Thoughts

•June 18, 2010 • 1 Comment

Learning a lot right now. I’d love to talk to anyone about it, but I’m not going to go into it here. Just wanted to share some thoughts/quotes from a Donald Miller book I re-read yesterday called “To Own A Dragon”. It’s about his growing up without a father.

“My spirituality, that is Christian spirituality, does not tell me to close my eyes and pretend life is beautiful and there are no problems to confront. I am told, instead, I am out of water, and finding water again will require a different kind of water. I am told something happened a long time ago and you and I and John and everybody else were washed up on the shore. We will have issues, we will have brokenness.”

“What I mean is, the folks in prison or who’ve made messes of their lives have truly made bad decisions, but what if they have made bad decisions because nobody taught them how to make good decisions?”

“The natural reaction to indifference is resistance, cynicism, bitterness, hurt, and so on, and without a father figure representing positive authority, all authority became suspect, and communication with the God-given guides became strained.”

“But as I’ve begun to process the consequences of growing up without a father, I’ve realized the incredible hole in my heart this absence has left. I wish my father and I had a friendship, and that he would call once every couple of weeks and tell me I was doing a good job. I hunger for this. I don’t actually like thinking about this stuff, but I have a sense that wounds don’t heal until you feel them. What I mean is, I could lash out against the world for the rest of my life and never stop to do the hard work of asking why I am angry or why I feel pain, then come to the difficult truth that the pain is there because I wanted to be loved, and I wasn’t. I wanted to be important to my father, but I wasn’t. I wanted to be guided, but I wasn’t. And then, honestly, to feel whatever it is that hard truth creates – to respond in the way I needed to respond.”

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Heidelberg Catechism

•March 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This is a small excerpt from the Heidelberg Catechism, which is an old confessional document used by many Reformed churches around the world. We use this from time to time at both the church where I work and the church I attend semi-regularly on Sunday nights, and it has peaked my interest before. But tonight was different. I literally (and Ruthie can attest to this) started tearing up after we finished reading this section aloud as a congregation. I don’t do things like that. I consider myself semi-emotional, but I am not very often affected in the way that this passage affected me this evening. I’m still processing it and how rich, beautiful, and truthful it is. Enjoy. (Caps/bolds/italics added only for effect…)

“I am made right with God only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against ALL God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient  as Christ was obedient for me.”

WOW is all I know to say.

Stricken, Smitten

•March 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I am reminded daily of how big my sin is. And then I am reminded of how HUGE our Jesus is.

Stricken, smitten and afflicted,
see Him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected;
yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
‘Tis the long expected Prophet,
David’s song, yet David’s Lord;
By His Son God now has spoken:
‘Tis the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
was there ever grief like His?
Friends thro’ fear His cause disowning,
foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
none would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great;
Here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
who on Him their hope have built.

Hmm.

•March 2, 2010 • 1 Comment

Can we talk about something? Just me and you. Just for a minute.

I want to talk about women. Girls. Females. Ladies. Have you noticed something about them in the last few years? They think it’s OK to not wear pants in public. It’s so strange to me. And I know a lot of guys are bothered by this. But let’s just take a deeper look for a minute.

We (most of us) live in America. The “greatest” country in the world. We have everything we could ever need or want, in the worldly sense. All of us have clothes. Lots and lots and lots of clothes. We have more clothes than we’ll ever need. Girls especially. Yet, for some reason, girls choose to go pantless. They want more, more, more of EVERYTHING, except clothes on their bodies. They instead stick with this phenomenon called “leggings”. Don’t me wrong. I think leggings are great. They can accentuate a dress. They can keep you a little extra warm during a workout when worn under shorts. But I don’t need to see every nook and cranny of some random girl’s loins while just walking around downtown Homewood.

T-shirt + Patagonia jacket + leggings does NOT equal a complete outfit.

Discuss.

(Some of) My Favorite Music of 2009

•January 6, 2010 • 4 Comments

Last year I posted a couple of long, obnoxious blogs about my favorite music or 2008. Dan hated me for it and others appreciated it, but it was fun for me, so I’ve decided to do the same this year for 2009 (although I’m a little late). I don’t know if 2009 was better or worse than 2008 as far as music is concerned (probably worse if I HAD to choose), but it was still fun, and maybe a little deeper, in that there were more albums that I enjoyed somewhat and less that I really hated. So, without further adieu, here we go:

First, my 9 favorite albums of the year (in no particular order this year):

Lorien  “Esque”

-It’s hard for me to know how to describe this band and album (which I found on Noisetrade). They are unique, yet somehow familiar at the same time. The genre is “indie rock”, I guess, but it’s more than that. Big, epic harmonies. Big, epic arrangements. Think Jump, Little Children + Muse + Mute Math + The Dears + Mae. Also, I respect that they have a male and a female lead singer (a la Caedmon’s Call and Mates of State). I think this stuff could be on the radio. Catchy, atmospheric guitar riffs. Interesting drumming. Killer bass licks. Enough piano to keep me happy. This is just a really great record from a young Nashville band that I think has a bright future in front of them.

Standout tracks: “Pick It Up Slow”, “Let It Go”, “Taking On”

Sarah Siskind  “Say It Louder”

-This was probably the first record that really sucked me in this year. I got my hands on it in January through Noisetrade (although I don’t think it was actually released until May or June), and it was one of those that didn’t come out of my CD player very much for at least a couple of months. It has continued to get frequent spins throughout the year. Sarah is a little girl who plays a big ol’ electric guitar, has a voice unlike anyone else I normally listen to, and writes really great songs (she’s written songs performed or covered by Alison Krauss and Bon Iver, to name a few). Her range is endless. Her passion is obvious. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what sucks me in to some of these albums I end up loving. This is one of those cases. I normally don’t like female artists much. But Sarah Siskind won my heart with “Say it Louder”.

Standout tracks: “Falling Stars”, “Say it Louder”, “Reasons to Love”, “Long Nights” (Friends, there literally is not a song on this entire album that is anything other than stellar.)

Dave Matthews Band  “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King”

–If you know me, you know I’m a huge DMB fan. I follow setlists during their tours, I read news about the band daily, I have almost 5 days of their music in my collection. While the last 6 or 7 years for the band have been great on the road, their studio work hasn’t reflected the fact that they still have the same “something” that made them so huge with “Ants Marching”, “Tripping Billies”, and “Crush”. ‘Stand Up’ was a mess, and although I really liked ‘Everyday’, most hardcore DMB fans write it off in favor of the “Big 3” albums of the ‘90s.

So naturally, I had high expectations for this year’s new studio album. Why wouldn’t I? This is my favorite band. This band does something to me that no other music can. The last year and a half for the band has been an emotional rollercoaster, and no matter how heartbreaking, it’s hard to deny that great things (music) often come out of horrible tragedy.

Friends, let me tell you, DMB, the STUDIO band, the one that created masterpieces like “Before These Crowded Streets” and the unfinished “Lillywhite Sessions”, is back. But maybe ‘back’ isn’t the correct term. This is definitely DMB, but it’s also something I’ve never heard before. There’s a ton more electric guitar because of the prevalence of whiz Tim Reynolds on the last couple of tours. There are songs that I never saw Dave writing. “Shake Me Like a Monkey” is an electric guitar-driven song that features incredible horn work by Rashawn Ross and Jeff Coffin (Leroi Moore’s temporary replacement). “Funny the Way It Is”, the lead single from the record, is definitely a pop-rock song, but it still manages to be introspective (with lyrics like “Funny the way it is, not right or wrong/Somebody’s heart is broken and it becomes your favorite song”) and interesting. “Why I Am” is pop gold, with a catchy riff and chorus. “Squirm” is an epic masterpiece that belongs on “Crowded Streets”, featuring a string section and some incredible moments from drummer Carter Beauford. Speaking of Beauford, he OWNS this album. He does not mess around or hold back at all. Even the simple songs musically, such as “Dive In”, are made complex with his inspired drumming.

If there is a bad song on “Big Whiskey”, I don’t know what it is. The weakest track is probably “You and Me”, and it’s getting radio play all around the country as the third single from the record. But that’s not a bad thing. It may not be great compared to many DMB songs, but compared to many other pop songs out there these days, it’s beautiful.

I think it is safe to say that my favorite band has burst back onto the scene with a return to form that manages to also be something totally new.

Standout tracks: “Shake Me Like a Monkey”, “Squirm”, “Seven”

Manchester Orchestra  “Mean Everything to Nothing”

-This Georgia-based indie rock/punk band took me by surprise with this record. I heard their first one and wasn’t that impressed by it. But this one totally changed my opinion of this group. In my always-evolving quest into harder, louder music, this was an important album. Lead singer and songwriter Andy Hull is about my age and many of the issues he tackles about struggles with faith and love are things I’ve been going through this year as well. It sounds very high schoolish and Taylor Swiftish, but I really can relate with what he’s talking about on this record. This is a big rock record. There’s screaming, There are huge guitars and drums. But there are also lines like “I felt the Lord begin/ To peel off all my skin/ And I felt the weight within/ reveal a bigger mess that you can’t fix” and “You mean everything to nothing/ you mean everything to nobody but me”. Awesome. Love this one.

Standout tracks: “I’ve Got Friends”, “Everything to Nothing”, “The River”

Derek Webb  “Stockholm Syndrome”

-Just get it, listen to it, love it. It’s nothing like the Derek Webb we know and love. But I have a feeling this Derek will be sticking around. Get used to it.

Standout tracks: “Black Eye”, “What Matters More”, “The State/The Proverbial Gun”, “I Love/Hate You”

Bon Iver  “Blood Bank EP”

-How could a 4 song EP be one of my favorite records of the year? Because they are four of the best songs I’ve heard all year. If I were giving you a list of my 30 favorite songs of the year, all of these would be there. And at least three of them would be in the top 15-20.  Bon Iver has apparently gone on a hiatus, but if they’re only going to make “For Emma, Forever Ago” and “Blood Bank”, then WOW. Those are two incredible releases.

Standout tracks: “Beach Baby”, “Blood Bank”, “Woods”

fun.  “Aim and Ignite”

-In this case, the name says it all. The former lead singer (Nate Ruess) of one of my favorite guilty pleasure power-pop bands, The Format, is back in fun., which can basically be described as “The Format 2.0”. ‘Aim and Ignite’ hearkens back to the same formula that made ‘Dog Problems’ so pleasing to my ears back in 2006: quirky instrumentation and arrangements, lush harmonies, and Ruess’s unmistakable voice and melodies.  “Be Calm” is the perfect opener, with its tempos varying from almost sluggish to almost too quick and its basis in a string section (with interesting cameos by guitar feedback, jingle bells, and even Theremin), and ‘All the Pretty Girls” is catchy pop at its best, while still being interesting. The band even pulls off a ballad convincingly in ‘The Gambler’. And when I say convincingly, I mean it’s a beautiful, “Pet Sounds”-esque love song from the perspective of Ruess’s mother. All in all, this is an incredible debut album from a band whose name only begins to describe its prowess.

Standout tracks: “All the Pretty Girls”, “Be Calm”, “The Gambler”

The Damnwells  “One Last Century”

-Underrated band, underrated album. Straightforward alt-rock/pop songs. Love anything Alex Dezen touches.

Standout tracks: “Dandelion”, “55 Pictures”, “Come To Me”, “WWXII”

Andy Gullahorn  “The Law of Gravity”

-I’ve probably labeled a lot of artists my “favorite singer/songwriter” over the years. Bebo, Derek, Andrew Peterson, Ray Lamontagne, and many others have held the title at times. Right now, this guy holds that title. Nobody writes more honestly than him. I’ve never seen someone so skilled at making me cry with one gut wrenching song, then laugh out loud with the very next hilarious one. And all of this is done smartly, tastefully, and beautifully.

Standout tracks: “Someone to You”, “I Haven’t Either”, “Why You Brought Me Here”

This next set of albums are ones that I liked a lot, or maybe even loved at some point, but they weren’t worthy to have a blurb about them:

Wilco  “Wilco: The Album”

Standout tracks: “One Wing”, “I’ll Fight”, “You Never Know”

Imogen Heap  “Ellipse”

Standout tracks: “Earth”, “Tidal”, “Canvas”

Brandi Carlile  “Give Up the Ghost”

Standout tracks: “Pride and Joy”, “Caroline”, “Before It Breaks”

Paper Route  “Absence”

Standout tracks: “Enemy Among Us”, “Tiger Teeth”, “Last Time”

John Mayer   “Battle Studies”

Standout tracks: “Assassin”,  “Perfectly Lonely”

Mute Math   “Armistice”

Standout tracks: “Clipping”, “Armistice”, “Pins and Needles”

Phoenix   “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”

Standout tracks: “1901”, “Girlfriend”, “Countdown (Sick for the Big Sun)”

Andrew Osenga    “Choosing Sides”

Standout tracks: “I’m On Your Side”, “I Thank God For You”

Nick Flora and Film at Eleven  “Great Escape”

Standout tracks: “Our Best By Far”, “I’ll Take Punctuality”

Passion Pit  “Manners”

Standout tracks: “Little Secrets”, “Moth’s Wings”, “The Reeling”, “Sleepyhead”

Noah and the Whale  “The First Days of Spring”

Standout tracks: “Our Window”, “Love of an Orchestra”

David Mead  “Almost and Always”

Standout tracks: “Rainy Weather Friend”, “Last Train Home”, “Twenty Girls Ago”

Thrice  “Beggars”

Standout tracks: “Wood and Wire”, “The Weight”

Fiction Family  “Fiction Family”

Standout tracks: “When She’s Near”, “Not Sure”, “Elements Combined”

Fanfarlo  “Reservoir”

Standout tracks: “I’m a Pilot”, “Comets”, “The Walls are Coming Down”

Katie Herzig  “Acoustic Trio”

Standout tracks: “Hey NaNa”, “Wish You Well”

Butterfly Boucher  “Scary Fragile”

Standout tracks: “I Found Out”, “Gun for a Tongue”, “For the Love of Love”, “A Bitter Song”

This last group contains albums that I enjoyed and thought deserved a mention, because some of you might end of loving them.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland  “Elvis Perkins in Dearland”

Matthew Mayfield “Five Chances Remain Hers”

Andy Davis “New History EP”

Jaydiohead “Jaydiohead” (This is an awesome mash-up of Jay-Z and Radiohead songs)

The Swell Season “Strict Joy”

The Antlers “Hospice”

The Temper Trap “Conditions”

Pearl Jam “Backspacer”

The Avett Brothers  “I and Love and You”

Sara Watkins “Sara Watkins”

White Rabbits “It’s Frightening”

Mindy Smith “Stupid Love”

The Mountain Goats  “The Life of the World to Come”

Mumford and Sons  “Sigh No More”

Coldplay “Leftrightleftrightleft Live”

The xx “The xx”

Dark Was the Night (compilation) ft. Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Spoon, Bright Eyes, The National, Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine

Will Hoge “The Wreckage”

A special shout-out has to go to the following artists who released albums this year and that I am normally a fan of. I, for one reason or another, didn’t end up hearing your albums. I’m sorry, and I’m sure they are great: Sara Groves, Eric Peters, Jill Phillips, David Bazan, Jason Grey, Pierce Pettis, Seabird, Sleeping at Last, and Brooke Waggoner.

The following artists released albums this year that were mainstays on many “Best of” lists this year, but did not do it for me at all. (I like to think of this as proof that I’m not just some hipster wannabe who listens to what Pitchfork likes”: Animal Collective, Girls, Islands, Dan Auerbach, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Antony and the Johnsons, Atlas Sound, The Decemberists, Neko Case, Monsters of Folk, Sufjan Stevens (you heard me… it’s called “The BQE”… don’t get it at all), Volcano Choir, Patrick Watson, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

In addition to all of this music that came out this year, I’ve spent a ton of my time listening to older stuff. This includes, but is not limited to, Elbow (especially “The Seldom Seen Kid”, which would have been the best album of this year by far), Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, The Beatles (I’m finally a fan), and The Beach Boys/Brian Wilson (pure genius).

Also, let me thrown in a quick rundown of my top 10 shows of the year:

10) Red Mountain Music Christmas Concert (December – Workplay Theater, Birmingham, AL)

9) Derek Webb (September – Workplay)

8. Frightened Rabbit (September – The Bottletree, Birmingham)

7) Behold the Lamb of God (December – Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church, Birmingham)

6) Pierce Pettis (August – O’Kafe’s Coffeehouse, Birmingham)

5) Bon Iver/ Elvis Perkins in Dearland (June – Workplay)

4) Dave Matthews Band/ The Avett Brothers (April – Atlanta, GA)

3) Punch Brothers (January – Opelika Performing Arts Center, Opelika, AL)

2) Mute Math (November – Alabama Theatre, Birmingham)

1) Elbow (August – The Center Stage Theatre, Atlanta)

Thanks for reading… I’m going to try to be a better blogger in 2010.

Deserve.

•August 31, 2009 • 3 Comments

To deserve something is to be worthy of it. To merit it. To have a claim to it. To be entitled to it. I’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks thinking about the word “deserve”. About the things I deserve. Or at least the things I think I deserve. I’ve also thought a lot about whether I really do deserve any of these things at all.

First of all, I know it is human nature to think that we deserve all kinds of good things. A great job that pays well, a beautiful, perfect family, to be treated with respect, to get what we want, for everyone to like us. So I could just chalk up all my insecurities about what I deserve to that and call it a day.

But as a Christian who believes in a Savior who took upon Himself the punishment DESERVED by all of mankind, the subject gets much more complicated. What do we deserve as believers? Do we really deserve anything?

Recently, I’ve become extrememly cynical towards relationships. Situation after situation has failed. If you know me, you know that I tend to pour myself into “crushes” and relationships pretty deeply. Probably too deeply. The problem with that is, when it doesn’t work out, it ruins me for a time (which is just proof that it is nothing but an idol that I’ve made more important than Christ, but that’s another post). But despite all of those crushing blows, I always recover and am ready to dive head-first into another situation pretty quickly. A vicious cycle, yes. But it took me four or five years to have one hit me so hard that it made me into a relationship cynic. In the last 2 months, I’ve gone from being extremely idealistic about relationships to being really cynical. I don’t want any part of them right now. Marriage sounds awful. I’m sick of getting hurt. I’m sick of not getting out of these situations what I think I deserve.

But that begs the question… what do I think I deserve from it? Consistency? Yep. Respect? Sure. I think those are the two things I desire more than anything. Is it bad for me to want these things from a person that I love? No. But can it VERY EASILY become a selfish need? Definitely. And that happens with me daily.

I don’t have the answers to most of the questions in my brain about this word “deserve”. I would love to hear thoughts. I’m really wrestling with it right now. There may not be a perfect answer, and that’s alright. I may be totally out of my mind here. But please comment. Tell me I’m crazy if I am.

(Again, this was all stream-of-consciousness, I just read this post and hate how stupid I sound, but I’m just going to post anyway to hopefully get conversation going.)

Best music of ’09 (So Far)

•August 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This is long overdue, as is a blog post about anything at all. I might update with some real news about my life/thoughts lately in the next few days. I’m having a hard time putting into words all of the things that have been going on in my life recently. It’s nothing huge, and I guess it doesn’t matter because everyone who reads this is probably someone I normally talk to anyway.

Anyway, here are some thoughts about some of my favorite music I’ve been listening to this year.

(I didn’t spend much time putting in links, but you people know how to use the Google.)

Elbow

-Of all the good music to come out so far this year, my favorite thing that I’VE discovered was actually released last year. “The Seldom Seen Kid” is the fourth album from Elbow, a quintet of Brits from Manchester who have been big in the UK for a while, but still don’t get the recognition they deserve here in the States. To use a line that I constantly use when describing Elbow, I can’t say enough good things about this band. The lead singer, Guy Garvey, sings with a thickly-accented voice that seems to have a limitless range. He’s the real deal. The arrangements by the rest of the band are interesting and never too much or too little, and are accented by plenty of strings and even brass at times. But what have really sucked me in are the lyrics. When I saw Elbow last weekend, Garvey admitted that all of the songs were about love, in one way or another. And whether it’s the great parts about love or the awful, painful parts, Garvey writes some of the most evocative and beautiful lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. Start with this album, then check out “Leaders of the Free World” and “Asleep in the Back”.

Bon Iver “Blood Bank EP”

-Justin Vernon, the brains and voice behind Bon Iver, put out my favorite album of 2008 (unless you count Elbow’s album). With this four-song EP released in January, he hasn’t disappointed with his second release. When it first came out, I got hooked on the song “Woods”, a beautiful acapella song that relies heavily on Auto-Tune (in a good way…yes, that’s possible), and didn’t really give the rest of the EP a fair shake. But after seeing Bon Iver live in June, I went back and realized that all four songs are great in their own way. Check out “Beach Baby” and “Blood Bank”.

Coldplay “Prospekt’s March” EP and  “Leftrightleftrightleft” (Live)

-More good music from one of the great bands of our generation. Really love the song “Glass of Water” on the EP.

The Damnwells “One Last Century”

-Just good, thoughtful alternative rock music from a great band. Was available for free on Paste Magazine’s website for a while. Might still be. Not sure.

Dave Matthews Band “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King”

-Favorite band of all time. Finally back to making the kind of music that they are capable of. “Squirm” is epic, and “Why I Am” is catchy, awesome, rock radio gold.

David Mead “Almost and Always”

-One of the most underrated Nashville singer-songwriters. Another really fun album.

Derek Webb “Stockholm Syndrome”

-Lots of hype about this one that I won’t go into. This is a totally different direction for Derek, with very little acoustic guitar and a ton of computer-generated sounds. Lyrically, it’s his most challenging and bold (and that’s saying something). He address race, sexuality, and becoming a slave to a governmental system, and how these things apply to Christians. A lot of people will probably be offended by some of it, but they should be. I love this album.

Jaydiohead

-This is a Radiohead/Jay-Z mashup. It’s awesome. You can download it for free online, so do that.

Kings of Leon “Because of the Times”

-I think pretty much everyone loves this album and knows how great it is. I’m so glad they’re famous.

Lorien “Esque”

-Got their album on Noisetrade (www.noisetrade.com). It’s probably still there and it’s definitely still free. I think of them as a cross between Jump, Little Children and Mute Math. Or maybe Muse.

Manchester Orchestra “Mean Everything to Nothing”

-Favorite album of 2009 so far. Which is surprising, because their sound isn’t something that normally attracts me. But there are at least 3 or 4 moments on this album that have brought me to tears because of lyrics and/or the pure, raw emotion of the moment in that particular song. Lyrically, this album is right where I’ve been for a lot of this year, so it really hit close to home the first time I heard it, and still does. This is a really, really, really great album by a young band that I think will be around for a long time.

Sandra McCracken “Red Balloon”

-She never disappoints.

Sarah Siskind “Say It Louder”

-Wonderful singer/songwriter who has written a lot of famous songs and has now released one of my favorite recordings of this year. Beautiful voice.

Wilco “The Album”

-I want to be in this band.

I’ve also spent a lot of time this year listening to the music of Dirty Projectors, Sara Watkins, Mikky Ekko, Joe Pug, Phoenix, Nick Flora, Passion Pit, and Jump, Little Children (yes, they’re old and no longer together but I can’t get over how great they were). I recommend all of this music.