Top albums of 2013

We are one month into the new year. Most people tend to post their best of the previous year posts with in the first few days of January, but I'm a rebel. Or lazy.

Either way, here's my ten favorite albums from 2013. I say favorite and not best, because I do not consider myself such an authority to pronounce such declarations. Whether these albums truly were better than anything else that came out in the past year or not, these stand out as the ones I've enjoyed the most.

Feel free to agree or disagree with me. If you feel I missed something, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you consider your favorites.

Beautiful Eulogy, Album: Instruments Of Mercy - I fell in love with Beautiful Eulogy's blend of indie rock and hip-hop with their debut album Satellite Kite, and their sophomore follow up is just as wonderful. They deliver a deft mix of analogue and digital instrumentation and a level of musicianship that is rare in rap music. Their Portland quirkiness shines throughout. The lyricism is also worth repeated listenings. Best of all, it's a free album. You can download it from Humble Beast.

A Rotterdam November, Album: Past Present Future - I almost feel obliged to include these boys from Boise as I feel they're local heroes that went big. But if I get past the fact that they're a bunch of regular guys that made it beyond the Treasure Valley music scene, I have to point out that they are all fabulous musicians making beautiful music. Simple pop rock. It would be great to see them on tour with The Roadshow or at one of the Passion events.

The Paper Kites, Album: States - This delightful Australian band is one that I stumbled upon by accident. I was instantly mesmerized by their music. After a couple of EPs, it's nice to see a full length release from them. They're videos are also ambitious and creative, take their song Young as an example.

Icon for Hire, Album: Self Titled - Imagine sticking Paramore, No Doubt, Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, and Flyleaf in a blender... whatever comes out will be something like Icon for Hire. That sounds like a disastrous combination, but it works. Icon for Hire pulls from some obvious influences and still create something that is wholly their own. The end result is brutal, boisterous, and beautiful.

Walk Off the Earth, Album: R.E.V.O. - Most people recognize WOTE as the band that played that Gotye song on a giant guitar. Many will remember them for their inescapable single (and potential one-hit-wonder) Red Hands. I only have one simple description for them: new-hippy music. The upbeat rhythms, harmonized vocals, sugary sweet melodies. Their music seems made for sunshine, warm summer breezes, and hacky sacks.

OneRepublic - Native - The inclusion of thes album shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that regularly reads this blog. One of the three singles from this album, Counting Stars, was mentioned in a Five For Friday list, then as the topic of a full blog post. The rest of the album is delightful, even if it is a guilty pleasure.

John Fogerty, Album: Wrote A Song For Everyone - After 50 in the music industry, Fogerty's new album stands as a testimony to his legacy. Many of the old CCR songs have endured and are still relevant in our world today. Wrote A Song For Everyone includes some new tunes blended with re-recorded classics; many of those songs featuring musicians he's influenced from rock, R&B, and Country (including his two sons on Lodi). Funny thing, John's voice stands up and shines - even when paired with others like Dave Grohl, Jennifer Hudson, Alan Jackson, or Brad Paisley.

Listener, Album: Time Is A Machine - Listener is a difficult band to describe. They're equal parts underground hip-hop, post-punk, hardcore, spoken word, shoegazer, and avant-garde noise. They call themselves talk music. They talk. A lot. Sometimes in a scream, sometimes in a mumble, and occasionally in a half-sung warble. The overflow of lyrics often sound like a random stream of consciousness in an Ozark accent, but underneath is a surprising level of intelligence. Again, it's hard to describe. It's one of those things that you must experience for yourself. A good place to start: There Are Wrecking Balls Inside Us.

The Civil Wars, Album: The Civil Wars - The discord between band members is evident through this self-titled album and that internal strife is the reason the duo is on hiatus. But what is left in their wake is one of the most beautiful albums country music has produced in a very long time. It includes From This Valley - which won them their second Grammy Award, and the daring yet delicate cover of Smashing Pumpkin's Disarm. I'm sad to see them go, but glad to have this album as their swan song.

The Almost, Album: Fear Inside Our Bones - These guys are on my bucket list of bands I want to see perform live. There first album was great and they seem to improve with each new album since then. On their newest, a sense of urgency permeates each song from start to finish (with a brief respite in the middle with the mellower song The Florida Sun), and it's one of those albums that will want to make you move.

As for honorable mentions ... Any of the three albums below could have landed on the list above. It was close.

Avicii, Album: True
King Kulture, Album: Stop The Traffic
Jimmy Needham, Album: The Hymns Sessions, Vol 1



Did you know:

The words venue and event come from the come from the same root word?

That means anyone who calls a building an "events venue" is being redundant.


Faith & Pop Culture: Frozen

This post may be late to the party. After all, the movie was released in theaters two months ago. But I finally got around to seeing it. Date night with my daughter. She loved it.

So did I.

If you haven't heard anything about Frozen, let me give you a quick synopsis - hopefully without giving away any spoilers for those of you who haven't yet seen it.

In Arendelle (a kingdom modled after medival Norway), the king and queen are lost leaving behind two daughters - Elsa and Anna. Elsa has a magical power to create and control snow and ice. The two sisters are raised in isolation and Elsa is taught to control her powers by suppressing her emotions as her powers are enhanced through emotional outbursts - especially in times of great fear. As a result, Anna feels lonely. Her sister won't play with her like when they were kids. She has no memory of Elsa's power and doesn't understand why her older sister spends her days locked in her bedroom.

Elsa faces the public for the first time on her coronation day. This is also the first opportunity for Anna to see what life is like beyond her sheltered existence inside the royal palace. Anna meets and swoons for a prince named Hans who proposes marriage after the two spend the day together. In reaction to the proposal, Elsa loses control of her emotions and her powers manifest in view of all of the guests attending the coronation festivities. She becomes scared and runs into the mountains freezing the kingdom behind her as she flees.

Anna follows believing that she will be able to connect with her sister and convince Elsa to reverse the eternal winter that threatens the safety of Arendelle. Along the way, she gains the help of Kristoff, Sven (Kristoff's reindeer), the rock-trolls that raised Kristoff, and Olaf - a living snowman that wants to experience summer. And there's music - singing in the tradition of Disney animation's classic films.

I won't spoil what happens beyond Elsa's flight into the high mountains. You'll have to watch for yourself. Instead, I have an observation in the contrast of personalities between the sisters.

One lived a life of fear. One lived a life of hope.

Elsa lived in fear that her powers could hurt others. So she locked herself away and buried her emotions. When it got to the point that she could no longer contain the emotional turmoil insider her, she left in fear of what others would think, of what they would do to her, and in fear that she would never be able to control her powers.

Anna hoped for the best. As a kid, she hoped that her sister would come out and play despite the numerous times she had been rejected before. When she grew up, she hoped to see the world beyond the castle walls. She hoped to find love and adventure. When her sister fled, Anna hoped that she would be able to mend her relationship with Elsa. And when circumstances turned dire, Anna clung to hope.

Frozen was inspired by The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. But aside from a scene set in Trondheim's Nidaros Cathedral, there is little religious influence in the story. Yet that conflict between hope and fear shone through the wintry scenery and songs about letting go.

I walked away from the theater reminded of God's command to the nation of Israel: "Do not fear or be dismayed."
Or when Joshua said, "Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid."
Or the Psalmist who wrote, "Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes."
Or when Jesus taught, "Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."

Conversely, the Psalms are filled with hope.
"So, Lord, what hope do I have? You are my hope."
"For You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my trust from my youth and the source of my confidence."
"But I will always have hope and will praise you more and more."
"I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope."

Job, despite his pain and loss, recognized a need for hope. "Even if God kills me, I have hope in him."

Then there is the book of Lamentations. For two and a half chapters, Jeremiah does nothing but complain. It's the biblical equivalent of saying "Everything sucks." But in the middle of this book Jeremiah turns a corner in his lament; it is here that you'll find my favorite passage in scripture.

"I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness."

Every day, we have the option to be afraid, or to have hope. Choosing the latter does not guarantee an easy road or success or comfort. In fact, hope is often laughed at as foolish. It is let down in failure. It is bruised and wounded in the everyday efforts of living. Yet, given the choice between hope and fear, I choose hope.


For the love of adventure

Wanderlust is such a fun word. The strong desire to go somewhere, do something, to travel, to engage with differing cultures. See the world. Have an adventure.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a wanderlust that is largely unsated. There’s an urge to be somewhere other than here. I have previously expressed some of my hopes to travel, but most of my dream destinations have gone unpublished.

I want the excitement, but haven't ventured out. While I could blame a commitment to grownup responsibilities, such a reason would be little more than a cheap excuse. The real blame for my unrequited thirst is in my own fears and insecurities. Somewhere along the way I’ve lost my sense of excitement. The timid side of me often wonders if I still know how to have an adventure. My inner critic tells me that I’m not a fun person anymore.

I remember what it’s like though.

Standing on the edge of a rock and looking into the abyss from the top of Mt Pilchuck; that was an adventure.

Snorting Altoids with Shane during an unsupervised trip to Nampa; that was an adventure.

When Shane ran out of Burger King with a 5 foot tall cardboard Dough Boy tucked under his arm and we were chased through Evergreen traffic by a security guard; that was an adventure.

Sneaking onto private property to visit an allegedly haunted graveyard after midnight; that was an adventure.

When Jeff and I flipped a coin to determine our road trip destination (heads Vancouver BC, tails Portland Oregon); that was an adventure.

Almost getting into a crash on Snoqualmie Pass when Shane and Travis mooned a van full of Methodist teen girls; that was an adventure.

The road trip with Tommy, Steve, and Nate to see Poor Old Lu’s reunion concert; that was an adventure.

Saying “I do” on April 5th 2003; that was an adventure. A week later when Bekah and I drove half way across the country to support my uncle’s church in Sioux Falls; that was also an adventure.

Becoming a dad in 2004; that was an adventure. Adopting two of the coolest kids you’ll ever meet; more adventure.

I remember how it felt, yet I’ve forgotten how to do it. And I don’t blame anyone for this loss of my adventurous nature. The responsibility is mine. Maybe I just got old. Maybe I became complacent. This is a need for change that I’ve recognized in myself.

As I mend the parts of me that needed fixed, the hunger inside of me grows. I long to have an adventure. I want to wake up in the morning and know that the day before me is going to be filled with wonder and awe. When I take stock of my life, I want to be able to honestly offer, “Or we could just go off and have some adventures. Anyone in the mood for adventures? 'Cause I am. You only live once.”

It grows. That wanderlust. The yearning to go places, meet peoples, do things. To be adventurous. Daring. And a little bit crazy.

Then I saw this.

There are a few things that I know. I know that I am a broken man in need of repair. But I also know that what has been lost can be rediscovered.

One other thing I know: I need men like this in my life. Guys who will say, "Lets do something wild. No matter what happens, I'll stand with you." Guys who will take risks and push me to do the same. Guys who will create the stories I tell my grandkids.

Maybe not the Rhythm in Twenty guys. Besides, the $350 + travel is a little out of my budget. But guys like them. I want to be able to say, "I am a better man because I invested in the lives of these guys and they invested in me."

Friends like that are hard to find.

ps: if you're interested in hearing more about Rhythm in Twenty - check out their website.



What is better...                                                         

Well mannered incompetence?
Deviant brillance?

Note written in one of my journals about six years ago.


The unfinished story

There are legitimate complaints about Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. When taking on massive works of classic literature like those of J.R.R. Tolkien, filmmakers must take some creative liberties to bring those words to cinematic life. They must also make some difficult decisions on scenes and characters to omit in order to fit their adaptations into an acceptable film length.

The Hobbit has a different problem. It is one book. And it is short when compared to any of the three books that make up the Lord of the Rings saga. Where Jackson made one movie for Fellowship, one movie for Two Towers, and one movie for Return of the King - he has taken a different route for The Hobbit. For the simpler and noticeably shorter story, Jackson has built three individual movies. Now, instead of eliminating bits of literature, he's added stuff to fill out the time. That means you'll see extra characters, dialog, and other amusements in the film versions that were never a part of the book.

Legitimate gripes aside, there is one critique that is wholly invalid. Unfortunately, it's the one I hear the most.

"It ended with a massive cliffhanger."

Of course it does. Spoiler alert - there's a third movie. It comes out next Christmas.

The saddest part of this grievance is that it is uttered by people that enjoyed every other aspect of the film. They thought the special effects were brilliant and that the fight sequences were intense. They found Smaug to be a truly villainous villain. They were cheering for Bilbo and the band of Dwarves. They were horrified by the giant spiders and laughed their way through the barrel rides. In their minds, every aspect of the film was flawless except one. The cliffhanger ending.

This might be a little judgmental on my part, but I truly believe that people who weren't aware that The Desolation of Smaug was the second part in a trilogy are the kind of people who should stop going to movies. They ruin the magic of the theater for the rest of us. And don't even get me started on the people that didn't realize these movies were adapted from a book.

But why is the cliffhanger such a big complaint? Why is the unfinished story so unsettling? Is it because it reminds us that our lives are also unfinished stories?

Let's face the facts of our lives. Until the moment when we draw our final breath, the stories we live are unfinished. Today may or may not be our long dark night of the soul; however we have not yet faced our climatic battles - our final chapters have not been written. In a world as frenzied as ours, each night that ends in sleep is a cliffhanger. What will happen tomorrow? Will today's crisis find resolution or will it blow up completely? Will I overcome my challenges or just give up? Will this be my downfall or the catalyst to my greatest victory.

To find out, tune in next week at the same bat-time, same-bat channel.

This style of ending has been used by television producers and scriptwriters for a very long time. It leaves a hunger for more. The viewer has to return to find out what happened. It's called suspense. And not long ago, that was one of the most effective tricks of the trade. In the days before the internet, a good cliffhanger would leave fans talking for several months. Anyone remember who shot JR?

Even in more recent years, the cliffhanger is been an excellent spark for conversation. LOST, one of my favorite TV series, was the master of the cliffhanger. Season One ends with Walt getting kidnapped and the lights in the mysterious hatch turned on. Who took Walt? What's in the hatch? Season two ends with Jack, Kate, and Sawyer taken captive, betrayed by Michael. How will Jack, Kate, and Sawyer escape? At the end of season three, we find out that Jack and Kate were able to get off the Island and Jack wishes they had never left. How did they get back home? In season four, Ben tells Jack how to return to the island and we find out that the body in the coffin was Locke. Will they get back? How did Locke die? And the biggest cliffhanger of the entire series comes in the season five finale when Juliet admits her love for Sawyer and then sacrifices herself by manually detonating the nuclear bomb. Fade to white.

Consider the spinning top at the end of Inception. Or Captain Jack's death at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Or the brief glimpse of Thanos during the post credits scene of The Avengers. Or Jim and Pam's kiss at the end of The Office's second season.

Done right, the cliffhanger leaves us wanting more. It leaves us wondering what happens next. It brings us back again and again. It leaves us uncomfortable until the unfinished story has been resolved.

The same is true of our lives. We don't live in episodes of Saved by the Bell; the plots of our existence are never wrapped up by the time we lay down to sleep each night. Reality is more like LOST - every answered question creates more unanswered questions. Today is a cliffhanger. Tomorrow, the story continues.

When you go to bed tonight, your story might end like The Desolation of Smaug (spoilers) with you, the hero, asking yourself "What have we done?"

When you go to bed tonight, your story might end like the first hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey. You've been rescued from peril but you know that you still have a long journey ahead of you.

Your story of today could end in elation of a first kiss, or in heartbreak and failure. It could end with confidence and anticipation, or it could end in doubt and regret. It could have been filled with unexpected plot twists, or deus ex machina. Today is an unfinished story and like all good cliffhangers, I hope that it makes you wonder what happens next. I hope it leaves you wanting more. I hope it brings you back again in the morning. I hope it leaves you uncomfortable enough to make tomorrow a better day.

My story is an unfinished story, and so is yours. A new chapter begins tomorrow. Be brave enough to write it.


The emasculating father

Two hours to kill between appointments and I have all of the kids with me. The three munchkins have an excess of energy. They need to go play somewhere but it's cold and damp outside.

Enter Burger King. Small fries and small Hi-Cs for everyone. And a playground.

There are a few other families here too. An older lady with her grown daughter and grandkids. A mom entertaining two boys while they are out of school for winter vacation. And at the table next to me, a dad with two young children - a boy slightly younger than JJ and a girl still in diapers.

There are a lot of kids playing. A natural byproduct of that quantity of young voices in a confined area is an increase of volume. One of those kids screams. I don't hear it but the dad next to me does. And he is not happy. He snaps and yells for his son to come down. Immediately.

The kid complies.

"Put your shoes on," the dad says, "We're leaving."
"Why?" asks the boy.
"Because you screamed like a girl."

Note that reason. Not, "because you screamed," but "because you screamed like a girl."


The first one would make sense. I've made each of my kids take a time out from playground shenanigans for screaming. That's a part of being a good parent - helping your children understand what is or is not appropriate behavior. But the other reason?

I understand that we (as dads) have high hopes for our sons. Many guys want their boys to be tough and rugged. To have boys that can beat up other boys. That think the only appropriate way to play with Barbies is dismemberment and decapitation. To have lumberjack beards by the time they start junior high. To be built like pro wrestlers and be able to slam dunk a basketball from the three point line with their eyes closed. To roundhouse kick a grisly bear in the face while chugging a can of Budweiser.

The most common instinct of fatherhood is to desire a son that grows into the manliest of men. Fathers fail when they try to force that manliness through insult, degradation, or emasculation. You will never convince a boy to act like a man by telling him he sounds like a girl.

Dads, please, don't be that guy.

All kids scream. Some louder than others. To assign that behavior to a gender specific role and use that gender bias to punish is not necessary. In fact, it's harmful. Boys have a hard enough time learning how to be secure in their own identity; castigating their masculinity doesn't help. We have a generation of broken men breaking boys. The cycle needs to stop somewhere.