Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas

today is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! Christmas holds so many meanings for so many people. today has become a major commercial holiday in america, filled with the spirit of giving and receiving gifts. today is a day to spend time with family and friends and to enjoy one another's company. today (more likely last evening) is a time to go to church and celebrate this birth, whether church is a standard practice in people's lives or not.

no sense in further complicating the day, though. it is about the birth of Christ. oftentimes, this day is filled with things to do, meals to cook, and people to see. for the nelko family, our whole-family celebration will happen on monday due to circumstances. due to some other circumstances, i'm sitting in my empty house in pittsburgh for an hour or so right now enjoying some peaceful time. this time is golden. being away from the hustle and bustle of the day gives me the opportunity to really think about what this day means.

this day means that Christ arrived on this earth only to die for our sins. i can sit here today and enjoy some time of peace because Jesus Christ granted me this peace with his sacrifice. my spirits are at ease and my troubles cease when i remember that this world means nothing besides spreading the love and Word of Jesus Christ.

so for those of you who do not celebrate Christmas in this way, i apologize, but i was put on this earth to love God and spread the Word of Jesus Christ. His birth we celebrate today and it is through His blood that we may celebrate life every day.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

growing up

at some point we started to grow up. we're not really kids anymore. maybe we stopped being kids when we left for college or when we started driving. maybe it was that first kiss or even the first time we had to do homework instead of going outside to play. either way, we can't really be the kids we once were.

over the past week or so i have thought about this progression a few times. over the course of a handful of years, my life has gone from living in my parents house and paying for nothing besides gas to living on my own, paying rent, buying groceries, and job hunting. this transition happened so seamlessly that i didn't realize it really happened until this week! in this time, i started college where i stopped answering to my parents every day. eventually i moved off-campus, started paying for some of my rent and groceries, and thinking about what to do when college was over.

before i knew it, i am finishing graduate school and looking for a job. i'll start paying students loans and think about where i want to live that might not be pittsburgh. responsibility has come along without much warning, or maybe with plenty of warning.

either way, i don't want to grow up. fact is, i probably won't! while my friends are getting married and starting families, i'm still sitting back hoping that that perfect song comes along soon or that the avett brothers come within a 4 hour radius of our house. career goals? to get a job. something that i like. do i want to be a director? i don't know. probably? i'll get bored with one job and hope to get promoted to another, i'm sure.

the bottom line is that life can be about a lot of things. faith, friends, family, career, money, fame. for me, life is about enjoying every second. those seconds will be gone someday and you'll wish you enjoyed them all to the fullest. today, i encourage you to do whatever you want. do something that will put a smile on your face. or, better yet, do something that will put a smile on someone else's.

Friday, December 17, 2010

favorite albums of 2010

2010 was a sweet year for music. so much good stuff came out this year and i'm excited to share my favorites with you. let's get right into it.

10. Jimmy Eat World - Invented - JEW brought it again, and with a sound rivaling Futures. The album rocks top-to-bottom with a lot of feeling. "Heart is Hard to Find" and "My Best Theory" hit you with catchiness we remember from Bleed American while the album has an epic finish with a pair of winners; "Invented" and "Mixtape".



9. Steel Train - Steel Train - If you enjoy power pop, this is the album for you in 2010. Steel Train has changed their sound a bit, but they'll hit you in the face with glam and stick in your head for days to come.



8. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz - I don't know what to say about this album that hasn't already been said. It's confusing. It's mind-blowing. It's Sufjan Stevens doing something we've never heard. Where did the banjo go? Who knows, but this album is getting accolades for a reason.



7. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt - I can't lie, Kristian Matsson isn't really that tall. But this album is the best solo album of the year. His voice is unmistakable and the songwriting gets to your heart. The album ends and you just want more and more.



6. House of Heroes - Suburba - This may be biased on my part, but who cares, it's my favorites. House of Heroes wrote the second-best album about the suburbs this year with a pop-punk beauty. The album brings you back to high school, singing about girls, school, and fights behind the bleachers.



5. The New Pornographers - Together - This was my first exposure to The New Pornographers and I'm glad it didn't take any longer. These Canadian folk have been around a while and pack the stage with 8 musicians. The music is poppy, but layered. The beats and lyrics are fun, but don't mess with Neko Case. She'll curse you out.



4. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms - I think I liked this album a lot more than other people. But I can't get enough. It didn't leave my CD player for a while because BoH is some smooth, relaxed, country-infused indie rock. The tunes are soothing when they're down and will get your foot tapping when they're up.



3. Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More - It took me a while to come around to this one, but the talent of Mumford and Sons is undeniable. Fans of the Avett Brothers are falling for Mumford for a reason. The songwriting is incredible, the energy is top-notch, and the emotion is unparalleled.



2. Hellogoodbye - Would it Kill You? - Pop-rock mastery. This is the best pop-punk album I've heard since Ocean Avenue. It's not the synth-infused pop music you heard on Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!, but they're getting back to their roots. Every track is a hit and you can't pull it out of my CD player.



1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs - When I heard Funeral for the first time this summer, I didn't think an indie album could top it. Arguably, The Suburbs has. This album catches you at the beginning and flows the entire way. The best album writing about the suburbs this year, their approach is much more adult-themed, not in an XXX way but rather in a way that we look back at where we came from and wonder how we got here. Bottom line, this is one of the best albums I've ever heard. "The Suburbs" is the first single and caught my attention every time it came on the XM at work. The album has a flow that moves from one song to the next without a hitch. "We Used to Wait" has an incredible video associated with it at www.thewildernessdown.com. Before you realize that the album is almost over, it hits you with, arguably, the best closer you'll ever hear; "Sprawl II (Mountaints Beyond Mountains). The only downside? The album gets pretty depressing, but they're hipsters singing about growing up, what do you expect?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the pain of being a baseball fan: pirates and phillies

i've been blogging for a couple of years now, but i think it's time to break my sports silence.

i recently have had conversations with phillies fans about baseball fandom in general. i will say this: phillies fans are good, passionate, smart baseball fans. however, they look for far more sympathy from pirates fans than they deserve.

here are the hard facts: in the 1990s, the pirates and phillies sucked. after the pirates' 3 trips to the NLCS in 1990-1992 and the phillies' trip to the world series in 1993, pennsylvania produced 0 winning seasons of baseball. from 1994-2000, the pirates posted a 541-688 record (.440) and the phillies posted a 561-670 record (.456). the phillies win the number-of-worse-seasons battle, 4-3. pretty bad.

once the 2000s hit, though, things changed. from 2001 to 2010, the pirates posted a 607-848 record (.417) and the phillies a 796-661 record (.546). the phillies won 4 division titles, 2 national league pennants, and 1 world series. the pirates had a worse record all 10 years and finished under .500 every year with 2 100-loss seasons.

last night the phillies signed cliff lee, adding the best pitcher in baseball to a stacked rotation of roy halladay, roy oswalt, and cole hamels. this might be the best rotation ever assembled in baseball history. the phillies are instant front-runners for the world series. they acquired cliff lee for less money than he was offered by the yankees because lee has enough integrity to do so. the 4th-highest payroll in baseball just increased and will certainly move up.

here's my point: phillies fans have been claiming their awfulness from the 1990s. they were almost as equally bad as the pirates and had a worse record as many times as the pirates in the 90s, but it's time to stop the madness. phillies fans have to let go. yes, they were bad, but they're not anymore. they're good. they're very good. they will probably win a couple more world series, at least, before this staff disassembles. it's time to take ownership of the high-salary, high-quality baseball team on the field.

there is no comparison between pirates fans and phillies fans; we're cheering for different worlds. pirates fans live in a world of hopelessness and despair where our major free agent signings are other teams' middle-of-the-trash-heap fodder. players don't want to play for the pirates and i don't blame them. management is terrible. ownership is stingy. the aura of losing can be felt from april til july (when dem stillers start training camp and the pirates become an afterthought). it's a depressing state. the stadium is beautiful and the fans are loyal, but that can only be attractive for so long.

the phillies, though, they're good. the fans are loyal, the stadium is also beautiful, the money is there, and the players are winners. it's a great place for a baseball player to be. but it's time for fans to take ownership of this identity. they're not the lovable losers of the 90s anymore; they're lovable winners.

bottom line: pirates fans will no longer listen to a phillies fan talk about how hard it's been to be a philadelphia baseball fan. we just don't want to hear it. that era is over and a new one has started; one where the phillies compete with the red sox and yankees. it's not a bad thing, philly. it's a good thing. your team is competitive and has a legitimate chance to win the world series every year. i wish the pirates could spend that kind of money on free agents.

it's time to own it, though. the phillies may be called the next evil empire, but who cares? you're cheering for winning baseball. i am more envious than i'd care to describe.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

social networking

alright, i did it. i caved and started using twitter. i feel like a sort of sellout because i try so hard not to give in to technology! but the fact is that i am a writer, a blogger, a communicator. in this day and age it's impossible for me to gain exposure doing these things without using all of the available resources.

here are a few of my stances regarding technology and communication:

first, i appreciate the advancement, so let me say that first. communication is important for someone who is extraverted and disorganized like me. i like being able to call, text, email, and blog basically whenever i want. i thrive off of being in constant communication with people.

second, i like being able to turn it all off. as much as i appreciate being able to do these things whenever i want, i also enjoy being able to avoid them whenever i want, too. this is why i hope to never own a phone that can access the internet.

third, we wouldn't be where we are today without these advancements; good and bad. we know what's happening in people's lives so much, which can be fun, but can be overwhelming and intrusive, as well. did you know that miley cyrus took a bong hit? and there's a video? i hear it wasn't pot, though, so billie ray can sleep easy.

all this being said, i like to utilize technology. i thought that i'd consider myself a sellout if i used blogger, facebook, myspace, and twitter. but, the fact is that i do enjoy it, so i might as well just sell out. i like to write and make music, and the best way to share these things today is with blogging and myspace. the best way to market blogs and music is with facebook and twitter.

so here i am, blogging about it. i'll probably put up a facebook status and a tweet about this blog, too. then maybe i'll write a song about how i like writing songs.

Friday, December 3, 2010

live an etraordinary life

today i really wanted a cheeseburger and fries for lunch. i packed a lunch, but i didn't want a cold peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so i bought a cheeseburger. that's not extraordinary. i had a long morning and wanted comfort food. that is very normal. no one wants to read that. i'm sorry i wrote it.

today, live an extraordinary life. do something worth talking about; something worth writing about. donald miller encourages people to live a better story in his latest book, "a million miles in a thousand years". for those who haven't read it, he travels the incan trail to machu picchu, bikes across the country, and encounters some incredible people. all of these things happen because he makes them happen.

so today do something worth talking about. it's a friday, it's a workday, but do something to make it interesting. i already have an idea of how to make my day memorable, so it's time to step up and do something extraordinary.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

school break free time

today started pretty poorly, mostly as a result of the cold and rain on my walk to work. when i got to work i saw an email from my supervisor telling me that the career center at cmu basically doesn't have much for the interns to do while students are gone, so we probably won't work over break. which is cool if you don't need money, but i kinda do. no use crying over spilled milk, though, since there isn't much wiggle room as far as coming up with a project to keep us busy. it occurred to me halfway through the morning, though, that i am being immeasurably blessed with a gift that will become more and more rare as my life progresses: free time.

so upon returning from the Beitzel-Rittase wedding on december 19th, i will have 18 days of freedom before returning to work, save for a couple major holidays and a few classes. i also won't have much of an income, so saving money will be key.

knowing all of this, i started making a list at lunch today of all the things i've wanted to do since life got so busy. what would i do if i had entire free days to literally do whatever i want? well, here are some ideas...

clean my room.
write and record a few songs.
write a short story.
revise my already written story.
play with my nieces and nephews.
read!
apply for jobs.
work ahead for next semester (yea right).
cook delicious things.
paint.
blog.
visit with friends.
enjoy inexpensive nights of games and/or talking.
help my dad or matt with home improvement projects.
clean my car.
practice piano.
go to a matinee.
explore the strip district and other grocery stores.
create a prayer station for the open door.
visit museums.

this is just the tip of the iceberg. so many great ideas, plenty of time to do a lot of them, for once. my life will rarely be this way, so i need to take advantage. and now i've told all of you, so hold me to it.

so what should i make sure to do?

what would you do with two free weeks?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

a second try

today i was getting depressed about growing up. it stinks, but we all do it i guess. finishing school, (hopefully) getting a job, sinking into the "real world". i even wrote a blog about it. but then i deleted the blog. it was depressing and more negative than i'd like. here's to a second chance.

instead of griping, i'll just talk about how blessed i am. i know i express my thankfulness a lot, but i don't think i can do it enough.

i have an incredible family and group of friends who have taught me how to show love in everything i do. i saw many of these friends this past weekend at rob and chelsea's wedding in philly, and for this i'm thankful. pictures and memories of times spent with these people will always bring a smile to my face.

i have an expression and an escape through music. i often overlook my ability to play music because so many of my friends are musically talented, but i am so thankful for my ability to play multiple instruments. playing an original song with two of my roommates last night was worth losing sleep for. my mood was instantly improved today by listening to hellogoodbye on my walk home, which reminded me of many of my friends, and then again when taking back sunday had a new track online. music gives me so much of the energy i need when i listen to the right song.

and i'm thankful for God. i don't always try to push my Christian agenda on people through my blog, but the fact is that i'm a Christian and i hope that that fact is obvious through my actions. but God has put these people and this music and these talents in my life for a reason. the reason for things isn't always obvious, but eventually it shows it's face and makes a lot of sense. all we can do is be thankful for every day we have and hope that the plan gets us where we want to go. little do we know that where we want to go is good, but where God wants us to go is better. i love getting to that better place and remembering that my "good" plans aren't worth worrying about.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

favorite albums: 1

well, here we are. number one. i won't beat around the bush, but i want to clear up a couple of things before you read about my favorite album of all time.

first, i didn't include any albums that i have not listened to before this year. that excluded any album released in 2010 plus a bunch of new favorites that i didn't hear before, like Funeral by Arcade Fire.

second, these are just my favorites. i don't think they're "the best" ever made. they're just the albums that i've liked the most over the years and still listen to.

third, there are plenty of albums i haven't listened to. i don't own any led zeppelin albums besides IV, which is great, so they didn't have many chances to make it despite being one of my favorite bands.

there are a few albums i've encountered over this look back that could have easily made the list and i want to acknowledge them. Futures by Jimmy Eat World, Squad Five-O by Squad Five-O, several albums by MxPx and Thrice, Ocean Avenue by Yellowcard, Silence by Blindside, Weezer (Blue Album) by Weezer, Dookie by Green Day, and Say It Like You Mean It by The Starting Line come to mind as albums that have been some of my favorites over the years but didn't quite make the cut.

without further ado, my number one.

1. Squad Five-O - Late News Breaking (2004) - My favorite album by my favorite band. Squad Five-O had a certain energy that only the Avett Brothers can rival. They were introduced to me, lightly, as a Christian band, but they were the first band that I realized could be just a band of Christians without the overt message. These guys danced along the lines of my faith in a way that I needed to see when I saw it. They played raw rock-and-roll, drank, smoked, cursed, and showed love to every fan they encountered. The twins, John and Jeff Fortson, had a certain attitude on stage that demanded attention. Jeff would swing the microphone and flip his hair around while his brother stood behind him playing bass with a cigarette in his mouth. Rumor has it they tossed a coin to determine who would be the lead singer.

Late News Breaking wasn't the first album I heard from them and it may not have even been the best (re: self titled), but it was the one that stuck with me for years. At a time when so many musicians were making anti-George Bush music, Jeff sings about life in America without stepping out and telling you his political stance. At concerts he'd announce that our political party didn't matter. They wrote songs about exploiting poor workers (Bye American), playing music for the money (Two Grand and a Lotta Hassle), and the war in Iraq (No Heroes).

Most of all, Late News Breaking was fun. I've had a smile on my face every time I've listened through this album. The lyrics are encouraging, the guitar riffs are fun, and the beats get you dancing. Jeff would demand dancing in the crowd at their shows. I saw this album played in the same set list 3 times in the course of a year because I loved it so much. This was one of the first albums I'd play straight through when I was learning drums. There's never a dull moment or a song that won't pick up your spirits.

In the most impactful song, "No Heroes", the lyrics sing about the war in Iraq. It's awful and we don't like it. Life is different for soldiers than it is for the rest of us. Whether you're for or against the war as a political move, we're all against war as something that happens in the world. Jeff sings about bombs going off, us not knowing and you not caring what goes on over there. It's a powerful song that brings to light the fact that the war is actually happening whether we really think about it or not.

As with the other albums at the top of this list, Late News Breaking is fantastic from top to bottom and can be recycled over and over. I always keep it in my car just in case. Jeff's voice gives me that rock-and-roll "I don't care" attitude. But it's not the negative, anti-authority type. It's the type that encourages you to enjoy every second. Why worry about making money, pleasing the man, or waiting for opportunity when every day is right in front of you. If there ever is a Squad Five-O reunion show, I'll be there. It'll make me feel good about everything.

Key tracks: No Heroes, Bye American, 2 Grand and a Lotta Hassle, Always Talkin' Never on the Run

Monday, October 11, 2010

favorite albums: 4-2

thanks for your continued readership. it's been a lot of fun to talk about these albums. i hope you give a couple of them a shot. there were a couple winners who got the #4 album on the nose, so kayla clear and tim hardie will both get a CD of their choice from the list! not many will be surprised about today's entries, but i think there will be surprises regarding overall ommissions. here are numbers 4, 3, and 2. be on the lookout for #1 at the end of the week!

4. Brand New - Deja Entendu (2003) - In Brand New's similar fashion to the transition into The Devil and God..., these Long Island emo kings took time to re-evaluate their music before releasing their 2003 masterpiece, Deja Entendu. I'm hard-pressed to encounter a friend into this style of music who does not attribute their love to this album. Jesse Lacey's voice is full of emotion and proves his belief in his lyrics. Deja is the epitome of the transition from teen angst into something deeper. His voice builds and drops, creating an epic ebb and flow, highlighted by the explosive borderline-screaming that comes out in some of the more powerful tracks (see: The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows).

Brand New made a name for themselves in the pop-punk genre with Your Favourite Weapon a couple of years before this release, but Deja put them on the map. If anyone has heard of Brand New, it has a lot to do with this release. I can remember walking through the halls of Pitt's buildings during my freshman year of college in 2003 listening to this album over and over and over. Every song hits a different heart string, from the low-key "The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot", into the more upbeat "Quiet Things...", and climaxing several times with certain vigor in songs like "Jaws Theme Swimming". Deja, top to bottom, is an album that can be recycled again and again without growing tiresome.

Brand New have a way with expressing emotions through words, guitars, and drums. This album is a perfect example of a windstorm of emotions settled into one beautiful mess. I believe the anticipation of a new album is a result of what the band has given you in the past. Brand New's releases since Deja have been the most anticipated of my life because Deja set the stage.

Key Tracks: The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows, Jaws Theme Swimming, Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades



3. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism (2007) - There are albums in your life that come along and change your perspective on music, performance, and life in general. A lot of times you know when it's happening, but in the case of Emotionalism I had no idea when it was happening. My friend Andy asked for me to burn him a copy of this album when we had it at WPTS a few weeks before its official release. He got his copy, but I didn't pay much attention despite how excited he was about its release. I burned myself a copy, but didn't listen for a few weeks. I remember the first time I listened straight through the album. I was walking to visit my sister and new nephew, Joshua, in Magee Women's Hospital in Oakland. At the time, I focused a lot of my attention on drums and electric instruments, so it took a while for this Americana sensation to sink in.

Once I let these boys from Concord, NC, sink in, it was all over. I watched videos when friends would send them to me and listen to tracks that people suggested, but it wasn't until a fateful trip to Kent, OH, that I was hooked. Seeing songs from this album played in front of me blew my mind more than I thought acoustic instruments ever could. The upbeat songs stood out at first (Will You Return?, Paranoia in Bb Major, Pretty Girl from Chile), but once I walked around with the music in my ears for a few weeks the others started to emerge. "The Ballad of Love and Hate", "The Weight of Lies", and "I Would Be Sad" have some of the most impactful lyrics you'll encounter.

The live show is what ropes people into the intrigue of the Avett Brothers, but the lyrics are what give the Avetts the layers to their music that keep people around for good. They sing about pretty girls they've encountered, running towards or away from something , and being honest and proud of who you are. The lyrics are encouraging, like in "I Would Be Sad" when the narrator is speaking with his father about a girl who has rejected him, or when the narrator sings about asking for a helping hand in "Shame". Scott and Seth sing about what we know, which is just a bunch of stuff that we need reminders for.

Key tracks: Paranoia in Bb Major, The Ballad of Love and Hate, Shame



2. Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American/Self-Titled (2001) - Great albums are acknowledged as great when we still listen to them, talk about them, and want to hear them live years after the album's release. I hate to say that I wasn't aware of Jimmy Eat World before this album, but upon hearing the title track on the radio and speaking with friends from Blade Runners about these Phoenix boys, I needed to know more. "The Middle" was released, I saw JEW at Metropol, and the rest is history. Clarity is the classic JEW release, but, like Deja Entendu for Brand New, Bleed American put JEW on the map. "The Middle" was the biggest hit in rock music in 2002 and their awkward and confusing band name became a household utterance.

Like any other album I'll put at the top of a "favorites" list, Bleed American is one that is fantastic top-to-bottom, features a good bit of diversity throughout, and can be enjoyed over and over without growing old. At a concert of theirs in Pittsburgh in 2007, 10 of the 11 songs from this album were played. Even the hardcore pretentious fans of Clarity, the release prior to BA, can acknowledge the greatness of their 2001 release. Jimmy grabs you with some catchy, upbeat, guitar-drive tracks (BA, A Praise Chorus, The Middle) before slipping into three of their most critically acclaimed tracks (Your House, Sweetness, Hear You Me). The album finishes with a few creative tracks that escape the standard pop song structure, including an incredible closer, typical of JEW (My Sundown).

Jimmy Eat World's ability to write songs that are catchy, creative, and memorable combined with their energy and deliberate instrumentation, have come to put together incredible albums. Their live show is intense and elicit emotions from first riff to final fade. The combination of songs on Bleed American is about as close to perfect as I've seen.

Key tracks: A Praise Chorus, Bleed American, Hear You Me

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

favorite albums: 7-5

the albums on this portion of the list are all curious. they all feature bands with eccentric lead singers who sing songs of conflict and resolution. if you were to listen to them in a row (7, 6, 5), you would hear stories of despair and hurt, finished up with comfort and hope. maybe we should try it sometime.

7. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007) - Originally this album was intended to be a concept album about a boat crew that dies in every song. That didn't pan out, but this album by Modest Mouse, which usually plays second or third fiddle to the two prior releases, is my favorite from these Seattle boys. Unlike the ebb and flow of "Good News...", We Were Dead pumps out hit after hit of intense, yet catchy, tunes.

Is there anything that stands out about this album compared to others? Maybe nothing obvious. The simple fact is that this album is consistently enjoyable and somehow finds its way into my car CD player more than almost any other album. The guitar work is deliberate and complex. The drum beats are intricate and, at times, involve two sets (see the video below). Brock grabbed the public's attention with Good News, then came back with an in-your-face follow-up without any apologies attached.

Key tracks: Dashboard, Spitting Venom, Fire It Up



6. Brand New - The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me (2006) - There simply has not been a more anticipated release in my life. Brand New had disappeared after touring for a while post-Deja Entendu release. Their web site was barren. There were no signs of life or things to come. Then in January of 2006, nine demos hit the internet without warning or desire from the band. The demos were odd, rough, and confusing. The music was darker. The lyrics were increasingly complex. Brand New's direction was accidentally released to the world.

November of the same year found the release of this masterpiece. The songs are intense. Listening to the album almost makes you scared. A couple songs have long intros (Limousine, Degausser) and there aren't as many singles as before. Although, I do remember listening to the first track, Sowing Season, over and over in Andy Armstrong's SUV that autumn. It's all I wanted to hear. Brand New had roped me in with an album that allowed for a lot of interpretation, mainly because Jesse Lacey isn't one to tell people what he's thinking in a straightforward manner.

Key tracks: Sowing Season (Yeah), Jesus, You Won't Know



5. mewithoutYou - Brother, Sister (2006) - Aaron Weiss is the most intriguing man in music. The lead singer of mewithoutYou puts together the most eccentric, confusing, and entertaining performance in music. He flails around stage, singing/speaking with plenty of emotion and a limited amount of focus. The band behind him, though, is what makes the music complete. The music is intricate and diverse. On Brother, Sister, mewithoutYou puts together an album filled with incredible drums, entertaining guitar and bass riffs, and plenty of extra bells, horns, and accordion. The lyrics are mystifying. They explore the connection between God, man, and the world. Weiss seems to have a better grasp on the world around him than any of us.

The band is captivated by their music on stage, but it's hard not to be captivated along with them. The album builds and drops throughout. The first track, "Messes of Men", is a prime opener that starts with some recited words by Weiss and blasts into an intense verse that keeps you swaying and sets up the rest of the album. The three "...Spider" songs tell the story of a spider that is born, grows, and dies, much like our own existence. Each song hits on different characteristics of our existence in this world, finishing with the track that has been a finisher for many of their shows since, "In a Sweater Poorly Knit". Give it a shot, it may be the most interesting thing you listen to all year.

Key tracks: Messes of Men, C-Minor, O Porcupine

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

a letter to my friends and family

dear friends,

today was a day i'd never wish for anyone to experience. we said goodbye to a good friend far earlier than we expected. caleb was a friend to many and the life of the party. his smile, his humor, his athleticism, and his heart will be missed. it did not feel real until we were gathered in the church this morning and he was not sitting there with us.

i regret to say i hadn't kept in touch with caleb much since college ended. but instead of regretting the things i cannot change, i'll be encouraged and encourage you all to maintain connections and say hello to those friends who may have moved to the back of your phonebook. these days we have are precious and the opportunities we have may pass by long before we expect them to.

my blogging started as a result of seeing a young man lose his life. that co-worker gave me the motivation i needed to get my life moving and to take advantage of every minute i have. i've written about these ideas over and over, but i can't stress enough how precious life can be.

but instead of talk about how we all should quit our jobs and move to portland, i want to say thank you. thank you to all of my friends. thank you to the friends i've seen this week and thank you to the friends i haven't seen in years. you all have shaped me into the person i've become. all the good times, all the bad times, all the times that never happened; these things have created who i am. i believe in God putting us all where we need to be when we need to be there, and i believe my interactions with you have been put in place by a greater power.

so thanks for being who you are. thanks to the people i've played music with. thanks to the people i've made videos with. thanks to the people i've shared coffee or beer with. thanks to the guys who kicked me when i was down. thanks to the guys who lended a hand instead. thanks to the people who tried to pressure me into things i didn't want to do. thanks to the people who eventually made those mistakes with me. thanks to the girls who dated me. thanks to the girls who refused to. thanks to the teachers, pastors, and supervisors who led me. thanks to the students who followed me. thanks to the people who have made me laugh. thanks to the people who have made me cry. thanks to the people who have made beautiful music for me to listen to. thanks to the people who have listened to my music. thanks to anyone who let me copy their homework in high school.

thanks for the rides, the parties, the study sessions, the poker games, the pick-up games, the dates, the maybe-dates, the concerts, the late nights, the early mornings, the mid-afternoons, the boy meets worlds, the monday night footballs, the high-fives, the kicks in the groin, the road trips, the long walks, the law and order marathons, the important talks, the irrational behavior, the guitar lessons, the arguments, for talking me out of a lot of bad ideas, and for letting me have a drum kit in the house.

anyone who knows me well knows that i value my friendships. i just want to make sure that you all know how much you mean to me. and i'm not talking about my "readers", but i'm talking about my family and friends. thanks for making me who i am and loving me for the man i've become.

love,

jake

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

favorite albums: 10-8

thanks for all of the guesses on my top ten! i appreciate your readership and am excited about the chance i have to give back to my supporters. let's get right into the top ten.

10. Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism (2003) - If Narrow Stairs got me listening and Plans got me hooked, then Transatlanticism proves the legend of Death Cab for Cutie. This was not my favorite album of theirs at first. It definitely takes some listens to really get into it. Listen to the lyrics, though, and you'll see where Ben Gibbard's status was really solidified. The title track is the most legendary, but some of my favorites are the tracks with the catchiest hooks, like "Title and Registration", "Expo '86", and "Death of an Interior Decorator".

The uniqueness of Death Cab is the musicianship that builds and drives like a flawless novel combined with Gibbard's lyrics which contain not one wasted word. When listening to any song on Transatlanticism, you can hear the story on Gibbard's lips, see the drama unfold behind your eyelids, and feel the pain of lost love in your heart as if it were the love you have lost yourself.

Key tracks: Transatlanticism, Title and Registration, Expo '86



9. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005) - Talk about songwriting! Conor Oberst wrote a collection of ten fabulous tracks for this acoustic-driven gem. I don't generally care for social agendas, especially Oberst's, but anti-political statements ("we must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul") speak into a disconnect from our self that we need to reconnect. Oberst does his best to find the reconnection through the next 9 tracks about life as we see it. His voice shakes as the emotion spews out. You can feel the genuine sentiment flowing from the guitars.

Legendary lines spew from the speakers. "Why are you scared to dream of God when it's salvation that you want?" "I've found a liquid cure for my land-locked blues." "I could go anywhere with you and I'd probably be happy." The list goes on.

Oh, and Emmylou Harris provides some of the most incredible cameos I've ever heard.

Key tracks: First Day of My Life, Poison Oak, At the Bottom of Everything




8. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008) - The most beautiful album on this list was saved for number 8. Justin Vernon wrote this album while living in his father's Wisconsin cabin battling mono and break-ups with his band and girl. I've never heard heartbreak more clearly than on this album. Vernon's acoustic guitar is often tuned awkwardly, allowing for chords that are unique and difficult to replicate. The man himself is tall in stature, but possesses a distinctly deep voice with an enjoyable falsetto compliment.

Vernon wrote the perfect winter album. You can picture a weekend in the cabin with your closest friends, opening up with one another about the heartache you've experienced. For those too proud to have such an experience, just light a candle and play this album at a medium volume. Don't worry, I won't tell.

Key tracks: Skinny Love, Re: Stacks, Flume

Sunday, September 26, 2010

contest! and favorite albums: 15-11

i hope you all are enjoying my walk through some of my favorite music. it's been a lot of fun to sit back and listen to these albums straight through over the past few weeks and months. the albums in this portion of the list all have one track that stands out far above the others, with a strong supporting cast to create great overall albums. they feature some of my favorite songwriters, as well.

CONTEST: here's the big announcement! today i'm announcing a contest where you can win a hard copy of an album of your choice from my top 20. here's how to do it:

on sunday, october 3rd, i will begin to announce my top 10. before that day, you can leave a comment on this post or email me at jake.nelko@gmail.com with your guess of my top 10. if you can nail ANY album in the CORRECT spot in my top 10, you win an album! up to 3 can win. if no one can pin an album in the exact position, then whoever can guess the MOST number of albums in my top 10 correctly, in any order, will win an album.

sound good? hit me up! keep reading! win music! here are numbers 15-11.

15. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (2008) - In the summer of 2008 I started to buy new albums without listening to them much in an effort to fill the void of new-music-influx that WPTS had filled during my college days. This was the first album I bought, thanks to a recommendation from Rolling Stone, and it was a rousing success. The Hold Steady are lead by the storytelling of Craig Finn and backed by some old fashioned rock and roll. Finn's lyrics tell stories of kids just trying to find their way, and Stay Positive is no different. There's a certain epic feeling to this album as it hits you in the face early, builds the story in the middle, climaxes, and closes with some laid-back resolution. The Hold Steady are everything good about rock and roll.

Key Track: Sequestered in Memphis



14. Fall Out Boy - From Under the Cork Tree (2005) - I'll probably receive a good bit of flack for this choice, but I just have to do it. Fall Out Boy is one of my favorite bands because they have clever lyrics (featured in about 20 different away messages in my AIM days) and songs that will get stuck in your head for days (plus, did i mention, an Oregon Trail knock-off game? re: falloutboytrail.com). From Under the Cork Tree hits with song after song about teen drama, fame, and girls who like both. You hate them, but you love them. I just love them.

Key Track: Of all the Gin Joints in All the World



13. Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004) - I did not listen to this album until the summer of 2008, but learned pretty quickly why it is an indie classic. Isaac Brock's voice is unique, the lyrics are creative, and the musicianship on this selection creates an up and down flow of an album like you've never experienced. "Float On" is my favorite track and will be the one that everyone knows, but the album pumps out plenty of memorable tracks ("Ocean Breathes Salty", "The World at Large", "Bury Me With It"). My favorite memory is listening to this album constantly when visiting the home state of Modest Mouse in Seattle, WA.

Key Track: Float On



12. Death Cab for Cutie - Plans (2005) - The first of two entries from Death Cab is their most popular (certified Platinum). Plans is a great collection of well-written songs that will remain on indie radio stations for years. Ben Gibbard solidified his status as a new legend in songwriting with tracks like "Marching Bands of Manhattan" and "Soul Meets Body". Narrow Stairs got me into Death Cab, but Plans kept me coming back for more.

Key Track: I Will Follow You into the Dark



11. The Format - Interventions and Lullabies (2003) - Another late arrival to my music collection is the debut from The Format. This power-pop group from Arizona only put out a couple of albums before going their separate ways, but they influenced a lot of people my age who are now creating music. Nate Reuss' lyrics were honest and enjoyable, combined with some of the most upbeat musicianship you'll encounter. Any twentysomething with an acoustic guitar in their hand needs this album in their arsenal.

Key Track: The First Single (Cause a Scene)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

favorite albums: 20-16

i've thought about this blog for a long time. it's been on my mind for months, maybe years. i love lists and i love music. this is the ultimate way for me to bring those two loves together.

those of you who have talked music with me know that i also love albums. the creation of an album by a band or musician is a complete piece of art. it's not just your favorite few songs that create a memorable album. it's the entire collection of music. the artwork. the lyrics. the packaging. all of these things combine to create one collection of art.

the songs an artist creates for an album are a collection of thoughts, ideas, and emotions that the artist is experiencing at that time. immense joy or immense sadness can create two completely different albums from the same artist. all songs should be considered in the evaluation of an album.

that being said, i value an album's completeness. my favorite albums are the ones that have listenability the whole way through. the very best albums are the ones that have the ability to flow to the end and finish in a way that energizes you to listen to it again right away.

more comments will come in future posts, but i'll start with selections 20-16 now. one final rule: i have to have listened to this album before my 25th birthday in january 2010. great albums need time to sink in. enjoy. comment. argue. these are my favorites.

20. The Classic Crime - The Silver Cord (2008) - This is a fine example of a complete album. Top to bottom, The Classic Crime's masterpiece is constantly listenable. There aren't many songs that stand out as catchy singles, which is why it isn't higher on the list, but in the summer of 2008 this album took weeks to exit my car's CD player.

Key track: The Beginning (A Simple Seed)




19. fun. - Aim and Ignite (2009) - This is a pretty recent inclusion. Nate Reuss, singer of one of my favorite bands, The Format, created this band with a couple guys from Steel Train and Anathallo. fun. created a super-catchy, yet emotional, power-pop selection that will get stuck in your head.

Key track: At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)





18. Anberlin - Cities (2007) - Anberlin found national recognition in the past year or so with the re-release of the track "The Feel Good Drag", but Cities is the masterpiece that took Anberlin to the level they've achieved today. The songwriting by Stephen Christian is deep and complex, while Anberlin's musicianship creates an album full of intently diverse rock music.

Key track: Godspeed




17. The Avett Brothers - Four Thieves Gone (2006) - The first of 3 selections from my favorite band, Four Thieves Gone is an interesting collection of tracks. A few of my favorite songs by TAB can be found in these Robbinsville Sessions, ranging from the low-key Famous Flower of Manhattan to the high energy Colorshow. The songwriting on several tracks is incredible (re: The Lowering). I could write hundreds of pages about the these boys, so I'll stop for now.

Key Track: Talk on Indolence




16. The Avett Brothers - Mignonette (2004) - Okay, back to it. Mignonette is smack in the middle of the Avett Brothers transition from down-home-country bluegrass to pop-folk legends. The crossover features plenty of energy and untouchable songwriting. My favorite Avett Brothers track of all-time is found here; Pretty Girl from Cedar Lane.

Key Track: At the Beach

Thursday, September 9, 2010

favorite bands

i'm going to make this quick because this is a pretty straight-forward list. these are my favorite bands of all time. they are in order. out of the top 10, i've seen 8 live, totaling 26 shows.

i've taken into account a few important factors, such as listenability (how often i listen to their music), live performance, and overall who they are as musicians. i value exemplary songwriting, engaging live performances, energy, growth as musicians, and obvious love for playing music.

without much hoopla, here is the start of the list:

honorable mention:
bear cub and the composure - two local favorites
anberlin
led zeppelin
fall out boy

10. The Hold Steady - Old, dirty rock and roll. No-nonsense storytelling and instrumentation.

9. mewithoutYou - One of the most odd bands I've seen around for this long. Their musicianship and personalities help them rise above so many others.

8. Brand New - Their newest album has dropped them off my radar some, but you can't deny their intensity and emotion.

7. MxPx - One of the most influential bands of my life. 3 dudes, mostly 3 power chords, and some simple punk rock.

6. Modest Mouse - Unbelievably creative songwriting. Modest Mouse can be mistaken for no other, if for no other reason beside Isaac Brock's voice.

5. Thrice - I didn't expect Thrice to be this high on my list, especially considering the first time I saw them was thanks to a bill alongside mewithoutYou and Brand New. Dustin Kensrue is one of my favorite songwriters. He uses Biblical references often, as well as C.S. Lewis references. His lyrics are deep and meaningful to a wide range of listeners. Thrice hits with an absolute intensity in their live shows. Teppei Teranishi is one of the most creative guitarists/musicians around. The songs have complexities that Thrice portray as simple. The band doesn't talk much during their live shows, but the songs speak for themselves.

4. Jimmy Eat World - Some have dropped off the Jimmy bandwagon with the last album, but I certainly have not. They are humble fellows from Arizona with gentle and introspective lyrics. JEW are fantastic at performing their music. They don't tour as frequently as many other bands, which makes their ticket a must-buy when the chance arises. Each album brings about different memories for me, but Bleed American will surface on my top ten list for sure. It's as close to a perfect album as bands can hope to attain. The songs are catchy and independent. JEW hits a wide range of music-listeners, but the musicians among us can especially appreciate the work they do.

3. Death Cab for Cutie - I resisted Death Cab, for sure, until one night at Primanti's when Ron Cepek basically called me an idiot for being a musician who didn't appreciate Death Cab. I gave them a listen (Narrow Stairs) and was instantly hooked. Ben Gibbard is one of my favorite songwriters because he has a way of manipulating words in a way that is useful to him. He uses vocabulary in a way that helps one lyric play off of another. The musicianship is simple, yet intriguing. They know that it doesn't take much to catch people's attention. I have not seen Death Cab live, but they're at the top of my must-see list.

2. Squad Five-O - Quite simply, the most important band I've ever listened to. Squad has incredible energy, rock and roll swagger, and no-bullshit attitudes. They've been described as a mix of The Clash and The Rolling Stones, which is accurate. Their lyrics are simple and truthful. On their last album, Squad ventured into dangerous territory by speaking about current events, but somehow did it in a way that was impactful yet not offensive to either side. Jeff Fortson is hands-down the best frontman I've seen. He has relentless emotion on stage and a certain sass that makes you love and hate him at the same time. Talk to him in person, though, and you'll know that he's just one of the guys doing what he's got to do to have a good time.

1. The Avett Brothers - I never thought a band could supplant Squad Five-O in this spot, but the Avetts have. I saw them for the first time in Kent, OH, in March 2008 and have seen them an additional 7 times since then. Their live show is unbeatable.. but you wouldn't think so, thanks to the acoustic-banjo-standup bass-cello combo.

These North Carolina boys have the humble "aww shucks" personality that makes you know they appreciate every single person in the crowd every night. They come out to meet fans after every show. They want to shake the hands of the people who have made it possible for them to do what they do.

The energy is second-to-none. These guys simply leave it all on the stage every night. Arguably the best part, though, is the incredible range of songs they will perform on a nightly basis. In seeing them 8 times, I'm sure I've seen about 70 different songs played. They'll reach all the way back to the first album, even after putting out an album that hit the Billboard charts in 2009. We all wondered if "making it big" would change the Avett Brothers, but it certainly hasn't.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

shows

i've been to plenty of shows over the years. more than i can count, actually. i try to keep tickets from all of them, but it's no use anymore. seeing music played live is simply a joy. we've heard the studio-recorded albums, but hearing the band reproduce their music live and in person is a different experience.

my favorite live bands have plenty of energy (squad five-o, the avett brothers) or play their music undeniably well (thrice, jimmy eat world). listening to their music at home reminds me of the performances i've witnessed and gives an extra layer to the fandom of these bands.

but i don't need to tell you that. you've been to concerts. you know what i'm talking about. so i'll cut to the chase. here are a few of the most memorable moments from the most memorable shows i've been to.


Yellowcard - Club Laga, December 2003

Yellowcard is simply one of the best live bands I've seen. My first encounter was at the Warped Tour of this same year, but after that tour I started listening to Ocean Avenue and was jazzed to see them live again. This was the last show I'd see at my favorite venue of all time. The most memorable moment came when violin player Sean Mackin performed his signature backflip off an amp during "October Nights". It's an electrifying move, especially when the old fans know it's coming.


Squad Five-O - Someone's garage in Tarentum, PA, December 2004

Squad Five-O might be the best live band I've seen. During a stretch of seeing these boys 4 times in a year, a show was relocated from the South Side to a random garage in Tarentum, PA. My attendance almost did not happen because I was offered Steelers tickets, but Kristin, Dana, and myself ended up going to the most surreal concert experience I've been to. Bottom line: Jeff Fortson swinging from the garage door track and punching out a light bulb.


Brand New, Thrice, and mewithoutYou - AJ Palumbo Center, December 2007

This was the greatest non-Squad, non-Avett concert I've been to. The lineup was simply disgusting. Brand New is one of my favorite bands and this was the first time I saw them. I hadn't listened to Thrice much, but they quickly became a new favorite after this show (I've seen them twice since). mewithoutYou puts out a fantastic live performance every time, thanks in part to the eccentric personality of lead man Aaron Weiss. No one moment stood out in particular, but I recall being more excited for this concert than any in my life. Thrice's performance of "The Earth Will Shake" is burned into my memory and Brand New brought a pair of drumsets (and probably a pile of drugs).


MxPx - Post-Gazette Pavilion, Warped Tour 2004

I've seen plenty of memorable performance by MxPx. My first experience in high school at Metropol was fantastic and they brought an impressive redemptive performance in 2007 on a loaded Tooth and Nail tour (Sullivan, Run Kid Run, The Classic Crime, The Fold). The most memorable moment, though, came on the Vans Warped Tour in 2004. Mike, Tom, and Yuri were in rare form, pulling together an intense 30-minute set. The set was so intense that it became very hard to breathe in the pit. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the band, or maybe it was the fact that this was our first pit of the day, but MxPx almost rocked us too hard to breathe that day.


The Avett Brothers - Kent Stage, Kent, OH, March 2008

I've saved the best for last. The Avett Brothers were not my favorite band when I first started listening to them, but thanks to encouragement from a couple close friends and a crush on a concert-going friend, I found myself in the middle of Ohio seeing a bluegrass/folk band that was about to blow my mind. The Avett Brothers bring it every single night. They're full of unprecedented energy, authenticity, and love. This show led to 8 concerts in 3 states over the next 2+ years.

The most memorable moment: an unprecedented second encore. The Bros played the best set I've seen from them with plenty of classics, followed by a nasty encore featuring the newly-released Murder in the City and Pretty Girl from Chile. After that, the show was over, until 1/3 of the crowd didn't leave. 100-150 people were left, singing the "la-las" from Go to Sleep, hoping the boys would come back out. The Avetts came back out with wifebeaters on, clearly having retired for the night until the crowd remained. They threw down a verse from the rarely-played Tales of Coming News before hitting an emotional high with Salvation Song. An unbelievable end to an unforgettable beginning of a musical love affair.


Honorable mention: Jimmy Eat World's flawlessness at Carnegie Library and Music Hall, finally seeing Blindside open for POD after 2 tries at Purple Door, Reese Roper wearing a Barney costume on the Purple Door stage for Five Iron Frenzy, seeing a dude dropped on his head during The Ataris at Warped Tour, Green Day (one of the best live bands in the world) with my sister and brother-in law.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

favorites of music series

i love music. it gives us a soundtrack to our lives. it often expresses emotions and thoughts which we cannot verbalize ourselves.

i also love lists. i enjoy ranking things and determining which things are best, or at least better than others.

thirdly, i clearly love reflection. i enjoy taking a look back at what once was and what has shaped the world and my existence today.

those statements being made, i will begin a new blog series today ranking my favorite albums, artists, and songs. i'll be going through my music library to find favorites from different genres and time periods in my life that have lasted in my memory today. my goal is to share this music with you, but also to allow me to reflect on what's happened in my life, musically, to bring me to this point. also, august is boring and school is starting soon, so it's something fun to do!

please read and respond. my favorites won't be your favorites. there are plenty of albums i haven't listened to or have forgotten about, so tell me. these are my preferences.

i'll start the series with a list of the 5 most important albums in the shaping of my musical tastes, in no particular order.

Squad Five-O - Squad Five-O

If I had to pick the most influential, it'd be this one. I'm sure most of you haven't even heard of Squad Five-O, but this Philly/Georgia quintet fused the style and energy of The Rolling Stones and The Clash into one hip, energetic, classic composition. Jeff Fortson was the frontman and will only be rivaled in my heart by Scott Avett. His energy and confidence on stage was electrifying. Their lyrics were plain and true. Squad was believable and enjoyable, flat out.

This album is important to me because it showed me what true rock and roll is all about. Brandon Gulish had me listen to this album on the way to play football in 12th grade and my life has never been the same.

Key tracks: I Don't Wanna Change the World, I Just Want to Change Your Mind; Wasted (With You); Don't Come Runnin'


The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism

It took me a long time to warm up to these guys, but once I ignored the fact that the Avetts' genre (bluegrass/folk/country) isn't my favorite, I saw the core. The core of energy, truth, and incredible songwriting. Emotionalism isn't my favorite album of theirs (see: Mignonette), but it was the introduction for me. I listened to this album for the first time on a stroll to see my newborn nephew, Joshua, at Magee Women's Hospital in February 2008 (thanks to a suggestion from Andrew Armstrong). The quiet walk in south Oakland allowed for an uninhibited listen to the truth behind the lyrics of these boys from North Carolina. Eight concerts later, The Avett Brothers are far and away my favorite band, starting with that stroll with Emotionalism.

Key tracks: Paranoia in Bb Major; Shame; The Ballad of Love and Hate


MxPx - At the Show

There isn't too much room for live albums on lists like these, but this album is second in importance only to SFO. This one was also passed along to me by Brandon Gulish; this time in 10th grade. It was an introduction to music that wasn't on the radio. MxPx's energy is undeniable, as is apparent on a live recording. This was a collection of their best stuff, recorded shortly after their best studio album was released (Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo). This album was my go-to on long road trips and got me through a lot of tough times. MxPx was the reminder that simple, fast tunes about life in general were all you needed sometimes.

Key tracks: Chick Magnet; I'm Ok, You're Ok; Under Lock and Key


Brand New - Deja Entendu

Deja Entendu was the definition of my early college years. I missed the boat on the whole pop-punk/emo infusion from Brand New and Taking Back Sunday in high school, so when I happened across Deja Entendu in college it became my anthem. It's dark and depressing, perfect for those days when it just seems like the world is against you. I have plenty of fond memories from walking around campus with this album in my ears, shutting out the world along the way. This is Brand New's masterpiece.

Key tracks: The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows; Jaws Theme Swimming; Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades


Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

I resisted Bright Eyes for a long time. Super-emo, super-depressing at times, yet a lyrical genius. Conor Oberst has become an indie music legend through finding "a liquid cure for my land-locked blues", suggesting that "we must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul", and encouraging us that "i'd rather be working for a paycheck than waiting to win the lottery". His lyrics are infectious and we can all relate to them in one way or another. This album is on the list because the songwriting is impeccable. After you listen to any track on I'm Wide Awake, you feel like picking up a guitar and singing the truth.

Key tracks: First Day of My Life; At the Bottom of Everything; Land Locked Blues

Friday, July 30, 2010

artistic pursuits

i have exactly one month left before school starts! yikes. once school starts, my immense amounts of free time will diminish. so, i need to take advantage of the time i have this month. here's where you come in! i have a handful of things i've worked on or would like to work on, so do me a favor and help me make a decision.


which of the following activities should i focus my energy on during august?

work on the rough draft of my short story

write and record another song or two

write a new short story

paint another picture

start a potentially longer non-fiction Christian living piece

re-channel my energy into blogging weekly


those are the options. leave me a response and tell me what you think! feel free to suggest something else, too. i look forward to seeing where my efforts will go.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

the point

last night i returned to pittsburgh after another week of playing music at suncrest camp. for those who don't know, suncrest is a christian and missionary alliance camp in new sewickley township, pa, near rochester. this past week was for middle school kids, so the vibe wasn't quite as intense as for the high school kids last month. the week was exhausting at times, frustrating at others, yet ultimately rewarding. we may end up tired and in need of time away from camp at the end of the week, but the fact is that as a result of our work there are kids now who know who Jesus is and what He did for us.

today i'm experiencing the hangover. last month the hangover was a result of missing a lot of close friends from camp who i don't see very often. i missed playing music with some of my favorite co-worship-leaders. i instantly missed the running jokes that we've all enjoyed telling with one another.

this time is different, though. i do miss the people, of course. but i think i've discovered the root of the hangover, for myself at least. the fact is that during that week at suncrest it's all about showing kids who Jesus is. no matter if we're eating, singing, playing, hanging out, or having cabin time, the point is clear. we, as leaders, are all on the same page that the ministry of suncrest camp is the most important thing. if we are growing weary, we can be re-energized by remembering that the devil is working harder to counteract the work we're doing. that is a revitalizing thought; one that has kept me going many times.

when you get back into the "real world", though, that's not the point to people around you all the time. i go to school and work with people who may not understand why i would sacrifice a week's income to go to a tiny camp in the middle of nowhere, beaver county. these people may be concerned with making money, getting ahead in their job, and satisfying their own personal day-to-day pleasures. it's hard to blame them. if i didn't have God to rely on for those things, i'd probably be more concerned with them, too.

the fact is that the devil is working his tail off to make sure that we come back into our real lives and go back to what we used to do. trusting ourselves to provide, worrying about where the money's coming from and how we're going to get it. at suncrest, we all want to spread Jesus. out here, it's not the case. everyone's not on my side. we're not all on the same page. we don't all have the same concerns. it's a challenge, but it's a challenge worth facing. we, as christians, are different than the rest of the world. i suppose it's time to show the world why we're different.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

a quick thought

i know i said last week that i was done blogging for the summer, and i am. but i want to leave one quick thought that i came across when i was journaling today.

"i recognize two things about God: 1. He can do anything. 2. I don't know what He's going to do next. It's the ultimate drama; living my life while being completely at the mercy of an all-powerful, unpredictable, and sometimes simply illogical God who loves me more than I know."

hit up jeremiah 29:11.

Monday, May 24, 2010

new direction

i don't like the way this blog is going. my thoughts have been well and good, but sometimes i think i'm writing a blog just to write a blog. when i first started writing in this thing i had something to say. i wasn't writing just to write, i was writing to share thoughts that seemed worth sharing. lately, though, i'm not sure my thoughts have been worth sharing. not my public ones, at least.

so i'm taking a break. last summer i intended to "find myself", which i think i did. by the end of the summer of 2009 i was living in pittsburgh again, back in school, and restarting. i've had almost a year back in the city now and i'm staring in the face of my first summer of living in the city. thoughts and ideas will come and go this summer, but i'm not going to share them here. i'm taking the summer off from blogging.

this summer i'm looking to refresh.

i wrote a few months ago about my interest in becoming disconnected. technology has left us all with cell phones to instantly connect to one another, and half of us with the internet available on those same devices. facebook has managed to manufacture relationships while keeping you "in touch" with friends you weren't sure you ever had. well, now it's time to take some steps toward disconnection. i thought about deleting my facebook, but i'll just avoid it instead. after all, it's a useful mode of communication when necessary. same with email. but this blog has become simply a forum for me to talk and for you to listen. my thoughts haven't been interesting enough for me to continue.

so this summer i'm going to journal, paint, write songs, play music, experience art, read, and interact. this summer is about getting back down to basics and remembering who i am and where i'm going. i'm riding a bike for most of my sunny day transportation. i'm making time to journal and read the Bible. i'm hitting the refresh button. that's what this summer is about for me. i hope to see you along the way.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

one goal

i am small. i am one small person in a very, very large world. i live a very small, insignificant life. i am just one small person.

sometimes this is how i feel. sure, it's a small world; like when you happen to have a mutual acquaintance with someone. but it's a large world, for real. we live in a tiny, insignificant group of united states of america. we may think that the world revolves around us, but it doesn't. at the very least, think about the fact that the most popular sport in the world (soccer) will have a world cup this summer and the united states will not win it. pretty bold to make a definitive statement, but the usa simply does not accel at the world's sport. so there, the usa is not significant.

getting back to you and me. mostly me. i'm small. i am not much in this world. my life doesn't mean much. the most important thing in my life tomorrow is making enough money (X) to get by for the week. i have to make Y this week, so as long as i make X tomorrow i should be fine. but if i don't make X tomorrow, the world won't end. i'll come home, have a tuna melt, a salad, and maybe a beer, and call it a day. it will be a good day. my bills will get paid, my stomach will be fed, and i'll live to fight another day.

my problems are insignificant. i have no one to concern myself with besides myself. i have family and friends who love me. if i really need money, i can get it. that's not a big deal. if i get stiffed on a tip, whatever. things will work themselves out.

how can i live in this way? well, i'll tell you. the most important thing i'll do on any give day has little to do with the job i go to, the studying i complete, or even the friends i encounter. it has very little to do with grocery shopping, bill-paying, or errand-running. no, the most important thing i do comes at the end of the day (and i'm not talking about my daily 8 hours of sleep). at the end of the day i'll read part of david crowder's "praise habit" book or something related to it. i'll read a psalm from that book, or maybe a different version of the psalm i'm on, or maybe the chapter in the book associated with that psalm. what's most important about this act is not even the psalm, but the meaning behind it.

God loves me. God loves me so much that He sent His only Son to die for me! what! how could any being do that? sending His son to make this ultimate sacrifice. it's truth, though. these psalms are in celebration of God's love for me. for us. these psalms are a constant reminder of this neverending love. at the very bottom of everything, God loves me. that is more important than money, friends, status, or objects.

tomorrow i have two things to do. one is to enjoy every minute as much as possible. the other is to make disciples of all nations. thanks to the love God has shown me, i can accomplish both of these things with one simple act; to love all people.


"stars" - david crowder band

Sunday, April 11, 2010

culmination

we've all made mistakes. some more than others. i usually think i'm part of that "some" who have experienced more miscues than triumphs. i've never claimed to be a great decision-maker. i make a lot of choices with my heart instead of my head. many times it ends up paying off, but it can result in a lot of inconsistent behavior; or maybe even consistent behavior in making the same mistakes.

there's no sense in beating myself up over it, though. i do what i do and i have my reasons. i never studied abroad in college, which i regret now because i've developed a strong desire to see much of the world. but i know that my interest in studying abroad was not there at the time, so that's why it never happened. so my regret is erased. no sense worrying about something i cannot change. all i can do now is see the world on my own account.

life is so much about action and reaction. sometimes the worst thing you can do is sit back and let life happen. you have to make your own luck, get out there and do the things you want to do. sometimes there will be failures, but there will be triumphs. those victories will be worth it. but you can't win if you don't play. something about who God is that has stood out to me lately is that we have to make that effort to get to Him, to get to what we want, before He will give us that hand. He's not going to come along and give us anything. we have to take the first step and show that we trust Him to provide.

recently i've finally gone out and done some things i've been meaning to do. i started writing a short story in december. the first draft has been completed and i'm getting ready to work hard on revisions this summer. i have written some songs that i'm proud of since the start of graduate school, so this past weekend i finally recorded a few and put them on a myspace. you can see the link to the right of this page.

the fact is that today, this moment, is a culmination of your life. everything you and i have done to this point has resulted in this exact moment on this precise day. we've made mistakes and learned from them. we've tasted victory and want more. the question today is how can we take those mistakes, learn from them, and turn it into something amazing? things can be different. by stepping out and trusting God, we can make decisions that we've been afraid to make. let's go do that. today!


I do not regret the things I've done, but those I did not do. - Lucas, Empire Records

O Lord, our Lord, the majesty of your name fills the earth! - Psalm 8:9