Music Review: Mosaic – Teach Us

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m procrastinating… but this band is worth the time to stop and listen!

Mosaic became a full-fledged band  in 2009. Prior to that it was simply a Christian worship group of five friends who had begun as a jam session over Christmas carols.  Currently, I’m only going to talk about their latest album, Teach Us, released in summer of 2011, because it has so much good about it that I still can’t stop listening to it.

What does Mosaic sound like? If you wanted a short-hand description, I’d say a cross between the glowing melodies of Sixpence None the Richer and the flexible creativity of Switchfoot. But that shorthand is likely to mislead, because it can’t account for the lovely and unique quintet vocal and instrumental mixture of Mosaic’s musical formulations of Biblical passages.

Most of the lyrics conform closely to scriptural passages and adequately communicate wide verse ranges better than I’ve heard before. Unlike some worship music, which can tend to focus on single sentences or phrases alone, Mosaic boldly follows entire portions of whole chapters in the Bible. For example, the song “Return to Me” follows the words of Jeremiah chapters 2-4 and also Hoseah 11:7-8 with the agonizing orchestral strain providing a background for the love expressed by God the Father for wandering Israel.

In Teach Us, a fair number of Old Testament passages and others from the New Testament are given aural shape in a way that emphasizes the tone and attitude of the writers and speakers. In a very real way, Mosaic manages to provide an animating and moving rendition of the scriptures, obeying in spirit the Biblical mandate to write the law upon the door frames of our houses, upon our gates, and upon our hearts. The only track that is not an original composition is track twelve, a combination of Nothing But the Blood and Jesus Paid it All.

The whole album expertly demonstrates the ample musical talent and artistry that is bound up in this quintet. The musical styles of each vocalist is expressed in a dreamy way that does not detract from the prevailing melody lines. Mosaic proves adept at being a chameleon of genres as well, with “Fear the Lord” exhibiting a versatile piano with smooth transitions between a light jazz combo style and a strong refrain reminiscent of modern alternative pop. Other songs manage to generate an entirely new sound, so that one might question whether he or she is actually listening to the same group. Each of these songs has a story behind it, related on Mosaic’s website, strongly influenced by the group members’ religious faith.

The vocal harmonies blend and counterbalance quite well in pieces such as “Out of Eden,” and creative, almost unorthodox, rhythmic expressions intrigue in “Seek the Lord.” Put another way, if there were a musical equivalent for a sweet tooth, Mosaic would be the chocolate-covered strawberry to satisfy the craving. The sound is simply astounding, and I highly recommend these gifted individuals who glorify God with their talent to anyone who even pretends to listen to any kind of music.

My Psychology Dissertation

As none of you may know, I’ve been hard at work on my Ph.D. in psychology. I’ve observed the human condition, smoking a pipe and attentively listening to patients blab on and on about their ridiculously meaningless lives as they recline on my utterly impractical ottoman.

Even though the work has been extremely boring and pointless, I did manage to have an epiphany. I’ve coined a new term in the field of brain shrinking, and have painstakingly produced the following dissertation for your enjoyment.

Harvard and Yale, I’ll be watching the mail for my diploma in six to eight weeks. All other universities, you can begin bestowing honorary doctorates at your convenience. Nobel Committee – I realize that there’s no prize for psychology, but I think you’ll agree that we can make an exception just this once.

Here we go:

Introduction

This amazing dissertation will reveal the discovery of a groundbreaking new diagnosis in the field of psychology: flashophobia!

Background

Over the past few years, flash mobs have taken the world by storm. These events, as describe by Wikipedia, are “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.”

Often, flash mobs include dancing and music. If you’re unfamiliar with flash mobs, the following YouTube videos are an adequate introduction. (Isn’t the Internet great!?)

Of course, as with every fad in America, corporations try to get in on the action:

The Diagnosis

Unfortunately, this phenomenon of flash mobbing is neither innocent nor harmless. Many poor souls have reported feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the fear of a flash mob breaking out at any moment. In extreme cases, this fear becomes a paranoia. When this happens, the individual is said to suffer from flashophobia.

Severe flashophobes avoid all public settings. They are highly suspicious that their friends and family are planning a flash mob behind their backs, and their greatest fear is that a mob will be personally directed at them. Flashophobes are known to attack pairs people walking in step down the sidewalk, or individuals tapping their feet in a coffee shop. In one case, the flashophobe was sent into a fit of rage when exposed to elevator music. “It’s just rhythmical. A little too rhythmical,” she explained.

To date, there is no known cure for this debilitating condition.

Future Work

It has been observed that flashophobes are often deathly afraid of another popular phenomenon called planking. So far, we have not determined if this is simply another way that flashophobia manifests itself, or if the behavior deserves its own classification: plankophobia!!

Conclusion

As you can plainly see, this research is awesome. If you don’t agree, you obviously don’t know much about psychology.

You can thank me by pre-ordering a copy of my upcoming book: Flashophobia – Be Careful Where You Dance. It’s main goal is to educate the public about the dangers and struggles that helpless flashophobes face as they attempt to eke out a simple day-to-day existence. I’ll warn you, it’s a tearjerker.

TTFN, Crookback Joe

The Ten Most Likely Candidates for the Doctor’s Name

I must admit, I’ve spent too much time ruminating over the Doctor’s name…

Let me back up and start from the beginning.

Recently the long-running British sci-fi Doctor Who ended the sixth season of its rebooted existence.  In the last episode (The Wedding of River Song), it was revealed that the next major story arc would be centered on a question.  It was said to be the oldest question, and one hidden in plain sight.  And this question would be answered one day, despite the efforts of very powerful people in the plot line to prevent that answer from being given.

The Eleventh Doctor - "Bow ties are cool..."

I should mention that ever since the beginning of the series the Doctor’s name has never actually been revealed (which, if you ask me, is quiet a feat).  After years of being made fun of by my family for my interest in the series, I should have guessed what it was, but the full effect of the pun hit me at the end of the episode when that question was revealed to be “Doctor who?”  (which is exactly what my family would ask me every time I mentioned the series).  The point is pretty clear: we’re going to learn the Doctor’s name. This is coming all the way from the first episode, and it really is one of the first questions of the series.  In the first episode, An Unearthly Child, the Doctor is content to be mistaken in his identity by a couple of school teachers.  We got a nickname in the old series, Theta Sigma, as he was identified by one of his old Time Lord classmates from the Academy.  The closest we’ve ever gotten to his actual name is in writing on an old crib that was the Doctor’s… but the writing was in ancient Gallifreyan (Time Lord language).

The Doctor's name in ancient Gallifreyan.

It’s a pretty clever path for the writers to take, but one fraught with peril: if they don’t pick a really really good name to reveal, it will be pretty disappointing.  I realize that the writers probably have this all planned out, but I figured I’d chip in my two cents (or sixpence, if I wanted to be at all geographically relevant) to either claim that I was right or advise writers on what they need to think about. So, without further ado, I present my ten best guesses for the Doctor’s name… mind you, I’m not serious about all of them.

10. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

That's my name too...

The Doctor could never have a very serious name anyway.  The fact of the matter is, with such a short title, I think he needs a rather long name, and this just seems to do it.  Besides, it’s got the effect of having everyone seriously identify with the Doctor.  They can all say it’s their name too!

9. [Tacit]

If you don’t understand this, let me explain – in music there are times when one part plays nothing in one movement.  So the musician simply sits there and does nothing but breathe for the entire piece.  These movements usually have the word “tacit” at the top of them.  Think of it as a silent letter (like the “g” in “feign” or the “b” in “dumb”).  So, why not have the Doctor’s name be a string of silent letters?  It could be a very nimble sidestep from actually having to reveal a name, much to the consternation of those who really really really enjoy the mystery of this regenerating time traveler.

8. Voldemort

To the Whovians out there, I apologize. I know the Doctor has a nose.

Okay, maybe this is juvenile, but hey, let’s face it – there is a faction out there (calling themselves the Silence) which is hellbent on preventing anyone from naming the Doctor.  That’s right… he who must not be named.  And, just to top things off, both of them are British series.  As you can tell, I’m still not to the serious ones yet.

7. Gandalf

One of the Doctor's... role models?

To be fair, he actually considers himself something like Gandalf (per a deleted scene from the sixth season).  And if we wanted to be super nerdy about it, his name might even be Olórin, his original Ainur name.

6. Tom Bombadil

Maybe without the beard this would work...

Since I was on the Lord of the Rings bandwagon, I thought I’d ride it to the end of the line.  Mind the gap.  Tom Bombadil is in many ways, a parallel character.  We know little about him, and he seems to last forever.  But even more compelling is the fact that Bombadil doesn’t seem to worry about too much and is a little eccentric.  Now if only he had a nice blue box to take him and his companion Goldberry across the universe…

5. Google

Could it be Google???

Based purely upon visual evidence from the baby crib, I have also surmised that his name could in fact be Google.  Every time that there is a holiday, Google manages to create its name out of different shapes and images.  As you can see my personally modified version of the Doctor’s name in Gallifreyan script, it seems pretty obvious to me that Google has managed yet another feat of product placement.  And if not, I highly encourage them to post this as their Google image on the day that the Doctor’s name is revealed.

4. Prometheus

One of the few depictions of Prometheus that don’t have a bird eating his liver.

Without all the liver eating by an eagle of course, I think that the Doctor’s position is quite similar to that of the Greek god.  He is very much a guardian of mankind, protecting Earth and bringing the secrets of time travel to humanity (like some sort of Time Lord fire that will revolutionize our civilization).  In addition, like Prometheus, he was exiled from his home and forced to live a lonely life in penance for his involvement with the rest of the universe.  And considering that there are often parallels between mythologies and sci-fi shows, I think it’s not that far-fetched.  Maybe the Master was Aries.

*Warning: from this point forward it’s highly probable that unless you actually watch Doctor Who, you won’t understand a single thing*

3. I.M. Foreman

Now to the good stuff - Precursor to "Bad Wolf"?

Okay, now I’m getting serious.  This image is from the very first episode, and it is the gate to a junkyard where the Doctor’s time traveling machine was first encountered by humans (of course, “first” is relatively hard to establish with time travel in the mix).  But it seems a pretty good theory, that the circumstances around the Doctor really did say who he was.  In the alternative, the I.M. could stand for the actual alien name of his.  But I think that if anyone wants to argue that it means the Doctor’s name is “I Am,” I would definitely have a problem with that.  I think everyone would firmly be of the opinion that the Doctor is not God – he has been far from perfection for the entire series, and I’m not sure if it would go over well with many fans.

2. Omega

Otherwise spelled Ω

The Doctor could actually be one of his recurring enemies, Omega, another Time Lord who invented black holes.  Or at the very least a copy of Omega (or maybe the other Omega is a copy of him?).  The problem is that Omega was shunted off into an anti-matter universe when he created the black hole that initiated Time Lord time travel technology and has been stuck there ever since.  The only thing that continues his existence is his own force of will.

Even in all of this there is perfect irony and a great setup for it all.  In previous episodes such as The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity, Omega had endeavored to trap the Doctor in the anti-matter universe and sustain it or assume the Doctor’s form to return to our universe.  The Doctor had defeated him twice to keep him from doing so.  Even later, in Remembrance of the Daleks the Doctor had apparently been hiding the Hand of Omega (a stellar manipulation device) from the Daleks.  This was all very near the time when the First Doctor (played by William Hartnell) had first left Earth.

Why would the Doctor have the Hand of Omega?  Wasn’t it supposed to be some powerful artifact that should be locked away in a vault on Gallifrey beneath the Citadel instead of shoved into a random graveyard on Earth?  Even beyond that, why could the Doctor voice command the device?  I think it’s because the Doctor is Omega, not just a caretaker of his technology.

Even the Seventh Doctor in the actual episode had said “we” when he was describing having problems with stellar engineering using the hand.  His companion, Ace, asked him about the use of “we” but the Doctor quickly diverted it to “my people,” referring to the Time Lords.  I think there’s more there.

Even later, in the End of Time, the Doctor personally recognizes Rassilon, the Lord President of the Time Lords.  Of course, this may be as easily explained as the fact that the Doctor was on Gallifrey during the Time War, but it could also be that he was actually acquainted with Rassilon.  How does the Doctor know so much about early Time Lord history?

The last thing I’ll mention is this: like the anti-matter Omega, the Doctor is alive now simply because he refuses to give up.  He runs from his own death for two-hundred years before he chooses to go to Lake Silencio.  And even then, we all know that the writers didn’t shoot themselves in the foot and end the Doctor’s existence.

This all leads me to my final and number one pick for the Doctor’s name…

1. Rassilon

Timothy Dalton as the Doctor?

Bingo boys and girls – the Doctor is the founder of Time Lord society himself.

I completely understand if you all disagree, but it’s a great choice for the writers if they choose it.  Some of you may argue, “How could the Doctor cross his own time stream without becoming a problem?”  First I’d say you’re as nerdy as me, and then I’d say that it’s been done before, even with the Doctor…

The Dark Doctor - The Valeyard & The Dream Lord

Remember these guys?  That’s right, they’re both versions of the Doctor with his darkest qualities ramped up to extreme levels.  But I agree there are other problems to solve.  Such as, why don’t people know that he is Rassilon (like Borusa, Romana, Rodan, etc.)?  For the simple fact that even the Doctor doesn’t know that he is actually Rassilon perhaps.

Think of it as a ontological paradox (a self-supporting fact of existence, like a piece of paper that came from the future and goes back in time again to become that same paper – question is, where did that paper come from in the first place?).  The Doctor may have been named Rassilon, in honor of that Time Lord, the only one to be named after Rassilon.  And then at some point in the future he will go back in time and assure the existence of the Time Lords.

Or maybe it’s been that he was Rassilon all along, and he’s simply been through so many regenerations he doesn’t remember all that he’s done as Rassilon.  But he does remember just his name, and having been regenerated to a baby, others didn’t know he was Rassilon.  So in that case, maybe the Master is Omega?

The point is, it could work, especially with a thousand explanations for time travel paradoxes.  In either case, the titanic struggle between the Doctor and the Master would still exist, and in whatever combination that would occur, it would be amazing.  Either the Doctor opposes Rassilon, himself, or Rassilon who is actually the Master.  Remember that the Master was in the very act of destroying Rassilon in the End of Time, much like the Valeyard was bent on killing the Doctor in Trial of a Time Lord.

In summary, I think that the writers have a great choice to make, and I hope they choose well.  I’ll be waiting for Silence to fall sometime in the future… or is it the past?

:-)

Why “Do the Hard Thing” Will Never Win a Presidential Election

There has been a slough of presidential campaign slogans, so less shallow than others. Most recently the winning entry for “catchiest phrase” was “Hope/Change You Can Believe In.” Not surprisingly, the best phrase doesn’t always mean the most functional administration. And I’m not just talking about Obama’s term in office. I’m talking about every human American President. It is a common trend for approval ratings to decrease over time unless a major disaster unites the voter populace (e.g., Pearl Harbor or September 11th).

In the end, where do all these platitudes leave us? Ultimately, disappointed, precisely because we DID believe in the change that was proposed. So what’s a more honest approach?

I would personally be impressed with someone who mirrored Truman’s approach: The Buck Stops Here. Something along those lines, but remember Truman was not initially elected, he succeeded Roosevelt from the Vice Presidency. A better formulation for a campaign would be “It’s Time to Do the Hard Things.” Balance the budget by cutting spending or raising taxes. Take responsibility for major political gaffes. Let major corporations fail and affirm free market principles. Take a stand against the world community, or defer to their management of their own affairs. At some level, the public needs to realize that what they want is not always best, but to get there they need a President they can respect, even if they don’t always agree with him. And that takes courage that survives popularity polls.

But election campaigns never allow that to happen–people are too focused on the individual rather than the aggregate, and on the next four years rather than the next forty.  Still, despite the problems arising from the format of our democratic system, I think that it has usually stood the test of time.  Now, if we can only infuse some responsibility into it, we could strengthen it even more.

Lillies: A Poem

Lilies, lilies, come and rise;
Turn and face your morning skies.
Blue and clear, and full of hope,
Draping down the clovered slope.

The climbing sun bathes you in gold,
Until the eve when day grows old.
The flying moon frosts you at night,
Until the dawn, we gain your sight.

Maidens so fair and darlings so true,
Each of these soldier must pick one of you.
Choices uneasy and graven, once done,
Ladies are lilies, with hearts to be won.

So let me shine forth, so bright and so fair
My love will take flight into the blue air.
My wings are the words of this verse in your mind;
My sweetheart is the flower I must find.

I am a rich man.

I am a rich man.

I have hired a personal driver.

He has been instructed to avoid all arterials.

We travel the curvy backwoods country roads.

I call him my swervant.

TTFN. Crookback Joe.

Artist Review: Tai Shan

Tai Shan performing at the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

Tai Shan performing at the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

In an age where there is a veritable deluge of folk artists trying to make a name for themselves, Tai Shan is one that deserves a closer look.  On August 13th, I had the opportunity to hear her perform at the local Moscow, Idaho farmer’s market, and I was impressed enough to buy both the CD and EP she had available for purchase.

I have no desire to compare her directly to popular artists, understanding that that can be a frustrating circumstance for new artists.  Who wants to be placed into a categorical box with no breathing room?  But in reality, it still will take me a number of comparisons to describe her style.

The first thing I thought of when I began listening to her was a mixture between the early guitar melody music of KT Tunstall and the soft lyrical touch of Colbie Caillat.  But the more I listened, the more I was intrigued at Tai’s ability to transcend those boundaries.  Her music definitely makes the majority of its foundation upon folk guitar melodies with a hint of soft country influence.  And many of the songs center on the idea of relaxing in the nature of things.

One of my favorite songs, “Crickets in the Dark”, bids the listener to reminisce upon those bright summer afternoons and warm evenings spent by a country river, listening to the sounds of descending night with ease.

But other songs are much more similar to the deep and mysterious stylings of jazz ballads, such as “Can’t Find the Man I Knew” (incorporating a bongo-like drum rhythm) and “Flicker Like a Flame” (where Tai’s melody reminds the listener of “Sassy” Sarah Vaughan).  Lastly, she reminds me of is the very quick and soulful lyricist, Tracy Chapman.  This is particularly evident in Tai’s recent EP, entitled “Reflections.”

If you want an interesting eclectic musical experience, I would recommend checking out Tai Shan’s work.  Which you can do at her website: www.taishanmusic.com

The Revengers

After watching Captain America this weekend, I was finally rewarded with a preview for the Avengers, the Marvel Comic movie of the future.  And I must admit, they’ve done a fine job of weaving together the story lines to set the basis for the conglomerated product.

While I am not familiar with Marvel to the requisite extent to criticize with impunity, I do wonder what they will do for a villain.  Of course, with multiple superheros, don’t you think they need multiple enemies?  Perhaps they will, and those enemies will likely be woven together from the coherent Marvel universe if they do have multiples.  However, wouldn’t it be even more fun to round together completely unrelated villains to oppose the Avengers???  Well, guess what, I’ve done it for you.  The Rza’s compilation of villains, the Revengers, is as follows:

1. Khan Noonien Singh

Man, Mastermind, Moody.

I would be remiss to leave out this individual.  Khan is intelligent, Shakespearean-esque, and downright revenge thirsty.  I envision him as the leader of the pack, the planner and goal-developer.  He would define the illicit goals of the group.

2.  Captain Ahab

"As long as whale is on the menu, I'm in..."

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been legless, or what kind of ship you drive, as long as your heart is as black as burnt whale oil.  Of course, Khan would have to make parallels to his own situation in order to convince the old Cap’ to join the crew.  Supposing of course that Moby Dick was somehow involved, this wouldn’t be difficult.  Perhaps one of the goals would be the ultimate repeal of all known anti-whaling treaties?  In any case, Ahab has potential, especially after asking his crew to donate blood so they could forge new whaling spears.  Creepy.

3. Uncle Scar

"Be prepared... and no, I'm not a Boy Scout."

Okay, I know the problems associated with talking animals, but bear this one out with me.  What we’re looking for is crazy and treasonous, and Scar fits the bill in both aspects.  He was crazy to get hyenas in on the gig, and extremely treasonous to shove all of his species off to the side so he could take the stone throne.  Moreover, he has an intense effect on the children.  In some sense, he was better equipped than Khan, although I think that Scar would be more than willing to learn from the master.  Another reason Scar is so good at villainy is his extreme disregard for family relationships.  And wacko facial expressions.

4. Miranda Frost, Bond Girl

She feeds on guns, swords, diamonds, and chauvinistic MI-6 Agents.

So, we have to have a girl in the mix, otherwise it would upset someone, and in general it makes for a better story.  You just better be glad I didn’t pick the runner up.

Bad Girl runner up, straight from the farthest reaches of space: the Alien Queen.

Miranda makes the cut because she is not a one-dimensional instinctual creature.  She has brains and the assertive attitude to follow through.  Most importantly, the group needs someone with direct skill in combat, and Frost has experience with guns, swords, and probably giant sun-mirror orbiting satellites.  Most importantly, she simply doesn’t care about anything except winning.  She cheated the Olympics, and (ironically) she cheated Bond.  And, as her name adequately suggests, she has a frozen heart that nothing can melt.  Perfect.

4. Voldemort

Just to tick off the Harry Potter fans, I am naming Voldemort by name.  Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort.  Nothing you can do guys.  Voldemort.

He who has a name, can be named, and should be named: V-O-L-D-E-M-O-R-T. Nothing you can do guys.

Anyhow, as much as I don’t like to admit it, Voldemort is a pretty good annoying character for the group.  And he’s got some magic up his sleeve, or his truncated nose (BTW, does he ever sneeze?).  The main advantage he has is the frustrating property of NOT DYING ENOUGH.  He seriously comes back multiple times.  And that would be extremely annoying for any superhero.  Every time, you’d have to kill the man who’s already dead.  Not only that, but come up with new ways to do it each time.  At least you could make fun of his face.

5. V

"Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof."

I see V as the final villain of the pack, but almost in a turnable Darth Vader kind of way.  You know the concept of an anti-hero, the good guy who isn’t really uncorrupted, but still stands for something?  I see V as the anti-villain.  He is angry, and he has purpose, perhaps the most stable of the group, but assaulted by a society that is, in itself, evil.  His retributive characteristics enable him to be one of the active “hammers” of the set, familiar with knife play, explosives, and shrouded in an air of mystery.  I think his presence would round out the Revengers with just enough perplexity to make it interesting.

Obesity in the Natural World

Some animals are born to be fat.  We expect it, and even enjoy it.  Not only is it hilarious, but also delicious.

Breakfast is coming…with a vengeance.

Let’s face it, without the fattened calf, parties would have been few and far between in the days before widely available liquor.  And the cow is still the staple animal meat at backyard barbecues in the United States.

What do you want to be when you grow up? "A double-quarter pounder with cheese!"

Nevertheless, there is no excuse for those animals that we do not expect to be fat, and they have become the object of scorn and ridicule for their failure to demonstrate our idea of untarnished natural existence.

Simply unacceptable.

And while we all idealize Garfield, the comic cat, it is simply because we think of him as having a human psyche.  He isn’t really a cat at all, just color and shapes on 2-dimensional paper.

Cats appear to be the main transgressors here, although dogs and squirrels have made the list too.

    Just keep trying buddy.
The only squirrel to remember where he buried all his nuts.

But the one thing I’ve always wondered is this: are there any obese plants?

He makes Fat Fruit.

 

In a contest though, I think we’d still take the cake…  Literally.

I am a champion!

Of the failure of technology and science fiction characters…

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