Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sports and Their Significance: A Cleveland Observation

I have been thinking about how to explain to non sports fans and/or, non native Clevelanders, why this Cavs journey means so much to Cleveland, and why so many people are drawn to cheer on our sports teams. For this city, especially, we haven't had a championship won by any of our major league sports teams since 1964. Now you can say, "so what? How does winning or losing have anything to do with your daily life?" and in doing so you would be right. Whether or not the Cavs, Indians or Browns win or lose doesn't affect you directly in any way. 

However, I would say this back. Sports teams are seen by any city as an extension of the city. They are ambassadors to the rest of the country. When they win it equals success, and the people who live here then, by extension feel that in a small way, we are successful too. The same goes for when any of our teams lose. We feel that also represents us to the world.

Because Cleveland has suffered so much financial decline in the last 20 years, we don't have the strong economy or large amount of businesses to bring us national attention in a positive light. Yes, we did snag the Republican National Convention, but only half of the country really has interest in that because only half the country are republicans anyway! 

Which brings up another point, sports create unity in a city. When people are together cheering on a team, no one is arguing politics or philosophies. A democrat can cheer next to a republican. A Christian can high five an atheist. A gun owner can toast a beer with a pacifist. 

While ideally the Church should create the same kind of unity, so often differences in theology can drive us apart instead of keeping us unified on the Truth of Jesus coming to save humanity from their sins. This is where sports provides that example in a positive way, and one more people should be in tune with, and enjoy. 

Ultimately that is why sports draws people in, because it satisfies a human longing to be a part of something bigger than we are, and brings us together with those who may be different than us, and gives us something in common. It then can bridge the gap to having genuine friendships with people and forge paths towards seeing them for who they are, people whom Jesus does love.

So that is why tomorrow night Cleveland will be at a fever pitch of excitement and hope, because if the Cavs pull it off, Cleveland will look good to the watching country, and everyone will remember the team that overcame a 3-1 game deficit and starred down elimination three games in a row and didn't flinch. No team has ever done it; tomorrow, Cleveland looks to write a solo chapter in sports history! 

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Top 15 Albums of 2015

Better late that never, I have below my yearly top album countdown. Enjoy!

15. Rend Collective- “As Family We Go.”

 I have been a huge fan of these guys since “Homemade Worship By Hand Made People” came out in early 2012. I loved their unplugged folk and bluegrass sounds they implored with their straightforward worshipful lyrics. The songs were high energy and filled with mandolins, banjos, and all kinds of intriguing instruments. “As Family We Go” now their fourth full length release, tapers away from the rootsy sound and instead seems to gravitate to more straightforward rock and roll, which isn’t bad, but isn’t a fun as their earlier work in my view.

14. MuteMath- “Vitals.”

MuteMath have always flirted with the electronic. They have always mixed in rock and funk as well to keep things interesting, but on “Vitals” they seem to have finally decided to make an album of synthesizer infused pop. There is plenty for Owl City and Paper Route fans to enjoy here. “Joy Rides” and “Monument” are soon to be fan and concert favorites for sure.

13. Twenty One Pilots- “Blurryface”

Take folk roots, mix in some good electric guitar work, and then throw in some loops and rap over it all, while singing some parts of the songs as well, and you kind of get what Columbus Ohio natives Twenty One Pilots sound like. “Blurryface” is an album that is almost impossible to classify genre wise, and that is actually a strength! The lament of growing up in “Stressed Out” is so easily relatable to so many in this current generation. “HeavyDirtySoul” is a catchy tune that features a great lyric like ‘death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.” The lyrics are key to these songs, as they often possess deep truth alongside sharp wit, which keeps the nerds happy. Some will probably say I should have ranked this album higher, and their arguments are valid, personally I am not a big a fan of hip-hop so that makes me a bit biased in the wrong direction.

12. Ivan & Alyosha- “It’s All Just Pretend”

 These guys just know how to make good rock and roll, and this release has them utilizing many an instrument to drive home the rhythm, from keyboards to guitars and drums. They seem to wed the sounds of two other Seattle bands, Death Cab For Cutie and Nirvana with ease. “Bury Me Deep” and “Tears In Your Eyes” are two of the best songs Ivan & Alyosha have in their catalog. The former is a rocker at it’s best, while the latter is a tender love song that is among my top songs of 2015.

11. The Dawes- "All Your Favorite Bands"

These fellas from San Francisco have been crafting 70's sounding rock and roll for quite some time now. This album may be their finest and overall most consistent album. While only nine songs long, it borrows from Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers using extended organ and guitar breaks to stretch songs, especially on the masterful "I Can't Think About That Now." Other favorites of mine are the tribute to obvious statements ("Things Happen") and the epitaph to youth and innocence on the title track.

10. Owl City- Mobile Orchestra

Adam Young has been one of my favorite modern songwriters for a while. After a near three year full album hiatus (though an EP and several singles had been released) Young dropped "Mobile Orchestra" this summer and it was a fine effort. "Verge" kicked the album off with vicious energy and features guest vocals from Aloe Blacc. "My Everything" and "You're Not Alone" feature Young's most explicit Christian lyrics thus far, while "Unbelievable" is a danceable tribute to the 90's, and the biggest charting single from the album to date. This is a fine album of fun like we have come to expect from
Owl City, even when Young strays into a bit of melancholic tone on "This Isn't The End" he emerges by song's end in hope.

9. Passion Pit- "Kindred"

I am not always a pop music enthusiast, but this album of synthesizer based pop tunes is simply irresistible. Songs like "All I Want" "Where The Sky Hangs" and "Five Foot Ten" are gems. This is pop music done right, with nuances in sound scapes that keeps the listener interested!

8. Hillsong United- "Empires"

My dislike of these Aussie worship pioneers last album, "
Zion" is well documented. So I was pleasantly surprised that this new album, while still keeping the synthesizer involved, doesn't allow it to take over the entire project. There is plenty of guitar here back on display! Songs like the epic near six minute ”Prince Of Peace" rank up there with the finest songs in their repertoire, while "Hurts Like Heaven" and "Touch The Sky" are radio friendly but not formula filled. Needless to say, I am glad these guys are back on track!

7. I Am They- "I Am They"

Roots music is the rage right now, and I Am They are doing it quit well. These are worship songs that call to mind Rend Collective in their early years. "From The Day" and "We Are Yours" steamroll with upbeat acoustic fun, and this debut is totally solid through their cover of Crowder's "Here's My Heart"

6. Ben Rector- "Brand New"

There may not be a songwriter alive right now that sings pop, rock and soul better than Ben Rector. This song collection is a joyful ride through stories and celebrations about everyday life. "The Men That Drive Me Places" is one of the best modern story songs, as Rector reminds each of us that there is no one who has an insignificant part to play or place to fit in the world. "Crazy" celebrates the joy of marriage and daily life, and "Like The World Is Gonna End" reminds us of the fleeting nature of our own existence, and the importance of laying aside pettiness.

5. Ghost Ship- "Costly"

Near the end of 2014,
Mars Hill Church, due to the controversies surrounding founding Pastor Mark Driscoll, closed all of its campuses which encompassed a big chunk of the west coast. This was tragic on so many levels, but it was felt hard by all the bands that had risen out of the church families. Ghost Ship was one such band, suddenly without a label. They made the best of it, went indie, and delivered us this 14 song gem back in August. So many good songs here!

4. The Vespers- "Sisters And Brothers"

I realize I have a lot of folksy rootsy albums on this list, so I admit I am partial to that particular genre of music. Notwithstanding though, "Sisters And Brothers" The Vespers third effort is an enjoyable ride through bluegrass, folk, Gospel and slight country. Basically many a stringed instrument will make an appearance somewhere on this fine project. The title track, "The Curtain" "Not Enough" and the humorously upbeat sounding "Cynical Soul" are all highlights on this awesome album!

3. Sara Groves- "Floodplain"

Let me just say this, Sara Groves is to the Christian music world what Bruce Springsteen is to mainstream rock and roll: she tells the ongoing story of the struggle of every man and woman to survive in a fallen world. The main difference for
Groves is she knows Jesus is where true Hope is found. This album in my humble opinion is her masterpiece thus far. "Expedition" is my choice for song of the year, as it expresses a yearning to go out and explore and search the world for "lost time" something so many of us can relate to! "Second Guess Girl" "On Your Mark" "My Dream" "Native Tongue" and the title track all speak to the humanness of all of us, living in a fallen world, but they do so with grace, kindness and love. Don't miss this gem! It is a classic!

2. Best Coast-"California Nights"

Good rock and roll is really hard to come by these days, so when I heard the title track and first single from this album on Spotify two months before this album dropped I knew I had found something special. The lo-fi mixing combined with the nineties guitar distortion and sixties sounding guitar solos, creates a sonic whirling that sucks you in! The lyrics are often simple and straightforward lamenting lost love ("In My Eyes" "Fine Without You") and petty disagreements ("Jealousy"). Yet there is also the joy of romance found in "Heaven Sent." This is a great, great rock and roll album! If you love classic sixties summer rock, you must get outside on some "California Nights.”

1. Andrew Peterson- "The Burning Edge Of Dawn"

Andrew Peterson is the modern day Rich Mullins with flashes of Mark Heard, two of Christian music history's finest at weaving the struggle of living in a sin filled world of pain with a desperate clinging to the hope found in Jesus. On "Burning Edge" Peterson does this from start to finish. "The Dark Before The Dawn," "We Will Survive," "The Rain Keeps Falling," and "Be Kind To Yourself" manage to acknowledge the depth of sadness one can feel while simultaneous reminding the listeners that Jesus loves them, has not abandoned them, and will one day make things right again. The album captivates for the full 37 minute run, and then it fades out leaving us all to ponder the messages of hope among the ruins. This is by far Peterson's finest album from start to finish.