Monthly Archives: June 2017

New Bram Cools release: “Safe happy Christian music for the conservative middleclass” (the lost album)


Allow me to use my blog once more to do a musical announcement:

Available now Saturday:

“Safe happy Christian music for the conservative middleclass” (the lost album)

safe

Next Saturday, the first day of July, the Bram Cools album ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the conservative middleclass’ will be released through my  bandcamp page. It will a ‘choose your own price’ release, and if enough people ask me for it I might make some kind of physical CD-R release too.

More about the album
Don’t be fooled by the title, ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ is not only a rough collection of weird lo-fi folk songs that often go in unexpected musical directions, it is also a a bit of a spiritual concept album that is designed to make people uncomfortable at times. (It even makes me uncomfortable 7 years later, and that’s not because of the musical errors and out-of-tune moments.)
While the music is inspired by the words of Christ and the New Testament, so you can be certain there’s nothing safe or middleclass about actual Christianity. If you take these things seriously seriously you’ll end up closer to nonviolent anticapitalist green anarchism than to a cage of safety, Mammon and the quiet desperation of adulting under peer pressure of those with shiny toys and life-sucking jobs…

As said before it’s not really a new album, but an older project that only got finished now. ‘Sell everything you have and give it to the poor‘ was meant as its first single together with ‘Stephen, they’re gonna stone you to death’ 7 years ago, but the album never came… It grew out of a set of songs songs that I started writing at the moment that my band the contemporary Christian Muzak collective (CCMC) was falling apart, almost 10 years ago. Mandolin and melodica are very prominently present on the album, but apart from that I do switch instruments all of the time, and the role of electronica if present is generally rather small.
Most of these songs were almost completely recorded but never finished when life happened and prevented them to be completely finished, and so they took a long sabbatical on my harddisk instead of being released ‘soon’ as I promised 7 years ago. Musically there still is the pre-cyberluddism approach of playing a lot of instruments myself rather than programming them as I did on later albums, which gives a more folk and at moments even rock feeling, and there is a lot of experimentation going on which sometimes gives a noise-feel. While most of these songs have just been hiding on the computer, a few of them have been played live, and the sing-along classic ‘sell everything you have and give it to the poor’ fastly became a concert favourite.

The playlist will be:

1. Ouverture 02:07
A slightly Sufjanesque semi-instrumental ‘ouverture’ in 5/8 on mandolin and melodica, which sets the atmosphere for the more folky parts of the album. Probably one of the more safe and happy pieces on the album, even though it’s written in an uneven meter and minor key. (Hear an older mix of it on soundcloud)

2. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor 04:4
This undoubtedly is the ‘hit’ of the album. Based on a very minimalist chord scheme derived from traditional American folk music, this proves to be a live hit and sing-along, even though the lyrics are rather controversial, and much more Christian than safe or middleclass. This arrangement is based on mandolin, percussion and sometimes a heavily distorted slide guitar, and it still echoes the CCMC atmosphere.

3. Gentiles 03:28
This is an older song that has been online in different versions for years, probably both weird and unique and yet typical for the older Bram Cools indiefolk style, with the typical melodica, and a heavily distorted small African drum and stuff like that. Also a protest song about how religion often misses the point. (older mix on soundcloud)

4. You were hungry 02:43
Here we depart from the folk for a rather freaky experimental kind of lo-fi noise that was originally just built on endless layers of delay on vocals and some claps. For later version the original has been sampled and re-arranged, and spiced up with some electronics. The music is meant to be uncomfortable as a support of the lyrics, which are taken straight from Jesus’ words about social justice, care for the least and judgment… Very safe and middleclass…
I hope to be able to play this live one day with an actual theremin…  (older mix on spundcloud)

5. No more lilies in the field 04:47
With this song we’re back to folk music of the more psychedelic kind and to the first actual guitar song. Different layers of percussion, folk instruments or reversed sounds come an go in a song structure that doesn’t really follow a verse-chorus-verse pattern. To stay in harmony with the other songs it’s alos a protest song against commercialisation and Americanisation of religion. (lyrics video on youtube)

6. Don’t kiss me 03:27
This was the first song of the album to be ready, and thus it ended up on my compilation album ‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ as a very new song 7 years ago. A song about love (or the absense of it), and again an indie-folk song. The mandolin is back, and so is the 5/8 meter. If the album were an actual LP this one would close the A-side. (‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ version on bandcamp)

7. Stephen, they’re gonna stone you to death 03:3
The B-side of the LP (also the B-side of the ‘sell everything’ single) starts with a distorted slide-guitar, and then everything goes weird, but in a very slowed-down and relaxed way. There is a guitar-noise feel, but the mandolin and melodica are back and bring a weird drumcomputer that has been stretched beyond recognition. Just like the ‘ouverture’ this is a semi-instrumental but in a completely different way. This song does have a text somewhere the end if you can understand it through all the distortion, and it’s about getting stoned, and not in the druggy way. (‘sell everything’ single version of bandcamp)

8. Coming soon 04:10
Something of the guitarnoise stays, and in comes a voice in the desert screaming about the end of time. The percussion is back at full force, and something sounds a bit mid-Eastern maybe. The song is about struggling with Christian ideas about the end-times.

9. Swords into plowshares 04:39
The mandolin is back for a more folky song about a world without war or weapons that still is rather experimental.

10.Poverty nor richess 05:12
And with this the weirdness is really back in full force. What could go wrong with only 2 chords and a bible-verse, and an arrangement of acoustic guitar, piano, melodica, percussion and vocals, one could ask. Well, apart from the content of the bible-verse from proverbs that maybe isn’t quite middleclass, the chords are not usually used together and form some kind of C-altered scale together. And then there is that manic shamanic-sounding background-vocal, and those free-jazz chaos parts. Ah and the percussion is an actual shamans frame drum. I don’t think I would dare (or even be able) to even make such a song anymore, but it’s certainly interesting to listen again.

11.Drummers and drumcomputers (psychedelic folk mix) 03:13
This is another live-favourite that has had a lot of different version, and finally we have jumped from heavy theology to a protest song about the downsides of our technological society. This should have become the first recorded version, but it evolved a bit before it was finished and lost the electronic beat that featured the demo-versions and some live-versions. This also has some nice harmonica bits played by Bram Beels that were recorded in Sweden! (very crappy live webcam version with beat and guitar here on youtube)

12.Love and mistakes 03:31
And with this song we close the B-side of the LP, and we finally get rid of sarcasm, the harsh demands of reality and the clash betwee and our world and anything that makes sense, to find rest in Love with this soft song erupting in a quiet post-rock like instrumental part. Surely, it’s still a bit rough, lo-fi and unconventional still, but only those who hate grace and forgiveness will be uncomfortable with this one…

It isn’t the closing song if you download the whole album btw, there are 2 bonus tracks for those who download the whole album. The first one is the poppy fun protest song that should be well-known to older fans, and the second one, called ‘new moon’, is a rather extatic improvisation with the mandolin/melodica/percussion instrumentation.

So check my bandcamp Saturday if you want more!

enjoy

Bram

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The American situation as a crisis for my faith


(warning: long autobiographical essay coming!) I grew up as a Pentecostal kid in a very secular post-catholic West-European country, the kind of place where Christianity and religion as a whole was seen by most people as something of the past, protestantism as a faraway historic religion, and evangelicalism as a weird cult that only exists elsewhere if that world is known already, which probably isn’t the case.  These things have changed a bit now, and I’m afraid not always for the better. The perception of ‘religion’ is even worse in certain milieus, but the attention of the anti-religious mafia has by now switched from old Catholicism to Islam due to sociological switches. And I fear that ‘evangelicalism’ instead of a noble unknown is now known to a lot people now as one of the contributing factors in the rise of the US president Donald Trump, who might be one of the least Christian persons in power I’ve ever seen and regarded by most Europeans as a dangerous madman. Which only increases the impression of certain people that religion is dangerous and makes people dumb and aggressive.

The sad thing is that Mr. Trump is the exact opposite of what one should be able to expect from a Christian, but it seems like not everyone is able to see that. Which is a problem, since I am a Christian, and I do not feel represented by whatever he represents at all. But that is for later, let’s first continue my story.

I must admit that it is not always simple to be a part of a minority faith in a secular world. I’d always be ‘different’ anyway, so it’s rather hard to separate what comes from my faith, and what comes from me just being me, the AD(H)D introverted boy who didn’t care about most things that get the general population excited, boring stuff like football -soccer for the US-ians-, cars, violent movies, oversexed nonsense, etc… but who was more into nature, art, science and philosophy. I always just assumed I’d be different for too much reasons, and assimilating without being seen is something I learned at a much later age. I do remember being kid in primary school in Lier, when everyone who was Flemish was supposed to be ‘catholic’, even though it was mainly cultural and traditional, most kids being completely unreligious but baptised as a baby where I was religious, but unbaptised. The only non-catholics in school apart from me were Turkish immigrants who were Muslims, which was an easy category unlike me. Even with the term ‘protestant’ I was an alien, an outsider, or even ‘neither Flemish nor Turkish’ as someone once described me.
(I know these things have changed by now. Now there will be much more immigrant kids of different religions at that school, and completely non-religious kids as well. The inevitable process of dechristianisation has reached a much further point by now, while more religious immigrants have integrated themselves even in smaller Town, and that includes a lot of different Christians too.)

Church was another world. An enclave from a different world. A tiny one, but it was connected to the wider church worldwide on a lot of continents. Sometimes there were missionaries in church bringing their story. Or bible smugglers, which was a big thing in the eighties when there still were communist regimes where you could be killed for being a Christian. The idea of Christianity as a persecuted minority was a logical one, but there was also a willingness to follow Jesus. The Pentecostals in Flanders did still have a lot of influence from the Jesus People and other Christian hippy movements, who had the crazy idea to take Jesus and the bible serious, even in the radical things. Just letting the bible say what it says was a big thing. And I believed it. And I read the gospels. And I saw something more impressive than what the world around me could give. Something more interesting than drugs and sex, than money and status, than sports and entertainment,…

I found among other things traces of The God I believe in is the Creator of the multiverse upholding it at every second, and the source of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The God who is Love and Justice. As a Christian I believe that the incarnated Christ is the most accurate representation of God. Radical love for all, including oppressed and marginalised, like women, the poor, Samaritans, strangers,… and the oppressors, like the Romans and the mob that lynched him: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (although there are rather uncomfortable words about riches)

This is what makes Christianity more Real to me. A love deeper and more radical than our human instincts. As David Wilkerson whom I liked to read as a teen said to gangster Nicky Cruz, ‘you can cut me in a thousand pieces and they will still love me’. As Shane Claiborne whom I loved to read as a twentysometing exemplified by living with the homeless in his city, or with almost being bombarded along with the Iraqi by his own country. Like Corrie Ten Boom who came out of the nazi concentration camps to preach about forgiveness and reconciliation. That is what inspired me because I knew it was True, an calling to me.

This is what always kept me a Christian. The sparks of a Greater Reality that shone in this love stronger than hate and division, and also the glimpses of a Reality bigger than our worldviews, which included the supernatural healing presence of God in different dimensions and in different ways.

As a teenager my father started a church plant with Vineyard, which is theologically more evangelical but still charismatic. I still went to the Pentecostal youth camps and events though, and had my friends there, until somewhere in my twenties. I learned a lot about God. I saw answered prayers. I heard impressive stories from everywhere around the world. I saw (among a lot of other things) a religion (on non-religion according to some, but that’s a mere language game). I also learned more about the history of Christianity, and the other Christian traditions and denominations. I already knew Francis of Assisi from catholic school, and I read a lot of C.S. Lewis, and various Catholic and Protestant authors. Those who had that love more real than all of our human constructs in it, and glimpses of the Reality beyond all our realities stayed and impacted me. Some didn’t and had just a lot of theories about God and church structures and whole constructions built on bible verses without any trace of God. I did them away quickly and forgot them. In the years I read everything from Jacques Ellul to David Bentley Hart, and found God in very different streams of Christianity (and sometimes glimpses of God in very different places outside of Christianity even).

As a young twentysomething in the 2000ths I discovered the ’emerging church dialogue’ on the internet while it was still healthy. I recognised some things about myself in the mumbo-jumbo about postmodernism, and I saw a lot of stuff that did connect with the Higher love of Christ. The whole supernatural dimension seemed entirely lacking though, and over time the whole thing shrivelled and turned into an US American inhouse thing, that got more influenced by -to me- new and rather narrow ideologies where only the oppressed mattered, and identities were more important than people, and unhealthy American realities were absolutised and pushed upon all of the world while speaking of decolonisation.
And with that I was out. The whole American thing [which sadly influences a lot of people around the world] just seemed too polluted over time. I had seen too much stuff in the ‘conservative’ side already that had pushed me as a Jesus-following evangelical away, but instead of finding a place beyond the modernist division of both halves of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ in which both were integrated again most ‘progressive Christianity’ stuff completely alienated me and gave me no traces of the Reality of Christ, only a lot of condemnation of ‘bigots’ and deeper trenches. While the visible part of the ‘conservative’ side in politics has become something that to me seemed opposite to anything Christ would stand for. Mammon, power, own country first, an economic orthodoxy of social Darwinist policies and no care for creation, and so on…
De-Americanising my sources to a certain degree was the only thing I could do to keep my spiritual sanity. But the US at this point did have a big influence on the religion that I’m a part of, and on the view a lot of people worldwide have of Christianity.  American ‘conservatives’ equating Christianity with their weird political system isn’t something that can be completely ignored in a world that is so connected as this one. Or at least I wasn’t able to do so.

Strangely at the same time there was the new Pope, who had taken up the name of Francis, who made more sense as a Christian than both sides of the American divide. Not that I agree with him as a conservative catholic about everything, but he has the love. And he knows that both the left and right (both in American and European sense) are full of nonsense most of the time and that often neither aligns with the gospel. A Christianity that has the love that goes deeper than all of our human stuff, love for the poor and despised without creating trenches against people of certain ‘identities’, and willingness to take the words of Jesus seriously. That’s the least I expect from a Christian. And evidently a search for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, for Love and Justice before other things.

And then the overseas situation gets even worse. Against all odds the US gets a president who is supposedly ‘conservative’ and from the party favoured by a lot of supposed Christians. A man who has no place for truth in a way that goes far beyond anything postmodern. A man who mocks the vulnerable and those who are in misery. A man for whom money, power and his ego seem the only guides. A man whose policies will destroy lives, and ecosystems. And a man who is presented by some Christians as ‘the Christian option’ because he will ‘make American great again’. The antithesis of all things True, Good, and even beautiful, and of Love and Justice has been hailed as a saviour. And I can’t be the only one who sees in the guy echoes of the weird antichrist characters of bad American seventies endtimes movies,  the kind that manages to sway all nominal Christians…

If anyone tries to sell me this mess as representing Christ, something breaks. It’s like accepting that water is dry, black is white, life is death, lies are truth. Or that slavery is freedom. Yes, he might not be the actual antichrist of dispensational pre-trib premillenialism, but the level of dystopia is rather disturbingly high anyway.

(Yes, we must pray for Trump, and bless him. But he is not worth more or more important than any sick refugee child either, and on the other hand him being a fellow human made in the image of God doesn’t mean that we should ignore how dangerous and destructive the bloke is. Loving those who are wrong doesn’t mean accepting their wrongness. Love the sinner hate the sin still applies, even if said sin is destroying the whole planet we should not hate them and yet cannot accept their destructive influence at all!)

So what prompted this post?
Yesterday I saw an older David Sorensen blogpost about Donald Trump being chosen by God, and it made me wonder about all these things. For those who don’t know him, David Sorensen is a part of my charismatic past, part of the Belgian scene, although not at all uncontroversial. I sort of did appreciate his first book when I was a lot younger, but there always were things that I completely disagreed with him too. And I’m not speaking about his style here, which is just a matter of taste. I’m more thinking about his crusade against Narnia movies for example…
I once heard him preach, and I couldn’t deny that he did bring across some Christian truths, in spite of the ‘I haven’t prepared and will let the Spirit guide me now’ approach which made him stretch things that have been said in 15 minutes  into a repetitive unstructured mess of a sermon that lasted about 2 hours. (It did give me more respect for the Spirit though, being able to get through with such a human vessel…)

I can’t deny that, even with all the weirdness I’m used to, and the fact that I know that the local US Christian population has fallen for Trump to I felt betrayed. And maybe I shouldn’t have been. Weed and wheat have been growing together since time began, and it’s always been a mixed well even though it brought me living water of Christ. But to see a tradition that I supposed tried to follow Christ follow a character that is almost the dialectic antithesis of everything Christ stood for without a trace of cognitive dissonance I do kind of despair.

I don’t despair because I lose my faith in Christ. I despair because I see a Christianity that takes people away from Christ. I despair because I feel torn apart.

And I need to remember that I need to ground myself in the Truth of Christ, in Love, and not in the internet which is full of toxic group spirits and dangerous distractions…

And then something whispers. Can we please remember that in times when Christianity is deteriorating and falling apart due to synchretism with antichristian powers it is not those who can reproduce the right theological constructs who are the ‘faithful remnant’, but that all knowledge, and even faith that moves mountains is nothing without Love?

(Read 1 Cor 13 please.)

And I remember that I’m faraway myself.

so what do you think?

peace

Bram

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