often feel that if I’m not a perfect student, then I have completely failed at life. I don’t feel as though I’ve ever been good at anything other than academia, and making less than an A clearly means that I’m not even good at that. See? Lies.

The worst part, however, is the lies of my perception of relationships:

The reason you’re approaching 26 and still single is because no guy could ever be interested in you.

That guy you’re interested in? He doesn’t care about you at all. Other girls are so much better.

That girl? She’s only talking to you because she needs something from you.

Your best friends? They think you’re annoying and you talk too much when you drink too much coffee. You should stop that. Don’t do that anymore. You’re always wrong.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

But so comfortable, too. The lure of lies is that they appeal to my selfish nature. When I believe these lies, I’m in control. Yes, berating myself is difficult, but it’s also very powerful. When I blame myself, I’m buying into the lie that I’m actually important (in some negative regard). It’s easier to believe that I’m single because I’m not good enough than because God has some greater plan. Because when I recognize God’s purpose, I have to let go of my own mindset. And letting God love me can be even more difficult than hating myself.

The truth is that I far too often believe the lies. I do not often enough grasp the Truth. This dissatisfaction serves a purpose, however. I recognize the self-doubt, and I begin to actively fight against it. I read Psalm 139 and remind myself that, even in the trenches of self-doubt, I cannot flee from my Father’s presence. I remind myself that truth is found in the cross on which my Savior died, not in my job or my academic career or my relationships with others. I write on my blog because that’s a little easier than saying the words face-to-face. And I listen to Mumford & Sons’ song and I hear the hope at the end: “Awake my soul / For you were made to meet your maker.”

I’m not sure of Mumford & Sons’ intention in those lyrics, but I know Who my Maker is, and I know that He doesn’t want me believing the lies. And I finally find the courage to fight against them and turn to the Truth once more.

Mumford and Sons

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a Bonnaroo mixtape created by SPIN magazine. I was super excited about it because it contained the Gaslight Anthem’s new single “American Slang” several weeks before the album was released. And while I certainly love The Gaslight Anthem, I found on that album a treasure: a live version of the song “White Blank Page” by London folk rock band Mumford and Sons.

I bought the full album on Monday, and it’s one of the best musical purchases I’ve made in a long time. The entire album–12 tracks long–is brilliant. Marcus Mumford’s voice is strong and deep, the instruments (including a mandolin and banjo) rock, and the songwriting is absolutely brilliant!

There are times when I listen to the album, and the music sounds like it should be played on the porch of a mountain cabin in Appalachia. And then there’s the song “Dust Bowl Dance,” and I imagine some film of violence and poverty in 1930s Oklahoma. These are definitely not the kind of voices I imagine coming out of London, but then again, what do I know about the London folk scene? 🙂

I’ve been listening to the album all week. And hoping that eventually, they add tour dates in the US.

Here’s a video of “White Blank Page,” filmed in a bookstore in London. Excellent music + books everywhere = a beautiful video:

And one of my favorites, especially lyrically, is track 4, “Roll Away Your Stone”:

“It seems that all my bridges have been burned / But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works / It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart / But the welcome I receive with every start”