I could be mistaken, but we all share a few deeply rooted questions about ourselves, right? Who am I? What am I doing here? Why is it that I exist, rather than not existing? Over the years, I’ve found myself drawn to songs that invite me to make sense of these things. These songs hold a tension as they intelligently consider life and death while also expressing the candid emotions of one living in this strange existence. Additionally, I’ve included a few songs that don’t explicitly consider existence, but they tell stories and ask questions that even still invite me to make sense of them, piecing the puzzle together verse by verse. — Davis John Patton
At the end of the day, is it not supremely important how we answer these deeply rooted questions about ourselves and others? I hope these songs help you ponder and make sense of things as they have for me.
Gregory Alan Isakov – “This Empty Northern Hemisphere”
The imagery of the first chorus captivates me: adorning a home with radio wires to hear voices from beyond. A glimpse of something past this emptiness.
Henry Jamison – “Boys”
This song, and the album it accompanies, confronts our cultural idea of masculinity, but even more just the general process of reconsidering our very identity and the sources that built it. “Spring is coming; let me be like the cherry tree, renewed and fruitful.”
Penny & Sparrow – “Double Heart”
Our existential ponderings can only remain external for so long; eventually we look inward. I honestly couldn’t tell you what most of this song means, but hearing the cry of “double heart” reminds me that incredible brokenness and evil isn’t only in the world, but also in me.
Josh Garrels – “Wash Me Clean”
The production and instrumentation of this song are so thoroughly beautiful that it took me multiple listens to have the headspace to even listen to the lyrics. This song is a deeply personal cry that we and the “earth groan in pain,” a common landing place in existential wonder. Is this the final destination?
Phoebe Bridgers – “Chinese Satellite”
I could write pages on this song; it holds some of the most authentic and heartbreaking lyrics on existence I’ve ever heard. Who hasn’t felt the absolute wickedness of the world and cried out alongside Bridgers that we must have been meant for somewhere better: “I want to go home.”
S. Carey – “Have You Stopped to Notice”
A song of rest amidst the hopelessness of other ponderings. Carey brings listeners back to the life before them, and comforts: “We all want the answers, but we only find a few. Look at all you have still in front of you.”
Alaskan Tapes – “We”
After quoting the lyrics of six consecutive songs, I now bring an instrumental piece. A song with space to think.
Henry Jamison – “Witness Trees”
If I was forced to pick a perfect song, I’d probably pick this one. There is much to make sense of in this song, but I particularly love the lyrical and musical beauty when Jamison sings, “I see a sign in the breeze, in the wind, in the trees, in the skies over Austin.”
Benjamin Francis Leftwich – “Elephant”
One of the most repetitive songs I’ve ever heard, but it works so powerfully. What is the elephant in the room for me? “I know you know, it is easier to shy away… but I know that you won’t go away.” It seems we can only ignore our deepest longings for so long.
Noah Gundersen / Phoebe Bridgers – “Atlantis”
This song is the Knives Out of mysterious songs… When you make it through the first listen, you immediately want to listen back for clues at what exactly is going on. Catchy, to be sure, along with ominous stories with glimmers of longing that conclude with the listener being set free… ? Much to make sense of.
Penny & Sparrow – A Kind of Hunger
A lesson in existential pondering: eventually you come face to face with the reality of death. What do you do with that? Penny & Sparrow offer two profound thoughts: “Breath, in the end, is a thing to be spent.” / “Dying’s just a kind of hunger.”
S. Carey – “Meadow Song”
The best songs in the world are the songs that conclude great albums, right? I think this song is reflecting on a lost loved one, but in the spirit of making sense of things, I have literally no idea if I’m right. Give this song a listen, Google the lyrics which are essentially a poem, and make some sense of it.
The Black Atlantic – “I Shall Cross This River”
Here’s where we conclude, on a somewhat hopeful note. The bitter realities of existence are faced, externally and internally. But if there is one great enough to “see not this bitter man… see not this failure,” then “when my darkness leaves, when my fall is complete, I shall cross this river.”
Photo Credit: Austin Goode