Last week I mentioned how much I love good “roots” music, but if I am honest I tend to play another style more. A lot more. I listen to a ton of post-rock. To most people, this sounds like the ambient noise in the background of movies. I love to listen to this as I study and as I work in the office. There is just enough going on to keep my mind moving. Some of the better post-rock bands have been featured on some great TV shows and movie soundtracks. All of the background music in the TV show Friday Night Lights was by a band called Explosions in the Sky.
Last summer when the full length trailer for Moneyball came out, I was hooked. The song in the background was by a band called This Will Destroy You. I fell in love and got all of their albums. They are in heavy rotation along with the soundtracks to Inception, Batman: The Dark Knight, and Tron.
Here is a sample of This Will Destroy You:
I will freely admit, I am a sucker for roots music. If tapes still existed, my Mumford & Sons would be worn through. If records were still around, my Nickel Creek would have ruts in it. A few weeks ago, Noisetrade sent me an email recommending I download a few songs by a band called The Vespers.
The Vespers are two sisters and two brothers who play rootsy folk mixed with indy vocal sensibilities with a dash of spirituality to boot. I bought their new album and I am in the process of playing the files so often that they will somehow wear out. I like these guys that much. You can hear one of their better songs below, or you can go to NioseTrade and download it there.
In October of 2010 Sufjan Stevens released his latest studio album, The Age of Adz. The album is much different than just about anything he had done up to that point. First, musically it was a blend of the electronic music he had experimented with on Enjoy Your Rabbit and his traditional multi-instrument sonic landscapes. Second, the album was free of gimmick or theme. Most of his albums up to this point had some sort of geograpic or thematic centerpiece. As such, the album, by his own description is far more introspective than anything he had ever done, or at least since 7 Swans.
The album became devisive for many fans of Sufjan, and was a particular sticking point for my best friend and I. My best friend is far and away more musically inclined than I am. His name is Rich and he holds 2 masters in Jazz Composition and Jazz Performance. In addition to that he is working on his Doctorate degree in Worship studies. He has an incredible publishing complany focused on bringing musical and liturgical excellence to the Christian community. Check them out here.
Rich thought, in a word, that the Age of Adz was “Junk”. He pointed out that Bon Iver’s self titled album that came out a few months later was the album Sufjan should have made. While I share Rich’s high regard for Bon Iver, I think his take the Adz is off. Way Off.
The first time I listened to Adz, I was shocked. There was far more dissonance than I had come to expect from Sufjan. And more cursing. And yet I was drawn to listen again and again. The album is dark in a way that nothing Steven’s had ever released was. He had shown a talent for making the objectionable palatable. Look at his treatment of the infamous Illinois serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Hauntingly beautiful.
And yet this album is an audio exploration of what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul. Sufjan says in the song the Age of Adz:
When I die, when I die
But when I live, when I live
I’ll give it all I’ve got
It lives in all of us
It reminds me of David Bazan’s album Control in that it is a tragic and dark tale that is haunted by a sovereign God. Both albums seem like someone was able to put the shadowy grace of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. Take a listen to the album below and share your thoughts.
When I was a teenager, my one strong passion was rock music. And I was fortunate enough to live in Tampa, where the independent music was thriving in the late 90’s. I was at a show every weekend with my crew of Ace, Bowie, Pytlik, and whoever else jumped in my ’85 Buick Regal that night. We saw Underoath (when they were scary metal) and Anberlin (when they were a ska band called saGoh 24/7) a hundred times.
And yet from that Tampa music scene, one band stands out as the biggest influence on my musicaly taste. Denison Marrs was a spacey indy rock band from the next town over. Everytime I went to there show, I was stunned. It didn’t matter how many times I saw them, I never wanted the show to end. One of the best shows I have ever seen was at an old Lutheran church in Clearwater. Denison Marrs saw the venue with it’s large stain glassed wall behind the stage and moved all the lights outside and pointed them inward through the stain glass. Then when they started their set, the windows were lit up and no other lights were on. The entire show was played as they were only visible as black silhouettes. Awesome.
But even better than their showmanship was thier music. They blended a lead guitar with an armada of effects with beautiful crunchy rhythms. Their lead singer Eric would sing over top of these changes while the drummer avoided the high hat like it was the plague. If you listen to their music (two songs are available at the bottom of this post) you might think it is another indie band.
But here’s the thing. These songs are almost 15 years old! These guys were way ahead of their time. Their album, Holding Hands @ 35,000 Feet is still in very heavy rotation in my iTunes. Enjoy these emo tunes from the days when Emo was a good thing!
When I moved to Myrtle beach, two of the first characters I met were into Ska music. I mean, really into ska music. Card-carrying members of the Aquabats Army. And who am I to hate; I grew up in the era of No doubt and Less Than Jake. (And for those of you who have known me for a long time, let us please forget the Left Shoe Untied era)
But as time moved on, these two characters grew up, both musically and in their vision for art. One of them, in an effort to foster better music in the greater Myrtle Beach area started an indy label. Encouraging locals to share their talent and fostering this through show promotion and record releases. While Tom hasn’t been able to devote the time he once thought into this endeavor (since becoming the editor for the University’s literary magazine) he has a knack for identifying talent.
The other character moved away and has flourished at the College of Charleston. Michael, has grown in his talent as a musician while studying psychology. Gone from his music is the over the top fluff. What’s left is an incredible blend of narrative and neo-folk.
Why I am so proud of these two guys is because they have allowed their genuine Reformed faith to work itself out in their chosen mediums. Michael and Tom have created beauty from the chaos around them. I couldn’t be happier to know these two.
The Sad Songs EP is a split between Michael’s roommate Shane (Conceptual Reality) and Michael’s solo project (Storyteller). It is released through Bandcamp of Tom’s label, Rose and Arrow Records.
Conceptual Reality is a fantastic mix of post-rock/soundscapes that would Brian Eno proud and an indy sensibility that reminds me of bands like Margot and the Nuclear So-and-Sos, Carrousel, and All-Time Quaterback. Pretty great stuff that you can listen to over and over.
Storyteller’s half of the EP could have come straight off the B-sides of Bright Eyes Digital Ash in a Digital Urn/I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. From the diversity (a ska influenced bluegrass song!?) of the music to the honesty of the lyrics (the pain in my heart goes away when I wash my self in the shower of all my thoughts) Michael is a Storyteller. Check out the whole EP and share it with your friends!
One of the awesome/terrible things about most music is the lyrics are often vague and subject to interpretation. As someone who tries to discern authors intents in ancient writings for a living this can be incredibly frustrating. However, as someone who loves the beauty of the ambiguity much modern music provides, it can be very beautiful.
It is like my right and left brain are at war with one another. Part of me says, “What does it mean? It must mean something!” The other part of me says, “Who cares what it means, it’s provacative and it gets the people going”.
No artist evokes this sense of wonder more than Bon Iver. These indie darlings write beautiful music that communicates a sense of trnascendance in a way that is normally isolated to clasical composers like Bach and Handel. And yet, these songs complete with biblical imagery and references to sermons and seminaries communicate some elusive meaning that I can’t quite crack.
Watch this video for the banks song, Towers.
Gorgeous song. Gorgeous video. It seems to communicate something so profound about the way we desire to create and control and yet when it falls apart, so do we.
I know this is how my idolatry works. I work so hard to only to have things fall apart. This leads to anger and despair, which often pushes me deeper into the arms of my idols that don’t fulfill. Thank heaven there is the Spirit which reverses the tower of Babel and tames my desire to rebuild it. Again and Again.
A few years ago a friend introduced me to a band from Michigan called Anathallo. I immediately fell in love. To this day, every song they ever recorded is on my phone. At all times. No matter what is moved around to make space for this application or that audio book, they always make the cut. The only thing bad about Anathallo is that they stopped making music.
A few weeks ago I was pointed in the direction of another band out of the same state, called the Soil & the Sun. I immediately fell in love all over again. I am not sure if it is the brutal winters and beautiful summers or the copious amounts of Dutch calvinism that runs rampant, but something about Michigan produces these bands. These unbelievably beautiful bands.
the Soil & the Sun describe themselves as experimental spiritual folk-rock meets New Mexico space music. They have an uncanny ethereal quality to their songs that few outside of Anathallo have ever captured. They soar with a sound that can only be described as transcendant.
If you are a fan of Anathallo, Sufjan Stevens, or Bon Iver, you should definitely check them out.
Hopefully that pasted their player in…
The last semester of my senior year of high school was a whirlwind. I had barely any classes, I had a job that provided me with enough money to buy gas. I had a sweet ’88 Oldsmobile. Not to shabby of a set up.
I was obsessed with music and went to shows with my friends Ace, Pytlik, Jason, and James nearly every weekend. During the week, my free time was often spent in the quest for the greatest band, the next great song. With Napster not yet available, especially to a kid with a 56k dial-up connection, the way to find new music was to cruise up to the nearest record store and peruse the shelves. With limited previews and a $15 price tag, buying a new album was a gamble.
You see kids, there was a time long ago with no iTunes. There was no Pandora. No Noisetrade. No Grooveshark. You had to trust word of mouth recommendations. One trick I found particularly useful was to scan the liner notes of my favorite albums and see what bands they gave shout-outs to.
So there I stood in the Citrus Park Mall with two CD’s in my hand: Do you know who you are? by Texas is Reason and Clarity by Jimmy Eat World. I seriously wanted a CD by a band with a three word name. Not seriously though. I would love to claim some mystic reason for choosing the CD I did. Like one of them began to float or had my name as a song title. But no such epiphany came. Instead, I looked at a sticker on the Jimmy Eat World disc that said, “Featuring Luck Denver Mint as heard in Never Been Kissed”. Well then Mr.Record-Label-Sticker-Maker, you had me at Drew Barrymore.
Seriously (for real this time), I bought the album because I thought (think?) Drew Barrymore was attractive.
I got out to my Oldsmobile, peeled off the shrink wrap, and was blown away.
The album does not begin with a sonic wall or a blast of guitars. Instead, it starts with a slow drone and a monotone chant. A monotone chant of haunting beauty. The line that is repeated in the first song is:
Lead my skeptic sight,
To the table with the light
I was hooked. I listened to the album twice through that night. No other CD found its way into my CD player for weeks. The album had tons of incredible songs and ended with a 15 minute jam.
Here are a couple of my favorite songs off the album:
Just Watch the Fireworks
About the same time, I was assigned a book in my one academic class, English. The book I was assigned was the story of two young boys, one a dwarf and the other his monied best friend in a fictional version of Exeter, New Hampshire. This dwarfish boy with a wrecked voice had concluded that he was the instrument of God. As the only vocal Christian (on his way to Bible College no less…) in the class the views of the characters were constantly challenging me. I would at times defend one, while others I would question others myself. Regardless of my feelings towards the specific theologies, the book would leave a lasting mark on me. I have read A Prayer for Owen Meany at least 8 times, and I am due to read it again this summer. My love for the novel is fodder for another post, another time.
But then, as the class was wrapping up, I was making my hour long trek to school in the morning the following words bellowed out of my speakers:
“Is tomorrow just a day like all the rest.”
How could you know just what you did?
So full of faith yet so full of doubt I ask.
Time and time again you said don’t be afraid.
“If you believe you can do it.”
The only voice I want to hear is yours.
I shall ask you this once again.
” I am but one small instrument.”
Do you remember that?
So here I am above palm trees so straight and tall.
You are smaller, getting smaller.
But I still see
The song was based on the climax of the novel. As much as the book would help me make sense of so much of my life, so would this song. I have listened to the song on the way to every graduation I have been a part of and on the way to my ordination.
I am pretty sure that Clarity is not the best album ever. Certainly not by any sort of objective metric. But it is the best album to me, and that’s what matters, right?
Editor’s Note: Tuesday’s are Tunesdays.
I can remember going into my friend Dave Whitehead’s office in a kitchen and him playing me a record by a band called the Gloria Record. After listening to it, I found the Crank!Records website and ordered EndSerenading by Mineral. The simple packaging and lack of spaces between words told me this album was right up my alley. It made its way into heavy rotation for the rest of high school. My blue Buick Regal heard me jam out to the album tons of times. I burned it and gave it to my friends Ace, James, and Pytlik. I tried, unsuccessfully, to woe girls to the sound of it.
As time went on, it was buried under an avalanche of new CD’s and new bands. When I started working at Starbucks, and got my first iPod, it made it’s way back into heavy rotation. My friend Dan was a huge fan and we often talked about our favorite parts of the album. Not too long ago, I stumbled back upon the album; I always forget how great this album is
The album is short, clocking in under 50 minutes, and it isn’t very diverse stylistically. In reality it feels like a really long song, which if you like it as much as I do, is a really good thing.
The guitars drone on, and quite frankly don’t show a lot of technical skill. The same could be said of the drums and bass. And yet, when all of these ingredients are added together and combined with Simpson’s monotone voice, magic happens. I wanted to point out two songs that will give you a feel for the album as a whole.
The second track on the album is Palisade
Here are the lyrics:
There I was, fourteen spinning
With my arms out like a scarecrow
Walking down Monroe to the park
Dancing up Madison
With my eyes closed your feet
Sounding like a symphony of strings
You picked me up and whispered “Forever”
Like a secret in my ears
Now. . .
The song, as with most of the album, finds the singer reminiscing about his life when he was younger. The brilliance of the song is in the simple poetry of the lyrics, combined with the story-telling done by the instruments. I am particularly impressed with the way the songs builds and then breaks down just before the 4 minute mark. This song is a great representation of the album as a whole.
Another song that stands out on the album is the second to last track, &Serenading.
Will you come and what will I say
Oh I have been so distant and unhappy
Like I could disappear
When I was a boy I saw things
That no one else could see
So why am I so blind at twenty-two
To the hope that is all around me
Filling up this room
On the road on my own
Waiting for the words to fall from your tongue
Into my ears
When I was a boy I could hear
Symphonies in seashells
So why am I so deaf at twenty-two
To the sound of the driving snow
That drives me home to you
You can find the album on iTunes here.
Oh, to fan the flames of overwrought controversy.
Here is the definitive list of the 5 best Rock Albums recorded in the 1990’s. If you don’t like it, comment and correct.
1. Weezer – Weezer (the Blue Album): Unbelievable hooks, catchy lyrics, and every song is amazing.
2. Counting Crows – August and Everything After: Beautiful from start to finish. The lyrics are cryptic and sometimes haunting.
3. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity: Though the album has a few songs that are not gems, the 14 song masterpiece is incredible. It also ends with a 14 minute tribute to A Prayer for Owen Meany (the greatest novel of the late 20th century)
4. Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind: Known mostly for the commercial success of Semi-Charmed life, this record is amazing from the word go. The album has the best final 5 songs of any album of the decade.
5. Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen: The lyrics and the music on this quirky, sometimes sad jam are unbelievable.
All Apologies List: Nirvana – Nevermind, The Juliana Theory – Understand this is a Dream, Radiohead – OK Computer, Clueless – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Blink 182 – Enema of the State.