Illiterati Lumen Fidei May 14, 2012Posted by Matt in music, spirituality.
Tags: god, I Can't Stand It, illiterati lumen fidei, Jesus Etc, Misunderstood, Open Mind, theism, Theologians, theology, Wilco
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Or, how Jeff Tweedy helped write my personal theology
This weekend I will be afforded to opportunity to again see one of my favorite bands, Wilco, live and in concert. So, to ready myself for the upcoming show, I’ve been inundating myself with music from across their career, from old and new favorites to rediscovering those songs that have slipped through the cracks in my mind over the years. As I did this, I began to realize the profound beauty of the words and music, and just how much of an influence a well-written song can have on an obsessive music fan like me. In many ways, the poetry of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco mirror my own belief system and the spiritual progression I have undergone for the past several years.
“No love’s as random as God’s love / I can’t stand it / I can’t stand it.” (“I Can’t Stand It,” Summerteeth)
One of the first casualties in my move away from a belief system centered in classic theism was the idea of Divine Providence. I simply could no longer believe in a God who arbitrarily inserted itself into the world at seemingly random points in history to do things as innocuous as winning football games and as violent and awful as winning wars. Accordingly, God is always on the side of the victors. After hearing the name of God invoked in so many circumstances, you either become numb to it or you reject it as being logically incoherent. The realization that life is more a series of random variables than a carefully cultivated divine plan is quite liberating.
“You know you’ve got a God-shaped hole / You’re bleeding out your heart full of soul / You’re so misunderstood.” (“Misunderstood,” Being There)
The move away from a belief in theism is a difficult one, one that is fraught with anger and rejection, and that is something I discovered a few years ago as I began to speak these ideas aloud (or online), facing the inevitable backlash from many who have been important in my life. It’s a disheartening experience to face exclusion and dismissal from others, to realize that entire relationships are contingent upon the acceptance of a few axioms of faith.
“Our love is all of God’s money. / Everyone is a burning sun.” (“Jesus, Etc.” Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
So, what do we do with God if the Divine can no longer be looked upon to provide divine intervention? It seems as though we must look within, to search for those characteristics marking our own inherent divinity. There is perhaps nothing more God-like than the concept of love, that cosmic force that envelopes our being, that drives us beyond the realm of critical thinking and logic and into a radical concern for others that could ultimately cost us our own lives.
“Illiterati Lumen Fidei / God is with us every day / That illiterate light / Is with us every night” (“Theologians,” A Ghost is Born)
With God no longer being the classic, thunderbolt-hurling deity in the clouds, what is left?
Perhaps God is something bigger than that, something that we can’t know intellectually, something meant to be felt, to explored through different paths. Maybe God is ultimately indescribable and unknowable, but something to which we all have thoughts and inclinations. I like to think of God as the indwelling spirit of the universe, swirling about in the cosmos, bestowing life and love upon all its denizens. Is that the correct way to describe the Divine? Probably not, but it’s the explanation that works best for me at this time of my life, and that’s really the best we can do.
“Oh, I can only dream of the dreams we’d share / If you weren’t so defined. / I would love to be the one to open up your mind.” (“Open Mind,” The Whole Love)
Thanks for the great music, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco, and thanks for helping to open my mind. I’ll see you on Saturday.
2012 First Quarter (Plus One Month) New Music Guide February 13, 2012Posted by Matt in Best of 2012, music.
Tags: 2012 new releases, Alabama Shakes, Andrew Bird, Bruce Springsteen, Heartless Bastards, Jack White, Justin Townes Earle, Lucero, M. Ward, music, Sleigh Bells, Todd Snider
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I’m a little behind on this, but I wanted to go ahead and give a quick head’s up on what’s new in the world of music. There have been a handful of interesting releases in the generally dead months of January and February: particularly Leonard Cohen’s hauntingly beautiful “Old Ideas,” Dr. Dog’s catchy “Be the Void,” and Craig Finn’s (frontman of The Hold Steady) solo work “Clear Heart, Full Eyes,” but other than those, few releases have caught my attention yet. Looking ahead to the next few months, the music calendar becomes more interesting, lucky for you, I’m here to dig through the plethora of releases and tell you what merits your listening. Here are the ten upcoming works I’m most anxiously awaiting.
Heartless Bastards – Arrow (Feb 14)
With the dark, Southern gothic imagery and the expansive, throaty vocals of Erika Wennerstrom, the Heartless Bastards have been on my radar since their excellent 2009 release, The Mountain. This is the one album on this list I’ve cheated on a bit and already listened to on NPR, and let me tell you, it’s great. You can hear “Parted Ways” here.
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror (Feb 21)
Noisy and loud, I was quickly drawn to Sleigh Bells last album “Treats,” and I eagerly await this follow up. The duo has a surprisingly full sound, with shoegazing-esque female vocals over crashing guitars. You can stream one of the new songs, Comeback Kid, here.
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself (Mar 6)
Over the years I’ve listened to him, I’ve been drawn to the way that Bird can so effortlessly incorporate different genres, from jazz to indie rock, into his songs, thus I’m intrigued to see where this multi-instrumentalist goes with his latest batch of recordings. Stream the song, “Eyeoneye,” here.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Wrecking Ball (Mar 6)
Now into his 60’s, the Boss is still the boss and there are few people who can bring it was well as he can. His last few albums have been excellent and I expect nothing less from this, his first post-Clarence Clemons release. Check out the song “We Take Care of Our Own.”
Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables (Mar 6)
Snider has been around a while, but his biting social commentary and funny lyrics never fail to disappoint. I can’t find any songs from this album, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Lucero – Women & Work (Mar 13)
Probably my second most anticipated album of the year (Sorry, guys, you lost out to the Boss), Lucero has been a favorite band of mine for years, and after seeing them several times last year, including an epic 3+ hour Memphis show just before Christmas, I’m more of a fan now than ever. Listen to me: Support this band. Check out the new tune “Sometimes.”
Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (Mar 27)
This progeny of the great Steve Earle has carved out his own interesting niche in the music world, releasing a catalogue of excellent albums that would make any artist jealous. I have high hopes for this one as well. Check out the title track here.
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (Apr 10)
Alabama Shakes have been making some noise on the Southern rock scene lately, backing up favorites of mine like the Drive-By Truckers, so I’m eagerly awaiting their full-length debut and perhaps a visit to Memphis. Check out the title song here.
M. Ward – A Wasteland Companion (Apr 10)
Singer-songwriter M. Ward has been quietly working the scene for years with mellow vocals and gentle, fingerpicked guitars and I’ve always found his work to be enjoyable. You can hear new song, “The First Time I Ran Away” here.
Jack White – Blunderbuss (Apr 24)
I’m a longtime disciple of Jack White, from the White Stripes, to the Raconteurs, to the Dead Weather, so I will quickly snatch up any recording bearing his name. This solo debut is no exception to that rule. His new song “Love Interruption” is an acoustic number, with the guitar god taking a different tact than his normal furious blasts of loudly distorted solos, but it is still quite good.
What releases are you most anticipating?
Nerds Unite! February 3, 2012Posted by Matt in music, random.
Tags: Ben Nichols, Dungeons & Dragons, Jason Isbell, Lucero, nerds are cool, Ryan Adams
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I always thought I was just part of a select group of weirdoes, for it seemed the road I and a few friends traveled growing up was certainly one less traveled, one that might induce eye-rolling, side-glances from others.
We played Dungeons and Dragons.
As a teenager, the made up fantasy stories and characters were an integral part of my life and my friends and I would gather together on a regular basis to put our fates in the rolling of oddly shaped dice. Sure, it was dorky, but it was a lot of fun.
And it turns out we weren’t the only ones.
A few months ago, I learned that Ben Nichols (to take it even farther, he reportedly thanked his D&D character in the liner notes of their album Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers), lead singer of Lucero, remains an avid D&D gamer. Then today, while perusing my Twitter feed, I see that Ryan Adams, perhaps the greatest songwriter of my generation, has posted a picture of an AD&D rulebook. And, not to be denied, former Drive-By Trucker and singer-songwriter extraordinaire Jason Isbell, expressed his own excitement at playing.
Did I somehow step into the Twilight Zone or something? Are all of my favorite artists really as dorky as me? Sure, I haven’t seriously played in nearly 20 years, but all those late nights of storytelling and dice throwing still hold a special place for me.
The Boss is In January 19, 2012Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
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That’s right. Bruce Springsteen is back with a new album set to come out March 16. All is right with the world.
Making the Impossible (List) Possible January 13, 2012Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: 50 albums, culturally significant music
I did it. I made the list.
Sure, it involved some weeping and gnashing of teeth, some consulting with experts and fellow music nerds, some deep contemplation and soul searching, but I finished it.
As I mentioned earlier this week, a good friend of mine asked me to come up with a list of the most culturally significant albums of the past 50 years for a course he is teaching at my alma mater, Harding University. Here it is.
Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962)
James Brown – Live at the Apollo (1963)
The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1965)
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1965)
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966)
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced? (1967)
Rolling Stones – Beggar’s Banquet (1968)
Woodstock Soundtrack (1969)
B.B. King – Live at the Regal (1965)
Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967)
Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970)
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush (1970)
Janis Joplin – Pearl (1971)
Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971)
Led Zeppelin – IV (1971)
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973)
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger (1975)
Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)
The Ramones – The Ramones (1976)
Bob Marley – Exodus (1977)
Sex Pistols – Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)
The Clash – London Calling (1980)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA (1984)
Prince – Purple Rain (1984)
Madonna – Like a Virgin (1984)
Run DMC – Raising Hell (1986)
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)
U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)
NWA – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
Garth Brooks – No Fences (1990)
Metallica – Black Album (1991)
Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville (1993)
The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (1994)
Tupac – All Eyez on Me (1996)
Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
Moby – Play (1999)
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Outkast – Stankonia (2000)
Green Day – American Idiot (2004)
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Creating the Impossible List January 9, 2012Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: 50 years, most influential albums
There are a lot of things in life that I love, tons of things that I could regale with songs of affection and desire, but only a handful that I would point to as objects of obsession, those things that burrow themselves into my brain, invading my every thought until I find some way of dealing with them. This source of obsession is not a new one. It’s one that has always followed me around, tugging at my mind like an insistent toddler with untold numbers of nonsensical questions. So, you may be asking, “What is this neural parasite from which there is no release?”
Lists and music. Each of them are debilitating to my everyday mental function, but when combined they are an insurmountable force. Like John Cusack and Jack Black in the great film (and book) High Fidelity, I tabulate enumerated catalogs in my brain, searching for the perfect song or album for every situation. Make no mistake, there are few things I enjoy doing more than creating lists of music, but the accompanying neurosis is undeniable.
Anyway, a few days ago I was honored by a good friend of mine who also happens to be an instructor at my alma mater, Harding University. He is teaching a course that, when I took it some 15 years ago, was incredibly influential to me and led me to the point where I am today. Without going into too much detail, the class deals with culture and his request was for a list of the most culturally significant albums of the past 50 years.
Of course I agreed to take on the challenge, despite its incredibly daunting subject matter. Over the weekend I pondered and pondered over this assignment, measuring artists and albums against each other, thinking about world events of those times and futilely attempting to put together the best possible list. After hours of listening and thinking, I decided to bring it to you before compiling my final choices. What would you include on the list.
Some choices are obvious: Sgt. Pepper’s, Exile on Main Street, What’s Goin’ On?, Nevermind, Fear of a Black Planet, etc., and those will certainly merit inclusion, but I’m sure I would forget something and interested to hear what you would include as well.
Making My Mixtape November 29, 2011Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: favorite songs, life in music, mixtape, personal playlist
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“The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. “ (from High Fidelity)
I’m a self-described music nerd, sometimes even snobbishly so, and so I often find myself using the music tastes of others to gauge people, even to judge them according to my sometimes skewed perception. Is this a fair way of doing things? Probably not, but if you like crappy music, chances are we aren’t going to immediately hit it off.
I was thinking about this today and about how music has played and continues to play such an important role in my life, and I wondered if I could distill the essence of what makes me who I am into a collection of songs, if I could create a mixtape (or to use the parlance of our time, a playlist) of those songs. I put the same challenge on a friend of mine earlier today after I thought of it and judging from their reaction, I think it appeared to be a quite a daunting task.
The more I think about it, the more I tend to agree, but anyway I’ve decided to take the challenge to make the definitive Matt mixtape, something that shows songs that are either favorites of mine or which fit into the arc of my life. The challenge will be distilling this into 10 or so songs.
What would go on your list? I’m going to work on mine this week as I have time.
A Thanksgiving Playlist November 21, 2011Posted by Matt in holiday, music.
Tags: drive-by truckers, Led Zeppelin, My Morning Jacket, Talking Heads, Thanksgiving playlist, Todd Snider, Willie Nelson
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It’s easy to come by playlists for some holidays, whether it’s finding spooky sounding tunes for Halloween or the neverending line of Christmas carols or the odes to patriotism on the 4th of July, but Thanksgiving soundtracks are few and far between. On my iPod I could find only one song out of ~16,000 that explicitly referenced the holiday and only a smattering of them about being thankful (I’m way to cool and snobby for Christian music, though I’m sure those of you who enjoy that genre will have many more choices). So, I put together five songs from my iPod with the words Thanks or Thanksgiving in the title.
1. Drive-By Truckers – The Thanksgiving Filter
“So put the food on the table and Papa says a blessing
They’re cutting up some turkey and gobbling some dressing.
My aunt’s praising Palin and my niece loves Obama
My uncle came to dinner wearing his pajamas.”
And one more that doesn’t have the word thanks in it, but that describes me pretty well.
“All of my neighbors are all up in arms
About something they saw on TV.
Seems some politician got busted for something
That won’t make any difference to me.
Now I’m sure it’s all true and I’m tired of this too
But I can’t pray for some guy to fall.
I say let all the people do what people do
I’m just happy to be here at all.”
What would you add to the list?
Halloween Playlist October 27, 2011Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: AC/DC, alice in chains, Anthrax, Beck, Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, drive-by truckers, Faith No More, Halloween music, Hank Williams, Iron Maiden, Kanye West, Mastodon, Motley Crue, Outkast, Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera, Phish, playlist, Robert Johnson, Ryan Adams, Sufjan Stevens, Talking Heads, The Police, The Raveonettes, The Rolling Stones, Type O Negative
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As is true with any occasion, I always feel the need to compile a playlist best reflecting that specific time. With Halloween only days away, it is time for us to put together one reflecting that spookiest of holidays. I looked through my iPod library and these were the songs I chose – at least for now. My only rule was to only choose one song by a particular artist, though I would not be averse to breaking that rule if the songs were cool enough to do so. So, without further ado, here are 25 songs from iPod to go on a Halloween playlist. Your suggestions are always welcome.
AC/DC – Highway to Hell – Come on, a singer who died not long after recording this singing about being on the “Highway to Hell?” That’s messed up. (Runner up: Hell’s Bells)
Alice in Chains – Them Bones – “Gonna end up a big old pile of them bones.” Fatalism is essential for Halloween.
Antrax – Fight ‘em Til You Can’t – Possibly the only song I know about a zombie apocalypse (Runner up: Skeleton in the Closet, Belly of the Beast)
Beck – Satan Gave Me a Taco – Worst trick-or-treating ever. (Runner up: Devil’s Haircut)
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath – Possibly the spookiest song ever recorded. The famous three note riff is a diminished fifth, whose music qualities were seen in the past as Satanic. (Runner Up: Children of the Grave)
Creedence Clearwater Revival – I Put a Spell on You – Witchcraft is always welcome.
Drive-By Truckers – Demonic Possession – Favorite lyric: “(The Devil) says the only thing that’s buggin’ him / is that hell’s filling up with Republicans”
Faith No More – Zombie Eaters – Not just zombies, zombie eaters. (Runner up: Surprise! You’re Dead!”
Hank Williams – Angel of Death – Williams never sounded spookier and more poignant than this tune recorded just a short time before his death at age 29.
Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast – How can you have a Halloween list without Maiden? (Runner Up: Children of the Damned)
Kanye West – Monster – A truly twisted song featuring and introducing the amazing Nicki Minaj.
Mastodon – Divinations – Yes, they are the best metal band working today.
Motley Crue – Shout at the Devil – Sure, it’s totally over-the-top and campy, but it’s still an awesome good time.
Outkast – Dracula’s Wedding – Well, do you know of any other songs mentioning Dracula?
Ozzy Osbourne – Mr. Crowley – You have to include this ode to occult master Aleister Crowley in any Halloween list. (Runner Up: Zombie Stomp)
Pantera – Cemetary Gates – This song is quite possibly my favorite metal recording of all time. (Runner up: By Demons be Driven)
Phish – Wolfman’s Brother – Phish may not immediately come to mind when you think of Halloween music, but this is one of the only werewolf songs I can think of.
The Police – Spirits in the Material World (Spirits help Sting sneak onto the list)
The Raveonettes – Dead Sound – The Raveonettes first album is pretty spooky sounding anyway with its ethereal female vocals and crashing layers of guitars, but this song takes the Halloween prize.
Robert Johnson – Hellhound on my Trail – A truly terrifying song from a guy who supposedly sold his soul to the devil and died young. (Runner up: Me & the Devil Blues, Crossroad Blues)
The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil – The Stones: keeping the devil alive in rock music for fifty years.
Ryan Adams – Halloween Head – It may not sound spooky or anything, but it does have the word Halloween in it.
Sufjan Stevens – John Wayne Gacy, Jr. – A disquieting ballad about one of the most famous and deranged serial killers in American history.
Talking Heads – Psycho Killer – Not just a killer, a psycho killer.
Type O Negative – Black No. 1 – Back in about 1995 or so, I saw Type O Negative in concert opening for Pantera. It was, without a doubt, the most terrifying concert experience of my life and this song is one of the reasons why. (Runner up: Christian Woman)
What would you add to the list?
2011: The Year Alternative Rock Died October 17, 2011Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: alternative rock, eulogy, R.E.M., Sonic Youth
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Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great sadness and heaviness of heart that I stand before you today, lamenting the loss of our dear friend, Alternative Rock. Yes, for some 30 years you have regaled us with discordant phrasings and sometimes indecipherable lyrics, with atonal musings and nose-driven angst, but alas, all good things must come to an end.
Though we hoped for the best and wished that things could be different, we all knew this day was coming. When R.E.M. disbanded a few weeks ago we gathered around your bedside, whispering encouragement, holding your hand, praying for a miracle, but over the weekend, with the breakup of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon after 27 years of marriage, we knew it was the end. As you spirit flew from this world and into the great nether, we stood side-by-side, struck with the realization that it was over. Things would never be the same.
So, we say goodbye to the nasally, sometimes mumbling voice of Michael Stipe over Peter Buck’s jangling, arpeggiated guitar. We bid adieu to Sonic Youth’s atonal, noise-riddled beauty.
Rest in peace. Thank you for giving us an alternative.