Listening Now: Hope & Light


Wow. Where did November go? I love the Christmas season, but it’s suddenly here and time seems to speed by so quickly I barely get to sit in the season of peace. But that’s probably my own doing…or the caffeine.

I found it harder than I thought to find songs explicitly about hope that weren’t all worship songs. What I did find was that the theme of Light kept coming up, which is fitting since it is the season of lights. It got me thinking about the correlation between hope and light, and how often we use light as a symbol of hope. Hope is a flickering thing. I’m entering into this Christmas season with a new perspective on hope. Hope in action speaks to change, and often it’s a change that we want because the current situation is inadequate. And that inadequacy is painful because it often means we’re waiting for something we desperately want. I’ll be an aunt by the end of the month and it’s a joy I can’t even begin to comprehend. But at the same time, my uncle is dying of cancer. That is hard to write. Hope right now is a four letter word. It’s a baby that’s here in my sister’s belly, but not here in my arms yet. It’s Andy slowly fading, but somehow still there as I’ve always known him. How do I hold the grief of death and the joy of birth in both hands, the hope of new life and of healing? Open handed. My mom sat on my couch crying last week asking the same thing. She said we have to bring both of these things to God and say “I believe you’re sovereign in both.” Hope lies not in the results of prayers and expectation, but in the faith of sovereignty. And in the peace that God can hold both because I cannot.

Don’t worry, the rest of this is full of more holiday cheer.

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Check out the Listening Now archive here. 


“Light On” by Maggie Rogers

Y’all know my love for Maggie Rogers. But this is still, and probably will be for a while, a car-screaming, almost-crying, voice-cracking song for me. When I lived with roommates in college, we used to leave the light on and whoever was home last would turn it off. It was a simple, everyday thing, but there were nights when it would get late, and I would be up reading, and I could still see the glow of the lamp in the living room, and I’d be worried for my friends and send a text. And the times when I was the last one home, that little light was the best thing to come home to. It was waiting for me. Just this little glow of home.

Maggie’s performance of this song live was just as fantastic and moving. She said the song came out of her exponential success. “Crying in the bathroom had to figure it out, with everyone around me saying ‘You must be so happy now.’” 

Oh, if you keep reaching out

Then I’ll keep coming back

And if you’re gone for good

Then I’m okay with that

If you leave the light on

Then I’ll leave the light on (Light on, light on, light on)

And I am finding out

There’s just no other way

That I’m still dancing at the end of the day

If you leave the light on

Then I’ll leave the light on (Light on, light on, light on) 

Intro: Favorites on her new album: Light On, Give a Little

If you like Maggie, check out Anna of the North, Overcoats, Sylvan Esso, Julien Baker.


“Hold on When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” by Stars

I come back to Stars a lot. They have these fantastic dramatic anthems ideal for long drives. I’m kinda surprised they didn’t just do the entire soundtrack to “Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

I wanted to save this song for the last week of Advent about LOVE, but there are so many great themes going on here:

Take the weakest thing in you

And then beat the bastards with it

And always hold on when you get love

So you can let go when you give it

These lyrics have a similar style of “prove it to them” that another song down the list “Capable” by The Wild Reeds does. But I think that the hopefulness in this song lies in looking at love and weakness as something that you can let come and go. And that having an open hand allows you to have a lot of peace. That love and hope are this give and take of realizing you’re not in control. Stars spin the lyrics on themselves in this second line “Take the weakest thing in you and then beat the bastards with it.” By taking the love and hope that you have (which is often seen as weak) and “beating the bastards with it” you’re actually just doing a very un-violent thing—you’re showing love regardless. At least, that’s my interpretation. And I think it’s consistent with their other lyrics.

Intro: Your Ex-Lover is Dead (fave), Hold on When You Get Love…, Fluorescent Light

For Fans of Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie, Rogue Wave, Freelance Whales, The Shins, Jukebox the Ghost

Latest Release (Nov 2): Are You With Me?  

NPR Tiny Desk Concert (Stripped down)

Stars on KEXP– Full performance

“Look at What the Light Did Now”

Feist and Little Wings version (2010)

I heard this song first as a Flo Morrissey cover and I didn’t even realize it was a cover. It’s just so catchy. The lyrics don’t go too deep but I just like that it makes you stop and look at the light and realize precisely what the song is telling you to do: Look at what the light did now.

The original version came out in 2002 by Little Wings. It’s acoustic and straightforward. Then Feist covered it with Little Wings in 2010 for her documentary with the same title. If you’re not a fan of all this snow, check out this video of Feist and Little Wings doing a duet in the woods in the middle of the summer. Straight chillin.

Flo Morrissey & Matthew E White version (2017)

It’s made a comeback on the airwaves with Flo Morrissey and Matthew E White’s cover that adds a little more funk.

Intro: Their collaborative album “Gentlewoman, Ruby man” which includes covers like “Look at what the Light Did Now,” “Grease” and “Thinking About You”

For fans of Feist, Big Thief, Birdy

“Capable” by The Wild Reeds

I think part of hope is not just believing in the future, but also in the present. We often look to other people to give us hope, when sometimes we have to find the hope within us. When I’m feeling inadequate, this is the song I play on repeat.

“You’re capable of so much more than these people give you credit for and you just need to show it.” 

“Capable” is off of the alt-country/folk trio’s 2017 album “The World We Built.” The LA-based band is comprised of the tight harmonies of Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee, and Mackenzie Howe. Sharon is behind most of the songs. “Capable” is both a lament and an empowering anthem about fighting the discouragers simply by believing that you’re good enough. After a lunchtime performance series (jealous) at Portland State University, Sharon said it is about “that one time I went to school. Just in case you might be failing a class… Don’t worry. Life goes on.” (song starts at 13 min mark, her comment is at 17 min mark)

They have a new little EP out called “New Ways to Die.” How cheery.

NPR Tiny Desk concert 

Intro: Capable, Everything Looks Better in Hindsight

For fans of She & Him, Margaret Glaspy, Joseph, I’m With Her, Darlingside, Middle Kids

“Work Out” by Chance the Rapper

(Note: basically every link and the music associated with Chance is explicit. Just a heads up.)

I know I’m late to the Chance the Rapper game, but I’m all in. I love “Work out” because it’s actually about hope and change. Watch out Drake, Chance is coming and he is hella vulnerable. (Although, Chance does wish he could hang out with Drake more. Don’t we all.)

He also just came out with a song (Nov 30) that you *could* say is a Christmas song: The Man Who has Everything. Happy Holidays, Chance fans.

HIs recent engagement to the mother of his child (on July 4th earlier this year) has influenced his latest singles, in which he writes about asking for forgiveness, love despite hard times, his hometown of Chicago, and change. Honestly, the album is sounding more and more like a coming of age. He’s only 25 and he “had to buy [his] first crib ‘fore [he] bought his first house” (Work Out). The latest releases often mention his fiance and how much they’ve changed together for the better over the years.

“Work out” continues to be my favorite single so far. He breaks it down here.

“When I was writing [Work Out],” Chance commented, “the idea that I had initially for the workout was like, all of these people and experiences that have influenced my life were a part of a long exercise in getting to be who I am and how I’m supposed to be with my woman.”

Though the song is somewhat about how he is now that he is with his fiance and the experiences and pain that eventually led to his success, I think this song is rather hopeful. Chance raps a lot about God and hope. This bridge is one of my favorites because it shows the struggle that comes alongside hope, if not assurance, that things are going to work out whether or not we feel like they are going to and regardless of any closure or clarity that we are seeking. Chance said in the Genius video breakdown that he wanted the “sun peak” line to sound like the sunrise scene in The Lion King. haha.

Doesn’t it get dark, right before the sun peaks

And bears his face? And doesn’t it get so hard to breathe?

But it’s gonna work out, it’s gonna work out

With nothing left to give, with nothing left to say

When no one says they’re wrong, or sets the record straight



Relevant Magazine: Chance the Rapper:  “I love Jesus and I’m super cool with saying that.

Chance’s Op Ed on education in Chicago 

Here’s his NPR TIny Desk concert in which he debuts a poem he wrote on the short ride to the NPR office. “I still have all the keys that are of no use to me,” he began. “They used to, though.”

Joe Budden interview – Chance explains how he’s independent. He basically tells Joe Budden what’s up (IMO) and I love it. There’s so much sass in this video.

Intro: Work Out, 65th & Ingleside

For fans of Childish Gambino, Jon Bellion, Noname


Some Folk-Indie Holiday Cheer

Josh Garrels 2016 “The Light Came Down” holiday album

If you need some tunes that are more in the holiday mood, I highly suggest Josh Garrels’ “The Light Came Down” album. If you’re not yet a Josh Garrels fan, get there. His highly orchestrated, hip-hop, indie style is unlike others in the genre because he spans so many, and especially in Christian music. More on him in a few weeks.

Intro: May You Find a Light (latest album), Farther Along, Ulysses, Shame

For fans of Gungor, Novo Amor, Bon Iver, Jon Foreman (solo), Jenny & Tyler, The Brilliance

Far Away, by The National Parks – Released Nov 23

My brother John introduced this to me just in time for this newsletter and it’s a new original Christmas favorite.

‘Cause far away

Was born a little child

Far away

The Savior of mankind

The Prince of Peace, the King of Kngs, born in a manger

Far away

Seems a little closer today.

(Far Away, The National Parks)


Intro: Wind & Anchor

For fans of Avett Brothers, Little Chief, The Oh Hellos

New Releases

Radical Face – new album “Missing Film” released Nov 16

Okay, restraining myself from writing a whole novel about this because it’s probably coming. And admittedly, I’m burying this at the bottom just as a tease. But, please listen to this album. It’s incredible. It’s all instrumental, but it says so much. Start with “Tension.” Or at least just listen to the whole thing in one sitting. Do not shuffle.

The 1975 – new album “A brief inquiry into online relationships” released Nov 30

These are the guys that brought you every white girl’s favorite winter song: sweater weather. Start with “Sincerity is Scary,” an honest look at the When Harry Met Sally question: can men and women be friends? But there’s more going on with the conception of this song, which Matt Healy unpacks in this Genius lyrics breakdown.

Matt Healy talks about new album and online relationships with Beats 1.

Playlists n Things

Apparently, we’ve been singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” WRONGthis whole time.

50 Best Albums of 2018 – The top 10 are women. U deserve it, ladies. Also, 100% agree that Kacey Musgraves is in that top 10. “Golden Hour” was her best yet.

Someone help me figure out how I can see Glen Hansard’s documentary about his voyage asap.

Hopeful Playlist 
NPR’s Top 50 of 2018 Fan Playlist



If you’re in a lo-fi hip hop mood, here’s a great playlist. 

OG XMAS  – my ultimate list of original or well-done covers of Christmas songs

Indie Christmas

Folk Christmas Songs

Christmas Hits (feat Mariah Carey)

Christmas Classics (feat Bing Crosby)

Things to do in Kansas City over the holidays

Things to Listen to 
KC Symphony (Ps you can get cheaper symphony tix if you bring your school ID. Or if you sign up for their email, they often have leftover seats and you can get discounted ones because they just wanna sell out. Bring your student ID for discounts too!)
KC Streetcar Jam: Live music on the streetcar, sponsored by The Bridge – till Dec 15
Handel’s Messiah @ Kauffman – Dec 7-9
KC Symphony Christmas Festival @ Kauffman – Dec 17-22
It’s a Wonderful Life in Concert @ Kauffman – Dec 21-22
Trans Siberian Orchestra @ Sprint Center – Dec 26
Holiday Swing – Dec 1-2 (Holiday craft fair by the Strawberry Swing)
Kansas City Ballet: The Nutcracker @ the Kauffman

Things to Do/See
Plaza Lights
Union Station Lights
Crown Center Ice Skating Rink
The Ice Rink @ Park Place
A Christmas Celebration @ Missouri Town 1855
Silver Dollar City
The Nativity at The Nelson Atkins Museum (just a cute little nativity in the Nelson main marble gallery under the HUGE tree)
Christmas in the Park – Lee’s Summit
Holiday Luminary Walk – Overland Park Arboretum (till Dec 8)

Upcoming Concerts

Dec 19 – Harry Connick JR (Midland) $65

Dec 29 – Samantha Fish (Knuckleheads)

Jan 12 – Live from Here with Chris Thile (Kauffman)

Jan 19 – Trampled by Turtles (Truman)

Jan 25 – Hippo Campus (Truman)

Feb 27 – I’m With Her with Mipso (Folly)

March 27 – St Paul & the Broken Bones (Midland)

Apr 5 – John Crist

Apr 10 – Mandolin Orange (Madrid)

Apr 28 – Aziz Ansari

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