Every year, I find a handful of music releases to look forward to. (Imagine Dragons and Mumford & Sons, for instance, were on the list this year, even if I wasn’t able to include those two bands’ most recent, more-positive-than-not releases here.)
And then, there are surprises. Sometimes big ones.
Last year, for example, I was shocked at the spiritual depth in Kesha’s track “Praying.” And this year, another female singer has taken a similarly spiritual, similarly surprising turn in her music. So let’s get started with this year’s Musical Musings post with her, shall we?
Avril Lavigne, “Head Above Water“: Unless you’re a huge Avril Lavigne fan, you might not have noticed that she hasn’t been around for a couple of years. That’s because she’s been struggling mightily against Lyme disease, which very nearly claimed her life. In a moment of desperation that she feared might her last, she cried out to God in prayer. She’s chronicled that petition in this praise song (yes, you read that right), one that nearly topped Billboard’s Christian Songs chart: “God, keep my head above water/Don’t let me drown/ … So pull me up from down below/’Cause I’m caught in the undertow/ … I need You now, I need You the most.” Wow. To say that Lavigne has come a long way since “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi” is the understatement of the year.
Owl City, Cinematic: The latest album-length effort from Adam Young, aka Owl City, is anything but a surprise. But in his case, that’s a good thing. That’s because Young once again mixes upbeat messages, beautiful melodies and playful synthpop (this time around sporting a very ’80s-esque vibe). Cinematic is a concept album of sorts in which Young says he sought to create “a personal narrative, as if a film was made from key scenes throughout my life.” Tender songs reminisce about family and friends and life lessons as Young encourages listeners to embrace their own “movie-magic wonder,” recalling the good times in the past and looking forward in hope to more such moments in the future.
Lauren Daigle, “You Say“: If we were handing out awards for the sweetest song of the year, Lauren Daigle’s “You Say” might be the winner The track offers a beautiful reminder of some important things God says about us: We are loved, seen, heard, held. Daigle, a Christian singer hailing from Lafayette, Louisiana, sounds in some ways like both Amy Winehouse and Adele as she delivers soulful lines such as, “You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing/You say I am strong when I think I am weak/You say I am held when I am falling short.” And then there’s this one: “When I don’t belong, You say I am Yours.” We’re so much more than the sum of our successes or failures, Daigle reminds us. We are people loved dearly and deeply by the God who created us. And I’d say that’s a message we all need to be reminded of regularly.
Twenty One Pilots, Trench: Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun don’t pull any punches. The two guys who comprise Twenty One Pilots plumb the depths of some of life’s deepest struggles, including depression and the temptation of suicide. A few moments deal with darkness in ways that don’t turn a positive corner. But more often than not, Twenty One Pilots delivers hopeful, redemptive messages to those who might find themselves in life’s “trench,” the uncomfortable space between two places. Lyrics aren’t always easy to decipher; but Joseph and Dun want to encourage people toward determination, not despair—a hopeful message that the band’s myriad fans have embraced with a passion.
Tori Kelly, Hiding Place: Tori Kelly’s second full-length album finds her teaming up with Kirk Franklin, Lecrae and The HamilTones. The result? Hiding Place, a gospel- and R&B-infused effort in which Kelly ponders suffering and loss even as she asks God to help her to stand strong with Him: “Show me how to trust You/More than with my words or with a song,” she sings on “Soul Anthem (It Is Well).” Kelly also reminds us that God is present through every twist and turn, ever peak and valley in our own stories as well: “That gives me peace when I’m alone with You/There’s a hiding place/Your Spirit’s always there when I’m confused.” (“Psalm 42”).