May 23, 2016

Farther Than I Can See; Top 25 Thrice Songs

As I await Thrice's new studio album, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, (which will be released Friday May 27), I have been thinking a lot about the band's illustrious history. The band has released about 100 songs over their 15-year career, on 7 studio albums and a few miscellaneous EPs and live releases. I decided to write my own Thrice top-20 list, which I quickly revised to a top-25. (Unlike most of my writings, this actually began on scraps of paper while listening to my iPod on a long bus ride, and not on my laptop.)

I recently read a story on OC Weekly that listed Thrice's top-10 songs. I am frustrated by how incomplete and limited it is. Maybe the writer knows the band's history, but the opposite seems true. Not that the 10 songs aren't good--of course they are, they are great--but they are such a small, stereotypical snapshot of what the band has accomplished. Every writer is biased in someway, including me, but three of the 10 songs they picked, including their #1, won't appear on my list.

I did find some other Thrice lists online that were much better and more thought out (but are mostly dated). I find this top-10 list on an IGN message board to be ultra-impressive, as it considers and includes many lesser-appreciated songs from the band's catalog. There is another simple yet impressive list on Sputnik Music. Both of those lists pre-date Thrice's 2009 and 2011 albums however.

The most recent Thrice top-20 song list I found is on Jason Pye's blog. It unfortunately shares much in common with the OC Weekly list: it completely ignores Thrice's quieter, more experimental side and focuses on the edgier rock songs.

Thrice at Hevy Fest, UK, August 2015. Photo by me.
It is hard to rank where Thrice falls on my list of all-time favorite bands, but they are in the top-5 for sure. Since I began using Last.fm to track my music listening, Thrice has 3,500 plays, while no other artist has more than 2,200. So I can easily say I have listened to Thrice more than any other band for the last dozen years or more. I have a hard time comparing them to my favorite bands of the 90's; but Thrice is far more prolific and has a much larger catalog than many of my favorite yet short-lived bands of the 90's. I have written much about Thrice previously as found here and here. I have been fortunate enough to see them in concert four times (2007, 2010, 2011, 2015).

As much as I love Thrice, their final album prior to their hiatus, 2012's Major/Minor, was a disappointment for me. The songwriting and musicianship is outstanding, but the creativity and experimentation of the band was completely forgotten. One can say it is Thrice's most focused, cohesive album, but it leaves me somewhat bored and wanting more. I will admit is is some of Dustin's most profound lyrics, but only two of the songs from Major/Minor make it into my top 25.

Based on everything I have read and heard so far from the new Thrice album that will drop in 5 days, I am thrilled that they have once again branched out and tried new and different things. I recently came to the realization that I love Thrice's super-heavy songs and their quiet, experimental songs; but the more straightforward rock songs that fall in the middle just don't do it for me, comparatively.

Before I get into the top 25, it would probably be helpful for me to rank the albums and show where my biases lie. (My number 1 is clear and definitive, but then numbers 2-4 could easily change places. I find a huge gap between 4 and 5, and an immense gap between 6 and 7.)

1. The Alchemy Index (2007-2008)


2. The Artist in the Ambulance (2003)


3. Vheissu (2005)


4. Beggars (2009)


5. Major/Minor (2011)


6. The Illusion of Safety (2002)


7. Identity Crisis (2001)


Without further ado, my top 25 Thrice songs, prior to the release of To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere. (Links go to live performances of the songs on YouTube when available, and starred (*) videos were shot and uploaded by me.)

Note: while working on this blog post last night Thrice debuted a new song "Death From Above", which is spectacular and would immediately jump high up this list. I greatly prefer it to all songs on Major/Minor.)

All lyrics by Dustin Kensrue

25. Blinded from Major/Minor
I was always one the good ones, Keeping tabs on everyone else, Sure that I was, One of the chosen
But I was a child of hell; But you buried me in the bright light, Yeah, you held my eyes to the sun till I could see that, That I was worse than I ever feared I could be, But somehow, I was loved more than I ever dared to believe
24. The Artist In The Ambulance from The Artist In The Ambulance
Now I lay here owing my life to a stranger, And I realize that empty words are not enough, I'm left here with the question of just, What have I to show except the promises I never kept?
23. Daedalus from The Alchemy Index: Volume III Air
Oh son, please keep a steady wing, And know your the only one that means anything to me, Steer clear of the sun, or you'll find yourself in the sea, Won't you look at your wings, They're coming undone
22. In Exile from Beggars
I am a pilgrim - a voyager; I won’t rest until my lips touch the shore - Of the land that I’ve been longing for as long as I’ve lived, Where there’ll be no pain or tears anymore.
21. Come All You Weary from The Alchemy Index: Volume IV Earth
Come all you weary with your heavy loads, Lay down your burdens find rest for your souls, Cause my yoke is easy and my burden is kind, I’ll take yours upon me and you can take mine
20. Atlantic from Vheissu
'Cause my eyes are open, and everything still moves in slow-motion, breathless and blue, and behind your eyes the sea, oceans of light envelop me
19. Flags Of Dawn from the Red Sky EP
So put away your fear, the morning star will soon appear, and bring an end, to this dark night, and we must run if we're to meet the light, watered by the blood of martyrs
18. At the Last from Beggars
Am I a good man? I thought I was, But the rewards of this life now count for naught. My body: soon buried and left to rot. The time’s gone, how quickly it all has passed. My God, now I see how I’ve squandered each and every breath.
17. Silhouette* from The Artist In The Ambulance
Your eyes, followed me here. Your eyes, sifting my soul. They leave me broken and forge diamonds from the coal.
16. The Earth Will Shake* from Vheissu
Heartbroken, we found (a gleam of hope), harken to the sound (a whistle blows), heaven sent reply (however small), evidence of life (beyond these walls), born and bred (in this machine), wardens dread (to see us dream), we hold tight (to legends of) real life, (the way it was before)
15. Paper Tigers from The Artist In The Ambulance
They preach to the choir, always in the permanent daylight, They toss paper tigers from their perfect porcelain skylines
14. Open Water from The Alchemy Index:  Volume II Water
The open water is an awful thing, but I'm anxious till the anchor is aweigh. I'm starting to believe the ocean's much like you, cause it gives, and it takes away.
13. Beggars from Beggars
Can you hear what’s been said? Can you see now that everything’s grace after all? If there’s one thing I know in this life: we are beggars all.
12. Red Sky* from Vheissu
Look and see the sky turn red. Like blood it covers over me. And soon the sea shall give up her dead. We'll raise an empire from the bottom of the sea.
11. The Arsonist from The Alchemy Index: Volume I Fire
There are still good shepherds scattered, but they're far between and few. And the sheep's skin that the wolves all wear is so thin I see right through.
10. Hoods On Peregrine from The Artist In The Ambulance
But if knowledge is power, Know this is tyranny, All we're asking for is what's ours, You think they're selling you truth, Truth is, they're selling you out.
9. Words in the Water* from Major/Minor
And when I lost all hope to look, Someone took that heavy book from my hands, All it's weight they set aside, After they had satisfied it's demands, I felt white and black reverse, And the lifting of a curse from my heart, Then like one receiving sight, I beheld a brilliant light in the dark.
8. Doublespeak from Beggars
I slowly carve my soul away. Piece by piece I sacrifice. To comfort and peace of mind. (I keep my toes on the party line.) There’s nothing wrong dear, don’t think twice.
7. Deadbolt from The Illusion Of Safety
What have I done? is it too late to save me from this place? from the depths of the grave? we all are those... who thought we were brave. what have I done?
6. The Messenger from The Alchemy Index:  Volume I Fire
Mark me with Fear and Trembling, Send someone else instead, I know my world is ending, I can't repay my debt.
5. Of Dust And Nations from Vheissu
So put your faith in more than steel, don't store your treasures up, with moth and rust, where thieves break in and steal, pull the fangs from out your heel, we live in but a shadow of the real.
4. Stare At The Sun* from The Artist In The Ambulance
'Cause I am due for a miracle, I'm waiting for a sign, I'll stare straight into the sun, And I won't close my eyes, Till I understand or go blind. 
3. The Weight from Beggars
And come what may, I won’t abandon you or leave you behind, Because love is a loyalty sworn, not a burning for a moment. Come what may, I will be standing right here by your side, I won’t run away, though the storm’s getting worse and there’s no end in sight.
(Note: Most Thrice covers I have heard are terrible, but while writing this post I did discover an outstanding cover of "The Weight" by a band called The Material.)
2. The Whaler from The Alchemy Index: Volume II Water
"Father where do you go? It's farther than I can see, 
when are you coming home to me?" "Darling why do you leave, as the north wind begins to blow? Will you be coming home to me?"
1. For Miles* from Vheissu
As long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone's broken heart, and there's no greater love, than that one shed his blood for his friends.

Filmed by me at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, April 2010.

May 11, 2016

Havalina Rail Co. shirts; Matt Wignall, and Wargirl

I am pleased to announce that I have my second shirt up for sale recognizing an under-appreciated band from the 90's: Havalina Rail Co., also just known as Havalina. Havalina remains to be one of the most diverse, eclectic, random, strange, yet talented group of musicians I have ever listened to. This shirt was primarily designed by Matt Wignall, Havalina band leader. After I got in touch with him and we emailed back and forth ideas and below is the result. The price is set low to be just a fun, comfortable item for fans new and old to wear. The American Apparel Triblend is especially comfy, I highly recommend it. Buy it here and it's only available for one week! (Note: if you know me personally you can order and select "pick up" from me and pay no shipping costs. I will be in three countries and at least a dozen U.S. states between now and mid-August.)

Available in a dozen different color and style combinations
Since Havalina disbanded in the early 2000's, Wignall has primarily made a living as a photographer, designer and producer. He is probably most well known as a producer for his work with Cold War Kids, and most notably to me as a graphic designer for his work on the packaging and artwork for Thrice's album Beggars. This is my personal copy of the album on vinyl, that I featured in a blog post in 2010:


Matt Wignall's personal website is thorough and a great portfolio of his diverse work. Wignall is also now involved in a new musical endeavor called Wargirl. While being active on Instagram, they have not yet released any music. Apparently their first EP will be released on vinyl in June (from their Instagram feed):

Back to Havalina, they were best seen live, and their shows at Cornerstone Festival were especially memorable. Both Wignall himself and bass player Orlando Greenhill were terrific, high-energy showmen. I saw them at this show, Cornerstone 2001.



Like I said, much of Havalina was wild and eclectic, but they did have a couple more catchy, pop-type tunes. This is one of my favorites:

May 6, 2016

Music and Mystery

From the NYC Public Library Digital Collction
Earlier today I was able to speak in my school's chapel assembly, and I chose the topic "Music and Mystery". As the school's athletic director, this seemed like a bizarre choice, but music plays such a profound role in my faith in Jesus.

I chose the band Luxury to build my talk around, as they are one of my all time favorites, and have recently been more in the "news" as they released a new album and have a documentary due out this year. This is the video clip that was used to fund their Kickstarter campaign, and I showed an edited version of it today before I spoke:



As can been seen in the video, Luxury is a fairly bizarre band in that 3 of the 5 members are Orthodox Priests. While not Orthodox personally, I am fascinated by the church due to its emphasis on the arts and on mystery. I cut this part out of my talk due to time constraints, but Luxury bass player Chris Foley's essay Man as Priest of Creation has a huge impact on me and greatly influenced my presentation. I highly recommend you read the whole thing, but here is a relevant passage:

"I found that the emphasis on the Incarnation of Christ stressed the goodness of creation and that now matter is united to God. This means that matter matters and beauty is not just something external to God (i.e. – optional) but an energy emanating from from God Himself – an absolute. I discovered that the early Church rejected anything that divided or separated Christ’s humanity from His divinity. As I learned more about the Orthodox faith, I found that the Orthodox teaching that every aspect of life is sacramental underpinned every teaching of Christ and the Church . This idea that matter matters speaks profoundly to faith as it relates to the creative process."

As I wrote in these essays on 1995 music last year, I struggled much in my teenage years about the secular vs. sacred divide. This divide tore at me for a long time, and thankfully, eventually Jesus revealed to me the divide is not truth. My essay on Fleming and John and Hoi Polloi ended this way (feels strange to quote myself):

My faulty, black-and-white world of “Christian music” and “secular music” was greyed so much by these two albums that the line no longer existed — there was just music.

My main point today (when I spoke, and I as I now write) is that music is mysterious. Music requires us to take it seriously, and examine its beauty and depth. And we can apply to this mystery to many aspects of our lives, and open ourselves up to things we don't understand. Music has allowed me to embrace mystery- both in art, in the world, and in the fractured Christian church. And as someone who grew up legalistic and judgmental, embracing mystery has allowed me to follow Jesus better: by loving God and loving others, many of whom are very different than myself.

5/10/16 Update: I uploaded a rough audio recording to YouTube of the 30-minute chapel talk if you are curious to listen (and watch).

I made aYouTube playlist of 8 songs I used in my presentation today, both directly, and by reference: