Listening to these songs brings to mind a lot of urban imagery. With Christine working a lot of nights at the AMC movie theater near her apartment in Montebello and a lot of time spent planning our upcoming wedding, we didn’t get out as much, so when we had free time, it was often spent with ridiculously sized buckets of popcorn and soda that she scored us for free, planted in front of a huge screen, watching a movie that she also scored us for free, which we were glad we didn’t have to pay to rent.
In with the New:
Day of Fire
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
This is a shot of the famous Hollywood sign, in Griffith Park. I had been to the park many times as a kid, to see the trains and the Observatory, but I’d never done much hiking there. Mark led a group up to the top of the hill behind the Hollywood sign in November, and then later that afternoon, five of us guys hiked up the hill behind the observatory (which I is actually called Mt. Hollywood, even though the sign’s on Mt. Lee), and we did it the hard way. Seriously, Mark just decided it’d be a good idea to banzai straight up the steepest route available. I could barely breathe when we made it to the top… but we made it.
Where in the world is this?
1) “One Day Remains”, Alter Bridge (One Day Remains, 2004)
I was not sad when I found out Creed had broken up. I had enjoyed their music, but grown inreasingly annoyed with Scott Stapp’s public antics. Apparently the band members had too, because when an entire band (including a bass player who had formerly quit, supposedly citing stage fright as the reason) reforms with a different lead singer, that sort of sends a message that they actually enjoyed working together if not for THAT ONE GUY. Myles Kennedy was definitely an improvement over Stapp, though the musical style still didn’t seem distinct enough from Creed, so this was the only song on their first album that I really got into. Here, Mark Tremonti let loOse with a freakin’ AWESOME lead guitar part, fingers flying throughout the entire song. It was a delicious, thrashing, life-affirming anthem.
2) “Plan B”, Mute Math (Reset EP, 2004)
Faith comes out in more subtle ways in Mute Math’s songwriting than it did back when Paul Meany was in Earthsuit. One of their favorite themes seems to be the plans men make and the way those best-laid plans fall apart in the wake of God’s wisdom. This idea sort of resurfaced later as “Backfire”, but I like it here in its original form, both because of the fiery explosion of percussion as the song climaxed, and because it was fun to joke around with folks about the often misunderstood chorus. Paul was singing “Mend it all, mend it all”, but to some folks, it sounded like “Minty oil, minty oil.”
3) “Jerkweed Inspector”, Macrosick (Demodisk EP, 2004)
Macrosick was the other band that rose up after Earthsuit’s demise, featuring their lead singer, Adam Laclave. This was definitely the weirder of the two bands, going for a similar electronic/retro approach, but coming out on the more spastic and experimental side of things. This song in particular was one big, jumpy fit as they carried on about a nosy inspector whose intrusions weren’t wanted. I just like the word “Jerkweed”. It’s inherently funny.
4) “Vertigo”, U2 (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004)
“¡Uno, dos, tres, catorce!” So begins the song that was the butt of many jokes about how Bono couldn’t count in Spanish. I’ll be honest – I did not like this one at first. There were a bunch of what we called “‘The’ bands” trying to revive old-school garage rock at the time, and to me, it sounded like U2 was trying to imitiate that trend. I eventually realized, The Edge has an awesome riff here, and I got over the goofiness and just went with it. OK, so this one’ll always remind me of iPod commercials more readily than anything deeply meaningful or spiritual. Having finally made my way through and reviewed the entire U2 discography in the years leading up to this, I was now better prepared for any curveballs the band could throw at me. Bomb was the first U2 album to come out after I became a much more devoted fan of the band.
5) “Catchafire (Whoopsi-Daisy)”, Toby Mac feat. MOC & Papa San (Welcome to Diverse City, 2004)
Speaking of goofiness, Toby tends to take the cake in that department. There are some atrocious rhymes here, but the guest rappers add a lot to the song (which is a really weird hybrid of pop, urban and reggae influences), and I could relate to the lyrics about feeling like you were once on fire for God, but losing it and not being able to rmember how that happened, and desperately wanting it back.
6) “All This Time”, Rachael Lampa (Rachael Lampa, 2004)
WOW. When Rachael led off her new record with this long and dare I say rocking epic, with a chorus in 7/8 time of all things, I was instantly impressed. The whole album, while not without its silly, poppier moments, seemed like a solid effort to take her beyond the realm of just being a big, pretty voice. This was a song about adding up all the things you’ve learned and realizing that you know nothing in the grand scheme of things, so it made perfect sense for it to be a complete genre shift – something to intentionally throw off those who thought they knew what to expect from her. It’s a real shame that Rachael sort of fell off the map after this – I thought she had a lot of potential after reinventing herself.
7) “The One I’m Waiting For”, Relient K (Mmhmm, 2004)
“I’m still waiting for You to be the one I’m waiting for”. It was so easy to get caught up in the relentless rhythm of this song that one could lose the subtler message in between all of the break-up angst (this likely being a song that Matt Thiessen wrote in the wake of his split with Katy Perry). Rebounds are easy – you get dumped by someone who was special to you, and it’s tempting to immediately look around and want to replace that person, but usually, such attempts are short-lived. Even if you get lucky and the next relationship goes well – as it did in my case after the first time I got dumped – there’s still the underlying issue of whether you’re still depending on that person for your life to be meaningful and fulfilling overall, or whether you’re depending on God for that. It’s a tough lesson to learn, and one that I still feel like I struggle with – worshiping at the altar of romance and forgetting that those relationships are the creation, not the Creator.
8) “Revolution”, Starfield (Starfield, 2004)
A simple, but fiery rocker about spreading the Gospel not just by speaking, but by bringing about social change. “When the world is at war, when the grace is gone/When the hungry lay dead, while the rich live on/I will rise above, I will live for love/I will answer to the call.” Nothing extremely profound there that a bunch of songs haven’t said, but it represents the mode that’s always seemed more comfortable and genuine to me: Just help people in whatever situations they’re in. Just be there and love them. Don’t just walk up to strangers and talk at them when you have no idea what their lives are like. Invest in people, then perhaps they’ll be curious about what it is that makes you care.
9) “The World at Large”, Modest Mouse (Good News for People Who Love Bad News, 2004)
Ah traveling and restless wandering, one of my favorite subjects from just about any songwriter. Weather’s too hot, weather’s too cold, life is too noisy… it seems any myriad of excuses gets me looking longingly at the freeway just outside my office window, wishing I could just “get away from it all” for a few days. Modest Mouse can be a downer sometimes, but this one defies the odds and tries to make the best of the changing seasons, with its cute little flute fanfares, and its hints at the signature song “Float On”, which follows it on the album.
10) “Futures”, Jimmy Eat World (Futures, 2004)
The would-be campaign anthem that, in a parallel universe, might have been remembered for heralding a changing of the guard from George W. Bush to John Kerry. It’s not like JEW was that obvious in naming the candidate they were pulling for, but the talk of better Novembers and believing your votes can mean something, combined with disenchantment with the current establishment, made it fairly easy to understand what they were getting at. I like the song. I appreciated the sentiment. But I was still in a phase of my life back then when I considered “me first” and the things I was afraid of first and foremost as reasons for the bubble I chose to punch through at the voting booth. Christine and I didn’t really discuss our politics at all before taking the trip to an Arcadia high school near her apartment to cast our votes. I think we both knew we were conflicted. But we each asked the other who we ended up voting for after the fact, and we both ended up picking Bush. It wasn’t until a few years later that I came to regret that. But I remember joking at the time, when we would see protestors on the corner at Main & Garfield in Alhambra while out on a Friday night, “If Kerry wins, will they go away?”
11) “Cornerstone”, Day of Fire (Day of Fire, 2004)
I was vaguely familiar with Day of Fire’s lead singer from his previous band Full Devil Jacket, who had opened for Creed and Collective Soul at the show my brother and I caught in 2000. I didn’t remember anything impressive about their brand of grungy metal, and my initial reaction to Josh Brown’s new band (formed after he converted to Christianity and disbanded FDJ) was that it was essentially a poppy, CCM-radio-friendly version of the same thing. Oddly enough, sometimes it’s the simplistic songs that can be the most effective, as evidenced by this worship ballad that anchored Day of Fire’s first album. It wasn’t profound. But it was a simple prayer, a fun song so play after figuring out its 3 or 4 chords, and despite what my inner critic said, it did the trick.
12) “Sea of Angels”, Plus One (Exodus, 2003)
This is the last Plus One song, I promise. (The group constinued to splinter after this point, making in ineffective for the two remaining members to bother keeping the name.) Again, I thought this was a good example of a group formerly pigeonholed and maligned for an immature musical style doing their best to rise above the stereotype. It had that sort of ominous verse/up-tempo chorus that a lot of my favorite pop/rock artists were good at, and it described the unseen spiritual warfare a lot of Christians believe is constantly going on around us with reasonably effective metaphors. A few of these guys could have gone somewhere, but I just don’t think there was enough of a fragment of their potential audience left that could overcome the “boy band” stigma to really give them a chance.
13) “Lead Me On”, Bethany Dillon (Bethany Dillon, 2004)
Few things will make a young artist sound more precocious than trying to cover a song that’s as old as they are. It probably worked out better for me that I had only passing familiarity with the original Amy Grant song from the late 80’s. Bethany reworked it effectively enough as a pop/rocker that fit more modern sensibilities. A lot of Bethany’s original songs spoke of a journey, a yearning for freedom, not wanting to follow the beaten path taken by most of society, and that was reflected well enough in the irony of her being such a young singer/songwriter with a more mature musical style. In that sense, this cover fit in perfectly with her artistic personality at the time.
14) “Creation’s Call”, Something Like Silas (Divine Invitation, 2004)
These opening words said so much about Eric Owyoung’s outlook on the music his band made: “All my voice, all my heart/Couldn’t capture the beauty of His art.” To see all of God’s creation, including mankind itself, as a work of art, is something that I think is a key element of worship. To understand that one of God’s greatest joys comes in being creative, and in creating us in His own image, is something that I interpret as a reminder that we were given the ability to create. I think creativity should be a vital aspect of worship msuic, and it’s become increasingly hard to find “worship bands” who value that aspect of God’s personality when they try to make music that honors Him. Sometimes I wonder if those hills and mountains and oceans that God made aren’t doing a better job of expressing His glory than we humans are with our vain attempts. Maybe it’s not always a terrible thing that sometimes the rocks themselves have to cry out in praise.
15) “The Innocent’s Corner”, Caedmon’s Call (Share the Well, 2004)
This song wrestles with the tension between social justice as an academic subject debated by scholars, and the very real and urgent suffering of the people beyond the comfortable walls in which those debates are held. It’s a paralyzing question – you want to help, but what’s the most effective way to do something? You don’t want to send a group of people on a missions trip or homeless outreach project or whatever else without preparing them well for it. At the same time, I think it’s easy for me to hide behind the excuse of “not being ready”, and thus dodge whatever opportunities God might put in my path to help someone in need. Sometimes it’s better to stop talking and just act.
16) “Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)”, Sufjan Stevens (Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State, 2003)
This song sort of continues the civil debate, in Sufjan’s characteristically busy, complicated time-signature-ridden way, sprawling out over nine minutes like the unregulated growth of a massive metropolis. All manner of ideas are bandied about here that should, ideally, make a city more of a Utopian place to live. In practice, we know Detroit to have the reuptation of being anything but. Not just to pick on that one city, though – I have a similar phobia about the core of L.A. sometimes, as I’ve driven or walked around parts of it and thought, about what a mess this place is, how haphazardly parts of it seem to have been built, and how it represents lofty goals that didn’t quite come to fruition. Sufjan seemed to have a love/hate relationship with the central population hub of his native state, and it echoed the love/hate relationship that I had with the place I always tell people from out of state that I’m from.
I decided to make 2004’s parting shot this picture of the downtown Los Angeles skyline (which I found on the Internet; I can’t take nighttime pictures worth crap), because this was what we would see from the hillside neighborhood near Chinatown where our Sedaqah Group met. L.A. isn’t my favorite city, but it’s one that I saw a lot of that year, and in a weird way, those imposing office buildings actually make me think of time spent building community as part of that downtown Bible Study group.
Where in the world is this?
1) “All Because of You”, U2 (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004)
I loved the loud guitar blast that The Edge started this one off with – like a horn sounding, warning of an oncoming train. It was one of the most powerful songs on the new U2 album, and in its own weird way, a confession of God’s wisdom and man’s folly in the face of it. It could be interpreted in multiple ways, as is quite common for U2 songs, but I liked the subtle double meaning of the chorus: “All because of You, I am.” It could mean “I exist because of you”, but God gives “I Am” as a name for Himself in the Bible, so it could be an intentional reference to that name as well. “I exist because of God.”
2) “I So Hate Consequences”, Relient K (Mmhmm, 2004)
Another one of those songs that I relate to so much, it hurts a little. I’m a very idealistic person… when the situations in my life are all running smoothly. When life starts to feel unfair, I get desperate, and make excuses for cutting corners and running the proverbial red lights. I let myself get away with certain moral compromises, figuring it’s not really a law if no one’s there to enforce and it doesn’t seem to really hurt anybody. People talk about “sin” in a vacuum, as if just being told something’s wrong is enough to get you not to do it. Guilt ultimately isn’t that great of a motivator, because it tells you some cosmic being will be mad at you, but it clashes with the Christian notion that we’re all sinners needing forgiveness anyway, so honestly, what’s one more sin thrown on to the pile? The key difference is consequences. I used to lie awake at night, wondering if maybe I’d messed up too many times for God to forgive me or view me as a person whose heart had truly changed. And that was honestly wasted time. Of course He does. But He doesn’t always save me from the repercussions of those bad choices. And as much as it sucks to live with them, sometimes that’s the only way I learn – by actually seeing the repercussions and the reasons why I might want to be smarter about it the next time around.
3) “Get Some”, Chevelle (This Type of Thinking Could Do Us In, 2004)
A brooding little song that savagely mocks trendsetters and society’s manic rush to follow them. Sort of an easy target for rock music that wants to sound “edgy”, but I like how Chevelle pulled it off here, with the slow, grinding riffs and shifting rhythms. We eat fads up and then laugh mercilessly at the trendsetters when they fall – or even when they simply age into what we consider “has-beens”. Nearly everyone who is famous now will probably suffer that same fate one of these days, and it seems to happen faster than ever in the Internet age.
4) “Hooray, It’s L.A.”, Blindside feat. Billy Corgan (About a Burning Fire, 2004)
Why not follow one song that sardonically attacks superficiality with another one? These Swedes clearly had no great love for my hometown, and I can see how L.A. often looks to outsiders – fancy cars all stuck in traffic, plastic surgery abounding, smiley weathermen with perfect white teeth telling you it’s another beautiful sunny day, which must really irritate people who come from places with actual weather. I can honestly understand why a lot of folks who aren’t from L.A. have no desire to stay here, when they come here for school or for a temporary job, etc. The irony is that while I can easily make fun of L.A., I genuinely can’t imagine living anywhere else.
5) “Untitled, Anonymous”, Everyday Sunday (Anthems for the Imperfect, 2004)
This probably would have been my anthem if I’d heard it back in my single days. it’s all about being the odd-man out, feeling like everyone else is paired off with a special someone, and you’re the shoe that doesn’t fit, or the sock that turned up in the laundry without its mate anywhere to be found. I empathized with single friends when I heard this one. I wanted to retain that feeling of connection to being there myself – to not abandon my single friends just because I was about to get married. I remembered getting so irritated with friends who used to do that to me as soon as they found a significant other, so I guess I’ve always made it a goal to not be like those people.
6) “Gotta Go”, Toby Mac (Welcome to Diverse City, 2004)
A humorous song about having one of those busy lives where you’ve got so many irons in the fire that you don’t get a moment to stop, rest, and reflect. In some ways, it’s the polar opposite of being alone – now you’re a family man with a wife and kids to look after, a business to run, and everyone clamoring for your attention. It seems like a charmed life from a distance, but it ain’t for everybody. Given the choice, I’d pick the life of solitude, as loneliness is a lot easier for me to deal with than constant stress and busy-ness. (The answering messages from the previous track, which I tacked on at the beginning here, never fail to crack me up, particularly how fast Toby deletes the message from the reporter who starts to inquire about when they can expect the next dc Talk album. He must be really sick of that question!)
7) “Re-Record”, John Reuben (Professional Rapper, 2003)
Toby referenced Reuben in his song, so it seemed appropriate to follow up with a song about Reuben’s own take on his hectic life in the music industry. This one’s a series of humorous false starts, as he delivers a sarcastic retort to the answering machine of a disgruntled fan who has dissed his music, realizes he’s being a bit harsh, and erases it only to start again. He says a lot of things here that I would have easily posted with a second thought to try and shut up some irritating newbie on a message board back then. It’s ridiculous now that I look back on it – the amount of time and effort I spent trying to get people to see things my way who were either very young, very conservative, or both. All the while I completely failed to realize how limited my understanding of both music and faith had been when I was much younger. I just had no patience with people when there was that veil of relative anonymity to hide behind, and it would have done me some good to follow Reuben’s example and self-censor until I could come up with a more constructive way to express my thoughts.
8) “So-Called Chaos”, Alanis Morissette (So-Called Chaos, 2004)
This one’s a veritable minefield of Alanis’s weirdest quirks – her tendency to pause on or emphasize the wrong syllables, her odd habit of choosing wordy synonyms or adding suffixes to words that aren’t really supposed to have them, her love affair with vaguely Eastern melodies, and her odd obsession with nakedness. So yeah, this probably sounded like a train wreck to some people. But there was something in this slow, crawling song that I could identify with, as it expressed a growing distaste for the daily grind. Who doesn’t want to ditch it all sometimes and just go out and run wild? I’m fortunate enough to at least be spending 40 hours a week doing something I enjoy for a living, but even then, I get cooped up and find myself wanting to get the heck out of town. Clearly I was feeling a lot of that as a rainy winter began to set in. I was anticipating an upcoming trip to Hawaii in January, so that probably explains why so many songs about getting out, or feeling unsatisfied trapped in a big city, were on my personal playlist back then.
9) “Drugs or Me”, Jimmy Eat World (Futures, 2004)
A sad, hazy song that tries in vain to reach out to a person with a drug addiction, only to heplessly watch them gradually sink beneath the waves. I’ve never dabbled in any form of illegal drugs, nor been addicted to substances that are legally available. (OK, maybe caffeine is debatable.) But I think there are habits or hobbies that one can just as easily grow obsessed about, sometimes taking it to sociopathic lengths. I know what that struggle feels like, and I can recognize the crossroads that the concerned friend has arrived at, where the person has to get slapped awake by the choice of either losing the addiction, or losing the friend. Slipping down into that endless spiral drags the people who love you along with you.
10) “Rewind”, Pillar (Where Do We Go From Here?, 2004)
A remarkably restrained song for Pillar – a genuine prayer of regret and repentance with a surprisingly rich acoustic melody to accompany it. I saw this as the sort of recommitment made at the addict’s lowest point – the kind that begs for mercy, knowing it doesn’t deserve another chance, but knowing that God gives that second and third and seventieth chance even when people have given up on you. The consequences are still there, and they hurt, but it’s good to be reminded that you can never mess up so bad, or so repetitively (which is usually my worry about my supposedly “small” mistakes), that God starts to figure you must be a lost cause.
11) “So Long, Moses”, Andrew Peterson (Behold the Lamb of God, 2004)
I was surprised to find out that Andrew Peterson’s audio adaptation of a play he’d put together turned out to be not only an insightful and unconventional Christmas album, but quite possibly the best album of Peterson’s career. The entire first half of it dug into Israel’s history preceding the birth of Christ, going over God’s covenant with His people, their repeated failings to keep the covenant, and the succession of kings and prophets they thought would be saviors who, ultimately, proved to be fallible. I loved how that story unfolded over this song’s generous six minutes – all of these people made mistakes, yet God still used them. And it reminded me of my own path, all the ways I kept trying to do it myself and not really trust God with any of it, and how the mistakes had not only been forgiven and healed, but I had learned something from them along the way. Sometimes we have to recognize the false saviors before we can understand the real one better.
12) “There’s Only One (Holy One)”, Caedmon’s Call (Share the Well, 2004)
Fast guitar strumming in Drop D tuning… Brazilian percussion… rich background melodies… there was nothing I could possibly dislike about this one. Perhaps it was a bit wordy to be fully effective as a worship song (as I discovered the hard way when trying to play it for small group), but for me it was a good reminder of what actually saves me versus the myriad things I keep looking to for salvation and satisfaction. All other attempts will fail.
13) “Better than Wine”, Derek Webb (I See Things Upside Down, 2004)
I hear echoes of the Song of Solomon in this sweet, slightly tipsy love song that Derek wrote for his wife Sandra. Here’s where we get into full-on sentimental mode (as many of these mixes do toward the end), because as the final days of 2004 wound down, I looked forward with great anticipation to 2005, the year I would finally get to be married, and drink deep of that intoxicating wine. I loved that Derek was able to write in a tasteful, subtle way about marital intimacy and the simply joy of looking at his wife and thinking, “Wow, she’s really sexy”, without it being awkward or controversial. Flying a bit under the radar after a lot of the Christian bookstores disowned his first album probably helped there.
14) “Love and Some Verses”, Iron & Wine (Our Endless Numbered Days, 2004)
One of Sam Beam’s more understated, but most endearing, love songs. What few words he sings address both the power of songwriting to express what a simple conversation cannot when you’re profoundly in love with someone, and also the limitation of those words to express how much joy wells up in the heart when trying to describe all of the little details that leave a man utterly defenseless in the wake of a woman’s beauty.
15) “Try”, Bebo Norman (Try, 2004)
A man passes many milestones as a young adult – graduating from college, getting his first “real job”, eventually getting married. I foolishly thought that passing each of these milestones would finally make me feel like a real grown-up, but the funny thing was that I usually just felt like a kid play-acting in grown-up clothing. It was like I was the only one entering into each of these new worlds feeling like he didn’t really know what he was doing, when in fact, it’s probably just as daunting to almost everybody. It’s easy to feel fear when approaching the unknown worlds that lie ahead of those goals, even if the goals themselves are dreams come true. It’s easy to want to curl up and hide under the bed like a scared little boy when you realize the risk of failing, of not being able to provide, of hurting someone you love or of getting deeply hurt by that same person. But a boy starts to feel like more of a man when the woman he loves supports him, shows confidence in him, makes him want to try his hardest to pull through for her. I’m a very risk-averse person, but the hallmark of my relationship with Christine has been that it’s made me a braver man than I used to be. I still see risks and fears, and a number of reasons not to try, but she’s helped me to want to give it my best shot anyway despite life never guaranteeing that everything will go as planned.
16) “How on Earth”, Ron Sexsmith (Retriever, 2004)
“Dreams come true in heaven all the time… but baby, how on earth?” One last sappy love song to close out the year. It had certainly ended in a very different place than it started – I couldn’t have predicted based on all the turmoil that led up to the end of 2003 that twelve months later, I’d feel so much more at peace and resolved and like a huge lifelong dream was about to be fulfilled, just right around the corner. I was enough of a realist to wonder what I was missing at times – why in the world this person could love me so much, or what dangers we weren’t taking into account. Sometimes it was hard to just look forward with pure optimism and not worry. But at other times, I wanted to shout from the rooftops how happy I was that this was all going to finally happen for real – not just in some fantasy world that my mind had cooked up. I was talking about our pending marriage to a lot of people at a party I attended that New Year’s Eve – Christine had been saddled with the closing shift at AMC, so she couldn’t be there with me, but the inevitable questions about where she was led to more opportunities for conversation than the single folks around me probably wanted to get into. As we counted down the seconds to midnight (and I thought of the countdown for two Christine and I would have to do, in sync with the Hawaii time zone after she got off work), and celebrated the arrival of 2005, I happily shouted, “This is the year I get married!”