How is it possible that the creative life can feel simultaneously self-giving and narcissistic? On the one hand, the artist, or musician, or writer has a gift that not everyone has. And because paintings and songs and books give other people great joy – and might even change their lives — those gifts must be shared. But that means the artist herself must be shared, and that’s the problem.
For the artist, self-expression is unavoidable – it is part of the job description. As a songwriter, my raw material is the world as I observe it. That’s all I’ve got. The most realistic painter or sculptor still has to rely on his own vision. Even as a journalist, I have to draw upon my five senses, my own mind and my own experiences. Even as I tell someone else’s story, it is in part my story. I can’t tell your story without filtering it through my story; it’s how we make sense of new information. I’m only human, after all.
There are some artists whose work leaves you walking away thinking, “How in the world did they do that?” The Yeasayer performance at the 9:30 Club in D.C. on Nov. 15 was one such performance.
The psychedelic electro pop group hailing from Brooklyn pumped out a wholesome set of favorites from its older releases as well as songs from its recent — and divisive — album Fragrant World, all to the backdrop of what looked like a chunk of the Epcot ball from Disney World.
But the elaborate — and frequently trippy — back drop and light show seamlessly augmented the synth-laden songs, morphed electric guitar, and catchy hooks. It was truly and audiovisual experience. Had their performance included some neon gummy worms or something, it would have engaged nearly every sense.
It’s not unusual to hear someone rapping about clothes — and how expensive theirs are — on the radio these days. Consider Jay Z and Kanye West’s collaboration “Otis,” where Jay Z belts, “Photo-shoot fresh, looking like wealth / I'm 'bout to call the paparazzi on myself.”
And if you don’t hear about their diamond studded jewelry and designer clothes, some rappers aren’t shy about showing them off in music videos.
But Seattle-based hip hop group Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who recently hit number one on the iTunes album charts and stopped by D.C.’s 9:30 club on Nov. 13, chose a different approach to the whole clothing concept and, for the most part, hip hop in general.
If you were overwhelmed by all that election business, you might have forgotten that October just happened, and with it came a new release from one of my personal favorite musicians, Andrew Bird.
Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird’s latest record and companion to March’s Break it Yourself, is the product of a pair of recording sessions prompted by an immense response to Bird’s “old-time” sets on recent tours.
Reinterpreting songs from Break It Yourself and featuring covers of classic country tunes, these “old-time” performances find Bird and his full band playing to a single microphone with an entirely acoustic setup.
Drawing inspiration from these sets, Hands of Glory features two brand new original tracks, a new interpretation of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and covers of Van Zandt, the Handsome Family, Alpha Consumer and others.
The results are fantastic.
Steve Taylor, film director and rock hero, visits our (mine and Jordan Green's) Homebrewed Christianity podcast to talk about the disappointing theater run of his film, Blue Like Jazz, what made him leave music for film, and to announce his return to music through a new album he’s been working on.
So, yeah, that’s a big deal. And yeah, we’re pretty much breaking the story.
In the Echo Chamber, we talk about the election, Superstorm Sandy, scary movie commercials, and, you know, a bunch of other stuff. Finally, we discuss some common Christian cliches.
Listen ... inside the blog.
Freelance Whales’ performance on Wednesday was a bit like my experience with Hurricane Sandy: One minute was jubilation at the prospect of no work for two days, and the next minute was a mellowed out restlessness, presumably from staying inside for too long.
That is definitely not to say that the performance was by any means terrible or disengaging. Rather, it simply means that the group from Queens meandered through most of their current catalogue, which consisted of the poppy, upbeat Weathervanes and the recently released, mellow, ambient Diluvia.
For popular catchy songs like “Generator ^ First Floor,” “Hannah,” or “Ghosting,” the crowd was quick to nod their heads, raise their hands, and sing along.
What is it that music actually does? What is that thing? I'm not entirely sure.
That music has physical qualities is unquestionable. A certain pitch can shatter glass. Low notes can cause the trunk of the car stopped next to you in traffic to shimmy and shake. Volume hurts our ears. Music, temporally bound, is material.
It affects the world around us. It engages the world around us. Sound waves travel through various substances...with greater or lesser ease depending on the substance, but it does travel. It moves.
But does it live, move, and have being?
Cosmic Christ – depth of reality. The resurrection of Christ is also of the body…exit wounds and all. So can the music that changes the shape of the world we live in not help us access the God who inhabits the world and heaven at the same time?
So often I read passages like the one above from Rock and Theology (an amazing blog, by the way) and I wonder what the hell we're all going on about. Music does not have agency in any conscious sense. It is substantive, of course, and could be analysed liturgically like any other liturgical object.
According to Rolling Stone:
Paul McCartney says that Yoko Ono isn't at fault for splitting the Beatles or tearing John Lennon away from the group in an upcoming TV interview with David Frost, the BBC reports. "She certainly didn't break the group up," McCartney says, countering the commonly held belief that Ono caused the Beatles' dissolution. "I don't think you can blame her for anything," McCartney says, adding that Lennon was "definitely going to leave."
Read the Rolling Stone report in its entirety HERE.
For our brothers and sisters on the East Coast, in the path of the storm they call "Sandy," I've put together a little music for you to help pass the time. Sending you prayers of protection, peace, and grace (and, I hope, more than a bit of musical joy and solace) from the shores of the Pacific here in California at the SoJo West office.
Inside the blog, there are 30 videos. For those of you with power (and an Internet connection), I hope it helps pass the time and maybe even gets you to get up and dance a little in your living rooms.
Here's the song and video the playlist begins with: "No Storms Come" by our Sojo friends, The Innocence Mission:
It's been a very musical weekend.
Pictured at left is a Foster 7-string guitar. It's just like a traditional 6-string acoustic, but with the added rumble of a low-b string. It's an interesting beast to play. Lovely, really. I like that extra resonance in the low end, plus, if truth be told, I like singing with it. Here is a little recording from Soundcloud. I recorded the file below on my phone. Any tinnyness is purely because of the phone.
God Girl's New Favorite Thing for Oct. 25, 2012: Two Irish boys cover Rihanna's "We Found Love (in a Hopeless Place)"
Now who are these talented young lads?
UPDATE: WE FOUND 'EM!
More info from the singer's father inside the blog...
I was standing there on the shore, jeans rolled up, my ankles in the surf.
It was day two of the Rob Bell event and people were surfing.
Rob brings in a couple of surfing instructors and, if you want to, you can rent a board and take a lesson. It's a good time. I watched a lot of people surf for the first time as I stood on the shore ...
If I were given one word to describe New Zealand singer-songwriter Kimbra, probably best known for singing the female part on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” it would be eccentric.
But that word is based almost entirely on her live show, where — after dimming the lights and playing the theme for The Godfather over the 9:30 Club’s speakers on Tuesday — Kimbra walked onto the stage, decked out in sleek elevator shoes, a fluffy dress laden with glitter and color (which eventually became a tutu), and what looked like pom poms draped over her shoulders. She would’ve looked even more out of place if her drummer wasn’t rocking a sweet high top fade.
But, even though concerts are performances — and as such necessitate an element of spectacle — the music obviously remains the reason people flock to see their favorite musicians.
In case you’re out of the loop, Passion Pit have emerged over the last five years as a pretty big indie-dance-rock group from the Boston area, seamlessly mixing elements of Vampire Weekend, the Beach Boys, and 80s music, among many other sounds and influences. Passion Pit started as a side project of lead singer Michael Angelakos — one that he thought wouldn’t go anywhere and was just for fun — and has quickly gained steam, releasing its second album last summer and performing on Saturday Night Live this past weekend.
On Tuesday they wrapped up three sold-out shows in Washington, D.C., with a triumphant performance, inspiring even the more awkward shyer attendees to move a little. Even the frat daddies who showed up because their girlfriends made them were getting into it.
Angelakos is well aware of Passion Pit’s tendency for infectious catchy songwriting.
“People feel like they're always singing along,” Angelakos told the Huffington Post. “There are always parts to sing along to. It's built into the music.”
I couldn’t resist: I heard that a singer/songwriter in Atlanta was coming out with an album titled, Faith, the Poor, and Politics. Josh Schicker currently serves as Worship Leader in Mission at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. He’s also an accomplished musician, recording songs and performing at Eddie’s Attic most recently.
Faith, the Poor, and Politics is both catchy and contemplative. It’s spiritual but not in-your-face religious; personal, but not isolated from community. Below, you can read his thoughts on the album and other things in the realm of faith, politics, and culture.
Jens Lekman is a storyteller.
Wait, Jens who? How do you pronounce that?
Jens (pronounced “Yens”) Lekman is a witty, hopelessly romantic Swedish musician from a suburb of Gothenburg.
Lekman was at the 9:30 club in D.C. last Friday — armed with a small acoustic guitar that fuels his unique indie pop style. Occasionally he reached over and pressed the pads of his sampler, cuing thumping bass accompaniment and flurries of strings to compliment his smooth voice, violinist, bassist, drummer, and pianist.
While he may not be on top of the iTunes album charts, Jens (I feel like we’re on a first name basis simply because he was so relaxed and open at the show) is definitely worth a listen, whether it’s at home, in the car, on the go, or — especially — in concert.