Archives for category: music

Clearly, blogging has not been a favorite of mine this year (although I should resolve to commit myself to more regular writing in the new year. I need to take a Buddy the Elf kind of approach to blogging: I just like to blog. Blogging’s my favorite.)

While this was a bad year for apocalyptic predictions, it was a good year for movie explosions. And my enjoyment of films is almost always directly proportional to the number of onscreen pyrotechnics. Three cheers for The Avengers, Looper, and The Dark Knight Rises. I greatly enjoyed watching Wreck-It Ralph with my family, and trying to explain all of the old-school gaming references to my daughter.

2012 was also a good year for old guys getting the band back together for the purpose of melting faces.

I missed Refused the first time around  back in the late 90s, but managed to catch them twice this year. I even managed to keep both my contact lenses in for the second show! Their genuine gratitude at being given a second chance to perform and their energetic approach to playing reminded me why I love punk rock.

Quicksand played a short, but mean set at the FYF Fest — it was worth kicking around in the dust to catch them (I’m really stoked to see them again in January!).

And, while it wasn’t the Drive Like Jehu reunion show I’ve been pining away for, I was blown away by SD’s own Hot Snakes at the Casbah. It took two drummers to maintain the intensity of their barn-burning punk set.

Not all my live music events were reunions shows, though. There was also the Christmas Unicorn:

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And now, a few of my favorite albums released in 2012, alphabetically:

 151a, by Kishi Bashi

Perhaps you’ve heard his song in that Microsoft ad? Multi-instrumental indie bliss. Always love supporting Asian Americans creating amazing music.

Violins + delay pedal + toss that beat in a garbage can, below!

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Bloom, by Beach House

So sleepy! Bloom’s dreamy shoegaze-y slow jams should bring you back to the 90s, in a good way.

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Swing Lo Magellan, by Dirty Projectors

Jangly, disjointed, frustrating. I don’t always like my music difficult, but when I do, Dirty Projectors.

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Shields, by Grizzly Bear

Headline: Indie bands have a hard time making money! Wait, that’s not news at all.

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S/T, by Monsters Calling Home (now Run River North)

My friend Wayne writes eloquently about why MCH/RRN matters.

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My Head is an Animal, by Of Monsters and Men

Are these Icelandic sprites the reason for MCH’s name change? Their songs make me want to knit an octopus sweater.

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Wrecking Ball, by Bruce Springsteen

If the Boss releases an album, I’m not saying no. Americana, and then some.

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Silver & Gold, by Sufjan Stevens

I’m a Christmas unicorn. You’re a Christmas unicorn, too.

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And a few that I’ve liked so far (but haven’t had a chance to sit down with): Metz, Future of the Left, and Japandroids. More noise!

Michael Gungor, writer of songs and melter of faces behind the umlauted liturgical post-rock musical collective Gungor, just put his arm around my shoulder and reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Figuratively, sure, through his just-released book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse: A Book for Creators — but the truth is no less real simply for the fact that I can’t name-drop him as a friend friend.

I suppose I was already predisposed to like The Crowd, given my fondness for banjos, harmonized guitar solos, and swelling strings (all of which Gungor has in spades), but I was not prepared for the gut-level response I would have from the opening pages in which Michael describes his burnout and the pain it caused the people he loved the most.

Before I go any further, let me recommend this book — for creatives of all stripes (musicians, visual artists, graphic designers), pastors, and church leaders — not for its ability to teach you how to write a killer worship anthem (although Michael could help you with that) or how to get your song onto Christian radio playlists (see Appendix 3: A Snapshot of American Christian Music for help with that), but for the way it ushers in the hope that comes alive when our eyes are opened and we realize our God is here.

We are all creators. Those of us engaged in church work must be reminded of this again & again: We are called to build, rebuild, restore, redeem, and reconcile — to create, not destroy — in partnership with the living Christ all that sin has broken.

The common idea that there are some people who are creative and some who are not is a myth. So on some level, we are all artists. We are all creators.

In our little church community, we try to cultivate the God-given creativity in each of us for the cause of redemption. We believe that when we dream alongside our Creator, restoration becomes reality.

While “art” is notoriously difficult to define, Michael’s words sound a call to the Church to reclaim the God-given power behind it.

Art matters. It is not simply a leisure activity for the privileged or a hobby for the eccentric. It is practical good for the world. The work of the artist is an expression of hope. Art, along with all work is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the creator.

Throughout The Crowd, Michael injects these potentially heavy topics with humor and joy. From his first robot-crafted guitar to his description of  the (I’m still not convinced he’s real) stylings of The Emotron, Michael demonstrates a self-deprecating humor that is often missing from conversations about Art, Purpose, and Meaning.

The Christian music industry might play by “safe for the whole family” formulas but followers of Christ are driven by something much greater than fear:

In this story, my imagination is set free as it envisions the earth as part of the creation that will someday be set free from its bondage to decay. This is a framework in which one can anticipate the arrival of Beauty’s fullness. It is the anticipatory painting of a room that will eventually be lived in. It is the present feeding and clothing of those who are to eventually be clothed and fed. Art is not a distraction from human meaninglessness, but part of the burgeoning newness that gives our existence a hopeful and sacred meaningfulness. It speaks of incarnation. It is a future hope taking root in the present. It is a view that the Creator has not given up on his creation and an invitation to join the sculpting of creation’s dirt into something that God might breathe his very breath into.

Sounds a lot like something John wrote many years ago: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:18-19

As we seek to love God and God’s people — particularly those of us who are called into various forms of church leadership — we must hold fast to hope. Otherwise, we will burn out, becoming jaded & cynical.

The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse is a gift to those of us who believe this is not the end, that God has not given up on the world, and that we’re called to reflect His boundless, creative joy in all of life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free as part of a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monsters Calling Home is a phenomenally talented group of Asian American musicians from the Los Angeles area. My family has been listening to their EP since I caught them live at UCSD for a LiNK benefit concert.

I hear echoes of Arcade Fire, Stars, Local Natives, and Beirut in MCH’s sound (which I’ve been using to try and reprogram my daughter’s proclivity towards certain kinds of awful, soul-stealing pop music. Don’t get me wrong: I love me some Since U Been Gone, but some of these easy-listening barefoot acoustic guitar crooners are a bridge too far.), and yet a unique sound all their own.

The other day, as we were driving to school in the morning and singing along to the MCH track Growing Up, my daughter and I had a great conversation about faith, courage, and what it means to pursue God’s dreams for us.

From Growing Up:

I used to close my eyes to what stirred under my bed
Now they’re open wide to the monsters in my head
Instead of claws they whisper lies, sinking fear in quiet steps
So I will fight in the light till i give my final breath

My daughter asked me about who was whispering lies, was it Satan? Is Satan the enemy we have to fight? Yes, yes, the devil means to steal and destroy, but we don’t have to be afraid. Jesus has conquered sin and death and He intends to restore everything that is broken in this world.

We then talked about what might be whispering in our ears to distract us from living out God’s dream for the world. My daughter: Temptation? Maybe like if you’re going to give money for something important and you see a really cool shirt and want to buy it instead?

Then I asked her if she thought it would always be easy to follow God’s dreams for our lives. After a thoughtful pause, she replied, “No. It won’t be easy. It wasn’t easy for Noah. God wanted him to do something great, but it was hard work and people laughed at him. He might have been discouraged, but he did it.”

I pray that my daughter never loses the fight in her for Christ’s healing in this broken world.

She completed her third-grade science fair project recently: “Can the sun’s energy be used to purify water?” She diligently set up the experiments, took careful notes, and crafted a colorful and informative trifold board display.

But what she was most excited about was helping those affected by the world water crisis — the one billion people who don’t have access to clean water, the millions who die every year from water-related disease, and the countless children who cannot get an education because they spend so much time getting water (which is often dirty, anyways). I don’t know if she’ll become a scientist, but I’m so proud that she was excited to run this experiment in hopes of helping people.

She passed out over 100 information cards as part of her report to her schoolmates, with links to Living Water International and charity: water with ways her friends could join this fight.

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Check out this video for Growing Up, from Monsters Calling Home (and catch them on tour if they’re in your neighborhood). It’s a feat of indie-magic to make LA seem dreamy!

I think it’s probably a combination of working two jobs (plus freelance work, whenever I’m able to get it) and reliving past punk favorites on the old Spotify, but I wasn’t able to listen to as much new music as I would have liked last year.

And, as I was reviewing various best-of lists, I realized I left out a couple of albums I really liked. I’m going to blame old age for these oversights. Seriously, looking at these albums, I kept wondering, This came out in 2011?

Devotchka, 100 Lovers 

The Man from San Sebastian is all angular post-punk, Eastern European folk fusion; perfect! As long as we’re hanging out in the baroque, chamber pop neighborhood, let’s throw Beirut’s The Rip Tide into this mix, too.


Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two 

My rhymes age like wine as I get older. Man, I hope that’s true of me in the future as well. After all these years, their hooks are still undeniable.


Tune-Yards, Who Kill 

Here’s something dumb: the font-nerd in me wouldn’t let me listen to their album for a long time because seeing the alternating lower/uppercase letters in their band name drove me nuts.


Office of Future Plans, S/T

Sign me up for anything from J. Robbins. Been listening to his post-Jawbox project Channels via Spotify. OFP is all the discordant (puns!) wonder, plus cello!


While I wait for new releases from Animal Collective, Andrew Bird, Dirty Projectors, and more in 2012, I still have to catch up with 2011 releases from The Roots, F—– Up, The Dodos, Theophilus London, and Liturgy.

Good thing J. Evans will be picking all my new music for 2012!

While most of the wild west Napster/Kazaa/Limewire days of piratey downloading passed me by, I have tried out my share of different online music streaming services., Grooveshark, and each have unique benefits but, for me, 2011 was the year of the Spotify machine.

Spotify may not have everything, but their library runs deep. Seriously, albums from The Crownhate Ruin and Car vs. Driver? I feel like someone put me in a post-punk time warp and I landed in a creaky second floor warehouse in Philly just in time for a Food Not Bombs benefit show. I also love being able to listen to songs that I normally wouldn’t seek out (that’s you, Drake) on my own.

Maybe it’s a function of getting older (or the aforementioned vast catalogue available on Spotify for me to re-live all my past favorites), but I don’t have the will to check out as many new bands as I have before.

All that being said, here are some of the albums I enjoyed this year. Some of them have been around for much of the year, and some I’ve only begun listening to as the year-end music lists come out, but let’s do this thing:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – It’s a Corporate World

I have a soft spot for bands from the Mitten. Nevermind the corporate sellout/NASCAR imagery: DEJJ’s dreamy melodic meanderings soothe.

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