Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SONGSof09

With my "Favorite Album" list, my top 2 albums were probably my 2 favorite albums but beyond that, it was all just a collection of albums that I thoroughly enjoyed and, somewhat randomly, gave a placing. So with my favorite songs (a first for me), I'm just going to post my favorite tracks in a random order. Making lists out of musicians' art seems kind of wrong anyhow...

Animal Collective - My Girls
A perfect song about contentment in a time of recession. Prophetically released before the market "really crashed." I know I just said making lists seems kind of silly but this takes home the trophy for my favorite track of the year.

Matt & Kim - Daylight
A carefree song with perhaps the most infectious beat I've heard all year. This song could not be any funner.

Phoenix - 1901
On an album full of singles, 1901 stood out a little bit more. If you're not listening to this band yet, then shame on you because you are not as happy as you could be.

Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks
I couldn't quite get into Grizzly Bear's whole album (acclaimed Veckatimest) but this song is beautiful and lovable on the first listen.

Yo la Tengo - Gentle Hour
Maybe my favorite song on the Dark Was the Night compilation. Beautiful and swirling with lyrics like: It's such a pleasure to touch your skin / To touch your skin / It's such a pleasure to touch your heart / To touch your heart / I can hardly wait.

Neko Case - This Tornado Loves You
Neko has been on my "respected but not really enjoyed" list for a while but her album Middle Cyclone released a few fantastic tracks including this one about a destructive act of nature who can't help but sing about it's love.

Bon Iver - Blood Bank
I love Justin Vernon and his Bon Iver project/band. This song is classic Bon Iver.

Regina Spektor - Laughing With
Regina is great. And I respect it when a non-CCM musician sings about a higher power (a la Kanye's Jesus Walks) with tact and earnest intent.

Wilco - Wilco (the Song)
I think Wilco will be remembered decades from now. This self-referential track moves beyond cheesy and moves straight to awesome.

Andrew Bird - Anoanimal
This song is just so cool. Andrew Bird continues to make creative, unique music that he performs all by himself. And the "coolness" of his solo performance is only "cool" because he actually makes good music.

Vampire Weekend - Horchata
Vampire Weekend is fun. This track points to a sophomore release just as fun as the first.

Discovery - Osaka Loop Line
Gotta love a collaboration between Ra Ra Riot and Vampire weekend members. And I love the crashing distortion.

The Avett Brothers - The Perfect Space
Manchester Orchestra's Where Have You Been might be my favorite song, period. What I love about that song is that is mixes hard and soft moments so well. The Avett Brothers' The Perfect Space does the same on this song with some fabulous lyrics to go along.

Noah and the Whale - Blue Skies
It's hard to take any song from NatW's new album apart from the complete album but this song does a decent job summing up the entire album. Following up a poppy, feel good album, this album, The First Days of Spring, mournfully details the aftermath of a break-up with the hope of spring and blue skies somewhere beneath the outer layer.

Sufjan Stevens - Movement III & IV
I was ready to dislike Sufjan's "soundtrack to a highway" album (an all instrumental album tagging alongside a film about New York's BQE highway system). Somehow, I ended up loving it. Movements III and IV showcase a transition from a happy, looping song straight into a heavy electronic piece that makes me love music.

Dirty Projectors - Stillness is the Move
This song is only making it onto my list thanks to other "year-end" lists (yeah you, Dauthan). Regardless, the guitar riff, the vocals, the pounding beat ..... perfect.

That's it folks. Happy listening. I'm sure I've forgotten a few of my favorites but that's why blogs are great (always edit-able).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009 in Music

OK, so the album covers didn't come out like I wanted... the Facebook album has better quality pictures if you are so inclined for better resolution.

I listened to a lot of music this year. Enough to actually make a top 10 list a difficult choice (and putting a lot of good albums on the "honorable mention list"). Anyhow, here are my favorite albums of the year:











Other albums that got a lot of play:
-->
Come, O Spirit! – Bifrost Arts (Various)
Blood Bank – Bon Iver
Daisy – Brand New
LP – Discovery
Veckatimest - Grizzly Bear
Grand – Matt & Kim
Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
The First Days of Spring – Noah and the Whale
Manners – Passion Pit
Intuit – Ramona Falls
Far – Regina Spektor
The BQE - Sufjan Stevens
Unmap - Volcano Choir
Wilco (the album) – Wilco

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Worldviews, Literature, Truth

I learned something in college. All truth is God's truth. After hearing this phrase countless times, it stuck. And I think it's true.

It transformed the way I took in pretty much all media. There's a lot of fantastic, weird, beautiful, inspirational, memorable things out there. The process of finding God's truth amidst His creations' creations is one worth going through.

I stopped judging whatever I was taking in based solely on a "morality scale" a while ago. I reasoned it more important to get the whole picture than to simply be offended with specifics.* I'm OK with looking at a rough, dirty wall if I have the chance to catch glimpses of light coming in through the cracks.

So anyways, I read a couple of books this year. I haven't much else to do.

The first is Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. I loved this story. It was forever long. It went super in-depth on a number of characters. She used her characters as archetypes, but the characters evoked empathy. She made architecture seem interesting. Basically, in my opinion, it was a well written story. That's the truth I found in this book. Our God created the whole idea of "stories" and I think her presentation of one was spot on. Unfortunately, I wasn't really down with her general thesis of the greatness of the individual man. Although there are those individuals who occasionally do great things, I think we need each other.

In comes the second book: Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I've already blogged about this book a little bit but it agrees with The Fountainhead in that humanity has a lot of potential. It differs by proposing that we all need each other. Despite the harm that can come from a lot of human constructs, we are also the answer to much of the harm. And this is where I agree/disagree.

I certainly agree that we, as humans, can do a lot of good for each other. But (here's where I may disagree) at the core of every person, we are in need of a savior. I'm not certain of Steinbeck's exact theology, but his story is chockfull of beautiful examples of a redeemed society that looks out for each other; I'm just not sure where he finds redemption.

Those are my recent truth findings.


*That is, until the issue of pornography comes into play. And, if you were wondering, some examples would be the glorification of violence in movies like 300 or the crude jokes in most Judd Apatow movies.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Andrew Marin's Response: A Review

The Book: Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the GLBT Community
The Author: Andrew Marin
The Set-up: Three of Andrew's best friends came out to him in three successive months. Coming from a mid-western, conservative, evangelical background, this shook things up for him.
His Reaction: spend as much time with the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgender) community as possible, learning what he could. He eventually started an organization focused on building ties between Christians and the GLBT community.

It's no secret that the "Christian sub-culture" and the "GLBT sub-culture" haven't really gotten along in the last 20 years. Both sides have done some pretty outrageous things. As "sub-cultures," both probably have some sort of agenda for the other group. Marin wisely responds that
both sides of the gay ‘debate’ are fighting for their ‘ideal situation’ where the other group will admit defeat and change… that time is not coming soon.

For those looking for a conclusive answer to the Christian morality of homosexual behavior, this book will disappoint. Instead, Marin focuses on creating ties between the two groups. Marin says,
“I was making it my deal, making it my baggage and making it my worry, and I didn’t have to do any of that. When did I become God? When did I have to figure it all out? … I am allowed the ability to just trust in the faithfulness of my living Father to fill in the gaps that I can never understand.”
Instead of focusing on changing people's behavior, Marin focuses on connecting people with God. He doesn't feel the need to prove the eternal destiny of a massive and complex group.

It's a refreshing thought. One most Christians (me) need to hear.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

D-Mil's New Book


I like Donald Miller. He's easy to relate to. He has an honest approach to Christianity. I don't think he's the most brilliant Christian thinker out there. But, I like what he has to say.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years ranks up there with his other notable books (Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What).

In real life, he and some friends wrote the screen play for a movie adaptation of Blue Like Jazz. He uses the brainstorming sessions as the basis of this book. He focuses on story. And how he learned about story. And about how he started to live a good story.

To be honest, the blatant use of "living a good story" seemed a bit self-help bookish to me. Something to repeat to oneself in order to live life on the edge. At times, I was wondering if I was reading Wild at Heart, as if in order to be a true super-human/Christian, I needed to go kayaking or hike a mountain (a similar feeling I got from Wild... a book to which I do not give a lot of cred).

But I think Donald's approach is a little less regimented. He even states that often times, life can take a rhythm and that's OK, but it's usually the moments that we 'overcome' that we really remember and grow. So I don't feel the pressure to bike across the US (cause that won't happen, Donald). He simply uses his difficult physical challenges as examples of his turn as the protagonist in a story.

He includes a part about how Denmark is the happiest nation on earth because they have low expectations. This sounds kind of contradictory to his main thesis of dreaming big dreams for our stories, but I think I know what he's talking about. We need to get rid of unrealistic self-absorbed dreams and start enjoying real life. That's one I need to work on.

As usual, Donald had me laughing. I will end with a paragraph from the last chapter (spoiler?):

"Before I learned about story, I was becoming a fatalist. I was starting to believe you couldn't feel meaning in life because there wasn't any meaning to be found. But I don't believe that anymore. It's a shame, because you can make good money being a writer and a fatalist. Nietzsche did it with relative success. Not personal success, mind you, because he rarely got out of bed. But he's huge with twenty-something intellectuals. He's the Justin Timberlake of depressed Germans, and there are a lot of depressed Germans."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Call Me the Prodigal Adam

I’ve gone to Oak Pointe church (in Wixom) the last couple Sundays. My workplace (Uptown Coffeehouse!) has been scheduling me on early Sunday afternoons, not giving me enough time to travel to my ‘preferred’ church home of Hope Community, located downtown Detroit. Oak Pointe has a lot of things going for it. It also has a few too many fog machines, stage lights, and large screen projections of the worship band or pastor. With that said, I don’t mind going there with the fam (Mom) whenever I can’t make the trek to Detroit.

Last Sunday, the church began a series on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (& our “Prodigal God”). The pastor is a quiet man and has a PhD and it’s evident in his teaching. My thoughts stem from his general teaching but don’t reflect his sermon directly. His teaching on the two sons involved in the prodigal son parable got me thinking. It got me thinking about how, for most of my life, I’ve thought of myself as the unhappy brother. You know the one: played by the rules, respected his father, didn’t have much fun. I easily identify.


But I’ve also come to realize that I’m the prodigal son. As I get older and realize that I’m not as great as I think I am, I realize that I need to return to the Father on a more consistent basis. I think for a lot of people (especially those outside Evangelical Christian homes), the opposite may seem more relevant: identifying with the prodigal son and then with the unhappy brother. What I’m realizing is that we all have a little bit of both brothers in us, both brothers need to be invited into the party. Good thing both brothers have the same great Father.


Transition that may or may not make sense:


The idea that both brothers had sin issues (even the “good” one) made me think of the story of Adam & Eve. It made me think that we all are fallen and we all suck at life. And for some reason, during church even, I had the sacrilegious thought that maybe the story of Adam & Eve was just a parable of the beginning of every man. That each one of us has chosen to break the relationship with God.


Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Adam & Eve never ate the forbidden fruit? I know I have. The parabolic reading makes me own up to my very personal decision to be a fool and sin against God. It helps me realize that I was seduced by that sneaky, slippery snake and sunk my teeth into that delicious fruit.


I don’t really think the story of Adam & Eve is just a parable. But I like the parabolic reading of it as well.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brandi (not Brandy)


My friend Lance Hill (you may know him from the "Famous for No Reason" campaign) drove the three hours from Taylor's campus to meet me in Ann Arbor, MI for a concert by none other than Brandi Carlile. Honestly, I hadn't heard more than two of her songs before tonight but was drawn in when Rachel Sawyer (thanks much) contacted me a few days ago and said she could get me and a friend "on the list." Although her voice kind of annoys me in the two singles I'm semi-familiar with, I'm always up for a free concert. So, for the first time in my life, I got to say, "I'm with the band" and received a VIP sticker (which we didn't really use... but the envious glances by hardcore fans were fantastic).

A singer/songwriter named, Angel Taylor opened for Brandi. Her soulful voice was great but the instrumentation from the three-piece band wasn't something to write home about. Unfortunately, the strongest effort was a cover or Jet's "Are You Going to Be My Girl?", acting as a bit of an outlier from the rest of her songs. She mumbled a lot between songs as well, making for awkward silences following what I presumed were jokes. Overall, mediocre performance from a young (she's only 21) artist... she's got time to improve.

Brandi walked onto the stage and the first thought that came to my mind was that she was like Tina Fey, just substitute a Southern drawl for Tina's thick-rimmed glasses. Hailing from the Seattle area, I'm not sure where the voice/accent came from but it helped in making for a strong stage presence, always making the audience feel like they were close friends with her and the band in some Southern hospitality sort of way. Interesting and relevant stories (e.g. an account of a friend's suicide or meeting and recording with her teenage idol Elton John) kept me in-tune with the set and helped keep me from disconnecting (something that often happens when seeing an unfamiliar band).

Opening with a 5-piece acapella (sp?) song, I enjoyed the variety of song performances throughout the night. She and the band commonly switched from full standard band (+ cello) to a more stripped down guitar/snare/acoustic-bass set up to a completely unplugged voice/guitar. Since her inception as an artist, she has toured with "the twins" (the lead guitar and bass players). They were a living cliche in how eerily similar they were, making me think of cinematic twins such as the bad dudes from the second Matrix or the Weasley twins from the Harry Potter series. Anyhow, they were skilled musicians and served as strong supporting vocalists (there's a lot of "ooo"-ing in her songs).

The variety of instrumentation served as a good foundation for her strong lyrics that made for an engaging evening. Although not my exact style (her voice still kind of annoys me), her lyrics had a way of drawing the listener (me) in. While the crowd there loved her, it was a bit weird being completely unfamiliar with an artist's music while sitting amongst her biggest fans. My favorite line came from a guy sitting behind us, "You know what Brandi is really good at? Everything."

While I may not have been as enthusiastic about her music as the rest of the crowd, it was a good show, it was great to see Lance, and it's always great to feel like an insider (thanks again, Rachel). Filling the encore performance with solid renditions of Johnny Cash's "Jackson" and the Beatles' "Let it be" didn't hurt things, either.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I was a homeschooler.


I was a homeschooler. Great time. Lots of field trips and learning at a pace in which I was not hindered by 29 other students. I transferred to a public high school and enjoyed my experiences there as well. Capped it all off with a Christian university. That's my educational background.

Just read an article on public schools... and their benefits. Recommended reading.

Highlight phrase:
"Christians, sadly, tend to believe more in the negative power of sin than they do in the redemptive power of Christ in the lives of His people."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rebellion: A Personal Account

For a while now, it’s been cool to be rebellious. James Dean, the Revolutionary War, Che Guevara, the Civil Rights movement, and the Empire Records movie all serve as pretty sexy examples of taking down the man, standing up for individuality and doing it rather eloquently. Now some of those examples are a little more legit than others (despite his sweet tee-shirts, Che was a jerk), I think our culture has made us look up to those that stand for something out of the ordinary, to rebel against the status quo. I’m a sucker for this attitude. It’s why as a child I chose to play soccer (a sport my dad knew nothing about), chose French in high school (I didn’t want to learn the common language of Spanish), and currently watch movies only a select few have actually heard of. Not to say that I don’t enjoy soccer, French, and indie movies, I do. It’s just that if given the choice between the usual and the unusual, I’ll almost always choose the unusual.


(transition)


A common line for hip, progressive Christians directed towards the American Church is the phrase, “I want to be known for what I am for, not for what I am against.” Typically said in relation to the Church’s reaction towards homosexuality, abortion, other religions, etc,* many people in the Church are tired of being known for what they are not and would rather be known for what they are. Frequently, this same crowd turns to a Christianity that is marked by pushing forward a Kingdom of God system; a relationally-driven, social-justice type of Faith that is more concerned with meeting people where they are than decrying their sins from afar. I’m all for this.


(bring it back together)


So how do those two paragraphs fit together?

I’m one of those “hip, progressive Christians.” I don’t like that the Church is known for being against stuff.

But what I do is pretty lame. I think I’m known for being against the Church. I don’t like what I’ve seen her do, so I complain about all of her problems.

I’m not excited that the Church is commonly known for what it’s against, but more often than not, that’s typically how I approach the Church itself. It’s fun to be the rebel; the cool, young revolutionary bent on pointing out everyone’s mistakes. But it’s about as effective as the Church’s efforts against homosexuality, abortion, and other religions, etc. As messy as the Church can be, it’s my family on earth and it’s God’s vessel.

I want to be known for what I’m for, not what I’m against.


*This is not intended to belittle the issues of homosexuality, abortion, or other religions. They certainly need to be addressed by the Church… they might just not need to be what we are most vocal about.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Grapes of Wrath


The book follows the Joad family as they are forced out of their Oklahoma farm to trek across the country to where there is “work” in California. The book isn’t exactly a pick me-upper, but I loved the beautiful way Steinbeck has of describing injustices. Let me highlight three major themes that were portrayed oh so elegantly:

causes of injustice
In California, the family is consistently met with unfair work systems, corrupt authority figures, and ill treatment by locals. Citing “panic” as the cause of much of the injustice, the people don’t know what to do when there is not enough after the machine of the bank puts them out. Specifically, “what made ‘em bad was they needed stuff.” (The current day comparisons are many.)

natural law
The family’s response to many of these laws is an understandable one. In a day when the lines of right and wrong were anything but clear, the conclusion is that “Law changes … but ‘got to’s’ go on. You got the right to do what you got to do.” On the road and in the camps, a new order came into being, “laws were made, then codes came into being.”

each other
New communities and orders are made that, admittedly, have a more liberal (O.K., maybe even communist sounding) feeling to them but what’s stronger than that is the need we have for one another. What the large businesses fail to offer is respect for human lives, and whenever that happens, something has to change. Referring to the ‘lost-on-religion’ preacher, he is remembered as saying “a wilderness ain’t no good, ‘cause his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good ‘less it was with the rest, an’ was whole.” (I haven’t come to a conclusion if Steinbeck crosses the humanistic, lack of need for a savior line…)

Along with most of Steinbeck’s other books, this one has my recommendation… but you don’t have to take me word for it.