Archive for the 'Music' Category

27
Aug
09

Finding Christian Ethics in WWII

End Is Not EndSome time back I wrote an article about a band I had discovered called A Rotterdam November. The reason the album was so interesting to me is because the backdrop against which the stories of the songs were written was the Second World War. I am intrigued by history and this war particularly stands out as a hinge, a turning point in the society of the world. It was a war of ideologies. It was a war in which sides were chosen, not for allegiance or commonality per se, but because one’s chosen allies were less hated than one’s enemies. A case in point would be the Soviet Union joining the Allied powers (though Stalin’s politics and means of rule differed greatly from, say, Great Britain) simply because Nazi Germany was a greater enemy. The only potential exception might be the alliance of the United States and Great Britain.

 Now another band, a favorite of mine, has put out an album that uses this unbelievable war as the vehicle for its themes and lyrical stories. The band is House of Heroes and the album is “The End Is Not the End.” Let me say that I have not yet purchased this album (though I intend to) but I have listened to all of the tracks online and I am very eager to get my hands on it.

 The music of House of Heroes on previous albums has been strong, loud, riff-oriented alternative rock with some Beatles-esque pop sensibilities worked in at times. But for the most part wall-of-sound is the order of the day. The songs recorded for “The End” are no different however there is a common theme due to the WWII references. Themes include loving one’s enemies, courage, living and dying for something greater than oneself, finding God through adversity, and finding redemption. 

 The cast of characters for these lyrical tales include a man who wrestles with God in Jacobean fashion (“In the Valley of the Dying Sun”), two brothers called up to fight a war in which one does not survive (“By Your Side”), a man who’s homeland is overrun by the enemy but he stays to fight for his way of life (“Codename: Raven”), a person who finds himself a political prisoner in his own country (“Leave You Now”), and, in one of the stranger, more cryptic songs, a man and a woman who love one another yet the woman is the citizen of a Communist country, however the man’s nationality is not given (“Baby’s a Red”).

Musically, the overall sound on this album is similar to what is found on previous HOH records with loud guitars and plenty of cool riffs.  But the dynamics within each song on “The End” are more varied. A song may go from a driving rock chorus to a shuffling, clean, falsetto-laden verse at any moment. Vocally, this album uses a lot of layering and multi-part harmonies to deliver a very Queen-like vocal mix (think Bohemian Rhapsody but less operatic). Lyrically, the timeless themes of faith, hope, and love are delivered in a unique way with the WWII imagery.

 If you like modern alternative rock, at least listen to a few clips of this album on iTunes, Amazon Mp3 or YouTube and check out “The End Is Not the End” by House of Heroes.

20
Aug
09

Theological Problems (If Any) With “Come Thou Fount”

Not too long ago I was discussing hymns with some friends and how we miss them sometimes and we were discussing our favorites. During the conversation someone brought up “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and the person said something to the effect of “I can’t stand that one” and acted quite disgusted at the thought of the song. But I responded “Oh, that’s my favorite hymn!” And that’s true, it is.

What rubbed my friend the wrong way about this great worship song of old is a stanza which comes in the latter half of the song:

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

More specifically it is the line “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love” that was the major point of contention. My friend declared that she had never felt that way as a Christian. Furthermore she believed that such a sentiment would indicate that a person may not be saved. How could you be securely and soundly saved through Jesus’ shed blood yet be prone to leave the God you love? A just question, I think.

So how about it? If you are ever or have ever sensed an inner wont to wander from the fold of God, does that mean there is something wrong with your spiritual life? I would say no.

Who among us is prepared to testify that “from the moment of my conversion right up until the present time I have never faltered or departed from the ways of God in thought, word or deed, nor have I ever been tempted to do so?” I have never gossiped, I have never criticized unjustly, I have never entertained an impure thought.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

We who are saved have been converted into the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We have been reckoned sinless and without blame for He has washed our garments white as snow with His own blood (it is because of Jesus blood and righteousness and NOTHING that we have done or could have ever done). We have been declared righteous, sinless, blameless by grace through faith. But to say we never sin? I believe that we who are Christians are being conformed to the image of God’s Son and so as we proceed and grow in our Christian life we are to become less and less prone to sinfulness. We will indeed become more like Jesus. But this occurs by dying to ourselves, by taking up our cross daily and following Him. Everyday we must cry out “Lord! The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Take my heart, seal it up for yourself in your courts above; bind my heart to thee this day so that in thought, word and deed I might live a Christ-like life!”

I see nothing wrong with such a prayer, therefore I see nothing wrong with this great hymn’s third stanza. What say you?

26
Jun
09

Michael Jackson

It has been a long time since I have followed any of Michael Jackson’s music. The last album of his that I remember is the one with the song “Black or White.”  However when I was young (preteen or so) I really liked Michael Jackson’s music. For Christmas one year my mom gave me the cassette tape of his album “Bad.”  I must have listened to it in its entirety everyday for nearly a year. I loved that album.

But by the time I was 14 rock n’ roll had fully taken my attention. But even though I have not been a fan of the King of Pop  in a very long time, I was still saddened at the news that he had passed away yesterday (Thursday, June 25), the day Lyndsay and I celebrated our 9 year wedding anniversary.  We suddenly lived in a world without Michael Jackson. The world felt different.

I have seen great music artists pass in my time.  The most impactful perhaps was the suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in 1994. I have also seen the passing of Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon and Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley. But none of these had the influence on music and popular culture that Michael Jackson had. I suppose the only other artists whose deaths would be of the same magnitude would be Elvis Presley and John Lennon. The passing of both of these music legends marked the end of an era.  Regardless of how you feel about Jackson’s lifestyle, strange behavior, or music, his passing is the end of an era.

10
May
09

When Did the 80s Start to Rock?

In the American vernacular there are several words and phrases that have changed meaning as culture has changed. Consider the word “cool.”  No longer does it refer to the temperature of a room only.  It also describes an attitude, a state of being.  To be “cool” is the ultimate goal of every high school student (and it’s not because the GAP has some great sweaters on sale). 

Another word that has (unfortunately) changed is “gay.”  It once meant “of good cheer.”  Now it of course refers to homosexuality (as do the words “funny” and “queer”).

So when did “dude, that is so 80s” go from an insult to a compliment.  There was a time when one would say “dude, that is so 80s” and it meant “dude, that is over-the-top, outdated, wussified, and/or a bad hairdo.  Now when  you hear “dude, that is so 80s” it is liable to be followed by a high five.

It happened slowly. I remember the 80s somewhat. I remember the hair,the clothes, and of course the music (new wave, hair bands, spandex, classic MTV when they actually played music videos). Then came the 90s and grunge and alternative music rendering everything 80s as dorky and excessive.   However now in the 21st century, twenty years out from 1989, I am starting to see the 80s come back.

I first became truly aware of this phenomenon when I was watching an episode of “Psych.”  A staple of the show is each episode will begin with a flashback from the youth of the main character Shawn Spencer and his best friend Gus.  Usually the year of the flashback is 1987.  During these flashbacks viewers are shown an event in Shawn’s life that will shed light on some of his behavior and ideas as an adult.  The flashbacks have 80s pop culture refrences galore. Everything from kangaROOS shoes (with the pocket on the side) to Shawn and his best friend Gus dressing up as the Tears for Fears guy and Michael Jackson, respectively. 

Another example of the 80s comeback is the clothing that I see many people starting to wear and that I myself am drawn to. Think thrift store.  T-shirts with screen printing or that depict colorful logos (usually advertising an event of the past that the wearer is unfamiliar with).  I recently found a shirt that said “Walking In Memphis” on the front and the backside depicted a guitar with the words “Interact Fashion Show 2005.”  I bought it. I simply liked the way it looked. And tight jeans is another fashion that is coming back especially among young people (who are the only ones who can really get away with it). 

Personally I am in the market for some ROOS.  When I saw that episode of Psych recently I exclaimed “I forgot about ROOS!”  I was never able to own any so I will revisit my childhood and purchase myself a pair of kangaROOS.  With any luck I will be able to find some that are navy blue with velcro straps. 

Dude, that would be so 80s!

07
May
09

Songs I Wish I Had Written

Question 1: What ten songs (that currently exist, of course) do you wish you had written?

Here’s another topic submitted to help me fight off writer’s block.

Hundreds of thousands of songs have been written. Many are on the radio for a while and then go away to the boneyard. Others are never noticed. But every so often a song becomes a worldwide hit. A select few are destined to become consistent favorites that folks love and remember years after their release. For different reasons and rhymes here are the ten songs I wish I had written (in random order). And if you are not familiar with some of these songs you can look them up on YouTube. Let me know if you agree with me about how great or important these songs are.

1. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana: When I first heard this game-changer in the earlier 90’s it was on MTV. I had never heard anything like it before. It was like punk but dirtier and more modern. There was so much raw grit to it. Nirvana broke all the rock band norms. They were unattractive. They looked sloppy. Their guitar parts were simple. Kurt Cobain was no rock god. Their lyrics were strange (they were not about girls and partying), the singing was not smooth, and the production was not slick. But they helped change the face of rock. They may not have been the innovators of grunge and alternative but they were the first to break upon the scene in a big way and it was with this song. So I wish that I had written the song that changed the face of rock.

2. Hey Jude by The Beatles: I knew as I was writing this that such a list would not be complete without George, Paul, John, and Ringo. Of all of their songs Hey Jude is probably the most famous. I have not met anyone, regardless of how little they know about music or The Beatles, who has not heard this song at least once. If nothing else they recognize the anthemic “na na na na NA NA NA NA” part. It’s a simple song with a simple origin. Paul wrote it for John’s son Julian (or Jules, but he changed the song title to Jude). It was a song of encouragement to a young boy seeing his parents’ marriage fall apart. I wish I had written the most recognizable Beatles song.

3. Where the Streets Have No Name by U2: The Joshua Tree, besides having a cool name, was U2’s best album in their entire catalog in my opinion. It marked a turning point in their career and I believe this record is when they officially became the greatest rock band in the world. Go ahead and Google it. I am positive that you will recognize at least the first three tracks. But it is the first track that I wish had my name in the credits. The story goes that in Ireland (or some place that Bono had in mind) that certain streets were known to be where the affluent and “good people” resided. However there were some streets where if you lived there you just had to be scum. But perhaps you were an upstanding, God-fearing, hardworking man whose lot in life was such that you had to live on one of those latter streets. It had nothing to do with your character but you would be painted in negative way for living on the wrong street. Bono, in his typical idealistic way, imagined a time and place where streets have no names. Not sure yet if that can happen this side of Heaven, but it makes for a great song. I wish I had written the first track of the greatest U2 album.

4. Down Under by Men At Work: I am sorry but this song is just fun. It’s about the singer’s touring throughout the world and how different cultures and different types of people have reacted to him when hearing the way he speaks or acts. I am not sure if any of the occurrences mentioned in the song are real or not but come on! It has a flute in it! I remember loving this song as a kid though I could barely understand a single lyric. And even later I had to look on Google to see what was meant by “a fried out combie.” I wish I had written this song about a land down under.

5. Your Love Broke Through by Keith Green: This is one of the first Keith Green songs I ever heard and I fell in love with it instantly. This is mostly because it is my story. It is about a man who was blinded and lost and without hope. He working and building the house of his life and existence…on sand. But like the apostle Paul and a million others down through history one day the light came on for this man. The voice and love of God of which he had been heretofore ignorant finally broke through the wall that divided him from his Savior. I wish I had written this song about a man awaking from a living dream to real life in Jesus Christ.

6. Dixie’s Land:Everyone recognizes this familiar tune from the 19th century. This song, credited to Daniel Decatur Emmett (though its authorship has been challenged and debated since it was written), became an anthem of the Southern Confederacy during the War Between the States.

Even if you do not recognize the name you will surely remember the fact that the first measure of “Dixie” was the tune played by the horn of Bo and Luke’s car “The General Lee” on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” I wish I had written this catchy, richly historic tune.

7. On the Brink of It All by Ever Stays Red: My readers know that I am a huge fan of the group Ever Stays Red for their neo-new wave sound and this in my opinion is their best song. It is an anthemic and emotional tune that will move you and groove you. I wish I had written this great pop neo-wave song.

8. Sweet Child o’ Mine by Guns n’ Roses: It is a little known fact that when guitarist Slash first came up with the memorable opening riff for this power ballad that he was simply noodling around and was not trying to seriously write anything. In fact he thought the riff sounded hokey and did not like it. The band however thought it was great and wanted to write a song around it. But Slash was no fan.

Unlike the originator of the tune, the music-loving world went bananas for the song and it proved to be one of Gn’R’s biggest hits. Slash is the guitarist that inspired me to play over 15 years ago. I just wish the guy would get saved. I wish I had written this Gn’R hit from their debut album “Appetite for Destruction.”

9. To Hell With the Devil by Stryper: People on both sides of the church doors did not know what to do with this Christian metal band from the 80s. They performed with big hair, loud guitars, makeup, yellow spandex and Bible-tossing antics. They looked like MTV, but their lyrics sounded like TBN.

“To Hell With the Devil” (from the album of the same name) recalled the passage in the book of Revelation which speaks of Satan being cast into the lake of fire. One can not help but get a chuckle from ironic nature of this phrase. Plus its descending metal riff makes it a great song for rocking out in arenas. For its headbanging goodness, I wish I had written this Christian metal classic.

10. Smoke On the Water by Deep Purple: If you play guitar you are probably already humming this in your head and maybe even riffing it on your air guitar. The main riff for Smoke On the Water is typically the first riff any rock guitarist learns. This was certainly the case for me.

There is nothing else particularly special about this song, which describes the catching fire of a venue where a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert was going on. The members of Deep Purple were present when the fire broke out. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore delivers his slick blues lead style as always. I wish I had written the song (or at least the riff) that has been the first learned by millions of rock guitarists.

22
Apr
09

Awesome (and not-so-awesome), Hypothetical Bands

what are the most awesome hypothetical names of bands that you can think of, and what type of music would that band play?

In an effort to help me break writer’s block, Heather wants to know what sort of awesome (hypothetical) bands can I come up with including the type of music they would play.

Just to keep things interesting, one of the bands I am going to submit is actually a real band. See if you can spot which one (no Googling allowed!!).

Full Glass Moon

I could not let a discussion of bands and band names go by without mentioning Full Glass Moon.

Full Glass Moon would be one of those bands that fly a little under the radar yet those who know where to look for great indie music will find them. FGM would feature a classic rock style that showcases guitar virtuosity, expertly executed vocal harmonies, and a somewhat serious subject matter (life, love, loss, redemption). The guitarist’s clever use of digital delay and reverb give their sound a roomy, airy feel that gives the impression of other-worldliness.

G. Love and Special Sauce

G. Love and Special Sauce would be a neo-jazz combo but with a fun whacky side. The sloppy blues playing and funny band member nicknames (e.g. G. Love) would cause listeners to at first dismiss the small fringe group as goofballs but upon closer listen their true talent would be revealed.  Album titles such as “Front Porch Loungin'” would express their laid-back, fun-loving sound. 

Lew (pronounced like Lou)

 Lovers of 90’s grunge would enjoy this no-nonsense five-piece.  Lew implements straightforward rock sensibilities (i.e. infectious hooks, well-played leads, and a passionate vocal delivery) but with decidedly Seattle qualities.  These would include the use of octaves (think “Cherub Rock” by Smashing Pumpkins), hook-y riffs (think “Alive” by Pearl Jam), serious lyrical subject matter, and plenty of dropped-D tuning (think “Spoonman” by Soundgarden) to go around. Their first album, which would nearly single-handedly reboot the Seattle sound, would be titled “Honey Drip.” 

The Constants

The Constants would be a 4 piece two-guitar outfit that delivers a radio-friendly alternative sound.  Their lyrical content would express their worldview on everything from dealing with people to life and happiness but would do so through sci-fi themes and extraterrestrial imagery.  While the chord progressions of The Constants’ music would be nothing new, their use of arrangements, dynamics, and guitar-layering would add a unique twist.  Start-stop dynamics, cleverly placed guitar riffs, moments of quiet giving way to walls of sound, and the emotional tenor of the vocalist would be the hallmarks of this little group. Their first album “A Time to Save Your Life” would perform well on the charts, but it would be the band’s sophomore effort “Canon in Q” which would catapult them into world stardom riding the success of the radio single “Don’t Look Now (Told Ya Not to Look).” 

These are the only ones that I could come up with such extensive information about. Some other band names though (if anyone’s interested) that I have thought of are Silverston, Panthenon (a fusing of the words parthenon and pantheon), Kharma Dagger, Pulsefire, Tick-Tock Cowboys, and The Whereabouts.

Pretty much you can put any two unrelated nouns/adjectives together and get a pretty decent band name. And every now and then it helps to throw out a “The _______s” kind of name.

11
Apr
09

The Music That Made Me, Part II

In 2000, I was 21 years old. 2000 was an eventful year. First of all Y2K turned out to be a bust (as I knew it would). 2000 is also the year I married Lyndsay. Finally 2000 was the year I stopped listening to secular music. By the way, would 2000 be considered the first year of the 21st century or the last year of the 20th century?

About two months before Lyndsay and I were to be wed (June 25) I had a God moment. In my vocabulary a God moment is one of those times when, regardless of how certain or uncertain you have been in the past about God speaking to you, you know without a shadow of a doubt He is telling you something and you simply can not ignore the fact. I will not run down all of the details but at this point in my life I was extremely down. I was living in Milledgeville (a town I hated) attending a university (that I also grew to hate). Furthermore Lyndsay was an hour and a half away in Warner Robins.

Since being converted in 1999 or so (no, I do not know the exact date) I had discovered Christian music (besides DC Talk) and had begun to listen to it in conjunction with secular music. I would jam out to some Smashing Pumpkins, follow it up with a little Smalltown Poets and finish it all off with Our Lady Peace. But during spring semester 2000 at Georgia College & State University I was hearing God say something that I never wanted to hear but I knew needed to happen.

At the time I had been playing with a Christian band called Mordecai’s Courage and I had already dedicated my music ability to the Lord vowing that I would never play for any reason but Him. But there in my dorm room in 2000 I knew He was taking it to another level: “Turn away from listening to secular music.” As I prayed I began to imagine never listening to the Pumpkins, or Zepplin, or Metallica, or Aerosmith, or Radiohead, or the Beatles ever again. It seemed crazy. How could I turn my back on the music and art that I loved? As I said before, the fact that God was speaking to me was undeniable. I knew right then that if I decided against doing so that I would be walking in disobediance.

Let me pause to say that God does not call every Christian to this. There is a reason for it. Since I was a child music has always played a large part of my life. I form memories as well as moods around music. Certain songs can create deep emotional responses for me. The music I had so loved was important to me because I drew a large part of my identity from it. I still categorize phases and times in my life by the music I listened to at the time. And at that time the music I listened to was quite melancholy at best and nihilistic at worst and I believe that it affected my behavior negatively. However to turn away from the music I had listened to (some of it from my youth) would, in my mind, mean throwing away memories and experiences.

But I did it.

I called Lyndsay to tell her what I was doing. Though music was not as much a part of her as it was for me, she decided to do the same. From that day forward we have not listened to secular music (well, unless you want to count 40’s big band instrumentals which we have on record).

Christian Music Only: The Beginning of Birth Pangs

After the first two weeks I realized that I was not going to be able to get by on Skillet alone. Eventually I embraced more and more Christian groups like Newsboys, PFR, the Supertones, etc. But inevitably I would grow tired of them and long for something different. Something more off the beaten path.

My first exposure to a band that was more than a little out of sync with CCM was when my friend Lance turned me on to Denison Marrs. Their offbeat melancholy shoegazer style and interesting writing caught my attention. In a way they reminded me of the Smashing Pumpkins, though this guy was a much better singer than Billy Corgan, who does the best imitation of a buzzsaw I’ve ever heard. Soon thereafter God gave me a new source of music discovery in the Christian music video channel TVU. Through TVU I discovered a lot of mediocre bands. But I also discovered some real gems, some diamonds in the rough. The first band I saw on TVU that really made an impact was Spoken. I saw the video for their song “Promise” which at first I did not like. When their next album “Last Chance to Breathe” was released I checked it out and ended up purchasing it. The Elms are another favorite that I discovered around this time. Their stripped-down blue collar rock was simple and raw.

During this time I began to scour the internet for new groups. I was able to discover new artists by checking out the bands that were on the same label as or toured with some of the artists I had already discovered. My love for Dead Poetic, The Afters, Spoken, Andy Osenga,Forever Changed,Edison Glass, and the like came about through this type of research. And no, these artists do not always right songs that could double as praise and worship songs but there is an obvious worldview that is like mine expressed in their music and lyrics. And I have come to the place where any time I hear modern rock music I can not help but notice how much more creative “my bands” are. In my opinion, if I went back to listening to secular music there would be few bands who would sound like what I would want to hear.

Finding good bands that have a Christian outlook can be difficult but rest assured there are some artists out there doing some very creative things. In the last year or so I have discovered (or in some cases re-discovered) Ever Stays Red, Starflyer 59, Andrew Peterson, Turn Off the Stars, Future of Forestry, Seabird,and probably a few others I’m forgetting. So if you are yearning for some new music, head to iTunes or Google and begin looking up some of these great artists and pretty soon you will begin to find all kinds of artists you might not have otherwise found.




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