First Run

I began running again. I wanted to try to capture some of the quirks that went through my mind on the first run of the season.

I begin. The sky burns an intense pink, as if the world were on fire. But I am cold.

Becoming conscious of it, I thank God for breath, and regulate. Nose, mouth, repeat.

Leaves carpeting the ground already? August, you betray me. Summer seems shortest always.

I hop the fence to my alma mater, like a child breaking in to their parents’ house. The greenery of this place is breathtaking and life-giving. The track approaches.

What are you doing? Right ear asks. You’re a fool.

Sprint the straights and slow on the curves.

Take it easy on yourself, right ear says.

You never take it easy on yourself, left ear replies. You’re in training now.

I run, feeling conscious of my limits.

I look up into a sky blueing vividly. A dove hovers above me in the form of a cloud. I will run with angels.

Final lap. I sprint the first straight to exhaustion and decelerate. The slow curve is kind to me. Everything is subdued. Still many steps ahead for recovery time before the very final straight.

I burn. The sky is cold.

Do you really want to run the final straight? Right ear asks.

You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t, left ear chides.

The dove is still there. My legs do slave labour. I finish.

I feel dead; I feel alive.

Wooden Heart – Listener


Talk Music/Rock/Punk

Atlanta, GA

Profound writing does two things. It triggers a response with its power and escapes full comprehension, since its layered meanings can’t be grasped immediately. Poetry, folk tale, and scripture possess this kind of force. It’s a loss to gloss over them.

If you desire something deep, spare some time to explore Listener’s album Wooden Heart. Subtitled “Poems”, it’s an album full of heart-wrenching and resonant spoken word pieces set against fitting sonic backdrops. Dan Smith (of The Chariot) speaks and shouts pleadingly and searchingly in his southern drawl while Chris Nelson creates soundscapes with all kinds of stringed, percussive, and wind instruments. Listener sets itself apart from other music with its uncommon lyric/music blend. The spoken word isn’t rap; it’s free verse performance poetry, and will be familiar to fans of mewithoutYou. Dan Smith captures paradoxes with lines like, “Whispering poems to themselves about nonsense and existence…I don’t wanna die” and, “We all sing songs about life, we just sing them different. You sing the words, but you don’t know the song”.

Dan’s lyrics contains much wit: “we are all born broken people on our most honest day of living”. In the acerbic track “Seatbelt Hands”, Dan describes a broken woman by saying “she always starts with a smile, small and butter yellow, but easier than a handshake – she doesn’t like her hands touched. She tans a lot and gets burned a lot . . . she was born on the fourth of July, loves America and being patronized”.

Wooden Heart is different, refreshing, thoughtful, and brilliant. The image speaks to our tendency to become hard-hearted or even splinter, and yet reflects our vitality and potential for new growth. Listener points out our brokenness, describing us all as “shipwrecks” and yet reminds us to “wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief . . . If we hold on tight, we’ll hold each other together, and wash up on the shore”.

Love & War & The Sea In Between – Josh Garrels


Love & War & The Sea In Between is splendid. Josh is running full pace as a songwriter, surpassing prior projects like Jacaranda that were noteworthy themselves.

This is an album of highly textured recordings. Though each track is recognizably coloured with his energetic breakbeat style, Garrels’ conquest of genres is remarkable. Masterful interweaving results in a tasty and sometimes surprising euphony. Joining Garrels on several tracks is the Mason Jar Music Orchestra.

Romantic, poetic, and anthemic, Garrels draws in his listener’s mind, heart, soul and spirit. The album bears the mark of a deep thinker and/or an old soul. Intricate and mystical concepts on faith, society, and personhood are synthesized in pithy verses. Here’s a snippet from ‘Resistance’:

“Itching ears will compulsively nod in approval

When unbelief is taught in all our temples and schools

But God can restrain the madness of a fool?

He can bring His truth through the mouth of a mule

You can move an mountain without any tools

It just takes the faith of a little seed

to make a way through what might seem to be impossibility”

One of the boldest and most puzzling details about Love & War & The Sea In Between is that it is available for FREE for one year. Why? Josh discloses on his blog, “We’ve really felt the Lord asking us to give this album away for one year, and it’s our joy to do so!”

Josh is intentional about using the word “we”. He always uses it when referring to his work, a team effort with his wife Michelle, who worked on the album art and supported him throughout his series of illnesses in the past year (talk about resistance: “Hold fast, like an anchor in the storm”). Like a growing number of family music teams (Gungor, Danielson, and Brian and Jenn Johnson, to name a few), Josh and Michelle’s earnest desire for their art is to pursue the heart and will of God. “Pray for us”, Josh requests of his listeners, so that their work might go into the places where it can bring life. “Like a messenger of peace / the beauty waits to be released / upon the sacred path you came / leading deeper into the unveiling / as you’re sailing across the great divide”. At the core of God’s kingdom is family; it is this which he invites us into. We need models of family like these in our culture, who can pull others into God’s family.

Counter-intuitively, projects done for no pay are often those done with the most passion. Just ask Google about the ideas that came from “20% time” projects. True to form, it seems like like Josh has put the most work into this album; at 18 songs, it’s double the number of tracks on a standard LP, all which required polishing, rehearsal, mixing, and mastering. Josh recounts on his blog, “The process of creating this album has by far been the most rigorous mental and spiritual struggle I’ve known as an artist”.

In the year ahead, they have bigger plans for this project: among other things you can read about on his blogLove & War & The Sea In Between will eventually be published in the form of a lovely hardcover book. Individually stamped copies of the CD will be given away at concerts.

The album contains diverse subject matter. Some songs are darker and deeply reflective, matched beautifully in the music, while others recall the simplicity of the gospel. Again, this music is coming from a man of prayer and thought who sees both the world’s problems and God’s solutions. Here is a dose of hope from ‘Beyond The Blue’:

“So lift your voice just one more time

If there’s any hope may it be a sign

That everything was made to shine

Despite what you can see

So take this bread and drink this wine

And hide your spirit within the vine

Where all things will work by a good design

For those who will believe”

Being free, there’s no reason not to download this album.