Save Me From Becoming Culturally Obsolete! (or Music We Should Be Listening To)

I distinctly remember in 6th grade blaring my pink jam box with the likes of New Kids on the Block, Whitney Houston (RIP), Janet Jackson (“Miss Jackson if you’re nasty”), and Tiffany.  I could never understand why my parents didn’t know or like my music or listen to much music at all.  To my requests to listen to the radio (loudly) in the car, I remember them saying they “just needed quiet”.  Keep in mind they had four kids, of which I was the oldest.

Now, I get it.  I get why parents of little kids lose touch with pop culture and trends as we get older.  I get why we “just need quiet”.  Blaring music on top of crying, whiny, screaming or just chatty little kids turns the amp “up to 11” (in the words of Nigel from Spinal Tap.)  On top of that, I find it hard to listen to my music with the kids around.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not really comfortable hearing my 5-year-old son singing “I really f-ed it up this time”, although I absolutely love Mumford and Sons.  At the appropriate stage, we’ll have conversations about lyrics like that but not just yet (hmm…maybe Kindergarten next year will change that).

That being said, I don’t want to lose touch with truly excellent music or with the music that is influencing our world.  Here’s why:  1 – We’re made in the image of God–the Creator, who the Bible says enjoys his creation and calls it “good”. Therefore, part of what it means to be human is to create and enjoy creative expression (in this instance we’re talking about music). I find it fascinating that there is no culture that does not sing. It’s part of who we are.  2 – To make an impact in the world and my kids’ lives, I’ve got to understand and be able to engage with our culture.

So in my desperation, I recently sent an email to some of my trusted music-loving and far-cooler-than-me friends.  “Save me from becoming culturally obsolete!” I pleaded. “What music or musical artists from the last two years should I be listening to?”  Here are the varied recommendations I received and will be checking out.


One of my husband’s and my best friends, a college pastor at our church, and dad of three.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard him and David (see below) chatting in the halls at our office about their favorite bands.  Ryan assures me that these are “first steps”, so to speak, into the indie rock world.


Alexi Murdoch, Towards the Sun – Acoustic, pleasantly (not depressingly) melancholic, soul-searching.
Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago or his newer self-titled album, Bon Iver
– Hugely popular with college students. Creative, experimental, unusual vocal style (falsetto), yet still accessible. At the bottom, it’s folk music, with techniques and styles pulled from other genres.

Phoenix,Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
– French band singing in English. Pop melodies with dancey-rhythyms. My kids love dancing to Phoenix.

Jonsi, Go – Lead singer from the icelandic band, Sigur Ros. More listener friendly than his band, Jonsi’s solo album still has the symphonic earthy quality. His music has been featured in commercials, trailers, and the movie, “We Bought A Zoo.”


My uber cool young 20 something journalist/photographer/multi-talented friend.  She’s the person I see most walking around with ear buds or headphones on.  Btw, she’s also the photographer who took all the pics of Polly and me on our site.  She’s very talented.  You can check out her site here.


Laura Marling, A Creature I Don’t KnowReleased September 2011, Featured Song: Sophia – If you like Joni Mitchell then Laura Marling is your girl. She is a charming, graceful performer and I admire her raw, husky voice. She just released her third album, at the ripe age of 21.

Beirut, The Rip TideReleased August 2011, Feature Song: Candle’s Fire – I saw Beirut perform in New York two summers ago and it was one of the most magical and vivacious musical experiences I have been a part of. On stage and in studio they have string sections, numerous horns, ukulele, vintage keyboards and even a rotary valve flugelhorn. This American band, led by Zachary Francis Condon, could easily be mistaken for a world music album.

Laura Gibson, La Grande – Released January 2012, Featured Song: Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed – I first saw Laura perform a “Tiny Desk Concert” at NPR for Bob Boilen and his coworkers at NPR. This introverted, bashful girl from Oregon captivated me with her gentle, delicate voice. La Grande is her third album and has been a great edition to her first two.

Gillian Welch,The Harrow & The Harvest – Released Jun 2011, Featured Song: The Way That it Goes – I discovered Gillian Welch after stumbling upon the making of their album cover. Everything was done the old-fashioned way, including but not limited to letterpress and beautiful print making that was never proofed on a computer screen. If you adore bluegrass as much as I do then you will appreciate the sound of this artist. The Harrow & The Harvest, their fifth studio album, was released after a hiatus of eight years.


Musician, music producer, worship leader, long-time family friend and one of the most vocally passionate people I know when it comes to music. You’ll quickly realize what I mean when you see his self-devised rating scale below and his passion for vinyl (I don’t think he means pants, right? jk).


David’s Rating Scale:
10 – Life Changing
9 – Excellent
8 – Great
7 – Good
6 – Pretty Good
5 – Worth Checking Out
4 – A Couple Good Songs
3 – Not Recommended
2 – Bad
1 – You Are Now Dumber

Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself – Par for the course for longtime Bird fans but with a certain atmosphere and charm not found, in my opinion, on his other albums. The soul of a depression era farm bouncing off the walls of the barn it was in which it was recorded, mostly live, to tape. No other lyricist (or whistler) out there like him. Some call him the “American Troubadour” and he sells that image well. 8/10 (Great). Made for vinyl  ya’ll.

The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient – Haven’t dug too deep into this one yet but first listen was really enjoyable. Felt a little bit like a less playful, more progressive Wilco, maybe some Tom Petty thrown in for attitude. May I suggest you get it on vinyl… First impression is 6/10 (Pretty Good) with sleeper potential for 9/10 (Excellent).

Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire – If you don’t have this album then it’s a must-have. 9/10 (Excellent). Required listen on vinyl.


My hip young sister-in-law who has two small kids of her own and has managed to stay culturally engaged!


Mumford and Sons – Some songs are a little adult–think curse words. But the songs are beautiful. “Awake My Soul” is my favorite song.

The Civil Wars – The whole family loves them.

Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto


A senior at University of Missouri, one of the coolest kids I know, and that FB friend who posts something about music at least once a week.


Mat Kearney, Young Love – I have seen mat kearney in concert 6 times and I love all of his music.

NeedtoBreathe– This is my favorite band. I have played their song “Lay ‘Em Down” over 100 times on my Itunes.

Sara Bareilles Kaleidoscope HeartMy roomie, Andrea, and I dance and sing along to every lyric on this CD.

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  1. haley grayless says

    Hi Rachel! Great post. 🙂 I’d also recommend you check out The Head and the Heart, if you haven’t already. I love them. They’re pretty folky and have great melodies. Hope you’re doing great!

  2. jess says

    I loved this post but the most shocking part was that Jack will be in k-garten next year! Sheesh!!

  3. Pingback: RACHEL + POLLY « Bethany Michaela Photography

  4. alicia says

    Thanks Rachel. I loved this post and now have add all of these albums to a Spotify playlist titled Thriving Music. Can’t wait to enjoy them!