by Sam Robinson
While you have your say in the 2014 Reel Gospel Readers’ Poll, I thought I’d take a minute to stop and reflect on some songs that have stood out among the pack this year. You might not agree with this list – and if not, do comment below – but to me these six songs have had a great impact through their sound and words. So here they are, in no particular order:
1. John Mark McMillan – ‘Heart Runs’ [from the album ‘Borderland’]
John Mark McMillan’s Borderland was an absolute gem this year, and although many of the songs could have made this list, it’s the sweet ballad Heart Runs that takes the cake. It’s an absolute heartbreaker of a track, with a slow burn that takes off towards the end of its six-minute run, with bright brass and beautiful falsetto.
From the dirt you’ve drawn me out, and you draw me out again
I’m coming back from the dead, I’m coming out of my skin
And you are everything my heart wants
Everything my heart wants
And my heart runs, my heart runs after you
2. Trip Lee – ‘Shweet’ [from the album ‘Rise’]
‘What if when you brag it wasn’t ‘bout the clothes and the tags? That’d be shweet.
What if when you brag it was about him who’s the first and the last? That’d be shweet.’
The first single from Trip Lee’s Rise was a grower for me, and it wasn’t until I understood the message of the song that it hit me hard. GAWVI’s production is tight, and brings a rolling grind so good for driving to – but the words are so impactful. This is a modern psalm, with beautifully-painted adoration, and Trip is challenging his hearers to look past the things of the earth and to brag about the God Man – Jesus. The beat drops hard in the bridge as Trip compares earthly terms to God’s power, which only causes me to marvel at God’s greatness:
They say they make it rain, but they really only throw cash /
My Lord’s running in his own lane, he make the rain fall and the thunder crack /
You think we tell time, but we really only reading a clock /
My God existed before time, and he told it when to start – mouth drop!
3. Kings Kaleidoscope – ‘Felix Culpa’ [from ‘Live in Color’, ‘Becoming Who We Are’]
Seattle band Kings Kaleidoscope had a massive year, and made plenty of tracks that could fill this list and beyond, but it’s the weighty Felix Culpa that has proven their versatility, and that they aren’t just a ‘Sunday morning worship band’ anymore. This is a crazy song that first surfaced on their free Live in Color EP back in March, and was re-recorded for their debut album Becoming Who We Are. The song shifts between hip-hop and jazz influences, and as lead singer Chad Gardner told us back in March, it explores the incredible grace seen in our sins forgiven:
‘…The concept came from two places. One, I was doing some marriage counselling with my wife and one of the things that was really helpful to me was that one of the pastors was talking about the idea of being able to rejoice in your sin because it’s forgiven. And looking at your sin and saying ‘Man, this is incredible!’ – almost like you look at it and you have joy and you’re happy because it shows how good God is, how much he’s forgiven you for. So that concept had come from that, and I took that back and was talking about it with some other guys, and one of my friends – another pastor – said ‘Hey that sounds like this thing called ‘felix culpa’ which is this Latin term for ‘fortunate fall’ or ‘o happy fault’.’ Same thing. You look at your sin and rejoice because it shows how good God is. And I thought that is a way to explain the gospel. If you had a song where you talk about depth of sin and how terrible you are, at the exact same time of showing how much grace that is. And every time we pile on to this mountain of sin that had been in your life, that mountain is a mountain of grace. Grace upon grace upon grace. Conceptually it’s a tricky song to figure out. It’s definitely not perfect but I’m pretty happy with it.’
4. Lecrae – ‘Good, Bad, Ugly’ [from the album ‘Anomaly’]
Lecrae did some incredible things with his album Anomaly this year. It debuted at number one on the US Billboard album charts, he performed with The Roots on The Tonight Show, and he embarked on a massive tour across the States. On the album, Lecrae spouts truth about what it means to be an outsider as a Christian in our world, and also challenges the norm by speaking about real stuff (as set up by single Nuthin).
It’s track Good, Bad, Ugly that hits home the hardest and where Lecrae is most transparent. On it, Lecrae opens up and shares some very personal things from his past, from being molested as a child to going through an abortion with his girlfriend shortly after his conversion. But the thing that really makes this track stand out for me is that Lecrae reminds us that redemption is found at the cross – that despite our sin and being affected by the sin of others – Jesus heals us and makes us new:
But I’ve been forgiven, my Saviour risen, I’m out the prison, I know that.
I got the power to say no to all my struggles – God will control that.
Every time we slip and we fall, gotta get back up and fight on.
We are not defined by our past, the future look bright, I see the light on.
5. Citizens & Saints – ‘You Brought Me Back to Life’ [from the album ‘Join the Triumph’]
The first taste of Citizens & Saints sophomore release Join the Triumph dropped at Easter time, and surprised many with its very synth-based 80s pop sound. I still think it’s one of the best jams of the year – punchy, bright and crazy upbeat. The words on this track are glorious, and paint a picture of new life, as lead singer Zach Bolen explained to us back in May:
‘That song was interesting because when Brian [Eichelberger] started to work on it… I had the whole instrumental track done. At least just the demo was done. I hadn’t really had a whole lot going on. I was recommending that we go with maybe something like 1 John 1 – let’s write a song about how walking in the light of Christ produces fellowship. Then he just went in a totally different direction, which I love, and it turned out nice. He went to Romans 6 or passages that hit a lot on this idea of rebirth in Christ. The passage that I’d been really loving and using a lot when referencing this song is the passage in Romans 6:9 – ‘We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him.’ What I love about that passage and how it relates so well to this song, is that because we’re in Christ we get to proclaim the same thing. Death no longer has dominion over us as well. Which is so cool. But then, the other aspect of it too – we realised we [the church] had a lot of songs for baptisms. We’ll sing different songs that celebrate what Jesus has done. But we don’t have a whole lot of songs that speak of baptism: us identifying both of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. So that’s why we’ve been using some of that language.
So Brian took this Romans 6 route, and I came back into the picture and said ‘This is amazing! Let’s totally keep tweaking this and make it an amazing baptism song.’ It’s cool to see the way that God had the same concept and idea on our minds and in our hearts and we were able to bring those things together and write a song that I think really celebrates… It’s different probably than some of our other songs. Yes, it’s celebratory. Yes, it’s a song of victory in Christ, but it’s also that aspect that in the church where baptism is probably the most prevalent miracle that we get to witness, because it’s actually watching people be resurrected out of death and given new life in him. It’s their public profession of: I’m in Christ. It’s almost like every person getting baptised, it’s their theme song, or theme verse if you will…’
6. Jackie Hill Perry – ‘Get There’ [from the album ‘The Art of Joy’]
Jackie Hill Perry released her debut album, The Art of Joy, through Humble Beast just last month. It’s a wonderful album, and Jackie uses her gift for poetry to challenge us on where we find our joy, and that it should be in Christ alone. The track Get There stands out as one of the best songs of 2014 for me, from its skippy production and bouncy sounds to its repeated refrain:
‘God you’re making me better, and you choose to do it however, whenever, wherever.’
The song challenges our view of God’s sovereignty, and that he is using everything for our good. This is a reminder that I really needed this year, so I’m thankful that I can hear it through such a jam as this.
Do you agree or disagree with this list? What tracks should have made it that aren’t here? Comment below and let me know! And don’t forget to cast your vote for your favourite films and albums of 2014 in our Readers Poll before voting closes on December 22!