Archive for March, 2010

“No choice at all”

“SETH! Come out here this instant, young man! It is time for dinner!”

Seth smiled. He had heard his father clearly enough, but he made no move towards the shut door of his room. He remained bent over his work table, tools in hand, putting the finishing touches on the small construct lying on the table. Master Tombe had insisted he finish this task before tomorrow’s lessons. Seth had not disappointed his Master yet, and he was not about to start. It had taken him enough work just to convince the old Artificer to take him on as an apprentice, and more work still to convince his father to pay for it. Connecting the final components together, he began inscribing the arcane sigils that would seal the construct. Having practiced them many times, he could practically do this in his sleep. Tombe, though fair, was very demanding. His sharp eyes never missed a mistake or cut corner, and he tolerated neither. When Seth messed up, Tombe would force him to redo the work until he was satisfied. Consequently, Seth knew the ins and outs of the Artifice methodology very well. As he contined his work, his mind wandered to his attempts to convince his father of the necessity of this apprenticeship. It had not been easy. Markus Lassiter, noble of the court, head of House Lassiter and the Kingdom’s many transportation-related trade guilds, fully expected his family to continue the House business after he was gone, and as far as he was concerned, Seth would do just that, no exceptions. Never mind that the guild’s business bored him to tears, that he had found a calling in life that he loved and longed more than anything to continue, Markus would not be swayed.

Luckily for him, Seth had managed to both find a way to start on the Artificer’s path and delay his father’s insistence. He had put together a very convincing presentation which extolled the virtues of magical craftsmanship, how he could apply this knowledge to vehicle-building efforts, improving their desgins, and how much gold it would save them in the long run. With this knowledge and experience, he could run the shipbuilder’s and Cartbuilder’s guilds, and use it to improve their profits. It worked. Markus agreed to pay for his apprenticeship. Afterwards, he had told his son how proud of him he was for thinking of the House’s interests first, for thinking like a man of business. Seth had smiled and thanked his father, inwardly groaning. The entire thing had been so boring, so meaningless to him, but he knew he had to do it if he ever hoped to start his studies.

Seth shook his head, returning his thoughts to the present, and finished the last line of the arcane sigil of power. That was it, it was done. He needed only speak the command word, and the construct would activate, ready to follow his commands. He smiled. It was amazing.

The door flung open, and his father, a regal looking man in his late sixties with silver hair tied in a ponytail and a similarly colored moustache, walked in. As always, Markus was impeccably dressed, even in his own home with his family. His stern glare found Seth’s eyes.

“Do not make me tell you again, son. You will come to dinner, now.”

Seth pointed to the construct lying on the table. “I’m sorry, father, but Master Tombe insisted I finish this before tomorrow. And look, it’s done! Let me show you…” He picked the construct up, and set it standing on the floor. Standing back, he spoke the command word, and the construct began moving. It turned to him, awaiting his order.

Seth laughed triumphantly. It had worked! He looked over to his father. “Look! Look, father. I built this. With my own hands. Isn’t this awesome?” His father’s expression did not change. Undaunted, Seth turned to his work table, and grabbed one of the tools there. Extending it to the construct, he said “Take this to my father.”

The construct extended its hand, grasped the tool, and briskly turned and walked over towards Markus. Stopping before him, the construct held the tool out for Markus to take.

Markus looked at the thing, almost as if he were revolted by it’s proximity to him. He looked back towards Seth. “I am not paying all that money to that old fool to teach you how to make TOYS, Seth! You are SUPPOSED to be learning ways to improve our fleets!”

Seth sighed exasperatedly. “Father, I know it has been some time since you’ve been in school, but you know that when you learn a new trade, you learn the basics first! You master the basics, then learn to apply them to create more advanced concepts, and then you master those. Then you take those concepts and apply them to the real world to create new things! I must learn these before I can begin improving your precious ships and wagons, father!”

“Yes, son, and what concepts will your apply, hmm? Perhaps you would have our ships crewed by these things?” Markus pointed dismissively at the construct, still obligingly holding the tool out. “I should have known better. You are wasting your time. Your brother has dutifully spent his time with me, learning the ins and outs of managing all the guilds, the affairs of the House. Your brother has been to the court of the King! Has met his Majesty himself! And what have I told the King, when he asks where you are? Excuse after excuse I have made for you, while you sit in your room or with that old fool, learning to make childish things! No, this ends now. You will go to your Master tomorrow and end this. Starting the first of next week, you will be learning from me, and you will learn useful things. You will begin attending social functions at the court, and hopefully, will marry well. Now, put this away, and clean yourself up. I expect you at the dinner table in five minutes!”. With that, he turned and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Seth slumped in his chair, face in his palm. Well, that was that. He knew it would have come to this eventually. His father would not see beyond his own desires for him, and nothing would change that. His pondering was interrupted by the sound of the doorknob turning. Looking up, he saw his creation attempting to open the door. It was still trying to fulfill Seth’s command to give the tool to his father! Amazing, truly amazing. “Come back here” he called to it. The little construct turned and walked back to him, handing him the tool expectantly. Seth took it. “Well done,” he said to it affectionately. “Wait over there until I return”. The construct walked over to the area he had indicated and powered itself down. Standing up, Seth considered his future. Unbeknownst to his father, this construct was the final test that Tombe had given him, and when he presented it to him tomorrow, assuming Tombe passed it, then he would be considered a fully fledged new artificer. This final creation was his test of mastering all the concepts that Tombe had taught him, and it’s successful activation and minor test run signaled the end of Seth’s attempts to delay his father.

He could not bear to spend the rest of his life in so boring an existence. Seth longed to venture out into the world. He knew there was much more out there that he could learn, and he wished to find it. He wanted to become a truly great artificer, and he knew that he would never find that behind a desk or trying to court some vacant-headed noble girl.

Luckily, he had known that for some time. And he had been preparing.

He walked over to a corner of his room, and pulled up the loose floorboards he had quietly pulled up months ago. Hidden there was a small hidden space which stored his preparations. Leather adventurer’s armor. A backpack, full of the gear he would need in the field. Two belts, covered in pouches and loops. Several bandoleers. A long jacket festooned with pockets. He had slowly begun moving his tools and components into these items, meticulously organizing them, memorizing where everything went, so he could quickly access whatever he needed. And on top of it all, his pride and joy. A well-crafted crossbow that Seth himself had modified. Covered in several buttons, switches, and other implements, it was capable of much more than firing simple bolts. With a few minor settings adjustments, it could fire off several specialized items of his own creation. But most important of all, this weapon could serve as the implement focus for all of his infusions and other magical crafts. He’d been praciticing with it whenever he could, and he’d become a rather good shot with it. He smiled as he held it and quickly looked it over. He placed it back within the hidden space, and replaced the floorboards. He quickly got up and began changing.

As he pulled the fine shirt over his head, he thought of his choices again. Stay here, and live a comforable if mindboring life, or leave his family, his home, and everything he had known behind to pursue his calling in life and make his own way in the world?

Seth chuckled to himself. There was no choice here. None at all.

Review: TobyMac – “Tonight”

Tobymac’s grown to be one of my favorite artists since his split from DC talk. Momentum was quite good, but “Welcome to Diverse City” (and the subsequent remix version) was what propelled him, in my mind, to a status of absolute greatness. I still find myself groovin’ along to the beats of Catchafire on a semi-regular basis! Following up a classic sophomore release like that would be tough for anyone, and while I wouldn’t rate it higher than Diverse City, “Portable Sounds” is a great followup. Plenty of continued style experimentation, but all still unmistakably Toby. I’ve heard him accused of being self-important before, and frankly, going off of his lyrics alone, I don’t see it. The man quite clearly loves Jesus, loves his family, loves his fans, and loves God’s people. That kind of lyrical honesty is what has always clinched Toby for me. It’s refreshing.

So, he’s put down two rather incredible studio albums in the past few years (not to mention a really good live album), but the big question is: Does “Tonight” live up to the Toby standard?

In short, yeah, I’d say it definitely does. There’s a couple of personal hiccups for me, but on the whole, this album is definitely a worthy addition to the tobyMac disography.

Not surprisingly, you’ll find a lot of things that remind you of previous tobyMac albums. You’ve got some introspective, slower, thoughtful tracks in the form of “Hold On” (a really great song about true love between a man and woman striving through life’s difficulties, a highlight for me given my current relationship) and “Get Back Up”. You’ve got the hard hitting rock-rap anthem in “ShowStopper” (admittedly upon the first few listens, this song seems way overly self-referential), and you’ve got a few really wild style experiments like “Funky Jesus Music” (which I’m sorry, but I can’t NOT dance to this. It’s way too fun) and “Hey Devil” (which is just delicious as an 80s homage work). You’ve even got a TruDog interlude from Toby’s oldest son, this time featuring Truett’s younger brother Judah and a lovely little family moment. Some say these interludes are getting tired, cheesy, and overdone. I say to those people that you are wrong. Frankly, if nothing else, it gives us a little glimpse into the McKeehan family and shows the artist is human. I hope Toby keeps doing them, because I truly enjoy the humorous interludes.

Probably the absolute two best standout tracks for me are the titular piece, “Tonight”, and “Changed Forever”. “Tonight” starts off high energy, does some great buildup, and absolutely explodes during the chorus. Plus it features John Cooper of Skillet. Okay, yeah, I admit to being something of a Skillet fanboy (which is why Awake hurt so much), but the two REALLY perform well together on this piece. And speaking of two artists who go exceptionally well together, “Changed Forever” features the lovely Nirva Ready in a groovy high-octane piece that just shows how truly good this lady’s voice is, and how amazing she is paired with Toby’s raps. A truly amazing piece of work that does not stop.

As good as the album is, it does have a couple of low spots. The first, in and of itself, is not a bad song. It’s actually really really good. I just wish someone besides Toby had done it. I’m talking about “City On Our Knees”. Taken by itself, it’s a beautiful worship song. Taken as a Toby song, it means that it gets radio play at the expense of WAY more deserving tracks on this album. It’s a perfectly good worship song, don’t get me wrong, but that’s what it is. It’s just one that happens to be sung by tobyMac, and because of that, radio stations feel they can “safely” play it, and feel justified that a piece from the new tobyMac album is on their playset. Never mind that there are far better tracks on the album that are more iconic “Toby” than this one.

This is why I stopped listening to you, 89.7 Power FM. Because you insist on being “safe”. Stop it.

Other low points include “Wonderin'”, a piano-driven duo with Matthew Thiessen of Relient K. Speaking of groups that have released absolutely terrible albums lately, Relient K has absolutely fallen way down from where they used to be. They’ve gone from a truly great pop-punk bad to a mediocre indieish group. People call it “maturing”, but frankly, there’s a huge difference between “maturing as an artist” and “forgetting entirely what made us awesome in the first place” (Looking at you and your power-ballad infatuation, SKILLET). Sadly, adding Toby flows to Thiessen’s already-boring piano is best equated to trying to shine a turd. Still stinks.
The album ends with a collaboration between Israel Houghton, the reggae-infused “Break Open The Sky”. It’s not bad at all, but as album closers go, when we’ve previously gotten collaborations with the incredible Kirk Franklin (on Portable Sound’s “Lose My Soul”), and Toby’s former bandmates (on Diverse City’s “Atmosphere” remix), it’s something of a letdown.

All in all, this is a great album, and if you’re a TobyMac fan, it’s definitely worth picking up!