Christmas Music 2015

I love Christmas music! Seasonal songs are my jam for four weeks out of every year, and my favorites are the weird original ones. I especially love strange Christmas music when it’s free, and this year we get bunch of good stuff: UPDATE! I found some more good stuff!


The next release in the Christmas Forest series (mentioned below), this compilation is smoother and sweeter than Volume 8. The cover of the Getz/Gilberto classic is pitch-perfect and somehow meshes well with the Holiday mood, and the noisy post-rock version of Christmastime Is Here works really much better than it should. It also contains a new Sound of Ceres track, which makes me happy. Get it here for free.


This free collection of songs definitely veers closer to Contemporary Christian Music mainstream than usual for me anymore, but it’s a really solid collection of songs. Sticking mostly in the modern worship genre, it’s totally sing-along-able, just like the title suggests. Get it for free here.


Sleeping at Last has released a compilation of Christmas songs recorded yearly as a kind of a Christmas card, and they all stick pretty close to his inspirational style that splits the difference between modern worship and Sigur Rós. Expect plenty of swelling crescendos quietly-strummed guitars, and bells. Get it for free here.



Sam Billen (formerly of The Billions) loves to put together Christmas compilations with his friends and then release them online for free. This is the 2015 edition and it’s full of quiet, twinkly indie pop. My favorites are the instrumentals from Yuuki Ono and I Am Robot And Proud, but the whole thing is a charming, mellow affair. Don’t miss the annual Half-Handed Cloud Christmas track, which is always a delight! Download it for free here.


Colorado record label Act So Big Forest has released 8 volumes of their Christmas Forest compilation full of wild, lo-fi tracks. Each volume has a track from Candy Claws and this final release features a track from their new project, Sound of Ceres. The whole thing is moody and noisy and a little unhinged. Download it for free here.


Owen Ashworth has recorded under the names Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and Advance Base, and all of his music features his honest, plaintive voice and plenty of thrift store keyboard sounds. This mixtape of all of his Christmas tracks ranges from 2006 through this year and includes Christmas classics, covers, instrumentals and new original holiday songs. Get it here for free.


Last year Chill Mega Chill released Tape Deck The Halls last year, and they’re back this year with Totally Righteous Holiday Special. It’s a compilation of tape-label chillwave that veers from found-sound compositions featuring samples of It’s A Wonderful Life to danceable jams about getting sloshed on eggnog. Get it here for free.

Now We Can Do Stuff Again!

I was feeling old and paralyzed last night as I drove home. It was my daughter’s second birthday (she has officially graduated from tiny baby to little person). It had been a typical case-of-the type of Monday; I was feeling ambivalent about the job that I like alright but don’t see myself doing forever. I was frustrated with my own lack of enthusiasm in “fun” projects that I had previously been excited about.

I was on the toll road because I had decided that I’d rather spend two bucks than another half hour in traffic. My iPhone was on shuffle, and launched into Japandroids’ single, Young Hearts Spark Fire (free download here). I’d heard this song a few times before–the album was released in April last year. It’s nice, with some yells and some strumming, but lo-fi in a way that Drew would hate (so much guitar noise!).

The chorus of that song, however, is made out of pure youth and exuberance.

“We used to dream
Now we worry about dying

I don’t want to worry about dying
I just want to worry about those sunshine girls.”

I found myself shouting along as I drove (substituting an Animal Collective-aping “sunshine and my girls” in place of just “sunshine girls” in the lyric above) and I loved it. I felt thrilled–energized to go and live as best as I could. My misheard lyric (the actual one referring, apparently, to pinup girls in the Vancouver Sun newspaper) invigorated me in a way that music hasn’t for a while. Sunshine and my girls are two of my favorite parts of life. I don’t want to dwell on the crap; I want to think upon pure, praiseworthy things.

So I did something I seldom do–I bought the album without listening to another track. I’m giving you a chance to hear the rest of the album below, but I needed to experience the album where I’d discovered it–my car. I just hoped that the album lived up to that monstrous single and clicked the download button. (physical product?! bah)

Guess what? Post-Nothing lives up to the promise of the single. It will make you feel 19 again, with enough do-it-yourself spirit to build a monster truck.

I injected myself with more Japandroid-enthusiasm-for-living-elixir on my commute this morning. Maybe it was the cold weather and the high, clear skies today–something in this album transported me back to my college days. It felt like the day before a long weekend, having finished my 7am statistics class early (only class of the day) and walking back to the red brick dorms with the blissful knowledge of a few days where I could shirk the responsibilities beginning to settle into my life. I understood this album in the context of the anxiety and potential of the end of my youth (emusic calls it the “soundtrack to a quarter-life crisis”). This album is made to echo off of cinderblocks and poured concrete, turned too loud on mediocre speakers at far too early in the morning for the rest of your floormates.

The band is two guys, pounding away at their instruments, which are turned far too loud. They sound so excited about just doing things. It reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Hobbes pounces on Calvin as he wakes up in the morning. Calvin is preparing to get mad at Hobbes, who shouts “It’s morning! Now we can do stuff again!”

That’s how Japandroids makes me feel.

A Little More on the End of Dune

I’ve been running a Dune book club over at since December, in case you didn’t know. We (and I) just finished the book this week, and I wrote a looooong recap of the last 50 pages and discussed it a bit. I had some more that I wanted to share with regards to my perception of the book’s conclusion and the official Dunecember blog didn’t feel like the right place for it, so here we are.

Over in my post, I said:

This book seems to make the case for looking toward the unexpected, the uncontrollable, the “chaotic” over the planned and the foreseen. It’s an interesting way to look at things.

And I have found myself looking at things this way since I first read this book a few years ago. It’s not an easy way to look at things without a sufficiently-large view of God. The “chaotic” mentioned above is, to me, only literally chaotic to those (including myself) who are incapable of understanding God completely. I believe that God has ultimate authority in every situation and that nothing happens beyond His control. This is a tough way to look at things because, well, shit happens. Daily. From tiny things that suck all the way up to enormous, ghastly tragedies.

Either these things are out of God’s control, or they are part of his plan in a way that will eventually glorify Him. For God to be the supreme being He says He is (“the Beginning and the End”), He must be capable of thinking and planning beyond anything humans are capable of perceiving. Thus even horrible atrocities must have a place in His plan, since they occur and everything that occurs is part of His orchestration.

(This does not square with the concept of Buddy Christ–the God who’s totally your best friend and is going to make you rich. It also makes people uncomfortable to think that every terrible thing they have experienced has been for a reason–understandably, I might add, since people go through terrible things and have a tendency to blame God for making their life hard.)

In Dune, the best-laid plans of a powerful order are diverted by one woman’s decision, due to her love for her husband, to have a boy instead of a girl. (Within this order, women are capable of such minute control of their bodies that they can determine the gender of their child.) Centuries of careful breeding are thwarted by this one decision, and the son becomes the One that they have sought all this time.

While I know that fiction is not evidence of the manifestation of God in our lives, I believe that the act of creativity and creation can be a form of worship–that even non- and anti-Christians can reflect God in art. I think God is reflected in Dune.

Accepting the idea that “chaos” in our lives can be God’s path for us is weird and kind of difficult. In Dune, Paul (the aforementioned One) has limited precognition–he sees things that could happen based on his actions. Sometimes, though, his perception of his various paths dips out of his view. These are the times he knows that he must act–he fears and anticipates them because he knows that it is in these moments that change will come into his life. Our lives have similar instants where small decisions make a big difference later on. Sometimes, we can even see these decisions coming and decide whether to embrace or avoid them.

My encouragement for you is: embrace these decisions. Trust God. Know that things won’t always been perfect or even good, but that He has a place for you in a plan so complex that we aren’t even capable of comprehending.

(Before anyone brings it up–I’m not arguing for predestination 100%. I think that predestination/free will is not an either/or situation. The best way I can put it is especially for nerds: think of light. It is a particle, a photon. Also, it is a wave. Sometimes it acts like one, sometimes it acts like the other. But as far as we can tell, it’s both at the same time. That’s my answer to the predestination/free will argument–as far as we can tell, it’s both at the same time.)

December 2009 Roundup

Hey Ryan, what have you been up to lately?

A bunch of stuff, actually:


I started a Dune Book Club for the months of December and January. There’s a blog, a twitter account and some other links. We’re only about 80 ages in at this point, so it is still very easy for you to join.


I did another combo mixtape with my good friend Fred. It’s called the Elephant Gambit. Go here to download it and read our commentary.

Top Ten 2009 albums to play for your parents

The first part of my year-end music roundup is up at Super Secret Space Base here. The second part will be a Favorite Albums of 2009 post here and maybe somethin’ crazy on Twitter.

As always, I’m a twitter addict, though I do keep pretty well-supplied with links.

Viva La Revolución Digital

more like viva la nerdilucion

I’ve never been much for 8-track tapes. I grew up listening to my parents’ records, then graduated to recordings of those records on cassettes. Eventually I was buying my own Christian music tapes and then CDs (both Christian and *gasp* non-). I amassed quite a collection of CDs in the last twelve years. Right now, I’ve probably got somewhere around 500 CDs, give or take.

I love albums as an object. I see music as an objet d’art, encompassing the music, the album artwork, the (sometimes) printed lyrics, and the notes on the production. It’s a great joy to sit and listen to an album while looking through the art and getting a feel for the concept.

One thing I’ve learned since getting married, and especially after having a child, is that the space one has for objects is finite. And sure, one CD doesn’t take up too much room. But 500 CDs? Even if I only buy 2 a month, that’s 24 in a year–another 5% added on to my collection. Also, CDs are expensive. Because of the physical product (the jewel case or digipak, the printing, the disc itself), CDs can’t drop below a certain price without literally losing money for their publishers (and eventually the label and the band). Those jewel cases break like bottles in a TV bar fight. And that’s not to mention scratches.

Now, digital files are inferior to CDs in almost every way. They’re lower quality, and if they’re mp3s–the most common format–they’re actually less sonic data than a CD. (MP3s are considered a “lossy” format because they lose data compared to the CD.) They typically lack anything more than a 300 x 300 pixel representation of the artwork. They’re easily attained, but equally easy to accidentally delete or otherwise lose. Some companies sell you files but limit your rights to reproduce and back up your purchased files. But, mp3s and other digital files (aac/m4a, ogg, *shudder* wma) can be cheaper, since there is no manufacturing overhead. I argue, actually, that they should be cheaper. There is real no reason at all (besides greed) that mp3s on iTunes are the same price as an actual physical product in a store. (There is no reason (except greed again) that the legal penalty for stealing the freely reproduced files is so much higher than for stealing an actual physical product, either. But that’s an argument for another time.)

The benefits for mp3s are bountiful–they’re easy to carry, store, and share. While having a giant CD collection is a great way to maintain a physical backup of all the mp3s on your computer, so is buying a 500GB external hard drive from Costco and backing up your library regularly. A huge amount of the liner note information can be found online, be it on the artists’ sites or Amazon or Wikipedia. The loss of the art is a frustration, but how often do you read the liner notes to Kind of Blue, anyway?

Thankfully, not all mp3 stores are tyrannical with prices like iTunes. While and Amazon MP3 both have relatively CD-like pricing structures, both offer regular deals (like @amazonmp3‘s deal of the day–usually great albums for anywhere from $0.99 to $3.99) which make the digital files incredibly reasonably priced. Then there’s online subscriptions like Emusic. While Emusic has lost some members over a price hike and addition of thousands of albums to their catalog (can’t win with some people), it’s still a fantastic deal. I currently pay $20 a month (the price of maybe two CDs) for 50 downloads. With their structure, 50 downloads can equal 50 individual songs or I can buy packaged albums that are 12+ songs for the equivalent of 12 downloads (Recently I got Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-sounds & Nigerian Blues and Kris Menace’s Idiosyncrasies, respectively 27 and 26 tracks, for 12 downloads each.) That works out to roughly $0.40 a song–definitely a steal compared to iTunes and others. Also, all of Emusic’s files are 100% DRM (Digital Rights Management)-free mp3s, compatible with all our mp3 players and both our car CD players. While it’s not perfect–there’s still a lot of labels they don’t have, so I have to keep an eye on new releases to know where I’ll be able to get them–Emusic is the best bang for the buck in terms of music purchases.

Before I started buying mp3s, I probably bought 20-30 CDs a year. Since then, I have been able to almost double that number, saving money in the process. And I’m no longer a slave to what’s in stock or how much for shipping. If you’re still a CD junkie, I highly recommend switching to mp3s. You probably already listen to all your music on mp3 anyway. Save room in your life for other things–like comic books, which are far superior as a phyiscal object–and start paying smaller amounts for just the ones and zeroes. But, for goodness’ sake, backup your mp3 collection. And if you miss the artwork that much, buy the vinyl.

Livetweeting Philip Glass + LA Philharmonic @ Hollywood Bowl

The pictures linked in the tweets below are also in the slideshow above.

Download the iPhone recording of The Grid here.

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Things to do, Summer 2009

OC Mud Run

The mud run is a 5- or 10-K dirt run involving obstacles like lake swims, mud hills and army crawls through muck. If this doesn’t sound like immediate fun to you (I was dubious at first, too), imagine it as the next logical step after playing with GI Joes in the dirt in your backyard. Plus you get a tshirt! Visit their site for details.

Read Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest is the late David Foster Wallace‘s 1000+ page masterwork. It’s both readable and worth reading, and all of the Internet is reading it this summer, from June 21 to September 22, 75 pages a week. Get into it:

Play Ultimate Frisbee

I hearby declare the summer of 2009 to be not only the Infinite Summer, but the Ultimate Summer. I’ll be playing Saturday mornings at 10 at Olympiad park in Mission Viejo.

Read Jan’s Atomic Heart

It’s a short comic in black and inkwash-grays about a man in Frankfurt with a temporary robotic prosthesis for a body. And it is gorgeous and brilliant and only $6. Preview and purchase point here. Publisher’s site here.

Listen to Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and Akron/Family’s Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free outdoors

Look, both of these albums are fantastic and clearly intended to be heard wafting across acres of greenery. Get it done.

Listen after the jump:
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A Bloggy Update

Here comes a big wrapup and here’s why I haven’t blogged post:

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RE: Saddleback Valley News for Friday, April 24, 2009

To: Ron Gonzales, Team Leader
Freda Freeman, Editor
Editing the Saddleback Valley News

Dear Mr. Gonzales,

In reading the Friday, April 24 edition of the Saddleback Valley News, I noticed a significant number of glaring typographical errors. I realize you have a small team and that this is a relatively minor publication, but does anyone actually proof the paper before it goes to print?

It's the Sad news.

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We’re In This

 Daft Punk

I generally try not to talk about politics on this blog or on the internet in general. People seem to get passionate about issues in a way that too often leads to blind fury. A recent post on the Official White House blog got me thinking that, along with me, Barack Obama is irked by mindless disagreement. Our president said in a speech after a budget meeting [emphasis mine]:

But the one thing I will say is this:  With the magnitude of the challenges we face right now, what we need in Washington are not more political tactics — we need more good ideas.  We don’t need more point-scoring — we need more problem-solving.  So if there are members of Congress who object to specific policies and proposals in this budget, then I ask them to be ready and willing to propose constructive, alternative solutions.  If certain aspects of this budget people don’t think work, provide us some ideas in terms of what you do.  “Just say no” is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs.  It is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party.

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