Band Evangelist, ch. 4

I have neglected my musical prophetic calling as of late, but LO, I have returned to separate the melodic wheat from the chaff and to baptize you in the tuneful rivers of new music (the evangelist metaphor is wearing thin, I know). I have put together a mix of some of the latest songs to catch my ear–cleverly entitled “2012: My Own Apocalypse”–but since sharing music online is a dangerous pastime, I will simply offer to send you a link to the songs  (if you know me, shoot me an email; if you don’t know me, post in the comments section and I should be able to see your email…AND make sure you are not an undercover agent of the RIAA!).  Most of the following artists I’ve highlighted have a track on this mix…

To begin with, two years ago, in my first “Band Evangelist” post, I lamented the break-up of a band that I believed had great potential to be among the indie greats:  The XYZ Affair.  Well, the singer of that band has just released a free 5-song EP under the moniker Leonard Friend.  It’s a bit more quasi-ironic 80’s electronic poppy than I might wish, but this singer/songwriter’s talent cannot be hidden under a bush & heck, it’s FREE!

Another singer/songwriter–Ramesh Srivastava–from a similarly lamented & potentially epic indie band that broke up several years ago–Voxtrot–has just released a few new songs as well, which can be heard for now at his website (the song “The King” was on my best of 2010 mix).  I think Ramesh may someday rise again like the phoenix to the heights he reached with Voxtrot (whose must-have songs include “The Start of Something,” “Fast Asleep,” “Firecracker;” their self-titled album from 2007 is worth a purchase, though not essential), but for now, these few songs are all we have to remind us of what could’ve been.

Some of the kings & queens of indie-dom from years past also have new albums out/coming out that must be reckoned with:

  • Andrew Bird/Break It Yourself (out now):  I did buy it & I do like it thus far.  I’m sure it will grow on me even more (straightaway, I was taken with the penultimate 3 tracks quite a bit).  The man is so multi-talented (composing melancholic melodies, playing guitar/violin/violin like a guitar/whistling, etc.), he cannot make a “bad album,” but to be honest, I think he could stand to have a producer other than himself (it lacks a sonic fullness and critical perspective that a talented outsider could have brought), he should focus his lyrical impressionism just a bit, and, this sounds harsh, but he needs to drop his brushes/soft kick drum percussionist Martin Dosh, who, while an incredibly talented musician himself, I think, brings out a soft-rock mildness and self-indulgence in the Bird that keeps him from attaining his full greatness on record (when they play live together, as a two-piece, they are able to create an entire symphony of sounds through looping).
  • The Shins/Port of Morrow (out now):  After a few listens, I am uncertain what I will ultimately think of these 10 tracks.  Having loved the early Shins, it is hard to see this new line-up, sans any other original member than singer/songwriter James Mercer, as anything more than just Mercer resurrecting a “brand” that’s proven to sell records.  But his voice & lyrics are so great to hear again (though the instrumentation on this album may have been a bit OVER-produced) and the old sparkle does emerge in some of the attempts to recapture the old Shins magic (much more glimmer than I found in the Mercer/Dangermouse collaboration, Broken Bells).
  • Daniel Rossen/Silent Hour/Golden Mile (out now):  This lovely throated & absurdly brilliant songwriter from Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles has released a five-song EP that I have found wonderfully enchanting, lovely to the bones, and all other kinds of goodness.  Yep, you should buy it!
  • Sigur Rós/Valtari (May 29):  Now I have to admit that I am getting my hopes up ionospherically high for this forthcoming album–to the point that I do not want to hear any tracks until I have the album in my hands.  I was personally disappointed with singer/composer Jonsi‘s recent solo release, so I’m hopelandic (or Vonlenska, if you prefer) for a aural reconciliation between my fey Nordic friend and me.
  • Regina Spektor/What We Saw from the Cheap Seats (May 29):  I’m not totally sure what to think of this quirkstress any more.  I did love so much of her last album, Far, but the initial single for this album, “All the Rowboats,” is cloyingly precious (oh, poor paintings that want to escape from their museum prisons) and I fear the worst.  Still, she does have heaps of talent, a golden ear for melodies (until she kills them with an intentionally dissonant note to the throat), and a certain sweet naivete, so I’m certain I will give it a listen.
  • Other releases of note to check out or watch for include:  White Rabbits/Milk Famous (out now)–I don’t know much about them, but I love the song “Everyone Can’t Be Confused,” Damien Jurado/Maraqopa (out now)–“Museum of Flight” is pretty as all get out, Rufus Wainwright/Out of the Game (April 23), Silversun Pickups/Neck of the Woods (May 8), Beach House/Bloom (May 15)–the song “Myth” from this album is soaringly lovely, Best Coast/The Only Place (May 15)–get a free song off the album here, The Walkmen/Heaven (June 5), and a new Passion Pit album in June.  Post in the comments about any albums I missed!

SO those are releases from the KNOWN bands…but let me list out a few NEW (to me & perhaps you?) acts that I’d like to commend to you all:

  1. Sharon Van Etten/Tramp:  This singer-songwriter caught my ear with “Serpents” before I’d heard that The National‘s Aaron Dessner had played on/produced her album (which is reason enough to take note). Her voice is a mix between Cat Power, Kathleen Edwards, and Sarah Jaffe (who also shares a similar composing style & sound). This woman has an incredible future ahead of her.  I’ve been playing this album non-stop of late.
  2. Yellow Ostrich/Strange Land:  This LP is the apotheosis of indie-songsmithery.  Haunting at points (“Up in the Mountains,” “Wear Suits”), darkly epic at others (“Marathon Runner”) and hopping off walls at yet many other points.
  3. Pandercakes/Paint By Numbers EP:  I don’t quite remember how I heard about this band, but you can download some songs here.  Read this music blog to find out more about their sound, which I like immensely–densely layered & yet fun and catchy at the same time.
  4. Oberhofer/Time Capsules II:  I have only listened to one song of of this album (“Heart”) but it has set expectations quite high.  This song is a mix of Animal Collective, Explosions in the Sky, Page France, and Muse (the piano parts)–to my ears at least.  This kid is the next generation of indie genius.
  5. Dry the River/Shallow Bed:  A friend with impeccable taste just turned me on to this band via a set on KCRW.  Check out this quote from their online bio:

“This five-piece band has all the hallmarks of the latest folk sensation: elemental name, beards, acoustic guitars, even a violinist. But what sets Dry the River apart is a background in hardcore and post-punk bands, hence the tattoos, lyrics that read like a Steinbeck novel and a sonic palette that sweeps from gentle to giant like an incoming storm.”

Well, that should keep your ears busy for a short while…until our next gathering at the edge of the river, let the “Glory Hallelujah’s” roll!

Best Albums of 2011

2012 is nearly upon us, which means it’s time for our Best Albums of 2011 list here at Lost in the Cloud!  We’ve been conscientiously consuming music to both nourish our culturally gluttonous souls and to deliver a collection of what we consider to be the finest music released this year.  Last month we proudly presented our Best Songs of 2011 list and now we have painstakingly selected our top ten albums each.  In 2010, we (Greg & Elijah) shared five albums in common on our Best Albums list.  This year we have discovered that we only share one album in common, which may be an indication of our decomposing friendship (we’re only joking, of course!), but this means that while last year we shared 15 ‘best’ albums between the two of us, this year we are presenting you with a 19-album smörgåsbord!

Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of ’11

10.  Bon Iver Bon Iver — Concerning Bon Iver’s 2008 release of For Emma, Forever Ago, a friend once commented, ‘Take the reverb away and there’s nothing there.’  I couldn’t help but agree at the time.  This is my confession: I wasn’t a huge Bon Iver fan, in fact, I wasn’t a Bon Iver fan before this record.  [I can already feel the rage boiling up inside many LITC readers…]  But Bon Iver captured me in its move beyond the self-wallowing, isolated cabin chat of For Emma.  This new record is a beautiful collection of multilayered sound and place names (some real, some fictitious), standing on its own without some self-indulgent backstory (though this is not attack on Justin Vernon, who is a lovely, lovely man).  I think it could’ve done without ‘Beth/Rest’…  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Towers’, ‘Wash.’ and ‘Calgary’.

9.   Demolished Thoughts Thurston Moore — When I first heard that Beck was producing a Thurston Moore solo album I was ecstatic, but I immediately began to feed myself a significant amount of scepticism leading up to its release.  Could the actualisation of such a record truly be as great as it sounds?  Probably not.  With this dose of low expectation I found myself pleasantly taken aback by Demolished Thoughts, and my appreciation only grew with additional listens.  This album plays on Moore’s Sonic Youth strengths and—like Lou Barlow—makes me feel like it’s the mid-90s in all the best ways while not sounding like ‘that guy from Sonic Youth’s side project’.  And perhaps the early stages of Moore’s separation from his wife of 27 years, SY singer/bassist/guitarist Kim Gordon, contributed to the depth of his sometimes heartbreaking songwriting.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Benediction’, ‘Circulation’ and ‘Mina Loy’.

8.   Dancer Equired Times New Viking — I love lo-fi and the grittiness of Born Again Revisited, number eight on my Best Albums of 2009 list, was a significant part of its ranking alone.  While this record isn’t ‘clean’ by contemporary production standards, it is far less mucky than TNV’s previous releases.  But the lo-fi onslaught isn’t the only reason why I love TNV.  Their beautifully lazy harmonies and their catchy, shoegazy simplicity are what really attract me.  I’d even say that Dancer Equired is their catchiest record to date, though I don’t suspect these songs will be employed in any television adverts any time soon.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘No Room to Live’, ‘Downtown Eastern Bloc’ and ‘Fuck Her Tears’.

7.   Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes — Fleet Foxes once again demonstrate their command of the Americana genre.  While I was not entirely blown away by their debut record, I was able to recognise their talent and potential.  I was eager to pick up Helplessness Blues and it did not disappoint.  Principal songwriter Robin Pecknold taps into the soul of a man twice his age and delivers timeless lyrics with a well-groomed musical backbone.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Battery Kinzie’, ‘Helplessness Blues’ and ‘Grown Ocean’.

6.   Strange Mercy St Vincent — Annie Clark takes a step in the right direction with Strange Mercy.  Building upon her previous efforts, Clark explores both the cheery and dark on Strange Mercy (I find ‘Cruel’ and its accompanying video especially haunting).  As a whole, and perhaps because of this ‘darker’ element, the album is more engaging than her previous material.  While more sonically stripped-down than Actor (an honourable mention from 2009’s list), Strange Mercy somehow feels fuller and more mature.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’, ‘Surgeon’ and ‘Dilettante’ (not picked merely because of the ‘Elijah’ mentioned…).

5.   Father, Son, Holy Ghost Girls — About Father, Son, Holy Ghost, I will first say that I found this record a bit of a disappointment, but disappointment is a relative word.  Unlike most other sophomore records in which I prepared myself for disappointment with low expectations, I actually suspected that this new Girls record would be my number one pick before even listening to it.  Upon further listens I only grew more fond of their previous record, Album, ranked number six on my Best Albums of 2009 list, and last year’s EP, Broken Dreams Club, was equally impressive.  But generally speaking, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is an excellent record.  While I wouldn’t consider it a significant improvement on Album I also wouldn’t consider it any sort of regression.  Unlike the front-heavy Album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost builds up into its eight-minute ‘Forgiveness’ before bringing us back down for the final two tracks.  Like Album, this record does a fine job of holding in tension both the child and adult that is singer/guitar Christopher Owens, and it is certainly worth its place on this Best of 2011 list.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Honey Bunny’, ‘My Ma’ and ‘Forgiveness’.

4.   The Year of Hibernation Youth Lagoon — For me, The Year of Hibernation was 2011’s most striking discovery.  Having heard the album without having previously known anything about its creator I was shocked to find that Youth Lagoon is just one person, Idaho-based Trevor Powers, and that Mr Powers is only 22 years old (which causes me to ask the question, ‘Elijah, what are you doing with your life‽’).  The Year of Hibernation, recorded for next to nothing by a 22-year-old in his bedroom in Idaho, offers far more than the sum of its parts.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Posters’, ’17’ and ‘Montana’.

3.   Let England Shake PJ Harvey — PJ Harvey has released some excellent records – Dry, Rid of Me, Is This Desire?, etc.  But Let England Shake—which earned Harvey her second Mercury Award—may very well be her strongest.  While neither as dark nor necessarily as ‘personal’ as some of her previous efforts, this album is brimming with creativity.  Harvey did her homework for this record, which explores some contemporary conflicts in British history, ranging from the Gallipoli campaign to the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Without coming across as a ‘topical’ or ‘protest’ album, Harvey paints a critical and sober picture of Western military domination and its consequences both domestically and abroad.  The music’s excellent too (Harvey picks up an autoharp for this record!).  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Let England Shake’, ‘The Last Living Rose’ and ‘Hanging in the Wire’.

2.   Dye It Blonde Smith Westerns — What can I say, I’m a fan of good pop music.  This record is just one of several that caught me entirely by surprise this year.  While I had heard and enjoyed Smith Westerns’ first release, The Smith Westerns, it did not strike me in a way that would compel me to consider it one of my favourite records of 2009.  But this record demonstrates significant pop songwriting maturation, songwriting the vein of—dare I say—The Beatles (specifically King George).  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Weekend’, ‘All Die Young’ and ‘Smile’.

1.   Belong The Pains of Being Pure at Heart — After their debut record (which was an honourable mention on my Best Albums of 2009 list) I had no idea where PoBPaH (some acronym is necessary with such an obnoxiously long name) might go.  They had successfully composed an album in the style of 1980s Brit-pop with their first record.  I expected any subsequent releases to merely replicate that formula with varied success.  But this record is a witness to PoBPaH’s evolution into a true force to be reckoned with.  If we’re grouping the sound by decade, Belong showcases more of a 90s alt-rock feel than its predecessor.  While it’s unlikely to be found in the top spot on many other ‘Best Albums of 2011’ lists, I’ve only grown more fond of this record over the course of 2011 and can safely say that as a whole it is my favourite.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Belong’, ‘Anne with an E’ and ‘My Terrible Friend’.

Elijah’s Honourable mentions

Because there were so many great albums this year (though I must confess, none quite as great as last year’s Age of Adz), I’ve taken the liberty of sharing an additional 15 albums that I believe are worth owning:

Elijah’s Biggest Disappointments of ’11

  • Parallax Atlas Sound — I am a huge fan of Bradford Cox and his band, Deerhunter, and solo project, Atlas Sound.  Cox’s first Atlas Sound release, Logos, placed ninth on my Best Albums of 2009 list and Deerhunter’s excellent Halcyon Digest placed third on my Best Albums of 2010 list.  While Parallax has received a fair amount of praise from critics I find that it only has a few songs that rise to the high standard set by Cox’s other efforts: ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Angel is Broken’ and ‘Lightworks’.
  • Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds — I bought this record on a whim with the hope that Noel would offer something better than Liam’s Beady Eye project.  Unfortunately my foray into bestselling music was a tremendous let down.  Noel was the musical brains behind Oasis, but he’s capable of so much more than this record.

+++++

Greg’s Top 10 Albums of ’11

This has been a strange year in music for me.  A while back, I wrote a post about a number of albums coming out this year by bands whom I loved—four of which have ended up on this list.  Yet, due to a phenomenon that I am calling “the tragedy of unanticipated mediocrity,” a number of the other albums were crushing disappointments: boring, lifeless, and one-dimensional.  Even the ones that made the list (or almost made it—Low‘s C’mon) were a mixed bag, in which the album was only saved because the highs were so high that they overshadowed the lows.  This type of confounded expectations from bands that I dearly adore, like Bright Eyes, Radiohead, Cass McCombs (who had TWO swings for the fence, yet almost completely struck out), Panda Bear and, to a lesser extent (in terms of my adoration), DeVotchKa, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and Norman Blake’s new band, Jonny, elicited a certain measure of disorientation and disillusionment–if I couldn’t trust Radiohead to make even a passably good album (which I felt The King of Limbs wasn’t–not even a strong EP’s worth of songs) and the Bright Eyes “comeback” LP (which some critics called their definitive work) turned out to be a messy collection of B-side material strung together with clips of some bizarre, deluded pseudo-preacher, then what sense was there in the world at all? This was my year of losing faith in the old (indie) gods…

Another surprising feature of my picks for this year was the number that reflected some subgenre of electronic music, a style for which I have never had any great affection but which I have been developing a taste for due to albums from Passion Pit, the last few Animal Collective releases, and especially Twin Shadow, whose album was on last year’s Best Albums post.  I guess an old dog can learn to appreciate some new high-pitched whistles!

10.   12 Desperate Straight Lines Telekinesis — This album could end up much higher upon my favorites of the year, but to be completely honest, I just downloaded the full album today (this bumped off Low’s C’mon for the last spot on the list here…sad, but what can be done with a half-great album).  This is super duper INDIE-POP/ROCK, but it’s so well crafted, exhilarating, and above all KOOL AS ALL GET OUT!  This is this year’s Fang Island for my money.  A jolt of propulsive rhythms (the singer is the drummer!), thick driving bass lines, and Jeff Tweedy-esque vocals.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “You Turn Clear in the Sun,” “Dirty Thing,” “Car Crash,” and “Country Lane.”

9.   Burst Apart The Antlers — The Antlers and Bon Iver have a few things in common, to my mind.  First, the falsetto.  Second, the emergence of both bands in the last few years with epic debut albums (though there were apparently a few prior albums for The Antlers, Hospice was what put them on the aural map) that reflected a profound life-change quite beautifully.  Third, second albums that are much richer tonally, more diverse and layered, and resemble a flower opening up.  That being said, in the contest between the two albums this year, The Antlers’ Burst Apart win hands down (though Bon Iver is a strong honourable mention).  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “I Don’t Want Love,” “Parentheses,” and “No Widows.”

8.   Rapprocher Class Actress — Some of the appeal of this album has to be found in the way that the synthesizer settings, drum tracks, and melodic pop songwriting takes me on a nostalgia trip back to another time: the mid-1980’s.  Seriously, we’re talking ABC, Pet Shop Boys, early Madonna, and some synthpop artists that are buried so deep in my subconscious that I am afraid to call them up, lest I find myself swept back into that age of longing, confusion, and heartache.  This album is half irresistible loveliness and the other half, resistible attempts at the former.  Still, if you skip some of the tracks in the middle, you will have a nearly quintessential example of the sythnaissance that is happening in music today.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “Keep You” (which is PERFECT!), “Love Me Like You Used To,” “Weekend,” and “Missed.”

7.   Build a Rocket Boys! Elbow — I wanted to love this album so much.  Yet it took a while to grow on me and still hasn’t completely won me over.  Still, Guy Garvey is the king of melancholic nostalgia & lyrical subversion and the band are in top form musically in the more mellow of their modes.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “Lippy Kids” (another eternally perfect song), “The Night Will Always Win,” and “Open Arms.”  (PS. Am I the only one who hears the intro theme from PRI’s program “The World” in the track “With Love” on this album?)

6.   Last of the Country Gentlemen Josh T. Pearson — Sorry about that girl’s lack of a shirt.  Josh T. Pearson is a strange and incredible man, about whom Elijah and I have written here so I need not say more.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: It’s only 7 songs…pretty much all of them.

5.   Strange Negotiations David Bazan — Wrote about this album in detail here, including best tracks.  (And sorry for that girl’s lack of pants.)

4.   Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes — Finally, no nudity on the cover.  I’m with Elijah on this, so you may see his write-up above.

3.   The Devil’s Walk Apparat — The fact that this album has not received any more attention this year makes me want to cry like a man at a Twilight screening.  It is simply amazing, so lovely, so hauntingly textured, the very best kind of electronic music and with a voice sweet as a mature Jeff Buckley.  I don’t really know anything about this band—which I think may actually be only one person, but you really owe it to yourself, and to the entire human race, to check the first few tracks out and see if you don’t buy it.

2.   Degeneration Street The Dears — Oh how I wanted this to be my number one album.  I am such a tremendous fan of songwriter/singer Murray Lightburn, but The Dears last album was deeply underwhelming and I feared that the bands best days were behind them (I’ve said it many times here, but their Gang of Losers is one of the best albums in existence).  And then, Degeneration Street appeared and I saw that they were back in every possible way (well, maybe some of the lyrics don’t quite meet the very highest standards).  I love this album—so very much.  I hope you would too.  Give it a chance.  They deserve to be topping lists all over the world, yet have been absent for all I can ascertain.  Tragic.

1.   Making Mirrors Gotye — I did NOT want for this to be my top album.  I actually resisted it quite vociferously.  “Gotye”—what kind of name is that?—and he looks like he would be a percussionist in Phish and he’s playing with all of these genres that I don’t even like—soul, electro-reggae, a kind of Peter Gabriel-esque “world pop” or something—and I think that this album is actually kind of…popular in some places in the world (imagine a pair of hipster glasses on Brando’s Col. Kurtz as he mutters, “The horror…the horror!”).  Yet, in the end, the singular talent of this guy (and his accomplices, particularly whomever is playing drums) broke through all of my resistance.  You may entirely disagree with me.  Heck, part of ME disagrees with me.  Yet, the other part won and convinced my fingers that the only place to put this album was at the very top.  You may listen to it here and decide for yourself.  (Also, I think the last song is about a cat dying, and it makes me tear up.)

Greg’s Honourable mentions

  • 100 Lovers DeVotchKa There are a number of quite good songs here.
  • Bon Iver Bon Iver
  • C’mon Low
  • Portamento The Drums — Another singer/drummer act with some great tracks.

Best Songs of 2011

In anticipation of our favourite annual post here at LITC—Best Albums of such-and-such year—we are proud to share fifty tracks that we think are the best released this year.  Trust us, there was so much good music released this year that we found picking our fifty favourite tracks to be a rather excruciating process. We’d also love to hear about any songs that you feel should not have been left off of this list in the comments section! So without further ado, here are our fifty favourite tracks from 2011 (in alphabetical order):

  1. All the Sand in All the Sea’   DeVotchKa   100 Lovers
  2. Angel Is Broken’   Atlas Sound   Parallax
  3. Animal’   Neon Trees   Habits   
  4. Ash/Black Veil’   Apparat   The Devil’s Walk  
  5. Battery Kinzie’   Fleet Foxes   Helplessness Blues
  6. Belong’   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart   Belong
  7. Circulation’   Thurston Moore   Demolished Thoughts
  8. Codex’   Radiohead   The King Of Limbs
  9. Country Dumb’   Josh T. Pearson   Last of the Country Gentlemen
  10. Cruel’   St Vincent   Strange Mercy
  11. Days’   The Drums   Portamento
  12. Degeneration Street’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  13. Don’t Move’   Phantogram   Nightlife EP
  14. Downtown Eastern Bloc’   Times New Viking   Dancer Equired
  15. 5 Chords’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  16. Fuck This Place’   Frightened Rabbit   A Frightened Rabbit EP 
  17. Galactic Tides’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  18. Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now’   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart   Belong
  19. Helplessness Blues’   Fleet Foxes   Helplessness Blues
  20. Honey Bunny’   Girls   Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  21. I Don’t Want Love’   The Antlers   Burst Apart   
  22. Keep You’   Class Actress   Rapprocher     
  23. The King’   RAMESH   The King
  24. The Last Living Rose’   PJ Harvey   Let England Shake
  25. Lippy Kids’   Elbow   Build A Rocket Boys!
  26. Montana’   Youth Lagoon   Youth Lagoon
  27. Municipality’   Real Estate   Days
  28. No Room to Live’   Times New Viking   Dancer Equired
  29. No Widows’   The Antlers   Burst Apart
  30. People’   David Bazan   Strange Negotiations
  31. Save Me’   Gotye   Making Mirrors
  32. Scottish Winds’   Frightened Rabbit   A Frightened Rabbit EP
  33. 17’   Youth Lagoon   Youth Lagoon
  34. Smile’   Smith Westerns   Dye It Blonde
  35. Somebody That I Used to Know’   Gotye (ft. Kimbra)   Making Mirrors
  36. Song Of Los’   Apparat   The Devil’s Walk  
  37. Steve McQueen’   M83   Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
  38. Strange Negotiations’   David Bazan   Strange Negotiations
  39. Sweetheart I Aint Your Christ’   Josh T. Pearson   Last of the Country Gentlemen
  40. Tatooine’   Jeremy Messersmith   Tatooine Single
  41. To Every Man His Chimera’   Cass McCombs   Humor Risk
  42. Trembling Hands’   Explosions in the Sky   Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
  43. Try to Sleep’   Low   C’mon
  44. Under My Nose’   Fucked Up   David Comes to Life
  45. Video Games’   Lana Del Rey   Video Games
  46. Wait’  Alberta Cross   The Rolling Thunder EP 
  47. Wash’   Bon Iver   Bon Iver
  48. Weekend’   Class Actress   Rapprocher  
  49. Weekend’   Smith Westerns   Dye It Blonde
  50. Your Eyes’   Bombay Bicycle Club   A Different Kind of Fix

If you’d like to check out these tracks for temporary review before you go out and buy the single or the record, you may click here to have a listen.

Keep a lookout for our upcoming Best Albums of 2011 post!

Past Forward: a penitential mix

SO, my supposed return to the world of blogging was obviously rather presumptuous, seeing that I’ve fulfilled all of ONE of my anticipated posts on LITC.  I have no explanation, no cause, no defense.  Somehow, I’ve just not gotten to it.  I hope you will believe that I’ve BEGUN to write, but alas, completion of any particular post has eluded me.

In lieu of a meaty slab of verbiage, I offer instead…a mix.  A mix the like of which I have never before made, namely, a concentration of electronica/dance-ish type songs.  Recently, I have perceived a deluge of retro-80’s synth/drum machine/gloom-pop tunes in the musical ether.  For instance, I thought I had stumbled upon an unreleased duet between Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush when I heard the song, “Somebody that I Used to Know” by Gotye (pronounced “gore-tea-eh” apparently) and Kimbra.  The synth line and flat drums of Class Actress’ “Weekend” transported me back to middle school, when I used to tape songs off of the radio (before my best mate Wade opened my mind to punk, proto-indie, and goth on vinyl).  There’s also some heavy 80’s influence evident in the new “chillwave” genre which seems to be gaining momentum amongst the hiptelligensia…thanks to my Portland DJ friend, David A. for the heads up on this scene.

With the help of my Shazam app, the RCRD LBL daily download, and my retinue of music blogs, I put together a playlist of some 19 songs roughly fitting in this emerging genre, in a mix entitled, “Past Forward (or, Addicted to a Certain Kind of Sadness)” which you may download here.

I have dedicated the mix to my co-blogger and close-as-a-brother friend, Elijah Wade Smith, to whom I owe a letter of epic proportions, with my deepest apologies for epistolary delinquency.  I hope you all enjoy and know that I am working on getting my blog-self into gear.  As a new internet meme declares…

Tracklist:

  1. Video Games/Lana Del Rey
  2. Days/The Drums
  3. Lofticries/Purity Ring
  4. When We’re Dancing/Twin Shadow
  5. No Reasons/VEGA
  6. Weekend/Class Actress
  7. Don’t Move/Phantogram
  8. The Suburbs/Mr. Little Jeans
  9. The Body/The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
  10. Throw Away This/Telepathe
  11. Polish Girl/Neon Indian
  12. Animal/Neon Trees
  13. Wait/Alberta Cross
  14. Old Friend/Caveman
  15. Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra)/Gotye
  16. Destructive Paths to Live Happily/Kindest Lines
  17. Car Crash/Telekinesis
  18. You Have My Eyes Now/CLUEs
  19. Exit The Mine/Baths

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs

It’s late at night here in Fife and I can’t sleep. So I do what many Western twenty-first-century twenty-somethings do – I end up on my computer, browsing the internet. Tonight I am especially glued to the computer with the Phillies-Cardinals game going on. If the Cards lose tonight they’re out of the playoffs, so I desperately want them to win in order to keep the prospect of a Cardinals-Tigers World Series alive. For those who are unaware, the World Series rivalry between the St Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers (my favourite team) spans nearly eighty years. The first time the two teams played each other in a World Series was in 1934, with the Cardinals taking the series in seven games. They met again in the 1968 World Series, which the Tigers won in seven. They last met in the 2006 World Series. After having defeated the Yankees and Athletics in the playoffs, the Tigers went on to lose the World Series to the Cards in five games. So in the [unlikely] event that both the Tigers and the Cardinals win their respective league titles and end up facing-off in the World Series, well, I will be an excited young man.

But the Major League Baseball 2011 postseason is not why I am compelled to share a few thoughts in a blog post. The answer to that ‘why’ is sitting right here in front of me…literally…on my lap. Yes, I am a ‘Mac user’, and tonight, as has been made clear from the incredible flood of identical status updates on Facebook (yes, I am a ‘Facebook user’), it was announced that Apple co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs has died at age 56.

Not only was Steve Jobs the official technological outfitter of hipsters, he was a proto-hipster.

Without a doubt Jobs’ death will be the talk of the town tomorrow. Whether you loved him, hated him or found yourself generally apathetic toward him, Jobs has had a significant role in the daily lives of a great many people over the last few decades. When I initially heard the news of his death I figured that enough people are writing about this, why make my own feeble attempt to eulogise, inadvertently adding to the cloud of ‘We’ve lost a visionary!’ chat?  While I have admitted to being a ‘Mac user’ I have neither a literal nor figurative Apple tattoo. I am not especially wowed by Apple Keynote addresses. I certainly don’t trouble myself with the false ‘need’ to possess a wide array of Apple products.  To be honest, it’s all very expensive and even if I had the money part of me doesn’t think that it would be especially responsible to indulge in consumer electronics. But I have owned several Apple products. As a child my family had an early Macintosh (we weren’t cutting edge or wealthy, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t stolen either). All throughout my school years we used Macs in computer labs. I first learned computer programming on a Mac.

When I went to university I used my extra scholarship money to buy my first computer – a 12-inch iBook G4. A few years later that laptop’s display went kaput and I eventually upgraded to a black MacBook, the very MacBook that’s sitting on my lap now, four years after that purchase. A couple years ago a certain Greg gifted me with some money, in celebration of my birthday/embarking on my PhD, meant specifically to assist my purchase of an iPod. I only tell you this incredibly boring history of my Apple product experiences to highlight how my life actually is affected by the influence of Steve Jobs on a daily basis.

In a way I feel sort of dirty for thinking so much about this. Nearly one billion people in the world don’t have clean drinking water, let alone a computer, let alone an expensive Apple computer (granted, I’ve never owned the ‘high-end’ Apple products). It’s very evident to me that I should change my lifestyle, but I’m not going to pretend that I don’t make extensive use of my Apple products. My Macs have brought me through university degrees, have been the means of countless designs (like the designs you see here at LITC), blog posts (like this one), letters, mix CDs, recording songs, etc. I don’t necessarily need to do all of these things on a Mac, but I have a Mac so I do. And the iPod – unless I’m spending uninterrupted time with people it is a very common feature of my day. I estimate that I probably use my iPod for, on average, two hours a day. I don’t necessarily need to listen to music on an iPod, but I have an iPod so I do.

My point is not to make some profound argument about how the world would stop without Apple – it wouldn’t. My point is not even to make some profound argument about how my life would be drastically different without Apple – it probably wouldn’t. But the vision of Steve Jobs, a man who was genuinely passionate about innovation (and genuinely good at selling it), is the fuel behind the success of Apple, success that cannot be reduced to mere monetary units. The Jobs-led Apple set the bar for other manufacturers (yes, this is a mild endorsement of one aspect of a capitalistic system, but more of an endorsement of creativity and vision, in general). Even though Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, they dramatically changed the way that our society experiences recorded music. Aside from the technical innovations, Apple also brought a high aesthetic quality to the realm of electronics. Why can’t our electronics be both functional and pleasing to the eyes?

It’s quite depressing to think about reducing a human being to a brand. The media outlets will soon be publishing frightening news about how Apple’s success will decline because of Jobs’ death (which isn’t that frightening even if it was true). Part of me finds this sort of revolting – Steve Jobs was a man with his own unique personality that, in theory, extends beyond the confines of a business, even a business as large as Apple. But then another part of me realises that Apple was very much at the centre of Jobs’ life and he liked it that way. Apple was not merely a business venture, but an invaluable outlet for Jobs’ vision and self-expression, warts and all.

Apple is not dead and will continue to produce excellent innovations, but I don’t think that trajectory could have been so successful without the creative leadership of Jobs.

Steve Jobs wasn’t my friend and I generally do not have a great deal of respect for large companies and their leaders, but all-in-all I think he might have been something like an artist, and a great artist at that. For someone I never knew and never followed with any sense of dedication, somehow I think I’ll miss Steve Jobs (or as I like to call him, ‘Esteban Trabajos’, with affection). Thanks for sharing so many good things with the world, Steve. We here at Lost in the Cloud salute you and will think of you as we experience the blessings of our MacBooks and iPods (and Greg as he uses his iPhone).

Cards won the game, by the way.

Returning to the Cloud: Fall/Autumn 2011 Preview

Greetings to our faithful cadre of subscribers & readers…it has been some time since I’ve posted anything on our humble little weblog here (due to a overloaded class schedule at Fuller Seminary & increased summer childcare–all three little angels were home with me– combined with a new job at my church) but I am here to announce that a number of posts WILL BE forthcoming in the next weeks and months.  Here’s a preview of what you can expect on this site in Fall/Autumn 2011:

• A number of my favorite novelists have new books that have recently been or will shortly be published.  Along with a brief review of their latest work, I’d like to begin a new feature called, “The Cloud Rank” where I assess and position the rest of their oeuvre (or as many of their novels as I’ve read) against the new work.  Some of the novelists receiving this treatment will include: David Lodge, China Mieville, Tom Perrota, Julian Barnes, and graphic novelist Craig Thompson.

• You may also expect a response to this article about hell from the Summer issue of Biola University’s magazine.  I’ve largely worked through my issues with Biola, my former employer, so you need not expect a diatribe against the conservative evangelical establishment, and I find that I am generally opposed to the the Rob Bell book on eschatology that the Biola article denounces as well.  Rather, some points that the “expert” author makes about annihilationism are quite ill-founded and need a corrective voice to balance out, which I am happy to provide!

• I am also looking forward to reading the upcoming “multiple-views” volume on the topic of evangelicalism (about which John Stackhouse writes here) and adding some thoughts about the schism that seems imminent in the evangelical consensus and ways that we might avoid committing or being the victim of a “friendly-fire” tragedy.

• I am also hoping to do a Cloud Rank on the albums of The Smiths and Morrissey, hopefully publishing a Top 50 Smiths/Morrissey Songs list in the process.

• Finally, as we draw closer to the end of the year, you can count on Elijah and I to continue the long tradition of our best of the year in music here on Lost in the Cloud.

I offer my deepest apologies for this long absence and hope you will enjoy some of the posts in the days ahead!

‘America!’, a ramble

Is America a force for good in the world? Many people would respond positively, convinced of some strange belief called ‘American exceptionalism’, and would top it off with a resounding ‘God bless America!’ But on the other end of the spectrum we find many who would respond with disgust, as if such a question was not worthy of a response at all. Perhaps both of these responses are true.  In an interview on the Dick Cavett Show in 1970, Orson Welles argued,

I think one thing that is generally true, the one generalisation that is true about America is that everything is true about it. It’s impossible to say anything that isn’t true, good or bad. Our enemies are right, our friends are right. It’s an awful big country [with] an awful lot of different kinds of people in it.

I think there’s a lot of truth in that statement. From my perspective, an expatriated American of Scottish extraction, I can’t bring myself to side with either one of the two  extremist responses above. The disestablishmentarian in me would readily scoff at the first answer when looking at the actions of ‘America’ throughout its short history. ‘Manifest Destiny’; CIA plots to interfere with South American politics in order to stop the spread of COMMUNISM(!); capitalistic exploitation in America and in third world countries; the ill-informed invasion of Iraq in 2003; all those boy bands from the 90s – America isn’t a wholly good nation. But then again, such a thing doesn’t exist. All this is not to say that America has done exclusively ‘bad’ things with this power. Throughout history America’s government—however manipulated by an insecure worldview—has acted in self-interest. Sometimes America’s self-interest is beneficial for the rest of the world and sometimes it isn’t.

When I left America for Scotland I was told by a Northern Irish friend that I would probably find myself defending my the States more than I expected. But to be honest, I never had an entirely bleak outlook on America in the first place. At different points I toyed with expatriation as a self-righteous act of political protest, but if anyone wants to lump America together as a homogeneous society of nit-wits I will try my best to convince them that this cannot truly be said of any nation. America, with more than 300 million citizens who for the most part find their origins in faraway countries, is an incredibly diverse and dynamic nation. But as it stands, and while this is not unique to America, many Americans (me included) and American governments have been guilty of making this world a poorer place in many inventive ways.

But America is also a beautiful nation full of beautiful people. This as well is not unique to America. Even so, growing up in and around Los Angeles has shaped who I am in many ways and I wouldn’t change that fact even if I could. And while I profess a love for Scotland, inevitably, it shares many of America’s flaws. I simply can’t escape what is broken with the world because I can’t escape the world. All any of us can do is aim to repair what is broken and spread what is good. But at this point we must ask the question, what is good?

Regarding America, and in celebration of the Fourth of July, when Americans commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (according to Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams), I will now point out two things that I think are exemplary of the good: American music and baseball.

Let me make clear that these two things are not free of their own flaws. For instance, in addition to the 90s boy bands I mentioned earlier, America is also responsible for Journey and a host of other terrible artists. Of course this is a matter of taste, and while some poor folk might think that Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan are passé, their music had and continues to have a profound impact on culture around the world. It is important to be  reminded of the words of Donne, ‘No man is an island’, and the two owe a great deal to a rich and fertile musical heritage borne from countless sources, such as the Negro spiritual. But it can be argued that, among many others, the highly influential genres of ragtime, jazz, country, rock and roll, soul, hip-hop, and grunge were all founded in the US of A. And of course there’s the broad Americana genre. Perhaps these developments can be attributed to the rapid economic growth of America throughout its short history, mixed with the continual convergence of various world cultures, all taking place alongside the development of music recording and transmission throughout the 20th century.

Regardless of the cause, American music has always pushed new ground and inspired subsequent generations of artists. See legendary musicians of days long past like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jelly Roll Morton, Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger (who is still kicking!). Their torch was passed to popular artists like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Cash, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Thelonius Monk and Frank Sinatra. Then this was followed by a wave of dramatic developments from American artists like The Beach Boys, Blondie, James Brown, T-Bone Burnett, Devo, Philip Glass, Iggy Pop, Michael Jackson, Love, Ramones, The Talking Heads, Television, The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, and Frank Zappa.

In more recent years we’ve seen the rise of significant American musicians like Lou Barlow, Jeff Buckley, Botch, Converge, Fugazi, Grandaddy, Aimee Mann, Neutral Milk Hotel, Nirvana, Pixies, R.E.M., Tupac Shakur, Daniel Smith, Elliott Smith, Sonic Youth, Sunny Day Real Estate, The White Stripes, Yo La Tengo, and yet more recent artists like Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Explosions in the Sky, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Cass McCombs, and Frightened Rab…nevermind that last one.  Of course there are many more artists that should be included in this list (I merely picked some of my favourites), but that only goes to show how important American music has been in the last century. In Sufjan Stevens alone we can see a massive and ambitious output of constant reinterpretation and innovation.

Now onto the second good thing I want to affirm about America, which probably came as no surprise to seasoned LITC readers. Baseball may not enjoy the global fame of association football, but I happen to think it is the greatest sport to ever grace the face of the earth (though football’s soccer’s not far behind – apologies to cricket, rugby, golf, etc.). I’ve professed my undying love for baseball through blog posts on several different occasions. And despite the inevitable corruption that plagues the sport (greed, performance-enhancing drugs, marital infidelity, bench-clearing brawls, etc.), there’s a magic and heart to baseball that is truly good.

In the classic 1989 film Field of Dreams, the character Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) is trying to convince the main character, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), to embrace his dream, a vision he had of a baseball field on his farm in Iowa. Because Ray has cleared land for this baseball field and has invested money into its development (outfitted with stadium lights and all), he is losing money rapidly and in this particular scene his brother-in-law is trying to convince him to sell the farm and leave his dream behind. Mann responds,

Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack…

And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces…

People will come Ray…

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh, people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

There’s much more going on at the core of the film, but I won’t spoil it – you should watch the film. What I want to point out is this sentiment expressed so sweetly through James Earl Jones’ transcendent voice. Throughout many wars and economic depressions baseball has remained because it is a special vessel of goodness. I suppose that’s part of why I love the Tigers so much – they represent this beacon of goodness (among many other great beacons of goodness in Detroit) in the midst of a suffering place.

So this is to you, America! And while I’m not too keen on the cult of the American flag, here’s Ol’ Glory, which stands as a mere symbol for the hopes and dreams—noble and ignoble—of millions of people throughout the last 235 years and in the present. May God bless America, but more importantly, may God continue to bless this struggling world.

A Random (P)review of David Bazan’s “Strange Negotiations”

I should wait and put a proper set of thoughts together on the new David Bazan album, Strange Negotiations,  that comes out on May 24 for regular folks, but which I received early due to the fact that I’m among an elite corps of Bazan supporters who actually chipped in some cash to finance the recording of this album (thanks to Glen of Someone Tell Me the Story for the heads up on this opportunity).  However, I’m not seeing much time in the weeks ahead for anything much more than a rather random collection of thoughts after about 5-6 full listens…so why not just put it out there now?

A brief background on Bazan:  he had a band called Pedro the Lion back in the 90’s-00’s that was pretty much the coolest thing in the world for a young evangelical Christian to like, though you were never sure if you were supposed to think of them as a “Christian band” or not (which, ultimately, is a good problem to have–DEATH TO CCM).  Bazan’s songwriting was always pretty cutting toward the church and hypocritical Christians, but there was a latent tenderness and spiritual longing underneath (see “The Secret of the Easy Yoke”) along with clever storytelling and wordsmithery (all of Control), and an ear for the lovely juxtaposition of vocal & instrumental melody.  Plus, some of his songs REALLY indie-rocked unbelievably much (see “Magazine”) and he would cuss with great aplomb (most brilliantly on “Foregone Conclusions”).  But his voice was rather sleep-inducingly mellow, his wit often a bit too acidic, and he seemed like his prophetic voice could often switch into Pharisaic condemnation or just plain whiny petulance.  Then, he killed PTL and did an electronic album called (and by?) Headphones that had some great cuts…and some not so great.  Finally, he came out under his own name with an EP (Fewer Moving Parts) that was all depressingly navel-gazing and narcissistic fantasy–I wondered if this would be the end of David Bazan…self-implosion.

Yet he came back with a full-length album Curse Your Branches in 2009 that was a masterpiece of him losing his faith; it is well worth the purchase & repeated listens, not only for the masterfully poignant/angry way he processes the experience of divorcing himself from God/Christianity, but also for his return to all the great songwriting and musicianship he’d evidenced in the past.  And that, in short, brings us to his second solo LP: Strange Negotiations.

That’s a naked woman and a geriatric man in pajamas next to a pool.

Some random observations:

  • Bazan’s voice is no longer sleep-inducing…it’s a sleep-DEPRIVED and mildly intoxicated growl and rasp (like a philosophical Kenny Rogers gone to seed) with certain words carrying a whiskey-flavored drawl that is becoming a Bazan trademark
  • I once heard it said that Bob Dylan wrote two kinds of songs:  one for Him (God) and one for “her” (the elusive love interest, I took it to mean).  I think Bazan writes one kind of song:  for himself.  His songs have become a Molotov cocktail of art therapy, bully pulpit, and bipolar self-aggrandizement/self-loathing.  He is a one-man 12-step group, endlessly telling his own story to himself and we just happen to be passing by the room.  Or he’s like a prophet who grew to love the taste of fiery denunciation, but forgot his audience and wandered off into canyons muttering woe and condemnation to the walls.  I remember thinking a few albums back that Bazan needed to get out of his own head, seeming like he was on an infinite, introspective spiral, destined for a solipsistic hell consisting of his own echo in an empty bottle.  I’m not sure in this album if he’s still heading there or on his way back, yet I still sense that damning self-absorption.  And yet, somehow, in the midst of all of that, he still sees things and says things in such a powerful, brilliant, and infectious way that I can’t help but listen.
  • I wondered if this would be his “post-Christian” album and a number of songs confirm this, but I am hesitant to read that into every song.  It will be interesting to see if he will ever make an album that contains no reference to his disdain for faith, conservatives, or his upbringing.  He definitely seems to want to alienate the final remnants of the old Christian music store fan-base with the naked chick on the cover, his transition in one song from the lyrics of “Be Thou My Vision” (which PTL covered on one album) to the line, “Fuck the gatekeeper, cause I’m fine outside the gate”, and repeated references to his new found way of seeing the world, free from the provincial boundaries of Christianity.  Again, it’s legitimate for him to process his rejection of faith, but he does it with such monomania.  Encountering the story of Captain Ahab’s hatred of & fixation with the white whale in Moby-Dick is powerful, but you probably don’t care to read sequel after sequel telling the same story, right?

In any case, this is supposed to be thoughts about the album, not a psychological study of Bazan.  The songs basically have two modes on Strange Negotiations:  crunchy electric guitars chording over a tight and driving rhythm, or reflectively quiet/ethereal, with the record heavily leaning to the former.  I offer below some thoughts on most of the tracks on the album, somewhat ordered according to how much I liked them:

  • People“–a hybrid of the two song modes, this is one part acoustic wistfulness looking back on a childhood in the church and one part scorching rocker about how he’s moved beyond all of that.  Besides being a beautiful tone/mood contrast, I think I love this because it’s about coming to terms with one’s heritage as a conservative evangelical Christian (“you are my people”) even as he talks about the cost of being a “truth-teller” in that community (which strikes one as rather patronizing, but still authentic to his experience).  It’s pretty judgmental overall, but it still captures that old balance between longing and disappointment that he had with PTL.
  • Level with Myself“–covering some of the same ground as the previous song, this melodic rocker pokes at the image of waking up in the morning and having a “quiet time” reading Scripture, but feeling like you have to “sell it to yourself.”  In contrast, he says he wants to “level with myself…my friends…and my kin…and be at peace with them”–which I take to mean that he’s trying to come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t believe anymore and he needs others to accept this as well.
  • Don’t Change“–this is an example of when I think Bazan dips into self-loathing, mocking himself and his efforts at self-improvement.  It’s got a lovely vocal and guitar melody over a molasses thick bass line.
  • Strange Negotiations“–haunting (ethereal mode), timeless ballad with echoes of Scripture (prodigal son, writing on the wall, cutting off one’s limb) about inter-personal conflicts.  Includes a lovely acoustic breakdown with Bazan’s lonely howl wordlessly communicating the pain of relational struggle…
  • Won’t Let Go“–what does Bazan have now that he’s chucked his faith and alienated himself from “his people”?  This song points to his marriage as the new anchor in his life.  Another ethereal mode with the EBow all over it.
  • Virginia“–this is the most poignant song on the album, looking back from a position of having lost faith at someone else in the family who was “unsaved” (“we wondered about your personal salvation/was it heaven or hell you saw when your eyes closed?”), but who modeled a transcendence beyond religious categories (“you smiled at us/floating high above the question/like you knew something we didn’t know”) that Bazan now has an appreciation for.  This is a delicate piece, full of deep regret at time wasted on such pettiness (from his new perspective)–which you can hear most tenderly when Bazan’s voice cracks at 3:36…
  • Wolves at the Door“–this seemed to be about religion again, but it could also be more broadly about conservative values.  This opens the album and sets the condemnatory/accepting synthesis with the line, “You’re a goddamn fool…and I love you.”  This is the last of the songs that I actually liked…but that makes 7 out of 10, which sounds like a pretty strong record if you ask me!

If these comments seem very critical, let me balance them all by saying that I think Bazan is one of the best living songwriters and generally a brilliant thinker and lyricist.  I will keep buying his work as long as he puts it out, but I also need to be honest to vocalize my concerns about his self-destructive fixation on himself.  Perhaps this is one of those cases where unhealthy neuroses lead to great art.  I don’t know, cause I can’t do what he does.

However, I need to end my ruminations here…but I would love, so very much, to hear YOUR thoughts on this album when it comes out (or if you already have it).

UPDATE:

Here’s the actual tracklist…

1. Wolves at the Door
2. Level With Yourself
3. Future Past
4. People
5. Virginia
6. Eating Paper
7. Messes
8. Don’t Change
9. Strange Negotiations
10. Won’t Let Go

Pausing on Good Friday

(This post also appears at Things & Stuff.)

Good Friday marks the day that Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus.  It is a sombre day of fasting, reflection and repentance.  Throughout this week (Holy Week) I have been reflecting on the Passion of Christ with a Palm Sunday sermon entitled ‘Where’s the “triumph” in the triumphant entry?, a short Holy Wednesday homily entitled ‘A cloud of suffering and a cloud of glory‘, and some thoughts on discipleship on Maundy Thursday (the night of the Last Supper).  These reflections were all written with the intention of pointing to the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ and some implications for followers of Jesus.

When it all comes down to it, life is extremely difficult.  Suffering characterises much of the human experience.  Christianity seeks to make some sense of our suffering (and I believe it accomplishes this task) through the cross in that while we toil we look to our crucified God, Christ, who has experienced the bitterness of human suffering on Good Friday.  As I wrote in my Palm Sunday sermon, ‘one fundamental part of our orthodox faith of unparalleled import is the belief in both the death and resurrection of Christ’.   If Jesus had merely suffered, died, and remained dead, we would have no hope.  The Christian faith must look forward to the resurrection on Easter in order to make sense of the present and future annihilation of brokenness in this world.  But it being Good Friday, let us pause in order to more fully mediate on the magnitude of the Passion of Christ.

We read the lectionary Gospel reading for today interspersed with James MacMillan’s settings for the three of Jesus’ seven last words from the cross found in John’s Gospel (performed by the Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble and the Norrbotten Chamber Orchestra).

+++++

John 18:1-19:42 (NRSV)

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.  Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.  So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’  They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’  Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’, they stepped back and fell to the ground.  Again he asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’  And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he.  So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’  This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’  Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.  The slave’s name was Malchus.  Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath.  Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.  First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.  Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus.  Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate.  So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.  The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’  He said, ‘I am not.’  Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves.  Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.  Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together.  I have said nothing in secret.  Why do you ask me?  Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’  When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’  Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong.  But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’  Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself.  They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’  He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’  One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’  Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters.  It was early in the morning.  They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.  So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’  They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’  Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.’  The Jews replied, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’  (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’  Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’  Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?’  Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’  Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’  Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him.  But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover.  Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’  They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’  Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe.  They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face.  Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’  So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.  Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’  When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him!  Crucify him!’  Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’  The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever.  He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’  But Jesus gave him no answer.  Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?  Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’  Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’  From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor.  Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.  Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon.  He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’  They cried out, ‘Away with him!  Away with him!  Crucify him!’  Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’  The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’  Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross.  It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’  Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.  Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’  Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’  When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier.  They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.  So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’  This was to fulfil what the scripture says,

‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’

And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’  Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’  And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’

A jar full of sour wine was standing there.  So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’  Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity.  So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed.  Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.  But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.  (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe.  His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)  These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’  And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus.  Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.  Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.  They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.  Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.  And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

+++++

A review of Josh T. Pearson live in Glasgow

As is obvious from several posts (mainly from Greg), we here at LITC are huge fans of the musical emanation of the trashy Texan Josh T. Pearson.  Only two years ago Greg happened upon Pearson’s 2001 album (as a member of the band Lift to Experience), The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads.  Soon thereafter the Band Evangelist passed the Gospel of JTP to his disciple Elijah and Crossroads became a mainstay for us two Pearson late-bloomers.  But we’ve determined to never fall behind again!

March marked the release of Pearson’s first record since Crossroads, The Last of the Country Gentlemen (which Greg was evangelising leading up to its release).

On 25 March 2011, Pearson’s ‘Last of the Country Gentlemen Tour’ made its way through Glasgow.  Fortunately for us here at LITC, we were in Glasgow at the time.  In fact, we had booked our tickets well in advance and Greg had travelled thousands of miles from America to meet Elijah at his home in Scotland for a week of adventure leading up to the gig.

Stereo, Glasgow, 25 March 2011

Greg got his hands on this advert from Stereo

At the show Pearson was selling an eleven-track live CD (seven of which are actual songs, while the rest are exclusively stage banter, all on a classy Imation-brand CD-R with a carefully photocopied portrait of Pearson, shown below), To Hull and Back.

(This isn’t shoddy cropping on our part – it came at that angle, cut this way.)

The show’s opener, a British solo act whose name will remain unmentioned here, was dreadful:  faux Americana, interminable roots/’blues’ compositions with lyrics that tried to conjure up images of railroad tracks and the devil at crossroads and all manner of rough & tumble, down-on-their-luck outlaw clichés.  Let us just say that it was ultimately a Bizarro World version of Josh T. Pearson…

The sick taste of that experience was immediately washed away when Pearson shambled onto the small stage in Stereo’s basement, looking like a heartbroken Jesus on methadone and whiskey, nodding and uttering a low ‘How y’all doin’?’  When a local yelled out, ‘Welcome back, Josh!’ Pearson replied, ‘I hope your years were better than mine…’  During his sound check, he told the audience that they’d need to ‘be super quiet or they’re going to go upstairs [to the restaurant]’ which he reinforced during the show by stopping a song in the middle when some idiots started to talk and only resuming when there was absolute silence.  Though this may seem like pedantry, Pearson’s songs often fell to a bare whisper and light strum, so an absolutely quiet environment was the only way we would actually be able to hear the songs as they were meant to be experienced.

Pearson began his set with what he said was a cover of a song by Boney M (we’d never heard of them, but apparently they were a reggae/disco group from the late 70s put together by Frank Farian, who would later go on to create Milli Vanilli), but Pearson made the song beautifully his own.  At the last second, Greg took out his iPhone and recorded the song, ‘Rivers of Babylon’ onto the voice memos app—here is a link to the recording, which turned out surprisingly polished:

Rivers of Babylon‘ (Boney M cover) – Josh T. Pearson

In this song, Pearson sang, ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your eyes tonight’ as he gazed up soulfully.  It was as if he was dedicating the set to God, offering the pain and brokenness and loss that his songs contained not ultimately to us, the concertgoers, but to a divine audience.  Many of his songs speak about God or Jesus:  in ‘Country Dumb,’ he says that his kind of people are ‘failures each and every one, we’re the kind who will always need a savior’ and and in ‘Sweetheart, I Ain’t Your Christ,’ he sings to his woman: ‘you don’t need a lover or a friend, you need a God and not a mortal man.  Woman, you need born again, again–you need a savior and I just am not him.’  Yet many of his songs also speak of his own inability to control outbursts of anger or drinking (‘Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell’) or rein in his adulterous desire (‘Honeymoon Is Great, I Wish You Were Her’).  Pearson is the quintessential sinner looking for redemption while laying drunk in the gutter–if only more Christians could see their own moral failure and need for salvation as clearly as he does…

During his performance, despite several awkward false starts in reaction to the audience’s noise level (space which was occupied with Pearson telling some pretty wretched jokes), Pearson proved incredibly moving.  Indeed, his lengthy and intensely personal tunes demanded the full attention of the audience.  We here at LITC have come to the consensus that Pearson’s performance was in fact the best solo performance we had ever seen (at one point, I [Greg] even found myself choking up and with watery eyes in a mixture of joy and sadness at the beauty and despair of his set).  You really ought to pick up his record from your local record store and catch him live if he ever comes your way.