This mix demonstrates how my music collection began to explode as I started to use Napster more and more to explore music that I might not have been willing to buy without hearing it first. This revolutionized the way that I listened to music, with the mp3 format making it a lot more portable (a good thing given the traveling I did that summer, often with burned CD-Rs or tapes recorded from those in tow), and with my overall philosophy changing in terms of musicians and genres I was willing to give a chance.
In with the New:
Phil Joel (as a solo artist – appears earlier with Newsboys)
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
This is the Soda Dam, a strange buildup of mineral deposits along a river near Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Sharon and I stumbled across it while I was visiting over 4th of July weekend, after driving up Highway 4 northwest of New Mexico, through some beautiful forest, and across a vast volcano caldera. I remember climbing around on the rocks and wading across the stream and getting myself soaked in the process.
Where in the world is this?
1) “My Girlfriend”, Relient K (Relient K, 2000)
No, Marilyn Manson didn’t eat my girlfriend. He might have eaten the receiving clerk at the Wherehouse I used to work at, but that’s another story. This song marks my discovery of Relient K, who at the time was a bit of a silly and superfluous band, but they had a lot of energy and Heather loved that about them. Their first album wasn’t a very wise purchase, to be honest, but the first three songs were great! The answering machine message from Toby Mac (which I stuck at the beginning of this song) about how a song about Marilyn Manson would never be on a CD released by his record label was truly priceless.
2) “Rock the Party (Off the Hook)”, P.O.D. (The Fundamental Elements of Southtown, 1999)
This is where my interest in P.O.D. started. I had previously made fun of the band for having really embarrassing evangelistic lyrics despite having found mainstream acceptance as a Christian band with some real musical teeth – how come they were getting the spotlight when other Christian bands which were more creative in their approach (like Switchfoot!) weren’t getting noticed outside of the CCM bubble? But then this raw party song came along, and I just had to admit I was in love with its edgy hooks and catchy rapping. Sharon still thought they were a ridiculous band, with their larger-than-life Jesus graffiti murals in their music video and so forth.
3) “Do Not”, John Reuben (Are We There Yet?, 2000)
John Reuben was a good example of an artist I only took a chance on due to Napster making it easy to do so – I enjoyed the occasional Christian rap album, but I probably wouldn’t have splurged on this guy without several listens to warm me up to his style first. I discovered that he had a witty sense of humor and penchant for throwing non-traditional elements into his brand of white-boy rap. This was a fun summer song with a great female vocal hook to it, and I can’t forget the video in which he plays a disgruntled ice cream man. This was another one that Sharon didn’t get – I played a few of his songs and she just kind of wrinkled her face up, like “Who is this?” (But she thought Eminem’s “My Name Is” was catchy. Go figure.) Hearing this guy’s name made her hungry for a Reuben sandwich, though – a favorite of hers that she managed to get me hooked on. We were bummed when the Oxy dining hall stopped making ’em.
4) “On & On”, All Together Separate (All Together Separate, 1999)
A chilling, snarling, but funky little rock song about the patterns of sin we hide and the things we think we can get away with behind closed doors. ATS had a lot more musical skill and more of a diverse pallet than was revealed by the singles that they were playing on Air1 that summer.
5) “Superman”, Luna Halo (Shimmer, 2000)
The strings that swoop in right at the beginning of this song were fitting, like a superhero rushing in to whisk the damsel in distress away from the oncoming train. Now that I had made it past my emotional funk, I could appreciate how taxing it was for someone like Sharon to be put in an unwanted position of being the “savior” to a needy person. It’s more than one human could accomplish. Our relationship was more at peace that summer because we were able to operate – and even thrive – independently of each other, while not losing interest in being reunited when the summer was over. From that summer until the end of the year was probably the last “happy” period in our relationship.
6) “Supermodels”, Kendall Payne (Jordan’s Sister, 1999)
A snarky little song about the concept of feminine beauty, and how women are regarded for their looks more so than their brains by a lot of men. Maybe it was a bit of a slam on women who were perceived as very attractive or who modeled for a living (who’s to say that beauty and intelligence are mutually exclusive)?, but it was still an amusing potshot at superficiality – “I’ve got more on my head than what’s made by Paul Mitchell.”
7) “Stupid”, The W’s (Trouble with X, 1999)
A song about brainless beauty deserved to be followed by a song about being brainless in general. This swing song which bordered on Dixieland jazz was a favorite of Tim and Krista’s, because it just sounds so utterly retarded at first when describing ridiculous acts such as drying off one’s cat in a microwave, and then all of a sudden, they launch a covert attack on hypocritical Christians who preach peace and love while bombing abortion clinics and stuff. Snap. Sometimes the biggest goofballs have more intelligence than we realize – this song was on the level of a good Five Iron Frenzy tune. Having come out of my sheltered Christian bubble a bit, and getting to see how a lot of outsiders looked at the Christian group I had once called home on campus, I could see how some of the criticisms and noted inconsistencies were warranted.
8) “Rubbish”, Stereo Deluxx (So Clearly, 1999)
Stereo Deluxx was kind of a poor man’s Plumb, which in turn made them like a third-generation Garbage, but this was a solid track about all of our wisdom and good works amounting to a heap of trash if we tried to build it up as something that earned us righteousness and salvation.
9) “Crop Circles”, Massivivid (Brightblur, 1999)
Not many bands would think to write a bizarre industrial rock song about the crop circle hoax. I have to hand it to Massivivid (who was really the techno act Deithiphobia in disguise) for coming up with this one. The crunchy rhythm always gave me a mental picture of interstellar spies raiding a moon base.
10) “Disfigured”, Aleixa (Disfigured, 1999)
Heather and I found this one amusing due to the mental picture of confused goth clubbers trying to dance to a 7/4 rhythm (or whatever it was). Lots of Christian songs talked about being crucified with Christ and so forth, but this was one of the first ones I heard that took a more darkly poetic approach to how distorted and ugly of an image that crucifixion really was. Thanks to Heather, I discovered Epinions.com that August, a consumer review site where I would write tons of music reviews over the next several years. I managed to get a chuckle out of Heather by describing this song’s abrasive ending in my review as the entire band getting massacred by a leaf blower.
11) “Hang on to You”, Delirious? (Glo, 2000)
I remember when Glo dropped in the UK that summer. I was so thrilled to get my hands on it well before most American fans would. It took me a while to find full versions of all of the tracks on Napster, so I actually stayed very late at work one summer evening in order to not have to wait to listen to it all (yeah, I downloaded music at work in those days, shamelessly taking advantage of the broadband in my office building). Obviously this song was going to be one of the first to catch my attention, since it was the original writers’ take on a song popularized by Luna Halo. The D? version was a little more jerky and rocking, and took getting used to – I might still prefer Luna Halo’s version. Glo would end up hogging a lot of my headphone hours during that summer and fall, and in an age where modern worship albums were just barely starting to become a tiresome trend, this became – and still remains – one of my favorite albums in the genre.
12) “Schizophreniac”, Earthsuit (Kaleidoscope Superior, 2000)
A slightly older and wiser me was attracted to this song, because he knew too well how the “camp high” – you know, the extra buzz you feel after going away to a Christian conference – could lead to an emotional crash and a dose of indifference not long afterwards. Schizophrenic Christian behavior at its finest – you go away to a peaceful, isolated place, and it’s extremely easy to focus on matters of faith and be totally gung-ho for Jesus. Then you get back down from “the mountain” and apathy sets in. “It is much easier to change your tune when your song ain’t being played”, was how this witty band put it, amidst the creepy Skillet-style piano and Paul Meany’s snarling rap verses. Being out of InterVarsity and not yet belonging to a church, I missed the whole “retreat” thing. But I was learning something about what it meant to hang on to faith in the everyday mundaneness of the “real world”, when it had more to do with holding fast to the things I really believed than depending on a temporary escape and an emotional boost to keep me going. It may not have felt as exciting, but it was a transition period where I think my faith started to become more authentic.
13) “World Without End”, Five Iron Frenzy (All the Hype that Money Can Buy, 2000)
I expected a lot of wackiness from Five Iron Frenzy, but I never expected the sheer beauty that would result from the Christmas bells and the youthful choir that faded out at the end of their latest album. “How beautiful, how vast Your love is, new forever, world without an end.” Only six months ago, it had felt like my own personal world was ending, but suddenly God expanded my horizons and made me realize that when it’s not all about me, the world suddenly becomes staggeringly large. The exploration and inspiration wasn’t over yet – in fact, what I knew of the world around me was just the tip of the iceberg.
14) “Open Sky”, Iona (Open Sky, 2000)
Continuing on that “expansive world” theme was this beautiful song about trees and rivers and healing, a song perfectly suited for that unforgettable drive through the New Mexico forest, which was recovering from the recent forest fire, and across the grand volcano caldera. Fear of the unknown had given way to excitement about a newfound sense of independence (or rather, greater dependence on God and less dependence on other people and my own unpredictable moods to define my happiness).
15) “Prizm”, Pax217 (Twoseventeen, 2000)
Another punchy rap/rock song which caught my attention that summer. That trend was suddenly all the rage in Christian music. This sunny Southern California band did it with a little more joy than some of their contemporaries, so this song about Heaven raining down on God’s children seemed like a fitting way to finish up the whole “vast universe” trilogy of sorts that I had set up.
16) “Free”, Rachael Lampa (Live for You, 2000)
Rachael Lampa was the first artist from the “teenybopper pop” phase that Christian music went through who I actually appreciated. Plus One and Stacie Orrico were pretty much intolerable to my ears, but Rachael had just enough diversity and smart production going on around her to nudge me to give her a try. This remains one of her most gorgeous songs – it easily swept me away with its 3/4 rhythm, the piano which came straight out of some fantasy world, and the luscious chord progression (which Sharon said reminded her of Seal). The end of side one was very much dedicated to beauty, and I loved how well the unlikely flow from ska-punk to mellow prog-rock to rap/rock to teen pop actually worked here. This was the perfect song to fade out at the end of side one, and allow the chorus to just keep looping in my memory.
This is a picture of the sun setting over the Iron River, taken by the “kitchen” cabin at Camp Soso in Michigan. 2000 was the second summer where I got to spend a week or so up there, and in addition to better familiarizing myself with the traditions and laid-back way of life up there, I got take a trip to Mackinac Island in Sharon’s dad’s 6-seater Cessna airplane.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Desire of the Son of Morning”, Beanbag (freesignal, 1999)
This was my stealth Beanbag song. I could slip it in there when people who didn’t like Beanbag’s type of music were in the car, and they often wouldn’t notice or complain. A lack of yelling and screaming had a lot to do with that. It still had the dissonance and overall weirdness that made Beanbag fun, and it was a song from the point of view of the Devil, trying to grab a hold of a soul he couldn’t manage to corrupt. Good times.
2) “Sleep”, Riley Armstrong (Riley Armstrong, 2000)
After a devilish nightmare comes the alarm clock, and a hectic early morning spent getting ready for work. This song was never meant to be more than a joke, but I loved it for that, and Heather and I found the Claymation music video (which featured a cameo from Toy Story‘s Woody!) quite entertaining. Sharon had a different take – maybe it was due to the constant lack of sleep required of a physics major at Oxy, but for whatever reason, she found the song depressing.
3) “Wake Up Call”, Relient K (Relient K, 2000)
Another logical connection in subject matter – this was my favorite song from early Relient K. It kind of sabotaged itself by trying to take a fun joke about sleeping away one’s life and give it some big spiritual ramification, but I loved the acoustic colliding with the electrics, and the reference to Matchbox 20. It annoyed me greatly that the “Benediction” at the end of this song was a separate track on the album, so I just pieced the two back together here.
4) “When I Go Out”, Five Iron Frenzy (Quantity Is Job 1 EP, 1998)
This was the ultimate “joke song” – a mere six seconds of lunacy, and yet I’d snicker every time I’d hear it. I had Tim to thank for introducing me to it, on an EP where I otherwise felt that the songs weren’t up to FIF’s usual standards. This was another one of those things that I found funny, and Sharon didn’t – especially during the fall when she was an RA, and I changed her voice mail tag to a recording of this song, so it would get tacked onto every message she sent out to the entire dorm. Yeah, I caught hell for that one.
5) “Pusherman”, Fono (Goesaroundcomesaround, 1999)
I wasn’t sure, and I still don’t know, what the heck this song is about. Something about pushing a plunger, “I’ve gotta go”, and being thrilled beyond what one could ever imagine. Kind of nonsensical, but a solid alternative rock track, and it was fun to play this one in the car and make Sharon wonder if something was wrong with the engine when those metallic wobbling sounds became audible in the middle of the song. She was always extra-sensitive to unusual sounds when she was driving – which was way better than me, a relatively new driver who could have the parking brake on for several miles and not realize it.
6) “Remain”, Five O’Clock People (The Nothing Venture, 1999)
A fun, fiddle-heavy hoedown that gave this literate acoustic band a rare chance to speed up and do something danceable. I loved the aural whiplash of having “Pusherman” suddenly end and run smack dab into a song from a totally different genre.
7) “Invincible”, Skillet (Invincible, 2000)
…and then we switch from a folksy square dance to electronic rock! There were so many sound effects in this song that it practically became the soundtrack to Skillet’s website for a while there. I had figured out how to use Sound Recorder on my computer at work to grab random snippets of songs and use them as my event sounds, so the little electric slithering noise that repeats throughout this song was my “maximize/minimize” sound for a while.
8) “The Reflex”, Aleixa (Disfigured, 1999)
A techno/industrial cover of a Duran Duran song? What in the name of all that is unholy…? Actually, I didn’t know the original, so I had no idea this was a cover at first, but dang, what a fun song. Saloon piano running up and down all over the place, and heavy guitar breaks, and lyrics that make no sense whatsoever. I played this song for Sharon when I came to visit her in New Mexico, and she found it quite enjoyable, too – our musical tastes were starting to diverge a bit more that year, so it was good to find common ground in whatever strange places we could.
9) “Tremble for My Beloved”, Collective Soul (Dosage, 1998)
I decided that year that I wanted to go see Creed with my brother, and I heard that the opening act was Collective Soul, a group that I had heard of but never listened to, so I decided to check out their latest record at the time. I found it to be pretty tasty with all of the catchy heavy guitar riffage, but one thing that really weirded me out was how the electronic noise at the beginning of this song appeared to be exactly the same sample that Code of Ethics had used at the beginning of “Sticks & Stones”, on Arms Around the World. Code of Ethics was obscure enough that it’s unlikely a mainstream rock band would have copied them, so it’s most likely that the two bands got the sample from a common source – thus far, I haven’t been able to figure out what that source is.
10) “Whitehorse”, Earthsuit (Kaleidoscope Superior, 2000)
Mackinac Island is a unique place in Michigan – with its fudge shops and old-time tourist setup, it can seem a lot like Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, except that no cars are allowed on the island (save for delivery and emergency vehicles). There’s a “state highway” encircling the island that I believe is the only such highway in the country which is dominated by pedestrian traffic and bicycles. Oh, and horses. Lots of horses on that island, so much that I had this song about “Jesus riding on a white horse” stuck in my head as we explored the town. It’s pretty neat, except for the fact that the whole place smells like horse poop.
11) “No Place Like Home”, Pax217 (Twoseventeen, 2000)
While it’s an upbeat, riff-heavy rap/rock song, this one caught me off guard when I realized that it was about the divorce of the lead singer’s parents. It’s a reality check – how could this happen to a “good Christian family”? As the child of parents who had split up, this one hit close to home – my parents never actually divorced, but my Dad had moved out when I was 12 and we saw very little of him after that point. Once I was in college I got beyond the wish expressed by this song, so I may not have been pleading, “Mom and Dad, come back around!” But learning to forgive my father and learn from other male role models was a tougher challenge. I figured I’d be a natural at the whole relationship thing when Sharon and I first started dating, because we had eased into it from friendship and I wholeheartedly believed in treating her as an equal, not just someone to boss around and complain at like my father had done with my mother. But I still slipped up – I was impatient and demanding and needy in many of the same ways that my father was. And I started to use “at least”-type excuses a lot whenever we’d get in a fight. “At least I’m not violent like my father is” and that sort of thing, as if that gave me an excuse for the ways that I did mistreat her. It’s not enough to just be better than a bad father when the bar has been set that low. There have to be other, better examples to follow. (Amusing side note: They started off this song by counting “1, 3, 2, 4”.)
12) “No Regrets”, John Reuben (Are We There Yet?, 2000)
This melodic rap song caught me by surprise one summer night. It really had a wistful, reminiscent tone to it, but it was also about taking ownership. I’m a person who makes excuses when he gets caught off-guard and life teaches him a lesson the hard way. I claim that it’s not my fault and people shouldn’t criticize me for screwing up in situations that I was never taught how to approach. The real world doesn’t slow down and tell you what chapters you should read for the upcoming test. It just gives you the test and that’s how you learn. And complaining about how it isn’t fair and acting like you’re entitled to something just because you had a deprived childhood or whatever isn’t going to cut it. So my Dad left when I was 12 and I never really learned how to be a man – OK, tough break. Who was it that incorrectly assumed the other men around him weren’t trustworthy, and who didn’t try to look for good examples to follow? Oh right, that was all my doing. Good advice doesn’t just fall into your lap. It has to be sought out.
13) “Kingdom Come”, PfR (Roaring Lambs, 2000)
Tim had been skeptical about PfR’s breakup way back in 1996. He surmised that they’d come out of hiding again and make another record at some point. When Steve Taylor managed to get them to come back and record this track for Roaring Lambs, that was the final bit of proof as far as we were concerned. And we were right – there was a new PfR album out the following summer. Too bad it tanked, the record label tanked, and took their tour and likely the future of their career with it. Sigh. I miss PfR. They’re still around, but not really.
14) “These Thousand Hills”, Third Day (Offerings: A Worship Album, 2000)
Strange as it may seem given my cynicism about the band and about modern worship in general today, I was one of the fans who actually thought Third Day should put out either a live album or a worship album. The fact that they decided to do both at once didn’t sit well with me, since going back and forth between live and studio seemed a bit sloppy, and Mac talked too much and spent too much time on Sunday School-style worship direction in the live versions. But this song (a cover of the obscure Southern band Jacob’s Trouble) was glorious. They had given us a sneak preview when we caught their tour with Jennifer Knapp in May, and as gimmicky as the “Na na na” choruses were, it made for one heck of a sing-along.
15) “Together”, Phil Joel (Watching Over You, 2000)
The first song that really grabbed me on Phil Joel’s album was its final track. It was a sweet love song about being together in a strange place, “on the wrong side of the world”. I was separated from Sharon for most of that summer, and I could only visit her two states away, in a place neither of us had ever lived or even been to before that year, but the separation was actually a source of strength for us during that time. We just plain got along better. (Weird how that works for some couples!) The line about looking for shells on the beach also reminded me of Michigan, which was the vacation spot she dreamed of returning to each year ever since her childhood. There weren’t actually seashells there since it was a lake (and you wouldn’t want to mess with the snapping turtles), but hey, close enough.
16) “When Nothing Satisfies”, Jennifer Knapp feat. Margaret Becker & Chris Thile (Lay It Down, 2000)
Another stealth appearance by Chris Thile’s mandolin, from before I knew who he was. It was a gorgeous instrument, sprinkled into a gorgeous song like gentle raindrops. The harmony between Jennifer and Margaret was sublime here, as was the part where Margaret echoed, “Hold my hand” – it was conspicuously absent when we saw Jennifer play the song live on two separate tours that year, so Sharon and I would do our best to fill it in. I connected with this one because I had been through one of those periods where nothing satisfied. In truth, nothing ever satisfies the way that knowing God does, but we get fooled into thinking there’s satisfaction to be found elsewhere. I wholeheartedly believe that God does place material gifts, as well as the gift of knowing other people, into our lives at times, with the intent that we fully enjoy them. But there will also be times when that sense of enjoyment in those very same things that we once enjoyed seems so distant and foreign to us. This is actually a blessing that we often can’t realize until we reach the other side and we’ve been stripped of some of those temporary pleasures – we’ve had to learn to lean on God more. That concept made more sense to me that summer – I had thought that I’d be so miserable spending a summer without my girlfriend around, and it was in that absence that God taught me to enjoy taking the time and space to just be by myself and dialogue with Him. Now, with the summer ending and me flying back out to new Mexico to help her pack up and bring her stuff back to L.A., the challenge would be to maintain that closeness with God despite having the material things and physical relationships around me that I had learned to be content without.