Monday, April 19, 2010

The search for good music (on a tight budget)

Alright, what to write about this lovely evening?  Have I left out enough details online to talk about the report at my new job that there is significant animosity between the union folks whose high hourly wages and Cadillac benefit plans pushed to the company to outsource an entire department?  Nah, I'll wait until I get called a scab.  :-D  How about the "war of words" going on between Bill Clinton and Rush Limbaugh?  No, I'm in a good mood tonight, no reason to blow it on an press hungry former president. 

Instead, I feel like talking music.  Like a large part of the US workforce, I'm not making enough money to shell out for CD's or iTunes.  But music is still a big deal to me.  Do I turn to piracy to feed the hunger for new tunes?  Preferably not, although questions about the illegality of getting digital copies of albums owned on tape or out of print music come to mind, but we'll save that for another day.  No, instead we turn to the world of free and legal download-able music.  Simply googling for free legal music, MP3s, or other terms tends to pull up sites that lead you on a wild goosechase of links, or the most original one I ran into, offer free downloads of popular songs, as covered by the sites own house band.  It's one of those occasions where Google just doesn't cut it.  That's where I come in. 

The main focus will be Christian music, mainly of the hard and heavy persuasion.  One of the best places to start is  The gentleman that runs it hangs out on firestream, the believer's heavy metal refuge (so do I, I'm righteous_slave there, just like on twitter) and dredges the web for the best in free, legal, Christian metal, punk, black metal, hardcore, ect for us cheapskates to download.  The site doesn't host anything, instead providing links to where bands and labels have their songs, demos, EPs and sometimes full albums available.  Just lots of music to go through, new stuff and old stuff that bands want the public to have access to.

The next example is one I found through blabberdownload, and that is record label Indie Vision Music.  From the homepage there, go to the downloads tab and feast your eyes on a massive selection of tracks, exclusive EPs again a few whole albums, and most importantly, some HUGE label samplers.  The Summer Slam Vol. 3 comp alone is 56 songs ranging from death metal to metalcore to emo to pop punk.  Get this one quick, because it's moving towards the bottom of the list, and a few other big samplers have disappeared.  The label's roster runs that same gamut, with a huge variety of genres to choose from, and they work to support Christian bands in the underground. 

Speaking of record labels, search for your favorite record label's website.  Very often they will have free samplers for download, a few tracks from their various bands, or links to the individual band's websites/myspace where tracks may be available.  Facedown Records regularly puts out samplers of their excellent hardcore punk bands (one is available right now).  They also have links to each band's myspace under the "family" tab, where you can often find more download-able tracks, or at minimum some streaming ones to check out.

On the streaming front, there are several sites that let you build a library of music to listen to online, if that is your preference. is my personal favorite, they have a huge selection of popular and not so popular music, but don't be surprised if your favorite top 40 artist doesn't have any full tracks available to listen to.  There are also some social aspects to the site, again, I'm on as righteous_slave there.  And look around, some bands have songs to download through this site as well.  For streaming, a close second for me is  The focus here is building up local scenes, so you can search for bands not only by genre, but by location too.  Again, look for righteous_slave if you want to say hi.  (Notice a trend there?)  Note, neither of these sites focus on Christian music, but there is plenty to be found on them, whether you like metal, worship, or rap.   

Another place to look for free stuff is mail order sites.  Yes, there are still places that will ship you CDs, and as the brick and mortar stores keep closing, web stores are becoming the only place to get those shiny disks that one sticks in the computer to rip the songs to your iPod.  Divine Metal Distro has a free sampler up right now, although you have to fill out your info except payment data just like a regular order, and even though it's not free, has a 50 cent sampler available for download (come on payday!).  If you're not po' (that's so poor you can't even afford the last two letters) both sites have some good specials on CD's and downloads to check out as well.

And finally, don't forget to check your favorite band's website and myspace.  Frequently bands will have tracks, demos, live recordings, or b-sides up on either or both of these options. 

So there you have it.  Just from what's listed here, one can enjoy many hours of new and new to you music, all at no cost or possibility of imprisonment.  Like I said, these sources, except where noted, provide much Christian extreme music to fill your hard drive with.  If screams of "Jesus is Lord" ain't your cup of tea, that's fine.  The hints listed should net fans of any genre at least a little bit of free stuff.  It may not be the same songs coming out of your radio, but commercial radio seems to have really hit the skids lately, with every station, regardless of their format, apparently pulling from the same pool of around 150 songs.  So, with that, I bid you happy searching and downloading. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

What parachute are you using?

"Minds are like parachutes, they only function when open" is a popular bumper sticker these days.  The idea of course is that by keeping one's mind open to all possibilities, only then you can understand the world.  Shutting out any option means you are close-minded, and may be missing a great truth or revelation that comes from worldview or philosophy different than your own.  According to one of the preachers I was listening to on the radio today, the Jewish definition of open minded was significantly different.  (transcript John McGee Grace To You) In the ancient Hebrew world, an open mind was a simple one, an open door, one that not only let everything come in, but also kept nothing from going out.   Sound like any open minded folks you know?  Changing ideologies with the wind, always on the lookout for something new usually to fill in the spiritual gap in their life? 

Either definition of an open mind is a house built on sand.  There is no foundation to build on, only a shifting mass of thoughts, possibilities, ideologies and if-thens.  Bill Watterson illustrated this indirectly in a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin could suddenly see all sides of everything at once after a discussion with his dad where he was shown both sides of an issue.  His world turned cubist, and movement or even perception was made impossible until Calvin "eliminated all viewpoints but one".  When we take in all the possibilities, we are left immobile.  Look at what has happened to the politically correct movement.  In an attempt to see all side of various cultural issues, it has become difficult, if not impossible to interact with people without the possibility of offending someone within earshot.  In the attempt to not favor any ideology over another in the public square, it has become a ridiculous shell game devoid of any common sense when dealing with numerous situations.  Take our counter terrorism actions.  The majority of people who are involved in the various plots, successful and unsuccessful have been Middle Eastern males.  Yet the PC police say that focusing on Middle Eastern males in our security details would be racist.  So we get scenarios where elderly women are pulled aside to be wanded because of their hip replacement, but the Fruit of Kaboom bomber made it on board a flight to America with his paid in cash ticket and plastic explosives in his drawers.  (1. No, not every male of Middle Eastern decent should be banned from getting on a US or US bound flight, we just need to acknowledge who is plotting and performing the majority of these acts and pattern our reactions accordingly 2. My point was not to go off on a political tangent this evening, but I'm tired from a couple of weeks of manual labor)

Has the open mind become an excuse for not setting down principles?  Time and time again, we hear that even on Christian college campuses and in the church itself, ideas like absolute truth are falling out of favor.  Acknowledging absolute truth means closing your mind to other ideas and marching forward in faith that you have chosen the correct mindset, and that very idea has become an anathema to modern Western civilization.  Pragmatism and relativism are the order of the day, because they carry no risk.  If you are wrong in your thinking, just change it.

Jesus did not stand up and say "I am A way, A truth and A light."  He said "I am THE way, THE truth and THE light." (John 14:6 emphasis added) Do you want that assurance, or do you want a worldly parachute?  I know which one I've got my trust in, and He has kept me sustained and going and softened many a landing a far cry better than that worldly parachute so many are relying on. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Greatest Self Contained Epic Ever Told!

I've noticed something lately.  Stories that have a definitive beginning and end are much preferable to stories that meander along, constantly trying to keep people coming back, usually for the next month (comic books), next week (TV shows) or next release (movies).  Comic books seem to be the best illustration of this.  Lacking time and money to keep up with the current crop of comics, I still flip through a few on the newsstand on an irregular basis, and there just seems to be a lack of desire to start a story, tell it, and move on to the next one.  Instead there are constant tie-ins, hints, and teasers, all designed to get one to buy next month's issue to see what the next big event is. 

Most of the best comic stories I can think of were very closed.  Yes, there was some room for expansion and exploration, but the story itself was self contained.  Watchmen, Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, and The Dark Knight Returns can all be picked up and enjoyed by themselves, without knowing the depths of comic continuity, or having to pick up a dozen other issues to find out the rest of the story.  (Marvel did this for a few years, running a massive crossover through all or most of their title's annuals each year.  The stories were frequently good ones, but the set up required buying books that an individual might not be following just to get the whole story, which was very annoying for some of us.)  The Age of Apocalypse, a massive X-men story from several years ago is a great example of a closed storyline, because there were only two ways for the tale to end, and both involved the destruction of the AoA universe. (It all makes sense if you read the story, which has been collected into four tradepaperbacks.  Look 'em up at your local comic shop)

Personally I see this same closed storyline in the Bible.  In it's pages we start with God speaking Creation into existence, and end with the final destruction of that Creation, leaving only New Jerusalem (Heaven) and the lake of fire (Hell) moving into a new and final era.  In between we see man created, man falling, God's chosen people created, God's chosen people falling, God fulfilling the promises He made by sending a perfect sacrifice for all man's sin, and the initial spreading of the possibility for eternal life and fellowship with God.  There is plenty of room left for the aforementioned expansion and exploration, as we each continue to write our own parts of the story, and look to the accounts that others have left us, but even if we never crack open St. Augustine's Confessions or John Wesley's Journals or C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, just having the basic story is enough to satisfy what we need. 

Another parallel that can be found is that sometimes, people try and take a good story and garble it up with their own additions, expansions and explorations. Just look in the religion/Christianity section of any bookstore, and one can find numerous interpretations of what the Bible and it's accounts really mean, according to any one of a number of experts on the subject.  Usually, these interpretations are little more than adjusting the Bible to agree with the experts viewpoint.  Just to throw my own ideas in here, such predispositions are likely the reason why the Bible is such a self contained account, to help prevent later additions or amendments.  Nothing in Scripture accounts for future revelations like the ones claimed by some cults and churches.  To my knowledge, the books of the New Testament specifically have stood up to the numerous questions and testings of their accuracy and authenticity, while the various "new" books of scripture that have popped up over time keep falling by the wayside.

A movie many many moons ago called Jesus' life the greatest story ever told.  In many ways, the entire Bible is Jesus' story, letting that title apply to all sixty-six books.  How could the greatest story ever told not be a complete epic in and of itself, not needing crossovers or prequels?  If it was left open-ended, with the final chapter a mystery to be waited up, would it still be the greatest story?  Of course not.  So this week, when you're reading your Bible, or even if you don't read a Bible, think about the intertwining of those sixty-six books, how they are woven together to tell such a complete tale, the entirety of this age, and the entrance into the next.  While you're thinking about that, think about how, when this epic comes to an end, there are only two options left for residence, and which one you will be calling home.