2015 – The Year in Review



By this point, I’m under no illusion that I actually maintain a blog, but this is still the best place to post this kind of thing. It’s time for my ritual “year in review” post, and it’s one for the ages.

At the end of last year, I had my eye on a beautiful woman I had been acquainted with for years. Dolly and I began dating in January, and it has gone really well so far. More on that later.

In other news, on January 20th, 2015 I became a homeowner for the first time! I also signed on the largest debt in my life, but I won’t let that little detail dampen the spirit. The quaint brick ranch in the Glencliff area of Nashville is exactly what I had been seeking for a couple of years. It’s close to work, the hardwood floors are in good shape, and I have awesome neighbors. It truly is a blessing from God, even with the added responsibilities homeownership brings.

At this point in the post I typically do a bullet-point list of highlights, so here we go! All of the other noteworthy things from 2015:

  • I started my second year of work as a web developer at Kindful. Each week pushes me to further my skills and knowledge as we serve nonprofits around the world.
  • For Lent, I once again did “40 Days of Water.” Drinking H2O as my only beverage was a good challenge of discipline, even if the spiritual aspect wasn’t as fruitful.
  • In April I had the chance to take a quick trip to West Palm Beach with my mom to see my nephew compete in gymnastics. It was a fun mother/son adventure.
  • I also I completed my third half marathon that month. I was older and slower than my previous effort five years prior, but at least I finished.
  • As our relationship deepened, Dolly and I went to visit her parents in St. Petersburg in June. It was a whirlwind trip, and I enjoyed getting to learn much more about her.
  • Sometime in the summer I finally put together a prototype for an idea I had for years. LunchCasa (beta) is a barebones tool that will tell you where to eat lunch based on your location. Now accepting investors, designers, or anyone else who could make it passable.
  • I enjoyed a great family vacation to Gatlinburg and Dollywood in late July. I hadn’t been to the classic theme park since I was a child, and it was a delightful getaway with the entire family.
  • On a plain September night, as I was driving home from dropping off Dolly, a white car sped out in front of me on Nolensville Road. Having no time to react, I crashed into them at 40 MPH. The upstanding citizens in the other vehicle fled the scene on foot, and my trusty VW Jetta was totaled. It was later replaced with a silver Nissan Versa.
  • In October, I had the joy of traveling to New York City for the first time with Dolly. It was a highlight of my year getting to explore and take in the city with the woman I love.
  • For Halloween I dressed up like Baymax from Big Hero 6, and Dolly was Hiro Hamada, the Japanese boy star of the film. It was a hit.
  • Throughout the fall I saw several memorable concerts: Norma Jean, Copeland, and Emery to name a few. I am now that old guy who only likes bands from the previous decade.
  • For the first time, I didn’t go to Ohio for Thanksgiving. Instead I joined Dolly with her family in Florida where I felt very welcome.
  • Throughout the year I read the following excellent books:
  • And I encountered these noteworthy albums:
  • Lastly, on December 19th, 2015 I asked Dolly Stang to be my wife, and she said yes! I truly can’t say how blessed I am to have a life with her, and on June 18th, 2016 we will become one.

So it truly has been a big and life-changing year in my world. So much has happened, but next year will be even better. I am so thankful for the life God has given me. Here’s to 2016.

Why so quiet on the blog?

Map and Compass by Hilltops and Coffeeshops

I apologize for the virtual silence on the blog in recent months. The reason is that two major projects and social engagements have taken up the majority of my time.

The first is that Joe and I are finally finishing Map and Compass, and it will release on our Noisetrade November 5th.  Follow us on Facebook or Tumblr, or download some of our music on Noisetrade to be notified the moment it’s released. We’ll be so pleased to deliver the product of months of hard work, and even close a chapter in our lives in some way.

Secondly, I’m working on some major updates to Stoneoakbuilders.com, my brother-in-law’s site. I’m excited for how things are turning out, and before too long the site will be fully mobile-optimized.

So that’s why there haven’t been posts recently. Once those two things are out the door, expect more regular posting to resume.

News – posting reviews for IndieVisionMusic.com

Indie Vision Music


There’s a bit of news.  I’ve been accepted as a contributor over at Indie Vision Music, a site that just happens to cover many of the bands I dearly love.  There I will be posting album reviews, news, and potentially interviews covering a variety of alternative Christian artists.  I’ve been following closely since early 2010, and I have discovered a ton of great music that I otherwise never would have heard of.  It’s an honor to  have the opportunity to give back something to a community that has enriched my life so much.

That being said, most of my future album reviews will appear there, though I will still continue to do Throwback Thursdays, book reviews, deep thoughts, and other typical fare for the blog.  I may occasionally post links to reviews I’ve done there, but I’ll keep that to a minimum.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the news.  I’ve been out of the country on a mission trip, but regular posts will continue soon.

Throwback Thursday – “O God, The Aftermath” by Norma Jean

O God, The Aftermath by Norma Jean

If previous posts about heavy music have been off-putting, this one may be better skipped. Norma Jean’s 2005 release, O God, The Aftermath is the epitome of chaotic hardcore music.  The average person may hear nothing but noise, but one with appreciation for the genre will hear mathematically-executed riffs, incredible cohesion, and unbridled passion pouring through the eleven tracks (or twelve on the special edition).

At first, I couldn’t understand what the big deal was about Norma Jean.  I wanted to like them because so many others in “the scene” did, and I figured there was a depth to their art that I was missing.  Finally, something clicked, and I was able to see the beauty where I couldn’t before.  In the incredible complexity, I saw musicianship that was far beyond traditional, predictable songwriting.  That spring of 2005, I spun this album repeatedly, memorizing the surprise twists of each song and reveling in the sudden shifts, odd timings, and dissonant riffs.  It inspired me because I knew I could never create or perform anything like it no matter how hard I tried.

The guitar work is inventive and unpredictable.  I don’t know how many times I can use that word to describe this album, but it is one of the few labels that fits perfectly.  The songs still have defined structure, and the band plays as one tight unit, despite the seeming chaos.  Yet the dueling guitar work will not be held to simple time signatures, rhythms, or scales.  From jarring dissonance to frantic noodling, the duo of Scottie Henry and Chris Day delivers track after track of mathcore goodness.  From my current perspective, I respect the creative drumming of Daniel Davison all the more.  I can’t comprehend how he came up with parts to compliment the oddly-timed riffs and still throw dashes of original fills and syncopation into the mix.  To this day, I consider the drums on this album to be among the most original I’ve ever heard.

Lyrically, the album deals with many metaphors which I interpret to be spiritual.  My favorite lines come from the incredible ten-minute epic entitled “Disconnecktie:  The Faithful Vampire.”

It’s taken me 50,000 separate wrecks to get here
And I’ve learned absolutely nothing
As I’m standing here alone,
Upright and motionless
I’m drowning in her sea.
The rising and sinking of every
Consciousness I’ve ever known
Now detached and disconnected
The endless cycle of idea and action
Endless invention
Endless experiment
Endless hopes
And endless disappointments

Most of the lyrics and titles are equally cryptic, but I enjoy that.  It gives the listener something to think about and ponder in the art.

The few downsides to this album would be the vocal performance and production, as well as the mastering.  Unfortunately, I am mostly at a loss to comprehend the lyrics Cory Brandan is so fervently delivering.  This is due to both somewhat unclear enunciation, as well as the production techniques use for vocals which lead to a fuzzy, muffled sound most of the time. It’s unfortunate, as the figurative and cryptic yet deep lines are worth hearing amid the chaos.  As for the mastering, the sound is largely pushed beyond the limit, resulting in over-driven and even crackly sound in some places.  I enjoy a loud, consistent mix as much as anyone, but not when the sound quality is compromised.  It could be worse, but it’s noticeable.  Still, neither of these things are enough to mar the huge footprint of this album.

Overall, O God, The Aftermath stands as a testament to complex, unpredictable, passionate music, the likes of which I had never heard before.  For anyone with a penchant for heavy music, it is a landmark album demonstrating what can happen when all the rules of music are broken at once.  With its enigmatic composite titles and fascinating artwork, there is nothing not to love.

You can find the utterly hardcore music of O God, The Aftermath on Spotify or Amazon.

Review of the To Write Love On Her Arms Heavy and Light Tour in Nashville

To Write Love on Her Arms Heavy and Light Tour

Last night, a couple of friends and I headed out to see the Heavy and Light tour, sponsored by To Write Love On Her Arms.  The 16-city tour is spanning the states featuring a slew of well-known acoustic acts which vary throughout its duration.

We saw the stop in Nashville at the sold-out Cannery Ballroom, a medium-sized venue.  When we arrived a little after the show began, an acoustic duo was on the stage.  While I truthfully never figured out who they were, I believe it was Noah Gunderson.  They performed well for their style, somewhat upbeat acoustic diddys.  As their set continued, I quickly noticed how dead the room was.  Though packed to capacity, there wasn’t much energy.  I don’t believe this was the artist’s fault, however.  A crowd of 1,000 may be too large for the stripped-down acoustic sound the tour features.  More on that later.

Next up was Bryce Avary of The Rocket Summer fame.  I wasn’t familiar with any of his music except for a couple of singles I heard on Radio U years ago.  He practically did his entire set solo, which was, at times, quite impressive.  Utilizing a sound looper, he constructed layered renditions of his own songs and some covers, even beat-boxing at times to add percussion.  It was interesting and entertaining, but again it felt like it wasn’t quite enough to get the crowd going.  By the end of his set, I remembered how much I enjoyed his voice, and I’d really like to see him again, either in a smaller setting or with a full-band.

Something unique I failed to mention is that during set changes, a variety of speakers addressed the audience.  This may have been one of my favorite aspects of the show.  To Write Love On Her Arms is an organization which encourages people who are struggling to seek help with their problems, whether it’s depression, addiction, anxiety, or any number of issues modern man seems to face.  Throughout the evening, a former addict shared his story of redemption, a poet spun hopeful words, and one of the founders of To Write Love On Her Arms told the story behind their work.  Because I believe music and meaning are closely related, I really enjoyed how the message and the music entwined, even if they stopped short of endorsing a Christ-centered community.

Aaron Gillespie, formerly of UnderOath, took the stage third.  I was quite excited to see him live, as I loved the acoustic-based songs from “Southern Weather” by The Almost, his then side project.  He played a solid set of originals and covers, punctuated by his strong, passionate voice.  My personal favorite had to be “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape” from UnderOath circa 2004.  He sort of lost me with his Bruce Springsteen and U2 covers toward the end, but overall it was great to see him on stage again, even if he wasn’t behind the drums.  Closing with “Amazing Because It Is,” an original borrowing lines from a classic hymn, Gillespie brought a certain reverence to the room.  It was one of the best moments of the evening, in my opinion.

Lastly, the headliner Jon Foreman took the stage.  While he gained notoriety as the front-man of Switchfoot, I think he is just as well-known for his solo releases and Fiction Family, a collaboration with Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek.  There’s no question that Foreman is a gifted songwriter and musician.  Even performing solo, he got the room to come alive.  Shortly into the set, the Fiction Family band joined him for the remainder of the show.  I wasn’t personally familiar with the group or their songs, but simply having a full band on stage kept the energy high until the end.  Watkins exhibited some impressive guitar leads, and Foreman’s sister, apparently a Nashville resident, joined him for a couple of tunes.  For the final song, every artist from the tour came on stage, swaying back and forth, singing about love.  It felt a little more hippie than I’m used to, but it was a nice touch.  In case there was any question how much peace and love was in the room, the encore included “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, a true classic.

Overall, it was a great tour with a solid lineup, hindered only by the large size of the venue.  With a more intimate setting, I believe it could be an unforgettable evening.  If you get a chance to see the Heavy and Light Tour in a smaller venue in your city, check it out and support a great cause in the process.