About

nervosa.

I remember rising early last Saturday – eyes bloodshot, rocking serious bed-head, bags above sunken cheek lines, all encased in an exhausted expression. Emblazoned in a blurred shade of red, the clock across the room read just after 7am and everyone was still asleep after a late night of worship, small groups, snowboarding (for me at least), and being spiritually awoken by a series of messages calling us to rise above discontent faith that drowns our identity in our work. I was there with our church’s college ministry to retreat and rest for the first time in a long while, and to be honest, it took a bit to unwind. So much was happening and there was a lot for the Lord to air out in my head space as I took a break from the frontlines of leadership. It was an encouraging, rejuvenating weekend that connected spiritual waypoints God had pinpointed throughout the last couple of months. They culminated into a constellation painted on a bigger canvas and it truly brought peace. In between drinking from a spiritual fire hose and wiping out on the black diamond of the snowboarding hill, I felt something unexpected as I woke up from that early morning slumber and then traveled home…

I encountered multiple people who openly discussed their struggle with food. Their testimonies brought me back to an experience I had last December, but I’ll kick on fourth down and return to that later. Something about their stories enveloped me in a wet blanket that made my heart heavy for them. I didn’t know them well, had no other explicable reason to feel this way, and yet I found myself mourning with those two and rejoicing in their victory for every day they embrace an identity that lies in what scripture tells them rather than the lies of a nutrition facts label that doesn’t know their inmost parts, who formed them in their mothers womb, or keeps their tears in a bottle [Psalm 56]. Absorbing information about the neurochemistry and epidemiology (the patterns and causes of diseases in populations) of addiction in the last year has shown parallels about my struggles with pornography and others’ struggles with food. Between the bulimic patterns of binging/purging and/or anorexic characteristics, guilt and shame associated, and even the root causes of such struggles, there is a battery of commonalities between the two. Perhaps the most revealing commonality is best described through the lead singer of Silent Planet, Garrett Russell, in this interview below. [Here are the first few yards of that kick return]. This video is part of a series that breaks down Silent Planet’s second album, Everything Was Sound. Well esteemed by fans and critics alike, Everything Was Sound, is an aggressive tapestry that navigates the spectrum of mental illness through the eyes of a Christian, sharp, progressive songwriting, and absolute genius lyricism.

Much like the externalized manifestation of anorexia or, Anna, as it is described, sexual addictions are haunted by a similar ghost. I don’t have name for it, but this pixelated vixen comforts us in our insecurity and loves us when we feel unlovable. Yet, it hates everything we are and mimics the thief that comes seeks to steal, kill, and destroy in John 10… but, we worship it. Culture asks us to pay into this system of bartering that teaches men and women to give themselves away to a backwards system of relationships in the same way we can count calories to the cadence of our culture’s death march towards a synthetic and unattainable standard of beauty. We try to please it, we try to bargain, reason, sometimes physically pay into it and we squander friendships, marriages, and jobs as currency. As we sink further and become consumed by it, we look in the mirror and increasingly stare through the hollow shells of our silence and secrecy, only to reflect on how easy it breaks. Much like Garrett’s belief about anorexia and eating disorders being a theological issue, so is porn, but that’s another series of posts. #endrant

All of us have issues that casts a shadow and feels phantom-like, but it doesn’t need to have the teeth of an addiction. The jealousy we carry towards the person sitting next to us in class or in the cubicle across the way that lives where the grass is supposedly greener; bitterness we hold towards someone close to us; pride (one I know all too well)… For me, it can be work. My job in recovery ministry means I play it close to the chest. I can easily conflate my work and identity when I don’t keep myself accountable, or as I’ve learned… to embrace a child-like faith that doesn’t sacrifice spiritual maturity. As John Piper said echoing Mark 10, “Trust like a child, think like a man.”

Here’s the rest of the yardage on that kick return… This previous December, I saw For Today play up in Minneapolis on their farewell tour – hanging the hat on their sixth and final record, Wake. With them were “The almighty” Norma Jean, My Epic, and Silent Planet. Through several chance interactions both inside and outside the venue, my group of friends and I got to meet Garrett – the ultimate fan moment for a few of us! But understanding the nuances of songs like Nervosa made them even more powerful to hear, live, and furthermore, a good friend of mine found some semblance of healing in their struggle with similar issues upon discovery of songs like this. Words carry power and Jesus’ brother, James, could tell you all about that one in his letter. Getting to hear my friend from that show and those from last weekend say they’re walking in the light through their own struggles proved how powerful of a caliber words can pack. It broke me in ways that I’m convinced Jesus broke for those who were sick, imprisoned, outcasted, and deemed as unlovable.

LOOK STRAIGHT THROUGH ME : LOOK AT THE NIGHTMARE – the bristling opening line in Nervosa that proceeds an eerie instrumental introduction. Garrett follows this up with a hauntingly articulate three and a half minute diary entry from the point of view of someone in the foray of struggle with Anorexia, so this first line sounds like a funeral procession in contrast. But, after those interactions over the last couple months and the power in that declaration of victory gained so far it sounds like something else to me. I think that line fits the mold of Psalm 139 :

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Whether it’s food, porn, work, or fill in the blank, everyone’s story discussed in this post began with this prologue of taking the posture of those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 5:3]. Our continuing story is written by the author and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12:2] one moment, day, season, victory, and chapter at a time. Without that foundation, there isn’t a program, counseling regimen, or even a small group that will ever hold up as second, third, and forth floors of a house we’re trying to restore. I feel like I’m reaching in a thousand different directions with all of this, but I will conclude by challenging ourselves to hold fast to the courage to look at our reflections and dare to say…

Lord, look straight through me.

a conversation with Zach.

I got together for a conversation yesterday afternoon with my buddy, singer-songwriter, Zach Zurn about his roots, songwriting inspirations, faith, and politics. We enjoyed good, organic talk at his home studio in Rochester with a couple sparkling waters and dreary mid winter overcast conditions.

Check out Zach’s music!

http://www.zzurn.com/

https://www.facebook.com/zachzurnmusic/

https://soundcloud.com/zach-zurn-275903268/white-christmas

 

 

 

 

tragedy will find us.

After a couple good naps, lunch breaks with coworkers, and plenty of Settlers of Catan throwdowns, the first couples of days of a new year are over. I’ve been one for resolutions before, but not in a triumphant way. Many of them were epithets about “this being the year” I would shed the skin of my addiction for good but doing so by avoiding the pain of putting my life under the surgical knife of the Great Physician in John 5. I made few unsubstantial goals since then to preserve the guilt of not following through on them, but as I have been blessed by God’s grace to be in a time of my life where I have enjoyed the fruits of sobriety, recovery, and transformation, the new year shines in different shades, now. Small, measurable goals seem to be the most logical of any resolutions I’ve seen people be successful with, but even those are still subject to some kind of failure in a calendar year. As a result, I figured it’s meaningless to even try. But, this is where grace is key.

I hear a lot of commentary about God’s grace, but I’m going to pull at this string and say we don’t understand the depth of its definition on a cultural level. It’s not like we can fully comprehend it to begin with (hence, the scandal of grace), but there’s always two sides to every coin. I think it’s easy and moving to lift our hands in praise to God for the incomprehensible mystery of His unending grace, but how often do we understand that it’s built on something to be given grace from? I get caught in this current time and time again. Without acknowledging the inevitability of personal suffering down the corridor of a week, a month, or when we pen new year’s resolutions, grace is devalued and cheapened. The apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 6 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? New years resolutions are made to be broken. It’s not a matter of if we will break a resolution, but when. It’s not a matter if there will be difficulty, but how. It’s not a matter of if we will unintentionally hurt someone relationally, but whom. The difference is how we respond to it when our faith is tossed and fro by the winds as said by Jesus’ brother James (1:1-6). Grace is anti venom for hurting hearts, wounded emotions, frail spiritual devotions, and those broken resolutions. But, should we stop making resolutions to preserve ourselves from feeling bad about it? By no means!

In 2015, Canadian hardcore vanguards, Counterparts, released their most commercially successful and emotionally revealing body of work yet, Tragedy Will Find Us. Soldering the melodic veracity of post-hardcore from the early 2000’s, modern metal, and a dash of punk grit, Counterparts have a handful of powerful albums that prove themselves to have gusto in a scene that lead singer, Brendan Murphy, himself coins as a “congregation of outcasts” – the amalgam of a socially conscious, dissatisfied vector of young people, searching for something bigger and outside of themselves. I have power stomped and screamed my way through the bridge of songs like, Outlier, probably half a million times when my roommates have been gone. I have air drummed my way through supercharged passages on songs like Withdrawal and have head banged through the melodic haze of Tragedy countless times as well. I’ve reviewed them on this blog before, but they’ve ascended the ranks in my favorites list after a couple years of taking in their last two records. Tragedy Will Find Us is a half hour burn book that illustrates a crestfallen period of the lead singer’s life coming off tour between their previous record, The Difference Between Hell and Home. Murphy’s lyrical content has always been kind of standoff-ish, but this new record is way more uncompromising. The underlying themes of despair and brokenness have silver linings of some sort. Because, according to Murphy, the ten songs on Tragedy Will Find Us is a collective recognition that difficulty is unavoidable and we have to find some kind of strength to move learn and move past such circumstances. On this album, Murphy muses the existence of God and His role in suffering. Going back to the idea of grace, I believe God works in suffering to produce something that we cannot see with the tunnel vision we often have in trials as further reflected through Paul – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4). Pastor John Piper says it well…

Not only is your affliction momentary, not only is your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all if it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism… slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something… of course you can’t see what it’s doing.

This new-year, I have a new resolution echoed by Switchfoot’s lead singer, Jon Foreman…

Sing into the storm.

Face trials as they come along and see them as learning opportunities that sharpen me like iron on iron in Proverbs 27:17.

Though, this sounds morbid and fatalistic, we should remember that in darkness, light pierces through with even more power and luminescence. I look forward to future plans unfolding prepared by God’s work in the previous year, the gift of continuing to invest in friendships both here and far, growing in sobriety, leadership, and even to the storm clouds on horizons I can’t see right now. By intentionally sailing into and not spiritually circumventing them in my cocoon, the Holy Spirit will never put wind in our sails to serve others, to invest in others, to sacrificially love others.

Though tragedy will find us, Jesus will meet us there to pick us up, put wind back in our sails, and inspire us to keep loving and serving when storm clouds blacken.

christmas tunes.

I’m currently on a mini vacation, away from the bitter cold, and staring at the base of the Catalina Mountain range south of Tucson from my dad’s back porch. In between the couple days off of spending time with family, I’ve taken time up in the air en route to soak in some Christmas music a little late into the season, but with the intent of doing a short review of some old and newer favorite tunes to play this week (or into the new year if that’s your preference).

 

Someday At Christmas – Jack Johnson

The acoustic plumes of Jack Johnson drip with nostalgia in high school when In Between Dreams was a sleeper indie sensation that sweetly rocked my closet romantic Mr. Hyde to an otherwise aggressive Jekyll that was getting into bands like The Black Dahlia Murder and Whitechapel. I’ve always enjoyed Johnson’s hushed vocal delivery painted in similar brushstrokes like Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Sufjan Stevens. But more than that, I like the instrumental gamut ran between unplugged and subdued ballads like Angel to swingers like Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology that remind me of John Mayer’s Robert Johnson cover on Battle Studies. Though I have not listened to much beyond 2010’s To the Sea, I can confidently say that I still like Jack Johnson if not for that same aforementioned nostalgic factor. On the opening kickoff to an indie Christmas compilation from 2008, Jack Johnson returns his track Someday at Christmas with a satisfyingly nimble presentation that captures the insouciance of earlier work that earned him mainstream success. A simple chord progression carries Johnson through a brief lyrical sojourn wishing for a literal peace on Earth between nations, races, and even gender. It feels timely in our political climate, but surprisingly doesn’t fall to its own clichés on such subject matter. I like the catchiness of Johnson’s vocal melodies and the warmth in its tone. Compared to others on this list, Someday at Christmas is a nice change in pace that puts my feet up in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night.

 

Good King Wenceslas – Westminster Chorale

Shifting gears to a more traditional drivetrain, I’ve always had a thing for older hymns and gospel songs penned by forefathers of my faith in Europe during the reformation of the late 17th and 18th centuries. Their lyrical complexity, theological depth, and thought put in by the writers makes songs like Come Thou Fount (spoiler alert to later down the list). And, that is especially the case with Christmas songs like Good King Wenceslas. Originally written by an English hymnist in the mid 1800’s, this song dives into old Czech folklore about a king who rescues a peasant outside his castle during a winter storm during the Christmas holiday. With this peasant unable to return to his home through the storm, the king braves the weather and provides him with food and shelter. There’s something about the humanity demonstrated and symbolism in this song that makes it appealing to me. If you look into teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, this song draws parallels in the snow with stanzas such as this… Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing (James 2:14-17). Perhaps my favorite thing about this song is how my family used to play it as part of a compilation on an old 45 record that showcased a traditional choir in Westminster Abbey. Hearing such rich, diverse, and impeccable tone from a large choir gives this song an even more timeless feel and brings me back to decorating the house in my formative years.

 

Hosanna – Josh Garrels

I grew up liturgically rooted in those same hymns like the ones aforementioned in the previous song. My upbringing in the Episcopal church meant we were well versed in red leather hymnals and having a long-established service structure in corporate worship. Though my faith has evolved since and serve in a different denomination, I can still remember many of those old hymns when played anywhere, and that’s how Josh Garrels’ cover of Hosanna made it on this list. Garrels vocal style listens like an amalgam of Chad Gardner’s (King’s Kaleidoscope) soul, a dash of Bear Rinehart’s (Needtobreathe) grit, and the intricate restraint of Michael Gungor. It makes for a heartfelt listen with enough passion coming through to keep your attention yet with enough gentleness to cradle you through the experience. Though I haven’t successfully traversed a whole listen of his new Christmas album, The Light Came Down, I’ve been hooked on songs like The Boar’s Head and Hosanna. Before taking communion, the presiding reverend would walk us through the story of the last supper from one of the Gospels, bless the bread and wine, and would lead us in a chorus of Hosanna. The orchestral flourishes and subtle percussion behind Josh’s acoustic guitar gives this song a lot of character. As the song progresses, it builds in a way that preserves its mellowness but still has enough flavor to keep on the tip of your tongue. In fact, I think the profound lyrical content of celebration contrasted against such a comparatively tempered instrumental delivery makes the song even more spiritually powerful. It’s not a “Christmas” song, but it belongs on his Christmas album and it’s good, so I’m still counting it.

 

I Had A Heart – Real Friends

Pop punk has never been accused of taking itself seriously. Part of the culture in this subgenre is characterized by preserving a sense of wonder and rebellion that’s pined after through heartbreak and fumbling through adulthood. And, judging from Real Friends’ contribution to Punk Goes Christmas from 2013, that same attitude still sits at the Christmas table of dysfunctional family dynamics with enough angst to go around. I Had a Heart is the musical equivalent of watching a Hallmark Christmas movie that revolves around a hopelessly romantic young adult, alone during the holidays, and with a turbulent family dynamic. It’s emotionally bombastic and a bit cheesy, but the thing about those movies and this song…

I like them both.

This song comically captures a cynical side to the holiday season where people can become annoyed by extended family and wallow in singleness. I think it’s actually a clever cultural critique about what we place as important during the Christmas season and jokingly offers an opposite perspective to tidings of comfort and joy. Acoustic, punk instrumentals and a vocally austere performance from lead singer, Dan Lambton, fit this song’s message of teenage angst that is undeniable. I Had a Heart is not one to take as seriously or with as much conviction than the predecessors on this list, but I still think it’s fun and shakes up my Christmas playlist in the best way possible.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

Carol of the Bells – I Declare War.

If you’ve seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, you’ll understand half the jokes littered between death metal vocals and aggressively rendered instrumentals.

Come Thou Fount (Synonym) – Penny & Sparrow

Come Thou Fount is one of my favorite worship songs on account of the narrative behind its writer Robert Robinson. It’s a tragic, yet beautiful story and there’s a modern reenactment of it on Youtube. Acoustic duo Penny & Sparrow capture this song with effortless charm, great vocal performances, and really hazy production.

of dust & nations.

I was at a best friend’s wedding this weekend, sitting down at the head table with three other guys in identical grey tuxedos, black Vans, and beards feasting on a sirloin and mashed potato entrée. Even better? It was in the aquarium at the Minnesota Zoo – there was a seal, whom we affectionately named, Kevin Paul, acrobatically spinning behind us as one of my buddies from back home asked us our favorite cover songs. My answer… a rendition of Of Dust and Nations by Thrice as performed by British modern metal vanguards, Architects. The recent death of their lead guitar player and cofounder, Tom Searle, gives their newest release, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, the tone of a funeral dirge by nailing insane guitar work, apocalyptic production, shredding vocals from Sam Carter, and politically supercharged lyricism into their band mate’s coffin (Also, if you want the nastiest riff-age you’ve EVER heard in your life, go listen to Gravedigger and thank me later). As I began to go through earlier records of theirs, I stumbled upon this Thrice cover on their re-release of Daybreaker. I was totally taken aback by how an already awesome song was given a post hardcore facelift. It’s a lyrically powerful track penned by Dustin Kensrue with vulgar imagery taken straight out of Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 6 where He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” The song is a reminder that our earthly possessions, ambitions, ans personal empires are footnotes from an eternal perspective. In other words, we have to look at life from a different lens. Listening to that song on the heels of being in a season waiting for what God has on the other end of my internship, and breathing in the ashes from incendiary political/cultural conversations, made me think of something…

Perspective is a lovely hand to hold (Side note, there’s a band by this name I found on Spotify. I wonder if they’re as big of fans of Relient K’s Forget and Not Slow Down as I am, because if so, and their name references that record, they’re now my favorite).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been traveling back and forth to Minneapolis for a seminar put on by Come&Live! ministries and my buddy’s wedding, both of which are somehow connected through my home church in the Twin Cities. I met my now married best friend at its Eden Prairie campus and their new plant in Minneapolis housed the seminar I went to. So, in the time that I’ve sojourned back to Bloomington, I decided to check out this new Minneapolis satellite campus piqued with a curiosity about the racial/income/cultural melting pot it’s serving. The lessons learned on those two Sunday mornings retread territory charted throughout this year in a journey through recovery and yes… this election cycle. The rotation of campus pastors began a new teaching series, Bad Times, Good God – an expositional survey of the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk.

Habakkuk is written in a turbulent time during Israel’s monarchy. With the transitioning of kings that take its own people down a road of pagan worship and neglect of the law handed down by Moses centuries before, God’s chosen people and their prosperity have become truncated by neighboring pagan rival, Babylon, and their military prowess. So, in penance for Israel sinning against each other and to God over the course of generations, He allows Babylon to capture, enslave, and divide the kingdom (as foretold in 1st Samuel when the monarchy is established) before restoring them.

In layman’s terms… Israel is screwed.

Habakkuk then tries to make sense of it all. Throughout its 3 chapters, you see Habakkuk beg God to spare the kingdom from its impending doom and give an answer to a bigger question that percolates thousands of years later…

Why does an all-powerful God allow suffering to continue?

(Pastor Dale’s sermon is below for reference)

I know this is opening a can of worms, but I’m choosing to answer this in the context of Habakkuk’s predicament. I don’t want to try and ubiquitously answer that for things like natural disasters, family members with cancer, and dying children in the Syrian civil war. Pastor Dale proceeded to give an anecdote about being a teenager and hating his parents at points of disagreement or when he was punished for something wrong. He said most of us probably knew what it was like to be that age and bristle at being disciplined. Yet, our parents didn’t kick us out, they still fed us, and loved us. The difference is that they, as parents, understand the big picture. Our parents discipline us, because they know what lies in the peripheries of our decision-making. Their maturity allows them to see consequences of our actions that we can’t in the moment. It translates well to God’s reply to Habakkuk in Chapter 1, verses 5 through 11 which is echoed by Paul in Hebrews 12:7. Pastor Kyle picked up the baton this week by talking about Habakkuk “watching from the ramparts” (Chapter 2, verse 1) as God replies, And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Basically, God says he will reveal that to us in His timing and with the right sentiment that will make perfect sense in its revelation. But, it’s hard when we have tunnel vision and can’t see beyond the current circumstances. Pastor Kyle concluded that we need a broader view “from the ramparts.” We need perspective to understand that bigger picture alluded to by Pastor Dale’s application of this scripture.

The recovery process reveals the ugliness of sin in Technicolor. The twelve steps give this kaleidoscopic portrait of how corrupted our character is, yet provides a glimpse of all our good qualities these issues steal from us. Through that, I had to come to an arresting conclusion that my tendency to be selfish was beyond control. It drove everything. I took what paid dividends in relationships, work, and with God, neglecting the rest as if it was expendable. Jesus had to perform surgery as The Great Physician (John 5), taking a scalpel to a heart of stone that is now flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), but that process didn’t come easy. It still isn’t. It took days, upon weeks, and now years of daily, conscious decisions to crucify my desires in exchange for trying to understand the person sitting across from me in Celebrate Recovery, small group, leadership meetings, game nights, and dinner outtings with friends.

James uses strong language in his letter when he says, God opposes the proud (James 4:6). The first line in Of Dust and Nations reads, “The towers that shoulder your pride, the words you’ve written in stone… sand will cover them, sand will cover you.” Both serve as sobering reminders that pride and selfishness are tenants of our innate, human fragility. They’re symptoms of a soul virus that can be remedied by humility, which is prescribed through God’s handiwork in Ephesians 2. James ends his stanza in chapter 4 with… “but He gives grace to the humble.” It begins with taking perspective – and perspective is only won in a battle with self, where war must be raged on our own selfishness. It’s a radical shift in mindset to look to the interest of others above our own (Philippians 2:4), but I find that each conversation I have with someone about what makes them laugh, what gets them up every morning, keeps them up late at night, and their journeys in faith produce brick and mortar that builds bridges closer to Jesus. Those bridges create safe passage for the gospel to be discussed in rivers that rage over politics, religion, race, and cultural values (though those conversations are undoubtedly messy).

Furthermore, in this season of waiting on God to sketch in the blueprints of what happens after my internship next June, I’ve been looking from the ramparts having to remember that even if it feels like I’m staring into nothing or waiting on him for an answer, God has a view from 30,000 feet that I don’t from this vantage point. He is slowly placing brushstrokes in the right places that will eventually translate in my life’s canvas and I’m content in knowing that what exists in the here and now makes perfect sense in His perfect will. I’m going to take such a time as opportunity to see what God is teaching me about Him through the hands and feet of His people that are in my life right now – making the perspectives of my (our) friends with different family dynamics, theological convictions, diametric political views, and even the ones who don’t even believe in God all the more valuable (to us all). Pastor Kyle said this comes from, “Praying to get God’s ear and reading to gain God’s heart” as coined by theologian, Charles Spurgeon. Through all those things, Jesus does what Dustin Kensrue and Sam Carter sang about.. “pulling the fangs from my heel“… putting my “faith in more than steel.”

Where the Light Shines Through – Switchfoot: Music Review

As a kid, my parents used to screen the music I bought, but at the time I thought it was a torture tactic that deprived me of an inhibition to listen to heavy music instead of seeing it as a necessary filter on my developing mind. In the end, it did prevent me from latching onto legitimately bad music (shouts out to mom and dad). When I was in fourth grade, I petitioned for Linkin Park’s Meteora – an album that toed the line of hard and maybe a little dark for me at the time, so instead I was given a supposedly underwhelming alternative that I had no idea would leave such a long lasting impression – Switchfoot’s, The Beautiful Letdown. Released in 2003 as the band’s major label debut on Vanguard records, it rode the wave of early 2000’s pop rock/post grunge revival that crashed on the shores of MTV, Vh1, most mainstream radio stations, and for me – summers at Trout Lake Camps. The band’s edgy, lo-fi production style soldered with industrial sampling, and a message of honesty against a culture of excess made The Beautiful Letdown and their subsequent album, Nothing Is Sound, game changers for the band as they continued to refine their style.

Admittedly, I abandoned Switchfoot after Oh! Gravity and pre Hello Hurricane after leaving the tall pines and cold lake water of church camp behind me in high school. At the time, their music didn’t have an impact outside of being a memento to that epoch of life. Instead, I traded in grungy earworm melodies for meaner music. However, that changed after going to Winona State and moving in with a few guys my senior year – both of whom are die hard fans that stuck  with Switchfoot the whole course up to their last record, Fading West. I would hear random tracks from some of these albums here and there when my roommates cooked dinner with their Spotify playlists on, and over time I began to appreciate the direction that Switchfoot took at the break in the yellow wood. Now, that I have rekindled a liking for this California surf rock quintet, saw them live a couple years ago, and am now sinking my teeth into this new record, I’ve come to the conclusion that Switchfoot are a band that ages well. These guys are married, have children, trying to balance a career, writing from the heart, and becoming aware of their mortality (ahem, Where I Belong). Yet, in that, they manage to let their hopeful and inspiring message be the period at the end of each album cycle, after each tour, heck, after each track.

Fading West was by far the band’s most ambitious release in which Oh! Gravity’s most experimental junctures pale by comparison. I reviewed it briefly in a summer playlist post last year, noting that the channeling of all-la-Kasabian alt rock with distorted synthesizers, intriguing and energetic soundscapes, and textured production made Fading West a prolific milestone in the band’s career. I was curious in the lead up to Where the Light Shines Through what direction the band would go after the success of the former’s alternative sound…

The result on Where the Light Shines Through is telling about how the band is continuing to age, maybe a bit nostalgic, and still wanting to try on new, musically. Foreman and crew are on their tenth album.13178934_10154832778271679_6040195207218796408_n They are more mature as human beings, fathers, husbands, and musicians who have traveled the world a few times over. I will go out on a limb in saying that Where the Light Shines through is Switchfoot’s most subdued presentation, yet the most energetic, inspirational, moving, and balanced record they have released yet.

Where the Light Shines Through is a collection of introspective epistles that belong in a spectrum much like a dimmer on a light switch. There’s a whole range that reach cathartic heights on songs like the opening track Holy Water and Healer of Souls, the funky Red Hot Chili Pepper flourishes of Float, the experimental curve ball on Looking For America, and to the other end of the dimmer with arena ballads like I Won’t Let You Go, Live It Well, and Hope Is the Anthem. It reminds me of how The World Is A Thorn allowed Demon Hunter to be more frenetic, yet more hushed than ever before on the exact same record. Everything in between is some kind of fusion between the two poles that brings the listener back to homeostasis.

When I listen to Where the Light Shines Through cover to cover, I have these flashbacks to moments on all other releases. Electronic samplings, energetic rhythms, and driving funk on Bull In A China Shop and Holy Water bring me back to the experimental jive on Fading West; the driving, hopeful pace of If the House Burns Down Tonight is reminiscent of Hello Hurricane’s title track; and Live It Well’s anthemic melodies remind me of songs like Restless off Vice Verses. The best part is that within those nostalgic filigrees, Where the Light Shines Through still maintains its own identity with new flavors – particularly Lecrae’s feature on Looking For America. Point being, there is a little something for every fan from every mile marker within ten records. Some of the subtleties in production like the static in the channels of speakers, plugging instruments into amps, and rehearsal moments within the recording process that are left in these songs actually give Where the Light Shines Through a lot of character. For me, the passion soaked in inspirational sounding melodic leads, a bombastic bridge section, and Foreman’s falsetto vocals make I Won’t Let You Go this record’s most passionate delivery and one of my favorite songs. Also, Healer of Souls gritty, lo-fi tone and bouncing rhythm takes my eardrums down memory lane to Remember the Titans when the Alexandria high school football team sojourns to Gettysburg by tune of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In the Sky… therefore, I like it.

Lyrically, this record touches on Biblical themes of us being strong in our weaknesses, embracing adversity, and reflecting on faith with lines like, So let’s go there, to that place where we sing these broken prayers, where the light shines through. The wound is where the light shines through. Yeah, the wound is where the light shines through.” Though, Switchfoot’s catalog proves they’re not foreign to such subject matter, I think this album is more unapologetic – Foreman is upfront and honest about it in ways I haven’t heard since The Beautiful Letdown. In that sense, it lives up to the social media hype that the band created about how this is one of the deepest albums they’ve written with some of Foreman’s favorite lyrics he’s penned so far in his career. The title track and The Day of Found God are highlights that bring the band the closest to living out the message of hope they always sing about in perfect matrimony.

Ultimately, Where the Light Shines Through is an album that is the result of ten albums, twenty years, and all their influences being pulled more inwards to a balanced release. It’s one of their most believable performances that I look forward to taking in more and more. Though this album is not my favorite in their discography (congrats Fading West), it’s still worthwhile and pleases the fourth grader in me who bought that copy of The Beautiful Letdown with allowance money.

take a listen.

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

I was sitting at Culver’s with my roommate one night and I told him that I have this habit of hopping on the bandwagon of good music, late. As a result, I kick myself for a moment, thinking, “What have I been missing out on??” I say this, because I am catching onto The Lumineers kind of late… what have I been missing out on??! They’ve been a functioning band for the better part of a decade, using personal tragedy to write affectionate vingiettes that culminate in their debut self-titled album. Though I didn’t get too much into it aside form songs like Slow It Down, I appreciated The Lumineers knack for artful folk music. I heard a lot of buzz about their forthcoming sophomore LP, Cleopatra, so after hearing singles like Ophelia and the title track at my favorite coffee shop in Winona played on repeat, I intentionally sought this one out upon release.

Cleopatra is an effluent indie affair, buoyed by a sort of timeless soul that brings you back to smoky bars and rootsy Americana imagery strapped to leather boots, rumbling piano registers, and Wesley Schultz’ throaty vocals. This is a fun record and its accessibility gives a lot of replay value. I can’t stop nodding my head or wanting to belt out the chorus to Angela, bounce along to the dizzying piano arpeggio in Ophelia, and clap along to the stomp of the title track.12654337_10153292167941332_5061469366406380348_n Other songs like Gale Song, My Eyes, and Long Way From Home express a more musically stoic side to the band, settling for hollowed out lo-fi guitar tones that draw you into an intimate experience. Patience gently closes the record with a piano instrumental that fades into soft keys. I can best describe The Lumineers as an emotional storm in a teacup. Though, their songs have a lot of musical build up and strong lyrical imagery, it never reaches the point of being melodramatic. Overall, I feel this album is more subdued in its presentation than its predecessor and therefore makes it a more convincing and enjoyable listen for me. All of this is bolstered by effective production that captures the heart and soul of a sound that the band is aiming for. The echo chamber sounding vocals, subtle string accompaniments, and organic guitar tones make this record shine.

Though Cleopatra retreads recycled lyrical themes of young love, women, and relationships, the band finds a refreshingly innocent twist to such subject matter. They weave really dark narratives in between them, like on the title track. It’s almost like I’m watching film noir at the Sundance Film Festival.

Bottom line, go listen to this album if you need to feed the softer side to our musical soul. It’s an easy listen that I’m still sinking my teeth into.

 

Invent Animate – Stillworld

Modern, progressive metal is running out of original ideas. I hate saying it, but evidence of this is quantified by the new wave of records released from this subgenre this year. Though many of those albums are enjoyable and I actually like a lot of them, I’ve come to this conclusion that most of it is beginning to live in a shadow cast by its forerunners from the late 2000’s. But, if there is any sort of dying artistic breath from this renegade platoon of metal bands (other than Architects or Shokran), Invent, Animate does not go gentle into that goodnight.

I reviewed their debut album from Tragic Hero Records, Everchanger, last year. I especially liked how that album soldered ambient overtures from the likes of Helios with a Singularity era Northlane vibe and I still enjoy that album a lot. The good news is that their anticipated and well-received sophomore record, Stillworld, expands on a familiar formula from Everchanger that is further honed and perfected.13240590_1291634440857984_1190591693122597874_n Many, if not all of the same elements from Everchanger carry over to Stillworld, making this like a software update with a few tweaks to an already solid platform. Indigo kicks off this record…. absolutely insane! It touts some of the catchiest riffing, flows well between the soft and harsh passages, and in my opinion does the best job of stratifying Invent, Animate’s mission statement. Other tracks like Darkbloom and Soul Sleep showcase this juxtaposition from the insanely heavy to the suddenly calm and atmospheric, and White Wolf has by far the catchiest and most forward chorus/clean singing the band has written yet.

Lyrically, this album muses familiar territory from Everchanger – abstract allegories of faith, doubt, finding purpose, etc, but with that said, they’re written well and have some legitimately awesome lines to scream along to. Furthermore, I think this is a very well produced record and balanced record. The bass rumbles behind chugging guitars, the clean chromatic tapping comfortably coalesces with the rhythm, the drums are crisp, and the vocals are well placed.

I’m still head banging and power stomping my way through breakdowns and sweeping passages on this album and don’t anticipate putting it down any time soon!

 

King’s Kaleidoscope – Beyond Control

In my musical mind, King’s Kaleidoscope fit comfortably into a category of Contemporary Christian that follows in the lineage of Michael & Lisa Gungor, Rivers & Robots, Citizens & Saints, and Dustin Kensrue of Thrice – artists positioning themselves on the fringe of their own genre who craft honest, thoughtful, and transparent music reflective of their trials and triumphs in faith. If you’ve read this blog before, you might understand the stance I have on “Christian” music, but for the purpose of a good album like this, I don’t feel like that commentary is warranted.

Enter Kings Kaleidoscope.

I really didn’t have a lot of knowledge of this band outside of their former affiliation with Mars Hill Church in Seattle and (what I’m going to term as) their “dope-tastic” cover of In Christ Alone, but that was until I was tipped off to their new record, Beyond Control. My shotgun consensus…

Weird, but really good.

Upon first impression, this album feels like a B-side of experimental mastered material tossed into obscure cloud files and then sold as an extended play, but when you pay attention to the subtleties, Beyond Control is decorated with textured layers of soundscapes and shifts in style that still fit within a cohesive musical narrative. This album gives itself a lot of room to take some risks and because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, 13344507_1278219798878738_7414307795631577230_nthe band pulls off every stunt well. Out of the gate, A Resting Place sounds like organized orchestral chaos that I would find on the local classical station, but transitions into Enchanted, which sounds a bit like A Head Full of Dreams era Coldplay coalesced with the eccentric funk of John Mark McMillan’s Borderlands. Other songs like Lost? Strip away layers for a more simplified experience with acoustic guitars and orchestral synthesizers filling out the sound. Dust is a neo-jazz banger with an accompanying choir arrangement behind the chorus that captures the soul of traditional gospel music. In This Ocean Part 1 follows suit but has what I think are the catchiest melodies on this entire record. I think that speaks to the production of Beyond Control, because it is dense but not bloated. Even when this album reaches these bombastic moments in the arrangements, there’s enough variety and creativity in it all to make it justified.

Surprisingly, Friendship, is my highlight on Beyond Control. It’s a near three-minute instrumental interlude that’s led by piano, drums, and a French horn that swing you back and forth in a jazzy daze. Not only is the instrumental awesome, but throughout the track you hear members of the band commenting on cool licks made by the horn player, cracking jokes, laughing, and casually singing along with the melody. It’s playful. It’s a fun break in between what is otherwise a lyrically powerful (albeit vulgar at one point on A Prayer) sojourn through doubt, triumph and even social dejection from social media as discussed on Enchanted.

If you want to look up some wildly creative worship tunes that you can have some fun to, look no further… to quote the band from a moment in Friendship, “Whoah! That was sick!”

 

Explosions In the Sky – The Wilderness

People who know me best understand the love I have for this band and their ability to create moving, emotional oceans of nimble guitars, cathartically executed kettle drums, and crecendos reminiscent of classical movements that take you on a musical journey. If you’ve read this blog, then you’ve probably figured out why a record like The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place really needs no introduction. It will forever be a musical triumph that sits on my catalog’s throne. Now, their last full length album before The Wilderness was shockingly disappointing to me and in such a way that made me not even give that album a full listen. Maybe I’m being too hard on it and maybe it has to do with the fact that I place some of their earlier work with such high esteem, but it sounded like they were exhausting ideas and trying to pull you inwards to a more intimate atmosphere than before. In between albums, they have since written a few soundtracks, all of which showcased Explosions branching off into different soundscapes and experimentation all while still signing and sealing them with signature and familiar elements I know and love. I reviewed the first single, Disintegration Anxiety that showed off a distorted flurry of warped guitar tones and electronic sampling that caught me off guard at first, but was something I warmed up to over time. It felt like a breath of fresh air that I haven’t heard from a band in this genre in a while… and that’s the best way I can describe The Wilderness.

Fresh, but familiar.

Disintegration Anxiety is an appropriate sounding appetizer for an album laced with electronic filigrees, glitchy percussion, and a palate of different soundscapes. One of the best features of The Wilderness is that the band released a collection of still images captured by members and crew over the course of 17 years worth of writing, recording, and touring that inspired each of the nine tracks. Listening to these songs and pairing them with the images gives a more intimate view into the band’s imagination. For example, the opening track, Wilderness, is drawn from an image taken late night at an airport concourse in Europe with a focus on the gate sign reading, Austin. The band wrote about how it was a reminder that after being on tour, they were almost home. You can almost hear that sense of longing to return to their 12509094_10150599760549987_5072979378544854382_nroots when you reach the end of the track and hear a twinkling guitar loop that fades out to the end, reminiscent of their early work. Rather than crafting something with the flow of a classical piece like the rest of their discography, they wrote something more straightforward and spliced that still retains the same musical meta-narrative – much like different scenes in a film. Logic of a Dream reaches the most cathartic heights with these orchestral crecendos that sound like something off Hans Zimmer’s work in Interstellar, and Landing Cliffs ends the record hushed and spacey with atmospheric synths cradling gentle guitar chords.

This album had to grow on me, because it’s a sonic departure from albums that I’ve loved from the band. However, this new style they’ve embraced is in some ways even more emotional than other work. I don’t know how else to describe this, but I’ll end with a quote from Pitchfork writer, Brandon Stousy, about his thoughts on The Wilderness…

Because the group has done so much soundtracking, it’s difficult when listening to The Wilderness not to think of images that could go with these songs. Instead of making music for dramatic moments in football games, we’re getting sunsets you’ll remember a decade later, stumbling first kisses, half-heard car alarms during a comforting dream, that horribly unreal and frozen moment when you first hear a friend has died, walks alone at dusk, laying on your back and watching the constellations with the person you want to grow old with, the calm of seeing a loved one sleep. These songs feel personal. They tug at important moments.”