• Matthew Loberg

Unusual holiday music part 1: How do we overcome?

Updated: Jan 12, 2019

Every year during the holiday season, I make my my mom and sisters CDs—yeah, we’re behind the times. While these CDs are gifts, they are by no means emblematic of traditional holiday music. Instead, I’ve chosen songs and/or themes that I think my family members will listen to (and take meaning from) far beyond the holiday season. This will be the first post in a series of three posts chronicling the songs on the CDs that I’ve given my family members this year.

Last year, for Christmas, I gave my sister Bethany The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. I was inspired by the book, which expanded on what Tupac said that THUG LIFE stood for: The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone. In addition to the book, the CD I made her explored the themes in the book and included several of Tupac’s own songs (e.g., Keep Ya Head Up and Life Goes On). This year’s CD is a continued exploration of what it means to be a minority in America, laced with songs of optimism yearning for a better future. For some songs, I’ve given detailed explanations. (The meaning that I derive for lyrics is by no means what the artist intended—but that’s the beauty of music, everyone can derive their own meaning.) For others, I’ve selected lyrics to share, but left out further explanation, which I do not think is needed.

The song explanations are below, but if you just can’t wait to hear them, you can listen to the whole playlist here.

1. Don’t Shoot—Dave East


In Don’t Shoot (from Dave East’s 2016 album Kairi Chanel), Dave East chronicles interactions with the police throughout a black man’s life, changing his vocal range throughout the song to match different ages. I put this song first to set the stage for reflection.

Please don’t shoot me sir, I just had a daughter

Look here go a…

(gun shot)

2. FEAR.—Kendrick Lamar


Kendrick Lamar’s entire most recent album, DAMN., could replace this playlist—it’s that good. FEAR., while not a standout single on DAMN., is to me the most powerful song on the album; it tells Lamar’s story from childhood to fame, and the demons—both internal and external—that he has struggled with.

I’ll prolly die from witnesses leavin’ me false accused

I’ll prolly die from thinkin’ that me and your hood was cool

Or maybe die from pressin’ the line, actin’ too extra

Or maybe die because these smokers

Are more than desperate

I’ll probably die from one of these bats and blue badges

Body slammed on black and white paint, my bones snappin’

3. Heavenly Father—Twisted Measure


“Why god, why god do I gotta suffer?” That’s a question that Kendrick Lamar poses in FEAR. This is a cover of Bon Iver’s Heavenly Father (see here for a beautiful live rendition at the Sydney Opera house). I like Bon Iver’s music because their songs are imbued with melancholy, but lyrically they are utterly ambiguous. However, here, I think that the lyrics fit with Kendrick Lamar’s question, and the slow fade in of the song is ideal after FEAR.

I don’t know how you house the sin

But you’re free now

I was never sure how much of you I could let in

And I’m free now

I just been up here for god damn years

Can you see now?

Filling up hulls with god damn fears?

I am free now

I know about it darlin’, I’ve been standin’ here

Heavenly Father

Is all that he offers

A safety in the end

4. Heavy—Birdtalker


Lyrically this song fits best right before Love Will Find a Way (and after Olalla). However, musically, the transition between Heavenly Father and Heavy was too good for me to resist.

I want to see your sadness

I want to share your sins

I want to bleed your blood and

I want to be let in

Don’t you just,

Don’t we all just

Want to be together

5. Olalla—Blanco White


Oh Olalla don’t you fear the night

There’s only time to believe

To believe

6. Love Will Find a Way—Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles


I was fortunate to see Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles live in November. While the studio versions of their songs are disappointing and do not live up to the energy that they bring in live performances, this song is characteristic of what I take to be my sister’s philosophy—that through love we can make change. For a high quality, but toned down recording, check out their tiny desk concert!

I believe that

Love will find a way

7. Harvest Love—Tash Sultana


This is a continuation—albeit an entirely different style of music—of Love Will Find a Way. Also, if you haven’t seen Tash Sultana live, go now; you won’t be disappointed.

Harvest your love

Harvest your love

Because the unfed mind devours itself

Water your garden

Water your garden

Water your garden

8. Fountain Of Youth—Local Natives


My sister and I saw Local Natives together in September 2016. I included Fountain of Youth because of how much fun we had at that concert together, and because its message fits well at this point in the CD, where we’re left with a problem and searching for answers through love.

I think we better listen to these kids

We can’t keep pretending that we know what we’re doing

And if we don’t care

Then who cares?

We’ve been dreaming of you

Drinking from fountains of youth

And if we don’t change

Then who will change?

9. It’s a Game—EL VY


Similar to Bon Iver, Matt Berninger (the lead singer and lyricist of EL VY and The National) is phenomenal lyrically, yet I never quite know what he’s saying. It’s infuriating, really. Matt gives off this impression that he’s saying something really profound about life, yet what he’s saying is just past the tip of my tongue, out of my ability to grasp it wholly.

Personally, I like to think of this song as an individual caught up in war, not realizing that it’s a useless game fought with pawns insignificant to those in leadership. When the protagonist realizes it’s a game, it’s too late…

Watched the sun just walk into the ocean

Nothing I could do

Gone before I knew

It’s a game

I’d never been so alone

Til I read that the Minutemen were dead

I’d never been so alone

Until I was today

10. Split Stones—Maggie Rogers


I stumbled across Maggie’s tiny disk concert in the midst of a lonely Maine winter. Maggie is a thoughtful, talented, and powerful women with a phenomenal voice. I like this song because the lyrics capture this idea that the people in this world who cause lots of pain for others don’t feel the pain they cause, and maybe they don’t realize the scale of the suffering that they’re causing. If we could all be just a little more cognizant of how our actions affect others, we could make the world a better place for everyone.

But if you could fight, if you could choose

If you could say all the things you wanted to

If you couldn’t lie

If you would only move like you had something to lose

If you could cry, if you couldn’t sleep it off

If you could feel everything you’ve ever caused

If you couldn’t lie

If you would only move like you had something to lose

Like you had something to lose

Like you had something to lose

11. Coins—Local Natives


This is another song reminiscing on my time seeing Local Natives with my sister. Although Coins is almost assuredly a relationship song, I see it, for the purposes of this CD, as though we only have so much time on this earth to make a difference. There is lots to be optimistic about, but we must act now, struggle now. There is an evident existential dread in Coins regarding both relationships, and on a larger scale, what we’re doing with our time; are we doing enough? To quote another Local Natives song, Colombia, are we “giving enough?”

Time stands still and then one day it’s gone

Where did it go? Where did I go

Ooh, how much is enough?

Ooh, how can you be sure of?


Oh, you know it feels like

That we’re on the same side

Of different coins

Somehow I could do more now

If we’ve gotta struggle

I want to struggle again now

12. You are a Tourist—Death Cab for Cutie


And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born

Then, it’s time to go

And find your destination with so many different places to call home

‘Cause when you find yourself a villain

In the story you have written

It’s plain to see

That sometimes the best intentions

Are in need of redemption

Would you agree

If so, please show me

13. Gallipoli—Beirut


We tell tales to be known

Or be spared the sorrow

You’re so fair to behold

What will be left when you’re gone?

14. Sons & Daughters—The Decemberists


Sons & Daughters, to me, is a song about a group of people migrating away from a troubled land full of violence into a new one, where they are seeking (and hopefully finding) safety. This forms a nice transition into Foreigner’s God, which gives a snap shot of what it’s like to feel out of place.

When we arrive, sons and daughters

We’ll make our homes on the water

We’ll build our walls aluminum

We’ll fill our lives with cinnamon.

These currents pull us across the border

Steady your boats, arms to shoulder

Till tides pull our hull aground

Making this cold harbor now home

Here all the bombs fade away

Here all the bombs, they fade away

15. Foreigner’s God—Hozier


One of the great things about Hozier is that, on top of being a phenomenal lyricist, he is one of the few artists who takes the time to explain his songs. Here’s what Hozier thinks about Foreigner’s God. Spoiler, Hozier says that it’s about “feeling alien in a culture or feeling distant from your own cultural values, from your own place, from the accepted ideas that you inherit…and not feeling right in it, and not being able to express that. Just feeling wrong.”

All that I’ve been taught

And every word I’ve got

Is foreign to me

Screaming the name

Of a foreigner’s God

The purest expression of grief

I don’t think that one has to be a migrant to identify with Foreigner’s God (as its placement after Sons & Daughters might suggest); anyone can be alienated by the views of those around them/their country. That said, certain minorities are more likely to be alienated in our country.

16. America—Nas


The last two songs on this CD are a return to the themes of the first two songs on the album. They’re a warning that we do not lose sight of what we are and the work we have yet to do.

America (Americaaaaaa) pay attention

Wake up, this is not what you think it is

17. Alright—Kendrick Lamar


I love the way that Alright loops into David East’s Don’t Shoot. The transition is seamless. I almost put Alright first to emphasize that, but I like the circuitry of it all. We’re stuck in this endless, perpetual cycle that we need to figure how to get out of.

And we hate the Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure

So I went runnin’ for answers…

(Don’t Shoot starts again)

You can listen to the whole playlist here.

With Love,


My sister, Bethany, in Bar Harbor, Maine in Fall 2017. Bethany's commitment to social justice and peaceful conflict resolution is a constant inspiration.

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