He Shines In All That’s Fair: Thoughts On Common Grace, Creativity and Introducing My Music Mix

He Shines3The doctrine of common grace, like many doctrines, can be a contentious one. The basic issue centers around whether or not God is “pleased” by the actions and creations of those not numbered among His people? Because, Christians are in the continual process of aligning themselves, including what we do/can and can not take pleasure in consuming.

While the issue at hand may not seem immediately apparent to those unconcerned with pleasing God in everyday life, the issue may be summarized as something like this:

Christians understand sin to be the heart of idolatry and includes anything antithetical to God’s character. It is, by definition opposed to God since we believe that He is the sole source of all our hearts seek. So to look for fulfillment, security, joy, etc. outside of Him is in fact, opposing Him. It is a question of the posture of one’s heart.

Christians are thus left in the perpexing situation of what to do with anything not done from a heart’s posture to bring glory to God since it is thusly, in some way opposed to God?

Or is it?

What about things that in and of themselves might be benign? Moreso, what about things that somehow point to God’s character, even if they creator doesn’t know it or intend it? Music? Art? movies? Books? Poems? The very creative process remind us of a God who brings order from the chaos and flowers from the ashes. But what if the creator isn’t thinking of this or might even be opposed to such a worldview? Can Christians take pleasure in art made by n0n-or-even-anti-Christians?

As Richard Mouw summarizes the situation in his book He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace:

How do we take with utmost seriousness the need to be clear about the lines between belief and unbelief, between those who live within the boundaries of saving grace and those who do not, while at the same time maintaining an openness to – even an active appreciation for – all that is good and beautiful and true that takes place outside of those boundaries?

While some in my own past theological streams argue that the doctrine of “common grace” is not appropriate, Mouw and others have come to believe that it is not only acceptable but appropriate for Christians to celebrate beauty and cultivate creativity. Wondering at a painting, being swept up in a piece of music, moved by a string of words or ideas, marveling at a sunset, hiking a mountain, smelling hops, tasting coffee, laughing, singing, crying, these are glimpses of God’s grace. They remind us of His goodness, of His character.

For many well-intentioned Christians, the fact that such glimpses are not sufficient to bring someone to salvation, they are not worth our while at all. Or more severely, they should be condemned. How else could someone come to believe that burning music albums brings glory to God more the creative process they contain?

I’m not making light of the struggle many Christians face as they try to align their consciences with God’s character as they choose what to watch, read or listen to. I’m simply trying to make sense of how we’ve come to a place where “American Christianity” rejects so much artistic expression without creating anything worthwhile of our own?

Do we believe that the terrific painting by a non-Christian somehow less valued by God than the horrible painting by a Christian simply because of the intent of the heart? Is there not inherent value in both? The value may be perceived differently by the eyes of faith but the eyes of most people would rather look at a great painting than a bad one (now is not the time to enter into the subjective nature of much art).

This may seem like a rather nebulous rambling (even for me), especially since I’m not here today to really look for answers to many of these questions. I’m simply giving you a context for the three-volume mix album that I’ve come up with. All of these questions and more have been rattling around my head for years, especially as I listen to music. Which I do. A lot. So over the years, I have kept various private playlists of songs which have presented me with an unexpected glimpse of God. A bit of grace in the everyday. Not every song explicitly mentions Jesus.

Some songs are by Christians. Some songs are meant as worship. Some songs are meant as evangelism. Some songs are by more skilled musicians than others. But, not every song here is even by someone who would claim to be a Christian. Some have said these songs are not even about Jesus (though they don’t mind them interpreted as such.). Not every song is to be understood as a theological statement or even representative of my own personal beliefs regarding God (specifically Jesus). And, please be forewarned, there is at least one “F-Bomb” for those sensitive to such things.

But over the years, every song here has, at some point, reminded me of, encouraged me on or challenged me in my own journey of following Jesus.

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyOh you know. Another year means another round of links. Every week. This week. Next week. The next. etc. etc. etc.

Just when you though that the new year couldn’t look up any more than it already was, here is the Weekly Town Crier! This is where I collect link of varying degrees of interest and pass them along to you. You click on the ones you find interesting, skip the ones you don’t. Come back and discuss what you’d like. Or don’t

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of the year.

Read Flavorwire‘s piece: “Let’s Talk About the One Bad Scene that Kept ‘Inside Out’ From Greatness.”

Read as Fast Company considers “The Golden Ratio: Design’s Biggest Myth”.

Read as First Things considers why Blair Witch Project resonates with so many young people.

Read this piece about why you should do more things by yourself.

Read this piece considering: “Some Reasons You Should Think Twice before Drinking Milk”.

R.I.P. R&B singer Natalie Cole.

R.I.P. Wayne Rogers,  M.A.S.H.’s “Trapper John”.

R.I.P. Jazz pianist Paul Bley.

R.I.P. composer Pierre Boulez.

Read as Fast Company makes guesses as for what’s next in streaming music.

Read as The New York Times considers “How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity”.

Read Pitchfork‘s interview with Kamasi Washington.

Watch the Inside Out edit with all of the “inside” stuff removed.

Read as “Relevant” wonders why Marc Maron seems to always “toward spiritual conversations?”

Read as The New York Times considers “Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic”.

Browse as Okay Player considers “The Top 6 Beat Tapes Of 2015”.

Read as The Atlantic wonders why all stories seem basically the same.

Read as Stereogum considers what we can make of this year’s Coachella poster.

Read as Brain Pickings considers what actually motivates us to work.

Read as Fact Magazine considers “The Beastie Boys and Bad Brains supergroup that was too good to last”.

Read reports that U2 are saying their next album is coming along nicely.

Read NME‘s report that HMV sold one turntable per minute this Christmas season.

Read AV Club‘s report that there is now a George Costanza-themed bar.

Read NPR‘s report that four new elements have been added to the periodic table.

See part of Kurt Vonnegut‘s “lost” NYU lecture animated by the fine Blank on Blank folks.

Read “Hemingway’s Advice on Writing, Ambition, the Art of Revision, and His Reading List of Essential Books for Aspiring Writers” at Brain Pickings.

Read as Slate considers rumors of Twitter raising its character limit.

Read as AV Club considers “How Avatar made $2.7 billion and garnered almost no fan base”.

Read as Insider Magazine considers “Why Millennials Are Abandoning Night Clubs”.

Read as The Guardian reports that Morrissey is no longer on Henry Rollins‘ “kill list”.

Read as Brain Pickings considers “Peanuts and the Quiet Pain of Childhood: How Charles Schulz Made an Art of Difficult Emotions”.

Read as Consequence of Sound reports that Billy Corgan is seeking peace with his former Smashing Pumpkins bandmates.

Read Pitchfork‘s report that Michael Jackson‘s Off The Wall is being reissued with an accompanying Spike Lee documentary.

Read Variety‘s report that Pee-Wee Herman‘s new movie will debut at SXSW.

Read AV Club‘s report that M. Night Shyamalan is resurrecting Tales From The Crypt.

Read Pitchfork‘s report that Radiohead have formed a new record label, prompting rumors of a new album.

Read Fast Company‘s claim that confirms Apple‘s move to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

Read GQ‘s Q&A with Sturgill Simpson.

Ever wonder how much “Your Text Messages Contribute To Global Warming?”

Read as The Houston Press argues: “Rock And Roll Is Dead, And Even Axl and Slash Can’t Save It”.

Read Brain Pickings piece: “Maurice Sendak, Teacher: Lessons on Art, Storytelling, and Life from the Beloved Artist’s 1971 Yale Course”.

Learn more about the “Y’allQaeda” Yahoos occupying a federal building in Oregon. They have forcibly taken over government property brandishing weapons and threatening violence and yet we won’t call them terrorists, why?

Browse Smartphone Etiquette propaganda posters for the digital age.

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyAnd there you have it. Not just another week gone by but another year. When we’re faced with the daunting question of what we’ve done with life over the past year. Well? What have you?

Maybe it’s just better to focus on links of varying degrees of interest. Click the ones that interest you. Ignore the ones that don’t. And do better this coming year than you did with the last.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of the year.

See the Japanese bookstore that stocks only one book at a time.

Consider the “Life Cycle of a Punk Band”.

Read Stereogum‘s report that Columbia House is relaunching with vinyl.

Read as one Christian military veteran explains: “Why I’m Not a Conscientious Objector”.

Ever wonder “Why hipsters all look alike”?

Read as Time considers “Big Beer’s 5-Point Plan to Crush the Craft Beer Revolution”.

Read as Flavorwire stereotypes “You by Your Favorite Album of 2015”.

Read/listen to Here and Now‘s piece: “The Vietnam War Divided The Country, But Music United The Troops”, examining the book We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War.

Read as FACT considers: “Inside album leaks: how do they happen, how do we stop them, and do they even matter?”

Read as The Atlantic considers “Dorms for Grownups: A Solution for Lonely Millennials?”

Read Noisey‘s report: “The Founder of the Pirate Bay Plans to ‘Bankrupt’ the Music Industry With His New Art Project”.

Read as “Henry Rollins says Donald Trump is ‘just a bored rich guy being crass’.

Read as The Atlantic goes “In Defense of Gentrification”.

Read as The New York Times considers “Our Misplaced Nostalgia for Cassette Tapes”.

Read as The Daily Beast wonders: “Why Did Joss Stone Sell More Reggae Albums Than Any Black Artist in 2015?”

Read The Washington Post‘s piece: “Biblical birth narratives are weird and incredible. We can stop sanitizing them.”

Read as The New Yorker considers “How Amazon’s Bookstore Soothes Our Anxieties About Technology”.

Read Inc‘s piece: “8 Words That Totally Reveal You Are Not a Millennial.” Bummer, I totally saw “awesome”.

Read as FACT wonders “What the hell is going on with SoundCloud?”

See “The world’s most beautiful churches”.

Read about how “How Charles Dickens Secularized Christmas Forever”.

Read about the “small Japanese village claims to be the final resting place of the son of God (and God’s other son’s ear)”.

Read as Ozy argues that we should hire more “hipster” cops.

Read as Consequence of Sound considers: “The lyrics of recent No. 1 singles average at a third grade reading level.”

Watch The Atlantic‘s piece: “Creative Ideas Happen When You Stop Checking Your Phone”.

Read as Pitchfork considers “The Genius And Jazz of Charlie Brown Christmas“.

Read Fast Company‘s piece: “Teens Love The Modern World, While Thirtysomethings Are Getting More And More Sad About It”.

Browse Time‘s list of “10 Small Things You Can Do Every Day to Get Smarter”.

Read The Atlantic‘s piece: “Finish That Book! You suffer when you quit a story midway through—and so does literature.”

What’s up with “Sweden’s bizarre tradition of watching Donald Duck cartoons on Christmas Eve”?

Do you know “Why Japan is Obsessed with Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas”?

Did you know about “The beautiful Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve”?

Read as NPR wonders “Are You A Sucker If You Like Mast Brothers Chocolate?”

Read about “The Science Behind Making the Perfect Cup of Coffee”.

Read as The Atlantic considers “The Challenge of Jihadi Cool”.

Read President Jimmy Carter‘s recent piece: “Losing my religion for equality”.

Browse as NME considers “The 10 Most Pretentious Albums Ever”.

Read as Slate considers the downside of binge-watching your favorite TV shows.

Read as The New York Times warns: “Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children”.

Read as Ozy considers “Jesus Christ, Marketing Genius?”

Read The Atlantic‘s piece: “Optimism Is the Enemy of Action”.

Read as Cracked considers “The Secret True History Of ‘Jingle Bells, Batman Smells’.

Read as Smithsonian reports that many craft breweries are facing an aluminum shortage for cans.

Read Fast Company‘s piece: “The Untold Story Of The Invention of the Game Cartridge”.

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “FOX News says Kendrick Lamar “has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism”.

See very cool jellyfish lamps.

Read as The Chicago Tribune makes a case for “The quiet impact of Obama’s Christian faith”.

Read as The Atlantic strives “Toward a New Understanding of Modesty”.

Read as Newsweek wonders: “Why Did So Many Good Pop Culture Sites Die In 2015?”

Read as Ozy suggests that you really can die from a broken heart.

Read as The Guardian reports: “Ireland becomes first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote”.

See “Earth as Art: photos of earth from space look like abstract paintings”.

Read as Ozy wonders: “Is Free Will Just A Mind Trick”?

Read as The Guardian considers: “Print survives as a new literature is born”.

Read The Washington Post‘s piece: “In the age of Amazon, used bookstores are making an unlikely comeback”.

Read as Consequence of Sound reports: “Motörhead frontman Lemmy has switched from whiskey to vodka for health reasons”.

  • R.I.PMotörhead frontman, Lemmy Kilmister. Unfortunately, the switch from whiskey to vodka couldn’t do much in the fight against cancer.
  • Read as Motörhead drummer, Mikkey Dee says: ‘Motörhead Is Over, Of Course’.
  • Read about how How Lemmy and Motörhead Gave Metal Its Umlaut.
  • Read as Henry Rollins says: “You Can’t Tell The Story of Rock & Roll Without Lemmy”.
  • Read as Consequence of Sound considers “Why Losing Lemmy Hurts So Much”.

R.I.P. Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon.

R.I.P. John Bradbury, drummer for The Specials.

Read as Adweek argues: “Why The Beatles Needed Digital Streaming to Maintain Their Brand.”

Read as Bill Moyers (well, actually someone else writing at Bill Moyers’ site) wonders if we’re “hard-wired” to be liberal or conservative.

See the amazing woodcut that took over three years to complete.

Read AV Club‘s “oral history of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s cult classic,” UHF.

Read as Christianity Today considers “Tarantino‘s Incarnational Aesthetic”.

Read about the “Man Has Nothing to Hide—Not Even His Email Password”.

Browse as Stereogum makes their picks for “The 101 Most Anticipated Albums Of 2016”.

Read as The Atlantic defends Amazon one-star reviews: “Honest and unbiased reviews allow customers to trust that they can shop with confidence.”

See the 14-story building that houses the entire population of its city.

Read as “Colbert Explains Exactly How His Interviewing Style Has Changed Since The Colbert Report.”

Read AV Club‘s list of “22 songs that are great despite being pro-Jesus”.

Read as The Atlantic considers: “Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying of Despair”.

Read as “Will Smith Discusses the Role Christianity Played in ‘Concussion’ at “Relevant”.

Read as Fact Magazine considers: “Pop has an authenticity problem: there’s too much of it around”.

Read as Consequence of Sound considers not just the restaurantification of CBGB: “It gets worse: CBGB branded baby onesies and umbrellas coming soon.”

Watch the 21-minute X-Files re-boot preview.

Ever wonder “Why It’s Hard to Poop On Vacation”?

Read as BBC News considers “the Jelly Baby’s dark past.”

Read as AV Club goes “In praise of artistic theft” by pointing out: “Tom Petty knows what many don’t—that appropriation and originality can’t be separated”.

Read as The Atlantic argues: “America: Abandon Your Reverence for the Bachelor’s Degree”.

Read as The New Yorker argues: “Donald Trump Isn’t a Fascist; He’s a Media-Savvy Know-Nothing”.

Browse Hypebeast’s list of “The 10 Most Pirated TV Shows of 2015”.

Read as AV Club considers the continuing allure of The Warriors: “Greek and literary roots give the cult movie its addictive blend of swagger and mythology”.

Read as Slate wonders “Why are so many drug anthems sneaking their way onto the radio?” as if drug culture were something new.

Read as Tiny Mix Tapes wonders: “”Is information stifling design? Is design stifling art? And the biggest question: How does the production and consumption of music alter the world?”

See the “Winners of the 2015 National Geographic Photo Contest”.

Hear audio from the first ever concrete record“.

Read as Fast Company considers: How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name For years, Apple followed user-centered design principles. Then something went wrong.”

Read Stereogum‘s report that Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker frontman “David Lowery Sues Spotify For $150 Million”.

Read Aquarium Drunkard‘s interview with  Jim O’Rourke.

See “Vertical Panoramic Photographs of New York Churches by Richard Silver”.

Read Fast Company’s report: “MIT’s New 3-D Printer Uses Molten Glass As A Medium”.

Read as The Atlantic considers “Why the 9-to-5 Day Is So Tough on Creative Workers”.

Browse Pragues unofficial Apple museum.

Read about “How Pantone Became a Global Authority on Color”.

Browse Paste‘s picks for “The 8 Best Breweries of 2015’.

Read as BBC News considers “How the craft beer revolution started”.

Read about “The Psychology Behind Costco’s Free Samples”.

Read as Pitchfork considers “What Your Music Format Says About You”.

Read as FACT reports: “Amazon sold more turntables than any other audio product this Christmas”.

Watch “Fascinating analysis of the way Trump uses words” at Boing Boing.

Read as Yahoo reports: “People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say”.

The “Creative Life” Is More Mundane Than We’d Like To Believe: Additional Thoughts On An Unfinished Coloring Book.

12042909_10153691586456450_8249815417010762711_nAs you, my friend, know. (Since you are my friend, right?) I have been working on a coloring book project. I am very excited about it but it has taken much longer than I expected. I have had to understand why it has taken so long because God is good and I have had people interested in purchasing the project even before it is complete, which is quite humbling. This process prompted me to publicly think through why the project is not yet complete. That post has since prompted some more random thoughts about creativity that I wanted to write down before I forgot. Since I was writing them down anyway, I thought I would share. Because, you know; that’s what we do, right?

Anyway, as I’ve struggled to understand my own creative process, here are some dditional thoughts. Make of them what you will. Correct what you must:

It’s OK to feel like you don’t have anything to pour out right now.Creative types love story so we tend to mythologize those we admire. For example, I love Wes Anderson’s movies. Taken as a whole, it seems like he’s been on an unbelievable creative streak. Just consider the progression of his work (and this isn’t even a complete list!):

Creatives often look at a list like this and think to themselves well crap, I’ll never live up to that, so why even try. But look again at the list: there’s typically a 2-3 year gap between the finished products that we are given. That’s a long time. I’ve never met Wes Anderson so I don’t know, but I’m willing to guess that there were plenty of days during those 2-3 year gaps during which he didn’t feel particularly creative. There were lots of tasks to be done, but even when those tasks are in the pursuit of creativity, they may not, in and of themselves feel particularly creative.

But I know many creatives who go to deeper with these gaps. There are honestly times when many of us simply feel like we don’t have anything to give. As I stated earlier, this is the time to fill up. Know yourself well enough to know what to put in to your system. Maybe you need to read some Scripture. Meditate. Watch a movie, listen to music, read a book, take a walk, sit in silence, drink a good cup of coffee or a craft beer. Get some sleep?

Creativity demands not only that you know yourself well enough to know when to fill up or pour out, it demands that you know what fills you up but it also demands that you know that this drought is but for a season because:

Creativity takes a long time and takes the long-term vision as seriously as the short-term creative bursts.

Creativity is always interested in finding its true voice, that’s why the big picture is so important. A letter is not a word and a word is not a sentence and a sentence is not a paragraph and a paragraph is not a novel and a novel is not a body of work. All of them are capturing, displaying and refining the authors’s voice but it is not until there are several novels that an author even truly knows their own voice.

Creative expression is not just pouring out, it is a visualization and projection of the self. It is sharing with others how we see and understand the world. We create things no one else could because no one else is you. I have had people who write songs I could never in a million years compose tell me that they look at some of my drawings and feel like they could never do that. And that’s a beautiful thing because:

Creativity forces us to humility, to learning and growing.

Though there are always some arrogant jagweeds in every circle of life, generally speaking, creative people are humble because they have come to the self-awareness that they are always learning and growing. And they have creative output to visualize their progression. The creative process is never static and thus it always requires the creator to understand that they are trying to get better at their craft. They are trying to write better songs, paint better paintings, write better stories, explain things more clearly. And each creative piece is a step along that journey because:

Many creative people are not satisfied with their current creative status and sometimes creative souls are quite hard on themselves.

Even though many creatives understand the beauty of telling a grand story, we get critical of the step we just took. It is quite common to notice the flaws no one else does. And not just notice them but dwell on them. In fact, they become all we can see in a piece. So much so that we are rarely satisfied with our current status. It’s almost like when Jonathan Safran Foer says in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,  laments:

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”

The beauty of possibly and the fallibility of our last step keep us humbled by the potential. The potential is so grand that our last step forward never gets us where we want to be. And so many creative people are their own worst critic. We measure by what could be rather than what just was because we often forget that:

Creativity sweeps itself up in itself. Like an avalanche.

You might be able to start an avalanche (take care of your soul, fill up with creativity-inspiring things, etc.) but you cannot control it. Though most are killed by avalanches, many dream of surfing one.

Creatives often love the thrill of the creative process as much as anything they actually produce. In this surge, we must remember that we will not remember everything. Some things will escape and much will be lost. And that’s OK because:

Creativity requires you listen to the whispers before you can hear the chorus.

Avalanches start small. A snowball here, a homeless boulder there. But there is no avalanche without the spark and there is no creativity without the whispers. Though creative outbursts sometimes come like the fully formed “Hallelujah Chorus” and all we have to do is record it as best we can, more often, it starts as a whisper. It becomes a conversation with the muse, hearing the whisper until it becomes louder and is coaxed along the way. For most creative people, most of the time, this requires patience and work which leads me to conclude:

The “creative life” might seem more mundane than you’d like to believe. I have friends who used to build weapons but now build robots, works with museums  and has hung out with David Byrne. We don’t all get to live that life. In fact, most of us don’t and won’t. And that’s OK.

Since the creativity is concerned with the artist’s voice as much as any particular statement, we must remember that creativity ultimately encompasses all of life. We find our creative voice as we follow the Creator God who brought order from chaos. Doing the dishes is a much less glamorous or even attractive way of doing this, but it, nonetheless, brings order from chaos. It is an expression of the self over the created order, reorganizing the universe’s molecules as only we could.

I often think of the Christian life as a continual process of undoing the effects of the Fall. When Adam and Eve chose to mistrust God, they thrust themselves, everyone and everything following them into slavery to sin, disruption, distrust, disorder and entropy. Picking up trash along the way is a way of making a difference, of reversing the Fall. Fighting for social justice, caring for the environment, loving the least of these, painting, writing, composing. All of these are ways of bringing the progress of Good News to bear on where and when we live. But we should not be so naive as to only classify some of them as creative and others as mundane.

Though creativity tends towards the extravagant, it born in the everyday.

I’d love to hear more about how you understand the creative process. I’d also love to hear which is your favorite Wes Anderson movie and why.

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyI think you know what I mean. I think you know what I really mean. Well, actually. Hold on there a minute. I haven’t said anything yet for you to even know what I could mean. Much less what I really mean.

So I suppose I should come up with something really clever to say here. Something about how the Weekly Town Crier is where I collect links of varying levels of interest and pas them along to you for your interest in the interesting links.

Enjoy.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of the year.

Read NPR’s piece: “Learning Soft Skills In Childhood Can Prevent Harder Problems Later.”

Now you can have a robot act as maid of honour at your wedding.”

Read as Salon considers “How the Samurai warrior inspired the Jedi Knights.”

Read as Sojourners considers “‘Firefly‘ and the Dignity of Humanity.”

Read an account of “Kurt Vonnegut’s Daily Routine.”

Read as NPR considers “The Neuroscience Of Musical Perception.”

Watch as The Atlantic considers “Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive?”

Read as The Atlantic considers the public zoning backlash against small community libraries.

Read as Consequence of Sound‘s catches up with Henry Rollins.

  • See Henry Rollins build and destroy a gingerbread house.

Read as Mother Jones considers Pete Seeger‘s FBI file.

Read as T Bone Burnett considers “Our culture loves music. Too bad our economy doesn’t value it” for The Washington Post.

Read as No Depression asks: “How Did You Find Your Favorite Albums This Year?”

See the “Secret catalog of gadgets police and feds can use to spy on your cellphone.”

Read as the Atlantic considers “Machines That Can See Depression on a Person’s Face.”

Read The Creator‘s Project‘s piece: “The Art of Reflection Within the Rothko Chapel.”

Read about “The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy.”

Read as The Guardian considers “Hidden gems of 2015: great records you may have missed.”

Read as KJZZ considers the “Mixed Reactions To Anheuser-Busch’s Plans To Buy Four Peaks Brewing Company.”

Read as Rolling Stone considers the impact of the Grateful Dead‘s farewell shows.

Read Okay Player‘s piece: “Killer Mike, Big Boi + More Will Testify On Hip Hop’s Behalf In Front Of The Supreme Court Today.”

Browse The Washington Post‘s ranking of the country’s best “food cities.”

See Shane McGowan’s new teeth.

See someone “Pouring a Thermos of Hot Tea at -40°C Near the Arctic Circle.”

See the card that caused Steve Harvey’s worst nightmare.

Browse “A Beginner’s Guide To Frank Zappa“.

Read Stereogum‘s report that Lenny Kravitz is being accused of illegal dentistry in the Bahamas.

Read about many Muslim women asking non-Muslim women not to wear the hajib “in the name of interfaith solidarity.”

Read Noisey‘s interview with “The Founder of ‘Yeezianity’, The First Religion Based Onn Kanye West“.

Meet the finalists who could design the Obama Presidential Center.”

Read CNN‘s report: “Vatican paper says ‘The Force Awakens’ is not evil enough”.

Fueling the rumors that Apple is ditching the 3.5mm headjack, read Hypebeast‘s report: “Apple is Developing its Own High Quality Audio Format.”

Read Rolling Stone‘s article: “Cheap Trick‘s Bun E. Carlos on Possible Rock Hall Reunion: Any friendship we had went away when I had to file a federal lawsuit,” says drummer.”

Read as Christianity Today considers “Why We Get Religious About ‘Star Wars’.

Read The New York Times’ article: “New Novel From Jonathan Safran Foer Coming in September.”

Read “The Story Behind The Famous Portrait of André The Giant Clutching A Beer Can.”

Read CNN‘s piece about companies with “mandatory” vacation policies.

Read Noisey‘s report about the “rebirth” of CBGBs . . . as a NJ airport restaurant.

Browse Pixar color palettes.

Read Rolling Stone‘s interview with Leon Bridges.

Read about the new “451” internet error code for internet censorship.

Read The Stranger‘s piece: “How Christianity Infiltrated Seattle Music with a Little Help from Mars Hill Church and the City Council.”

Read as Noisey considers the rise and fall of Ozzy Osbourne.

Read as The Washington Post considers “Why it’s a good sign if you curse a lot.”

Read Amazon one-star reviews of some of the year’s biggest albums.

See bonsai skulls.

Browse Flavorwires‘s picks for the best literary criticism of 2015.

Read as Christopher Hitchens considers George Orwell.

Read as AV Club considers the year in band names.

Read as Literary Hub considers how “White Christmas” started the trend of popular Christmas songs.

Browse this list of “The Most Googled Artists of 2015”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “The Sultan of Brunei Has Literally Outlawed Christmas.”

Read The Washington Post‘s piece: “My husband read to me while I was sick. It changed our marriage.”

Watch as The Atlantic asks what you wish you had learned in college but didn’t.

See a fountain in China made from 10,000 toilets.

Read as Techly considers “Five Things You Don’t Know About Beer (But Probably Should).”

Go with Fast Company into the secretive world of Freemasonry in this photo essay.

Read the Washington Post‘s report that “The Republican debate stage could shrink considerably next month” based on new rules.

Watch Steve Harvey announce the wrong winner for the Miss Universe pageant.

Watch what could happen to your body if you drank 10 cans of Coke every day. Please don’t drink 10 cans of soda every day.

See “inflatable hotel rooms.”

Read Outside magazine’s ode to the VW Vanagon.

Since we no longer live in a culture in which people own important albums, you will soon be able to stream The Beatles‘ catalog.

Poor Nicholas Cage has been forced to return his T-Rex skull.

See the decaying church building repurposed as an artsy skate park.

Read as Slate considers the impact of “bro country”.

Read about how Facebook helped solve the riddle of an ancient artifact.

Read as Salon considers the possibility of an R.E.M. reunion.

Read about U2‘s Bono buying the Eagles of Death Metal new phones to replace the ones they lost in the Paris attacks.

My Favorite Albums of 2015

2015I love year-end music lists. I love to see what other people loved to see what I missed and what I agreed upon with other music lovers. Year-end lists serve as a snapshot of what music was most meaningful to me for that year.

I am under no illusion that my tastes are anything more to anyone else than simply my tastes. As such, I try to refrain from ranking albums as “the best” of the year because you may not like what I like and I like that. In fact,  I am not ranking this year’s albums at all. To be completely honest, I didn’t really have “one favorite” album this year or even a couple that just had to be ranked. Instead, I am simply listing my 42 favorite albums of 2015 in alphabetical order. In case you’re wondering, I mainly ended up with 42 albums because that’s right about where I had trouble cutting any more albums out and it is divisible by 3.

I have included comments that are probably not really helpful for you in you determining whether or not you would like each album for yourself. Instead, you’ll have to go and do some listening for yourself. I hope you enjoy and I look forward to your feedback.

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Sound & Color  by Alabama Shakes – The band obviously wanted nothing to do with the sophomore slump or claims that they were a novelty act. In fact, the band stretched its sound without losing any of the appeal that brought them all the attention in the first place. (buy)

River by Daniel Bachman – It can be tough bearing the mantle of “American Primitive”. Comparisons to John Fahey will dog you your entire career whether they fit or not. Building on an acknowledged tradition while finding your own voice can be difficult but it is exactly what Bachman has done here, proving that life can still be found in the primitive. (buy)

Coming Home by Leon Bridges – Respecting the past without being stuck in it is not only difficult for solo guitarists but soul singers as well. Leon Bridges has found the right balance of embracing what people love about classic soul/R&B records without sounding like a cover band. In fact, it is never in question that the music laid down here is as heartfelt as the originals it draws from. (buy)

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Pale White Dove by Doug Burr – After a disappointing reception to Burr’s last album, O Ye Devastor, Burr took his time putting out his next album. He worked for five years to not only push his sound but please himself with a new set of songs. Pale White Dove often pushes Burr’s music into somewhat heavier and darker territory but never loses sight of the hope of redemption. (buy)

Untethered Moon by Built To Spill – Sometimes you don’t have to teach an old dog new tricks because its old tricks work just fine. Former Treeperson Doug Martsch and company turn in their eighth full-length album (their first in six years) of indie power pop punk if that’s what you want to call it. (buy)

Edge of the Sun by Calexico – The Tucson band continues to tinker with their evolving sound. Though the band incorporates lots of musical elements, they are all sunbaked until they feel right at home in the desert. (buy).

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Every Open Eye by Chvrches – Hook heavy electronic reminiscent of early New Order. These are a few of my favorite things. I didn’t expect to like this album as much as I do and who doesn’t love a pleasant surprise, right? (buy)

Nashville Obsolete by Dave Rawlings Machine – At only 7 songs, Rawlings leaves you feeling the road weary wisdom of a rough journey without feeling defeating. Channeling Dylan and Young, Rawlings creates a warm tone with welcome harmonies. (buy)

Fading Frontier by Deerhunter – Bradford Cox drew an “influence map” to help people understand a bit of where this album came from. Among other influences, the map includes R.E.M., Tom Petty, INXS, Faulkner (apparently Cox’s dog, not the author), “Japanese ceramics broken and repaired with gold”, tea and oils, what else could you ask for? Oh yeah, an album of songs “where if you hear them in a restaurant or car or house party, no one will ever ask you to turn them off.” (buy)

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Butterfly Effect by DJ Krush – The Japanese turntablist returns with another solid set of above average instrumental hip hop. (buy)

Theory of Mind by Electric Moon // Love Monster by Zone Six – I know, I know. It’s sort of cheating to include two entirely different albums as one selection on a year-end list but since these two bands share members and interest in zoned out, extended space rock jams, why not get two for the price of one. (buy and buy)

Heartbreak Pass by Giant Sand – Sunbaked Americana from one of its inventors. I don’t live in Tucson but I love the desert and Giant Sand will always be part of its soundtrack for me. Ramshackle, meandering and feeling like it might tip over at any moment, Howe Gelb not only holds it all together but leaves you wanting more. (buy)

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Chambers by Chilly Gonzales – Though  often known for his outlandish stage persona, Chilly Gonzales turns in another beautiful album of piano music. Still channeling Satie, Gonzales, as you might expect, adds strings to this outing for a straightforward but moving effect. (buy)

Servant of Love by Patty Griffin – Patty Griffin albums demand your attention but they repay it in spades, revealing subtle hooks and deft lyricism. As the title suggests, Griffin’s latest is filled with ruminations on love and what it means. (buy)

Dream All Over by Gun Outfit – Rambling rock with southwestern influences, hints of noise and lots of nods to Sonic Youth. (buy)

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Seasonal Hire by Steve Gunn and Black Twig Pickers – Combining his spacey Americana with Appalachian bluegrass and healthy doses of drone, Gunn and company have created a world all their own. (buy)

 

Little Neon Limelight by Houndmouth – Like a bigger version of everyone’s favorite local bar singalong band, Houndmouth has big choruses with straightforward rock riffs to remind us all that rock can be fun. (buy)

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Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell – Isbell’s fifth album after leaving the Drive By Truckers mines familiar territory. That is to say, Isbell still excels at storytelling music that finds the moments to be treasured even if they have to be found in the midst of struggle. (buy)

In Colour by Jamie xx – While Jamie xx’s other project can sometimes seem dour, Jamie seems compelled to let in the “colour” here. Still playing with sly synth grooves, he lets in light and bounce you might not have otherwise known he had. (buy)

Drug For The Modern Age by Kopecky – Apparently no longer a family band, Kopecky, like Houndmouth mines the valley of big choruses and straightforward melodies to great effect. Falling somewhere between Arcade Fire and Fleetwood Mac, the band continues to discover themselves while stretching their sound. (buy)

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All A Man Should Do by Lucero – Still toying with Memphis influenced horns, the latest outing from Lucero finds the band in a more subdued, keyboard driven mood. But, as Allmusic points out: “Saying All a Man Should Do is a more mature effort from Lucero sells short the street smarts and emotional wisdom of their previous work, but this album does find the fine band reaching for something different, and they hit their target with skill, assurance, and clarity.” (buy)

Lands & Peoples by Bill Mallonee and the Big Sky Ramblers – There are not many artists I wish would put out fewer albums. Bill Mallonee is one of them. He seems to average two to three (if not more) releases a year and I know it simply overwhelms a lot of people who end up missing the gems because they can’t keep up and don’t know where to dive in. Lands & People is indeed a gem, proving why Mallonee was named one of Paste magazines best living songwriters. (buy)

Shadow of the Sun by Moon Duo – Repeat-O-Rock? Space jams (not the movie)? Trance, drone rock? No longer a duo, Moon Duo does what they do best, rocking you into repetition bliss. (buy)

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Arena Negra by the Myrrors – The third Tucson band on my list! If Bardo Pond were sunbaked in the Tucson desert, the resulting psychedelic, sprawling rock would probably fall somewhere near Arena Negra. (buy)

Vertigo by the Necks – The Necks have developed a solid strategy without trapping themselves. Their albums are usually one hour-long track featuring slowly unfolding minimalist jazz. Their concerts are completely improvised and they carry this ethos in to the studio with them. This time around, they offer 1 44 minute track adding electric guitar to their proven formula a piano, bass, drums. (buy)

Sun Coming Down by Ought – Nearly every review of this album that I’ve read references some sort of yester-punk. OK. That’s fine. Frenetic, charged and yet accessible. (buy)

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Simple Songs by Jim O’Rourke – Few people have had the Midas Touch streaks that O’Rourke has. Somehow, he has been involved in some of the best music made by Smog, Sam Prekop, John Fahey, Wilco, Stereolab, Sonic Youth (of which he was a member), Beth Orton, Superchunk, and many others. If that’s not enough to interest you in his solo albums, perhaps brilliant production and musicianship paying homage to Van Dyke Parks among others and witty lyrics like: “Nice to see you once again,” and it seems like he’s addressing it to listeners who haven’t heard from him in a while, but then he follows that with “Been a long time my friends/ Since you crossed my mind at all” will pique your interest? If not, I’m not sure why we’re friends. (buy)

Natalie Prass by Natalie Prass – This record is of great interest, not only because Prass is a terrific writer and evocative vocalist but because Spacebomb records is, one release at a time, proving that they are more than a novelty act. They are creating a musical world that feels homey in the best way, not content to merely stand on tradition but bring it by the hand, not only into the present but into the future. If Van Morrison were in Memphis, he might very well be hanging out with the Spacebomb crew. (buy)

For Use And Delight by Promised Land Sound – Mix some Big Pink and some Workingmans Dead, and then combine with “harmony-laden jangle pop.” Shake. Sip. Repeat. (buy)

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Fables by David Ramirez – Ramirez continues to consistently be one of the best singer-songwriters on the scene today. Fables is another step forward, building on Ramirez’s strengths but also pushing forward. (buy)

Shadow Shows by Seryn – There was a four year wait between This Is Where We Are and Shadow Shows. Those years brought lots of changes to the group. Marriages, line-up changes, a complete band relocation. But the wait was worth it as the band moves in a more electric, even spacey direction, while retaining everything that made them one of your favorite acts to begin with. (buy)

Late Night Endless by Sherwood & Pinch – Spacey dub smashup from two of the genres top producers. (buy)

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Early Risers by Soldiers of Fortune – A band that is committed to not rehearsing shouldn’t be this good. But then again, when you’ve got Matt Sweeney and Jesper Eklow (Endless Boogie) involved, you might just end up with something special. Under The Radar says: “the songs are solid, brawny, and looking to fight.” Yup. (buy)

Traveller by Chris Stapleton – By far the most “mainstream” release I included this year. By far the closest to “popular country” that I’ve gotten in, well, ever. It’s that solid. (buy)

Parallelogram by Various Artists – Again, it might be considered cheating to included multiple releases as one listing. But this year, Three Lobed Records got a bunch of their favorite artists to release split LPs. The idea was to showcase the beautiful similarities and perplexing differences between some of the label’s favorite artists. So, when you’ve got Hiss Golden Messenger, Yo La Tengo, Bardo Pond and others, you don’t. Nay, you can’t just choose one. (buy)

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Sisters and Brothers by the Vespers – Bluerock? Rockgrass? Big choruses pave the way for a more muscular outing from this duo of sibling duos. (buy)

b’lieve i’m going down by Kurt Vile – Vile described this album as “darker” than previous albums. It’s got, he said, a “night vibe.” Vile adds instruments this time out, banjo, piano, reverb. But it’s a shuffling, slow-to-reveal-itself Kurt Vile album that simply gets better as it becomes part of life rather than something to be dissected. Just enjoy it, dangit. (buy)

Primrose Green by Ryley Walker – The spirit of Van Morrison is strong with this one, it is. (buy)

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The Epic by Kamasi Washington – At nearly three hours, this album truly is “epic.” Washington, a Kendrick Lamar conspirator, reminds us just how vital jazz can be. If I had allowed myself 43 entries instead of 42, I would have included Children of Light, the Perez/Patitucci/Blade album. See how I just worked in another album? Anyways, Washington seems uniquely positioned to remind us that jazz continues to be important. (buy)

Fresh Blood by Matthew E. White – The second Spacebomb release here, White’s Fresh Blood testifies that something special seems to be in the soulful, stylish but not over-bearing Spacebomb waters. (buy)

Star Wars by Wilco – Maybe not Wilco’s best album ever. But, the surprise, free release finds the band seeming to play music because they love to, not to meet certain expectations. The release reminds us why Wilco continues to be one of the most important American bands currently playing. (buy)

 

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Roundup Edition)

2993_tape1 copyEvery once in a while I like to see who’s up for exchanging a little music. I mean, after all, who doesn’t like hearing new music? And music mixes can often tell a lot about the person who made them.

I also love year-end music lists. It’s the most wonderful time of year. I like seeing not only what music different authors loved but I love seeing which albums receive more attention than others. So this year, I’ve asked you, my fine friends, to share mixes of your favorite music of 2015. Five of my friends took me up on the offer. Here’s the delio on each mix (including my own) for this year. Enjoy.

  • See Paz Galusha-Luna’s 2015 mix.
  • See Danny Lopez’ 2015 mix.
  • See Chris Martin’s mix.
  • See my mix.
  • See Mark Whiten’s mix.
  • See Jonathan Wolfinger’s 2015 mix.

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (My Edition)

2015Along with the incidental noises of the everyday, music is the soundtrack to life. It can help us make sense of our journey and frame the chapters of our story. It possesses a special power to bring back times, places, people and emotions, rivaled only maybe by the power of smell.

Music can enhance or change our emotions. Curated collections of music (mixes) can be a deeper diary than the one on your desk. Music can be a friend, a solace, a comfort, a challenge and everything in between.

Every year I try to make a collection of some of the songs that have meant the most to me during that year. I keep a playlist on my computer to which I add songs as they strike me throughout the year, then I edit them to a playlist that will fit on a blank CD at year’s-end.

This year, as I sat down to listen to the songs what I had set aside, I was struck by the narrative that presented itself.

This year has been challenging in a lot of ways. I resigned from ministry in January after serving as a pastor for ten years. I found myself unemployed half-way through the year after I came to the (financially) painful realization that I am not a salesman and that I don’t necessarily think ministry is best pursued through quotas. I have applied to over 105 jobs and I am still unemployed. I had to turn down one job that, after travel, fuel, etc., my family and I literally couldn’t afford to take. We put our house up for sale and had over 70 showings. Finally, we had an offer on our house squashed by our HOA. Dang the man. So we took our house off of the market. We very seriously considered selling everything we own and cramming our family of 10 in an RV to travel the country until we realized that not only could we not afford that, but our extended family greatly disapproved. I still wish that had worked out.

I have come to terms with the idea that (aside from abortion and marriage) I am considered socially liberal by many of my Christian friends while also being confronted with the fact that I am quite theologically conservative compared to my socially liberal friends. I have wrestled with issues of vocation and identity and calling. I have had to ask whether or not I would ever again “aspire” to serve as an elder in a local church.

We have faced uncertainty and doubt. We have tiptoed through anxiety and swam in depression. And yet we have tried to hold on to hope through it all, confused as we are, confused as we might continue to be. We know that we are not alone in our travels through this world, even if we feel like we can’t go home. Wherever that is.

With all of that rattling around in my head cabinet, it’s no wonder that many of the songs I set aside this year deal with finding your way, figuring our your identity, feeling alone or trying to find “home.” Of course, not every song perfectly fits this mold, but I was amazed at the consistency with which my sub-conscience was weaving a narrative of my year through music.

Through it all, feeling lost and unsure, my faith in God has not wavered. I have questioned a lot about the church and the way we as Americans put it into practice. I have questioned what my role in that will be in the future and I have felt the sting of thinking people were my friends when I was simply their pastor. But faith has anchored my soul, providing surety in the storm.

So, without further ado, I invite you to take a carefully curated musical journey through my 2015.

Here is the tracklist:

  1. Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home) by Dave Rawlings Machine
  2. Shake It Off by Ryan Adams
  3. Don’t Wanna Fight by Alabama Shakes
  4. C.R.E.B. by Built To Spill
  5. Pretty Pimpin by Kurt Vile
  6. Living My Life by Deerhunter
  7. Leave A Trace by Chvrches
  8. Disappear by Seryn
  9. Through The Seasons by Promised Land Sound
  10. The Life You Chose by Jason Isbell
  11. Traveller by Chris Stapleton
  12. River by Leon Bridges
  13. New Way of Living by David Ramirez
  14. Never Gonna Be Young Again by Doug Burr
  15. Falling From The Sky by Calexico
  16. Went Looking For Warren Zevon‘s Los Angeles by Lucero
  17. Shine A Different Way by Patty Griffin
  18. Always Be by Josh Garrels
  • Download my 2015 year-in-review mix from Zippyshare.
  • Stream my mix from Spotify right here:

 


The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Mark Whiten Edition)

Eldons 2015 mix coverAnd now, the one we’ve all been waiting for . . . well, I’ve been waiting for . . . the one, the only, sometimes he goes by Eldon, sometimes not . . . Mark the “White N” Whiten!!

A man of Mark’s stature is far too busy to elaborate much on a mix. But here’s what I could get out of him:

“My collection of songs for a 2015 mix comes mainly from my attraction to the structure of a song…. And in some cases not the lyrics. Although the style or genre of music goes from noise rock to no wave to chamber folk to Brit rock the theme may be fluid structure. So, much like the historical Tacoma Narrows Bridge or an aneurysm, this mix in its sum and its parts has movable or deformable structure with an internal or surrounding fluid flow. Most of these songs are included in albums that themselves are picks for favorites of the year.”

Here’s the tracklist:

  • What Went Down by Foals
  • I Saw A Ghost by The Slow Readers Club
  • Eyes Peeled by METZ
  • A Heroine by Holy Holy
  • Snow by The Lonely Wild
  • Lawman by Girl Band
  • Suicide Girl by Clark and the Himselfs
  • Exeunt by The Oh Hellos
  • Alligator Years by Twinsmith
  • Acne/Ears by Roadside Graves
  • Miss You by Alabama Shakes
  • Breaker by Dalton
  • Baby What’s Wrong by Whitehorse
  • Sedona by Houndmouth
  • Odell by Lowland Hum
  • The Wind That Shakes The Barley by Black Rivers

Download Mark’s mix at Zippyshare.

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Chris Martin Edition)

2993_tape1 copyAnd now, it our friend Chris Martin’s turn!

Here’s what he has to say about his mix:

“Here are some of my favorite songs from 2015. There’s no real theme here, aside from the fact that I’ve danced to most of these songs with my one year old son over the past year.

I tried to at least put the songs in an order that isn’t too jarring. The exception is the two songs at the end: The Valley Maker track is by a friend of mine and it was just too good to leave off even though it’s totally different than everything else on the list. The other exception is the Vince Staples song. It has some serious profanity in it, so I put it at the end so people can skip it if they want.

Finally, there’s some great music videos on this list. I especially love the Thundercat and Courtney Barnett videos.

Enjoy!”

Chris chose to make a Youtube playlist of his picks. Here is the traklisting:

  • Kamikaze by MØ
  • Gold by Kiiara
  • Fela by nvdes
  • Standard by Empress Of
  • Blue & Green by Loyal
  • Them Changes by Thundercat
  • Hotline Bling by Donna Missal
  • Home by Islandis
  • Heroes by Callers
  • Desire by Dilly Dally
  • Dead Fox by Courtney Barnett
  • Book of Right On by Foxtails Brigade
  • Pretty Little Life Form by Valley Maker
  • Norf Norf by Vince Staples
Stream the mix right here:

Or find it on Youtube here.