God & the Dentist

Courtesy of jesus-withyoualways.com

Courtesy of jesus-withyoualways.com

Below is, as it is with all opinion posts, an outline of my opinion on a particular topic.  Please feel free to disagree or to challenge my views, but please also take the care to read all of what I have written.  It is my sincere intention to be a loving, gracious, humble and devout follower of Jesus.  Please forgive me when I fail at this.

Today a couple of minister friends of mine shared the same link on Facebook with the heading, ‘Dentist Says God Doesn’t Exist – Watch What His Patient Says…’  Normally I tend away from these sort of links (my criticisms in this post will probably reveal why that is the case), but for some reason today I decided to click.  Here’s the clip:

I’m not sure how long this ‘God & the Dentist’ idea has been circulating (after a limited amount of research I’ve discovered several videos presenting the same argument), but this one was produced by a group called ‘cvcnow’ who on their YouTube account give this description:

cvcnow produce creative short films, designed to entertain and challenge your thinking about real life.

In amongst all the negativity we face online, we want to be that much needed positive presence online and bring a fresh new perspective on real life struggles – from forgiveness to suicide; we don’t shy away from the big issues.

The’ve got this written in their ‘about’ section on the cvcnow.com website:

All we want is to help you explore those unavoidable questions about life, the universe and everything in it.

After a wee bit of research I’ve discovered that cvcnow is a ‘brand’ under the umbrella of Christian Vision, ‘a UK-based international charity founded by Lord Edmiston in 1988.’  I have yet to watch all of the videos that they’ve produced (and I don’t see myself doing that any time soon), but from viewing this dentist video alone, something tells me that none of their videos will sit right with me.  But why?

Before I explain why I see this sort of thinking as more of a foe than a friend, I want to say that this is no attack on any individuals who find this video inspirational.  Please know that I am in no way doubting the faith, goodness or sincerity of anyone involved in cvcnow or Christian Vision, or even anyone who has enjoyed the video above or has passed it on to friends.  I believe that the folk who produced this video are using their skills, passions and energies to do what they think is the most effective way to follow what they believe God wants for them.  But with that being said, I think that most people (even people who commit acts of great evil) do the same.  For example, I’m convinced that the Tories believe that society will best flourish under their policies whilst Labour politicians believe the same of their own policies (though, some might argue that New Labour’s policies are more Tory than Labour, but I digress…).  I also want to express that I believe that God can use any means to reveal theological truth and convey religious experience (my PhD thesis approaches a small facet of that very belief), as in the old story in the Torah of the diviner Balaam who was intent on cursing the God of the Jews, but this very God corrected him via the mouth of a donkey.  So yes, according to our mythology and tradition, God can speak through various means, but I’d rather be the prophet than the ass.

So what about this video do I find particularly offensive?  Aside from the poor writing, poor acting, poor music, poor production and implausibility of the conversation?  Let’s walk through the ‘script’:

Dentist [after working on a patient's teeth]: OK, we’re done.
Patient: Yes, thank God for that.
D: God?
P: What do you mean?
D: Who in this day and age still believes in God?

At this point it’s important to point out that I don’t know of any dentist, even a staunchly atheistic dentist, who would take issue with someone saying ‘Thank God’ in a situation like that.  Many of my atheist friends say ‘Thank God’ as often as they say ‘Thank fuck’.  The ‘God’ bit of ‘Thank God’ doesn’t necessarily carry much meaning.  ‘Thank God’ is simply a colloquialism.  But the writers of this piece needed to find a way to put God into a ‘real life’ situation, so we end up with a very rude dentist who decides to challenge his patient on a passing comment.  And to answer this elitist dentist’s silly question, Who in this day and age still believes in God?apparently some 5.8 billion of the 6.9 billion people in the world, or 84% of people.  That in no way proves the legitimacy or truthfulness of belief in God, but at least demonstrates that, even ‘in this day and age’, belief in God isn’t exactly uncommon.  So the patient decides to respond:

P: Well, I do.  Why’s that?
D: Well, you obviously missed all the wars, uh, the devastation, the poverty…everything that goes wrong in this world.
P: Well, I don’t believe in dentists.  If there are so many dentists in the world, then why do so many people have broken, infected and missing teeth?

Oh dear.  Now, despite his unpleasant personality, I’m starting to side with the dentist.  Whether or not a Christian will admit it, there is no simple answer to the problem of evil (expressed so eloquently by the dentist in his condescension: ‘Well, you obviously missed all the wars, uh, the devastation, the poverty…everything that goes wrong in this world.’).  I have some views on how I might approach the problem of evil, but I don’t want to go there with this post.  It’s also important to note that God has been used to justify a great many wars throughout history (even Bush and Blair claim to have prayed to God before the [misleading] war in Iraq).  But that at which I want to get is what the patient has used to argue against non-belief – she has decided that she doesn’t believe in dentists.  There are two major problems I have with her decision.

1) She has decided that she doesn’t believe in dentists That’s a very difficult position to maintain when you’re sitting in the chair of a dentist‘s office after your dentist appointment and a dentist is standing right in front of you, speaking with you.  If the Christian God was always so readily tangible the argument might stand up a wee bit better.  But dentists do exist and her assertion that the lack of dental care in the world proves that dentist’s don’t exist is somehow akin to this dentist’s argument against the existence of God by way of the problem of evil is complete and utter nonsense.  In the spirit of this unlikely exchange, this patient’s thanking of God after her dental procedure reveals that she believes that God was somehow present and responsible for the ending of the procedure.  This can be seen as implying that God is capable of being present in many places at one time (omnipresence) and that is powerful enough to bring her through this dental challenge (omnipotence).  The dentist argues that an ever present and all powerful God (who is also a good God [omnibenevolence]) cannot exist in light of the brokenness in the world.  And whilst there are many different conceptions of God, these three things—presence, power and goodness—form part of the general understanding of the concept of ‘God’ in Western society.  ‘Dentist’, on the other hand, does not carry the same weight.  No one in their right mind believes dentists are omnipresent.  No one in their right mind believes dentists are omnipotent.  Some people believe that dentists are actually evil.  So to argue that dentists, because of their lack of omnipresence and omnipotence (and to some people, their lack of omnibenevolence), do not exist, is quite silly.

2) She has decided that she doesn’t believe in dentists.  I have argued against the concept that we ‘choose’ what we believe in other posts (particularly here in ‘Agnosticism in the Kingdom of God’, from 23 September 2011 and here in ‘Some thoughts on religion and its place in my life’, 9 May 2012), but I’ll attempt to reiterate and expand some of that argument here.  In short, I don’t believe any of us choose what we believe and instead—based upon the information we store in our heads from our experiences—we ‘reason’ to what makes the most sense to us.  It’s not Logic with a capital ‘L’, but it’s some type of existential logic.

For a friend of mine, Christianity made sense until something else—whether that is new information he learned or a new experience or series of experiences—led him to see his Christian belief system as illogical.  I do think that we can cultivate a particular belief via manipulation (like any gay men who cultivate the unfortunate belief that their sexuality is a choice), but ultimately, I think belief is something that happens to us.  This makes most sense in Christianity (as opposed to this idea that we choose our beliefs) because, alongside the broader Christian tradition, the Bible seems to express that faith/belief is a gift:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’  Matthew 16:13-17, NRSV

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  Ephesians 2:8-9, NRSV

Even the account of St Paul’s conversion implies that faith is something that happened to Saul, not something he chose (see Acts 9).  If the element of choice is ever involved in the Scripture, I believe it’s a matter of choosing between that which is in line with the values of the kingdom of God and that which is out of line with the values of the kingdom of God.  As a result of acting upon belief, some people are commended by Christ:

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.  Luke 18:35-43, NRSV

There are many other similar passages in the Gospels (such as Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:34, Luke 7:50), but as is expressed in the Epistle of St James, faith/belief is a gift from God:

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  James 2:5, NRSV

I didn’t choose to become a Christian.  Perhaps every day I have the choice to follow either that which I conceive of as following Christ or that which I conceive of as not, but the conception of following Christ, being a Christian, believing in God — those things are part of my faith, and my faith is a free gift from God.

This is a good place to look at the concluding lines of the dialogue, which reveal what is perhaps the most important reason why I cannot stand by this video:

D: I can’t help people that don’t come to me to have their teeth fixed.
P: Exactly.  It’s the same way with God.  It’s a bit rich of us to expect God to help people who don’t come to him and instead insist on doing things their own way.
D: And how am I meant to come to God?
P: Just talk to him – he’s listening.

Here the patient tells the dentist that it’s unreasonable for us to expect God to help people who don’t come to him.  Why would I have any problem with that?  Being that we’ve just celebrated the Epiphany a few days ago, the doctrine of the incarnation weighs very heavily upon me.  At the very heart of the Christian faith is the belief that God became human in Jesus.  This divine mystery plants God in the midst of human existence, as a human.  As quoted in the Gospel of St Matthew,

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’  Matthew 1:23 (cf. Isaiah 7:14), NRSV

Christianity rests on the belief that God is the one who comes to us: ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8), ‘We love because he first loved us.’ (1 John 4:19).  It is God’s initiative, God’s move that makes this happen.  God is not sitting, twiddling her divine thumbs, waiting for us to turn up.  God is here, in our midst.  And yet, whilst I believe that this is true, the patient’s response to the dentist’s final question, ‘And how am I meant to come to God?’  Poses some other difficulties.

I do believe that God listens.  I do believe that God cares.  But as I have written in a previous post,

I don’t know why some people believe they’ve had a religious experience when they didn’t want one, whilst some people really want a religious experience and have yet to receive it.  I don’t know why the universe is chaotic.  I don’t know why such lovely people die of cancer.  I don’t know why millions of people die of starvation and disease each year.  I don’t know why, if a God exists, that God doesn’t just sort all this out this instant.  These are difficult questions; questions that make the writing of some blog post seem absolutely meaningless.  But even though I cannot give someone a life-changing religious experience, even though I cannot stop a tsunami, even though I cannot feed all who hunger and even though I cannot answer these questions in a neatly-packaged way, I know that this world and the people therein are beautiful and God has called me to give of myself for others in love, despite my lack of love and my lack of ability.

I know that this is not a resolution to the logical challenges facing Christians who maintain that God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, but in light of the reality of suffering in our world, I believe that those who have faith should tread very lightly when arguing for God’s existence to those who—without us even being aware—have tried very hard to call out and listen for God.  The video above seems to imply that God is just a phone call away, but it does not balance that belief out with the reality that billions of suffering people who have cried out for the aid of a higher power have not received the answer that we of faith so take for granted.  For this reason, someone might see this video and be unnecessarily hurt.  This is why this video rubs me the wrong way.

A life of belief in God is not always cushy.  It’s never easy.  The only concrete thing I believe with this regard is that, through Jesus, God empathises with human suffering and wants people who call themselves followers of Christ to help ease it.  One way we can do that is to train up more dentists in order that they might ‘show the love of Christ by offering dental relief to those in need around the world.’

Best Albums of 2013

BAo13

We finished this list with but a single day left in the year.  We did not forget about you, dear readers, for we know that you would be lost in a musical netherworld without us to guide you out like Orpheus leading Eurydice by the hand (shout out to Arcade Fire!).  We’ve scoured the globe (quite literally) for the finest tunes in 2013.  There were some outstanding albums this year, about which you shall soon read, but the year was not without its disappointments (for us, this would be albums from Atoms for Peace, John Vanderslice, Josh Ritter, and to some extent, Sigur Rós).  And you won’t soon find Kanye West’s Yeezus anywhere near our list (have we poisoned the well for some readers?).  Still, it was a solid year, a year that the annals of music will look back on with a double thumbs up, if not quite a leaping in the air high-five.  So without further ado, we give you Lost in the Cloud’s Best Albums of 2013.

Love,

Greg & Elijah

Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

guessing the others10. guessing the others  swimming in speakers — I was first made aware of swimming in speakers by our resident Band Evangelist, Greg, back in April.  Duo Christopher Clarke and Meadow Elizabeth Erskine present a fine collection of both timeless and timely tunes, hearkening back to yesteryear’s American and Western European folk traditions whilst also venturing into the freak-folk electronica wave (and doing it oh, so well!).  Erskine is also behind the design of the very delicate album art.  They’ve not received an awful lot of press, but hear you me, keep an eye and an ear out for swimming in speakers.

Phosphorescent  Muchacho9. Muchacho  Phosphorescent — 2013 was a great year for the advancement of the freak-folk movement.  Combining Eno-esque production with Brian Wilson-esque harmonies and the country charm of Willie Nelson, singer-songwriter Matthew Houck has struck gold.  With Muchacho, Houck produces aural sweetness on every level, highlighted by his wavering voice.  Every second of the expertly produced 46:28 minutes wash over the listener like a warm Southern breeze.  And it’s not short of hoots and hollers neither!

Love's Crushing Diamond8. Love’s Crushing Diamond  Mutual Benefit — I must be on a desperate singer-songwriter bent this year.  Although Jordan Lee has been producing through his project Mutual Benefit for more than four years, this is his first LP, and although it’s running time is hardly over a half hour, it is well worth the four year wait.  This album caught me out of nowhere.  As with my number nine and ten albums, there’s a sweetness and maturity to the production of Love’s Crushing Diamond that keeps the listener eager for more.

Trouble Will Find Me7. Trouble Will Find Me  The National — As Greg pointed out, singer Matt Berninger’s voice might not be for everyone.  But like Greg, it’s for me.  And it might be for you.  Now, when I first heard 2007′s Boxer, I was unconvinced.  I found the music rather, dare I say, boring.  I’ll admit that Boxer has not yet become for me what it is for so many of my esteemed colleagues (one of Greg’s Top 50 Albums, for instance), but The National’s previous record, 2010′s High Violet, changed my opinion.  Trouble Will Find Me has only encouraged this continued trend of admiration, with more of the same of what The National always does, but somehow through those obscure lyrics and linear songwriting, they bring you through the mire and give you hope.

Monomania6. Monomania  Deerhunter — I wasn’t ashamed to admit that I wasn’t taken with Bradford Cox’s previous release (as Atlas Sound).  2011′s Parallax was my biggest disappointment that year.  It has a few gems, but by and large I found it boring.  It lacked the magic that flowed forth from all of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound’s previous releases.  So I approached Monomania with caution.  I almost let it slip past me this year, but I must thank my lucky stars that it didn’t.  It’s a departure from Deerhunter’s previous release, 2010′s Halcyon Digest (my third favourite record that year), but definitely a departure in a brilliant direction.  The album starts with a growl and persists with some heavy garage rock. Cox’s vocals oscillate between their typical dulcet tones to heavy distortion, reminiscent of The Stooges.  The guitars seldom let up.  All in all, I think I can sum up this album in one word: exquisite!

Secret Soundz, vol. 25. Secret Soundz, Vol. 2  The Pictish Trail — 2013 has been an eventful year for Johnny Lynch (aka The Pictish Trail), most notably when he announced (seemingly prematurely) that the King Creosote (Kenny Anderson)-founded, Johnny Lynch-run label, Fence Records, was to cease operations (the link to this announcement is now dead).  Since then, Kenny has announced that Fence is still alive and kicking and Johnny has launched Lost Map, taking with him several Fence regulars.  In the midst of this reshuffle, The Pictish Trail has released his first record since 2010′s In Rooms (which isn’t exactly your typical LP, consisting of 50 30-second songs).  For those of us eager to get our hands on The Pictish Trail’s newest tunes, which have speckled Johnny’s live sets for the last few years, Secret Soundz, Vol. 2 comes as a great relief, and if The Pictish Trail hasn’t exactly on your radar over the last decade, you should change that right now.  With his typical fine balance of earnestness and levity, something reminiscent of David Bazan (and not just because of the beard), The Pictish Trail acts as something of a spiritual intercession for us, a prophet who guides us through the banality and pain of life, but with a bold sense of hope on the horizon.

Partygoing4. Partygoing  Future Bible Heroes — I’ve been a fan of Stephin Meritt and Claudia Gonson’s band The Magnetic Fields for some time now, but I wasn’t completely sold on last year’s Love at the Bottom of the Sea.  Upon hearing that their electronica-based project Future Bible Heroes was to release their first record in over a decade, I had mixed expectations, but decided to give it a go anyway.  (*I wish to emphasize that the presence of Futura typeface and a kilt on the album cover had nothing to do with my willingness to listen to this record.)  Partygoing proved to be one of my biggest surprises of the year – and to think that it nearly passed me by!  Ever present are Meritt’s reflections on love, death and darkness, sprinkled with irony and humour, simple songs that prove incredibly touching without resorting to sentimental kitsch.  Chris Ewen’s accompaniment provides the perfect backdrop for Meritt and Gonson’s vocals and as a whole, the record shines.

Wandrous Bughouse3. Wondrous Bughouse  Youth Lagoon — Youth Lagoon’s first record, The Year of Hibernation, came as a great surprise to me back in 2011, especially considering it was the produce of then 22-year-old Trevor Powers in some shack in Idaho.  It came in fourth that year, just behind PJ Harvey’s Mercury-prize winning Let England ShakeThe Year of Hibernation was an inspired record and what it lacked in orchestration (which was very little) it made up for in innocence and artistic purity.  Any orchestral and production gap has been closed on Wondrous Bughouse.  The maturity of Powers’ songwriting and production is staggering, offering echoes of the later output of The Beatles and Elliott Smith.  Still present is Trevor Powers’ unique voice (both literally and figuratively), but with more confidence and tact than his debut release.

Pedestrian Verse2. Pedestrian Verse  Frightened Rabbit — It should come as no surprise that Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse is featured near the top of this list.  Their last full length, 2010′s The Winter of Mixed Drinks, ranked very high on both my (number 3) and Greg’s (number 2) Top 10 Lists that year and their 2008 record The Midnight Organ Fight is one of the shared entries from both my and Greg’s Top 50 Albums of all time.  Needless to say, we love us some Frightened Rabbit.  With the release of two EPs since The Winter of Mixed Drinks, 2011′s A Frightened Rabbit EP and last year’s State Hospital, our inflated sense anticipation could only amount to disappointment with Pedestrian Verse, right?  WRONG.  With instant classics such as ‘Acts Of Man’, ‘Backyard Skulls’, ‘Holy’, ‘The Woodpile’, ‘Late March, Death March’, ‘December’s Traditions’, ‘Housing (in)’, ‘Dead Now’, ‘State Hospital’, ‘Nitrous Gas’, ‘Housing (out)’, ‘The Oil Slick’ (yes, that’s the whole album…), Pedestrian Verse somehow proves even more accessible (and perhaps even more complete) than any of their previous releases.  There’s a great sense of honesty in all of Frightened Rabbit’s music, and here with Pedestrian Verse, singer Scott Hutchison further exposes his own tendency toward immature sentimentality and gives us something more upon which we might latch in order to keep our heads above the waves.

Reflektor1. Reflektor  Arcade Fire — When I first heard this record I knew it was going to be on this list, but I didn’t expect it to be number one.  But as with most of the music I find worth listening to, Reflektor is a grower.  Being the silly man that I am, I wasn’t a fan of Arcade Fire’s first record.  When Greg and I decided to share duties when reviewing our shared Top 10 Albums entries in 2010 I dodged this confession by having Greg do The Suburbs writeup.  These days I find Funeral far more listenable, but you still won’t find it anywhere near the top of my favourite albums list.  The same goes for their second release, Neon Bible.  I found certain songs on both records very strong, but it wasn’t until The Suburbs that I found myself completely enamoured with an entire Arcade Fire record.  This might put a foul taste in the mouths of some of our LITC readers and maybe for ‘Arcade Fire purists’ the placement of Reflektor here at the number one spot—in light of my mixed feelings regarding Funeral, in particular—is seen as sad and weak.  But for these things, I am unapologetic.  Early Arcade Fire’s unsteady musical footing and maudlin lyrical content was wasted on me.  But with Reflektor the band has reached musical nirvana.  Conceptually, intellectually, musically, lyrically – it’s all there, stripping back contemporary pop sensibilities and gifting us with an organic piece of pop genius.  And as I said before, Reflektor is a grower.  The tracks I once considered weaker, the last five, are now the ones I to which I cannot stop listening.  They hammer home some of the conceptual genius of Reflektor, this play between Eurydice and Orpheus (see the Rodin sculpture which features prominently the cover of the album) and the paradoxical insanity of the ‘Present Age’ (see Kierkegaard’s Two Ages).  In the midst of the convergence of these themes, Reflector also proves highly listenable, echoing the bodily and rhythmic sensibilities of a Haitian carnival.  So if you’ve not already, find yourself a comfy seat this New Year’s Day and Reflekt.

Honourable Mentions

  • Once I Was an Eagle  Laura Marling
  • Sub Verses  Akron/Family
  • Desire Lines  Camera Obscura
  • Tomorrow’s Harvest  Boards of Canada
  • Everyday I Get Closer to the Light from Which I Came  Jesu
  • Country Sleep  Night Beds
  • {Awayland}  Villagers

Greg’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

The Weight of the Globelily_and_madeleine_cover110. Lily & Madeleine/The Weight of the Globe EP  Lily & Madeleine — Based on their EP alone (buy the deluxe version of it, for the heavenly spare acoustic versions), these teenage sisters belong on this list, but their autumnal (both chronologically and stylistically) LP had a number of outstanding tracks as well (though didn’t completely live up to the trajectory their earlier work had promised). They are best when outside production & instrumentation is minimal and the simplicity of their voices intertwining with timeless lyrics over rudimentary piano or guitar are left to enchant the listener.  Listen to EP tracks “In the Middle” and “Back to the River” and album cuts “Disappearing Heart” and “Paradise.”

We're Not Lost9. We’re Not Lost  The Show Ponies — I chipped in a bit for this local LA band’s fundraising campaign to make this album, so hopefully it’s not a conflict of interest to place it on the list. First of all, they are a kick in the pants to see live (they’ve played twice at my church this year–pretty amazing to have such a talented band come to your door). But though their energy is infectious and exhilarating, I think they’re actually at their finest when they let the soulful, Appalachian-tinged violin of Phil Glenn (really the finest calibre of musician imaginable, though all of the musicians in this band are profoundly talented) wander among the rich harmonies of the two lead vocals in their slower numbers. Check out “Gone,” “We’re Not Lost,” “Pieces of the Past,” and “The River”–keep an eye and an ear open for these kids, cause they’re going places (I just read Elijah’s review of swimming in speakers’ album and saw that he had written something exactly like what I just wrote–only he wrote his review last week. Me and this guy are twinsies, for realz).

Us Alone8. Us Alone  Hayden — His last two albums have also been on my top 10 lists in 2007 & 2009…there’s just something about Hayden’s idiosyncratic songwriting style; his moody, introspective lyrics; and his naturally gifted musicianship (he’s playing all the instruments on this album) that resonates with me at a pretty deep level—but I always give the caveat that Hayden is not for everyone.  What some find morose, I find beautifully melancholy.  I’m in line with one of the fans he sings about, for whom music was once “Almost Everything,” a song which is a profound & bittersweet capsule of his career. I love the lyrical fast one he pulls on “Motel”—parents of young children will appreciate his escapist fantasy. “Blurry Nights” is a lovely duet with his sister-in-law, Lou Canon, whose self-titled album from 2011 Hayden produced. And “Instructions” is a haunting, yet sweet song about what to do with his remains once he’s died. Only Hayden…

Lives7. The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand/Threep  Matt Pond — This kind of smooth-throated, melodic pop is where Elijah and I part ways (he’s more of a raw-throated, energetic punk enthusiast). But Matt Pond makes songs that I love listening to. His album (The Lives…) is solid, confident, and catchy, but especially great on “Love to Get Used” (a favorite song from this year) and “Human Beings;” the EP (a combination of Three EP’s, I presume, that I got off NoiseTrade) has some great instrumentals (which I’m not usually fond of in any genre) and outstanding tracks in “Starting” and “Remains.”

Modern Vampires of the City6. Modern Vampires of the City  Vampire Weekend — I really enjoyed this album so much & this despite my own reticence (being that VW are over-hyped, schticky, pretentious origins, etc.). Yet from start to finish, it is a polished, captivating album, asking questions that go so much deeper than the value of an Oxford comma. Listening to this record, I found myself moved to ponder, enchanted to pick through the layers of instrumentation, and I even chuckled more than a few times at the brilliant/dense lyrics and their delivery. They’ve won me over with this one…”Step” was a song of the year, and “Don’t Lie” and “Hudson” are highlights among the many great tracks on this album.

Once I Was an Eagle5. Once I Was an Eagle  Laura Marling — This is one of those records that has to be listened to (and appreciated) as a whole album.  It’s hard to pull a track out of this organic work, which feels like a poetic self-declaration of independence (I don’t know from whom or what) whilst simultaneously a homage to musical dependance upon a host of singer-songwriters, so I can only recommend that you take an hour, put this on, and lose yourself in this roaming, searching acoustic masterpiece that exists somewhere between Joni Mitchell and PJ Harvey.

Alone Aboard the Ark4. Alone Aboard the Ark  The Leisure Society — The work of British musical gadabout Nick Hemming, the songs on this album borrow from a wide variety of genres, yet Hemming’s wry and knowing voice, along with his timelessly assured songsmithery, literary wordplay, and the band’s orchestral accompaniment bear the indelible stamp of a band in the tradition of late 1960’s Kinks, yet one which also adds multiple other layers of complexity.  There’s not a bad track on the album, but from “The Sober Scent of Paper” on, it just gets unbelievably good (especially “Everyone Understands” and “We Go Together”). Shout out to my mate Wade for hooking me up with this band, whom I’ve never heard from outside of his recommendation.

Trouble Will Find Me3. Trouble Will Find Me  The National  — This is one of the best bands around today; heaps and heaps of talent and style; truly distinctive: musically, vocally, & lyrically. That all being said, about half of this album—the more upbeat half—somehow feels a bit like they are on autopilot, which is to say, just cruising at a high altitude, but not really soaring. As to the other half? Genius unparalleled. “Demons” was simply one of my favorite songs of the year and there are three songs at the end of the album that stand among the cleverest and loveliest songs I’ve EVER heard: “Slipped,” “Pink Rabbits,” and “Hard to Find.” I could listen to them on infinite desert islands.

Pedestrian Verse2. Pedestrian Verse  Frightened Rabbit — For those of you who know how much Elijah and I profoundly admire these Scots, it might seem inevitable that their new album would rank so highly. To which, I say, “Nae!” These guys have earned this place (though I’m sad to see this album has not ranked as high on many end of year lists), producing their third masterpiece in a row—albeit one that has fewer of the anthemic odes to the suicidal, desperate, or simply screwed up (though they have achieved a near apotheosis of this genre in “State Hospital”).  Even though they’re digging the knife in at religious folk like myself in a number of tracks, their masterful songcraft, propulsive and perfectly complimentary musicianship, and esprit de sadcore leads me to absolve them of this pettiness (though I have to say, the criticisms of religious hypocritical condemners feels pretty tired–we get it, there are mean, small-minded people in the church…and everywhere else too).  They are one of the few groups that consistently make important music nowadays (or “Music Now” as they might say).  Tracks to check out: EVERY ONE, except “December’s Traditions,” but especially the first five tracks, climaxing with the epic anti-social love song “The Woodpile.” And make sure to get the Bonus Tracks too. (Got to see them play live this year—they are unbelievably amazing. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to see them play. Just, don’t, ok?)

neko-case-13776170351. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You  Neko Case — The first time I played this album, I knew it would get under my skin and did it ever. It’s funny that the first single, “Man,” is the one song I actually can’t stand. But every other song on here has Case’s Queen Midas songwriting touch all over them. She is tender, intimidating, self-deprecating, illuminating, sometimes shining like the only star in the night sky, other times whispering through the crack of a closet door. At one point, she sings, “I wanted so badly not to be me”—but how could anyone listen to this album and not feel exquisitely grateful that she is exactly who she is? Her “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is poignant to a breaking poi(g)nt. There is some powerful musical experimentation happening here too; the music walks a tight rope, careening & almost losing balance, but ultimately it only makes you unable to take your eyes (and ears) off of what is happening. All of the fighting in the title was worth it. You rule, Ms. Case.

Honorable Mentions

  • Reflektor  Arcade Fire — I’ll just be honest and say that I haven’t actually listened to this album enough times to really justify NOT including it on the top ten. My first few listens were not that gratifying, sensing a bit of unredeemed pretension (which AF always have, but which they most often transcend) and visible effort, so I put the album on hold. But there were enough tracks on the double album that really did have some of the old magic and made me think when I really settle down and sink my teeth into this, it will be rewarding. Favorite tracks thus far include: “Here Comes the Night Time,” “Joan of Arc,” and “Afterlife.”
  • Regions Of Light And Sound Of God  Jim James — There was something strangely magnetic about this album to me. I found James to be some kind of hillbilly mystic wunderkind. I don’t know why it’s compelling to listen to a man chant vowels & nursery rhymes (as he does on “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)” but the more I listened to this, the more fascinated I became. Also listen to “Dear One” and “All Is Forgiven.” (Don’t hate me, Wade!)
  • Defend Yourself  Sebadoh — In some sense, this is a return to old-school Sebadoh of 1994’s Bakesale, but all that really means to me is that there are some amazing Lou Barlow tracks (though nothing quite up to his best material) like “I Will,” “Calves of Champions,” and “Let It Out,” mixed in with some interesting, noisy, but lesser tracks from the other two band members.
  • Bigfoot  Cayucas — I really liked the first four tracks off this album; the main shortcoming is that it feels like Vampire Weekend’s first album a few too many years late (and a bit of a Pet Sounds rip-off at times too–Brian Wilson could sue over “A Summer Thing.”)  The lyrics often get to be a bit too much. But worth a good listen…
  • Somewhere Else Indians
  • Love Cloud Cult
  • Stiches Califone

Albums I Never Got to REALLY Listen to Which I Wish I Would Have

Big Wheel and Others  Cass McCombs; We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic  Foxyygen; Hummingbird  Local Natives; White Lighter  Typhoon; and nearly everything on Elijah’s list.

Lost in the Aesthetic

As you might have noticed, we have had a wee bit of a redesign here at Lost in the Cloud.  But how you would have noticed, I am not sure, since any visits to this blog in the last year or two will have proven generally underwhelming (even more underwhelming than when we post more often).  Thanks to Greg’s posts John Stump, composer of Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz and Moby Books Illustrated Classic Editions (both published in 2010), we still receive between 100 and 200 views on any given day.  But those views are the result of a couple of brilliant niche subjects and not the steady traffic that results from consistent and thoughtful blogging, the initial challenge we set for ourselves here at LITC.

Granted, Greg and I are quite busy with relationships, our respective church ministries and life in general, but this is my formal recommitment to Lost in the Cloud and the first order of business was the redesign.  It seems like the last design update was only a few months ago, but looking back at my records I realised that the blog hasn’t had any design changes since September 2011, which, in graphic designer terms, is ancient.

I’ve always aimed to make the aesthetic of the blog efficient, playful and thoughtful.  Those values played a significant part in the inspiration for my original ‘yod cloud’ design back in 2004.  Since those initial doodles I have employed the wee cloud in a large number of designs, including this painting with the full Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew name of God (יהוה‎ or YHWH) which was commissioned for a church in 2006:

Vanityoil on maple, 4′ x 5′, commissioned for Grace Brethren Church of Long Beach

Later on in 2006 I was part of a mix CD club with Greg and some friends and for my round I decided to make a mix that was a playful reflection on the mythical history presented in the Christian Bible called Die Geschichte (The Recapitulation).  This was when I discovered the versatility of the yod cloud design:

CreationI. The Creation

The FloodIV. The Flood

SinaiVI. The Exodus & the Wilderness

TransfigurationXII. The Life of Christ – The Transfiguration

The playfulness of the design is made quite obvious in these illustrations and it was this yod cloud in the Transfiguration that most captured my imagination.  I began to use it obsessively.  I even designed a book stamp featuring it:

Stamp

In 2007 I devised and led an art project made up of a group of university friends that formed a small orchestra and theatre/dance group and performed a theatrical and orchestral version of Sufjan Stevens’ ‘The Transfiguration’ at Biola University in La Mirada, California.  The programmes featured the illustration from the Transfiguration above:

The Transfiguration Flyer

The iconic clouds played a very prominent role in the performance, adorning dancers as well as musicians.  So two years later, when Greg and I were first inspired to start our own blog the name, taken directly from the coda of the song above, came rather quickly, and the yod cloud was sure to be a design feature.  So here’s a wee walk-through of the header designs we’ve employed in the last four years.

Our first header was rather simple, featuring the yod cloud prominently:

lost-in-the-cloud-header-colour2.jpg

As with many of my designs, looking at it now I see it as cluttered, boring and lazy, but I think we really liked it at the time.  The second design was introduced in November 2010 and was nearly identical, but with a few changes:

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One cloud was added and each cloud employed finer lines, which tidied up the look a wee bit.  Also, the text was brought out to the foreground.  Nothing too major until July 2011, when the third overhaul took place:

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For some reason I went back to my early design days and employed a whole lot of drop shadow and opacity.  Making two dimensional designs ‘appear’ to have three dimensions was all the rage.  Not long after this design I realised that the white background was looking very boring, so in September 2011 I added the sea foam hue:

lost-in-the-cloud-header-update-viii2.jpg

I would consider this a definite improvement, but it frightens me that I went more than two years without altering the design.  That is a reflection of how much (or how little) attention I’ve paid to Lost in the Cloud, and for that I apologise (although I suspect that most folk pay no attention to the design and those that do probably never thought of our blog’s aesthetic as much to look at).

This leads me to the current design:

litc-header-2013-sm1.jpg

The Andersonian echoes should be screaming at you (though I assure you, it was subconscious).  I’ve decided to really shake it all up.  The hallmark yod cloud is there, but I’ve actually finally tailored it into a nice, clean, modern design.  The hand-drawn element of the previous designs had its own charm, but I’m in the mood for this streamlined cloud.  Flanking the redesigned cloud are navigatory motifs (left) and cloudy-scientific motifs (right).  And yes, I think I just invented the word ‘navigatory’, but I’m pretty sure you know what I mean.  We’ve got the text in a cleaner, modern typeface (the old stenciled typeface was really getting on my visual nerves) that stretches across the whole of the header and below it you may notice nine wee symbols.  These are actually international weather office map code for describing different types of high clouds.  Along with ditching multiple clouds and the old typeface, I also flattened everything.  I think this might be related to the rekindling of my love for printed media and classic branding (see a series of redesigns of professional Scottish football badges I attempted over the last five months).

If you have stuck it through and are still reading this post, let me both apologise for my self indulgence and extend a hearty thank you to you!  Greg and I are back to post more regularly and we hope it’s as exciting for you, our readers, as it is for us.  And maybe I’ll finally get around to manufacturing some merchandise (like this yod cloud badge) for those eager to rep LITC…

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Band Evangelist, ch. 5

It’s been over a year now since I wrote my last chapter of “Band Evangelist.”  How is that even possible?  Well, I suppose that sometimes there are periods of silence between the testaments, right?

In any case, here’s a run down of some of the really amazing music that is already available, or is coming out this year.  So far, I think it’s going to be a banner year for us indie-disciples…and here’s the why and what for of the first part of 2013 in music (skip to the end to start playing some tunes as you read along!):

  • Pedestrian VerseFrightened Rabbit (February 1):  Will definitely end up on my top 10 of the year.  These guys are reaching a level of infallible music-making that should secure their place in the pantheon of rock demi-gods (though I’m a strict indie-monotheist–as in “Glory be to S-FJ-N”–there is a certainly room for a henotheistic heavenly council).  Speaking of gods, FR are a bit rough on us believers on this album, as in MULTIPLE tracks talking about how hypocritical, naive, and oppressive Christians can be (a bit of cliche by this point, no?), but man can these boys write a beautiful song full of disdain.  Talent oozing like oil slicks on the North Sea.  Maybe the Prophet (Elijah) can give some insight into the Scottish Catholicism (?) that has turned these boys’ stomachs so deeply against Mother Kirk.  PS The deluxe version of this album has some solid bonus tracks and concert DVD material.
  • Country Sleep – Night Beds (February 1):  I have to give full credit to my boy Wade for turning me onto this gorgeous album out of nowhere.  I told him that they sounded like the prettiest of Ryan Adam’s mellow songs (at which point, he began playing a new Ryan Adams album I hadn’t heard…losing my prophetic edge here!) mixed with kind of a Bon Iver frozen hauntedness.  Highly recommend a full listen to this!
  • Us AloneHayden (February 5):  I always say that Hayden is an acquired taste, so this album is not for everyone & probably not even for his fair-weather fans.  More the real followers–the kind for whom his music is almost everything.  But great, mature songwriting, tasteful little jams, & uniquely clever musings all around.
  • The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand Matt Pond (February 5):  He lost the PA that used to follow his name, but he’s written an album that holds up to the best of his earlier work (Several Arrows Later, for my money).  If you can’t take lovely-throated, hook-filled indie-pop with sunny melodies covering dark lyrical waters, then look elsewhere.
  • guessing the others – swimming in speakers (February 5):  I can’t tell you how this strange, lo-fi, folky-electronic outfit with a whimsically beautiful female lead voice came to my attention, but it has become a go-to mood elevator in the same way watching Amelie can change my perspective from cynical to wonder-filled.
  • Days Into YearsElliott Brood (February 28):  Interestingly, though I am not a tremendous Ryan Adams fan, this band also reminded me of his smoky voice over Neil Young crunchy guitars and often a Band of Horses retro-rock cool.  I still need to sit with this album more, but I’d give it a solid recommendation already (also thanks to Wade).
  • Sub-VersesAkron/Family (April 30):  I would call myself a casual fan of this band–I have most of their albums and enjoy some tracks immensely while others are more solidly moderate.  But the two songs I’ve heard from this new release (below) produced a Pavlovian reaction of aural drool leading to one-click ordering.
  • Modern Vampires of the City Vampire Weekend (May 7):  I think there’s been sufficient backlash against VW that we can look past the hype, calculated affect, and branding to simply listen to some lovely tunes that integrate  things like the harpischord and loopy bass lines with fragile, self-consciously hi/low lyrics that nevertheless pluck at the heartstrings.
  • Trouble Will Find MeThe National (May 21):  Some of you will not like Matt Berninger’s voice.  That’s ok.  I do & I love everything else about this fraternally-formed, preternaturally talented group.  They have a musical golden touch.  If this is for you, it will be the kind of trouble you would want to find you.  If not, just keep walking.
  • CurrentsEisley (May 28):  Now I’m getting into murky waters.  I haven’t followed this band of mostly female family members for a LONG time (sorry Wesley Chung), but something in me feels like this may be the album that brings me back.  But don’t take my word for it–just an intuition.
  • The Weight of the GlobeLily & Madeleine (June 11):   This find came to me via the Asthmatic Kitty email update (an epistle from the indie One’s priestly cult) & if the beauty of these two young ladies’ voices, melodies, and ageless lyricism doesn’t merit a head-shaking double take in any listener, then I have no ear, no eye, no soul.
  • OverseasOverseas (June 11):  This is a new project with David Bazan (former frontman for Christian indie-heroes Pedro the Lion & a talented, but faithless solo performer in his own right) and some other hipster guys from bands that exceed my coolness pay-grade.  Don’t know that I’m recommending this, as much as just putting it on your sonic radar.
  • Kveikur – Sigur Ros (June 18):   Sadly, I was not among the admirers of their most recent release, Valtari, which felt rather aimless and amorphous to me; however, supposedly they are moving to a more “direct, aggressive” style–which I’m not totally sure what that translates to (the video below doesn’t bode terribly well for me).  I am a Takk/Hvarf man myself, so that’s what I’m secretly hoping for a return to.

There are a few other upcoming releases I have no details on, but believe should be amazing:  a new Arcade Fire album, surely one by Neko Case, and one by the lesser known but charmingly gifted Jeremy Messersmith.

Some misses of the year so far:  Josh Ritter‘s The Beast in it’s Tracks (a middling effort of post-divorce woe & rebound that’s mostly just depressing); I was utterly bored with the Thom Yorke project, Atoms for Peace; and don’t anyone tell my dear friend Matt Clatterbuck, but I sadly do not like the new Yo La Tengo either!

Question:  Did anyone get the new My Bloody Valentine?  Low’s The Invisible Way? The new Strokes?  Iron + Wine?  If so, what do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations!!

Frightened Rabbit:

Night Beds:

Hayden:

Matt Pond:

Elliott Brood:

swimming in speakers:

Akron/Family:

Vampire Weekend:

The National:

Eisley:

Lily & Madeline:

Overseas:

Sigur Ros:

The World Unchained

DjangoUnchained

WARNING: Contains spoilers

This article was originally published in the February 2013 newsletter for Govan & Linthouse Parish Church, Glasgow.

Last week I had the opportunity to go to a screening of the latest Quentin Tarantino film, Django Unchained.  If you’ve never seen a Tarantino film, they are known for their excessive violence, brutality and coarse language.  Django Unchained is no different.  I’m not suggesting you see the film, that is, unless you’re willing to endure 165 minutes of brutality (but it’s brutality with a point).  If you are planning on seeing the film, I warn you that this article will contain some spoilers.

The film is made out to be a western epic.  It takes place in the pre-Civil War United States.  The main protagonists are Dr King Schultz (played by Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz), a German immigrant and former dentist who works as a bounty hunter, collecting rewards for the bodies of federal outlaws, and Django (played by another Academy Award winner, Jamie Foxx), a black slave who has been separated from his wife, another slave called Broomhilda (played by Kerry Washington).  Schultz first ‘unchains’ Django as he is being transported by slave drivers through Texas.  Previously, Django had been a slave on a plantation where three murderous outlaws, the Brittle Brothers, had worked as farmhands.  Schultz wishes for Django to assist him in identifying the Brittle Brothers so that he may collect the reward for their bodies.  Schultz, who throughout the film demonstrates his utter distaste for the institution of slavery, offers Django his freedom, $75 and a horse in exchange for his assistance (and feels awful for not simply giving Django his freedom straight away).  After the slaying of the Brittle Brothers, Schultz asks Django, who demonstrates great skill in the ‘art’ of bounty hunting, if he would join him as his business partner for the winter and Django accepts his proposition.  Django reveals that once he is finished with their winter’s work, he is going to try to find his wife and rescue her from slavery.  Schultz, who has developed a very close friendship with Django, insists that he helps Django, as they discover that Broomhilda is a slave on a large plantation outside of Greenville, Mississippi, a particularly dangerous part of the States for a black man, free or not.

After the winter they come up with and carry out a complicated plan to reunite Django and his beloved Broomhilda.  But after their plan is uncovered, Schultz and Django are given an ultimatum: either they pay the exorbitant amount of $12,000 to purchase Broomhilda or she will be killed by her owner, the ruthless and bigoted plantation owner, Calvin Candie (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).  After they comply, Candie proposes that the transaction is not official until Schultz shakes his hand.  Schultz, who has been having flashbacks of an event during which Candie ordered a runaway slave to be torn apart by dogs, refuses to shake hands.  This is the point in the film which I believe carries the most moral weight.  As we, the audience, have been battered with the injustice and brutality of racism and the institution of slavery throughout the film, we feel something of that same moral weight.  Ultimately, Schultz’ refusal ends up costing him his life.

The film continues from there, but it’s at this point that I want to ask a question: what does Django Unchained have to teach Christians?  Our two main protagonists exhibit many Christ-like qualities throughout the film, but the one which I think is most profound, as a result of the build-up of the film, is Schultz refusal.  On principle, Schultz sees shaking Candie’s hand as some sort of approval of Candie, his vicious treatment of slaves and the whole of institutionalised racism that still, even in the age of a black President, finds expression in some parts of American culture.  Although some Americans, particularly the Quakers in the North, were opposed to slavery during the first half of the 19th century, the institution was still regarded as rather normal for most Americans.  Still, Schultz refuses to betray his strong sense of justice, even a sense of justice perhaps rather clouded by his recent career as a bounty hunter.  He demonstrates this passion in his last great speech immediately preceding his refusal to shake Candie’s hand.  After completing the paperwork for Broomhilda, Candie offers Schultz some rhubarb pie, but Schultz declines.

Candie   ‘Are you brooding ‘bout me getting the best of ya?’

Schultz   ‘Actually, I was thinking of that poor devil you fed to the dogs today, D’Artagnan.  And I was wondering what Dumas would make of all this.’

Candie   ‘Dumas…?’

Schultz   ‘Alexander Dumas.  He wrote The Three Musketeers.  I figured you must be an admirer.  You named your slave after that novel’s lead character.  If Alexander Dumas had been there today, I wonder what he would of made of it?’

Candie   ‘You doubt he’d approve?’

Schultz   ‘Yes, his approval would be a dubious proposition at best.’

Candie   ‘Soft hearted Frenchy?’

Schultz   ‘Alexander Dumas is black.’

The weight of the tone of the speech can only be captured if you see the film, but written out here, we can see that Schultz is able to undermine Candie’s ignorant racism with his poignant and authoritative presentation.  Candie, a self-professed Francophile who, although he does not know the language, insists on being called Monsieur Candie, is left stunned and confused.

Schultz’ words here remind me of the Parables of Christ.  Taking something trivial such as the raw materials of everyday life and turning it on its head in order to shift the worldview of his listeners toward that of the truths and values of the kingdom of God.  Unfortunately, Candie did not have ‘ears to hear’ the truth that Schultz uttered.  Do we?

Of course, our context is quite different.  The context of slavery-era Southern United States is a far cry from present day Govan and Linthouse.  I’ll even say that we live in a fortunate part of Scotland with a long heritage of fighting for social justice.  But have we grown complacent?  Perhaps we don’t have slaves in our context, but throughout our congregation and parish there are new battles to be fought.  Among others, the people who suffer in poverty, the people who struggle with addiction, the people who have immigrated from other countries, the people who seek asylum – they all suffer under various institutions of injustice here.  Maybe we’re responsible for some of that with our behaviour.  In Django Unchained, white people are appalled at the scandal of a black man on a horse.  I’ve heard people express their shock about the scandal of a recent immigrant with a bankcard or a mobile phone.

No matter how much we try—and we do try—justice is not the way of Scotland, the United Kingdom or any other nation.  Nations are made up of all kinds of people with very different ideals, some of which propagate institutionalised oppression.  In reality, the Church looks very much the same, and while I am grateful to God that the Church of Scotland and that Govan and Linthouse Parish Church are very much composed of a diverse body of people, I think we can unite in discipleship under the leadership of one man, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The words found within our Gospel readings for the month of February have a great deal to teach us about the way that being a Christian turns the institutions of this world on its head:

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,

for you will be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh…

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:17-21, 27-31

As Christians, it is our daily challenge, not just in the month of February, but for the rest of our lives, to seek the values of the kingdom of God.  And we are not called to do this simply because we are good people or we think we will get a box of treasure in the future.  We are called to love because God loves this world.  God desires that we ‘unchain’ the world from oppression — what an unworthy honour for us!

May we be inspired by the love and grace of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the works of the kingdom and fight with great conviction, as Dr King Schultz fought, the injustices in our community and beyond its boundaries.  It’s no simple task, but maybe we could keep each other accountable.  Next time you see me, I’d appreciate it if you reminded me to be more like Jesus and Dr King Schultz.

Many blessings,

Elijah

Best Albums of 2012

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Dear faithful LITC readers,

Our favourite post of the year is here!  We apologise that it’s taken so long, but think of it as a late Christmas gift.  As with previous years, we’ve included our respective Top 10 Albums of the year as well as some honourable mentions and some not so honourable ones.  Feel free to share your favourite records of the year in the comments section.  Maybe you’ll even discover some unknown treasures within our lists.  Take care, readers.  See you in 2013.

Love,

Elijah & Greg

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Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

Valtari

10.  Valtari  Sigur Rós — Whilst I loved 2005′s Takk…, I found that 2008′s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust left much to be desired.  Valtari leans more toward Sigur Rós’ earlier style, a more ambient and reflective record although I’d hesitate before calling it ‘samey’.  Incredible tracks like ‘Varúð’ and ‘Varðeldur’, some of the finest I’ve ever heard from the Iceland post-rock legends kept me from pushing this record out of the top ten.  For this record the band also came up with they’ve called the ‘Valtari Mystery Film Experiment‘ in which they employed twelve filmmakers to make music videos for the album based upon what the song brought to their minds and without the final approval from Sigur Rós.  See ‘Varúð’ below, created by Inga Birgisdóttir, who designed the album cover and also directed the video for ‘Ekki Múkk’:

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Gentle Stream

9.  Gentle Stream  The Amazing — This was the first record of 2012 that really caught me by surprise.  Released in Sweden in 2011, Gentle Stream proves to be just that, a gentle yet wide stream of quality, what I would describe as a subtle mixture between Simon & Garfunkel and Dinosaur Jr.  Like their previous releases, The Amazing and Wait for Light to Come, there are still hints of psych rock (influenced by the presence of various members of Dungen) and classic rock and the finished product it is most satisfying.

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All We Love

8.  All We Love We Leave Behind  Converge — Before I listened to this record, I didn’t want to include Converge in this list because it’s starting to look like whenever a few of my favourite artists make a new album they inevitably end up on my ‘Best Albums’ list.  For those who know how I rate music, it’s unlikely that the top four will come as any surprise this year.  But give me some credit; I can betray bands I love when they make subpar records – like Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz or my ‘dishonourable mentions’ below.  Or last year when I resisted We Were Promised Jetpacks’ In the Pit of the Stomach, Atlas Sound’s Parallax, David Bazan’s Strange Negotiations, DeVotchKa’s 100 Lovers, Danielson’s Best of Gloucester County, etc.  See, so when I include one of my favourite bands in my top ten I really mean it!

All that being said, I didn’t want to include Converge this year, so when I heard the first track, ‘Aimless Arrow’, I was relieved and heartbroken simultaneously.  I would consider the track their weakest opener to date (especially compared to their last record’s first track, ‘Darkhorse‘), and with its hints of ‘screamo’ and melodic hardcore (don’t worry, there’s no ‘singing’ on this track), I was fearful of listening to the rest of the record.  But the eight tracks to follow are all heavy, quality tunes!  The rest of the record features some spoken word, which works on top of the slow, thoughtful guitar work by Kurt Ballou.  But my heart was nearly torn in two upon listening to the tenth track, ‘Coral Blue’.  It’s not all that frightening until the chorus, which isn’t quite ‘screamo annoying’, but more confusing for those who listen to Converge.  Thankfully, that’s the extent of this ‘singing’ charade on All We Love We Leave Behind.  It closes out with the sufficiently epic title track and sufficiently heavy ‘Predatory Glow’.  No, on the whole this was no serious transition for Converge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  They tried that on You Fail Me and they failed me indeed.

+++++

Sweet Heart

7.  Sweet Heart Sweet Light  Spiritualized — I know, great cover, right?  OK, it’s probably one of the worst album covers this year, but don’t let that put you off!  This here is an excellent record.  Jason Pierce, also known as J. Spaceman, the creative force behind all of Spiritualized’s incarnations over the last 22 years, wrote the album whilst undergoing serious medical treatment for his liver, which was left in a sore state as a result of many years of drug use, both prescribed and recreational.  But unlike 2008’s Songs in A&E, which was also inspired by a serious medical emergency (aspiration pneumonia and periorbital cellulitis), Sweet Heart Sweet Light is a much more hopeful, inspiring record, somewhat in the vein of 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space.

+++++

Don't Bend,  Ascend!

6.  Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!  Godspeed You! Black Emperor — This is the Canadian post-rockers’ first record since 2002′s Yanqui U.X.O., and whilst I found Yanqui rather uninspiring after 2000′s masterpiece Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, ‘Allelujah! is a return to form and then some.  Godspeed has a rare skill (shared with Sufjan Stevens) for making 20+ minute songs engaging throughout.  The tracks are engrossing and become, as the album title suggests, transcendent objets d’art, ushering the listener into heavy aural ascension.

+++++

America

5.  America  Dan Deacon — I appreciated Dan Deacon’s music before (his 2009 release, Bromst was among my honourable mentions that year), but this record caught me by surprise.  The opener, ‘Guilford Avenue Bridge’, is a buzzy digital number, which flows into the two subsequent tracks until Deacon decided to change the pace with ‘Prettyboy’, which seems to ruin the rhythm of the album, that is until we’re brought back into the jam with ‘Crash Jam’.  The highlight of the album is the four-part ‘USA’ opus below:

+++++

Lonerism

4.  Lonerism  Tame Impala — Tame Impala’s last record, Innerspeaker, which came to me as such a surprise thanks to Greg’s preaching of the gospel, ranked 6th on my Best Albums of 2010 list, so in my desire to not be let down, I was suspecting that the follow-up wouldn’t be as good.  As with their previous material, Lonerism draws much from the past (‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards‘ could’ve been part of Magical Mystery Tour, right between ‘Blue Jay Way‘ and ‘Your Mother Should Know‘, or it could’ve totally replaced the latter and I wouldn’t have minded), but always with a sense of artistic integrity and completeness.  Thank you, Tame Impala, for defying the awfulness of your band name yet again and coming up with another excellent piece of psychadelic groove rock!  Oh and isn’t it groovy!

+++++

Bloom

3.  Bloom  Beach House — After their excellent third album, Teen Dream (which ranked 8th in my Top 10 Albums of 2010), I expected Beach House to lose steam.  Every subsequent record was getting better and no band can keep that up.  Well, this loss of steam will have to wait until their next record, because I’d say that Bloom might very well be their best record to date.  Whilst their sound remains distinctively ‘Beach House’ (those keyboard and guitar-driven dream pop soundscapes and that husky female voice), the songwriting in Bloom has taken a step forward.  And even though this record demands more time and attention than their previous releases, the payoff is tenfold.  And how amazing is this Ghostbusters-inspired video for ‘Lazuli’?

+++++

Dept of Disapearance

2.  Dept. of Disappearance  Jason Lytle — This was an exciting year for us Grandaddy fans: the band reunited after six years apart!  And very fortunately for us, the excitement didn’t end there.  Grandaddy principal songwriter, lead singer and guitarist, Jason Lytle, has kept busy since the break up in 2006.  In fact, Grandaddy’s final record, 2005′s Just Like the Fambly Cat, was written and recorded entirely by Lytle.  After the break up, a move inspired by lack of commercial success, Lytle relocated from California to Montana and toured with Rusty Miller in support of Just Like the Fambly Cat.  In 2009, Lytle released his first solo record, Yours Truly the Commuter and followed that with an EP, Merry X-mas.  Lytle and former drummer of Grandaddy, Aaron Burtch, joined with members of Earlimart to form the band Admiral Radley, who released their debut record, I Heart California, in 2010.  Each of these incarnations were superb (I Heart California was an honourable mention in my Best Albums of 2010 list), but none seemed to capture the magic that Lytle’s earlier work possessed in great measure.  Until now.  It’s safe to say that Dept. of Disappearance is a grower, but there was enough of pure goodness present from the first listen to keep me going.  Each track is excellent, and some are among the best Lytle’s ever written, such as the title track, ‘Matterhorn’, ‘Last Problem of the Alps’, ‘Somewhere There’s a Someone’ (below), ‘Gimme Click Gimme Grid’ and ‘Elko in the Rain’.

+++++

Shields

1.  Shields  Grizzly Bear — I won’t make excuses or defend my pick despite the fact that Grizzly Bear’s previous record was my number one album of 2009Shields is just that good.  Still present are the Grizzly Bear trademarks we know and love, but this record is the band’s most aggressive and coherent to date.  At times it is far darker than their previous material (‘Speak in Rounds’), yet it still takes the listener into the clouds (‘Half Gate’).  In the midst of this more aggressive direction, Grizzly Bear also ventures into the realm of more accessible pop music, music that isn’t as dissonant as their previous releases yet retains its creative bearings.  On top of all of their unique qualities as proficient musicians and songwriters, Grizzly Bear demonstrate a continuing process of maturation, one that solidifies them as—in this listener’s opinion—one of the best bands of their generation.

+++++

Elijah’s honourable mentions

Elijah’s dishonourable mentions

  • Mirage Rock  Band of Horses
  • Silver Age  Bob Mould

+++++

Greg’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

Another conflicted year of listening for me:  some of my favorite bands put out albums I thought were shite (Animal Collective, Sigur Rós) and other bands that I expected more from turned out mediocre fare (Passion Pit, The Avett Brothers).  Then there were the albums that had real moments of brilliance on them…but which couldn’t sustain that level of greatness throughout the entire record.   The following albums didn’t break into my top ten, but you should definitely check out the songs indicated:

  • Bloom  Beach House — ‘Myth’, ‘The Hours’, ‘Irene’
  • Charmer  Aimee Mann — ‘Labrador’, ‘Soon Enough’, ‘Slip and Roll’
  • Confess  Twin Shadow — ‘Golden Light’, ‘Five Seconds’, ‘Be Mine Tonight’
  • Lonerism  Tame Impala — ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, ‘Elephant’, ‘Sun’s Coming Up’
  • Shields  Grizzly Bear — ‘Yet Again’, ‘Gun-Shy’, ‘Half Gate’
  • Time Capsules II  Oberhofer — ‘HEART’, ‘I Could Go’, ‘oOoO’; also did a great cover of Kanye West’s ‘Runaway

+++++

Young Man Follow

10.  Young Man Follow  Future of Forestry — I don’t mind if I lose all indie credibility for putting a Christian, anthem rock band on my top ten.  This album falls somewhere in between Delirious?/Phil Wickham and post-Pop U2/Snow Patrol (right now, Elijah is raising his eyebrows/giving me a look of consternation/experiencing a slight taste of bile in the mouth).  I know that there’s a strong hint of  songwriting formulae, mixed with sentimental emotionalism, strategic falsetto insertion, and derivative production sleight-of-hand, but I can’t help it…I eat it up.  This is my sonic Kryptonite.  It moves me and I can’t help loving it.  So there you go.

+++++

White Rabbits

9.  Milk Famous  White Rabbits — This was a late addition to the list.  I had loved the track “Everyone Can’t Be Confused” earlier in the year, but never got around to purchasing the whole album.  Two weeks ago, I finally got it and have enjoyed the carefully orchestrated arrangement and production of each song immensely.  As I began reading reviews, many of which were not kind, there was some talk about the band selling out and transforming into Spoon-lite (one of that band’s members produced the album).  I actually can’t stand Spoon, but I love these guys!

+++++

Fiona Apple

8.  The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do  Fiona Apple — I’ll be honest, I’m not such a fan of the craziness that exists inside this woman’s head, but her startlingly stark songwriting, passionate confessionalism, and uncompromising originality make this album a work of undeniable greatness.

+++++

Port of Morrow

7.  Port of Morrow  The Shins — There may be some measure of sentiment and nostalgia in this pick.  The 2001 album Oh, Inverted World was a life-changer for me (a moment captured and corrupted in Zach Braff’s film Garden State) and I can hear echoes of those glorious times in songs like “It’s Only Life,” “No Way Down,” and “For a Fool.”  For those purists who find this a shameless exploitation of The Shins brand (being that only one member of the original band plays on this album), a stance which I myself initially considered, I respectfully disagree.  The magic is still here…

+++++

Adventures in Your Own Backyard

6.  Adventures in Your Own Backyard  Patrick Watson — Watson is one of those artists whose voice alone puts him into a category of talent and beauty that should earn accolades–but he is also a brilliant songwriter and musician whose idiosyncratic vision comes into its own on this release.  If you’ve never listened to his work before, his catalog is well worth exploring, including his work with The Cinematic Orchestra.

+++++

Heaven

5.  Heaven  The Walkmen — This band has been loitering in the periphery of my musical tastes for a while–a great song here or there, but no album that absolutely blew me away.  Until now…you MUST listen to this record.

+++++

Tramp

4.  Tramp  Sharon Van Etten — Such fine, delicate songwriting; beautiful, haunting, and frequently spare instrumentation to accompany her striking, melancholy voice; and brilliant production & instrumental assistance from The National’s Aaron Dessner (who better be working on a new album himself!).  I love so many of these songs with an affection that is reserved for a select few artists.  Listen to the song belong and try not to simultaneously smile AND ache:

+++++

Break it Yourself

3.  Break It Yourself  Andrew Bird — I wrote about this album earlier in the year, wondering if it would grow on me more and more.  Boy, did it ever.  As I said before, Andrew Bird cannot make a bad album, but here, he’s certainly made a great one.  I think it really comes alive after the first 1/3 of the album is over, so don’t give up on it if you don’t immediately sense the genius.

+++++

Silver & Gold

2.  Silver and Gold  Sufjan Stevens — I’m considering this a 2013 release, even though it is a collection of EP’s that Sufjan had privately given out to friends and family over the last five or six years.  Of course I love it—I’m a Sufjanite through and through.  But beyond my dedication to the man, this really is a beautiful collection of 58 songs that I think transcend the holiday season itself and act as a meditation on the human condition as a whole, refracted through the hopes and disappointments that we connect to a particular time of year and experience of faith, family, community, and tradition.  There are haunting covers of Christmas & holiday classics (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Joy to the World,” “Let It Snow!” and “Silent Night”), worshipful church hymns simply arranged and devoutly performed (“Ah Holy Jesus,” “Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates,” and “Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light”), and Sufjan originals or adaptations that stand up to any of his other records (“Justice Delivers Its Death,” “Christmas in the Room,” “The Midnight Clear,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “The Child with the Star on His Head”) along with a myriad of lovely instrumental meditations (my favorites include “Make Haste to See the Baby,” “Go Nightly Cares,” and “Even the Earth Will Perish and the Universe Give Way”), crazy experimental electronica (not my favorite genre but occasionally delightful), and simple fun communal musical merry-making.  It’s also fun to view the collection in tandem with the albums he was working on during these years (The BQE and The Age of Adz).  You can actually download some of the best tracks for free on Sufjan’s Noisetrade page—and that is a truly wonderful gift from the greatest artist of our age.

+++++

Fear Fun

1.  Fear Fun  Father John Misty — One day this year, I was listening to an unbelievably compelling live set of songs on KCRW by a band whose name I somehow kept missing.  I finally went onto the station website and discovered that it was Father John Misty.  This is the first release under this band name by J. Tillman, former drummer from Fleet Foxes.  I had some of his previous solo releases post-FF, which were pretty average folkish meanderings.  But this!  On this album, Tillman discovers some kind of alchemy that turns his melancholy into the rarest kind of beauty and wonder.  His songs sound like they were written 40 or 30 or 20 years ago—any age but now, yet they simultaneously capture the hidden spirit of some mystical contemporary world surrounding us that we may not perceive.  Even the songs I don’t absolutely “like” have a tangible genius to them.  I didn’t want to like this album—the creepy cover, the hipster pedigree, the critical darlingness of it.  But, for me, in 2012, this was it.

+++++

Greg’s honourable mentions (albums)

  • Among the Leaves  Sun Kil Moon — Such lovely instrumentation and melodies; such bothersome narcissistic lyrics
  • Born to Die  Lana Del Rey — I think one is not supposed to like this album due to its contrivances, over-production, other myriad reasons—nevertheless, I found it strangely compelling in a fashion from start to finish
  • Lonesome Dreams  Lord Huron — Quality folk/Americana
  • Strange Land  Yellow Ostrich — This ended up on exactly no one’s top ten—yet really quite a solid indie rock record!
  • Who’s Feeling Young Now  Punch Brothers — Not enough substance to crack the top 10, but some real winning songwriting here, with a eminently listenable sound throughout

Greg’s honourable mentions (EPs)

In this post a pacifist proposes a rivalry

This afternoon the Detroit Tigers will take on the New York Yankees at Comerica Park in Downtown Detroit.  I know that some of you are thinking, ‘Oh no, another baseball post…’  But hear me out.  A Tigers win in today’s game [UPDATE: The Tigers won!], which was originally scheduled for last night but was postponed due to adverse weather conditions, would seal a few things:

  1. The Tigers have stopped the Yankees in each of Detroit’s last three postseason appearances (2006, 2011 and 2012).
  2. The Yankees have been swept (losing a series with no wins) in a seven-game postseason series for the first time since their 1976 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.
  3. The Motor City Kitties have won their eleventh American League pennant. (*For those of you who are not baseball fans, Major League Baseball is divided into two historic leagues: the American League [AL] and the National League [NL].  When a club wins the championship in either league they receive what is called ‘the pennant’.)
  4. The Tigs will compete in their eleventh World Series, hoping to earn their fifth World Series victory (1935, 1945, 1968, 1984 and 2012?).

Five out of eleven?  Even if the Tigers make it to the World Series and even if they win they will still only have a 5/11 (.455) record when it comes to World Series appearances.  The individual games (out of ten World Series) breaks down to 26 wins and 29 loses, or .473:

  • 1907L 0-4 (Chicago Cubs)
  • 1908L 1-4 (Chicago Cubs)
  • 1909L 3-4 (Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • 1934L 3-4 (St Louis Cardinals)
  • 1935W 4-2 (Chicago Cubs)
  • 1940L 3-4 (Cincinnati Reds)
  • 1945W 4-3 (Chicago Cubs)
  • 1968W 4-3 (St Louis Cardinals)
  • 1984W 4-1 (San Diego Padres)
  • 2006L 1-4 (St Louis Cardinals)

So the Tigers aren’t the strongest club as far as World Series victories are concerned.  After a quick glance at their World Series opponents two stand out: the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals.  As can be seen above, the Tigers have faced the Cubs in four World Series, splitting their crowns 2-2 (although the Cubs have won more games in the four: 13 Cubs wins vs 9 Tigers wins).  Unfortunately for Chicago, in their ten World Series appearances they have only won two: their 1907 and 1908 victories against the Tigers.  In fact, the Cubs haven’t even been to a World Series since 1945.  Poor lads.

So if we’re looking for an exciting, historical, cross-league rivalry for the Tigers (since AL clubs very seldom face NL clubs outwith the World Series), which is what I’ve decided that we’re doing now, then the Cards are a better candidate than the Cubbies.  [Oddly enough, I referenced this rivalry in this tribute to Steve Jobs last October.]  The Cardinals have only played the Tigers in three World Series, but we’re talking about a range from 1934 until 2006 – 72 years!  And the Tigers are the underdogs, having only beaten the Cards once in three World Series.  The Cards are the reigning World Series champions and rank number two (behind the Yankees) in most World Series appearances (18) and victories (11).  AND there is a decent chance that 2012 will give us another Tigers-Cards World Series.

Of course, in baseball there’s no telling who will be going to the World Series until both leagues have awarded their pennants [UPDATE: The 2012 AL pennant belongs to the Tigers!].  The Tigers had a mediocre season, finishing with a .543 record, the lowest of any team in the postseason, even the wild card clubs!  They’ve turned things around in the postseason, especially during this series against New York.  But the Yankees have their southpaw ace CC Sabathia on the mound tonight.  That being said, it should be a good match-up between CC and the Tigers’ ‘other ace’ (the ‘ace’ title being given to the venerable Justin Verlander), Max Scherzer.  Scherzer has had a great season and a great postseason, so I have high hopes.  [UPDATE: Scherzer and the Tigers defeated Sabathia and the Yankees 8-1.]

Whilst trying to avoid sounding like the Kitties have this one in the bag (OMG, TIGERS GONNAE GO TAE THE WORLD SERIES THIS YEAR!!! [UPDATE: Seriously.]), it will be a great challenge for the Yanks to pull out of this 0-3 deficit given the poor state of their would-be power hitters like Teixiera, Cano, Swisher, A-Rod and Granderson (the latter three will sit out today’s game) and without their injured captain Derek Jeter.  (*On a side note, these four players have receive a combined $93.075 million salary this year, which accounts for nearly half of the entire Yankees payroll and is a higher figure than the entire payroll of 16 of the 30 Major League Baseball clubs.)

The Cardinals’ fight to clinch the NL pennant looks a wee bit more difficult.  The Cards finished their season with the same mediocre Tigers record, .543.  Unfortunately for the Cards, the NL Central Division also featured the Cincinnati Reds, who boasted the second-highest record in all of baseball this season.  But the Cards won the wild card playoff game against the Atlanta Braves and went on to defeat the winningest team in baseball, the Washington Nationals (.605), in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

They’ve done well in their uphill battle, but the National League Championship Series between the Cards and the San Francisco Giants is looking even more competitive.  The Cards are up two games to one, but who knows what will happen…

As far as any true rivalries go, it’s fair to say that the Cards have a much stronger World Series history than the Tigers.  The Yankees seem like the natural cross-league rivals for the Cardinals (or any club, for that matter).  As mentioned before, the Cards are second both in World Series appearances and victories to the Yankees.  In addition to this, the Cards have played the Yanks in five of their 18 World Series appearances (1926, 1928, 1942, 1943 and 1964).  Like the Tigers, the Boston Red Sox have faced the Cards in three World Series (1946, 1967 and 2004).  But both the Yank and Sox rivalries with the Cards lack the longevity of the rivalry I’m proposing.

If both the Tigers and the Cardinals make it to the World Series we’ll be looking at their fourth meeting and an opportunity for the Tigers to level the score (2-2) in what would then be a World Series rivalry spanning 78 years.  That would be a match-up for the ages.  A less gentle man might propose that the Tigers rip the throats out of the Cardinals and make their children weep for generations.  But that wouldn’t be very nice of me to write.  So let’s go Tigers and let’s go Cardinals!  (But mostly, let’s go Tigers!)  [UPDATE: The San Francisco Giants beat the St Louis Cardinals in seven games to clinch the National League title and reach the World Series.  This will be the first ever Tigers-Giants World Series meeting.]

Image

[Updated on 24 October 2012.]

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