Music


Remember when I destroyed my entire music collection of over 5,000 albums? Well, an email from eMusic (rejoin now and get 50 free tracks!) prompted me to start collecting again, although on a much smaller (and more legal) scale. What was my first download? Why, the greatest piece of music ever written, of course!

Pssst. Something I’m really excited to launch is coming. More later.

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I’ve been hating on pop music for several years now. I think pop music is, nearly by definition, just a boring rehash of (a) pop music from yesterday or (b) a trite transliteration of earlier good music into bland pop conventions. A shockingly clear example of this is given by Webshite here. “How You Remind Me” (the #1 Billboard single of all 2001) plays in the left speaker, and “Someday” (a US Top Ten single from 2003) plays in the right speaker. You can hear it’s exactly the same song.

Webshite writes: “Nickelback… you bastards, you’re taking advantage of those tone deaf MTV brainwashed twats who are too thick to notice you’re releasing songs that are EXACTLY THE SAME as ones you recorded earlier.”

Funniest thing I’ve seen/heard in quite some time.

I did a terrifying, devastating, and perhaps foolish thing today.

I permanently deleted my entire music collection.

You probably don’t understand what this means. Let me explain.

Remember my post about how my lust for music was taking over my life? I was constantly consuming music, illegally and to the loss of about 50 hours a week, so I decided to stop consuming music altogether.

That lasted two days.

Then I started consuming music faster than ever before. I recently downloaded, cataloged, and previewed more than 60 albums in a single day. I love music so much, and have such easy access to it that I couldn’t stop.

My addiction is unhealthy and wasteful, and is keeping me from being the man God is calling me to be. And like a drug, it makes me feel very good but is keeping me from being truly, deeply filled with joy.

So I deleted it all. Over 5,000 albums, most obscure and difficult to find. Truly, my life’s work. The product of thousands of hours of passionate hunting, reading, discussing, trading, and writing. Mostly stolen albums, hundreds of free and legitimate albums, and hundreds of albums I paid for properly. All gone. Forever.

I knew I couldn’t take the time to sort out the ones that were free or rightly purchased; that would still leave me with a very large collection and a wide open door for the temptation to build again on that collection. No, in order to free myself, I had to totally devastate myself.

I knew this was an area of my life I had not surrendered to God. Now I seek the simple path of daily brokenness before God.

Did I make the right choice? I don’t know. I begged God to tell me what to do, but I couldn’t hear him. So I did the thing that seemed most pure, most beautiful. My decision may have been stupid, but I hope God considers that I did it with good intentions.

How do I feel? Awful. I weep now as I type this, because I just threw away thousands of hours of intense pleasure. Nothing stirs my emotions like good music, and I had a limitless supply of it just a few minutes ago. Now it is all gone, and it seems a cold world that awaits me without it. Imagine the thing you love the most, the thing that keeps you going through the week, the thing that comforts you when you hurt, the thing that excites you to no end. Then imagine it suddenly and completely gone.

I don’t recall ever asking my readers for prayer before, but I ask it now. Please pray that I will remain faithful and not steal music ever again, that I will keep music surrendered to God, that I will fill the gaping hole left behind with the presence of God, and that I will continue to surrender other parts of my being to Christ’s lordship.

Breathe, Luke. Just breathe. It’s gonna be okay.

There is now so much music being written and released each year that even with the thousands of catalogs and “critics” on the Internet it’s impossible to keep track of it all. And jazz and classical musics are so poorly covered and marketed that I probably haven’t heard any of my to-be favorites of those genres from this year yet. But I did listen to several hundred rock albums this year.

Unfortunately, no masterpieces were recorded this year, and rock continued its plummet from the last creative season of its history: the mid-late 90s. (2006 was worse than 2005, which was worse than 2004, which was worse than 2003, etc.) Nonetheless, here are my favorite rock albums from 2006 (roughly 7/10 rating). I will add titles as I continue to listen.
 
 
 
Carla Bozulich – Evangelista
To quote Scaruffi, these are not songs, but Diamanda Galas-esque “screams, whispers and moans that wander through the inner maze of the psyche”, with the accompaniment of digital noise and the Godspeed You Black Emperor! instrumentalists commune. It is a desperate sonic representation of schizophrenia, loneliness, and hope, and perhaps today’s spiritual cousin of (and an improvement upon) Catherine Ribeiro‘s albums from the late 60s and early 70s.
 
 
TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
Most artists that burst onto the music scene with a sound as original and powerful as Young Liars (2003) steadily shed their creativity and conform to more pop music clichés with each new release. This is called “refining their sound” as if it’s a good thing. But so far, TV on the Radio have instead pushed the outer boundaries of their music with each album, and Return to Cookie Mountain is their most daring and successful work yet, an unlikely marriage of doo-wop, shoegaze, ambient and post-grunge.
 
 
 
Need to hear: Barnyard Drama – I’m a Navvy, Feuermusik – Goodbye, Lucille, Svarte Grenier – Knive, Fred Frith – Snakes and Ladders

Overrated but good: The Liars – Drum’s Not Dead, Keith Fullerton Whitman – Lisbon, Joanna Newsom – Ys, Scott Walker – Drift, Beirut – Gulag Orkestar, Built to Spill – You in Reverse, Serena-Maneesh – Serena-Maneesh, Zukanican – Horse Republic

Overrated and mediocre/bad shortlist: Bob Dylan – Modern Times, Ali Farka Toure – Savane, Ghostface Killah – Fishscale, Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies, The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America, Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped, Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye, Grizzly Bear – Yellow House, The Knife – Silent Shout, Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones, Muse – Black Holes and Revelations, Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere, The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth, Thom Yorke – The Eraser, The Killers – Sam’s Town, Christina Carter – Electrice, The Decemberists – The Crane Wife, Tool – 10,000 Days, Islands – Return to the Sea, Mogwai – Mr. Beast, Justin Timberlake – FutureSex / LoveSounds, Guillemots – Through the Windowpane, Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit, The Thermals – The Body The Blood The Machine, Boris – Pink, Comets on Fire – Avatar, Alejandro Escovedo – The Boxing Mirror, I’m From Barcelona – Let Me Introduce My Friends, Clint Mansell – The Fountain, Benoit Pioulard – Precis, Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds, The Flaming Lips – At War with the Mystics, Spank Rock – Yoyoyoyoyo, Man Man – Six Demon Bag, Brightblack Morning Light – Brightblack Morning Light, Film School – Film School, Beck – The Information, She Wants Revenge – She Wants Revenge, Ricardo Villalobos – Fizheuer Zieheuer, The Residents – Tweedles, The Mars Volta – Amputechture, The Fiery Furnaces – Fiery Tea, Charalambides – A Vintage Burden, Mission of Burma – The Obliterati, Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche, Bardo Pond – Ticket Crystals, Valley of Ashes – Cavehill Hunters’ Attrition, Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury, Girl Talk – Night Ripper, Herbet – Scale, Hot Chip – The Warning, The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine, Tom Waits – Orphans Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, Geoff Mullen – Thrtysxtrllnmnfstns, Mastodon – Blood Mountain, Sparklehorse – Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, Loscil – Plume, The Necks – Chemist, Clogs – Lantern, The Ascent of Everest – How Lonely Sits the City, Autopsia – The Berlin Requiem, My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade, Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers, The Rapture – Pieces of the People We Love, Let Airplanes Circle Overhead – Let Airplanes Circle Overhead, Park Attack – Half Past Human, Agalloch – Ashes Against the Grain, Emily Haines – Knives Don’t Have Your Back

I really like this Flickr Wallpaper Rotator. It takes a Flickr username or search term (“hong kong”, “puppy”, “flower”, “abstract”, etc.) and rotates matching photos from Flickr on your desktop every so many minutes, hours, or whatever. You get only the highest-quality photos if you sort by interestingness.

50 Greatest Cartoons Ever (with links to watch all of them online).

Album covers that spoof other album covers.

A woman is testing every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study she can find to achieve happiness. She’s tracking her progress in her blog, and she’ll write a book after one year.

Unlike Noel, I like year-end lists. From Rex‘s famous year-end list of lists for 2006: the year’s best art, overrated and underrated books, best movies, the year in ideas, 100 things we didn’t know this time last year, and best rock albums.

I look forward to Pluggd, a Google for podcasts. Search for a word spoken in any of a billion podcasts (me, I’m thinking sermons), then start listening right at that segment.

99 Strange Photos. And, 100 Wonders of the World. I’ve seen (in person) only five. How ’bout you?

Niagara Falls froze over in 1911 (photo) and 1936 (photo).

Peter Gabriel‘s soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, entitled Passion, is, I think, the best film soundtrack ever recorded, and it ranks quite highly on my list of Greatest Rock(ish) Albums Ever. Let me set the historical backdrop with four musical events:

In 1963, Sandy Bull created what became known as “world music” by fusing Eastern musical forms (like the Indian raga) and scales (like Mediterranean tunings) with Western forms (like the rock song) and instruments (like the modern guitar). In 1969, experimental ensemble Third Ear Band created a new music that fused a variety of world musics (medieval, Native American, gypsy, Indian, minimalist, jazz, and more) with no relation to rock music at all. In 1978, Jon Hassell, who had studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen (the most cerebral avantgarde composer ever), invented his “fourth world music” by combining ancient world musics, futuristic electronic musics, and his unique trumpet sound that mimics the voice of Hindustani singer Pandit Pran Nath. In 1981, rocker David Byrne and producer/composer Brian Eno invented techno-ethno-funk, a funky music that uses avantgarde techniques to blend Third World percussion and electronic soundscapes.

Since 1969, first with Genesis and then in solo projects, Peter Gabriel had been crafting an atmospheric, psychological prog-pop. The albums were mediocre to decent, but when Scorcese asked Gabriel to compose a soundtrack for his controversial Jesus movie in 1989, something amazing and unprecedented happened. Gabriel applied the lessons of Sandy Bull, Third Ear Band, Jon Hassell, and Byrne & Eno to his oneiric vision of an ancient middle-eastern emotional holocaust to create a spiritual masterpiece that transcends all time. I cannot write a better review than Piero Scaruffi:

The funereal flute litanies and the syncopated beat of “Of These Hope” evoke a prayer in the desert, while gentle winds scour the sand dunes and caravans sail towards the horizon. Desperate voices surface out of the dark, swampy beat of “A Different Drum”, materialized by the lugubrious organ drones. “With This Love” features a tender oboe melody, worthy of Schubert, that floats over a double-violin simulating the cello of baroque music. This piece, the album’s highlight, exudes the sorrowful fatalism of Ennio Morricone’s scores and the dejected majesty of Albinoni’s “Adagio”.

“Passion” is a cosmic raga that seems to encompass Islamic, Christian and pagan liturgy through the interplay of three voices: Gabriel’s muezzin-like lament, Nusrat Fateh’s angelic soprano,
and Youssou N’Dour’s equatorial cry. They are hypnotized by the macabre phrases of Jon Hassell’s trumpet, while Brazilian percussions and gloomy electronics create a metaphysical suspense, evoking both genesis and apocalypse.

Gabriel indulges in several formats, as if to explore the same theme through different eyes: from the whirling Persian dervishes of “The Feeling Begins” to the minimalist concerto of “Zaar”, from the psychedelic ecstasy of “Open” (another highlight) to the distant echoes of galactic music that constitute “Stygmata”. The idea is often so abstract that music flows backwards, towards the maternal womb rather than towards the real world. Occasionally one sees snapshots of Robert Wyatt’s most otherworldly visions.

The shorter pieces are no less suggestive and ethereal. Far from merely reenacting impressionism in music, these miniatures continue the theme of the “foetus” music: the new-age psalm of “Lazarus”, the austere chamber music of “Gethsemane”, the “breathing” music of “In Doubt”, the cyclic exorcism of “The Promise of Shadows”, even the Talking Heads-ian techno-funk of “Troubled”.

The last three “songs” are more explicitly related to the story, and compose a moving crescendo: in “Disturbed” the synthesizer plays a droning requiem over chaotic percussions, and the jubilant “wall of sound” of “It Is Accomplished” leads to the languid hymn of “Bread And Wine”.

Gabriel’s Passion is, first and foremost, a study in “sound”. Each piece cultivates its own sound almost in semiotic terms (each piece being a sign, rather than an object). Jung’s collective unconscious comes to life in Gabriel’s supernatural scores.

Passion is one of my favorite pieces of music of any genre, and a worthy addition to any music lover’s library.

A spiritual masterpiece like this from a secular artist gets me thinking about about the state of Christian music (again). CCM has never shown any passion for art, so even though Christianity claims more adherents than any other religion (and Islam is hardly involved in the music industry for cultural reasons), the most spiritual (and even Christian) works of innovative music today are written by non-Christian artists!

Several Christian composers are writing innovative, emotional, spiritual Christian music (Arvo Part and John Tavener). Two of the most well-received classical compositions of the last decade are Passion According to St. Mark by Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov and Water Passion after St. Matthew by Eastern mystic and composer Tan Dun. And if humanist John Adams’ Harmonielehre (1985) isn’t the best existing symphony of God’s glory, I don’t know what is.

These works may be sonically inaccessible to most people, but popular music is no different, and Peter Gabriel’s Passion is only one example. What CCM artist can claim the religious intensity and ethnic fusion of Spleen and Ideal (1985) by Dead Can Dance? The tribal-ambient devotionals of Well of Souls (1995) by Steve Roach? The sacred eternity and mystery of Remnants Of A Deeper Purity (1996) by Black Tape for a Blue Girl? I could list dozens of examples, and the entirety of Christian rock music pales in comparison.

Once again, I call upon the Christian community to glorify God not only with lyrically edifying jingles, but also with complex and beautiful and innovative and intense phantasmagorias of sound! God is the most amazing artist ever, and he gave us artistic talents to glorify him and enjoy his beauty. We should use these talents for more than derivative ditties.

Composer Philip Glass hasn’t had any original ideas throughout the majority of his career (since about 1985), which hasn’t stopped him from becoming the most popular contemporary composer (just like it didn’t stop The Beatles). He has repeated the same themes, ideas, motifs – and in many cases exact phrases – for the past 20 years, ad nauseum. But if a non-classical-music listener were to jump into Glass’ work at any point, I’d recommend Symphony No. 5 (besides his String Quartets Nos. 3-5, his last important works). To a new Glass listener, Symphony No. 5 will sound amply fresh, and certainly as passionate and accessible as Glass always is.

Symphony No. 5 is a choral symphony that quotes from a variety of world scriptures: Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Koran, Hindu scriptures, Rumi, a Bulu creation story, Ecclesiastes, and more. The music pounds and soars and washes over you. It is very hummable and follows easy, vigorous rhythms. Whatever my opinion of the work as art, this is truly one of my most-enjoyed Glass compositions.

You can hear samples on the Amazon page.

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