2011: Year In Review

December 18, 2011 at 10:31 pm


I love year-end lists. Not only because it asks us to reflect on media intake but because it’s a great way to discover what we might have missed in any given year. It’s a chance, not to gloat in your own preferences but learn from others.

As many of you know, I partner with my great friend Mark Whiten in something called the Habañero Collective. We used to do a music/interview podcast exploring/challenging notions surrounding “Christian” music but we don’t do that anymore. Somewhere along the way, it morphed into hosting house shows. Future plans include world domination but I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, here are some of our favorite picks of 2011 in various categories:

  • Browse Mark’s 2011 picks
  • Browse my picks for my favorite concerts of the year
  • Browse my some of my favorite songs of the year
  • Browse my favorite albums of 2011
  • Browse my 2010 picks
  • Browse my 2009 picks

My Favorite Songs of 2011

December 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Here are some of my favorite songs of the year. I decided to just pick ten and put them in alphabetical order. There was far too much great music this year to try and pick one song for the entire year. However, with that having been said, here are ten of my favorites (plus an honorable mention not in alphabetical order):











(Honorable Mention) David Ramirez: “Fires”

Adele: “Rolling In The Deep”

Alabama Shakes: “Hold On”

(By the way, if I had to pick a favorite song of the year, which I don’t), this would probably be it. Definitely a band to watch in 2012:

Chris Bathgate: “Big Ghost”

Bon Iver: “Holocene”

Cass McCombs: “County Line”

m83: “Midnight City”

Josh T. Pearson: “Country Dumb”

Seryn: “So Within”

Shabazz Palaces: “Swerve . . . the reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir notwithstanding)

Shabazz Palaces – Swerve… by subpop

tUnE-yArDs: “Bizness”

My Favorite Concerts of 2011

December 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I love live music and I was tremendously blessed to see some great live music this year. Honorable mentions include Zoo Animal, seeing Calexico with my wife at a rodeo venue, finally seeing Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives, and seeing Lucero for the first time with Mark and remembering why I don’t like drunk college guys.

But the three stand-out performances this year were something different. And trust me, I don’t say this just to toot my own horn. My three favorite concerts of the year were all house shows that we were able to host!








First, Aaron Spiro at the Thomas Listening Room (10/22/11)

Second: Chris Bathgate at the White N Leaf House (11/29/11)

and: Seryn at the Thomas Listening Room (06/26/11)

And mad props to the amazing Kha Do for the incredible camera work on two of these videos. Can you tell which one he didn’t do?

Mark Whiten’s 2011 Picks

December 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm

The other (some might argue better) half of the Habañero Collective, Mark offers up his favorite picks of 2011:












1. Chris Bathgate – Salt Year/Oniero
2. Seryn – This is Where We Are
3. Eastern Conference Champions – Speak Ahhs
4. Mark Davis – Eliminate the Toxins
5. Pterodactyl Plains – In the Air
6. Adele – 21
7. The Cave Singers – No Witch
8. O’Death – Outside
9. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
10. Coldplay – Mylo_Xyloto
11. Needtobreathe – The reckoning
12. The head and heart – S/T
13. Giles Corey – S/T
14. The City Harmonic – I have a dream (It feels like home)
15. Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
16. Hope And Social – Sleep Sound
17. Dawes-Nothing_Is_Wrong
18. Other Lives – Tamer Animals (May 10, 2011)
19. Wilco – The Whole Love
20. Givers – in light
21. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien
22. Alex Cornish – No Shore
23. And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Tao Of The Dead
24. David Wax Museum – Everything is Saved
25. The Black Keys – El Camino
26. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
27. Cults – Cults
28. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
29. Gungor – Ghosts Upon the Earth
30. Josh Garrels – Love & War & The Sea In Between
31. Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm
32. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
33. White Pines — The Falls
34. Paul Dempsey – Everything is True
35. Ha Ha Tonka – Death Of A Decade
36.Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
37. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
38. Royal Bangs – Flux Outside
39. Wye Oak – Civilian
40. The Submarines – Love Notes,Letter Bombs
41. The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy

In a class by itself EP Sleeping At Last – Yearbook (an EP a month for the the year 2011)

1. Scott Orr – Where I Lived, And What I Lived For
2. Alabama Shakes – Alabama Shakes
3. Ivan & Alyosha – Fathers Be Kind
4. Sons & Daughters Brokeness Aside
5. Typhoon – A New Kind Of House
6. The Vaccines – If You Wanna
7. Wind And Willow – Roots
8. Young Man – Boy

Live music -Top 5:
Seryn at the Lost Leaf, Phoenix
Chris Bathgate at The Whiten Leaf House, Peoria
Zoo Animal at The Thomas Listening Room, Glendale
Lucero at The Clubhouse, Tempe
Wovenhand at Sail Inn, Tempe

Soundtracks (music for motion pictures):
Bear McCreary’s work on The Walking Dead, The Cape, Human Target

The best thing on Television right is Kyle Cooper’s Title sequences (opening credits) on Dramas (American Horror Story, The Walking Dead), along with sound design by Cesar Davila-Irizarry (Wipeout, AHS, Ace of Cakes)

Other favorites:
Hell on Wheels
The Walking Dead
The Middle
Modern Family
The Killing

Wishing American TV would adopt British TVs 4-7 episode series (The Take, Dead Set, The Shadow Line).

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Exit through the Gift Shop
The King’s Speech

My Favorite Albums of 2011

December 17, 2011 at 10:30 am

Who am I to say what’s the “best” of anything in any particular year? And yet, at the same time, the inner urges of music nerd-dom compel me each year to reflect on my media intake and even rank them. Lists are handy when there are people whose taste you trust. They help us discover not only new media but people with similar tastes. Lists help you remember the mood of a particular year. The music we listen to tells a lot about us.

The reality is that our year-end lists say more about us than they do about the artists we highlight. They are a window into the list-maker’s taste, and by extension, personality. So what does my list of favorite 2011 music say about me? You decide.

I was actually a little disappointed this year that my list looks like so many others. Is that arrogant? Probably. Or it could just mean that there were some really good albums this year that a lot of people agreed were good. That’s a good thing, right?



30) Cass McCombs: Wit’s End

29) Explosions In the Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

28) Ramsay Midwood: Larry Buys A Lighter

27) Hauschka: Salon des Amateurs

26) Reigns: Widow Blades

25) Colin Stetson: History of Warfare Volume 2: Judges

24) Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: Wolfroy Goes To Town

23) Centro-Matic: Candidate Waltz

22) Miracles of Modern Science: Dog Year

22) The Necks: Mindset

21) Alabama Shakes: Self-Titled EP

20) Wilco: The Whole Love

19) Josh T. Pearson: Last of the Country Gentlemen

18) Tom Waits: Bad As Me

17) Dawes: Nothing Is Wrong

16) Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender

15) Joe Henry: Reverie

14) Youth Lagoon: Year of Hibernation

13) The Cave Singers: No Witch

12) Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring For My Halo

11) Balam Acab: Wander / Wonder

10) Arrange: Plantation

A devastatingly beautiful record that is almost overwhelming at times. Malcolm Lacey lets the listener in as he deals with the wreckage his abusive father left behind. Get it for free here.

09) tUnE-YaRdS – W H O K I L L

An incredible mish-mash of styles that is invariably held together by Merrill Garbus’ strong and confident voice. A fun record dealing with all sorts of serious issues while moving you to tap your feet.

08) Panda Bear: Tomboy

Noah Lennox continues channeling The Beach boys through lots of reverb to find beauty. Making the avant garde accessible, one melody at a time.

07) Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

I didn’t give this record a chance until quite late in the year. But, oh my goodness, when I did, it grabbed me quickly. Soaring harmonies.

06) M83: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Tickles my never-ending love for New Order. Hooks galore. “Epic” is going to be over-used when it comes to this (double) album, but it just might be appropriate.

05) Shabazz Palaces: Black Up

I don’t listen to much hip hop and I don’t like having to be forced to explain the “n word” to my oldest son because he hears a rapper use it. However, This album, featuring an ex Digable Planet is just off-kilter enough that I found myself returning to it over and over again. It’s rare to describe much new music as truly “creative,” but this stuff is just that.

04) The Field: A Looping State of Mind

Just like hip hop, I don’t listen to a lot of electronic music. But this album kept finding its way back to my ears. Yes, it’s minimalistic at times and explores Reich-ian repetition but it works. This, more than any other album this year, accompanied me while studying.

03) Bon Iver: Bon Iver

I love this album. It’s Bon Iver with “more.” The only reason it didn’t make the #01 spot on my list is because I didn’t have quite the same emotional bond with this album that I did with my #02 and #01 albums. It is the perfect follow-up to Forever For Emma Ago.

02) Chris Bathgate: Salt Year

Another emotional wreck of an album. You’d think from all the mellow and heavy albums in my list that I had a melancholy year but that’s just not true. Bathgate sings with understated power and plays with subdued beauty, bringing the listener in to reflect on past hurts and future hope with him. In all fairness, once I saw Bathgate live, I knew the album would be near the top of my list, if not my favorite of the year.

01) Seryn: This Is Where We Are

An album that really came out of nowhere for me and defined much of the year. Sweeping harmonies, intricate instrumentation, and sincerity up the ying yang (yes, that’s a good thing). All of that was simply magnified being able to meet the band and see them live (once in my living room!). Great people making great music. What’s better than that?

Gospel Wakefulness

December 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I wanted to share a section of Jared Wilson’s wonderful book Gospel Wakefulness in which Wilson distinguishes between salvation and what he calls “gospel wakefulness.” I’ve been meditating a lot on this passage over the past couple of days:

I am not talking about waxing and waning feelings of intimacy with God, movements of worship, or the sort of experiences that lead to “rededicating one’s life” (and rededicating more after that), but an experience of such power—of such awakening—that it persists and endures, settling deep into the heart and the conscience of a believer that it carries through all emotional highs and lows. And yet, again, this is not a second conversion experience, as it were, but rather a deeper and fuller appreciation of the first and only necessary conversion, a greater vision of what we perhaps only barely and minimally perceived upon salvation (comparatively speaking).

Imagine you are driving down the road and your car stalls at a railroad crossing. You are understandably nervous as you try to reignite the car’s engine, but you become even more so when you see a train turn the corner in the distance and begin quickly closing the gap between it and you. The train engine’s horn is blaring and the engineer has thrown on the brakes, but you are too close and he’s coming too fast. You move from trying to get the car to start to trying to unfasten your seatbelt, but fear has made your hands stiffen and shake. You can’t get your seatbelt unfastened. The train is rushing toward you, and you know you’re going to be hit. And you are. Suddenly and from behind. A man in a truck behind you has decided to ram into your car and push you off the tracks, even as he is destroyed by the impact in the very spot you once occupied.

You get out of the car, shaken and still frightened. You are terrified by the gruesome scene, in shock over your rescuer’s sacrifice. You are grateful in a way you’ve never been grateful before. You wish you could thank the driver of the truck for saving your life. Even in your terrified awe, it feels good to be alive. You feel woozy, so you sit down on the trunk of your car, and as you’re trying to retrieve your cell phone from your pocket to call 911 and marveling at how little damage the violent shove did to the rear bumper, you hear a whimper from inside.

You didn’t know that before you’d left the house, as your kids were playing hide-and-seek, your youngest son decided to hide in the trunk of your car. As you open it up frantically and discover that he is miraculously unharmed, you suddenly realize the total greatness of the loss you almost suffered. Your gratitude, your amazement, your new outlook on life takes a giant leap forward. That is the difference between the gospel wakefulness of conversion and the greater gospel wakefulness that often occurs later.

  • Read Gospel Wakefulness

An Indictment Of (My) Complacency

December 6, 2011 at 10:42 am

I live an extremely comfortable life. I’d be willing to bet that you do as well. There are probably things that you want in life that you don’t have. And, if you’re like me, those things consume quite a bit of time and energy. After all, isn’t that the “American Dream?” We deserve more. We see life through the lens of complacency. It’s difficult to truly feel your need for a Savior when your cupboards are full. Even if they’re not as full as we would like or they’re not full of what we might prefer.

As a pastor, I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about and praying for the people God has placed in our church family. I desperately want to see our people make a difference in the world in the power of the Gospel. We often tell people that Church of the Cross exists to see the NW Valley of the Phoenix area transformed through the Gospel. This, of course, means that we must first be transformed. This only happens through regular rehearsal of the Gospel, dwelling on our need, our sin in contrast with the power of the Cross. We must learn to be self-aware, to identify our idols and nail them to the Cross that we might bear them no more.

By God’s grace, I have grown tremendously in my own “Gospel Wakefulness” (to quote a friend) over the past couple of years. And I can humbly say that the same is true for many in our church family. We are beginning to see people regularly “gospel” one another. I wouldn’t necessarily say that we as entire church family are yet “Gospel Fluent” (to quote another friend), though we are learning and growing.

As the Gospel penetrates deeper into my heart, I am becoming less and less comfortable with my comfortable life. I’m not saying that Christians have no right to live in Suburbia or that we should sell everything and go live in the slums. But, if the Gospel really is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), transforming us through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1-2) then, wouldn’t it be a valid implication that our hearts should become more like God’s? If that’s the case, can our church family be content with simply having a heart for the NW Valley of Phoenix? Should any local church only have eyes for their immediate context? Especially when one of the implications of the Gospel is justice? Shouldn’t our hearts break for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45) even if they’re not in our immediate context?

Mark Labberton’s book The Dangerous Act Of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through The Eyes of Jesus has powerfully reminded me just how big the Gospel is; that we are swept into a story much bigger than our own lives. And yet, I am so often simply content to dwell on my own discontent. But what might it look like if Christians (and by extension, churches) took injustice seriously. What if we learned to see beyond our own lenses and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15)? What if we got involved? What if we cared?

I think that’s the reality that has wrecked my heart of the past few days. As Labberton points out, ‎”The ubiquitousness of injustice can make it seem benign. That’s the problem.” Injustice so often seems to me to be “their” problem, not mine. But it goes deeper than this, as Labberton asserts: ‎”It turns out a person can have unlimited access to food, water and shelter and still feel that life is miserable.” If, as Cornel West says: “Justice is what love looks like in public,” then I want to see our church family pursue justice anywhere and everywhere we can. We certainly have resources. We certainly have time. I’m just not sure I have the love.

Is it fair to say that if our hearts were truly wrecked about injustice in the world that churches would act? Is it a fair correlation then, to say that, the reason so many American churches do not act is because e don’t care? Injustice is often fairly removed from our lives, therefore it does not impact us. What if our churches were intentional about placing ourselves in regular contact (as Labberton says: “The urgency of injustice could not be greater than when it is experienced every day.”) with “the least of these”?

How can we move beyond complacency to gospel-fueled action? Or are we fine just the way we are?