A word on air travel

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I like flying – in large part because air travel is one of the few environments these days in which I get uninterrupted blocks of time. Flying somewhere means a solid couple hours where I’m left to my own thoughts (I rarely talk to people on airplanes). It’s a good time to think, to pray, to read and write. On my last trip – from Washington, DC, to Texas, and back – I couldn’t even listen to music because I stream everything on my phone. And so silence; the dull, roaring white noise of engines and pressurized cabins and snoring – cruising along the jet streams at hundreds of miles an hour.

The takeoff and landing create a healthy bracket of perspective for the time alone because they remind me of my smallness and relative insignificance in the world. Even just looking down at a single city or neighborhood, I can feel it – thousands of homes and cars and stores and people splayed out below. That’s the world, and oh, what a tiny niche I have; what a meek little slice.

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And yet on the other hand, flying compresses our sense of space and time. It shrinks the world down to our palm-sized GPS’s. In five hours I can go from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles and barely see the 2,300 miles in between. I can traverse an entire content in the comfort of air conditioning and padded seats with orange juice served to me. That’s a remarkable feat of innovation and communication and engineering, and I’m thankful for it because I can see my family after just a few hours of travel time and for the cost of just a few hundred dollars.

But all the same it strikes me as a profoundly unnatural phenomena. As I take off and look down, I try to remind myself not to forget the bigness, not to grow bored with this world, and not to despair when it feels like I’ll never make much of a difference in the city below.

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New Side Project Of Mine

I’m excited to announce that I’ve just started up a weekly Film Review Blog over at Redfence Magazine. This certainly won’t be replacing ACwords, but I’ll be sure to highlight my work there over on this blog too.

We start things off with a review of the new Bond movie, Skyfall. You can read it here at RedfenceProject.com, so check it out! I know they would appreciate the traffic (and so would I)!

Music Review: The Midsummer Station by Owl City

When I last reviewed an Owl City album, I ascribed to it one great attribute: happy. It’s my happy music. I don’t care what you think. I know it’s not the manliest thing I could listen to. I know it’s neither the most profound nor brilliant. But it’s innocent. It’s fun, pure, escapism, and I don’t care. It makes me happy, and I believe it can have a place in my musical tastes. So there.

However, this grand virtue that made Owl City what it is for me is in many ways gone from mastermind Adam Young’s latest offering, The Midsummer Station (TMS).

I’m not alone in this sentiment. Many of the critiques I’ve read on TMS have a narrative that runs something like this:

When we fell in love with Owl City, we fell in love with the music that some shy, imaginative insomniac produced on his computer in his parents’ basement. Albums like Maybe I’m Dreaming, Of June, and even Ocean Eyes took us to a place—we’re not sure where exactly, or even if it was real, but it was a place of genuine love, beauty, lights, color, tastes, and sounds. It took us into a “Saltwater Room” with our lovers; it took us back to when we captured fireflies in jars; it took us on a “Super Honeymoon” across the solar system; it took us through “late nights and early parades, still photos and noisy arcades…” (“On the Wing”)

Now, Adam’s gone mainstream. Maybe not entirely of his own choice, but clearly a few producers with dollar signs in their eyes got in the mix and pushed him to put out just another pop album that will have a few big hits and make some money. The signature creativity, ingenuity, dreaminess, and fantasy of Owl City is gone—pushed aside in favor of repetitive, over-produced, ear-candy. Sure, we get that artists have to evolve and experiment and try going in new directions in all that, but Adam, dude, why did you succumb to the mainstream? We loved you and your music just the way it was.

I find some truth in this argument. TMS is decidedly more “real life” that any of Adam’s previous music, which comes with its pros and cons. On the positive side, it results in a pair of outstanding tracks in “Dreams and Disasters” and “Embers.” Both of these songs speak to the reality of life’s conflicts, hurts, and fears while emphasizing a reckless optimism and hope that we will yet persevere. Continue reading →

Music Review: All Things Bright and Beautiful

Owl City is my happy music. I can’t describe it any other way. Ever since my roommate began playing “Hello Seattle” on his little boombox almost two years ago, I’ve been hooked. It started with songs like “Dental Care”, “The Bird and the Worm”, and “Saltwater Room” off the “Ocean Eyes” album, and continued with “Super Honeymoon” and “Technicolor Phase” on “Maybe I’m Dreaming” and singles like “Sunburn” and “Peppermint Winter”.

Now, with the release of his latest album, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” I’m more convinced than ever that the man behind Owl City, Adam Young, is his own unique type of genius-artist.

Here’s why. Young stands alone among music artists (that I’m aware of) in both lyrics and style, thus filling a very special niche in my music world. Owl City does not challenge or make you think deeply. It’s not “breakup” material, meditations on dark human struggles, or anything like that. It’s joy, hope, beauty, purity, warmth, and emotion–all in one big wonderful work of art–yet without the expected cliches.

Compared to Young’s past work, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” does not bring all that much to the table. As many reviewers have already noted, it bears the same signature marks of his earlier work, and many of the tracks in “All Things” mirror previous songs. “The Honey and the Bee” is the new “Saltwater Room”, “Hospital Flowers” is the new “Vanilla Twilight”, etc. If you didn’t like “Ocean Eyes”, odds are you won’t care much for “All Things”. Continue reading →

A Few Words on Cowboys & Aliens

I’ll say this up front: I really, really wanted to like this film–so I did. It didn’t live up to my expectations, but I enjoyed it.

Yet the more I think about it, the fewer good things I can think to say. At the end of the day, “Cowboys & Aliens” has two basic things going for it.

One, awesome genre-busting absurdity. It has all the fixtures of both a western and an alien invasion flick, from abductions, spaceships, and hypnotizing lights to stick-ups, damsels in distress, and a lonely hero who rides off into the sunset. And of course, it all comes down to a big fight over a gold mine. Who wouldn’t want to see an alliance of cowboys and Indians take on green guys from Mars: six-shooters, dynamite, and spears versus Alien’s cousin with laser guns?

Two, a solid cast. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford make good cowboys. Craig as the outlaw Jake Lonergan is almost (but not quite) too cool and hunky for his own good. Ford does well as Woodrow Dolarhyde, a seasoned military veteran and proud father, and thankfully his part does not involve pulling any stunts outside of his age-range (*ahem, Indiana Jones 4*). And love-interest Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) is pretty and mysterious but not too sexy for the genre.

However, by and large, the film was not executed well. The script seemed like something I would write–more of an observation than anything else–and the dialogue in particular tended to be minimal. Generally that’s a good thing, but we needed more from Jake. He is so mysterious and standoffish that at times he comes across as more of an individualist jerk than the intended B.A. hero with a wry, ironic side.

For example, all he says is “I don’t know” when people ask him where he came from and what’s on his wrist. It saves time to leave it at that, but it stretches the believability of his character. He could have at least talked to people a little bit more; I sure would if I woke up in the middle of the desert and couldn’t remember anything. To make matters worse, I spent most of the film trying to figure out just what it was that he wanted. For most of the movie, his goal is never clear.

As for the rest of the characters, the filmmakers had all the right pieces in place, but for some reason they couldn’t string together a tangle of minor plot threads in a clear and compelling manner. If anything, they tried to get too emotional. A boy’s coming-of-age story works well in westerns, but when the title of the film is “Cowboys & Aliens”. . .

Let’s just say the subplots seemed a little forced, like something tacked on to add emotional depth when no one is going to come to the film wanting that.

“Cowboys & Aliens” also suffers from one of the great ills of all alien movies: the more you reveal, the less interesting it gets. The more we find out about the aliens and what is going on, the less intriguing we find the film. As such, it struggles to keep the tension rising. The first half is great, but by the time we get to the end, we pretty much know what to expect.