If the first few months of life as a newlywed weren’t easy for me, it wasn’t because of the marriage itself. It was largely because I was making things hard on myself and the people around me. I was harboring a lot of anger, guilt, and frustration from stuff that happened earlier that year that should have been left in the past, along with ongoing worries about money, and those things were transforming me into a bit of a jaded person. The music contained here helped me to fight that off in some ways, and in a few places, it brings back memories of the sweeter, more romantic moods that should have been the default mode for a couple of newlyweds, but that were at least able to shine through the pinholes into the otherwise dark places in my mind.
In with the New:
Ken Oak Band
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
Not long after returning from the honeymoon, my old Neon went kaput, so I had to deal with the stress of buying another car when I was absolutely sure I couldn’t afford one. (Had I been less paranoid, I would have admitted sooner that it was a workable option, rather than throwing a ton of money into my old car.) Christine changed jobs, and was working two for a short while, so in September, due to that and rising gas prices, we didn’t go much of anywhere interesting. We finally managed to get out one weekend in October and visit Moro Canyon in Newport Beach – fairly dry in the fall, but still a beautiful section of unspoiled hillside that has somehow managed to be unimpeded by the surrounding housing developments.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Do Not Move”, David Crowder Band (A Collision, 2005)
This song is almost a mantra, inviting a pause for reflection and restoration despite the hectic nature of its IDM-meets-modern rock arrangement. “Breathe in deeper now. Breathe in deeper now.” Breathing is something that is easily taken for granted, at least until you stop to think about it. I never did find out what was causing the weird allergic/psychosomatic symptom that would frequently cause me to feel like I had this huge, uncomfortable swollen lump in my throat for several months that year, but when I could breathe freely, I appreciated it far more.
2) “Motion”, Plumb (Chaotic Resolve, 2006)
Even though Plumb’s new album release got pushed to early 2006 at the last minute, it was freely available on the Internet, so I had plenty of time to absorb it that fall, and it had just the right combination of angst and upbeat material to really hit me where I was at that year. This kitschy little dance tune really shouldn’t have worked for her – it was about a half step away from being a Gwen Stefani reject – but I thought an upbeat song about “Motion” was amusing as a follow-up to a song about stilness and meditation.
3) “Jumpstart Your Electric Heart!”, Kevin Max (The Imposter, 2005)
Continuing the dance vibe is this unusually glammy song by KMax, more in line with his Cotes d’Armor album from a few years later than anything I was used to from him at the time. Sometimes the most amusing “dance party” types of songs are the ones that satirize the scene, as this one does in its sharp takedown of a vapid woman who knows how to use her looks and her moves to get her way, but who seems to be intellectually and spiritually vacant behind all the eye candy.
4) “Lonely Nation”, Switchfoot (Nothing Is Sound, 2005)
I must have played the new Switchfoot album to death in those days – it wasn’t their best-received album, but something about its dejected take on the meaninglessness and futility of life (at least, without God in the equation) really helped to put some things in perspective for me. This song was like an anthem to that nothingness, describing a generation of voices that couldn’t cry out because it wasn’t even equipped to speak its mind properly – “Singing without tongues, screaming without lungs”. it’s the anti-“Meant to Live”, in a lot of ways, and it probably didn’t connect with a lot of people for that reason, but I figure you’ve got to realize where you’ve put your hope in empty and useless things before you can turn around and put it in something meaningful and eternal.
5) “Bowling Ball”, Superchic[k] (Beauty from Pain, 2005)
Superchic[k] wasn’t the most intelligent band in the world when writing about relationships, and they tended to be a bit too didactic in their attempts to encourage young girls not to date just for the sake of dating. But this song amused me with its Captain Obvious observation: “You need that boy like a bowling ball dropped on your head, which means not at all.” The guy in this song was, unsurprisingly, a total douchebag who would treat his girlfriend like crap while openly checking out other women. I had a friend who was dating a guy at the time, who perhaps wasn’t that bad, but who definitely didn’t seem to have the sort of exclusive interest in her that she had in him, and who even expected this to be no big deal because he figured that’s just how men are wired. So I jokingly quoted this song to her as advice. I don’t know if she ever took it, or if she’s still with the guy.
6) “She’s a Rebel”, Green Day (American Idiot, 2004)
Just a little two-minute pop-punk blast of a song about a woman who refuses to follow the crowd, a vigilante who doesn’t take no for an answer. Not necessarily a hero in the greater context of the story (her methods of making sure she’s heard may or may not involve physical violence), but an interesting counterpoint to the girl in “Bowling Ball”, who apparently doesn’t think she’s worth enough to even speak up for herself in an abusive relationship. The ideal is somewhere in between, I guess.
7) “What’s Wrong with This World”, Shaun Groves (White Flag, 2005)
Also having fun with the simplistic chug-a-chug of poppy punk rock was Shaun Groves, which definitely wasn’t his usual style, but it fit this hilarious song about the various scapegoats people blame for the world’s ills. The buck stops with the songwriter in this one; he pokes fun at our tendencies to blame everything from boy bands to Communists, and points the finger back at his own sin: “I’m what’s wrong with this world”. A solid opener for an album that was themed around the Beatitudes, which were the Scriptures we chose to have the pastor speak on at our wedding, being tired of the whole 1 Corinthians 13 cliche and all.
8) “Breakdown”, Mae (The Everglow, 2005)
Have you ever been so excited in anticipation of something, that the waiting and wondering if it’s actually gonna happen just makes you miserable? I think that’s what’s going on in this song. The guy seems to be in a relationship that’s firing on all cylinders, maybe even one that’s moving so quickly he can’t control it. He’s happy, and he’s head over heels for her. But there’s that self-destructive habit of second-guessing that gets in his way, making him wonder if Murphy’s Law will cause the whole thing to blow up in his face. This song is here as my way of looking back to my hysteria before the wedding and just sort of laughing at myself.
9) “Contact”, Falling Up (Dawn Escapes, 2005)
This was one of the few “mellow” songs on a record where the band otherwise couldn’t seem to figure out how to differentiate between all of the noisy rockers they were churning out fast and furious. It stood out because of its beautiful, calm pace and its shimmering, reflective piano melody. Understanding what it was about would take careful study of the rest of the album… and possibly of albums Falling Up hadn’t even written yet, because that’s just how these guys roll. “Erased… everything within you will be erased.” Best I could come up with was that it was about saying goodbye to an old, unwanted identity and starting over with a clean slate.
10) “When in Rome”, Nickel Creek (Why Should the Fire Die?, 2005)
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I’m pretty sure this phrase originated as travel advice, meaning you can’t go to a foreign country and expect others to follow your own cultural conventions. But the phrase can be misinterpreted as an endorsement of conformity within your own culture, too, and I think this unusually dark song for Nickel Creek might have been exploring the consequences of that. You just take for granted what you’re told is “normal”, and you never seek out the reasons why you’re built differently, you never learn and you never quite feel comfortable in your own skin as a result.
11) “Brightly Wound”, Eisley (Room Noises, 2005)
“I shall never grow up/Make believe is much too fun/Can we go far away to the humming meadow?” The chorus of this song summed up why Eisley’s youthful land of make-believe appealed to me so much even at a time in my life when my outlook was rapidly becoming less idealistic and more world-weary. There’s a survival instinct that kicks in, a sort of claustrophobia when I’m in the same place doing the same things for too long. That’s when I start looking at the highways that converge right outside my office window, and I want to disappear, leaving the grey city to go on some long hike or road trip. As a newlywed, I appreciated that it was so much easier to have someone who would jump at the chance to go on one of those spur-of-the-moment, sanity-saving getaways with me.
12) “Leave Like a Ghost (Drive Away)”, The Juliana Theory (Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat, 2005)
A fun indie pop song about the dullness of workaday life in the city and the thrill of hopping in the car and escaping it all. Noticing any patterns here? I was less than impressed with The Juliana Theory’s foray back into independent music after they had briefly been one of my favorite bands during their major label days. (Apparently the general public agreed, because the album went nowhere and the band abruptly split up soon after.) But this song hit the spot even if most of the rest of the album was skippable.
13) “Lookin’ Forward”, Over the Rhine (Drunkard’s Prayer, 2005)
Some would say this up-tempo country song was out of place on an otherwise sparse, meditative album about an ailing marriage fighting its way back to health and the lessons learned from the struggle. I considered it a welcome breather – not because I needed a break from the heavier songs, but because it helped to put them in perspective. “I’m lookin’ forward to lookin’ back on this day.” Sometimes in the middle of a struggle, whether it be a personal falling out with someone you thought deeply loved you, or a more mundane problem such as living paycheck-to-paycheck every week, it can be easy to lose perspective and forget that one day you’ll look back on this situation and remember it as small potatoes, something that had a definite end, and hopefully something you gleaned wisdom from. I sure couldn’t see an end in sight to the strapped-for-cash nature of our lives that made those few months of marriage so stressful for me, but at least I could imagine the possibility of a time when it would be definitively in the past.
14) “When Did You Fall?”, Chris Rice (Amusing, 2005)
Sometimes it’s annoying when a Christian singer/songwriter who is appreciated for his way with words on spiritual topic suddenly “dumbs it down” for a mainstream audience. This straight-up love song from Chris Rice wasn’t one of those cases, though – as much as old songs like “Deep Enough to Dream” were special in their unique wordplay as they described a longing for a world beyond our own, it shouldn’t have been surprising that he was equally capable of playful romantic nostalgia. This song about falling for someone and realizing she’s been in love with you the whole time and is probably thinking “Finally, he gets it!” turned out to be his biggest hit, and ultimately my favorite song of his, and it came out of nowhere on an album that was otherwise a bit of a dud. Sometimes remembering what things were like when you fell in love with someone can be a good exercise when you’re going through a phase of your life that tests the strength of that love.
15) “Song for a Friend”, Jason Mraz (Mr. A-Z, 2005)
An eight-minute album closer might have seemed a bit indulgent at the time for a singer whose shtick mostly consisted of being a more smart-alecky and self-promoting John Mayer. I was starting to see through Mraz’s persona by the time album #2 rolled around, but this song, which could have been hopelessly indulgent, instead came off as genuine, as he paid respects to a friend which I’m assuming had passed on, someone who had been an inspiration to him in his younger days. Nothing terribly profound here – just an encouragement to never take failure at face value and to take pride in being the weird, sassy individual that you are. But it was so beautifully put together, especially in the last few minutes of the song, with its long, slow fade-out kicking into a full-on party of a victory lap, with no warning whatsoever.
16) “Sé Lest”, Sigur Rós (Takk…, 2005)
The two eight-minute songs at the end of this disc are like a long, relaxing sigh… both are just so beautiful that they sort of put me in a trance. Sigur Rós does that sort of thing to their listeners all the time, but strangely enough, their new album made their sound prettier when I was expecting it to make them weirder, so at the time I misjudged it as sort of a step backward. It would later become my favorite of theirs, but this is just the sort of band whose music I can never quite seem to get the hang of. Most of this one is a tranquil little maze of chimes, strings, and Jónsi’s boyish cooing… I don’t know if it means anything or if it needs to. The real surprise is the horn section that comes in at the end, like a marching band had mistakenly stumbled across the band in the middle of the recording and just trampled its way on through, the sound gradually fading to a peaceful, hearts-all-a-flutter string coda. This album helped to re-awaken my inner romantic – I needed this sort of outlet to keep that side of my personality from getting buried underneath all the stress.
A wedding cake is an unusual choice for a cover photo, but I thought this Alice in Wonderland-inspired “Mad Hatter” cake from a wedding we went to in October was genius. The wedding coincided with a day that Christine and I were really bummed out from her losing a job, and I almost didn’t go that night due to how miserable I was feeling, but I’m glad we did. You see weddings differently when you’re married – rather than thinking, “Oh neato, I might try that someday at my own wedding”, instead you look back and go, “Yup, we promised each other this stuff and now we have to stick to it.”
Where in the world is this?
1) “Believe Me Natalie”, The Killers (Hot Fuss, 2004)
This was such a paradoxical song, one that I definitely didn’t understand at the time. It was like a romantic slow dance, even though it had an amazing sort of kinetic motion to it once it really got going – I could see it playing during a climactic scene at the end of a romantic movie, in which the heroine finally got what she wanted and celebrated the beginning of a new chapter in her life. I was hopelessly, foolishly wrong about this, because the song is actually a sad one, a goodbye of sorts to a young woman slowly dying of AIDS, urging her to relish her last chance to do pretty much everything she enjoys about life. I guess the take-away here is that life is short, and even if the crap that happened to you is genuinely unfair and even tragic, there’s no point in wasting what little time you have left being depressed about it. That’s not what I got out of the song at the time, but looking back, I sure got myself all worked up and bummed out over much more trivial stuff back then.
2) “Be Lifted or Hope Rising”, David Crowder Band (A Collision, 2005)
A Collision was a rather confusing album for a lot of the DCB’s fans when it came out. It’s dense, weird, and sometimes jarring in its abrupt changes between song styles, and that’s probably best demonstrated in this song, which goes from an old Gospel recording in its prelude, to brooding rock in its first half, to a delightful bluegrass throwdown that hits you completely out of nowhere at the end. Sort of a hopeful response to a period of longing where you don’t know how long the anticipation is gonna drag out… and that’s sort of how it is when God answers a long-standing prayer sometimes. I remember one of the first conversations I had with Joyce was about this album – she had just joined our Bible study, or rather, we had just joined a group that was an offshoot of her old one. She had really liked Illuminate, but found this album so strange that she had never even finished listening to it. Ironically, that first section of the album that was probably the most agreeable part to a lot of other Crowder fans (the “A Part” anchored by “Here Is Our King” and other songs that would go on to become standards for the group) was actually my least favorite part, with the more interesting stuff for me happening much deeper in the album… but by this point, I had long since accepted that I was not the typical Christian music fan, and it was fun to follow more of an “artsy” worship band like this one down their genre-busting rabbit hole. That being said, I agree that Illuminate is a better album in retrospect – this one was relentlessly creative, but not terribly cohesive. (Side note: Getting the transition from this track into the next one exactly right was a big pain, owing to the old dude who starts talking to introduce “I Saw the Light” right after this song ends on the album.)
3) “Trainwreck”, Mat Kearney (Bullet, 2004)
We had seen Mat Kearney open for MuteMath earlier that year; his style sounded an awful lot like Coldplay with rap breaks, but there was something respectable about how be brought spoken word into an acoustic, coffeehouse sort of setting in his live show. This song, which sadly didn’t make the cut when his debut record got repackaged for the mainstream, was my favorite example of how he could integrate the hip-hop/spoken word approach into a driving rock beat.
4) “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left”, Andrew Bird (The Mysterious Production of Eggs, 2005)
Andrew Bird was another one of Josh’s finds – an eccentric singer/songwriter who played the violin and the xylophone in addition to the acoustic and electric guitar, and who could whistle like a virtuoso. With all of that talent, it surprised me that a lot of his music was so sparse and low-key, but the oddball, nonsensical stories he told with his lyrics were also a big draw. Vocally, he reminded me of Thom Yorke, though the two are quite different artistically. The syncopation in this quirky little song was downright irresistible – there was no hope of making it fit in with most of the “wall of sound” music I preferred at the time, but this song had to be somewhere in the mix regardless.
5) “Prairie Fire that Wanders About”, Sufjan Stevens (Come On! Feel the Illinoise!, 2005)
This weird little song about Peoria was almost an interlude on Illinoise, but as small asides between bigger songs go, this one always hooked me with its odd, twisting melody and its rhythm skipping a beat when it was least expected.
6) “What You Want”, Ken Oak Band (Symposium, 2005)
Tim had loaned this one to me after one of our first visits to the new apartment he was living after moving out of the place he and I had shared for a few years. He had discovered Ken Oak at a live show not long before that – just three guys, one guitar, two cellos, and a few swigs of beer in between songs. A pretty decent recipe for some simple, but moving music. Not surprisingly, I leaned toward the songs with fuller arrangements on the album, including this one, which threw in a banjo for good measure.
7) “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine”, Switchfoot (Nothing Is Sound, 2005)
For me, and I suspect for a lot of listeners, this song was the emotional core of Nothing Is Sound. There was just something about the big, cavernous space of it that made it resound like an old U2 ballad. And in the midst of this album’s exploration of times when things look bleak and we feel abandoned by God, here was this song, not only offering comfort in the darkness, but going so far to suggest that the shadows where proof of the light – that being able to discern that the situation was dark meant that our hearts knew there was some source of light to seek out. My best memory of this song was actually made a few years later, when we saw Switchfoot live at the Wiltern Theatre on their Oh! Gravity tour, and Jon Foreman sang this one while dragging a trail of white Christmas lights through the audience and climbing on top of their hands to reach the folks in the balcony.
8) “Cover Me”, Mae (The Everglow, 2005)
A song about the world coming to an end and people playing their music and partying so loud, they can’t even hear it coming. Or maybe it’s about a tragedy that just seems like the end of the world and the way we use simple pleasures to drown out the despair. I’m honestly not sure. But music like Mae’s certainly served the latter purpose for me in those days.
9) “Mystery of Mercy”, Andrew Peterson (The Far Country, 2005)
I was less than enthused about The Far Country on its release – it sort of knocked Andrew Peterson out of my pantheon of favorite artists for a while, but perhaps I just wasn’t in the right mood for him to go in more of a “pop” direction at the time. I did appreciate this up-tempo remake of a song he had originally written for Caedmon’s Call, with the dulcimer-heavy arrangement bringing me back to Peterson’s early days, when he was rather shameless about paying homage to Rich Mullins. I loved that the lyrics of this song turned around the usual questions about being overlooked or forsaken by God, instead wondering how we could be so fortunate as to receive favor we didn’t deserve – “My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me?”
10) “Let It Go”, Corrinne May (Safe in a Crazy World, 2005)
I’ve realized that I have a bad habit of holding grudges. I don’t mean to. If you asked me what I thought about holding a grudge against someone, I’d denounce it and say it’s always a terrible idea. But it’s because I’m bound and determined not to be fooled twice by the same person or situation that I’m extremely wary and distrusting after I get burned the first time. It’s not so much that I want them to suffer, it’s that I want them to learn the hard lesson and never do that to me or to anyone else ever again. But this is never worth the energy I expend on it – especially when most of that effort is spent sulking and avoiding the person and trashing them behind their back, rather than just confronting the hurt and helping the person understand something they probably didn’t mean to do in the first place. Sometimes they’re still not gonna get it, and you just have to forgive them and let it go anyway. I was hanging on to so much baggage from a lot of folks who I perceived as having flaked on us leading up to the wedding, plus anger about stupid little setbacks we’d suffered after that point, and it all kind of came to a head that fall – I realized it was just making me a tense and unenjoyable person to be around. A lot of times I end up hurting myself by holding a grudge worse than the other person had ever hurt me to begin with.
11) “Perfect (acoustic)”, Alanis Morissette (Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, 2005)
When Alanis re-released her breakthrough album in acoustic form, it helped me to finally appreciate a lot of songs that had been too harsh to my ears, or just too lyrically blunt for my incredibly sheltered outlook at the time. The original JLP was an album that Sharon and I had fought over back in the day, because she loved it so much, and I didn’t learn to appreciate Alanis as a songwriter until after we had broken up. Her original version of this track is still difficult for me to listen to, because it was recorded in a single take and the vocals, which were left completely unpolished, are more than a bit rough. This version of the song, by comparison, is gorgeous. It’s still as sad and angry as ever, even without the crunchy production – stripping everything else back just helps to illustrate the scared stillness of her voice as she repeats commandments given by harsh parents, for whom nothing their son or daughter does is ever good enough. I hear a lot of my Dad in this song – all the times he got impatient with us, all the loving and encouraging things he never communicated, while my Mom did her best to fill in the gaps. But I also hear a lot of myself and my own impatience with people. I’ve said things like this to Christine out of frustration at times – especially early in our marriage when I wasn’t actually unhappy with her, but more with myself and it was just reflected in my being combative with everyone. I hope that the child we have someday never hears this sort of talk from me.
12) “Cut”, Plumb (Chaotic Resolve, 2006)
Here’s the other side of the equation – the teenage son or daughter who thinks nothing they do is ever good enough, and who eventually learn to find solace in cutting. It’s a harsh topic, making this song the polar opposite of the happy, danceable “Motion” – it’s interesting that those were my two favorites on the same album. But abuse – whether inflicted by oneself or others – is a subject that Plumb handles extremely well, and for that reason, I knew this song would leave an impression on people and I couldn’t wait for the album to be released and for more folks to hear it. I think she scored another mainstream hit with this one – though “hit” may have been the wrong word, because it wasn’t the type of song a radio station could just throw into a playlist all the time – it was more of a song that you’d hear in the somber soundtrack to a movie or TV series that dealt with the harsh reality of teen suicide, and people who weren’t otherwise into “Christian music” would come to appreciate her honest take on the song – which offers a glimmer of hope as its bridge cries out “I am not alone”, but which refuses to wrap the story up with a convenient happy ending. it’s sad because it wants you to intervene and take a stand against the underlying causes – parental abuse, bullying, etc. – instead of just assuming everything will just magically work out on its own.
13) “Octavarium”, Dream Theater (Octavarium, 2005)
The reason this disc only has fourteen tracks instead of the usual sixteen is because Dream Theater nearly pushed it to capacity with this 24-minute epic, one that took me a long time before I could appreciate all of its different segments. The first four minutes are just Jordan Rudess noodling around on his Continuum keyboard, for crying out loud! But from its soft, acoustic beginnings as man quietly reflects on his struggle to get back to mental health, to the rhythmically twisted maze it slowly delves deeper into, to the intense, chaotic riffs and screams that punctuate its furious climax, this one kept me captivated in a way that few prog rock of even half this length could manage to. It’s been a long time now since I could take Dream Theater even halfway seriously – and they were already pretty cheesy and over-the-top here, but they found a balance between the excessive and the convincingly dark on that album that they haven’t managed to do for me in the years since.
14) “Twisted Logic”, Coldplay (X&Y, 2005)
“Octavarium” is such a climactic ending that putting any song after it just makes it feel like a postscript by comparison. But I try not to end mix CDs with songs that ended the album, so I sort of cheated by ending with the last track on Coldplay’s X&Y aside from its bonus track. It’s actually one of my favorites by the band, but to be honest, I listen to the album so rarely, due to the otherwise dull back half of it, that I don’t get many chances to hear this solid finale. I wish the movie Wall-E had been around when this one was released, because its foreboding tale of computers coming back centuries in the future to look for life on Earth and finding nothing but a wasteland would have been perfect for that film. Sure, it’s a heavy-handed way of telling us we’d better take care of the planet, but then, so was the movie. And I don’t exactly disagree. (Side Note: The opening lines of this song have a melody that reminds me of singing “Jesus, Name Above All Names” in church back when I was in high school, which due to SonicFlood’s take on that song, reminds me in turn of Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien”. Which isn’t the usual way that Coldplay reminds people of Radiohead.)