This was going to come out sooner or later, and word seems to travel a lot faster than I can keep up with, so many of you know this anyway: my father has been rejoicing with Jesus Christ in heaven for the last two weeks.
I suppose that, wherever heaven is, “two weeks” is timeless and clocks and calendars are insignificant, but infinity will always be unthinkable until we experience it, and so time has us finite shells of people all locked up behind its cruel prison bars.
The last few years have been difficult for my family, and excruciating for my father, in particular. He had back surgery four years ago that only intensified the torment in his spine, leaving him debilitated and handicapped at home, and although I do not see it necessary or appropriate to divulge a chronology of haunts in his life, the physical pain paled in comparison to the torture in his mind. Having taken medications for the majority of his life due to severe chemical imbalances, he began weaning off of his 25 year-long prescribed antidepressants (whose effectiveness was declining rapidly along with/partially due to back pain) so that he could attempt something new.
That process began seven months ago, and all of the “something new’s” were ineffective. It has been a long haul. The physiological ramifications of new drugs that not only didn’t stabilize him, but caused severe instability, were devastating. Three weeks ago, he went missing, and yesterday the detective that was assigned to the case when we filed our missing person’s report confirmed that they had found his body. He took his life the day that he left.
I could go into the whys and the hows and the questions and the answers and the details and on and on, but it is not necessary. What is necessary is remembering that God is good, and he is sovereign, and he works everything according to his perfect will, and that is an all-inclusive promise, in all-inclusive circumstances, with no “except” clauses. I used to hate people for telling me things like that when life was hard, because it is such the Christian cliche response to atrocities in this life, and I felt as though the phrase were seeking to minimize my heartache. Sometimes it does - sometimes it’s the only way people can brush off a situation without staring at it head on and facing it. It’s a way to compartmentalize. Oftentimes it doesn’t so much say, “God is good and this is terrible and he really does understand and he really is in control of it so it’s okay to be heartbroken, but know that Jesus sympathizes and will see you through” - as it says, with an farce sense of genuine affection - “God’s good. Let’s talk about something else.”
But over the past couple of years, the phrase “God is good” - and seeking with my whole heart to live and view life within that truth - has brought me the most joy, and it is no different here. There are beautiful promises - covenanted promises - of deliverance, all throughout the Bible, for God’s people. I have been reading through the Bible for the last seven or eight months, and such history as Israel’s Exodus from Egypt carries new weight each time I read it, where God allows for horrible circumstances, even ordains horrible circumstances, and certainly controls each horrible circumstance, for the ultimate purpose of his glory, and our joy, and he is most glorified when our joy is found in him.
You know what is happening right now? My family is glorifying God, and taking joy in his goodness. We are mourning, yes, but “we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” And my father has seen the Savior face to face, and knows greater joy than I ever will on this side of death.
I read a book awhile back called “A Sweet & Bitter Providence” and have since written many things based on the truths that the Holy Spirit revealed to me through John Piper’s exhortation on the supremacy and providential sovereignty of God. The book is a study of the Biblical text of Ruth, where a whole lot of things are said about God willing and being in charge of harsh things. I had a problem with that for a long time, but I realize that even through the book of Job, the devil was able to do things that were horrendous and seemingly contrary to the will of a perfect God, but only with God’s perfect permission, which was his will and worked for the good of Job and the glory of God (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” - Rom. 8:28). Naomi’s life sucked in the book of Ruth. Her husband died, and her sons died, and she told her daughters-in-law that “the Almighty has brought calamity upon me” and “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me”. She ascribes her troubles to the harsh hand of God. But what is God doing? By the end of the book, Ruth has stuck with her mother-in-law, married her kinsman, and placed Naomi into the genealogical line of Jesus Christ himself. He turns her mourning into dancing.
The Lord is truly in charge of it all. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” - Proverbs 16:33
I cannot believe that I am actually writing the words “my dad is dead.” I feel numb as I write them because I never thought I would see this day, and I don’t know if the reality has actually set in that I’ll never be able to give him a hug again. I’m not trying to be Theology Man, I’m just sharing what brings me joy. And I’m not saying that I understand God, or that I have his purposes wrapped around my finger, because I don’t, and I’m a 21 year old kid who is ignorant about much of this life and the things that go on in it, and I wish, as of this moment, in my human, limited understanding, that God’s will were different than it has proven to be. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God who does understand, and that he is in complete control, and that there are not accidents and that there is nothing beyond his reach, and that it would be far worse were God somehow too weak to save my father than it is to trust that he is powerful over this, and that he is a compassionate Lord, “able to sympathize with our weaknesses, yet without sin” who wept, who mourned over the death of his friends, who endured the most horrendous God-ordained, providential suffering that was and ever will be in all of history, at the cross, and who invites us into his throne room of grace for strength and mercy in time of need.
A couple of my pastors came up to our house tonight and talked to us about we don’t let the opportunity that this situation brings us to glorify Christ pass us by. (In other words, use this for Christ’s glory.) One of them was telling my sister that, although she may not understand it now, “to whom much is given, much is required” should be remembered and prayed over. My mom has spoken numerous times about what an exciting thing it will be to see how the Lord uses our situation in other people’s lives. I love that. I think that we will be able to better come alongside others and weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
My dad was amazing, and I respected him. He loved my mother and he loved my sister and he loved me. He was a man of God, and he raised me as a father who did everything that he possibly could to model his Heavenly Father’s heart. If only he could know how many phones calls we have gotten, from all over the world, with weeping friends on the other line telling us how much he impacted their lives. My deepest sadness comes from the fact that he was so sick that he couldn’t take hold of the encouragement he received. Sometimes I so wish that I knew the mind of God. But although we’re assured heartbreak, we’re never promised understanding. As to why it came to this, I do not have an answer. I think that my dad saw it as his last act of courage to love his family and remove “the fly in the ointment”. I strongly disagree with his choice, I hate his choice and I think that it was a sinful (although not unforgivable) choice, but I know with certainty that he loved us, and I think that in his mind - as heartbreaking as this is for me - it was more an act of selflessness than selfishness.
I have wept harder than I have in years just trying to finish this blog. I was reading Isaiah the other day, and this gave me great hope: “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.” - Isaiah 54:7-8. Of course, the context is different and relatively inapplicable, and the “overflowing anger” and wrath of God has since been poured out on Jesus Christ, and the Lord hasn’t abandoned us, but I loved it for another reason. This was in reference to the Babylonian exile, which was not “brief” - but it was the blink of an eye compared to the eternal love of God. My mom keeps on saying that she finds a whole lot of joy in remembering that God is timeless, and what seems so hard and so wearisome for so long is not a portion of one second to our eternal Savior. Yes, this will be long and difficult, but it will also be a fleeting moment in eternity, and is unable to stand against the love and compassion of our Redeemer.
There is joy, and the joy of the Lord is not circumstantial. It is different than happiness, which is fleeting and dependent. It is a peace that surpasses understanding, and by the grace of God, my family is experiencing it. The love of God is not contingent on sweet or bitter providence. The story of Naomi gives me hope for the joy of my mother. The cross of Jesus gives me hope for what plans the Lord has in store from this point forward.
A couple of years ago, the promotion company that I worked for put on a show called The Wake, here in Albuquerque. I came home and told my dad that he had to come to the show, because he was going to be healed. He came, and we set up a folding table and put cushions on the table so that he could lay out flat and watch a bunch of hardcore kids dance to Sleepy G and listen to Chad Johnson speak, and receive prayer at the end of the set. He wasn’t healed that night - at least not in the way that I thought he would be, but before that night, I never believed that God was going to heal him, and ever since then, I have. Unwaveringly. I know with everything in me that God told me he would heal my dad, and I wish that it would have happened in a different way, but he fulfilled his promise, and my dad’s broken body is finally made new, and whole, and perfect, in Christ. That is cause for great rejoicing, and I praise Jesus.
My dad always used to laugh when people would ask him how he was and say, “Better than some, not as good as others!” There are so many beautiful things happening in the lives of friends and family around me, and the work of the Lord is evident and it’s amazing. Frickin, praise God for that. The overflow of love and support that we have received from friends and family is amazing. Praise God for that. The work that we have faith the Lord is going to accomplish through this is going to be absolutely amazing. Praise God for that.
“To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” - 1 Timothy 1:17
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” - 2 Timothy 1:9-10
“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’” - Job 1:21
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose… What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 8 (basically)
“To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” - Philippians 1:21
She was a naked woman, leaned against the doorframe with eyes patient, but intent and enduring, and a determined face: lips straight with teeth clenched into a smile, hidden behind the mask. Her eyes were soft lavender, and her skin was soft bronze and the color of her hair was soft chocolate but it rang out like a loud song, and her split ends mixed into the veins in the wooden borders, and the knots in the door frame tangled the loose strands up in hiding. Her feet stood cold on the brick floor beneath and carried shivers up her spine, like a cavalry of cold bumps that stood out like mountain peaks to hold in the body heat. But she stared right through me, and never said word, and thought, “I will be beautiful, just as soon as you learn…” (to tread softly).
I say: “The sadness comes in waves.”
(But the tides are faithful to bring waves
that crash in
I have spent months in front of blank pages, searching my heart for overflow that will spill out onto the table in the shapes of letters that I can rearrange into words that will express what I mean. But I don’t know if I mean anything. At the heart of it all, I have been fighting to play the role of God, and at the end of it all, I hope God can still use my good intentions. I have idolized my right hand that holds the pen tight like I have or hold any sort of power in and of myself. Like it’s my words that change lives without, or aside from, the Spirit behind them. I’ve been sitting here for months with nothing to say, acting like I can force myself to pour out art I didn’t paint, and call it my own. So my Lord, I don’t know what’s in store from this day forward, but I’m working on casting my right hand into the lake of fire, so teach me how to write out of something more than my fear. Let’s be clear, I think so much that I can’t think, and clarity is barely a recognizable word to me. If am album comes, it will be an act of God, like the miracle it is that I’m breathing, or thinking myself into the same ground I buried creativity in at the dawn of “success” before I forgot where the hole was. It’s amazing to me what pride can come from something that I had nothing to do with. So I’ll be writing with the hope that it’s not me who speaks because, trust me, my words don’t amount to much of anything as lifeless, two dimensional shapes on pages that I hate for having minds of their own. It must be beautiful, for a creator to speak a word into being, and have it transfer exactly the was he foresaw it. A true artist.
What a tragedy, in America, this is one of the biggest tragedies in out culture: That billions of dollars are invested every year to get people my age to waste the rest of our lives. Billions of dollars invested to persuade us and lure us - at any cost, it seams - to waste the rest of our lives.
It’s called: retirement.
And in some, it goes like this: you’ve worked for it, now enjoy it. Twenty years, perhaps, of play. Leisure. Ease. While the world - uncared for medically, uneducated, filthy water, poverty stricken, unevangelized - sinks under the weight of healthy, 65 year old people playing bridge, and shuffleboard, and collecting shells, and fishing, and golfing their way into the presence of King Jesus.” —John Piper
Well folks, writing this has been something else. I wanted so badly to do one of these last year, and it never happened, so this year, I was determined. It is now 5:33 AM, I can’t tell whether I’m tired or wide awake, I just watched Inception (which, if I were to make a Top 10 Movies list, would fill all ten slots), and jammed a bunch of jams. I hope you all enjoy yourselves out there this fine day, my disclaimer might stand as: music-listener discretion advised. And also: spoiler alert warning. I stand un-responsible.
10. Harley Poe
Wretched. Filthy. Ugly.
Harley Poe has to make it on this list. They just have to! I feel like they were a person in my head that forced themselves on it. They were cold-hearted douchebags that stabbed all my honorable mentions in the back just to make the top ten. Par for the course for Joe Whiteford’s post-Tooth&Nail, post-Calibretto 13 horror punkfolk band, maybe, but they became a favorite after I was introduced to them in April. With songs like “Homicidal Maniac”, “Transvestites Can Be Cannibals, Too”, and “Cocktails & Carnage” on their previous releases, I couldn’t not get the new record. I can’t dig it as much as their old stuff, but they’re making the list anyway. My favorite song (“It’s Only The End Of The World”) is about a zombie apocalypse where the dude doesn’t tell anyone it’s the end of the world because “I don’t give a shit”, and then the zombies tear the dude’s wife in half, but “I didn’t care, cause it was time for her to go.” Acoustic punk plus folk plus country plus horror movies plus screwed up imaginations plus utter hilarity plus some sort of weird, cynical despair equals me laughing out loud and smiling a lot and singing out loud in obnoxious fashion. I listened to all three of their albums that I have one day while I stacked a lot of wood at my parents house, and then I listened to Frank Sinatra. Harley Poe might be the exact opposite of Frank Sinatra. It was my jam for months and it’s gonna stay my jam for months.
• Driving around Joplin, Missouri with the Solace Venues Crew
• Driving around The Academy with my girlfriend (who hates Harley Poe with all of her heart)
• Wondering about people who “renounce their faith” and if it’s really that easy to simply be done with the truth (I don’t know that Whiteford has done this, so don’t go spreading some rumor about it happening - but I started jamming this band around the same time I was listening to a lot of David Bazan, and a couple of the themes in his lyrics remind me of the same ideas: “Oh when the Saints go marching in, I won’t be there, because I love my sin… I am the goat that got away, but I know there will come a day when I’ll be punished for my mind, because I led myself astray… now Jesus died for them, it’s true, but what’s a devil to do?”
• “It’s the end of the world, and I don’t give a shit, the earth will be a better place without you and me.”
9. Colour Revolt
After sitting in a car four years ago with two of my best friends in a parking lot in the mountains while it was snowing outside and listening to/falling in love with Colour Revolt’s “Mattresses Underwater” from their self-titles EP, I was disappointed with Plunder, Beg, and Curse. Undeniably, that album had a couple of their best songs on it, but it wasn’t magical like their EP was, and the songs that killed it were few and far between. I don’t know that The Cradle is magical, but it flows, and I don’t know if it seems more comprehensive, but the lyrics are weird and don’t make sense and are probably not about whatever I might think they were about if I were to think about it, so I just don’t and then I hold onto the appreciation. (Actually, I take some of that back - “8 Years” doesn’t flow with anything else on the album, and it says strange things about mechanical bulls and genitalia and making out and isn’t at all Coppenberger’s regular, obscure writing style. I actually think it’s on of the most comprehendible songs on the album, whatever the final judgement about its content may be.) I like “8 Years”, though, because it reminds me of songs that I used to write about my friends and our memories - memories like “…talking about smoking and the joys of pain…” - - and at the same time, that song emotes a lot of carelessness and vanity, which doesn’t encompass every thing in life, of course, but just the tone of the song sounds a lot like: “What’s the point?” - and that seems like a pretty real question that has haunted me in the past, and in this year, honestly, and it’s kind of nice to know I’m not alone. I guess it’s a pretty common, normal, human question - so it’s nice to know we’re all not alone. As always, their harmonies are beautiful. It makes me wish I could sing well. I can’t think of any other vocalists who sound the same. His voice is like a quasi-deep scratchy thing that can sound gorgeous and gross at the same time. It’s a jam album - crazy songs like “Mona Lisa” with sing-along-able hooks to yell out your window when you’re driving your car and it’s a funny, hyper day, and quiet songs like “Everything Is The Same” for driving in the rain and blowing smoke out the window. (And grotesque, talky songs for poets who like that kind of thing.)
• Roadtrips to Flagstaff, Arizona
• Screaming “MONA LISA!” at the top of my lungs with Micah Dean in Seattle, Washington
• Talking to Bradley Hathaway about why he doesn’t listen to whole albums if he hears one song he doesn’t like
• “There’s nothing more gorgeous or covered I have found than the western part of this state at sundown.”
• “Read out every line. Swallow what you find. So we can see it on your skin.”
• “If love is blind where is my illness?”
First of all, I’d like to say that I love that Daniel Davidson looks like a walrus. I can’t believe I’m saying this, because Underoath is one of my all-time favorite bands, but I almost didn’t include them on this list. Underoath kept me alive for a while. Well, I suppose God kept me alive, but he certainly used Underoath’s Define The Great Line to help me out. I have the lyrics “End Cycle; Press On” tattooed on my forearm (from their song “To Whom It May Concern”). I don’t know how stupid a bunch of people might think this is, considering I’m writing a bunch of album reviews, but generally, I look at lyrics first, because lyrics make it or break it. With Disambiguation, I couldn’t connect. I still don’t think that I can, although the depravity (or overall meaninglessness that I think I equate a lot of the subject matter with) can be relatable. But Spencer’s lyrics used to give me so much hope, and I while I can connect to the feelings of hopelessness expressed in the record, I’m more sad about it than I am inspired to sing. All the songs about drowning and swallowing water and sinking and great abysses just make me feel empty or confused (or absolutely nothing at all). I feel like Spencer wrote the record to say “Screw you” - with a loud, angry voice. I’m not sure who he’s saying it to, and I’m obviously not sure that I’m right. Lyrics like “let’s get something straight, I am not who you made me out to be” sound, to me, a lot like: Hey Christian music industry fans, I’m not your model or your example. And I guess I only say that because the majority of the album sounds like a relapse. I’m not saying a relapse to drugs by any means, and would have absolutely no grounds to stand on - but maybe just to drowning, disintegration, and all of the other themes that the album (whose major, cohesive theme might be “this is about nothing whatsoever”) is based on (and although the other albums held many of the same ideas, they concluded with hope, which Disambiguation doesn’t). However, the song “Who Will Guard The Guardians” arouse an intensity in me (“I swear it’s worth saving us… Revolt! We stood by defeat for so long!”), as well as the line, “Where is my fix!?” on Illuminator. That’s intense. Musically, it would be shameful to ignore this album. The writing is certainly characteristic of a less-pop-influenced freedom (goodbye Aaron) and flows better than any album has previously. It flows like water. I swear Underoath is the only band that progressively gets heavier and weirder, and more popular, all at once. While every other band is getting more mainstream, Underoath is getting whacked out of their minds and making songs like “Driftwood” - where Thom York may as well have recorded the thing and snuck it into the final production - and marketing it to genre they created. It’s phenomenal. The album feels like a natural progression and an entirely different band all at the same time. They’ve always amazed me by their ability to blend heavy music with drum patterns that could be played in jazz bars and stupid time signatures (2/3 over 2/4 over something else and something else and something else)…
• Driving from Seattle, WA to Coeur d’Alene, ID in a snowstorm, having a show drop, and somehow getting Red Robin, 30 bucks, and a Zach Galifinakis movie instead (a worthy trade)
• Driving from Coeur d’Alene to Boise, ID on I-90 - the prettiest drive of my life - for 7 of the 8.5 hour drive, and watching the river that I drove next to for hundreds of miles flow downstream, and looking over miles of beautiful, green valleys and snow and fields that looked like a glimpse of heaven.
• Begging my fiance to give the album more of a listen before she decided she didn’t like it (she did, and she still doesn’t like it, which makes me sad, ‘cause UO is her favorite band).
• “I swear it’s worth saving us all. We pray for the sun to dry us up. I need a clearer head to see what it’s worth… Revolt! We stood by defeat for so long!”
• “The beggars and choosers are all the same. The default reaction will never change.”
I didn’t know that Dan Smith and Christin Nelson existed in what is called the Listener project when I started doing poetry. The only other dude that I had heard of in a similar genre that was touring with the music scene was Bradley Hathaway (which you are welcome to scoff at, because I’m not 100% sure how much I like poetry, actually, so I’d be the first to admit my laughable naiveté). I love a lot of things about this album. I love Dan’s lyrical creativity. I grow increasingly impressed, each time I listen to the record, with his creativity, and his ability to take some concept (like The Never Ending Story) and make its story relatable - something someone can at least empathize with, if not sympathize with. I don’t know that I’m saying that right. And Christin adds so much to the unique-ness of the project. I have tried to have friends write music to ideas that I have, but I know nothing about music, so most of them just say: “You’re a complete idiot, Levi, that’s not even possible.” - which gives me more of a respect for Dan and Christin’s ability to make it work. My favorite songs are “Falling In Love With Glaciers” because its imagery is beautiful, and “Seatbelt Hands” because that lady sounds like a real lady, with real feelings, and real brokenness, and a real struggle for looking for things in places that probably aren’t the right ones, and a real case of “the cards I was dealt aren’t the best cards I could’ve been dealt”. And I love the compassion in the line “she doesn’t want to go there, so I promise I’ll go there with her.” I don’t really know what that song is really about, but it sure is great, and it also talks about “riding the trains” - and trains are magical, I think. Listener’s definitely one of the most creative projects that I’ve come across in a long time.
• Watching Dan perform Wooden Heart after White Collar Sideshow played the Come&Live1 stage at Cornerstone
• Being humbled (thankfully) by Dan at an Albuquerque show that my fiance and I put on for him, when he talked to me about maintaining a grateful attitude, because at the end of the day, for folk like him and myself, people really go out of their way to help us with shows - oftentimes to the point of inconveniencing themselves - and we’re not really entitled to anything. I’ve remembered that a million times over since - every time a show drops or gets picked up or is better or worse than I think it should be. Humility is exemplified in Dan and Christin. They set an amazing example.
• Talking to Dan about the ridiculous names he comes up with for rappers (just ask him sometime)
• “She used to believe in innocence until she lost it, and spent a long summer riding the trains.”
• “They always tell her they love her, but then they take something from her.”
• “So come on, lets wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief…”
• “I lost my best friend to sadness.”
6. The National
“We’ll live on coffee and flowers…” My girlfriend was telling me that those are her favorite lyrics on the album. My favorite lyrics are, “I was afraid I’d eat your brain, ‘cause I’m evil.” Nice. My friend Brannon has been talking about The National since Boxer came out, or maybe before - almost every single day, probably. Brannon knows about a lot of things, I’d say I care about 1/8 of all of the stuff that is in his brain (just kidding, no, but really though. I mean I’m joking, but seriously). I actually care about most of the things he talks about, but I think that one time he described the vocalist to have a voice kind of like his own, and I used to think that Brannon’s voice was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard, so everything he ever said about The National went through one ear and out the other. Now, though, I like his voice, and I like listening The National. Listening to The National is like a rainy day - like the ones that are in the movies where the really nice film camera zooms in on the window and you can kind of see the people sitting in whatever place they’re sitting in, but mostly you just see the condensation drip down the windows with blurry figures in the background. Either that, or they’re a band where at least five friends have to be in the car, singing as loud as they possibly can, on a really sunny day. I think they kind of make me sad, but I’m not sure why. And the definitely make me happy. I’m not even sure what the hell they’re ever talking about. My friend Caleb described The National to my friend Brannon and said, “I don’t have any clue what the heck The National is about, and that’s kind of how I relate to you.” - or something like that. Either way, that’s funny. Pitchfork talked about how Berninger sounds “increasingly self-destructive” and although I am a National newcomer who can’t compare this record to previous ones, and although it is probably not a healthy practice - I think there’s something romantic about that sort of self-destruction (or at least I know I romanticize it), and I know I’ve sought out ways to do it to myself in my own writing. i think it’s kind of beautiful. This album reminds me a lot of this last summer, too, when all of our friends were all hanging out all at once, and everyone was listening to High Violet, and there was nothing but good times every evening: pizza and beer and friends and family and barbecues and sitting on patios and talking about God and anything and everything. I think maybe Jonathan said that in his review of it, too. All I know is that this album made it on everybody’s list, and it should have made it on anyone’s who didn’t include it. I think that there is a song for every emotion, and it intensifies them - really brings them into focus. Maybe like some of those camera shots in the movies where it’s supposed to be the first-person vision - like if you were in their eyes, and maybe if they were a little bit drunk - and the things on the outside are out of focus, but in the middle there is a really intensely magnified focus shot where you can see everything crystal clear. Maybe this album is kind of like that.
• Wondering about how to write lyrics and/or deliver songs that sound as beautiful and dark as I think these songs sound
• Listening to my friend Brannon talk about how it’s going to be the end of the world soon (even though we were listening to Strata when that happened)
• Deciding that I am going to get “I WAS AFRAID I’D EAT YOUR BRAIN” tattooed on my body as soon as I get some extra cash, and then Brannon was going to get “CAUSE I’M EVIL”
• Talking to Bradley Hathaway about why he doesn’t like good music
• “Sorrow found me when I was young, sorrow waited, sorrow won.”
• “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, ‘cause I’m evil.”
• “It’s a Hollywood summer. You’ll never believe the shitty thoughts I think.”
5. The Chariot
I wrote a review of this album for the last issue of HM Magazine. Here it is: “It is no secret that, for many, this review could contain not but the description: “The Chariot”; and it would suffice. But with a new label comes a [re]new[ed] band, and it would not be exaggerative to argue also with: improved. And if the idea of “improved” denigrates any previous effort (as these seem to be a people whose releases are without fail), may it be replaced with “above and beyond”. I would argue that this is most dynamic release Josh, Wolf, and Co. have graced our ears with thus far. Long Live is furious and random and intricate and hyper. Song construction appeals both to that hope for the shocking vehemence that was Everything is Alive, Everything is Breathing, Nothing is Dead and Nothing is Bleeding (including a lyrical flashback), as well as to a more eloquent, artistic beauty than has been explored in previous discography. Tracks such as “David De La Hoz” are a perfect example, with sections so high-speed and seemingly incomprehensible (alright, just say it, it sounds like a controlled burn, or a train crash) that you feel like a heart attack, which transition directly into a guest appearance by Dan Smith (Listener) and his poetic brilliance, back into killing things, and out via what are probably literal female angels that God sent down from heaven to glow in the room and harmonize over bells fit for a nursery rhyme. “Robert Rios” is a different monster altogether: perhaps the closest-to-normally-structured-track that the band has released, almost to the point of being catchy. Scogin’s lyrical genius is as uplifting as ever: “The Audience” a Proverbial paraphrase of us listeners that give ear to the enticers fighting Wisdom, as she shouts in the streets, and mar her way. “The City” is perhaps The Chariot’s larger-than-life-est song of their career, and fully encompasses what can only be explained as an eagerness – a desperation – in Scogin’s voice that is expressed throughout the album in his tone: a raw shrill, a pleading [in]consistency, and doesn’t seem so much “I am a vocalist and this is my style” as it does “I am bursting with new wine out of these old wineskins”. Feedback into calm and back again. Structure into chaos and back again. Many a surprise that should be left to discovery. Long live The Chariot.” - Copyright 2010 HM Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
• Being really happy for my friend Dan Smith (Listener) that he had the opportunity to record with The Chariot (and being slightly envious)
• Getting the lyrics to the album sent to me via Good Fight Records’ publicist and reading them on my Blackberry while I was riding my bike in the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona at the beginning of my “2010 Deathmobile Tour”
• Listening to the entire Chariot discography while driving through the Mojave desert and into Los Angeles, California
• Deciding that this Long Live is the best album the dudes have written while I was sitting in a Starbucks wishing that the barista hadn’t forgotten my coffee
• “May the history book read of all of our names, be it blood, be it ink, but at least we were free.”
• “Maybe I am broken and maybe I’m shaking, but at least I say what I say.”
• “I saved my money, but it can’t save me.”
The day I bought this album was the best thing ever. I was on tour with White Collar Sideshow, and we were in Detroit. We went to the Henry Ford Museum, and we went to Buffalo Wild Wings, and we went to see Toy Story 3 in 3D at the IMAX, and we went to 8 Mile, and we took naps, and we ate a bunch of cheese and salami. I must admit, it took a few days to grow on me. After listening to it the first time through I don’t think I was that impressed. I don’t think it’s the catchiest thing Marshal Mathers has done, but in a day and age when all that matters is whether or not a song is the next-catchiest-radio-glam-everyone-knows-this-sucks-but-somehow-it’s-so-damn-popular thing, the fact that Eminem still resolves to focus his attention lyrically is what stands out as unique. Yeah, not every hook is as strong as it could be, and ever since Dre stopped working a lot of Em’s beats, it’s my opinion that the production value has been on the decline, but Mather’s word-play has never been better. The guy uses multi-syllabic rhyme schemes throughout the entire album. He’ll rhyme one word in four different ways. It’s phenomenal. (Plus, who in the world uses the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” in a rap song?) “No Love” is perhaps one of the fastest songs he has released, lyrically, and it features one of the best things Lil Wayne has written in… uh… forever. (And yeah, better than his part in “Forever” - because no matter what Alex Sugg says - Drake can’t hang - and not matter what Josh Davis says - Kanye can’t either.) “25 To Life” might be one of the most diverse songs on the album - I love the hook that I think an angel sings, and then the tracks shifts into an acoustic guitar, and then a tech, trip-dance beat, and then a full on club/synth/almost dubstep thing, and then completes itself. Its structure is whack: the perfect representation of the lyrical concept, which tricks you into thinking it’s about a broken relationship to a woman, and then ends up being about hip-hop. I don’t care what anyone says, “Love The Way You Lie” is amazing, catchy, and gorgeous. “Going Through Changes” pays tribute to one of rocks best. “Not Afraid” seems to be a tribute to the death of the man whose life was absorbed with drugs and addiction. This album is very different for Eminem. Slim Shady - his evil counterpart - works his way into the album very little. The opener, “Cold Wind Blows”, appears to be vulgar for vulgar’s sake - certainly a Slim characteristic, and probably appropriately so (for lack of a better word), to let the world know he’s back after the relatively disappointing Relapse. But the rest of the record doesn’t really follow suit. I mean, it’s Eminem, so he’s vulgar, but the vulgarity isn’t nearly as obnoxious, and isn’t focused so much on pop culture as it is on personal (the most personal I think he’s gotten yet) introspection, word manipulation, tangling syllables, etc. He is an artist - he may be the best artist in the field, at least in mainstream, “radio” rap - and it is increasingly evident, even though this is now his, what, fifth album? How a man redefines himself at this stage in the game, I don’t know, but Eminem does it here.
• The whole summer, because I listened to this album the whole summer (I actually think it both influenced and destroyed all of my creativity). Especially Cornerstone Festival, because it just came out, and my Eminem listening buddy came to the fest, and we talked about it for hours
• Good times with WCS, and their two little wiener dogs, Roxy and Foxy
• “Get off my antidisestablishmentarianism, you prick”
• “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts.”
• “How f***in’ irritated are you? How much in your face am I?”
3. Ascend The Hill
Hymns: Take The World, But Give Me Jesus
I would like to say, off the bat, that I generally hate listening to worship music. I don’t hate worship music, but I don’t like listening to it on albums. Also, to be frank, most worship albums suck a lot. Somehow, Christians decided that making good art doesn’t matter as long as the word “Jesus” is in the songs. I hate that with all of my heart. Ascend The Hill, however, is a beautiful exception to the rule. Their masterful recreating of “How Great Thou Art” - for example - blows me away. Over the last two years, I’ve grown increasingly fond of hymns. I grew up in the Vineyard, whose worship services consisted of contemporary songs written, essentially - at least somewhat essentially - as a more “free” or “liberated” form of worship than the previous generation’s “stingy”, no-tolerance-for-any-sort-of-rambunctiousness-now-ya’hear? So a bunch of the generation before me branched off and practiced a lot of freedom of the spirit in songs that didn’t used to suck like a lot of songs suck now. Nothing wrong with that at all: those songs serve a beautiful purpose, and they probably served their participants in the same way that many of the older hymns impact me now. (I guess maybe all of this explanation shouldn’t be taken for absolute truth. I’m only explaining my perception of what I’ve been told by my folks and grandparents and things.) Anyway, all of that to say… I’ve grown to appreciate the specific theology and biblical acuteness of the hymns I hear and read now. So, this album ruled. Rules. I have listened to it as much or more than any other new release this year. The truths expressed in these songs about the gospel are timeless and never-changing. “The love of God is greater, far, than tongue or pen can ever tell…” Things like that have been a beautiful reminder of the covenant promises of God, especially in these last couple of months of my life, when it has seemed as though God’s love and sovereignty has been questioned daily in various situations. The Lord has used things like this album to be an encouragement to me. Hymns such as the title track remind me that it is truly not a loss were the whole world to pass away, if only Jesus remain, and “I Surrender All” reminds me to live that truth out practically, knowing that the Lord will persevere with me, with those whom he has chosen to love and who love him - even act and encourage in that perseverance on our behalf - that he is truly, as another hymn is named: “Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” I can’t get over how wonderful this record has been, and I suggest it to everyone. I hope that you can feel that weightiness from me, and how much I am strongly encouraging this album (especially from someone who is not at all interested in yet another worship album). I assure you, this is so much more than that. The imagery in these songs is magnificent (thanks be to the authors), and the musicianship is exceedingly superior to the majority of their genre (thanks be to the re-creators, and that Talent Giver, Himself).
• Live set at the Come&Live! Stage at Cornerstone 2010
• Solace Stage CStone 2010 - when the whole stage power killed itself and the dudes played an acoustic set
• Washing dishes at my house and singing along to the record too loud while everyone else was still asleep
• Being inspired to write lyrics with the same sort of hymn-esque lyrical quality as the original authors themselves
• “The love of God is greater, far, than tongue or pen can ever tell. It reaches to the highest star, and stretches to the lowest hell.”
• “When men here refuse to pray, on rocks, hills and mountains, call; God’s love so sure will still endure, all measureless and strong.”
• “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart?”
• “Take the world, but give me Jesus. In his cross my trust shall be, till with clearer, brighter vision, face to face, my Lord, I see.”
• “Be thou my vision, o Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me, save that thou art.”
Who Can Know It?
I haven’t truly enjoyed Showbread since No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical, and I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have, had I given them a chance. I think I jammed them so much during my “I’m a Tooth & Nail kid” days, that when I started to listen to different music, I kind of forgot about them. So it wasn’t like I wrote them off - it was more like: “Oh, I forgot that band existed.” Over the course of the years, however, I’ve grown, unabashedly, into some sort of a Josh Dies fanboy - beginning with his book The Spinal Cord Perception (which I actually like much more than Nevada - a sentiment I’m not sure a lot of people share). Either way, both books were gruesome and risky - especially coming out of the platform that Josh has in Christian music, where youth group kids can’t watch PG movies, let alone read about rape, or lizards sucking unborn children out of their mother’s severed stomach, or a man with a penis and a vagina who has completely abandoned himself to every evil sexual desire within him. Conceptually, I’m convinced Dies is a genius. I know that I haven’t kept up to date with their discography as well as I wish I would have, but it is my impression, from what I do know, that Who Can Know It? is an altogether different thing. My conclusion is this: Josh - maybe the band as a whole - both musically and lyrically, sound resolved to being real, as opposed to be cool. It is almost as though they’ve given up - but that isn’t the right word, because it’s not a negative commentary - it’s a beautiful surrender. (“No longer will I tote the cryptic words of ages gone. When I was being broken, where were you all along?” - The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things) Songs like “Dear Music” talk of Josh’s disappointment with the frivolous and fleeting nature of music nowadays, as well as his own disappointment (from the sounds of things), in prioritizing music to the point of neglecting his wife (“Who am I but another fool who’s flirted with divorce? Like every other thing, you keep my foolishness on course.”). But even here, in the end, Josh comes back to the Lord: “… still we have our common ground, which can never be ignored, to sing of the one who made us both, for he is wonderful.” And “He is wonderful” is sung for almost two whole minutes, over and over again, until the song ends. The repetitive acknowledgment saturates the album with such a sense of self-abandonment and God-ward worship that it brings tears to my eyes. It is the consistent honesty and repentance that floods every song on the album that brings me to such an appreciation of what Showbread has been able to accomplish through their first Come&Live! release. “Myth Of A Christian Nation” almost uncomfortably addresses Dies’ frustration with the manipulative combination of Christianity and political oppressiveness (“I’m tired of being filed into classrooms and made to sit in pews, made subject to the tyranny of scriptures you abuse…”). “Like A Taxi” is probably the most exciting song on the album - giving a analogous description of death, which once held such power over us, but “now you’re like a ferry boat. Now you’re like a taxi” - which is such a beautiful slap in the face that Jesus handed the devil. To think that his destruction, for the Saints, will accomplish nothing more than our entryway into eternity with Christ. The final track, clocking in at nearly twelve minutes long, is probably the most unflinchingly broken song, lyrically, that Showbread has ever put out. It deals with a lot of questioning about what truth is, where God is, the unfairness of life, false senses of entitlement to more than we are given, or false senses of entitlement should something be taken away, despair, putting away the past, facing the future in uncertainty, or in certainty of fear, and ultimately acknowledging that our lens is not an eternal thing, eventually trusting and concluding: “I walk away from everything and find myself made free. In all the tangles of who I am, the truth is that you love me. Just as I am. Just as I will be. In all the tangles of who I am, the truth is that you love me.” Beautiful.
• Riding the train from Santa Barbara to Union Station in Los Angeles, California
• Playing Bananagrams with my fiance at two in the morning, on the next train to Albuquerque, in the observation cart, and loving life
• Thinking that music like this is a lost art, or a dying one, or one that’s hanging on by a thread, and sympathizing with what Josh put out on a previous album: “I hate music because of you.”
• Being grateful that despite all of my questions and doubts and wisdom and folly, the truth is that Jesus loves me
• “Perhaps the lens I’ve eyed you through keeps me from know what is truth. I can’t find what I’m looking for, and I still remember you.”
• “Thieves and liars, murderers and whores, homosexuals, extortionists, pedophiles, abortionists, junkies and rapists, adulterers and terrorists, every woman, every man, all ransomed by your love for them.”
• “When I die, whatever you might say, don’t say I’m gone. Gone is not the word for someone who finally found his way back home.”
• “I hear when Jesus tells me that I need to bite my tongue, and my teeth, they try to cage it, but the prison comes undone.”
1. La Dispute
Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair
So here’s where I cheat: this album didn’t come out this year. This album may not have even come out last year. I’m not sure when it came out. But I discovered it this year, and this is undeniably my favorite find of 2010. To those of you who know what La Dispute sounds like, you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Frickin Levi, he would!” I don’t care. I don’t give a frickin crap. This record is one of the most passionate, raw, emotive, brutal, intense releases I have heard in a long time. At this present time, I can’t think of another record that does what this record does for me. I guess it’s post-hardcore-something-or-other, but once you start labeling things, people decide to write it off. If there is an ounce of an open-mindedness in anyone that might read this, just jam it. I don’t know any of the background to anything about La Dispute. I was thinking of researching it before I wrote this final review, but thought that I might just end up spewing out someone else’s words, so… I feel like this dichotomous tension fuels the whole thing, and it creates a tension - an angst - that makes me want to crawl out of my skin and shout the gang vocals with the loudest voice I can muster, with my fist in the air, with a huge crowd that can actually feel the lyrics at some inner, unexplainable level. A huge portion of the lyrics seem to pertain to broken families, painful marriages that were ripped apart at the seams, whether by sexual unfaithfulness and broken covenants, or inability to commit to one while a heart still held onto another, as well as the simple memory of love that may still remain, or love that may be lost. But the imagery. The imagery and Jordan Dryer’s vocals, which can be so soft (to the point of apprehensive) and so overbearing (to the point of desperation), are simply amazing. His ability to paint a picture of love and lost love and peace and war and anger and resolution, and the memories - the memories that he describes… I think that, if I’m going to be honest with myself, I simply love sad things, and this album is that, along with my broken desires to live in the past, to be angry at the future, and to fear the present. I don’t want to overspiritualize or over-exaggerate it, however, because I definitely don’t see my partaking in this album as an unhealthy thing - or something that fuels distrust or depression. I think that I will just as easily give equal value, if not majority ruling, to the fact that I am consistently interested in how artists express themselves, and this album seems to me to be an expression that is pure and perfect and exactly what it needed to be - something that I would certainly be proud of. There’s not a song that is found lacking. The record is the summers that I used to spend with my friends, while I was still in high school. It’s camping and listening to Modest Mouse in the Jemez with Isaac and Eric. It is my first love and the end of it. It is the first cigar I smoked on the bridge between the skatepark and the school across the stream. This record is my 17th year, my senior year in high school, when I met the woman who is now my fiance, and all of her friends that are now my friends. It is the winter that I spent away from home, like my first taste of freedom, and a whole new life. It is the two weeks worth of snow that got school cancelled for an extra week, and got me snowed out of my house, so that I had to stay with a friend and watch Saw and sit by the fire. It is the day after Christmas when I asked my fiance to be my girlfriend. It is the day I met my best friend and he introduced me to Manchester Orchestra and we ate at Village Inn and drove around in the snow and ice. It is the nights we’d sit and listen to it while we watched the snow fall afterwards. This record is the friend that I lost to substance, and it’s the other friend I lost to death. This record is the days I spent skateboarding with a kid I miss whose place might never be replaced by anyone. This record is the butterflies in my stomach at the beginning of a relationship that is now going to last forever, and it’s okay that the infatuation won’t be the same as before, because it’ll be a deeper thing, a better thing, a different thing, now - a change. This record is a change. It’s different, and it’s okay, because change needs to be.
• “I am always tearing sutures out to make the anguish last like it defines me. Or reminds me I’ve found comfort in my suffering and uncertainty in happiness and death…”
• ” I guess love’s a funny thing - the way it fades away without a warning. It doesn’t ask to be excused, and when it’s gone, oh it’s gone, and it’s ain’t ever comin’ back.”
• “My girl, you must understand that fear is not some product that I made. It crept unwelcome in my head the day they had her torn away. It changed me…. to we escape to our mistakes for they wait patiently for us. Oh how they always wait for me!”
• “We cast our hearts in plaster, we imagined out bodies were fashioned of stone, but they chipped at the brick and the mortar. We found out that we’re only layers of skin hiding bones. And our bones are like chains, old and rusted in the rain - they’re going to snap when the weight shifts.”
• “Oh husband, I could not control it. Husband, I could not abstain. One cannot stop the wind from blowing, nor refuse the falling rain. Love stirred up a storm inside me, wrapped it’s arms around my waist. I failed you dear, I’m sorry, oh, I’m sorry.”
• “I remember when you leaned in quick to kiss me, and I swear, that not a single force on earth could stop the trembling of my hand.”
- Glowhouse - Deadweight
- Atmosphere - To All My Friends, The Blood Makes The Blade Holy
- Bring Me The Horizon - There Is A Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It, There Is A Heaven, Let’s Keep It A Secret
- Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
- My Epic - Yet
Some Other Category That Isn’t Exactly Honorable But Deserves Credit Nonetheless:
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [Musically, this album might be unparalleled by any other in the genre right now, or ever. Lyrically, this is the crappiest nonesense I’ve ever heard. (Quote from the album: “Five Star Dishes, different exotic fishes, you know this shit is… f***ing ridiculous.” - ‘Nuff said.)]