Sunday, February 6, 2011

Music Discovery via Rock Band

I remember playing the first Rock Band back in 2007 at my in-laws house. I loved going over to their house because they were teenagers who had all the coolest video games. A year or two earlier they had introduced me to Guitar Hero and I had fallen love with it. I didn't have any fancy video game systems so I bought a wired Guitar hero controller and started playing a free open source guitar hero clone called Frets on Fire (FOF) on my pc. The music library was extensive but inconsistent and by the time Rock Band came out I wanted nothing but its multi-instrument appeal. I'm a sucker for Karaoke and can carry a tune so I fell in love with it. Everybody else wanted to play drums or guitar so I was always guaranteed a spot in the band.

I wanted Rock Band so badly. It didn't help that every time I went to church the kids in the youth group were playing it in the lobby on the big tvs. It also didn't help that they were constantly playing one of my all time favorite songs, "Say It Ain't So" by Weezer.

I finally got Rock Band a few months later. It was glorious. In the back of my head I was convinced that I was rock star material. I was singing at expert level in no time. I was playing guitar at expert a little later. My drumming was nearing hard level and I was sure that my "pretend" drumming would translate itself into "real" drumming soon. It was even more fun when I could get my wife to play or when I had friends and family over.

It's been a few years now and I still play Rock Band but now I'm playing the 3rd version of the game; Rock Band 3. Kim doesn't play that much anymore and I'd love for friends and family to come over more but it seems that the novelty has worn off. I've kept up with most of the Rock Band games except for the Beatles version and I'm waiting for the Green Day one to go down to about $10 before I buy it. I always pay the extra few bucks to export my old songs into the new rock band game and I'm a little addicted to buying downloadable content or DLC. Each song is usually $2 and when you add up all the songs from the 3 Rock Band games, Lego Rock Band, the AC/DC track pack and all the DLC songs I have a little over 400 songs.

I've found some really good music through Rock Band and I'd like to list those here. These are songs I was unfamiliar with until Rock Band that made their way onto my iPod.

Songs from Rock Band 1:

Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria

I was familiar with the band but had not heard this song yet. They're a great band who base their songs on a space opera that the lead singer wrote which makes for some odd lyrics.

Reptillia by The Strokes

Another band I was familiar with but I just had never heard this song until Rock Band.

Songs from Rock Band 2:

Almost Easy by Avenged Sevenfold

Bat Country and Beast and the Harlot are favorite songs of mine so I was pleased to find that this band had more good songs. I wouldn't be surprised if the song writer eventually becomes a Christian as his lyrics make it seem that he's searching for God.

Aqualung by Jethro Tull

I had heard the main hook to the song on those infomercials for classic rock but I liked the whole song. Weird lyrics though...

The Trees by Rush

I don't like a whole lot of Rush this and Tom Sawyer are probably the only ones I like.

Psycho Killer by The Talking Heads

I instantly fell in love with this song and this band. I love, love, love this song it's got to be one of my all time favorites.

DLC, songs I listened to a 30 second preview and decided to pay $2 for.

Afterlife by Avenged Sevenfold

Another good song from this band. Songs like this further cement my theory about them converting, if they haven't already.

Still Alive by Glados

It was free but I would have paid for it.

Skullcrusher Mountain by Jonathan Coulton

It was only a dollar but I was hooked after hearing how funny it was. This kind of Started a Coulton landslide for me. I had to find everything he ever did and I like a good portion of it (I later found out he was responsible for the song before this one on the list).

Hysteria by Muse

I already liked this band and a 30 second preview convinced me that I had to have this. One of my favorite Rock Band songs as it's catchy and smart and very challenging. One of the most fun bass parts to any song if you can master it.

Don't Look Back in Anger by Oasis

When Oasis first hit in America in the 90s this song wasn't on the radio for some reason, BIG mistake. I love this and had never heard it before.

I.V. by X Japan

Was very surprised to like this song but it's great and has one of the best vocal parts.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Growing older every day with The Insyderz

In 1993, when I was 11, Jeff Foxworthy released a comedy album called "You Might Be A Redneck If...". My mom bought it for me that Christmas and I must have listened to it a million time on my off-brand walkman. The "You might be a redneck if..." jokes got worse with every listen but there were parts of his comedy that stuck with me over the years. The first one is was the bit about redneck abbreviations, I use g'eedyet(did you eat yet?) and yumptoo(do you want to?) all the time. But the bit that stuck with me the most was just kind of a throwaway joke about the fashion train. Jeff theorized that we're all riding on the fashion train until one day when we decide it's our stop and the train keeps going while we stay in the same spot becoming more and more irrelevant to youth culture.

I turned 29 recently and I wonder sometimes when my stop on the "fashion train" will come up. When will I draw my line in the sand and proclaim that I've had enough with all this new stuff and things were better in my day!? Will I ever be the disapproving old white guy at the conservative by everybody else's standards church.

A few years back our worship leader tried something new at church and I felt like what the old people must have when they turned down my electric guitar during worship back in college. We had just started going to and we loved the worship. It was a breath of fresh air to find a church that sounded like the music we listened to in the car and on our iPod. It wasn't the normal setup this Sunday. It wasn't 2 guitars, drums, a bass, and some BGVs it was 2 macbooks, 2 keyboards, an electric guitar, and I think a vocoder. I stood there with my arms crossed finally relating to how those stuffy old people must have felt when I was told not to play penatonic scales in church. Sure it was wierd but I later listened to the recording of that worship set and it sounded great.

I've done my best to stay relevant. But I don't want to ever be a slave to it. Every few months or so I'll listen to the most popular songs on just to see if there are any diamonds in the rough. But most of the time I live my life in the fringe, the outer limits of what people find acceptable in music and entertainment. I used to pride myself on that when I was younger. Now sometimes I'd rather relate to people than be an oddball or a hipster of any kind.

Ska was relevant for a very brief period in the mid 90s Christan Rock scene. The Insyderz were never the best or most popular in my opinion. The one thing they had going for them was they played a genre of music that I found very enjoyable at a time when Ska was scarce. And they covered a Keith Green song. The Skallaleuia cds were the shining moments in the Insyderz discography.

I once got caught singing this version of the O Lord You're Beautiful in what was meant to be a private moment between me and GOD in our cabin at the family reunion. Definitely on my top 10 most embarrassing moments list.

I'm done with talking about Ska, I've learned I really don't like it anymore. I've grown out of all of it but Five Iron Frenzy. Tomorrow (who am I kidding lol)I'll cover songs that I fell in love with while playing Rock Band.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Supertones. Good but not Great.

I've been struggling for a few days with this topic. I want to continue talking about the Christian Ska but the more I think about it the more I realize that the only ska band that stands the test of time is Five Iron Frenzy. Supertones will do in a pinch though. The way I see it there are four good Supertones songs: Adonai, Blood Washed Pilgrim, Unite, and So Great a Salvation.

Adonai is off of their first CD; Adventures of the O.C. Supertones. You gotta love that album art. The lyrics are solid and after listening to it for the first time in probably eight years it's still pretty good. Lots of horns in this song and kind of a wierd Beck shoutout in the second verse.

This was my favorite on their debut cd. I feel real stupid, I had no idea this was hymn until searching for the song on youtube. My wife is laughing at me now. My church didn't do hymns, we did what we called choruses. I like the Supertones version about a million times better.

My best friend and I would rock out in his Volkswagen GTI to this song back in the day. It's a great message about Church unity that really struck a chord with me.

This is a great acoustic song that I really related to. The line "and I asked God for a wife" really struck a chord with pre-married me. This was one of the first songs I figured out how to play on my guitar without looking it up on the internet. I love the lyrics. I played this many times as a prayer to God.

Tomorrow we'll wrap up the Christian Ska segment with a look back at The Insyderz.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Love Letter to Five Iron Frenzy

It was the first day of Bible College. I was in the cafeteria emptying my tray of what was mostly brown food; Fried Chicken strips, french fries, macaroni and cheese and Fried peaches for dessert. Most of the kids knew each other from bible camps and conventions but I was the new kid from a different kind of church that had no built -in bible college friends. As the brown food slid off my tray into the trash can I spotted a kindred spirit, a girl with a Five Iron Frenzy shirt on.

Band shirts were special to me back then, they said so much about who you were. Her wearing that Five Iron shirt let me know that not only did we like the same kind of music but we probably had the same sense of humor. It was like we were in a secret club together. That girl is now my wife of 8 years and if it wasn't for our mutual love of Five Iron Frenzy (or FIF) and Christian Ska in general then we wouldn't have had those all-to-important first conversations that broke the ice of the most important relationship of our lives.

Their are a couple of different kinds of FIF songs; the sincere awe-inspiring worshipful songs, the Native American advocate ones, the love songs and the silly ones. I've always had an off-the-wall sense of humor and I always felt like if I could have hung out with FIF that we would have had a ton of fun together. They felt like brothers (and one sister!). They're people I thought I could relate to and have fun with.

The silly songs are great. The most well known of their silly songs is probably Phantom Mullet. My favorite is "You Probably Shouldn't Move Here". But the best one is probably Oh, Canada.

One thing about the silly songs is that they're not great to listen to all the time luckily FIF has a depth of music that gets better on repeated listen. It seems like there was about one song on each album dedicated to educating people on the plight of the Native Americans. Banner Year is one of my favorites as it's a touching song with a great chorus and it's also set in my home state of Oklahoma. The Memorial to Black Kettle is located in Cheyenne, OK.

Another recurring theme I identified with in FIF's music was Reese Roper's (the lead singer) struggle with romance. Songs like Ugly Day and Pre-Ex Girlfriend always hit close to home with me. Pre-Ex Girlfriend is up there with No Action by Elvis Costello as best album openers of all time.

Then there are the awe-inspiring worshipful songs. On Distant Shores is a very good example of this type of FIF song. The song that any self-respecting FIF fan would say here would have to be Every New Day. PLAY THIS SONG AT MY FUNERAL. It's in my top 5 of all time.

I could go on and on about one of the best bands of all time but I think that's a good stopping point. There are probably 50 more songs of theirs that are just as good as the ones listed here. You don't come across a band that special that often, I'm glad I got to live through it. Sadly, like all good things, the band broke up in the early part of this decade. I saw them many times live and got to lay hands on Reese and pray for him with my then fiance but I'll always regret not going to their final show in Denver, luckily they recorded that set and released it as a live album. You know a band is good when even the live albums are good.

Tomorrow we'll cover the best of The Orange County Supertones.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ska Ska Ska

A curious fad happened in the Christian Rock scene in the mid to late nineties. A genre of music that saw little success in the secular world seemed (to me anyways) to dominate Christian Rock for a couple years. The genre is Ska. Ska is upbeat punkish music with a horn section. The way I see it there were 3 prominent Ska bands: Five Iron Frenzy, The OC Supertones, and The Insyderz.

Five Iron Frenzy or FIF was always the best. Their music stands the test of time more so than their contemporaries. The song that introduced me to them was Suckerpunch. FIF had the funniest lyrics and as I've mentioned before they brought my wife and me together.

The OC Supertones seemed to be more appealing to the masses. I'm not sure if they were more successful financially than FIF and The Insyderz but they always came across that way. The song that exemplifies them has to be Supertones Strike Back, a fun self-referential song. A girl at bible camp once comforted me in an e-mail after I told her that my great-grandma died by quoting the chorus to this song. It went something like this:
Me: Hey thanks for giving me your e-mail! Camp was fun but it was kinda bittersweet seeing as how my 79 year old great-grandmother died while I was at camp :(
Her: Camp was AWESOME! Don't worry about your Grandma just remember what the OC Supertones say "We want this whole band to be a big love letter
so we play the SKA and it makes you feel better
God's got love for us, so we got love for you"

Needless to say I didn't email her back, as desperate as I was.

The Insyderz didn't have as much "regular" songs that I liked. They were much better at turning modern praise and worship songs into Ska songs like they did on the 2 Skalleluia albums. I loved their version of the Keith Green Classic O Lord You're Beautiful.

I'll cover each one of those bands in detail over the next few days and finish off the series with a look at the far inferior secular Ska and the Christian swing movement that seemed to be an offshoot from the far better Ska genre. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Harder to Believe Than Not to

This is one of my all-time favorite songs but I doubt too many people know about it or have ever heard it. I heard this song a couple times on the radio in the late 90s when I was in my teens and I identified with out so strongly. The lyrics really spoke to me at a time when I felt like being a Christian was a constant uphill struggle. The line where it says "But it gets so hard when they don't want to listen" summed up every attempt I had at witnessing to somebody in High School. The story behind the song comes from a quote by a famous author who was criticized by her contemporaries for being a Christian. Her response was It's harder to believe than not to.

This is actually a cover version, the original was recorder by Steve Taylor in 1990 or so. This song was part of a tribute CD to Steve Taylor. The original recording is not my style but I really like what Fleming and John did to it. I remember tuning my guitar down to C just to play along with this song over and over again.

Fleming and John had a string of good hits but none were ever as good as this one in my eyes. One of their hits, I'm Not Afraid, was all over secular radio and a tv show about a psychic who helped cops find killers and stuff and I remember Love Songs being the number 1 song on the local Christian station in 1996 or so. Fleming and John are a husband and wife duo. The husband actually produced the Sixpence None the Richer album that had Kiss Me on it, small world.

Tomorrow we'll start a multi-part study in mid-90s Christian Ska. Join us please?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Isabel's Birthday

One year ago today my Daughter Isabel Grace Wren was born and after a few minutes she died. The experience of losing a child has profoundly changed myself and my family for the better. I can honestly say that this year has been the best we've ever had. For probably the first time I think I'm walking in God's will for my life.

The grieving process has been a very unpredictable one for me. It seems that the intense waves of emotional grief have been brief and rare. I've spent months feeling numb but confident. A year later when I revisit the series of events that lead up to her death I have to fight back the regret. I feel it's dangerous to think of how it could have been different if one thing or another would have been different.

This year I went through a thing called the Chazown experience at church/work. It' a great set of curriculum that's designed to align your life with God's plan for you. The main premise being that everybody ends up somewhere but few end up there on purpose. The process for finding one's Chazown has you go through your past experiences, core values and spiritual gifts; where they intersect is your Chazown. After you find your Chazown you're supposed to plan the next part of your life. One of the questions in the books asks you what the next chapter of your life will be called, I put down "Having more kids, getting healthy, and becoming a pastor". Everything is going well on all fronts. I've lost 40 pounds and 2 pant sizes in just 3 months!

Today I'll share the song that I picked out for Isabel's funeral. It's called Do You Realize by The Flaming Lips. Listen to the lyrics. They've always been comforting to me.