up above my head, I hear music in the air

This entry was posted by on Thursday, 29 December, 2016 at
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

By most measures, 2016 has been a strange and troubling year. In different ways the darkness seems to have been pressing in a little closer, and we’ve had to look harder for the flickers of light.

At times like this, we need artists and musicians and storytellers and poets more than ever, to tell us the truth about where we are, and also to give us glimpses of some kind of deeper truth, something truer and deeper than the darkness, some whispers of hope, some rumours of grace.

So without further ado, and without much comment, here are a few of my favourite things that I’ve discovered in 2016. First, the music:

  1. The Phosporescent Blues (Punch Brothers)
  2. The Longest Day in History (David C. Clements)
  3. Tomorrow is my Turn (Rhiannon Giddens)
  4. Real Midnight (Birds of Chicago)
  5. Sermon on the Rocks (Josh Ritter)

I really haven’t seen enough movies this year to make a meaningful list, but I can maybe just about muster a top 3:

  1. Brooklyn
  2. The BFG
  3. The Big Short

We have enjoyed a lot of great TV series, so I guess they can have their own list. I should add that my number 1 is miles ahead of the competition (as much as I enjoyed the others). We watched all 6 seasons this year and it has gone straight into my “special reserve” list of all time great TV shows, along with The West Wing, Friday Night Lights and Firefly. It has its sentimental moments for sure, but it stands out from a lot of trendier-but-shallower shows as a thoughtful, truthful, funny and very moving reflection on all the challenges and joys of family life. And yes, a tear or two may have been shed. (In every episode).

  1. Parenthood
  2. The Crown
  3. Stranger Things

As for books, these are the novels that have most amused and amazed me this year:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  2. Saint Maybe (Anne Tyler)
  3. We Are Not Ourselves (Matthew Thomas)
  4. The Spectator Bird (Wallace Stegner)
  5. Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)

And finally, three non-fiction books which have deeply impacted me this year:

  1. The Divine Conspiracy (Dallas Willard)
  2. A Time to Keep Silence (Patrick Leigh Fermor)
  3. Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought To Say) (Frederick Buechner)

Although if I’m being honest, the book that has had the deepest impact has been one which made my end of year list last year, and which I have been re-reading more slowly. If I can be allowed a little moment of evangelistic fervour- this is a book that I feel strongly should be read by every pastor and Christian leader. And every teacher or educator. And every parent. And every human being.

It’s called The Shallows, it’s by Nicholas Carr, and it’s about “how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember”. Although it doesn’t claim to be a book about spirituality, it made me pause and reflect, more than anything else I read this year, on the deepest questions we can ask: what kind of people do we want to be? who are we becoming? how are my ordinary daily habits shaping my mind (and soul)? It is currently leading me to consider making several semi-radical changes to my own habits as I go into a new year, especially in my relationship with technology and the internet. I imagine each person who reads it will come to different conclusions and make different choices, but I think we urgently need to pause and reflect and have this conversation.

Sermon over! As always, I would love to hear your highlights of the year, which will form the basis of my wishlists going into 2017. (Unless they look rubbish). Please let me know what you have loved this year. Grace and peace.

6 Responses to “up above my head, I hear music in the air”

  1. The end of the year wouldn’t be the same without these lists!!

    Three of your top 5 albums were by artists completely new to me. Certainly Birds of Chicago sound wonderful. There were quite a few albums that I have really loved this year, in comparison to the films I watched this year. For what it’s worth, my albums of the year were as follows:

    1. Sarah Jarosz – Undercurrant
    2. The Felice Brothers – Life in the Dark
    3. Ed Harcourt – Furnaces
    4. Case/Lang/Veirs – Self-titled
    5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

    There were good albums by Lambchop, Field Report, Sam Beam and Jessica Hoop. I wasn’t sure what to make of Nick Cave’s new album. The opening track was my favourite song of the year but the rest left me a little cold. The final two tracks were utterly beautiful and heartbreaking which changed my feelings somewhat. The biggest disappointment? Schmilco by Wilco and Bon Iver’s new albums. Wilco, what has happened to you? As for Bon Iver, what a load of nonsense.

  2. jaybercrow

    Hi Ricky. Always good to hear your thoughts. I haven’t listened to any of those yet so I’ll look forward to exploring.

    I’d highly recommend spending some time with Punch Brothers. I discovered them through the DVD “Another Day, Another Time” – a concert celebrating the music from “Inside Llewyn Davis” hosted by T-Bone Burnett. Their NPR Tiny Desk concert on Youtube is a good introduction too. Amazingly gifted musicians enjoying making great music together.

    Nick Cave’s album I haven’t spent time with yet – it seems a little stark and harrowing! Totally agree about the demise of Wilco. And I haven’t listened to the Bon Iver but was quite intrigued by a couple of brief clips I heard.

    I thought you would have some movie tips for me! Hope we can catch up sometime in the New Year.

  3. Hi JM

    They were folllowing as it wasn’t as easy to come up with a list. The two standout films of the year for me were the best by some distance: Room and Spotlight. Thematically they were linked and looked at child abuse from different angles. Room explored the issue from the inside and the lengths an other went to love her son and to equip him for life once set free. Spotlight was an entirely unsensational look at historical child abuse and what it took for brave men and women to expose it. Both were horrifying, gripping and ultimately inspirational in different ways.

    For my money, here are the other standouts:
    1. I, Daniel Blake
    2. Life, Animated
    3. Our Little Sister
    4. Son of Saul
    5. Love and Friendship

    I really enjoyed Creed, Train to Busan, The Big Short, Dheepan and Hail Caesar. Best family film was Pete’s Dragon which had me crying like a baby. In 2016 I am most looking forward to Silence and The Wailing.

    Best tv show was The Missing series 2 which was really exceptional.

  4. Glenn

    Slightly behind the curve this year but here’s my top 5 films released in 2016:

    1. Room
    2. Notes on Blindness
    3. I, Daniel Blake
    4. Mustang
    5. Julieta

    Other films I really enjoyed:
    The Danish Girl, The Big Short, Son of Saul, Life Animated, Lemonade (Beyoncé), Creed

    Let-down’s: Anomalisa, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
    TV series: The Crown

    I’m even further behind the curve on music – about a year to be precise. With the odd exception, I tend to spend Jan-Feb sifting through everyone else’s best of the previous year to discover my ‘new’ music for this year. Simples.

  5. Finally, the 3 books I enjoyed the most were:

    1. Motherless Brooklyn – Jonathan Lethem
    2. Empire Falls – Richard Russo
    3. Eleanor Rigby – Douglas Coupland

    I was underwhelmed by Cormac McCarthy’s debut ‘The Orchard Keeper’. To me it read like someone trying to write like McCarthy, but without much in the way of substance. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was “finding his voice” or what have you.

    I have also belatedly fallen for the charms of Elmore Leonard. ‘Tishomingo Blues’ and ‘Maximum Bob’ were highly enjoyable and I’ve just started ‘Swag’.

  6. jaybercrow

    Thanks for sharing these Ricky and Glenn. I’m going to put “Room,” “Spotlight” and “I, Daniel Blake” at the top of my list to catch up on as soon as possible.

    Shame about “Anomalisa” Glenn – the Guardian went mad for it, film of the year if I remember right.

    Always glad of some book recommendations Ricky. Thanks for those.

    Looking forward to hearing some reflections on “Silence” soon on your blog!


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