Friday, June 27, 2008

Mid-Summer Review

What have I been up to this Summer?

Thanks. I’m glad you asked. Summer is roughly half over for me. I’m trying to avoid the panic of feeling like time is slipping through my fingers by considering all the good thus far. Would it be an overstatement if I were to say that if all I had done in May and June is get my hands on three CD, that half the summer has been worth it? I guess that is more for me to qualify. Its up to you to decide if it is silly or not. What you might initially find silly is that I spent some $150 on used CDs at my favorite record store, Zulu Records, while I was at Regent studying in May. I don’t usually have time to listen to music. I haven’t been keeping up with some of my favorite aritsts/bands. My livelihood is music, and so I thought I needed a good shot in the arm of musical inspiration. Some times you’ve got to wade through a bunch of music to find what you are looking for. I also just bought a used 30 GB ipod from a student for $75 and have more convenience to listen in the car or while flying. So far this has been a summer saturated by great music.

I’ll add that after all the money and time I’ve spent, I still come back to my friend David Stith’s music and find it to still be fresh and interesting. A plug: he is finishing recording his first major release with Asthmatic Kitty as I write this. He is working with Rafter, a label mate, in San Diego. It will have contributions from the Osso, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond as well as Sufjan Stevens (AK is his label for those of you who don’t know). David has removed most of his demos from his website, but you can still download a few tracks for free at

Here are three discs that rise to the top of my new pile:

Boards of Canada The Campfire Headphase
Again, I’m prone to overstatement when it comes to music, so here goes: I’ve been waiting my whole life for Boards of Canada and I didn’t know it. Not only does they have the name of a country I deeply love, they create emotional movements that suit me well. It’s not fair to judge music based on its capacity to fit one’s emotions. That makes the music all about me and that makes me seem selfish. I turn again to the way that I describe my affection for Radiohead and other types of music that incorporate strangeness and noise. BOC manages to form emotional landscapes with various beats and noises that aspire to make sense of our noisy, digital, industrial world. They helps us remember beauty in the midst of what seems so painful in our highly artificial, pre-fabricated existence. I was first drawn to BOC by a re-mix they did of Beck’s “Broken Drum” on Guerolito. That song is my favorite of the re-mixes. It compares to Four Tet’s remix of Bloc Party’s “So Here We Are.” I’m a sucker to good beat overlaid with ambient synths and noise artifacts. I thought Album Leaf was a master at this, but Album Leaf has been usurped.

Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
I picked up a used copy of their previous disc, Apologies to the Queen Mary, at Zulu Records when we were in Vancouver. I’m pretty sure I bought that record mostly because of its drum sounds and secondly because it sounded like a rough and raw rougher version of Modest Mouse—if you can actually get any more rough and raw. It was mostly the sound of the WP record that was interesting, but once I got it on my ipod and listened to it, I realized it was not going to be an easy listen. Hopefully its intensity will grow on me in time, but when Steve down at Full Circle records here in Holland said this new WP record is more chill, I knew it would be interesting even before I read any reviews or listened to any snippets on the itunes store. This is one monstrous record. It gets low marks by Pitchfork because the reviewer didn’t think the album holds together. I guess there are two different song writers who contribute songs independently from each other. In my opinion these different writing personalities do not work against each other, instead they form a record that will get lots of listening time out of me because I can’t imagine it wearing thin any time soon. Oh, and it was recorded at Arcade Fire’s church studio and the drum sounds are as interesting on this record as they were on Apologies to the Queen Mary. And Steve was partly right. This record is a chill version of WP, but I’d add that it is a much more creative effort in terms of thoughtful arrangement. Not only does the whole disc have a lot to explore, but so does each song. Lots of great guitars moving all over the place and did I mention the drums are amazing. The vocals keep swelling in at just the perfect places too—not over sung, pushy vocals—easy and modest.

Sigur Ros Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
I can’t really talk about this record yet except to say, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thanks to the kind, gentle Icelandic souls who make this music. Oh, and there is a track that is recorded live with a full orchestra and choir. Thank you!

Other than rabidly listening to music I have been working on a few courses to finish my Masters degree, helping Susanna with some landscaping projects, traveling to Montana to participate in a faculty workshop on Senior Seminars, going out of my mind with two puppies that can’t seem to avoid chewing on pens and pooping indoors, and studying the trajectory of Barack Obama. Vancouver with Sam and Andy was a highlight for sure. Susanna joined us for our last week there and we ate gelato almost every night.

My trip to Montana was also significant (photos here). I did some fly-fishing with author David James Duncan. I’m not a very good fly fisherman because it requires the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree to practice with all that you need to know about bugs and weather and fish. David gave me some pointers and I actually caught some fish—in the pond that is stocked on the ranch, not in the river while wearing my fancy waders and standing in the water. It was kinda like the bunny slope of fishing. In David’s words, it was so easy to catch fish in the ponds that it was “stupid.” I watched him spot a 24-inch, four-pound trout, sling out his fly line and hook that fish like he was shooting it with a bow and arrow. This is now my best fishing tale. To fish with a favorite author is one thing. To share a moment like this, the kind that he has written about so well, makes me ridiculously fortunate. Later that night I was working on my cast as the sun was disappearing. David walked down to the pond in order to get away after having hosted a reading and discussion. He generously offered me his time and we had an important conversation. I’m going to send him a copy of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet because I think it explores some of the same themes and utilizes some of the same style as the novel he described to me he is presently working on. Susanna made sure we ordered a used copy off the internet, so I doubt that it won’t show up for another month. Ack! It is good to have a thrifty wife.

Susanna is in Austin for the week to catch up with friends and attend a wedding. Sam and Andy have been over to the house several times to study. It is an incredible help to work with others. I can stay on task better. It’s like there is better energy in the room if that doesn’t sound too New Agey-ish. We’ve been reading the New Testament together starting with our time at Regent. Last night we worked through Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. I wish I spent more time reading the Scriptures out loud like this with others. Honestly it is hard to enjoy the summer because I need the structure of the workweek to get my butt in gear and so I wallow in frustration with my poor work ethic. Reading the NT aloud with Andy and Sam ranks right up there as the best parts of my summer.

I’ve actually been working quite a bit. I’m just not working on what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve been distracted by a manuscript on arts ministry. It is the fleshing out of my notes from the seminar I did with David Taylor at the Arts Symposium in Austin back in April. My working title is While in This House We Groan: Nurturing the Arts in the Local Church. Let me know what you think. It is a reference to a passage in 2 Corinthians.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I am envious of your time in Montana and Regent. I think back to the fond times we had together in Vancouver.

I just finished two suggested reads: Life for the World and East of Eden. Unbelievable reads! Thanks for sharing them with me.

I just picked up Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. I need a good agregarian shot in the arm to keep the themes of creation and community and simplicity and thankfulness close to my mind and heart.

I miss you, Josh. I am sorry coming up to Hope won't work this summer. I already feel exhausted from traveling. This last week in Boston was too much. Hopefully though I will be able to finagle my way up to Hope via a "fly in" event for college counselors. I'm going to write your dean and ask that my name be added to the list. That way I can get a free plane ticket out of the deal!

July is my month of rest. I look forward to putting college counseling stuff aside and just spending loads of time with Silas with lots of playing and giggling!

Give Susanna a squeeze.


p.s. I am trying to re-memorize the Sermon on the Mount. I feel compelled to get back into the red letters and let them bleed into me. Hopefully I can recite the SOM to you some time in early September. You can be my scripture recitation buddy!