A rainy winter brought us an incredibly green and flowery spring. Having finally been nudged into the age of digital photography, my newfound obsession was to document every scenic angle of every hike and road trip that Christine and I went on. This brought a lot of excitement and newness back to some places that I had been before and had previously considered old and familiar. I think I thrive most in life when it feels like there are tons of new discoveries waiting for me just around the corner, even if they’re things I previously missed in places I thought I had already explored.
In with the New:
He Is Legend
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
This is a picture of Vasquez Rocks County Park, in the mountains near the Antelope Valley area along Highway 14, on a particularly cloudy day in March 2005 when I had the whole day to myself (Christine was working) and I was bummed that it was raining, so I decided to drive until I found somewhere that it wasn’t raining, and I turned off the highway on a whim and ended up here. It’s a fascinating place where rocks were violently thrust up out of the ground at nearly parallel angles due to earthquake activity long ago. You may have glimpsed these rocks in an episode of the original Star Trek or two. The cloudy weather that day gave the scenery eerily beautiful shades of blue and purple.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Paperthin Hymn”, Anberlin (Never Take Friendship Personal, 2005)
I went from thinking at first that this song was a thinly veiled copy of Anberlin’s own “Change the World” to discovering that it was much stronger and more sinister. It described commitments being broken, ftriendships dissolving, a man tossing and turning on one sleepless night after the next, either because he had been betrayed or because he had betrayed everyone he knew. I feel like a bit of both happened to me that year, but I didn’t know it at the time I chose to open this mix with it. One line from the song should probably have become my mantra that year: “When life is in discord, praise ye the Lord.”
2) “Somebody Told Me”, The Killers (Hot Fuss, 2004)
Just an incessantly catchy song that has a bit of fun taunting a gender-bending ex-lover’s new boyfriend on the dance floor. There is honestly and truly no reason to dig any deeper into it than that, and certainly no application to my personal life beyond the fact that I could not get it out of my head. (Thanks, Tim.)
3) “Here Comes the Summer”, The Fiery Furnaces (EP, 2005)
I had first heard this one on an unusually savvy local radio station on my birthday, when Christine and I were browsing a few shops down on Waikiki Beach. Being in Hawaii to plan our wedding was like a prelude to what we hoped would be the best summer of our lives that far. There was so much to look forward to, but so much preparation to get through between now and that much-anticipated day in August. In between stood several months of some of California’s rainiest weather. This quirky song (probably my favorite by the Furnaces) seemed to sympathize, cycling through the seasons and pining for the month of June to bring an end to the bitter cold.
4) “Puppets”, Joseph Arthur (Our Shadows Will Remain, 2004)
On one of his peppiest, most danceable songs, Arthur once again turns out the kind of lyric that makes you worry about him just a little. Here he seeks out isolation and describes some rather worrisome behaviors that rear their ugly heads when no one’s watching. The darker parts of it didn’t really describe me, but I could definitely relate to the introvert’s cry, “I wanna try to get away from everybody else.” Over the years, I’ve gone from someone who needs people around all the time to someone who’s reasonably happy spending time by himself. It seemed like I had found a healthy balance somewhere between total hermit and total party animal, but I knew getting married would probably require me to re-negotiate that balance. Sometimes no matter how great the people in your life are, you need your time alone, and sometimes, you have to deny those introverted urges in order to maintain the relationships you’ve built.
5) “Kill the Grey”, Olivia the Band feat. Josh Kemble (Olivia the Band, 2005)
This was one of the more cutting songs on a record mostly filled with surf and sun, sort of a man’s inner dialogue as he alternately tries to justify the grey areas in his life, and convict himself of the same. At least that’s how I interpreted it, since they brought in the lead singer of Dogwood to trade off vocals with Reed. I sort of had my own faults under a bigger magnifying glass than usual that year. About to take the step of getting married, I figured now was the time to do some soul-searching and make some changes. “Kill the grey”, so to speak, and be sure of the rights and wrongs, the man I wanted to be and the things I didn’t want to drag my new wife into.
6) “Memories”, Eisley (Room Noises, 2005)
This fanciful little bit of role playing was the first thing to come out of the speakers every time I put that Eisley album on… which was quite a lot. Christine must have been sick of it by the end of that year. I couldn’t help but get immersed in their world of imagination, two sisters putting on their role-playing hats to describe a wife and her late husband trying to communicate across the void of mortality to say how much they still loved and longed for each other. The garden he left behind for her to tend was her fondest memory of him, new life and new colors springing up from the soil.
7) “Bittersweet”, Luna Halo (Wasting Away EP, 2004)
Luna Halo goes borderline obsessive with this one (a good template for most of the band’s later songs), with Nathan Barlowe determined to chew as much scenery as he can with his wailing vocals in the chorus. I could never write love songs like these; I’m just not that tenacious. Someone blows me off or breaks my heart enough times; I figure I can take a hint, and I don’t keep hounding her. Still, the inherent swagger and the bad-ass guitar breakdown here made it quite the show-stopper.
8) “A Man and a Woman”, U2 (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004)
I’m such a terrible person. Sometimes my twisted sense of humor rears its ugly head and I end up taking a sweet little love song like this and turning it into a parody that makes fun of a celebrity (in this case, Michael Jackson, who at the time was alive and in the hot seat – the title was “A Man or a Woman”, and you can probably guess where it goes from there). Thankfully I was still able to take this one seriously once all of the giggle fits settled. It’s an unusual number for U2 due to its reliance on acoustic guitar and a strong bass line (one of Adam Clayton’s best), and I was quite baffled to discover that they had never played it live until quite recently.
9) “Woman King”, Iron & Wine (Woman King EP, 2005)
It sure was a delight to hear Sam Beam break out of his usual whispered folk-ballad mode, throwing a ton of clickety-clacking percussion at this killer title track from his new EP. Given the cryptic lyrics, I couldn’t quite tell if this song was celebrating a woman in a position of leadership, or lamenting how much tiring work she had to take on because of men who wouldn’t step up. For the most part, I grew up with an idealistic view of gender roles that favored complete equality where possible. The tricky part of that was learning the difference between both genders having the freedom to do everything, and one having to pick up the other’s responsibilities because the other one was slacking off. My wife was going to expect some things from me that tended to fit the more traditional male role. So even though I believed she could be strong and take good care of herself, since I’d watched her grow so much in this area while we were dating, that didn’t absolve me of my responsibility to take good care of her. And I’ve never really been great at taking care of other people, so I had (and still have) a lot to learn.
10) “You Never Know”, Rachael Lampa (Rachael Lampa, 2004)
“One day your faith’s strong, the next it can’t be found.” That’s one of those statements that, on an intellectual level, I would have said makes perfect sense. But on an emotional level, I didn’t want it to be true. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who holds firm to his beliefs, and yet I can’t quite stop myself from being honest abouts doubts or about the things that just plain don’t make sense. A ton of ’em were in store for me that year. I didn’t know it yet, it was going to be a maelstrom of little events and emergencies and worries and frustrations that wouldn’t alter my core beliefs, but that would definitely changed the way I approached and practiced them. it all had to do with expectations. I’m a bit of a control freak. When I see the things that I have planned rapidly careening out of control, I tend to panic, and it’s hard to keep a clear head and remember that God has a plan for it. I think the underlying issue is that I worry about not being smart or faithful or whatever enough to see where that plan is going and learn to correct course early on. I have a hard time just letting go and letting it all happen, because I think there must be something God wants me to do, that if I were just a bit wiser, maybe I’d actually hear Him telling me to do it. Sometimes this makes prayer difficult, because I go into it even wondering if my intentions are right in the first place. If God always knows what he’s doing, why do I keep trying to intervene?
11) “God Will Lift Up Your Head”, Jars of Clay (Redemption Songs, 2005)
Despite the whole debacle over their ill-advised version of “It Is Well with My Soul”, the new “hymns album” by Jars of Clay still ended up in my regular rotation, partially because that always happened with everything Jars did, and partially because there was a strong theme of God being constant and sovereign that was woven throughout even the most troubled songs on the album. This was the most upbeat track, taken from an old hymn text that I’m not sure had any surviving musical component, so Jars had to make up a melody from scratch. The joyous call-and-response here was something to sing along to with great confidence, acknowledging the storms and the stuff that didn’t go according to plan, and reminding us that God will always work it all out for the good of those who love Him. There is no situation that thwarts His plan. it was a truth that I had to cling to a lot that year.
12) “Share the Well”, Caedmon’s Call (Share the Well, 2004)
It’s sort of tragic, how much I complained about the rain that year. There are plenty of places in the world where people would gladly rejoice at the sight of rain, because their access to something as simple as clean water is scarce. I was noticing a sort of shift in the lyrics written by a number of Christian bands who were becoming more mission-conscious – it wasn’t just “Go out and make sure they know who Jesus is”; now it was “Go out and make sure they are loved like Jesus would love them”. For some folks, that meant sharing valuable resources that seemed so much like freebies to us that we didn’t even think about them. Sometimes a cup of water could express Christ’s love better than a sermon or a prayer. And I was grateful to be hearing from bands like Jars and Caedmon’s about some of the clever initiatives they’d gotten involved with that aimed to make a tangible difference in how people in the third world countries they had visited lived their daily lives.
13) “This Week the Trend”, Relient K (Mmhmm, 2004)
On the surface, it’s just a poppy punk song about being a lazy-ass. On a deeper level, it’s about knowing you need to change, praying for that change, and then being completely oblivious when God offers an answer to that prayer. I know what that’s like – to fail to take responsibility for breaking the pattern and then to misplace blame when life seems to get trapped in a cycle of boredom and bad choices. There’s a moment here where Matt Theissen remarks that he wants to get mugged at knifepoint, or have some sort of emergency just to snap him out of the cycle. I know I’ve been guilty at times of thinking, “I’ll change when desperate times require me to.” Like I’m actually gonna be able to respond to the crisis in a meaningful way if all I do in the meantime is just feed the cycle of laziness.
14) “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, Green Day (American Idiot, 2004)
I had never really gotten into Green Day back when my high school friends were all excited about Dookie, but Tim convinced me to give American Idiot a shot, and despite the language and in-your-face politics, I actually found it to be an amazingly solid album. This track was the emotional pinnacle for me (and I’d suspect for a lot of people, given what a huge crossover hit it was), and while I hadn’t suffered a tragic loss like the protagonist of the song had, I knew what it was like to just sort of curl up into a ball as a way of avoiding dealing with a crisis, as if to tell people they could just wake me up when it was all over. It’s one of those coping mechanisms that seems to make sense at first, but the longer I rely on it, the more my circumstances insist on staying the same. Eventually pain and loss have to be faced, or else you never grow.
15) “The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders”, Sufjan Stevens (Come On! Feel the Illinoise!, 2005)
After falling in love with the sprawling beauty of Michigan, I was excited to hear how Sufjan would continue the “50 States” series (which I didn’t realize at the time was just a gag – there would be no further installments after the second one). Illinois wasn’t even due out until July, but it leaked in April and I just couldn’t resist getting my hands on it early. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was a landmark album – the kind that comes along only once in several years, that I would continue to hold up as an all-time favorite for years to come and that would challenge and change the way I looked at music in general. There was no better example of that than this monolithic track positioned as the album’s final climax (track 20!), which marched to one of the most addictive, uncommon time rhythms that Sufjan had ever come up with. Without even really knowing who or what it was about (I assumed Abraham Lincoln, though it turns out it’s literally about Robert Wardlow, the tallest human in recorded history, but then again it’s so rife with references to Chicago’s history that who really knows?), it became one of my favorite songs of all time. These days, I can’t hear it – or really any track from Illinois – without thinking of the many road trips Christine and I took to interesting and often out-of-the-way places in our own home states of California and Hawaii (states which I’m sad Sufjan never got around to recording albums about).
16) “Firefly”, Over the Rhine (Drunkard’s Prayer, 2005)
“My memory cannot faaaaaail me now.” This smoky little torch song was my personal highlight of Drunkard’s Prayer, an intentionally hushed record that pushed the boundaries of just how quiet a band could be while still having an emotional impact on me. It seemed like the perfect thing to close Disc One with, leading right out of the gentle piano crescendo at the end of the Sufjan song, as if the two were made to fit together. While cryptic, the place “Firefly” took in a larger cycle of songs about a marriage that nearly came undone was like a nugget of wisdom from Karin and Linford, declaring that a couple should always remember the challenges they’ve fought through and the odds that weren’t too great for them to beat. There’s new life far beyond the moment where you think it’s time to throw in the towel. In that dark night, there’s still a light guiding you back home.
This is a picture of a whole lot of wild poppies. It was taken at the California Poppy Preserve near Lancaster. I actually took an unbelievably cute picture of Christine sitting amongst the flowers that day, that served as my Windows desktop for quite some time, but I decided it would be better to just have the flowers by themselves as the CD cover.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Something”, Everyday Sunday (Anthems for the Imperfect, 2004)
I think it would be funny, if you were someone who didn’t really know me, to pop in this disc with the pretty flowers on the cover and suddenly get these heavy, chugging guitars and scratchy vocals. Sometimes when I have a lot of random songs that I enjoy and want to put on a mix, but some of them don’t really mesh with the mood of the rest of it, the oddball stuff ends up all together in a row, to minimize the mood whiplash elsewhere. That’s essentially what happened at the beginning of this disc, which is high energy for no other reason than to be fun.
2) “Dinner with a Gypsy”, He Is Legend (I Am Hollywood, 2004)
He Is Legend was pretty far off the beaten path, as far as my musical tastes were concerned. I had some online friends who were into some of the heavier, Tooth & Nail-type bands, and I would check some of them out from time to time as a way of saying thanks when they took my recommendations. Despite its initial abrasiveness and a combination of singing and screaming styles that I wasn’t convinced actually worked together, I Am Hollywood ended up to be an insidious, addictive little album (which the band has failed spectacularly to match in quality ever since). This song was my favorite because, in addition to its heavy center, the intro and outro demonstrated some serious chops on the part of their bassist and lead guitarist, almost deviating into funk rock territory.
3) “Ill-M-I”, Toby Mac (Welcome to Diverse City, 2004)
Toby certainly picked some odd songs to cover during his tenure with dc Talk and in his solo career, but few were as left-field as this nonsensical indie rap song originally by Soul-Junk. Toby added a bit of melodic heft to it, but kept most of the tongue-twisting lyrics unchanged, and for some reason I found that its alliterative silliness always put a smile on my face. What’s it doing here between post-hardcore and avant-garde indie? Well, you find a better place to put it without it completely interrupting the flow of a mix CD.
4) “My Dog Was Lost But Now He’s Found”, The Fiery Furnaces (Blueberry Boat, 2004)
The Fiery Furnaces have their share of shaggy dog stories, but this one takes the idea quite literally. It falls somewhere between fuzzy funk rock and cabaret, as Eleanor Friedberger tells one of her patented rambling tales, about a dog that ran off because his owner was mean to him. It’s really just an excuse for a string of contrived rhymes and silly puns, ending with her finding the dog at a church service, where (sorry to spoil the joke, if it wasn’t already obvious) the dog apparently finds Jesus. Ooooooooo… kay.
5) “Solitary Shell”, Dream Theater (Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, 2002)
I was listening to Dream theater’s “Six Degrees” suite, which describes the lives of different individuals with various and sundry mental disorders, on my way home from work one late Monday night, and the reason I was coming home so late was probably because I had overslept that day, and now I had all these errands to run and not enough time to do them all, and I was hungry and just feeling annoyed in general. Then this song came on, about an extreme introvert who was, by all accounts, normal on the outside, but who felt like he was going crazy on the inside. “A Monday morning lunatic, disturbed from time to time, lost within himself inside his solitary shell.” And I had to sort of chuckle at myself. I felt like I was slowly going crazy with all of the mundane things that life had piled on to my to-do list, but it could be worse. Dream Theater gets bonus points here (or loses points, depending on your perspective) due to how closely the melody and time signature pay homage to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill”. Given the similar title, I’m pretty sure they’re not trying to hide the similarity.
6) “Stars & Stripes”, Olivia the Band (Olivia the Band, 2005)
A complex Dream Theater guitar solo segueing into a simplistic pop/punk riff is one of those things that should probably be quite jarring, but I liked the effect. This song was like casting off the shackles of the isolation and paranoia of “Solitary Shell”, a friendly reminder that God loves you, that you’re never truly alone.
7) “(The Symphony of) Blasé”, Anberlin (Never Take Friendship Personal, 2005)
At the time, doing anything ballad-like was highly unusual for Anberlin. But the one time they did it on their sophomore album, they did it exceedingly well, to the point where the beauty of the song eclipsed the hurt and betrayal expressed within the first few times I listened to it. For all of the grace of its intertwining guitar and vocal melodies, I’m still not sure how I managed to miss the gravity of a line like “I don’t want to be by your side if something isn’t right” or “Words have no meaning when I see where you’ve been”. I hoped to never experience (or be the cause of) that sort of betrayal, where the hurt went beyond anything apologies could repair.
8) “Blind”, Lifehouse (Lifehouse, 2005)
I was SORELY disappointed by the new Lifehouse album that year. It deviated so far into adult contemporary territory that I found it to be almost sleep-inducing. Thankfully this song, despite its relaxed pace, still had a bit of bite to it. Whatever Jason Wade had been through, it obviously wasn’t easy, considering how much I can feel his pain as he sings, “I loved you more than you’ll ever know, and part of me died when I let you go.” They say that love is blind, and I guess this is the dark side – not being able to see how profoundly someone might be capable of hurting you until you’re in far too deep. I had been through that in my first serious relationship, which is why I had been so much more cautious the second time around.
9) “I Am”, Joseph Arthur (Our Shadows Will Remain, 2004)
Most of Arthur’s Shadows was a depressed wasteland that happened to have some really cool beats to make it sound more appealing, but this song was an altogether different beast. Most of Arthur’s songs fell somewhere in between disturbed psychology and earnest faith, and in its own weird way, this song seemed to fall on the faith side of the equation. With “I Am” being a name for God in the Bible, one could possibly take this song’s refrain, “Repeat the words I Am”, as sort of a mantra, a reminder of who to turn to when life became dark and surreal. “To find out what you really are, you must wake up from this long night.”
10) “I Need Thee Every Hour”, Jars of Clay (Redemption Songs, 2005)
Jars of Clay’s lush acoustic take on this hymn helped me to hear it anew, when previously it hadn’t really resonated with me. I put it here as sort of a buffer zone between the edgier, more desperate songs that opened the disc and the calmer songs that closed it – an expression of need for God in times of want and in times of plenty. Here the long night ends, the sun slowly rises, and that serene cover image starts to make a lot more sense.
11) “Just Like We Do”, Eisley (Room Noises, 2005)
Sherri and Stacy’s sweet, sisterly harmonies really slayed me on this one. Stripping their fantasy sound to little more than voices and an acoustic guitar worked extremely well, and it played like an abstract love song, a reminder that even the folks we don’t like or understand are just as capable of love as we are. I can remember playing this one on my guitar for Christine one Saturday afternoon, sitting in a park in Arcadia.
12) “The Roses”, Caedmon’s Call (Share the Well, 2004)
2005 was the year that I met pastor Sharon. She had come to our church as an intern, and through her leadership a new college ministry was born – The Passage. Though I had been out of college for a few years, I felt called to help college students with the transition into “real life” however I could, so for a while I tagged along to The Passage’s events, just to be one of the young adults on “the other side” who could help to be an encouragement somehow. I think the ministry probably gave more to me than I ever gave to it, if I’m honest, but it was refreshing to go on retreats again and hang out with folks who were unencumbered by full-time jobs and who could set aside their mountains of homework for a weekend (or at least part of it) to build fellowship up in the mountains. The first retreat that kicked it all off was at Thousand Pines, near Lake Arrowhead, a camp which I’ve become rather fond of in the years since. I can still remember the theme – “Dangerous Beginnings” – and I still have the shirt from that retreat which says “The Passage: Episode I” and imitates the opening crawl from the Star Wars movies. Coming down from the mountains on Sunday after the retreat had ended, breaking out of the soupy fog that lingered in the upper altitudes, and feeling changed and refreshed by the experience (albeit tired because I never get much sleep on retreats), I was listening to this Caedmon’s Call track, which describe’s a man’s struggle to remember what he learned on a missions trip as he adjusts back to the mundane normality of life back in the first world. I remembered how easy it was for retreats to be “mountaintop experiences” that are all too easy to forget about when you come back down. I wanted to be really changed by God. So I made it a point to pray for that on future retreats, to remember the exhortations of wise people like Pastor Sharon, and not just the fun and games.
13) “A Voice Calling Out”, Bethany Dillon (Bethany Dillon, 2004)
I always got a Braveheart sort of feel from this song, due to the bagpipes and the Celtic feel of it. (Yes, I know that Celtic music is an Irish thing and bagpipes are Scottish, but work with me here.) Meeting a lot of college students who were either rekindling their passion for Christ discovering it for the first time gave this song significance for me : “I see a generation rising up/No longer accepting lies/As a band of worshipers run to the battlefield/They’re finding their lives.”
14) “Progress”, MuteMath (Reset EP, 2004)
All of the pontificating in this song about finding out “What you’re here for, what you breathe for”, etc., led a few online friends to remark that this was the best Switchfoot song that Switchfoot had never written. Ironically Jon Foreman lent his assistance to a different track on MuteMath’s EP. But this was a nice way to close it out, and a good template for the blend of catchy rhyhtms and ambient experimentation that they’d continue to perfect on their albums.
15) “Stars (From the Mount Wilson Observatory)”, David Crowder Band (Sunsets and Sushi EP, 2005)
Why I didn’t save this one for the May-June mix, which actually had Mount Wilson as the cover image, is beyond me. It was an excellent re-imagining of a simple but beautiful song, closing out one of the few remix compilations that I could actually stand to listen to. Here, glistening electronic samples and various found sounds painted a picture of a late night spent deep in the mountains and high above the city, pondering the promising light that God gave to man.
16) “Borrowed Heaven”, The Corrs feat. Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Borrowed Heaven, 2004)
Quite an unlikely collaboration here, bringing together Irish and African influences in the slow, beautiful groove of an electronic pop ballad. This seemed like a fitting note to close on. I’ve made so much of my life a quest to find beautiful places and have meaningful, life-changing experiences there. Retreats and hikes and romantic weekends with my soon-to-be wife were prime examples of that. But these things are all borrowed, temporary. Eventually all of it will pass away, so while they are gifts, they can’t be the sole purpose to life. No single one of these moments makes life “happy ever after”, but each is a glimpse into a heaven that we can only ever see very briefly here on Earth. I want all of these places and experiences to be reminders of the Creator, because it’s easy to get so caught up in celebrating the creation itself that I forget who is behind it all, who my life belongs to.