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.

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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.

new : tunes

Red Rocks Worship | The Rooftop EP

Placing roots just outside the mile high city, Red Rocks Worship is a collective of musicians who are on the worship team for Red Rocks Church in Littleton, Colorado. One of my roommates found a link a mutual friend of ours shared of the group’s latest EP recorded in a single session from a rooftop in downtown Denver. He started playing the last song, All I Want, and all of us were hooked. The finger plucked chord progression that transitions into stellar vocal performances, a surprisingly thick bass line, and well balanced percussion drew me into this record, because it brings worship into an inviting, intimate atmosphere. At this point in my life I can enjoy a big crowd with bombastic instrumentation in a packed sanctuary, but I’ve found that sense of the organic in times of worship with a few friends with nothing more than an acoustic guitar become some of the most memorable moments. The project starts out with Fill This Place, which begins dimly with bells, piano, and a guitar that sounds like it was recorded on a rainy day with Joshua Radin or The Weepies, but strong bass drums, and a robust set of musicians built this up into a release in electric guitars and powerful vocals. One Great Passion is the stylistic middle ground between the two, keeping a mid paced tempo and putting a foot in both poles on this album – ranging from the soft and acoustic to the big and booming. In the times I’ve reviewed worship music on this blog, I’ve always had to tag on a disclaimer that discusses my sentiments about worship music being corporatized and 12321567_1567863050129930_7679414217313514340_n ergo reduced to radio “hits” that carry little artistic merit. I still hold those assumptions to a certain degree, but the truth is that there is some well crafted worship music that’s been resuscitated by groups like Hillsong and Bethel. You just have to go looking for it. Other groups like The Dust of Men, Rivers and Robots, and Gungor have made prolific worship albums that are honest and heart filled. This is another one of those records that I can honestly say is convincing. Now that I’m in a spot where I’ve experienced some legitimately powerful times of worship, this kind of music is really starting to grow on me. Lyrically, this EP treads waters that are pretty familiar to most worship albums, musing through the sovereignty of God in difficult times and praise, but the highlight for me is a line in All I Want – “steal away my selfish gain, bringing Glory to Your name.” Being someone who wrestles with pride as part of my process of recovery, this line resonated well, especially when it’s back dropped against well-written music. The production quality reminds me of how well Bethel’s last album, We Will Not Be Shaken (everyone and their mother who likes worship music must listen to that album…. Even if you’re not into it that much, it will rock you), was done for it being a live record. After gaining insight from a good friend of mine about the engineering process behind live albums like such that involves additional synths to thicken the ambiance, the finished product can only be as good as the heart and soul of the original takes. My point is that this was recorded on a rooftop in a downtown district, which means the acoustics are not going to provide the same control as a studio environment, but they’re still stellar! Overall, this is a really diverse EP that has tunes good for a range of moods, environments, and moments of worship. I would definitely give this one a listen and an add to any worship playlist!

Oh, and honorable mention goes to a live version of Pursue (<—- LINK!) that’s mashed up with All I Need Is You from Hillsong Young & Free. I can only find it on Youtube and I have to give a shout out to my roommates for playing this!

 

Explosions In the Sky | Disintegration Anxiety

Aside from a few soundtracks written for a couple of Sundance films and Lone Survivor, I have been enduring radio silence from my favorite band for five years since they released, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. After dwindling patience, quintessential instrumental rock outfit from Austin, Texas, Explosions In the Sky,12509094_10150599760549987_5072979378544854382_n.jpg have released a new single from their forthcoming record in April, The Wilderness. I’ve heard it said that post rock is limping from a lack of ingenuity since the late 1990’s and early 2000’s – basically that the genre is running dry on fresh ideas that are now being lathered, rinsed, and repeated nearly two decades since its prime. While, bands like Mogwai, If These Trees Could Talk, Godspeed You Black Emperor are maybe falling back on certain formulas that gained them notoriety, other groups like The World Is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die (say that one five times fast) and Foxing are soldering post rock with emo and even punk to inject it with a shot of adrenaline. Now, Explosions, one of the premiere groups in this genre is turning it upside down… with electronica? I was honestly expecting the familiarity of shimmering guitar tones back dropped against field snare percussion, and bombastic crecendos, but instead Disintegration Anxiety begins with thick electronic sampling that combusts into a chaotic flurry of guitars and bass that remind me a lot of Kasabian and even some of the new Switchfoot. Dare I say it’s a bit of a head banger and I actually like this direction that the band is taking with this song that seems to go against the grain of the monotony of originality. It’s stylistically shedding skin without sacrificing any of the ambiance and build up that these guys are Jedi Masters at. I look forward to the rest of their album in April! Listen to it. It’s good. Like… really good.

 

Fit For an Autopsy | Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell

Hailing from the Jersey Shore and signed to eOne Music’s menacing roster, Fit For an Autopsy sank their teeth into deathcore when it first became a divisive sensation amongst metal fans in the mid 2000’s. Regardless of the particular subgenre’s fidelity, Fit For an Autopsy established themselves as heavy hitters to be reckoned with on the back of their slamming debut – The Process of Human Extermination (talk about family friendly title). While I was never into this band even during my most scathing phases of musical interest, they managed to weave their way through the underpinnings of some of my favorite heavier metal acts, like Whitechapel. Many of the bands I used to really be into all cite Fit For an Autopsy as a common denominator influence, so in a sense, I have to tip my hat to these Jersey boys for having a musical hand in a core section of my catalog during high school. What tipped me off to their new album, Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell is lead guitarist, Will Putney. Armed to the teeth with prolific production ability 12063694_1010270315670338_8148475741185813042_nand a crafty ear for catchy hooks with a lot of grit, Putney has been the man at the helm for some of my favorite bands, including Counterparts and Hundredth. In fact, I got the chance to talk to one of my favorite bands For Today‘s lead guitarist, Ryan Leitru, last October at their show in Minneapolis about what it was like for them to have Will Putney produce their new record. Leitru had nothing but good things to say, so it peaked my curiosity to see how he handled it with his own band. All of that talent dimly shines through an otherwise dark and visceral record. Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell undoubtedly lives up to the second half of its title with a calculated, down tuned storm of guitars, pummeling percussion, and a powerful vocal delivery from Joe Badolato. With plenty of breakdowns to go around for 40 minutes, this band has not completely shed the skin of their deathcore roots, but they make up for that with shrewd creativity and melodic tendencies on songs like Ghosts In the River, Out to Sea, and Swing the Axe. Other tracks like Wither and False Positive put the record in fourth gear and crank the intensity to warp ten with black metal influenced savagery. Lyrically, this dives face first into recycled, nihilistic themes of hatred and corruption, so I don’t connect with anything. For what it’s worth, this record tickles nostalgic tendencies from late high school and junior college when I was able to stomach bigger doses of it. Though I don’t find anything to resonate or leave a long lasting impression, it’s a brutal listen, written well, and has some earworm guitar licks. Check it out if you want to mosh with your friends in a living room (Trust me, it’s fun).

 

Sons of the East | Already Gone EP

Back with a set of new songs packed for a journey through a half hour of nimble acoustic/folk, Aussie trio Sons of the East have been slowly leaving musical footprints around the other corner of the world with old school folk flourishes and even a touch of their roots with indigenous instrumentation that will make you stomp your foot to the kick drum beat of songs like, Miramere. Acoustic/folk reminds me of hip-hop. A lot of contemporary artists within the genre can trace their sounds and influences to a handful of game changers who wrote catalytic and memorable music that still leaves their fingerprints in the thank you sections of records. Acoustic/folk is very similar. It lives in a house that Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash built with mainstream success and 1374964_940893175995257_729486520242907147_n.jpg was given a renovation/facelift with modern artists like John Mayer and James Morrison. Though Sons of the East doesn’t join such prolific mainstream ranks of anyone previously mentioned, they for sure have the former to thank for paving the way for their style. Sons of the East definitely tip their hats and guitar picks to the legends that proceed them with the trademark elongated enunciated vocals of Bob Dylan from Nic Johnson and garnish their rootsy sound with the likes of Fleetwood Mac. Already Gone takes a lot of what really made me like them on their previous release and then reaches out in some different directions that still make for a cohesive listen. Songs like Into the Sun showcase the use of electric guitars and let Jack Rollins have a crack at the drivers seat leading vocals, which is a really nice change in pace. The title track is an upbeat ballad that begins with the tenor of Gregory Alan Isakov and includes some old key organ parts in the bridge that throws the song back to the 1960’s. The project continues in lineage of songs from their previous EP on tracks like Head For Home and Jacaranda Tree, both of which are packed with rich sounding tones and beautiful complimentary pianos. The Farmer speeds up the pace by the end of the album with a lively toe tapper reminiscent of anything from Mumford & Sons first two albums. This EP is a lot better produced and has more scope to it. It sounds fuller and the best part is that it doesn’t take away from the sense of the organic. Overall, I really enjoy this EP and the experimentation taken from the last release. I would highly recommend this album for anyone who wants some good acoustic tunes for coffee shops, windows down in the summer, or… yeah. Pretty much anything.