Posted by: Adam Roper | May 9, 2009

Personal Finances Part 2: Traceability

A little while ago I came across the idea of “Traceability”, relating it at first to food products then everything in general. The Traceability of food or a product measures the extent to which you can trace the origin of something. It’s basically trying to discover how many miles the product had to travel to get to your hands, and the impact of a product (one great example is the Paper Audit Geez Magazine publishes every issue).

A potato I buy at a local produce store is relatively easy to trace, as the farmer probably drove it ten or so miles to the store. A package of convenience food is more difficult to trace, because likely all the ingredients came from different countries- wherever the food could be purchased the cheapest distance, regardless of the distance or environmental/social impact.

The environmental impact, as well, varies between products. The impact of Factory Farmed Beef is more difficult to trace than the impact of a small local farm. Factory produced products may be cheap enough to buy, but as consumer you really have to ask why the product is so cheap- what factors contribute to the low price.

There are two great resources that I have come across recently that express the theme of traceability:

1) Black Gold. Black Gold is a documentary that examines every aspect of the coffee industry- everything from classy barista competitions to the farmers of the coffee, to markets that coffee growers sell their coffee to. One scene shows a group of farmers discussing the profit of their coffee, explaining that some farmers are paid 25cents for a sack of coffee worth $250.

2) Chris Jordan’s Photography.  Recently I came across Chris Jordan’s powerful visual images. Jordan’s projects take staggering measurements of how much is consumed in North America everyday and create visual pictures with them. An example is one image that “depicts 28,000 42-gallon barrels, the amount of oil consumed in the United States every two minutes (equal to the flow of a medium-sized river).” I encourage you to spend some time with these images sometime this next week, really taking them in.

The reason I bring up the topic of Traceability in a discussion on Personal Finance is this: Every purchase we make leaves a footprint. Some leave larger ones than others. The question is whether or not we would care to consider the impact each purchase carries with it.

As consumers we can slip into the habit of purchasing things without having to think about where they come from. And, to be fair, it’s really easy and convenient to do so. A grocery store worries about getting the food into a central location for you to buy it. Malls stock items that are cheap enough to buy. Why worry? The tag on my t-shirt says where which country the shirt is from but I’m not immediately required to think about how the shirt is made, what the shirt is made of, who made the shirt, how much they got paid, how much waste the factory the shirts were produced in creates, or where the shirt traveled before getting to the mall.

It’s staggering how complex the commerce in our world has become. The vast majority of the products we buy are sourced from other countries because the manufacturing costs were cheaper in other countries. Or the food was in season two thousand miles away.  At the heart of commerce there is the sad truth: That the reason why a shirt costs ten dollars here is that the person who made the shirt only gets paid 30cents and hour, and the from the $10 pound of coffee we buy the farmer only sees less than a cent (I hope you will forgive these generalizations I use to express the point).

So, why should we change how we buy things? And how? I’ll explore this topic more next time (and leave you hanging again! Ah ha ha!). To reassure you I’ll also continue exploring what a reflective approach to Personal Finances looks like, as promised.

Stay tuned.

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Posted by: Adam Roper | May 7, 2009

Personal Finances

In case you were all wondering the Great Blog Off, which I am currently taking part in, ended round two last week. The big winner this round was Alan Schram’s “Saving for Serenity“, a down-to-earth journal about finances. It’s really a fantastic blog so far, and Alan has a wise conciseness about his writing. I highly recommend adding it to your feeds.

Anyway, Finances have been a recurring topic in the Blog Off this round. Jeff Hawker recently published an article about to enjoy life more by spending less. And awhile ago Adam Louwen wrote an encouraging story about his decision to turn down a high paying job in favor of focusing on photography.

With those entries in mind I thought I would give my take on finances. Let me begin by being brutally honest: I am lousy with money. I don’t manage it very well, I don’t keep track of my spending, and I get myself into a lot of trouble as a result. Now that the negative side of my financial life is out there, I will look at the positive aspects of my financial life.

Some of the best lessons in life are learned from the most difficult things in life. In my own life all my greatest lessons with money started with major mistakes I made, and I had to learn this way. No-one ever taught me about money, so the natural thing to do was teach myself. Unfortunately I’m not a very good self-teacher because I do not know the subject. So I’m learning as I go.

The most important thing I have learned about money is this:  To learn how to manage finances in the most informed way possible we have to take a reflective approach. By that I mean, we have to be aware of how we spend money and why.

I say that because, as I have realized, our North American culture is also lousy with money. Currently the entire world is being affected by a failed financial system that was, at it’s core, developed by mistakes- mistakes based upon one obvious and destructive lie- that the goal is ones life should be to make as much money as possible, and spend it on things that make life better.

If you want to get better with money here is the first step: Seek to comprehend how your spending affects everything- how your spending affects:

a) Your own life (how your soul is affected by how you buy things).
b) The lives of others (how the world is affected by your spending habits.

As I said in an earlier entry, our soul is affected by everything we do. How we spend money affects how much we care about the rest of the world besides our own life, and how much we choose to value human existence, among other things.

When we become careless with our money, and spend without thinking, it negatively affects our ability to examine poverty- the comprehension of why some people are rich while others are poor (this idea is detailed in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations). In a causal approach to money- spending without having to wonder why we are allowed to spend so freely- we become numb to the truth that a vast population of the world doesn’t have the luxury a “disposable income”.

When we choose to be more conscious about our financial spending I believe our souls become restless. We become restless because, really, how can a person realize the implications of injustice and not be moved to change? A more reflective approach to money would ask why some people can’t afford to eat, while others are buying new cell-phones every two months.

Practically speaking, what does a reflective approach to finances look like in everyday life? I’ll pick up on that question with my next entry.

Posted by: Adam Roper | May 2, 2009

CBC Radio Three Sessions

Hey friends. If you have ITUNES look up / download this podcast! This is a series of interviews/performances with emerging Canadian artists. You will not be disappointing.

My favorites so far are Sam Roberts, Two Hours Traffic, The Acorn, Wintersleep, Ladyhawke, and Neko Case.

Cheers.

Posted by: Adam Roper | May 1, 2009

god/love: a case study

Yesterday I wrote a poem in two parts, completely randomly while I was sitting on my deck. It was a beautiful sunny day yesterday, but I had spent the greater part of my day wandering around the house thinking/worrying a lot about the past four months. Somehow in that 9 or so hour period this poem came to me in a really unexplainable way. This proves a theory I’ve had for awhile: That sometimes worship is not so much us offering our gift to God, but God offering our gift to us. How else are we to make sense of some of the more difficult things in life? By worrying them to death yet never finding resolution? The way God works through our artistic expression is, indeed, a loving and mysterious act of creativity.

That said, here is the poem I wrote in two parts with some commentary.

Regarding Love

Dear Love,

Now that you’re here
you’re never here at all-
at my door or in my window,
a photograph under a kitchen magnet,
a hand-written note on the fridge.

With this poem I tried to express how I am feeling about love these days. I fully realize the fact that I have a lot of love in my life, and a lot of people think highly of me. Even so, I don’t always feel the presence of this love. Maybe community is an everyday thing, something we have to experience to some degree every day in our lives. This whole concept of the Five Love Languages comes from this idea: that love is expressed differently for everyone, and love is expressed in many different ways. As people we need to know we are loved, but we also need real reminders of the fact that love exists- we need to feel it.

Regarding God

A response:
I don’t have one at the moment
against all my sarcasm and cynicism
at the movements of God-
I question things I don’t understand, and
scorn things I pretend to.

In the past four months I’ve experience a lot of disappointment and missed opportunities (as well as having a lot of really good things present in my life). Because of some of the more seemingly ironic things I developed a sarcastic and cynical view towards God. I feel with every missed job opportunity, every concert I can’t attend, and every missed chanced for community was a sure sign that God is being sarcastic, trying to spite me because I can’t seem to get the point. To be honest, this is a really unfortunate idea to believe. God is not up there trying to make a joke out of my life, though it feels that way.

With difficult seasons it gets hard to have faith that God is in control. We’d rather accuse God of being spiteful rather than take a moment to think about the truth of where God is working in our lives. I have two responses to my struggle to understand God’s intentions: 1) the honest and legitimate approach of ‘questioning things I don’t understand’, and 2) Scorning things I think I understand so well, so I can feel justified, so I can be sarcastic- really, on a deeper level, expressing my insecurity in immature ways, rather than seeking to be honest about my insecurity and confusion.

And being confused by God is a perfectly human expression. It comes through most of the Psalms- the writers who have experienced God working in a certain way, then when God stops working in a certain way they question why. It’s an interesting thing to think about. Are meant to know exactly what God is like, and claim to know how to predict how He works, learning all the right prayers we know will pique His interest? Or are we meant to dwell in the mystery of God, knowing all He feels towards us is a deeply unexplainable grace?

Thanks for reading. You can read the full poem at This Artist Life.

Cheers.

Posted by: Adam Roper | April 29, 2009

Reflections on Music DVDs

Yesterday on a whim / on a walk home from a lame job interview, I decided to pick up Arcade Fire’s “Mirror Noir” and Leonard Cohen’s “Live in London”. I got to thinking about how awesome some music DVDs are, and how amazing it is when a film-maker is able to capture the experience of a concert in film.

So this morning I decided to compile a short run-down of some good music DVDs I’ve come across in recent years. To be fair I have tried to cover a broad spectrum of music DVDs, everything from classic rock to folk to metalcore-for-kids-who-wear-tight-pants.

A word on this, and many of my other entries: Please do not feel obligated to read these posts, or check out all the mentioned music, all at once. You can come back to this as a resource whenever you need music to listen to/watch. Think of this as a book with no paper, or a library without awkward people. Cheers.

1) Firstly, Leonard Cohen’s, Live in London–  Leonard Cohen is one of the most prolific songwriters of our time. Cohen took an unexplained hiatus from touring 15 years ago, using some of the time to do some profound soul-searching (Prior to recording “Ten New Songs” Cohen spent 5 years in a Zen monastery in California). Even after a long hiatus from performing, Cohen has still managed to produce a live-show filled with the depth and wisdom of a life-long artist. His voice is still deep and poetic, and his backing band comprises some of the best musicians I’ve seen in a while. I like it.

2) Mirror Noir, The Arcade Fire– This is Arcade Fire’s new DVD, filmed by Vincent Moon (the man behind a number of “La Blogotheque” videos, which I’ll discuss later). This DVD was filmed throughout the recording process of Neon Bible, and snapshots of the tours that followed. The mood and atmosphere of the film matches the feel of “Neon Bible”, and it gives some insight as to the reasoning Arcade Fire had in the recording process- why they used elaborate organ sounds, orchestras, and choirs. Definitely worth your time.

3) Rattle and Hum– This is u2’s travel documentary, recorded soon after The Joshua Tree. For this film u2 travels from Ireland to the US to discover the cultural/spiritual roots of American music. The best parts of the film are 1) A recording of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in a church with a gospel choir and 2) A performance of “When Love Came To Town” with blues-legend BB King. This one is definitely a must own.

4) The Supernatural Experience– At the height of their career DC Talk recorded “The Supernatural Experience”, which centered on their last studio album, and tour, as a band. This DVD shows a some-what over-publicized band at their best moments. “Supernatural” was the definition of DC Talk’s years of seeking identity, before Michael Tait, Kevin Max, and Toby Mac felt the urge to pursue solo projects. Say what you will, underneath all the hype and baggage associated with DC Talk/Christian bands in general, they were pretty talented and creative artists.

5) Heima, Sigur Ros– Ah, Sigur Ros. This film captures a tour Sigur Ros did in small towns in Iceland. As they tour the band finds every atmospheric locale they can find to put an exclamation point on their already beautifully orchestrated music. The sounds used in this film range from high-technology, to rocks gathered on a hill that make different tones, to a large ice-field that cracks and groans (for lack of a better word) with it’s slow movements. This movie is poetry.

6) Where the Light Is, John Mayer- I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’ve been told it’s good. From what I’ve heard this is a more stripped down John Mayer set, reminiscent of his focused guitar-and-vocals performances before he got gigantically huge with Heavier Things and Continuum.

7) No Direction Home– A documentary about the early days of Bob Dylan’s career, directed by Martin Scorsese. This shows Bob Dylan both at his defining career points (such as challenging the entire idea of folk music by playing electric at a Newport Folk Festival) and his fun-loving character. It also shows Dylan’s reluctance to be heralded as the spokesperson for protest movements. I don’t want to say too much, because there are many conversations to be had with this DVD. Come over some time and we’ll talk.

8 ) Shine a light, The Rolling Stones- A documentary on the career of The Rolling Stones (a band that has been famous for a long time, and no-one can really say why) also directed by Martin Scorsese. I actually haven’t seen this one yet either… does someone own it? Was it any good?

9) Live From Chicago, u2- I don’t think any-one really expected “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” to be a great album, but leave it to u2 to keep reinventing themselves every couple years, never finding themselves in a creative rut. This concert was performed during the Vertigo Tour, which I didn’t get to see because I was still a skeptic when this tour came through Vancouver. My best friend went to the show and came back with 97 reasons for me to feel jealous. This concert shines a light on their past career, as well as highlighting the personal nature of “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”. U2 is one of those bands that you can’t afford to miss in concert… ever. They’re coming to Vancouver again in the fall, but I can’t find a ticket! I really should learn my lesson.

10) Any concert DVD by Led Zeppelin– I think Nick Andopolis said it best: “I believe in God. I’ve seen him, I’ve felt his power! He plays drums for Led Zeppelin and his name is John Bonham baby!” Some friends of mine were watching a classic Led Zeppelin concert one time, and seeing the legendary drum solo by the late John Bonham was worth some attention. That man must have prayed a lot in his younger days to have been blessed with such a talent.

11) The Best of RadioheadRadiohead is another one of those bands you have to see in concert! I saw them last year at Thunderbird Stadium, and it was raining most of the time which made it a pretty surreal experience. I’m not sure if they’ve released a decent concert DVD yet, but they did release “The Best of”- a collection of all their best music videos.

12) A Hard Day’s Night– This is the defining rock-movie of our time. The Beatles filmed this one at the height of their popularity, and it shows the band in their young prime- before transitioning into, arguably, the most influential music career in our lifetimes. It’s a glimpse into that point in a band’s career where they realize: “Ah! I’m famous! Now what???”

13) Danielson : A Family MovieDanielson represents the influence of a humble, sincere approach to music (a common theme in artists like My Brightest Diamond, The Welcome Wagon, Rosie Thomas, Denison Witmer and a host of others). This documentary follows the development of Daniel Smith and his family- a group of his brothers and sisters who played with tooth and nail for awhile, gained a following over the years, then eventually started their own label (a very short synopsis). The result is a hopeful film that makes you feel at home, part of the family. It’s strange comparing Daniel Smith’s sincerity with his weird vocal style, and also comparing Sufjan’s shy quietness with his wildly famous and confident “Illinois“. I can’t say enough good about this movie. Download/Borrow/Buy it today!

14) I am trying to break your heart, Wilco– I still haven’t seen this one (how embarrassing). Is it any good? From what I’ve heard, Wilco is every independent band’s favorite band. They are a band that has maintained a loyal following over the years, but has never become highly successful (becoming the band that every person and their mom talks about). I could see this film centering a lot around the political side of being a smaller band who doesn’t always have the luxury of a major record company putting every aspect of their career in cruise control, so to speak. I will find this movie soon, then rethink my synopsis. Yes.

15) Tupac Ressurection– Tupac was an enigma in the music scene in his short life, leaving behind a wake of controversy and influence. This film strays away from the overtly negative aspects of Tupac’s life, focusing instead on his personal/artistic character. I think “Changes” alone is reason to revisit Tupac’s life and career.

16) La Blogotheque – La Blogotheque is a film company of sorts that films impromptu concerts with independent artists, most of them taking place in the streets of Paris. The best part about La Blogotheque is that you can watch all their movies online for free! The music is good too. (My favorites include: Fleet Foxes, Tallest Man On Earth, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens). Spend a day or two with these videos, or subscribe to the podcast and carry them around on your IPOD or your zune (Do not carry them around on your zune! in fact, throw your zune away. I am not a fan).

17) This is Who We Are, As I Lay Dying- As I Lay Dying, from what I can tell, is an artist who is committed to working on the art itself and reaching a diverse audience, not limiting themselves to a Christians-only audience (similar bands are Haste the Day, The Chariot, Thrice, and Norma Jean). As well they come across as an intelligent group. I put them in this list because it would suck to write off all hard-music as bad. I think it’s a pretty legitimate art form, and there’s a lot of truth to be found in any genre of music.

18) Finally, This is Spinal Tap– The rockumentary of the ages. This is Spinal Tap is a mock-film that gives insight into the world of 80’s hair/metal bands. If you haven’t seen this one yet make it a priority. Cancel your kid’s soccer game and settle in for an evening of quality family time, or something.

Thus concludes my short list. Do you know of any other music DVDs I really should watch? If so… comment comment comment!

(Man I want some comments. What a horrible addiction. This is why I like using Tumblr).

Posted by: Adam Roper | April 28, 2009

kind of blue

An aside: I’m kind of floundering when it comes to knowing what to do with this journal. Originally I had planned to talk about how an artist matures, but then I had four months of looking for work unsuccessfully. As a result I am experiencing the second biggest dry season in my entire life, artistically and creatively speaking. I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about other artists and other people’s problems, while trying to ignore the fact that my artistic life is kind of falling apart.

But every difficult thing is not without it’s lessons. I’m learning that:
1) The enjoyment of art is a sustaining joy in itself.
2) Every so often everything in life has to break down. For me this happens because I can’t seem to find any substantial reason to re-evaluate my priorities any other way.  If everything was easy I would have no reason to re-evaluate anything I do, and I would probably feel discontent for no apparent reason.
3) I don’t like talking about poetry. It puts too much pressure on me needing to write more of it.
4) I worry too much for my age. I really should be out enjoying life instead of over-analyzing it.
5) Sometimes it is about us (contrary to what some worship leaders have told me in the past). It has to be, or we would never know where we need to grow.

Here is my question of the day: What do artists do with dry seasons? How do we survive?

Let’s continue this conversation.

Posted by: Adam Roper | April 28, 2009

Blaga Dimitrova : A Case Study

Blaga Dimitrova was a poet from Bulgaria who was most active from the 70’s to the early 90’s. Her work represents the truth that an artist’s life is made more intriguing and fascinating by the work they create.

I first came across Blaga Dimitrova when a friend of mine sent me a copy of Cassandra With A Tail in a letter, saying that she had found this poem in an English Final Exam:

Cassandra With A Tail

A cat stretches from one end
of my childhood to the other.
Those winters, by the hearth,
it spun a yarn of smoke into a ball.
At night, it flickered half-moon eyes
into the dark corners of the house.
By day, its tail twirled a signature
on the sky and pawed the air with grace,
gathering in its coat
the electricity of the storm
and smoothing it into gloss fur.
Wise With cottony steps.

Self possessed.
Just once she jumped out of her skin,
One peaceful evening
her tail shot up like a bottle brush
and she lept onto the chandelier
wailing like an ambulance
as if all the voltage in her fur
exploded out in flashing rage.
None of us understood the cat’s prophesy.
We hissed at her to calm down…And
the earthquake nearly flattened the house.
The oracular cat disappeared
with my childhood, forever.

But her miracle stayed with me.
Tonight, to my surprise,
she crept inside me.
Bristling with shock, I shook
and bounding back from wall to wall
yammering up a piercing cry
to call you wherever you are:
Listen. You have so little time.
Grab what you can,
whatever is dear, whatever you love.

Deep in the belly of the earth
an atomic blast is swelling up,
nurtured by electronic brains,
and produced by pulsating robots.
The green careening planet
spins blindly in the dark
so close to annihilation.
Listen. No one listens. Meow.

I tried to find more works by Dimitrova online, but I could only find 3 poems by her. If my friend hadn’t sent me this poem I would have never heard of any of Dimitrova’s work. I became more acquainted with Dimitrova’s poems sometime last year. I was having a bad couple of weeks so, to cheer myself up, I spent an entire day online trying to find all of her English translated books. I managed to find these 5 books:

1) Scars
2) The Last Rock Eagle
3) Forbidden Sea
4) Because the Sea is Black
5) Journey to Oneself (a first edition novel signed by the author that cost me the fair sum of $43).

I found that Because the Sea is Black was a less in-depth collection of poetry, whereas Scars and Forbidden Sea seemed to reach the closest to the poet’s life and experience. If you ever do want to buy copies of her poetry books, the ones worth owning are The Last Rock Eagle, Scars and Forbidden Sea.

Journey to Oneself is a semi-autobiographical novel that, at times, reads like a long poem in prose form. The central character of the novel is a richly complex and emotionally detailed character. The main character, Raina, is a young women who works a construction job in Bulgaria, rebuilding damage from WWII. The character feels regret because she lived a fairly comfortable life, while workers building a new Bulgaria had “fought the fascists with guns and bombs, undergone torture and imprisonment, seen their families shot and houses burned”. For this reason the character feels as though she needs to experience hardship, to “pay her dues”. This is an excerpt from the first chapter, with the main character describing one of her first experience with dormitory life:

The loneliness hit me at the door. The most terrible loneliness of all, the utter desolation of the hostel, the dormitory, the barrack-room, the prison. In your own home, surrounded by your own four walls, you have yourself for company, and are not alone. But when two narrow gangways beside your bed all all that come between you and two other beds, two other bodies, you are stripped of all your individuality: thoughts, habits, memories. And, thus, isolated from yourself, you become isolated from others too; you lose the ability to participate. The art of community living lies in finding solitude in the midst of a crowd, and that I cannot do. Can anyone?

Dimitrova’s work has an immediate nature, speaking words that must be said, living experiences that must be lived. Her poetry has an honest, authentic quality, speaking from the heart.

As well her poetry expresses her political convictions. In the communist-era that controlled several European countries free speech, and the use of the word, was highly restricted. Forbidden Sea, a long narrative poem that Dimitrova wrote while experiencing a bout of cancer, reflects Dimitrova’s need to express words, and to find words that express emotion. As well this long poem reflects her flowing conversational writing style- which comes through really well for being translated from Bulgarian. Here is an excerpt from Forbidden Sea:

36

Forgetfulness if the essence of things
that repeat themselves rhythmically
like the regular breathing of sea waves.
I am forgetting the march
of the ordinary days and nights we shared.
I am forgetting the taste
of fruit in season,
the “good evening” greeting me on the stairs,
the crunch of bread I ate yesterday.

And only
the
sudden
breaking
of this cradle rhythm
rouses memory from its lethargy.

Death- the largest syncope,
the sword-stroke through the steady rhythm
when the blood of our roused memories spurts
as from a slashed jugular.

How young were the nights,
the days vivid with the first ripe cherries,
the “good evening” full of shadows,
fragrant as bread fresh from the oven
broken in halves, the dark crust tanned
matching the breaking hands,

Blessed and cursed the rhythm-
the primeval cradle of forgetfulness.

There is something I love especially about women authors- a sensitivity to beauty and love. I notice this especially with Dimitrova’s descriptions of love. From her descriptions it is clear that she was a poet who wanted to love and feel loved. The next two poems reflect the insistence of this desire. The first is from Scars:

Until Tomorrow

“Until tomorrow” you say and go away.
I see you off with fear in my eyes.
Until tomorrow?… but it is so endlessly far.
Will hours keep us apart?

Until tomorrow I won’t know
the changing shadows on your face,
the hot pulsing speech of your hand,
the secret flow of your thoughts.

Until tomorrow, if you’re thirsty-
I cannot be your spring,
if chilly- your fire,
if darkness falls- your light.

“Until tomorrow!” you say and go away,
not hearing that I do not answer.
“Until death do us part” I expected you to say,
and to stay with me until the very last day.

This second one I found online randomly:

Cry

When will you come to me?
When I have gone
and my departing steps
echo distantly?
When will you be with me?
When you’ve been immured
within the four walls
of your lonely evening?

When will you discover me?
When I pass by pressed close against another,
my eyes cast down?
When will you call my name?
Only when you see you are losing me – a stranger,
remote, unknown?

Love me fully now when I love you!
While I am yours crave me, long for me,
reach out your open hands while I will run to you.
For tomorrow will be late and beyond repair.

Posted by: Adam Roper | April 22, 2009

Reflections on The Album 2: Record Reviews

The Album: To illustrate how I feel about music I compiled a small snapshot of my music collection. These are artists I have mostly discovered, or revisited, in the past year or so. This started off as a list of 4 or 5 albums, then as I was going through my ITUNES I had to keep adding more to the list. There is way too much good music in this world.

Now for some reflections, in order of appearance (I would say take some time listening to these artists whenever you have time, using this list as a source. I like this idea) :

1) Welcome to the Welcome Wagon – This is a must-hear! In fact, stop what you are doing right now and listen to them. Or write them on your hand as a reminder to listen to them later. This recording came to life with a collaboration between Sufjan Stevens and husband-and-wife Vito & Monique Aiuto- a couple that pastors a church in Brooklyn. An entire blog could be devoted to the dynamic of husband/wife artists (like Over the Rhine, Mates of State, or Innocence Mission), but I digress. This is gospel music at it’s most creative and artistic. As well, this is music that makes you feel like part of the family- a trait shared by most other Asthmatic Kitty/Sounds Familyre artists. It reminded me of the spiritual resonance of u2’s performance of “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” on Rattle & Hum (watch the video here). Plus it’s just a fun record to listen to.

2) Grizzly Bear, Friend EP- Also a must hear. Grizzly Bear is a band from Brooklyn, and one of the members also plays with Department of Eagles. The Friend EP is a collection of songs recorded while Grizzly Bear was working on their debut album “Yellow House”. The result is, as Jamison once described after seeing Bloc Party in concert, like being hit by a wall of sound.  The track I was most impressed with on this record, besides the indescribable presence of “Alligator”, is a cover of “Knife” by Band of Horses.

3) The Acorn, Tin Fist- The Acorn is a Canadian band from Ottawa. Before getting wide recognition for the Polaris nominated “Glory Hope Mountain” they released this gem of an EP. This is an album about the spring, a listening experience that makes you think of waking up next to an open window in the morning. I think if every band released an album about spring (instead of everyone always releasing a Christmas record) we would have some great music on our hands.

4) Andrew Bird, Noble Beast – Another album that reminds me of spring (maybe it’s just me). This is music that demands venues like The Orpheum in Vancouver- a symphony hall with arches and a maze of staircases leading into a large room with balconies and assigned red-velvet seating, and a giant chandelier hanging from a Victorian ceiling. mmmhmm. I first heard about Bird’s music when he released “Armchair Apocrypha”, but I didn’t really get it. Then I sat down with Noble Beast when it came out earlier this year and his style started to grow on me. I found Noble Beast to be a musically rich album, and  found Andrew Bird to be an equally rich musician. Bird has this amazing way of allowing his clever/subtly philosophical songwriting to flow into his musicianship- a style that would draw some people in, and frustrate others at the same time. Very interesting.

5) Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary- Wolf Parade is kind of a wierd artist, but there is just something about them… The lead singer (Dan Boeckner, originally from Vancouver Island) has a Modest Mouse vibe in his voice, and the music draws similarities to Metric (and probably lots of others I can’t think of right now), so it’s definitely an acquired taste. You can check out the review on Pitchfork here to get a more in-depth analysis. This album also reminds me a lot of the Victoria music scene, which is worth a discussion. It’s a bit difficult to describe.

6) Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country- Camera Obscura is the musical equivalent to a vintage snap-button shirt, the kind you would buy at an artsy shop on Commercial Drive. Camera Obscura is from Scotland and their songs sound like they are inspired by many a bad date, or many a awkward relationship. Every time I watch one of their music videos I feel compelled to give the leader singer a hug… not just because she is really cute. It’s the kind of music people who wear earth-tones and scarves, and drink fine lattes, listen to.

7) Fleet Foxes, Self-Titled/Sun Giant EP- This was an album that changed how I think about music (there really is nothing quite  like Fleet Foxes). The members of Fleet Foxes look and sound like a band from the mid-west, though they are from Seattle. Their music is held together by harmonized voices and driving guitar, with lyrics that remind you of winter days, walks in the mountain, and dusty libraries. Arguably the best album of 2008.

8 ) The Dears, Gang of Losers- In the first two years of college almost every student becomes passionate about justice issues. The solutions seem so obvious and attainable, some many college students are compelled to go into the world and see things changed considerably. Then many students graduate and start working, and realize that trying to change things is a difficult and discouraging thing. The same discouragement may come for a person who grows up on the tougher side of a city- where people are homeless, families are broken, and kids are addicted to heroin- and when they escape that scene and start working the images of humanity are difficult to shake. “Gang of Losers” sounds, to me, like a record that describes that feeling- it’s about trying to figure out the world, and trying to come to terms with the reality of these human issues. The lead singer, Montreal’s Murray Lightburn, writes about the conflict of wanting to keep asking difficult questions even while surrounded by people who just want to get on with life, earn money, buy a house, and live comfortably. “Gang of Losers” is a restless album, but an honest attempt to be real about the difficulty of becoming a mature adult.

9) Two Hours Traffic, Little Jabs- Two Hours Traffic is a band from Prince Edward Island that has, in the past, worked with Joel Plaskett (one of the Nova Scotia music scene’s best kept secrets. Does Nova Scotia even have a music scene???). In general this is pretty optimistic record, with well thought out lyrics any good college student could relate to. This is the soundtrack for long drives to back-woods campsites near the ocean for a few nights away, or just the background music for an afternoon of sitting on the back deck after a long day of landscaping, painting, or whatever else college kids do to earn enough money for next semester’s tuition.

10) Mother Mother, O My Heart – Mother Mother is a band of missionary kids from Quadra Island BC! It does not get much more random and intriguing than that. They got pretty big all of a sudden when a) “Body of Years” was a featured track on ITunes, b) they played an outdoor show on Granville Island at the Vancouver Jazz Festival, and c) Toured across Canada with Sam Roberts. Their music is like the fun pop-rock that kids are listening to these days, except they not pretentious or marketed by Disney (they are Canada’s more straight-forward and punk influenced answer to Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers. Thank goodness).

11) Anathallo, Canopy Glow – Anathallo is the kind of band that would hang out with you after a show and listen to all your stories about your great aunt’s estranged cat. Or the kind of band that sits around in a living room coming up with the most ridiculous ideas for an album, then spending the next couple hours doing those ideas over numerous cups of coffee. For one of their early EPs, for example, Anthallo packaged the album in a sealed bag with seeds and a bit of dirt so you could plant something! Listening to them reminds me of the time some friends and I sat around in a living room wrapping shoe-boxes with brown paper, painting random drawings on the sides and filling them with quotes, Polaroids, dried leaves, and hand-made album covers. This kind of artistic license adds to the specialness of buying an album, as if you are receiving a gift made with care from a family member. And this is exactly what their music sounds like- a family of artists putting things together having lots of fun doing it. Anathallo also keeps a very occasional blog here.

12) The Innocence Mission, Birds of our Neighborhood – The Innocence Mission’s music has a beautiful simplicity, like a rainy day. Their early albums had a distinctly ethereal-pop sound, and somewhere between “Glow” and “Birds of our Neighborhood they made the transition to more of a folk-pop sound (their album “Small Planes” serves as map for this transition). Their days of dream-pop influence come through in “Birds of our Neighborhood”, a record with graceful music that makes it way through the air like steam from a fresh cup of chamomile tea. Once upon a time Sufjan Stevens played a song from this album on the roof of a building, and Vincent Moon filmed it. You can find it here.

~

This post was pretty exhausting to write, I won’t lie. From now on I will stick to reviewing one album at a time. I’ll keep you posted on music I’m thinking about on This Artist Life, maybe once a week or so. Stay tuned.

If you are cheap like me and want to pick up copies of all this music most of it should be on emusic.com (trying saying that 5 times fast).

Cheers.

Posted by: Adam Roper | April 21, 2009

Reflections on the Album: 1

With the introduction of ITUNES and MYSPACE to the music industry things have changed big-time. Rather than having to walk down to a record store to listen to the next big artist anyone can just sit at their computer and go crazy. Because of this obscure artists from Scotland, Sweden, Iceland and the world over can be listened to worldwide with little effort. This has allowed decent independent artists to create the music they want to create, freeing them from the tight creative control they would get if they were signed by a major label.

How we approach the idea of an Album has been greatly effected by this. Some listeners have forgotten and disregarded the idea of an Album in complete favor of hit-singles, or songs everyone else is listening to. Others have continued to embrace albums, tracking what albums are coming out, and creating a loyal favor for artists who consistently release great music.

The idea of a music project being an Album encompasses every aspect of the project- which songs are recorded, how they are recorded, where they are recorded, who they are recorded with, who drew the album art, how the album art relates to the album, how the songs relate to the album as a whole. A record is more than just a bunch of songs put on a CD and sold to whoever wants it. There is a lot of work that goes into the creative process… there should be at least.

Albums like Radiohead‘s OK Computer set the standard for the holistic recording. OK Computer was recorded in a historic mansion in England- parts of which was recorded in a staircase and a ballroom! The way the album was recorded relates directly to the main ideas present in the recording- The sound of OK Computer, and the artwork that accompanies the album, has to be studied and explored, and in that exploration the key message of the recording comes to life. Needless to say, this is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole.

The modern example of OK Computer’s innovative approach is Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. For this recording Arcade Fire bought a church in Quebec and used it to record. Neon Bible is heavily influenced by archaic music traditions- a reliance on organs, a men’s choir, a full orchestra and the echoing resonance of a high arched ceiling. Similar to OK Computer, the sound of the recording alludes to Neon Bible’s central premise- an examination of church culture using church-influenced sound. Arcade Fire’s new DVD Mirror Noir– amazing, by the way- shows how most of the album was put together.

For a little while the Album was on the decline, because the focus went to single tracks that could be downloaded or bought on ITUNES, but now this has given the Album a greater recognition. Not only has this allowed relatively unknown bands to get a wider recognition much easier, it has renewed a standard for artistic creativity. With more of a focus on digital recordings there is more emphasis on the music itself, so you can enjoy and be captivated by an album without having to immediately acquire a hard copy.

Although something of value is lost when you are not holding an album in your hands- seeing as how most of our music collections these days are digital- there is the bright side: Having a digital collection of music reduces all the waste, packaging, and shipping associated with released CDs. And if you must own your favorite artist’s new CD there is option of buying directly from the artist online, reducing the distance the album is shipped (depending on where the artist lives). As well the artist has the option to print CD artwork on recycled paper. Finally, there is always the option of supporting local musicians, then finding a way to buy the CD directly from their hands. This also gives you the option to hang out with them and talk about their music.

If you ever have any more questions about music ask this guy. He knows a lot more than I do about music. Plus his new album comes out next week! Or check out Pitchfork Media’s album reviews (a link can be found to the right).

Next time: Albums I like. Stay tuned…

Posted by: Adam Roper | April 18, 2009

a day in the life of a poem

This morning I woke up and wrote a poem. By morning I mean 1pm, and by wrote I mean struggled to write. This is how the poem came to be:

1) I made some yerba mate‘ and, since it wasn’t too cold outside, enjoyed it on the back deck. It was raining slightly and a bit chilly.

2) I put on Andrew Bird‘s Noble Beast, to fill the otherwise quiet air with violin.

3) I sat for about 10 minutes and my mind was blank. This is a horrible thing to feel for any creative person. I decided to look online for some poetic inspiration, and I found a poem I really liked by John Keats. Using some of Keats style, and themes, I started to imagine a poem.

4) Then I started to write. I find the best poems are those that happen in a moment where, for a second, we are free to create openly. The poems I dislike the most are the ones that I spent hours on, trying to find the most specific words with thesaurus.com. This can work to perfect a poem, but I prefer the freedom of creating a poem in the moment.

5) Left it alone. It might need adjustment later, but I kind of like it the way it is.

So, next time you want to write a poem a) drink something remarkable, b) Listen to Andrew Bird, c) Read John Keats, and d) Write something beautiful. Results may vary.

Cheers.

earth in the morning

dear grace, in hands to keep warm by
cup,
a garbage truck to take this all away,
all the clutter, all the waste
of days that should be wings

but they have become a prison.

dear mate’, in mornings to keep you awake,
earthy
well-earthed,
steamed to stay warm and gradually lose flavor,
all the mugs that should be conversation

but they have become an imperfection.

dear rain, has it been so long?
falling
in ponds to capture and keep clean,
i hate the smell of carbon, but
i love waking up beside you.
all our intimacies have made us saints

but they have become emissions.

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