Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top Albums of 2009

Ok, this is hard for me to do, since 2009 was actually a pretty darn good year for music. Still, here goes nothing.

10. Alice In Chains- Black Gives Way To Blue

What else can I say really? I already blogged about this album. AIC are back, baby.

9. Porcupine Tree- The Incident

Fell short of their normal standard a bit for me, but it is still a darn amazing album. There's a blog on this one to, so go read that for more.

8. Nile- Those Whom The Gods Detest

Pure, crazy, unbelievable Egyptian-themed death metal from SC. I have no idea how these guys play like they do, but this is one of the most technical records of the year. One thing is for sure; Ancient Egypt is brutal.

7. Mastodon- Crack The Skye

Concept album about a paraplegic who experiments with astral projection, only to fly too close to the sun and burn the golden umbilical cord that connects him to his body, sending him on a wormhole adventure that somehow ends up having Rasputin battling Satan to bring him back to his body. Enough said.

6. Pelican- What We All Come To Need

The Chicago-based instru-metallers have outdone themselves with this album. Some of their fiercest and most beautiful material. Choice cuts include "Specks of Light," "Strung Up From The Sky," and "Final Breath," which features the first sung vocals in the band's history.

5. The Swell Season- Strict Joy

There's a blog on this one as well. I'm not saying anything more than I need to, although I'll add to what I said before by saying that "High Horses" is an awesome song.

4. Russian Circles- Geneva

This instrumental trio, similar to Pelican in style and geographical origin, have also created the best album of their career. Good year for instrumental music.

3. Isis- Wavering Radiant

Isis have once again blown me away with this album that, according to Aaron Turner, is based on his dreams. I had the chance to see them live this year as well, and the new material translates wonderfully. Isis can do no wrong in my book.

2. Between the Buried and Me- The Great Misdirect

If Colors was BTBAM's Dark Side of the Moon, then this is their Wish You Were Here. An amazing follow-up and possibly better than its predecessor. Technical insanity at it's finest. "Disease, Injury, Madness," "Fossil Genera- A Feed From Cloud Mountain," and "Desert of Song" are personal favorites.

1. a) Thrice- Beggars
b) The Avett Brothers- I and Love and You

Yes, it's a tie. I honestly couldn't decide. The experimental punkish energy of Thrice and the newgrass tinged Avett's have dominated my stereo this year. Probably more to come on both of those albums.

Thanksgiving "break"

To preface, I put "break" in quotes because I got little to no sleep, and still had a lot of work to do. It was interesting, to say the least. I spent it with the extended family on my mother's side, in a cottage at the Outer Banks. I'm gonna put this pretty bluntly: They are all a cross between redneck and hippie, and they like to drink. ALOT. I mean, there was an entire table devoted to liquor. This is aggravating for me, being someone who was against drinking even before I grew to better know God. After Thanksgiving dinner, one of my distant uncles shouted something along the lines of "Time for the good stuff!" and proceeded to unveil, rather theatrically, a large pickle jar with "666" written on the side filled with homemade strawberry moonshine. I had to laugh at this. Overall, it was strange for me. The last time I hung out with them all was last October, before I grew in my faith, and all the same stuff was going down, pretty much. Almost everyone was drunk, it was loud, I heard stories of family on drugs and in prison, as well as in custody battles, and I jammed with my uncles on a few songs, including a few my uncle wrote, which sang about anything from his grandmother working in a brothel to his affection for breasts and alcohol. He even had one dedicated to the family, called "I'll never smoke weed with the Roughtons again." The same stuff happened, but it all felt different. Instead of it being like it was before, after I had grown up around it and gotten used to it, I was able to really grasp how sad it was. At one point, around 3 AM, I left the room in the middle of my uncles having a racist rant, only to hear "Of course he leaves when we start talking bad about the n*****s." It was a depressing experience for me in a way. Men and women in and above their 60's drinking like college kids, the stories, the loud music. It all seemed so superficial. I loved seeing the family, don't get me wrong. I just hated seeing how bad off they were. It hurts because I want to help them. I don't like to see people I care about destroying themselves. I know God has put this on my heart for a reason, and He wants me to reach them, and I want to reach them as well. I left and came back to Wilmington early. It became too much. I hope I will be able to reach and help them somehow in the future, but it was all too much at the time. Didn't get to see the family on my dad's side, save for a few minutes of visiting on my way out of town. Hopefully I'll get to see more of everyone around Christmas. And, of course, that rest will be headed my way soon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christian "Art" (specifically, music)

This picture makes me laugh. It comes courtesy of my friend Sara, and it is of a memorial in Romania. "Cristian Pop" is the man's name, but add an "H" into his first name and it begins to relate to this blog post. Segue time!

Basically, Christian music, for the most part, is not a force to be reckoned with in an artistic sense. This, of course, is not to devalue worship music; The worship experience is extremely important. However, Psalm 96 says "Sing to the Lord a new song!" Not the same one with a different tune. Here's a little something to consider: Contemporary Christian music is the only genre of music that is categorized entirely by lyrical content. And it really goes nowhere from there. Christian music is written by Christians (obviously), about Christianity, for mostly Christians. While worship is an important part of music, we are also called to "go and make disciples." Oftentimes, non-Christians will tend to avoid over-Jesusy music, since it is based around a faith they do not know. We create a Christian bubble, and it is hard for others to get in. If, however, we sing about our Christian worldview, new possibilities can crop up. We are, of course, called to be "in the world, but not of the world." Our faith should affect everything in our lives, and we should acknowledge that in lyrics. It changes your thoughts on everything. You begin to see the world how God sees the world, and that should show in your lyrics. If a non-Christian person begins to see the world how you present it, they are beginning to adopt God's perspective, which could be an important step in bringing them closer to God.

My next gripe with the lack of artistic merit in Christian music is the music itself. Oftentimes, it is.......well, boring. Most Contemporary Christian music features a very simple melody with about 4 chords repeated over and over for 3 to 5 minutes. (Trust me, I'm a worship leader; I know, although I try to play more interesting songs while maintaining an attitude of worship.) These songs are not bad, and they are great for a worship environment, but in every other way they are boring. We are told to play our instruments "skillfully," not repetitively. Change it up a bit! This is why kids associate church with boredom! We write our music for God, so we should try our darnedest to do it well! Music is a language all it's own. Music can say a heck of a lot more than words sometimes. Our music shouldn't say "G, D, A minor, C," it should say " I love God and I wanna show it!" Instrumental music can often say a lot more to me than any lyrics; We need to make use of music's power!

My passions are art and God. I want to live my life for God, while reflecting that in my art. God can't be contained in 4 chords. We want to show people our hearts for God, as well as God's heart for the world, both lyrically and musically. I will close this blog with some lyrics by Thrice. Their music is experimental and artistic and just plain amazing, and their lyricist, Dustin Kensrue, presents his ideas on God subtly and beautifully.

Wood and Wire
14 years behind these bars,
In 12-foot square of cold cement.
I’ve lost nearly everything,
For a crime of which I’m innocent.

But all my suffering’s a light and momentary pain,
While the weight of an endless glory still remains to me.

A dead man walking down the hall,
To meet a mess of wood and wire.
They lead me where men fear to tread-
But towards the thing I most desire.

For all my suffering’s a light and momentary pain,
While the weight of an endless glory still remains.
Throw the switch son; I know you ain’t got a choice.
The dawn is coming; all is well, I will rejoice.