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Tori Brynne Davis – A Letter to me, from me

Today, I'm pleased to share a poem that Tori Brynne Davis wrote. Every month, I have been featuring a piece of art submitted by a member of Fraction – be it poetry, photography, painting, video, etc. Whatever your craft, I'd love to see it. Check out Fraction today for an opportunity to see your work here.

Tori originally posted this poem to our Fraction Facebook Group page, not more than a week ago. Tori has been a member of Fraction ever since it began last March, and I've had the pleasure of meeting her in person a few times in the DFW area when I tour through. It's an honor to play some sort of role in cultivating creative expression through the group, and I'm thankful for Tori's willingness to share her piece with the world. 

Finally, asked Tori what - if anything - she’d like to say as an accompaniment to the piece: 

 “When I write things, typically it’s to convince myself of whatever I’m writing. This one I wrote to try to convince myself of my worth, and hopefully make someone else who is struggling with the same thing know that they’re not alone.”


To me,


When you shower, you fog up the mirror so that you don’t have to look at yourself when you get out.

Don’t fog up the mirror.

 

When you get dressed, you face away from the mirror because you hate your reflection almost as much as you hate yourself.

Face the mirror.

 

When you walk the halls, you look down and avoid eye contact because you feel inferior to everyone else around you.

Look up.

 

When you pull your hair in your face, you hide those beautiful green eyes.

Shave your head.

 

The last one may seem drastic, but you will not regret it.

Again I say; shave your head.

 

When you shave your head, you won’t have anywhere to hide, and people will look at you.

Embrace the stares.

 

When you feel insecure about your weight, you cut your thighs.

Don’t cut your thighs.

 

Think of the flowers that would die if you were to leave.

Think of Shadow and how sad he’d be.

Don’t cut your thighs.

 

When you feel alone you seclude yourself to validate your feelings.

You need people.

Go talk to someone.

Don’t get lost in yourself.

 

When you want to skip meals because you hate your weight,

don’t.

 

You don’t have to eat a lot, but eat something.

You know you get sick when you don’t.

 

When you feel unwanted, reread his texts.

He wants to get to know you.

He cares.

Don’t ignore the signs.

 

I know you don’t like yourself, I know that there are a lot of times when you want to die,

but don’t.

 

You are worth so much more than you give yourself credit for.

Sincerely, 

You.


Thank you for checking out these words by Tori. If you'd like to see your work featured here on the site in the future, consider checking out Fraction: an online platform where fans and friends of Levi The Poet can sign up, not only to receive exclusive writing and content, but to submit work of their own to be discussed and considered for publication – be it the poem by Christian Mack last month, or John Blackley's photo set and poem, or Tyler Lee Schaefer's incredible letter to his dog

I'd love to invite you to consider joining Fraction, yourself, on either a Yearly or Monthly basis. Your membership supports this Levi The Poet project, as a whole, including other things, like being alive. If you'd like to consider participating in Fraction with a bunch of other folks, please check it out here

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Levi The Poet – Sanctuary Cities (Official Video)

Don’t reject the color, and don’t despise the grey, and don’t miss the forest for the trees, and throw up a white flag on more hills than you die on.

Today, I am pleased to release my new video for Sanctuary Cities.

We shot this video last fall, before and after our show at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, California.

The word sanctuary means "a place of refuge or safety." It's a word that has fascinated me for years. A word I've spoken in poems past and written into countless others never released to the public.

At the beginning of 2017, for better or worse, I sought sanctuary of my own in cities whose pride was built upon offering exactly that to whomever found themselves inside their walls. The story is long. But there are glimpses within this song – a piece that grew from soil tilled with the pain of searching and the joy of those glimpses of freedom that come from walking alone along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California or the streets of Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington.

This track represents a dichotomy. It was a precursor to Cataracts, I think, and very well could have made the album were the circumstances different.

Paralysis and movement. Fear and courage. Despair and hope.

I hope you love it.

Levi

 

P.S. This video would not exist without the incredible generosity of the following people, who took time out of their lives to collaborate and create it. Drew, specifically, spearheaded this project and made it happen in a time crunch last fall before and after our show at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, California. I love what he and his team worked so hard to complete, and am thankful for them.

Director: Drew Boylan / http://drewboylan.com

Cinematographer: Patrick Ouziel / http://patrickouziel.com

Assistant Director: Amy Wang

Editor: Drew Boylan

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A Letter To My Past Self

Those of you who are Facebook users (I’m sorry) will be familiar with the memories that pop up on your home screen when you log in each day. Save the Fraction Member Group, it’s my favorite thing about the social media monster – if not the only thing I like about it, period.

 

It’s the equivalent of TimeHop, for those of you who’ve chosen to save yourself and jump ship for shore by now. 


Anyhow, today, the “memory” that popped up on my phone screen was a status update from nine years ago:

 

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Nine. Years. Ago. I remember this show.


Bleeding Eardrum was a local practice space with a bunch of skateboarding ramps in one of the warehouse-style rooms that also acted as a DIY venue. I performed on top of a quarter pipe. Somewhere in the middle of the set, I probably slid down it and straight into someone face, screaming bloody murder the whole time.

I was working for a local promotion company / screen printing business, and we were trying to get into booking for artists. We wanted to offer young bands a one-stop-shop where they could get some sort of management, booking and merchandise for a monthly fee. We failed miserably. I know because I booked the tour. This was the start of it, and I put myself on as the local before sending all four bands off to their doom.

It’s a miracle In The Midst Of Lions ever took me out with them after that, but somehow, they gave me the chance to join them on the road later that fall for my first tour ever.

I shared the memory when I saw it today, and someone responded with a question:

If you could use this post to reach back through time, what would you say to yourself in 2009?

It got me thinking, and I decided that I want to try to answer his question here. I don’t know why, but I can’t keep my eyes dry, typing this up. Rather than suppressing that emotion and trying to flower it all up into some sort of prose, I’m opting for bullet points, and hoping to capture its immediacy…


Dear Past Levi...

 

  • You’ll never believe this, but I’m writing you from some highway in France right now. You just played a show in London for like 300 people with good friends that are making sacrifices that they don’t have to make to give you a chance. Your wife - that same girl who encouraged you to pursue your dreams, and who went broke right alongside you trying to help other artists live theirs – is asleep next to you in the van. She still loves you. It hasn’t (and won’t) all be for naught.

 

  • God will never, ever fail to provide for you, even though you'll worry about it every day. Cut that out and enjoy the ride. He wasn’t lying about his faithfulness.

 

  • If you can, be present, or you’re gonna miss it all. 

 

  • Don’t reject the color, and don’t despise the grey, and don’t miss the forest for the trees, and throw up a white flag on more hills than you die on.

 

  • Go home for God’s sake. Make sure your dad knows you love him. You’ll never regret it, no matter how hard it is right now.

 

  • You’re gonna get strep throat all the time. It’ll suck. Not much you can do about it, but maybe get your tonsils out sooner than later?

 

  • You don’t know everything, and even though it hurts your ego, your soon-to-be-wife 1) does have age on you and 2) is so much wiser than the weird way you’ll start to think about “headship.” Listen to rather than lord over her.

 

  • “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all else will be added to you.”

 

  • Quit smoking a little sooner, but also: get into peaty scotches a lot sooner.

 

  • GET OFF YOUR DAMN PHONE.

 

  • Most days, you’re going to feel like you’re going crazy. Practice discipline and silence and solitude and meet Jesus yourself – not vicariously through other people – and I think you’ll experience a good amount of the peace I never realized I forfeit.

 

  • You’re going to go through hell. You’ll both long for a different story and realize what yours is worth when you get the chance to help other people through theirs.

 

  • Conflict is unavoidable and often good – even for a 9. Engaging with it will prove to be healthier than the resentment that so easily builds up inside of you.

 

  • Do not say yes to staying at those host homes (you’ll know when the time comes).

 

  • Keep a record of shows and sales on something other than random torn-out pages of journal paper, or you’ll be screwed come 2017. Actually, give your finances to a CPA right now. Trust me, if you do, you’ll get like a cumulative three years of your life back. They’re worth every penny for the anxiety you’ll avoid every tax season.

 

  • You’ll struggle to find confidence and meaning in what you do. If you can get to a place of believing your encouragers: do. You fancy yourself a rational person and if that's true, consider that surely the entire world isn’t full a bunch of liars with nothing better to do than email their lies to you. Humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive.

 

  • Learn to stop working. You’ve got your dad in you. It’ll always be there for you to return to, but you can’t get the rest back. Say “yes” to your wife and your friends and your family when it’s possible for you to do so (and it’s possible a lot more than you’ll think it is).

 

  • Slow down. Your anxiety will make you feel like you’re constantly running out of time. Pause. Breathe. Go outside. Work out. Sleep in. Keep skateboarding. Don’t forget about the things you love.

 

  • Avoid Nas-energy-drink-spiked-vodka. And especially when you’re sitting in hot tubs. It does not go well for you.

 

  • God doesn’t hate you. Don’t believe it no matter how loud your pastor’s voice is.

 

  • For some reason, a few years from now, people will really start to hate on Superman. Ignore them.

 

  • You will meet people who have been through unspeakable evils that – somehow – find you to be a safe place for lightening their burdens. It will be heavy but it will be worth it. They speak in different tongues. They inhabit different countries. They descend from different races. They identify by traditional and nontraditional orientations. They believe different things. And they are all of them: people made in the image and likeness of God. People whom he loves and cares about. Do not squander your opportunity to listen. Do not presume to be the teacher. Do not forfeit your opportunity to learn.

 

  • Do not be ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believe, and – most miraculous of all – for you. If you can, in the times when you are ashamed, lean into its foolishness.

 

  • Read more fiction.

 

  • Someday you’ll discover that cooking is fun and therapeutic. Start sooner.

 

  • Kevin Spacey is gonna ruin everything, including House Of Cards. Don’t even start because you’ll be pissed that you’ll never know how it ends.

 

  • Disagreement does not have to equal discord, and unity does not have to mean uniformity.

 

  • Someday a band called Twenty-One Pilots is gonna open up a show for you and White Collar Sideshow at a tiny church in Ohio. GO ON TOUR WITH THEM. Haha.

 

  • Say yes to help. Whether it’s for your brain or for your work or for your life. The pride that keeps pushing it off only cripples you.

 

  • You’re going to struggle with envy, which is not love. There is life and joy that comes from cheering on the people who are succeeding, and making a difference, and seeing the fruits of their labor. Absolutely nothing positive will come of your covetousness – only ugliness. Set it aside and join the crowd and laugh and cheer and elevate and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

 

  • "A man makes his plans but the Lord directs his steps." There is no truer statement. By all means, steward your responsibility well, and then try to laugh when it all burns down around you.

 

  • Grow up but remember that childlikeness is the only (worthwhile) way to live. And don’t let cynicism squash your sense of wonder.

 

  • You’ll be coming up on ten years of living this life before you know it. It will have gone by in both an instant and an infinity. You’ll hate it. You’ll love it. You’ll wish you would have stopped years ago. You’ll hope it never ends. You’ll burn out. You’ll keep going. You’ll be hitting the 1000th-show marker before too long, if you haven’t already, and you’ll meet thousands of people along the way. Many of them will become your friends. Some, even: something like family. You’ll see that the world is bigger and more complicated than you thought that it was. You’ll feel the pain of the box collapsing. You’ll watch other people fall apart and you’ll do the same and you’ll both be in it together. You’ll make so many mistakes and you’ll sin against so many people and they’ll forgive you for it. You’ll rebuild. You’ll be poor and you’ll be better off and it’ll keep going back and forth. You’ll go to bed on some random hardwood floor while you’re friends are getting promotions and having children back home and you’ll second-guess everything. You’ll tell jokes with your tour-mates that are all half-true because humor tempers the moment. And then you’ll get up the next day and play a show and love it and have a conversation with someone it means something to and you’ll remember that it matters. And your wife will believe in it and you more than you ever have and you’ll wonder why God allowed you to live life with a person as good as she is. You’ll get art and letters and experiences and sometimes you’ll even appreciate them and remember that these years have been miracles. That show you’re about to play in 2009 is the start of an absolute miracle, and God will be kind to you, even, and perhaps especially, when you can’t see it at all.

 

  • It’s all worth living for.


Levi

P.S. – Writing this today had to have been one of the most cathartic and beautiful things I’ve written in quite some time, at least personally, for myself. I’d like to thank Eric Claassen, the person who asked this question of me earlier. Little did he know what he was getting himself into. Haha. I am in tears at the kindness God has shown me throughout these years. I could write of it forever, and it would not be enough. 

P.P.S. – I’d encourage you to do something like this. Not as some homework for the week or something, but man, spending the last couple of hours here has left me finishing it with such a sense of appreciation for these memories. Maybe y’all would enjoy doing whatever the equivalent of this might be for you, too. You could write it out in a journal or put it on a blog of your own or something.  

P.P.P.S. – Thanks for being a part of making this life so beautiful. Feel free to respond or not. Love to you all. 


This post was originally sent to LTP Weekly Subscribers and Fraction Members. You can sign up for the LTP Weekly for free below, or upgrade and visit my Fraction Membership Website to benefit from all that a yearly and/or monthly subscription includes. 

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Flying To Europe, and Other Blog Things

My wife Brandi and I are flying somewhere over Eastern New Mexico as I type this. We’re headed to Houston to catch a connecting flight to Amsterdam for our first-ever EU / UK tour with our friends in Listener, who offered us the dates last fall.


We’re excited and thankful for the opportunity. For nine years - save a couple of dates here and there - we’ve been touring the States, and have always wanted to make it overseas, but haven’t had the opportunity until now. It feels like such a gift, or a bucket list kind of thing, and I feel naive and childlike and enjoy that part of it. Like a goofy kid that a more seasoned artist might pat on the head and say, “d’awe - how cute.”


This week has been insane. I released my brand new record, Cataracts, two days ago, and with how absurd album releases are, that felt like quite an accomplishment. It has been years since I’ve put out a full-length record, and as far as I’m concerned, this one was well overdue. Never could force it out of myself until it was time, though. I just can’t believe folks are still listening after all of these years. Music moves a light year a minute, and I’m honored by those of you who have remained by my / our side for so long. The responses I’ve received thus far have been overwhelmingly positive and kind. 

 

I’m so grateful for it.  


Not that I intended to write a record that everyone would hate (and I know we artists - or at least I - tend toward overanalysis), but I was - per usual - so afraid of this album: from content to artwork to the departure from the sweetness of Correspondence and into such an abrasive sound.


And yet, as my wife reminded me the other day, this felt like a record that I had to write. I had to get it out. I had to write it for myself and for my friends, and for those with ears to hear...


I hope that will equate to quite a few of you. From what I’ve seen of the world, and the collective experience voiced by many a human I’ve followed throughout the years, I think it might.


So, it’s out, and it comes now as a breath of fresh air because, as you read in Alex’s recap of the record-making process, getting to that fateful day was ugly, and hard. I wanted this thing to happen last spring, and here we are a whole year later, finally making it happen.


Later tonight, I’ll be sending the lyrics to one of my favorite songs from the record - As Far As The East Is From (The Navel To) The West - to all of my LTP Weekly Subscribers. It’s free if you want to sign up for that here - I send a new, different, otherwise unpublished (for the most part) piece of writing to a bunch of people every Sunday night. Feel free to join them.


In the midst of Cataracts prep and tour prep, I’m sorry to say that my wife’s uncle passed away unexpectedly this week. These have been a shocking and heartbreaking few days for the Garcia family in response. Although of course I wish it were not so, Brandi and I are thankful that we were able to be with everyone before we left this morning, as opposed to halfway across the world.


I can’t wait for the day when death will be no more. If you’re the praying type and feel any sense of inclination to remember our family in your conversations with God, there are a lot of folks who would greatly appreciate it right now, and perhaps one day, we’ll be able to thank you in person, on whichever side of our own lives we’re able to meet.


Beyond these things: Brandi and I are reading The Revenant with a couple of friends in a book club we started, and I know for sure at least a couple of Fraction members also started to go through it once they found that out. We’re almost done with it. The novel is gorgeous and nauseating. Leonardo getting mauled by a bear on film was brutal, but reading about it is far worse, in my opinion. We’ll start a new book in March. Still gotta figure out which one, though.


I haven’t seen Black Panther yet, although I’m jamming the soundtrack every day. Did get the chance to take a buddy of mine to see Hostiles, though. Beautiful film, and perhaps my favorite role yet from Christian Bale.


My favorite thing about international flights is watching a bunch of movies that I haven’t seen yet. Right now, I’m on a tiny United flight, but just you wait, y’all - I’mma get down on that movie vibe as soon as we connect.

 

Yes, I am so stoked about the new Underoath record that’s on its way. 


This is perhaps the most bloggish blog I’ve blogged in a while. Just wanted to write and figured I may as well write to you. To whomever sets eyes on this post today, thanks for being a part of our lives, for caring and following along, and for living for all it it.


Levi


P.S. - If you feel so inclined: I’d love to hear your thoughts on Cataracts. Whether you have a personal online journal, or an independent blog or music review site, or a social media channel where you say things from sometimes, I’m just genuinely interested in hearing what, if anything, y’all have gotten from this record thus far. Tag me in it or send it to me or something. Feel free to love it or hate it, too. There are no obligations or stipulations on the World Wide Wild Wild West Web, after all. Here is my favorite post that I think I’ve ever posted, if it gives you a solid idea of where my wife’s at with this release (I posted this the day it came out).

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Cataracts Is Officially Released & Available Everywhere!

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Friends and Family and Other Human Beings Who I Might Know Or Might Not Know, 

[Haha. That's a good intro.]

My new record – Cataracts – is officially released and out in the world today! 

It is around this time that I normally think of 1000 things that I could / should / want to say, and maybe eventually all of those things will come. But as of now, I think the best thing that I can say is: 

Thank you. 

The record's not been out for a full twenty four hours yet, and the amount of kindness and love and excitement and encouragement that you have extended is overwhelming.

Not a humble brag, just a reality that I woke up to this morning, and I needed to reciprocate my appreciation for all of the support you've given, so here it is. 

If you've not yet heard the record, it's available everywhere now. 

Well, I mean, not everywhere, but in-all-easily-accessible-places. 

For your convenience, here's a list of some of them. 

 

And, for now, I'm gonna leave it at that. I'm sure there will be words to say in the future. In my brain, I've got ideas for a commentary, etc. but for now: I leave this record for you to sit with, and take what you will from it.

Hope you love it. 

Levi

Cataracts Vinyl Record + Digital Download
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God Loves Ugly: The Making of Cataracts

Today, I'm pleased to share a piece of insight as to the making of Cataracts, by Alex Sugg. You might know Alex better as "Glowhouse" but either way – he is the man behind all-things-music-related to this project. He has written and produced everything we've done together as "Levi The Poet" since Seasons came out in 2012, and he's incredible at what he does. 

Last Thursday, he sent me this recap of our Cataracts writing process (originally published on his blog, here), and I thought it a perfect inclusion for the last week leading up to our release this Friday. I asked him permission to republish the piece below. 

You can find all of Alex's work on his website here, read all of his words on his blog here, and follow all of his Tweets here


There are countless “lessons” I can take away from the process of creating Cataracts with Levi.

It was the most difficult project I have ever worked on. I would venture to say it was for Levi, as well. 

As I sit back and listen to the finished product now, I can't help but wonder,“Why was it so difficult? What was going on that made this so challenging to create?”

Levi and I were in a different creative space when we wrote our last record, Correspondence (a fiction).

It seemed as if the words poured out of Levi, and the music I was creating would come right on time – every single time.

Perfect, clean, neat and tidy. 

Cataracts was not as easy.

The themes we were wanting to address weren’t as clean-cut or neat.

Levi struggled to write for a long time. I struggled to write the music for even longer. I wish those happened at same time, but alas: writer's block is no friend of efficiency. 

Anyway, as a writer and a creative, I kept wanting all these neat and tidy lines to guide us to our end. When we wrote Correspondence, the record came together in a way that felt "contained" or "ready." I wanted that kind of clarity – that roadmap. Something that was going to say, “You’re going the right way! Great job! This album is so good! Keep doing that!”

It never came.

In a way, it still hasn't come.

Making this album was… ugly.

I can’t think of a more accurate word for it.

The process.

The themes.

The hard conversations.

The weird ideas.

The countless blown deadlines.

The creative droughts.

The uncertainty of it all.

How people might take it.

It was messy, uncomfortable and flat out awkward at times. 

Ugly.

One day, Levi and I met up to work on Cataracts. I forgot what he said exactly, but it was something like, “I’ve been thinking… This can be anything we want it to be. It doesn’t have to hit twelve tracks to be a full album. And it doesn’t have to 'live up' to the experiences we had with Correspondence. It needs to be it’s own thing.”

It feels dumb even writing that. Like, “Okay…? So you guys decided that this album should be it’s own thing…”

I get that it might seem simple on the surface – like a "duh!" moment. But we had psyched ourselves out so bad before then, playing a game of comparisons...

It was like the freedom we needed to keep laboring on these songs.

We actually laughed out loud that day about it. For some reason, we finally felt it permissible to let this album be wild. To let it be what it was always meant to be.

To let it be ugly. 

We finished the record.

We wrote The Fort Lauderdale Five from scratch, and that might be our best song to date. The creative drought went away and we got the damn thing done. 

My takeaway?

When it comes to making honest work, you have to be honest about where you are at with it, too.

We kept wanting Cataracts to be something it wasn’t, and the moment we accepted it for what it was - it soared. 

I also learned a valuable lesson about God.

It’s one of those “I’ve always known but never actually known” kind of things.

He doesn’t only love things that are neat or tidy or well-kept.  

God loves ugly, too.

Alex Sugg


P.S. – You can find more from Alex on his website and his Medium blog

P.P.S. – PLEASE DON'T MISS OUT on your chance to pick up one of our t-shirt bundles before they go away this Friday. If you want to be a part of supporting this project, and this album, specifically, the best way to do that is to preorder it right here from our online store. When you do, I'll give you a free download of my single, Big Business (feat. JGivens)

P.P.P.S. – I love Alex's title for this letter. Reminiscent of Atmosphere's God Loves Ugly – one of my all-time favorite rap albums. 

P.P.P.P.S. – If you weren't already aware, I released my second and final single yesterday morning before the album drops this Friday, titled The Dark Night Of The Soul. Read the lyrics to song on the blog, as well as a bit of writeup about the inspiration behind this song. As of today, you can stream it on Spotify or Apple Music, and download it on Bandcamp

P.P.P.P.P.S. – Thank you / Love you. 

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The Dark Night Of The Soul

Today, I am pleased to present to you my second and final single for release – The Dark Night Of The Soul – before the official Cataracts drop date: this Friday, February 23rd. Listen to / preorder the record and read along with the lyrics below. In the coming days, I plan on writing more about this song, in particular, but until then, I hope you love it. 


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Growing up, the river and the mountain were a fountain of life for us. We knew how to play in the water and how to rest in the shade and navigated the currents and recognized the way that the face of the mountain smiled just like our fathers, and the song of the river sounded just like our mothers', and the sunsets in the valley glowed just like our worldview, and the lightening had not yet torn that world in two. 

 

When I saw one of the sparrows fall I knew that when she hit the soil the earth would break like our heart-quake until it could not be called that at all. 

 

Of course the world is grey. 

 

Of course the mountain is no longer a mountain and the rivers have turned to snakes. 

 

I will never forget the way that her father writhed in the dirt the day that he wept over the grave he made for his daughter after begging you to let her stay. 

 

So where is the lullaby that our doctrine sang? Where is the house on the rock when even the rock couldn't withstand the rain? What does it mean, you who uses spit to clean the eyes of blind men suddenly guilty for all that they have claimed to see? 

 

It's not that I don't believe. It's just that sometimes faith feels more like cataracts than clarity. Please,

 

Go gentle on me. 

 

In obscurity and silence and absurdity and violence the quiet reminded me that the surest sign I don't understand is to be sure that I do. I knew more before I knew more. He said, "Just outside the room, I watched her die for forty-five minutes while they tried to revive my child and when she finally pulled through I thought of death and resurrection and how much I hated you."

 

I love you for it. You've been gone so long I've been raging at the night in all its emptiness, all its nothingness, all its silent, darkened sky. I've been searching for the sadist who keeps taking his sweet time to let us see, or let us leave, or let us move on with our lives. Now that you've finally shown yourself again, I've got my fists raised high for the bliss it is to finally have a christ to crucify (and then to kiss). You let me lose my mind and I loved you for letting me hate you, and I barely recognize the lines the rivers make on the mountain face or the color of your eyes. 

 

I thought that they were black and white. I thought I knew the creeks. I thought that they were black and white. Keep forgiving.

 

Keep forgiving.   

 

Let god be wild. (Let me be free.)   

 

The Dark Night Of The Soul is now available as the second and final single that I am releasing before the full Cataracts record comes out this Friday. If you would like to support this release / this album / this project, the best thing you can do is head to my store and preorder a copy for yourself

The T-Shirt Bundles will only be available until this Friday. These designs are specific to the preorder packages and will not be available past February 23rd, so if you want to get your hands on a print, do it soon. You can purchase straight from this page below, or from my store

When you purchase anything from my store between now and Friday, you will get a free, immediate download of another new track titled Big Business, featuring my friend JGivens

If you would like to purchase The Dark Night Of The Soul today, or preorder Cataracts digitally and receive an instant gratification track for your support, please visit my Bandcamp page and do so from there

Both Big Business and The Dark Night Of The Soul are available to stream now on Spotify and Apple Music, as well, if that catches your fancy. 

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Cataracts Comes out TODAY for Fraction Members!

Good afternoon, friends!

I can't believe I'm saying this, but in just three hours I will be making Cataracts available to my Fraction Members, here – two weeks before the official release day. 

The good news is, I think I'm past being intimidated by this project. This whole album has been an undertaking whose scope spans a much larger period of life than just the time that I spent writing it – or the time I've spent promoting it – and at this point, I simply can't wait to get it all out into the world.

Nevertheless, there's always a bit of timidity that creeps in right before you hit the "publish" button on something as significant as a new record – let alone the first new record in over three years. 

But here we are, so let me break a few things down for anyone and everyone interested: 

First of all, our preorder packages for Cataracts have now been live for one full week.

To those of you who have already picked up a package and supported this release: thank you.

My words, though, insufficient, will have to do. 

If you have not yet pre-ordered the album – whether through a single purchase of the cd or vinyl, or through one of our exclusive preorder t-shirt packages – and you'd like to, then... please do!

Here are some options that we have available:

 

Cataracts Vinyl Record + Digital Download
25.00
Quantity:
Add To Cart

Second, if you're reading this, and you are not a Fraction member, consider checking out what it is all about. As of right now, I am offering a special to new members... 

Anyone who signs up for a Yearly, Platinum Membership will get a FREE copy of the Cataracts CD mailed to them when we receive our stock, in addition to everything else that comes with a Fraction Membership:

  • Access To Early Releases (like this one!)
  • The LTP Weekly Audio Letters
  • Discounts on Everything
  • Access to the Private Fraction Facebook Group
  • Exclusive Member Merch, and more.
  • You'll also be able to use your Fraction Member Discount on any and all preorder packages that you might be interested in, immediately (yes, including this one)


IF THAT'S OF INTEREST TO YOU, SIGN UP FOR FRACTION HERE.


If you're a current, paid Fraction Member (or you become one in the next couple of weeks leading up to Cataracts' release day), here's what you can expect / how you can get access to the record two weeks early:

  1. If you are a Paid Fraction Member and have already purchased a preorder package that comes with a digital download: forward your purchase receipt to hello@levithepoet.net, and I will respond to you with a password protected link to your FREE digital download of my new record, Cataracts. 
  2. If you are a Paid Fraction Member and have preordered the album digitally elsewhere (perhaps through iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon Music): please let me know at the same email address listed above, and I will get you a free early download through my site to enjoy, as well. 
  3. If you are a Paid Fraction Member and have not yet purchased a preorder package:
    1. Buy one, and then forward your receipt to me, and I'll send you the same free download link, or
    2. If you're only interested in the digital download, I will be posting a password-protected, early-purchase link to the album at 2pm through a private message on our member platforms. There, you can buy the record for cheap, using your Fraction Member Discount, and download at any point in time.
  4. If you are a Paid, Yearly Fraction Member whose subscription is up for renewal next month – or any time in the coming year – I will be mailing you a physical copy of Cataracts for FREE when you renew your membership for another year. 

 

Here's a suggestion / plan of attack to get the most out of this offer: 

  1. Sign up for a Yearly Membership now.
  2. Use your discount code to buy one of our limited preorder packages (those t-shirt bundles WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE after the preorder period ends).
  3. Forward your preorder purchase receipt to me. 
  4. Get a FREE digital download of the entire Cataracts album TODAY in return.
  5. Receive a physical CD thrown in for FREE with your membership, shipped to you after we receive them in the mail.
  6. Enjoy everything that comes with your Fraction Membership all year.


To clarify, this offer is only for those who sign up to be or already are paid Fraction members.

Please do not forward me your preorder purchase receipts unless you are one, as everyone else who is due a digital download will receive theirs on release day – February 23rd – via email.

A few, final thoughts: 

I'm going out on a limb here – releasing this record to the Fraction Members two weeks early. It means I trust those of you who are and will be members to keep the album to yourselves.

Please do not leak Cataracts to the public. 

As excited as I am for everyone to get the album, this is my / our livelihood, and the only way for us to make it is through, well, the folks who are willing and able to purchase preorders and albums and souvenirs and such through the avenues we've created for y'all to be able to do so. 

The entire reason that artists like me run preorders and come up with things like this at all is for the purpose of recouping the cost of creating the album in the first place, and we're doing our absolute best to give you the absolute best options possible as we do so in an effort to make sure you are cared for, and excited about the record to come. 

I hope that you love it, and I look forward to sharing Cataracts with you soon. 

Levi


P.S. – Paid Fraction Members who have purchased a preorder package may begin forwarding your receipts along to hello@levithepoet.net now. I will send your free downloads in the order that they are received. 

P.P.S. – Paid Fraction Members who want to access the private, discounted, digital download of Cataracts will be able to do so at 2pm, Mountain Standard Time. I will post that link to our Fraction Member Platform and in the Fraction Facebook Group. 

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Narcissism & The System It Breeds

"The system will more often seek to punish those who threaten it when they shatter the world of appearances - the fundamental pillar of the system – tearing apart what holds it together and demonstrating that living a lie is, in fact: living a lie. The truth-teller has said that the emperor is naked. There are no terms whatsoever on which a narcissistic system can coexist with living in the truth." 

 

Remind's me of the lyrics Dustin Kensrue wrote for the song "Whistleblower" on the last Thrice album:

 

You told me keep it quiet

That I'd ruin everything

But I'd rather start a riot

Than help you pull these strings

You told me to kneel

 

I'll tell the real story

I'm the bird that sings

I'm the whistleblower

Wake up and take warning

Congressmen and kings

I'm the whistleblower

Waiting in the wings

 

As I working on the new record, I came across a series of lectures given by Dr. Diane Langberg, titled: "Narcissism & The System It Breeds."

 

If you've heard my new single – Big Business – the clip of the woman speaking is Dr. Langberg, who kindly gave me permission to use the sample from her lecture for the song. (You can get the song for free when you pick up anything from my online store between now and the Cataracts release date – February 23rd. I'll send it to you.)

 

In the quote above, she references Vaclav Havel, from his essay "The Power of the Powerless." 

 

Langberg is a psychologist whose talk – which I discovered through the Global Trauma Recovery Institute – was being offered as a free resource for those desiring to understand the nature of Narcissistic leaders, abusive organizations and the victims their "fruit" produces. 

 

I think the institute's reason for hosting the discussion is worth sharing: 

 

It is a sad fact that many organizations, when faced with the choice of protecting an abusive leader or victim, choose to protect the leader (and thus the organization) rather than the victims of that abuse. All too often, victims report that the failure of the system to respond well to their cries for help cause more harm than the original abuse.

 

Tell me that doesn't sound exactly like the world we're living in. 

 

The outcry against insular, self-protecting organizations – whether they be churches or Hollywood or presidencies or parties – is louder than ever. 

 

The celebrity shutdown that began with Weinstein. Then spawned the #metoo movement. Thousands – millions – of stories of women who have been abused and silenced. Then – importantly – #churchtoo victims. People finally given freedom or permission or courage to speak out about crimes that "kingdoms" have protected – as though rape were merely an in-house issue that could be covered up with platitudes. 

 

It's not all sexual deviancy.

 

Subtleties too ethereal to put a finger on but no less abusive. 

 

The list goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and 

 

although factions may be amplified depending upon where you get your news,

 

it isn't limited to a particular political party or religious affiliation or socioeconomic status and 

 

it also doesn't exclude or exempt

 

you

 

or 

 

me.

 

We protect our own and we protect ourselves and that, too, is a truth that our own "systems" – our little private worlds – have a hard time co-existing with. 

 

Langberg's talk is specifically about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and she speaks of the way that, although not all people have it, we're prone to "catch it," or live it, vicariously, from a leader who may – defending him to the death, because a poor critique on him is a poor critique on us, and

 

we

 

must

 

maintain

 

appearances

 

at

 

all

 

costs. 

 

Unfortunately, whether personally or vicariously, we've also seen the way that plays itself out. 

 

I'd be hard-pressed to believe that our nation doesn't sit beneath this kind of personality, now, nor that many of us didn't sit beneath it for years when we'd show up for worship – together as separate – every Sunday morning to self-propagate our way.

 

Not The Way.

 

Of course, we just don't know that's the case until somebody starts talking about how we're naked. 

 

Actually, I think that perhaps we don't even know it then. I think we finally start to know after we've gone through the pain of feeling our nakedness, ourselves. 

 

Maybe that's another good way of thinking of deconstruction. 

 

It's certainly a fine way of considering repentance as it begins in the mind. 

 

And perhaps reconstruction is a bit like figuring out how to put some clothes back on, or maybe more like being clothed in new robes, arrayed in new garments of salvation.

 

Whether you hold to original sin or in original union or neither, whether you prefer phrases like "total depravity" or "lower levels of consciousness" or something else, we are all agreed that something is awry, and when we are honest with ourselves – when truth does pervade our systems – it is not difficult to deny these inward bents.

 

Augustine called it incurvatus in se, or  a life lived (or curved) inward

 

Paul said that the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do

 

Merton writes: 

 

"Thus we never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggresivity and hypocrisy." 

 

Listen, I'm not writing as a guru, promoting my new album as an answer, or positioning myself as though I am incapable of committing the very same abuses I've experienced, or manipulations I've suffered.

 

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: this isn't martyrdom.

 

Self-importance can manifest itself every bit as much or more in "poor me" as is "praise me."

 

I know myself well enough to understand by now that the vast majority of the things that bother me out there enough to talk about them are often a reflection of the things in here that I wish weren't so.

 

There's got to be enough self-awareness in critique to know that you're the pot calling the kettle black, otherwise the sentiment, void of love and humility (which is always a journey, and never a destination) is but a clanging gong too shrill to stomach, anyhow. 

 

Plus, I'm smack-dab in the middle of self-promoting an independent record release here, people. It's difficult to feel anything but bent inward while you're busy collecting attention for yourself. 

 

May there be mercy for us all. What plea do we have but that?

 

With love from the conundrum,

 

Levi


P.S. – It's been an exciting week, guys! 

On Thursday, I announced the name of my new record, and released a whole bunch of new items and preorder packages on our online store for those of you who are interested and willing to help us make this record a reality. 

Thanks so much to the people who have supported Cataracts thus far!

To those of you who may have missed it, or – perhaps – have been hibernating with your pet bears through the winter, below is a picture that I snagged from my friend Alex Sugg's Instagram account about the release.

You might know Alex better as GLOWHOUSE

He's the guy who has written all of the music for my last three records. He's incredible at what he does, and this project would not be anything close to what it is without him. 

I chose this image today, rather than a whole bunch of others, because I also wanted to give you an idea of what you can come to expect from my new record, and I think that a glimpse of that future is captured in what he captioned beneath the picture of the vinyl record we have available along with the rest of our new offerings... 

screenshot.png

I'm thankful for Alex and every single person – named and unnamed – involved in this record, and I hope that you'll pick up a copy when you can. 

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A Question Answered, a Giggle and a Thank You

Hello friends, 

I'm not going to keep you long.

I opted to put a pause on writing a huge thing for the blog yesterday, and tomorrow I'll send my usual LTP Weekly that I share every Sunday night (sign up below to get it), but I just wanted to say thank you this afternoon.

It's been a full 48 hours since I launched the preorders for my new record, and your response has been kind. 

Thank you. 

As I mentioned last week, we didn't go the full-on crowdfunding campaign for this record like we have in the past, but preorders are the OG Kickstarters, and we're so thankful for every bit of support that you are willing to give toward this new project. 

It's always a huge, nerve-racking ordeal to put out something new, but we're excited about it, and I hope that you have enjoyed what you've seen and heard thus far.

In case you missed it, you can listen to the brand new single that we released – Big Business (featuring JGivens) – right now on Spotify and Apple Music.

If you like what you hear, and you'd be willing to support the record release by picking up one of the preorder bundles that we made specifically for that purpose, please head over to my store and grab something, and I'll give you that track to have for yourself, for free, when you do. 

Cataracts Hat
20.00
Quantity:
Add To Cart

To briefly answer a frequently-asked-question: 

We didn’t – and often don’t – make the single/music available to streaming platforms immediately, not because we don't believe in them (I, too, have a Spotify account), but because – well – that's probably the least supportive way to ingest an artist's work. Many people don't know that, and that's fine. 

There are ways that streaming platforms end up being incredibly helpful, but they're rare, and independent artists always face a bit of a conundrum when it comes to how to handle the way we balance valuing ourselves and our own work vs. the desire to be heard / give others easy access to it. Unless somebody gets lucky with a big playlist spot or something like it, we tend to benefit the least from the ways that people listen to music the most

Because of this, I still often opt to purchase merch or records from the artists who I listen to frequently on those platforms.

For what it's worth, I'm not martyring myself on top of a soap box right now.

If I didn't want my music available to stream, I wouldn’t make it so – it’s as simple as that. I push my stuff there as much as I do anywhere, and I'm incredibly thankful for the people who listen, no matter what – whether it's bought, streamed, or (frankly) stolen. 

But, that's a very short explanation to a oft-asked question for the folks who wonder why many artists don't jump straight to streaming when we put new stuff out. We want it heard, but we need to fund what's being heard, too. 

Anyway, all that to say, the single is available there, and it's also available with the preorders here, and that’s that. No matter how you hear it, I simply hope you do, and appreciate you taking the time to listen. 

Moving on, I’ve been compiling a list of all of the fun things that people have had to say thus far in response to the new artwork we unveiled for this release. Admittedly, it’s abrasive – and intentionally so. I’ll share more with you eventually, but here are two that have given me a good laugh so far: 
 

“According to the art direction, I'm counting on at least 45 seconds of blast beats per song.” 

and
 

“This album artwork makes me wanna crowdkill my friends and I'm about it.”


(If you're unfamiliar with the term blast beats, it's basically a type of drumming super common in metal music. If you’re unfamiliar with the termcrowdkill, it’s literally just a thing in the hardcore scene where people dancing in circles run around and punch people in the head and stuff. Haha.)

Anyway, it’s my nephew’s birthday today, and I’m sitting outside in the car finishing this up before I go in and hang with them.

I’ve had the flu all week, so this whole release has happened from the bed, the couch, or the bath. Brandi says I’m pathetic when I’m sick, and she’s not wrong. It’s good to feel well enough to be out of the house today. 

Appreciate you all very much. There have been a ton of questions about the art, the song, and the album since we’ve released the preorders, and I’ll build [some] responses into the stuff I send your way in the coming days. 

Hope you’re having a great weekend, and until tomorrow, 

Levi

(Photo: Joseph Bulger)

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What You Need To Know About My New Album Release

CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS RELEASE?

We opted for a traditional pre-order as opposed to a Kickstarter campaign for this record. Regardless, both options are created for the purpose of funding the album. As an independent artist with no label (i.e. - monetary) backing save the support we've received from folks like you, your purchase – whether it's five bucks or fifty – goes a long way

 

IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC THAT I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE PREORDER PACKAGES?

We created three special packages that will only be available as such from today until the official release date (so, February 1st - February 23rd). Each of these packages contains t-shirts that will only be available to the people who buy them with the bundle. Although you may add whatever else you'd like to add to your order to create your own bundles, the shirts in those specific packages will not be available separately, and will go away on February 23rd, 2018. 

 

WHEN CAN I EXPECT TO RECEIVE MY PURCHASE IN THE MAIL? 

We will take orders for the allotted pre-order period (Feb 1st - Feb 23rd), gather our numbers, and pay them forward to our printers and partners. Once we have received our stock, we will ship them out to you. This means that:

Your PHYSICAL purchases/packages will not ship until at least a few weeks following the official release date. Apologizing for any disappointment this may cause, it is the way we have to run things in order to fund this release.

We promise, as always, to do the best job that we possibly can at making sure your items are shipped in a timely manner, but please, before you start emailing, be aware that it may take 4 to 6 weeks to receive a shipping notification from us. 

 

DO I HAVE TO WAIT FOR MY DIGITAL DOWNLOAD OF THE ALBUM?

NO. Absolutely not.

Each of the bundles on the store will include a digital download of the new record, which I will personally email to you directly – along with album art and all lyric sheets available for download – on the release day, February 23rd.

You will not have to wait for your physical purchase to enjoy the record.

If it is possible, think of this like the gift that keeps on giving... You'll get your full album, digitally, on the release day, and then, a few weeks later – once you've forgotten that you have a physical purchase coming – it'll show up at your door like a surprise.

 

DO I GET ANYTHING COOL RIGHT OFF THE BAT WHEN I BUY SOMETHING FROM THE STORE?

YES.

Each purchase - literally anything on the store – during this pre-order period comes with a free download of the first single to be released from the album: Big Business (feat. JGivens).

Pre-orders are now available digitally, through iTunes.

They are also available through Bandcamp, and when you purchase a preorder there, you will receive the single as an "Instant Gratification" track to listen to immediately. 

If you pre-order a physical package – or anything else – from my store, you will receive a secret link and password with instructions on how to access your exclusive download emailed to you in your purchase receipt. 

 

WHAT ABOUT YOUR PAID MEMBERSHIP GROUP – FRACTION? I HEAR THEY GET EARLY RELEASES AND DISCOUNTS ON EVERYTHING, NO MATTER WHAT. ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING COOL FOR THEM WITH THIS RELEASE?

YES

Fraction is the name of my online membership platform, where over a hundred individuals have signed up on either a yearly or monthly basis to further invest in / support everything that we do as "Levi The Poet," and they receive a ton of exclusive stuff / bonuses in return, including perks on new releases and as well my Sunday Night Letter and Audio Podcast. 

You can read all about it, here.

If you sign up during this preorder period, you will receive a free Cataracts CD along with your membership, in addition to weekly audio recordings, behind-the-scenes content, monthly video hangouts, early releases and discounts on everything (including this one!) and more. 

Below are details for both current Fraction Members, and those still deciding if a membership is worth it... 

CURRENT FRACTION MEMBERS: 

  • Will be able to use their exclusive 20%-off discount code for anything and everything they purchase from the store - including preorder packages and brand-new Cataracts merchandise. 
  • Will receive their digital downloads of the entire album TWO WEEKS before the official release date (so, February 9th).
  • All PLATINUM MEMBERS who are coming up on their one-year anniversary this March – and from this point forward – will be sent a FREE CATARACTS CD in the mail when their subscription renews for 2018
  • Don't worry – because of the way that we have to handle shipping with this release, this WILL NOT affect the time frame that it takes for you to receive a physical copy of the CD, even though most of your Yearly Fraction Memberships begin to renew in March. Keep that in mind when making your selection and maybe choose a different package if you're deciding to stay, because when you renew your Fraction Platinum Membership, you'll get the CD sent for free as a bonus to start the new year.

 

PEOPLE CONSIDERING MEMBERSHIP:

  • When you sign up for a Yearly, Platinum Membership, you will receive everything that comes with your membership, as well as a free copy of the Cataracts CD in the mail. 
  • You, too, will receive access to the digital download of the entire album, including lyrics and artwork, TWO WEEKS before the official release day.
  • You will receive an exclusive, 20% off discount code which you may use anytime, when purchasing anything, for as long as you remain a paid Fraction member. 
  • To get the most out of this deal:   
    • Sign up for a Yearly Membership now
    • Then use your discount code to buy the new swag
    • Then get a CD thrown in for free with it
    • Then enjoy everything that comes with the Fraction Membership all year

 

 

 

ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW?

As always, I just want to articulate how thankful that I am for those of you who have followed my wife and I through all of these years. This – including last year's Sanctuary & FERMENT/DEBRIS EPs – marks the seventh major release I've put out in the past nine years of being a full-time, independent artist. Today, while on a walk around my neighborhood, I was overwhelmed with just how much of a miracle that is.

We could not have done any of this without you. 

Thank you so much for being a part of this life with us. 

Below, you'll find the rest of the items available on our store right now. Feel free to add anything you see to the bundles you create, and we'll do our absolute best to honor your support, and get it all out to you as soon as possible. 

With all of the love and sincerity I have to offer, 

Levi

inspiration, news, together

The Way Of The Dragon Or The Way Of The Lamb

"This is the great irony of seeking to define personhood through power. In our pursuit to be more than, to transcend our weakness and frailty, we are reduced. When we seek to create a self through our professional abilities and success, we are dehumanized, becoming less than God has called us to be. When we grasp for control of our identity to generate value and significance, we shrink our identity. We easily give in to the temptation to reduce our identities down to certain gifts, our professions, or the approval of others. The entire endeavor to create a self in our own power results in an empty, superficial self."

 

I read a book (of course I did) last summer called The Way Of The Dragon or The Way Of The Lamb

 

It was written by a couple of guys who went around interviewing different pastors and spiritual leaders about the way the church - and primarily the Western Church - functions. The subtitle reads, "Searching for Jesus' path of power in a church that has abandoned it."

 

Years ago, when I was in a seminary class called Re:Train, I attended a lecture by Dr. Justin Holcomb, who spoke on something called "Paul's Downward Trajectory," and it has stuck with me to this day, and especially in the midst of the collapse of that very institution. 

 

In essence – and I'm going to get nerdy for a minute so if you don't care or don't believe in anything that I'm talking about, well... sorry – there's a dude in this book called the Bible, named Paul. He used to be Saul, and he spent his time killing people who were followers of "The Way" of Jesus.

 

After that goes on for too long, Jesus comes as a bright light and literally knocks him off of his ass and blinds him for a while and changes him into a follower of The Way, too. He changes his name to Paul as an outward sign of an inward transformation that happens upon conversation.

 

Anyway, eventually, Paul starts writing letters to these churches that he plants, and when he does, he begins his early ministry by referring to himself as the least of the Apostles. 

 

In humility, he doesn't count himself on par with the rest of the twelve who followed Jesus during his early ministry. 

 

Later, he writes a few more letters from somewhere in the middle of his life, and this time, he refers to himself as the least of all the saints.

 

Even later and toward the end, he finally refers to himself as the foremost sinner. 

 

"Least of the Apostles."

     "Least of all the saints."

          "The foremost sinner."

 

As another Biblical character put it: "He must increase, and I must decrease." 

 

The Way of the Lamb isn't self-deprecation. Just last night, my friend Alex Early tweeted out a banger saying, "Self-hatred is not a fruit a fruit of the Spirit." Made me cringe when I read it. What a resonant word for someone who has not been shy about that very struggle. 

 

But it's definitely not rebuilding Babel, either. My heart longs for the downward trajectory but what I see is Christendom and empires and culture wars and power grabs.  

 

It's nothing new. I wrote about it in Joy Seekers, arguably the most "evangelistic" piece I've ever written. It's okay to both participate and critique – Jesus did that better than anyone. 

 

Fast forward. These authors write: 

 

"Notoriety has become the centerpiece of evangelical culture as a whole."

 

Yikes. And: 

 

"No poison or sword aught to terrify you as much as the lust for domination."

 

Welp. 

 

Like I said a few days ago, I'm doing my best to withhold explanations about this record because I think that it takes away from the art and dumbs down an audience's opportunity to engage with and derive their own meaning from it. I like going into a new album not knowing much, and I like sitting with discomfort, and inviting others to do the same. 

 

I wrote a commentary for my last record a year after the release date, and I've already got my wheels spinning about what – if anything – I'd like to do for this one, so the most I'm willing to give right now are breadcrumbs along the way and let them lie. 

 

Tomorrow, at 12 Noon Mountain Standard Time, I am going to unveil preorder packages for my new record, and when I do, you'll get the chance to download the very first single of it for free along with your purchase. 

 

My friend Jeremiah Givens (JGivens) is featured on the song with me. His album Fly Exam was perhaps my favorite record of 2016, and his "yes" was a greater honor than he may ever know. I simply sent him the first half and he sent me the second. 

 

I don't know if you've read Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist, but whether it's him, or C.S. Lewis and the Inkling's, they all seem to boast stolen inspiration as if it's the only way to accomplish anything worthwhile. I am not going to speak on behalf of anything Jeremiah wrote - he got free reign (I'm also not a fan of stifling other people and what they have to say) – but as for my part, here's simply a bit of giving credit where credit is due.

 

A few final thoughts:

 

There can't be progress, it seems, without humility, and although despair is its own kind of pride, I've found that most of my indictments usually return to me. 

 

Most of our fingers are pointed away from the reflections that they should be pointing to because not only is it easier to pinpoint the fault in someone else – we often don't realize the ways we built our own little towers inside.

 

That isn't the same as saying that there is no such thing as a victim. There certainly is, and I hope that there will be – at the very least – comfort in resonance, among a people and a God willing to sympathize with your weakness. 

 

Perhaps it will prove to be your strength. 

 

Till tomorrow, 

 

Levi

 

P.S. – Love y'all. 

inspiration, together, personal, news

Love It Because It's Honest, Hate It Because It's Crude

"And 'being wrong' is something we have not yet learned to face with equanimity and understanding. We either condemn it with god-like disdain or forgive it with god-like condescension. We do not manage to accept it with human compassion, humility and identification."

– Thomas Merton

 

Last year – or perhaps two years ago, now – my friend Heidi Goodman summarized her/our faith experience well. To paraphrase, she said:

 

"When you are young, you are handed a package called 'Gospel.'

 

It includes the gospel, to be sure, but it also includes secondaries. It includes pragmatics and expectations about how that gospel is supposed to work itself out according the theological understanding and framework it is wrapped up in.

 

And then you grow up.

 

You experience life.

 

You second-guess things that you were once certain about.

 

And it is scary. 

 

Perhaps you're not questioning the gospel – the crux of the package – but when it's all been one thing for so long, and pieces of that bundle start to fall off or reveal themselves as inconsistent with who you were made to be, it feels like the bottom is being pulled out from underneath you. 

 

It feels like you're losing everything." 

 

I wonder if you've felt that before? 

 

With deconstruction having been the buzzword of the year for - from what I can tell - just about everybody, I'd venture to say that you have. 

 

It's statistically impossible that everyone reading these words would believe what I believe about God and faith and life and what it means to be here, now. I've never been much interested in catering specifically to my own people, alone, so that's fine. You don't have to be a Christian, for instance, to have felt like the world you knew evaporated and left you floating in some black space with nothing to cling to. 

 

But for those of you who have or do identify with the Way of Jesus... man, what a time to be alive. When I was in counseling last year, the main issues that I had to work through stemmed from my experiences with the church, and with my addiction to "right," and my fear of "wrong." 

 

Ironically, "wrong" often doesn't even mean that.

 

It's just that I equated different with damnable

 

In one of my sessions, I remember my counselor drawing a diagram on the whiteboard he had hung in our meeting room. It looked something like a straight line, with a point on it that sent the line up and away from its original path in a different direction, like an obtuse angle an a geometry class. 

 

He said that sometimes (and all the time), life happens, and God happens, and the line you're walking gets nicked, and the obstruction or redirection sends you off on a different trajectory...

 

...and it looks like sanctification. 

 

It's a good thing. Perhaps even, if you'd like to think of this way, an ordained thing. 

 

This was the first time that I can remember ever hearing a positive explanation for the way that "change" didn't mean something like, "be terrified, you backslider," or "to hell with you, heretic."

 

I worshipped at the altar of certitude and longed for the affirmation and approval of men who had me convinced that we were right about it all (and condemned others who were not in the process). 

 

Perhaps that, too, sounds as cliché as the word "deconstruct." I suppose testimonies like that go hand-in-hand with the process. I suppose they've both become so for a reason. 

 

I have no interest in a conversation solely dedicated to tearing everything apart – one that never moves beyond deconstruction and the anger it seems to foster. And at the same time, as Ron & Vicki Burks say in their book, Damaged Disciples,

 

"Rage is what happens in our soul when it awakes from living a lie. It doesn't help to deny it." 

 

And so there is a need for both articulating the offense and forgiving it. 

 

Hate is a prison. 

 

We have to keep forgiving. 

 

I want healing and life and wonder and progress, and I want it for my friends, and I want it for my enemies, and I want it for those of you who know exactly what I'm talking about. 

 

I started reading this Thomas Merton book at the beginning of the year, and it has been fascinating. He, too, speaks of certitude, but in a way that is inextricably linked to mystery, simultaneously obscure and sure.

 

I like that. It reminds me of the "contradictions" I see in scripture (sound the alarm) – things like faith both being the opening of blind eyes and seeing through a glass, darkly. Here again, we come to the both/and of things. (For what it's worth, to all of my Reformed folks who enjoyed Seasons for the treatise it was, there are plenty of people within the Calvinistic tradition who have written on the both/and of God - Piper not the least of them.)

 

Merton writes: "The very obscurity of faith is an argument of its perfection... Our certainty increases with this obscurity, yet not without anguish and even material doubt, because we do not find it easy to subsist in a void in which our natural powers have nothing of their own to rely on."

 

I think all of the marketing advice in the world would have me cut this from the campaign. 

 

Too long.

 

Too risky.

 

Too offensive to your own and too uninteresting to those who couldn't care less. 

 

Somebody will love it because it's honest and somebody will hate it because it's crude.

 

So it goes. 

 

Levi

 


 

P.S. – We opted to do a traditional pre-order for the album this time around, as opposed to launching a Kickstarter campaign like we did with Correspondence (a fiction). I will be writing again to let you know exactly what to expect when the pre-orders become available. We're doing everything that we can to give those of you who want it the clearest picture possible of what's to come. Until then...

 

(Photo: Joseph Bulger

together, news, inspiration

Simultaneously Saint & Sinner

"When I get honest, I admit that I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said that I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer."

 

I appreciate Brennan Manning – author of the above phrase – more and more as I get older. Here we have a five-sentence-long quote that perfectly summarizes the collisions we are. Certainly – anyhow – the walking contradiction I seem to be. 

 

I wonder what Manning thought of Martin Luther. If an opinion exists, I don't know about it, but I dare say he'd have appreciated the reformer's phrase: Simul Justus et Peccator

 

That is: "Simultaneously Righteous (or: Saint) and Sinner." 

 

The essence of the formula being that we are both/and people – a theological attempt at summarizing the way we are both justified by the finished work of the cross and still subject to sin and death in the now and not yet we live in. 

 

Somehow both covered and exposed. 

 

This evening, I had a conversation with my mom about my upcoming album. 

 

Now, normally, conversations with moms don't make the marketing campaign for an artist's new record. At least, not that you know of. 

 

But my mom is making it. Wisdom and principles from conversations that I've had with my mom throughout the past few years made the album, not just this pitch. 

 

She, like the rest of us, is a both/and person.

 

When it came to my confusion, she both absorbed my pain and imparted wisdom for seeing past it. 

 

When it came to my health, she both worried and trusted. 

 

When it came to my fear, she both encouraged and understood. 

 

When it came to my unbelief, she both sympathized and held onto the faith I couldn't muster. 

 

So tonight, I spent some time with her in everyone's favorite place to talk: the kitchen. 

 

I told her than I am both excited and afraid of what I'm about to release. 

 

I am both confident and insecure. 

 

I am both ready to begin the conversations and ready to end them.

 

I am both beyond the excruciating darkness that led to the words you'll soon hear and right smack-dab in the middle of them. 

 

I am both guarded and defenseless. 

 

I am both sure and unsure. 

 

And yet here I am again: as ready – I suppose – as I'll ever be to unveil something new for the first time in a long time, and hoping that perhaps it can be both a cut and a salve for the rest of the both/and people in this world who have been willing to bleed and heal with me throughout the past nine years. 

 

I know you don't know much about this one. 

 

Trust me: the restraint I've had to practice in keeping it quiet – for all of my longing to justify myself before you've even heard the songs – is huge.

 

I both want to soften the blow and let you sit with the discomfort I both fear and generate.

 

"And so," my mom said tonight, "tell them that." 

 

Maybe you know what it's like to be a bundle of paradoxes. 

 

Maybe you know what it's like when something right starts to seem wrong. 

 

Maybe you know what it's like when the curtain is pulled back to reveal what's been hidden, and what's been hidden hurts. 

 

Maybe you know what it's like when faith feels more like cataracts than clarity. 

 

Do you?

 

This week, I will release the first single from my new album. 

 

On the same day, I will release preorder packages for you to choose from, should you decide to support the first full-length record I've put out in three years. As you well know, if you've participated in any part of this journey with me throughout the years, I don't come by these things lightly.

 

I'm not going to lie, folks, this one came out of the darkest nights my soul has known, and I count it a miracle to write you with light aglow again, tonight. 

 

If anything I've said thus far resonates, I would like to thank you for being a part of the mystery that we are, together. Thank you for staying. I am better for it. There's a lot to live for. I hope that you, too, will find that I have something left to offer in all of complications that I am, simul justus et peccator.

 

Keep forgiving,

 

Levi


P.S. – I normally send these letters out once a week, but as I gear up for the record release, I'm planning on sending quite a few. Please stick with me. I want the album to speak for itself, but I want to walk toward it together the best I can. We're one thing, you and me. 

 

P.P.S. – I have been a full-time, independent artist for nine years now. If you want to talk about miracles, that alone is a testament to their existence, and primarily through you. You with lips that speak life. You with money given to a new record, or a Fraction membership, or a Kickstarter campaign, or a preorder, or a concert, or a generous donation. You with beds to sleep on and food to eat. You with prayers lifted over us. Thank you. There's never been a publicist. There's never been a booking agent. There's never been a manager. There's been me and Brandi and friends and family and you. I'm going to ask for your help again. As I put this stuff out, would you share it, as well? As I make things available, would you pay them forward? 

 

P.P.P.S. – If anyone receiving this letter made it this far, and you happen to run a blog, or a music review website, or some sort of thing that you think might benefit from a solid critique of a new Levi The Poet record, I'd love to hear from you. Perhaps we can arrange a way to get the album to you in exchange for your words. Serious inquiries only, please (we'll decide what that means when we hear from you). Email: hello@levithepoet.net

 

P.P.P.P.S. – Here we go, guys...

 

(Photo: Joseph Bulger

inspiration

Behind The Lyrics

This month, I released two new, digital EPs (FERMENT and DEBRIS) and a brand new vinyl record. All within the first week of the New Year.

I didn’t tell anyone except for a few friends and the Fraction members that it was coming (they got it early). I thought it would be fun to experiment with the way that huge pop stars like Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake can just drop a new album, unexpected and unannounced, and see what happens with it. 

Spoiler alert: I’m not sitting at number one on the iTunes Charts and (to my knowledge), Neilson hasn’t pushed FERMENT / DEBRIS to Billboard, but it sure was exciting for me to finally give it to you. I am incredibly thankful to those of you who have reciprocated that excitement thus far.

Tonight, I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about it.

I wrote most of the lyrics to both of these songs in my head and on my feet, walking around some neighborhood, trying to find fresh air and enough mental clarity to think straight. The words always seem to come outside and out loud, which, come to think of it, is how most of them have always come. I wrote almost all of last year’s releases that way: ANXIETY walking around Downtown Seattle, and Sanctuary Cities walking through San Francisco’s Tenderloin. I remember - even back at 17 - thinking up When I Go To Meet God on a bike ride home from my closing shift at Starbucks. 

I guess some things don’t change. Maybe even most things. 

Sommelier - the song who’s beginning is so beautifully sung by my friend Elle Puckett (you might know her from Poema, or Eisley, or you just might know her) - came to me on a walk in Albuquerque, not far from my house, nearly two years ago. It feels absurd – how long a song can take to come into existence. 

I wanted to write about the sky, and about God, and about the way that, if you keep your eyes open for too long while you’re looking up at the night, they’ll start to water, and then all the stars will start to blur together. I wanted to know if there was a way for me to create a correlation between that experience and the way that certain aspects of a more metaphorical, spiritual vision felt like they were beginning to blur at that time, too, like stars dying and all things being made new, and wondered if I - or if the people in my heart and mind (perhaps even some of you) - would be able to see clearly again. I wanted to ask questions about how it would feel to burst from new wine being poured into old wine skins, and I wanted to write about the nights that I would sneak out of my bedroom window and experience exactly that as a dreamer, laying down in the meadow up the street from my parent’s house, wondering. 

At some point, I shared the lyrics here, through the LTP Weekly. I had ideas and faces and characters associated with the story therein, but my mom - o faithful subscriber that she has been - wrote back to say something to the degree of, “Interesting – I don’t know what you had in mind, but I think all of these characters are you.”

Perhaps they are. That’s something I love about art: giving others the freedom to interpret it as they will. And often more than that. Oftentimes others even help you figure it out. If you’ve read (or heard) my Correspondence [a commentary] release - then you know how much I love leaving the "why" out, but I also love learning what, exactly, I'm writing about from more objective listeners who can help me interpret my own work. As weird as that may seem, it can happen, in much the same way as one's perspective of his or her own work, and what it meant to them then and what it means now, is capable of changing over time. 

As for Carl Sagan’s Smoking Chair... that one began at midnight, on some weird, dark road off the strip in Las Vegas, Nevada last December. My wife, Brandi, was working out at a gym she found, and I was walking around by myself, singing a hook that never even made the song. I scrapped it because it felt like an old, melodramatic emo lyric that I might've loved in sixth grade, but didn't feel right for the rest of the story. 

Some of my favorite moments of the day are in the late afternoon, when the sun is the warmest, shining in through the blinds, accentuating the dust in the air. I thought about how beautiful and lonely it might feel in the quiet of an old study, sitting in a leather chair behind an oak desk, quiet shattered by a loss ringing off the hook in the hallway. 

In January, when I was finishing the song in a bookstore on Capitol Hill, I was reading these quotes by Carl Sagan, and I came across this one: 

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”

I thought that was a fascinating idea, regardless of the fact that I disagree with his statements about "all" conventional faiths desiring small gods. But yes, perhaps we get to his grandeur in different ways. Jesus, after all, chose the foolishness of incarnation on Sagan's pale blue dot, which likely seemed small to him, indeed. I think it's hilarious, put that way. Of course God, in all of his grandeur, would do something as absurd as that. It spurred my reverence and awe toward him, anyhow (which is not the same thing as an endorsement for Sagan's worldview – let alone an assumption that all of you agree with mine – only that, per usual, Jesus is a God comfortable with using whatever means he pleases to spur on our wonder, and this just happened to a way he did it in me). Plus, I liked the imagery: Sagan's stars floating in the air and the dust motes in the light of the study and the same sun that cast its beams through the broken windows of the car crash where the man, who came from dust, returns to dust. 

Finally, I wanted to emphasize the worlds that each of us are. I wrote a bit about that in my letter following Chester Bennington's death, and I recently read a quote that I didn't know existed, saying the same. I enjoy that idea. It reminds me to be humble – or to try – when interacting with others. Judgements are quickly cast in the world, folks, but we're in this together, worlds colliding. 

So anyhow, I thought it'd be fun to share a bit of behind the scenes about these tracks with y'all tonight, and I hope it was. It's no manifesto like the Correspondence commentary, but it's a brief look into some of the inspiration that led me to FERMENT / DEBRIS.

I'm thankful for your interest, and I'm thankful for your support.

If you'd like to listen to the new poems / songs, you can find them digitally, everywhere, forever. If you'd like to pick up a record, however, head over to the online store and pick one up before they're gone. I sort of get tired of constantly playing the scarcity game, but we really did only press 500, and so, such is the nature of the beast.

Thanks so much for being a part of my life. It is an honor to share this new EP with you. 

Levi


This blog post was originally sent to my LTP Weekly Subscribers and Fraction Members. If you'd like to receive weekly thoughts, letters and pontifications every Sunday night, please consider signing up to become a paid Fraction Member here, or joining my free newsletter by entering your information in the form below.  

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FERMENT / DEBRIS – A New, 10" Vinyl Record Release From Levi The Poet

NOW AVAILABLE IN 43G. / 45RPM ULTRA-CLEAR VINYL PRESS*

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Introducing FERMENT / DEBRIS: A new, Limited Edition 10” Vinyl Release from Levi The Poet, featuring music written by Andy Othling, and remixed by Glowhouse’s Alex Sugg

 

Side A: FERMENT

1. Sommelier

2. Carl Sagan’s Smoking Chair

 

Side B: DEBRIS

3. Sommelier (Glowhouse Remix)

4. Carl Sagan’s Smoking Chair (Glowhouse Remix)

 

This is a one-time-only pressing of 500 limited edition, ultra-clear vinyl.

 

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FERMENT – Another new, Digital EP

Earlier this week – on the first of the year – I released DEBRIS: a digital EP, featuring two new songs, remixed by Glowhouse's Alex Sugg

Tonight – right now – I'm excited to release the original songs, written by Andy Othling.

Writing these tracks – Sommelier and Carl Sagan's Smoking Chair – with Andy was an experiment in the truest sense of the word. It was the first time I've written with anyone other than Alex (who has been the genius behind Seasons and Correspondence [a fiction]). 

Andy and I have become good friends over the years of working together on Levi The Poet records. Aside from our personal friendship, we are two of the only people (that we know of) in Albuquerque who are currently working on music full-time, and there's a camaraderie there because of it.

At the beginning of last year, I visited Andy's studio with a bunch of new lyrics, and we wrote both of these songs together in – if I remember correctly – a day or two. [Well, when I say we, I mean he (along with the help of our friend Jacob Fox from the band Archibald on drums) but that's how most LTP tracks come together: with lyrics and an idea, and some other musical genius of a human who is not me completing the vision]. 

Quite a few people have asked me why I'd release the remixes before the originals. Aside from simply hoping people would ask exactly that question, both of the forthcoming FERMENT songs are different than anything I've ever put out beneath the LTP moniker – more the vibe of a full band than a digital release. 

As I said, we wanted to experiment. We wanted to do something new. 

I hope that you enjoy what you hear. 

To those of you reading / listening / following: thanks for sticking by an artist who hasn't exactly stayed in a lane throughout the years. One who does weird stuff just for the sake of doing it, and growing, and learning, and changing, and hoping, and trusting.

God has been good, and you have been kind. 

Levi

P.S. If you would like to purchase FEBRIS and support my work, you can find the EP through the following links on:

FERMENT is also available on Spotify, and one of the best (and only) ways that artists benefit from streaming platforms is when folks add our work to your playlists for regular rotation. If you’d like to add either of these tracks - or any of my other work - to yours, I’d appreciate it.

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DEBRIS - A New, Digital EP

 

Good afternoon, and Happy New Year!


Levi here. I wanted to start 2018 off right by releasing two new poems / songs for you today. So, without further ado, here is DEBRIS:

 

  • Sommelier (feat. Elle Puckett) [Glowhouse Remix]
  • Carl Sagan’s Smoking Chair [Glowhouse Remix]

 

I’m really excited about these songs. I’ve been toying around with poem-versions of the tracks for a while, and introduced live audiences to them during my 2017 performances. It’s an honor to make them publicly available to you all, today.

 

If you would like to purchase DEBRIS and support my work, you can find the EP through the following links on:

 

 

DEBRIS is also available on Spotify, and one of the best (and only) ways that artists benefit from streaming platforms is when folks add our work to your playlists for regular rotation. If you’d like to add either of these tracks - or any of my other work - to yours, I’d appreciate it.


Thanks so much, guys! I’ve got a lot of plans for 2018, and it feels good to kick things off with a bang.


Love y’all,
Levi

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inspiration, together

My Top Albums of 2017

It's that time of year again. 

Yeah, sure, the time of year where Top Albums Lists come out. That's fine. But I'm more talking about the time of year where I regret that I didn't write about my top albums as they came out instead of doing this at the last minute again. You know. The time of year when you resolve to do things differently next year, but then – of course – you don't. 

That time of year. 

At the same time, I enjoy these days each December, set aside for some writing that allows me to reflect on music that I fell in love with. It's almost... meditative? That might be the wrong word. Maybe still is a better word. I always love getting to go back through the year and remember the releases I was most excited about, or the ones that caught me off guard, or the artists I discovered, and when and why they meant so much to me. 

Anyway, without further ado, here's this year's annual Top Albums list – in no particular order – from yours truly...


David Bazan – Care

Bazan's been on a role these last few years.

Personally, I'd put 2016's Blanco up on a pedestal as high as Curse Your Branches... and then he dropped his Christmas album, and then – in January of this year – he dropped Care. Three releases in a year, not to mention all of the recent press about Pedro The Lion making a comeback in 2018. 

I've written plenty about Bazan over the years. I knew nothing of PTL prior to discovering Dave's solo work, even though I attended festivals like Cornerstone during the height of their popularity. Curse Your Branches put me into a bit of a tailspin when I discovered it in 2010, and though I'm landing in different places regarding the faith that I continue to profess, I highly value Bazan's Care (pun intended), conviction and criticism when it comes to many a topic – politically, theologically, socially, etc. 

Not least of all: the dude's work ethic is just phenomenal, and I'm always left wondering at how he's managed to stick with it after so many years. (And I'm not, in any way whatsoever, insinuating that Bazan's been anything less than successful – only that doing what he does is difficult work with many a tempting opportunity to bow out.) I've listened to almost every Bazan interview and podcast conversation I can find and, as one independent artist looking in on another, resonate with ups and downs – the accomplishments and the disappointments – that he has not shied away from articulating. It's inspiring to see someone continue to work through the grind that the valleys are after so many years in this career, and – frankly – I am thankful for his example. 

I think, also, that Dave has been brave throughout his years as an artist, especially one who began a career as someone who would call things like he sees them. It can be an interesting predicament to find yourself in and – I think – one that many artists struggle with. That just might be one of the many reasons so many of us appreciate Dave's work. To discover an audience in agreement / resonating with your honesty... and also to know that your honesty may be the very thing that drives them away... 

I was fascinated by Dave's interview with Vice's Noisey this fall. He said that when he writes, he writes for himself, and rarely considers the audience - almost, even, to the point of finding himself perplexed at their responses. Like, "Oh, I almost forgot... you're going to hear this, too." That's amazing, honestly. I'd love to be able to write like that again. There's a place for temperament and discretion, and based on Bazan's stories of inviting his wife to read / hear / edit some of his words, I think he practices those disciplines, but I do very much appreciate the freedom that sounds like it could be to the creative process. 


P.O.S. – Chill, Dummy

My friend Caleb Davis told me about P.O.S. back when he released Never Better. The artwork and packaging that Eric Timothy Carlson designed for that album changed Caleb's life (his words - he told me yesterday when we were talking about it), and P.O.S.'s comfortable flow and unique style may have changed mine. As a hardcore kid, I was fascinated by Stefon's involvement in that Twin Cities scene. I was on that Atmosphere / Rhymesayers tip when I first discovered Doomtree, and it struck me as something different and worth following. The "P.O.S. Is Ruining My Life" track off of Audition, where he samples Underoath's "It's Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door" blew my mind. 

Both P.O.S. records since Never Better have taken me some time to get into. At first, I wasn't excited about We Don't Even Live Here, which felt like a huge departure from the music I'd fallen in love with, but I was determined to get into it... and I did. I remember driving into a Southwest sunset with Brandi on one of our west coast tours following the release, and playing it so loud as we drove through winding roads just outside of Tucson, AZ, loving how aggressive the sound was. I'm also pretty committed to sticking it out with artists on the principle that they/we should be allowed to change direction and experiment without the law of "I Liked Their Old Stuff Betters" constantly weighing down on everyone's creativity. I want to be in it for the long haul – as much as possible – for the artists I believe in. 

Chill, Dummy felt like yet another departure, and yet another that I grew to love. But not without time and effort. And maybe that's some of the magic P.O.S. has managed to embody: the challenge. He continues to progress in his creativity, and he continues to give his audience an authentic look into who he grows to be. I've seen that both musically and lyrically. For instance, even though I perceive his writing in a relatively disconnected sort of way, his song Sleepdrone/Superposition is full of memoir-like statements and fears and honesties about his kidney failure, the unknowns, the way he wanted to write a song to encapsulate it all but felt each attempt wanting. Those vulnerabilities are real, unmanufactured. I will always love artistry that is able to accomplish that kind of reality – the kind that invites people to come along and shed their costumes, too – no matter how difficult it seems in the beginning.


Chance Espinoza – It Happens

The first time I played a show with Chance, it was with his band Sounds Of Satellites. I want to say it was at a church space in or around San Diego...? He/They had a record out at the time titled God In Quotes. I loved it. I still love it. I remember driving through a Krispy Kreme donuts line with Brandi one night in Southern California, listening to their songs Glory Pt. 1 & 2 and asking "are you a good God?" along with him. I think Chance is an incredible songwriter both musically and lyrically, and the questions and challenges in his words resonated with me from the start. 

I was thankful to have shared about five weeks of this year out on the road with Chance. He filled in for the band Everett (also such an incredible band) that I was on tour with in October and November. I didn't realize he had a new record out at all, but I found a link to a video for the opening track "Because It Happened Twice" one day, and went on to jam the record in the months that have followed.

I really enjoy the production and simplicity of this record. Not that creating it was simple (I have no idea about that, aside from the fact that making anything worth making is never simple), but although I enjoy the complexities that make a band a band, I also appreciate that this could be a wonderful one-man-show given the electronic direction that Chance headed for it. From the samples used, to the recent-Justin-Vernon-ish vocal effects, to the dreamy vibe that seems cohesive throughout all ten tracks, It Happensdefinitely happened to me, as they say. 

And hey, we're family!


Corey Kilgannon – The Hollow II

I experienced Corey's performance for the first time this June. He opened for me at a house show in Nashville, Tennessee. My gosh. I wished his set would never end. I kept thinking, why in the world am I headlining this show? Corey's voice is captivating in a way that calms and saddens and comforts all at once, and the intimacy that his set gifted a house jam-packed with over eighty silenced people was, quite simply, beautiful. 

I've listened to Corey's music a hundred times over since I discovered it that night in June. It was the soundtrack to my Fall. I'd listen to it on our drives, staring out the window and watching the country pass by. On most nights, I'd fall asleep to it. The Hollow II is haunting. A few of Corey's Audiotree Live sessions feel - to me - very much like hearing Conor Oberst sing protest songs for the first time, and perhaps that's part of the appeal. The sad comfort this album evokes feels like growing up, and the freedom of honest creation, and the sympathy that some words and some chords can be, together, sometimes. 

I really, really enjoy it. Musically, it comforts. Lyrically, it provokes. Corey worked with my friend Andy Hoffman of Ledges, who I met through Mark Brower (one of our Fraction members), on a current, favorite song of his: Narcotics. A few months after having met Corey, I was going through old emails and trying to follow up with people when I discovered a message from him that I missed, inviting me to be a guest on song he was finishing at the time. I'm still kicking myself for overlooking that. At any rate, I'm stoked on this record.


Gang Of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness

Over the last almost-year of Fraction, I've gotten myself acquainted with a dude from Australia, named John Blackley. I've featured him on my blog before, and love seeing pictures of the postcard-perfect coastline sunsets he'll post to our private Facebook group from time to time. John was the one who introduced me to Gang Of Youths, as I asked for music suggestions, and he was excited that Go Farther In Lightness had just come out. 

Those of you who actually make / take the time to read through a post as long as this likely know enough about me to know that I'm a huge fan of clever lyricism, double entendres, and theologically-driven and/or religiously-influenced language and criticism (both constructive and deconstructive). And – you know – I've got impeccable taste (even though my wife begs to differ). Gang Of Youths seems to have managed to create a work that feels both flawless and, somehow, effortless in each of these areas. The band's vocalist, David Le'aupepe, intrigues me from the start for his history with Hillsong Church in Sydney, and the ease by which he uses - or misuses, depending upon your perspective - biblical language throughout the album. His cadence both pries and respects, and he is a poet in the truest sense of the word. His analogies, and the pictures he paints, take you somewhere. They instill longing inside of you, the kind that might be defined as joy, which, according to Lewis, as I've just recently read, is synonymous.

If any song on this record takes the cake as best, it's "Persevere." The weight. The language. The bare-knuckled gut punch into all of the faces that Tragedy makes. The questions, and the hopes we hold onto in their midst. I've read that this song was written about a couple who lost their child. Some of my best friends lost theirs this year, and I can't help but think of them when I hear the line: "Nothing tuned me in to absurdity as fast as a gravestone with the name of a baby that has passed..." and I see my friend burying his daughter on a plot of land just north of Albuquerque, not far from where he buried his father a few years prior to that, and I can't begin to comprehend it... 

Here are some of the best lyrics of the year: 

I couldn’t count the times I’ve ragged on heaven
As an opiate invented by the weak
It’s an argument I hate 'cause I’m content to love the fates
But it comes up a lot with Emme’s dad and me
So I’m shotgun in the car and we’re just shooting the shit
And predictably, the talking turns to God
So I throw him forty lines how I don’t think he exists
And he just smiles and takes a dignified pause
Says, "It’s okay to feel unbelievably lost"

But God is full of grace and his faithfulness is vast
There is safety in the moments when the shit has hit the fan
Not some vindictive motherfucker, nor is he shitty at his job
What words to hear
And I’m a mess by now
'Cause nothing tuned me in to my failure as fast
As grieving for a friend with more belief than I possessed
"It’s not some disembodied heaven," he assured me
Then he laughs and says through tears
"You got to persevere"

Persevere


Brand New – Science Fiction

Including this record in my Top Albums list seems almost taboo at this point in time, but here it is. Brand New Vocalist Jesse Lacey's indiscretions – publicized over the last few months alongside the rest of the world's men ousted for charges of sexual misconduct – came as a disappointment. I've been exploring some of the implications that news like this has for audiences who have otherwise enjoyed the music, movies, and contributions made by their recently blacklisted creators, and I've written extensively and (so I hope and so I've been told) respectfully on behalf of the victims of the kind of blatant abuse of power that Jesse has since acknowledged and apologized for. The arguments surrounding whether or not his apologies are forced, or sincere, or diversions, or acceptable grounds for continuing to enjoy the music his band creates are conversations for a different time and place, let alone platform and medium (probably, for instance, using actual voices to talk to actual faces in the actual presence of other actual people). I'm not going to apologize for including the album here, but I would be more than happy to discuss any qualms with whomever may have them, because I believe that discussion is valuable and necessary and even possible to bring a variety of perspectives into for one-another's betterment and growth and understanding, including mine. 

That said, I woke up one morning this Spring, saw that Brand New was releasing preorders for their final album, and spent thirty bucks on the record before I'd been awake for thirty seconds. This, and avocado toast, is why millennials don't have any money.

I’m a fan. Have been since Jonathan Orner introduced me to Deja Entendu which, I think, continues to be their best, but Brand New’s entire catalogue is, in my opinion, impressive. There’s not an album I don’t enjoy. Some of my Fraction members asked me to make a first to last list of their discography... I think Deja is top, The Devil and God...Science Fiction, then Your Favorite Weapon, then Daisy (not to mention other EPs, leaked songs, etc). 

I thought this was a hilarious infographic for the Brand New repertoire:

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Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface

Manchester Orchestra will forever hold a piece of my heart. On the night I met my best friend, Jonathan Orner introduced me to their debut album, I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child, and I've paid homage to Andy Hull's writing multiple times in the lyrics I've written since. 

I've had some funny experiences with the band, too. In 2011, I was writing for HM – a music magazine based out of Austin, Texas – and we decided to run a cover story on their record, Simple Math. When the editors gave me the story, I was ecstatic. Their previous albums played like soundtracks to some of my favorite seasons of life up to that point, and Simple Math left me full of questions for the band - questions I'd finally be able to ask a lyricist I'd admired for years. The interview between Andy and I was all set up when, perhaps thirty minutes before the call, Manchester's publicist informed me that I'd be talking to their bassist, instead. 

Honestly, that's totally fine, but being a lyricist who was told that he'd be interviewing a lyricist, I'd focused most of my questions on... lyrics. It was still fun chatting with Jonathan Corley, who was playing bass for them at the time, but I remember, at one point, him telling me, "You know, these are probably questions that would be better for Andy..." and I just thought, "Yeah, well, obviously."

Anyway, that's a story that has nothing to do with this record, but I will say that this record is my favorite the band has released since Simple Math, and maybe even since Mean Everything To Nothing. I enjoyed Hope (and may have written about it in a previous year's "Top Albums" list) but Cope was too busy for me, personally. Manchester's always done such a great job of introducing us to their work, visually, and the videos for A Black Mile To The Surface didn't disappoint. They feel as creative as ever, and more intimate than ever. The record is dynamic, an invitation to simultaneously hope and brood alongside its characters, inside their storylines. 

Plus, seeing Julien Baker post a bunch of stuff about how she climbed up that tree to hang from it for the cover art was just great. Speaking of Julien Baker...


Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights

So here's the deal: Julien Baker is, I believe, deserving of every single opportunity that she's been given, and worked so hard for, throughout these last few year's worth of - for lack of better words - blowing up. The woman is incredible. I met Julien in Memphis probably seven years ago, when her band – The Star Killers (now Forrister) – opened for one of my shows in a basement venue called The Abbey. It's laughable to me now, thinking about her opening up for me. But it's amazing the way that excellence shines. Every time we'd go through Memphis, I hoped that The Star Killers would be on the bill. They were my favorite local band I played with during all of my touring years, and plenty of my friends and other artists would say the same. Have said the same. I know because we all tell one another about how great they were/are whenever the topic arises. 

When Julien's solo EP, Sprained Ankle, dropped, I listened to it over... and over... and over... and over again. It held the purposefully underproduced quality and emotion of an early Bright Eyes recording and – as Bright Eyes is my favorite band of all time – that bode well for my listening ears. Julien is a no-holds-barred kind of lyricist, but she writes in such a way that even her most abrasive imageries pull you in rather than push you away. She is honest, with vocal chords full of conviction. She presents herself as a person who is for, rather than one who is against, forgiveness and solidarity evidenced in the ways that she continues to invite people to sing along to songs of dissent or songs of worship, or both, or the subtler ways that old hymns sneak their way into piano arrangements as a bookend to - or a breath of hope amidst - so much anguish. 

Turn Out The Lights is an example of craftsmanship every bit as gorgeous as Julien's work has ever been. My favorite experience with the record, thus far, was at four a.m. on the 101, northbound from LA to Santa Barbara, California this Thanksgiving. We had just come off a full-U.S. run with a bunch of bands and drove across the country to make it in time for the holiday with my family. Brandi was sick and passed out in the back of the car, and I had this record on repeat for hours. With nothing else to do but keep my eyes on the road, the time served to function as intentional - an opportunity to soak up the album and pay it the kind of attention that feels less and less frequent than the way we consume (and by that, I literally mean chew up and spit out) most music today. I love big cities, so driving through Los Angeles beneath streetlights blurred by heavy eyelids, enjoying record – and that alone – by one of my favorites, felt surreal, and lovely. 

My favorite lyrics left me laughing to myself in the car for how beautifully put they are:

“...grit my teeth and try to act deserving, when I know there is nowhere I can hide from your humiliating grace.”


Kendrick Lamar – Damn. 

The word "damn" might actually be all that needs to be said about this record. When it came out, I jumped up and down in my living room and acted like an idiot and turned the music up so loud that no one in the next room could hear themselves talk. DNA. drops so hard, and rolls straight into my favorite song of 2017: YAH. I love how vibey that track is. It was fun watching the world blow up when Kendrick released Damn. The way everybody speculated about whether record another would follow on its heels, or played tracks backward, or argued about whether it was genius or lazy to use Times New Roman for the cover font. 

I've counted Kendrick an educator since I discovered his work, and dive into just about everything I can find re: his process, or his purpose, or the ethic behind and flowing through his art. 

I had the chance to see Kendrick live twice this year, which is crazy. First, at Coachella this spring. Craig Gross took his son and friend to the festival, and gave me a ticket and an invitation to join them for it. I wrote about the whole weekend, which you can find here in the Fraction archives, but the long-and-short of it is simply that I never even dreamed that kind of production existed, let alone experienced it, before Coachella. It was insane. 

A few months later, following Craig and Jeannette's 19-year wedding anniversary celebration in Vegas (where I was officially written off by many as apostate for drawing a pentagram on my chest in what felt like a true cherry on top of the rest of my goth costume), Brandi and I joined the Gross boys and two of our friends in LA to see Kendrick perform with Travis Scott at Staples Center. Brandi loves rap more than most people I know, and I love taking her to shows for the artists that she loves. There's this thing that happens in her eyes when she's excited, and it was like there were stars inside of them that night. It looks like wonder. Like being a kid again who can't help but take it all in, muted by the extravagance of the event, and overwhelmed but doing your best to take it in. 


Brother Cephus – Not That Important

Here's another artist / album that I didn't discover until the whole year was almost over: Brother Cephus. A few months back, in Tampa, FL, my friend Joel Davis asked me if I'd heard the band his brothers started. I've known the Davis family for years through the music scene and Come&Live! – the record label that Ascend The Hill and myself shared. But, I hadn't yet heard Gabe and Seth's latest project. 

I don't have as much of a history with their work as with some of the other projects I've written about here, so I feel insecure about not being able to articulate their craft with the same kind of appeal, but perhaps that's just as well. There's no bias to pull from – I simply love the album. I know it's generally frowned upon to do comparisons like this, but I get some Colour Revolt vibes here and there that take me back to high school, and listening to Mattresses Underwater in my car, heated in a snowy parking lot, burning incense on the dash (yes, I burnt candles and incense in my car, always, in high school). Those are good memories, and Not That Important feels evermore important for being able to pull them to the forefront of my mind. I love the slow, driving, not-quite-lazy-but-chill-vibes (good Lord I'm butchering this) the record offers. Is drug-rock a genre? It feels like it should be. It is, as they say, intoxicating

They're playing a show soon with one of my favorite Nashville bands - Bandit - and I feel like that'd be a great one to go to, just in case somebody in Nashville reads this, and is otherwise out of the loop. Get off your Nashville butt and put on your Nashville boots and walk out your Nashville door and do something very unusual for the people in Music City: go to a show to listen to music. 


Well guys, I think that's it for now! My gosh these always take me so long to write but they're always so fun to come back to at the end of each year. And I know that thirty seconds after posting this, I'm going to kick myself for who I forgot, or who I didn't have time to write about, but I just recorded the audio version of this recap for my Fraction Members, and it literally took thirty minutes! Haha. It's becoming a private, weekly podcast, apparently. So I guess time is a good constraint, anyway. It's fun. 

I'd love to hear some of your top records! Please respond below with them, yeah? (You don't have to write novels like I end up doing, but it'd be cool to hear about even one or two records / artists that you loved this year.)

Have a wonderful (and safe) New Years Eve, everyone! 

Levi

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Being Empty: Being Filled - Europe/UK Tour 2018

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Today, I'm so excited to announce that I’ll be joining Listener again this March to join them in touring their new record in Europe. Brandi and I have wanted to tour overseas for years, and for one reason or another, it just hasn’t quite happened. Welp, this time it’s gonna, and we couldn’t be happier about who we’ll be there with. Thanks to everybody in the Listener family, we’re gonna get to see and play a bunch of places we’ve never been to. Nothin like ending a tour to announce another one. Mark the dates you want to go to on a calendar and we will see you there!