April 29, 2014

Coming Soon: Chris Schlarb’s Solo Album, “Making The Saint”

Coming Soon: Chris Schlarb’s Solo Album, “Making The Saint”

Chris Schlarb has been a busy man over the years. He’s worked with a number of musicians, including Sufjan Stevens, Mike Watt, Daedalus, and DM Stith. He launched the Sounds Are Active label, which has released music from the likes of Aaron Roche, Bizzart, Castanets, and Soul-Junk (to name but a few). He’s the man behind the Psychic Temple collective. And he’s also recorded the occasional video game soundtrack.

So, given all of these collaborations, is it any surprise that Schlarb felt the need for a vacation. Which, in his case, meant holing himself up in a 140-year-old cabin with a guitar and some recording material… and recording the music for Making The Saint.

This album is also a spiritual retreat for me; a healthy and necessary separation after so many strong collaborations. If you're Sufist, you’d call this khalwa. In Japanese Zen Buddhism, it's called sesshin. The Santerian pro-cess of Asiento requires the initiate to dress in white garments and avoid physical contact for one year. Like so many have done before me, I forced myself into a state of inner solitude to find something new.

Making The Saint will be released by Asthmatic Kitty Records on May 27.

April 27, 2014

Elsewhere: MST3K, “Dadventure” Films, Cassette Nostalgia, Mean Atheist Professors & more

Elsewhere: MST3K, “Dadventure” Films, Cassette Nostalgia, Mean Atheist Professors & more

In light of the cult favorite’s 25th anniversary, Wired presents a detailed oral history of Mystery Science Theatre 3000: “As fun as MST3K was, though, life aboard the Satellite of Love wasn’t always easy: The show was never a ratings smash, and tension between Hodgson and producer Jim Mallon led to Hodgson leaving the show just a few years into its run. In later years, members of the show’s ­Midwestern-based, DIY-determined staff found themselves struggling with the sort of big-TV bureaucracy they’d long fought to avoid.” Oh, and there’s also a little something in there about a possible reboot...

Willie Osterweil’s essay about father-centric movies in ‘90s is a bit sloppy but the concept of “dadventure” movies as a way of dealing with baby boomer anxiety is interesting and amusing: “…it’s a subgenre in which the protagonist is a capital-F Father, one whose fatherhood defines both his relationship to the film’s other characters and supplies the film’s central drama. In a dadventure, the stability of the family is threatened — whether by violence or drama, it’s almost always because of some negligence around the dadly duties — and only dad can save the family by coming face to face with his fatherly responsibilities. In the end, he learns just how much fun being a dad can be.” Via

Elodie Roy writes about the nostalgic purpose of the humble cassette as they’ve become “highly symbolic art objects”: “The digitization of music may have, after all, fuelled a sense of dispossession. Music is mainly distributed online, in digital formats; one has and no longer holds, one streams and does not keep. The relaunch of the cassette is a way to (partially) attenuate this sense of loss. The tape is a miniature monument to a lost age of music; a small casket in which to hide memories and last hopes — a visual trace of music, if nothing else.” Related: I posted a reflection on cassettes and mixtapes on Christ and Pop Culture back in 2011.

James Hoskins worries that God’s Not Dead is perpetuating a “bully atheist philosophy professor” stereotype: “I’m sure there are some of those professors out there. But I doubt that they are a majority. Even if they were, though, I don’t think caricatures and stereotypes are helpful. When we uncritically accept a caricature of someone, we become less gracious people. Instead, we become more dismissive, presumptuous, and defensive.”

Earlier this year, I wrote about That Dragon, Cancer, a game inspired by developer Ryan Green’s young son Joel and his struggle with cancer. Sadly, Joel died last month, but progress on the game continues. And now a couple of filmmakers are making Thank You For Playing, a documentary about “the creation and growing success of Ryan’s game, as he continues to care for his son.” They’ve prepared a teaser for the film, but be warned: you might need a kleenex or two before it’s done. Via

And speaking of video games, here’s the heartwarming story of a dying woman who is given the chance to travel one more time, thanks to the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset intended for playing video games: “…since she had trouble getting around and being mobile, one of her dying wishes was to go outside in her own yard — but her granddaughter, Priscilla, went even further and got an Oculus Rift headset so that her grandmother could virtually travel to places like Italy.”

In the first of a 6-part series, The Roots’ Questlove laments that hip-hop has failed black America. It has achieved cultural prominence but its success feels increasingly empty: “Once hip-hop culture is ubiquitous, it is also invisible. Once it’s everywhere, it is nowhere. What once offered resistance to mainstream culture (it was part of the larger tapestry, spooky-action style, but it pulled at the fabric) is now an integral part of the sullen dominant.”

Rolling Stone interviews George R.R. Martin about his epic fantasy novels, Game of Thrones, the writing process, and much more. “Modern historians are interested in sociopolitical trends. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the stories. History is written in blood, a gold mine — the kings, the princes, the generals and the whores, and all the betrayals and wars and confidences. It’s better than 90 percent of what the fantasists do make up.”

Jasper Sharp compiles a list of 10 great samurai films. Some of the titles on his list are pretty obvious, but there are some unknown gems on there, including Harakiri and Twilight Samurai. On a related note, Sharp provides a detailed account of the history and legacy of Seven Samurai, arguably the greatest samurai movie of all time.

Wired has compiled a list of 7 must-watch new anime series. One of the series mentioned — Knights of Sidonia — is also at the top of my list. (It begins streaming on Netflix this summer.)

April 23, 2014

I Don’t Regret Missing Out On “Game of Thrones”

I Don’t Regret Missing Out On “Game of Thrones”

By all accounts, the most recent episode of Game of Thrones was quite the stomach-churner, which is saying something considering that HBO’s series has never shied away from the sex and violence in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novels. But it seems the series might have crossed a line in “Breaker of Chains,” when Jaime Lannister rapes his lover and twin sister Cersei beside the corpse of their son, the recently poisoned Joffrey.

Rape is nothing new in Martin’s stories. It, along with many other forms of wickedness, occurs in Martin’s novels as characters inflict all manner of damage on each other in their pursuit of power. But the presence of rape in HBO’s adaptation isn’t what’s triggering offense and criticism. Rather, it’s what appears to be a cavalier and careless attitude by the show’s creators concerning how the deed is depicted.

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April 22, 2014

Elsewhere: After-birth abortion, Christian film critics, Japanese excellence & cockroach cyborgs

Elsewhere: After-birth abortion, Christian film critics, Japanese excellence & cockroach cyborgs

One would hope it’d be obvious, but James Hoskins explains why the concept of “after-birth abortion” is “even more absurd than you thought”: “Most of these arguments define a person as an individual who is capable of making value judgments, especially moral value judgments, or who can formulate goals. Under this definition, fetuses and newborns are not actual persons (only potential) because they’re not yet capable of doing such things… or so we thought.” Related: When the infamous “after-birth abortion” paper first came out two years ago, I posted some thoughts of my own.

Ann Hornaday writes about the trials and struggles of being a Christian film critic: “As a critic, my first obligation is to assess each of these films not as theology (an exercise for which I’m supremely unqualified), but as a piece of commercial entertainment, whether the form it takes is a mass-market spectacle or a more niche-oriented product that preaches to the choir. After praying, I always ask myself three questions about any movie I’m writing about: What was the artist trying to achieve? Did he or she achieve it? And was it worth achieving?”

From the Smithsonian Magazine: “There’s something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home.” When my family spent a month in Japan, we experienced this first-hand (though not in the context of the Americana that the article discusses). We were amazed at the number of distinctly European-style restaurants that we encountered, including gelato cafésItalian restaurants, and French pastry shops — and they were all excellent. The incongruity of eating an authentic French pastry in Japan was as interesting as the food was excellent.

Scientists recently injected a live cockroach with DNA-based nanobots, thus sealing the fate of our species.

Tim Challies recently posted a broadside against Pope Francis, calling him a false teacher and Catholicism a false gospel. In response, Alan Jacobs discusses some steps to take when denouncing others as false teachers: “I’m asking people to go to a lot of trouble before publicizing their denunciations, am I not? Indeed I am. I am also setting a standard that I have rarely lived up to. But I can’t see how we can avoid at least asking the questions I have pressed here.”

Alan Noble questions and reaffirms the value and necessity of interpreting Scripture through culture: “Paul uses pagan poetry to interpret Scripture because that’s how humans perceive and comprehend the world. No one interprets Scripture in isolation; we always interpret and comprehend it in reference to our experiences and the ever-growing stories we’ve heard throughout our lives.” On a sidenote, my pastor used a Grand Canyon reference in his Easter sermon.

This StackExchange discussion concerning the theology of Middle-earth deserves a massive “nerdery” alert… which is to say that it’s really cool.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Menuck discusses Montreal, punk rock, living in a band, and fatherhood: “‘From when Jessica got pregnant leading up to a little while after was some of the worst I’ve felt in my life,’ says Menuck, ‘like, “How are we bringing a person into this world? This is the most selfish thing.” But some chemical floods your brain when you have a kid that erases all that…. And once you’ve kissed their forehead for the first time, it doesn’t go away.’”

Quentin Tarantino was planning to make The Hateful Eight his next movie, until the script was leaked. Since then, he’s been reworking the script and recently held a live Hateful Eight reading featuring Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, and Samuel L. Jackson (natch), and apparently, it was quite the experience: “[T]he mostly-familiar ensemble meant that they tackled the 146-page script with confidence, comfort, and a palpable atmosphere of excitement.” (Note: Contains potential spoilers.)

Some religious experts believe that China will become the world’s most Christian nation within 15 years: “By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world.” And this despite widespread persecution by the Chinese government. I’ve read elsewhere that that growth of the Chinese church since the ‘80s represents the largest growth of any church in the history of Christianity.

Photos via George F and Timothy Herzog.

Train up a child, #17: André Bazin Would Be Proud

Train up a child, #17: André Bazin Would Be Proud

My six-year-old’s first movie review, of Kung Fu Panda. And let’s be honest, Sifu is pretty cool.

Listen to 2 Songs from Wovenhand’s Upcoming “Refractory Obdurate”

Listen to 2 Songs from Wovenhand’s Upcoming “Refractory Obdurate”

Wovenhand’s new LP, Refractory Obdurate, will be released Stateside later this month on Deathwish Inc and several album songs have recently surfaced online.

The most recent is “Good Shepherd,” which finds David Eugene Edwards and Co. in full on thrash mode, with distorted guitars and pummeling drums a-plenty; the song is one of the heaviest things the band has recorded in a long time. (And listening to it, it suddenly makes sense that Converge and Deafheaven’s label is releasing the album).

The second song is “The Refractory,” and while it’s just as heavy as “Good Shepherd,” it’s a bit more varied in its barrage, from the opening acoustic pickings to the slow-burning swagger. The song builds to an epic pitch, and is easily my favorite of the two.

Of course, both songs are full of Edwards’ desert prophet persona, from the haunted vocals to the Scripture-charged lyrics.

I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that wishes Edward would revisit the slower, more Old World ambient stylings of 2004’s Consider The Birds (few songs give me chills like “To Make A Ring”), but there’s no denying that if these songs are any indication, Refractory Obdurate will be a monster of an album.

Seryn Reappear With “Disappear”

Seryn Reappear With “Disappear”

Denton-based Seryn have been working on the sophomore album for what seems like forever now (or, at least three years). In the meantime, they’ve toured incessantly and have also participated in a documentary project. But actual new songs have been few and far between — at least for those of us who haven’t been fortunate enough to see the band live yet — so it’s nice to hear something new.

“Disappear” features a new line-up and it’s a bit less folksy than their previous material, even bordering a bit on pop. But in the ways that count, this is still the Seryn we know and love, meaning “Disappear” boasts plenty of earnest, heartfelt vocal harmonies and a bigger-than-big chorus. Which is to say that when Trenton Wheeler and Jenny Moscoso sing “Every part I lose is a part worth letting go,” don’t mistake it as a sign that Seryn is scaling back or opting for minimalism. And thankfully so.

No release date has been set for the new album, but the band has plenty of tour dates in the future, including some summer dates in Canada.

Read my review of Seryn’s 2011 debut, This Is Where We Are.

April 16, 2014


Darren Aronofsky (2014)

Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical adaptation serves as a bracing restorative for a story that has lost much of its bite over the centuries.

April 12, 2014

Tsutomu Nihei’s “Knights of Sidonia” is coming to Netflix this summer

Tsutomu Nihei’s “Knights of Sidonia” is coming to Netflix this summer

Kotaku recently published their massive guide to this spring’s anime titles, and it runs the gamut, from supernatural horror to high school comedy, from historical action dramas to lots of mecha action. Needless to say, I immediately began noting promising titles, and one title jumped out immediately: Knights of Sidonia.

Now ordinarily, the story of a young loner learning to pilot a powerful mecha to protect the few remaining fragments of humanity from a powerful alien force wouldn’t necessarily pique my curiosity because — let’s face it — we’ve seen it before. But Knights of Sidonia is based on a manga by Tsutomu Nihei, and that’s enough to interest me. Nihei is best known for the cyberpunk/transhumanist/post-apocalyptic titles Blame! and Biomega, which leads me believe that this’ll be something more than just your typical, run-of-the-mill mecha series.

Seth T. Hahne, who normally dislikes mecha titles, reviewed the first two volumes of Knights of Sidonia and had this to say:

Remember that when I recommend this, I’m a reader who’s just as invested in mechas as I am in bicycles or tricked-out lawnmowers or tandem strollers or any number of other things I don’t care about at all. This is a mecha book that doesn’t really feel like it’s about mechas. Knights of Sidonia feels like a series of character studies in what would be a drastically different social environment from our own, only punctuated by colossal acts of violence. And so far, it’s pretty keen.

Also, Knights of Sidonia will be streaming on Netflix this summer rather than Crunchyroll or Hulu, which is pretty interesting news. I’ve always been disappointed by Netflix’s anime offering, especially in light of Crunchyroll’s service, so it’s nice to see them acquire something like this (if only to offer some competition to the devoted anime streaming services out there).

April 10, 2014

Elsewhere: “Journey,” free speech & social justice, typography, Kickstarter censorship & more

Elsewhere: “Journey,” free speech & social justice, typography, Kickstarter censorship & more

For lapsed Catholic/secular humanist Jorge Albor, playing the video game Journey has become akin to a religious ritual, albeit one sans the social component that marks so many rituals. “Perhaps these solitary rituals must necessarily be acts of self-reflection or even confrontation. Trekking through Journey alone, I started to explore my own approach to the game and to my sudden sense of loss. More than ever, Journey became a ritual experience.”

I’ve been following the case of UCSB professor Mireille Miller-Young since it deals with so many hot button issues (e.g., abortion, freedom of speech). Some are saying that Miller-Young had every right to respond the way she did, and that speech that promotes racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., should not be allowed at all: Fredrik deBoer finds such ideas in the left wing troubling. “It’s immoral, and it cuts directly against the very human rights that are the foundation of feminism, the campaign against racism, and the campaign for gay rights. That this could be possibly in question among self-defined members of the left demonstrates how unhealthy the left has become.” He’s posted a follow-up with some clarifications here. Via

On a related note, the controversy surrounding the promotion and sudden departure of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich has been fascinating. (Gay marriage advocates demanded Eich apologize and/or step down for donating $1,000 to support Proposition 8.) Many articles have been posted supporting and condemning Eich, but some of the most pointed pieces supporting Eich have come from gay marriage adovcates. Conor Friedersdorf slams Mozilla for being inconsistent with their policies: “Mozilla's actions will undercut tough conversations by making fewer people willing to engage in them. If you believe that an open, robust public discourse makes the world better, as they purport to, they've made the world worse. This action is a betrayal of their values, not a reflection of them.” (I posted some thoughts on the Eich controversy at Christ and Pop Culture.)

You’ve probably seen the news: the government could save millions of dollars by switching to Garamond, since that font’s characters require less ink/toner to print. However, Thomas Phinney explains how reality (and typography) is a bit more complicated: “[M]ost scientific studies comparing typefaces first compensate by resizing the fonts to eliminate differences in the lowercase height (called x- height by us font geeks). This study failed to do that. As a result, they actually get results that are the exact opposite of other studies.”

A pair of filmmakers making a documentary about the infamous abortionist Kermit Gosnell originally tried to raise funds via Kickstarter, but left the crowdunding site because they claim Kickstarter tried to censor their project. (Kickstarter’s CEO denied any censorship.)

Matt Crosslin is irked by bands charging a premium for “collectors’ edition” vinyl releases. “I’m tired of having to decide between wasting big money buying tons of junk that I don’t need… or picking an inferior listening experience.”

Peter Chattaway has been doing some really great work to covering the various religious angles and responses to Noah. For example, this indepth piece concerning the Jewish influence in Aronofsky’s film, as well as a collection of Jewish responses to it. However, I particularly like his thorough takedown of the claim that Noah is a Gnostic film: “Put simply: Gnosticism hates Creation. Aronofsky’s Noah loves Creation. So whatever else you might say about Aronofsky’s film, it is not Gnostic.”

Google’s venerable Gmail webmail service recently turned 10. Here’s how it happened, and how it changed the Web forever: “…Gmail didn’t just blow away Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, the dominant free webmail services of the day. With its vast storage, zippy interface, instant search and other advanced features, it may have been the first major cloud-based app that was capable of replacing conventional PC software, not just complementing it.”

First Things’ Stephen H. Webb considers the Christological nature of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”: “Bryars’s composition, like all great music, I suppose, gives us a sonic foretaste of what it might mean to enter — with the dispossessed at our side — into heaven.” (My own review of this beautiful piece of music can be found here.)

I know I’ve been a bit critical of Medium in the past, but I do appreciate their attention to detail, such as their attempt to create the perfect underline for links. “This is a story on how a quick evening project to fix the appearance of underlined Medium links turned into a month-long endeavour.”