By Nate Cortas, SJ
April 9, 2023 — From one Sunday to the next in Lent, we hear stories of Jesus encountering people in seemingly impossible situations, people who have all but given up hope. We meet the Pharisees all too eager to condemn Jesus even as he heals, the woman at the well alone and thirsty, the mourners outside Lazarus’ sealed tomb.
It can be easy to look at ourselves, our neighborhoods, or our world and feel the same sense of heavy dread — we know our own capacity for condemnation, for isolation, for hopelessness all too well. But over and over again, in the Gospels and in our lives, Jesus reminds us that he is doing something new. Incredibly, God heals our brokenness, pours out living water, calls us forth from our tombs, and rolls away the stone on the third day.
At Easter we celebrate how God works in all these strange and delightful ways — ways worth our best singing and shouting, grooving and getting down. Here are a few recently released tracks to enjoy in the long, joyful season to come.
I’ll jump right in amongst them
When I reach the glory land
From Childers’s latest album, this tune draws on some of the best of the Appalachian gospel music tradition. Almost better yet is the music video that accompanies it, a play on the near-death experience that imagines an afternoon of abundance and joy on the other side. All the while, Childers carries on singing about the ecumenical choir stalls in the world to come and the well-worn pews of the old country church. Childers has a knack for finding new life everywhere. “Jubilee” calls us to community, to let go of petty divisions, to not give up on each other. God certainly has not given up on us — there’s plenty of goodness in store for everyone.
Could ever buy your soul
Ever make you whole
Sunny War’s latest album, “Anarchist Gospel,” brings a folk punk ethos to indie acoustic sensibility, the whole project tinged with background vocals that evoke a gospel choir. She’s reimagining the sacred, as if she is making music for a concert in the basement of an empty parish closed three years ago by the diocese. “Whole,” the final track on the album, is an invitation to let go of disordered attachment and to make space for rest. Sunny War believes that everyone is made for more — more than work, more than grief, more than death.
I want to know the measure
From here to forever
It might seem unlikely that a band known to its fans simply as “Death Cab” would have a spot on a playlist celebrating Easter, of all things. But unlike the more somber outlook of much of their earlier songwriting, like “Black Sun” or “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” the group has let a bit of brightness break in. Ben Gibbard confesses that he “can’t help falling in love with bones and ashes” against a bright indie rock backdrop and the listener can’t help but wonder if death might not be the end after all. Death Cab never arrives at belief, preferring an agnostic “God or whatever,” but they hold out for hope all the same.
I don’t know, but I believe
We’ll get another day together
Violent love, feel my embrace
Teetering on the edge of hyperpop, Caroline Polachek grapples with an experience of love she cannot fully get her mind around. For her, this “little miracle” defies certainty — whatever she is hopeful for, it’s something better believed than understood. The beat drops out, and over a soft synth pad she sings “I don’t know,” not as a cry of frustration but as a simple admission. Elation follows, glitchy autotune electrifying her singing as she vocalizes over the outro in pop glossolalia, a secular jubilus.
What’s meant for me
Always will be
I shall not weep no more
There’s plenty of sunlight and good feelings here, not to mention hope for all that is to come. Ruminating on a past littered with sorrow and mistakes, Berhana’s pop is bright and focused on the joy that is now his. Glittering with the influence of his Ethiopian roots, the music’s earworm-y hooks and easy cadence make it perfect for celebration. This is not mere optimism — Berhana is expressing a real trust in the joy that is not fleeting emotion but a way of being.
Let the love set me free
Close to you is where I wanna be
With a palm-muted guitar groove and a neo-psych feel, Sault jams on an ostinato riff about freedom and belonging. The British R&B band that describe their work as an offering to God have landed somewhere between house music and a praise break, with that rapped verse in the middle of the song sounding like a sermon on faith that does justice. The hope of Easter really is this simple — new life with God, the most glorious ending that we can imagine.
Death has come to me, kissed me on the cheek, gave me closure
Immortal by design I’ll be meeting you here every time
This spooky new single from Melanie Martinez is a little disorienting, but it suggests a challenging truth — it is eerie and strange for anyone to rise from the dead. The disciples’ encounters in the upper room, Mary Magdalene’s fleeting conversation with Jesus in the garden, the sudden revelation on the road to Emmaus. There’s something unsettling and disorienting about the resurrection that can get lost in the midst of cute bunny rabbits and multicolored eggs. If God’s work in the world is surprising to us, it is even more startling in the moment.
We live forever
With some skillful sampling, Kenny Beats remixes Shira Small’s 1974 song “Eternal Life,” where she combines found verse with her own metaphysical musings. Like other spiritually pithy samples that have become a popular part of lo-fi hip-hop (think Joey Pecoraro’s “To Be Happy” that begins with an excerpt from a talk by Br. David Steindl Rast, OSB), Kenny Beats lets Smalls’s lyricism lead. He adds some color, mostly in the form of a funky baseline whose flexibility is grounded by a straightforward drumbeat. Smalls, for her part, reminds us that the resurrection was not just some event 2,000 years ago but is a present reality, the kingdom of God among us.
Originally written as a concerto for double bass and orchestra, this recent arrangement for violin captures the glory and mystery of the resurrection with stunning virtuosity. The title of the piece is taken from a description of God in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” and Mazzoli’s composition is as evocative as the poetry it draws upon. The concerto builds into a shimmering wall of sound, almost overpowering in its magnificence, before it fades into a perfect stillness in its final measures. It is not about making sense of the sound — so much that is sublime about the resurrection is in its stupefying mystery.
He woke me up again to say:
“Halle, Halle, Hallelujah
Holy, holy is the sound”
While not released in the last year, it’s hard to leave this track from Sufjan Stevens off of any Easter playlist. From his classic 2004 album “Seven Swans,” Sufjan in this song encounters Jesus as lover and friend, imagining a perfect scene of joyful reunion. God comes to us where we are and drags us out of bed on Easter morning. Holy is the sound, truly. Our voices were made for the song.
Click here to read “From the Garden to the Tomb: A Holy Week Triptych” by Cameron Bellm.
Nate Cortas, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic living in the Bronx, New York, and studying in the master’s program in philosophy and society at Fordham University. Originally from Kentucky, he graduated from the University of Kentucky where he studied English and music. As a Jesuit, he has worked teaching conversational English, accompanying college students in campus ministry and pitching in at local parishes wherever help is needed.