This soundtrack for the winter of 2005 is filled with songs of anticipation, but many of them also express a desire for change. I was preparing for my life to become radically different as Christine and I planned our wedding. I had to ask myself who I was now, what I wanted to be, and what things were standing in the way of that transformation. I wanted to start married life knowing that the process would make me a better man.
In with the New:
Olivia the Band
The Fiery Furnaces
Out with the Old:
Something Like Silas
Day of Fire
Christine and I went out to Oahu in January to scope some things out as we planned our summer wedding. There was a lot of work to be done, but we did find the time to take a few days off from it, rent a car, go hiking, and spend the night at a hotel near Waikiki on my birthday. The hike we went on took us to this pool, known as Jackass Ginger, a beautiful secluded swimming hole that required insane amounts of slogging through mud to get there. (This was one of the first pictures taken with the first digital camera that I ever owned.)
Where in the world is this?
1) “Shut It Out”, Olivia the Band (Olivia the Band, 2005)
Olivia’s debut was the first record to go on my favorites list for 2005… before 2004 even ended. I had an advance release from the record label, and since the promotional material practically had “HAWAII!” emblazoned all over it, I’ll admit that they caught me by pure nostalgia. I was preparing to marry into a family that called Hawaii its home, so I felt a certain kinship with these musicians from the North Shore who sang of surfing and Saturdays and living the good life in paradise. Songs like this one, which tackles hypocrisy, did manage to show a little more depth, and I felt like the band deserved more of a chance on Christian radio than they ended up getting.
2) “High of 75”, Relient K (Mmhmm, 2004)
I’ve been guilty of letting my mood depend entirely too much on the weather. There’s a medical term for it – Seasonal Affective Disorder. You don’t get enough sunlight, and something in the brain goes all screwy. There’s some scientific truth to it, I guess, but at times it feels a bit childish. I know I should be mature enough to not let my faith in whether God has good plans for me depend on something so superficial as whether he populated the sky with sunshine or with grey clouds on a given day. the winter of 2005 was one of our gloomiest and rainiest here in Southern California, so this seemed like a good year for me to finally learn that lesson. That being said, I still relished our upcoming escape to Hawaii, which pretty much has one season year round.
3) “Feels Like Winter”, downhere (So Much for Substitutes, 2003)
This one’s a bit of a darker companion to “High of 75”, directly tackling the subject of depression, and how it looks from the inside, gazing out at a world that seems unfairly sunny and summery compared to the heavy mood that seems to constantly hang over you. We don’t like to admit that Christians go through this, too. Often fellow people of faith, with the best of intentions, will reach out with pat answers and only make things worse. What really helps me during those dark times is not just words, but presence. Someone being willing to walk with me through it.
4) “City of Blinding Lights”, U2 (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004)
“Oh, you look so beautiful tonight!” It took me a while to realize that this was not a conventional love song from a man to a woman – it’s really more about an artist’s love for the audience. It gained more meaning for me when I learned that the real reason Bono always wears those sunglasses is because his eyes are extremely sensitive to light. If you ever see him take them off, then he’s really serious about whatever he’s trying to communicate.
5) “The Feel Good Drag”, Anberlin (Never Take Friendship Personal, 2005)
When Anberlin put out their second album, I latched on to this one as my favorite song pretty much immediately. Mostly because it was badass. I didn’t have any personal connection (thank God) to the lyrics, which describe the impending disaster in a scenario where a man finds a dangerous woman flirting with him. Strangely enough, this one never got a shot at radio until it was re-recorded two albums later, and became Anberlin’s breakthrough mainstream hit. I always preferred the original version, because that scream in the bridge is just gnarly.
6) “Nothingwrong”, Jimmy Eat World (Futures, 2004)
I always interpreted this song as being about celebrities and responsibilities, and how the audience tends to pass the buck. Just blame the singer for all of our social ills, censor them, turn them off so we can protect our children. We don’t take discernment and audience appropriateness into account. Maybe some of this stuff isn’t for kids, and a more thoughtful listener who can differentiate between the artist’s true feelings and the protagonist of a song (or similarly for a screenwriter versus a character) can figure that out instead of just blindly assuming they’re glorifying violence or misogyny or what have you. But nah, it’s easier to just protest loudly and put everyone who offends us on a blacklist.
7) “Nothing’s on the Radio”, Macrosick (Demodisk EP, 2004)
This song is so manic that it’s practically having an epileptic fit. I liked the juxtaposition of a song about censoring everything on the radio with one that laments how there’s nothing worthwhile on it. No art, no socially conscious messages, no innovation… just meaningless lightweight pop. It’s kind of our own fault.
8) “Marvelous Things”, Eisley (Room Noises, 2005)
that winter, I discovered a youthful and imaginative band that would turn out to be one of my all-time favorites. I can’t even remember how I first stumbled across them. Favorable comparisons to Sixpence None the Richer in reviews probably helped. But there was something more detached and dreamy about Eisley’s recipe, plus the sisterly harmonies just slayed me. I’ll grant that most of their lyrics at the time were escapist nonsense, particularly this song about rabbits and mermaid and butterfly wings and such, but man, this was like the perfect pop album. That “Ah-ah-ah-ah” hook that runs down the scale and back up again still sends a shiver down my spine.
9) “Wasted”, Joseph Arthur (Our Shadows Will Remain, 2004)
Joseph Arthur had just put out his own spin on the perfect pop album – a much more focused and beat-oriented disc than the genre roulette he had played around with on Redemption’s Son. It was inherently caustic and sad, even purposefully trashy at times, but for some strange reason it still put a warped smile on my face. An early morning listen while waiting at LAX for a flight to Honolulu at some ungodly hour was when it finally clicked for me.
10) “I Haven’t Been Myself”, John Reuben feat. Adrienne Camp (Professional Rapper, 2003)
The funny thing about the slippery slope is that you never quite realize you’re on it until it’s too late. This self-conscious rap song is like a wake-up call as a man finally realizes how far he’s drifted from his own set of ideals. he’s become the sort of person he used to hate, and he looks back and sees all the little concessions he made along the way that unwittingly led him here. I loved that the hook was sung by the former lead singer of The Benjamin Gate. I still miss them.
11) “International Love Song”, Caedmon’s Call (Share the Well, 2004)
A skippy, happy-go-lucky little acoustic track that quite possibly has the best tag-team vocal of any Caedmon’s Call song. I loved to play this one on my guitar, but I could never sing it by myself, since Cliff and Danielle’s parts overlapped so seamlessly. The funny thing is that it’s not really about their love for each other as a married couple; instead it’s about getting lost in a completely foreign culture and learning to love the place, seeing the people as kindred spirits whose culture quirks aren’t so weird after all (or at least, they’re no weirder than yours). At that point, a “missions trip” becomes an expression of love, not just a project.
12) “Burn for You”, Toby Mac feat. Josiah Bell (Welcome to Diverse City, 2004)
Sort of a hip-hop worship song. I don’t know if that really works, but it’s CCM, so most of the audience (including me at the time) didn’t really know the difference or care. Songs about feeling revived, renewed, getting a second chance at life always seem to strike a chord with me. I’ve probably prayed that prayer a million times, saying “This time around, God, I really mean I’ll be devoted to You”, but I feel like this was the year that I was more serious about meaning it than any other time in my life.
13) “Words that You Say”, Something Like Silas (Divine Invitation, 2004)
A song that was too subtle to stand out to me when I first fell in love with the grandeur of Something Like Silas’s more bombastic, rockier songs eventually became one of my favorites, a prayer of quiet devotion that gradually built to a lovely climax in its own careful way. “Teach me to wholly offer more than words that I can sing, so I become the song I bring.” That line stood out to me, because it was about more than singing songs that said pretty things about God. it was about wanting to live out that devotion and obedience to God with more effort than what we put into just singing about it. As someone who was rapidly becoming disillusioned with most of the “worship music” that was trending in CCM at the time, I found solace in the songs that emphasized the action of worship, not just the emotional state.
14) “Say Yes! To Michigan!”, Sufjan Stevens (Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State, 2003)
I hadn’t actually set foot in the state of Michigan since 2001, and I don’t know if or when I ever will again, so this song of devotion to the state Sufjan grew up in might seem oddly out of place. Mostly, I just thought it was beautiful, the graceful flutes and piano gliding along like someone riding a bicycle along the shores of a clear lake. But I also appreciated its clear love for a place that the singer had identified with from his youth. If I’d had as much musical talent in my entire body as Sufjan had in his big toe, I’d have been writing these kinds of songs about the state of Hawaii. Upon landing in Honolulu in mid-January, and gazing out upon those gorgeous green hills as we left the airport, I remember distinctly thinking, “This place is a second home to me now.”
15) “Rain Song”, Day of Fire (Day of Fire, 2004)
Los Angeles practically got flooded during the El Ninño storms of 2005. The funny thing about rain is that we often hate it, but we need it. It’s used as a metaphor for trials just as much as it is for redemption and healing. So while I may have felt stuck indoors for much of January, there was no denying once the spring rolled around that the hiking trails were mere beautiful than ever. Places I had been before seemed to come alive in new ways. I wanted to experience that sort of newness on the inside. My belief was that this was exactly the kind of thing that God specialized in.
16) “Ballad in Plain Red”, Derek Webb (I See Things Upside Down, 2004)
I must have been in an off-kilter mood when I decided to end side one with this weird, sarcastic, prophetic little song. I still find it greatly amusing – probably more than anything else on Derek’s not-easily-digested second album. This was like some sort of stiff, stilted blues jam, with Derek playing the role of a music industry gatekeeper, making sure the songs are safe for consumption by the lowest common denominator, not too challenging, tickling the ears of fellow Christians in all the right ways without really saying anything important. Basically, he’s the Devil in disguise, working insidiously to sabotage Christians with listenign ears, lulling them into a false state of security. It’s brilliant stuff. But definitely a bit of an acquired taste.
The weekend after we got back from Hawaii, our Sedaqah Group and some other friends went on a ski trip to Big Bear. We had a greed to go because it was the closest thing we’d get to a retreat with that group, but in retrospect, we really shouldn’t have put two trips back-to-back; it wore us out and made us cranky. I was a bit inflexible with people’s open schedules, and not driving my own car up (I was worried about the brakes, so Lori borrowed her dad’s truck and drove us up) that left me at the mercy of others who needed transportation to or from ski lifts, fishing holes, etc., and the very slow process of putting chains on our cars. That frayed a few relationships; I had some apologies to give out later. However, the trip was still worth it, if only for Christine’s reaction when we woke up the first morning there and she looked out the window and saw nothing but trees covered in a thick blanket of snow, and for some of the beautiful pictures of the frozen lake that I was able to take. We wanted to take one by a diner on the north side of the lake, which was likely closed for the winter, called “North Shore Cafe” or something like that, and then PhotoShop pictures of ourselves in bathing suits that were taken in Hawaii into that picture (North Shore, get it?), but we didn’t really have time to stop and do that.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Straight Street”, The Fiery Furnaces (Blueberry Boat, 2004)
My introduction to the bizarre and fundamentally attention-deficit world of The Fiery Furnaces came in late 2004, but it wasn’t until a very long walk along the streets of Honolulu that I really started to “get” their genre-jumping hijinx. Christine and her bridesmaids needed some time for dress shopping at Ala Moana, and I was their transportation, but I needed to make myself scarce for several hours after dropping them off at the mall, so I just starting walking north toward the hills. A street that was anything but straight took me all the way up to a familiar spot that Christine had taken me before: Tantalus Lookout. The girls were shocked later that day to learn that I had walked so far. All told, it was about a nine-mile round trip.
2) “Die Buying”, Blindside (About a Burning Fire, 2004)
This song mostly stood out to me due to how the opening riff momentarily fooled me into thinking it was Switchfoot’s “Meant to Live”. beyond that, it’s your usual anti-consumerism tirade. Fun, though. I’ve never been the kind of guy who needs to have the latest gadget just for self-gratification or to look cool or whatever. I had just gotten my first digital camera that year and I’m pretty sure I was well behind the curve on that one.
3) “Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet”, Relient K (Mmhmm, 2004)
Part of the dilemma when you move very far away from your childhood home is that it’s impossible to squeeze everyone in when you come back to visit. Our trip in January was only our second time back to Hawaii since Christine had moved to California, and we were still getting the hang of figuring out how to sync up schedules so that she could see all of her old friends. People seem to have a different sense of time there, so it’s easy to say “Oh hey, you’re in town, we’ll catch up whenevers”, and then the time slips by and they don’t realize you’re entirely booked during the last few days between when they finally got back to you and when you have to get back on the plane. One friend in particular was being particularly flaky and difficult to get a hold of, and I could tell Christine was frustrated with being blown off by this person, so I put on a little Relient K in the rental car as catharsis. This song was all about times when you’re frustrated with someone and trying to acknowledge that without crossing the line: “No, I don’t hate you! Don’t wanna fight you! You know I’ll always love you, but right now I just don’t like you.” Fun to scream along with if you’re in the right mood.
4) “Devil’s Broom”, Joseph Arthur (Our Shadows Will Remain, 2004)
A classic, railing against the heavens, “What did I do to deserve this?” sort of song. It wasn’t really until later in the year that I would struggle with that kind of anger myself – at this point I was still quite blissfully happy and optimistic about the future. But I still thought the song was pretty wicked. Arthur’s voice on this one could peel paint.
5) “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own”, U2 (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004)
A very personal song from Bono to his dying father. One gets the idea that their relationship was strained by a bit of stubbornness on both sides – two guys trying to tough it out and pretend they don’t need anyone else. This is like an attempt to break through that facade and say “I’m here for you in your moment of weakness”. I’m pretty inconsistent when it comes to this sort of thing – I tend to see myself as a pretty transparent guy who will readily admit to failings and struggles, but then sometimes I get conscious that I’m over-sharing or burdening people, and I’ll go the “suffering silently” route for a while until someone notices me starting to crack. That must be baffling to Christine at times – she’ll tell me pretty much anything that’s bugging her on a given day.
6) “I Won’t Give Up”, Everyday Sunday (Anthems for the Imperfect, 2004)
I seem to be drawn to songs about the cycle of committing your life to God, messing up, and then re-committing all over again. There’s something about the honesty of it that speaks to me more than the songs that promise to be good from this day forward, I guess – it’s more realistic regarding the actual life of a Christian. This song in particular seemed to be about having one of those life-changing mountaintop experiences where you think “everything will be different now!”, but then you go back to normal life and you’re pretty much the same old self. I guess I’ve done that enough to learn that the change being made is important, but it’s also incremental and you’ll never fix everything wrong with you at once. On a more sueprficial note, this song has a mean little guitar breakdown at the end.
7) “Great Big Mystery”, Bethany Dillon (Bethany Dillon, 2004)
Just about the closest thing to a “big fun rocker” that Bethany Dillon ever did. She trended more toward quiet folk music after her frist record and I never quite found that as exciting. Kind of ironic, because I celebrated her for being more “mature” than the other teenage singers on the market when she first debuted, and then I lost interest as she matured into fully adult contemporary territory. Ah well, it was a fun fandom while it lasted.
8) “Hard Bargain”, Ron Sexsmith (Retriever, 2004)
have you ever experienced the kind of love that just won’t let you be too hard on yourself? Sometimes it’s hard to understand exactly why someone loves you in the first place, but they do, and the fact that they see good qualities in you that you take for granted can really bring you back up when you’re having a pity party. I’d struggled with depression and a very negative self-image a few points in my life before meeting Christine. Even though our dating relationship had been stressful at times and we didn’t always agree on everything, she always seemed to bring me back up from the doldrums in a way that let me know she was a keeper.
9) “Naked as We Came”, Iron & Wine (Our Endless Numbered Days, 2004)
Christine and I picked a rather odd movie when we were out for Valentine’s Day that year – In Good Company. It was much more about the mentor/mentee relationship between a young boss and his older subordinate than it was about a romantic relationship. But I really enjoyed it, and I will admit that being enamored with the indie folk soundtrack had something to do with that. I had just discovered Iron & Wine the previous year, so I was tickled to see a few I&W songs getting some much-deserved mainstream exposure.
10) “Deliver Us”, Andrew Peterson feat. Derek Webb (Behold the Lamb of God, 2004)
This quiet, graceful song was too striking to pass up despite the fact that it came from a Christmas album and it was now the beginning of the following year. It’s not a holiday song in the strict sense, anyway, focusing instead on the thousands of years that Israel spent in captivity before the first “Christmas” ever happened. Derek Webb plays the role of Israel crying out for its Emmanuel, and Andrew Peterson only sings a few short lines at the end, replying from God’s perspective: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather you beneath my gentle wings.” It’s describing an event that took a good chunk of human history to play out, yet it’s so personal and intimate that it could just as easily describe the cries of a single soul stuck in oppression or in the consequences of its own sinful folly. It was too good of a song to confine to December.
11) “Wings of the Morning”, Caedmon’s Call (Share the Well, 2004)
This was one of the most ingenious songs on Share the Well, which had a large part in fueling my obsession with that album. The shifts back and forth between minor key (more of an Eastern scale) and major key (more of a Western one) were part of its brilliance, making it fun to figure out how to play. And Danielle sang like she was born to lead the band – it seemed cruel that the band had waited until now to really highlight her strengths as a lead vocalist more than just a backup vocal who only occasionally got a song to herself. The song was also the perfect response to “Deliver Us”, rising up from the cries of the oppressed poor of a different country (India rather than Israel), but offering a response to that prayer in a way that reminds us this cycle of man oppressing his fellow man and God seeking to liberate us from that oppression still continues in the present day.
12) “Dream of Two Cities”, Supertones (Revenge of the O.C. Supertones, 2004)
My interest in the Supertones definitely waned in their final years – not because their ska style had become passé (really, I never cared whether something was in style to begin with as long as the music intrigued me), but because I was starting to realize how simplistic and bone-headed their lyrics could sometimes be. Thankfully, despite a few lackluster albums toward the end, they finished strong with the closing track on their last disc, a seven-minute long opus with a relaxed reggae rhythm that described an apocalyptic dream of a war between Jersualem and Babylon, finally kicking in with the rock guitar and the blaring horns at the very end. It was the perfect end to my little trilogy of “liberation songs”.
13) “He Woke Me Up Again”, Sufjan Stevens (Seven Swans, 2004)
I had gotten so obsessed with Michigan for a while there that I almost forgot to go back to Seven Swans for a while there. I couldn’t forget about this cute little banjo-driven song about a well-meaning but overzealous father waking his son up to rise and shine and give God the glory, glory. The chorus of “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah”, popped into my head one day when I was thinking about our trip to Hawaii and the places I wanted to visit, and I started singing “Hale, Hale, Haleiwa”, and suddenly a parody song about an obnoxious haole surfer irritating the North Shore locals was born, which I affectionately titled, “Dude, the Surf’s Up Again”.
14) “Heaven”, Olivia the Band (Olivia the Band, 2005)
Since I’d been given an advance release, I was fortunate enough to be one of the few mainlanders who knew about Olivia before their big CD release party, which just so happened to coincide with our trip to Oahu. They played a lively show in the Haleiwa Community Center, and seemingly every churchgoing teenager on the island came out for the show. Also, seemingly every Christian hardcore punk band that existed in the state of Hawaii opened for them. it wasn’t really our style, and I spent most of the evening trying to keep my flip-flop-clad feet from getting moshed on and ducking outside to relieve my ringing ears from time to time. The worshipful “Heaven”, one of the few ballads on Olivia’s album (and a real missed opportunity for Christian radio that year), was a brief moment of reprieve from the over-the-top loudness. Not that Olivia’s portion of the loudness wasn’t fun or anything.
15) “Room”, Rachael Lampa (Rachael Lampa, 2004)
I loved the inherent slow-jamminess of the last track from Rachael’s debut album – it was intimate and yet robust, just skillfully composed enough to escape the “cutesy inspirational ballad” stuff that had closed her earlier records. The chorus took this interesting little side trip into R&B/funk territory, and then there was that little hidden acapella bit at the end after the song officially wound down, which I thought was a nice touch on an album that explored the subtleties of Rachael’s voice more than just emphasizing how “big” it could be. She had come a long way from sounding like her teenybopper contemporaries.
16) “OK”, MuteMath (Reset EP, 2004)
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this was the most overtly religious song that MuteMath ever recorded. That’s not a bad thing in this case, since it’s awash in pure comfort and ambiance, doing its best to aurally recreate the feeling of grace and total forgiveness. It’s a very simplistic mantra, and it unfolds with the slowness of a Sigur Rós song, but there was something about it that transcended its origins. It probably spoke to me because I have a hard time forgiving myself for past mistakes, so sometimes I just need that reminder. It’s OK. God doesn’t hold grudges. Once I realize I’ve done something wrong, it’s time to just let it go and move on.