12.31.2014

My Favorite Music of 2014 - The METAL Edition


It's that time again. Another year, another 365 calendar days of new music. Instead of thinking about New Year's resolutions, I've been putting my final 2014 thoughts into this list and the one that will follow in the next several days. As always, I like to begin with the harder stuff.

I'll be honest up front. This has been a weird year for me and metal music, for many different reasons. First of all, I just haven't listened to that many new albums/bands this year. My attention has been on all of the non-metal music, because this year's offerings in that category were stellar. That leads me to my second point, which is that I just feel like it's been a rather weak year overall metal-wise. There weren't any albums that particularly blew my mind away, unlike the previous two years. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it appears that my music tastes aren't really in sync with what is "in" in today's metal scene. For example, nearly every end-of-the-year metal list I've looked at is composed of almost 75% black metal. I'm not into black metal. Black metal was huge this year; therefore, my list may look a little different or incomplete, depending on who you ask. Looking over it, it's definitely a silly list.

I do this for fun, so of course my opinion is unprofessional. I've shifted away from numerical lists because they feel largely arbitrary. To avoid that, I tried to find my own unique categories for each album mentioned here. I hope you enjoy them.

Now that that's out of the way, let's begin. I apologize in advance to the black metal fans :(


HELLO DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND

Darkest Hour - Darkest Hour


In last year's list, I mentioned that I was looking forward to new music by this band. Their eponymous 8th album is the first one I've really paid attention to since 2009's Eternal Return. Their last album passed me by without much attention, but I'm glad I was keen on them this time. This album crushes. Fans might be put off by the heavy implementation of clean vocals, but I find them to be a welcome addition. Don't be fooled - this is still Darkest Hour at their best, with songs like "Rapture in Exile" and "The Great Oppressor" seeming right at home on any other DH album.

Listen to "Rapture in Exile"


THAT ALBUM TITLE MAKES SENSE

Intervals - A Voice Within


I downloaded these guys' debut EP off of the "Best free djent albums of 2012" section on gotdjent.com over two years ago. Since then, they've put out another amazing EP (made my list in 2012) and transitioned their bassist Mike Semesky to full-time vocals, leaving the instrumental life behind. The change was a brilliant idea, giving clarity to their choice of album title. Semesky also sang clean vocals on The HAARP Machine's 2012 album Disclosure which - you guess it, made my list then. If progressive metal is your thing, give this album a go!

Listen to "Moment Marauder"


NO LONGER THE PUNCHLINE

Job For a Cowboy - Sun Eater


Hey man, it's my list. These guys were the kings of Myspace and deathcore back in 2005, when deathcore wasn't considered a joke. I never gave them serious thought, and I always thought the pig growls and high-pitched shrieks on "Entombment of a Machine" were hilarious, fitting every stereotype you could conjure about a Myspace-made deathcore band. But this is 2014, and JFAC is no longer that stereotype. I gave this album a listen after hearing that they were a death metal band, and had been for a while. I'm glad I did. This album sounds straight up evil. You remember the Rancor beast from Return of the Jedi? That's how I picture their vocalist. I haven't actually looked up his picture, so it's possible I'm correct. Plus, I'm a sucker for bands with amazing bassists - and the bass is clearly on display here.

Listen to "Sun of Nihility"


GIVE ME THE THRASH!

Revocation - Deathless


After last year's self-titled album, I don't get how these guys could turn around and put out another thrash-filled offering so quickly. That album was on my list of honorable mentions, meriting nothing more than that because I had only just started listening to them. This year, I looked forward to Deathless, so much so that I went to FYE and bought the CD the day it came out. That's right, I still buy CDs. Consequently, I blast this in my car all the time, because sometimes, a man just has to have his thrash music, you know? Blistering riffs and brutal vocals abound on Deathless, if you're into that kind of stuff.

Listen to "Deathless"


MAKING THE BEST FROM THE WORST

Wovenwar - Wovenwar


If you're even remotely interested in metal, you're probably aware of what happened to former As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis. If not, let me fill you in. Not many people get away with attempted murder, and because of this, the dude is behind bars (rightly so). So what did the rest of the members of the San Diego-based metalcore band do? They started a new band, featuring Shane Blay of Oh, Sleeper on vocals. That's how you recover from something like attempted murder mishaps. The trademark sonic attack of AILD is there, and bassist Josh Gilbert offers soaring harmonies alongside Shane's powerful voice. It's basically all clean vocals, but Shane has always had an amazing voice - and it fits in so well next to the rest of the band's sound. They should have saved themselves the trouble and just started out this way. Except a world without Oh, Sleeper would be a sad one. 

Listen to "All Rise"


DON'T LISTEN TO THIS AND DRIVE

Rings of Saturn - Lugal Ki En


I always loved it when bands had those indecipherable names styled in the silly jagged death-metal fonts. I previously mentioned that deathcore as a genre is sort of a joke, and I don't rescind that, but I won't say that this album isn't fun. It's deathcore at its heaviest, peppered with snippets of ridiculously technical riffs and passages. It's brutal, loud, and makes you want to punch things - which is what deathcore is really all about, am I right? The alien and space themes just make things so much cooler. Best album art on this list, too.

Listen to "Senseless Massacre" (try not to hit anyone)


MY FAVORITE OF 2014

The Contortionist - Language


I've had an unsteady relationship with this band. I fell in love with their 2010 debut Exoplanet, listed their 2012 album Intrinsic as one of my favorites for that year, and have enjoyed seeing them twice. However, right before the first time I saw them live their vocalist called it quits because he was having a son. He also played synths, so when they toured with Within the Ruins last year, the trademark atmospheric sounds were lacking. Mike Lessard of Last Chance to Reason took over touring vocals, and while no one can deny his talent, it didn't quite feel like the same band. Language changes all of that. Lessard is fully in command of this band's sound ever since they named him the permanent vocalist. Oh, and they added a synths guy too. You'll not find the deathcore origins of Exoplanet here. Instead, you'll find a progressive metal band defining their sound with beautiful soundscapes and intelligent, evocative lyrics. Language is a journey, one that I enjoyed and will continue to to enjoy.




HONORABLE MENTIONS

Allegaeon - Elements of the Infinite. For fans of tech death.
Conquering Dystopia - Conquering Dystopia. A progressive, instrumental superband of ridiculous talent.
Archspire - The Lucid Collective. This album sounds like a machine gun. Technical and heavy, good luck discerning one word of the lightning speed vocals.
Every Time I Die - From Parts Unknown. Do these guys ever put out a bad album? The answer is no.
Monuments - The Amanuensis. British-based prog and djent? Yes please. Saw them this year on their first American tour and it was amazing.
At the Gates - At War With Reality. Well hello, where have you been? Too absent from our lives. Welcome back, old friends.

Best show? Scale the Summit, with Monuments, Reflections, and Erra as support.

Biggest disappointment? Probably Within the Ruins.

Anyways, that will do it. Like I said, 2014 was a weird year metal-wise for me. I would have laughed at this list this time last year, and I know I will this time next year. In fact, I'm laughing now, right before I hit "publish."

I'll follow up with a list of my favorite non-metal stuff later this week. If you want a complicated list fraught with musical gems, be sure to read it. I took it much more seriously than this list.

Regards,

JDS


12.02.2014

I'm Getting Married Part Two: I Got Married

To those of you who can't abide spoilers, I apologize to you for the title of this post. I couldn't really come up with anything better, but at least I saved you time (because I know you were eagerly awaiting an update on my life).

I knew it would happen, but when I wrote part one of this post several weeks ago, I said I'd update within a week, unless things got busy. Well, guess what - weddings are busy affairs. Turns out there's a lot to do in the three days leading up to the event. The purchasing of groomsman gifts, the ironing of clothes, the airlines all deciding to ruin the lives of friends and family, etc. Actually, I didn't even iron my clothes. Pretty sure my sister did, and I still showed up looking like a scrub. Upon my arrival, the conversation with our wedding planner (who was AWESOME in every way) went like this:

Her: "Where is your jacket?"
Me: "It wasn't part of the dress code.."
Her: "You're wearing Vans??"
Me: "Blaire said I could.."
Her: "Is your shirt ironed?"
Me: "My sister did it.."
Her: "Is that blood on your shirt??"

And so on. Despite the apparent mess that I was, everything ended up going according to plan. It was a glorious event. I don't really know to describe it, and I'm not going to summarize it, but it was just about as perfect as it could have been. I've been telling people that I never really had fun at weddings until I went to my own. AND TO THINK I ALMOST SKIPPED IT.

The thing is, I hate being the center of any kind of attention. It wasn't always this way, but I've developed pretty bad stage fright, and I shrink from any sort of spotlight. I'm OK being left to my devices in the corner, or spending my time with scant few others. I was all kinds of uncomfortable at our engagement party, curious as to why so many people would show up to an event to celebrate something I'd done. Let's be honest though, they showed up for my wife. She's much cooler than I am, not to mention better-looking.

As you may have guessed, my nerves were wound pretty tight the day of the wedding. You see, when I make my entrance into a room, I'm accustomed to one of the following three responses:

1. People turn to glance at me, then turn back to whatever they were doing.
2. People turn to glance at me, then turn to who I'm with, and approach them.
3. People don't look at me at all.

So imagine my surprise at people turning to me, hugging me, patting my back, shaking my hand, etc. All I did was marry the love of my life.Calm down, am I right?

In all seriousness, it was entirely surreal. I'd been that guy shaking the hand of the groom so many times in the past year. It felt strange being on the other side of the handshake. 

It didn't get any less surreal during the honeymoon, either. Again, I won't summarize, but it didn't feel like I should have been allowed to rent a two-story beach-side condo on the cliffs of a sleepy Oregon beach town. The whole time, Blaire and I were laughing at the fact that us getting married had been allowed to happen. Someone had signed off on it! It seemed like an illegal amount of fun, especially on our last night, when we were running around a bar/arcade (barcade?), playing videogames as loudly as we wanted. 

And essentially, that's what I have to say about the 432 or so hours that I've been married. I married my best friend, and I'm wondering what the heck I was doing before all this. It's so much fun that it almost feels like it shouldn't be allowed. But really, if it were the only thing ever allowed in my life, then it would still be perfect.

Of course, I'll never really forget what I was doing before all of this. I showed up to Seattle as a wide-eyed guy without a clue as to what life would throw at me. Since the day of my first post over two years ago, the name of this blog has slowly become a misnomer. I'm still pretty lost in a lot of ways, but I finally clued in on why I was led here. It was to meet my wife. She's sat with me through panic attacks, endured through several break-ups, and put up with my antics. I get to be with her forever - which is good, because she's the only person who could deal with me for all eternity.

I'm 18 days in and marriage is awesome. I've been in some pretty scary/dark places over the past 3 years, and not once did I ever think I'd end up as happy as I am now. I've got God to thank for that, I've got my wife to thank for that, and I've got my wonderful family and all of my friends to thank for that. 

Thanks all of you, for seeing me through to this point. Thanks for helping me get a clue.

Marriage is awesome.

JDS

PS I love you Blaire.

PPS I'm wearing Star Wars PJs right now and no one has the power to stop me.


11.04.2014

Getting Married Part One: One Roommate to Rule Them All

Since leaving for college in the fall of 2008, I have shared a home or lived with 29 different guys. Two of them were also named Jordan, and roughly 40% of them had names that started with the letter ‘J.’ 

I’m getting married next week. This means that the time of sharing a room with a random guy named Josiah or Jerry has come to an end. Because of this, I have been reflecting on all the filthy/uncomfortable/awkward living situations I’ve found myself in over the past six years. In my first paragraph, I made you aware of the staggering amount of research I’ve done when it comes to my past living habits. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface, friends. If you’re not a fan of endless lists of hilarious but hard data, I suggest you turn back now.

Over the course of these past six years, I’ve lived in at least ten different named places. By that I mean the places I’ve lived were accompanied with a title of some sort. Some of the names were fitting, some of them not so much. Such examples include Woody Island, The Swass Shack, Helm’s Deep, and The Green Dragon. Ten places in six years isn’t a whole lot, but I’m not including random one-week stays, summer camps, or the one night I spent in a crack house. That’s a story for another time.

There’s been some interesting habits among the 29 different people I’ve lived with in these places. You start to see some intriguing things. Disgusting, horrific, terrible things. I found that my standard of living plummeted over these six years. Through it all, I still maintained my necessary personal organization and cleanliness, but the things I saw over those several years….PTSD can’t describe it enough.

People took to writing their names on food. There’s nothing odd about this, but I found it hilarious that you could return home to find your Ramen stockpile devoured, all because you forgot to write your initials on those life-giving packages. As far as laundry supplies went, detergent was usually a shared commodity (at least that was my interpretation), but there was always that one guy who used fair-trade vegan Tunisian dragonberry detergent. Steer clear of that guy.

Appliances and furniture were always a source of hilarity. The TV was usually owned by one person, although I carried my own run-down Magnavox for all those dark years. This was especially sad when said TV owner inevitably moved out, leaving the rest of us to play Tic-Tac-Toe in a candle-lit living room. It happened more than once. I realized that despite the horrors of modern television, a room with a TV in it is a beacon of community. People would flock to it as the only source of entertainment in an otherwise dark place. Take that TV away, and you take our well-being away, our sense of comradery. It was a test I had to endure many times.

Some of my roommates were strangely territorial. They’d hog game consoles, or be weirdly overprotective of their room, barking at others to stay completely away from it. The chances of me sleeping next to a bedroom converted into a meth lab in the past six years are pretty high, I’d say. I had roommates with pets. Some of them had no friends, but they had a pet. Some of them neglected their pet. These people were the worst.

And then there were the extensions of roommates in the form of strangers. I can’t count how many times I’ve stumbled out of my bedroom in the morning, only to find a random person drooling/snoring/dead on my couch. I’ve had my towels and toothpaste used by them. More than once, I’d come home to them playing my guitar or using my amp. Depending on who you are, I probably let you borrow my Nintendo 64. Heck, you may have even driven my car. That’s when you knew that I liked you.

Except for that one guy in college who borrowed my car for work and then got a ride home from a friend, leaving my Honda downtown overnight. I hate that guy.

Every form of environment was emulated at one point or another. In an attempt to simulate the feeling of living in a landfill, trash would often flow from a garbage can across a common living area, forming a natural shallow creek of sorts. Some people liked the feeling of living inside of a greenhouse, and would crank the heat to volcanic highs. Other people seemed to have Inuit blood in their veins, as they’d leave the thermostat so low as to freeze over a portion of a house. 

There were times when I was legitimately afraid of using the restroom. One of the more colorful places I lived had a cockroach problem. We’d see them in broad daylight, scurrying across the kitchen floor or emerging atop our kitchen trash can. Only later did I learn that if you are seeing roaches in your home during the day, you have an infestation, and they are likely swarming unseen behind the darkness of your walls. As if to drive this point home, I remember waking up one night to a powerful buzzing noise in the general vicinity of my head. I quickly flicked on the lights, catching sight of a gargantuan roach flying from my pillow to the wall, where it turned sideways and slid in between the wooden slats. I remember staring in silent horror at the place where the creature had been moments before. Cockroaches could fly?? At that point, I had lived for 23 years without knowing this. Never again. I wept.

I could go on and on about the things I’ve seen in those six years. Washing machines flooded, people parked their cars in ridiculous places, cops were called, new species were regularly discovered in refrigerators, Magic: The Gathering cards covered every flat surface, etc. 

But none of that matters now.

Barring some apocalyptic scenario where I am forced to house refugees in my basement, I will only ever have one roommate for the rest of my life: my future wife. This sparks a litany of emotions within me, but the most prevalent one is that she’ll have to put up with me.

I’ve gone on and on about the horrors and highlights of my bachelor years, but I haven’t mentioned my personal living habits. I’m sure that just as I’ve been telling tales of past roommates throughout this post, somewhere there are people out there who speak of living with me and the challenges that particular arrangement presented. I don’t doubt that I’ve been the source of frustration for more than one poor soul. But again, this matters not. All that matters is putting my own silliness aside for someone else, because that someone is far more important to me than the way in which my towels are arranged.

I’ll admit, I value comfort over many things. I take long showers, arrange my meals in a precise manner so as not to clutter my eating area, prefer being in a well-lit place (my eyesight is pretty bad), complain often and loudly about temperature, and toss and turn a million times per night to get comfortable. And now I find myself in a place where all of my preferences will constantly be challenged, tested, and perhaps even overruled. The same can be said for my fiancĂ©e, who no doubt is aware of the many interesting scenarios I will be presenting to her, for all eternity.

You know what? That sounds amazing. Six years of mostly passive aggressive and filthy living quarters have made me realize that I’m built for marriage. One person is the exact number of people that I can see myself wanting to live with for the rest of my life. One more roommate and I’m John Ritter; one less and I’m Yoda. That’s not an earth-shattering proclamation, that’s pretty much how it has worked for a long time. But many, many people are not made for marriage, and I’m thankful to not number amongst them.

Now of course I’m not married, and I can hear the collective snickering from the married people reading this (my target audience, obviously), but I stand by my belief. I’ve lived with enough mutants, cretins, and Neanderthals to know what I prefer, and I prefer her.

Her, and no one else. 

Except for maybe our cat. That guy can stay too.

I get married in ten days, so I plan on following up this post next week with a second part, but I may or may not have other priorities. I don’t even have my wardrobe. Do I have gifts for my groomsmen?
Hm. I should get on that.

JDS


8.19.2014

I'm Better At Internetting Than You Are

When I was in high school, I had a xanga. For those of you who remember what a xanga is, congratulations, you're old. For the rest of you, a xanga is what we would today call a blog, except it lacked all of the positive facets of a blog. The aesthetics and layouts were atrocious. Worse, you could customize the colors to your liking. Of course, that meant that mine was an ungodly combination of red and black. As far as content, mine mostly included some drivel about my high school girlfriend and rants about how great the band Tool is, along with some cryptic quotes that I thought were deep. I'm pretty sure no one read it. I've tried to find it, but it's nearly impossible - not that that's a bad thing.

Remember AIM? That stuff was a big deal to high-school-me as well. I had my main username (toolfanatik121) and of course, my novelty username (bladedrifter121). I would use this account when I wanted to slip into the persona of a wandering swordsman whose life was pledged to the blade. It even had some crappy ASCII picture of a sword in the profile. I was 14.

It felt awesome to have a bunch of people on my AIM buddy list. I remember seeing other people's buddy lists and they would be twice as big as mine. I would think "dang, they know a lot of people!" But really, how many of us would actually talk to every person on that list? I for sure didn't. And what about away messages? You know, those cool messages you could leave on your AIM window to let people know that you were too busy to sit at a computer and talk a screen full of pop-up boxes? I had this one friend who always had the coolest away messages. It got to the point where he was "away" more than he was actually on the computer. I came to the conclusion that away messages were more for looking cool than for actually being away the computer.

Myspace, anyone? Forget it. I can actually remember my Myspace information. It's all black and white photos from bad angles complete with awful captions. No joke, I can actually recall a few times where I'd hear a line or a lyric somewhere and I actually interrupted my thought process to think, "No way, I'm gonna use that as a caption for my next Myspace photo!" Who even thinks of things like that? 

It just got worse and worse, this whole internet thing. Before I knew it, I was a member of multiple forums and websites, submitting content, trolling users, and commenting on whatever I could. I was publishing poems on poetry.com. I was dissecting lyrics of songs by my favorite band on the aptly named toolshed.down.net. I'd talk about football on bengals.com, discuss the mana-to-creature ratio of a recent deck I was working on on mtgsalvation.com, and post queries about bands with similar lyrical and musical structures to The Contortionist on gotdjent.com. Those are all real websites, people.

I have at least three music sites and earlier blogs that are still festering in the underbelly of the internet somewhere. My first blog was called "The Arbiter Cometh," because who wouldn't want to read something with a title that awesome? For my next blog, I took on a thematic direction: I'd compose alternating posts of two things - original poetry and lists of things! The lists were about anything in general - music, language, whatever. So here I'd write a pretty little poem one week, and then next week I'd post a list of all my favorite songs. Isn't that a terrible idea? Eventually, I stopped. It was right around the time that I made a list of reasons why Texas sucked and emailed it to a bunch of people, thinking it was funny. I was going to school in Texas and they were all Texans. I am not a smart man.

Even at the high school age, I was trying to get attention on the internet. At first, it was only from very close friends. Eventually, it grew to pretty much anyone I could offend or get to listen to me. I wanted people to think my interests were similar to theirs. I wanted to flaunt my knowledge for other people to see. I wanted to prove that I too could contribute some philosophical and meaningful thoughts and publish them online for strangers to peruse. Read my poem, listen to my song, comment on my blog, agree with my thoughts. I wasn't doing anything for anyone but myself and my ego.

Fast forward to today, and it's more or less the same.

Today, I've got a Facebook, a Google Plus, an Instagram, and this silly blog. That's scarce by internet standards. As demonstrated by the gap between my last two posts, I can barely keep up with that much. Not only that, but I'm consistently breaking what is considered to be the Golden Rule of blogging - don't blog about yourself. What else is there? I want people to know what I'm into and what I know. That's what these platforms are all about, right?

Nowadays, everything seems to be about self-endorsement. A cool concert is coming to your town? Better click this box so all of Facebook can see that I'm going to it! Who cares if it's 18 months from now? You're standing next to the world's biggest ball of yarn? Better check in and give all of the world the exact coordinates to my location! You won something? You read a news article the minute it came out? You recorded a grainy video of some spontaneous sidewalk performance? You were first in line for the newest product by whatever? 

And I say all of these things because I am guilty of them. I have been for a long time. I want you to know that I read this interview or announcement before you did. There's nothing better than someone bringing something up about the latest tour announcement or music video to you, only for you to say those two golden words:

"I know!"

We've all felt it. 

Tell me how cool I am for taking that picture, going to that place, shaking that celebrity's hand, climbing that mountain, or having that opinion. Have I posted a status only to delete it within an hour because it didn't get enough likes? Yes. Have I shared an article/picture/video/announcement online just to show people that I'm on top of my internet game when it comes to knowing stuff, even if I'm not particularly invested in the subject of the post itself? You bet. Have I posted very public things to friend's walls just for the sake of showing everyone else something that I could have very easily have sent in a private text? Yep. Heck, my first Instagram picture was of a river. A RIVER. I didn't know what I was doing at the time. But did you see that river? It was full of water, man. You should have seen it. And then my fiance posts a picture of the same river and gets twice as many likes on it. Did I care then? YES. But not anymore.

There are concerts I've been to that I cannot recall all that well because I was too busy filming a low-quality video of it on my phone to post later. There was a time when I had 1500 friends on Facebook. I CAN'T EVEN NAME 1500 PEOPLE, real or imagined. And then there's the bizarre opposite philosophy: parity is cool. Oh, I only have 15 Facebook friends now. Only 30 views on my blog in a month? That's ok, the content is so esoteric and erudite that the everyday pleb wouldn't comprehend it anyways. We all know of at least one person who has thousands of followers because they take amazing pictures, or because they're really good at doing their own makeup. A mountain with snow on the top of it? You can bet that this person will photograph it, apply a superficial filter, and get a combination of 17 million likes/comments. That's their mountain now. They're legally allowed to name it after themselves.

Here's my main point. There are plenty of people who do these things because it's their job, or because they're legitimately passionate about it. Some people are really into photography, and they're good at it - they don't post for the sake of vanity or imaginary internet points. Some people like to keep track of the concerts or places they've attended. They love music, they love traveling - and that's a way for them to remember those events. Some people have terrible memories and are unable to recall experiences unless they have pictures of said experiences. I do all of these things, but more often than not, they stem from a selfish place. And at the end of the day, there's really no satisfaction in any of it - at least for me. I would rather spend an entire day exploring a beautiful forest, without any access to the internet or a camera - than sit at home witnessing a hundred comments on a picture I took, a hundred new followers/friends, and a hundred views on my blog. It's a momentary stroking of my ego that will fade within a day.

Maybe that's selfish, and I sure as heck don't demonstrate that belief the majority of the time. But deep down, that's the truth of it. I'm not calling for a crusade against social media or a culling of your friends list (even though that feels like an accomplishment). I'm calling myself out, and apologizing to anyone who may have been victimized by this stupid behavior. I don't want to try and make people jealous about what I know, where I've been, and what I've done. I want to look back on these silly pictures and comments I've made and think that they were enjoyable footnotes in a long and fulfilling life, rather than the start to my campaign of becoming an internet celebrity or insta-famous or whatever it's called these days. 

The point of this blog always has been and forever will be about the fact that I don't know what I'm doing, in one way or another. I'm no longer a wide-eyed kid in a brand new city, but I'm also not a guy who knows everything. I'm a person with problems that hopefully others can relate to, and it's to those that I forever want to relate to. Sometimes I look at the amount of views my blog has had, and I think, "How??" But if it's just one lonely scientist in Antarctica and a depressed kid in Denmark who are reading this blog and getting something out of it, then I'll trade every single low quality picture/video and every nameless follower for the sake of that continued enjoyment. 

So, I'm sorry. For demonstrating the worst of internet culture. You know what's scary? I used to be worse. Oh, so much worse. I was a TROLL and an attention seeker on Facebook. Nowadays, there's a very noticeable difference in activity between the Facebook users that are my age and those that are merely five years younger than me. Neither of us are quiet.

I'm working on myself first. The rest of you, have fun with your internet endeavors and pouring ice water over your heads. There's a way to do it right, and then there's my way, which stems from a place of pride and selfishness. One day I'll get it down. And then I'll publish a lengthy blog post on just how I did it so you can all know how smart I am.

Just kidding.

Oh, did you guys see the new Taylor Swift video???

Just kidding again. 

JDS

PS I will give your 10 million internet points if you can manage to find my old xanga or either of my old blogs. You'll be a true hero.




8.14.2014

Your Disease Can Be My Cure

A disease of the mind is a frustrating thing to cope with. There  are no post-surgery scars. You can't wear a cast while waiting for a bone to set. The infection won't subside. Medically speaking, that's something you have to deal with the rest of your life. 

Sometimes, I wish the wounds brought about by my mental condition were of the exterior kind. That way, I would be able to see the healing process. I'm in no way saying I prefer my mental problems to a broken leg. I'm also not saying that physical problems are easier to deal with. Simply put, I wish that I were able to see what it is that I am fighting. Instead, I've got these inner demons running loose in my brain, and they don't always slow down when I want them to.

Like today.

Today, I thought about suicide - not in accompaniment with any thoughts or desires of self-harm - I merely thought about the concept. This week, in the wake of actor/comedian Robin Williams' death, a lot of words have been thrown around, especially once word got out that it was a suicide. "Depressed" and "selfish" and other words that I'm all too familiar with. Words that have been woven into my identity over the past few years, whether I like it or not. 

A while ago, I posted some thoughts about Ned Vizzini's suicide - the author of It's Kind of a Funny Story. Ned basically dedicated his writing to those struggling with depression, detailing his own bouts with the condition in his works. After this week, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of suicide and what it takes to arrive at a place where it feels like permanently shutting off your brain and stopping your heart seems preferable to every other available option. We have two guys here - one who spent his life making others laugh, and one who championed the battle against mental disorders with his words. Both suffered from the same condition, and both took their own lives. What does that mean for the rest of us? What kind of odds are those for those of us who have been there before?

Depression works differently in everyone. I'll never have any idea what kind of demons plagued these two men. None of us will - it's not for us to judge when all we see is the result. I do know what it's like to be in a place where ending your life seems like the best way to go. After all this time, I forgot what that thought process is like, which is a good thing. But this has been a week for reminders.

Personally, it seems to me that several days out of the year, my depression chooses to ensnare me in its grasp, putting all of its weight on me at once. On those days, I want nothing to do with anybody. I have zero motivation to do anything. It's hard to eat and I only want to sleep, but even that doesn't come easy. My usual silly demeanor is buried beneath a heavy malaise, and I'm not myself to those around me. That's when it gets rough. 

It's hard to maintain eye contact with your loved ones when you haven't gotten out of bed all day. It's hard to make a joke when you're constantly seconds from bursting into tears, for no reason and with no warning. On those days, doing anything is a burden, and I start thinking of what a waste of space I am. Today was one of those days.

I was feeling particularly miserable this evening, after a day of doing nothing but hiding inside from the typical grey Seattle skies and passing the time watching irreverent shows on Netflix. I found myself alone, thinking "So this is going to be one of those kind of days, huh?" Realizing this, I decided to put off going to my usual Thursday night Bible study. I go as much as I can, and I deeply enjoy the people there, but I wasn't feeling up to being around people. So, I grabbed my computer and headed off to the local bookstore, thinking that I could get some reading/writing done to calm me down.

Naturally, I found myself wandering through the science fiction/fantasy stuff. Browsing though the multitude of titles, I saw a little note that read "Free Brandon Sanderson samples." Thinking this was an excellent way to get into one of the genre's better writers, I thumbed through the offerings, looking for an easy place to start. A man who was also perusing books in the same aisle stopped near me, and with his eyes still scanning the shelves of novels, said "There are so many books here, you could get lost for hours!" 

I mumbled a halfhearted, barely audible reply, not sure if his was one of those empty phrases people automatically utter when on an intercepting route with a stranger, or if it was an opening to a conversation. Thankfully, it was the latter. We got to talking about books and whatnot, before he eventually asked me where I was from and how I got here. I told him what you all well know by now and what is summarized in the title of this blog. Basically, I told him that I got in my car and drove here with very little resources. He listened attentively before opening up about himself.

His name was Thomas. He was raised in a racist part of Texas, with an alcoholic for a father and a mother who suffered from bipolar disorder. He used to work construction in San Francisco, but the earthquake in '89 undid all of his work in about 3 seconds, and left him with some substantial injuries as well. Now, he's homeless, looking for a place to stay every night. He's over 50 years old and just recently got a job, which was just about the only good part of his story. I told him I currently didn't have one and that I was very happy for him, because that's a huge step toward feeling accomplished.

He then mentioned that he didn't have a church, although he had visited a few in the area. Now, you have to understand something about me - I am terrified of asking people to come to church. I think I can count on one hand the number of people I've ever invited to church. It's not my gift. But I knew then and there that if I didn't, I'd be kicking myself later. After all, he opened up and shared his story with a stranger. He didn't know that it happened to be a stranger who was there to get away from people and the sickness in his head. So, I figured I'd share a part of my life with him.

We found our way to a table, where he gladly handed me his pen and a scrap of paper to write my church's address on. I also gave him my telephone number, telling him I'd be happy to give him a ride if he managed to get to a place I could pick him up from. We talked more about our past and our problems, before we parted ways - him back to the books and me to my car.

I was sort of dumbfounded. I had gone out of my way to avoid my regular schedule of interacting with others that day, seeking a place where I could channel my frustrations into some sort of creative or quiet activity. Instead, I was put directly in the path of a man who was in need of someone to talk to. It's not like he walked up to me and tugged at my arm. He didn't ask for money. He didn't smell bad. We just happened to be two nerds in one place at one time. And I could see the look of joy on his face as we got to talking, him saying that it's hard to talk to people in the Northwest, let alone connect with them on an emotional level. 

As I left, my mind went back to Ned Vizzini and Robin Williams. They used whatever gifts were available to them to help people overcome their own problems. Yeah, they may have lost out to the darkness in the end, but they did good work before they went. I want to do good work before I go, and I intend to go the natural way.

You see, my disease put me in a place where I was able to help someone else. Not only that, but was helped by my conversation with Thomas. I told him that I wasn't even supposed to be there, that I was avoiding my usual routine because I was feeling particularly depressed that night. And I'm glad that I was. I'd rather be somewhere in the open, struggling with my problems, instead of sitting at home entrenched in contentedness, if it meant that I could be helping someone and that they could in turn help me. 

Suicide is something that I need to think about often, to remind myself that it's not the answer. It's a heavy concept that is no fun to talk about. I know I will never be as funny as Robin Williams, or as good a writer as Ned Vizzini, but if I can use what I've been given to help others steer clear of their inner darkness like these two did, then I will have considered that a success. And if it was necessary for me to try and take my own life twice for me to get to a place where I can help someone cope with their demons, then I don't mind all of the pain and suffering I've had to go through to get to that point. I can't say the same for my friends and family - they don't deserve that kind of burden.

I just hope that there is a Thomas out there for everyone. Someone who comes along and interrupts your self-pity and unwittingly drags you out of your despair by simply talking to you and genuinely listening to you. Someone who pays your plans no heed in their efforts to care about you, be they strangers or not. Because sometimes that's all it takes. My sickness put me in contact with another sick person - a different sort of sickness - and the two of us walked away feeling a little healthier.

If that's not a good way to spend an evening, I don't know what is.

JDS




4.01.2014

We Should Be Friends

April Fools 2013. I received a message on Facebook from a girl from my church. The message simply read:

"We should be friends."

It was a sentiment I agreed with, given that we mostly had the same group of friends. Along with a few other people, she came over on Sunday nights to watch Game of Thrones at my house - which was already a reason to like her. People who like that show don't mess around.

So, in my typical off-handed manner, I deflected with a question of my own:

"Like wear onesies to the park and people watch kind of friends?"

Have you ever people watched? It's fascinating. You make up little stories in your head for these people who are essentially cardboard cut-outs in the background of your life. A dropped briefcase, a rummaging through trash, a pause to tie a shoe. Combine that experience with the most comfortable piece of clothing ever and you're in for an activity that I would be perfectly happy doing with an acquaintance. 

A ludicrous exchange ensued. I can't recall every silly sentence, but it was the first time I had a conversation with the girl who would eventually become my fiancee. 

I'm no romantic, and the most boring thing I could possibly blog about is my life. I prefer to live quietly, tossing stones from a distance. I'm going to do away with all of that for the duration of this post, and smother you with so much sentimentality that you'll need to watch 300 after reading this.

It felt like things moved quickly after that first conversation, because they did. We agreed to hang out on a dreary Friday afternoon. I didn't know how to act or dress. I had planned a simple outing; we would go to the beach and then follow that up with coffee. A trip to the beach and coffee turned into dinner at a Thai restaurant. Dinner turned into a journey to the bookstore. The bookstore turned into a stop at a sketchy mini-mart, which turned into us going to my house. We proceeded to play "Two Truths and a Lie." Heard of it? Probably not, because it's most likely a game for middle schoolers.

But I'm good at it.

Before I knew it, eight hours had gone by since the time I had picked her up at her apartment. She took interest in my every word, asked all sorts of questions, pursued answers when I deflected, and generally shattered my perception of what would be a conventional evening of mild-mannered fun. Nevertheless, I found myself not wanting the night to end. Unfortunately, I was on a schedule. I had agreed to see a movie with some friends later on that night. I almost bailed out, but I stayed true to my word. She understood, and I reveled in the glory of Jurassic Park in 3-D.

A brief interjection. By the time this girl had entered my life, I had had zero success at dating in Seattle. I'll admit without shame that online dating led to ten or so dates that never really went anywhere. A short relationship here and there. At the beginning of 2013, I had resolved to find the girl I was meant to marry. If not, then I was going to start considering men.

Thankfully, we'll never know how that would have gone.

Follow all of that up with the fact that yes, most of my exes were in Texas (and my dealings with them had left many wounds that are still healing), and you are left with a frightened boy who has no small fear of commitment and an inability to love selflessly. I had become frighteningly good at recoiling from relationships. I had a tendency to manipulate. I never looked beyond what I wanted, ignoring the consequences that often swallowed the other person involved.

Looking back, I was not a very good person when it came to relationships.

I'll not say I'm any better these days, but this girl - she disarmed me. This girl, man. She made me want to take back all of the wounds I'd inflicted on others in the past several years. I was perplexed and slightly annoyed with how she wouldn't let me off easy - in anything. She wasn't a pushover. She was fiercely independent, made sure she was heard, dispelled my vague answers with more probing, made sure to let me know exactly how she felt when she felt a certain way, and didn't go along with all of my traditional thinking that came with my dating philosophies. She was exhausting.

But she laid claim to the ruin of my heart, and I found I could not - would not - push her away.

I must have really liked her, because it took me less than a week to kiss her. The story is a romantic one, and it involves me sitting in my car after dropping her off one night, reprimanding myself for not kissing her before she left - only to get out of the car, walk with resolve straight towards her, and before she could unlock the door to her complex - kiss her harder than I've ever kissed anyone before. But yeah, we'll share that story another time.

Before long, we were dating. And before long, we weren't dating. I was struggling with some questions in my past that I couldn't quite overcome, in addition to being terrified of entering a relationship with someone who I knew could level me if I allowed her to. I didn't allow her to. In fact, we started dating again and broke up a second time. If you're assuming that I was the one making these dumb decisions, you would be correct.

I didn't want to love. At least not in the way that real love worked - you know, the kind where you make sacrifices and invest in things that may or may not be there a few months down the road. I had become a skittish mess, eager to cut away things that could in turn cut me. But following the second break-up, or the second dumbest decision I've ever made, I could no longer put fear and selfishness in command of my heart. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to do away with the wounds that had been holding me down for years, even if it meant creating a few more in the process. And, by virtue of an arduous journey to a place where she felt like she could trust me again, my barriers were broken down, and I was able to truly love with the kind of love she had so willingly shown to me all along.

Soon enough, we were dating again. Then we were discussing marriage. Then she was sending me pictures of rings. I bought a ring, asked her parents for permission, had her meet my parents, and remained patient. Finally, I was kneeling on one knee in the snow on a cold February night, holding a ring up to someone who I could never look down on, asking them to willingly choose a life with me.

Spoiler alert: she said yes.

Of course, I've only talked about details that I feel (for the sake of this post) were worth mentioning, skimming over many wonderful and hurtful things. If it seems that I made this narrative overly fairy-tale like in its telling, don't worry - life's not like that - and life sucked for the both of us many, many, many times. 

It's too easy to say she changed my world. She took what I knew to be a safe world and replaced it with a world where I could finally give all of my heart to someone else. She, this person whom God had in mind when He made me. I know this short post does absolutely nothing to describe how wonderful of a person she is, the adventures we've had, and the struggles we've endured. We're still working on that story. But I will say that if she can love me - a ceaseless whirlpool fraught with the shipwrecks of my victims - then anyone can be loved. Truly.

So Happy April Fools, you lot. The joke's on you, because I got her first. As for her, perhaps she'll make something out of this silly fool yet. 

I love you, Blaire.

Cheers,

JDS

2.13.2014

It's Kind Of An Unfair Story

When I was discharged from the mental health care facility in November of 2011, the walk from the front of the building to my sister and brother-in-law's car was a sequence of steps I'll never forget. Everything felt slowed down; the breeze and the sunshine were things I hadn't experienced in a week. It was sublime. 

I almost didn't want to turn my cell phone on. Going a week without one made me realize how nice it was to not have something to constantly turn to whenever I was feeling bored/awkward/anxious. Of course, there were no distractions in Acadia, the facility where I spent a week.

I've often written about my struggles with depression, including the suicide attempt that landed me in Acadia because of the disorder. There's nothing to hide, really. From what I've experienced, mental disorders remain mostly ambiguous in our society, thus leading to a healthy ignorance on the subject. That's understandable, considering there are things concerning my own multiple disorders that I also remain ignorant of.

While being open with my struggles, I haven't really written much about what being in Acadia was like. I'll not speak of it at length here, for I fear that that would take far too much time. Instead, I'll merely mention a brief summary of some of the things I remember most.

Acadia wasn't a prison, but it was a place where I had no choice but to face my demons. After I was admitted the night of Halloween in 2011, it only took me one night to realize how little my problems seemed in comparison to some of the things I saw in there. Sadly, I realized that there were people who would probably never leave that place.

I remember patients talking about Acadia as if it were a destination for vacation, resulting in multiple voluntary check-ins. We had a woman who would strip naked and wander into different bedrooms in the compound, trying to sneak into bed with both males and females. She was also a kleptomaniac, and I can still see her flipping through the Bible and scribbling incoherent lines on every page. I recall another woman slinking under the table in a panic attack, unaware of where she was or what was happening. We had a heroin addict racked with withdrawals who seemed dead on his feet wherever he went. Nurses would come by every 30 minutes to check on you. They'd peek into your bedroom, scrawl something on a clipboard, then disappear. This happened even when we were asleep. The white cinderblock walls, fluorescent lights, and plastic feeling pillows made for a lack of comfort even in one's own room. The food was awful, the schedule strenuous, and the days long.

Despite all of this, I seem to remember many of the good things. After sitting down with a few other patients close to my age, coloring Halloween-themed pictures with crayons was the most therapeutic thing I'd done all week. We'd all push our tables together at lunch. After a while, the adults started to emulate this action, bringing a sense of community in a place for people who had scorned community. I had my bible, and friends and family visited daily. One of the nurses said she'd never seen one person receive so many letters. They even let my sister bring my guitar by, letting me play for the other patients - which, if you know anything about me, you'd know I despise playing for others. The day after my admittance, I sat at a table across from my sister during visiting hours, weeping about how lonely Acadia was. By midweek, when a group of my friends came to visit, I was sharing tales and cracking morbid jokes. I had found my medicine. It was in the other patients.

After checking out, a fellow patient (we remained friends afterwards) recommended that I read a book called It's Kind of a Funny Story by a guy named Ned Vizzini. She said "You'd love it, because it's pretty much exactly your life." 


Of course, my curiosity was piqued. She let me borrow it. It was an easy and short read, so finishing it was no problem. More than that, she had made a relevant point when she stated that the book possessed parallels to my own life. The book follows a 15 year old kid named Craig, who - after the pressure his parents put on him and the application process to get into a highly competitive and prestigious school - checks into a mental health care facility in Brooklyn. I won't spoil the book, but he meets a girl, makes some friends, goes through some healing, and the book ends pretty happily. I can live with that, given that all that pretty much exactly happened to me. However, I'd advise you not to date someone you meet in a mental health care facility. You've been warned.

It wasn't long after that I found out that the book had been made into a film, starring Emma Roberts and Zach Galifianakis. So I asked for it for Christmas that year, enjoying it nearly as much as the book. 


It was the first time I had ever read a book/watched a film that I felt was speaking directly to me. I know people say that all the time, eager to impart their revelations about a song they heard on the radio or whatever. But I mean to really know exactly what the author was trying to get at. There were sentences and scenes that were so precisely in line with my owns thoughts that I began to fear I was guilty of thought crime.


Every once in a while, a film/book like It's Kind of a Funny Story will come along and make me think about my struggles with depression in a deeply introspective way. It happened with Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Silver Linings Playbook, the former reminding me of my struggles with suicidal thoughts and the latter casting light on bipolar disorder, something that I had later been diagnosed with. Even though I had seen It's Kind of a Funny Story before either of them, I speak about it now because of a recent event.

A few months ago, the author of It's Kind of a Funny Story, Ned Vizzini, killed himself. He was 32, and he left behind a wife and a son. After    hearing the news, I didn't know how to respond. Here was a person who had championed the battle against depression, connecting with thousands of young adults and teenagers with his wit and words, drawing from his own mental battles. Ned pretty much wrote It's Kind of a Funny Story after his own stay in a Brooklyn based hospital. I had felt a connection with this man that I had never met because of the similarities in the battles we were both fighting. 


How were people supposed to react to his death? The man healed many with his words, and I do him little justice in the few paragraphs I've written here. The truth is, I remember being afraid. I was afraid that the message would get lost; that the last thing people would remember about someone who had taken up the pen against depression is the fact that he succumbed to the very fate that he was helping others to avoid. It wasn't fair, and it didn't make sense. But that's the thing about depression - it doesn't make sense, unless you yourself have it. Even then, good luck trying to make sense of why your brain acts the way it does. Perhaps this will help:


What I took away from Ned's book and my own stay in a hospital was that - among many things - there were a lot of things that I still wanted to do before I died. There was way too much life to live, and a failure during one of the most turbulent times of my life didn't give me an excuse to bow out. Pills helped, but not nearly as much as coloring pictures of scarecrows with people my age who had also flirted with suicide did. I had to learn the hard way that I was more than my mistakes, more than my past. Going forward would be a celebration of everything there was to gain, not what I was leaving behind. And for these things, I'll forever remain thankful to people like Ned Vizzini who help get the word out about what it is to deal with the enigma that is depression.

I have much to be thankful for. I've often mentioned in my posts that I've tried to kill myself a few times the past few years. After back to back attempts in both 2011 and 2012, I feared what 2013 might hold. In October of 2011, I tried to kiss my wrists with Wolfgang Puck kitchen knives. In September of 2012 - not even a year later and newly transitioned to Seattle - I took my entire bottle of antidepressants, resulting in a stay in the ER and a triage center. In 2013, you know what I did?

I'll tell you.

In 2013 I lived. My niece was born. I went on my first retreat for church in years. I watched some of my best friends graduate from college. I watched friend after friend get engaged. I got to see my new niece for the first time. I learned how to change a diaper, strap in a carseat, make a Formula bottle, and assemble a stroller. I saw a ton of concerts. I traveled over a thousand miles to see a friend get married. Friends moved away, new ones moved in. I got a tattoo, my first smartphone, and did my own taxes. I got to see every single member of my family, spread across four states. I met my fiancee. 

And I didn't try to kill myself.

Tons of terrifying things happened in Acadia. I don't think I'll ever feel as isolated or alone as I did in the week I spent there. But that's not what I remember most. More than anything, I remember the healing and the conquering of fears. The same goes with the past few years of my life. So many wonderful things have happened - I couldn't let the bad consume me even if I tried. 

I've vowed to never again scare my family or friends by threatening to take my own life. Some of us fight as long as we can, until we can no longer fight, and then we seek peace. I like to think that's what Ned was seeking when he took how own life. I'll never understand what people think suicide will solve, but I'll also never forget what it's like to be in a place where you think it solves everything.

So here's to a 2014 that remains free of losing the big fight, a fight that Ned fought for years, hoping that his readers would never give in to the weight of depression - a weight that will never go away. It's never actually a funny story and it's almost always unfair, but it's a story that needs to be told. 

Help me tell it.

Cheers,

JDS

1.14.2014

My Favorite Albums of 2013 (non-metal)

A few days ago I reviewed my favorite metal albums of the year. Today I'd like to discuss everything else that happened music-wise in 2013. Understand that 'metal' is a loose term; I mentioned everything from post-metal and hardcore to djent and progressive metal. The same can be said about today's list. Non-metal means indie, post-hardcore, post-rock, etc. 

But you don't need me to tell you that, you musical elitists. 

Behold, as I unveil my personal choices for my favorite non-metal albums of the great year that was 2013. Similar to my previous list, I will also be naming some honorable mentions and disappointments. If you like to make fun of things, then by all means - scroll to the bottom.

The rest of you, let's do this.

Oh, and if you missed it, this year's metal album list can be found here, and last year's list of non-metal can be found here.


BEST ALBUM BY A BAND I LOST INTEREST IN THAT BROUGHT ME BACK

Balance & Composure - The Things We Think We're Missing



I heard a lot of noise about this band in early spring of 2012, in the months leading up to my move to Seattle. When I transitioned to the Pacific Northwest, I was able to catch them open for Circa Survive, and contrary to things I had read online, they put on a great live show. As is common with music, I grew bored of them after several months as my musical interests gravitated towards other genres. Nevertheless, I was not ignorant of their impending 2013 release, The Things We Think We're Missing. I followed the updates and listened to their first single "Reflection", which garnered little interest in me. I realized I wasn't being fair and decided to give the whole album a go. I was able to stay in a cabin by myself (story can be found here) in early September, and I spent those few days absorbing every note on this album. It grew and grew on me. I still enjoy it to this day, even despite the fact that Jon Simmon's lyrics are among the most depressing I've read this year. Oh, and I'd also like to formally nominate this album for the Worst Cover Art of 2013. What even is that? It looks like an early Mudvayne album. Oh well.


BEST CONCEPT/NERDY/SECOND HALF OF A DOUBLE ALBUM

Coheed & Cambria - The Afterman: Descension



This bevy of awards may not seem fair, considering the first half of this album came out in 2012 (and made my list). The fact is, I had also lost interest in this band, after loving them for YEARS. However, 2012's part one of The Afterman was so good that my C&C fanboy reawakened, leaving me eager for the second half. I could go on and on about how good this band is - the distinctive Geddy Lee-esque vocals, the ridiculous riffs, the epic sci-fi story, the comics, Claudio's hair, etc. The truth is, Coheed remains one of the most polarizing bands around. Either you're on board with them or you aren't, and most of my friends aren't. It's ok. I was lost once too. Descension details the main character Sirius Amory's return to his home planet, much to the disbelief of both his colleagues and his wife. It sounds silly, but the story is truly heartbreaking, and told in a fantastic manner. Of course, that's become the standard for Coheed - thrilling sci-fi narratives over impressive musical prowess. What's not to like?


BEST ALBUM BY A BAND THAT TOOK ME TOO LONG TO FIND

Daughter - If You Leave



There's always one. In the realm of metal, it was Shai Hulud. On this list, it's Daughter. Why did no one tell me about them? This was one of the best parts of moving to Seattle - having friends that listened to good music. I quickly noticed the Daughter vinyls one of my roommates spun at night to put him to sleep. Once I had the band name, I went on the prowl. I quickly jumped on both of the two EPs, His Young Heart and The Wild Youth - just in time for the full length debut of If You Leave. It was a healthy overdose. The opening track "Winter" calmly sets the ambient and haunting tone of the album. The track is accurately named, as the whole album feels like one steady walk through a wintry landscape. I was privileged to see them last year. They're British, and singer Elena Tonra has a very quiet speaking voice. I couldn't understand/hear a word she said, but every syllable was met with eruptions of applause. Her fans do like her. And you should too, because they're wonderful.


BEST ALBUM(S) BY A FAMILY

Eisley - Currents
Rising Fawn - Everlasting Songs
Perma - Two of a Crime




I've had my rant (found here) about how unfair it is that families like the DuPrees are blessed with so much musical talent while many of us are left without the ability to tune a triangle. Well, 2013 was an outstanding year for the Tyler, Texas based family. I'm mainly speaking of the main project Eisley, and their album Currents, which was released in April of this year. I remember because I got the vinyl preorder as a present - one of the five or so I own. I'm not very hip. As was the intent, Currents has an aquatic feel to it. We get the usual featured vocals of Stacy and Sherri, switching back and forth regularly through the first four tracks - until track five. Here we get a first: a song fully written and performed by the third sister, Chauntelle. After hearing her featured for the first time, it makes me wonder why they don't let her lead more songs. It's no coincidence I loved her solo debut Everlasting Songs, a three-song EP under the moniker of Rising Fawn. I picked it up at the show earlier in the year. Perma is Sherri and Max Bemis' project and is mainly listed as an honorable mention. I didn't listen to it beyond the first single, which felt way too cutesy for me. If you're into that, then you'll love Two of a Crime.


BEST ALBUM TO FALL ASLEEP TO/BEST EP

Golden Youth - Quiet Frame, Wild Light



No, not Diamond Youth. No, not "Youth" by Citizen. Golden Youth is - in my opinion - 2013's best musical secret, similar to how I felt about the band Accents in 2012. It's the brainchild of two singer/songwriters Stephanie Lauren and Kyle Monroe. The pair combined to create one of the most calming musical offerings I've heard in a long while. Quiet Frame, Wild Light takes acoustic guitars, strings, hand claps, marimbas, and pianos, to combine them into a stripped down affair that leaves me feeling as if I'm sitting around a fire in a warm cabin as the snow quietly falls outside. It's one of my top three favorites of the year, regardless of genre/category. It soothed me to sleep more nights than Scale The Summit's The Migration did, as mentioned in my previous list. Pick it up, put headphones in, lean back into a comfortable armchair, and drift into bliss. Also, don't forget the hot chocolate.


BEST INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM(S)

Lights & Motion - Reanimation and Save Your Heart




Sometimes the best music can come from some dude by himself in his apartment, fiddling around with soundscapes and reverb. Examples that come to mind: Youth Lagoon, Eluvium, The Album Leaf, and Cloudkicker. Of course they don't live alone in apartments, but I digress. Comparable to these solitary pioneers, Lights & Motion is the sole musical project of Christoffer Franzen - the product of insomnia and being holed up in a studio in Sweden, according to wikipedia. The result is what is described as "cinematic post-rock" - and the title couldn't be more accurate. Both Reanimation and Save Your Heart follow the same beautiful formula - sweeping, epic crescendos that will leave one feeling as if you're walking into the climax every film ever. If you listen to either of these albums while going on a walk, I guarantee that you will come up with some new revelation in your life - that's how inspiring they are. In fact, if there's a knock I have with either of them - it's that they can be too intense. Almost every song is a dramatic buildup. If that's your life, then you've found your soundtrack. It's just amazing that they were both released in less than a year. 


BEST ALBUM BY A BAND THAT IS BREAKING UP

Moving Mountains - Moving Mountains



The best bands are constantly evolving, pushing their musical boundaries to become better with each release. This transformation is usually accompanied by a shift in style. The same can be said for Moving Mountains, who released their eponymous album in September as a farewell. From the days of their ambient eight minute long songs of Pneuma and Foreword to the aggresive and catchy anthems of Waves, MM has decided to go out on a quiet, beautiful note. The album's nine tracks take on an almost subdued sound (with a few exceptions), as long-time fans will note the restraint in the vocals are a departure from the intensity of Waves. I absolutely fell in love with this album. It's definitely a different sound - maybe one that would have gotten old if it had been more of the same - but this is new territory for MM, and the sound I believe they always wanted to achieve. Moving Mountains is another of my top three favorites of the year. My only regret in life is that I was never able to see them. 


BEST "WORSHIP" ALBUM

My Epic - Behold



I put the word "worship" in quotes because when people think of worship music, they may think  of Hillsong United or Chris Tomlin or something. You know, the same repetitive and formulaic song structures that plague all of contemporary Christian music today. My Epic is anything but this. While the lyrics are deeply spiritual and Christ-focused, you won't find anything trite or overused here. My Epic has consistently put out album after album of impressive musical display (reminiscent of latter As Cities Burn) and soul-crushingly honest lyrics. However, Behold takes a different approach - one perfected by the band's beautiful 2011 acoustic EP Broken Voice. Aaron Stone's lyrical content has slowly shifted from painfully honest confessions of personal imperfection to the more spiritual side. Behold is precisely that - the feeling of being overwhelmed in the presence of God. As a Christian, Stone's lyrics have had a profound effect on me, forcing me to revise my line of thinking in many ways. That's a hard thing to do in today's music world, let alone in Christian thought.


BEST COMEBACK ALBUM

Search The City - Flight



I'm sure many bands could fill this particular category, but Search The City wins because of nostalgic reasons. Their 2008 album A Fire So Big The Heavens Can See It was fantastic, blending ridiculously catchy vocals and solid guitar riffs. The harmonies were brilliant, the riffs sounded like the guitarists' preferred metal to punk, and the choruses were massive. As with so many talented bands, their demise came too soon. And when last year I heard that they had found a new vocalist and were writing music again, my 2008 self was giddy. Search The City managed to do what few bands who lose their vocalist do: find a new vocalist who not only sounds exactly like the old one, but sings  even better. Put it all together and you get Flight - and album that's more pop than punk and still just as catchy as the band's 2008 debut. Remember earlier when I said a spent a few days alone in a cabin absorbing Balance & Composure's new album? This was the album I switched to when that one got old. It still hasn't gotten old.


BEST ALBUM IN A GENRE I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT

Forest Swords - Engravings



I try my best to expand my musical horizons, but with all the crap that saturates every wave of whatever-core, it's hard to find stuff that stands out. Enter Forest Swords, the stage name of musician/producer Matthew Barnes' solo project. I found them through an obscure thread on absolutepunk.net, thinking that the name sounded cool. What I found was nothing that I had expected, which was a sort of lo-fi indie project. Instead, Forest Swords is listed as experimental, trip-hop, electronic, and dub. This combination equates to Engravings, an album that has been critically acclaimed by pretty much every music website and magazine. The songs are - pardon the expression - sensual in the way they put you in a trance with their atmospheric and oddly mystical vibes. The album was recorded outdoors, so that probably makes sense. I still have no idea what trip-hop is. If this is the music that all the kids are listening to while they take LSD, then I suppose that's cool with me.


MY FAVORITE ALBUM OF 2013

The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual



I think it's finally time to say that The Appleseed Cast is my favorite band ever. There's not a thing this band has done that I haven't loved. You have the ocean-themed and emo-tinged Mare Vitalis; the massive double experiment that is Low Level Owl Vol. 1 & 2; and the beautiful and nearly-without-vocals of Sagarmatha. Other than 2011's four-song EP Middle States, this band hasn't put out any music since 2009's aforementioned full-length Sagarmatha. I didn't know quite what to expect with Illumination Ritual, which is a good way to approach this band. What I got was an album that seemed raw - almost under-produced - with frantic-feeling drums and Christopher Crisci's trademark vocals buried beneath glittering guitars. I'll never be disappointed with this band. Illumination Ritual was my go-to album of 2013. I'd leave it in my car's CD player for days on end, not out of laziness but out of fondness. I still can't stop listening to it. I have the vinyl and it's the coolest looking thing ever. If you don't check out anything else on this list, check this band out. Please.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Lydia - Devil. People will probably never love this band as much as they did when they had the Illuminate lineup, and that's fair. But the truth is that this band broke up and nobody thought they'd come back. While nothing they do will ever be as good as Illuminate, it's better than no Lydia at all.

Unifier - Colorado. The band formerly known as Future Ghosts went through a whole lot of trouble to get a new name (there was already another Future Ghosts). Unifier wins in the end, as Colorado is a solid alternative/punk album by a band that should be big in the coming years.

Everything In Slow Motion - Phoenix. It's been a few years since Shane Oschner's band Hands ceased making music. I've had his new project on my watchlist for over a year, and we finally got Phoenix in December. That's pretty much the only reason it only gets a mention - I've barely had a month with it. But I loved Hands, and I've enjoyed what I've heard thus far.

Some Stranger - self titled EP. I wasn't really a fan of Daytrader, so I wasn't really affected by their break-up. I was affected by the former vocalist Tym's new project Some Stranger. While it was only a five-song EP, the energy and songwriting is there for a future that should prove bright for this new project.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Dustin Kensrue - The Blood & The Water. I've never not loved anything this man has done, but I just can't get into the former Thrice vocalist's new worship project. It's too dry, too generic - which is the last thing I expected from this man. Other than "It's Not Enough", there's not a hint of the brilliant lyrical/musical content from Thrice's heyday. That may have been the point, but it's too boring for me.

Night Verses - Lift Your Existence. This one has given me problems. Their EP was highly praised and Lift Your Existence was just as anticipated; the problems are just too numerous. The musical skill is brilliant - it just follows a very structured pattern and hardly ever ventures out of it. Not only that, but the album is too long - stretching to nearly seventy minutes in 15 tracks. That's too long for today's music fan - and that's coming from a Tool lover.

States - Paradigm. Has this band done anything good since their first EP? You'd think former members of Lydia and Copeland could do better than this. Their debut Room to Run rubbed me the wrong way, and Paradigm didn't do much for me either. The lyrics are awful and the execution poor. I don't get it because the talent and pedigree is there. Maybe it's just not for me.

LOOKING FORWARD TO MUSIC BY:

Tides of Man - this post-hardcore titan lost it's vocalist and found a new identity in a different genre: post-rock. While a completely unexpected move, the band has already released a few tracks from their upcoming Young & Courageous, due out this year. I preordered the effort before I ever heard a note, and I'm glad I did, because the new stuff sounds stellar.

Closure in Moscow - times have changed since 2009, but First Temple was a phenomenal debut. It seems we've been waiting forever for the new album - Pink Lemonade - but 2014 is the year we're supposed to get it. Color me intrigued.

William Fitzsimmons - the quiet singer/songwriter already has a release date for Lions (February 18th), and has already released a new track called "Fortune", and you can check it out here. Needless to say, the world needs more of this man in 2014, and we're going to get it. Look for this to be on next year's list.

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That will do it for my musical musings of 2013. I know it's already two weeks into the new year, but reason demands that I force my opinions on the masses no matter the circumstances or calendar date. You're  lucky, because you can expect me to do it once a year until I can pay someone else to. Which I will never be able to do. So you're still lucky.

But seriously, listen to at least one of these albums. Maybe things I found disappointing were enjoyable to you. Maybe my favorite album is on your "Do Not Ever Listen To" list, which is very likely. Maybe you found out that so-and-so is coming out with new music. And that's what I do it for.

Also the money. But no one is paying, so I guess I do it for you.

Happy listening,

JDS


PS here's a bonus. My favorite music video of the year goes to the band On and On, with the video for their single "The Hunter". Watch it below.