Living and speaking for Jesus

Tag: reviews

A selection of music (i)

A few months ago my friend Cat was after some new music to listen to and asked me to blog about some of my recent discoveries. I don’t feel I’ve made a huge number recently, but it occurred to me that there’s loads of music I listen to that others might not have come across yet. So here’s a few albums and artists for your perusal, and if you have any on a similar theme you’d like to recommend, please do so in the comments.

Red Mountain Music

Help my unbelief

Back in 2008 Dan Hames introduced the reworked hymn “Hark the voice of love and mercy” to the students at UCCF’s Forum conference. I subsequently taught it to Bristol CU, where I imagine it’s long since been forgotten. It’s just one example of some wonderful takes on old hymns that this church in Alaska has been responsible for. Stand out tracks for me include:

  • “Hark the voice of love and mercy” (linked above). I replace the line “ceremonial law” with “law that went before”.
  • There is a fountain filled with blood“. This new tune to an incredible hymn fits the words so much better than every hymn tune I’ve sung it to – it’s gentle, uplifting and poignant.
  • Everything on their Christmas album “Silent Night”, but particularly the last three tracks “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent“, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel“, and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus“. These all keep the original tunes but in new arrangements. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is particularly good – the driving drums accompany the lyrics brilliantly as they reach a climax in the final line: “Raise us to Thy glorious throne!”

Find Red Mountain Music on Bandcamp.


hymnsOne of the best projects bringing out modern takes on hymns, Page CXVI take their name from the page of C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew where Aslan sings Narnia into existence. Their aim is different to Red Mountain Music; they’ve (broadly) kept the tunes, but re-imagined them as indie rock songs. They’ve done an excellent job. These arrangements may or may not work in a congregational setting, but they are certainly more listenable to and more original than a lot of recorded hymns and Christian songs. If you’re bored of Christian albums that sound like bad examples of soft rock and pop music from last decade, treat yourself to these guys. Favourite tracks would be too many to mention, and I’ve not even managed to listen to their latest three releases yet, but get their first album (originally titled “Hymns”), and if the final track “Joy” doesn’t move you, then I’ll be very surprised.


City Hymns

Fragments of GraceThe composer of “There is a fountain filled with blood” (above) released this album on his own, and it’s brilliant. “Come every soul by sin oppressed” is glorious, both lyrically and musically. As expected of the composer, this version of “There is a fountain” is excellent (and free to download). Quite a few of these would probably work congregationally, but the arrangements on the album are good to listen to (acoustic guitar-led with kit, bass, electric guitar and various keyboard and string instruments). “Out of the depths” has a drum-machine/EP-led accompaniment, which works surprisingly well for a psalm setting!

Listen to City Hymns on Bandcamp.

Beautiful Eulogy

Satellite KiteAnd now for something completely different. I don’t listen to much hip-hop, but when I do, I listen to Beautiful Eulogy. They’ve got a real lyrical flair, some great melodies and hooks, and the sung vocals are top-notch and varied. The accompaniments range from clicks and blips to pads and piano. You can download their first album “Satellite Kite” from Noisetrade free of charge. I’m not so sold on their follow-up album, but maybe I’ll get into it. I just keep coming back to their first one though.

More to follow next week…

Top five secular books of 2012

  1. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell. I read this for the first time years ago, but it’s still probably the best novel I’ve read all year. It’s a book about humanity’s lust for power with a unique narrative structure: six stories nested inside one another, Russian doll-like. Each of the stories (the genres as varied as 19th-century travelogues, 1970s pulp fiction and post-apocalyptic fantasy) would work on its own as a novella, yet combined they are greater than the sum of their parts. How they’ve managed to make it into a film I have no idea, but it’s been done, and enough critics like it for me to think that it could be good.
  2. The Shallows – Nicholas Carr. The only non-fiction on this list, The Shallows is unlike any book I’ve read. Carr jumps from the development of the printing press to modern developments in neuroscience, yet you never feel disoriented by the cognitive leap. His thesis in a nutshell is that the rise of the internet is affecting the way that we think, through training our minds to prefer shorter bursts of information to sustained argument, and by using electronic aids to find information rather than absorbing it and remembering it. I found this book scary because of how true to life I found it. This is essential reading for those who find they can’t read books as well as they used to, who struggle to remember anything without a search engine, and whose days are constantly interrupted by email and social networking.
  3. Hamlet – William Shakespeare. I’ve never read a Shakespearean tragedy before, though I’ve seen a couple on stage. You don’t need me to say that Shakespeare’s a brilliant playwright, but reading Hamlet gave me a far deeper appreciation of his genius. The early scenes where he mourns his father’s death are particularly moving, and I loved the colourful (not in that sense) language throughout.
  4. Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis. A quintessentially British and highly sophisticated farce about a young academic historian in a “new” university. The characterisation is laugh-out-loud in its exuberance, and I felt physical pain contemplating some of the awkward situations the title character finds himself in. (Trying to cover up cigarette burns in his hostess’s sheets by cutting off the edges is an early highlight.) I should have read this years ago.
  5. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald writes beautiful sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. There are parts of this book that left me revelling in his deft use of language (though there were others that left me searching for definitions in a dictionary). The story unfolds slowly, but in a good way, allowing you to enjoy the view as you travel to your destination, as it were. You’ll notice I’ve not even touched on the plot – that of a rich man living in Long Island luxury, but obsessively in love with the wrong woman. A great introduction to modern American literature, and I’m excited to see the new film when it finally arrives in the UK.

Top five Christian books of 2012

Here’s what are probably the best Christian books I’ve read this year. Honourable mentions go to Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and Steve Levy’s Bible Overview for getting me thinking about the Old Testament more.

  1. The Good God – Michael Reeves. This seems to have been many people’s pick of the year, and with good reason. Mike’s introduction to the Trinity shows clearly how the life of God as Father, Son and Spirit is an overflowing goodness that brings light and life to us and the whole world. He writes such lively prose that you can’t help but imagine him chuckling to himself with joy as he writes. It’s a book about delighting in the Trinity that is itself delightful.
  2. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – Tim Keller. I reviewed this for 10ofthose back in January, where I said it left me convicted about my pride, convinced of the joy that “thinking of ourselves less” brings, and rejoicing in the power of the gospel to transform lives. My small group are getting copies of this as (belated) Christmas presents. It’s short, cheap, and packs a gospelicious punch far above its size and price.
  3. A New Name – Emma Scrivener. Emma’s wonderfully honest and witty blog has probably given me more articles to email to friends than any other website, so I was very excited to get hold of this book. Her auto-biography is a remarkable testimony to the grace of God through the ordeal of anorexia, and should be required reading for anyone whose friends struggle with eating disorders, negative body image, depression, OCD, or sin (so that’s everyone, then).
  4. Thoughts for Young Men – J. C. Ryle. Ryle was a bishop in the 19th century, but he could have written this book directly to young men in the 21st. A sterling call for young men to turn to Christ, and not be ensnared by the world. I want to study this book with other young men so that we can exhort each other as Ryle exhorts his readers. Short, simple and wonderful to read.
  5. The Meaning of Marriage – Tim and Kathy Keller. There are many books on marriage that single people either shouldn’t or don’t need to read. This is not one of them. I can’t speak for marrieds, but this is highly recommended for singles – particularly those who view marriage with rose-tinted glasses, or who are looking for a perfect partner, or simply wondering what marriage is all about.

Fiction and other books here.

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