The spring of 2004 found us settling into a comfortable groove. Christine and I went on hikes together, attended our fair share of concerts, and in general just came to love the rhythm of our lives. Life wasn’t without its challenges, but for the most part, we had attained the stability I had spent most of 2003 longing for.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Dave Matthews (as a solo artist – appears later with Dave Matthews Band)
Listen on Spotify:
This is Sawpit Dam, in Monrovia Canyon, just up the road from where I took the picture for Soundtrack #3, Disc Two. I had actually been all the way up past the dam during those bike rides with Michael years ago, but March 2004 was the first time I went on a hike in the canyon. I found out that the road was a lot tougher on foot, and that there wasn’t as much to see in the upper part of the canyon as there was in the lower part, which has a lovely waterfall. Oh well, it was good exercise, and I love how the shades of yellow and green came out in this picture.
Where in the world is this?
1) “My Obsession”, Skillet (Collide, 2003)
This one’s a concert memento: A rowdy, thrashing good time, a testament to Skillet’s extremism in the form of a worship song. The two Lindas accompanied me to the See Spot Rock Tour that spring, at the House of Blues in Anaheim. The acts were alternately pleasing and punishing: Big Dismal had short but sweet opening set (the last we’d hear from them before they disbanded), Grits did a lot of tuneless gyrating with DJ effects that couldn’t be heard over the din (and hello! Not a rock act), Pillar was surprisingly good live despite some of their moronic attitude on their albums, and 12 Stones was just painful (Linda disagreed). Skillet, despite having a tragically short set, was rock solid, and this whiplash-inducing opener became the first track on my mix as a way to remember it.
2) “Bittersweet”, Falling Up (Crashings, 2004)
Falling Up taught me a good lesson about guilt by association. Never assume a band is bad just because they’re best buds with a band that sucks. The members of Falling Up and Kutless grew up together in Oregon, apparently, and the name of Kutless was often dropped when advertising Falling Up’s early material. The two bands had very little in common. Falling Up’s sound hopped genres more (several times in the middle of this song, it seemed), employed more synth and programming, was more energetic and experimental, and had far more intriguing lyrics. I was proud to see them take off the way they did, maintaining a young audience while not completely dumbing down their message the as if it was intended for third graders the way Kutless did.
3) “Priceless”, Incubus (A Crow Left of the Murder, 2004)
This one’s almost all percussion and zero melody, which greatly annoyed some Incubus fans, but which in a weird way, was a logical progression from their old funk/rock experiments. I loved the pummeling drums and the zig-zagging guitars. There was a breakdown in the middle that reminded me of a certain P.O.D. riff, so…
4) “Wildfire”, P.O.D. (Payable on Death, 2003)
…along comes that P.O.D. riff to provide a bit of déjà vu! Honestly, this was probably one of P.O.D.’s more moronic songs, especially given all of Sonny’s weird yelps as he rhymed increasingly unlikely words with “fire”. Calling it “Wi-yah-fi-yah” was a running gag over at CMCentral for a while. If you mis-heard the lyrics just right, you could imagine that he was really passionate about his wireless Internet connection.
5) “All that Is Beautiful”, Sleeping at Last (Ghosts, 2003)
A rare up-tempo rocker for Sleeping at Last, on an album mostly populated by dreamy slow songs. The paranoia in this one was interesting, and easy to miss among all the glittering synths. It seemed to be about willful ignorance on the part of Christians, ignoring things that God had made inherently beautiful because they didn’t fit their mold of strictly religious content. It resonated with me due to the challenges from others that had broadened my horizons over the last few years, and I think it also represented a line that Sleeping at Last has tried to walk throughout their career thus far.
6) “Blind”, The Echoing Green (The Winter of Our Discontent, 2003)
Another fantastically creepy darkwave song from a group generally known for cheery, upbeat techno. This was the flipside of the search for “all that is beautiful” – sometimes, the thing that looks like a brilliant light can turn out to be a massive deception. It takes discernment to know what is truly God’s light and what is an illusion. Once you’re caught in the deception, it’s difficult to see your way out.
7) “Love Is Blindness”, Sixpence None the Richer (In the Name of Love: Artists United for Africa, 2004)
I was thrilled when Sixpence decided to cover this lesser-known U2 song, my personal favorite track from Achtung Baby, which a lot of folks seemed to overlook in favor of the more obvious hits from that period. It’s a much more sinister song, which retains its creepiness despite the angelic voice of Leigh Nash in place of Bono’s dark crooning. It fit with the theme of blindness from the previous song, taking it to its extreme logical conclusion as it describes the irrational things people will do when they mistake love for blind devotion. Fail to learn what love is, and you can use a fake version of love to justify infidelity, prejudice, even terrorism. It’s scary stuff.
8) “American Kryptonite”, Five Iron Frenzy (The End Is Near, 2003)
One of FIF’s harshest songs came on their final album, with Reese Roper reaching a screaming fever pitch at one point, decrying the commercialization of the Christian faith in America. Jesus and consumerism have always been strange bedfellows, one saying “Lay down your life” and another saying “We’re here to make your life as comfortable as possible.” Which is not to say that every product available to add convenience to our lives is inherently bad, but something’s gone wrong when we only exist to “Buy, take, break, throw it away”. I’ve always been a bit of a comfort junkie, so this one hit harder than I wanted to admit at the time.
9) “All I Need”, Sara Groves (The Other Side of Something, 2004)
A rather abrupt musical shift here leads to the lighter side of poking holes in consumerism, as a young couple with the best of intentions, just trying to make ends meet, slowly succumbs to the never-ending race to keep up with the Joneses. “All you need is love… and a sewing machine.” And about three thousand other knick-knacks and gadgets to impress this evening’s company with. The subject of marriage was in the back of my mind as my relationship with Christine stablizied, and I figured we could make ends meet, but we didn’t have the combined incomes to have “it all”, whatever that meant in the first place. Choosing each other meant agreeing to some amount of sacrifice, and if it ever became more about money than love, then I figured I’d have to take a step back and ask if we were in it for the right reasons.
10) “Long Time Gone”, Dixie Chicks (Home, 2002)
You know how they say there’s no thing as bad publicity? The Dixie Chicks are a textbook case of that in my music collection. I generally couldn’t stand the group back when Sharon and I were dating and she’d try to get me to like songs like “Goodbye Earl” that I just found disgusting. Then their new album released, completely off my radar in 2002, and I didn’t think to give it a spin until well after the whole controversy with Natalie Maines insulting President Bush led to a number of not-so-friendly debates about whether their political views affected the quality of their music. Maybe I wanted to prove to someone that it wasn’t as black and white as that. Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that there was more to the group than just stirring up controversy. What I found when I finally gave Home a chance was a beautiful country record, mostly stripped of the pop elements and just giving the Chicks space to play their instruments and sing and feel right at home. No political grandstanding. Not even anything objectionable that I could think of. That became one of my most played records in 2004, quite a feat for a group that I had strongly disliked in the past.
11) “Show You Love”, Jars of Clay (Who We Are Instead, 2003)
This was the lead single from WWAI that I took forever to warm up to. I don’t know why I was so quick to be critical of my favorite band when they turned out a new album more quickly than usual. I even went so far as to proclaim that this song’s chorus of “I want to show you love in every language” was “barf-worthy”. It was probably Christine who softened me up a bit, as she liked the song quite a bit. Under the surface of a simple song lay a deeper truth about the ways people say they love each other but show it in such different ways that often the loving acts don’t connect with their intended audience. It’s a lesson I’ve had to continually learn as a boyfriend and now as a husband – try to speak the other person’s love language, not just your own.
12) “Majesty (Here I Am)”, Delirious? (World Service, 2003)
I sorely underestimated this song’s power when I first heard it – I thought it was slow, boring, derivative, and just disappointing in general. (Again, I was quick to judge one of my favorite bands. What was my deal in those days?) It was only on further listens that I was really impacted by phrases like “Forgiven so that I can forgive”. It was a simple song about God’s sovereignty, but also an honest one about our sinful state and our assurance upon approaching God that we are forgiven. Implicit within it is the question about how we would live if we were truly aware of the depth of grace and mercy shown to us. Would we try to show it to others? it wasn’t long before I was trying this one on for size in small group worship, and within the next year or two, Evergreen had picked it up and made it a staple of our worship services. I think I came to like the way Justis played it, with his usual hint of Gospel/R&B overtones, more than the original recording.
13) “Mission Street”, Vienna Teng (Warm Strangers, 2004)
The first song that Vienna composed on gutiar rather than piano. She admitted to having only rudimentary skills on the instrument (compared to her phenomenal ability at the piano), so it got translated to keyboard when she played it live, as she joked that she didn’t want to put us through the torture. It was a natural fit for someone like me who enjoyed trying to translate her songs back to the guitar anyway, so naturally I was at work on deciphering that beautiful chord progression in no time flat. This tale of a woman’s uneasiness with a new apartment on a noisy street in San Francisco would end up mirroring the experience Christine’s sister Angela had, when she moved to the Bay Area in 2006.
14) “Save Me”, Dave Matthews (Some Devil, 2003)
I’d never take my cues on what to believe from Dave Matthews. But Jesus seems to haunt his songwriting in surprising ways, even in a song like this where on the surface, he’s just talking to some sort of a nomadic hippy who wanders the desert, looking to share in whatever enlightenment the man has to offer. It made me think of how Jesus is perceived as a literary character by those who might not necessarily follow him as a religious figure – how some of his ideas and personality traits are still intriguing to people who might be turned off by Christianity as an institution. I’m always fascinated when songwriters who aren’t contractually obligated to write songs about the guy still end up doing it by way of stealth. But then, I could be interpreting this one completely wrong, as the Jesus I know would probably never say “You might try saving yourself”.
15) “Melancholy Love”, Abra Moore (Everything Changed, 2004)
I had heard of Abra Moore, but I never really gave her a listen until Josh came along with a glowing review of her latest album, a mostly understated collection of breakup songs. Abra’s chirpy voice and the intentional imperfections in some of her performances took a lot of getting used to, but there was an inherent sweetness and innocence there, like she was going through the process of discovering beauty within herself and not needing it to be defined by being in a relationship. This tale of a “just for fun” romance gone awry, with its bright acoustic guitars and playful bits of synthesizer, spoke to that tension of wanting to be loved and understood, but also being afraid to commit. I sort of knew what that was like, feeling head over heels in love at some points, but at others, having my brain put the brakes on and ask if I fully understood what I was getting myself into. Was I just trying to pass the time, have some fun, and evade loneliness for a little while longer? If so, it should end. Otherwise, being in it long-term meant I had to be intentional about taking it to the next level.
16) “Carnival Town”, Norah Jones (Feels Like Home, 2004)
Alias was in its third season when Tim and Kelsey finally succeeded in getting me hooked on the show. Tim and I wouldd have regular gatherings at our apartment on Sunday nights, watching (and vigorously commenting on) each episode with friends, and for me, that was the transition between a period in which I hardly watched any TV at all because I considered it a superficial activity, to using TV as a sort of communal experience to enjoy the company of friends. So what the heck does Alias have to do with Norah Jones? Well, this downbeat song about a sad carnival came during a particularly emotional scene between Sydney Bristow and her father Jack, and I can remember us commenting on how unsually “cute” the music was for a spy show, but how it actually worked pretty well despite that. (Incidentally, the show’s music director was one of Tim’s patients. I’m pretty sure the same dude went on to hand-pick the soundtrack to Brothers & Sisters.)
Christine and I attempted to go rollerblading one weekend in April. Rollerblading has never worked out well for either of us. But the Santa Monica Pier and surrounding beaches can be a nice, relaxing place to spend an afternoon… even when you’re terrified you might fall and scrape yourself on the pavement or mow down an unsuspecting pedestrian due to your inability to stop.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Ambience”, Falling Up (Crashings, 2004)
The second disc got positively loaded down with breakup songs, which was funny, because this was a relatively happy and stable period for me and Christine. I think I’d just grown to relate to songs that looked back, tried to sort out what went wrong and what led to the split, and hopefully gleaned some wisdom from it. This song was here simply because it was one of the most intense and enjoyable on Falling Up’s debut, but looking at the lyrics more deeply (they can be a bit difficult to untangle with these guys), this one unintentionally started the trend that most of the disc would follow. Here, a guy was declaring his independence from a woman who dragged him into a lifestyle that he knew was bad for him, and who manipulated him into sticking around for far too long. That’s my best guess, anyway.
2) “From the Inside”, Linkin Park (Meteora, 2003)
Linkin Park’s a good go-to bad for breakup songs, if you don’t mind their overly angsty nature and Chester’s often ridiculous screaming “I WON’T WASTE MYSELF ON YOU!” I was wearing out pretty much every song on Meteora by this point. But this one stood out for Mike Shinoda’s rap breaks in 6/8 time. Most rappers only do it in 4/4. Not that it made his delivery any less mechanical, but I think that was kind of the point.
3) “Forsaken”, Skillet (Collide, 2003)
Slciing into this one from the end of “From the Inside” was too perfect – the heavy power chords were almost exactly the same type of guitar distortion in the same key. This, too, was a highlight of Skillet’s set, and one of their most angsty songs, spewing regret over a breakup of sorts with God. A lot of regret here, sort of a “My God, what have I done?” theme. Sometimes it’s startlingly easy to let your faith lapse and be lured away by other loves.
4) “Cold War Transmissions”, Anberlin (Blueprints for the Black Market, 2003)
Sort of a love song between two people on opposite sides of the Cold War, who know they can’t be together but can’t resist sending each other coded messages anyway. This too reminded me of Alias – specifically the complicated history between Jack Bristow (CIA) and Irina Derevko (KGB).
5) “Boxer”, Sara Groves (The Other Side of Something, 2004)
“When yuo said this was a fight, you weren’t kidding.” Definitely one of Sara’s more experimental songs – Charlie Peacock was a big creative influence here. It’s about as far from her usual folk/pop as you could imagine – lots of swirly sound effects and punchy percussion, and repetitive lyrics that compare a spiritual struggle to a boxing match that beats you up round after round, with that still small voice telling you to hang in there, bob and weave, look for the openings and take them. Sort of an admission that keeping the faith is hard work sometimes, but also an encouragement that God will ultimately win the war for those who feel like they’re losing the battles.
6) “Tangled”, Maroon5 (Songs About Jane, 2002)
This one feels like a rare slice of humble pie for Adam Levine, who tends to take the machismo into overdrive on most of his songs. Musically it’s as funked up as all of their best stuff, but the tone of the lyrics is very apologetic, admitting “You’re just an innocent/A helpless victim of a spider’s web/And I’m an insect/Going after anything that I can get.” It’s a good analogy, hinting at “the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” with outright quoting that maxim. He knows it’s too late to change her mind, but at least he’s got the decency to clear the air and let her know none of it was her fault.
7) “Shasta (Carrie’s Song)”, Vienna Teng (Warm Strangers, 2004)
Vienna’s second album really upped the lyrical ante by dipping into some subjects that were a tad controversial. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked that as much as the “safer” stuff on her first album, but I came to realize that with this uncharacteristically upbeat song, she handled the subject of abortion quite well, really letting us into the mind of a young woman struggling with the repercussions of terminating her pregnancy – or of not terminating it, since the song never explicitly tells us which path she chooses. The little snapshots from her life add so much to the understanding of her struggle – I don’t see this as a song that tries to change the listener’s position either way, but that reminds us we’re talking about a tough situation that real human beings fall into. it takes a good writer to explore such a scenario without explicitly taking sides. Songs like this cemented Vienna in my mind as one of the best.
8) “Gotta Go Through”, Christine Denté (Becoming, 2003)
The inclusion of so many of these songs represented situations that Christine and I had not personally gone through – trials and tragedies that I was grateful we never dealt with as a couple. This one took a step back from the specifics and addressed those rough patches in more general terms, taking the point of view of a couple who had been so beaten up emotionally that they were ready to call it quits. But that’s when real love kicks in. Anyone can stick around when life is happy. What about when you have no clue how you ended up here and you’re completely unprepared for the storm headed your direction? You can’t avoid this stuff, so you just have to go through it together. I quoted this song in a card that I wrote for Christine when we celebrated one full year of her living in California. We had already been through some hard stuff and I felt like we had come out stronger for it. Year two was going to be a lot easier due to how much we had grown up as a result of those challenges.
9) “Eye to Eye”, Amy Grant (Simple Things, 2003)
Amy Grant got a huge amount of flak from her mostly Christian audience when she divorced Gary Chapman in the late 90’s and subsequently married Vince Gill. I was never a big fan anyway, not having paid much attention to her career since Heart in Motion, so I wasn’t all that deeply affected by this. By the time I decided it might be worth giving her music another shot, a lot of folks had either moved on and forgiven her for what they felt was a betrayal, or else just forgotten about her. I honestly expected nothing more than a bit of easygoing pop fluff, but I was surprised at the transparency of some of her new songs, particularly this one, which seemed to express that even divorcees had to figure out how to extend an olive branch and reconcile with one another, especially for the sake of their children. I liked that it worked on a personal level, since the “you” in this song was clearly Gary, but that it could also be interpreted on a broader level, as a call for civility among a Church that fractures and splinters six ways from Sunday over issues that, in the grand scheme of things, are rather small-minded. Sometimes pure pop fluff has a little more depth than you’d expect.
10) “A Home”, Dixie Chicks (Home, 2002)
The Dixie Chicks know their way around a good breakup song. I don’t think a lot of people realize how beautiful and heartbreaking some of their music can be when they scale back the sass and let the simple bliss of the acoustic guitar, the fiddle, and the dobro come out to play. This song seemed to hit all of the most gorgeous notes it possibly could as it recounted a woman’s regret over trading in the security of a solid marriage for the illusion of freedom. She got to keep the house, but it was no longer really much of a home.
11) “On Your Way”, Eastmountainsouth (Eastmountainsouth, 2003)
It’s bittersweet listening to this one now, knowing that it was the last track on a beautiful folk album by a duo who would part ways before they could deliver a follow-up. (I have no idea whether Pete and Kat’s relationship was anything more than purely professional, but still, it sounded like one of them wanted to split and the other wanted to keep working together.) Here, Pete’s the guy who had to realize it was time to call a relationship quits, but he’s hopeful for the woman who is leaving him behind, not bitter. He hopes that the guy she’s with now gives her all of the love and happiness that he never quite could. It’s a tear-jerker, but a mature sentiment at the end of the relationship. Once I came to forgive Sharon for all of the messed-up stuff that happened toward the end of our relationship, I found myself wishing this for her. And I wished I’d had the wisdom to send her on her way before things got as bad as they did.
12) “Faith Enough”, Jars of Clay (Who We Are Instead, 2003)
This understated track was one of Jars of Clay’s most poetic, but it got overlooked by a lot of people. Josh was developing more and more of a taste for the starker end of folk music, and he told me this one was his favorite on the new Jars album. I could totally see why. it was a reflection that came at the lowest point of being broken, which is often ironically the point where you’re ripest for change. Dan Haseltine’s words were full of contradictions that made no sense on the surface – “The land unfit enough for planting/Barren enough to conceive/Poor enough to gain the treasure/Enough a cynic to believe.” Sometimes that’s how the process of pruning the bad stuff from your life and maturing spiritually has to work – by arriving at a point when you know you have nothing but faith to rely on. It’s not pretty, but it’s how we grow.
13) “Professional Daydreamer”, Over the Rhine (Ohio, 2003)
This song represents me at the crossroads between the optimism of my youth and the jaded attitude I had started to acquire due to some of the hardships of adulthood. I’m sure it’s a fairly common problem, actually. But a part of me never quite lost hope in the daydreams – the belief that true, lasting love was still attainable, and that we could ultimately be happy and fulfilled with our lives. No matter how much wisdom Christine and I gleaned from our trial-and-error dating relationship, no matter how much we learned to guard ourselves against the hurt that came from stupid mistakes, there was a part of us that always had to remain somewhat stupidly optimistic, somewhat naïve… that had to hold onto the notion of a childlike faith in order to survive.
14) “Trees (Hallway of Leaves)”, Sleeping at Last (Ghosts, 2003)
The closing track on SAL’s first album didn’t catch me right away, but once I paid closer attention to the lyrics, it really struck a chord with the part of me that loved hiking and nature. The words were the musings of a boy wandering deeper and deeper into a forest, not realizing at first that the sun was starting to go down and that this tranquil, wild place, would soon become dark and scary. But a voice reached out from somewhere beyond the canopy of leaves, beckoning him to walk by faith and not sight – “Trust me, I know where I’m going.” He wrestles with his fear, but ultimately takes that hand reaching out to him, with the album ending on that softspoken question – “Will you follow me still?” Listening to this, I felt a sense of clarity, like I was coming out of those dark woods to catch my first glimpse of daylight emerging on the other side.
15) “Stars”, David Crowder Band (Illuminate, 2003)
Illuminate closed with a very simple thought and four or five rudimentary guitar chords – it was another song that took me a while to fully appreciate. The lyrics took a break from Crowder’s usual sentiments of worship, instead offering encouragement to a friend, summing up the theme of the entire album as he sang, “I’ve got nothing of my own to give to you/But this light that shines on me shines on you”. God is like the stars in this scenario, sometimes seen brightest in that night sky, from way out in that scary forest, far from everything you know to be familiar. We are more like the moon, merely reflecting that light. The violin interlude in this one felt like a moment of epiphany, lending true power to those simplistic words, “It’ll be alright.”
16) “You Were There”, Avalon (The Creed, 2004)
This was the last Avalon song that I could truly say impressed me. It tried a bit harder to do something special with the “inspirational ballad” format, remaining surprisingly low-key for Jody’s first few verses, and then quite suddenly exploding into the signature four-part harmonies that the group was known for. The song recounted various characters from the Bible who faced hopeless situations, reiterating that God was there for them and would be for us. Sometimes you can’t see that all on your own, isolated in the darkness of whatever you’re going through. Only when you step back and catch a glimpse of that light, that testimony from the lives of others, does the reality of God’s goodness come back into perspective.