November 25, 2015

Early 90's amazing Cornerstone videos

Last night I went on a YouTube binge and found some incredible early 90's Cornerstone videos. Here are some highlights with short descriptions. Thanks to Terry Cox who filmed and uploaded all of these. If you enjoy the ones below, go to his channel as the goodness is never-ending!

Mortal at Cornerstone 1993
Jyro and Jerome of course were the core and only constants in this great band. Jerome plays drums here, which I had never seen before. Then Bryan Gray (The Blamed) is playing bass and the two guitar players are Andy Prickett and Jeff Bellew. Unreal!

Argyle Park at Cornerstone 1995
Featuring: Buka, Klay(ton) Scott (Albert) (who is/was "dred" and "deathwish"), Jeff Bellew (vocals on "Gutterboy"), Mark Salomon (vocals on "Doomsayer"). For more on this band and concept album you should listen to Billy Power's podcast interview with Chris "Buka" Martello from March 7 of this year.

The Blamed at Cornerstone 1995
This is the only video I have ever seen of them with Jeremy Moffett on lead vocals, who sand and screamed on their best album, Frail. Joining Jeremy and Bryan Gray was Klank on guitar and then at one point all the members of the Crucified except Mark Salomon.

Poor Old Lu at Cornerstone 1994
Video angle is poor as you only see Scott Hunter, but the sound quality is great.

Sometime Sunday at Cornerstone 1995
This was the band in it's prime and a really fun video angle from the crowd.

L.S.U. at Cornerstone 1993
Full set; and what is better than Mike Knott with a Cookie Monster head mask?!

November 18, 2015

Jesus was a refugee

This morning on Twitter ex-Christian and current agnostic David Bazan made an important statement in response to the current inexplicable divided state of America in response to the refugee crisis: "FAITH IN CHRIST AND NATIONAL IDENTITY ARE NOT COMPATIBLE". I relate to this statement personally, because as a Christian and an American, attempting to get involved in politics is impossible as neither party comes close to being a model of Jesus' teachings.

What is ironic about his tweet is that Bazan does not have faith in Christ, yet greatly desires for his nation to help and support Syrian refugees. What led to his tweet? Over the past couple days we have had American political leaders stating publicly that they are followers of Christ and that they plan to close their State borders to Syrian refugees after the Paris tragedy. Sickening, right?

This led me to think about the song "Jesus was a Refugee." First of all, the title of the song is true. Not only did Jesus teach us to love our neighbors (in this case, Syrian refugees), Jesus was a refugee himself. The people in the world (unfortunately mostly Americans) that are currently scared of refugees are so because they think ISIS terrorists and Syrian refugees are one and the same. That's obviously false, but even if it was true--guess what--Jesus also teaches us to love our enemies!

The song "Jesus was a Refugee" was released by the Dutch group How to Throw a Christmas Party a few years ago. How to Throw a Christmas Party is not a band per se, it is a loose formation of incredible Dutch musicians that have been collaborating and writing original Christmas songs for the last five years. Yesterday they released their new EP, the fifth release overall in the Christmas series.

"How to Throw a Christmas Party" was originally the title of a Brown Feather Sparrow Christmas album. Brown Feather Sparrow is fronted by Lydia van Maurik-Wever, and she brings these musicians together annually to write songs and perform concerts. Her contributions are by far the best and most profound songs in the series. Arjen van Wijk (This Beautiful Mess, People Get Ready, Rowing On The Lakes Of Kanada, The Spirit That Guides Us, Van Dryver) is another principle writer and participant.

Here is a live performance of "Jesus was a Refugee" in Utrecht in 2012 (lyrics below):

free the refugees! 

an angel of the lord came to me, told me to flee 
take your wife and take your kid to safety 
then i woke up, I packed my bag up, starting to see 
here's no future, here's no hope for the baby 

over land and over sea 
through the rain and misery 
the overcrowded fishing boat 
capsized when we were getting close 

jesus was a refugee, just like me 
but i'm stuck on christmas island 
free the refugees! 

just like joseph, just like mary we had to go 
leave the country, leave the family and leave our home 
they locked us up behind barbed wire because we tried 
to save our kid from modern herods, to stay alive 

over land and over sea 
through the rain and misery 
the overcrowded fishing boat 
capsized when we were getting close 

jesus was a refugee, just like me 
but i'm stuck on christmas island 
free the refugees!

One of the things I did not understand at first was the reference to "Christmas Island", so I did a little research. Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. There is an immigration center on the island that has found itself in many controversial and upsetting situations over the last few decades. For one, in 2010 a boat full of Iranian and Iraqi asylum-seekers capsized, killing about half the people that were on board. There is a reference to this event in the song.

How to Throw a Christmas Party released another refugee-themed song one month ago, "Lift Her Up". Warning; the song is VERY upsetting. It is important, but don't watch the video unless you are ready to be shaken.

All of How to Throw a Christmas Party's releases are "name your own price" (or free) on Bandcamp. You have no excuse to not download them (or order the CD versions) right now!

If you are new to this series the number of songs can be overwhelming and it may be hard to find the best ones. Well, I'll do that for you here. This morning I created a "best of" album for How to Throw a Christmas Party. If you speak Dutch, your list might look a little bit different, because I didn't include many Dutch songs here (some are so beautiful though even not being able to understand the lyrics).

Best of "How to Throw a Christmas Party"
All original songs, written 2010-present
19 songs, 76 minutes (will fit on one CD)

1. "Cracks in the Universe" (IV)
2. "Jesus was a Refugee" (III)

3. "The King of the Jews" (I)
4. "Beautiful Star of the East" (II)

5. "Fleecy Flocks" (IV)
6. "Let Our Voices Be Heard" (II)
7. "A Wondrous Tree of Life will Sprout" (III)

8. "December Radio" (I)
9. "Simeon" (II)
10. "Let Us Come Together" (I)
11. "Santa Malta" (V)
12. "Emmanuel" (I)
13. "Mary's Song" (II)
14. "The Kid of Bethlehem" (III)
15. "Lift Her Up" (V)
16. "Sandalen" (III)
17. "Een Kind Is Ons Geboren" (I)
18. "Verdwijnen in de zon" (IV)
19. "Kamp Zeist" (III)

November 11, 2015

HM Magazine letter to the editor (from me) in 2003

Warning: this is a very silly and embarrassing post, but I am publishing it because I want it as part of my blog archive. If you listened to, or have an interest in, Christian rock and metal music from 1992-2002, read on. Otherwise,this post will have no relevance for you.

In 2002 HM Magazine published a list called "The Top 50 albums of the Second Half of Christian rock's history". If you don't know, "HM" stands for "Heaven's Metal", as the magazine was first known for Christian metal. But when they began covering indie rock, etc. the title didn't really work. And in the 90's (when they changed the name) a band being referred to as "heavy metal" was not a positive thing. The cover you see here is from a recent issue of the now digital-only publication.

I was pretty obsessed with "the second half of Christian rock history", as absurd as that sounds. My friend Dan was equally obsessed, and unlike me, he is a metalhead. So in early 2003 he and I began an email dialogue about this list that we eventually formatted into a "letter to the editor" of HM magazine. They published it, and I am going to republish it here mainly so it doesn't get lost, but also so that some of you might get some laughs out of it. Please don't comment about what is wrong or misinformed; believe me, it was 12 years ago, and I know!

The letter is still online at, and as embarrassing as it is, I am going to re-publish it here in full, UNEDITED. However, I am going to give some new comments to make it relevant to 2015. Oh how I have changed, and oh how the times have changed. Everything below (except what you will find in this format: 2015: comment) is exactly how it appeared on HM's website in 2003.


Letter Of The Month

This letter showed so much effort and insightful/fun commentary that we feel compelled to share it here, unedited (for length, which we would've had to do if we printed it in HM Magazine) and full of energy. We knew, when we picked the "Top 50 of the Second Half of Christian rock's history" that the letters to ed section would once again fulfill its purpose. Surprisingly, not a whole lot of comments came in. Maybe now the fighting can begin...

For clarification, we chose to focus on the "second half," because we'd already given so much print to the "first half" in our 7th Anniversary issue, our 10th Anniversary issue, and our 15th Anniversary issue. In going back that far and covering so much ground, some great eras get left with too little coverage. Thus, our focus on the "second half." Some of the criticism our friend offers here would be explained in that we left out those bands cuz we consider them "first half" material. The line between first and second half really begins with The Crucified's heyday. It gets a little fuzzy, because the Crucified has actually been around since the mid-to-late 80s anyway. But most of the bands in the "second half" released albums in the early 90s. Okay, enough editorializing (I'm cheating by commenting on his writing before you read it. Ha ha ha.). Let's let Alan and Daniel speak their minds:

I am a long time reader and subscriber of your magazine, and despite my lack of interest in "metal," I have always enjoyed it. As of November of last year I moved to Zambia to do mission work, and because of that, no longer receive your magazine (too expensive to get it sent here, and even then, doesn't mean I'll get it because of the postal service). But, the 100th issue arrived at my parents' house, and they sent it on to me with some other mail. It was fun to be able to read about the music I love so much, especially the interview with the Violet Burning. But, what I was most excited to see was the top 50 list.

I love best-of lists, and was excited to see the one in the HM 100 issue. I have no idea what you mean as "seminal-important-influential" or the "second half of Christian Rock," but either way, it is a solid list. I don't agree with all of it, as no one would, but for the most part it covers the scene pretty well. I only discovered a few glaring errors, which I point out below. I have very diverse musical tastes, but there are still some genres HM covers that I do not listen to: most forms of metal. Because of this, I asked my friend Daniel, a metal lover, and fellow missionary in the Middle East, to help me out. So we have written a point/counterpoint discussion on the top 50 list. I hope you find it informative, humorous, and for the most part error-free. Enjoy.

P.S. I am not sending this as a "letter to the editor," even though it is a letter to the editor in the truest sense, for two reasons: 1. I don't want it "to become the property of HM" and 2. It is way too long to print. Yes, I would love to see the complete thing be published in your magazine because I think most readers would eat it up, but there is almost no chance that would happen. Maybe if you think it is worthy, you could put it on your website. If you got a kick out reading it, but no more, I'll post it on my own website. I am not saying this is some great literary work; it is just the composition of two friends who have an extensive knowledge of Christian Rock.

Author: Alan (26 years old. Favorite bands: Poor Old Lu, Sixpence None the Richer, the Prayer Chain, Sunny Day Real Estate, Luxury)

Top 5 albums that should be on this list that aren't:

Argyle Park- Misguided
Pedro the Lion- It's Hard to Find a Friend
Sixpence None the Richer- This Beautiful Mess
Luxury- Amazing and Thank You
Blenderhead- Muchacho Vivo

Co-Author: Daniel (22 years old. Favorite Bands: Bride, Believer, Tourniquet, Lament)

Top 3 albums that should be on this list that aren't:

Deliverance - Weapons of Our Warfare
Believer - Dimensions
Vengeance Rising - Once Dead

[Here is a breakdown on the entire list of 50]:

1. Unashamed- Reflection

Alan: A less-than-average hardcore album. One of the first Tooth and Nail hardcore releases, as was a much better album: Focused- Bow, which is not on this list. This album is probably best known for it's scream-o cover of "Our God is an Awesome God."

Daniel: Anyone who's ever heard the introduction song can't help but be overcome by the fury and intensity, especially if they know what hardcore is supposed to sound like. The lyrics to all the songs on this album are exceptional (straight from the Bible in many cases), the undercurrent of an adolescent recovering from divorce is hopeful in the midst of the pain, and even the little phone machine segues in between songs were creative--exactly on the money for the high school/early college years crowd. I'll admit one thing: when I first heard this album, I honestly thought that the high school howl of most hardcore "singers" was truly as unpleasant to hear as Justin Timberlake. However, this album played a large part in changing that opinion. If I continue to write this much about each album, I'll be writing for the next decade so I'd better speed up and not write as much!

2. Sometime Sunday- Stone

Alan: Agree wholeheartedly. A great album, possibly the best Christian "grunge" album ever released. However, Sometime Sunday should not be here before Blenderhead, a much better Tooth and Nail band peaking during the same time period.

Daniel: These same guys were in Tragedy Ann? Dang!

3. Fleming and John- Delusions of Grandeur

Alan: First of all, it would have been nice to see the original cover art of this album, not the reissue. That said, I love this album, one of my favorites, but it does not belong on this list. It would definitely belong on my list of the top 50 greatest albums of the last 10 years, but only behind many more female-fronted bands. I say this because this is the ONLY female vocal album on the entire HM list. Sixpence None the Richer, Hoi Polloi, Dakoda Motor Co., and Morella?s Forest should at least be here. Female-fronted music, heavy or not, has always been missing from HM.

Daniel: I agree with your sentiment that this album is simply fantastic but shouldn't have been included on the list. However, none of those other groups should have been either. If it's pop, light rock, or whatnot, I don't see why it should be included on a list that's about the 50 best heavy albums.

4. POD- Brown

Alan: A solid album, but at the time did not display the talent and energy of their live show.

Daniel: You can't help but wonder if they included this album just to awe a person who might not be as familiar with POD's non-radio stuff. All the same, I think that Southtown should have been on the list--it's what catapulted them to fame, and quite frankly, the songs on it are much better.

5. Klank- Still Suffering

Alan: A weak industrial album. The only list it should make is the top 50 industrial albums. Where is Argyle Park- Misguided?

Daniel: Ahh, Klank's Still Suffering. This tasty contribution was and remains the best industrial metal offering ever presented. A bold statement, yes, but one that is confirmed upon listening to the album. Probably the only diss I'd have on it is that the lyrics were a little typical of the "Man, I'm ticked" variety. Alan's right, and we can only hope that the omission of Misguided was obviously forgetfulness in action (I'd hate to assume it was intentional).

6. Ninety Pound Wuss- Short Hand Operation

Alan: Maybe. I don't like punk, and always hated this band, but it could be good, I wouldn't know.

Daniel: I never liked this "band."

2015: I have developed great respect for Jeff "Suffering" Bettger, lead singer of this band. However, I still haven't really grown to appreciate the music of Ninety Pound Wuss.

7. Zao- Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest

Alan: I knew at least one Zao album would be included, and I am glad this one was chosen, the only one I ever considered buying. But the first time I saw them in concert I bought a shirt with the album title on it instead.

Daniel: The coolest band shirt I've ever seen (bar none) was a yellow Zao shirt that a pink bar of soap on it, underneath which it said, "Mayhem, metal, soap." The bar of soap had "Zao" on it, and I was like, "Dang, that's nice." Anyway, I would have gone with the Liberate Ex Te Inferno (or whatever that Latin junk was) just because of the Event Horizon samples and the Dante theme.

8. Mortal- Fathom

Alan: Heck yes. I get excited just looking at the cover of the album. One of the best albums on this list, in my top 5 albums of all time.

Daniel: Daniel: The only Mortal album I have heard is their self-titled one. If you like techno, it's ok. If not, you probably won't.

9. The Blamed- Give Us Barabbas

Alan: I do not understand why people like the second coming of this band so much. See The Blamed- Frail.

Daniel: Never been much of a Blamed fan myself. (Don't want to go fueling their "Pity me please" lyrical sentiments, but...)

2015: It took me years to buy it, but this is a great album. "Frail" still so much better.

10. Strongarm- Atonement

Alan: Maybe. A solid hardcore album, but I think there are better. In fact, I think too many hardcore albums are on this list. Who would have thought at the time these guys were capable of totally changing styles and becoming Further Seems Forever.

Daniel: Alan's thoughts are truly dead on here--for instance, although we're only at number 10 here, I haven't seen a single death (or even simple "heavy") metal album on here yet, and that is inexcusable. As much as an 11 year old hardcore fan might not want to admit it/learn about it, most of the (at least early) 90's were spent in heavy metal, death metal, grind metal, and thrash. That's where the good music was. To a person who thinks it's cool to go around with big ol' Buddy Holly glasses and a tie because "that defines good hard music," I say, "Break out of your own mold and try some Tourniquet, older Mortification, or early Embodyment. Or if none of that suits you give Believer, Ultimatum, or Deliverance a chance." Incidentally, why weren't any of those last four band's albums included? It's almost musical repression that more people do not appreciate these groups? music. Metallica's recent "S & M" album (highly popular) was done better by Believer way earlier--no joke, kiddies.

11. No Innocent Victim- No Compromise

Alan: Never heard the album, but I'm sure something from the original Christian hardcore band belongs on here.

Daniel: Just in case you're ever about to have to stand up to Pharoah as he drives by in his chariot while all your friends are bowing before him, make sure you have this album's music going in your mind. Truly, this was an excellent inclusion.

12. Everdown- Sicken

Alan: I liked this album at the time, but there is no way it belongs on a top 50 list of any kind.

Daniel: Man, I totally missed this album, so who knows?

13. Blaster the Rocketboy- SSFFTV

Alan: The choice of this album is about as strange as what the acronym stands for.

Daniel: If you've got dandruff, I recommend not reading this list too closely, because you'll be sure to be scratching your head at why Blaster the Rocketboy was included while Dogwood wasn't included at all.

14. Blindside- A Thought Crushed My Mind

Alan: The best hardcore album ever released. Heavy, beautiful, and talent displayed that most bands in this genre can only dream about.

Daniel: If a person wants to say it's the best album ever released, I say, "Heck, why not?" Riddled with good licks, peppered with spicy lyrics, splattered with emotion, it is pretty good stuff.

2015: My comment is a little strong and silly, but this is my favorite Blindside album.

15. MeWithoutYou- A-B Life

Alan: The most overrated album on this list. This band is ok, but they are no way as unique and "groundbreaking" as everyone keeps saying.

Daniel: Uh, Alan, I've never even heard of this band or band number 17, bro. But if you say they're over-rated, they're over-rated. Period.

2015: mewithoutYou is now one of my favorite bands. While I still don't like this album that much, mewithoutYou is more unique and groundbreaking than they get credit for.

16. Horde- Hellig Usvart

Alan: No clue.

Daniel: Ahh, like a waft of fresh air cooling your sweat-soaked body after a productive garage band practice, Horde descended on the musical scene with the full fury of what it was--plague of hornets disguised as music. Truly beautiful, up-front and in-your-face, and heavy as an 18-wheeler running over your foot, this album succeeded in actually doing what would have been simply pretentious for others--naming your band "Horde."

17. Dashboard Confessional- The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most

Alan: Of all the albums present, it deserves to be here the least. Not hard, not rock, not good. Just because the teenagers love it and MTV gives it an award, doesn' t mean an acoustic solo album about making out from the former lead singer of Further Seems Forever should be given any credit. And I don?t know where to place this comment, so I'll put it here: WHERE THE HECK IS PEDRO THE LION? Under no circumstances is there anyway David Bazan's band should have been left off this list. I could write a book about why, but I don't think anyone would argue with me.

Daniel: See band 15. I'll be honest with you, although some would make fun of me for not having heard of this band, I count it as a good thing that I don't get my musical taste from MTV. Who gives a rip what MTV thinks?

18. Stavesacre- Absolutes

Alan: Absolutely. I would have picked Friction over this, but both are amazing albums. If only the band hadn't fallen apart.

Daniel: I'm beginning to feel like a pessimist here, but all my creative energies are being turned to the dark side as a result of what were really the better albums getting totally dropped from this list. Thus, whereas normally I'd be soaring up into Miltonesque rhapsody about the joys of this good music, right now I'm just saying stuff like, "Stavesacre is, like the DC Talk remix of a certain pathetic Doobie Brothers song, just alright."

2015: Thankfully, after "falling apart", Stavesacre did recover to release a great LP in 2006 and EP in 2009. And they are now at work on new music!

19. The Crucified- s/t

Alan: I don't like the music, but I agree with its selection. One of the first good Christian punk bands, and these four guys went on to tear up the scene as they formed numerous other bands.

Daniel: I couldn't have said it better myself so I won't. I'd really appreciate it if somebody re-mastered the early Crucified cds so that their genuine energy could shine again.

2015: Took me a really long time to properly appreciate The Crucified, but I now listen to "The Pillars of Humanity" all the time.

20. Tourniquet- Pathogenic Occular Dissonance

Alan: Not my favorite album by this band, but Christian metal was rarely better.

Daniel: Again, Alan's right. It's tough to choose the best Tourniquet album (the first one, the second one, their most recent one?), but this one, although perhaps not their best, was great. And again, no, Christian metal has never been better, although I'd say there are other bands that are equally good (in their own styles).

21. Hopesfall- The Satellite Years

Alan: Is this the most recent release to be included on this list (Fall 2002)? Why is it?

Daniel: My hope's fell on seeing this entry because I've never heard of it.

22. The Prayer Chain- Shawl

Alan: One of the top three best albums on this list. This amazing band is made up of four incredibly talented individuals who have gone on to release dozens of albums as many artists after the band's demise. If only one Prayer Chain album could have been included, it should have been Mercury, but in reality both belong.

Daniel: Although this style of music isn't really my forte so I can't totally tell, what Alan said seems true enough.

23. Overcome- When Beauty Dies

Alan: Tons of albums are more deserving, but not bad.

Daniel: If you think hardcore is the epitome of heavy music, I suppose this is a decent inclusion.

24. Further Seems Forever- The Moon is Down

Alan: I like this album, but it doesn't justify the band's popularity. I am of the opinion that if Chris Carraba hadn't left to do his own thing, no one would care about FSF or Dashboard. This album is however tons better than his solo work. And, since we are in the genre, where is the Juliana Theory? I am not saying they need to be on this list, but they do well ahead of FSF.

Daniel: Yet another embarrassing moment for me. I've never heard of this sailor, and because everything you wrote about him and the name of the album/band seems to indicate that it's not really heavy music, I'm pretty happy with this state of affairs.

2015: Turns out I like this album way better in hindsight.

25. Michael Knott- The Life of David

Alan: I am a huge Knott fan, and I can't figure out why this is the album chosen of his. It is good, but compared to a lot of his other stuff it is nothing. I can understand when an artist releases 2 or 3 albums a year for the last 10 years why it would be hard to pick one. But I cannot understand why this would ever be the one to be picked.

Daniel: I've heard a bargeload of Knott's stuff too, but I haven't heard this one so I don't know either.

26. Bride- Snakes in the Playground

Alan: The best metal album ever?

Daniel: The sound of dancing angels floats down into the waiting ears of the faithful as the opening kick of this album begins thumping them repeatedly in the chest. Honestly, this album is so good. It's one of the few albums ever recorded that can sustain literal years of constant replay and only begin to get slightly old. Even most metalheads seem to occasionally enjoy bashing Bride just for the fun of it, but I'm one of the few who abstains. The members of Bride have done a boatload of good for the music world at large as a result of their 20 years plus of playing, and I wouldn't hesitate to say that their impact made for the kingdom will not be forgotten by the King when their time comes to meet him. If Bride's "Live to Die" was THE BEST metal album of the 80's, "Snakes in the Playground" was THE BEST metal album of the 90's.

27. Paramecium- Exhumed of the Earth

Alan: No clue.

Daniel: Paramecium? No clue? Come on, bro. Paramecium is truly--hold on, I'm distracted because now I want to look them up on of the best metal bands there ever is/was. I don't think it's cool to go building up already relatively famous folks' already-siliconed biographies, but Jason Sherlocke deserves a pat on the back for the great stuff he's contributed to the metal music scene. One other thing, Paramecium's not included on; could somebody holler out and get them on there?

28. Galactic Cowboys- s/t

Alan: I came close to buying one of this band's albums in the late 90's, but never got around to it. I know the band is good, and they should have something represented.

Daniel: Everybody who's anybody likes the Galactic Cowboys. I've never really been a fan.

29. POD- Satellite

Alan: The most popular and best-selling album by a Christian rock band ever? Despite that, it is really good.

Daniel: POD's come a long way (not necessarily a good thing for a few of their fans) since their early days, and although admittedly much of their true hardcore grit has been lost, perhaps that's a good thing.

30. Crimson Thorn- Unearthed

Alan: No clue.

Daniel: Honestly, Crimson Thorn is such good hard music. Playing on the level of all the best death/grind/whatever bands out there, their music is so low and downtuned and terrific that I can hardly imagine better. I would say that you should be proud to have your band picture taken while you're wearing a Crimson Thorn shirt.

31. The Blamed- Frail

Alan: I was shocked to see this on the list, but not because it doesn't belong. I LOVE THIS ALBUM. The best hardcore punk I have ever heard. One of Tooth and Nail's early releases that seems to have been lost in the shuffle, no one ever talks about it. Hard to believe that the Blamed is the only band next to POD who has two albums represented here though. Of course it would be hard to convince someone that the two Blamed albums are by the same artist, I am not sure myself.

Daniel: Doh! Not again! I was wondering if anyone was going to be included twice on the list, and The Blamed would have been one of my last guesses.

32. Chevelle- Point #1

Alan: A good album, but doesn't touch their newest, 2nd release. But, at the time, the Christian scene had nothing to offer that sounded anything remotely like this: Tool, Helmet, etc. I like it.

Daniel: I echo Dell Griffith and Alan both, saying, "I...I like me." I mean, I like Chevelle too.

33. Starflyer 59- Silver

Alan: I am so glad this was Starflyer album picked. With tons of releases that all sound completely different, it is hard to choose, but I definitely like this, their debut, the best.

Daniel: I appreciate Starflyer 59 in the way you do your 2nd best friend's kind of realize that he's important somehow, but you just can't really put your finger on it.

34. Precious Death- Southpaw

Alan: I had a friend who loved this band, and I think this album was his favorite of all time. Myself, no clue.

Daniel: Ahh, I was honestly beginning to think that I'd have to name this "Dan's Rants" until I saw bands 34, 36, and 37 on here. Pardon me while I go into a brief rhapsody about all these bands. As a drummer, I can tell you definitively that the drum playing on this album is incredible, and even the editors of HM ought themselves to remember that PD's bass player at this time was given their own personal "Best Bass Player" award--not bad. The music was hard and fast and tough to be labeled. Southpaw was one of those albums that was just...good.

35. Roadside Monument- Eight Hours Away from being a Man

Alan: Great band that I could never get into. If the word emo should be used to describe anything, this is it: truly EMOTIONAL music. Three incredible musicians at their finest hour. I would watch them play a live show any day.

Daniel: I would add that emo, not in itself a bad word, normally conjures up basically pathetic music? Ahhem, the good angel on my left shoulder has just informed me that I'm already digging myself into an inescapable pit concerning my "unashamed" preference for heavier metal over hardcore or grunge. The bad angel on the other shoulder is encouraging me to continue. I'll compromise between them both, and say, "The two best emo albums of all time were Dear Ephesus's 'The Consolation of Pianissimo' and Sleeping at Last's first album." And the only reason I mention Sleeping at Last as emo is because I have no idea what otherwise to call them.

2015: Sadly wasn't until this year that I finally bought all the Roadside Monument albums!

36. Extol- Burial

Alan: Longest hair in the business. Besides that, no clue.

Daniel: The first time I ever heard this cd, it scared me. Not like, "Ooh, this is loud" scared or even "Ooh, these guys have long hair and/or are scary" scared, but "Dang, this is truly frightening music" scared. The incredibly fast double bass kicking and the rapidity of the snare hits just overwhelmed me at the time, and I lay in bed glad that I was still single so that I wouldn't have to be scared in front of my wife. This album is incredible, almost so good that once you've listened to it a few times, you almost have to put it away. Why? I don't know why.

37. Mortification- Scrolls of the Megilloth

Alan: This band scares me, and I like Argyle Park. No clue.

Daniel: I had thought up a really cool line to say about Mortification's inclusion, specifically the inclusion of this album. I forgot it. But this album, basically undebated even by Satanists and whoever else listens to this stuff, is about the best death/grind metal album ever recorded. If you dislike heart-shocking drums, face-blistering bass lines, knee-quaking guitar stress, and vocals that came from the deepest abysses of a man's being, stay away from this album. Otherwise, keep Mortification in your thoughts--Steve Rowe's life is undoubtedly still difficult.

38. Brandtson- Letterbox

Alan: One of my favorite bands, but far and away their weakest release. Crappy production, and the poorest songs the band ever wrote (the first songs they ever wrote). Besides the most requested song of the indie scene, this album has nothing to offer. Any of their other releases belongs here, but not this one.

Daniel: Just because this is one of Alan's favorite bands, "this band scares me."

39. Poor Old Lu- Sin

Alan: My third favorite album of all time. Unlike anything ever released. Not to mention the best cover artwork of the top 50.

Daniel: Poor Old Lu deserved to be included on this list, if not for a specific album, at least for the good tunes they've given to the world throughout their existence.

40. Norma Jean- Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child

Alan: A lot of people like this band. Not me.

Daniel: No offense, but I never liked Luti-Kriss. Hokey, man. Hokey.

41. Appleseed Cast- The End of the Ring Wars

Alan: Ditto as the other Deep Elm band on here. Appleseed Cast has released groundbreaking albums; this is not one of them. Just because it is their debut doesn't mean it's their best; wake up HM. And I find it strange that a band with only one Christian member and a co-songwriter that is Jewish is "important" in Christian Rock. If we are going to start including bands like this Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, and the Gloria Record need to be here.

Daniel: Truly well put, Alan. If we're going to include bands that have only one Christian member or whatnot, then we ought to have included Craig's Brother and a number of others.

2015: Turns out, according to this interview with Chris Crisci, the Appleseed Cast may have had zero Christians in the band. They played Cornerstone the first time only because they were on tour with Dear Ephesus, and then again the next year only for the money! :) This one example of many why bands should never be classified as "Christian" or not anyway.

42. Plankeye- The Spark

Alan: A good album by a very under-appreciated band. I liked it, and thought it was the best thing they ever released.

Daniel: It's funny you think Plankeye was under-appreciated--they were pretty popular in the Dallas/Fort Worth region. Anyway, has anyone besides me seen that one video where they're kind of acting like the Power Rangers? I thought that was funny. (Ok, I admit it again. I wasn't really listening to this album back in the day--when you've got GROMS, why should you?)

43. King's X- Faith Hope Love

Alan: I was never a fan, but from what I heard, it was the best album by a great band.

Daniel: I'm probably embarrassing myself by having admitted that, like Alan, I was never a fan, but I also agree that I heard it was good.

44. Saviour Machine- Legend I

Alan: A great, albeit very weird band. This is the only thing by them I ever bought, and as good as it is, I couldn't get into it.

Daniel: If orchestras and heavy metal and apocalyptic themes strike you as the best thing ever, you're wrong; Because Savior Machine has genuinely weird stage stuff too. And that makes them about the best at what they do. Incidentally, uh, does anyone know what they actually do?

45. Circle of Dust- (1995)

Alan: A solid industrial album, but not my favorite Klayton Scott (Albert) release. I'll repeat if any industrial album belongs, it should be Argyle Park- Misguided. And it is nowhere to be found.

Daniel: Not to jump on the complaint bandwagon, but I heartily agree that Misguided should have been included on here instead.

46. MxPx- Life in General

Alan: I'll agree that MxPx should be on this list, as they are far and away the best Christian punk band ever. But, not this album; Pokinatcha or Teenage Politics are both tons better.

Daniel: Yeah, it's good. "Dan, are you unhappy about anything?" "No, I just don't (sniff) like MxPx very much."

47. Rackets and Drapes- Candyland

Alan: The only thing I know about this band is that they are supposedly the Christian alternative to Marilyn Manson. Whether or not they are good, no clue.

Daniel: Alan's exactly right--these guys "were" (not around anymore) the Christian Marilyn Manson. Whether you think Manson's "good" will determine whether you like these guys or not. Personally, I think they're ok, and I was dang pleased to get this one concept album they put out. A good idea in case other bands are interested: Print up a very limited number of cds with unreleased, high-quality songs, sign and number each of the packages, and include all kinds of privileges with it such as lifetime free admission to concerts, discounts on all t-shirts and albums, etc. Now that's nice.

48. Living Sacrifice- Reborn

Alan: The best album by this prolific band.

Daniel: Truly an incredible album. This band is one of the four ongoing hard Christian metal bands that continues to make as much of an impact as when they first came on the scene. Speaking of which, I've been re-listening to the original (not the re-release) album, and friends, it is just blazing. I love it when guitars sound like they're on fire, and the guitarist is trying to put it out by playing so fast that the air pockets created by his hands will douse it. Shouldn't forget the drummer either, since he's like the only original member.

49. Guardian- Buzz

Alan: Guardian released some good albums in their day; this was not one of them. A pathetic attempt to change genres from metal to modern rock. Of course any attempt at changing from metal to modern rock is pathetic.

Daniel: Absolutely agreed here, man, although I was always under the secret impression that Guardian was secretly a little bit flaky. Incidentally, the only notable possible exception to your otherwise deservedly axiomatic statement about changing from metal to hard rock is Bride's Snakes album, Alan.

50. Wish for Eden- Pet the Fish

Alan: At the time I loved it. What was I thinking? Nonetheless it should be included just for being the very first release of Tooth and Nail Records, the best in the business.

Daniel: Just to allow myself to be distracted from the point that I never got into Wish for Eden, I'd like to ask why my garage band wasn't included on this list? Anyway, a big holla ought to go out to HM for putting out this fun list in the first place.

[HM Magazine thanks Alan and Daniel for the non-exclusive use of their article/letter/thing here.]

October 8, 2015

Best of 2004

My top 20 for 2004 was pretty simple to put together, especially compared to 2003. Not sure why I like so many more albums from 2003, but 2004 definitely does not ave the depth and quality. I posted my original best of 2004 list on this blog in early 2005 and 9 of my top 10 of that time are still in this top 20.

As this was the year I truly began collecting vinyl, I'll include some photos of the vinyl versions of many of these albums (I did buy a few 7"s in 1995 and my first 12" in 1996, but my vinyl purchases were sporadic until 2004). All the photos in this post I found online as my collection is currently on the other side of the Atlantic from me.

Top 20 albums of 2004:

1. Brandtson- Send Us a Signal
First heard: Waiting for me at my parents' house in TN when I moved back from Zambia.

As I have written time and time again, I saw Brandtson play more concerts from 1998-2002 than any other band I listen to. In that 4-year-span, I saw them 12-15 times. Before this album Brandtson's recordings were good, but this is the first time they had the time and budget to really flesh out and album, and the result was remarkable. For the first time when listening to a Brandton CD I was surprised as the diversity of sounds they were able to create. Even my wife grew to love this album and she likes very little music in this genre.

From a vinyl perspective, this wasn't released until much later, and is actually the first project I ever backed on Kickstarter:

2. Lovedrug- Pretend You're Alive
First heard: I saw Lovedrug play at the Club Cafe in Pittsburgh, PA in July 2004, and I got this album either a couple weeks before this show, or maybe even at the show. (No vinyl version exists).

Last week I published a long story on Medium about Lovedrug and Kerith Ravine (both fronted by Michael Shepard). As I discuss in the story, I prefer Kerith Ravine as a whole, but this album is definitively my favorite release from Shepard.

Why do I like a band’s decade-old album better than their new one?

My discovery of Lovedrug was interesting. I was pretty active on the Northern Record message boards from 2000 to whenever they dissolved (2005?). In 2002 or so someone on that board started raving about the band Lovedrug, frequently talking about how they were "the next big thing" and how we all needed to be on the lookout. Honestly, I had no interest initially for a very shallow reason- I thought the band name was stupid. (Lots of band names are stupid and a great example is the next band below!)

Then in late 2003 or early 2004 I got the Lovedrug "Rock N Roll" EP free with another order from the Militia Group. I popped it into to my CD player, and after a couple songs, I thought, "Hm, this guy's vocals sound really familiar." Later I realized, "Hey this is the same guy from Kerith Ravine!" I think I went straight to the Northern Records board and posted "Kerith Ravine = Lovedrug!". Anyway, when I first made the connnection it was a radical realization, but looking back on it a decade later probably doesn't sound that interesting.

3. Jimmy Eat World- Futures
First heard: Downloaded a leaked version of the album in July 2004, months before it was actually released. My fiancé and I wore the album out in the months preceding our wedding. When I finally got the real version of the CD that fall, I was shocked, because they cut the song "Jen". One of my favorite songs on the album, and I just couldn't believe it. Zach Lind, drummer, actually years later said this is one of his favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time.

I have the original black vinyl with an etching on side "D", but here is the re-released version:

4. Arcade Fire- Funeral
First heard: When my wife and I got married, neither of us had a job, we had no car, and we had nowhere to live. We first found somewhere to housesit the first two months of our marriage, then we found good friends who let us borrow their car. When we picked up the car from them, they let us borrow a few albums, and this was one of them. (Another was the Be Good Tanyas, also our introduction to that band.)

5. Mindy Smith- One Moment More
First heard: If I followed my own advice in the name of my blog, I would have never heard this album. The car I mention above did not have a tape player, and the CD player was broken. So for the six months we had it, we listened to a lot of the radio, specifically Lightning 100 in Nashville. Mindy Smith was one of the artists we discovered during that time. (No vinyl version exists.)

6. Pinback- Summer In Abaddon
First heard: This was another album that someone gave me on a CD loaded full of MP3s while I was in Zambia in early 2003. Then I bought it on vinyl in early 2005.

The photo I found for this one is someone who posted their entire Pinback collection (not me!) who has all the variants. Pretty amazing collection.

7. Tegan and Sara- So Jealous
First heard: I have written about this story before, but in the summer of 2004 there were free shows weekly on the Nashville riverfront. The only one my then-fiancé were able to make it to was Cake. We enjoyed Cake, but Tegan and Sara opened and absolutely blew them away! I actually don't own this album on vinyl (yet), only on CD.

8. Blindside- About a Burning Fire 
First heard: iTunes. This was the second full album I purchased on iTunes. (The first was the self-titled P.O.D. album, which followed an Eisley EP in late 2003 and a couple singles as seen below). Here are my first few iTunes purchases after discovering it in late 2003:
Blindside released two songs early, so it appears that I purchased each track from the album individually. (No vinyl version exists.)

9. Sufjan Stevens- Seven Swans
First heard: As popular as Sufjan Stevens is, and as much as I like him, I honestly have no recollection of the first time I heard him. I know I called him "Suff-jann" for the first year I knew of him, as it was awhile before I heard "Soof-yan". My friend who let me borrow the Arcade Fire and Be Good Tanyas albums may have also played Michigan for me. I bought a later version of this album on vinyl that contains a bonus 7" with two songs.

10. Tess Wiley- Not Quite Me
First heard: When Tess sent this album to me in 2004 upon it's completion she included a note that I was the first person outside of Germany to get it; which is funny because we are both Americans and I was living in Zambia. (No vinyl version exists.)

11. Jump (Little Children)- Between the Dim and the Dark
First heard: Shipped to me in Zambia in 2004.
This was the band's attempt at writing more straight-forward, less-experimental songs, and they were largely successful despite probably gaining no new fans. The dumbest decision they made was abbreviating their band name to JUMP for this release and dropping the "Little Children". I think it was temporary, as JUMP sounds very much like a boy band. (No vinyl version exists.)

12. Rilo Kiley- More Adventurous
First heard: I didn't buy this album until the last couple of years, but I heard songs from it on the radio in 2004 (once again, Nashville's Lightning 100). I don't own it on vinyl, and I couldn't find a good photo of the wax anywhere either. This was probably the peak of the band's popularity, although I assume Jenny Lewis' most recent solo album is by far her most popular, best-selling release.

13. mewithoutYou- Catch For Us the Foxes
First heard: Embarrassingly, not until 2007. I actually saw mewithoutYou play Cornerstone in 2001, before they had an album out. I had no appreciation for it. At Cornerstone 2002 I was given a Tooth & Nail sampler CD that had a mewithoutYou song on it that also did not pique my interest. Then in 2006 mewithoutYou released Brother, Sister and I purchased it because of Jeremy Enigk's contributions. It took awhile to grow on me, and I included it as an honorable mention outside my top 10 of 2006 when I wrote that list in early 2007. Eight years later and Brother, Sister is one of my favorite albums of all time, and a top-3 album from that year. All that to say, after Brother, Sister I went back and bought Catch For Us the Foxes and grew to love it as well.

14. Pedro the Lion- Achilles Heel
First heard: Pre-ordered and shipped to me in Zambia in 2004.
This was a pretty huge disappointment for me at the time, as it seemed so subdued and boring following the album Control. With time though the excellent songwriting made more of an impression. I still feel like the album is a little too bland from a production standpoint.

I couldn't find a photo of the actual wax for this release (there is a beautiful yellow version), but the gatefold cut-paper artwork for this packaging is great...

15. Patty Griffin- Impossible Dream
First heard: We had a house-mate in 2005 that gave my wife some CDs and this was one of them; Patty Griffin has grown into one of my wife's and I favorites. (No vinyl version exists.)
16. Neko Case- The Tigers Have Spoken
First heard: Absolutely no idea. The first Neko Case album I bought was 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I assume I got this on eMusic soon after. I have never owned any Neko vinyl because it is all out of print and crazy expense on eBay. But in November she will release her entire discography in a gorgeous box set called TRUCKDRIVER, GLADIATOR, MULE:

17. Demon Hunter- Summer of Darkness
First heard: Sometime in early 2005 I got the CD. Demon Hunter got a little more melodic with this album. As much as I like all Demon Hunter albums, they do all somewhat blend together for me. (No vinyl version exists.)

18. Modest Mouse- Good News for People Who Love Bad News
First heard: Thanks to Lightning 100 radio for this one as well. I first heard Modest Mouse on a mix tape someone game me in the late 90's, but honestly never enjoyed them. This is the only Modest Mouse album I own (and I don't have that gorgeous vinyl below).

19. The Spirit That Guides Us- North and South
First heard: This one definitely slipped through the cracks. I listened to the band quite a bit in 2003, but then never even heard about this album until years later. (No vinyl version exists.)

20. The Lassie Foundation- Face Your Fun
First heard: I followed Lassie Foundation from the beginning (when the Prayer Chain broke up). I am assuming I got this album off eMusic. Some great pop-rock songs here, but I definitely miss the noise from the earlier Lassie Foundation albums. Thankfully they returned to the noisey shoegaze for their final 3-song EP in 2008.(No vinyl version exists.)

Most disappointing release of 2004:

R.E.M.- Around The Sun
I don't often include this category, but this album so awful I must mention it. What in the world happened to R.E.M. here? One of the greatest rock bands in history, but this album is just horrible. Stereogum ranked the 16 R.E.M. albums from best to worst and this is in its right place. The list is mostly good with the exception of my favorite R.E.M. album Up being inexplicably ranked 14th.

Other 2004 releases I own and enjoy in alphabetical order:

A.C. Newman- The Slow Wonder
Aaron Sprinkle- Lackluster
The Autumns- The Autumns
Avril Lavigne- Under My Skin (Loved this album at the time, which is hard to believe)
The Beautiful Mistake- This Is Who You Are
Blonde Redhead- Misery Is a Butterfly
Cake- Pressure Chief
Chevelle- This Type of Thinking Could Do Us In
Cool Hand Luke- The Fires of Life
Danielson- Brother Is To Son
Dead Poetic- New Medicines
El Ten Eleven- El Ten Eleven
The Emergency- Enemy Ships
Eskimohunter- Fast Trak Holy Nova Symphony
For All the Drifters- For All the Drifters EP (Pre-Paper Route)
Further Seems Forever- Hide Nothing 
The Get Up Kids- Guilt Show
GRITS- Dichotomy A
GRITS- Dichotomy B
Headlights- The Enemies EP
The Innocence Mission- Now the Day is Over
Iron & Wine- Our Endless Numbered Days
Katie Herzig- Watch Them Fall
Mates of State- All Day EP
Mutual Admiration Society- Mutual Admiration Society (Glen Phillips from Toad the Wet Sprocket with Nickel Creek)
Old Canes- Early Morning Hymns
The Reputation- To Force A Fate
Sandra McCracken- Best Laid Plans
Starflyer 59- I Am The Portuguese Blues
Starflyer 59- The Last Laurel EP
Stavesacre- Bull Takes Fighter EP
They Sang As They Slew- Get Well
Via Audio- Via Audio EP
Viva Voce- Lovers Lead The Way
The Weepies- Happiness

October 6, 2015

Does musical nostalgia prevent me from appreciating new music?

Lovedrug in Atlanta, July 2005. Photo by me.
Over the last couple weeks I wrote and published a 2500-word story on Medium about the bands Kerith Ravine and Lovedrug, both fronted by Michael Shepard.

Why do I like a band’s decade-old album better than their new one?

In the essay I discuss the many theoretical and real reasons why I prefer Shepard's original band Kerith Ravine to his current band Lovedrug. One of the possible reasons is "Neural Nostalgia". The concept I have been aware of for years, but the actual term can be credited to this terrific Slate article that I found while researching my Lovedrug/Kerith Ravine piece.

As the article explains, we all prefer music that we heard during our impressionable years; essentially when we were a teenager. This has always been obvious to me, as I have written time and time again my favorite year in music is the year I graduated from high school (1995).

As I get older though, this concept becomes more and more thought-provoking. I do tons of music research, I try to listen to as much music as I can, and I buy a ton of records. I love new music, and my hope is that I am going to hear sounds better than I have ever heard before. But is that even possible?

I recommend reading all the Slate article (and my essay on Medium!), but here are some pull quotes from Slate:

-The music I loved as a teenager means more to me than ever—but with each passing year, the new songs on the radio sound like noisy nonsense.

-And researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults—a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age. Musical nostalgia, in other words, isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command.

-Listen to a song that triggers personal memories, and your prefrontal cortex, which maintains information relevant to your personal life and relationships, will spring into action. But memories are meaningless without emotion—and aside from love and drugs, nothing spurs an emotional reaction like music.

-Music lights these sparks of neural activity in everybody. But in young people, the spark turns into a fireworks show. Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good.

September 23, 2015

New music to stream this week: Chvrches, Low & Behold, Ryan Adams

The new Chvrches album Open Every Eye is streaming on NPR's First Listen this week:

Jason Martin of Starflyer 59 and Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter have a project called Low & Behold and the album Uppers releases on Oct. 31:
And then finally, the most talked about album in the world this week is Ryan Adams full-album cover of Taylor Swift's 1989. All the songs are on YouTube. Here is my favorite:


September 11, 2015

Best of 2003

2003 was the year I launched this blog. My original Best of 2003 was the first best-of list I posted here. As I have discussed, I published best-of lists prior to that one, but not in this manner. So this is my first re-write of a best-of blog post, as that original one was only a text list. (Currently the 2004 and 2005 lists are the only ones without detail; which will change soon.) (Also, most of the blog in the first year was about all aspects of my life, not just music; don't explore it unless you want to be bored.)

I am happy to say my opinions of the albums that were released in 2003 have changed little in the 12 years since. The order is a bit different, and only one of my original top 12 will not been seen in my top 30 (!) below. (That one is The Jealous Sound. While I still like Kill Us With Kindness, my appreciation of that band plummeted when I saw them perform a poor live show in 2009. They opened for Sunny Day Real Estate--which is very unfair to compare any band to--but the Jealous Sound was just bad, bad, bad. So sorry Jealous Sound, hopefully your live shows were better in 2003.)

Thirty albums is a bit extreme, and the longest list I have ever put together. Rather than write a lot, I decided to focus on finding live video performances for each album. YouTube continues to become a better and better resource for watching live concert videos from all eras. More live videos from 2015 shows makes sense, but what is also happening constantly is people finding and uploading videos from the past that had been VHS or other formats. This is where the real gems are.

While researching this post, I made some great finds. The best of the best I have embedded so you can watch them on my blog, but the rest I just provided as links. And then I went ahead and made a YouTube playlist of all 30.

Top 30 Albums of 2003:

1. Fountains of Wayne- Welcome Interstate Managers
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Valley Winter Song" live on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert, October 6, 2011(below)
Before I had a blog the only avenue I had for posting public lists was on music message boards, which were incredibly popular at the time (late 90's through 2002 or so). I have a funny memory about how someone on a message board (who apparently respected my tastes and lists) was SO upset that I ranked this album number one. Considering I had ranked the Gloria Record #1 in 2002, it was inexplicable to him that I could rank Fountains of Wayne #1 in 2003, especially since the song "Stacy's Mom" had it "goin' on" about that time. Of course, he had not heard the rest of this spectacular album.

2. Death Cab for Cutie- Transatlanticism
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Passenger Seat" live on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert, April 7, 2015
Last year I published my top 20 Death Cab songs (prior to Kintsugi's release, so it needs updating), and I wrote that my top three Death Cab songs are three straight tracks on Transatlanticism: "Tiny Vessels", "Transatlanticism", and "Passenger Seat". Those three songs provide the meat of this, the band's best album. In that post I embedded a spectacular video of the first two of those songs, and now here is the third.

3. Nada Surf- Let Go
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Inside of Love" live at Rockwood Music Hall, January 25, 2012 
As I mentioned in my 2002 best-of list a couple months ago, it is a coin-flip on whether this is a 2002 or 2003 release, depending on what part of the world you lived in. I got it in 2003, and pre-ordered it for its US release. (I may have even ordered it and Transatlanticism together, as they are both on Barsuk Records.) These were the first Nada Surf songs I had ever heard (other than that irritating radio hit they had in the 90's) and I was blown away.

4. Thrice- The Artist in the Ambulance
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Paper Tigers" and "Stare at the Sun" live in Pomona, May 13, 2015
This was the album in which Thrice morphed from "the band that had a pretty good second album" to the band with their third album became one of the best rock bands on the planet. As I selected a video here I picked one that had two songs from a back-to-back performance this year, on Thrice's "welcome back" tour. (I could have selected my video from Hevy Fest last month which has better sound quality, but you can find it a couple posts back). Interestingly, Thrice has been playing more songs from this album than any of their others in 2015.

5. Appleseed Cast- Two Conversations
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Fight Song" live in Moscow, November 3, 2013 (below)
This album was a radical departure from their double album post-rock masterpiece "Low Level Owl" as it is full of short, catchy indie rock songs. This video features the best of those songs, and it is a spectacular performance. The Appleseed Cast went to Moscow in 2013 for their only show ever there. "Fight Song" wasn't in the set, but Chris came back on stage and played it solo as the encore.

6. Elliott- Song in the Air
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Away We Drift" from 2004's Last Realize DVD
Elliott was one of the most amazing bands to see live. Thankfully they released two DVDs after they broke up so there is no reason you can't see and hear them perform. Although these DVD to YouTube rips are not ideal. Have written tons about Elliott on this blog over the years, and sadly this was the band's final studio release.

7. Zwan- Mary Star of the Sea
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Lyric" live in 2003? Details unavailable.
Zwan is one of my favorite Billy Corgan eras. I find it silly and weird that he didn't just call it Smashing Pumpkins, and long-term it is also sad because it means he doesn't perform these songs live (along with the Pumpkins songs from the last 25 years). I love the melodies on this album, and it's overall "happy" and upbeat vibe. Paz's female vocal harmonies here are just awesome.

8. Cursive- The Ugly Organ
First heard: I think I bought this in 2005, which was actually very early in my vinyl-collecting. Although in MP3 form I think someone shared it with me in 2003.
Video: "Driftwood: A Fairy Tale" live at the Triple Rock in Minneapolis, MN in 2003 (below)
In 2001 or 2002 Cursive added a cellist as a member of their band, and that ended up resulting in a radical change in sound, and resulted in an incredible group of songs. This video is incredible because it is around the time the album was released, and the cello and piano are so heavy in the mix.

9. This Beautiful Mess- Temper the Wind to the Shorn Lamb
First heard: Bought in Flevo Festival, Netherlands, August 2003
Video: "Up the Barricades" Live at Flevo Fest in the Netherlands, August 2004
Strangely, I discovered this album at Flevo Festival 2003, but This Beautiful Mess didn't play the fest that year (they did the year after, as you see above). When I was at Flevo Fest I spend a ton of time in the merch tent. Not that I bought that much, but they had couches, and it was a good place to meet people and listen to music. They played this album over and over that week, as it was just released. It didn't take me long to buy it, and as I did so I was told I was the first non-Dutch person to own it!

10. Brown Feather Sparrow- Wide Awakens Everything (5 Euros on Bandcamp!)
First heard: Bought in Flevo Festival, Netherlands, August 2003
Video: "She Writes Her Name" live in 2009. Details unavailable.
Of my top 30 albums of 2003, I could not find videos for songs two of them, as they are both incredibly obscure. I could have easily linked to streaming audio from this album, but this live performance from Brown Feather Sparrow's third album Brave is so good. Brown Feather Sparrow was active from 2003-2008 and released three albums in that span. I saw them perform at Flevo Festival in 2003 and absolutely loved them. Wide Awakens Everything is more raw and experimental (which I prefer) than the two albums that followed, highlighted by the "explosion" in last two minutes of the song "A Box of Spring" (I'll make you do some work; look it up!). If you are unfamiliar with these two Dutch bands that sit at #9 and #10, they actually share a lot of members. This Beautiful Mess' lead singer/songwriter Arjen van Wijk performs with Brown Feather Sparrow, as does Brown Feather Sparrow's lead/singer songwriter Lydia van Maurik-Wever with This Beautiful Mess. The also both are are part of the band People Get Ready and both write and perform with the How To Throw a Christmas Party group.

11. Over the Rhine- Ohio
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Ohio" from Musica in Akron, Ohio on Friday, April 16, 2010.
This album has unfortunately dropped in the rankings over time, but not because it's own merit. Over the Rhine's releases after Drunkard's Prayer have been largely disappointing to me, but the stretch from Good Dog Bad Dog to Ohio was phenomenal. The double vinyl for this release is at the top of my vinyl wishlist.

12. The Fire Theft- The Fire Theft
First heard: Shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Heaven" live TV performance on Fox Rox #97, March 18, 2004 (below)
Pretty cool video here, as I am surprised The Fire Theft ever played on TV. I have mixed feelings about this album. Obviously it was really great, but it could have been spectacular. Sunny Day Real Estate, welcoming bass player Nate Mendel back into the band, then broke up AGAIN because guitar player Dan Hoerner left the band to play with Dashboard Confessional. I mean, it would have been one thing if he had left the band to join U2 or something, but Dashboard Confessional!? ARGH!!! Anyway, the remaining three members of SDRE wrote this album, which, once again while good, was such a huge let down from The Rising Tide. "Heaven" is my favorite Fire Theft song, and I wrote a detailed post about it a few years ago.

13. Explosions in the Sky- The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
First heard: Saw the film Friday Night Lights in early 2004 and soon after ordered this album on vinyl.
Video: "Your Hand In Mine" live at Metro Theatre in Sydney on December 11, 2011
The is my favorite Explosions in the Sky song, and was the first post-rock song that emotionally grabbed me. At the time I never knew songs without lyrics or vocals could have such an impact on me, but this song blew me away when I first heard it and even more so today. Now, bands like Mogwai and Hammock are able to do the same thing and I love how much they are able to convey and communicate in the same way as classical music.

14. The Postal Service- Give Up
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Nothing Better" live at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA, captured over two nights (July 26th & 27th, 2013)
Still crazy to me that Ben Gibbard helped compose this great album and Transatlanticism during the same time period.

15. Cat Power- You are Free
First heard: The Greatest was my first Cat Power purchase, when it was released in 2006. Probably wasn't until 2008 or 2009 that I finally got this.
Video: "He War" official music video that someone recorded of MTV2
Had no idea this video existed until I began writing this post. The quality is not good, but still worth watching. Had no idea Cat Power was being shown on MT2 when this album was released.

16. Radiohead- Hail to the Thief
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "2+2=5" live at Glastonbury 2003
This was the first Radiohead album I pre-ordered. I love the artwork and I found this opening track stunning and perfect.

17. Sleeping at Last- Ghosts
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Currents" live at the Union, October 6th, 2006
Once upon a time, Sleeping at Last was a rock band. I saw them at Cornerstone in 2001 and I would give anything to have video of that show. This is the oldest video I could find of the band, and of a song from Sleeping at Last's best rock album. Sleeping at Last is now a cinematic, orchestrated solo project from Ryan O'Neil, and his work is prolific and spectacular. He releases at least one song per month and has for years.

18. Mates of State- Team Boo
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Ha Ha" from the band's Just the Two of Us DVD
I saw Mates of State in Paris in August of 2003, and that experience along with this album pushed them into the upper levels of my favorite bands. They have been their ever since, and my 7-year-old son is obsessed with their latest EP You're Going to Make It.

19. Beloved- Failure On
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Failure on My Lips" from the Kiss It Goodbye: The Final Show DVD (available as a DVD on Netflix)
This NC hardcore band only released one album unfortunately. Thankfully I saw their impressive live show at Cornerstone in 2002.

20. Forget Cassettes- Instruments of Action
First heard: This album was on an mp3 CD my brother sent me while in Zambia. Didn't get the actual CD until much later. And then a couple years ago my brother actually started playing in this band!
Video: "Instruments of Action" live (Embedded below. Details unknown, but probably around the time this album was released. It is an obscure Nashville venue that I forget the name of, but I saw Brandtson play there in 2002).
This is definitely one of the more obscure albums on this list, but so, so good. It on Bandcamp and I recommend you buy it immediately.

21. The New Pornographers- Electric Version
First heard: This band was definitely an eMusic find, back when eMusic was the cheapest and best way to get mp3s from indie bands. I think 2005's Twin Cinema was my first New Pornographers album, and then not long after that I downloaded this and Mass Romantic.
Video: "From Blown Speakers" live at the Music Box Hollywood, Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, on September 20, 2007
The New Pornographers are always great, but are at their best when Neko Case is singing of course!

22. Evanescence- Fallen
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Imaginary" live at Rock am Ring 2003, Germany
Unlike 99.9% of the Evanescence fans in the world, I had been a fan for years before this album was released. This is actually their second album, and I bought their debut Origin back in 2000. I still remember watching eBay prices climb into the hundreds of dollars for that CD while my copy sat in storage across the Atlantic. Origin is better than this album, but this is still excellent. All the band's music after this greatly declined in quality, as co-founder and co-songwriter Ben Moody left the band. When I toured Europe in August 2003 Evanescence was everywhere! I specifically remember a music store in Madrid that had a huge window display for this release.

23. Sufjan Stevens- Michigan
First heard: I started buying albums primarily on vinyl in 2005 (the first vinyl album I bought was in 1995, but I rarely purchased that format for a decade) and this was one of the first LPs I got.
Video: "For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti" live on a farm in Texas, 2004 (below)
Really cool video with almost 2 million views on YouTube; just too bad the quality is so low:

24. Rosie Thomas- Only With Laughter Can You Win
First heard: After seeing Rosie Thomas in 2007 at Cornerstone I really fell in love with her, and I probably got this on eMusic soon after.
Video: "All My Life" live in a fan's living room, Washington, DC, Sep 21, 2010
This Rosie Thomas album is probably the one I listen to the least; not because it isn't good, just because I forget about it.
25. Starflyer 59- Old
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Underneath" live at Cornerstone Festival, Bushnell, IL, July 2003
So honestly Starflyer live post-2003 is pretty terrible. Jason Martin stopped using a band, and usually it was just him, a drummer, and a recorded track for the bass, keys, etc. This Cornerstone performance is probably one of the last times he used an actual bass player (Jeff Cloud). Now, with this album on the other hand, he had a ridiculous studio band including Richard Swift and Frank Lenz (seen on drums and with some great/hilarious backing vocals in the video).

26. All Things Bright and Beautiful- Love and Affection
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: Lee Bozeman playing Luxury's "To You Who Gave Me Hope And Were My Light" live at the Cactus Cafe in Austin, TX on September 28. 2012
All Things Bright and Beautiful was the first of many solo projects from Luxury frontman Lee Bozeman. Most of the stuff Lee put out under this moniker was lo-fi and recorded at his house. This album is the exception, as it was produced and recorded by Andy Prickett for Northern Records. I could not find a live video performance of any song on this album, so I decided to just use what could be the most recent live performance Lee has done period. I would guess that this is the most obscure, "rare" album on this list.

27. Copeland- Beneath Medicine Tree
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "California" live at the Hawthorne Theater, Portland, OR on March 23, 2010.
This was my introduction to Copeland, and I really enjoyed it. But then from 2005 to 2014 I pretty much forgot about the band altogether. In early 2015 I got Ixora, which is spectacular, and I now like Copeland more than ever.
28. Tegan and Sara- If It Was You
First heard: Saw Tegan and Sara at a free show on the Nashville waterfront in 2005 as they were touring in support of So Jealous. My wife and I walked away from that show as HUGE Tegan and Sara fans, and got this and So Jealous immediately.
Video: "Living Room" live at the Austin City Limits Festival 2012
Tegan and Sara's only song featuring banjo?
29. Further Seems Forever- How to Start a Fire
First heard: I remember listening to this online upon release, but being mostly uninterested. Didn't get and appreciate album until a couple years later.
Video: "The Sound" live at Furnace Fest, Sloss Furnace, Birmingham, AL in 2003
I had forgotten about Furnace Fest until I found this video, but it was a great, small festival that went on for a few years in Alabama. I went a couple times, but I was in Zambia when this performance took place.

30. Stars- Heart
First heard: Probably 2007 or 2008, once again in the "heart" of my eMusic days.
Video: Elevator Love Letter live at York University Sept. 17, 2008 (below)
It wasn't until years later that I became a huge Stars fan, but this is a great song from this album.

Top 5 EPs of 2003:

1. Eisley- Marvelous Things EP and Laughing City EP
First heard: Via iTunes in 2003! These were Eisley's first releases without the "Moss" prefix, and as the band didn't put out an LP until 2005, they released tons of EPs.

2. Jeremy Enigk- United States of Leland Soundtrack
First heard: By bootleg downloading in 2003, as the soundtrack has never officially been released. This is only 5 tracks, but three are some of the best songs Enigk has ever written.

3. Pinback- Offcell EP
First heard: Not until at least 5 years later. Potentially my favorite Pinback release despite the fact that it is only 5 songs. If you have never heard Pinback before this is actually where I would recommend someone starts.

4. Ashen- Pull and Repel EP
First heard: Mailed to me in Zambia in 2003. The second and final release from this obscure Atlanta band.

5. Brandtson- Death and Taxes EP
First heard: Mailed to me in Zambia in 2003. Brandtson's final release on Deep Elm.

Other 2003 releases I own and enjoy in alphabetical order:

Absinthe Blind- Rings
The Be Good Tanyas- Chinatown
Celldweller- Celldweller
Cool Hand Luke- Wake Up O Sleeper
Cush- Spiritual EP 2
Damien Jurado- Holding His Breath EP
Denali- The Instinct
Derek Webb- She Must And Shall Go Free
eastmountainsout- eastmountainsouth
The Emergency- EP
Fiona Apple- Extraordinary Machine (Jon Brion produced unofficial version was put online in 2003; official release is in my top 10 of 2005)
Glassbyrd- Open Wide This Window
The Innocence Mission- Befriended
The Jealous Sound- Kill Them With Kindness
The Juliana Theory- Love
Logh- The Raging Sun
Lori Chaffer- 1Beginning
Mae- Destination: Beautiful
Michael Knott- Hearts of Care
Mogwai- Happy Songs for Happy People
My Little Dog China- User Friendly
P.O.D.- Payable On Death
Pretty Girls Make Graves- The New Romance
R.E.M.- In Time The Best of R.E.M.
Rainer Maria- Long Knives Drawn
The Shins- Chutes Too Narrow
Steven Delopoulos- Me Died Blue
Sufjan Stevens Ding! Dong! - Songs For Christmas Volume III
Thursday- War All The Time
Viva Voce- The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
Watashi Wa- The Love Of Life
Wayne Everett Kingsqueens

2003 albums I wish I owned but don't:

The Decemberists- Her Majesty The Decemberists
Grandaddy- Sumday
Hem I'm Talking With My Mouth EP