Monday, June 30, 2014

In Memory of the Prescott Hotshots

     The 30th of June marks the anniversary of Dustin Deford's death, my friend and former classmate of CBI. Last year 19 Hotshots lost their lives battling forest fires in Arizona, and Dustin was one of them. The sorrow felt as fresh today as it did then, but it's not a sadness for him, but for those of us who have to miss him; his family, and those who were close to him at Cornerstone. My heart has been with you all during this day, but Dustin, he's with Jesus and none of us would wish him back again.

"But we do not want you to be uninformed brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope" 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (ESV)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Music Monday: The Art of Celebration Review

     I'm a little late reviewing the March release of The Art of Celebration by Rend Collective. This is the first release by the band under their shortened name (formerly Rend Collective Experiment) and my does it exceed expectations. Even though this unique Christian worship group is Irish home-grown and produced, I originally heard of the group three years ago through an American friend of mine, who's been a long time groupie of the band. Back then Rend Collective Experiment had just released Homemade Worship for Handmade People, a brilliant follow-up to Organic Family Hymnal which is equally as good. I was immediately hooked on their raw, unpolished, and Psalm-like music. The indie group walked into the limelight with 2013 Campfire, an acoustic version of some of their staple songs. I was so excited with the announcement of a new release, and I was not disappointed! For a day at least, The Art of Celebration was the number one selling album on iTunes, and it's not hard to see why. Rend Collective's energy and, is infectious! 

     Rend Collective has never been a band that takes itself too seriously, and I guess it's because they don't believe seriousness to be a virtue. Lead singer Gareth says "seriousness is not a fruit of the Spirit, but joy is" and it really shows in this album. As a full time cynic, this mentality is a breath of fresh air. Rend Collective promotes a lifestyle of celebration, not in the superficial and fickle celebration of circumstance or material gain, but in the evident truths of the Christian life. In acceptance, in being a part of the Bride of Christ, in being forgiven, and indwelt by the Spirit. This is exactly the message the church needs to hear at this moment in history. Take it from a wide-eyed Irish  MK who suddenly found herself in American Fundamentalist culture: a lot of Christians are sleeping (including myself). Caught up in the act of trying to look like the Christian we were told we should resemble, we lost our joy in the truths of the gospel; in actually enjoying God. I've recently come to the conclusion that every time I sin, I desire something in that moment more than I desire God. If I were to live a life of complete enjoyment of God, I would have no temptation to sin. Suffice to say I think Rend Collective has hit the nail on the head with this release.

     The album begins with a call to this kind of celebration (defining it as an active choice) "We're choosing celebration, breaking into freedom...we cast aside our shadows, trust you with our sorrows" in the rather redundantly named Joy, followed by the foot-stomping anthem, Burn Like A Star. Seriously, if the lyrics and tone of this track don't bring you to rejoicing then I just don't know...I just don't. The third song My Lighthouse is the first song on the album to have been released as a single and I just love, love this song. It's fun, it's catchy, and the simple imagery of God as a lighthouse, shining in the darkness, leading us home is memorable and effective. More Than Conquerors is an active battle cry! Sin has been conquered!!! God is our strength and power over it!! WE ARE FREE! I also love the line that speaks of God's "resurrection power". Think about that God overcame the power of death! "We will not bow to sin or to shame, we are deviant in your name. You are the fire that cannot be tamed, You are the power in our veins; our Lord, our God, our Conqueror!" This track is followed by the more subdued, but no less powerful prayer, All That I Am. This intimate, acoustic track includes the voices and claps (and whistles) of the band in worship together, laying their all before God: "its only in surrender that I'm truly free." Immeasurably More has more of a mainstream (that was hipster of me) sound, that makes one think of...maybe Chris Tomlin? Oh yeah he helped write this song! That's why! No matter, it still has a distinctive Rend Collective sound, reminiscent of the powerhouse sound of Desert Soul from Homemade Worship. Finally Free uses the great imagery of God's mercy raining from heaven "like confetti at a wedding" and celebrating "in the downpour" and God's heart being "wild with colour like a never ending summer" burning away the "winter of my cold and weary heart." The idea of freedom being linked to the goodness and beauty of God and His grace is such a biblical one and in sync with the theme of simply enjoying God for who He is. The poetry and beauty of this song (heightened by the use of some good aul' Irish uilleann pipes) make it one of the strongest on the album. However the best track title has to be reserved for Create In Me. This is both a prayer and a joyful cry. Praying to God to "create in me a clean, clean heart, create in me a work of art, create in me a miracle, create in me something real and something beautiful" turns into the joyful cry "You're not finished with me yet, by Your power I can change, I can change", combining the prayer in Psalm 51:10, with the promise in Philippians 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (ESV). Strength of My Heart  mixes a traditional rock sound with synthetic, pop strings in an anthem of God's love for us being our strength. Simplicity tributes God as the reason we sing and celebrate, and encourages Christians to come back to their "first love." Boldly I Approach (The Art of Celebration) is a quiet sum-up of the album's themes, looking forward to the reality of the best celebration of all:

"By grace alone somehow I stand, where even angels fear to tread. Invited by redeeming love, before the thrones of God above, He pulls me close with nail-scarred hands into His everlasting arms...Boldly I approach Your throne. Blameless now I'm running home. By your blood I come, welcomed as Your own, into the arms of majesty...This is the art of celebration, knowing we're free from condemnation. Oh praise the One, praise the One, Who made an end to all me sin"

    The album is finished with a live version of My Lighthouse and a remix of Joy. This album hasn't a false step in all of it's 13 tracks. The Art of Celebration may be the best Rend Collective (they will always be Rend Collective Experiment to me) ever produced and that's saying something. It's uplifting without being cheap or gimmicky, it's encouraging without being fake, and it's theologically joyful!!! If you've never heard Rend Collective I would encourage you to start here and work your way back, but either way I don't doubt you'll become instant fans. Hope you had a great Monday dear readers! Be joyful!

Oh and by the way, Rend Collective is Aaamazing live! My friend Heather and I had an epic adventure in Louisville to see them as a supporting act to Kari Jobe shortly after the release of this album. We sadly did not get the opportunity to meet the band in person but we did meet band member Ali, and she's super lovely! 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Better Together: Weddings and Adventuring!

     Sorry for the short absence. I have been adventuring...and summer classing (huzzah I made a new verb!). Two weeks ago I attended the wedding of two old school friends from Cornerstone and between work, and trying to stay above water in regards to my summer class, and maintaining what resembles a social life, blogging was once again at the bottom of my list. But I'm back to tell you of my wonderful adventure in South Dakota.

     For those of you who don't know, I spent two years in a Bible Institute in Hot Springs, South Dakota when I was 19 and 20. These two years were some of the best and worst of my life, but what made them fun was the people. Cornerstone contained an average of 40 some students when I was there and what developed was an odd, familial-like sub-culture. For the most part, weddings have been a huge part of this sub-culture post graduation, and I have missed almost every single wedding/reunion. So, when the opportunity came to attend Mat and Liz's wedding two weeks ago, I was so there. Matt and Liz were in the same class (a year above me) and while they were always good friends, their relationship deepened into something more after they graduated. And when there's a wedding, there will be "Stoners"!

     I flew from Chicago on a Tuesday, but didn't arrive in Rapid City, SD until Wednesday morning due to the fact that we didn't leave on time (for no actual reason) from Chicago and thus missed my connection in Denver. I've dealt with delays plenty of times before and even ones that required an overnight stay, but never alone! However, a comfortable night in a hotel, courtesy of United airlines with free breakfast and shuttle went all without a glitch (despite being approached by creepy, individual with a white van whom I cunningly evaded). Adult points to me!!!

     I was picked up by Liz and other Cornerstoner Melinda and despite "car trouble" we drove onto Hot Springs in perfect we-are-girls-who-have-no-idea-how-car style. After calling Matt for help "we" fixed the problem (which turned out to be a case of rogue pipe stabbing the muffler) and drove off to have fun! Over the next few days we moved our Bride out of her apartment and literally next door to her new one, made DIY decorations for the wedding, had a blast of a bachelorette, rehearsal dinnered,   and REUNIONED (I am full of self made verbs today!!).

     It was great to see people I have't seen in 3-5 years, and even more great to see how our lives have progressed. When you're just you living your life, it's hard to see how you've changed or developed. But when you see yourself in perspective to people you knew and loved a long time ago and see that they've changed, you come to realize you have too. I loved hearing their stories, holding their children (so many children!), learning what they're doing, and where they're working. We've changed so much, and it's great! Sometimes my nostalgia takes over and I have a hard time moving forward with things. It was wonderful to celebrate change for change (see what I did there?!).

     The wedding itself, was beautiful. I loved being involved in the business of the morning: decorating, assisting photographers, and serving food. Liz made a gorgeous bride and seeing both bride and groom commit to each other before and in the name of their Saviour was so special. The representation of the gospel, as pictured by the imagery of marriage, was so clear in both their lives and commitment to each other. I may or may not have cried!

     I finished off the week fellowshipping with my old church family at Calvary Baptist Church. I cannot even begin to describe how much I missed these people, and Pastor Matt's preaching (and fondness for circles). Thank you Lord for giving me this opportunity to reconnect, even for a few, special days, with old friends and family.

Congratulations to Liz and Matt!!!

PS: If you want to check out Liz's blog click here

PPS: Clara Williams who is also a Cornerstoner, and who is married to a Cornerstoner, and who is my very dear, dear friend took the photos at the wedding. She is supper, super talented and you should check out her work on this wedding others here. I used two of her photos in this post.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Music Monday: Ledges Review


     Well hello bloggy world!!! Long time no see. I've got a lot to fill you guys in, but today is Monday so it's music time. I have quite a few album reviews to get through over the next few weeks so lets hit the ground running with Noah Gundersen's February, 2014 release Ledges I first came into contact with Noah Gundersen through my good friend Liz Johnson (you can check out her blog here). I immediately fell in love with his folk sound and his tender, story-telling lyrics. His EPs Family and Saints & Liars quickly became a music staple, but his first full length album has been playing non-stop on my Spotify account! Seriously, if I can't figure out what I'm in the mood for I switch Ledges on because I'm always in the mood for it!

      The only word I can think of that describes this album entirely is sublime. It is a pretty near perfect production of modern folk that I can't get enough of. Gundersen's lyrics are rife with tenderness, sensuality, honesty and Biblical imagery, and his songs are accompanied by a thoughtful blend of acoustic guitar, soaring fiddle (the occasional percussion), and complementary backing vocals. 

      The album begins quietly with Poor Man's Son, which starts out acapella and eventually introduces a fervent, solo guitar. Gundersen's vocals blend with his backing vocalists in beautiful acapella harmony which increases in closeness as the song reaches it's climax. The second track Boathouse starts with blasts of percussion, guitar and fiddle. The instruments don't overwhelm the lyrics which are wholesome, tragic and heartfelt: "Boathouse, coming down the river. Boathouse, carry them to safety, up from the Mississippi mud. For I lost my love". This is followed up by the quiet and parable-like Isaiah.  For a song mostly about infidelity, it uses a lot of Biblical imagery as it borrows much of its chorus from  Isaiah 41:10 "Fear thou not, my right hand will hold you, fear though not." 

     The themes of life, death, change, and goodbyes run through the album. Separator is an odd song with strange imagery "Don't you wish you could go back? When your heart sang like a burning branch, when your songs sang themselves from the bottom of a well. Yellow eyes starward bound." Poison Vine trudges along, sounding as tired as Gundersen himself as he sorrows over the shortness and mediocrity of his life "I know the fire goes out, but be to work on time". In Dying Now Gundersen, seemingly at the end of his life, mourns his broken relationships and desires to fix them. Liberator, Cigarettes (only Gundersen can use the imagery of smoking and make it almost romantic) and Time Moves Slowly all speak of broken relationships and memories which Gundersen cannot get over or forget.

     The two most notable tracks however are Ledges and First Defeat. The title track is a passionate ode to changing one's character for the better and is probably the track you'll end up singing in the shower. First Defeat is an angst filled last encounter; you can almost hear the tears in Gundersen's eyes as he howls out the bridge. It's a beautiful, delicate song and it's probably my favourite track on the album (and it was featured on one of my favourite shows Suburgatory). 

     As first album's go Ledges is a smashing start. It's lyrically beautiful, and musically refreshing. I've been listening to it since it came out in February and I haven't tired of it yet! Have a listen and let me know what you think! 

PS: Oh and hope you had a better than most Monday!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Carry Me Home

         Well I'm here in the early hours of the morning in Greenbay airport! My finals are done-thank goodness for that because I don't know how much longer I could look to this for motivation:

Ok Ryan, I will!!

My bags are packed,

and I am ready to begin my trip to Ireland! 

Wishing all of you happy Christmas travels. The next time you hear from me, this happy girl will be home! 


Monday, December 9, 2013

Music Monday: Salvation

          Last week, Gabrielle Aplin released the beautiful music video for her new single Salvation from her album English Rain. Enjoy guys! Updates coming up this week!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Music Monday: Winterwell Review

          I'm back after another long absence! Another Monday means more music! I hope to post an update on what's going on in my life later this week, but with my usual impeccable timing (block class week) we'll see how it goes.  

Since the summer, there have been a slew of new albums released, and many of them far too good to give a mere shout out. So the next few Mondays I will be dedicating full reviews to some of these new releases. The first of which is August 6th's Winterwell by young indie vocalist Marie Hsiao (stage name "Mree").

Mree is a true indie artist, having self produced all her music including recording her first album Grow and filmed her own music videos (on her iphone) and financed her own tours. Like so many other artists today, her career began on the wonderful world of youtube. She began releasing covers of her favourite artists, even attracting the attention of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver when she covered Blood by the Middle East. Since then Mree has developed and tweaked her own unique sound. I stumbled upon her music last Christmas. Grow-a much more delicate, acoustic album- was the perfect sound to come home to. I would walk into my dorm room from the bitter ravaging of winter, switch on Mree's ambient vocals, turn on the Christmas lights, and the fragrant oil burner, and pick up a book or let the music lull me to to sleep for a couple hours. 

Sophomore album Winterwell is a much more developed sound than its predecessor. Today it is difficult to categorize the genre that Mree's music falls into. Winterwell falls somewhere between Enya and Bon Iver. Usually when it comes to music I tend to seek out lyrically strong music such as the philosophically charged Jack Johnson, the poetry of Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers or Gabrielle Aplin, or the folksy  musings of The Last Bison. However there is something to be said for artists who focus more on creating an atmosphere rather than shape their music around a clever phrase or thought. Artists like Bon Iver, Sigur Ros and Jonsi purposefully keep their lyrics vague or unspecific in favour of creating a unique sound that plays on emotion and ambience. Mree is very much in line with this musical philosophy and it shows in Winterwell. 

While her first album was a more folksy, acoustic sound showcasing Mree's silky, sweet voice, this album experiments with a more techno, electronic sound, that cleverly layers vocals over contrasting beats and rifts. The folk acoustics are still there, but are mixed with a much more realized and unique sound.

The album opens with the signature track Into the Well which carries more of an Enya-like atmosphere. It's new, it's exciting, and provides a strong opener to the album. It's followed by Night Owls, a light, easy listener using soft guitar strums and later incorporating a light, cozy horn. To See the Light and On Echo are more busy and fast paced, using more vocal layers, increasing tempo with electronic percussion and synthetic strings. Monster is my least favourite track, probably because it does little to showcase Mree's creativity, either musically or vocally. It's a playful sounding track, but in my opinion throws off the otherwise consistent sound. The Search is a pretty, thoughtful duet with Mark Beasley, In the Morning finds its identity with Mree's folk roots, using acoustic guitar and banjo. Mree's voice is often content to float above the music, but she reminds her audience of her vocal strength in this track. Break My Heart and Lift Me Up breeze through, leading to the gorgeously simple, piano ballad Winter. Instrumental A Song for the Stars follows and the album ends with Mree singing along with the strums of an electric guitar in Lullaby.

Overall I loved Winterwell. I was surprised by the difference between Mree's previous work and this new sound, but it was a risk that paid off. Mree shows a creativity and self awareness that's sometimes beyond more seasoned musicians. Winterwell leaves very little to be desired and I would recommend it to  any one in the mood for something a little different.

Wishing you a very lovely, Music Monday.      

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