My 2016 Top Tracks on Spotify (Part 1)

I had been hoping to be able to blog/write a lot more often, and as a result of a certain debacle with my 35-hour-a-week side job, I was granted it last week. So I sat there in my car, after a solid few minutes of moping, and wrote out a rough draft on this post on my phone… and now we here.

Sometime after the end of the year, Spotify sent me a playlist of my most-played tracks, which was a welcome surprise. I’m not sure if it’s the case for everyone, but when it comes to what I play on Spotify, what gets played most often are typically the tracks that I genuinely would listen to in any situation. I know a lot of my friends’ most-played songs are from somewhat utilitarian playlists, divided into those for studying, working out, “chill”, etc. I don’t tend to do any of those activities very often, and when I am doing them, I’m not listening to music. I listen to songs almost exclusively while driving, and if I’m not just shuffling my entire library of songs, I’m choosing a certain genre (which is how I divide my playlists). In any case, these songs still managed to rise to the top. I hand-picked some songs from the playlist Spotify curated that are especially meaningful or interesting, and it came out to 20 songs. They are listed generally in the order they appear in the playlist, which probably was ordered based on what was played the most, but don’t read too much into their position or number (since being played the most probably has more to do with the playlist the song appears on moreso than the song itself). These are the first 10 I chose, with 10 more to come.

#1: “Embers” (Hillsong Young & Free)

I’ve been on a worship music kick lately, largely due to a debate with a friend last year about what constitutes worship music lyrics. My final take was/is that worship music is songs which we sing to God, rather than those in which we sing about him to one another. “Be Thou My Vision” rather than “Amazing Grace”, for example. So I made a playlist of those songs I both like musically and that have lyrics along that vein. Songs that I’d choose from if I were leading worship somewhere. “Embers” is one modern one that stuck for me. I’m not a huge fan of Hillsong Young & Free lyrics, but this was one track that I’d love to sing in church.

#2: “Gone Under” (Snarky Puppy ft. Shayna Steele)

First things first: Snarky Puppy is the realest. If you aren’t listening to them yet, repent of your sins and get on board. They’re a fusion jazz collective led and composed by Michael League, and there are several über-talented musicians among them, notably Cory Henry. Anyway, they are now up to two special collab albums that they call “Family Dinners” where they work with notable vocalists from all over the world and musical world. This track is from the first one, and features Shayna Steele, who I otherwise was not hip to. She has a great voice and the track has a churchy vibe lyrically — in my opinion, though some of my friends have disagreed. In any case, I love the song dearly.

#3: “Blessed Are the Forgiven” (Brothers of the Empty Tomb)

One of the great things to come out of the not-always-great entity that was Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church was and is the several worship bands that Seattle was hiding before the MHC machine made them famous. A few of them, at least (see: Citizens [& Saints], King’s Kaleidoscope, etc). These Mars Hill Music bands were some of my first alternative Christian musical indulgences, and I thought I was hip to all of them from their earliest days within the MHC machine. Brothers of the Empty Tomb came out of nowhere to me last year, though, and I was struck not only by the lead singer’s voice, but even moreso by their successful retro vibe (not unlike CeCe Winans’ impressive new record). This is all with the Mars Hill Music trademark of yore: aggressively biblical lyrics . In fact, some of their originals are just biblical passages set to (vibey/funky) music. My favorite track on the album is actually “What Is Man” — I’m a sucker for vocal swells like the one toward the end of that track — but the whole album is saved to my Spotify library, and that almost never happens. High praise.

#4: “Like Incense/Sometimes By Step” (Hillsong Worship)

I remember the time in my life when the idea of listening to Hillsong was a heresy in itself, for a variety of reasons. Most of those reasons are intact (Hillsong Church’s immensity, monarchical leadership structure, theological shortcomings, etc), but I no longer give much thought to much other than lyrics and instrumentation when it comes to Christian or any other kind of music — since, quite frankly, the issues I have with Hillsong Church are the same issues I have with virtually all modern megachurches, from which come most popular Christian music. My friend originally put me onto Hillsong back when I wouldn’t dare, but this was one of her favorite songs from them at the time, and when I came around, it became one of mine too. I remember singing a version of one of the songs it draws lyrics from as a child, and overall it has some of the best worship lyrics I’ve ever heard (according to my definition discussed in song #1). It also is not a bad idea to study the control that Brooke Fraser exhibits vocally on this track. It was good to see she’s back with Hillsong Worship as of their latest album.

#5: “Gretel” (Snarky Puppy)

Here’s Snarky Puppy again. No vocals this time (which is their norm), but instrumentation is everything, and they have the goods here. I’ve always thought this song sounds like it belongs in a James Bond movie (or something like it), which immediately causes me to think “Well, it can’t be jazz, then.” Probably true, but it’s fusion jazz anyway, and it makes their work all the more fun — and perhaps groundbreaking — that it’s jazz music that isn’t jazz and movie music that isn’t in any movies.

#6: “In My Room” (Jacob Collier)

All hail Jacob Collier. I’m pretty sure he’s younger than me (and you) and yet slays us at nearly every musical endeavor we have imagined. From what I’ve read, he produces all his music, plays all instruments on his tracks, and he also sings on his tracks. Quite well, methinks. He also just won a Grammy, so we all have work to do to catch up. Also, turn up the bass when you listen to his stuff. And speaking of bass…

#7: “Baited” (Flame ft. Fedel)

I use this track to test out any headphones or speakers I’m investigating (hence its high play count), because the drop that it features is one for the ages. The way his producer used that sample (which I have never bothered to research) reminds me of what Lecrae’s producer did on “Black Rose” and “Violence”, both of which are alongside “Baited” in my top 5 most fun Christian rap tracks to listen to. I’m pretty sure at least two of the samples on those three are old reggae tracks, and though I don’t listen to reggae, it might be time soon.

#8: “How Great Thou Art” (Carrie Underwood)

I remember sitting in Korea for hours reading a bunch of analyses of different famous singers' vocal technique. I didn’t recognize most of the Korean singers, but I had a few names of American singers I was particularly interested in. Carrie Underwood was one. I recall her getting a mixed review from whomever I was reading, but haters gonna hate. Something about her voice, all things considered, just undoes me. This track is actually a live performance, and although she nearly cracks at the end, it was masterful. And the dude on harmony (Vince Gill?) wasn’t playing around, either. Concerning her near crack, it almost makes the track better; as a singer myself, I (often) appreciate a performance with obvious rawness more than something that’s ostensibly been perfected on somebody’s iMac in a dusty studio somewhere. Carrie gets the W here.

#9 “Esperanto” ((Sean Jones) ft. Carolyn Perteete. Covertly.)

Two things were immediate topics of research after listening through this one: #1 “What is this song?” The lyrics are downright churchy! And #2 “Who is this woman on vocals??” She isn’t listen on the track on Spotify, so I had to some digging on Google; but that’s what I do, so behold: Carolyn Perteete. She has one of the absolute smoothest voices I’ve ever heard, and I’m ready to put her in my #Top5VocalistsAliveRightNow, no questions asked. She impressed me that much. And Spotify’s unrivaled “Featured On” feature put me onto a few more excellent tracks featuring her (actually credited) vocals on tracks with another great band, The Elevationists — who had hymns on the same album she was on, so you already know I was all the way in there.

#10: “Where Can I Go” (Holly McWilliams)

I’m not sure Holly McWilliams could do any wrong vocally even if she tried, but this is one of her most lovable tracks. The whole album it’s on is good, with “Generations” and “Be Thou My Vision” as standouts. The former is lyrically refreshing, and the latter, though easy to come off as dried out, is somehow musically and vocally fresh with Holly on the mic. I actually met someone who used to lead worship at Matt Chandler’s church (The Village Church, which is where Holly currently leads worship, I think), but it turns out that she worked at another campus of that church and didn’t know her. More reasons to reject churches with multiple campuses! LOL (I had to have come off as rude, though, wanting to immediately discuss Holly upon discovering that my new acquaintance used to work at TVC; I just love her voice that much. 🤷)

Stay tuned for part 2!!

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