2014 Year End Music List (Part 2)

This happens every year. I start working on my favorite music list for the year. I tell myself that I'm just going to put together a top ten. But I can't help myself. I publish the list and still every morning for the week after I'm still thinking about what else should be on the list. So, here you have it! I offered my top ten but apparently, I had a top 20 rumbling around in my head. I blame it on the late D'Angelo release. After hearing that, I just had to add it!
  1. Cold Specks - Neuroplasticity: Two years ago, Cold Specks showed up with a sparse, sad, soulful album. This album is a lovely evolution of a great artist.
  2. Damien Jurado - Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son: This is by far the most beautiful album Jurado has crafted so far. This album should have got a lot more attention this year.
  3. Tune-Yards - Nicki Nack: Merrill Garbus makes music that sounds like the love child of Jim Henson and Fela Kuti. I can't say that this is a huge progression in song writing but it's certainly a fuller production and I love it.
  4. The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers:  Dang! This band writes such good songs! AC Newman, Neko Case and the gang are just incredible song writers that pull directly from the Beatles' lineage. So good.
  5. Redline Graffiti - The Drill: Like Ex Hex, Redline Graffiti hail from DC. Lovely, indie rock meets neo-soul. I think these guys could be huge.
  6. Greys - If Anything: The lead track to this break neck paced album is titled, "Guy Picciotto." Seriously. What else needs to be said?!
  7. Benjamin Booker - Benjamin Booker: Good ol' fashioned rock and roll! A really solid debut album from this solo artist. Looking forward to what else he does.
  8. St. Paul and the Broken Bones - Half the City: I experienced such cognitive dissonance the first time I tried to connect the faces of this band with their music. Whitey on the Motown.
  9. D'Angelo - Black Messiah:  D'Angelo disappears for 15 years and returns with this amazing funk, soul gem. Complicated. Weird. Timely. Worth the wait.
  10. Hiatus Kaiyote - By Fire: I have this little trick I play on musician friends. I put Hiatus Kaiyote on and slowly turn up the volume until one of them says, "Who is this?!" This EP picks up exactly where their debut full length left off. There's a reason that they're adored by soul and hip hop icons alike.
Okay, that's it! No more music for 2014... well, I may share what I'm most looking forward to. In the meantime, here's a Spotify playlist of my top twenty for 2014 (sans the Thom Yorke track). Enjoy!

Easter People #28: Evangelism

The new Easter People podcast is up and this was a fun one for me. We talked about "evangelism." My favorite word that everyone else hates! Well, that might be exaggerating a bit. We discussed evangelism after Ferguson and I mention one of my favorite books on the subject of evangelism, Evangelism After Christendom by Bryan Stone. You should check that out. But check out our podcast first:
"This week the Easter People welcome Melanie Mullen, the downtown missioner at St. Paul’s in Richmond, for a conversation about evangelism. We also touch on the intersection of evangelism and mission with justice and advocacy, including our growing national conversations about race. Then we play a game about digital evangelists and share our Green Shoots."
Listen here or on Soundcloud below.

2014 Year End Podcast List

I've had the privilege of being part of the Easter People podcast for over a year now. Most podcasters are themselves podcast fans. This certainly applies to me. I listen to quite a few podcasts! And this has been quite the year for podcasting. There is the incredibly popular This American Life spin off, Serial. Many folks have followed the Kickstarter success of 99% Invisible. While these are some of the podcasts I follow, below are my top 5 podcast finds for the year.

  1. Still Untitled: My whole family loves Mythbusters and that is how I discovered this podcast. Still Untitled is hosted by Adam Savage from Mythbusters with Norm and Will from Tested.com. All things gadgets, tinkering, science, fatherhood and sci-fi. If you like BoingBoing's Gweek this is probably right up your alley!
  2. StartUp: My fellow Easter people podcaster, Kyle Oliver turned me on to this. I love Planet Money and StartUp comes from the mind of Adam Bloomberg from this show. It's a podcast series that documents the start up of his new podcasting company. His company, Gimlet Media has also started another podcast worth checking out, Reply All, hosted by PJ and Alex from TL/DR.
  3. Song Exploder: Part of the Maximum Fun podcast network, Song Exploder is a super unique music podcast. I haven't heard anything quite like this. On each episode an artist explains the construction of one song. I can't get enough of this show. If you listen to the UK song writing podcast, Sodajerker you'll dig this.
  4. Guest DJ Project: KCRW brings in writers, actors, artists and other well-known people to share their favorite songs. Each guest plays a song and shares why this song is special to them. It's super fun and interesting to hear what kind of music inspires creative people from all sorts of fields.
  5. Drunk Ex-Pastors: The title says it all. Two guys that used to be evangelical Christian pastors talk about any number of random subjects while drinking. Their conversations are wide-ranging and while I don't tend to like longer podcasts, I enjoy their banter and camaraderie–even when I disagree with them.
If you listen to podcasts, share what you're a fan of. If you haven't checked out our show, Easter People yet I hope you will and let us know what you think!

2014 Year End Music List

This is the time of year when so many of my favorite music blogs begin to publish their top music lists of the year. I thought I'd offer my top ten music releases for the year. It's disappointing when an album comes out and does not meet your expectations. These are albums I was looking forward to and on first listen I really enjoyed them.

  1. Alt-J - This Is All Yours: I really enjoyed their first album and with the loss of a member I fully expected the sophomore slump. But this album is beautiful.
  2. Run The Jewels - RTJ2: I'll be honest, some of their lyrics are really off putting. I almost didn't include it. But it is simply the best hip hop album to come out this year. Killer Mike and El-P are great artists on their own. It's rare that two solo artists can come together and compliment each other so well. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Zach de la Rocha has a guest appearance.
  3. Moral Mazes - Magic Tommy Jackson: J. Robbins from Jawbox. Jonah Matranga from Far ... need I say more?! Only a 2-song release. But it was bliss to finally hear this! 90's era melodic post-hardcore beauty.
  4. TV on the Radio - Seeds: I don't know that I will love any album as much as I loved Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes but this is a solid album! Haven't been able to spend too much time with it yet but I was pleasantly surprised at the strength of this album. 
  5. Single Mothers - Negative Qualities: Loud, raucous rock 'n roll! Not quite as unhinged as The Bronx early work but that is an easy comparison. The difference? You can actually understand a lot of what this guy is screaming about. 
  6. St. Vincent - St. Vincent: Annie Clark just gets stronger and stronger on each release. A beautiful voice. An incredible guitar player. And just the weirdest most alluring songs to be crafted this year.
  7. Vanishing Life - People Running/Vanishing Life: Another 2-song only release that I was really excited about and loved. Walter Schreifels from Quicksand and Gorilla Biscuits with members of Rise Against and ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. So good! Can't wait to hear more.
  8. F@#$ed Up - Glass Boys: David Comes to Life was a hard album to follow! Yet, this band continues to hold such a unique and creative space in the punk rock scene. I continue to be impressed with their consistent punk rock ethic that does not compromise their artistry.
  9. Ex Hex - Rips: Had to have at least on local release on this list! The album title is so appropriate. It does rip. A solid first full length from Mary Timony's (of Helium and Wild Flag) latest project. Play it loud. Play it often. 
  10. Thom Yorke - Tomorrow's Modern Boxes: I'm biased. I know it. I love everything this guy puts out. Radiohead's frontman returns with his second full length solo project. I actually think I liked this release more than The Eraser

What are meetings for?

When most of us ask to meet with someone new in our lives it's typically for one of two reasons:

1) I want to learn from that person or ...

2) I want to share something with that person

Sounds a bit utilitarian, I know. Of course, many will say that we meet with folks to get to know each other, to build relationships. This is true but authentic relationships are generative–they produce something. In friendships, what I get out is most often a better me and I hope that my friend is better for our relationships. The same is true at work. Deliberate encounters, meetings ought to have a purpose and an outcome.

When you ask for a meeting with someone–unless you're intention is to share something with that person–your job is simple: Listen. Nothing is worse than asking someone to take time out of life only to ramble. Whether personal or professional. If you're asking for a meeting with someone that you want to learn from–or about–think about what questions you want to ask beforehand. Then, as my friend Mike advises, do 70% of the listening and 30% of the talking. My friends from City Net in Long Beach, CA talk about the "OARS" acronym when it comes to better listening: Open-ended questions, Affirming comments, Reflective responses, Summarize what you've heard.

This doesn't mean that there is no place for rambling, aimless conversation. Or conversation simply for the sake of building relationships. But without intention those will not be productive encounters, generative meetings.

So, if you have something to share establish that up front and deliver. If you wan to learn from the person, listen well. One of the benefits of this is that you will find yourself getting to know the kind of people that you can create change with. That's what the world needs. Those are the kind of friends I want.

Agree with me? Is this a fair assessment of meetings? Let me know what you think.

Liz Vice

I don't listen to much Christian pop or contemporary worship music. Never have. It's not that I prefer hymns and organs. I don't. I just find most contemporary Christian music to be superficial, blatant imitations of other artists, poorly thought theology and tunes more appropriately used as jingles for toothpaste commercials. God knows that my good friend, Dan So, has tried to turn me on to some decent worship artists. But it has rarely had an effect on my snobbiness.

That said, I do have a soft spot for old spirituals. When I was a kid, my grandfather would often play gospels and spirituals on his record player. On rare occasion he would strum them on his guitar. He wasn't a great guitar player. So, when he played these songs he slowed them down a bit, often giving them an early blues feel. Liz Vice's music harkens back to this kind of Christian music. There's a stripped-down, simple-yet-beautiful, Jesus-centered sensibility that I've found myself smitten by. She's certainly not limited to my spirituals and Blues comparison. There are aspects of Motown and more. But whatever it is, it's beautiful.

Her album There's A Light is currently available for FREE. Go get it. You're welcome!

He Died Unable To Breathe

He was a young man.

He was not a part of the dominant, privileged class.

He came from a poor, under educated class.

He was presumed not to be innocent.

He was wrongly accused and killed.

He died with his hands up.

He died unable to breathe.

If we fail to see the suffering of the marginalized in our culture in light of the suffering of our Savior, then we fail to fully appreciate the vastness of His redemptive work.

Listen well, share your story, make friends, resist violence and learn.

Kelly Brown Douglas' The Black Christ, James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Willie James Jennings', The Christian Imagination or Cornel West's Prophesy Deliverance! would be a good place to start.

Ferguson... Goddamn!

The applause slowly settles as the playful rhythm begins. The camera turns from a white audience to focus on a black woman playing at the piano. As Nina Simone sings, she looks directly into the faces of her white audience. The up tempo tune allows the audience to be caught off guard by the lyrics. "Mississippi, Goddamn!" I've only read pieces of interviews over the years. I'm no expert on Simone's career. But from what I can gather, Simone knew what she was doing. The lyrics tell you, she's not gonna "go slow." She has a message that needs to be heard. This is intentional. She has counted the costs. Her performance displays a beautiful tension held between anger and joy, hope and despair. And all the while, she looks in the faces of her audience. You people need to hear this... Mississippi... Goddamn!

Ferguson... Goddamn!

I don't yet know how to write about Ferguson. I've tried to write this post too many times since Monday evening. About all I can say yet is, Ferguson... Goddamn!

I'm with Nina, it's not time to go slow. But I have yet to find words to describe what that means. So, here are a few things that offer words I don't have at the moment:

While some will be offended by his language, rapper Killer Mike named the issue in his on stage rant a few nights ago: This isn't about one incident. This isn't a trend. This is a broken system, a broken culture.

The conversation now is as important as the protests. We need to listen to each other. We need to be tireless at extending human dignity to each other. No matter what your personal history tells you about a particular people group. My white sisters and brothers would do well by considering the steps offered over at TheRoot.com for engaging this issue with our black sisters and brothers.

This a systemic problem. It extends beyond you and me. It's complex and our reactions to this will be the same. Whether or not you follow the NFL, Benjamin Watson of the Saints has written one of the most beautiful yet complex responses to Ferguson.

May we not go slow. But may we go forward without violence and for justice.

Ferguson... Goddamn!