“With you it’s always Nick Cave and David Bowie…”
– Dave Lemley (@lemdavely)
Guilty as charged. When putting together the five most spiritually significant songs this year, I’m always going to start with St. Cave and the Thin White Duke. Push the Sky Away is a slow burn of an album that is pregnant with sacred themes which I have spent most of the year digging into and Bowie’s The Next Day talks a ton about coming to grips with the world passing by.
Overall, pop music shied away from the spiritual waters which made finding these songs a bit more difficult. It also meant that when I heard something that did tackle questions of faith I tended to pay closer attention. Here are the songs that meant to most to me in 2013:
We No Who U R – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
There are no answers on this album. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds provide a warm and haunting sounds cape for us to sit with our questions. The opening song allows us to look at the good in the world along with the unintended consequences that have come with it. I feel like Nick Cave is pointing out the dirt in my life, showing me how beautiful it can be and then giving me a comforting “It’s going to be okay.” Though the words could come across as threatening (We know who you are and we know where you live) they are followed by a lingering reassurance that our inadequacies aren’t going to be the end of us.
Afterlife – Arcade Fire
Apparently where we go after life sounds a lot like a track from U2’s Pop. The Arcade Fire’s Reflektor is rich with places of spiritual intrigue (Reflektor, We Exist, Joan of Arc, Supersymmetry) but Afterlife goes to a place most pop music tends to avoid; dealing with death. The lyrics are one question after another, searching for answers that are unknowable. What happens after we die? When love is gone, where does it go? Can we work it out? Ultimately Win Butler acknowledges that all the soul searching about what is unknowable has little to do with his lived experience and takes away from the life we could be living. By letting go the unanswerable questions, we are free to dance… which is what this song wants us to do.
Currency of Love – Joseph Arthur
“Trying to find diamonds in a world of mud. What else could we want for but the currency of love.”
This bluesy ballad echoes Ecclesiastes and makes for a very easy pop culture/ theology dialogue. In our hollow search for fulfillment all we really have of value is our ability to love. Joseph Arthur takes us through many areas of his life that have been wrecked and warns us of how empty and monstrous we can become. The only thing that keeps us from becoming distorted images of ourselves is our capacity to trade in the currency of love. There are some beautiful examples of the exchange of love between God and humanity and how we can then translate that into our relationships. This song is a wonderfully earthbound expression of the relational heights we are capable of and the depths we usually sink to.
Other Songs that are worth listening to:
Jesus Wept – Mavis Staples
Holy – Frightened Rabbit
Graceless – The National
When Love As King – Gregory Porter