TS10: Eaux4Pools

Welcome to a special edition of the TS10. It’s special in that there are several strains running through this playlist which carry different kinds of significance. Eaux Claires is this week and I’m excited to partake in that incredible event once again (I’ve undergone something of an evolution in my thinking about the festival over the last couple of years, which I will likely share more about later). With the impending “return to the river,” the playlist kicks off with Bon Iver and The National, a small nod to the creators of Eaux Claires, Justin Vernon and Aaron Desner. J.E. Sunde is also included because of the festival, not because of his involvement, but because in my opinion he really ought to be involved!

Independence Day is also upon us here in the States. I am quite ambivalent about the 4th of July. While I’m grateful for the immense freedom we possess here, I am also aware of the racist and bloody past (and present) we tend to whitewash not only this time of year, but pretty much all the time. As a follower of Jesus, it’s hard for me to be excited about celebrating rebellion from our governing authority (wink wink, Jeff Sessions) and the facilitators of that rebellion who were, by and large, slaveholders and/or proponents of the slavery as well as the subjugation and dehumanizing of indigenous peoples. I find the  4th to be a prime opportunity to grieve and repent, personally.

Based on this approach to July 4th, we have Derek Webb’s King and a Kingdom, an anthem from what has become a functional time-capsule in Webb’s 2005 album, Mockingbird. Even though Webb disavows what he once believed, the truth in this song stands: “My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man…” Sylvan Esso’s Parad(w/m)e adds a little political commentary regarding current events. Muse’s Uprising is a call to stand up against the bullies. Marvin Gaye invites us to sit at the table, have a conversation, and bring “a little love in here today.” Lastly, Jimi Hendrix’s legendary version of The Star-Spangled Banner closes out this “Americana” aspect of the TS10.

Lastly, I am very pleased to debut a new song from what is quickly becoming one of my favorite bands, LASKA, rooted right here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Their new track, Dirty Pools, is creative, a little mesmerizing at times, and rife with anger and pain. Those spill out throughout the song and eventually manifest in a few choice F-bombs at the end (you’ve been warned).

So, yeah, there’s a lot happening in this week’s TS10. So, take a listen and let yourself feel through it all!


TS10: The Problem

Just recently, I heard a preacher speak on the New Testament book of James. He spoke with passion as he implored the audience to gain perspective, to see things from the proper viewpoint. During his discussion, he referred to a newspaper editorial from years ago in which the paper asked its readers to define what was wrong with the world. Things felt amiss. Something was wrong and the paper wanted to know what the problem was.

Renowned theologian G. K. Chesterton apparently sent an answer to that question. His response was simply “I am.” From what I understand, Chesterton was a good man and his writings have impacted lots of people. However, when considering the malaise hanging over the world, he saw himself as the cause. He was the problem. And so am I. And so are you.

Racism exists because we let it (and sometimes we facilitate it). Same with sexism, senseless gun violence, police brutality, and on and on and on. I am the problem. You are the problem.

While that seems heavy (and it is), that concept is also laced with hope. If the problem is in me, I can do something about it. I can’t control what anyone else will do. But, I can do something about the hideous stuff that lives in me.


WARNING: This playlist contains some intense language here and there.


TS10: Mood

A while back, my boy became obsessed with mood rings. I didn’t really understand it. Some other kid from school may have turned him on to them. However this fascination originated, he was not going to be content until he got his mood ring.

Well, he ended up with three different mood rings, all of them either lost or broken. That’s okay, though, because my man wears his mood like an overcoat. It is evident. I don’t need a phony ring to try to discern it.

This week’s TS10 is full of mood, I think. And the mood shifts from song to song, sometimes continuing a specific strain of mood while launching into some other mood simultaneously. Not sure what kind of mood you’re in right now, but if you’re like me, your moods can shift and pulse in different directions just like this playlist.



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.


General Thoughts, Music and Healing

It Might Be Over Soon (But It’s Not Likely)

It doesn’t matter that the album was released seven months ago. Nor, does it matter that I first heard these songs eight months ago at a concert. No matter how many weeks and months pass, all I have to do is start listening to the opening few seconds of 22 (Over Soon), from Bon Iver’s 22, A Million and I’m pulled right back in. I am virtually powerless against its tractor beam. It’s like an invitation back onto a musical and emotional rollercoaster. I have a feeling this dynamic isn’t going away.



2016 Tomme Suab Song of the Year: Bon Iver’s #29 Strafford Apts

I love this song. I hate this song. Let me tell you why. When I listen to this song, I hear this gentle, heart-on-the-sleeve tone throughout. That combined with Bon Iver’s talent and artistry would be the initial draw for me. There is a tender heart at the core of #29 Strafford Apts.

But then there are the technological, intentional blemishes that run throughout the entirety of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million record, and they are prevalent in this one. When I was first becoming acquainted with #29 Strafford Apts, that additional layer was not welcome as far as I was concerned. I wanted that tender heart to reign supreme. Not only did the techno-glitchiness interrupt that vibe, it totally “corrupted” the climactic third chorus in the song. Dammit. What was Justin Vernon thinking?

I cannot be sure what Mr. Vernon was trying to do, but my suspicion is that he did with this song exactly what he intended to do, and that was to disrupt the portrayal of that tenderness on purpose. At first, I was not very happy about that. And, I think maybe that was the point. As I’ve listened and contemplated further, there was another related dynamic I found provocative.


The techno-muffling during that third chorus sounds very reminiscent of when a tape got warped back in the day. Those of us who used to listen to cassettes on a regular basis know what I’m talking about and are well-acquainted with that malady. You’re listening to your favorite Thompson Twins song and then all of the sudden the voices are muffled and music is warped. Then it everything returns to normal. I’m quite sure this was the dynamic Vernon was going for.

However, when I heard my muffled version of Hold Me Now (look it up, kids), I knew if I heard it on the radio or someone else’s tape, I would hear the regular, pristine recording. That’s not the case with #29 Strafford Apts. I may NEVER hear the pristine, pure version of that chorus. And, that makes me mad. Furthermore, it convinces me further of Vernon’s genius. And when I consider that, it makes me smile.

So, yeah, I love this song and I hate this song. Which is why it is the 2016 Tomme Suab Song of the Year.


2016 Tomme Suab Album of the Year: Bon Iver’s 22, A Million

If you happened to see who was named the 2016 Tomme Suab Artist of the Year, then you may see a theme emerging with the Album of the Year. Yep, it’s Bon Iver’s 22, A Million. It just is. It’s been a long time since an album captured my heart like this one. Without going into great detail (I already did that in my post, Caught in Bon Iver’s Web… 22, A Million), this album is still in regular rotation in my personal playlist and it ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s beautiful, deep, provocative, and terribly creative. Congrats to Bon Iver for not only creating the 2016 TS Album of the Year, but also for making what could be one of my favorite records, period.

Artist Focus

2016 Tomme Suab Artist of the Year: Justin Vernon

I know, I know. This feels like it could have been impacted at least slightly by the artist’s hometown. Yes, I live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Justin Vernon resides in the area. But I swear, this recognition has only been indirectly influenced by that reality.

The truth is, like many of us Chippewa Valley denizens (let alone people around the globe), I have been aware of Vernon’s various music projects for years. And, I have appreciated his earlier Bon Iver work, as well as his work with Shouting Matches, Gayngs, Volcano Choir, and others. He is clearly talented and committed to his art and his craft. None of that changed in 2016.

What changed for me this year, regarding Justin Vernon, has everything to do with my own personal experience of Vernon’s genius. That experience began at the second annual Eaux Claires. I won’t recount too much of what that weekend was like for me, as I shared it some time ago in my post, The Eaux Claires Impact: Connection and Belonging. But, without trying to sensationalize anything, it was in some ways a life-changing experience for me. And Vernon’s imprint, obviously, was all over those two days.

Certainly, my initial Eaux Claires experience in and of itself was enough to make me a bona fide fan. But it was Bon Iver’s 2016 release, 22, A Million, that cemented the deal. That record, of course, was also ingrained into Eaux Claires. Vernon debuted the entire album live during the first night of the festival. That was my first time hearing Vernon/Bon Iver play live, and it was absolutely incredible. The new music was mesmerizing, and I felt like I was a part of something important that night.

22, A Million is an amazing record. Again, I wrote about that a while back as well, in my post, Caught in Bon Iver’s Web… 22, A Million. Just like the Eaux Claires experience and the Bon Iver live show, this album has captivated me in ways I would have never expected. Because of all these factors, as well as Vernon’s inarguable influence on the cultural path of the Chippewa Valley and western Wisconsin, Justin Vernon is this year’s Tomme Suab Artist of the Year.

Album Releases, Artist Focus

Caught in Bon Iver’s Web… 22, A Million

There’s a pretty good chance my feelings about Bon Iver’s new album are a bit tainted. Certainly, I’ve enjoyed Justin Vernon’s music for a while, whether it’s Bon Iver, Shouting Matches, Volcano Choir, or any other of his projects. However, in August of this year, I truly became a fan when I experienced Bon Iver live at Eaux Claires. Not only was it my first time seeing him perform live, but it was the debut of all the songs that make up his new record, 22, A Million. And, admittedly, every time I listen to the first track on the album, 22 (Over Soon), I am immediately emotionally transported to that moment, to that amazing experience. So, I bring some baggage into first impressions of Vernon’s most recent creation.

Those considerations aside, the most definitive thing I can say about the album is that it moves me deeply. I resonate with the words of one of my favorite artists, Derek Webb, who when describing 22, A Million, simply stated, “mind/heart blown.” Yep. I get that. Me too, brother. Me too, brother.

Frankly, in a vacuum, it would be surprising to me that I am so drawn to this music. Vernon employs so much Autotune and constantly manipulates everything electronically. There are times when it seems like I’m listening to a warped cassette tape. I’ve gathered that’s what he was trying to create, but that kind of stuff usually grates on me. For instance, one of my favorite tracks on the album is 29 #Strafford Apts. It builds a little and offers a high-note crescendo, with emotive movements throughout. But, just as we’re getting to the main crescendo, the payoff is muddled by that warped tape sound. Again, this would normally turn me off… and yet I continue to be drawn in. And then there’s the whole principle of using current technology to make sounds reminiscent of older technology, and specifically it’s failings. Yeah, usually, that’s not for me… and yet I can’t walk away.

There is something magnetic and provocative about 22, A Million that I can’t even really describe. Certainly, Vernon and his team have worked hard to build some mystique and intrigue around its release. When he debuted the album at Eaux Claires, each song was accompanied by vivid, yet distorted video imagery. And as each song began, the official Eaux Claires app would inform us of the name of the song. Throughout the first day of the festival, Sam Amidon and his Guitarkestra walked the grounds, teaching everyone the words and melody of the album’s finale, 1000000 Million, “where the days have no numbers…” so we could all sing along later that night. Then, there were the “unique” listening parties a couple of days before the release in which hundreds of people would show up to catch an audible glimpse of the album as it was played on a small boombox (a fairly fruitless venture, from my personal experience). Certainly, the cryptic artwork on the cover/liner notes add to the mystique as well.

Another element contributing to this mystique is the utter unpredictability of the album. I mean, seriously, the first few times I listened, I had little idea what was coming next, not only between songs, but in the middle of each individual track. It is all over the place in the most precise, intentional manner. It leverages unique samples, traditional rock/pop instrumentation, incredible creativity, and Vernon’s signature falsetto to create a meandering, yet purposeful work of art.

I don’t know what the lyrics are really about, other than to say it certainly seems as though Vernon is tackling some deep and heady subjects. There’s God, the Devil, numerology, hope, and despair, among other such issues. All of this seems to come together in a central message. I’m not sure what that message is yet…but it seems to be something powerful. Something meaningful. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

As an Eau Clairian, it is incumbent upon me to be at least interested in Bon Iver. I’ve gone from being interested, to liking, to being an all-out fan. My 22, A Million experience has solidified that. And even now, as I listen to the emotive closing anthem of the album, 1000000 Million, my heart is captured and held in suspense. The emotional tension and grip is almost palpable. I expect that captivity, suspense, tension, and grip to hang on for a while to come.


Live Shows, Music and Healing

The Eaux Claires Impact: Connection and Belonging

On Saturday, August 13, 2016, around 11pm, I walked away from my first experience with Eaux Claires (EXC). In that moment, I was already fully aware that something had shifted in me. I was different. As I began walking toward the exit, I was serenaded by Beach House’s The Space Song, a dreamy ballad which has been running through my head and heart ever since. When I think of it or hear it, I am immediately, inwardly, transported back to that moment. And, I remember how a music festival utterly wrecked me.

Now,  let me be clear, I don’t mean “I got messed up” at the festival. I’ve never been to other local music festivals (i.e. Country Jam and Rock Fest), but I understand there’s a pretty serious party vibe at each of them. I did not sense that vibe at Eaux Claires. No, I didn’t get high or drunk. I was wrecked emotionally, deeply and personally impacted by what I experienced that weekend.

When I arrived at Foster Farms around noon on Day One (Friday, August 12), I could immediately sense there was something special in the air. I couldn’t define it and didn’t really want to. Even before the music began, I was glad I was there and I felt, in a sense, I belonged there. That sense of belonging only increased over the course of those two days. Now, I could offer a play-by-play of every show I saw, every piece of art I witnessed, and every nuance of the overall experience, but I’m not going to do that. But I will say that everything I experienced at Eaux Claires only served to bolster that feeling of belonging.

That feeling was affirmed further during Phil Cook’s set on Saturday. While I certainly enjoyed his music, my heart deeply resonated with a simple statement he made in between songs: “Music is sacred.” I responded with a holler and clapping, which could otherwise have been translated as my “Amen.” There is something transcendent about music, from its primary role in corporate worship for many religious groups to the fact it is an integral part of every cultural group in the world (at least as far as I’m aware). Music, and art in general, is special. There is something holy in creative self-expression.

If you’ve read much of what I’ve written on Tomme Suab, you know how I feel about the importance of art. I believe God created everything and that he wired that creative DNA into each of us. So, when we are engaging in creative expression, or appreciating someone else’s art, there is something “sacred” happening. There is a connection with the Divine, in a very real sense. Regardless of what the creators and contributors of Eaux Claires may believe about these things, they created a Mecca, at least for me, of that connection, that sacred dynamic. And being there in the middle of that, being saturated by it for two days, moved me. I felt as though I belonged there, even as if I was meant to be there.

Along with the sense of belonging, another dynamic I witnessed that weekend was the intentionality and purposefulness interwoven throughout every part of the festival (at least my experience of it). It was clear to me this was not intended to simply be a music festival. It certainly wasn’t meant to be a pretense for partying. It was a holistic experience, purposefully incorporating various genres of music and multiple other art forms (seemingly including the food options as well, which featured various ethnic and fusion cuisines). And there was an intentional connection with nature, which, in my mind, is the ultimate creative expression from the ultimate Creator. There also seemed to be a continual, purposeful flow between shows, performances, exhibits, and art installations (a flow which included shows starting when scheduled for the most part). The attention to detail inherent in the planning of such an experience was impressive.


Lighted trees on the path between venues

I mentioned the multiple genres of music represented at Eaux Claires. Now, I’m not much for categorizing musicians by genre or style. I hate the idea of boxing artists into a certain mold. But certainly, there were some highly identifiable styles there from southern folk/rock to hip hop to experimental orchestral to punk (and everything in between and around these). And on the surface, it may seem as though having such diverse styles on the same bill would be awkward or clunky. It wasn’t. I can’t really explain it, other than to say there was that unifying belongingness grounded in the creative expression connections mentioned above. That’s not to say that I connected with everything I heard in those two days. It really isn’t about that. It’s about how these diverse artists from diverse backgrounds playing diverse music were able to, somehow, collectively come together to inspire and challenge everyone in attendance (including other artists).

And maybe that collaborative diversity was the most compelling part of my Eaux Claires experience. As I come to understand more of Jesus and his message, I am beginning to recognize how important the idea of reconciliation is. I am beginning to comprehend how important it is to honor and celebrate our differences while learning to work with each other to create good things. At Eaux Claires, I got to experience that dynamic on a small scale, but it spoke to me in a large way.


The calm before the Shara Nova storm

Now, without giving you a rundown of everything I witnessed those two days, I would like to highlight several pieces of the Eaux Claires puzzle which illustrate some of what I’m sharing here. First off, the musical aspect of my experience kicked off with My Brightest Diamond, which is driven and fronted by the dynamic Shara Nova, whose performance that afternoon set the stage for the entire weekend. She was passionate, emotive, and precise. Fittingly, her music is hard to classify, with its mixture of poignant lyrics, operatic sensibilities, punk edge, and various other musical influences. I walked away from her performance shaken (in a good way) and inspired. I was grateful to have a chance to meet her the next day after we both rocked out to EX EYE. She came across as genuine and dynamic, just as she was on stage the previous day.


A picture with Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond

And then there was the James Blake experience. Before the Friday of the festival, I didn’t know any of Blake’s music. But, when a friend of mine suggested Blake was one of the artists he was most looking forward to seeing, I decided to check out his set. I’m glad I did. I was captivated by the electronic soulfulness Blake brought that night. While his performance was amazing in and of itself, it was (perhaps divinely) integrated with a nature experience neither he nor the EXC planners could have planned: rain. For some, standing out in a field while the rain is coming down (without a jacket, umbrella, or poncho) may sound miserable. It was anything but that for me on that Friday night. As Blake played and sang, the rain came down and the combination created something almost ethereal. While a dry James Blake set would have been great, there was something about the falling drops that made it that much more special and captivating.

Another of the great surprises of the weekend for me was the Banks venue. It was the only indoor venue (a large tent) at the festival, and each attendee was issued a set of wireless headphones upon entry. At first, I thought that was a little strange, but after witnessing a portion of one of the sets there, I got it. On the first evening, I was walking around sampling various sets and wandered into the tent to catch a little of Sarah Neufield’s set. It’s really hard to describe with any kind of justice what I experienced there. Basically, the musicians stood inside a stage with three walls surrounding them. The walls were somewhat transparent, so you could see the artists to an extent. However, when they were playing, the screens were filled with lights and graphics that moved and changed with the flow of the music. I was fairly mesmerized. It was a tremendous and gorgeous blend of visual stimuli with creative experimental music. I came back to the Banks the next day to catch Catsax. The video below is a small piece of their show (which again, does not do justice to the experience).

But, perhaps the greatest example of the continuity, connection, and expression of Eaux Claires 2016 was Bon Iver’s set itself. Of course, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon is one of the driving forces behind the festival. And perhaps it is fitting that his set on Friday night typified much of what made EXC great. To represent this part of the weekend well in any sense, I need to start with the lead-up to Bon Iver’s set.

James Blake played on the Flambeaux stage across the field from where Vernon would be playing (Lake Eaux Lune). As mentioned above, his set was captivating, and it ended with an incredible loop-creating session that built upon itself repeatedly, frame after frame, until it reached its emotive crescendo. As soon as his set was complete, someone immediately began playing baroque music on the organ housed in the lighted cage pictured below.


Lighted organ cage

When the organ stopped, there was a short silence as everyone moved into position for the Bon Iver show. And then, after a brief introduction by Michael Perry, it began. As had been announced in the days leading up to EXC, Vernon debuted his new album, 22, A Million, that night, starting with track one and playing straight through with limited interruptions. The huge screens on and around the stage told the stories of the songs in glitchy, blurry, and colorful abstractions, which was completely fitting for the music being played. I will not attempt to describe the new songs; you need to check them out for yourself. But, the performance that night was amazing, beautiful, and inspiring, bringing together collaboration, diverse influences, visual stimuli, and the magical blend of poignant artistry and immense talent. I’ve liked Bon Iver for some time; but I became a fan that night. Note: To catch something of the flavor, check out the video below, which captures most of the performance.

There are so many more dynamics of my Eaux Claires experience I could share… like hearing a heavy metal band with saxophones (EX EYE), like being drawn into the tribal rhythms and visual theatrics of Jon Mueller, like the infectious catchiness of Lucius, like the creative orchestral work of yMusic and Eighth Blackbird, like the experimental hip hop of Shabazz Palaces… I could go on and on. But, I won’t. What I will do, however, is tell you that my life was impacted deeply by this experience. It marked me to the point in which I couldn’t think of much else for days afterward. In fact, it’s just been within the last week that listening to The Space Song by Beach House no longer stirs up a bit of mourning (that the festival is over). Nonetheless, I am different after Eaux Claires 2016, and to say I am grateful for the experience feels like a significant understatement.