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Ep. 19 - The Situation (Art and the Bible Part 1)

On this episode of The Closing Track, we begin our series on Francis Schaeffer's "Art and the Bible". A classic text, short in length but deep in substance, that is needed today perhaps more than ever. Of the author, the forward for the book reads, "Into the midst of this confusion stepped a quirky, goateed man in lederhosen. He spoke words of faith and freedom. Into a world that had become suspicious of the beautiful Schaeffer reminded us that the Father of Jesus was also the God of beauty. . .We were free, he insisted, our imaginations were free. We were free to create, as long as we never forgot that we are slaves to Jesus." We also review new albums from Meghan Trainor, Fall Out Boy, and The Decemberists, talk about the new movie American Sniper, discuss anesthesia and Austin's surgery, and much more!

Articles Mentioned in the Show

The Weekend Playlist: Jan 24 2015

The history of music. Few subjects are as colorful and fascinating as the history of music. Along the way you come across some weird (but amazing) contraptions, like the Moog Modular Synthesizer. Mysterious, quirky, and analog to the core, this legendary instrument is making a comeback - if you happen to be loaded.

Moog Brings Back The Classic Moog Modular Synthesizer
The Moog. One of the most important instruments of the history of music. It's responsible for laying the groundwork for many sounds and styles that we take for granted today - and now its coming back.

Bob Dylan is giving away his new album to 50,000 senior citizens
Turns out that you get some sweet perks when you sign up for AARP - like a free Frank Sinatra cover album from Bob Dylan. Can I be old and retired now?

Sony, Google, Apple Hit With Lawsuits Over Pre-1972 MusicCopyright laws. Wonderful, confusing, head scratching copyright laws. More lawsuits are coming, and this time the oldies might take a hit.

The Truth-to-Power Heart Still Beats: Hip Hop Voices as a Vehicle for Change
A long article, but a thought provoking and engaging one on hip hop being a vehicle for protest against injustice.

How Dropping Gas Prices Have Helped the Live-Music Industry Save Big
Gas prices go down, bands and musicians get more money in their pockets. Gas prices go up, bands and musicians shell out more to get from point A to B.

Puddle of Mudd Singer Arrested for Riding Baggage Carousel
Too bizarre to believe. But it's true.

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What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists

The Decemberists      What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World      Indie, Folk

Fans of The Decemberists have been looking forward to the release of What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, their first full-length release in more than four years, impatiently. Between this and their frequent appearance on IFC’s Portlandia (the first four seasons of which I recently watched in preparation for the season five premiere), I also waited, hopeful that the band’s newest project would not disappoint. As “The Singer Addresses His Audience” begins, listeners will quickly be reminded that they are about to embark on a journey in whimsicality. Generally happy from start to finish, The Decemberists do not betray their tendency to produce music which is, above all else, calming. Occasionally, the band attempts to take itself and its music more seriously, which unfortunately translates, many times, as a lack of direction. Fluctuating between carefully crafted folk music and awkwardly implemented pop instrumentation, What a Terrible World feels like a cymbal roll which never really builds to anything. “Carolina Low” and “Better Not Wake The Baby” provide a much needed Southern break from the gentler first half of the album, but are enough of a variation in genre to feel, like much of the album, somewhat out of place. Although the album is ultimately enjoyable through all 14 tracks, I could not help but feel that the album was dragging, which may have been, in part, due to what feels like an assembly of unrelated songs, rather than a carefully constructed piece of art. I am tempted to ask myself if I might have been more satisfied with the album if I’d had a better idea of what I was expecting from this release, but the album gives the impression that The Decemberists weren’t any more certain. Although it does not particularly demonstrate great growth on their part, listeners will find many enjoyable tracks, and fans of the band will certainly appreciate the album (and it proves to be a relatively enjoyable folk album from a genre staple), but What a Terrible World’s indecisive alternation between nostalgia and dramatic flair leaves the album feeling inconsistent.

6.5 out of 10

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Title by Meghan Trainor

Meghan Trainor     Title     Pop

Prior to the Internet, the word “viral” was a word you didn’t want to hear. Even today, it may not be a word you want to hear, but if you’re an up-and-coming musician/artist/novelist/human being, going viral is the target, the dream, the ceiling that you hope you get to break through. “All About That Bass”, the whimsical, quirky, and brutally straightforward social commentary on size issues in society got Meghan Trainor’s name cemented into everyone’s Facebook timeline whether they wanted it or not. Admit it: for months now, you have found yourself humming the song, or sharing yet another cheesy parody from some semi-genius YouTube artist, or at least made some passing reference in the spirit of going viral. But now that the parodies, spinoffs, and covers of “All About That Bass” have finally subsided, the time has come for Trainor’s mainstream debut full length, Title.

If you branched out into Trainor's other material, you're at a disadvantage going into this release - the Title EP appears on the Title LP, meaning you've heard a good chunk of the album already. If you didn’t put the EP to a spin, then you’ll have some new songs to listen to, although you’ll find that, musically, Title is more of the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Trainor is fun to listen to, and her flavor of bubblegum pop is pleasant to the ears. Unfortunately, the sound that Trainor achieves, though enjoyable on the first go around, doesn’t last long as a novelty, even within the album (this is especially true of the deluxe edition). The tracklist is smooth, the transitions are fine, and all the other ducks are in their respective rows, but sonically, Trainor has scalped the bottom of the blue eyed soul barrel - Title is an aural one trick pony. This is even true of Trainor’s lyrical schtick - though she does strike some sweet spots with the twangy “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” and the dreamy “What If I”, Title’s subject matter is repetitive and wholly unoriginal, even if she pens some charming and even comedic ways of expressing the same relationship drama countless artists before her have already expressed.  Trainer’s honesty and bluntness is something to be admired, and leads to a couple of chuckles and smiles, but as evidenced in the bouncy (and cringeworthy) “3AM” and “Walkashame”, the sword cuts both ways - she has some sassy insight, but also makes light of some really stupid choices (see especially “Walkashame”). The social commentary of “All About That Bass” and the somberness of “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” aside, Trainor lyrics are not much out of league of her peers, or her age range for that matter. Her songwriting is solid; her content is not.

Title could’ve been better, but it also could’ve been a lot worse. Trainor is a likable songwriter, and her blend of old soul with modern pop sensibilities is catchy and fun, but repetitive and shallow lyrical subjects keep Trainor’s debut from being too much of a game changer. Time will tell if Trainor’s songwriting will grow as she does, and if her follow up release shows some growth and maturity, then Trainor has a bright future ahead of her.

6.5 out of 10

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The Weekend Playlist: Jan 17 2015

"I can't stop this feeling!" Having passed the 1 million sales mark, Blue Suede speaks for everyone who can't stop loving the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. All this and more on this issue of The Weekend Playlist

Guardians of the Galaxy passes the one million sales mark, making another recent film soundtrack to do so. Also some news on Lecrae's Anomaly! 

Selfie sticks. Because selfies are no longer about yourself anymore.

A great discussion on how radio has been challenged by the streaming age, and what the future holds for a platform that just won't die (for good reason)

A HuffPo article on Christianity making a comeback, and a comeback within the arts and media?

When design (or arrangement, or composition, or whatever it is) does not occupy a primary place in our minds, we will unintentionally create propaganda.

An important reminder in light of the tragedy in Paris. Takeaway line: "...there is a difference between mourning the deaths of those killed and supporting the work they did in life."

So much for Gene Simmons, right? If these numbers are right, rock music had a bigger year in 2014 than perception leads to believe.

But, overall, the album continues to decline, whether its rock or pop or whatever. These bar graphs are not very pleasing to look at.

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Three Reasons Why Lecrae's "The Tonight Show" Performance Glorified Christ

Lecrae had a big night last night. 

After a well-received performance with The Roots on Jimmy Fallon’s "The Tonight Show" back in 2014, Lecrae has continued to rise in the public light. With three Grammy nominations and constant coverage by Billboard Magazine and other secular outlets, especially during the Ferguson season, Lecrae shows no sign of fading into obscurity any time soon. Last night only propelled Lecrae even further into the public light - after appearing on Fallon just a few months ago, Lecrae was invited back to perform a full song, and Lecrae took the chance to perform one of his hardest hitting songs to date, “Welcome to America”. The next morning, as I briefly perused Lecrae’s FB page, I was surprised to see people attempt to call Lecrae out for not explicitly mentioning the Gospel during his airtime. While this was not true of every comment, or (from what I saw) even the majority of the comments, it was a response made by numerous people, which is still disappointing and hard to see in light of Lecrae’s killer performance of a killer song (embed below for your viewing pleasure). 

This post is not a response to any particular comment or person, but to the charges that they collectively raise - basically, Lecrae failed to glorify Christ in his Fallon performance by failing to mention the Gospel in an explicit way. In particular, I want to make three brief points, which flow together: 

1: The Gospel is not the only thing a Christian must write about.

One of the biggest obstacles that the Christian community has yet to overcome is the idea that art is only worthwhile in the life of the Christian if it serves a utilitarian/propagandic purpose. Art needs no justification, especially if it comes as the livelihood that God has assigned an individual. Christ, in his Lordship, has redeemed every part of the believer for his glory, including his creativity. Whatever the believer does not create in sin, he creates to the glory of God by default. The secular market is well aware of Lecrae’s Christianity, and sadly enough the ones who are the first to question it are Lecrae’s fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. If the secular market can look at Lecrae and his music and know that he is the real deal, the Christian community ought to know it even more so, regardless if Lecrae raps the Gospel in every single song or not. 

2: “Welcome to America” is a byproduct of Lecrae’s Christian faith.

Lecrae raps about some seriously hard hitting subjects in “Welcome to America”. Sex trafficking, the drug trade, America’s immigration policy, America’s materialism and how it affects third world countries, and more are covered in this difficult song. Though Lecrae had to cut out the second verse, which includes Lecrae’s commentary on the forgotten sacrifices of American’s veterans, MORE than enough was presented to make the audience of a late night entertainment show squeamish. But even more important is the fact that Lecrae is not rapping about these things as if they were stand-alone subjects. How one views these subjects is shaped by one’s presuppositions, be it religious, political, philosophical, whatever. Lecrae’s statements in these songs are the end result of his Christian faith, which ungirds and presupposes everything he does. You cannot separate Lecrae’s lyrics in “Welcome to America” with the faith that gave shape to those lyrics. Though those lyrics might not make out to be a good evangelism tract, they certainly reflect the thoughts of someone who has a deep, robust, and lively Christian worldview. 

3: The Christian faith is something that belongs in the marketplace of ideas.

Racial tension, political insecurity, and America’s relationship in global politics are topics on everyone’s mind to some extent. Christians participate in these conversations and have the opportunity to show a different worldview, a different approach to these things that is rooted in a love for God and a love for one’s neighbor. “Welcome to America” is one of Lecrae’s contributions to those discussions, and as the previous two points make clear, brilliantly demonstrates Christian thought from a respectable and solid Christian. While the Gospel is the foundation for our faith and is the message that Christians are given to proclaim, we will not be able to proclaim that message if we are not participating in everyday conversation about everyday topics with everyday people who need to hear it. Lecrae knows this, which is why he has taken the time to think through these issues so that he can have those conversations - conversations which, later on down the road, may open up for the very Gospel that his critics decry him for not presenting in this particular moment.
In light of these three points, the charge that Lecrae failed to glorify Christ last night is not a credible charge at all, and the burden lies on those who would criticize Lecrae to explain why these three points above, in of themselves, do not glorify Christ. But regardless of whether or not you liked Lecrae’s performance, Lecrae definitely needs our prayers for support as Christians. He is in uncharted territory, and it is our duty to support our fellow brother to be faithful where God has placed him - which, amazingly enough, was on one of the most popular late night television shows of our day.

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The Weekend Playlist: Jan 10 2015

The great Gospel musician Andraé Crouch passed away earlier this week at the age of 72. I can only imagine his face when he heard the words of Christ (as recorded in Matthew), "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:21)

Andraé Crouch, Gospel Great, Dead at 72

We lost a good one this week. In addition to writing several Gospel hits, he also helped with artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna. He will be missed.

Humble Beat launches coffee arm, Odd Thomas explains business model 

There are so many layers of awesome to this post. Humble Beast is a standout model among indie labels today, and they are taking it one step further.

Must All Regulative Principle Churches Look The Same?

Trip Lee lays down some thoughts on a topic that has come with the resurgence of Calvinism - the Regulative Principle of Worship.

Monster Suing Dr. Dre Over Beats Fiasco

Monster (not the energy drink) is suing Dr. Dre over Beats. This is no surprise. When bad business and selfish motives are in play, one cannot estimate the length or extant of the carnage it will bring.

Proof That Every Country Song Still Sounded The Same in 2014

Not sure what's more amazing - how long it took to put this together, or how much all of these songs really DO sound alike.

Metal Mike: Just Sign Here — The Art of Protecting Yourself As a Musician

Metal Mike has advice here that every musician of every genre and market could benefit from. People are, by nature, screwed up, and they will take advantage of you.

Like Another Ascending Lark on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @aalblog for daily updates, food for thought, and more!

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