31 July 2015

Music Day - Central Theme

I don't mind music with lyrics that praise God. Really, I don't. What I can't stand is music that tells you, very explicitly, that they're worshipping God. (If, by 'worship,' you mean 'repeating the same two phrases over and over and over and over and over and over again, ad nauseam.') (What was that Jesus said about those who pray with vain repetitions? Oh right... "do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them." -- Matthew chapter six.)

No, I like music with intelligent praise lyrics. I'm not generally a science nerd, but when it comes to worshipping God, science is probably one of the best things to look to if you want to stand in awe. I mean, God created some seriously cool stuff (the spectrum of light and colour and sound alone is freaking cool).

However, Christians have by and large decided that science doesn't exist. Their loss. Now they've reduced themselves to repeating the same two lyrics over and over and over and... so on, ad nauseum. And since Christians have also decided, by and large, that art in almost all forms also doesn't exist (or is pure evil), they also don't have the creativity or the language skills to even come up with anything more creative than the same two lines (and three chords).

Good praise music, with actual intellectual meaning behind it, is almost impossible to come by -- simply because it almost doesn't exist. I could count on one hand the praise songs (that I know of) that fall into the 'not-insipid' category. One such song comes to us from -- who else? -- Daniel Amos.

Not only is it different from everybody in today's praise-and-worship music machine (I won't mention Chris Tomlin or Hillsong by name), lyrically it captures part of the sheer majesty and size of God by comparing it to space (as in starts-and-planets space, not empty space). It's an infinitesimally small part in real life, but it's a lot bigger than most of us think about on a regular basis. Plus, the syncopated guitar picking in the chorus (Jesus in the centre / Revolving around Him...) is absolutely wonderful.

Title: Central Theme
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: ¡Alarma!
Year: 1981
Label: Stunt Records
iTunes here; YouTube here; full album available from the band's website here (scroll down just a little bit).
Lyrics here.

More Daniel Amos lore: This song is the kickoff point (the prelude, really) for DA's four-album series collectively entitled The ¡Alarma! Chronicles, a huge artistic undertaking that saw the band move from new wave to rock to synthpop to ethereal keyboard arrangements. Although the Chronicles covered (broadly) apathy, deception, technology, and death, they begin and end with God -- the central theme and the beautiful one.

Solar screams
(I am nothing)
Vibrations under the rings
How great You are
Moon like a gong
(I am nothing)
Deep hollow song
How great You are...

18 July 2015

Music Day - Darn Floor, Big Bite

Originally written January 2014.

I got Darn Floor - Big Bite for Christmas [2013]. I'm falling in love with this band all over again.

I've wanted this album for a while. As soon as you begin to integrate yourself into the DA fanbase, you hear nothing except how good this album is. Even the gorgeous Dig Here Said The Angel couldn't top it for a good cross-section of the fans.

The CD is available on their website, but due to the fact that I bought Dig Here three times (digital, CD, and vinyl) (the vinyl arrived the day before New Year's and HOLY DEUCE it is beautiful), plus the ¡Alarma! reissue, I had no money left for DFBB. I was okay with waiting, but until I did get the CD, I took a vow of Darn Floor celibacy.

See, when I first ordered the Vox Humana CD, I totally overdosed on Travelog, William Blake, and (It's The Eighties, So Where's Our) Rocket Packs on YouTube while waiting for it to arrive. When it finally did arrive, listening to it was sort of anticlimactic. Not because it's not a good album (I think I actually listen to Vox Humana the most, overall), but because I already knew what was coming. So I didn't want to ruin the album that so many called DA's masterpiece before I could actually listen to it all at once at my leisure (the same way I first got to experience the masterpiece that is Dig Here). So I didn't listen to any of the songs on YouTube, I didn't preview them on iTunes, I didn't read the lyrics on the Daniel Amos website. I wanted to know nothing about the album until I had it in my hands... whenever that might be.

Naturally, DFBB was at the top of my Christmas wish list (literally), and since I'm basically impossible to buy for, my family sticks pretty darn closely to that list. It wasn't too much of a surprise to unwrap that one. And there was much rejoicing (and answering of the question, "Darn Floor, Big Bite? What the heck kind of album title is that?").

I will restrain myself from fangirling over the entire album here (oh, but am I ever tempted...). Today I'll stick to one song -- the title track.

I have a question about this song: how was this not a monster hit? It is infectious, catchy, fun to listen to, catchy, deep, poetic, catchy, intense, and heck, it would even be a great karaoke song. Did I mention it's catchy? You can't not bop your head to this. Seriously, I'll listen to this once in the morning after breakfast and I'll be dancing to the darn thing all day long. It's great.

It starts out with an irresistible bass/drum rhythm. Baptists, turn away, for the beat menace has come to vex your soul. You will dance to this, whether you like it or not. (This is church-ese for 'This song grooves like a boss.') I love the swagger in Terry Taylor's vocal here, especially how it later gives way to questioning -- without losing the swagger.

I also like the lyrical structure of the song, especially that doubtful repetition of every third line of the verses: Do I know You now? Do I know You now?... Will You save me now? Will You save me now?... Could have been a dream; Could have been a dream...

The musical structure is amazing too. It starts with the bass groove and the drums, then for the pre-chorus, the rhythm changes into a rolling, warbling guitar line before stripping the sound back to drums and bass for the chorus. At the end, after the final chorus when Terry's repeating No I can't get it right... they start into a good old classic rock thing (complete with cymbals), then it concludes with a deep graceful bow.

Fantastic stuff. If you don't listen to anything else I feature on Music Day, listen to this one.

Title: Darn Floor - Big Bite
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Darn Floor - Big Bite
Year: 1987
Label: Frontline
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Buy the deluxe two-disc edition of the album directly from the band here. (You won't regret it, I promise.)

Also, for those not familiar with Daniel Amos lore: The 'darn floor - big bite' theme of both this song and the album came from the story of Koko the gorilla, who, when asked to describe an earthquake, signed 'Darn floor. Big bite.' Inspired by this story, Daniel Amos/Terry Scott Taylor spent the entire DFBB album exploring the analogy of humans in Koko's place, trying to describe God with mere [sign] language. The results are quite stunning. The poetic value (of the lyrics) alone is breath-taking.

You touch my hair and cheek sometimes
Feel in yourself this flesh and blood
My poor flesh and blood...
I think I met an angel once
But I can't really know for sure
Do I know you now
Do I know you now?

09 July 2015

Music Day - Magnificent

Yes, Music Day comes early this week.

Today would have been my dear friend's twenty-third birthday. Alas, she took her first step beyond the stars on the first of February.

She taught me tactfulness, the joy of being thankful for little things, grace, and patience... so much patience. She was the kind of person who would take pictures of the way the Christmas tree lights were reflecting on her guitar strings, the type of person who would fangirl over Arthur Conan Doyle (before BBC's Sherlock), the type of person who would create a graph explaining why the Canadian holiday calendar is better than the American one based entirely on turkey consumption.

She hated winter. It seems somehow cruel that her last glimpse of this world was in the dead of it. She was relentlessly encouraging and always ready to pray for me, even though usually I was just freaking out over nothing.

She told me once that U2 was one of her favourite bands. I'd heard of them, but never actually heard any of their music until after the last time I saw her alive. I didn't hear this particular song until not long after she died.

Title: Magnificent
Artist: U2
Album: No Line On The Horizon
Year: 2009
iTunes here; YouTube here.

At the time she told me U2 was her favourite band, I was on my CCM-only kick and I was horrified that she would listen to something like U2 -- they weren't CCM-approved (obviously, this was before my DA days). We actually had quite a falling out over it and I don't know if the rift ever really healed completely -- although we did try to carry on. To some degree we did. Although the last time we really spoke to each other face-to-face, just before we parted, she apologised again for everything. At the time I was taken aback. I had long since forgiven and forgotten, and it actually took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about. I sort of dashed off an apology of my own, and she left.

I wish I had taken time to formulate my words more lovingly that day. Not that they weren't loving, but I was distracted and delivered them flippantly. I wish I had tuned everything else out, looked her right in the eye, and told her, 'I've already forgiven you. Quit carrying this burden.'

But I didn't know... no-one ever knows.

At the time she had less than two years left.

I miss her so much my heart literally, physically hurts. I can't count the amount of times I've thought, Hey, I should tell Brittney about this, or I should ask Brittney for her advice -- she'd understand. My comfort is that she is with the Magnificent; the one who had provided her with her love for the literary, her lovely singing voice, her phenomenal photography instinct, her level-headedness and her kindness.

Only love
Only love can leave such a mark
But only love
Only love can heal such a scar...

Justified till we die
You and I will magnify
The Magnificent

Brittney's blog.

07 July 2015

Rock Climbing, Art, and Mediocrity

Originally written 30 January 2014.

Art. God. College. Calling. People. Knowledge. Family. Dance. Engage.

A couple of the buzzwords in my head lately. There are others: isolation, depression, why?

I know God doesn't have to answer to me, but if I don't know the point of being at college, why bother being at college?

In chapel the other day, the speaker (the president of the college) was using rock climbing terms as his metaphors. One was 'dyno,' or 'dynamic movement,' which is when the climber leaves his three-point hold on the rock to leap up to the next hold. Sometimes the only way for the climber to progress any further up the rock is to let go, push off out of his other holds in a leap up to the next. Obviously that parallels life, but what is the hold that I'm leaping for? It would be stupid to let go without at least seeing the next hold (if not any further)... isn't it? I don't know.

The more I read from artists and about artists, the more I see the theme that God has entrusted artists with something he does not entrust to many: I don't feel I know enough about this yet to be able to tell exactly what, but it seems to have something to do with seeing and giving grace to a world starved for it, something to do with drawing the laity into a deeper communion with God and each other, something almost kind of like prophecy -- warning sometimes and providing hope sometimes. It's a high responsibility and I don't even know where to start handling it yet. Perhaps this is why some of the greatest art in history has come from Christians -- such responsibility can't be managed without full reliance on God. Art without God so easily gets stilted and hollow (or, nowadays, commercialised), and a world awash with that sort of 'art' degrades the whole idea of art -- even good art.

Another word that was used in the 'rock climbing chapel' was 'engage.' Engage with business, engage with science, engage with sports, engage the arts, engage the world. Engage with the arts -- how? I'm at best a mediocre dancer, I'm not training 60 hours a week like the pros do, and I'm not even healthy enough to dance for very long or very well. But to engage in the arts would mean I would have to be one of the best. I'm already too old for this. To train myself to that level where I'm even on the art world's radar... that would be the next thing to impossible. I would go crazy just trying to reach that level, never mind actually trying to maintain it once I'm there.

I've been settling back on these excuses, rationalising that no-one will ever see my dancing anyway because it's not suggestive enough for the world's stage. But this is exactly what I rail against all the time in Christian music -- this mediocrity, this sense of, 'well, I'm good enough... I'm better than the rest.' But if I won't stand for that in music made by Christians, how dare I stand for that in dance done by Christians?

All these excuses -- what am I afraid of? The work that will go into it? Actually succeeding?

04 July 2015

Music Day - Say Goodbye To Neverland

If I had heard this song two years ago, this would have been my theme song for the summer of 2013. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with the fact that Vox Humana (*cough* Sanctuary) was the soundtrack to that summer, but this puts into words the entire train of thought that was eating my mind at the time.

No you can't go back
Or defy the clock
Brace your mind for impact
Let your soul absorb the shock...

Sparse instrumentation (actually, this has 'award-winning modern dance' written all over it), and a gentle but sad vocal delivery, as if speaking to a child -- how do you break this news? How do you soften the blow? How do you pick up and carry on, knowing that life is fleeting...?

No you don't have wings
That was just pretend
Blistered feet keep moving
Give your spirit to the wind...

This perhaps sums up the entire mood of the song. I wish you could see the film playing in my mind. Blistered feet keep moving... like a dancer who's lost the fire for the dance, just going through the motions, mere technicality. Give your spirit to the wind... just like everybody else. Sacrifice your hopes, your dreams, your passions, your gifts on the altar of the 9-to-5 job. Let your soul die... nay, take the knife and kill it with your own hand. Only the wind may have it... so say the clones around us demanding that we fit their mould.

Breathe in, breathe out
Heart don't fail
Embrace the moment...

And yet, keep going. Keep going. The sad reminder that tomorrow is not promised to us, and we have to make the effort to enjoy it while we can, before it's snatched away. Add to that the potential for regrets to be compounded upon each other so quickly... It's a heavy lyric, and the chorus is almost a literal reminder to the listener: Breathe in, breathe out... then the plea for another moment, another chance to get it right: Heart don't fail... And then words that sometimes don't even make sense, they slip out so easily and without thought in this age of stock sunsets on Facebook: Embrace the moment...

Title: Say Goodbye To Neverland
Artist: The Choir
Album: Burning Like The Midnight Sun
Year: 2010
iTunes here; YouTube here. Buy directly from The Choir here.