All posts by Andre Salles

I Want to Believe
But Tori Amos' New Album is a Letdown

If you’d told me back in 1997 that one day, Kesha would make a better album than Tori Amos, I would have said, “Who’s Kesha?” I mean, she was seven years old then.

But the point stands. Twenty years ago, Tori Amos was one of the most vital musicians on the planet. Her third album, Boys for Pele, was messier and angrier and all-around more fascinating than her immortal first two, Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink. In 1997, Amos seemed incapable of creating music that wasn’t intensely emotional, wasn’t like listening to her soul cry out, either in anguish or exultation. Every line, every word, every sky-high note felt not only like she meant it, but like she had no choice but to play and sing it.

Those first three albums remain fast favorites. Not a year goes by when I don’t pull them out and bask in them all over again. (The recently released deluxe remasters provided a nice excuse.) They’re perfect. And I want to live in the alternate universe where she stopped there, refusing to make music that didn’t live up to that unstoppable trilogy. Unfortunately, I live in this one, where Amos kept going and going, her returns diminishing and diminishing.

There have been bright spots since. I liked most of 1999’s To Venus and Back, her deep dive into electronica. I heard traces of the old Tori fire on 2007’s American Doll Posse. I thought 2011’s orchestral experiment, Night of Hunters, was quite good. And I enjoyed much of 2014’s Unrepentant Geraldines, which I almost referred to as a return to form. But the best of these records, meaning the best songs Amos has released in 20 years, don’t hold a candle to her first three for emotional resonance. I don’t really remember much of American Doll Posse, ten years on, and I think that’s the best record she’s made since Pele.

And yet, I live in hope. I keep buying Tori Amos albums, despite the fact that I haven’t loved one in two decades. I feel like fans of a hard-luck baseball team, saying “maybe next time” over and over. But hell, the Cubs won the World Series last year after more than a century, so anything’s possible. So I pay my money and I take my chance, every time. Because I believe she can still make music that moves me.

Sadly, on the just-released Native Invader, she’s only succeeded in boring me. The title of this, her fifteenth album, led me to expect something with teeth. But Native Invader just sort of… happens, slowly and meanderingly, like the worst parts of Scarlet’s Walk stripped of any urgency. Some of it is pretty, like a portrait of flowers in a waiting room. Much of it is merely pleasant, and all of it is forgettable.

I don’t want to suggest that this isn’t a well-made record. It cuts a nice compromise between Amos’ organic and electronic music, relying mostly on her electric piano and Mark Aladdin’s guitars to ground her programmed drums and bass lines. The songs are all too long, but if you can pay attention without drifting off, some of them have nice structures. The whole thing sounds polished and fussed over, tweaked and re-tweaked over the two years she was working on it.

But it’s soulless. Amos’ vocals are mixed low and there just for utility – she sings these songs, but she doesn’t embody them, doesn’t live them. I still like what she says here. “Broken Arrow” takes aim at colonialism, “Up the Creek” (the only song with a pulse) fires at “those climate-blind,” and “Bang” delivers a “we are all stardust” message of unity. But when she sings them, over this bland and wandering music, I don’t care. I have listened to all 68 minutes of Native Invader three times now, and I just don’t care about it.

Are there things about it I like? Sure. Opener “Reindeer King” is seven minutes of Tori and her piano, and it conjures up a nicely foreboding atmosphere. The other two stripped-back songs, “Breakaway” and “Climb,” are highlights, even if they feel like they would have been b-sides back in the ‘90s. “Up the Creek” is pretty swell, its electronic bass announcing itself early. (Real strings would have made this a keeper.) I like the prog-rock excess at the end of “Bang,” and the melodic twist of the key line in “Cloud Riders.” One of the bonus tracks is a sequel to “Upside Down,” an amazing early song, and while it doesn’t measure up at all, it’s still nice. (Its hook line is seriously “we gotta turn that frown upside down,” though.)

It isn’t enough, though. Native Invader is another boring disappointment from an artist I once revered. I still admire her, and I will keep buying her music until one of us dies. And I will likely go through this same ritual every couple years, getting my hopes up and then slogging through whatever she puts out, my spirits falling with every note. Because when it comes to Tori Amos, I’m like Fox Mulder. I have no evidence that her new music will awaken that spark in me and resonate like her early work does, but man, I want to believe.

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Speaking of wanting to believe, I really want to believe that Play Dead, the eerily-titled and just-released fifth Mutemath album, will not be their last.

Even if it isn’t, Play Dead will likely be the final album from the band I’ve come to know as Mutemath over the past thirteen years. In the months before its release, both guitarist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas and drummer Darren King announced their departure from the band, leaving only pianist/singer Paul Meany from the original lineup. If you know Mutemath you know that King, especially, is central to their identity. I know many people who only recognize Mutemath as “that band with the awesome drummer,” and now he’s gone.

Play Dead, then, stands as the final testament from this incarnation of the band. Meany has brought in new musicians and is soldiering on, but I expect future albums, if there are any, to basically be Meany solo efforts. That particular chemistry between the original band members will be gone. I’m thankful, though, that it’s all over this new record. Play Dead brings together everything Mutemath does well and wraps it all up in a newfound propensity for prog-rock.

The Mutemathers have been working on Play Dead for five years. The sessions got so intense that, partway through, they took a break and recorded an entirely different album, 2015’s Vitals. I have a complex relationship with that record – I dismissed it at first as synth-laden fluff, but couldn’t put it away, and ended up adoring it. Vitals sounded little like the Mutemath I first fell in love with, but over time I fell for this new sound too, and now I consider it one of my favorites.

My appreciation for Vitals helped me grasp and enjoy Play Dead right away. This one isn’t going to need a period of adjustment – I’m into it right now. The synth-heavy sound is still in evidence, but it’s harder and heavier, and in service of songs that are trickier and meatier. I’ve been trying to think of a term to describe what the band has conjured up here. Maybe dance-prog? That fits songs like “Break the Fever,” which combines a complex, Yes-like arrangement with the hookiness of Hall and Oates.

Mostly, though, Play Dead sounds like this immensely talented band finding yet another unique new sound and exploring it to its limit. I can definitely see Vitals as a chance to blow off steam in the middle of this thing – Play Dead is massive. Opener “Hit Parade” starts with a quiet keys-and-vocals introduction, but soon explodes into a Black Keys-style riff (played on synths, of course) and a glorious sunrise of harmonies. “War” is a powerhouse, King nailing his drums over a big, almost bluesy mass. And then the strings come in. Even a quiet song like “Nuisance,” which wafts in and out on a delicate keyboard heartbeat, builds to almost towering proportions in the middle, melodies cresting like waves.

So it goes for most of this huge record, the band playing as if they’ll never get the chance again. A trifle like “Placed On Hold” erupts in its final third, the live energy practically bursting from it. “Everything’s New” shimmies confidently through its well-earned six minutes, including one of the band’s trademark instrumental interludes. Closer “Marching to the End” (and come on, this is their last record) begins as a ballad and crescendos into an anthem, much like “Remain” from Vitals.

It’s awesome, is what I’m saying, and yet it’s awesome in a totally new way for this band. It’s been quite a ride over the past decade-plus – I remember seeing Mutemath at the 2004 Cornerstone Festival and loving every second of their manic, pop-prog set, and being blown away by the Police-like first album in 2006. Every album since then has been a big step, either forward or sideways, and they’ve never let me down. (At least, not for long.) If Play Dead is the last Mutemath record, they went out doing what they do best – stepping out into the unknown and building something new. Very few bands do that well, and I’ll miss this one.

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Next week, Foo Fighters and Bruce Cockburn and a couple others. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

See you in line Tuesday morning.

When the World Comes In
Neil Finn's Communal, Beautiful New Record

A couple weeks ago I shared an old-man rant in this space about downloads and how I still prefer CDs.

So it’s only fair that I spend an equal amount of time this week talking about how amazing this brave new world can be, and exploring one of the many miracles of our instantaneous culture. (Of course, in the process, I’m going to be praising a 59-year-old man, so don’t think I’m suddenly down with the youth or anything.)

My case in point: I am right now listening to Out of Silence, the fourth solo album by Neil Finn, he of Split Enz and Crowded House fame. Eleven days ago, not a single note of this record existed. On Friday, August 25, Finn and an expansive band (including a choir and a small orchestra) recorded all ten of these songs live in a studio, and simulcast the sessions on the internet. Anyone who wanted to follow along and watch the process could do so. The whole session took four and a half hours.

And one week later, the finished, mixed and mastered album was on sale. This meets my definition of a miracle. In eight days, Out of Silence went from an idea in Finn’s head to a commercially available piece of music, from something only one man could fully enjoy to something that can enrich all our lives. And that’s only possible because of the internet. (The album is available to download, with hard copy versions coming over the next two months.)

The beauty of the live recording session was that it brought Finn’s worldwide audience together over a moment in time. Those who watched it unfold were part of the magic. In the three weeks leading up to the Out of Silence session, Finn went live on the internet to broadcast rehearsals and jam sessions, inviting his audience in ever closer, building a small community around these glimpses into his space and his songwriting. It was a clever and touching way to build excitement for the album, and to express something profound: this technology that is supposed to bring us closer rarely does, but here’s a way it can live up to that promise.

Here’s the thing that knocks me out about this record, though: it’s not something you’d expect to be captured live. It’s not a three-chord guitar-rock jam session, not something simple that can be banged out in four hours easily. Out of Silence is Finn’s most beautiful record, a complex set of chamber-pop songs with gorgeous, delicate arrangements. It sounds labored over, elaborately put together. This took a lot of rehearsal, of course, for these 30-some musicians to learn this material and perform it so immaculately.

This album completes Finn’s evolution from guitar-slinging rock troubadour to orchestral pop composer – there are only two songs with drums, and only one of those sounds like the skipping singalongs Finn made with his former bands. Finn’s primary instrument here is the piano, and his songs are slow and meditative, concerned with moments of transcendence rather than immediacy. These songs take time to work their way in, but once you know the map of them, they’re phenomenal. In retrospect, this is the road Finn has been on at least since Crowded House’s Time on Earth, and this album puts a lot of his more recent work into perspective.

I have no qualms about calling Neil Finn one of the world’s best living songwriters. Just listen to the extraordinary piano-strings ballad “More Than One of You.” Its melody is surprising, uplifting, perfectly arranged for the choir. That tiny bridge with the single ethereal violin part? Perfection. “Chameleon Days” is one of the most propulsive, its xylophone melody complementing the drums and tympani and low brass. It’s dark – “Anyone can tell you that it’s out of our hands, God is rolling numbers while we’re making our plans” – but its moments of light are well-timed and gorgeous.

“Independence Day” is amazing, its gossamer acoustic picking supporting surges of strings before the simple, beautiful refrain steps in. It’s a song about storms rolling in, and then rolling away, and the music follows suit. Even a tiny reverie like “Alone” sounds like strolling down a city street after the rain, so wonderful is its arrangement. And when Finn bites off a true masterwork like “Widow’s Peak,” possibly the most epic song about walking a dog ever written, it’s a wonder to behold.

There’s no doubt why the big-deal pop song “Second Nature” is the single. It sounds like little else here, with its marching drum beat and catchy chorus, but I’m glad it’s here. It’s a great, great little song. (The lyrics to “Second Nature” changed between the rehearsal and the recording session, which shows how close to the bone Finn was playing this.) The record’s one speed bump is a noble one: “The Law is Always On Your Side” is a Lennon-esque lament for a man wrongly killed by police, and its lyric is a little too obvious. On the other hand, this is the first time I’ve ever criticized a Neil Finn lyric for being too obvious, so I’m sure it’s exactly what he wanted.

More true to form is the gorgeous closer, “I Know Different.” A song about healing a relationship, “I Know Different” ebbs and flows like the sea, and concludes with a stunning, rising coda that ends with a sharp moment of hope. It’s perfect, one of my favorite Neil Finn songs. It was also the last one recorded, and seriously, just go to about four hours and 25 minutes into the video and watch Finn’s face as the song concludes. He knows he nailed it, he knows he’s just finished an emotional journey and come out the other side with one of his best records. And we all get to share in that moment.

Aside from how it was created, Out of Silence is a beautiful little record, one that is content to bloom in small, subtle ways. The best word to describe it is “intimate,” which makes the process of its birth even more fitting. It’s small, but seismic, and it fills me with hope that even now, at 59, Finn is just getting started.

You can order Out of Silence at You can see the session that created it here.

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In my world, Neil Finn’s gorgeous little album is a big event. In the world outside my world, though, the biggest thing happening in music this week is the return of LCD Soundsystem.

To be honest, I’ve never understood the big deal about James Murphy and his project. It’s good stuff – the three original LCD Soundsystem albums are fun, sarcastic, danceable things about the anxieties of growing old and out of touch, and I definitely enjoyed all of them. But when Murphy decided in 2011 to break up the band, I can’t say I was overly sad. And when, last year, he decided to reunite the band, I wasn’t too surprised.

But lots of people were, and called Murphy a sellout and a traitor for reigniting his most successful project. I guess phony farewell tours and subsequent reunions are only for ‘70s bands with no integrity, not for paragons of indie earnestness like Murphy? I dunno. From the first news of the band’s massive goodbye concert in New York, I knew they’d probably be back. This is just how these things usually go.

The question is, does the reunion album justify its own existence? And the answer is, sure. It’s hard to say that LCD Soundsystem is a band in the traditional sense anyway – Murphy is its only constant member, and is clearly the mastermind. So if he has a new batch of songs, why not call them LCD Soundsystem songs? And why expect that these new ones would be somehow worse than the older ones?

The new album, American Dream, is a bit different, but not much. It’s still Murphy and all his neuroses, set to banging club drums and synth-driven dance-punk. This one feels a little more like a single thought, rather than a set of singles, and it’s darker and more desperate in places. But it still sounds like LCD Soundsystem, a mix of David Bowie and David Byrne with a little Prince thrown in. Murphy’s arrangements are as weird as always – “Other Voices” feels like it might fall apart as you’re listening to it, its insistent beat the only thing keeping it together, and the falling-off-a-cliff guitar of “Change Yr Mind” is delightfully off-kilter.

The first four songs of this album are pretty good, yet pretty standard. It’s the fifth, “How Do You Sleep,” that really takes flight, though. Over nine minutes, Murphy channels the Peter Gabriel of “The Rhythm of the Heat,” building a menacing drum pattern into a scathing powerhouse rant. There’s a hint of Echo and the Bunnymen to this one. It’s something special. The album’s second half builds on this energy, bursting out of the gate with the jittery, self-aware “Tonite” and the galloping “Call the Police.” It was here that I realized that LCD Soundsystem is everything Arcade Fire has been trying and failing to be for the past few years.

The album concludes with the 12-minute “Black Screen,” which is unlike anything Murphy has done – it’s quiet, and resists the urge to get louder, remaining funereal for its entire running time. (As this is Murphy’s tribute to David Bowie, that’s fitting.) The final minutes feature just piano over a synth pulse, a coda that sends the album out on a more meditative note.

So does American Dream justify the return of LCD Soundsystem? I’d say yes, even if I cared about Murphy’s bait-and-switch breakup and reunion. It fits nicely into the Soundsystem catalog, while adding a few new twists on it, and continues Murphy’s story nicely. It’s also a good record in its own right, driving forward confidently into the band’s second act. I wish all big-deal events in the wider music world were this good.

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We lost Walter Becker, one half of Steely Dan, this week. I won’t pretend to be a fan, but Becker’s mark on the world is significant. You can read his partner in crime Donald Fagen’s remembrance here. Becker was 67.

Next week, Tori Amos, Mutemath and a couple others. It’s a big release week, kicking off a big release month. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Turn Off Your Mind
Relax and Float Downstream

My musical mind is always racing.

It’s involuntary at this point. I’ve heard so much music, and learned to play so much music, that my brain automatically dissects every song I listen to. I’m hearing each instrument separately and listening for how they connect together. I’m counting out any odd time signatures or missed beats. I’m reflexively predicting the next chords, and hopefully ending up surprised by where the song goes. And I’m listening to the lyrics, but that’s still a secondary thing for me – it often takes two or three listens, after I’ve drawn the whole musical map in my head, for me to pay attention to the meaning of a song.

The point is, I can’t turn it off. Every time I listen to music, my brain is on overdrive. This is why I need my dose of prog-rock and metal on top of all of the other kinds of music I love. It’s why I appreciate it when bands take that extra effort and throw in musical curve balls, little moments that make my synapses take notice. I like surprises, and I’m also excited by music that feels like a math equation, every disparate element working in tandem.

Which is why I love Everything Everything. These boys from Manchester make music that sounds like clockwork. It’s rare that any two instruments are playing the same thing, and singer Jonathan Higgs never takes the easy melody, draping that gloriously weird falsetto over some of the oddest and densest songs you’d expect to hear on alt-rock radio. Lately they’ve been incorporating more electronic elements, more stop-start arrangements, and even stranger melodies. Their last album, 2015’s Get to Heaven, was awesome, a constant stream of ideas.

EvEv’s just-released fourth album, A Fever Dream, is surprisingly streamlined in comparison. Some of it is straight-up dance music, particulary the two hip-shaking singles, “Can’t Do” and “Desire.” These are the most blatant bids for mainstream love this band has given us, and they’re still amazing. “Can’t Do” strides forward on a synthesizer pulse and Michael Spearman’s elaborate drums, and the little guitar flourishes just make it. And “Desire” is a stunner, Paul Simon-style guitars sharing space with big, abrasive keyboards, gorgeous harmonies and a slam-dunk of a straight-ahead chorus. In the universe where I am king, this is an enormous hit.

The inventiveness never lets up. In some ways, EvEv has always sounded the same, but they keep coming up with new ways to refract that sound and twist it around. “Run the Numbers” is classic EvEv for most of its running time, but the huge guitars in the chorus are a shock. The title track is a beautiful six-minute round robin, Higgs’ vocals and piano hitting at odd meters and rubbing shoulders with the electronic elements. And “Ivory Tower” is fantastic, an unrelenting four minutes of freight-train intensity that builds to an almost absurd degree.

A Fever Dream is probably the most accessible Everything Everything album, for all that. It may also be their best. The band has refined its gears-and-pulleys sound into something vibrant and, yes, fun. A Fever Dream is a great time, a musical playground for your brain that will get your feet moving too.

* * * * *

The downside of my active musical mind is that I find it harder to enjoy simplicity.

I do try. Every year or so I make another effort to get into Bob Dylan, to no avail. I do my best with Bruce Springsteen and his acolytes. I don’t mind simple arrangements – some of my favorite songs have little more than a piano or an acoustic guitar accompanying them. Simple songs, though, I have trouble with, and have to work to enjoy. I will never be a blues fan. My brain just gets bored.

So it is with The War on Drugs, a band I wish I could like more than I do. I’ve been hearing about how epic and expansive their new album, A Deeper Understanding, is for months. And it sure feels like a big deal record. Its ten songs stretch out to 66 minutes, only one song is less than five minutes long and most are epics, with the big one, “Thinking of a Place,” clocking in over 11 minutes. The physical sound of this record is massive, too. Leader and mastermind Adam Granduciel (he even has the word “grand” in his name) piles on guitars and pianos and keyboards and thumping bass and then slices through it all with one of the most arresting, piercing lead guitar tones I’ve heard in ages.

On paper, The War on Drugs seems to have every “epic” box ticked. But throughout this long record, Granduciel demonstrates just how important it is to have strong, solid songs beneath all the glittering accoutrements. Mostly, these songs are weak and repetitive things, content to ride one groove for six or seven minutes, taking no detours and building no melodic structures. The physical sound is the only thing carrying it, and it often feels like the towers of sound are there to distract from the lack of interesting songwriting.

The upshot is that my brain gets bored by most of this. There are exceptions. “Holding On” is pretty swell, convincingly building its upbeat vibe. I like the massive, repetitive, reach-for-the-sky orchestrations on “Strangest Thing,” a song that actually had me excited for the guitar solo. (It does go on too long, though, like most of these tracks.) But by the time we’re halfway through “Thinking of a Place,” my mind’s about ready to doze off. It’s only the rising tide of the sound that keeps me interested.

I’ll keep listening to A Deeper Understanding, trying to, well, understand it more deeply. From my first few listens, it sounds to me like pretty typical Springsteen-style encouraging lyrics sung over massive arrangements meant to hide how little is actually happening in these songs. There may be more to it, but I’m having trouble staying focused long enough to hear it.

* * * * *

Of course, there is some music that is designed to soothe the manic musical brain, to gently shut it down and allow it to just be submerged in sound. The War on Drugs’ tunes contain too much that is meant to grab your attention, too much that follows the usual formula of pop music to allow for that submersion. You need a certain kind of ambience for that. You need music specifically created to allow someone like me to relax and drift away.

Basically, you need Hammock. The duo of Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson has created some of the most ethereal, otherworldly ambient music you’ll ever hear. For twelve years now, Byrd and Thompson have harnessed some kind of spiritual magic to weave extraordinary guitar skyscapes together with other elements (piano, voice, cello) to create music that rarely feels like it was made by humans.

Hammock’s tenth album, Mysterium, is, in its own way, just as expansive as A Deeper Understanding. Its sound includes a full choir and the Nashville Recording Orchestra, along with the usual clouds of guitar and keyboards. It’s a darker, more mournful record than they’ve made before – it’s dedicated to a longtime friend who died last year – and its ebbs and flows hide great reserves of feeling. I don’t know how Hammock always makes such emotional music, but they do, and they’ve done it again on Mysterium.

In fact, so much of this record moves me nearly to tears. Byrd sings the elegiac “I Would Give My Breath Away,” his prayerful words (“If I could give my breath away, I would, so I could hold you one more day, I would…”) barely audible beneath the waves of shimmering beauty. The gently flowing orchestra on tracks like “Remember Our Bewildered Son” is breathtaking. “For My Sister” is astonishing, its elegiac piano breaking into heart-rending guitar and deep strings. Hammock has rarely been prettier or sadder.

Mysterium ends with its most traditional song, an epilogue titled “This is Not Enough.” It features drums by Ken Lewis and plaintive vocals from Byrd, and it serves to bring us back to earth after the previous 53 minutes. “Time fades away, we float away, this is not enough,” Byrd sings, and its sentiment is echoed in the swirling, lovely, heartbreaking music his band conjures. All Hammock albums are amazing, but some are truly special. Mysterium is one of those.

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Next week, Neil Finn’s live-on-the-internet experiment Out of Silence, along with one or two others. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Buying Air
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Downloads... Sometimes

I still buy CDs.

Yes, I’m that guy. I’m the one who keeps my local record store afloat, spending twice as much on new music as I’d have to if I just switched to downloads. (Alternatively, I spend half as much as I would if I went to vinyl for everything, which some people I know do. But I can’t play vinyl in the car, so I buy very little of it.) I know CDs are the most reviled form of music delivery system out there – even behind cassettes, the cutting-edge technology of 1971 – but I think they still deliver the best value for what I want.

I’m not one to go on about the quality of the sound I’m listening to, but I can definitely hear the difference between compressed download files and glorious full-sound CDs. And I’ve never warmed to the idea that extra noise and pops and crackles somehow enhance the sound of vinyl. CDs are where it’s at for me, still, and it’s partially because I like the sound, but mainly because I’m a fan of physical media.

I’ve sung this song before here, so I’m sure you know the tune. The artwork, the credits list, the liner notes, even the thanks list provide important context for me, into which I place my experience of the music. Just listening to the music itself is a less complete experience for me, and I don’t feel like I actually own the album I’m hearing. I feel like I’m just borrowing it, which is why paying money for downloads is so hard for me. I feel like I’m buying air.

But in recent years I’ve been listening to more and more downloaded music, and the reason is pure impatience. Many bands – and I have three instances of this on tap for this week – are offering immediate downloads of new music with CD purchases, and I have found that I just can’t wait. Often it takes weeks, if not months, for a band to press a CD, and with the music at my fingertips, I can’t help myself. I have to press play. By the time my CD shows up, I’m intimately familiar with the music, and I’ve robbed myself of my preferred experience.

I suppose I could be more patient, but when the music is as good as it is in all three cases this week, it’s pretty unlikely that I will wait months to hear it. I don’t know anyone who could. I absolutely understand the convenience and instant gratification that comes with downloaded music. I totally get it. But I feel a little adrift this week, reviewing music I don’t really feel like I have heard yet, in its full context.

In the case of Nine Inch Nails, the physical component of their work has always been important. This is a band that takes great care when designing the artwork and packaging for their releases, setting a mood and drawing you in. NIN artwork is unsettling, often indistinct and abstract, letting you know you’re about to hear something damaged, something just beyond your ability to grasp. And amazingly, most of their music lives up to this image.

And then, late last year, NIN basically stopped making albums. Trent Reznor, the group’s mastermind (and, until the recent addition of Atticus Ross, sole member), announced a series of smaller EPs that would be released online, and touted this as the way forward for the band. The idea is a mixed bag for me – I get new NIN material every six months or so, but Reznor – one of the most accomplished album artists in the world – is limited to smaller statements, released into the ether without proper packaging.

Luckily, these EPs have also been really good. Last year’s Not the Actual Events brought back the weird and creepy aspects of Reznor’s sound, and the recently released Add Violence continues along that path. The opener, “Less Than,” is the catchiest and most immediate NIN song in years, but once it’s over, the remaining four songs swim in darker waters. “The Lovers,” like much of Reznor’s best work, is physically uncomfortable in places – his unnerving voice-overs send chills – while “This Isn’t the Place” rides its slow slither of a groove through more than two minutes of instrumental setup before Reznor’s wavery falsetto enters, singing “I thought we had more time” over and over.

“Not Anymore” is a shambling burst of anger and confusion punctuated by his unhinged screams over the unmistakable sound of live drums. But it is the 12-minute closer, “The Background World,” that is the most disorienting. After a slow crawl of a first act, Reznor and Ross fill out the remaining eight minutes with a disjointed, cascading loop that builds in intensity and disintegrates as it goes. Every time it loops, it misses a fraction of a beat, which drives my musical OCD nuts, but truly illustrates how confused and out of step the song’s protagonist feels. It goes against all the lessons Reznor seems to have been teaching himself about sonic architecture, burning it down in a fascinating way.

Even without a full album to work with, Reznor and Ross have spun a whole world around Add Violence. The CD version is out in a few weeks, and I’m definitely buying it. But these EPs do have physical components, which ship weeks (or months) after the music is available, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them. While Not the Actual Events was accompanied by a dossier covered in a strange, invasive black substance, Add Violence’s component is safe to open indoors. It looks like an owner’s manual for a sound mixer, and actually contains lyrics and details (including that Add Violence is Halo 31). These are appreciated, though a straight-up CD would be appreciated more.

Quiet Company is doing the same thing with their new music, releasing it in bite-sized chunks as it is recorded. Thankfully, they’re also releasing CDs of these mini-albums, but as they’re one of my favorite bands, the instant download has so far proven too tempting. The second of these installments is called Your Husband the Ghost, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t, for the first time, really capture what this band sounds like live. I’ve been following QuietCo since their debut, and up until now, the insane ferocity of their stage show has outpaced their recorded output.

The snarling Your Husband makes me feel like I’m watching them play it. Taylor Muse, the band’s mastermind and lead singer, is as passionate and emotional here as he is on stage. His songs are typically sharp and hummable, but they feel more intense here than usual. Part of that is the subject matter – this album dissects his relationship with his ex-wife, in all its messy, painful truth, and offers a bleak state-of-our-disunion address from Muse’s conflicted mind. But part of it is the way it’s recorded – loud, vibrant, barely controlled.

Much of this EP is difficult for me to listen to, since I’m invested in Muse’s happiness. He’s clearly miserable on “An Unholy Year,” using sex as a “poor imitation of the thing I needed” and only comfortable when the encounter ends. “Oh! The Humanity” is even bleaker, contrasting the Muse of today with his more optimistic younger selves. The song is such an uptempo winner, horns and gang vocals and all, that it’s easy to miss how dark it is: “Now I’m 33 and all that’s left for me is greed, spite and jealousy…” He seems lost in “On Guilty Pleasures,” when he dismisses a connection (“I want you to mean more, but I know what it meant”) and resigns himself to feeling this way forever (“I will never fall in love again, but I think that I can do without…”).

This EP is terrific, of course, as Quiet Company records always are, and I’m very much looking forward to owning the CD and adding it to my collection. Musically, it is tremendous – ferocious and hummable, with surprising quiet interludes and some great arrangements. But I’m not sure how often I’ll listen to it. It’s a dark and painful thing, and I find myself hoping that Muse takes the advice he shouts in “We Should Go to Counseling”: “You’ve got to change, change, change, motherfucker, you cannot stay the same, same, same, expecting progress.”

I’d been expecting both the Nine Inch Nails and Quiet Company records, but the third of my review subjects this week was a complete surprise. I wasn’t sure we’d ever hear from Brand New again – it’s been eight years since the rushed-sounding, not-quite-there Daisy, and that album had all the hallmarks of a band throwing something together for the sake of it. Of course, Daisy followed up The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, which is basically this band’s OK Computer, completing their rapid transformation from pop-punk to a thoughtful, textured, almost indescribable kind of music.

Five days ago, Brand New surprise-released Science Fiction, their fifth album, and there’s nothing rushed about this one. If Daisy was a speed bump, Science Fiction completes this band’s evolution, bringing the subdued maelstrom of The Devil and God home to a more reflective, consciously beautiful vibe. Among a small segment of my friends, the unheralded appearance of this record was a seismic event, and while I can’t pretend to feel quite the same about this band that many do – they’re cherished and important to a select few, in a way not many bands ever are – I had to listen to the download ahead of the October CD release, to be part of the conversation. And I am so glad I did. Science Fiction is quickly becoming one of my favorite records of the year.

For a band that started out playing three-chord punk, the fact that most of this record is played on acoustic guitars is striking. Much of this record is like staring into a lake at a calmer reflection of the band Brand New used to be. Jesse Lacey only rarely breaks out his full-throated scream, and you have to get to track five to hear it at all. The album starts slowly, almost hypnotically, with “Lit Me Up,” which sets the introspective tone. Lacey struggles throughout this record with his faith in God and his lack of faith in humanity, and he dives deep right at the start: “When I grow up I want to be a heretic, I want to climb over the wall ‘cause I’m not on the list, I want to put my hands to work ‘til the work’s done, I want to open my heart like the ocean…”

From there, Lacey thoughtfully tackles depression on the self-consciously upbeat “Can’t Get It Out” (“I want to tell you we’re all right, want to erase all your doubt, I’ve got this thorn dug in deeply, sometimes I can’t get it out…”), self-harm on “Same Logic/Teeth,” nuclear war on “137” (named after Caesium-137, an isotope that only appeared in the atmosphere after the first nuclear detonation), healing through video games (really) on the heavier “Out of Mana,” censorship on the shuffling “451” and the bigotry infesting modern Christianity on “Desert.” Science Fiction is also without a doubt meant to be heard in sequence, with interludes and snippets of conversations and segues throughout. It’s beautiful, and it’s beautifully made, worth every day of those eight years.

It’s definitely intended as a single thought, as well, diving below the surface on track one, visiting painful experience after painful experience, feeling those emotions drive closer to depression, and on the glorious closer “Batter Up,” coming to peace with those feelings and continuing the work to make the world a better place. “It’s never going to stop, give me your best shot,” he sings over gorgeous acoustic and electric guitars, spinning a fine and fitting swan song for the album and the band.

Yes, Science Fiction is most likely going to be the final Brand New album. Lacey and his bandmates have been talking about the impending breakup of the band for a while now, and they plan to finish things up next year. Many of the lyrics on Science Fiction take on a new resonance with that context – some songs, like “Waste,” are clearly about the band and what Lacey hopes it has accomplished – and its conclusion a new significance. Before Science Fiction, I didn’t realize how much I would miss this band. Now I’m genuinely mourning them.

I didn’t see Science Fiction coming, and every time I listen – even without context, even just as wisps of air floating out of my hard drive – I’m impressed anew with how good it is. I’m looking forward to hearing it for real in October, and losing myself in it all over again. If this truly is the last we hear from Brand New, it’s a fantastic way to go out. I’m still all about the CDs, but I’m glad I got to hear this right away. Two months waiting for this music would have been tragic.

Next week, Everything Everything and a couple others. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Finding You
Kesha's Bold, Revelatory Return

Just being alive and aware right now is emotionally exhausting.

The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend were just the culmination point so far of this horrible year of hatred. Every few days there has been some new outrage, some new affront to decency and humanity. Just keeping up with it all is taxing, never mind reacting to it. And no one is looking to a white guy with a music blog for a cogent reaction anyway. You want thoughts about this week’s new tunes, and all I can think about right now is Nazis marching on a U.S. city, and people defending them.

I don’t know a way to segue from this into frivolous music reviews without at least acknowledging the privilege that would allow me to do so. For the record, and with no “on many sides” false equivalences: the racism and hatred personified by Nazis is sickening, despicable and inexcusable – or, it should be for any reasonable person. These ideas aren’t new. This country’s history of racism runs much deeper than a statue could ever hope to symbolize, and it should be named, called out and resisted.

Which is emotionally exhausting stuff. And I’m coming at it from a place of privilege, so I can’t even imagine how tired my friends of color are right now, or how long they’ve been dealing with the realities I am only lately waking up to. I have always drawn strength from music, and writing this silly music column helps me to go on pushing through the muck. I’m going to keep on doing it even if it seems pointless, because it gives me the strength to show up elsewhere and speak up.

And really, it isn’t pointless. In fact, if you need a story of strength to draw inspiration from, I have one this week. It’s certainly been helping many of the women I know, and it surprised the hell out of me too.

* * * * *

I have never really cared about Kesha.

Let me qualify that. I have never really cared about Kesha’s music. She burst into the public consciousness in 2010 with a synthetic, self-consciously annoying little record called Animal, and I heard the first two songs and wrote her off. It was Not My Thing. The dollar sign in her name, the obviously invented or exaggerated party girl image, the cheeseball synthesizers – the whole thing felt cheap to me, and I figured she’d be gone in a year or two. I never even heard her second, Warrior. There’s a lot of music and I just didn’t care enough about this music to pay much attention to it.

But none of that means I wasn’t interested in her story, and passionately on her side. For the past five years, Kesha has been fighting to break free of her producer, Dr. Luke, whom she says physically, sexually and emotionally abused her. The courts did not have her back, denying her request to be released from her record contract (so she would not have to work with her abuser) and eventually throwing out all her abuse claims, forcing her to drop the case last August. This means she’s still on Dr. Luke’s record label, and is still bound to give him her new music.

Which, as it turns out, she has. She’d been writing and recording throughout her self-imposed exile, not wanting to give these songs to the man she was trying to get away from. I have no idea how hard it was for her to go through what she’s gone through and then hand her new music over anyway. Kesha has said that she didn’t know whether she would ever be able to create new music again, and even though she’s forced to work with Dr. Luke, she’s celebrating the release of these songs, so I’m going to celebrate with her.

And I figured that’s as far as it would go. I’d be happy to see a third Kesha album, finally. I’d be happy to see her back in the public eye, talking about her ordeal over the last five years and the reserves she drew on to finish it and release it. I’d be a cheerleader from a distance, happy for my friends who like Kesha, but continuing to not be all that interested in listening to her myself.

And then I heard “Praying,” the powerful first single from Kesha’s new album, and it was all over. I knew I would be buying and listening to this thing. “Praying” is a haunting piano number all about Dr. Luke, although it never names him. But it’s not vengeful or even angry. It comes from a place of pride and strength, wishing good things for her abuser: “I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees, praying…” This is a completely different Kesha, a serious-minded and thoughtful one.

That’s the Kesha most on display throughout Rainbow, her absolute revelation of a third album. Rainbow is ludicrously better than anything else I’ve heard from her, a massive leap into the realm of serious artist to be reckoned with. I don’t want to overhype it – it’s still a pop record, not The Age of Adz or anything – but damn if it isn’t a compelling pop record, solid and diverse and endlessly entertaining. Best of all, it showcases (for the first time, I believe) the real Kesha, not the cartoon party animal she played on her first two records. (The complete absence of Dr. Luke from the credits is not a coincidence here.)

And the real Kesha is weird and fun, of course, but also strong and self-possessed. After years of being accused of auto-tuning her way through her music to hide her vocal deficiencies, she begins Rainbow accompanied only by acoustic guitar, singing the folksy “Bastards” alone. “Don’t let the bastards get you down, don’t let the assholes wear you out,” she sings, which is basically the album’s mission statement. For the album’s first half, Kesha swears like she’s just discovered it while penning anthem after anthem about standing up and being yourself in the face of adversity.

And they’re great songs. “Let ‘Em Talk” is where the record kicks in, an electric guitar-fueled pop-punk powerhouse featuring Eagles of Death Metal. It’s so singable, and it leads perfectly into “Woman,” one of the record’s cornerstones. Over tasty licks from the Dap-Kings horns, Kesha gives us a modern-day “Respect,” declaring herself a “motherfucking woman, I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight.” You can’t listen to this song without simultaneously dancing and pumping your fist in the air. My favorite part, though, is the most authentic – it’s her breakdown into giggles in the second verse. It sounds like an outtake, like it shouldn’t be here, and I love the fact that it is.

Honestly, the record never gets less interesting. “Learn to Let Go” is a delightful pop tune, all about moving past hardship and embracing life. Its message is the record’s message, and in this context “Praying” fits perfectly. It’s not even the best piano ballad on the album, though – that prize goes to the title track, with full orchestration by Ben Folds. It’s about getting back the stars in your eyes, falling in love with being alive, and it’s exactly the hard-won encouragement you’d hope for. The soaring middle eight may be my favorite part of this record.

And then, in the second half, she just gets on with the business of being Kesha, still informed by the ordeals of the last five years but free of them in new and interesting ways. “Finding You” may be my favorite here – it’s about devotion, about saying forever and meaning it, and it’s a world-class pop song, all pianos and acoustic guitars and Kesha’s swooping voice. Good-time tunes “Boogie Feet” and “Boots” are back to the old Kesha sound, but updated in more organic ways. “Hunt You Down” is a genuine surprise, a rockabilly two-step about murdering cheating boyfriends. Believe it or not, it’s fun, and it’s great to hear Kesha having fun.

The final stretch is probably the most surprising, though. None other than Dolly Parton joins Kesha on “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” a lovely torch song she popularized in 1980. Why is it here? Well, because Kesha’s mother, Pebe Siebert, co-wrote it. Its inclusion is touching, and leads into the quirky final two songs. I’m not even sure what to say about these, they’re so outside the realm of what I expected. “Godzilla” is an acoustic ditty about loving people no matter what they are, and “Spaceship”… well, “Spaceship” is just awesome. A cosmic folk song in the middle ground between Patsy Cline and The X-Files, “Spaceship” is about not fitting in down here, and waiting for the aliens to rescue you. For real. That’s what it’s about. That Kesha is so committed to it makes it oddly beautiful. It’s one of my favorite things here.

That I have favorite things on a Kesha album is a strange experience for me. Make no mistake, though, Rainbow is a superb, solid, triumphant and endlessly entertaining piece of work. It’s such a revelation, so far beyond what I thought I was going to get that it boggles my mind. It’s a testament to her strength and resilience that it exists at all, and that it comes from such a place of peace and self-worth. She’s come through a harrowing time, and found herself on the other side, changed for the better. This is our first visit with the real Kesha, and I like her quite a bit. I can’t wait to hear what she does next.

Next week, who knows? Could be anything. Be strong until then. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Writers in the Sky
Randy Newman and Dan Wilson Show Us How It's Done

I’m often asked to name my favorite song. I always name “Wichita Lineman.”

This may seem like a strange choice, but I think it’s a perfect song. I must have first heard it on the radio when I was very young, because I cannot remember a world in which I didn’t know “Wichita Lineman.” Its melody is a glorious, ever-changing thing, capped off by a perfect rising note that still sends chills. It contains one of the most beautiful lines in all of pop music: “I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” I’ve heard probably 40 different versions of this song, and every time it gets me.

The definitive version of “Wichita Lineman,” of course, belongs to Glen Campbell, who turned it into a hit in 1968. And if that were the only thing Campbell had ever done, he’d still be noteworthy. But of course it isn’t. Campbell’s career spanned more than 50 years and led to an astonishing 80 hits, 29 of them top ten. That’s not even counting his work as a member of Los Angeles session musician collective The Wrecking Crew, with whom he performed on hundreds of the most important songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. (He’s on

And that’s not even mentioning his work in film and television. Campbell was a rare talent – a guitar player’s guitar player with a hit-maker’s charm, able to duck anonymously into work-for-hire one minute and be a charismatic band leader the next. We lost Campbell today after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Over the past seven years, Campbell has been saying a long goodbye, re-recording some of his favorites (including “Wichita Lineman”) and giving us a final album of cover tunes in June called Adios.  It’s truly marvelous stuff, and a reminder of what a powerful performer we’ve lost.

Rest in peace, Glen. And thank you.

* * * * *

Last week Manchester Orchestra released an album that takes place in and around the site of one of my laboratory’s upcoming experiments. This week Randy Newman releases an album called Dark Matter, an album that opens with an eight-minute examination of science and faith. It’s like all of music has decided to be about me.

There’s no one on earth like Randy Newman, and I’m always glad to see a new record from him. They’re appearing about once a decade now, which isn’t nearly frequently enough for me, but he’s 73 years old and his intricate work takes some time to put together. Dark Matter is… well, it’s a Randy Newman album. It’s sharp and biting and definitely not safe. It’s also tender and sad, often in ways you would never expect from a man with his singular voice. And it’s fully orchestrated – these all sound like show tunes from a Broadway in a much more interesting alternate universe.

Newman wastes no time at all on this album, hitting you with “The Great Debate” right up front. Only Newman would write this song – it’s a dramatic piece pitting the world’s scientists against religious leaders in an arena in Durham, North Carolina (which should be a hint as to how this will go). Newman’s ringmaster character demands that science explain dark matter (which it can’t yet), and gives a Ken Ham-style refutation of evolution. His snarky pronouncements are punctuated by bursts of gospel music and dancing. And then it turns meta, with a member of the audience calling out Newman by name for setting up these cynical straw men. When the song Newman is writing turns against him, it’s a wildly thrilling moment, one that says a lot about his view of America.

Dark Matter doesn’t quite get there again – “The Great Debate” is the biggest and broadest statement of this record. But there are other highlights. Oh yes. “Putin” is one of Newman’s all-time greats, a sarcastic anthem for Russia’s bare-chested leader. “He can drive his giant tractor across the Trans-Siberian plain, he can power a nuclear reactor with the left side of his brain…” The Putin girls, there to provide lascivious commentary on Vladimir’s attractiveness and power, are hilarious, as is Newman’s dismissal of them: “Putin hates the Putin girls because he hates vulgarity.”

Elsewhere, Newman takes on the roles of historical figures. “Brothers” is a dialogue between Jack and Bobby Kennedy on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis. “Sonny Boy” imagines the original Sonny Boy Williamson returning as a ghost and seeing the young upstart who stole his name. Television makes a significant mark this time, Newman giving us not only a full version of “It’s a Jungle Out There,” his theme to Monk, but resurrecting “She Chose Me,” a beautiful song he wrote for (yes, really) Stephen Bochco’s Cop Rock.

And amidst all the satire and snark, there is a real beauty to Newman’s work, and he’s never been afraid to let it show. “Lost Without You” is the album’s prettiest song, a raw and real document of a family on the verge of losing its center. It’s devastating. The record ends with its second-prettiest, “Wandering Boy,” a swaying folk song that tells a whole tale about fatherhood in three minutes. Like all of Dark Matter, it’s vintage Randy Newman, a short story in song form. While I’d like one of these short story books more than once every ten years, when we get one, it’s always cause for celebration.

* * * * *

If we’re talking about great songwriters this week – and we are – my list would absolutely include Dan Wilson.

He’s remained pretty much anonymous for most of his career, but chances are you know at least one Dan Wilson song. For nearly 20 years – basically since the breakup of his swell band, Semisonic – Wilson has been the songwriter for the stars, responsible for a remarkably wide range of tunes performed by a remarkably wide range of artists. Just over the last year, he’s written songs for Phantogram, Halsey, Cold War Kids, the Head and the Heart, Sara Watkins, Andrew Bird and Weezer, among others.

Like Jimmy Webb, the man behind “Wichita Lineman,” Wilson has stayed out of the spotlight, only receiving accolades for his myriad songsmithing contributions from those in the know. But his new solo album is designed to remedy that, showcasing Wilson’s versions of songs he wrote or co-wrote for others. It’s called Re-Covered (get it?), and it includes some of the biggest hits Wilson has penned, as well as some interesting deeper cuts.

I’ll admit that I was more interested in the idea behind Re-Covered than the album itself. Wilson’s versions of these songs are all sturdy and enjoyable. I’m especially fond of his take on “All Will Be Well,” a song recorded by the Gabe Dixon Band (and used in a great episode of Parks and Recreation). The horn arrangements are spot on, and Wilson sings this with a delightfully wistful quality. But he’s not quite the singer he needs to be to match the original versions of some of these tunes.

Most notable here, of course, is Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Wilson gamely sings it, and he does a fine job, but come on, he’s no Adele. Others, like “You and I,” recorded by John Legend, and “Not Ready to Make Nice,” popularized by the Dixie Chicks, suffer similar fates. I like these versions fine, but I probably won’t turn to them very often.

Re-Covered does burst to life when Wilson tackles lesser-known tunes. “Landing” was written with his brother Matt for his 1998 solo album, and this re-do is marvelous. Wilson breathes new life into “Your Misfortune,” co-written with Mike Doughty. And I adore this take on “When the Stars Come Out,” originally performed by country darling Chris Stapleton. Wilson caps things off with a new take on “Closing Time,” Semisonic’s biggest hit, reminding everyone listening that yes, he wrote that one too.

I don’t want to be hard on Re-Covered. I like it fine. It certainly accomplishes its main purpose – connecting Dan Wilson’s name to all of these terrific songs he’s written. If this opens some people’s eyes to his wide-ranging, below-the-surface talent, I’m all for it.

* * * * *

Next week, Kesha’s comeback. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

See you in line Tuesday morning.

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty
Finally Some New Music Reviews

Who wants to talk about music?

Well, good. Me too. So let me start by telling you a story about science.

I work for a particle physics laboratory, and a couple weeks ago we held a groundbreaking for our latest and largest experiment. We’re basically building a 70,000-ton monolith that will help us capture more information about tiny particles called neutrinos that are all around us, but are frustratingly difficult to study. This wasn’t just any groundbreaking – it took place a mile underground, in the site of the old Homestake mine in South Dakota.

Homestake used to be the deepest gold mine in North America. It’s located in a town called Lead, which is pronounced like “lead on, MacDuff” despite the many lead-into-gold jokes that a different pronunciation would open up. To get to the site of what will be our new experiment, you have to take a cage (basically an open wooden elevator operated by a massive 80-year-old winching system) down for about 10 minutes, watching the rock pass by as you go, and then get onto a motorized tram car and travel for another 10 minutes through narrow caverns of rock. It was quite the experience.

While I was there, I got a sense of how important the Homestake mine was to this region, and how intimately tied to the mine the history of Lead is. I met people who worked in the mine, and whose parents and grandparents worked in the mine. Building our new experiment will create a couple thousand local jobs, and the people of Lead are grateful to the underground research facility that took donation of the mine in 2009. They’re pleased to see something that was the center of their town’s life continue to be put to good use.

I mention all of this to say that I have a personal connection to Manchester Orchestra’s brilliant new album, A Black Mile to the Surface. Its story takes place in and around the Homestake mine, when it was still used for its original purpose. There’s a song called “Lead, S.D,” the only song that breaks with the album’s article-noun naming convention. (Others include “The Maze,” “The Gold,” “The Silence,” etc.) The mine and the town are used as a symbol of being stuck in a place, and later on, being stuck in a family.

Manchester Orchestra (they’re actually from Atlanta) is led by Andy Hull, a powerful singer who writes aching lyrics and sweeping melodies to go with them. Hull has said that Black Mile was inspired by the birth of his now-three-year-old daughter. Becoming a father has matured Hull, but it has also opened up new topics for him to dissect with his trademark fervor. This is a record about being part of a family, but it is also one about death and insignificance, about seeing one’s life for the fleeting thing that it is. It’s fitting that it was inspired by a birth, because this record really is the birth of something new for the band.

A Black Mile is the most complex and widescreen Manchester Orchestra record, and it gets there not by going bigger (as if they could get bigger than the amps-on-fire rock they’ve been playing since the start), but by embracing dynamics and scope. It’s the most well-produced album in their catalog, and in this case that doesn’t mean that it’s glossy or blunted. It just means it sounds fuller, that instead of just running headlong into the red, the band is now playing on a canvas that can accommodate their ambitions. Their last records, the scorching Cope and its quiet twin Hope, explored the extremes of their sound. Black Mile brings it all together, showing what they’re really capable of.

Hull and the band have responded with their best set of songs, their most cry-out-in-the-desert honest work they’ve ever delivered. Much of this album is wrapped up in fictional narratives, and it’s remarkable – as it always is with this band – that they’re able to cut right to the emotional heart anyway. “The Gold” is one of the sharpest songs they’ve written, Hull introducing us to a couple torn apart by the gold mine and their differences. “You and me, we’re a day drink, so lose your faith in me,” he sings over a rolling 6/8 riff, and it’s magical.

While “The Gold” is a high point, the album never slips from that pinnacle. Other highlights include the tricky, furious “The Moth,” the lower-key and lovely “The Alien,” the Hull solo track “The Parts” (probably the saddest and most affecting of these songs) and the extraordinary closer “The Silence,” on which Hull addresses the chains of family: “Little girl, you are cursed by my ancestry, there’s nothing but darkness and agony…”

A Black Mile to the Surface is a novel in album form, a dark masterpiece about responsibility and inertia. I went into it looking for connections to my own life and Homestake, but came out of it simply blown away by the heart and scope of this thing. I’ve always liked Manchester Orchestra, but this is the first time I have unreservedly loved every song, the first time that Hull’s horizon-wide narratives and ambition have swept me along like a pebble in a river. Everything about this record is beautiful. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

* * * * *

Ambition, scope and heart used to be the hallmarks of Arcade Fire, the Montreal band with like 75 members. They exploded out of nowhere 13 years ago with a driving, nostalgic rock record called Funeral, and only got better on 2007’s Neon Bible and 2010’s The Suburbs. Arcade Fire’s sound was enormous and all-encompassing, the sort of thing you can only do for so long before burning out on it.

The turning point came on Reflektor, a double album on which the band embraced danceable, Talking Heads-ish grooves. And now they’ve gone full Abba on their fifth and worst record, Everything Now. Most of this album takes the form of a dance party about materialism and commercialism, which certainly feels like an attempt at irony, but it’s so leaden, so on the nose, that it falls flat. U2 took on a similar irony in the ‘90s and did it far more successfully, which should put this backfire in perspective.

Not that this doesn’t shimmy and shake convincingly. The opening trilogy of the bubblegum-pop title track, the relentless “Signs of Life” and the throbbing synths of “Creature Comfort” certainly set a tone, Win Butler railing against our dead-inside culture and addressing teenage suicide with typical bluntness: “God, make me famous, and if you can’t, just make it painless.” The synth-heavy sound is bright neon, the words subversive, but Butler acts as if no one has ever thought of this dichotomy before.

To say “things go south from there” is to understate considerably. “Peter Pan,” “Chemistry” and the two tracks titled “Infinite Content” are the worst Arcade Fire songs ever. It’s amazing to me that something as goofy and unlistenable as the faux-reggae “Chemistry” ever made it past the rehearsal stage. You simply won’t believe how bad it is. And Butler sings his lyrical pun on “Infinite Content” – in one form a piss-poor punk pastiche and in the other a lazy Sunday acoustic piece – with an unearned sense of self-satisfaction.

The album gets more interesting in its final third, but it couldn’t really get less interesting. I actually like the pulsing love song “Put Your Money on Me,” though its obvious “commercialism is not as good as love” theme is pretty basic, and the slow burner “We Don’t Deserve Love” is the album’s best song. Had they started from there, scrapped everything else and really buckled down, they might have written something worthwhile. As it is, though, Everything Now is remarkably facile and surprisingly limp. It’s a sad and precipitous fall for a once-great band, and proof that if you make a bad record ironically, you’ve still made a bad record.

* * * * *

The artist formally known as Klayton seems to delight in being hard to predict.

He is the sole member of three projects. As Celldweller, he specializes in epic, genre-busting electronic prog-metal awesomeness. As Circle of Dust, he pummels you with chugging guitar-heavy industrial madness. And as Scandroid, he time-travels to the 1980s and channels the Blade Runner soundtrack for pure retro synth-pop goodness. He’s worked hard over the past few years to establish and separate these identities, even remixing songs from one project in the style of the others, just to delineate them.

So of course, his new Celldweller album, Offworld, sounds like nothing else he’s done. Gone are the hyperactive electronic drums, gone are the bursts of distorted guitar, gone is the almost ADD-quality genre-hopping. Offworld is a quiet, reflective thing, centered mainly on shoegaze-style clean guitar and melancholy atmosphere. It’s still perfectly produced, big-sounding and clear, but the subtle keyboard flourishes and linear, organic guitar that dominate this record are a surprise.

Is it any good? Of course it is. The expansive title track kicks things off with a long instrumental introduction that sets the tone. “How Little I Must Know” is the most naked Klayton has ever allowed himself to be on record – just an electric guitar, a subtle synth and emotional vocals. “The Great Divide” is a splendid single, strummy and memorable. He knocks a cover of the Call’s “Too Many Tears” out of the park, and then positively reinvents Scandroid’s “Awakening with You” as a shoegaze epic. “Into the Fall” is a rewrite of Circle of Dust’s “Embracing Entropy,” and it’s thoroughly unrecognizable.

Offworld is just the right length, too. Seventy-five minutes of this melancholy might have been too much. Klayton stops at 47 minutes, following up the terrific “Last Night on Earth” with a reprise of the title track. As a bonus, he gives us a stunning Ulrich Schnauss remix of “Awakening with You” that is absolutely worth the additional five minutes. This is a successful experiment on Klayton’s part – a Celldweller album that sounds nothing like Celldweller, and yet fits in with the aesthetic he’s built. It blurs the lines between his three projects while forging new paths. In short, it’s Klayton, and I’m still glad to be along for the ride.

Check out Klayton’s work here:

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Next week, more music with Randy Newman and Dan Wilson. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

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Why is Everything So Heavy?
Chester Bennington, 1976-2017

We lost Chester Bennington this week.

I’ll talk about Linkin Park first, because that part’s easier. I have long maintained that Linkin Park doesn’t get the respect they deserve. Their first album, the processed rock-rap hit factory Hybrid Theory, is still their biggest-selling, and I think many people assumed the band’s entire bag of tricks was exhausted on their first go-round. But Linkin Park proved to be one of the most artistically restless bands to ever sell more than ten million records.

Truthfully, they only carbon-copied themselves once – their rushed second album, Meteora, is basically Hybird Theory II. But after that, Bennington and his bandmates never really revisited that sound. Minutes to Midnight is a largely quiet and reflective thing, and then their magnum opus A Thousand Suns took them to a new level. A more mature, political work, A Thousand Suns was a patchwork quilt of influences, from Bowie to Chuck D. It still surprises me each time I hear it.

From there they kept throwing curve balls. Living Things has grown in my estimation – I gave it short shrift because it wasn’t as all-over-the-map creative as A Thousand Suns, but it’s a strong and risky electro-pop record. The awesome The Hunting Party followed that up with a full-on metal record, and I don’t mean the radio metal of Hybrid Theory. I mean old-school blast-beat metal. And just two months ago, they took a dive into glossy radio pop, the kind they’d never really made before. I’m still absorbing One More Light, but I waver between thinking of it as the ultimate sellout and considering it their most beautiful set of songs.

My favorite artists keep me guessing, and Linkin Park certainly did that. And in Chester Bennington they had a singer who could handle anything they threw at him. He could scream with the best of them, and wasn’t intimidated at all by metal epics like “Keys to the Kingdom,” and he could also sing with subtlety, as he proved one last time on the title track of One More Light. I’m not sure Bennington ever got the respect he deserved either.

Now we get to the more difficult part. Last Thursday, Bennington was found dead in his California home. He had hung himself, another victim of depression who saw no other way out. Bennington killed himself on what would have been Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday, had he not also hung himself two months prior.

This is a lot to take in. Bennington didn’t have quite the impact on my life Cornell did, but he was a singer I always looked forward to hearing, and now we won’t get to hear him again. I knew very little about his private life, about his daily struggle. I do know this, though: depression is real. It’s a clawing, insidious thing that works on you every minute, convincing you that you’re not worth anything and the world would be better without you. It can strike at any time, but the truth is if you have it, it’s always there, coiled and waiting.

I would never presume to know what Bennington felt, or what he went through. But for many years I have glossed over his more angst-filled lyrics, the same way I did those of Cornell and Cobain and others. And maybe that’s my fault for not taking them seriously. Bennington has been telling us for his whole career that he is in pain, that he’s close to giving up. He even wrote his own eulogy in “Leave Out All the Rest”: “When my time comes, forget the wrong that I’ve done, help me leave behind some reasons to be missed, don’t resent me and when you’re feeling empty, keep me in your memory, leave out all the rest…”

I’ve been listening to Linkin Park intently since Bennington’s death, and it all sounds new to me. Even a pop song like “Nobody Can Save Me” hurts now: “I’m dancing with my demons, I’m hanging off the edge, storm clouds gathered beneath me, waves break above my head… I’m holding up a light, chasing out the darkness inside, but nobody can save me now…”

The most painful for me, though, is “One More Light,” which quickly became one of my favorite Linkin Park songs. It is a passionately anti-suicide plea: “Who cares if someone’s time runs out if a moment is all we are? Who cares if one more light goes out? Well, I do.” God, it hurts. And not just because I will miss Bennington and his work. It hurts because Bennington sung this song, believed this song, connected with it so deeply that he could barely get through it at Cornell’s funeral, and it wasn’t enough. The very idea of that pains me to my soul.

Suicide stories are always difficult for me. I think I’ve said enough about this one. Remember that you are loved, and remember to let others know that they are loved. If anything will beat back the darkness, it’s love.


On the subject of farewells, we lost two longtime Doctor Who stalwarts this week, and I wanted to mention them.

Deborah Watling played the Second Doctor’s companion Victoria Waterfield in 1967 and 1968. Victoria was a classic damsel in distress kind of companion, and I always wished she’d been given more development, but Watling screamed and ran away like a pro. The moments of her brief run where she was allowed to be fierce and inventive have always drawn cheers from me. A few years ago the BBC announced that it had recovered nine episodes of ‘60s Doctor Who, episodes that had been missing for 45 years. Watling is in all nine of those episodes, and I’m so glad we have more of her performance now to watch. Deborah Watling died on Friday, July 21 after a brief bout with lung cancer. She was 69.

Trevor Baxter had an interesting life quite apart from Doctor Who – he toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in productions in several countries, and wrote many plays himself. But to me, he will always be Professor Litefoot, investigator of infernal incidents. 1977’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang is one of the strangest and best Doctor Who stories, and not just because it introduced the world to Jago and Litefoot. But that’s high up on its list of good qualities. Theater owner Henry Gordon Jago, played by Christopher Benjamin, and Professor George Litefoot, played by Baxter, were a classic double act, one boisterous and prone to exaggeration, the other meticulous and reserved.

The pair would go on to reprise their roles as Jago and Litefoot in an audio series from Big Finish that ran 13 seasons. To say that they are beloved among Who fans is to understate by miles. Baxter died of unknown causes on July 16. He was 84. There are some fine tributes to him on the Big Finish page.

Of course, the big Doctor Who news is the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. She’s an inspired choice to play the first female Doctor. Whittaker is a tremendous actress, an out-of-nowhere selection that instantly feels right. She’s going to be superb. I’m actually much more worried about the material she will get, due to Chris Chibnall’s imminent takeover as showrunner. Chibnall’s work for the show has been so-so at best – in fact, Whittaker’s casting is the first glimmer of hope I have had for his era. She will likely be the best thing about it, but I am very excited now to see how it goes.

And Whittaker is exactly the caliber of actor you need to succeed someone like Peter Capaldi, who over three years in the role has more than proven himself to be one of the all-time greats. I like Capaldi a lot more than many seem to – I think he may be the best actor to ever take on the role of the Doctor, and he’s played the part with a subtlety that flies in the face of the David Tennant-Matt Smith style. (Not that I don’t also like that style!) I’ll have more to say about Capaldi when he bows out at Christmas. But let me leave it by saying this: it’s a great time to be a fan of Doctor Who.

Next week, some actual music reviews. I promise! Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

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The Music of AudioFeed 2017
Some New Discoveries, Some Old Favorites, Some Great Records

Last week I waxed eloquent about the importance of the AudioFeed Festival, to me and to the world in which it lives. But this is a music column after all, so it’s time to talk about the music I picked up while I was there.

AudioFeed, as I have mentioned before, has pound for pound more excellent music than any other festival I could name. For the past few years, once the old-school headliners stopped being the only draw, it has been my yearly chance to chart the growth of some new favorites and an unmissable opportunity to discover even newer favorites. And I always walk away with a ton of new CDs.

This year there were fewer out-of-the-park discoveries. But there certainly were a couple. One of them, in fact, is a couple: Dave and Licia Radford of Nashville, who go by the name The Gray Havens. (Obscure Tolkien reference!) They refer to their music as narrative folk, and it certainly fits that description. They write story-songs (the absolutely delightful “Sirens” is a good example of this), and though they are stripped-down live, their voices intertwining over guitars or pianos, they are full-blooded on record.

I bought all three of the Gray Havens’ albums, and although I missed out on their recent Kickstarter, I am patiently awaiting their fourth. The latest, Ghost of a King, is really nice – there are shades of Coldplay here and there, and hints of Gungor, but mostly the Gray Havens are their own thing. I’d write more about these albums, but my lovely girlfriend has had them since AudioFeed (she loves them as much as I do), so I’ve only heard them online. But when record number four arrives, I will certainly delve deeper. Check them out here.

The AudioFeed community seemed excited to have booked as one of their headliners an act I’d never heard of: Lowercase Noises. It turned out to be the one-man project of Andrew Othling, who has been releasing beautiful ambient music under his band name since 2010. His show was breathtaking – an hour of sweeping, wave-like, gorgeous noise flowing over the audience as we watched mysterious shapes and colors appear on a screen at the back of the stage. Othling made oceans of wonder come out of his guitar, and it was bliss.

His new Lowercase Noises album is called The Swiss Illness, and it’s great. It’s about nostalgia, which was characterized as a disease during the 17th to 19th centuries, particularly in Switzerland. Soldiers were discharged for nostalgia, and were treated for it as if it were a mental disorder. The music on The Swiss Illness, though completely instrumental, feels sad and nostalgic to me. It’s almost overwhelmingly pretty, and listening to it on full volume is like being surrounded by water, cut off from everything, experiencing nothing but beauty. I love it. I’m hungry for more. Buy it here.

On the exact other end of the musical spectrum, there is Death Therapy. It’s the new project from Jason Wisdom of metal band Becoming the Archetype. Incidentally, I remember Wisdom and his bandmates handing out free CDs at Cornerstone in 2002, dreaming of being signed. Becoming the Archetype turned into a popular and impressive band, with five records and an EP to their name. Wisdom left in 2011 to pursue other avenues.

Those other avenues have led him to Death Therapy, a band I saw in action at last year’s AudioFeed. They’re danceable electro-metal, kind of like Deliverance’s Assimilation album, but more complex and shouty. Electronic drums sit alongside organic ones, distorted bass fires out in rhythmic bursts. Everything is about the groove. Death Therapy’s debut album is called The Storm Before the Calm, and it’s everything I was hoping for. I’m fond of every song, but the two-part instrumental at the end was a particularly interesting surprise. Find out more here.

Insomniac Folklore is a mainstay at AudioFeed. I saw them the first year, and was not surprised to hear that they are from Portland, Oregon. They take a lot from the Decemberists, though they are more stripped-back and apocalyptic. I’ve enjoyed their shows, but never picked up one of their albums before.

I rectified that this year, buying their new one, Everything Will Burn. While the title sounds more like something Death Therapy would put out, this album is rooted in centuries-old folk music and anchored by the baritone voice of Tyler Hentschel. It’s rickety in the best way, swaying back and forth on concertinas and cellos. The album is a song cycle about Exodus, and while it certainly isn’t for everyone, I find myself more enchanted by it than not. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a band quite like this one, and for that alone they deserve respect. Check the record out here.

I’ve made some discoveries at AudioFeed that I know will be with me the rest of my life. Von Strantz is one of them. Led by the core duo of Jess and Kelsey Von Strantz (they’re not related, they just both adopted the band name as their own), this band has appeared in half a dozen different incarnations throughout AudioFeed history. Their folksier early EPs shared space with some jazzier tracks on their first album, Narratives, which I praised effusively here a couple years ago.

A couple months ago, I pledged to a Kickstarter campaign for a new Von Strantz record called Apple of Your Eye, recorded with John Vanderslice. I was a little surprised to find out that Apple’s seven songs only stretch to 20 minutes, but they’re a pretty terrific 20 minutes. Von Strantz played the album straight through live at AudioFeed in a more acoustic setting that really brought the songs home, and prepared me for the more electronic, bizarre production they’ve employed on the record itself.

This is absolutely a divorce record, detailing the dissolution of Jess’ relationship. It’s darker and more difficult than the more upbeat Narratives, but it’s naked and powerful. Songs like “Loved You More” lay it bare: “Every time we touched, it never seemed to mean much to you…” The lyrics keep the songs grounded, no matter how many strange avenues the music takes. (The grooves of the title track and “Best Kept Secret” are particularly well-constructed, made of unlikely materials.) The best thing here, though, is the Adele-like “Sometimes It Hurts,” a simple piano piece that Jess sings the living hell out of. It’s a stunning closer to a record that takes Von Strantz to new places, musically and emotionally.

There doesn’t seem to be any place online to hear the new one, but you can hear all the old ones here.

Jess Von Strantz is also one-half of a band called Native Land, along with singer/songwriter (and fiancee) Matthew Hobler. Hobler’s songs are altogether stranger, but quite beautiful – he reminds me of Tim Buckley more than anyone else, writing and singing space-y acoustic tunes with cosmic imagery and surprising melodies. Native Land’s self-titled EP is handmade – it comes on a CD-R in a paper bag – and was recorded at home, but the lovely songs come through. I’m particularly fond of closer “Aneetha May,” which sounds timeless to my ears. You can hear the EP here.

But perhaps my favorite new CD I picked up at (actually shortly after) AudioFeed comes from Sho Baraka. I’d never heard of him before his post-midnight set on the final day of the festival, but he knocked me out. Imagine the gospel-tinged hip-hop of Chance the Rapper with a more pointed social awareness, a deeper willingness to talk about racism and inequality and systemic oppression and how those are moral issues for people of faith. Baraka walked into an almost entirely white room and guided this audience by the hand through all of these hard topics, with grace and humor and confidence. It was one of the best shows of the weekend.

Baraka’s new album is called The Narrative, and it is everything I could have wanted after his set. It’s a powerful piece of work, walking us through the history of racial oppression in this country and never whitewashing the role of the church in that oppression. It’s also, paradoxically, a lot of fun. “Kanye” uses Chicago’s loudest as license to rant, and the rant itself is fantastic. “Here” and “Excellent” are eminently danceable tracks with heavier themes. “Fathers” is a moving ode to men who take responsibility, and the closer “Piano Break” (which got Baraka banned from LifeWay Christian bookstores for using the word “penis”) is perhaps his fullest expression here, a deep and wide-ranging poem of anguish and love.

The Narrative is superb in every way, probably my favorite hip-hop album I have heard this year. (It came out last year, alas, or it would be in my list.) You can check Sho Baraka out here. He has a follow-up EP to The Narrative out now too, called Pianos and Politics, and I am looking forward to hearing that.

All in all, a pretty good haul from AudioFeed 2017. Already looking forward to next year. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

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Why AudioFeed Matters
The Festival That's Best of All

The AudioFeed Festival turned five this year.

I’m happy to say I haven’t missed an AudioFeed yet, and if I have anything to say about it, I’ll be there each year for as long as the merry band who organizes it keeps the torches lit. It’s become for me like going home and seeing family once a year. I’ve really stopped being able to review the festival, if that’s ever what I was doing, since it’s become such an important part of my life.

I’ve talked at length in this space about why AudioFeed is important to me. I grew up in a church, but for 25 years after I left, I’ve never felt at home in houses of worship. I’m still not sure what I believe, or even how best to explore the belief I have. The constant thread, though – the thing that keeps me coming back to a sense of the divine, the infinite – has been music. I grew up listening to Christian music – awful stuff, like Petra – but in 1990, I bought a mysterious-looking album called Circle Slide from one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure to stumble on, The Choir.

The rest is history. My love of the Choir introduced me to Daniel Amos and Adam Again and the 77s and Starflyer 59 and so many other artists. My life would be infinitely poorer without them all. I eventually made my way to Cornerstone, the legendary alternative Christian music festival in Illinois, and when I moved to this state in 2004, I started going regularly. Cornerstone allowed me to see bands like the Choir and the 77s live for the first time, and introduced me to many more terrific artists I may never have encountered otherwise.

Still and all, I never felt comfortable at Cornerstone. I felt like an impostor more often than not, as if I were just waiting to be unmasked as a non-believer. I made some dear friends at Cornerstone, but always came away from it feeling like I’d crashed a party, and barely got away with it. Still, I was heartbroken when Cornerstone ended its mammoth 28-year run in 2012, and when the Choir, the last band on the last night, closed their set with “To Bid Farewell,” I definitely had something in my eye. (It’s really dusty in Bushnell.)

AudioFeed has gamely stepped into that gap, but it’s become more than clear over the ensuing five years that they have no intention of being the “next Cornerstone.” While the main draws for me at first were the bands I have loved for decades, I’m now just as excited about discovering new artists and seeing again the bands I first found at AudioFeed. I’m there for the likes of Von Strantz and Hushpad and Marah in the Mainsail (bring them back!) as I am for the old favorites.

As you might have guessed, this approach has turned off a lot of the old Cornerstone crowd, and I used to worry about that too. But I’ve seen this remarkable community grow up around AudioFeed, and I understand now that this festival is for them, not for the folks who just want to re-live the good old days. It’s about the future, in ways that Cornerstone no longer was. It’s about nurturing a new crop of fantastic artists and supporting them as they grow and create. And if they happen to explore faith in interesting ways, more so the better.

For five years running, I have felt at home at AudioFeed. It’s a festival that accepts people wherever they are in their journey, and invites them to participate. That, more than anything else, is what I need. I’ve recently started going to church again for the first time in a quarter-century, and it’s because I found a place that believes that everyone is welcome. Religion, for so many people, is about exclusion, about building walls between people and then getting on the “right” side of those walls. And I have always thought that it should be about love.

Because, as a band I love once sang, there’s something wonderful about love.

This fifth year was no exception. It was less a year of discovery for me – there seemed to be fewer new acts I had not seen before, but there certainly were some, including the Grey Havens and Lowercase Noises, that I will now follow forever. My favorite sets this year were mainly found on the larger Arkansas Stage, and included a smooth and soulful show by singer Liz Vice, a completely unexpected old-time gospel revue from the normally swamp-blues-y Sean Michel, a similarly surprising gritty set from John Mark McMillan, a guided tour through social issues set to rhyme by Sho Baraka and another chance to see the rolling fireball that is Ravenhill. My friend Jeff Elbel played two sterling sets as well, one with his current band Ping (road-testing several songs from the upcoming The Threefinger Opera) and one that reunited his ‘90s band Farewell to Juliet.

In addition to Sho Baraka (more about him next week), there were a couple shows at AudioFeed 2017 that I think demonstrate clearly why this festival is not just important to me, but an important thing to have in the world. With evangelicals supporting Donald Trump (still!) in record numbers and Christians seemingly standing against every fight for equality, I can think of no institution that needs to consider other viewpoints as much as the church does. And one of those viewpoints the church needs to consider is why people leave it.

The organizers of AudioFeed invited Derek Webb to make his debut appearance at the Radon Lounge (basically the acoustic stage). Webb is a superstar in this corner of the music world, having made his name with Caedmon’s Call and a slew of inventive, incisive, decidedly Christian solo records. But in the intervening years, Webb’s marriage dissolved (due to infidelity on his part), and he has lost his faith. His new songs, to be released on an album called Fingers Crossed later this year, detail that loss of faith with as much honestly and insight as he has brought to his entire career.

He played six of those new songs, and make no mistake, they are searing and amazing. They would have had him run out of Cornerstone on a rail. That AudioFeed gave him a platform to share them, and that the audience accepted both them and him as they are, speaks volumes about why I am so comfortable at this festival. When they say they want everyone to feel welcome, they mean it. I identified with much of what Webb was singing about, and had the audience turned on him, they would have been turning on me too. But they didn’t.

Similarly, one of the headliners this year was David Bazan, who, with his band Pedro the Lion, was an important part of the Christian indie scene in the ‘90s. Bazan also went through a very public loss of faith some years ago, and has been writing (brilliantly) from that perspective ever since. His work is bleaker now, more concerned with struggle and silence than it used to be, but it’s no less wonderful. (And he’s just delivered a swell platter from his new supergroup Lo Tom that is well worth hearing.)

I encountered some Christians who could not believe that David Bazan was not only invited to be part of AudioFeed, but was headlining. This would never happen at Cornerstone, or at any other Christian festival, they said. And of course, they’re right. That, to me, is what makes AudioFeed special. Bazan wasn’t preached at or lectured. He was listened to and loved, right where he is. I think we could all use more of that, but I think the church especially could learn that lesson.

Yeah, AudioFeed is just a music festival, a gathering of a few thousand in a fairground in Champaign once a year. But it feels like so much more than that. It feels like a family to me, and in the way it approaches community, inclusion and diversity, it feels like the future. It feels important. I’m so grateful I get to visit every summer, and I hope I get to every summer for a long, long time. Viva AudioFeed.

Next week, I’ll talk about some of the music I picked up at this year’s festival. Yes, music! I know, right? Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

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