I was really high on life when I made this mix. While it isn’t without the usual aggressive, angsty, and melodramatic material, I feel like there was a conscious scaling back on that side of things to allow more room for the wistful, romantic stuff. That’s what best represented how I was feeling at the time.
In with the New:
Something Like Silas
Listen on Spotify:
Christine lived in Arcadia for about a year between the end of summer 2003 and end of summer 2004, right across from the Santa Anita Mall. Occasionally we’d take walks around her neighborhood just to get exercise, and during Memorial Day weekend we walked up to the Arboretum, a botanical garden with beautiful lawns, streams, waterfalls, and forested areas. At one point we came across a driveway labeled “Focker Isle” – turns out it was the filming set for Meet the Fockers.
Where in the world is this?
1) “The Undeveloped Story”, Anberlin (Blueprints for the Black Market, 2003)
A song about being in love with change and chaos, and not needing to be certain what the future holds in order to make sure today is a total blast. Definitely one of Anberlin’s most fun songs. And thus the most appropriate time for them to use a cowbell.
2) “Sick Sad Little World”, Incubus (A Crow Left of the Murder, 2004)
One of Incubus’s most epic songs, with a deliciously lengthy guitar breakdown in the middle of its generous six minutes. This was the flipside of being detached and unconcerned with the future. It can lead to joy if tempered with wisdom, but when you just cast aside all responsibility to care for yourself and plan for your own future, you can end up in a very unfortunate place indeed. I didn’t want to be like the delusional person in this song, trapped in his own little world, oblivious to the dangers that lay ahead. I wanted to be shrewd and keep my eyes on the road ahead, and yet still be flexible – wise, but not constantly worried.
3) “Eight Easy Steps”, Alanis Morissette (So-Called Chaos, 2004)
A facetious song about leadership. It comes from the moment you realize that you’ve been placed on a pedestal and you have no right to be there, so your best response is perhaps to demonstrate how you’ve learned from failure, rather than by being a paragon of perfection. This song was like Alanis’s younger, more idealistic self calling out her older self on violations of those ideals. Don’t we all bend our own rules a bit as we get older?
4) “Divinity”, Falling Up (Crashings, 2004)
“My heart, it hurts, ’cause it never catches its breath.” Ever since my first bouts with panic attacks, I’ve always been acutely aware of my own heartbeat. Sometimes I know it’s beating too fast because I need to cut back on the caffeine. But at other times, it’s a sign of stress that I hadn’t taken the time to consciously acknowledge. Stuff I blow off because I think it shouldn’t be a big deal, but when I step back and really take stock, it’s worrying. Those sources of mental stress can take a physical toll. Best to give them up to the one who promised to take our burdens and offer rest – but that’s far easier said than done.
5) “Mysterious Ways”, Toby Mac feat. Sarah Kelly (In the Name of Love: Artists United for Africa, 2004)
I honestly thought the idea of Toby covering a U2 song would have disastrous results – he’s known for hamming it up with his goofy mixture of pop and hip-hop, and he sure as heck can’t sing like Bono in his prime. But the slicing guitars and danceable groove of one of Achtung Baby‘s biggest hits was actually perfect for Toby to tackle. This one put a smile on my face, and while it doesn’t outdo the original by any means, the update did give it a bit more of a sonic wallop.
6) “Wire”, Third Day (Wire, 2004)
I’m amazed at how trusting I used to be with some of my favorite bands, buying albums and even concert tickets before I’d heard any of the new material. Wire was a bit of a letdown from a band I’d formerly been a huge fan of, but I already had the tickets well before the album came out, and I was going with friends, so I decided to make the best of it. This song, about walking the fine line between showmanship and spiritual leadership, finally clicked for me when I saw the band play it live. Every segement of their audience – me included – expected something different, and that can cause a lot of stress for any artist. While I haven’t been as thrilled with their output since then, I can safely say that they balanced the rock show stuff with the worship stuff that their newer, more middle-aged audience seemed to expect from them during that concert.
7) “Hope on Fire”, Vienna Teng (Warm Strangers, 2004)
A rare upbeat “protest song” from Vienna, about a woman who’s just burning to do something that makes a difference. I think example is the best kind of leadership – getting out there and getting your hands dirty makes for a much more compelling argument than just lecturing people about the needs of the world. I was struggling at that point in my life with being one of the “sayers” who gave lip service to all manner of good things people were doing, who perhaps even donated money to causes, but who had real difficulty with the notion of sacrificing his actual time to be a “doer”. Evergreen held an event called “Rosemead Big Day” that year, in which we went out to do simple tasks around the neighborhood for elderly and sick people who couldn’t fix up their homes themselves, and it wasn’t the kind of thing I really considered fun (or worth getting up early for), but buckling down and doing it taught me that these experiences are much more easily accomplished as part of a community that cares, rather than just by myself because I think I “should”.
8) “Tiny Voices”, Joe Henry (Tiny Voices, 2003)
Josh and I were trading some music back and forth in the mail that year. He had sent me a 2-disc collection called “Good Soup”, which chronicled his favorite music from 2003, and Joe Henry was prominently featured. I had never heard of the guy, but Josh’s compilation came with an adminition that whatever I liekd or disliked from that collection, I’d better not diss his man Joe Henry. I could see why he was so attached. Henry and his ragtag band played a late-night, sweat-soaked version of indie jazz that had an infectious swagger to it – particularly this monstrous title track. It felt like a group of guys had just gotten together and banged out some tunes with merely a rough outline to work from. Normally the kind of music I enjoyed was much more meticulously planned, but I really got into this and a few of Henry’s other songs. I had no idea at the time that he was also a much sought-after producer who happened to live a stone’s throw away from me in South Pasadena.
9) “Whatever It Takes”, Ron Sexsmith (Retriever, 2004)
Another great discovery on Josh’s part. Retriever was the soundtrack to being a young dreamer in love, and it showed those qualities in full-force on this catchy pop song, a total throwback to the 70’s, complete with cheesy disco-themed music video. It was a sturdy love song, one that promised to dig in for the long haul and exhaust all avenues until a couple’s darkest days were behind them. Sometimes that sort of stubborn, young idealism is what a couple needs to get through its worst struggles. (I was delighted to see this one get a wider audience when fellow Canadian Michael Bublé later covered it as a duet with Sexsmith.)
10) “Nonny Nonny”, Chris Rice (Run the Earth, Watch the Sky, 2003)
This song just drips with beautiful nostalgia every time I hear it. It’s about looking back on those long, carefree summer days during childhood and slowly realizing how God is writing a story starting with those innocent years, moving forward into adulthood, and expanding onward to an eternity much greater than ourselves, which will find us feeling like those wide-eyed kids with a literal infinity left for us to explore. Christine and I were listening to this one during our drive around Big Bear Lake, while we were looking for a hiking trail, so I get strong memories of that beautifully forested lake shore deep in the mountains whenever I hear this one. it was one of the happiest weekends of my life.
11) “Summer”, Christine Denté (Becoming, 2003)
It seemed natural enough to segue from Chris Rice into a song that recounts an innocent childhood summer from a mother’s point of view. She’s got to make sure they eat their sandwiches and clean up their sticky little faces and come back inside before nightfall, but she resolves to set the fretting about all of these little tasks aside for a little while just to experience the sheer joy of watching them play. Sometimes I think God delights in giving us those little moments – we’ve got work to do and we were never promised an easy life, but every now and then, I think God probably enjoys letting us goof around for a bit and watching with a wide, beaming smile.
12) “Winter”, Eastmountainsouth (Eastmountainsouth, 2003)
This was intentional irony on my part, putting “Summer” and “Winter” side-by-side, going from carefree childhood memories to the heartache of a woman wondering what she did to drive her old lover away. Christine and I were trying to strike a balance in those days – she tended toward being clingy and I tended toward pragmatic independence, so I had to learn how to let myself “need” her a bit more while she had to learn how to take care of herself a little bit more. The balance was struck much more easily that summer than it had been during the tumultous summer of 2003. We had found our groove and were no longer trapped in that state of one of us wanting to run while the other desperately tried to hang on.
13) “Someday”, The Echoing Green (The Winter of Our Discontent, 2003)
This song drops a quiet, but powerful dose of hope into the midst of a long, grey season of depression. I think the texture of it is just beautiful – the beat is danceable, but it’s muted, distant, almost whispered rather than blaring right out of the speakers. Comfort sneaks up on the listener calmly rather than as a sudden, blinding beam of light. Sometimes that’s how depressions end – not with a sudden epiphany, but just a gradual realization that the clouds are breaking and that things haven’t actually been that bad for a while now.
14) “A Little More”, Skillet (Collide, 2003)
Another song about the tenacity of true love. This had been a holdover from a previous album, and Skillet (being a band fronted by a husband and wife) almost passed it over again when it didn’t seem to fit with the brutal heaviness of Collide, but they worked it in by amping up the guitars considerably, and even though it’s a weird fit at first, ultimately it’s one of my favorite songs of theirs, and I’m glad they found a way to make it work. “Let the world come crashing down. Love can take it.”
15) “All Creatures #2”, David Crowder Band (Illuminate, 2003)
As alluded to in the title, this was the DCB’s second take on the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King”, the first being a bizarre, experimental version on Can You Hear Us? that didn’t work at all for me. This version’s almost become definitive, smoothing out the rhythmic and melodic complexity dictated by hymnals and building something quite gorgeous out of quiet simplicity. The sun, the moon, the Earth, all of nature moving in one accord, each directed in their path by the hand of the Almighty – I’m struck by this each time I get away from the city and retreat somewhere for a weekend or even part of a day to enjoy nature. Sure, we understand the physics and the astronomy and the biology behind life and the solar system and so forth these days – but to me, that doesn’t diminish the miracle.
16) “Sing”, Jars of Clay (Who We Are Instead, 2003)
The prevalence of “worship albums” rearing their nondescript heads in those days had put a bad taste in many listener’s mouths. It was a constant debate anywhere that I participated in discussions about Christian music – some people would like all of an album except for the “obvious worship song” while others would only like that song and consider the rest to be less worthy of attention because it didn’t directly express praise to God. I felt that all attempts at creativity in God’s name were an act of worship. So it could be a bit baffling when a normally articulate band like Jars of Clay dropped a worship song with almost childlike simplicity at a climactic point in one of their albums. I found myself enjoying the song a great deal in spite of that. What I realized was that the context around it served to inform the song. Just saying out of the blue that we want to sing God love songs may sound a bit trite. Having those love songs appear as a response to a deep, confessional moment like “Jealous Kind” made them feel so much more robust. Our love for God – however imperfect it may be – is not the same bashful puppy love that we might feel for a high school sweetheart or a cute baby. It’s an expression of gratitude that feels most genuine when we’re acutely aware of what we have to be grateful for.
To celebrate the 2-year anniversary of our becoming a couple, Christine and I spent the 4th and 5th of June up at Big Bear Lake. In addition to a little bit of scenic hiking which provided great views of Big Bear Lake, and exploring the quaint little shopping village in town, we spent the night at a Bed & Breakfast called The Eagle’s Nest. I’ll always remember this place – while we already felt comfortable enough at this point in our relationship that we could start talking about what it would realistically look like if we made it permanent, I think the time we spent there was a pivotal moment. It wasn’t like she said or did anything other than to be her usual endearingly cute self, but when I woke up beside her on the morning of the 5th, I had the distinct thought, “I really want to marry this girl”, and I felt strangely assured that it wasn’t just a temporary high. We had been through tough times and we were familiar enough with each other to be assured that this could really work. So that was when I started seriously thinking about how and when I might propose.
Where in the world is this?
1) “In the Burning”, Something Like Silas (Divine Invitation, 2004)
One Monday afternoon in June, Tim invited me to a concert that would end up having a fairly profound effect on my musical tastes. I didn’t know it at the time – I just went along because I was amused and intrigued by his invitation of “Hey, wanna go check out this band that my brother recommended to me after they played at his church down in San Diego?” coincided with the arrival of a pre-release copy of Something Like Silas’s Divine Invitation in the mail. We stopped to pick up Christine (not my Christine – the one who would later end up being Tim’s sister-in-law) and drove out to Baldwin Park or somewhere in that general neighborhood for a free concert by the band. I wasn’t expecting much – modern worship bands were dime-a-dozen by then. But I was quite blown away by how genre savvy they were, wearing influences as diverse as Sigur Rós and The Violet Burning so clearly on their sleeves, as well as the more obvious U2 and Delirious? It was music that created an overall sense of wonder to match the music, and that translated well to covers of otherwise simple praise songs like “Here I Am to Worship”. “In the Burning” was the big, fiery rocker that really caught my attention, particularly the passionate vocal interplay between Eric and Malina during the bridge. Discovering SLS felt like the dawn of a new era.
2) “Inside Outside”, Delirious? (World Service, 2003)
A song about the imtimacy of God knowing us inside and out, knowing our plans before we were even formed in the womb. This one was a weird “Big in Japan” moment for Delirious?, I think, becoming a hit in Germany of all places. The single version didn’t have that big “Whee!” sound that accompanied the transition into the heavier bridge – that would often cause my heart to skip a beat if I heard it while driving.
3) “Over Thinking”, Relient K (Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right… But Three Do, 2003)
The machinations of modern dating often leave a lot of thoughts unspoken. So it’s quite common for two people to be spending a lot of time together, but be nowhere near on the same page regarding their feelings for each other. This causes some folks to go for the throat and just blurt out their innermost thoughts, hoping that the risk will pay off and the other person will feel the same. But if they don’t, it can be quite embarrassing to realized you’ve spent all this time overanalyzing the other person’s behavior, only to ultimately misinterpret it. I was trying my best to counsel a friend through this at the time. She had feelings for a guy, I’d known about it for a while, and I told her it’d gone on long enough that she should just speak up for herself instead of hoping he’d get the hint and say something. That happened while Christine and I were away in Big Bear. I was hoping to come back to discover that the same sort of earth-moving change that had happened in my life would have happened in hers. It didn’t. He only ever saw her as just a friend. I felt a bit guilty for pushing her to put herself out there when it turned out there was no potential for a relationship there… but can you blame me? I wanted to see her happy.
4) “What I Thought I Wanted”, Sara Groves (The Other Side of Something, 2004)
It’s easy to get fixated on something you really want for so long that you forget to ask God whether it’s what He wants. Ideally, as we get to know God better, our will aligns to His. But in reality, we tend to get sidetracked easily. And sometimes tragedies snatch away the thing we wanted the moment before we think we’ll finally have it in our hands – like a wedding that gets cancelled mere weeks before, or the news that a couple can’t have children despite all their efforts. Sometimes what we end up getting is ultimately better for us, even though we can’t see a way that anything could justify the tragedy when we’re in the middle of it. On the flipside, though, I think some people second-guess themselves and assume anything they want badly enough can’t possibly be what God wants. And I figure, there have to be times when we do correctly hit upon God’s plan for us and He simply wants us to go forward and enjoy the terasure He has in store. Needless to say, I did a lot of that sort of second-guessing when things got serious enough with Christine that we started considering marriage. Was this really God’s plan for us? How would we know for sure?
5) “Blank Page”, Shaun Groves (Twilight, 2003)
This song was initially placed here just for the cleverness of putting the two unrelaetd “Groves” together. But I see a deeper meaning to it now, as this song also struggles with our will versus God’s will. Shaun expresses the folly of clinging so tightly to the story he wants to write that he can’t be flexible. He’s already got his plans all worked out despite a very limited ability to see what lies ahead. Actually trying to be a “blank page” on which God can write a much better story than any we could plan is difficult to do. We still want things, and believing God exists and has a plan for us generally brings with it a lot of wondering whether we’re in that plan (or sometimes, struggling to even stop and think about whether we are). I actually think it’s more of a set of boundaries to stay within than a strict track that must be followed – i.e. God’s plan could still be accomplished whether I choose this path or that path. But the other path way over there is still out of bounds.
6) “Arafax Deep”, Falling Up (Crashings, 2004)
This beautiful song at the end of Falling Up’s first album, with its echoing piano, turned out to have nothing to do with either Aragorn or ShadowFax. The band loves to make up fantastical names and settings, but really, it’s about a car crash on a rainy day, a moment when a life was suddenly taken, and the questions that leads to regarding what we’re doing with the time given to us if we can never be assured how much more of it we’ll be given. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seriously dealt with that question. I tend to plan things out like I’ll be around for years and years to come. Even at times in my life when I’ve been paranoid about various health concerns, I’ve stubbornly clung to hope that it’ll all work out and I won’t have to view life as having a time limit. This is probably foolish of me, but it’s a difficult mindset to change.
7) “My Medea”, Vienna Teng (Warm Strangers, 2004)
This one was written as Vienna played the self-aware role of the “tortured artist”, figuring some of the most gripping songs were written by musicians who were at least a little bit messed up. It takes its inspiration from a mythological character who tries to exact revenge on her husband by destroying her own child. Being so bent on it eventually leads to her own undoing. There’s really no deep dark secret in my life that one can glean from reading into this song, so I honestly can’t recall a reason for putting it here other than being transfixed by the sound of it and thinking the relentless piano melody fit well after “Arafax Deep”.
8) “Muzzle of Bees”, Wilco (A Ghost Is Born, 2004)
Man, and I thought Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was difficult! The release of A Ghost Is Born had me convinced that Wilco was trying as hard as possible to eb difficult, to sabotage otherwise sturdy songs with all manner of sonic haze. I’ve come to apprecate the band more since then, but Ghost is definitely a record I only return to once in a blue moon. This song was a beautiful escape from the madness, though – a hushed folk ballad that felt like the aural equivalent of a long summer sunset that could just go on forever. I could see all those bees and insects buzzing around as the track built in intensity, coming out to create a tapestry of sound as the peaceful, warm night set in.
9) “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, Sufjan Stevens (Seven Swans, 2004)
Sufjan was another monumental discovery that I made during the summer of 2004, thanks to a recommendation from bloop over at the Phorum. At first I just thought he was a simple folk artist who liked to tell Bible stories and modest personal anecdotes with his banjo. But songs like this gave me a glimpse at his more expeerimental side, with more of a layered indie rock flavor to it, and it was played in 5/8 time, which I absolutely adored. This was just the tip of the iceberg – I wouldn’t fully grasp what the man could do with unusual instrumentation or bizarre time signatures until I dug into Michigan later that summer. Looking back, Seven Swans seems quaint by comparison.
10) “Travelin’ Soldier”, Dixie Chicks (Home, 2002)
This song became especially interesting in light of the controversy that the Dixie Chicks are now perhaps better known for than their actual music. Its release as a single was unfortunately timed such that its chances got torpedoed by the comments about Bush that pissed off a large portion of their conservative audience. Ironically, it was probably one of their most patiotic songs (and it’s notable that it’s a cover, so they didn’t write it, but still, choosing to cover it says something). On the surface, this sad story about a young girl who falls in love with a soldier right before he ships out and has to communicate with her via letters up until his untimely death might seem to be a lament about war and the unnecessary loss of life it causes (the war in question being Vietnam in this case, but by the time Bush-bashing was en vogue, the Iraq War was in full swing). But the way it morphs into a funeral march at the end (notably the only use of drums anywhere on the entire album) feels like a thoroughly genuine tribute to that fallen soldier, who gave his life for something greater than itself. There was a split in ideology after 9/11 – “You’re either with us or against us” – that led a lot of folks to believe you can’t support the troops while badmouthing the President. So it was assumed that if you had one of those yellow ribbons on your car, that you were right-wing. I found this unfortunate. The soldiers were following orders. I felt that they deserved our support, even from those of us on the civilian side who disagreed with the orders coming to them from the top. Honoring them didn’t have to mean picking political sides. I don’t put bumper stickers on my car, but if I had, I’d have wanted one of those yellow ribbons right next to a sticker that said something deprecating about Bush, just to mess with people’s heads when they were driving behind me.
11) “Vacant/Stream of Consciousness”, Dream Theater (Train of Thought, 2003)
The loss experienced in “Travelin’ Solider”, while occupying an entirely different musical universe than Dream Theater’s expansive prog metal, seemed like it would lead beautifully into James LaBrie’s somber, beautifully orchestrated lament about a person who had almost slipped away into death, who had perhaps gone catatonic or comatose, and was on some level still aware of the living world around them, but unable to communicate anything back to the loved ones by his bedside. This, in turn, led into a lengthy instrumental jam which took the melody of “Vacant” and ran wild with it. The combined 15 minutes or so turned out to be one of the band’s most impressive compositions.
12) “On Distant Shores”, Five Iron Frenzy (The End Is Near, 2003)
The final song on FIF’s final studio album could be quite a tear-jerker if you knew the context behind it. They had developed a habit of ending every live show with their signature song “Every New Day”, which was captured in the recording of their final live concert on the second disc of The End Is Here. Getting the two discs together finally brought the song into perspective for me, bringing to mind the heartfelt plea for grace that had caused the band to first capture my attention six years prior. “On Distant Shores” was intended as a bookend to that song, telling its own story of a man lost at sea and coming to terms with his own pride and selfishness, but coming full circle to end with the coda from “Every New Day”. It seemed fitting to bid them farewell with the same song that had made me a fan in the first place.
13) “Smile”, Chris Rice (Run the Earth, Watch the Sky, 2003)
“I just want to be with You; I just want this waiting to be over.” Chris Rice clearly meant this gushy love song to reflect his longing for Heaven, as so many of the songs on Run the Earth did. It was almost naïve in its simple expression of inspired impatience, tempered by the knowledge that God still has plans for him here on Earth. It made me think about much more temporary things that I was impatient for, that seemed like they’d be glorious dreams come true, things that would forever make me a happier person once I had arrived. Most significantly, marriage. I just couldn’t wait much longer to experience the full depths of intimacy with someone who loved me that much. Fortunately, by then, I was wise enough to understand that it was worth the wait for me and Christine to be sure we were making a well-informed decision, that we were a wise match for each other. But it’s silly, when I think back to my urgent desire to “just get on with it” and how small that waiting period was in terms of the waiting period for the thing I should really be looking forward to. Why is it that sometimes, I don’t look forward to the eternal life that will follow this comparatively ephemeral one with the same amount of passion that I anticipate other major milestones? Something’s clearly wrong here.
14) “Hurry”, Sleeping at Last (Ghosts, 2003)
“Every move we make will trigger another. And every small mistake will be a messenger. The world is ours, if we could only let it be.” Such beautiful, captivating words from a band that knew a thing or two about intense longing. This was a reminder not to get too far ahead of myself. Trust God, and it would all work out – even the mistakes made from fumbling around in the dark, being unsure of what to do next. Facing major life decisions can be nerve-wracking, leading to fear that one misstep can forever alter the course of your life in the wrong direction. But God’s grace isn’t as rigid as that. There’s abundant room to stumble and try again – at least, if our hearts are in the right place. Probably sometimes even when they aren’t, and the stumbling is part of the process of learning where our hearts should be. It all makes so much beautiful sense when a quaint song likes this brings along a simple moment of epiphany. But then I try to get out there and implement what I’ve learned… and how quickly I forget and lose patience!
15) “Rain Come Down”, Eastmountainsouth (Eastmountainsouth, 2003)
I wanted to close with a simple reminder of that day finally coming. Not the short-term goal of reaching my wedding day that I dreamed about, but the day of passing beyond this mortal coil, and finally seeing God face-to-face, that Chris Rice dreamed about. It’s expressed here in old-timey lyrics, most assuredly from a folk song that Eastmountainsouth discovered and polished up with moody piano and guitar and modern production. It recasts what otherwise might be fearful lyrics about Jesus riding around on storm clouds into a glimpse of something beautiful, something transcendent. “Seek on, oh, seeker, come go to glory with me. And you shall wear a starry crown, come join the band of angels.”