Tunes for the Treats and the Tears

Multiple albums were released throughout 2017 that kept me dancing and finger-snapping throughout every season. Muggy summer jam sessions and numb winter toe taps—music has been the glue holding each season together. These albums have kept the corners of my mouth up, the introspective thoughts pumping through my bloodstream, and the weights off of my lungs on fiery or frostbitten days.

Self-Titled by: Harry Styles

Harry Styles
Photo Credit: Billboard

Although Harry Styles is a debut album, it also happens to be the product of a young and well-versed musician. Styles compiled an addictive album that combines pop, rock, and a flavor of the Beatles’ psychedelic era. Consequently, the nostalgic sixties feel brings a seemingly “new” and attractive flavor to our popular music scene, and has brought multiple singles to the forefront of the radio’s attention.

From slower ballads like “Two Ghosts” and “Sign of the Times” to upbeat rock tunes like “Kiwi” and “Carolina,” Styles incorporates a wide diversity of musical flavor among the ten-track album. Musically, Styles has proven that his tastes expand beyond the small confines of his former band, One Direction’s, uniform pop sound. The beauty of his self-titled album is that every song has a fairly unique composition, yet subtle guitar contributions and Styles’ well-trained rustic vocals tie the tracks together nicely.

As far as mega-popular artists go, Styles tops the list for me. The majority of his songs revolve around love as one might imagine, yet he brings originality and unique taste to each track that distinguishes his work from other avid love songwriters in the industry. Besides small phrases in a couple songs, none of Styles’ music is overtly sexual, which is refreshing for the popular music scene. There are many other important topics to touch upon in music that popular artists seldom do, yet even when resorting to love songs, Styles handles it tastefully. Plus, even if his music is not your cup of tea, Styles maintains a charming, charismatic personality that makes him pretty difficult to dislike.

After Laughter by: Paramore

After Laughter
Photo Credit: Target

Who likes to dance and occasionally cry? After Laughter will hit every emotion with its diversity of song topics. Paramore, led by Hayley Williams’ bold, dynamic-careful vocals, has transitioned from punk-rock to pop-disco in this album.

Synthesizer plays a consistent role across the 12 tracks, which consist of multiple happy-sounding sad songs, like “Fake Happy” and “Hard Times.” Overall, the album tells a cohesive story, starting with upbeat tunes, lulling in the middle for sadder introspections like “26,” catching a second wind of bolder thoughts, and finishing off with “Tell me How,” which questions how to establish new perspectives from past pain.

My favorite lyrics are in “26”: “Hold onto hope if you got it / don’t let it go for nobody.” This album resonates in difficult seasons and can even help prepare for future seasons of struggle. I always think pain can never be addressed enough, and whenever musicians dive into the details, it lightens everyone’s load knowing we all share in such difficulties.

6/10 by: Dodie

6 10
Photo Credit: Genius Lyrics

While only comprised of six songs, Dodie amazed me with 6/10. As a musician and YouTube personality, this thoughtful British woman is still establishing her path in the music scene. She managed to create a catchy album of songs that touch upon anxiety, depression, love’s attractiveness and damage, and a little instrumental thrown in!

Dodie’s voice is soft and meaningful. As I frequently enjoy watching the YouTube videos she creates, I can say that the brief album showcases her personality well. Both vulnerable mental health struggles and an unapologetic happy attitude are woven in, among her yellow-splashed cover and catchy ukulele tunes.

Most songs are pretty simple—vocals, ukulele, piano, maybe some soft drums. The words tend to speak for themselves and I value that immensely (of course). Also the lyrics “let’s write a story / be in my book” are pretty relatable. Dodie’s strength derives from beauty in simplicity.

Flicker by: Niall Horan

Flicker
Photo Credit: Niall Horan (Twitter)

First of all, I realize I’m incredibly biased towards this Irishman (he may or may not be a five year crush… a girl can dream). Also I get to see Niall and go to Ireland next year, which is INSANE.

Now, time to be an objective reviewer. Ha. My family is rolling their eyes right now.

Firstly, two things: there admittedly were more love songs than I had hoped (I could make a whole rant about how we don’t need more love songs, or at least full albums of them). Ironically, I’m incredibly proud of the lyrical content… besides “Slow Hands” and a couple f-bombs—not necessarily grandma-worthy. But Horan generally touched upon songs in a tasteful manner like Styles, his former band mate.

Throughout his debut album, Horan established a classic guitar and soft vocalist theme, similar to musicians like Jack Johnson. “On My Own,” an upbeat, Irish-flavored rock track, brings a Springsteen reminiscent sound into the album’s narrative. Flicker provides a strong value for music’s rawness, through emotional tracks like “Paper Houses” and “Flicker.” Similar to Dodie, it’s clear that Horan wants listeners to focus on the words, especially in vulnerable moments.

As a result, the authenticity in Horan’s work generates trust among listeners. It doesn’t hurt that this laidback Irishman is not boastful in his work, but seeks to transition from an immensely successful boy band to the direction of a quiet, respectable solo artist who wants his backup band to garner as much recognition as he receives daily.

 

All of these albums were worth every penny and deserve all the praise they’ve received. Thank you to each musician and music as a whole. I would not have nearly as many moments of joy without the beautiful art and its products.

~Annah

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Fall Semester Book Reviews

While almost all of these books were for my English classes, there were many wonderful tales present over my semester’s worth of reading. It was a good set of fiction and nonfiction books, with a good variety for people of many tastes. In all honesty, I’ve always been someone who is not fond of nonfiction and I tend to think it’s incredibly dry, but I read some exquisite memoirs that have officially transformed my view of the genre.

Some of these books are easy reads and some require more effort and dedication, so whether you have multiple weeks of break ahead of you or only an hour after work every day, there should be something in the mix for everyone.

  1. Persuasion by: Jane Austen

Austen writes with such lovely language and this was my fourth book I’ve read by her (the others being Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma). After reading four, I can also tell you her books all center on the same ideas: a wealthy family, romance, and endings that usually have everyone coupling off. While I think men could enjoy her books as well, they are usually going to be enjoyed by females mostly.

The story centers upon Anne Elliot, one of three sisters, who’s considered an outcast in her family because she’s not as concerned about wealth or beauty. This ties in closely to Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, protagonists of Austen’s other stories. As one might guess, the novel also centers upon the theme of persuasion and how that has an impact on decision-making and interpersonal relationships in one’s life, whether positively or negatively. People who enjoy romance and the importance of individualism will find this book entertaining. I gave it four stars, as I appreciated the themes and her smart wittiness and sarcasm among dialogue.

  1. The Glass Castle by: Jeannette Walls (reread)

Initially I did not plan on including this book, only because I have read it before in high school. However, since I reread it for class this semester, I decided to review it for those of you unfamiliar with the memoir, because it is a great story (and now a movie!).

This memoir follows former gossip columnist, Jeannette Walls, through her adolescent years, as she grows up within an incredibly unconventional family who lives a rugged, unstable lifestyle always on the move. A beautiful woman with a glamorous professional career, Walls initially generated extreme shock across America with the publication of the book, because the hardships throughout her past were completely unexpected. The book begins with Walls sitting in a taxi on the way to a fancy party, when her ride stops next to a woman rooting through the dumpster: her mother. The story is authentic, unforgettable, and a page-turner for anyone who enjoys an intriguing narrative. It’s definitely a five-star story and I appreciated getting to reread it to find new details I missed the first time.

  1. Jane Eyre by: Charlotte Bronte

Last year, I saw this story come alive through my college’s musical version, but the novel contains far richer detail than the play could ever have conveyed. Jane’s story contains themes of faith, romance, and independence—not too different from Austen’s style, except less sarcastic and more genuine in character interactions. Certain aspects are even reminiscent of Les Misérables, such as Jane’s firsthand experience of different social classes and a Christian friend who permanently influences her outlook on life, similar to Jean Valjean.

Unfortunately, I had to rush through this novel in particular and was not able to give it the full attention it deserved (as anyone familiar with college knows). But anyone who enjoys Austen’s work would appreciate it, as well as anyone appreciative of feminist undertones. I gave Bronte’s book four stars, because while there were many well-written sentences and sentiments, it would not be at the top of my recommendation list for everyone, like my five-stars.

  1. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by: Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s fictional work is very science-based and reminiscent of the scientific revolution within Britain’s Victorian era. (One of my classes was British literature, as you can probably tell.) It’s a novella and a quicker read if you’re not looking for too big of a time commitment. Some might classify the story as horror or science fiction, but I also think mystery is a large part of the plot. Without sharing too much, the story focuses on good versus evil, as well as individual identity. Anyone intrigued by mystery or science fiction would enjoy this story that I rated four stars.

  1. Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir by: Donna Johnson

Johnson’s memoir centers upon the Pentecostal tent revivalist culture most prevalent throughout America in the mid-twentieth century. It forces readers to consider the religious practices and form an opinion on them, even though Johnson makes her opinions clear in this recounting of her childhood. Anyone curious to learn more about different denominations of Christianity, religion in general or aspects of culture that are lesser known would find this book a page-turner. Similar to Walls, the stories Johnson tells are extraordinary in good and bad ways. Her accounts will astonish and surprise you, especially her sentiments at the end. I gave it four stars, as it stood out as less of an objective perspective to me and the timeline was confusing—qualities I think are crucial in memoir.

  1. The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up in the Big Dry by: Joe Wilkins

Wilkins wrote this memoir about his life in the Big Dry, a place in Montana. With his father passing away while he is young, he continues to search for a father figure and his values without someone constantly there giving him direction, in this coming-of-age story. Every sentence breathes memoir covered in poetry; it’s an incredibly artistic book. Rather than a chronological story like Walls and Johnson, his is comprised of short chapters, each one a different memory. This book is great to pick up and put down if you have limited time to read, which makes it even more attractive to any kind of reader. Despite the general lack of female figures, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a woman and think it’s also an important dialogue for grasping the pressures and confinement surrounding the concept of masculinity.

This memoir was by far my favorite book I read this semester, considering I already read The Glass Castle. As my one new five-star read, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

  1. Uninvited by: Lysa TerKeurst

My friends and I are just finishing this book up as our semester ends, and it’s honestly the perfect book for group discussions. TerKeurst writes vulnerably and beautifully in this Christian book explicitly geared toward women. Concerning rejection, Uninvited speaks directly from TerKeurst’s personal experiences and how she has changed her perspective with God’s help, in order to keep the negative feeling from running her life.

I have only read a few explicitly Christian books, but I would probably give it four stars. That’s not to say it wasn’t great—it was! But certain chapters were not as engaging as others, and compared to other Christian books I’ve read, every sentence didn’t resonate as fully.

~Annah

Our Grieving World

Some days are sadder than others when you’ve lost someone. Perhaps it’s because I’m older or perhaps it’s because his passing was seemingly undeserved, but Luke’s death has stuck with me, not to mention his family and closest friends, so closely these past few months. It’s confusing trying to figure out how to process our losses, isn’t it?

Sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you’re mad, sometimes you’re resigned to the fact, sometimes it’s very unsettling. Recently I’ve just been deeply disappointed I didn’t get to know Luke more. In all honesty, part of me feels really guilty for this sadness and disappointment, because I didn’t know him as well as so many others did. If I’m upset, I stop and grieve, because those that knew him far more than I must be indescribably upset. On the other hand I can’t help but wonder if this disappointment is flowing out of selfishness. Is this hurt justified or not?

But to those that knew Luke, if you’re anything like me, the main reason his passing is upsetting is likely because he truly was a joyful, loving soul. One could only imagine if he had been given a longer life the even larger impact he could’ve had on others. But then I think about how much joy and life was packed into those 17 years, and the tremendous story his life spoke into those around him in such a short amount of time. It’s incredibly inspiring. Who wouldn’t wish to know someone like that?

Sometimes I can’t help but thank the God I believe in that Luke was able to bless everyone for a whole 17 years. His parents and brothers witnessed a giggling, courageous, witty, faithful soul for 17 years. What a blessing. And the God I believe in said I’m going to take all you have, Luke—17 years—and I’m going to use you for something great. People are going to flock to you and cry over you because of your steadfast faithfulness. You’re going to teach your loved ones how to be strong in the face of adversity.

So that’s some more of my processing and a small snippet of the feelings amongst Luke’s loved ones over these past couple months. I take what I’m feeling and I take the unimaginable pain of his family and friends, and multiply it until it’s unbearable.

Why?

Because countless people worldwide are experiencing a similar pain, and sometimes I think it’s easy to be desensitized to the effects. Whether loved ones lost to cancer or loved ones lost to terrorism, it hurts; oh it hurts to consider our grieving world. Perhaps now more than ever we grieve we are sorrowful and we need a rock to lean into. We are broken and struggling to hold on. We yearn for love and laughter because we are sodamaged by brokenness.

This is our chance to let others know we are here and we understand their pain. We have all experienced pain in a multitude of capacities, and yet, we’re too often self-consumed with our own lives to stop and ask others how they’re doing. Every time we undergo pain and brokenness, we are allowed the opportunity to open our arms to others in similar situations and help them through their own. Not because we have all the answers and can eradicate the pain… but because we are made for community and it makes life a lot more bearable when you can confide in others.

~Annah

A Trace of Joy

Yesterday in my British Literature class, our professor had us write poems modeled after some of the modernist poets we read. This poem is loosely based on “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy. I wrote it on the fly with no revisions and I appreciate that unapologetic way of writing. Maybe it’s flawed, maybe the word choice could be improved, but it’s bold in its imperfections.

 

Not a giggle or a hug.

 

I give you a scraped knee.

Scab oozing over in blood

It echoes contentment

Like happy toes squirming through mud.

 

Here.

It will leave a foul stench,

But one that whispers

Like a butterfly wing

Of rapidly beating hearts

Playing make-believe.

 

I want you to remember the truth.

 

Not neat pews at church,

But raucous, rowdy adventures.

 

I give you a scraped knee

To soften your heart

That has confined itself

To cubicles

And tax forms.

 

Take it.

Feel the rough edges on your

Weathered, weary hands.

Find joy in simplicity again.

~Annah

The Problem of Christian Isolationism

It’s no secret that attending a Christian college means residing in a Christian bubble—it’s hardly reflective of real life, with little to no belief disagreement or push-back. We are blessed to have people challenging us intellectually, and occasionally religiously, but far too often I witness Christians isolating themselves. This is only a small portion of Christians that I engage with at one school; it happens everywhere at every stage of life.

Too many Christians nowadays only cling to explicit Christian ideas, texts, and entertainment. Frankly, I believe this is unwise and a very limiting way to live life.

I grew up in a Christian home and have officially dedicated my life to Christ for about six years now. Even at a young age, I’ve subconsciously thought about explicit Christian entertainment and how Christians should interact with their world. I always thought Christian radio was the corniest thing and wanted no part of it when other people would play it in the car. My family avoided watching movies like “The Passion of Christ” and I avidly read Harry Potter (currently re-reading for the 1000th time), starting from about age five, when people would look at my petite body next to the 500-page books and think I was the next Einstein.

Admittedly, having just finished an 11-page paper for my rhetoric class about why I believe Harry Potter has numerous Christian themes in the eighth movie alone, this topic of Christian isolationism has been on my mind a lot lately. Also, please understand this is NOT me telling anyone their methods of living are inferior or superior. There is nothing wrong with explicit Christian texts, movies, and music.

This past summer was the first time in my life I picked up a “Christian” book and read it. Since then I have read a couple and had no serious problems with them. I think some Christian books can be good and Scripture-breathed. The couple I have read (Mere Christianity, Jesus > Religion, and Uninvited) were much better than I thought they would be. However, they’re still not my first reading choice like I know they are for boatloads of other people—it’s perfectly fine to enjoy them—but it’s also important to remember that if you’re reading them thinking it’ll be a replacement for the Bible, that’s a red flag.

It’s fine to enjoy a good Christian book, but if that’s 99% of the books you read, I think there’s a problem with that. If Christian radio is your jam, sing along all you want, but if you never interact with any music outside of that, I think there’s a problem with that. If you truly believe anything that’s not explicitly Christian is sinful or satanic or any other negative denotation, I really have a problem with that.

Why do I think this is such a big deal?

Because I believe in a God who works through everything. I believe in a God who can use anything to portray his values, including tainted humans like you and I or tainted things like Harry Potter and punk music, if that’s your opinion. I believe God made everyone in his image, even those that haven’t accepted him, so small traces of his character can be found even in the most far-reaching aspects of life.

The coolest thing to me is when I read a book about another belief system or go to a concert where people smell like weed and beer, and soak in the words that are on the page or screamed from the stage, because I usually hear a small sliver of truth. Even if it’s the smallest sliver it gives me so much joy and hope, reminding me that even those people have the capability of carrying out God’s light if they wanted to.

Christians, I challenge you to read or listen to something you don’t like and see if you can find something decent in it. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised. Otherwise you avoid texts and entertainment for surface-level reasons and miss the bits you actually would like. For example, if you put down a Harry Potter book at page two for having witchcraft, you’ll completely miss out on the sacrifice, love, and friendship themes that remain prevalent in the overarching storyline.

I don’t believe I’m being “worldly” if I enjoy fantasy books or listen to pop music. I believe I’m engaging with God’s world—a world that extends beyond Bob Goff and Hillsong.

~Annah

Band Gives Monday a Good Reputation

(Note: Original title was “Almost A Growing Sensation.” Sadly, strikethroughs aren’t formatted to the title… I was bummed.)

I’m interrupting my normal blog rotation to tell you about this really special band, hot off the press of the industry. Everyone wave, because they’re likely reading this.

Almost Monday
Photo Credit: Almost Monday

A new band has entered the music fray and they are off to a strong start. Who are they? Almost Monday, a San Diego-based band comprised of Dawson Daugherty, Luke Fabry, Cole Clisby, and Michael Leto.

I had the honor of discovering this band through Switchfoot last fall. With such a genuine, introspective group of men backing Almost Monday, I can only imagine what bright, joyful personalities these guys must have. Anyone approved by Jon Foreman has to be pretty special, and that’s becoming increasingly clear to me as I witness and interact with the talent that is Almost Monday.

The band’s official debut single “Take Me Higher” aired across iTunes, Spotify, and Tidal streaming platforms Nov. 1. Plenty of praise has already been conveyed through the band’s fan base, already nearly 600 people strong. This number will quickly rise as devoted fans spread Almost Monday’s name to other friends and across social media.

However, you could never tell that “Take Me Higher” is their first official single. It exudes a confident, knowledgeable tone of a band that fully understands the music scene and has created a unique sound that fits perfectly into the present-day desires of music consumers. The combination of pop and disco-funk elements, among the synthesizer, bass dynamics, and Daugherty’s well-trained falsettos, ring with a Michael Jackson flavor that result in irresistible dancing.

From here, the potential future projects from Almost Monday seem limitless. They have already showcased their infectious, talented dynamic through one single—clearly, they could excel in many different genres. Until then, I will be streaming “Take Me Higher” on my “Jams” playlist, and I encourage you to do the same.

Follow Almost Monday on Facebook (@ALMOSTMONDAYBAND), Twitter (@ALMOSTMONDAYY), and Instagram (almost.monday) for more updates from the guys!

With a catchy musical sound and amiable personalities, Almost Monday’s just getting started and will surely be doing big things for the music scene.

~Annah

Tap-Dancing Veins

I wish you could see what I can. The pure yellow radiance of the tree. Its feathery, silky leaves tap-dance in the wind, illuminating the bright depths of its being. Apparently the leaves are passing away, but they have never shown so brightly throughout their numbered days until now, and it’s simply heart-stopping. It just is what it is without trying. Our friend Mr. Sun is only emphasizing what we already know to be true—joy and expectancy sit among the branches. This tree knows where it’s going, without knowing where each individual leaf will fall, yet the appendages tango together happily. It dances in the face of uncertainty. The branches breathe in, breathe out, sway up, sway down. They flutter, fly, and abide. As the sun looks on, the tree sits and waits, leaves steadily twirling to the floor. Eventually it will face a period of death, where the sun may seem to disappear from the tree’s presence maybe days, maybe weeks at a time. But the tree remains tall, adamant, and immovable in the face of its inevitable demise. It knows more than the leaves do—that some day soon more buds will grow, more leaves will bloom, and the yellow still courses within its veins. 

~Annah