It’s a busy season in all areas of my life right now. So much so that when the time came to talk about peace I laughed to myself. The music below is a lot of the stuff I listen to when I need to clear my head, but it’s not necessarily “peaceful” in the sense of ambient piano music.
I think we often think of peace as a time without war or tension. But it can be more complicated than that. Last year I had a falling out with a friend. He stopped responding to text messages and completely disappeared from our friendship, though I saw him around often. After months of silence, I sent him a text that said that I was sorry and that I’m praying for peace in his life. That brought new meaning to the phrase “saying my peace.” Wishing him the best, regardless of whether we stayed friends, gave me peace and let me move on without anxiety.
In John, the Prince of Peace (Jesus) gives his peace, not as an opinion or a conquering, but as a gift and protection against fear.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14.27)
Even the angels appear to every character in the Christmas story bringing peace as a gift rather than the promise of a country without war. It’s not like the angels showed up and changed the fact that Mary and Joseph were in a stable, or that Mary or even Elizabeth was probably scared out of her mind, or that everyone would suddenly not reject them. In fact, pretty much every time an angel shows up in the Christmas story offering peace it is seldom paired with news that makes the recipient’s immediate life circumstances any easier. But there is peace nonetheless.
Peace isn’t always something like a silent night or a quaint nativity. It’s the assurance that everything is going to be okay. It’s a gift of hope. Peace makes waiting for Hope worth it. There’s a peace in waiting this Advent season. And a peace that comes in the hope that it’ll all work out.
So, this is NOT a list of artists that make you want to fall peacefully asleep. It’s artists that are living in the tension of peace, pairing dynamic sounds with sympathetic lyrics, or sometimes no lyrics, and always leaving room for the listener to explore that space.
Like a whale living its best life
When I first started this Advent series, I knew Novo Amor would be on my “peace” list. I’ve been listening to him for a few weeks now thanks to my chill music expert friend Ruth Anne, who I frequently thank for the introduction. I keep coming back to his Birthplace album. His work sounds like a whale living its best life. It could be the soundtrack to some ocean adventure or a montage scene in an artsy film.
Novo Amor is the moniker of Ali Lacey, a Welsh multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, producer, and sound designer. Though his demeanor in interviews is rather reserved, he’s got a lot of emotions and you can feel it in his music. The artist confirmed in a tweet that “Novo Amor” is Portuguese for New Love. Ali apparently went through a break-up in 2012 before he started producing and that led to this name as he found his “New Love” in music. Kinda thankful for whoever broke his heart. Is that terrible?
There’s a deep connection to relationships and place in his work. Even in the story of Birthplace, there’s an obvious connection to the Earth and protecting our birthplace as humans, especially protecting the oceans. There’s a gigantic whale in the music video made out of trash that’s just this heartbreaking image juxtaposed against the beauty of a bountiful coral reef.
Basically, listen to Novo Amor/Ali if you need that feeling of standing at the top of a mountain, or immersing yourself in the ocean. “Birthplace” is atmospheric, like you’re floating in water (just as the music video suggests), while “Utican” is like running through the woods or the desert.
Intro: Birthplace, Utican, Repeat After Death, Anniversary (Just listen to the entire album on repeat. You’re welcome.)
For fans of an even better Ben Howard. Yeah. I said it. Gungor, New Bon Iver, dramatic montages in BBC shows.
Am I flying or solving a murder?
Speaking of dramatic montages in BBC shows… A friend (s/o Drew if you ever subscribed) suggested Olafur Arnalds. I listened to Olafur’s album “re:member” during a few runs around the park as the seasons were changing, and this music made me feel like I was flying instead of panting from lack of exercise. But I also kept feeling like I was in a BBC montage until I realized that’s because Arnalds literally wrote the score to the BBC crime miniseries Broadchurch. It’s an excellent series about the drama that erupts when a small seaside town becomes wrapped up in a murder investigation. Olafur’s work is full of what many call “haunted pianos,” although I find it more engaging and thoughtful than melancholic. There are moments of intense anger, or sadness, then eventual moments of peace.
Arnalds isn’t a stranger to dramatic scores. The Icelandic composer has also contributed to the score of the Hunger Games franchise and Gimme Shelter.
His work with Chris Chimbnail (writer/creator of Broadchurch) was inevitable:
“Chris Chimbnall [the writer/creator of ‘Broadchurch’] has been a fan of mine for a long time[,” Arnalds said.] “He owns all my albums, and he told me he was actually listening to my music when writing the show, so, therefore, in his mind, the idea of the music … even if they hadn’t hired me, the entire feel of the show was inspired by my albums. So he emailed me through my website [to ask me to compose].”
BBC America: Olafur Arnalds interview << Read this.
Intro: latest album re:member or just put it on shuffle. You won’t be disappointed.
For fans of BBC, Ludovico Einaudi.
A Little Voice, But a Lot of Deviation
Dermot is like if Bon Iver suddenly had an angsty pop star mentee or if you like Bastille but with a more chill atmosphere. He is equal parts early Ed Sheeran, old Ben Howard, and new Bon Iver.
His earlier work like “After Rain” is simple acoustics with his gritty voice, while his latest “Power Over Me” is a clear move into power indie pop like Bastille. The range is fantastic. You could listen to his discography and think it’s at least a couple different artists rather than just one.
Intro: Like rain, Power over Me, a closeness, Young & Free
For fans of Bon Iver, Ben Howard, Birdtalker, Liza Anne, old Noah Gunderson, Jose Gonzalez, George Ezra, Mumford, violins in pubs (just the thought of them. Although, that would be a great cover band name.)
I’ve been listening to Liza since the summer. Honestly, I kinda get tired of Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. Though their work is beautiful, it’s also often very sad, and I like that Liza’s music pairs a bit of a more lighthearted backdrop against heartbreak and pain. I like the dichotomy. As background music, songs like “I Am Not in Love Anymore” sound like little happy birds, but upon listening to the lyrics, you’ll feel her heart just softly crumbling. Underrated and lovely.
Her latest album “Fine but Dying” adds a little more rock to her normal indie singer-songwriter vibes, but she does it well. There are almost some First Aid Kit/Lucy Dacus vibes there.
Intro: I am Not In Love Anymore, Ireland, Closest to Me
For Fans of First Aid Kit, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Soccer Mommy, Lucy Dacus.
Any chance to highlight Sufjan, right? This album started out as experimental and then became a concept album. It’s his latest album though it hasn’t got as much attention has his other work. My favorite is “Mercury.”
Radical Face just came out with a new album called “Missing Film” and it’s all instrumental and incredible. I wrote about this last week, but this is me telling you that you HAVE to go listen to this album. It’s synesthetic. The song “Tension” literally sounds how tension feels with pounding, solitary drum beats that remind you of a heartbeat that is just a little off like it’s trying to catch its breath while violins quiver. Chillingly brilliant. Meanwhile, “Horizon Line” follows the sounds of early morning, with rapid little taps on the drum rim and electric melodies and claps gently and enthusiastically waking you up. It’s everything you want an instrumental album to be—something that doesn’t need words to convey feeling.
Lowercase Noises is probably the most truly instrumental artist on this week’s album. No words. Just piano and electric breaths dripping off the chords. Don’t listen to this if you haven’t had a few cups of coffee, but it’s great for clearing your mind or going on a walk.
Hammock comes up often on every chill list. They’re the duo of Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson and have been creating hypnotic-sounding music since 2003. They’re out of Nashville, but have desperately tried to escape the Nashville vibes, even pulling in their good buddy Olafur on their latest album “Universalis.”
I heard of Danny because he opened for a band he is already in—Good Old War. Honestly, I think he should, and inevitably will, ditch them and do his own thing because this guy is ridiculously talented.
He has a wholly instrumental album that is incredibly dynamic. He named it “Adventure Soundtrack.” How could you *not* want to listen to that?!
Other instrumental/dreamy indie vibes
Matthew and the Atlas
Angus & Julia Stone
Hiss Golden Messenger
What happens when Matthew Logan Vasquez (Delta Spirit), Noah Gundersen, Kelsey Wilson, David Ramirez, Adrian Quesada, and Jason Robert Blum, and even Nathaniel Rateliff get together for a week in Glorietta, New Mexico? A whole album emerges in the midst of late nights full of tequila and mornings with TexMex cooking.
“There are songs that sound like a party, and songs that sound like the hangover morning after,” Noah Gunderson said during the interview with Talia Schlanger on The World Cafe.
“Lincoln Creek” was just that kind of single, written after a late night as Noah talked to Matt in the early morning about the struggles of life on the road while friends live normal lives back home. Like most Noah Gunderson songs, it’s both irreverant and heartbreaking.
Johnny got married
To his ex-girlfriend’s sister
And they popped out a couple of kids
I guess he found Jesus
You might not believe this
But sometimes I wish that I did
But I hit the road
For a decade of shows
Sleeping on the floors and beds
Dozens of strangers, none born in a manger
But holy none the less
(Lincoln Creek, Noah Gunderson)
“Friends” is Matt’s retelling of how he met Nathaniel Rateliff, who fell out of a window on the night in question.
At one point they talk about how David Ramirez went to a Christian summer camp in Glorietta, New Mexico, which I’m pretty sure is the same Christian summer camp I went to years ago.
Intro: Lincoln Creek, Sinking Ship, Someday
For Fans of Noah Gunderson, Nathaniel Rateliff, Delta Spirit, Hiss Golden Messenger
NPR: Glorietta on World Cafe << LISTEN TO THIS NOW
Playlists n Things
Anyone else overwhelmed by holiday commitments? Smallpools just released an EP called “So Social.”
These guys have been on my radar since the summer and they popped up again recently. Turns out they’ve been busy. If you’re wanting to make the most of this glimpse of sunshine we will have this week, turn on their latest album(s): Boys (Side A), Boys (Side B)
Productive Morning – this playlist is aptly named.
Rhye – NPR Tiny Desk – Gimme all of that sugar cane. This literally just came up while I was making this and I’m groovin.
If you haven’t done your Spotify Wrapped yet, then what are you doing? Premium members only. Which begs the question why you wouldn’t have Spotify premium already.
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
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
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
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)
Dec 14 – Bad Bad Hats, Rachel Mallin & The Wild Type, Belle & the Vertigo Waves (Record Bar)
Dec 19 – Harry Connick JR (Midland)
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