Taylor Swift’s reputation: Love It or Hate It?

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I’m having a love/hate relationship with reputation era Taylor Swift. So lemme get all the “hate” out of the way first. I had no knowledge of her big scandal/feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. I trust Taylor Swift way more than Kanye and Kim. What I don’t trust Taylor Swift on right now is her love life. This album isn’t exactly “telling it like it is.” And I’m not gonna go into a tirade about how disappointed I am that Taylor is “not that innocent” anymore. Someone else did it for me.

That said, I still love Taylor Swift. In the end, I want her to be happy and I want to believe that once she properly deals with her issues instead of being insecure and drinking too much, she will finally find the happiness she has been looking for.

This blog post won’t be a moral tirade of how Taylor needs to change, though. Instead, I want to tell you whether this album is worth your money on a track-by-track basis. You can buy the individual tracks on Amazon or just listen to the promotional singles on YouTube, but it’s ultimately up to you whether this album is worth your money.

After listening to the album from beginning to end, only two out of the 15 tracks are ones that I can guarantee that everyone will love: “Call It What You Want” and “New Year’s Day.” The rest…well, read on and decide for yourself.

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There’s also a theory that each of the fifteen Taylors from the end of the “Look What You Made Me Do” represents one of the tracks on this album. I’ll be guessing which Taylor the song might be about.

  1. ...Ready For It? : 6/10. I love the music video for this song more than the song itself. The lyrics are dangerous and provocative. Also, I so don’t believe the line “I’m so very tame now.” Not with the way you’re talking in this track, Taylor! I think the Taylor in the fishnet stockings fits this song because of how Taylor dressed when she performed it on SNL.
  2. End Game (featuring Ed Sheeran & Future): 7/10. This is a hip-hop/rap track that I have to admit is fun and catchy, but Future’s presence is honestly unnecessary. I kinda swoon over Ed Sheeran’s voice, though. I think the “Shake it Off” ballerina Taylor fits this song because it’s reminiscent of 1989’s sound. Best line: “I swear I don’t love the drama. It loves me.”
  3. I Did Something Bad: 3/10 because the bridge was the only part I liked. You know the Taylor in the velvet leotard with the word “rep” at the center? This one embodies her. A dark and twisted song with a chorus that basically embodies the nature of sin: It starts out feeling good, but you kinda resign yourself to it. “This is how the world works” is the most telling lyric. Also, they didn’t burn witches in the Salem Witch Trials.
  4. Don’t Blame Me: 1/10. This song is basically Blank Space 2.0, represented by the bank robber Taylor who’s wearing a sweater that says “Blinded by Love” and got compared to Harley Quinn. Comparing your love to a drug is too Ke$ha 2009. Can’t you be more like present-day Ke$ha who’s singing about praying?! The most telling lyric: “Baby for you, I would fall from grace.”
  5. Delicate: 6/10. This song is almost authentically vulnerable, which is why I think it corresponds with the sparkly dress Fearless-era Taylor. Meeting a new guy, being uncertain of whether this will work? Hoping that someone will love you for who you truly are? That I can relate to. Inviting him up to your room and saying “I don’t wanna share”? Not so much. Basically, I like the pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge more than the verses. “Is it too soon to do this?” Honey, I think it’s too late.
  6. Look What You Made Me Do: 3/10. There are many reasons why this song doesn’t work for Taylor. The biggest reason is that this is a villain song and even though she tried with the whole Snake Queen look, Taylor is not a villain. She’s just majorly flawed. That said, somebody made an AMV to this song using Death Note and it is perfect.
  7. So It Goes…: 1/10. I don’t like this track. It sounds good, but…let’s just say that the Taylor in the giant birdcage is a great indicator of the state of Taylor’s soul right now. (And yes, I know I said it before. It bears repeating.) This and a few other songs on here can easily fit on a 50 Shades soundtrack, with lyrics like “You know, I’m not a bad girl, but I do bad things with you” and “scratches down your back.” And that’s not a good thing.
  8. Gorgeous: 8/10. I loved this song when this came out, but upon listening to it more, it’s starting to sound like a mixed bag. The song is relatable because everyone has probably found someone attractive even though they were in a relationship with someone else. Acting on those feelings is another story. Best line: “Guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats.” I think Met Gala Taylor represents this song cuz the dress is gorgeous.
  9. Getaway Car: 6/10. I’m pretty sure this song is about Calvin and Tom. The way that Taylor is telling the story, it paints Tom as being her “rebound guy” from Calvin and the relationship in this song sounds like it didn’t last long, doomed from the start. Biker Girl Taylor is the best candidate for the representative for this song as Taylor compares herself and the person in the song to “Bonnie and Clyde.”
  10. King of My Heart: 9/10. I love the song conceptually. The idea of finding real love after thinking you’re done with it, not to mention wanting a more simple life? More of this please! Just cut out the line “We rule the kingdom inside my room” and this song would basically be perfect. Also, the chorus of my song is MY LIFE! It takes me to Heaven and back! The “You Belong With Me” Taylor in the Junior Jewels shirt definitely fits this song!
  11. Dancing With Our Hands Tied: 5/10. I have no clue who this song is about. On the one hand, I want to pick the Out of the Woods zombie Taylor because the song is about uncertainty in the midst of a relationship, but a lot of Swifties compared this song to “Holy Ground,” which means it’s more like the Red Era Circus Ringmaster Taylor. I don’t like the title of this song, either, cuz…well, the image that comes to mind is very 50 Shades of Grey.
  12. Dress: 2/10. This song is the most 50 Shades aside from “Don’t Blame Me.” Give this song an R rating for explicit, provocative lyrics! (That was not a compliment.) My best friend thinks that it could work if you think that the dress is a wedding dress, but this song is far from being romantic, even if it sounds ethereal. This song isn’t “deep and tender,” as Taylor claims. It’s just one big “F#$& Me” song. Also, I have no clue which Taylor fits this song.
  13. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: 5/10. The Taylor dressed in a cheetah print coat talking about “getting receipts” fits this song because this is a good-sounding, bitchy, condescending song that gives a big middle finger to Kanye and Kim. This is the song that comes to mind when I think of “complaining about being famous” songs. I really hope you forgive Kanye and Kim someday, Taylor, because forgiveness isn’t a “nice thing to do,” it’s a necessity if you really want to move on and be happy. That said, she should have made this her first single because it’s honestly clever.
  14. Call It What You Want: 9/10. This song is such a huge mood whiplash from the previous song. But I loved this song from the moment I heard it and still love it. The idea of having someone in your corner in the midst of all the hard times in life is something I love. But Taylor definitely seems happy in the lyric video for this song. Since the Taylor in the background is standing on a plane, I can’t help but hope that this is the song that represents the Real Taylor.
  15. New Year’s Day: 10/10. If there’s one song that I think everyone should buy, it’s this one. The lyrics are basically “relationship goals” in song form: spending time with the one you love and cleaning up after a party, planning for the future, promising forever, being with him/her for better or for worse. I love that Taylor plays the piano because it just sounds beautiful. This is the best sounding track, musically and lyrically.  This is also one I think represents the Real Taylor, the one standing in the back.

I hope Taylor’s next album will be one I can love with all my heart and sound more like the last two tracks. As it is, I’ll just live with the “Dark Taylor” and pray that this is just a phase.

Resurrection vs. Retribution

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Ever since 2006, when I first heard “Picture to Burn” on my local country radio station, I have been a “Swiftie.” Taylor Swift’s songs always resonated with me. However,  I recently started feeling a dissonance between how I saw life and how Taylor saw hers. This dissonance was most profound when I listened to her latest single “Look What You Made Me Do” and watched the music video that debuted on Sunday night. To me, it didn’t sound like Taylor at all aside from a few lines here and there. I know that Taylor has been through a lot in the past few years, but I wondered why she chose to portray herself the way she did in her music video.

“Look What You Made Me Do” starts out with Taylor crawling out of her grave, looking like a zombified version of how she looked in “Out of the Woods,” which was my favorite music video from her thus far. But her face reminded me of Anya Jenkins, who started out as a vengeance demon on Buffy:

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer is copyright to Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. Image is used for editorial purposes only.

The prechorus of the song goes: “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. Honey, I rose up from the dead. I do it all the time.” Why did she show herself coming back from the dead as a zombie? I see it as a distorted version of the Resurrection. Zombies, vampires, and other versions of the undead are all dark, perverted types of “resurrections.” To quote Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she came back wrong.

Taylor has written songs about revenge in the past. But at the same time, she also wrote songs about forgiveness as well. So why does she choose to use revenge now?

A few telling lines from the second verse give the answer: “The world moves on, another day, another drama drama. But not for me, not for me. All I think about is karma.”

I recently read an article from Bishop Robert Barron about the difference between karma and grace. In the most simplistic terms, karma is about retribution. “Do good things and you get good in return. Do bad things and you will suffer.” Taylor is driven by revenge in the hopes that everyone who did her wrong will get what they deserve.

The last significant line in the song is this spoken line and it’s the one that Taylor puts on all her social media: “I’m sorry. The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh. ‘Cause she’s dead.” In the video, this is shown by all of her past selves falling down into a dark chasm, with the new Taylor standing on top of a hill with a giant T behind her.

The old Taylor is definitely dead. But instead of embracing grace and forgiveness, Taylor chose to be the bad guy, bent on revenge and retribution.

Now flip the script and take a look at my life recently. In the past few years, I went through my share of bad dating experiences. I was one guy’s rebound date. I went speed dating, but never really connected with anyone. I even dated someone who turned out to be a narcissist!

But at the same time, I kept writing. I worked on my novel and got to share it with other writers at a couple of conferences. I went to Chicago on my own! My first real grown-up adventure! I have been finding my writing voice, this clear, resonating bell that people can hear and listen to. I learned what forgiveness actually feels like and how to persevere in the face of adversity. In other words, I became stronger.

What gave me my strength? Grace. By rooting myself with God, He gave me strength I never knew I had. Even now, as Hurricane Harvey flees Texas, I have found the strength to overcome the anxiety that was building up within me since the storm hit. Grace is not something that I deserved because I was good. God’s strength was given to me because I needed it. Grace is a gift, one that we need to share with others. Through grace, we find the strength to forgive and renew ourselves. We find the strength to persevere. We die to ourselves and live again through Christ.

“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

And grace is the difference between having a personal resurrection and being fueled by the revenge from the death of your reputation.

*mic drop*

Audrey Assad's Inheritance (An Album Review)

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I was hyped up for Inheritance as soon as Audrey Assad announced that she was starting work on this particular album. This particular album consists of some familiar hymns from both Catholic and Protestant traditions as well as a couple of original tracks. If you’re looking for an album to be your Lent soundtrack, this one (as well as her previous album Fortunate Fall) is it.

Without further ado, a track-by-track review:

1) Ubi Caritas: Many traditional and pre-Vatican 2 Catholics will probably recognize this Latin Hymn. According to Michael Martin of preces-latinae.org:

Ubi Cartitas is taken from the antiphons sung during the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet at the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. As is the entire Mass of the Last Supper, this hymn is intimately connected with the Eucharist, and is thus often used during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. 

It’s a reverent start to this album. I can imagine a Eucharistic procession done to this song, swinging chausible and all. You can listen to it and read the English translation of the Latin lyrics in the video below.

2) Holy, Holy, Holy: I’m very familiar with this hymn and I was surprised that she cut out the second verse. You know, the one about the saints casting down their golden crowns around the sea? Still, I want to wake up to this song every morning, it’s that awesome.

3) Be Thou My Vision: The melody of this song that sounds like stars sparkling in the twilight. I love the drum beat, too, because it gives a certain gravitas to this uplifting hymn. it sounds like a march or a prayerful walk. The song ends with a beautiful mixing of vocals that sound like the song is being lifted up to Heaven.

4) I Wonder As I Wander: Dear Retreat Friends- We need to use this song the next time we do a Passion Play! The strings are unsettling in the most wonderful way. Towards the end of the song, the piano and strings mix in with the sounds of a thunderstorm. Overall, it’s a dark, Gothic round that’s perfect for listening to after Stations of the Cross or on Good Friday.

5) How Can I Keep From Singing: Audrey Assad said on her website that “I had to make something both bright and dark—colored honestly with my own doubts and weaknesses, so that the Lord who inspired these songs could be even more visible in it.” The past couple songs have embraced the darkness, but this song is a lot more uplifting. Listen to this song and take notes, Christian Pop. Praise and Worship songs can be done without sounding like Top 40 pop or a Nickelback concert. 

6) Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus: Fernando Ortega provides a bit of backing vocals to this soft, beautiful, contemplative song. It’s almost like a two and a half minute long meditation sung with the Sacred Heart of Jesus in mind.

7) Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet: This song goes back to the minor keys and haunting strings from previous tracks. Uses a lot of echos. It’s an eerie, dark and rich round. Do not listen to this song with the lights out. You might get nightmares from all the dark notes.

8) New Every Morning: A new retelling of Genesis, Lamentations, and the Gospel of John. It goes on like Psalm 136 with a lot of repetition, but it’s a wonderful mantra. In this Year of Mercy, we have to remind ourselves as often as possible that God’s mercies are new every morning.

9) It Is Well With My Soul: Where has this song been all my life?! This song is definitely in the running for my favorite track on this album. I wish I grew up hearing this song, singing it in my choir. It’s a wonderful calming melody that I want to listen t0 if ever I fall into anxiety again. It’s awe-inspiring and uplifting, another perfect example of how a praise and worship song can sound without the homogenization of pop music melodies. Give it a listen!

10) Even Unto Death: Audrey Assad wrote this particular song to honor the Christian Martyrs who died at the hands of ISIS. On her tumblr, she said this:

All is not as it seems.

The men wielding the knives (precious also, though they do not know it) are the prisoners of Death.

The twenty one men that they beheaded are miraculously, blessedly free.

This is the Great Paradox of Christianity. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death.”

I have to believe that these twenty one martyrs are each in the kingdom of Light, interceding for their executioners.

“Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy,” I thought desperately.

I could not help but weep, and hard. But by some small miracle I did not despair.

I only thought “What would I pray, if it were me kneeling on that beach?”

I’m not sure if she meant this intentionally, but the song has a St. Therese feel to it. Saint Therese of Lisieux wasn’t a martyr in the typical sense, but she considered herself one in the way that she lived her life. Listen for yourself by clicking on the video below.

11) Abide With Me: Originally written by Henry Francis Lyle, Audrey Assad gives new life to this Protestant Hymn. It’s a soft, gentle closing song to this album. It’s a calming, grounding track, like a light shining into the dark.

Overall, I highly recommend this album! It’s available on iTunes and Amazon. Click here and say: “Shut up and take my money!”

The Spiritual Journey of "Out of the Woods"

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Welcome to 2016 everyone! Like most people during this time of year, I want to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for 2016. But since, like most people, I watched Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve in anticipation of the countdown, I got to watch the premiere of Taylor Swift’s latest music video “Out of the Woods.”

Out of all of the videos that Taylor has released from her 1989 album, this is by far my favorite since “Bad Blood.” It takes me back to the Taylor I knew: the Taylor who wore long, beautiful dresses and tried to figure out what love meant. The video itself is reminiscent of a spiritual journey.

It starts out with the words “She lost him” and opens with Taylor standing on the beach in a long light blue dress. As the song begins, a forest starts growing around her. This symbolizes the beginning of a spiritual journey, being led into a seemingly dangerous place where wolves (which could represent opposition or anxiety) and tangling vines (which represents sin) are out to get you at every corner. Day turns to night as Taylor weaves her way through the woods and runs from the wolves and through the tangling thorns. In the chase, she falls and her dress gets torn, representing the first stumbling.

All of a sudden, Taylor is on top of a mountain. The wolves are still chasing her. Taylor rips the necklace she was wearing off and tosses it over the mountain. Then she takes a leap and dives into the ocean below. This represents the second part of the spiritual journey: taking a leap of faith and letting yourself be submerged into an ocean of grace. I also saw her taking the necklace off as letting go of what you used to love in order to immerse yourself into a deeper love.

But just as Taylor is in the ocean, she’s suddenly in a desert. She touches a tree and then finds herself frozen in the middle of an icy forest, running from an avalanche. Both of these can represent spiritual dryness. Spiritual highs don’t last long and the dry periods of spiritual life can either feel as barren as a desert or as cold and bitter as winter. Either way, these dry periods prompt us to reflect and have faith in spite of how we feel.

The bridge of the song finds Taylor crawling through a muddy swamp as vines entangle around her in every different setting. This is the fallen state of grace, when we are covered in sin. Like the vines, sin paralyzes us. But as the song transitions towards the last chorus, little lights surround Taylor and even though she keeps getting thrown down and finds herself surrounded by fire, the vines don’t try to entangle her anymore. Instead, she gets up and gets out of the woods. The music video ends with Taylor back at the beach as the forest disappears behind her. Her dress is shorter, but her eyes are so much wiser. She sees her old self looking out into the ocean and reaches out to touch her.

Then these words flash on the screen: “She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything.”

The last part of the music video to me represents the sense of renewal which leads to finding the best version of yourself again. You return to where you started because God draws straight with crooked lines.

Fellow Swifties will recognize the words from the end of the video as the secret message from the song “Clean.” In a way, this message combined with the music video basically describes what 2015 was to me. I didn’t lose a person so much as ideas on what I thought my life should’ve been. I met with a lot of disappointments in 2015. And yet, through my own spiritual journey, I found myself again. I let go of all of my preconceptions on how things were “supposed to be” and took a leap of faith, entering into this new life where nothing’s quite as certain, and yet my faith and trust in God remain constant.

And somehow, that faith and trust was everything. It led to me making new friends. It helped me to grow as a writer. Most surprisingly of all, I became a more forgiving and hopeful person.

It’s hard for me to choose one word that will be my constant throughout 2016. Mercy is a good contender since this is the Year of Mercy. I’m reading Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light, so light is also a potential word. I’m still on this spiritual journey towards finding my vocation, which makes the word “direction” quite appealing. However, what resonates the most with me right now is love. Bishop Robert Barron said that “Mercy is what the Divine Love looks like when turned towards the sinner.” Mother Teresa was called to be a light of love to the streets of Calcutta. And in this journey that I’m taking, I feel like love will be what will lead me to wherever I end up next.

I don’t just mean romantic love, although I find myself longing for that more than usual. I also want to learn how to balance love of God and love for myself in a healthy way. To be humble but at the same time be self-assured and hold my ground to protect myself from creeps and devils. “Love” also applies to my writing. I want to finish all of my writing projects, pour my love into every single word and share that love with the world. Most of all, I want to be able to get past my cynicism and be able to love my neighbor and see the best in them.

So here are some questions for you: Where are you on your spiritual journey right now? What do you think is your word for 2016?

I pray that God will help lead you out of whatever woods you happen to find yourself in. Happy New Year everyone!

Screenshots from “Out of the Woods” are copyright to Big Machine Records, Taylor Swift, and Joseph Kahn and are used for editorial purposes only.

Hamilton The Musical: An Album Review

 

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I’m a sucker for American History, especially the Revolution. But I like stories that keep the drama to a realistic perspective. I don’t like Turn because there isn’t as much history as there is drama. I liked Sons of Liberty in spite of the inaccuracies of the love triangle between Joseph Warren, Margaret, and General Gage. On paper, Hamilton shouldn’t work. But it does. It’s jam-packed with 46 musical numbers that establish who everyone is and moves the plot along. It’s basically a hip-hopera that succeeds in a way that previous attempts at hip-hop/opera didn’t. Because the musical has about 46 or so musical numbers that basically flow into each other, I’m not gonna do a track by track review, but talk about the story the songs tell me.

I’ll be honest when I say that I honestly didn’t know much about Alexander Hamilton going into this musical. He’s most famous for being involved in the American Revolution, writing most of the Federalist papers, creating the current system of treasury, and dying in a duel. But this musical doesn’t just bring Hamilton to life, but all of his contemporaries as well. It’s best seen in the opening number “Alexander Hamilton.” It acts as the “prologue” of the story and it’s already amazing that Hamilton was able to get out of the Caribbean with nothing but the money people raised to get him out and his writing skills.

What’s most interesting is that even though Aaron Burr is an antagonist, he’s not exactly a villain. He’s shown his sympathetic moments in the second number “Aaron Burr, Sir.” He reminds me of politicians who aim to please without really standing for anything. And yet, he still has love for his daughter Theodosia and has his own ambitions. (Note: Theodosia was originally illegitimate but Leah Libresco told me that Burr ended up marrying Theodosia’s mom after her first husband died.)

Act II introduces Jefferson and Madison, who are also antagonistic figures due to being Hamilton’s political rivals, but the awesome Cabinet Battle numbers show that Jefferson’s desires have some basis in logic. However, reality is more complicated than Jefferson’s ideas. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr have a villain song in “The Room Where it Happens” and “Washington on Your Side,” which shows their jealousy for Hamilton. Both Jefferson and Madison end up paying their respects for Hamilton in the closing number because Hamilton’s financial system turned out to be a good thing in the long run. And Burr realizes the cost of letting his jealousy go too far in “The World Was Wide Enough.” You feel really sorry for Burr at the end.

You could  could argue from “You’ll Be Back,” “What Comes Next,” and “I Know Him” that King George III is the villain in this musical, but he never interacts with Hamilton. He’s just there to be America’s clingy ex-boyfriend, the comic relief in this intense, dramatic musical. Props to Jonathan Groff, btw, because I honestly didn’t recognize his voice when I listened to his tracks.

Hamilton could’ve easily been “Mister Perfect” in this musical, but his flaws are seen in this show as much as all the other characters. He’s definitely extraordinary, brilliant, and innovative, but he’s also shown to be arrogant and short-sighted at times. His short-sightedness shows in “Say No to This” especially and in Hamilton’s decision to publish the Reynolds pamphlet. Hamilton’s dreams of rising up seem to be going down in flames because marital fidelity is still something we value. The whole incident feels Clinton-esque and I want to slap Hamilton upside the head for falling for such a cheap trick and not thinking things through.

The musical also develops historical figures I never knew before, namely the Schuyler sisters. (Pronounced “skylar”) The Schuyler Sisters are forward-thinking intelligent women, especially Angelica who’s looking for a mind at work. Angelica is gunning for feminism two centuries before the first wave feminist movement and yet I find it believable because intellectual revolutions come around in times of war.

“Helpless” and “Satisfied” fully establish the characters of Eliza and Angelica Schuyler. Eliza is more of a hopeless romantic, wanting a quiet, domestic life (as seen in “That Would Be Enough”) while Angelica needs to marry rich and wants to marry someone who could match wits with her. They’re also both in love with Hamilton. Once you realize how similar “Helpless” sounds to “Countdown” by Beyonce, you can never un-hear the similarities. Eliza, being Hamilton’s wife, gets major character development as she deals with Hamilton’s ambitions and mistakes. “Burn” is a tear-jerking number because she’s not gonna stand by her man, and yet “It’s Quiet Uptown” is also tear-jerking because of the way Eliza and Hamilton reconcile. It takes a death to bring them together. It takes Hamilton dying for Eliza to finally stand by her man.

I also learned more of Hamilton’s comrades in arms, John Laurens and the Marquis de Laffayette. Given my bias towards all things French, I have a soft spot for the Marquis in all his over-the-top bravado. Mulligan is the rough-and-tumble Irishman who ends up becoming more of a minor character compared to everyone else.

The musical makes John Adams the butt of the joke in a couple of numbers such as “I Know Him” and “The Adams Administration”. It’s surprising that Adams isn’t even in the musical at all, but the cast is already large enough with a ton of musical numbers. But it’s a good thing John Adams has his own musical anyway. To quote said musical:

“Consider yourselves fortunate that you have John Adams to abuse, for no sane man would tolerate it!”

And while we’re on the subject of running gags, please leave New Jersey alone. That joke is getting old.

For me, though, the most intriguing character is George Washington. George Washington would usually be the star of a musical, but in this play he plays the role of Hamilton’s mentor. Washington is the main reason Hamilton gets so far up the social ladder, and yet he and Hamilton don’t always agree. It was sweet when I heard Washington refer to Hamilton as “son” because Hamilton never had a father and Washington had no children with Martha. Hamilton wants to defend Washington in the hopes of gaining his own regiment but I feel like Hamilton also loves Washington as much as anyone could love a hero.

Washington seems the most aware of the future, even more so than Hamilton, because he tells Hamilton to always be aware of who tells his story.

To me, the real story of Hamilton is about legacy. I love that Lin Manuel-Miranda chose to make the cast diverse because it shows how anyone from any race or ethnicity can relate to these historical figures. We can understand these characters and their desires. By making no real villains, we can see the complexity of the politics and see our own political atmosphere in this story. I so wish political debates were as cool as the Cabinet Battles!

I can’t wait for the day that high schools create their own productions of this play because it’s educational as much as it is educational. They have to deal with the cussing, though, but seriously. There needs to be a high school version of this hip-hopera. Like now. Also, can someone take me to Broadway so I can watch this live?!

For now, give this album a listen. It’s a seriously good one.

LEVV Lights a Strange Fire With Debut Album

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You wanna know why I wonder Audrey Assad gets any sleep? Because she’s always doing something. LEVV is a departure from Audrey Assad’s usual stuff, in the sense that it isn’t Praise and Worship/Gospel/Christian music. But there’s an ethereal quality that still feels like God is a part of this album as much as Audrey’s other stuff.

For those who don’t know LEVV is a band consisting of Audrey Assad and Seth Jones and the music is pop, but there’s so much more depth in these five songs (plus the song “Dream” from the Arrow single) than I’ve heard from anything on the air right now. Audrey goes more into the name of the band on LEVV’s Tumblr page. Without further ado, let the album review begin!

1. Darkness

Darkness sounds like a ballad collaboration between Calvin Harris and Sia. It starts out slow with a piano and lyrics that tell the story of a dark love. The person in the song was fighting against her feelings for someone and yet the lover broke through. It’s a haunting song and you could almost see it as something coming out of a Gothic novel.

2. Heartbreaker

This song is the most “Top 40” sounding song with a catchy beat and easy rhymes. But as I said, most top 40 acts wish they could sound this good. The song speaks of still loving a person even after being rejected. It’s a bit sad underneath the upbeat melody. There’s a wonderful electric guitar bridge and a techno beat that would feel totally in place in the club. Of course, this song isn’t exactly the kind you would dance to at a typical raging nightclub. The song’s more suited to a VIP kind of nightclub on ladies night, more singing and less grinding. Like Bridesmaids.

3. I Feel Good

Once again, lyrical dissonance is at play in this song. The melody is like a sunrise, like the feeling you get when you wake up on a weekend. The lyrics, however, feel like the story of someone struggling with depression. I mean the chorus goes “But I feel good/I feel okay/I’ve got a pill waiting for me at home at the end of the day.” There’s a beautiful piano bridge in this song that transitions into a bridge that speaks of the post-breakup blues. Way to make a misleading title, Audrey!

4. Arrow

“Arrow” was the first single from this album. There isn’t much to this song lyrically and yet I can’t help but think of Eros and Psyche when I listen to this song. The song tells the story of falling in love unexpectedly. There’s a piano melody that plays after the chorus, followed by a cool techno/drum beat as the chorus echoes again and again until the end of the song.

5. Learning to Let Go

The story in this song of two lovers in war with each other for no real reason. The lover in the song is jumping at shadows and the way he’s treating the beloved in this song is making her act like she’s at fault and giving her major relationship issues in the process. The chorus is just one line, but it repeats and overlaps with beautiful vocalizations. The song is a tragically beautiful track and I can definitely relate to.

Bonus: Dream

Dream is a track from the Arrow EP and I’ll be honest when I say that I wish that this song was on the actual “Strange Fire” album because this is the LEVV song I relate to the most. The lyrics tell the story of a broken woman finding love, finding home with someone. The song has a beautiful piano melody that honestly doesn’t feel out of place with the rest of Audrey’s usual music. My favorite lyrics from the song are the chorus:

I would love you with my whole heart if my heart was whole—

as it is I’m all in pieces, and you can have them all.

Strange Fire is available on LEVV’s Bandcamp page for $4.99, but you can get a discount by tweeting about the album on Thunderclap. You can download Dream for free from the Arrow single off of LEVV’s Noisetrade page.

I can’t wait to see what this band will create next. I hope for an album that has at least 10 tracks. And seriously Audrey Assad, GET SOME SLEEP! You’re making the rest of us look unproductive!

Album cover courtesy of Audrey Assad and Seth Jones and is used for editorial purposes only.

Ghost of the Robot's Bourgeois Faux Pas – An Album Review

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Pronounced “boar gee oh is fox pass”

So who exactly is Ghost of the Robot, you ask? They’re a multi-genre band based in Los Angeles, California. Their music ranges from pop-rock to hard rock to metal with a bit of country thrown in for good measure. How exactly do I know about this band? I have a crush on the lead singer.

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Photo and stickers were sent by a dear friend who is a fellow Buffy fan.

That’s right, people. James Marsters from Buffy is the lead singer and guitar for Ghost of the Robot. It’s basically his band, one that he started with his friend Charlie de Mars. Kevin McPherson, Jordan Latham, and James’s son Sullivan make up the rest of the band.

To date, the band has 3 albums: Mad Brilliant, B-Sider, and Murphy’s Law. James Marsters also has 2 solo albums out. Bourgeois Faux Pas is available for pre-order on their site and hopefully it’ll be available on Spotify soon. Until then, I’ll review the album and you decide if it’s worth pre-ordering.

Warning: I’m not a music expert so I don’t know what kind of instruments are being used. Plus, fangirl squee will ensue.

1) Hello “Hello” was the first single from this album. It’s an upbeat track about meeting someone for the first time with love being a definite potential maybe. When I listened to the single version of this, it evoked memories of when I met James Marsters at Comicpalooza. And no, I’m still not over it!  The vocals and instrumentals are great in this track and I like the lyrics. It’s a great opening track that has an excellent electric guitar outro.

2) Back To Act Too When I checked up on the news surrounding the album, the band said that different members of the band would sing lead in different songs. This is the first instance of that. This song is pop-rock, a breakup song that feels like it would belong in a beach movie. It’s a good track.

3) Three This was where I said to myself “Okay, I’m officially dead!” because James Marsters’s voice is distinct in this song. The song reminds me so much of Spuffy in Season 6, specifically, the angst that Spike feels about Buffy having the weight of the world on her shoulders and using him just to feel something. It’s a touching ballad and yes, I am melting as I type this.

4) Mother of Peril This song starts out slow and then goes into a hard rock intro. Lyrically, it’s a bit confusing, but it picks up towards the second half. I like the fake out outro guitar bridge. The music evokes a feeling of sadness, like a relationship issues kind of song, and yet there’s a bit of hope in it.

5) Bad This is one of the songs originally from James Marsters’s solo albums. This is what I call the “hard rock remix” version of the song. I still giggle when I listen because the song is basically a bad boy anthem, but the echos of the electric guitars almost drown out the vocals here. Otherwise, I think it would be great to hear live and I love the new bridge. He may be bad, but he does it so well.

6) All That She Wanted The song has uplifting instrumentals, but the song itself a post-breakup song about a guy kicking himself about not treating his girl right. It has a great beat (bass line?) with a repetitive chorus that is likely gonna get stuck in my head all week. There’s an awesome electric guitar solo midway through the song. It’s basically lyrical dissonance in the best way possible.

7) Why Do We Love The song begins with a vocal harmony. The first thing I notice is that the first verse gives way to a counterpoint duet in the chorus. The song itself wonders what love is and why people experience it. It’s not an easy thing to figure out, sad to say, and the song doesn’t answer the question that it brought up but the song’s outro is fantastic.

8) Katie This is another song originally from James Marsters’s solo albums. The band performs this live at their concerts and the remix evokes that showy concert feel, with more hard rock style instrumentals. I can imagine myself in a crowd dancing along to the song. Lyrically, the song talks about a girl named girl who has a lot of tattoos and might have a boyfriend but it’s never certain but the singer is definitely interested. I still prefer the version on the solo album, but again, I think this song would be great to hear live.

9) The Weight This song is sadly a huge contrast from the rest of the album. It sounds like a Pink Floyd track in the middle of a Journey album. The lyrics are kind of Holden Caulfield-esque talking about phonies, but the words go by too fast for me to really understand. The vocals are almost hard to understand because they yell out a lot of the lyrics. It’s not my favorite track.

10) Fall Away This is a rock ballad, more emphasis on the vocals than on the instrumentals. It starts with a mix of piano and guitar (I think). The lyrics don’t really make a lot of sense though. They sound like words scattered in a dream, like a musical version of a surrealist movie. The vocals turn into outright yelling for a bit halfway through the song, but there’s some harmonizing towards the end. But just when you think the song is about to end, there’s a bit of vocalizing and music that outros out the song instead. Overall, the song feels like a dream.

11) Dark Matter The first thing you hear is the sound of water with island instruments that quickly get drowned out by the hard rock guitars and drums. The other thing you notice in this song is that there is a female backup singer in this song. I honestly don’t know who that mysterious female singer is. I almost wished that they made a Game of Thrones shout out with them saying “You are my sun and stars,” but then again, I’m not a Game of Thrones fan. The lyrics evoke a love song that would belong in a space opera. The song itself is a great closer to the album.

 

Overall, the album gets an 8/10 for me. My favorite album from Ghost of the Robot is still Murphy’s Law. And some fans of the band are mixed about this one. Ultimately, though, I hope that the album comes out on Spotify so that you can listen and see if it’s a keeper.

Audrey Assad: Women of Christ Wednesday

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Audrey Assad is a worship leader and musician who writes, in her own words, “soundtracks for prayer.” She has penned her contemplative songs of worship with (and for) Matt Maher, Christy Nockels, Brett Younker, Sarah Hart, Meredith Andrews, and others—Audrey’s passion is to write fragrant, prayerful music that truly leads to encountering Jesus Christ, even in the silence of the heart.

The Pledgemusic pre-order for Inheritance is still going! It can be found at http://pledgemusic.com/audreyassad and there are amazing new items in the store, including shirts and posters in partnership with St. Vincent DePaul Society!

 

Where did the idea for Inheritance come from?

I was raised in a church that only sang hymns, a cappella and out of the hymnal. I learned to sing harmony and read music in church, and all these years later I just really wanted to make an album that paid homage to that heritage. The name is a nod to the musical traditions that helped shape my art, as well as the wealth of wisdom the Church has to offer us in the form of hymns.

 

How did you create the band LEVV? ETA on the first album from that band?

LEVV was begun three years ago, and it was initially a solo project—I named it after Leo Tolstoy (Leo is ‘Lev’ in Russian) because reading his work and reading about his life inspired me to make some much-needed changes in my career. After working with Seth Jones (a friend in LA) quite a bit on the music, it became apparent that he was meant to be part of the band, and we made it a partnership.  The album (Strange Fire) releases in September.

 

How do you balance motherhood and your career and your marriage?

Every day and week is different. Some weeks I get more sleep and more coffee time and others, I get less. My son is over a year old now so some of that stuff is a bit easier than it used to be—but then again I have to chase him around all over the house making sure he doesn’t cause too much destruction, so it’s a tradeoff. I work three days a week on emails, admin stuff, and/or writing, so we have a babysitter for two days a week and my husband stays home one day a week to make that possible—I travel 3-4 times a month to play music, and somehow we just kind of make it all work. Teething is always a game-changer. 😉

Tell me about how you met your husband and what it’s like being married now.

I met my husband in Tucson, AZ at a youth conference where we were both working. We stayed friends loosely over Twitter and Facebook for a year, and then started dating after I figured out that he was young, Catholic, artistic, and handsome and I was crazy for not putting myself out there.

Being married is a gauntlet of emotion and selfishness and I am a much better and humbler person for it, but I still have a long way to go. I married someone very different than me, and someone who is also creative—we disagree (strongly) a lot and that is very refining. Love grows well under those circumstances if one keeps remembering to put the other person first, so we are better off for being together and growing in happiness every year.

 
How exactly did you convert into Catholicism?

I started RCIA after a year of personal study — I had been turned on to the Church’s teachings by a young student I met in a coffee shop, and from the first daily Mass I attended I was so intrigued that I had to keep learning. One thing led to another and I found myself entering the Church at Easter Vigil 2007. I am long past the ‘honeymoon phase’ most converts experience and have been down in the mire with everyone else, trying to live a holy life in union with the Church and figure out how to engage culture’s unbelief and my own unbelief in the midst of that. It’s a constant journey. I’m still converting, really.

 

What advice would you give to young adults who are discerning marriage?

Steer clear of extremes. Being extremely uptight about morals and discernment can be dangerous, as can being extremely carefree about them.

 

What advice would you give to those struggling with pornography, male or female?

Visit The Porn Effect for a wealth of helpful resources and ways to stay committed to chastity in this area. Make sure you have friends willing to support and help you—addiction has a much easier time surviving in a vacuum.

 

What’s your opinion on music liturgy?

That’s a big question, with many nuanced answers I could give. A short (and incomplete) opinion I hold is that it is very hard to do modern music tastefully at Mass, but it is possible and I have heard it done. Most of the time, keeping it simple really helps. Guitar and drums are hard to keep in the realm of tasteful (for Mass) so sometimes, something like piano and voice is the better choice.

 

Men of Christ Monday: Matt Maher

I had the very very fortunate privilege of interviewing Matt Maher recently about his album “Saints and Sinners.” I have reviewed the album on this blog, but it’s quite another thing to hear the story behind the creative process in making this album.

 

So where did the inspiration for this album come from? 

I was thinking about this next album while on tour for All the People Said Amen. Originally making protest songs, going back to the Shakespearean definition of the word, which means. loudly proclaim something you believe. too confusing. too long to explain. Moved on to the idea of being inspired by the saints. Not just those who are canonized. Reveal something about God’s heart. Inspired by world youth day in Brazil. Look through Church History. January of last year, starting writing A Future Not My Own. Had a phase of writer’s block. Record label wanted a whole album and he had a lot of unfinished songs.

 

 

Tell me the stories behind some of the songs on this album.

Because He Lives-Gaither. Taking pieces of the song and sort of making it a “part two” to the original. Instrument is, obviously, inspired by St. Francis. It felt like God was working through me with this particular song because it just feels so timely. Abide With Me was inspired by “Abide In Me.” The song was composed by Henry Francis Lyte as he was dying. Glory Bound was nspired by Woody Guthrie’s “This Train is Bound for Glory.” I use the music in this album to illustrate the dichotomy of being called to be saints, but still being a sinner. 80s music was a big influence, including Springsteen. Land of My Father was inspired by a talk that centered on idea of returning to the Kingdom of God. The chorus was inspired by Isaiah 6 and the vision of Heaven. It reminds people of God’s kingship.

 

What is your personal favorite song on the album?

When I first created the album, my favorite track was “Rest.” I wrote it while my grandmother was losing her eyesight, coming to terms with the fact that she’s dying. I started thinking about the idea of dying with dignity.

My current favorite, now that I’m on tour is “Deliverer.” “Deliverer” was inspired by life as a parent and as an artist. Mary held all these things in her heart-and I’m just starting to learn what that means now. The moments you experience with children reveal a glimpse of the kingdom of God, impact your life. This song was inspired by my son overcoming his fear of the dark, but it didn’t come to me right away. It came from carrying this memory in my heart first.

 

Who are your go-to saints?

This album is round one of my list. These are the saints that are walking with me.

 

What advice would you give to young Catholic adults?

To those in the church: Memory is a powerful thing. Most of our faith is rooted in our memory. Sin is rooted in our fear of the future or the past. We have memories of what it means to be a sinner, not just to remind us about the Mercy of God, but to continue actively pursuing a relationship with God. We remember needing mercy so that we can be merciful to others. The mercy we are called to extend is limitless and inexhaustible. What the world needs now are saints that are rooted in reality and not in sentimentality. Most people grew up with a distortion of Christianity. God shining in our weakness, the power of the Cross is perfected in our weakness.

Resonance: Beauty Leading to Goodness and Truth

I don’t claim to have good taste in music. I actually like “Here I Am, Lord” and “Ashes.” I grew up in the 90s and went through what some music critics call the worst era of music in the early 2000s. However, I really hope my taste has improved since then.

What I want to talk about here is those times when you hear a song that completely changes your mood, whether it’s for the better or for the worse. There’s this joke on Blimey Cow about some songs providing a “spiritual high” and yes, that has happened to me sometimes. But it’s not always like that. Back when Taylor Swift came out with her Red album, I enjoyed the songs, but didn’t relate to as many of them as I did with her Speak Now album. However, I found myself relating to those same songs later on when I found stories and situations that resonated with them.

And sometimes, the song you hear isn’t even a song from Christian radio. The artist may not even be religious, let alone nominally Christian, and yet their songs have a way of resonating with you. I think the Jesuit principle of finding God in all things particularly applies here.

Earlier this week, I suffered an anxiety attack. And even though it didn’t last long, I still felt shaken that it happened, given that I hadn’t had one in almost two years. Then, when I was browsing my YouTube feed, I found a song entitled “Relax/Take a Walk With Me”. And while I’m sure that the artist didn’t intend on it, the chorus reminded me of resting with Christ and walking with Him. When I listened to that song, the memory of the anxiety I suffered faded out.

Something similar happened when I got my heart broken as well. As anyone knows, there are phases you go through when you get your heart broken, similar to the five stages of grief. I was going through the “depression” phase, wanting to wallow in my feelings. Then, as I was browsing Facebook, this song appeared in my news feed. Needless to say, the song made me feel a lot better.

It’s always funny how songs can resonate with people and how songs can mean something that the artist may not have intended, but that’s the nature of art itself. Beauty speaks out universally, leading those who recognize it to goodness, and maybe eventually, to truth. When you hear a song that resonates, you find a connection and that wonderful feeling of not being alone. This leads to a change in how you feel and eventually learning from what had happened before.

So what songs resonate with you? Have you ever had the right song come in at the right moment? Please comment and let me know!