The Supreme Court Ruling on Corporate Funding of Campaigns

In a decision that could have a dramatic effect how elections are conducted in the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 in favor of a group of conservative filmmakers of the "Hillary: The Movie." The Court declared unconstitutional (because of the First Amendment) campaign finance regulations which restrict the ability of corporations and unions to use funds from their general treasury for "electioneering" purposes. The result of the decision will increase spending for corporations, unions, and nonprofits in elections.

This was a very difficult case, because it dealt with free speech as it applies to corporate spending in elections. The nuances of the case were finely debated by Trevor Potter (President and General Counsel of The Campaign Legal Center) and Floyd Abrams (famous First Amendment attorney, who argued the case before the court) on Bill Moyers Journal back in September. Watch it here:

The Far Left are calling this a travesty of justice. In his "Special Comment," MSNBC's Keith Olbermann envisioned "a future United States in which this Supreme Court ruling permitting unbridled corporate campaign spending purchase all the power greed can afford." E.J. Dionne wrote,
__"Defenders of this vast expansion of corporate influence piously claim it's about "free speech." But since when is a corporation, a creation of laws passed by governments, entitled to the same rights as an individual citizen? This ruling will give large business entities far more power than any individual, unless you happen to be Michael Bloomberg or Bill Gates.
__The only proper response to this distortion of our political system by ideologically driven justices is a popular revolt. It would be a revolt of a sort deeply rooted in the American political tradition."
But Jonathan Turely, George Washington University law professor and a frequent guest on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, didn't agree with Olbermann's assessment of the case. See his interaction with Olbermann here:

According to Turley on his blog, The good news in this case is "that two provisions were upheld by the Court (with only Clarence Thomas dissenting): The Court upheld the disclosure requirement that requires corporations to file a report with the FEC on contributors of $1,000 or more (when the corporation spends more than $10,000 a year to produce such ads). It also upheld the disclaimer requirement that requires that the producers say who is responsible for the ad if it not authorized by a candidate or a political committee."

So, since House Republican leader John Boehner said, "I think the Supreme Court decisions today are a big win for the First Amendment and a step in the right direction," perhaps he will submit to a rule that would make him wear his corporate sponsors on his suit, much like NASCAR racers do on theirs.


Top Fifteen Signs Your Sermon Isn’t Going Well

Courtesy of Mike Wittmer

15. Your associate pastor is warming up in the bullpen.

14. The praise band begins playing you off the stage.

13. You are using PowerPoint.

12. When asked to read from the King James Version, you involuntarily blush every time you say the word “ass.”

11. The congregation is filling in the blanks of your outline before you get there.

10. You think the lyrics to a bluegrass song are really connecting with your audience.

9. When you pause for dramatic effect, several people giggle.

8. Your cell phone starts ringing, and you answer it.

7. The person signing for the deaf just pulled on mittens.

6. When the children are dismissed to junior church, most of their parents go, too.

5. Your sermon took shape over a glass of wine and volume three of Left Behind.

4. Your interpreter just rolled his eyes and put your last statement in quotation marks.

3. Desperate mothers are pinching their babies.

2. The ushers are handing out refunds.

1. You began your sermon with “Top 10 signs your sermon isn’t going well.”


Who ARE these guys?

On Thursday, the Cavaliers beat the Lakers 93-87. With the win, LeBron James' team swept Kobe Bryant's team for the season (on Christmas Day, they beat the Lakers in LA, 102-87). Terry Pluto writes about how the Cavaliers are better built to compete this season:
It happened during warmups, the first time the Cavaliers played the Los Angeles Lakers last season.

Some of the Cavs coaches and front office people looked at the two teams and told each other, "Those guys are really tall."

And next to the Lakers, the Cavs looked kind of small.

Two times, the teams played. Both times, the Cavs were easily defeated, the final scores being 105-88 and 101-91. After both, the Cavs wondered if they actually did win the Eastern Conference, how would they deal with the Lakers in the Finals?

Fans know that question didn't matter, because the Orlando Magic used its size to knock the Cavs out of the East finals. The Lakers then made the Magic disappear to win the title.

Following the season, the Cavs wondered how to deal with a Lakers front line of 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and 6-10 Lamar Odom? Then there's Kobe Bryant, who always seems to play larger than his 6-6 frame?

An NBA-best 66 regular-season victories was not enough; the Cavs knew that after last season. Ben Wallace was not tall enough to cope with monster centers Dwight Howard of Orlando or Bynum and Gasol.

Who could cover Bryant, besides LeBron James? Yes, Delonte West was gritty, but he was giving away four inches to the future Hall of Famer. The same when West defended Boston's Paul Pierce, or several of Orlando's wing players.

On the bench were Sasha Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak, and neither had a prayer against Bryant or Pierce or another other talented scorer.

So the Cavs decided to be bold. They traded for Shaquille O'Neal to help defend the paint area near the basket. They dispatched Szczerbiak and Pavlovic, adding Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker -- both long, more athletic wing players.

They broke up a 66-win team partly to compete with the Lakers.

Letter to Pat Robertson from Satan

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher.

The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake.

Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please.

Best, Satan

From Minneapolis Star Tribune
hat tip: Byron Borger


Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert take on the Political Pundits

Last night, Comedy Central hit it out of the park on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. Stewart skewered Left-Wing pundit Keith Olbermann for no longer giving insightful analysis and becoming a "name caller." Colbert skewered the Right-Wing pundits for talking out both sides of their mouths - that in his first year in office, Obama has "done nothing" and also has "ruined America." Great stuff. Satire at its finest.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Special Comment - Keith Olbermann's Name-Calling
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Two-Faced
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy


Andy Crouch on Creating Culture

"Our posture is our learned but unconscious default position, our natural stance. It is the position our body assumes when we aren't paying attention, the basic attitude we carry through life. Appropriate gestures toward particular cultural goods have become, over time, part of the posture Christians unconsciously adopt toward every cultural situation and setting."

These necessary gestures that become various postures are:
  • Condemning Culture
  • Critiquing Culture
  • Copying Culture, and
  • Consuming Culture.

What Crouch suggests is that we use these as "gestures" at appropriate times, but that the call of the Christian (according to Genesis 1:28ff and Genesis 2:15) is to Create Culture.

Source: jubilee.tv, 2009 Jubilee Conference


Gabe Lyons on Influencing Culture (video)

Gabe Lyons, co-author of unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters and founder of Q Ideas (formerly the Fermi Project) explains how Christians have lost their cultural influence by reducing the Gospel to a "Half Story."

"When Christians dismiss the cultural mandate as an insignificant part of the Christian life, separatism and piety increases and cultural influence fades. But, if Christians learn and embrace the full story gospel (Creation / Fall / Redemption / Restoration) and partner with God in restoring and redeeming his creation, their cultural influence will follow and the Good News will spread."

Source: jubilee.tv, 2009 Jubilee Conference


Kiva's Jessica Jackley on Creating Sustainable Financing to Overcome Poverty

Here is a short video of a message from Jessica Jackley, founder of Kiva, given to college students at CCO's Jubilee Conference last year. What's really exciting about it is the testimony to these students that they can make a real difference with if they look for God's calling on their lives.

Last year's Jubilee Conference (a ministry of CCO - Coalition for Christian Outreach)


Top 20 Albums of 2009 (10-1)

10. Pendragon – Pure
Pendragon’s first album came out in 1985. They recorded their most significant album, The Masquerade Overture, in 1996. You would think that Pendragon’s leader/writer/vocalist/guitarist Nick Barrett would no longer have anything new to offer. That would be a mistake. With this album, Barrett takes the band into heavier and darker territory. His guitar work has always sounded like Steve Hackett (Genesis) and David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), but now it also reminds me a lot of Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree). The trademark Pendragon melodies are still there, Clive Nolan’s great keyboards are still there, but it is all done with a much more modern rock sound. Opening track “Indigo” offers a 13-minute epic; Barret’s vocal work reminds me of Pink Floyd’s harmonies (maybe that’s because I hear dogs barking in the background, but it's more than that!), and his gravelly guitar ventures close to metal without crossing that line. The three-part epic “Comatose” is an expansive musical gem, starting out with piano and moody guitar, then explodes into a hard rock section, then a string quartet kicks in to set the beat for part 2, featuring a great guitar loop and soundscapes from Clive Nolan. Part 3 sounds very Roger Waters-ish, introspective and haunting. A fine album from one of the giants of Prog Rock.

9. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
I know I’m late for the party. Elbow’s been on my radar, but I didn’t explore them until this past year. When Peter Gabriel announced his next project (Scratch My Back, due out this month, on which he does covers of twelve of his favorite songs), it brought Elbow back onto my screen. Gabriel will do “Mirrorball” from The Seldom Seen Kid. When I saw that this album won the prestigious “Mercury Prize” in 2008 (awarded for “the best album from the United Kingdom or Ireland”), I thought I’d check it out. I am a fan of Radiohead and Coldplay, and this album is in the same vein of music, but remains very unique - enough not to be seen as “just another one of those.” It is just a fantastic album, filled with progressive musical textures placed within accessible pop songs, with warm vocals and excellent lyrics provided by frontman Guy Garvey. As a hopeless romantic, these lyrics truly struck a major chord for me (“We kissed like we invented it”) – some of the most authentic love songs I’ve heard in a long time. I like how allmusic.com sums it up in their review, “It's no surprise that Elbow are regularly compared to old-school prog rockers like Pink Floyd and Electric Light Orchestra: they're proof that records can be cool and commercial at the same time, an idea that's not particularly hip in this day and age.”

8. OSI – Blood
OSI is a partnership of guitarist Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) and keyboardist/vocalist Kevin Moore (Chroma Key, ex-Dream Theater). OSI’s self-titled album (2003), was an instant prog classic. It featured Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums, and Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) as a guest vocalist on one of the songs. Their second album, Free, made my top 10 for 2008. With Blood, they made the top 10 again. This time around, Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) takes care of the drums. Portnoy and Harrison are arguably the #1 and #2 best prog drummers in rock today. Moore's keyboards create ambient soundscapes while Matheos’ guitars provide the driving metal textures. OSI’s unique progressive blending of electronics with hard rock makes them distinctive, and one of my favorite bands. Kevin Moore's almost-monotonish vocal delivery is an acquired taste, but I really like it, and it fits perfectly in with this style of music. Stand out tracks include "The Escape Artist," "Radiologue," "Be the Hero," and the title track.

7. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
This is a progressive/folk rock-opera masterpiece. The individual songs are immediately accessible, yet they flow into one another to tell an epic captivating fairy tale. Musical themes are repeated throughout the album (the title track is broken into four parts, once to introduce the story, twice in the middle, and then again to wrap up the tale). Frontman Colin Meloy recruited two female vocalists to augment his vocals in order to have play the role of the maiden who finds herself pregnant by a shape-shifting creature who may be her future husband. The music incorporates folk, distorted guitar hard rock, harpsichord, orchestral strings, and everything else in the kitchen sink. Guitarist Chris Funk reminds me of Yes’ Steve Howe, playing all kinds of stringed instruments: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, autoharp, and pedal steel. And you’ve got to love lyrics that aren’t afraid to use archaic English (“Thou inconsolable daughter / Said the sister / When wilt thou trouble the water / In the cistern”)!

6. Riverside – Anno Domini High Definition
This album reached number 1 in Riverside's homeland of Poland. With ADHD, Riverside develops their prog rock sound toward a more prog metal style. And with it, they offer one of the best prog rock albums to come out in a long time. Perhaps the best song of the year is "Egoist Hedonist." It is multi-textured, starting out with staccato guitars, then a power chorus, adding in some horns, Hammond organ and keyboards reminiscent of Rick Wakeman (Yes), and then a Pink Floyd-ish instrumental section – all in a song that comes in at just under 9 minutes. If you like Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, OSI, Nine Inch Nails, Opeth’s Watershed, all done with “the delicate thoughtfulness of Pink Floyd” (to quote one review), then check this out.

5. Muse – The Resistance
Muse has been growing on me over the last year, so when The Resistance came out, I was ready for its quirkiness and over-the-top arrangements. Muse takes the rock sound of Radiohead and couples it with Classical Composers Wagner and Chopin, while paying homage to Queen (“United States of Eurasia” shows their reverence for “Bohemian Rhapsody”). Here we have clear-cut evidence that Prog Rock has finally gone mainstream again after 30 years. The album ends with a three-part “symphony,” “Exogenesis,” which has it all: symphonic majesty, rock power, melody, inventiveness, and emotion.

4. Orphan Project – Spooning Out the Sea
Orphan Project is a very pleasant surprise for the Christian who also loves progressive rock (thanks, Jeff, for bringing them to my attention!). Their second full-length album continues the excellence of their debut outing – heavy prog rock with great hooks and accessible choruses. This reminds me of early Spock’s Beard and Kansas. One review labels them “Peter Gabriel going heavy.” Many of the songs are disguised worship songs, in that they don’t seem like that at first listen (after all, they are hard progressive rock songs). Only when you listen intently to the lyrics do you realize what’s really going on. For instance, from Angels Desire: "You bring me shelter / You refine / All that I am / Unchain and free / This burdened soul / I’ll fly where angels desire."

3. Devin Townsend Project – Addicted
This is actually the second of two releases from Devin Townsend in 2009 (the first was Ki, and two more are slated for 2010 in order to complete the four-part “The Devin Townsend Project” series). He is the founder of “Extreme Metal / Thrash Metal / Death Metal” band, Strapping Young Lad. I am not a fan of these genres of music, and have little interest in SYL. I find it all so loud and obnoxious. But with his new endeavor, “The Devin Townsend Project,” Townsend is turning over a new leaf. “I wanted to make a record that was heavy, without being dark or depressing. When I got into metal it was for the energy behind it, but somewhere along the way that energy started getting really negative.” Townsend, known as a “growler” from his SYL days, surprisingly has an incredible vocal range, and when he sneaks a growl in here and there, it is absolutely appropriate and actually acts as another instrument in the harmony. With Ki, Townsend created a mellow, restrained album. With Addicted, Townsend found the perfect formula. He added the incredible vocal talents of Anneke van Giesbergen (Agua de Annique, ex-The Gathering, Ayreon). This was an excellent choice; Anneke’s beautiful and haunting vocals compliment Townsend’s exceptional vocals perfectly. This album must be heard on top-of-the-line headphones or a high-end home sound system to get the fullness of the production value. Townsend’s ability to add layers upon layers of sounds without muddying the sound is an amazing feat. Turn off the lights and get lost in the place that this album will take you.

1 (Tie). Porcupine Tree – The Incident
This is the best PT album since 2002’s In Absentia. As a huge fan of Porcupine Tree, I was disappointed with their last offering, Fear of a Blank Planet, and thought that maybe my Porcupine Tree days were finished. But this album got me back in their camp, big time. Steven Wilson has created an incredible masterpiece of dark electronica mixed with nasty guitars, wonderful melodies and haunting atmospherics, all performed with incredible instrumental precision by expert musicians and mixed to perfection (Wilson has already been nominated for a Grammy for “Best Surround Sound Album” for PT’s last album). I have to confess, however, that this concept album was hard to get into at first, since the first CD is basically one 55-minute long composition. So I re-listened to the album by thinking in terms of "suites:" “Great Expectations” together with “Kneel and Disconnect,” “The Incident” together with “Your Unpleasant Family” and “The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train,” and “Octane Twisted” grouped with “Séance” and "Circle of Manias." All of a sudden, I "got it." And I loved it. The centerpiece song on the album, “Time Flies,” will remind you a lot of Pink Floyd, especially with the acoustic riff reminiscent of “Dogs,” and then the atmospheric sections reminding us of other Floyd classics. When Porcupine Tree first came into existence in the 90s, they were often called the new Pink Floyd, their earlier albums featured long instrumental pieces that were very psychedelic and spacey. But by the turn of the century, Wilson found his groove with a distinctive Porcupine Tree sound, which is now so influential that it is copied by many others. Every song on the first disc is a winner, from the opener, "The Blind House" (gritty and hard guitars juxtaposed with quieter verses) to the ender, "I Drive the Hearse," where Wilson sings the very haunting chorus: "And pride is just another way / Of trying to live with my mistakes / Denial is a better way / Of getting through another day / And silence is another way / Of saying what I wanna say / And lying is another way / Of hoping it will go away." And on top of this, there’s a second disc! “Bonnie The Cat” shows off Gavin Harrison’s drumming expertise, and two other songs remind me of early Porcupine Tree, and don’t forget “Remember Me Lover,” a classic PT song.

1 (Tie). Transatlantic – The Whirlwind
Where Porcupine Tree’s album represents the new cutting-edge of prog rock, Transatlantic represents the very best of old-school prog. For those not in the know, Transatlantic is the “Progressive Rock Supergroup” of the 21st Century. The band features Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Pete Trewavas (Marillion, Kino), and Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, Kaipa, ex-The Tangent). Their first album, SMPTe (2000) was an instant classic and the follow-up Bridge Across Forever (2001) was even better. But when Morse left his band Spock’s Beard to pursue a solo career focusing on Christian themes, Transatlantic was closed down as well. But then in 2008, my buddy Matt and I went to the 3 Rivers Prog Festival, featuring Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse, and The Flower Kings. It was an amazing event because at the end of the Spock’s Beard set, Neal Morse reunited with the band he founded for a song, and then at the end of Neal’s set, Roine Stolt was introduced and then Mike Portnoy walked out on stage and they performed a couple Transatlantic classics. After the show, Matt and I hung out with Neal and Mike like we were all old friends. The rumors began to fly—will Transatlantic reunite? Yes! Eight years after their last release, The Whirlwind was in my hands. And, it is their most ambitious offering, a 78 minute 12-part epic. Amazingly, the album feels both more cohesive and more diverse than their previous albums. All the members share in writing the music (though Morse and Stolt naturally are the main composers), and each person gets an equal spotlight, without making the effort feel disjointed or forced. This truly is the best of Neal Morse, Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings, Marillion, Kino, Dream Theater, and Liquid Tension Experiment all mixed into one. Morse’s vocals are outstanding, his keyboards are played masterfully. Roine Stolt cranks out incredible guitar solos and adds his trademark atmospheric soaring notes. Mike Portnoy shows that he is indeed rock’s best drummer, able to restrain himself from all the strange time signatures he does with Dream Theater, playing this style of music flawlessly. Pete Trewavas is one of the most underrated bass players in rock, and he is perfectly in groove with Portnoy here. One more thing: I’m surprised that the other members of the band allowed Morse to sing such conspicuously Christian lyrics. For some fans, this was a turn-off. But for me, it was more of what makes me adore Neal Morse.

Related: Top 20 Albums of 2009 (A Brief History of Prog)


Top 20 Albums of 2009 (20-11)

2009 was one of the best years I can remember in both new music and music that I discovered for the first time. Before reading my countdown of the Top 20 albums of 2009, be sure to check out my “A Brief History of Prog.”

20. Jars of Clay – The Long Fall Back to Earth
I just like these guys; a mix of Coldplay and U2, with great lyrics. And if you’re not aware of Blood:Water Mission, get over there and read about how $1 can give an African one year of clean water. Jars of Clay began this very important ministry, and were featured on the cover of Christianity Today back in November - read about how “Jars of Clay is well on the way to bringing fresh water to 1,000 African communities” here.

19. Eureka – Shackleton’s Voyage
Ernest Shackleton's Trans-Antarctica expedition of 1914 - 1917 is one of the most incredible adventure stories of all time. He intended to cross the Antarctic continent from one coast to the other via the South Pole. However, his ship (ironically called Endurance), was crushed by the ice at a time when there was no chance of contacting the outside world, let alone of being rescued. Shakelton and his men cleverly escaped certain doom with no lives lost. Shackleton was one of the greatest heroes of the 20th Century. Imagine a movie about this voyage, and imagine the soundtrack being done by a Progressive Rock band with shades of Pink Floyd, Tony Banks, and Rick Wakeman. "Shackleton's Voyage" is a 51-minute symphonic, concept-based journey. Most of the songs are instrumental, but there are a few lyrically-driven songs as well, sung by Billy Sherwood (ex-Yes). Also appearing on the album are RPWL’s Yogi Lang playing the moog, and Iona and Nightwish member Troy Donockley playing flute and bagpipes (yes, bagpipes! And it works wonderfully!).

18. Mastodon – Crack the Skye
Progressive Metal has certainly arrived if Mastodon’s new album got to number 11 in the United States. Also, Crack the Skye is on many "top albums of 2009" lists (Paste, Rolling Stone, Spin). Paste’s Michael Saba writes, “Mastodon’s past flirtations with prog have consistently pitched toward the metal side of scrimmage, never fully embracing the melodic pomp of Yes and ELP. Crack The Skye—though still intrinsically a metal album—is rife with unabashed overtures to the symphonic rock of yore.” Yep. It’s evident in the three-part epic “The Czar” and “The Last Baron,” clocking in at 13 minutes. It sounds like Black Sabbath meets Yes, if that makes sense…

17. Within Temptation – Black Symphony
This CD was my introduction to the "Symphonic Metal" of Within Temptation, who combine the aggression of heavy metal with the majesty of Classical music, featuring strong melody and bombastic choruses. Many of the most popular Symphonic Metal bands feature female vocalists (Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, The Gathering, Evenesence, Epica), and Sharon den Adel is one of the best. This is a live performance of their most popular songs, but it is not your run-of-the-mill concert CD. For this show, they employed the 60 piece Metropole Orchestra and the 20 voice Pa'dam Choir to accompany them. The result is extremely impressive. For those who always suspected that there was a thin line between Metal and Classical music, here’s the proof.

16. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
Even after all these years, U2 still creates some of the best rock grooves out there, emotional and heartfelt. The band continues to move forward, not resting on its laurels. Bono’s lyrics still connect deeply, especially to one with a Christian worldview. And he knows that he is a very blessed man, being connected with the great musicians of U2, and getting the opportunity to sing the music that he believes in. As he testifies in "Magnificent": I was born / I was born to sing for you / I didn’t have a choice / But to lift you up / And sing whatever song you wanted me to.

15. RED – Innocence & Instinct
With their second album, RED continues to excel with their mix of hard rock and metal; there’s no “sophomore slump” here! While many hard rock bands are using strings these days, RED does it right – creating moods and tension. Though a “Christian” band, they don’t preach; rather, they dig deep into how God offers grace in the difficulties of life, wearing their anger and longing on their sleeves. On "Confession (What’s Inside My Head)", they sing, I feel fine / And I can smile / But I feel the anger coming / It's underneath / I don't know why / It's always overflowing / It's a constant fight / Deep inside/ And I wanna forget it.

14. Explosions in the Sky – All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone (2007), The Earth Is not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
This is a band that I discovered in 2009, though their last album is two years old. EITS is “Post Rock,” a style of instrumental music using rock instruments to create compositions that are epic and full of texture, at times atmospheric, at other times loud and blasting. Very proggish in that it makes you wonder if this would have been the music that some classical composers would have created if they had an electric guitar, a bass and a drumkit. Instrumental music doesn’t get any better than this. As Rolling Stone magazine reviewer David Fricke wrote, “In this band, a real singer would just get in the way—or get run over.”

13. Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings
Sure, Mastodon hit it big (Billboard no. 11) with “Crack the Skye,” but the masters of Prog Metal broke into the top 10 with Black Clouds & Silver Linings (hitting number 6 on the Billboard 200 chart). Not that there’s a competition; I’m glad that prog is finally selling to a larger audience. And Dream Theater is the epitome of the "Prog Metal" genre – every member is a virtuoso at his instrument. I remember seeing them in concert for the first time…I stood there with my mouth open in awe. At one point, after a long and precise instrumental segment, in which each member showed his precision at playing, I turned to my friend Matt and said, “Oh come on! Their just showing off now!!” DT is not just head-bangin’ metal (though they are that!), they also offer very good lyrics. "The Count of Tuscany" (clocking in at just over 19 minutes) tells a story that Edgar Allen Poe could have written (very much like “The Cask of Amontillado"). On "The Shattered Fortress," Mike Portnoy offers the last installment of a twelve-part song (here we have parts 10, 11, and 12; the previous parts were on the last three albums) that allows us to join him in his spiritual journey. I once thought it better / To be right / But now I have finally seen the light / Sometimes you've got to be wrong / And learn from mistakes / I live with serenity now / Not self-righteous hate. If only more metal artists would learn this lesson!

12. Gazpacho – Tick Tock
You eat Gazpacho in the summer; it is a cold refreshing soup made from various fresh ingredients. So this is a great name for this band—a refreshing mix of musical influences, but with a freshness that is all their own. Sure, you can hear some Marillion, Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, and even a little Pink Floyd in there, but it is all finely mixed together into a refreshing dish. This is their sixth album (I really like their previous release as well, “Night”). This concept album is based on the story of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who, on December 29, 1935, attempted a long distance flight from Paris to Saigon. He crashed in the desert, where he barely survived the trek across the sands. The metaphor of a desert walk lays the foundation for the album. Atmospheric and moody, but it does not get monotonous because of surprises at every turn (the Middle-Eastern guitars and violins in “The Walk (Part I)” are awesome, only to be topped with the Gregorian chant in “Tick Tock (Part I).”

11. IQ – Frequency
IQ got their start way back in 1983. Strongly influenced by Peter Gabriel era Genesis, they offer an up-to-date hard-edged and powerful sound, full of symphonic, textured, and emotional music. Vocalist Peter Nicholls gives IQ its distinctive sound, along with the band's lush keyboards and soaring guitars. In the past, IQ has been a little too derivative of Genesis, acting like they were afraid to get too far from their daddy. But this album, in the spirit of “progressive music,” actually progresses. It takes the symphonic progressive genre further and deeper. There is not a weak cut on the album.

next: 10 through number 1


Top 20 Albums of 2009 (A Brief History of Prog)

Before I do my countdown of the Top 20 albums of 2009, I thought I’d give you some background as to what kind of countdown it will be.

If you don’t know (or if you’re new to the Vanguard Church website), I have a particular love for Progressive Rock.

My all-time favorite bands are the 70s proggers, represented by “Symphonic Prog” bands like Genesis and Yes, “Psychedelic/Space Rock” bands like Pink Floyd, “Progressive Metal” bands like Rush, and “Classical Prog” bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

The main characteristics of Progressive Rock are:
  • A mixture of elements from different genres,
  • Complex time signatures,
  • Lush keyboards, and the inclusion of different instruments,
  • Explorative and intelligent lyrics,
  • A non-commercial approach, and
  • Longer format for songs (affectionately called "epics")
In the 80s with the rise of the "punk movement," Prog Rock was reduced to what was called “Neo-Progressive.”

The 70s proggers simplified their music for radio play, though there remained incredible prog gems hidden on their albums. And new prog bands arrived, most notably, Marillion, IQ, and Pendragon.

These artists kept the Prog fires burning, creating very adventurous music in the vein of the “Symphonic Prog” bands of the 70s.

The 90s saw a revival of the Prog genre, led by two American bands. Dream Theater reinvented “Prog Metal,” and Spock’s Beard recreated “Symphonic Prog.”

America, however, was not the place where Prog got most of its energy. The Scandinavian symphonic prog scene developed bands like The Flower Kings and Ayreon. “Space Rock” was reinvented by British band Porcupine Tree.

In the 2000s, the genre exploded, and now, as we move into a new decade, many bands are coming to the fore that can be legitimately called “Progressive Rock.” And these bands are actually selling music!

You can keep track with the latest in Prog Rock by listening to the Dividing Line Broadcast Network and reading reviews at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page and ProgArchives.

Top 20 Albums of 2009 (20-11)
Top 20 Albums of 2009 (10-1)


Cornwall Alliance's Calvin Beisner Weighs In

Over at Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight's blog), RJS has written a post on Anthropocentric Global Warming, linking here to this blog and the series I did critiquing the Cornwall Alliance's recent statement, "An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming" (the Vanguard Church series starts here).

The Cornwall Alliance's founder and National Spokesman, Calvin Beisner, weighs in over there at Jesus Creed with a comment criticizing the the premise of the post.