TS10: Changing Times

No, I’m, not talking about “springing ahead.” I’m talking about the change which seems to be in the air these days. It’s good. It feels, little by little, as though many of us are coming to our senses about a number of things. Reminds me that love always defeats hate in the long run, as if life is designed that way.

This playlist runs the gamut of emotional stimuli. While it’s not all about these changes, it can still be about change. Maybe something needs to shift in your soul right now. I know I could use some soul-shifting. So, let’s listen and engage and see about that change.



TS10: Straight Cash, Homie

So… I don’t know why there are several songs on this week’s TS10 that have something to do with money. Could be something subconscious happening there. Regardless, it would appear there is, at least, a mini-theme at work here. Money can be a pretty provocative subject, so that’s good, right. Emotional provocation is what this is all about!


TS10: Back on Track

My Friends,

It has been painful not being able to share music with you here the last few weeks. Sometimes, the old technology just doesn’t seem to work with us the way we want. Thankfully, things seem to be back on track now. So, take a listen and engage!



TS10: Continual Catharsis

I recently posted a piece about the “cathartic synthesis” I hear in the music of the incredible Gracie and Rachel. If you haven’t yet read that, please do so as a personal favor… the process of creating that piece was highly emotive for me and it touched me in ways I’ve not been touched in a while.

One of the elements affecting me is the idea of catharsis. I’ve always understood catharsis to be a process of purification or purging emotionally. What I hadn’t previously realized was the dictionary definition (Merriam-Webster’s) includes the caveat that catharsis especially happens through art. This gets at the very heart of Tomme Suab.

So, as I think about this week’s TS10, I’m also thinking about catharsis. I think those two things are not mutually exclusive. I think they could be, just maybe, intimately related. From the cry for divine purpose in Jesus… to the anger and venom of Sabotage, we’re going all over the place this week.

Thanks for engaging,



TS10: PARADE with ME!

Seriously, kids… I cannot quite get enough of Sylvan Esso these days. Their new track, Parad(w/m)E, is super fun and leads off this week’s TS10. But, there’s much more than the dynamic duo from Durham here. Take a listen and let it sink in deep.


TS10: Dream and Zombie

Time for a new TS10, my friends. Lots of ups and downs here, with a tip of the cap to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (I hope we remember you would have much preferred us fighting for your ideals more than just giving your memory a day…) and Dolores O’Riordan. One has certainly impacted me more than the other, but they are both worthy of remembering.

Dr. King, I will continue to fight. Thank you for your example.

Ms. O’Riordan, thank you for your art.


Tomme Suab’s 2017: Honors and the TS2017

Image above is entitled “Transition” and is featured courtesy of the artist, Denise Presnell (oil on canvas).

It’s been quite a year, huh? For a lot of us, 2017 cannot end quickly enough. Over the course of the year, I’ve touched on some of the stimuli potentially driving some of our eagerness to get to January 1. However, despite all the hard, there has been good as well, not the least of which has been deeply talented and creative artists making beautiful and provocative music. With that truth in mind, I want to take a moment to reflect on some of that music, especially the artists, experiences, and recordings which impacted Tomme Suab most significantly over the course of 2017, starting with some year-end honors.

2017 Tomme Suab Artist of the Year: Sylvan Esso

From Sylvan Esso’s Facebook page

Admittedly, I am late to the Sylvan Esso bandwagon. Back in 2014, I featured a track from their self-titled debut album on one of the very first TS10 playlists. However, I just couldn’t get into their music. Can’t explain it, but it just wasn’t speaking to me then.

Things have changed over the last three years. When I learned they would be playing at the third annual Eaux Claires festival this past June, I figured I ought to give it another go. Pretty soon, that first album was in regular rotation in my personal playlist. Their defiant spirit and pulsing sound took me prisoner and I’m still sitting in that cell. My fandom was cemented when I saw them play at the festival. Standing there in the midst of a crowd of thousands, this overweight, 40-something couldn’t help but move. So much energy. So much vivacity.

Their second release from earlier this year, What Now, has grabbed ahold of me more recently , sealing the “Artist of the Year” deal. Another great record full of creativity and emotional highs and lows. All of these factors combined, there’s no musician or band who has impacted Tomme Suab more in 2017 than Sylvan Esso.

2017 Tomme Suab Song of the Year: “Who We Are” by Gungor

There are several Gungor tracks which have grabbed my heart over the years (Beautiful Things, The Beat of Her Heart, and I Am Mountain among them), but none more so than Who We Are. This one, released this last summer, hit the proverbial spot for me. The right song done in the right way at precisely the right time.

The central question in the song, which is featured in the TS2017 playlist below, is “Will those who say they follow Jesus actually live up to those words?” The song represents a timely, poignant, and perhaps even prophetic question. As one who attempts to be like Jesus as much as I can, this question could not be more pertinent. The central human being in history, the one who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, the embodiment of love, who calls us to love our neighbors, the strangers, the prisoners, the sick… the generally downtrodden, is the model for all who say they follow him.

And yet, here in America, we see the Evangelical church (again, among those who say they follow Jesus), playing a pivotal role in electing perhaps the most un-Jesus-like President in our history, a person who denigrates women, makes fun of people with physical disorders, and mongers fear and hatred against those who are not like him (the very downtrodden who Jesus loves and values). We, the church, have defended and made excuses for his behavior. We stand with his unbridled hubris and claim that he is more overt about Jesus than previous Presidents (thank you, Franklin Graham). We should be ashamed of ourselves. We are standing on the wrong side of history once again (just as we did during the 18th and 19th centuries when it came to slavery, just like we’ve done in our historical treatment and “Christianization” of native peoples, just like we did during the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and on and on and on. More importantly, we are not aligning with the one we say we want to be like.

Gungor, not standing in a place of judgment or ridicule but in the midst of the Evangelical American church, calls us to question these things in Who We Are. It challenges the church to set aside it’s political allegiances and learn to love once again. It asks, “Will we be who we’ve always said we are?”, intimating the vast disparity between the love we are supposed to embody just as Jesus did and the hate and fear we support politically as well as the apathy we show toward those who Jesus treasures. For all these reasons, Who We Are grabbed a hold of my heart like no other song this year.

2017 Tomme Suab Album of the Year: J.E. Sunde’s “Now I Feel Adored”

There is no question that J.E. Sunde is a TS favorite. I am a fan of just about everything the man makes. In 2017, Sunde released Now I Feel Adored, his brilliant sophomore solo album and it did not disappoint.

His vocal prowess is on display from the very beginning as Monica Martin from PHOX joins him on I Will Smile When I Think of You and continues throughout, never more evident than in My Attempts to Grow a Beard. Sunde’s committed focus on detail and precision, as well as phenomenal craftsmanship, is pervasive and virtually palpable. But it’s his lyrical content that brings all of it together for me and makes it a beautiful package. I won’t go into great detail here as I shared my thoughts on the record earlier this year here on TS. Suffice to say, the groaning of Prism, the hope of Called By Our Names, the romance of Color Your Nails, the strained apathy of Fire on the Mountain, and the passion of Wedding Ring, along with various other themes and feels, make for a powerful record. And there was no record that spoke to me as deeply as this one.


The TS2017

The following ten songs, in one way or another, have held sway and depth of meaning for TS over the course of 2017. Below the playlist is a brief description of some of that sway and meaning.

Sylvan Esso, “Kick Jump Twist”

Please see above. Sylvan Esso makes even this old guy want to kick, jump, twist.

Gracie and Rachel, “Tiptoe”

I’ve just been getting to know Gracie and Rachel’s music this past year. While I LOVE what I have heard from them overall, Tiptoe is special for me as it served as an introduction to their music. Dramatic, intense, morose… I’ll have more to say about them soon from an TS-exclusive interview.

David Bowie, “Blackstar”

I’ve always had immense respect for David Bowie. Honestly, I think he was a genius. Having said that, I haven’t always stayed current on his releases. The album Blackstar, released in 2016, didn’t really hit my personal radar until early 2017, about a year after Bowie’s death. The titular track immediately seized my attention and simply did not let go. It is an epic (a little less than ten minutes long) and encapsulates so much of what I like about David Bowie’s music.

Gungor, “Who We Are”

Please see above.

Soundgarden, “Jesus Christ Pose”

R.I.P. to one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Chris Cornell. And, for what it’s worth, there something in this song which speaks to some of what’s wrong with the Evangelical church.

Solange, “F.U.B.U.”

I hate the “n” word, always have. And, full disclosure here, I don’t understand black folks calling each other by that name. I don’t get it. And, I think that’s the point of this song. Solange released A Seat at the Table on the same day as Bon Iver’s 22, A Million in September, 2016. Because of my obsession with Bon Iver’s record, I didn’t jump into Solange’s record right away. This song encapsulates well the mix of creativity and the roiling discomfort the entire album brings. And, for this guy, that roiling discomfort happened much in 2017.

Jetty Rae, “Can’t Curse the Free”

The spiritual defiance in this song resonates deeply with me. The darkness has no right over the free. Preach it, sister!

Jessie Smith – “Been in the Storm”

This song is great in and of itself. But, it also serves as a great reminder of the fun I had connecting this artist with local venues here in the Chippewa Valley and spending a little time with her and her husband. Good, good people (and AWFULLY talented).

Leon Bridges – “River”

Oh man… this song. What a beautiful song. Originally released in 2015, I had not been exposed to River until a buddy of mine pointed me in it’s direction earlier this year. There is both universal and personal truth here… there’s blood on my hands and my lips are unclean… take me to your river, I wanna go.

J.E. Sunde – “Called By Our Names”

Redemption and hope. That’s this song. Dreams of a day in which all is made right, when shalom reigns. Let it be so.

NOW, onto 2018!!


TS10: Tree Skirts and Pine Needles

It’s Christmastime, folks. The last few TS10 playlists have flirted with Christmas music, but this week’s TS10 is in a committed relationship with holiday-themed songs. There is a mix of yuletide emotions, to be sure, but it’s all-Christmas, all the time for the next two weeks. Enjoy!

Artist Focus, TS10

Project 86: 20 Years of Push, Challenge, and Raw

I have this friend named Josh. I’ve known Josh since 1995. When we first met, I was an addicted, self-absorbed jerk. Some folks who knew me then may not have seen me that way, but I know the junk that lived inside me back then. It was ugly. One of the manifestations of that ugly stuff was how I was strongly opinionated about what was good and what was not. I was the measuring stick. What I liked was good and what I didn’t like was bad. There is no better example of this personal dynamic than in my musical tastes. Basically, the way it worked was that other folks, like Josh, would talk about music they were into and I would immediately dismiss whatever they had to say about that music.

In those first few years I knew Josh, he was drawn to groups like Creed, Project 86, P.O.D., and Every Day Life. Of course, I assumed he had little taste and didn’t know what he was talking about. Thankfully, that didn’t last. In 2003 or so (yes, eight years after meeting Josh), I finally started paying some attention to some of those bands, one of which was Project 86. I was enrolling in one of the music clubs (like BMG or Columbia House) and Drawing Black Lines by P86 was one of the options for the introductory offer and I took the risk. SO glad I did.

I loved the raw authenticity I heard in the album. Project 86 made it’s break in the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) world, but they sang about things that weren’t often fodder for CCM songs. References to suicide attempts and inward contempt were not normal for that milieu. Aside from the subject matter, I was immediately drawn to the intensity of their sound. I was a fan. And for me, their music pulled me in more and more as the next few albums came out. Truthless Heroes, Songs to Burn Bridges By, and …And the Rest Will Follow were all tremendous. …And the Rest Will Follow is one of my favorite albums of all time, period. These guys had lots to say about art, the music “industry,” God, the church, abuse, and various other controversial and/or provocative issues and they said it loudly and intensely.

I’ve never cared as much for their follow up to …And the Rest Will Follow, entitled Rival Factions. There are definitely highlights on the album, but I was honestly spoiled by its predecessor. However, I’ve always loved the song featured on this week’s TS10, The Forces of Radio Have Dropped a Viper in the Rhythm Section. It is so raucous and out of control. I think that’s the appeal for me, especially on an album that feels much more under control otherwise.

If you have followed Tomme Suab for a while and listen to the TS10 on a semi-regular basis, you may have notices there have been a few Project 86 songs featured. Don’t expect that to change. This is a band that has been screaming change and inviting listeners into deep introspection with an emotive and raucous style for two decades now and more of us ought to give them a listen. So, listen to them on the TS10, and if you’re interested in hearing more, click the links in this post or check out their site: www.project86.com.

Album Releases, Artist Focus, Music and Healing, TS10

The Unassuming Authenticity of Lizzy Diane


My relationship with Lizzy Diane’s music has been an interesting one. If you have been listening to the TS10 playlist on weekly basis, you know we have featured several songs off her new album, Otherkin. If you are connected with Tomme Suab or me personally on Facebook or Twitter, I have been actively promoting her for a while now. However, when I first listened to her, specifically her debut EP, Encompass Rose, I’m not sure I could have envisioned myself becoming a big Lizzy Diane fan. Thankfully, first impressions do not always tell the whole tale.

Here’s the thing… Lizzy has a very distinct vocal style. When I first listened to her, I honestly couldn’t tell if this was her natural voice, if it was an authentic outgrowth of what’s in her, or if he she was just trying to sound unique. That threw me off and I really wasn’t all that interested in hearing more. When I sense any possible lack of authenticity, it is easy for me to get all judgy and just walk away. That’s what I did with Lizzy Diane’s music.

And then, something happened. I started getting to know Lizzy. We connected via social media and as I would read her updates and posts, I was drawn to her. There was something about her that I couldn’t define. All I know is that it is evident she has something very special and unique living in her. As she began to mention the imminent release of her first full-length album, I was all in. When the album was released in early December and accompanied by a release show at Stone’s Throw here in Eau Claire, I promoted it actively and was incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t be there myself. In fact, there had been several opportunities to see her perform that I had missed out on. The only way I had experienced her music (and whatever that special thing that lives in her is) was through listening to Otherkin and through our social media connection.

Regarding the album, I enjoyed it from first listen. There is an otherworldly, ethereal feel to the whole record. This feel is created by a cohesive blend of sober melodies, gentle but poignant vocals, somber lyrical content, and an almost mystical-sounding combination of instrumentation. And yet, while the album certainly leads the listener to that otherworldliness, the power in the album is its thoroughly humanizing effect. I wrote about that dynamic in my short review of the album for Volume One. Ironically, I was a little concerned when I wrote about that humanizing dynamic in the V1 piece. After all, Lizzy called the album “Otherkin.” This is a mystical, metaphysical reference. I wasn’t sure if she would appreciate the fact that I am saying her supernaturally-themed album was essentially not supernatural. Regardless, that’s where the record took me personally, so I stood by that thought.

One of the humanizing elements of the album is the lyrical content itself. The themes are pretty dark, and they cover all kinds of relational woes. These are not typical heartbreak songs. These are deeply-felt personal experiences painted in creative ways on a melodic canvas. They not only speak honestly about how Lizzy has been hurt by others, but how she has hurt them too. It is profoundly honest and raw, and there is little that will draw me to an artist more than that.

In her song, Monster’s Lullaby, she shares a couple of lines that illustrate the depth, emotion, and honesty that can be found throughout the album. The song woefully describes an interaction between Lizzy and someone she cares deeply about. The relational backdrop seems to include a history of mutually-destructive behavior, including abusing alcohol. In this context, the listener finds what I consider the most poignant lines on the album:

I’ll drink it all, so you won’t

I’ll be the monster, so you won’t

At first glance, it would be easy to gloss over these lines. But, spend a moment in them. Think about what she is offering to this person. Think about the history that is indicated here. Think about how she is willing to engage in self-destructive behavior to save the other person from the same. There so much relational history and deep emotion, so much brokenness, in these two simple lines. This is the kind of poignancy that can be found throughout Otherkin.

While I really like what I hear in Otherkin, I know there is more and bigger stuff in Lizzy Diane. I’m listening to the album as I write this, and, yes, I am drawn in. Yet, what I hear is just a glimpse of the significant art and self-expression that is yet to come. That idea was confirmed when I finally had the opportunity to hear Lizzy play live and meet her in person. When I found out that Lizzy would be playing live at House of Rock at the end of January, I made sure that I could attend. I am indeed glad that I made being there a priority.

When she took the stage,  it was just her and her guitar. And, honestly, it was enchanting. There was a purity to her vocals and guitar-playing that struck me immediately. Otherkin has a really full feel to it. Lots of instrumentation with lots going on in each song. While I like that, I have to confess that the special something that lives in this artist seemed much freer to come out in this live and stripped-down setting. Her performance was really beautiful.

We were able to chat a little bit that night, but I felt like we needed to finish our conversation. So, I invited her to meet with me last week, and she graciously accepted. The short time helped me better, more clearly, see the significance of what lives in her. Now, I’m still not in a position to put actual words to it, but I can say that she is as genuine and unassuming as any artist I have met. It was clear to me that her music is an organic outgrowth of who she is and her experiences. Of anything I would personally ask of an artist, there would be nothing more important than this kind of authenticity.

Eventually, over the course of conversation, she made reference to the Volume One piece. Thankfully, she appreciated the comment about the “humanizing” effect of the album. For her, the idea of “otherkin” itself is a thoroughly humanizing thing. The legend of otherkin is that there are supernatural beings, often taking the form of animals, that humans identify themselves with (more on that here). When Lizzy was talking about this, she likened it to our fascination with superheroes. While we may like the flashy costumes, big muscles, and superhuman powers they possess, ultimately, it is their human ways of relating, their flaws, and their frailties that draw us in. In other words, it’s what we have in common with such supernatural or superhuman beings that really resonates with us. So, for her, the connection between the mystical and human is organic and about as connected as it gets.

For me, it is not at all unlike how God is creative, and has built us to be creative as well. These are both spiritual and natural realities that mesh together seamlessly. Lizzy’s self-expression and creativity contain both of these realities. So, yes, Otherkin is a significant expression of what it is to be human, while feeling otherworldly at the same time.

Lizzy Diane is the real deal. After our meeting, I walked away even more certain that the best is yet to come for her. Yeah, there may be some commercial success. More to the point, however, I believe she has even more significant art sitting on the tip of her heart, the kind of art and self-expression that not only helps her to feel more whole, more fully who she was built to be, but can have the very same effect on her listeners.