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Blake I. Collier | The Dirty Deacon

B.A. in History from The University of Texas at Arlington | M.A. in History from Texas Tech University | Contributor for Mockingbird | Co-creator of Son of Byford | Lover of horror, hip-hop, beer & anything British | Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ
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2007

Favorite Horror Moments

Day Twenty-Four - Paranormal Activity (2007) - The Ending.

I am not quite sure why this movie scared me so bad.  Nothing about it on paper would strike me as something that would frighten me, but, to this day, I cannot watch it and not be strangely affected by it.  Minus the face contortions at the very, very end of the film, this is an impressive ending to the movie.  Her sniffing her dead boyfriend’s body freaks me out, because it reminds me of the end of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Favorite Horror Moments

Day Thirteen - The Orphanage [El Orfanato] (2007) - One, Two, Three…Knock on the Wall.

Favorite Horror Moments

Day Nine - The Mist (2007) - Miss Carmody sacrifices soldier to the creatures and then receives her reward.

This film is amazing.  One of my favorites for so many reasons.  

2012: The End of the World…Week 50 & 51, Pt. 1

Viarosa - Where The Killers Run (Bonus Track Version)

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From the first strum of the guitar to the last, this album is an impressive set of songs that are both melodically beautiful and appropriately melancholy in their feel.  The dynamics of folk, bluegrass and rock are off the charts.  Each song has the unexpected ability to morph from a slow ballad to a hard-hitting rock song and vice versa.  The back and forth vocals of Richard Neuberg and Emma Seal is stark as it is versatile.  Neuberg, the front man, is well-supported by the feminine vocal touches that punctuate most of the songs and when Seal has her own solo moments, she often steals the show.  This is a duo that would challenge the best of the best in male/female duos.  The thing I love about this album the most, though, is that it plays just as well as background music as it does when intently listening.  This is music that truly moves my soul.  Even though the lyrics can often be darker in nature, it never feels like it is unsafe.  Matter of fact, this album could be considered a beautiful siren that draws the listener in to their doom against the rocky cliffs.  Very easily could be.

On top of all of that, the album is extremely consistent (one of the tops of the years) and is not halted by a single track on it.  Even the bonus tracks fit in nicely with the rest of the album, not detracting from the overall feel and emotion and lyrical content of the rest of the songs.  “Blindfold” begins the record with slow-burning intensity and it is easily a key track on the record.  “Blood from a Stone,” “Poor Man’s Prayer” and the title track all have the melodies and energy needed to make them equally enthralling.  However, the show is stolen by the final two tracks of the actual album, “Soul Light” and “Wake” which ooze with atmosphere, not unlike the instrumentation found on Sigur Ros and Hammock.  This band is one more reason why British bands can often make unique and sometimes improve upon a formula that is American in origin.  This is an excellent addition to the year of gothic americana and I am looking forward to hearing their next album!

Apocalyptic Rating: 5 out of 10 (What a way, what-a-way to hang your head)

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2012: The End of the World…Week 48

Sons of Perdition - The Kingdom Is On Fire

I am just gonna tell it like it is.  I didn’t like this album.  Matter of fact, it was one of the hardest albums to get through the week on since the Reverend Glasseye albums and I didn’t come away with near the appreciation for these guys as I did, in the end, with Glasseye (not that Glasseye is a favorite or anything).  This might as well have been a Those Poor Bastards album.  Zebulon Whatley (probably not his real name) sings as if he is incarnating the spirit of Lonesome Wyatt.  I don’t think Sons of Perdition quite get the mixture and frenetic elements that, at least, made Those Poor Bastards interesting, if not good.  However, Whatley does have a better voice than Wyatt, but he just doesn’t use it like he should.  I read a review on the internet that said that Sons of Perdition is a band that Lonesome Wyatt, himself, gave his support of and it makes sense, they are, within reason, practically the same band.  Except the student does not even come close to the work of the teacher.

This is not to say that every song was not good, but it very nearly is.  The three songs that I put up this week really were the highlights of the album.  The songs that either musically or lyrically (seldom both simultaneously) carried the work of the album are worthy of recognition.  Unfortunately, there is not much more.  The music, often, sounds like an “indie-fied” re-dressing of old school country B-sides, but not as interesting instrumentally or as far as the presence of the performer.  I do, to some level, feel bad for this rather scathing review, but I just didn’t like this album within the economy of gothic americana.  I don’t buy that this band, in the scope of this album alone, is a significant factor in the world of the gothic americana genre.  Maybe the next album will prove me wrong, but I am not holding out hope.

Apocalyptic Rating: 5 out of 10 (Lord, let they glory shine)

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Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, by Paul F.M. Zahl, 2007.
This is the most aggravating book I have read this year.  It is also the most profound book I have read all year.  At the Mockingbird Conference in September, people kept telling me about this book and how it convicts and challenges, but, I admit, I was skeptical.  Not anymore.  I feel like I got into a violent bar fight with myself; broken bottles, fists, slobbery blood and all.  I have not felt that way since I saw Modest Mouse in concert at Sasquatch in 2011.  Isaac Brock’s affinity for Bukowski, Nietzsche, and everything nihilistic and his gradual drunkenness giving an edge to his venomous lyrics as the two hour concert proceeded, made for a painful but highly effective concert.  This was an example of the world without grace and I felt bloodied.  This book, however, was attempting to show what grace looks like in everyday life and, again, I feel bloodied.  Maybe Flannery O’Connor was more right than even I could guess, that violence precedes and follows the grace of God.
Paul Zahl, I have decided, is not out to agree with people’s systems of thought.  He is out to unsettle them from their very foundations.  The first third of the book, or so, is the theological foundations for a “theology of everyday life” or a practical theology of grace.  He starts out with four pillars of his theology: the human condition (original sin, total depravity and the un-free will), Soteriology, Christology and the being of God.  Setting this down firmly, but with great wit, he then moves on to three areas of everyday life and how grace invades those areas: family, society and church. 
I said this was an aggravating book in part because elements of what he says are edgy and are on the surface going against my own viewpoints.  However, as he continues, its hard to not, at least, see where he is coming from and recognize the direction of his critique.  In the first part of the book (the theological foundations), I did take offense to his naming of elements of the book of Amos as Semi-Pelagian.  If there is a single book of the Bible that works me over more and more, it is Amos.  And, though, I am not sure that, in the end, I agree with this accusation, I could see where he was coming from.  That is the magic of Paul Zahl.  He will say something to knock you out of your self-made complacency to think about things in another direction.  Doesn’t mean you will agree with everything, but you will, at least, agree with why he makes those claims. 
In the largest portion of the book, he drops one bomb after another, reshaping and rethinking relationships with people, with the state and with the church under the realm of grace.  If you are not in a wrestling match with yourself during the majority of this book, then I am convinced you may be too far gone to be reached.  The most bloodying part of the book for me was Zahl’s view of the church, or a Christian’s ecclesiology.  Part of me was thinking that his critiques were just a product of post-modern critiques of institutions that is so cliche in the broader realm of Christendom.  However, by the time you have made it to that point and learned the theological foundations, learned how it works in the family and society, it is hard to leave that critique to stand on its own.  A lot of what he says about the church is true, too true.  And though I am still giving myself right hooks and cutting myself with a broken Shiner Bock bottle over that last part of the book (and various other elements of the book, as well), I find more and more validity to his concerns and his critiques.  Once again, will I ultimately agree?  Maybe, maybe not.  But he delivers the blows that need to be delivered. 
That being said, there were parts of the book that were like, “Finally, someone sees it the way I do.”  Especially when it came to grace in society.  I have already come to a position that is largely pacifist and pro-life in all instances (as in death penalty, self-defense, etc., not just abortion).  However, Zahl even unsettled me there too.  He checked the idealistic nature of my pacifism.  His understanding that idealism usually accompanies a high view of human anthropology (or, high view of the human condition) is largely true.  The “If I am a pacifist in my life, and others are too, then the world will be better and will progress toward a greater good” argument is a misunderstanding of the world and humans.  Living in grace means failure, suffering, loss and losing the battle most of the time, if not all of the time!  Being a pacifist should not give us high hopes of progress and human empowerment, but, instead, should prepare us to lose, so that God can then work in our powerlessness. 
All of this, the challenges and the agreements of this book are like the scene in The Dark Knight Rises when Bane breaks Batman’s back and Batman has to learn how to walk again.  It is the same thing for me in reading this book.  Paul Zahl has broken my back, and started breaking my control, my will (though that will be a life-long affair), so that I might see my life and my life in relation to others through the lens of grace instead of the law.  Grace engenders what the Law couldn’t.  The Law only multiplied sins, but the grace of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, brought about the obedience to the Law that the Law couldn’t produce.  Just like Abraham believed in the promises of God, first, and then was obedient, we, too, need to allow grace to break our backs, so that we may start to be obedient to God and his will.  O’Connor was right when, time and time again, she proclaimed that it took violence to break our wills so that God could then do his will in us, which, too, was violence in the mortifying of the flesh; the justification and sanctification of his people.
Kudos to Paul Zahl for making me have the internal, bloody, conflict with myself.  At the end of the day, whoever wins, I still lose.  And I thank God for that.

Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, by Paul F.M. Zahl, 2007.

This is the most aggravating book I have read this year.  It is also the most profound book I have read all year.  At the Mockingbird Conference in September, people kept telling me about this book and how it convicts and challenges, but, I admit, I was skeptical.  Not anymore.  I feel like I got into a violent bar fight with myself; broken bottles, fists, slobbery blood and all.  I have not felt that way since I saw Modest Mouse in concert at Sasquatch in 2011.  Isaac Brock’s affinity for Bukowski, Nietzsche, and everything nihilistic and his gradual drunkenness giving an edge to his venomous lyrics as the two hour concert proceeded, made for a painful but highly effective concert.  This was an example of the world without grace and I felt bloodied.  This book, however, was attempting to show what grace looks like in everyday life and, again, I feel bloodied.  Maybe Flannery O’Connor was more right than even I could guess, that violence precedes and follows the grace of God.

Paul Zahl, I have decided, is not out to agree with people’s systems of thought.  He is out to unsettle them from their very foundations.  The first third of the book, or so, is the theological foundations for a “theology of everyday life” or a practical theology of grace.  He starts out with four pillars of his theology: the human condition (original sin, total depravity and the un-free will), Soteriology, Christology and the being of God.  Setting this down firmly, but with great wit, he then moves on to three areas of everyday life and how grace invades those areas: family, society and church. 

I said this was an aggravating book in part because elements of what he says are edgy and are on the surface going against my own viewpoints.  However, as he continues, its hard to not, at least, see where he is coming from and recognize the direction of his critique.  In the first part of the book (the theological foundations), I did take offense to his naming of elements of the book of Amos as Semi-Pelagian.  If there is a single book of the Bible that works me over more and more, it is Amos.  And, though, I am not sure that, in the end, I agree with this accusation, I could see where he was coming from.  That is the magic of Paul Zahl.  He will say something to knock you out of your self-made complacency to think about things in another direction.  Doesn’t mean you will agree with everything, but you will, at least, agree with why he makes those claims. 

In the largest portion of the book, he drops one bomb after another, reshaping and rethinking relationships with people, with the state and with the church under the realm of grace.  If you are not in a wrestling match with yourself during the majority of this book, then I am convinced you may be too far gone to be reached.  The most bloodying part of the book for me was Zahl’s view of the church, or a Christian’s ecclesiology.  Part of me was thinking that his critiques were just a product of post-modern critiques of institutions that is so cliche in the broader realm of Christendom.  However, by the time you have made it to that point and learned the theological foundations, learned how it works in the family and society, it is hard to leave that critique to stand on its own.  A lot of what he says about the church is true, too true.  And though I am still giving myself right hooks and cutting myself with a broken Shiner Bock bottle over that last part of the book (and various other elements of the book, as well), I find more and more validity to his concerns and his critiques.  Once again, will I ultimately agree?  Maybe, maybe not.  But he delivers the blows that need to be delivered. 

That being said, there were parts of the book that were like, “Finally, someone sees it the way I do.”  Especially when it came to grace in society.  I have already come to a position that is largely pacifist and pro-life in all instances (as in death penalty, self-defense, etc., not just abortion).  However, Zahl even unsettled me there too.  He checked the idealistic nature of my pacifism.  His understanding that idealism usually accompanies a high view of human anthropology (or, high view of the human condition) is largely true.  The “If I am a pacifist in my life, and others are too, then the world will be better and will progress toward a greater good” argument is a misunderstanding of the world and humans.  Living in grace means failure, suffering, loss and losing the battle most of the time, if not all of the time!  Being a pacifist should not give us high hopes of progress and human empowerment, but, instead, should prepare us to lose, so that God can then work in our powerlessness. 

All of this, the challenges and the agreements of this book are like the scene in The Dark Knight Rises when Bane breaks Batman’s back and Batman has to learn how to walk again.  It is the same thing for me in reading this book.  Paul Zahl has broken my back, and started breaking my control, my will (though that will be a life-long affair), so that I might see my life and my life in relation to others through the lens of grace instead of the law.  Grace engenders what the Law couldn’t.  The Law only multiplied sins, but the grace of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, brought about the obedience to the Law that the Law couldn’t produce.  Just like Abraham believed in the promises of God, first, and then was obedient, we, too, need to allow grace to break our backs, so that we may start to be obedient to God and his will.  O’Connor was right when, time and time again, she proclaimed that it took violence to break our wills so that God could then do his will in us, which, too, was violence in the mortifying of the flesh; the justification and sanctification of his people.

Kudos to Paul Zahl for making me have the internal, bloody, conflict with myself.  At the end of the day, whoever wins, I still lose.  And I thank God for that.

2012: The End of the World…Week 46

Strawfoot - Chasing Locusts

Strawfoot’s first album hinges on one musical concept and one narrative concept.  The musical concept is largely focused on a more complex version of the old-school country model with inflections of bluegrass and eastern European influences.  Most of the album plays like a solid country album (and I am not talking about the general pop-laden country on the radio).  However, bring in the electric guitar and a distinct rock attitude to the initial formula.  One element that has not been a significant element of gothic americana music up to this point, but is prominently displayed on Chasing Locusts is use of solos in the songs.  There are guitar, harmonica, fiddle, and piano solos abounding in the midst of the songs sung.  With many bands, this seems to be more of a sign of ego than anything, but Strawfoot does well in working it effortlessly into the context of the whole song.  In other words, it doesn’t feel out of place or like the band is show-boating.  However, it is exactly the instrumentation that drives this band.  They have little to no atmospheric presence and no wall of sound to build a denseness to their sound.  Which is why this album, musically, plays fairly lightly and doesn’t seem to suffocate in the darkness of the lyrics.

It is the lyrics that give this album any significant darkness.  The album is book-ended by two instances of Strawfoot’s cover of “Wayfaring Stranger” which is exactly the narrative that this album wishes to tell to its listeners.  These are largely tales of faith becoming absurd and lost, “good people” becoming the worst of all sinners and a defiant stance in the face of a perceived judgmental god.  These stories can go from almost humorous (“My Dog”) to murderous (“Cursed Neck”) to defiant (“The Lord’s Wrath” and “Damnation Way”) and everything in between.  It is an interesting pick for the album to be surrounded by a traditionally recognized spiritual about faith and sin and redemption when every song on this album revels the dark and unredeemed aspects of life.  But, even then, one can’t help but hear some honesty and spiritual prodding going on in these songs as the characters give in to their own natures, even to the point of walking away from God and telling him that he “can keep his wrath.”  These characters are what Flannery O’Connor would call elements of the grotesque South.  But even they can’t escape the violent grace of their Creator.  This album is immensely satisfying even if it isn’t immensely joyful.

Apocalyptic Rating: 7 out of 10 (You can try to pass the blame but you need an effigy)

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Day Twenty-Nine: À l’intérieur [Inside] (2007) - dirs. Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Leave it to the French to make the most disturbing slasher on the whole list.  The one nice thing about European film is that they are not as apt to give in to Puritanical moral codes when their nations are way past being largely Christian in their makeup.  America is notoriously bad about trying to retain Christian “values” (which became a little too individualistic in their interpretations) when the climate of the nation is largely secular even when most people claim a nominal Christian identification.  I am not sure that this film would have been made in the US, at least not without major cuts and edits from the MPAA.  I actually shuddered during one of the kill scenes because I think it was even a little too much for me (which should worry a majority of people because I have a fairly thick skin). 
The film opens up with a car wreck and shot of a baby in utero hitting the inside of a woman’s stomach.  The camera pans out to the wreck on the outside of the womb to show a man and woman (who is pregnant) in bad shape after the wreck.  We come to find out that the husband dies leaving the wife alone and close to birth.  The movie skips ahead to the night before the child is to be born and the young mother is at home still recalling her husband and in grief, when a knock comes at the door.  A woman is on the other side saying that the baby to be born belongs to her and knows various details about the young woman.  This sets into motion a dark and violent night of cat and mouse with the women in a bloody struggle: one trying to cut the baby out and one just trying to survive. 
Half of the time I wasn’t sure if the movie was actually scary or tense or just grotesque (and, more than likely, it a bit of all of them), the other half I just felt sorry for this young mother-to-be.  Throughout the horrific night, it never ceases to amaze the audience what the young lady is willing to do in order to have this child.  At one point, a sharp object is shoved into her throat and she pulls it out, as the bloods leaks out of it, and she gets up and takes some duct tape out of a drawer and wraps a large piece around her neck to stop this bleeding.  She is that determined and that hardcore.  Admittedly, this film is not for the squeamish, because it contains very gory and disturbing imagery, but, interestingly enough, it takes artistic cues from Italian giallo films with its choice of color filters.  There is a red haze that settles over most of the film which, visually, lends to the intensity of the film.
To be honest, the thing that struck me throughout the movie is the dichotomy of the determination to live (or give life) with the equal determination to take life.  The twist of the film plays on this very dichotomy which ends up giving the audience a warped sense of sympathy for the villain.  She too has had life taken from her, just as she is, also, taking life.  The most intense symbol of this idea of living and protecting life is found in the young mother who is being tortured and threatened throughout the night.  She never gives up protecting the child inside of her regardless of how hopeless it starts to seem (and there are a couple of pretty hopeless parts in this film!).  It creates a strange dissonance to have such life affirmation being portrayed in a film that is so dark and violent and bent on taking life.  Admittedly, neither one of the women wants the unborn baby to die.  However, the villain wants the baby for herself in order to gain the child she lost.  Even then, her want of life is still the need to take life away from another.  A lot of interesting theology could be brought out from this film.  And an ample amount of social commentary could be interpreted from it as well.  Interesting film, but not necessarily an entertaining film.

Day Twenty-Nine: À l’intérieur [Inside] (2007) - dirs. Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury

Leave it to the French to make the most disturbing slasher on the whole list.  The one nice thing about European film is that they are not as apt to give in to Puritanical moral codes when their nations are way past being largely Christian in their makeup.  America is notoriously bad about trying to retain Christian “values” (which became a little too individualistic in their interpretations) when the climate of the nation is largely secular even when most people claim a nominal Christian identification.  I am not sure that this film would have been made in the US, at least not without major cuts and edits from the MPAA.  I actually shuddered during one of the kill scenes because I think it was even a little too much for me (which should worry a majority of people because I have a fairly thick skin). 

The film opens up with a car wreck and shot of a baby in utero hitting the inside of a woman’s stomach.  The camera pans out to the wreck on the outside of the womb to show a man and woman (who is pregnant) in bad shape after the wreck.  We come to find out that the husband dies leaving the wife alone and close to birth.  The movie skips ahead to the night before the child is to be born and the young mother is at home still recalling her husband and in grief, when a knock comes at the door.  A woman is on the other side saying that the baby to be born belongs to her and knows various details about the young woman.  This sets into motion a dark and violent night of cat and mouse with the women in a bloody struggle: one trying to cut the baby out and one just trying to survive. 

Half of the time I wasn’t sure if the movie was actually scary or tense or just grotesque (and, more than likely, it a bit of all of them), the other half I just felt sorry for this young mother-to-be.  Throughout the horrific night, it never ceases to amaze the audience what the young lady is willing to do in order to have this child.  At one point, a sharp object is shoved into her throat and she pulls it out, as the bloods leaks out of it, and she gets up and takes some duct tape out of a drawer and wraps a large piece around her neck to stop this bleeding.  She is that determined and that hardcore.  Admittedly, this film is not for the squeamish, because it contains very gory and disturbing imagery, but, interestingly enough, it takes artistic cues from Italian giallo films with its choice of color filters.  There is a red haze that settles over most of the film which, visually, lends to the intensity of the film.

To be honest, the thing that struck me throughout the movie is the dichotomy of the determination to live (or give life) with the equal determination to take life.  The twist of the film plays on this very dichotomy which ends up giving the audience a warped sense of sympathy for the villain.  She too has had life taken from her, just as she is, also, taking life.  The most intense symbol of this idea of living and protecting life is found in the young mother who is being tortured and threatened throughout the night.  She never gives up protecting the child inside of her regardless of how hopeless it starts to seem (and there are a couple of pretty hopeless parts in this film!).  It creates a strange dissonance to have such life affirmation being portrayed in a film that is so dark and violent and bent on taking life.  Admittedly, neither one of the women wants the unborn baby to die.  However, the villain wants the baby for herself in order to gain the child she lost.  Even then, her want of life is still the need to take life away from another.  A lot of interesting theology could be brought out from this film.  And an ample amount of social commentary could be interpreted from it as well.  Interesting film, but not necessarily an entertaining film.

2012: The End of the World…Week 40

Those Poor Bastards - Hellfire Hymns

I am seriously interested in seeing these guys live.  I have a strange fascination with how their studio efforts translate into live performance.  With the claustrophobic and minimalistic electronic feel, I really wonder whether I would appreciate them live as much as I have listening to their produced albums.  I love the electronic flourishes that embolden their songs without totally overtaking them.  Outside of these elements, their song structures are quite simple, to be honest, which helps bring out the starkness of their overall presentation.  This album improves, by large strides, over their debut LP.  Where the last one, though creative and good in its own right, suffered from a lack of overall cohesiveness, this one excels in spades.  It starts out with the sizzling of what sounds like an impending doom only found from the lower reaches of Dante’s Inferno and ends with a simple and desperate song about the after effects of what sounds like an apocalyptic and destructive events and those left to suffer in the ruins.  All of the songs play into the overall tone and theme of the album.  This would be a satisfactory soundtrack for the end of the world.

For the first time, I am truly conflicted about how to place a band.  With all of David Eugene Edwards’ projects, I had no problem seeing the devout and strong faith that flows naturally from his music, not to mention the assurance of that faith which is quite outspoken.  With bands like Slim Cessna’s Auto Club and Munly, its not hard to tell that the Christian imagery is largely used for effect, but behind its use is a rather empty faith with no devotion.  If it is true that two of the members of Those Poor Bastards are certified Holiness pastors, then I am left at a loss as how to categorize some of the sentiments found in their music; sentiments that strike me as starkly nihilistic.  At other times, there are profound descriptions of faith and reverence and the loss of morality.  This band is in a messy category all on its own.  They defy clear divisions and, to be honest, that is what makes them intriguing.  I shudder at certain songs but find myself in utter, unapologetic agreements with the thoughts in other songs. 

In the end, this leads to a certain mystery that surrounds this band, which in the end probably feeds my growing interest in them as I am going through their catalog.  Its tests my comprehension, my discernment and, to be honest, makes me want to smack my head against a wall in frustration.  But such is gothic americana, where even the most “faithful” songs belie a certain dark futility.

Apocalyptic Rating: 9 out of 10 (Behold the black sheep of the Bible Belt)

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2012: The End of the World…Week 36

The Builders and The Butchers - The Builders and The Butchers

In the whole scope of gothic americana music, The Builders and The Butchers are the first band to really showcase the potential of percussion in the genre.  This band is a percussive tour de force and it is largely what propels their songs and their whole albums.  When all other bands this year have made the non-percussive instrumentation front and center in the music (as would be expected from the influences of folk, bluegrass and Appalachian music), these guys decided to reap the benefits of bringing the percussion to the front more.  On most of these songs, the things you hear the most on the surface are Ryan Sollee’s (and others’) vocals and the percussion (which all members partake in at different times).  Once you get past the wall of beats and vocals, it is in the second layer, the second listening, that you realize the banjo, guitars, etc. that give the rest of instrumentation their complete and full sound.  This is almost a reversal of what every other band I have heard this year has done and I think it is important to point out and to recognize these guys for their uniqueness in this area.

The lyrics on this album often betray the front-porch hoe-down that the music connotes.  These are dark, fierce stories of murder, betrayal, damnation, salvation, death and sin.  However, I doubt you will be keep yourself from singing along with this group of songs, because another element of what these guys do well is being catchy while not losing their edge.  With the percussion so noticeable and the tunes so infectious, this is the closest I have come to having a similar experience that I had with hip/hop last year.  Granted there is a lot that is different, but I was bobbing my head and feeling the groove in much the same way.  There is something to be said for that.  This is a fun album and a terrific debut album for a band that I have been impressed with for a while. 

Loch Lomond/The Builders and The Butchers - Split 12 Inch (Vinyl) EP

I had heard the songs on this EP by The Builders and The Butchers, but I had not heard those by Loch Lomond.  And, let me tell you, talk about a juxtaposition of sounds on one EP.  Four songs by each band.  The Builders and The Butchers had songs that followed along the typical trajectory for the band and serves as a nice transition from their debut to next week’s album.  However, not knowing anything about Loch Lomond, I didn’t know what to expect and what I found was atmosphere, sweet melodies and an indie music sensibility in the vein of Arcade Fire.  Yes, there was a certain current of darkness weighing down their lyrics but the mixture of male and female vocals seem to really downplay those elements.  The sweetness of their sound is almost a little too rich, at times, but they are often saved their their instrumentation and their unique arrangements.  This is by no means the easiest EP to listen to considering the listener is forced to listen to a rougher, earthier sound right next to a more airy, pleasantly produced one.  At the end of the day, both bands speak for themselves and it ends up being an enriching, thought not perfect, listening experience.

Apocalyptic Rating: 6 out 10 (Something ain’t right here, but there be nothing to fear…yet)

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2012: The End of the World…Week 33

O’Death - Head Home

What makes this album distinctive from the rest of the albums from this year?  The main thing would be O’Death’s ability to take on the established path of the gothic americana genre with a distinctly punk sensibility.  There have been songs this year that have teased with this idea, but never quite getting that musical attitude of punk completely established within the framework of the song.  However, O’Death has managed to integrate those sensibilities into the gothic americana sound.  Their lyrics still sound like the laments and rages of an Appalachian hillbilly, but the propulsion of the bluegrass instrumentation is the same as the guitar and percussion in punk music.  That is what makes this a wonderfully intelligent and listenable album.  Admittedly, it takes a bit to get used to Greg Jamie’s vocals because most of the time he is screaming and hollering into his mic while the rest of the band matches it with their instruments.  It takes a bit to realize just how good of a vocalist he is and it is easy to tell if you focus on the slow songs where he isn’t allowed to yell, songs like “Travelin Man,” “Only Daughter,” “Jesus Look Down,” and “Nathaniel.”  What seals the deal, vocally, is how he is able to emit emotion into his singing.  He is not the best singer at all, but what he does with his voice makes up for talent.  He matches the music with the proper tone and emotion and his own stylistic flourishes.

If there is a weak point on this album, it would be the minute or less interludes that punctuate the landscape of this twelve song album.  They neither add nor detract from the album as a whole, they just seem like filler.  But their appearance in the economy of the album makes no scars on the reputation of the band.  It’s what they did.  And there ain’t nothing wrong with that when you have created such a creative and musically enjoyable album.

O’Death - Low Tide/I Think I’m Fine - EP

This small three-song EP is quite large in the effect it makes.  I am generally not expecting much from EPs from any band, because they are mainly for the fans to have something new or collectible from their favorite bands, but seldom do they equal or surpass the work found on the long-play records.  However, “Low Tide” (which will appear on next week’s album as well!), “I Think I’m Fine” and “Nimrod’s Son” are all quality songs that deserve to be on regular LPs.  “Nimrod’s Son” is easily the stand out track as they display more than any other song so far just how much they are influenced by their punk roots.  I get little hints of a more instrumental version of a Minor Threat song bouncing around in my head while that song plays.  Anything that makes me think of Minor Threat is worth listening to.  I also like how the last to tracks on this EP almost perfectly tie in musically without sounding anything like the other one.  There is just a string of melody that drifts through each one giving the album as a whole a strangely cohesive and consistent feeling which is an added surprise.  If O’Death’s next two albums continue in this vein then I will become a big fan of them after this year.

Apocalyptic Rating: 6 out of 10 (…so it wasn’t as dark as some, but at least it was punk as %#*^)

Brought to you by

Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution - A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First, by Alister McGrath, 2007.
I think this was exactly the book that I needed to read at this point in my life.  I am starting to feel the pressures competing theological viewpoints and biblical interpretations.  From reading McGrath’s analysis of the Protestant experiment, I am not the only one who has felt this way, nor will I be the last.  The absolute beauty of this book is how seamlessly McGrath binds historical research, theological intuitiveness and a big picture mentality into near 500 pages.  I truly think this is an important book for the times, a truly important book for me. 
He begins the book with a brief, but dense, historical landscaping of the Protestant movements from the 16th century to the 19th century.  Drawing from both primary and secondary sources in order to draw out the real nature of Protestantism and its place within the scope of the history of the Christian Church.  The second section stretches into a more detailed look at the theology that has developed throughout these initial centuries of Protestantism.  He deals with biblical interpretation, ecumenical movements, relations to the sciences and the arts, and church governance and polity.  All the while weaving in interesting side notes about Protestantism’s ties to political and imperial forces.  The final section deals with the mutations that Protestantism has come through in the twentieth century with the rise of Pentecostalism and its significant influence in the Global South and the movement away from strict Western contextualizations of theology and the church.  Probably the most interesting part of this section was the history of American Protestantism in the twentieth century and the rather strange discussions of the place of the Bible in changing cultural contexts.  Once again, McGrath is absolutely stellar at being clear and concise in how he describes these changes and movements while presenting both the benefits and the potential problems inherent in each one. 
Overall, this book is a must read for anyone who claims to be a Protestant and wants to really know their historical roots.  I think you will be surprised at just how varied and intriguing those roots are.  The Protestant movements have always been based around the book, the Word of God, and the believer’s ability to interpret it for themselves without the coercion of more institutional authorities directing them.  The most amazing thing about this book is just how this, Christianity’s dangerous idea, has been one of the biggest thorns in the side of Protestantism.  They have never been comfortable with too much institutionalization of their faith outside of what is essential for all things to survive.  Inherent in this book is an interesting challenge and charge to those who want to be true to their Protestant heritage to be humble in the proclamations of their own interpretation- (and tradition-) based understandings of the Bible and the resultant theological systems.  No single movement has been without flaws, cultural accommodation, and weaknesses. 
To conclude, I shall quote, at length, a particular clever and telling analogy that McGrath gives to show the nature and structure of Protestantism:
"The origins of Protestantism lie in what was ultimately an uncontrollable burst of creative energy directed toward the intellectual and spiritual reform of the church.  That creative burst gave birth to a solar system of planets of various sizes revolving around a biblical sun at different distances and in orbits of varying eccentricity; there was no single, unambiguous Protestant template, gene, or paradigm controlling their formation.  A plurality of related though competing biblical interpretations jostled for space, attention, and influence in many parts of western Europe.  One pattern that emerges from the development of Protestantism is what seems to be an endless cycle of birth, maturing, aging, and death, leading to renewal and reformulation." (pg. 463)

Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution - A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First, by Alister McGrath, 2007.

I think this was exactly the book that I needed to read at this point in my life.  I am starting to feel the pressures competing theological viewpoints and biblical interpretations.  From reading McGrath’s analysis of the Protestant experiment, I am not the only one who has felt this way, nor will I be the last.  The absolute beauty of this book is how seamlessly McGrath binds historical research, theological intuitiveness and a big picture mentality into near 500 pages.  I truly think this is an important book for the times, a truly important book for me. 

He begins the book with a brief, but dense, historical landscaping of the Protestant movements from the 16th century to the 19th century.  Drawing from both primary and secondary sources in order to draw out the real nature of Protestantism and its place within the scope of the history of the Christian Church.  The second section stretches into a more detailed look at the theology that has developed throughout these initial centuries of Protestantism.  He deals with biblical interpretation, ecumenical movements, relations to the sciences and the arts, and church governance and polity.  All the while weaving in interesting side notes about Protestantism’s ties to political and imperial forces.  The final section deals with the mutations that Protestantism has come through in the twentieth century with the rise of Pentecostalism and its significant influence in the Global South and the movement away from strict Western contextualizations of theology and the church.  Probably the most interesting part of this section was the history of American Protestantism in the twentieth century and the rather strange discussions of the place of the Bible in changing cultural contexts.  Once again, McGrath is absolutely stellar at being clear and concise in how he describes these changes and movements while presenting both the benefits and the potential problems inherent in each one. 

Overall, this book is a must read for anyone who claims to be a Protestant and wants to really know their historical roots.  I think you will be surprised at just how varied and intriguing those roots are.  The Protestant movements have always been based around the book, the Word of God, and the believer’s ability to interpret it for themselves without the coercion of more institutional authorities directing them.  The most amazing thing about this book is just how this, Christianity’s dangerous idea, has been one of the biggest thorns in the side of Protestantism.  They have never been comfortable with too much institutionalization of their faith outside of what is essential for all things to survive.  Inherent in this book is an interesting challenge and charge to those who want to be true to their Protestant heritage to be humble in the proclamations of their own interpretation- (and tradition-) based understandings of the Bible and the resultant theological systems.  No single movement has been without flaws, cultural accommodation, and weaknesses. 

To conclude, I shall quote, at length, a particular clever and telling analogy that McGrath gives to show the nature and structure of Protestantism:

"The origins of Protestantism lie in what was ultimately an uncontrollable burst of creative energy directed toward the intellectual and spiritual reform of the church.  That creative burst gave birth to a solar system of planets of various sizes revolving around a biblical sun at different distances and in orbits of varying eccentricity; there was no single, unambiguous Protestant template, gene, or paradigm controlling their formation.  A plurality of related though competing biblical interpretations jostled for space, attention, and influence in many parts of western Europe.  One pattern that emerges from the development of Protestantism is what seems to be an endless cycle of birth, maturing, aging, and death, leading to renewal and reformulation." (pg. 463)

Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, by Jeremy S. Begbie, 2007.
I have read quite a few books about music and its intersections with theology, whether it was about blues, rap, rock ,etc.  And generally speaking, whenever classic music is brought up as the example of choice, I tend to tune it out.   This is not because I hate classical music, quite the contrary, but because I have a very limited understanding of it.  I am much more well-versed in the heavy metal/folk/hip hop traditions than classical.  A fault in my character? Maybe.  However, that is just the way things are for me.  So When I began reading this book and recognized that classical music was, in fact, the examples of choice, I began to become hesitant, however Begbie laid my fears to rest.  He actually made his musical points understandable; he wrote it on the lay level.  Now, that is not to say that I understood all of the musical theory and structures, but I have a better grasp of it now than I did before.  This aspect is only part of the brilliance of this book though.
The most significant aspect of this book was thoughtful and insightful way that he illuminated music through the use of theology and illuminated theology through the use of music.  Most books attempt to do this, but they either oversimplify the musical theories and structures and emotive aspects therefore rendering music impotent of its intellectual emotive power or they water down theology to fit whatever structures they intend to get across to the reader, rendering theology to be impotent of its power and salvific elements.  Begbie shows such grace in characterizing the counterpoints of music and theology.  His understanding of theology would rival any of the best out there today and, of course, his knowledge of music is, not just technical, but extremely profound.  His passion for both shines through in his writing and the reader can tell that he is truly concerned about understanding theology and music together because all things come under the domain of the God of the Bible.  He critiques all sides, Christian and not, and shows where the weaknesses of each time period of music history (and theology) are.  A good portion of the book is diving into different personalities who attempted to reconcile music, one of the most effervescent forms of the arts, to a Biblical understanding of God and reality.  He deals with Pythagoras, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, J.S. Bach, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, Dietriech Bonhoeffer, and others who had something significant to say about the nature of this relationship.  Now, this does not mean that he holds to all of these aspects, but he wanted to give the reader a context to think about the subject in. 
Even though he does deal with technical aspects of music, he also broaches the conversation of how music affects us emotionally (which is usually the direction of the arguments made against music as a means of understanding reality and God) and, though he acknowledges complexities and debates, he clarifies quite a few misnomers about how emotions work and how music affects them.  Most of the book is dealing with non-lyrical music and so his analysis is largely based, not on text, but the sonic order that presents in the music itself.  That was the most enlightening aspect of the book in the end. 
The density of the book did not lend itself to quick understanding of areas that I might have been critical of.  So there is nothing off the top of my head that I want to point out as potential problems with his argumentation.  This is easily one of the most stellar books I have read, period.  Extremely impressed with his knowledge of theology and his thoughtful analysis of how it intertwines and separates from music. 

Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, by Jeremy S. Begbie, 2007.

I have read quite a few books about music and its intersections with theology, whether it was about blues, rap, rock ,etc.  And generally speaking, whenever classic music is brought up as the example of choice, I tend to tune it out.   This is not because I hate classical music, quite the contrary, but because I have a very limited understanding of it.  I am much more well-versed in the heavy metal/folk/hip hop traditions than classical.  A fault in my character? Maybe.  However, that is just the way things are for me.  So When I began reading this book and recognized that classical music was, in fact, the examples of choice, I began to become hesitant, however Begbie laid my fears to rest.  He actually made his musical points understandable; he wrote it on the lay level.  Now, that is not to say that I understood all of the musical theory and structures, but I have a better grasp of it now than I did before.  This aspect is only part of the brilliance of this book though.

The most significant aspect of this book was thoughtful and insightful way that he illuminated music through the use of theology and illuminated theology through the use of music.  Most books attempt to do this, but they either oversimplify the musical theories and structures and emotive aspects therefore rendering music impotent of its intellectual emotive power or they water down theology to fit whatever structures they intend to get across to the reader, rendering theology to be impotent of its power and salvific elements.  Begbie shows such grace in characterizing the counterpoints of music and theology.  His understanding of theology would rival any of the best out there today and, of course, his knowledge of music is, not just technical, but extremely profound.  His passion for both shines through in his writing and the reader can tell that he is truly concerned about understanding theology and music together because all things come under the domain of the God of the Bible.  He critiques all sides, Christian and not, and shows where the weaknesses of each time period of music history (and theology) are.  A good portion of the book is diving into different personalities who attempted to reconcile music, one of the most effervescent forms of the arts, to a Biblical understanding of God and reality.  He deals with Pythagoras, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, J.S. Bach, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, Dietriech Bonhoeffer, and others who had something significant to say about the nature of this relationship.  Now, this does not mean that he holds to all of these aspects, but he wanted to give the reader a context to think about the subject in. 

Even though he does deal with technical aspects of music, he also broaches the conversation of how music affects us emotionally (which is usually the direction of the arguments made against music as a means of understanding reality and God) and, though he acknowledges complexities and debates, he clarifies quite a few misnomers about how emotions work and how music affects them.  Most of the book is dealing with non-lyrical music and so his analysis is largely based, not on text, but the sonic order that presents in the music itself.  That was the most enlightening aspect of the book in the end. 

The density of the book did not lend itself to quick understanding of areas that I might have been critical of.  So there is nothing off the top of my head that I want to point out as potential problems with his argumentation.  This is easily one of the most stellar books I have read, period.  Extremely impressed with his knowledge of theology and his thoughtful analysis of how it intertwines and separates from music. 

A late Friday treat for you all, Wovenhand’s “Truly Golden” live in Norway (2007).

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