Category Archives: new music

Derek web – fingers crossed (review)


so if you stop listening now
we can still be friends
if your eyes can see what’s killing me
i’ll need you by the end
but i’ll understand if you stop listening
(Derek webb – stop listening)

I’m not really following the American ‘Christian music’ scene at all (I’m just waiting for a new psalters album…) but Derek Webb is a songwriter and musician that I have been listening to since my late twenties. Especially the ‘mockingbird’ album is a personal favourite, and it will always remain one. I’ve always liked his songwriting, his wrestling with hard questions, his honesty and his voice.

And now there’s a new album, ‘fingers crossed’, an album ‘about 2 divorces’ as he said somewhere on facebook in which he wrestles with losing his marriage and his faith. Musically this might certainly be his best, and his voice has never sounded better, but it’s not really easy listening…

Check it out for yourself here on his website. It’s available on vinyl too, which might be a good idea if you like the album and want to support Derek. It certainly must be music that sounds a lot better from vinyl than from electronic format.

So how’s the album itself? Let me start by saying that Derek Webb proves himself a superb songwriter once again on this album. His semi-electronic arrangements work better than ever here, and the atmosphere he conjures are incredible and in line with what he’s trying to communicate. Unlike his ‘Stockholm syndrome’ album where the experiments with all kind of electronics led to a bit of incoherence on album-level this one works very well as a whole, with a lot of musical consistency.
It’s a really good piece of work, with intelligent songwriting, well-crafted lyrics and interesting arrangements that work well to convey the feelings of what he’s struggling with. The songs are also performed well, Webbs guitar-playing and singing are at a high level here. His voice has never sounded this intense.
A real artist is someone who can channel whatever they want to communicate through their art, and Derek Webb is definitely a good artist here.

i still believe in love
like i believe in just war
i think it’s possible
but maybe just not anymore

so i say goodbye, for now
(Derek Webb, goodbye for now)

But what does he communicate? The ‘double divorce’ aspect of the album is very clear in almost every song. Descriptions of the loss of his faith, and the loss of his marriage, his own infidelity and the world around him that has fallen apart. The painful thing is that it seems that the main thing left from his own former (reformed) Christianity is a deep sense of his own total depravity. To be left with mainly that in the divorce is a very bad bargain I must say.

Some of the songs are really hard to listen to just because he is such a honest and almost exhibitionist songwriter, who shares a very painful reality that he’s living now throughout the songs, while he has separated himself from all things that were central to his life before. It must take some bravery to make a ‘coming out’ album like this in the American scene. I can’t imagine what it must be to do such a thing, it must be very hard to fall out of an entire universe like that. A universe that is completely consistent in itself, and getting increasingly worse I must add. The way parts of American fundamentalism have embraced a man who has no concept of truth at all (after decades of railing against ‘postmodernism) alone would create more cognitive dissonance to me than I might be able to bear if there wasn’t a certain ocean between us. So when it comes to the Christian subculture it might have been a divorce with a partner that’s falling apart and never was what it promised to be. I can understand that such a separation might be the only way to keep your sanity. (see my blog posts The American situation as a crisis for my faith and farewell, online American Christianity here)

And still…  In spite of being a very well-crafted album this is not music I’d listen to much. Quality and artistic excellence isn’t the only reason why one listens to music. There must be some kind of positive reason why I will listen a certain album and song and not another one. There must be a certain resonance… (which is the reason why a lot of people like abominable music that’s happy and easy to digest, and why terrible dumb pop music is always topping the charts.)

“women and whiskey are persuasive
at making me forget you”
(the devil you know, Derek Webb)

It’s not really healthy for me to feed myself energetically too much on secondhand desperations that aren’t mine. I’m married, and far from the American dechristianiation, and I’ve never seen or encountered women as a temptation (I prefer them as friends), and neither do I have his very special relationship with alcohol. There’s not much I gain from listening too much to this album.

Why would I keep listening to a song like ‘the spirit bears the curse’ for example, well-crafted as it is. It’s a very clever song that subverts the whole Christian worship cliché lingo into a song of adoration to alcohol? Yes, it’s smart and witty, and it would have a lot of effect in a live-show, it works as a bit of cabaret even. When you heard it once the surprise is gone. But having this song stuck in my head, with a chorus of adoration directed towards the wondrous deity of alcohol is not what I want.

And here we are with the problem of a piece of art in which someone is very able to channel his demons very successfully…

These are not my demons…

I do have enough demons of my own already… But there’s a lot of people elsewhere who must share these demons, and for those who go through a similar deconversion experience -which will be a lot of people, the dechristianiation of the US is certainly at hand- I suppose an album like this will give a lot of recognition and consolation.

The very personal lyrics of the first and last song make me feel like it’s wrong to stop listening to this one, but that’s just how it is. There is something perverse in our audience/listener system and the asymmetrical pseudo-relationships it gives, especially for the artists that pour out to everyone but may end up alone in the end. But realistically I can’t do anything from here.

I’ll still listen to ‘mockingbird’, and maybe to this one too from time to time.

But I can’t share your demons.

Peace to you Derek.
Shalom to you in all its aspects I mean with that.

Bram

 

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Sell everything you have, and give it to the poor!


As most people would have noticed already, recently I’ve been finishing an older collection of songs with titles like ‘sell everything you have and give it to the poor’. (downloadlink to Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass )
People have asked me before why I wrote the song, and what I think about the bible verses that it’s based on, so maybe it’s a good idea to clarify a bit with some bible study about Christ and money, or riches in general.

Let’s start with the song, which can be listened here. Music-wise it’s basically a very simple folk song in an American style, so simple that anyone who has had a few lessons on a guitar can easily play it (please do! It’s only G, C and D). The lyrics are a simple retelling of a story in the gospels that is often called ‘the rich young ruler’ in English, a passage found in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 10:17-27, Matthew 19:16-22, Luke 18:18-34):

a rich young man came to Jesus Christ and asked
what should I do to get life, life eternal
you know the commandments Jesus replied
do not steal, do not kill do not commit adultery
yes I do know them he said, I followed them all, all of my life
Jesus said well then there’s one more thing that you have to do:

sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
yeah everything you have
get rid of it
sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
and you shall live

Jesus said do this and follow me
and you’ll have a great treasure in heaven
but the rich young man became very sad
for he did posses great wealth on earth
and he preferred it over the life
over the life eternal

easier it is for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter
the kingdom of heaven

sell everything…

and if Jesus Christ would be here today
and preach the same words as he did back then in Galilee
we probably would kill him and lay him i a grave again
like good old woody sung years ago
we still don’t want to near those words
and explain them away if we read then…

sell everything… /easier it is…

Quite catchy, isn’t it?

So, why did I write and still this song if I didn’t exactly do what I sing myself? It’s clear that I didn’t sell all my possessions, nor that I am planning to so… The first explanation is that I sometimes write songs about things that I want to understand myself and try to learn more about, wrestling with the subject. But there’s a lot more that can and should be said.

Some in the first church might disagree here (a lot of people did sell everything, read acts) but I believe that while the command to the rich young ruler was not a general law for everyone, and only a personal advice to that one guy. But still there is a very grave warning about being rich in this story and other places of the New Testament that cannot be ignored if you that the bible seriously.
Or at least that’s what one who takes the bible at face value would think, but it seems one of the most-ignored biblical messages these days, even though there’s a very grave warning attached to it. Whatever the metaphor of the camel an the eye of the needle means (I’m not going into that discussion here, it only would distract) the range of interpretations one could have for “easier it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” goes from it being very very hard for rich persons to be saved to beyond impossible. It might be softened by ‘what’s impossible for humans is possible for God’, but it still looks like it looks very bleak for rich people when it comes to being saved.

It would be an understatement to say that according to Jesus there is something very dangerous about riches and money. The fact that the only false god Jesus calls by name is Mammon, his own personification of money should say enough here, but there is much more in the New Testament to back this up. Jesus literally says ‘blessed are the poor’ and ‘woe to the rich’ in Luke 6 for example. The apostles also have some interesting things to say. Let’s look at some bible verses, and I suggest that if you want to really think about this issue you read them slowly and prayerfully and let them sink in, and let the text read you.

Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money/Mammon.

(Note that the NET bible translates ‘Mammon’ into money here)
This is straightforward: Money competes with God, and if we serve money we will not be able to serve God. The danger of being rich here is that the things we think we own end up owning us, and take us away from God, and demand our soul.

1 Tim 6:6-11 6:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. 6:7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. 6:8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. 6:9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Paul echoes the same idea here, but adds different layers about temptation to it. Note that he is often misquoted here, he does not say that ‘money is the root of all evil’, but that the love of money is. This is an important distinction to contemplate.

There also is the famous warning against the rich from James, where he echoes Jesus from Luke 6 and seems to assume that riches often comes from a sinful life:

James 5:1-6 5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

No, that’s not Marx, that’s the New Testament, and it echoes countless passages from the prophets in the old testament, including the description of the sins of Sodom in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 16:49-50 49 “‘See here—this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.

To complete this bible study, and to bring some balance to those who think that utter poverty is what all these verses point to (they don’t) I also connect this to the wisdom of Agur (no, I have no idea who he is either but he is included in the bible here as a wisdom teacher…) as recorded in proverbs 30:7-9 that I turned into another song on the same album, with less chords and instruments than ‘sell everything’, but a lot more weirdness. The music to ‘poverty nor riches’ might lose itself in pseudo-shamanic atmospheres and noisy freejazz interludes, the lyrics themselves are straight from the bible without much paraphrase:

Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
to not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me
and give me neither riches nor poverty
only my daily needs
for I may own too much and disown you
and say Who is the Lord
or I may become poor and steal
and so dishonour your name O Lord

How do we connect the dots here? It seems that there are great warnings against being wealthy in the bible, which are very often ignored. Which is quite dangerous, because relatively spoken we all are rich as Westerners. Compared to a lot of people in the global South today, and to most of the population in biblical times, we’re all rather wealthy and rich even though we often fail to see it. But the effect on our soul and our faith might still be there if we don’t watch out…

There are 2 very important realities about money.
* Money can very easily become an idol. Jesus doesn’t call it Mammon for nothing. This is not something new, a lot of philosophers and spiritual teachers in all kinds of traditions would agree about this. Money, and possessions in general are a dangerous idol that make it impossible to connect to God.
And some are willing to sacrifice human lives and whole ecosystems for. And that in our modern secular times… And that brings us to our second point:
* A lot of rich people have become rich by being oppressive or dishonest, as Jesus, James and the prophets tell us. This is evidently very bad for the involved oppressed, but it also is a sin that keeps the rich one away from God, makes one arrogant. If you dehumanise your brother to just a pawn in your game of getting richer instead as a person worth as much as you, deserving as much as you, you’re far from God indeed.

In spite all my rage I might still be just a rat in a cage. My album title ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ might be sarcastic but after all I still am Middleclass myself. Some people would look down on me as not earning much to certain contemporary standards, while others would see me as incredibly wealthy. (Including most of my forefathers in earlier eras, people from biblical and historical times, and people in the global South)

I’ve met people who knew what it is to live with nothing and trust God, living from day to day in faith and trust. While this is very basic Christianity, it also is something very few modern Christians need to develop, and something I know is seriously lacking in my faith life. I trust that I will have enough. I am a spoiled Westerner.

(The issue of being wealthy might even be part of why the West is losing its Christianity in this era btw. Faith is trusting in God as a Reality anyway, and we have made it accepting conceptual statements.)

As you see, these are things that I am still am struggling with. I don’t have all the answers, and even if I had them they will not sink in unless you have struggled with them yourselves.

Some will think I’m going way too far here, but I’m not sure of that. If you think I’m too soft on sin here, and want a more resolute input, I refer you to this excellent series by Micael Grenholm on Holy Spirit Activism who does argue it is a sin to be rich as a Christian. And his biblical explanation is quite strong, stronger than a lot of reasoning where super-important issues for some people are defended as ‘biblical’.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Abundance is the enemy of capitalism…
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Teachings of the Early Church Fathers on Poverty & Wealth
the love of money vs. the way of Christ…
Christianity: first a question of allegiance, not worldview!

Bram Cools album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ now available + Literary side project


Hi people,

I’ve delayed writing more posts because I didn’t even know what to say in a confused world like this, because I was busy with work and family and other stuff, and because I’ve been woking on my music and launched another side-project, the scifi/dystopian story ‘Ghostified City’ that will be published in parts on Oranderra, my fiction blog. For those last 2 I will give you some announcements:

‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ available now

Hi friends and listeners,

This is just to notify you all that my new album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen‘ is available now at bramcools.bandcamp.com . Musically and lyrically a follow-up to ‘cyberluddism’ and ‘Instant pocket apocalypse’, and a trip though different musical genres and a range of everyday battles and strange subjects in several languages. Apart from English there are 2 songs in Dutch/Flemish, one and a half in the artificial minimal language toki pona, and some key lines of another song in Latin, as well as several wordless pieces of music.

Listen and download ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ here. And please let me know what you think, and if you like it share it with others…

Literary side-project ‘Ghostified city’ now online

For those who like the dystopian themes in my recent music, or those who like scifi and dark dystopian stuff in general there is a second non-musical announcement: I have started publishing the story ‘Ghostified city’ in parts on my fiction blog Oranderra this week. See here for what it’s about and here for the first part. There will be one or two updates to the story each week. Note that the style and some of the contents might not be suited for an audience that’s too young.
Adaman Yimmand would really appreciate if you check it out and like the Oranderra facebook.

peace

Bram

Tracklist:

1. Welcome outside 04:23

2. Selfmade universe 03:29

3. Muggles gonna muggle 04:11

4. Splintering dimensions 03:15

5. mi wile e ni 03:23

6. Cyberluddism VIII 02:13

7. In het niks 03:15

8. Shadows of shadows 04:31

9. Oh God would you? 03:46

10. Hold on 03:54

11. Cyberluddism IX 02:55

12. Enemies 02:53

13. Dark hour of fire 04:35

14. Mixed bags 02:55

15. Hoelang blijven we spelen? 02:23

16. Salva mea 04:12

17. Untitled in C-minor 02:36

18. Unseen disconnect/mi sona ala 03:35

19. Under the radar 03:42

20. Cyberluddism X 01:29

Coming soon: Bram Cools’ ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ album


We interrupt the blog hiatus that is almost over for a musical anouncement:

Hi friends and listeners,

To all 5 of you who are reading this,
which might include email-intercepting agents from the FBI, the Belgian secret service and the Reptilian illuminati.
(Yes, you too! Please read on! Have a listen)

The release of the new Bram Cools album is nigh!
Or in other words, new home-made musical madness from an alternate universe, against all trends and zeitgeist and the laws of logic and Hegelian dialectics and hopefully with a better sound than ever,  will soon be available on the usual bandcamp site.

It should have been finished this summer, but we never control life as much as we’d like to, and time is a strange thing and never reliable.  So with a little correction by reality the new and more realistic date is set somewhere in November… The ‘it’ referred to earlier here is a collection of 20 songs in different styles and even languages that will be called ‘ Beware of Plato’s cavemen’.  It also can be considered the third album in the ‘cyberluddism‘ series, and as such also as a concept album of sorts again. Both musically and lyrically there are some unifying themes hidden somewhere, although rather loosely this time.
While I attempted at first to make some simple songs with primitive electronic arrangements, it seems everything grew over my head again, and I suddenly had a long album full of songs with much more complicated arrangements than I had planned, interlayered with some instrumentals for which no actual instruments were abused. On the other hand seems that folk and pop have regularly won the fight against the bleeps and synths this time. The music as it has become sets the stage for explorations about how our constructed realities and illusions clash with Reality, if there’s even such a thing, and other subjects of faith, despair, world peace and the end of the world… The number of languages is going up again too, most are still in English, with 2 songs in Dutch or Flemish, 1,5 song in toki pona and some lines in Latin.

The current artwork is temporarily, and will get updated at the right moment. This does probably fit with my lo-fi antiprofessional approach though…

Those following soundcloud will find the finished and completely remixed and remastered versions of Welcome outside, Splintering dimensions, Hold on, mi wile e ni, Shadows of shadows, Muggles gonna muggle and Selfmade universe on the album, although not in that order…

So stay tuned!
More soon

peace

Bram

Bram Cools music: new songs & announcement!!


 

Bram CoolsI hope I will be writing some interesting blogpostposts in various usual and unusual subjects this summer, but I also will do some cross-over with my musical project here with the release of a new ‘cyberluddism’ album.  To begin with I’ll give you the first announcement mail:

New Bram Cools songs on soundcloud!

I have been rather silent the last years music-wise, especially when it comes to actual new songs, but that pattern will finally be broken this summer.

To begin with, recently 3 new songs have been posted on Soundcloud:

Selfmade universe: A classic in the Bram Cools live catalogue that has been played live a lot over the years but never had a studio version though, Here it finally is, but re-interpreted in a rather electronic fashion, while keeping a rather relaxed indie-pop style. Might be about the dangers of pragmatic paradigm shifting, although I wouldn’t have used these terms when I wrote it.
Muggles gonna muggle: More electronica and indie-pop with a slightly disorienting chord scheme, and a rather dark defence of both magic and religion against certain totalizing tendencies in modernism.
mi wile e ni: Just a simple relaxed lo-fi pop song in Toki Pona, a minimalist constructed language with a vocabulary of around 132 words.World peace, all people should be friends and stuff like that..

So have a listen, share them with your friends if you like, and use them to scare away alien visitors if needed. And tell me what you think…

But that’s only half of the news, since these songs are by no means standalone songs but part of a bigger project:

New ‘Cyberluddism’ album announcement!

The last months I’ve been working on a collection of songs that will end up as an album (cyberluddism part III, further title to be announced) that will be released in electronic form on bandcamp as soon as it’s finished.

As the working title and it’s inclusion in the ‘cyberluddism’ series indicate, it’s predominantly electronic music with rather dystopian themes to the lyrics. The difference with ‘cyberluddism‘ and probably even ‘Instant pocket apocalypse‘ will be noticeable in a more minimalist approach with a lot less aggression and generally a slower tempo… Less techno and industrial sounds, and more indie-pop with sometimes a rather high dose of triphop. Although some gothic folk, atmospheric drum’n bass and -if I get the arrangement done- even acoustic reggae- may also turn up here and there.
It’s probably not completely a concept album, and still there is an overall theme to both the sounds and the words. There might be a certain influence for example of C.S. Lewis and Plato, apocalyptic pictures of dystopia, splintering dimensions, pragmatic paradigm shifting, and other everyday subjects.

As the Toki Ponan title ‘mi wile e ni’ of one of the 3 preview songs already indicates, not all of the songs will be in English (or purely instrumental) this time. Apart from a whole song and some fragments in Toki Pona and 3 words in Latin there might be 2 songs in Dutch too.

(Like the other ‘cyberluddism’ collections this is music I cannot play live in this form, but most of the songs can be played on just a guitar or piano and don’t need the arrangement to stand as a song. This makes it easier to adapt them to a minimalist live approach should I start playing live again.)

Stay tuned for further news…

peace

Bram Cools

Listen to my music at my bandcamp page and for random non-album music and new updates at soundcloud. Like me at facebook and follow met at twitter. And tell me what you think…

‘Sell everything you have and give it to the poor’ bandcamp single


The electronic 2-song Bram Cools bandcamp single ‘Sell everything you have and give it to the poor’sell everything has been released today. It features an unheard version of a live sing-along classic that has no definitive recorded version to date, and a semi-instrumental B-side called “Stephen, they’re gonna stone you to death!”

If you like the song you can download it, share it, or very easily learn to play it yourself (the whole song is based on different combinations of G, C and D).

The single was originally supposed to be the fore-runner of the never-finished album ‘Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ from the late ’00’s which is still unfinished at the moment but might resurface one day. Other songs from that album are the rather scary ‘I was hungry‘, a different version of ‘gentiles‘, and this ouverture.

Sell everything you have and give it to the poor (Bram Cools)

G C D G

a rich young man came to Jesus Christ and asked
what should I do to get life, life eternal
you know the commandments Jesus replied
do not steal, do not kill do not commit adultery
yes I do know them he said I followed them all, all of my life
Jesus said well then there’s one more thing that you have to do

G
sell everything you have
C
and give it to the poor
G
yeah everything you have
D
get rid of it
G
sell everything you have
C
and give it to the poor
G   D     G
and you shall live

Jesus said do this and follow me
and you’ll have a great treasure in heaven
but the rich young man became very sad
for he did posses great wealth on earth
and he preferred it over the life
over the life eternal

G                   C
easier it is for a camel
G                         D
to go through the eye of the needle
G                C
than for a rich man to enter
G    D      G
the kingdom of heaven

sell everything…

and if Jesus Christ would be here today
and preach the same words as he did back then in Galilee
we probably would kill him and lay him i a grave again
like good old woody sung years ago
we still don’t want to near those words
and explain them away if we read then…

sell everything…

(the chord placements are lost in this lay-out, you’ll figure out easily by listening…)

Enjoy!

Bram

PS: Find more Bram Cools music for download at bandcamp.com. (All music is currently ‘choose your price’)

Bram Cools Christmas song (or something like that…)


Good news for the few sparse Terrans who enjoy the sounds that I make under the misguiding umbrella term of ‘music’ from time to time. 2015 had seen a no really new Bram Cools music thusfar, only a release of my older Contemporary Christian Muzak, and some other old songs (like this remake of ‘last fish in the sea’, previously unheard by all except 3 or 3 humans) but no actual new songs.

badsantaDTL

The good news is that just before the new year I can proudly announce you that at least one new song from 2015 will be on my musical CV.  It even is my first attempt at something that could be seen as a Christmas song (although in the broadest sense possible of that term probably)
To make long weird explanations short: the Bram Cools song Why Should She Care (this alien feast) (also on soundcloud) is featured on the new Down The Line 2015 Christmas compilation (the bad santa edition). It might be a bit dark for a Christmas song though…

More from the Down The Line collective in the zine here.

Have a listen to all the songs, scare your grandma with them  and tell me what you thing… (yes, there’s even a krampus song in it!)

peace and happy holidays!

Bram