Category Archives: Music

I Love the Shadowlands Record by Romantica and You Should Too

Shadowlands by RomanticaTwin Cities band Romantica has officially released their new album, Shadowlands, after a five-year hiatus and a one-year delay. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s worth the wait.

Last year the band crowd-funded their new project and recorded it in a barn south of the Twin Cities. One of the rewards was a  pre-Valentine’s Day show that I gushed about.

While the new album was done, and lucky backers like myself got copies, it never quite released publicly. Turns out the album landed a record deal and an official release, which happened last week. Now you can listen to the album on Spotify or Apple Music and buy a copy on iTunes or Amazon.

And you should buy a copy. It’s good. Continue reading I Love the Shadowlands Record by Romantica and You Should Too

Happy Easter Music Mix

Holy Week began yesterday morning with the waving of the palms. We stood outside our church on the corner of Ford Parkway and Macalester, savoring the little bit of sun that offered warmth against the bitter Minnesota cold. It may have been the first day of spring, but it was still in the 30s. We waved our palms to sing Hosanna, to fight back the cold, to celebrate the march toward Easter.

So with that backdrop I offer an Easter music list.

I’m always making mix CDs for my wife, and as I started another list for her, I realized I was collecting a lot of gospel songs. Most of my mixes are pretty random, so I decided to lean into the theme.

The result is a collection of music that speaks to faith and spirituality and hope and the gospel. I’m well beyond saying this is “Christian” music, but it is a collection of hymns, psalms and laments, tinged with that old-time gospel sound.

  1. “Little Light” by The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers
  2. “What Wondrous Love Is This? by Chelsea Moon & The Franz Brothers
  3. “Not Enough” by Caedmon’s Call
  4. “Here it Comes” by Romantica
  5. “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” by The Welcome Wagon
  6. “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash
  7. “Purpose (live)” by Cloud Cult
  8. “Hand in Hand” by Jayanthi Kyle
  9. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Rattle & Hum movie version)” by U2
  10. “Be Thou My Vision” by Ginny Owens
  11. “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons & Daughters
  12. “The Transfiguration” by Sufjan Stevens
  13. “Lamb of God, Have Mercy” by Gospel Machine
  14. “People of God” by Gungor
  15. “Poor Man’s Son” by Noah Gundersen
  16. “This Little Light” by Mavis Staples
  17. “This No More” by The Vespers
  18. “Amazing Grace (featuring The Lily of the Valley Gospel Choir)” by Justin McRoberts
  19. “40 (live)” by U2

Continue reading Happy Easter Music Mix

Romantica Pre-Valentine’s Day

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, I took Abby to a barn 50 miles south of the Cities for a pre-release concert by Romantica. It was a little bit magic.

After being on hiatus for about five years, they crowd-funded their new album, Shadowlands. One of the rewards was this exclusive pre-release show in the barn where they recorded the album. I couldn’t resist.

I’ve been a fan of Romantica since long before their debut album turned me into a fawning fan boy. The new material is great: atmospheric and soulful, dripping with depth and beauty. I haven’t seen the band play in a long time (they have been on hiatus), so this was the first time I saw the addition of Jayanthi Kyle on backing vocals (yes, she’s frontman Ben Kyle’s sister-in-law). Wow. I love the depth she adds. (And bonus: I was already a fan of her work, I just didn’t know it. She wrote the Black Lives Matter protest song, “Hand in Hand.”)

The show started with the mournful/hopeful “Harder to Hear,” which resonates with the doubt, depression and yearning of this season. Here’s a poorly filmed snippet:

Another stand out track is “Here It Comes,” which Jayanthi described as her favorite. Talk about soulful and yearning. Ben said the song came to him on the last day of recording, a gift. “Cecil Ingram Conor” is another barn-burner, though I’m not sure my crummy video does it justice (Ben’s solo living room performance might be a better taste).

So many other good tracks, but that’s a start. (And the letterpress packaging design is beautiful. Worth getting a physical copy.)

Braving the Minnesota tundra to discover tender music with the woman I love is like a tonic for my soul.

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Stuff I’m Enjoying Lately

A few months back I borrowed Addie Zierman’s post style and shared music I’ve been listening to lately. I keep meaning to do it again and put it off, so today I thought I’d share a smorgasbord of stuff I’m excited about lately: crowd-funded comic book projects, music, books, picture books, an event and a little self promotion about what I’ve been doing.

Comic Books to Support

The lack of diversity in, well, just about everything, is a common theme these days. That’s why I track the diversity in my reading and actively work to diversify my life (it’s slow going).

I think an important part of that is supporting diversity. Vote with your dollars. Today I came across two opportunities to do just that:

  • Black – What if only black people had super powers? That’s the premise of this comic book being funded on Kickstarter. The creators came to that question after thinking about the outsider nature of comic book super heroes vs. how people of color often feel like outsiders. The difference is most people of color can’t just take off the cape, as it were, and be “normal.” The project is nearly funded already (which is encouraging).
  • Tuskegee Heirs – The history of the Tuskegee Airman meets Voltron. This just sounds like a fun adventure story. Plus, it’s already blown passed the $10,000 goal, with over $45,000 so far.

Continue reading Stuff I’m Enjoying Lately

Music I’m Listening to Lately

Spotify has been a constant work companion lately, a good way to sample music and it seems to work so much better than iTunes (which is really counter what you expect from Apple).

Though I still like to own music and every few months I hop over to iTunes to buy a bunch of my favorite tracks from Spotify to make CDs for the car and to have music on my phone.

Here are some recent tunes I’m enjoying:

  • Addie Zierman turned me on to Noah Gunderson today (I also stole this post format from her, albeit in an abbreviated style), and I’ve been listening to the whole catalog on repeat. He’s got a folk style with a bit of a country twang (but not too much—I don’t like country), and the lyrics are darkly spiritual. I’m still exploring, but “Poor Man’s Son” is a great track with snippets of “Down to the River to Pray.”
  • I discovered Liz Vice a while ago and she recently re-released her album. It sounds like old school Motown music (says the person with no musical education whatsoever). “Abide” is a pretty good representative track.
  • The Oh Hellos are a fun folk-rockish-praise band. “Lay Me Down” and “Trees” are good.
  • Elle King is kind of stomp rock with a little country twist. “Ex’s & Oh’s” is her big hit, but I think “America’s Sweetheart” is better.
  • “Is God Real?” by Kasey Chambers is one of those (not-so) rare songs about God that pops up on the radio and gets stuck in your head. Kind of reminds me of “What If God Was One of Us.”
  • Gary Clark Jr. is probably one of those musicians I would have discovered a long time ago if I had any musical knowledge. He has that ancient blues sound. “Church” from his new album is good and I really like the 7-minute live version of “When My Train Pulls In.”
  • “Stay” by Fallbrigade is an incredible track. Not sure who they are, but I really like this one.
  • And on my teenage girl kick, I’m enjoying “Ugly Heart” by G.R.L. and “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon.
  • If I have the story straight, Amanda Opelt is the sister of Rachel Held Evans and wrote a 7-song album about the sacraments that pairs with Rachel’s book, Searching for Sunday, which is organized around the sacraments. Amanda’s music is simple and pretty. It’s hard to pick a best track, but I think it’s “Harvest (Marriage).”

How to Find New Music

Finding music is always hard. My go-to sources are things people mention online (how I found Noah Gunderson, Liz Vice & Amanda Opelt), The Current (Elle King, Kasey Chambers, Gary Clark Jr.) and Spotify’s recommendations/browsing (The Oh Hellos, Fallbrigade, G.R.L. and Walk the Moon).

My most recent favorite feature of Spotify is their Discover Weekly playlist. Every week they make a new custom playlist of songs just for you. It’s about 30 songs and I assume they use some fancy algorithm based on what I listen to. It’s not full of songs I love, but I usually find a few songs I like and that gives me new artists to check out.

U2 Live in Chicago: Innocence & Experience Tour, June 28, 2015

U2 Innocence & Experience Show, Sunday, June 28, 2015, ChicagoLast weekend Abby and I traveled to Chicago to see U2’s Innocence and Experience tour at the United Center. We saw the Sunday, June 28 show and it was pretty amazing.

Stage Setup

It was our fourth U2 show, and while nothing can beat watching U2 during a rainstorm, this was pretty good. I’m continually amazed with their stage setup. They had a walkway down the middle of the arena, with a video screen/catwalk that could be raised and lowered.

So at one point The Edge is walking along the walkway while Bono is walking towards him on the catwalk, 10 feet higher in the air, with a video screen around him that makes it look like Bono was walking down the street.

U2 Innocence & Experience Show, Sunday, June 28, 2015, Chicago

You can see lots more pictures here.

Songs

U2 also played a great mix of songs, playing a lot from the new album (7 songs total) but also playing all the old favorites. I had a hard time coming up with a classic song they didn’t play (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is probably the one I missed the most, but they hit so many others and have so many classics, seems like a win to me).

They also included some they haven’t played much, including “Gloria” (not played live in 10 years) and “Lucifer’s Hands” (a b-side for the new album they’ve only played live once before).

I couldn’t help grabbing some video:

(I also got “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Every Breaking Wave,” and “All I Want Is You.”

Gay Pride

The show was on Sunday, June 28 and the Friday before the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its historic ruling on gay marriage. This was the first U2 show since the decision and it was referenced a coupled times.

First, U2 played “Bullet the Blue Sky” and Bono referenced “Don’t Shoot” and “Can’t Breathe” from the Black Lives Matter movement, before doing a snippet of “The Hands That Built America” and then launching into “Pride (In the Name of Love).”

During “Pride” a rainbow flag landed on the stage that Bono twirled around before shouting, “Gay pride in the name of love!” Then he urged the crowd to sing for Baltimore, Ferguson and Charleston, referring to the on-going racial violence in the U.S.

While introducing the final song, “One,” Bono again returned to gay marriage: “Why would you be against anyone committing their lives to each other?” He dedicated the song to Chicago’s Pride parade that happened that day and put in a little dig that Ireland passed gay marriage before the U.S. (“We put the gay in Gaelic”).

All in all it was a pretty amazing show. Lots of energy, lots of heart, lots of rock.

U2’s Songs of Innocence

Best. Date. Ever.I can be pretty fanatical about my love for U2. Since 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, their music has been fiercely personal and deeply spiritual for me.

So yesterday’s surprise news at the Apple event that U2 was releasing a brand new album and giving it away for free? Incredible.

There was a mad scramble as 500 million iTunes users powered up the program (many of us for the first time in a long time) and tried to grab the new album. Once I finally got it downloaded, I had to sit back and let it play.

The last time a new U2 album came out—2009’s No Line on the Horizon—I sat at the kitchen table and streamed the entire thing on MySpace (yeah, remember MySpace’s short-lived second life as a music site?) while waiting for news of my son Milo’s adoption.

(We cleared court and were able to announce Milo’s adoption to the world later that day.)

U2’s music is special, and that first listen is always interesting. I like to grab my initial thoughts on a new U2 album. It’s funny because it’s hard to judge music on a single listen. The songs you hate at first grow on you. The songs you loved can get tired. So you end up being wrong. But it’s still fun. I did it with No Line on the Horizon and before that with 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Songs of Innocence

What’s perhaps most interesting about this album is that U2 has been working on putting out an album for ever.  Bono has said they’ve recorded several albums, they just haven’t released them.  And now they drop the album with very little warning. If you were following the rumors, there was talk that we’d get a new album in 2014, then in September, then a week before the Apple event there were unconfirmed rumors about U2 being involved. But we never had a single, never had an album name, never had a date and the Apple rumors were denied right up to the day. It’s a very different release strategy (compare it to the hype for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which also included a big Apple partnership).

The album is also being described as a very personal one, reaching back to U2’s roots as teenagers.

My Song-by-Song First Impressions

So with all that, my initial thoughts as a fan:

“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone”
It feels bold and joyful, crisp and fun. I love the guitar, love the driving beat. I like the line, “Music so I can exaggerate my pain.” Really like the abrupt end.

“Every Breaking Wave”
I like the sonic feel of this album.

“California (There Is No End to Love)”
I hate the “Santa Barbara’s” at the beginning, but once it gets going it’s better. I love the idealism in the lyrics: “All I need to know is there is no end to love.”

“Song for Someone”
Slowing it down. I like the echoing on the verses. Thematically it reminds me of “Stuck in a Moment” “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own.”

“Iris” (Hold Me Close)
It reminds me of “Miracle Drug.” But it has a deeply melancholy feeling (I read later that Iris is Bono’s mother, who died when he was 14).

“Volcano”
I like the thumping bass. It has that ‘garbage can’ feel reminiscent of “All Because of You,” though this is a little more polished. I like the driving beat. The album seems to get darker and grittier from here on.

“Raised by Wolves”
Huh? This is different. The near spoken word delivery remind me of “The Wanderer” and the chorus has echoes of “Bullet the Blue Sky” and early U2. As much as U2 embraces belief, they also embrace doubt: “I don’t believe anymore.”

“Cedarwood Road”
More of the gritty feel. Nice acoustic guitar in the mix. “A heart that is broken is a heart that is open.”

“Sleep Like a Baby Tonight”
Wha? Weird keyboard stuff at the start. This one is dark and ethereal. I like the falsetto on the bridge: “Hope is where the door is / When the church is where the war is.” I don’t know what that means, but I like it.

“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now”
More of the gritty sound. This one is fun. I like the “choir-ish” vocals. It doesn’t sound like U2 and I love that.

“The Troubles”
I like the guest vocals from Lykke Li. Bono is amazing, but I wish they would experiment like that some more. This is a dark closer, but it’s hopeful. I like how it ends.

Songs of Innocence as a Whole

I’m not sure what I think of the whole album. No Line on the Horizon was a so-so album, and I think there are elements of that here. But it also feels like they push past that and create some better stuff. I’m still not sure if I have some standout songs. I like “The Miracle,” but it doesn’t strike me like other singles have. Not yet anyway.

I do like the thematic approach. They feel like more personal songs.

Anyway, there it is. New U2. Check out RollingStone‘s song-by-song take and their interview with Bono.

Diverse Recommendations: Baby Baby

Last week I talked about sharing diverse pop culture recommendations. So let’s do it.

I mentioned that my favorite music genres of alt-rock and punk are pretty homogenous. But a little searching can find some gems.

One great find is the Atlanta party band Baby Baby. They’re kind of the epitome of a trash can punk band, on the ragged end of being sheer noise until suddenly the melodies and hooks turn it into fist-pumping music. I’m no music reviewer, but they remind me a bit of early Beastie Boys:

“Fire!” is from a couple years ago, but it’s probably my favorite. Their new album, Big Boy Baller Club, is pretty fun too.

Searching Out Diversity

I keep coming back to the conversation about diversity in literature. I think it’s important. I heard it several times during the Festival in Faith and Writing and today I came across an article about how to get more diversity in your YA fiction.

That piece has some good advice. You have to actually search out diversity, recommend it and support it. It doesn’t happen automatically: Search, share, support.

Lately I’ve been trying to search out more diversity. If I don’t, my shelves are mostly full of white folks. It’s the same with my music collection. I don’t like most hip-hop, and the alt-rock and punk genres are pretty homogenous. So I’ve been working at it.

You also have to recommend it, and it’s something I need to be doing more. Though I should be clear this isn’t about simply recommending stuff because of the diversity, but because it’s good. So here are a couple recommendations, something I’ll try to do more consistently:

Books

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WilsonAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
The hacker youth culture of a Cory Doctorow novel meets an Arab security state and slips into a fantasy world worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien. The mix of realism and fantasy was pretty great. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of fantasy, but I really enjoyed the glimpse into the Muslim world.

Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul CurtisBud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
This is a YA classic but somehow I’ve never read it. An orphaned boy goes in search of his long-lost father in Depression-era Michigan. An early scene of Bud being abused by foster parents made me physically angry, but the story moves to tenderness as Bud encounters more warm-hearted people on his journey.

Music

Music seems like it should be easier to find diversity. But I’ve always been a rock fan, and aside from a few big names, rock isn’t very diverse. I’m not a fan of hip-hop, so that leaves my musical horizons pretty limited.

Thanks to Spotify, I’ve been researching more diverse voices.

“You Can’t Be Told” by Valerie June
This foot-stomping single is a bit different from the rest of her album, but I love her rootsy voice, regardless of anything else.

“Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)” by Noisettes
This one has a swing-dance style that’s just fun. The band has some more recent stuff, unfortunately it’s only available in the U.K.

New Five Iron Frenzy

I’ve waited two years for this. In 2011 Five Iron Frenzy launched a Kickstarter project for their comeback, raising a pile of money and ensuring a new album. Today the album officially releases. You should go buy it.

As a Kickstarter backer I’ve been listening to it for a couple weeks. It’s good stuff. Here’s the band talking about the new album:

Five Iron Frenzy was my favorite band as a teenager and it was the end of an era when they called it quits in 2003. Ten years later they’re back and it’s kind of incredible. I don’t think I ever expected Five Iron to get back together. They ended with such finality (out with a bang, not a whimper) it was clear they had seriously thought about it and were ending their career on their own terms. In some ways breaking up the way they did made it easier to put it all back together, assuming the right pieces were there. Five Iron has never been a band that would do some aging comeback tour, and it shows. They’re writing new material, and while it’s different, it’s still very much Five Iron Frenzy.

I’m curious to see how the new digital economy and a decade of difference will change things for Five Iron Frenzy. They don’t have a record company and they’ve all got day jobs. It did take two full years for the Kickstarter project to actually come to be. Will this be a one-off comeback? Or can we expect even more Five Iron in the future? I have no idea, but I can only hope for more.

Continue reading New Five Iron Frenzy