The mood of my mixes became increasingly erratic and jarring in the year 2001. I was dealing with growing pains in terms of reconciling old favorites with new experiments, trying on different hats to find an identity. I was also trying to cling to the simplicity of my college days and the friendships formed during that time (especially in my slowly unraveling relationship with my girlfriend), while dealing with a lot of angst when that didn’t go the way I expected it to. So if these songs feel like a bit of a rough ride with little in terms of logical connections from one to the next, then I guess that’s the way I felt back then.
In with the New:
Toby Mac (as a solo artist – appears previously with dc Talk)
Out with the Old:
No Apples for Adam
It Was Worth a Try:
Rivulets & Violets
Listen on Spotify:
This is a group of seals laying out in the sun just off of Pier 39 in San Francisco, California. I went up there for the weekend to visit Lina, who was studying at Berkeley at the time. In addition to discovering that Berkeley was an interesting college/hippie town, I also found out that BART is an efficient way to get around the Bay Area, and got to explore a few areas of SF such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and Chinatown, all of which I hadn’t visited since my childhood.
Where in the world is this?
1) “All Around Me”, Rebecca St. James (Transform, 2000)
Nothing terribly deep here, but I loved hearing the mix of techno-wizardry that characterized the Transform album combined with thick guitars played by none other than Pete Stewart. It seems like he was all over the CCM map in those days, which in retrospect might have contributed to the burnout that caused him to start a much more dark and angry band with P.O.D.’s Marcos Curiel.
2) “100 Billion Watts”, Smalltown Poets (Third Verse, 2000)
Smalltown Poets had always felt a little too “plain vanilla” for me, but I loved their choice to close their third album with one of their most rocking and energetic songs – complete with an unpredictable melody and a really peppy horn section.
3) “Beautiful Day”, U2 (All that You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000)
Early 2001 was when my U2 fandom officially began. I had liked selected songs before that, and their latest single was definitely one of them. But this was the first time that I really gave a U2 album a careful listen, front to back. The song had such a victorious feeling to it that I figured the band was long overdue for a more thorough investigation. I started with their ATYCLB and over the next few months, I started to work my way backward, which turned out to be a fun project until Napster got its searches heavily censored and finally shut down due to the lawsuit against it that year.
4) “Hanging by a Moment”, Lifehouse (No Name Face, 2000)
This song was the most played song on mainstream radio in all of 2001, so I’m glad I got into Lifehouse before everyone got into their massive hit song (thanks to some random Napster user who had IM’ed me telling me to check out Lifehouse if I liked Creed). It took me a while to get into most of their album, but this was one of those songs that hit me hard right away. It was malleable enough to work as a worship song or a love song, and when traveling, this became one of those songs that I’d find on a random radio frequency and know I had hit upon a station that played the kind of music I liked, but I’d have to wait for the next song to figure out whether it was a Christian station or a mainstream one, since both were playing the song so much. It was really the first time I’d seen a mainstream band with Christian members in it “cross back over” with such success.
5) “Worldwide”, Tree63 (Tree63, 2000)
I’m not sure why this oddball closer from Tree63’s first album was the first song of the band’s that I really gravitated towards – it was packed with cheesy technology metaphors that didn’t really fit the evangelistic tone that they were going for. I liekd the mix of techno and anthemic rock, and I knew that they owed that aspect of their sound to U2’s experimentation a few years earlier. Before hearing U2’s Pop, this was what I imagined that it sounded like, so in a backwards way, Christian bands influenced by different periods of U2’s development served as a bridge for me to get into pretty much all of U2’s albums.
6) “I Did It”, Dave Matthews Band (Everyday, 2001)
The new DMB sound – leaner, meaner, and much more direct and less jam-based – was a shock to the system for most of their fans. It gave them big hits like this one, but it kind of came as a price. I rather enjoyed Everyday at the time, especially this bizarre little tune about love being some sort of a crime, complete with Boyd Tinsley’s spoken bridge. But part of that might have just been the rush of getting to hear an album by a popular mainstream band before many of its hardcore fans got their hands on it. Dave Matthews was a supporter of Napster at the time, and he allowed them to leak this song early; the rest of the album soon followed without authorization, and that would become a pattern for a lot of popular bands (some intentionally) in the years to come.
7) “Joy”, Newsboys (Shine – The Hits, 2000)
I was definitely not feeling a lot of the “greatest hits” albums that came out at around the turn of the century, especially this one since it totally ignored Love Liberty Disco and brilliant songs like “Lost the Plot”, but I had to admit that this new song, buried amongst all of their poppier hits, was one of their most exuberant and ridiculously catchy songs. The intro, with the chorus starting off right away, was in the perfect key and tempo for it to follow seamlessly out of “I Did It”.
8) “Extreme Days”, Toby Mac (Extreme Days Soundtrack, 2001)
Speaking of shocks to the system… I had no idea that Toby, who contributed the hip-hop influence to dc Talk, would go all heavy rap-rock with his solo material. This was the theme song to some Christian movie about extreme sports that I never bothered to see, and pretty much anyone I played the song for was annoyed by the Kid Rock-style screaming and hollering, but I thought it was a blast.
9) “God’s Romance”, Delirious? (Glo, 2000)
A six-minute anthem dedicated to the idea that God actually derives pleasure from pursuing us, analogous to the way that we humans enjoy pursuing someone we’re romantically attracted to, though obviously that’s off the scale compared to what we can feel. I may have had a conversation with Lina about that at the time, during one of her visits home in between semesters at Berkeley, or when I went up to see her, about this, which inspired the song ending up on my mix. But she’s one of those friends with whom I’ve talked about the “what ifs” of romance and spirituality to such an extent that I can’t always remember where and when specific conversations happened.
10) “School of Hard Knocks”, P.O.D. (Little Nicky Soundtrack, 2000)
Yet another heavy shout-fest of a rap-rock song from the soundtrack to a movie I never saw. This one sounds pretty silly when I listen to it now (especially the chorus of voices that shouts “Ready to rock!”), but it was a style that I was increasingly realizing I could immensely enjoy when the rapid-fire raps were mixed with a heavy but melodic chorus rather than just a bunch of screaming. That’s why I got into this, which got me primed for Satellite later that year, despite despising most of P.O.D.’s previous work.
11) “Osmosis Land”, Earthsuit (Kaleidoscope Superior, 2000)
I’m glad I seized the chance to se Earthsuit live while I still could, given how short-lived the band turned out to be. We crammed into a tiny side room at the Glass House in Pomona to see them perform, and while I thought they were a blast, I think Sharon thought they were over the top, and Heather got a headache and had to leave the room for most of Phil Joel’s set because of it. Katy Hudson was an admirable opener, just playing an acoustic guitar… little did we know that she’d later achieve infamy as Katy Perry. Then came V*Enna, an ephemeric teen pop disaster in every sense of the word. But at least Phil Joel and Earthsuit were good. That turned out to be the last concert that Sharon and I would attend together.
12) “So Far Away”, Nine Days (The Madding Crowd, 2000)
Nine Days was another one of those catchy “default pop/rock radio bands” that I just couldn’t get enough of during my initial exploration into mainstream music. They had a knack for capturing some of the foibles of romantic relationships with occasional irony, and while this song didn’t mean a whole lot to me at the time other than a fun song with two lead singers and a whole lot of guitar action, I came to realize later on that it was about sabotaging a relationship due to being afraid of one’s dreams not coming true. It became the first track on a specially-themed playlist called “Catharsis: The Break-up Anthology” that I made for myself later that year after getting dumped.
13) “Honestly OK”, Dido (No Angel, 1999)
I liked Dido at first – she was like Sarah McLachlan with beats. Sharon had her CD and loved it. I grew attached to this curious, isolated, minor-key, trip-hop-sounding song because it lamented feeling uncomfortable in one’s skin and basically wanting to be someone else. I remembered what that felt like. It was a quiet remember of a rut that I had managed to climb out of.
14) “Playing for Keeps”, Switchfoot (Learning to Breathe, 2000)
While not one of Switchfoot’s more popular songs, this one really convinced me of Switchfoot’s ability to scale back the weirdness a little bit and let some honest, down-to-earth emotions shine through. They had’t yet done a lot of relationship songs, aside from the slly “Might Have Ben Hur”, so I really grabbed hold of this one, since it talked about not knowing when to let go of a relationship that was going south. It kind of pleaded for the other person to have some mercy and end it, and this was basically where Sharon and I were at that point – not totally unhappy, but kind of confused and bickering a lot due to schedule conflicts and her personality starting to assert itself more rather than just going along with whatever things I wanted to do (like she did somewhat at first because she was new in the relationship and just wanted to spend time with me). Part of me felt like we either needed to rekindle, or to call it off, and when I thought about it, I knew I didn’t have the courage to really call it off. It’s funny how I thought about contingencies, about what I’d do if we broke up, and yet I was unwilling to seriously consider fully admitting my unhappiness to myself and taking the initiative to call it off. The last months of 2000 and a little bit of early 2001 were probably the last genuinely good months that we had in that relationship.
15) “Ballad of San Francisco”, Caedmon’s Call (Long Line of Leavers, 2000)
An ode to being single and confused while living in the Bay Area. I thought of this one when I went up there to visit Lina in Berkeley during a cold winter weekend, and we took a day trip on BART into San Francisco. Since getting into a relationship, I’d become more empathetic to single friends who I knew really wanted to be in a relationship, and yet I had to remember that some of them, like Lina for example, were actually quite content pursuing their career dreams or whateevr else God had planned for their lives, and maybe didn’t really have the time or energy to devote to a significant other at that point. I didn’t need to “feel sorry” for any of them. Sharon and I were actually the ones to be pitied – we were in a difficult relationship and we lacked the courage to end it. I learned that year that being alone can actually be a blessing, in that it gives you time to really evaluate your goals and be more open to change and to letting God work on you in a concentrated way. This is perhaps not as easy to be open to when you’re in a relationship, and comfortable with the way you are, because you fear that changing something might risk upsetting the delicate balance of things.
16) “I Can’t Sing”, LaRue (Transparent, 2001)
A simple song about missing someone special – a girlfriend, family, whoever. I thought it was funny that LaRue, a duo mae up of teenage siblings, would actually complete and record a song that was based on a chorus that a 9-year-old sibling or cousin (or whatever he was) made up on the fly one day. Now I listen to it and I’m like, “Yeesh, it sure sounds like something a 9-year-old would write.” But this was back when I still thought it was cute that teenagers – youthful artists with whom I could identify despite being in my early 20’s – actually got the chance to have their own say in what their music sounded like and be allowed to phrase things in a childlike manner despite it sounding a bit silly.
This picture was taken along the Colby Canyon Trail off of Angeles Crest Highway, near Mt. Wilson in Southern California. I discovered the trail by chance one January afternoon when I decided to attempt my first solo drive up into the mountains, turning around at the point where a light dusting of snow threatened to make conditions a bit tricky for an inexperienced driver such as myself. The trail ran up alongside a beautiful stream and continued up into the chaparral, and when I got far enough up, there were patches of snow that hadn’t melted yet. This remains one of only two times that I’ve ever seen snow on a hike.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Await”, Aleixa (Disfigured, 1999)
My final farewell to Aleixa – they seemingly disappeared off the map later that year and never put out any more music as far as I could tell. This was an intense techno/industrial track about longing to believe in something or someone, but holding back due to the fear of commitment.
2) “MIA”, Chevelle (Point #1, 1999)
Chevelle was a bit muddy and murky for my tastes when they started out, but I couldn’t deny the visceral power of this, their very first radio single. It sounded like a frustrated rant toward a friend who expected the relationship to stay on superficial terms and never go into the depths of the problems that either of them were experienced. There were times in my relationship with Sharon when I felt like I had to “design conversation around” her, and it was frustrating to not always be able to just come out and say it when I was in need.
3) “You Speak My Language”, Collective Soul (Blender, 2000)
A simple, almost stupidly repetitive song with a kick-ass guitar riff. I put it after “MIA” because it reflected the need to have someone who was just on the same wavelength and could listen when it seemed like nobody else understood.
4) “What It Comes To”, Supertones feat. Toby Mac (Loud and Clear, 2000)
The Supertones do reggae with a guest rap from Toby? It shouldn’t have worked, especially with big nerdy words like “propitiation” thrown in, but for some reason I really enjoyed it.
5) “Wrong Bus”, No Apples for Adam (No Apples for Adam, 2000)
A catchy acoustic song with a little bit of funk guitar thrown in, that tried to make some sort of a spiritual metaphor out of taking the wrong bus and getting lost. Not the most well-written song, but given how fed up I got with being confined to the bus in late 1999/early 2000 before I got a car, I could remember that and relate.
6) “We Are”, Vertical Horizon (Everything You Want, 1999)
If you took the wrong bus, you’d eventually have to get off and wait for another bus to come back the other way and return you to where you came. So you’d probably be in some strange place and not know where you were. That was the closest logical connection I could make in putting these two songs together, but the more pressing issue was the “Wrong Bus” had a horrendously abrupt ending after which no song really sounded good in terms of the transition, so I tried to cover it up as best I could with big, slamming guitars.
7) “Longer Weekend”, Polarboy (4008, 2000)
Polarboy showed with their second album (before they, too, disappeared into apparent oblivion) that they had a little bit of country and soul in the midst of the roots-rock stuff. The “soul” side came out a little here, with this amusing song about mean bosses and jammed-up traffic on the highway on Monday morning, and praying desperately that God would see fit to add one more day to the weekend. I was a working man now; I enjoyed my job, but it always felt like bedtime on Sunday night came about two hours after quitting time on Friday night.
8) “Questions for Heaven”, Chris Rice (Smell the Color 9, 2000)
A cute, circus-like song that echoes several snippets of earlier Chris Rice songs. This one perfectly represents the kind of questions – massive moral quandaries and pithy little curious details alike – that will probably be some of the first things that cross my mind to ask God after I die. First on my list would be, “What exactly was the point of allergies?”
9) “Strangely Normal”, Phil Joel (Watching Over You, 2000)
This song is to commemorate the “Strangely Normal” tour, the aforementioned concert at which Earthsuit opened for Phil Joel. This was the closing tune from the set, for no reason other than that it was probably his most rockin’ song at the time. Though an even better example of how much his band could rock came in an amusing live cover of Blur’s “Song No. 2” followed by the Newsboys’ “WooHoo”, which Phil Joel (or “Fool Jewel”, as the New Zealand-born concert promoter announcing his arrival on stage put it) wrote and sang on the original recording. We actually stuck around to ask Phil some questions that night, to resolve long-standing debates about which Newsboys songs he sang lead on – “Breathe (Benediction)” being the first – and whether or not he had been green-screened into the “Shine” video after joining the band (true!)
10) “Yellow”, Coldplay (Parachutes, 2000)
Early 2001 was when Coldplay started to hit it big with their first American single. Since I knew a new Dave Matthews Band record was coming out soon and I hadn’t heard it in its entirety until later in January, when I first heard this song on the radio, I assumed that it was one of the new DMB songs, given Chris Martin’s vocal similarity to Dave. Obviously I turned out to be wrong, but it made the song leave enough of an impression on me to check out Coldplay, which was probably one of the first “slow burn” rock bands that I got into. Parachutes remained my favorite of their albums until Viva la Vida came along. It helped get me through some lonely times.
11) “Waterfall”, The Echoing Green (Supernova, 2000)
The beautiful combinations of calm, bubbling synths and the sound of running water made this song the perfect soundtrack for my Colby Canyon hike, which criss-crossed a stream that had been created by the snow runoff. I’ve hiked the trail a few times since then, and while it’s still a wonderfully secluded spot in the local mountains, it’s never been as beautiful as it was on that cold January afternoon.
12) “Light Reflected”, Iona (Open Sky, 2000)
Another song reflecting on nature, specifically the beauty of the night sky, seemed like a good way to continue the tranquil mood from “Waterfall”. I don’t get clear views of starry skies very often in L.A., so this is still an image that I tend to romanticize.
13) “Piece of Glass”, Caedmon’s Call (Long Line of Leavers, 2000)
This is one of Caedmon’s Call’s most intelligently written and emotionally gripping songs, and the only major lyrical contribution from Danielle Young, who sings lead. While I didn’t know anyone personally who struggled with anorexia, I had gone through periods in my life of eeling “ugly” – maybe not due to weight, but just due to my lack of really knowing how to present myself. This song was a major highlight of a Caedmon’s Call show that Heather and I went to that spring – one of the drummers used empty bottles of various sizes for percussion, and the song over all had a much heavier weight to it due to the use of electric guitar. That was one of the best concerts that they will probably ever give. Interestingly, the show sold out before we managed to get tickets, so we almost didn’t go. But I had started attending Evergreen Baptist Church at the beginning of 2001, which is still my home church today, and I somehow ended up meeting a guy at church, on the same Sunday that the concert would take place, who was taking some people from the college group to the show, and had two extra tickets due to a few people bailing out. I never saw the guy at church again, but that was one of the earliest moments where I felt that it would be easy to really get connected at Evergreen due to the presence of folks my age who shared my interests.
14) “One Year”, Shaded Red (Red Revolution, 1999)
I never really knew what the song was about. It seemed to express regret and maybe a bit of survivor’s guilt, and despite the scratchy vocals, it did so beautifully with a muted trumpet and an emotionally heavy but strong melody. For me, I guess it represented the changes my life could undergo in one year. I’ve said many times that since about 1997, the “even years” in my life have generally been the good ones, and the “odd years” have been really hard. 2001 was set to be a difficult year from the get-go. I had been doing things the easy way, living at home with my Mom and paying minimal rent, and that all changed one weekend, when the ceiling plaster in my bedroom caved in, basically leaving me no place to sleep unless I wanted to crash on a couch that was too small for me to sleep comfortably. So I had to frantically search for my own apartment, which took close to a month in late January and early February. During that month, I mostly stayed with Sharon in her dorm room in Newcomb, which was really a big no-no since she was an RA, but I didn’t know what else to do. She tolerated it, but I really do think that was one of the final nails in the coffin of that relationship.
15) “Cry Holy”, Salvador (Salvador, 2000)
A beautiful worship song with tinges of Gospel to it – very surprising for a band that mostly thrived on Latin-influenced pop music. Worship was becoming important to me again – I had finally found a home church where I felt comfortable and was generally happy with the music (mostly contemporary, but with respectful and meaningful inclusion of the traditional stuff), and once I finally got my own apartment in Burbank and was living by myself for the first time, I figured that would be my little prayer haven, my place where I could sing and shout to the heavens and reconnect with God without disturbing anyone else. Yeah, I didn’t really do much of that when all was said and done. But it was a relief to at least have a place where I felt like I could.
16) “Delivered”, Rivulets & Violets (Promise, 2000)
Another beautiful worship song to close out this rather schizophrenic mix. Rivulets & Violets is about the most obscure band to appear on any of these CD’s – they were a band with three female singers that had been formed by Masaki Liu, better known as producer for some of Five Iron Frenzy’s stuff. Their style was a very peaceful, worshipful brand of mellow rock, almost too overwhelmingly saccharine at times, but this song was quite gorgeous with its Irish whistles and fiddles and whatnot. It makes a great closing prayer, a truth that would become more apparent to me as God brought me through some very difficult, troubled times that year – “Yes, You O Lord, have delivered my soul from death. Yes, You O Lord, have delivered my eyes from tears. Yes, You O Lord, have delivered my feet from stumbling, that I may walk with You.”