Tag Archives: christian music

Ill-M-I: Soul-junk, TobyMac and the illuminati…


Today I accidentally stumbled upon a comments page that made me completely scratch my head first, and write this blogpost second…

Tobymac (of DC Talk fame) once covered a rap song from soul-junk called ‘Ill-m-I’ (think ill am I) which uses the word ‘illuminati’ in the chorus. The song was written long before the ‘illuminati’ craze on the internet, but a lot of people seem to see an affirmation in the song that Toby is an agent for ‘the dark side’. (Which already is weird, if I would be an infiltrator I wouldn’t be rapping about it, but as I’ll say more times in this blogpost, nevermind…)

The American band soul-junk is one of my favourite bands. (Click on the name and find all of their albums on bandcamp!! Oh wondrous times we live in that these are available by computer-click now. The effort it took in the nineties and early noughties to get their CD’s to Belgium…) I know I’m in a minority there, but some of their albums are really among my favourites.
It certainly is an interesting and undoubtedly Christian band -if a thing like a Christian band exists- that is completely out of the box, ranging from weird lo-fi worship with straight bible verses as lyrics to completely abstract hiphop that’s pure chaotic association therapy. Glen Galaxay started the band as side-project of Trumans water -an extreme noise rock band- when he became a Christian,  using a unique album naming convention where he started from 1950 and counted up for full albums, and down for EPs. The first albums like 1950 and 1951 which I have listened to a lot over the years are lo-fi guitarnoise worship mostly written from bible verses, interlayered with noisy freejazz chaos interludes. Later he experimented with rock, hiphop, noise, freeform electronica and a lot of other styles, with changing band line-ups too. The only constant factor in soul-junk always was Glen Galaxy as songwriter and singer/rapper. My favourite will always remain the 1942 EP, an incredibly arranged lo-fi record which includes Sufjan Stevens and members of the Danielson famile in the line-up, with a lot of strange instruments and vocals. It probably was one of the main influences on most of my own Contemporary Christian Muzak songs.

The song ill-m-I from 1956 is one of his more poppy efforts in the hiphop department, and one of those forgotten pearls in the history of music. A lot of associative lyrics, a very unique flow and some original but catchy beats. Fun tune that stands out even in his very weird repertoire and if you would analyse the text there actually might be a very Christian message in between all the weird metaphors…
Tobymac must have found the same, because he covered it on his second solo album ‘Welcome to Diverse City’, not that long after the split of the legendary American Christian rap/pop/rock band DC Talk of which he probably was the main brain. I’ve never been that enthusiastic about the cover version, but rap covers are rather rare, and souljunk covers are even rarer, so it’s just an interesting attempt, although rather over-produced. (listen to it on youtube, and don’t forget to read the comment section that partly inspired this post…)

The problem with the song is that Glen in all his associative rhyming use the word ‘illuminati’, a word that didn’t have much airplay then, but certainly does now, even though a lot of people have no idea what it means or where it comes from. The word ‘illuminati’ comes from Latin and literally means ‘enlightened ones’. Enlightenment is a word that is very important in mystical Eastern religions, including Eastern Orthodox Christianity. (And ironically also in a Western philosophical tradition that is as anti-mystical as could be possible…) It means being illuminated by an encounter with God, the Divine, Reality, the Brahman… Glen uses the word rather ironically in the song, talking about people who think they’re so enlightened but act like self-righteous pharisees.

Ill-M-I, Ill-M-I, Ill-M-I, Ill-M-I and you
Illuminati comin’ through (X2)

All of this would go completely unnoticed as a mediocre track from a solo-album of one of the DC talk guys, covered from an obscure band (whose version is less ‘commercial’ but much better, at least to me), if not for a craze around that word ‘illuminati’, and a supposed conspiracy against the world that goes by that name about which the craziest stories go around on the internet. (google is your friend if you don’t know by now what I mean. Here’s an interesting article on its influence on hiphop.)
Most of it seems to come straight from a series of weird fiction books called the illuminatus trilogy, and a lot of the rest is even more unbelievable (reptilian shapeshifters control the governments of the world and stuff like that) and certainly less coherent. Sometimes it’s mixed with very weird Christian endtimes theories, other times it’s more mixed with weird new-age stuff about the Annunaki (the gods as ancient aliens) and Nibiru or with Islam.  Just the word -whatever it means- is enough to scare a lot of people and make them stop all critical thinking, and run for their electronic pitchforks to go on a witchhunt…

And a song from a Christian artist that uses the word illuminati must clearly be a sign that he is not actually a Christian but a member of the secret society of the illuminati. Also note that he uses eyes in his artwork! See!!!

Here’s someone trying to interpret the lyrics, seeming not aware that it’s a cover. The illuminati-hunters do populate the comment section though…

Toby even had to address the whole thing in the FAQ on his website:

WHAT IS THE SONG “ILL-M-I” ABOUT?

TobyMac answers: “‘Ill-M-I’ was originally done by an artist called Soul-Junk. I talked to Glenn Galaxy (the songwriter) a lot before I put that song on the record because I wanted to know exactly what he was writing about. It’s the only song I’ve really ever covered … I just loved the feel and the flow of it so much—it’s just raw hip hop. What people should know about this lyric is that ‘ill am I’ actually means “broken am I.” The next line says ‘and you, illuminati coming through’ … illuminati is defined as persons possessing, or claiming to possess, superior enlightenment. So when I talked to Glenn, he confirmed that the song was really speaking out against a Pharisee-type attitude, like, ‘holier than thou.’ So the chorus is saying, ‘broken am I, and you, those who claim to possess superior enlightenment, are coming through,’ as in, ‘you’re spiritually enlightened, you have it all together.’ [sarcasm implied] But of course, they really don’t, and the song stands to remind us that we’re all broken.

Obviously I’ve been made aware that there’s supposedly a secret society called “the Illuminati” that dates back for years … but I don’t know much about it beyond that. I know I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and that neither the song ‘Ill-M-I’ nor the album artwork was intended to refer to that usage of the word illuminati. It just has nothing to do with my world, or following Jesus, or raising my kids and loving my wife.”

(Note that Toby certainly had the chance to talk with Glen, having Glen as a guest musician/co-writer on his first solo album Momentum on the song ‘in the air’. He knew whom he was covering! -even though it’s hard for me to fit them both in the same musical universe…-)

The real believer won’t believe that though. Like I said, coherence is not needed. Just look for eyes and triangles and you’re sure that you can find devil-worshippers. No matter that freemasons and Satanism are completely different things, and that the eye-in-a-triangle is also a Catholic symbol for God. Nevermind. One sign of the illuminati and Satan is there… Because the illuminati control the world, and the showbizz, and everyone who has money and fame has sold their soul to them, and they want to sway all people to the dark side, and that’s why they’re hiding ‘occult’ symbols in music videos. It doesn’t really matter what occult tradition, they’re all the same. Be it chaos magick or Catholicism… Yes, the first thing I think about when I see an eye in a triangle is a catholic plate than hangs in a lot of old houses here in Flanders. ‘God sees me, one does not curse here’, with the all-seeing eye of the trinity in the middle…

So all of this is why I ended up reading the weirdest stuff on comment feeds today about a song written by Glen Galaxy, the least likely person to ever join an antichristian secret society that wants to control the world. Nevermind that he never had much fame and is not the person to ever sell his soul, didn’t lead any showbizz, and that half of his albums have lyrics taken straight from the bible. (What few people know is that he rapped the complete bible books of genesis and exodus some years ago in sometimes fascinating avant-hop impro).  If there’s any actual Christian present in the American Christian music industry at all it will be him, even though some of his raps are indeed free-form stream of consciousness.

But yeah, whatever… I’m too old to understand the world as some of my students would say… So reptilians it is for the commenting masses…

peace

Bram

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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

 

‘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’)

New musical discovery: Brian McLaren


New musical discovery: Brian McLaren

For those who like soft folky singersongwriterstuff with a seventies sound, I’ve found this onscure gem on a site that archives old and rare  christian records: an album called ‘learning to love’ by some guy called Brian McLaren. He seems to have made only one record, back in 1978, filled with christian inpired dreamy acoustic folk & rock.

Brian McLaren - learning to love

Brian McLaren - learning to love

So how does it sound? Mostly like soft acoustic mellow folky music of the kind that had a revival some years ago with the ‘quiet is the new loud’ movement, but with Christian insipired lyrics… If we’d do a more ‘classical’ namedropping it would fit somewhere between the acoustic John Michael Talbot, Nick Drake, and sometimes some Larry Norman or Neil Young… I don’t say it’s as good as those names, but there something in the sound that reminds me of them. Brian seems to be a skilled guitarplayer, and the arrangements are quite good. My favorites are the Larry Norman-like ‘publican and pharisee’ and the acoustic talking blues ‘depersonalisation blues’.

It’s a shame that this album was never re-released on Cd, I find it actually quite good for christian music from the seventies(I say that as someone who is very critical of so-called Christian ‘music’…) Anyway I’m very glad that the heavenly grooves have made it available in 320kbps mp3 format. check it out here

such a shame nobody has ever heard of this guy… I wonder what he’d be doing right now. aging and without hair he probably would look like this:

Brian McLaren

an older guy

Wait, what did you say he was called???

shalom

Bram

Derek Webb’s controversy


So I’ve been listening to the supposed ‘controversial’ new Derek Webb single ‘What matters more’. And I was totally shocked… Check it for yourself:

YEs I am really shocked when I heard that song! Really, does he really mean that??? What an awful stupid way to ruin a great song with such a terrible arrangement… sorry Derek, the electronics don’t work for me… sounds to cheap to me, or too empty, don’t know, and it ruins the beauty of the voice. But maybe that’s just me…

Now about the controversy… what’s that about? I don’t understand the whole shit-thing. Maybe a cultural issue, but why even bother about such a word? Americans are really weird people… Remember, all you americans: We in this part of the world have learned to use the S- and the F-word from your great culture… We use them all the time, and no-one gives a bleep… It all is so inconsistent to us. why would anyone be offended by a word that just means poop?

It’s a weird cultural issue. No, a subcultural one really, from some weird conservative kind of ghetto… Frankly, I way am more shocked by this kind of sensitivities than I could ever be by the lyrics of this particular song…

But then again, the Christian music industry is just weird…

The weird thing is some people just are reacting against the use of that one word, and then they don’t even listen to the message. Which is something that should be heard I affraid… But maybe I shouldn’t go in that discussion and just qoute Brian McLaren’s response when asked about gay marriage: ‘You know what, the thing that breaks my heart is that there’s no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side.’

Gays are not the enemy, hate is.
satan is.
pride is.
and stuff like judgementalism and legalism and farrizeism…

Oh and check out my little song I made with some Shane claiborne samples… (Hope he doesn’t mind…): can’t find a home

shalom

Bram