Divad’s Soundtrack #59: November-December 2005

Turmoil finally gave way to a sense of peace and hope for the future as 2005 drew to a close. An important event in our lives toward the end of that year was the marriage of our longtime friends Danny and Cheryl, which followed about four months after our own wedding. Somewhere right around then was when it felt like we got to resume the “honeymoon phase” of our own marriage after a difficult few months had sort of temporarily knocked me out of it.

Out with the Old:
Mat Kearney
The Juliana Theory
Rebecca St. James

It Was Worth a Try:
M.I.A.

Listen on Spotify:

divads-soundtrack-59aDISC ONE
I was still in a bit of an emotional fog through most of November. Attempts to get out and go to fun places were difficult to get into the frame of mind for, because I felt so depressed about how far I’d allowed my faith to deteriorate. It wasn’t until the end of the month that things started to turn around. Ironically, it was a death in the family that turned out to be the turning point. My grandmother on my Dad’s side passed away at age 89, and we came out to the funeral at Forest Lawn, where I was able to see my aunt Gloria, uncle Scott, and cousin Jeff again – I hadn’t seen them since college. My Dad didn’t show (not surprisingly), but some people on his side of the family got to meet Christine, and they all got along with us well, and my Mom, and we all kind of had a bit of solidarity about how my Dad bailing out on us all didn’t mean we couldn’t still be family. Christine and I had the whole day off for the funeral, so earlier in the day, she decided we should visit the Tillman Japanese Gardens in Van Nuys, ironically located right next to a water reclamation plant. The funny smell notwithstanding, it was a beautiful, peaceful, and restorative place to visit.
Where in the world is this?

2005_KevinMax_TheImposter1) “Sanctuary”, Kevin Max (The Imposter, 2005)
“And it’s the architecture of peace/And it’s the streets that lead to release/And it’s the hallways and doorways of hope/And it’s a place that we called home.” I don’t know if I realized until now how the physical building blocks of a place to call home were such important elements of this song. But I resonated with its need for a place of safety and normalcy. For me that’s the antidote to the stress and upheaval of a life in constant flux. As newlyweds, we were still learning how to settle into a “normal” that was comfortable for both of us, and I feel like right around the end of 2005 was when we finally began to find that rhythm.

2005_ThirdDay_WhereverYouAre2) “I Can Feel It”, Third Day (Wherever You Are, 2005)
Wherever You Are was more or less the boundary where I started to realize Third Day was more or less happy to be the adult contemporary/worship band the CCM industry seemed to want them to be. The last few flashes of real creativity were already waning on Wire. So I was rather “meh” about this record for the most part, but I had to admit that this song, with its thundering drums, was one of their better rockers. The opening line, “I seek the silence through the chaos and the noise” followed up nicely on the mood that I wanted to establish by putting “Sanctuary” right at the beginning.

2005_VariousArtists_MusicInspiredBytheChroniclesofNarnia3) “Turkish Delight”, David Crowder Band (Songs Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia, 2005)
Speaking of the kind of overly CCM-ey stuff that I was really starting to get tired of at that point, there was the lame tie-in to the first Chronicles of Narnia film that came out that year, where most of the songs felt like an excuse to features chart-topping Christian artists whose songs could sort of vaguely apply to the themes of C. S. Lewis’s story if you squinted at them sideways. Even Jars of Clay sort of let me down with this one, because “Waiting for the World to Fall” was pleasant, but rather vague. But the David Crowder Band… well, they applied their usual quirky personality in an unexpected way here, because they could have easily gotten away with an uplifting worship song that happened to have a few Aslan references or something, but instead they went for the hedonistic dark side with this disco throwback, which was strangely appropriate musical atmosphere for a song about Edmund falling for the White Witch’s temptation.

2005_FallingUp_DawnEscapes4) “Searchlights”, Falling Up (Dawn Escapes, 2005)
Despite it being their weakest album, the opening track on Dawn Escapes was downright cool, and in retrospect it was a decent glimpse at the direction they would take on future albums – ambient synth opening, ominous guitar riff, you have to wait a bit before they really get into it. It set the stage for what I was hoping would be an action-packed concept album… and well, maybe it was, but I was never really that good at connecting the intentionally obfuscated dots in the stories these guys were trying to tell. I remember thinking at the time that “This time we’ll flood your city/No choice, it’s what you’re getting” was a really unfortunate turn of phrase so soon after Hurricane Katrina, but obviously they had no way of knowing that when they recorded the song earlier in the year.

2005_VariousArtists_UltimateMusicMakeoverTheSongsofMichaelWSmith5) “Rocketown”, Shaun Groves (Ultimate Music Makeover: The Songs of Michael W. Smith, 2005)
Dated though it already was, I enjoyed the keyboard-heavy Michael W. Smith original when I first heard it in the early 90s. Even then, I thought there was something unusual about its description of a place most Christians would likely describe as a den of debauchery, but where it made total sense for Jesus to go. “The girls would make their runs out on the boulevard” may well be the first reference to prostitution I’d ever heard in Christian music – how in the heck did this ever make it on to Christian radio? Somehow, when tasked with covering the song, Shaun Groves thought it would be fun to keep the 6/4 meter but speed it up considerably and change the genre to butt rock. He may not have actually said “butt rock” when I asked him about this song in person after a concert a few months later, but he definitely thought the repetitive chord progression lent itself well to more of a punk rock riff. Even for Shaun, that was pretty weird, but that was exactly why I loved it so much.

2004_SanctusReal_FighttheTide6) “Everything About You”, Sanctus Real (Fight the Tide, 2004)
I wouldn’t develop anything resembling an emotional attachment to Sanctus Real’s music until their third record, The Face of Love, but dang, this song was fun. Really good guitar and bass work here, and I loved the intensity of the bridge vocal in what was already a bit unconventional for more of a vertical/praise song type of lyric. It could have been all production wizardry and guitar gimmickry, but they pulled off the rare feat of putting an acoustic version at the end of the album that I also liked nearly as much as this version.

2005_Switchfoot_NothingIsSound7) “Happy Is a Yuppy Word”, Switchfoot (Nothing Is Sound, 2005)
This is Switchfoot’s interpretation of Ecclesiastes, basically, and it’s probably one of the most cynical songs that Jon Foreman has ever written. I was in the right place to connect with it – I’d just recently achieved a lifelong dream that many see as a “happily ever after”, but I was starting to realize that merely checking goals off of a list was not enough for me. That’s wasn’t a knock on my new bride at all – it’s just that there were still ongoing issues in my life that weren’t going to magically disappear just because we tied the knot. I still had to struggle with my need for control over certain things that only God can control. As much of a downer as a song like this might seem on the surface, I think it ultimately hints at the existence of a deeper, more sustainable form of happiness, which might be better known as “joy”. I’ve never really mastered joy. But joy seems much less likely to fall victim to a run of bad luck than the fleeting emotion we know as happiness.

2005_Mae_TheEverglow8) “We’re So Far Away”, Mae (The Everglow, 2005)
This song might be the ultimate red herring, in terms of album openers that tell you almost nothing about a band’s sound. Since The Everglow was the record that got me into Mae, this one really threw me for a loop at first, and as evidenced by previous soundtracks, it was a lot of their big rockers from later in the album that got me hooked first. But there was a certain theatrical magic to this song that made it the perfect prelude. It didn’t adhere to a specific tempo or time signature, and the rest of the band sat the song out, but it needed to do exactly those things to make the song really grab your attention. Nowadays I can’t hear it without getting warm, fuzzy flashbacks to some of the most romantic moments of our first year of marriage. (It’s almost a crime to not have “We’re So Far Away” followed by “Someone Else’s Arms”, since the huge ending of the former just leaves you salivating for the intro to the latter. But it’s my mix CD, dammit, and I had already used “Someone Else’s Arms” on an earlier mix.)

2005_Delirious_TheMissionBell9) “The Solid Rock”, Delirious? feat. Toby Mac (The Mission Bell, 2005)
You can also file this one under “strange covers that shouldn’t work, but do.” Delirious? doing a hymn cover isn’t that unusual; them doing it with twangy guitar and a Toby Mac rap break certainly is. Stranger still, Martin Smith’s lyrics are the original part of the composition while Toby raps a few verses of the hymn, growing ever more excited until the band comes stomping in with bthe last chorus. It’s either really cool or really cheesy… probably a bit of both. My interest in Delirious? and especially in Toby Mac was starting to wane at the time, so it’s saying something that I actually really liked this one.

2005_JohnReuben_TheBoyVstheCynic10) “Cooperate”, John Reuben (The Boy Vs. the Cynic, 2005)
You expect rap songs to question “the man” and to pick away at the facade of modern society to reveal the ills underneath. John Reuben’s a bit more suburban and goofy than most rappers, but he does this from time to time as well. So I certainly wouldn’t have expected one of his hardest-hitting songs to actually stick up in defense of the status quo. I’m not sure that’s really the main point of it – I think it had more to do with keeping his own “rebel without a cause” habits in check, pointing out that there’s a time for protests and questioning authority and social revolution, and there’s a time to put your suit on and go to work and make your best attempt to just plain get along with people. It’s perhaps the best example of the “boy vs. cynic” conflcit that this album was supposed to be about, because you can tell he’s not entirely comfortable with his own criticisms here.

2005_AndrewBird_TheMysteriousProductionofEggs11) “Skin Is, My”, Andrew Bird (The Mysterious Production of Eggs, 2005)
Danny and Cheryl, dear friends of mine since before Christine and I had even known each other, got married on Saturday, December 17, 2005. This song has absolutely nothing to do with them, but there’s a part of me who still feels like a slightly inconsiderate friend for purchasing a ticket to see Nickel Creek and Andrew Bird in concert without double-checking to find out if it conflicted with the day of their wedding. So I ended up skipping out halfway through the reception (which was at Occidental College even though they didn’t go to school there, oddly enough) because it was too late to refund the ticket once I figured it out. Having only recently gotten into Andrew Bird, I didn’t know what to expect from him as a live act, but he may actually be the artist who first got me interested in “live looping”, due to his incredible talent on several instruments and his ability to record a guitar or violin riff and then play it back as he went on to add a xylophone part, a backing vocal, or maybe whistle a bit, building up each element of a song in such a way that probably no two live performances were the same. I was floored, to say the least. This strange little song, possibly one of the few songs ever written to be about skin but not about sex despite its oddly seductive rhythm, was definitely one of the standouts.

2005_NickelCreek_WhyShouldtheFireDie12) “Scotch & Chocolate”, Nickel Creek (Why Should the Fire Die?, 2005)
Of course Nickel Creek was phenomenal that night. Second time I’d seen them live, at the Wiltern Theatre just like the first time back in 2003, and once again it was pretty much the best concert I’d ever been to. I may have finally realized that night that Why Should the Fire Die? was an even stronger record than This Side. My emotional attachment to nearly every song on that album is just overwhelming now that I look back at it, even if they’re just fun instrumentals with no words, like this weird tune that starts off all slow and cutesy and then dives headlong into one of the most spazzed-out bluegrass jams they’ve ever recorded. I had no idea that night that the band would go on hiatus in a couple years, and that they wouldn’t regroup until 2014, so even though I wouldn’t have planned it that way, missing the last bit of the wedding reception was probably the right call.

2005_Eisley_RoomNoises13) “Telescope Eyes”, Eisley (Room Noises, 2005)
Telescope eyes and metal teeth. That’s a pretty creative way to describe the prying and vicious behavior of your older siblings when you’re still in your single digits and they’re picking on you. Even more impressive if writing such a song gets you inducted into the band those older siblings have formed. I think that’s basically the origin story of this song, but truth be told, I was more into the harmonies than the lyrics on this one. It was just so much fun to harmonize with – each time I sang along, I’d branch off and follow a different sister without really meaning to.

2005_MatKearney_Bullet14) “Bullet”, Mat Kearney (Bullet, 2004)
Greater love has no one than he who lays his life down for his friends. I think that’s what this song was getting at with its chorus of “I would take a bullet for you.” There was something else entirely about artistry and inspiration going on in the rap verses, so I was never quite sure. Maybe I’m just still grappling with selfishness on some level, or maybe I’ve just never been in a position where someone I loved was in such grave danger that I was faced with the choice to endanger myself to rescue them. Either way, I can’t say I’ve ever really had to think that hard about whether I would actually take a bullet for any of the people I love. I kind of hope I never will, but that’s probably not how it works.

2005_SigurRos_Takk15) “Gong”, Sigur Rós (Takk…, 2005)
Sigur Rós had jokingly dubbed a previous track “The Pop Song”, but to me, this was probably their poppiest song. Not that it’s anywhere near mainstream, what with the made-up language and Jónsi’s high-pitched, cooing vocals. But it’s one of the most immediately catchy and up-tempo things that they had done up to that point, and the emphasis on drums and shimmery keyboards immediately brought a smile to my face when I first heard it. I can’t help it. I tend to like music more when there are a lot of percussive things going on all at once.

2005_SufjanStevens_ComeonFeeltheIllinoise16) “Jacksonville”, Sufjan Sevens (Come On! Feel the Illinoise!, 2005)
Though Abraham Lincoln isn’t explicitly named in this song, it’s about a town in Illinois where he apparently practiced law before he was President, and the town was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. The song sort of pits his ideology against that of the famously racist Andrew Jackson, for whom the town is named, trying to get into the mindset of a man in the 1850s arguing in favor of emancipation being good for society. There’s a lot more going on here and throughout Illinois – which may be my favorite album of all time if I haven’t mentioned that before – than I will perhaps ever discover. Truth be told, it’s mostly here because I thought it was a nice note to end the first disc on, instrumentally speaking, with the last notes of the song trailing off into the brief piano-and-string coda “A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But For Very Good Reasons.”

divads-soundtrack-59bDISC TWO
I had been so skittish about my health, being a hypochondriac about either perceived breathing problems or chest pain (that was ultimately due to my chest muscles being unhappy with all the tension and my bad posture, not anything at all to do with my heart) that I had been afraid to engage in any serious physical activity for most of the fall of that year. I decided to stop worrying about it in December and finally go on another one of the Evergreen hikes. I had been to Parker Mesa, which is near Pacific Palisades, on a hike with them before, but this one was somehow special because of the eerie shadows cast by the clouds over the sweeping view of West L.A. and Catalina Island that day. It was another one of those “restorative” moments where I realized I had way much more life left in me than I had previously thought.
Where in the world is this?

2006_Plumb_ChaoticResolve1) “Good Behavior”, Plumb (Chaotic Resolve, 2006)
Definitely one of Plumb’s angrier songs. She was clearly tired of living in a box where you do this and you don’t do that and you never question why others have made these meticulous rules for you to follow. The fallacy of thinking we can earn salvation through good behavior is dismantled here, and I’ve always had an affinity for “rebellious” songs like these that are actually speaking Biblical truth into situations where legalism has become louder than love.

2005_JohnReuben_TheBoyVstheCynic2) “Follow Your Leader”, John Reuben (The Boy Vs. the Cynic, 2005)
“Sure, you can sing and dance, but that don’t mean you’re qualified to give America advice.” Reuben’s takedown of celebrities spouting off political views when they know next to nothing about how the system actually works seemed like a perfect follow-up to Plumb’s song. “Conservative, uptight, right-wing, Republican. last time I checked, I was none of them.” Apparently he’d had his fair share of frustrations with listeners and label bosses and such trying to force him into a “nice Christian rapper” mold that he had no interest in. I think back in those days, I was still letting go of the false notion that right-wing views = Christian views. I just plain didn’t care as much about politics back then. I still don’t want to pledge allegiance blindly to a particular side or party. And I’m not too keen on it when singers take advantage of a captive audience to promote a particular candidate, even if it’s one I happen to like.

2005_MIA_Arular3) “Amazon”, M.I.A. (Arular, 2005)
There were enough of us on The Phorum back in the day who had time on our hands, that we came up with a game called “Second-Guess the Critic” where basically the point was for all of us to pick a new album per week that we hadn’t already listened to, and have everyone else guess how we would rate it on a scale of one to five. We’d each post a song from whatever album we had picked for everyone to sample, just to make it a little easier for folks who didn’t have access to anything more than brief clips of the album tracks. Scott (aka bloop) was the most prolific of the armchair critics among us; I probably wouldn’t go seeking out politically charged Sri Lankan hip-hop on my own, but I had to admit, this tropical ditty about being held hostage somewhere deep in the jungle was awfully catchy.

2005_TheJulianaTheory_DeadbeatSweetheartbeat4) “This Is a Lovesong… for the Loveless”, The Juliana Theory (Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat, 2005)
The final TJT track to appear on any of my mixes is basically how I like to remember them – hard-hitting, even a bit sneering, but with good enough chops to warrant the chips on their shoulders. This song was just thick with acts of guitar heroism, and even a bit haunting, as Brett Detar basically promised to be a ghost forever haunting the soul of the heartless person who left him high and dry. A bit immature, perhaps, but this dude always wore his heart on his sleeve and I had gotten into the band at a time when I really needed that, so it was due to nostalgia that I could appreciate such a song despite now being in a much happier place, romantically speaking.

5) “Toxic (live)”, Nickel Creek (unreleased, 2005)
If you’re ever with me in a restaurant or coffee shop, and Britney Spears’ version of “Toxic” comes on, and you notice me trying to hide the fact that I really enjoy it and know all the words, then well, you have Nickel Creek to blame. They made their hilarious bluegrass cover version part of their repertoire on their fall tour that year, and apparently they still play it post-reunion, too. (Sadly, an official recorded version has never been released.) Covering a song in an intentionally ill-fitting genre scored a band huge irony points back in those days, but Nickel Creek wasn’t trying to be ironic with this one – they genuinely thought the song kicked ass. I had to get over my prejudices and admit that they were right. Their attention to detail was the best part of the song – especially Sara Watkins imitating the string part on her violin, even the part that gets played backwards.

2005_AlanisMorissette_JaggedLittlePillAcoustic6) “Forgiven (acoustic)”, Alanis Morissette (Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, 2005)
Like “Perfect”, I thought this song was incredibly harsh when I first heard it on the original JLP back in the 90s. The difference is that while “Perfect” had to change in order for me to like it, I was the one who had to change in order to appreciate this song. At first I just took it as a blanket slam on religion. Over time, I realized that Alanis’s tale of guilt and shameful secrets and hypocrisy as viewed through the lens of a Catholic schoolgirl was revealing a lot of painful truth about how we people of faith often fail to align our words with our actions. If rules and judgment are all people know of religion, and there’s no room for grace in the conversation, we can’t be surprised when they choose to reject it.

2005_SaraGroves_AddtotheBeauty7) “To the Moon”, Sara Groves (Add to the Beauty, 2005)
I’ve found that how well I respond to a Sara Groves album depends on whether I’m at a place in my life whre I can appreciate sunny optimism. For me, the timing of Add to the Beauty was all wrong, and I just couldn’t get into it. So there were a lot of otherwise “soundtrack-wrthy” songs on that disc, most notably “You Are the Sun”, that I didn’t gain full respect for until years later. Oddly enough, this song – which is really more of an interlude due to its petite length – was the sole exception, possibly because it was a bit more on the “cynical social commentary” side of things. Basically a bunch of Christians who feel ostracized and persecuted by the world are responding to it by wanting to take their church to the moon. A lyric like “It was there in the bulletin, we’re leaving soon/After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel” would be delivered with a wink and a nudge by most artists; coming from Sara it’s downright sad and naive, and that’s exactly the point – how far gone are we Christians here in the Western world if we think that we’re sufering anything close to real persecution, or that we can actually somehow remove ourselves from sociey as a response? This doesn’t do anyone any good.

2005_ShaunGroves_WhiteFlag8) “Heaven Hang On”, Shaun Groves (White Flag, 2005)
This wasn’t the first time I’d paired the two unrelated Groves on a mix CD, but it might have been the most thematically appropriate. Becoming believers doesn’t mean we’re whisked away to heaven or exempted from all forms of hardships for the rest of our lives. Sometimes we’ll still suffer from abuse or depression or doubt. Sometimes we’ll even be the perpetrators causing others to suffer from these things. So we have to take seriously the task of making life with our fellow humans on Earth a little more heaven and a little less hell while we’re still mortal. This song was a special one to me, because how often does an artist actually ask for a critic’s advice? Groves had done this over a year prior, privately messsaging a few of us more critical/analytical types who used to post on the CMCentral boards, wanting input on the lyrics to this song while it was still in progress. It was definitely an emotionally heavy song, not the kind of thing that would ever be a CCM hit, but on an album patterened after the Beatitudes, a song about perseverance in hopeless situations was entirely called for. I had some lyrical nitpicks at the time that, upon hearing the final song, I realized were irrelevant. The one time an artist actually requested my input, he didn’t take my advice, and the song turned out to be better for it.

2005_AndrewPeterson_TheFarCountry9) “The Far Country”, Andrew Peterson (The Far Country, 2005)
Even though I think Christians should spend more of their time making Earth resemble heaven a little more and less of their time just sitting around waiting for their number to be called so that they can go to heaven, I can understand the longing to know what it’s like. I’ve personally never been in a hurry, but to be fair, I’ve enjoyed my life on this Earth and I’ve lived it out from a place of privilege relative to most of the world. For someone in a place of true suffering, poverty, persecution, etc., it’s a lot more understandable that they would just want God to take them away from it all. And on some level, even if my first world problems are way less of a big deal than the third world problems of millions of other people, I still see sin and darkness in this world, I cause some of it, and I long for it to end. Andrew Peterson is an aimaginative fellow, so of course he was going to set the bar pretty high for himself on a song that describes that longing for a far away place we’ve all ben called to but can’t even conceive of its vastness, but the real genius here is his poetic description of God emerging where we least expect him to in the world we know now: “I can see in the strip malls and the phone calls, the flaming swords of Eden/In the fast cash and the news flash and the horn blast of war/In the sin-fraught cities of the dying and the dead/Like steel-wrought graveyards where the wicked never rest/To the high and lonely mountain in the groaning wilderness/We ache for what is lost/As we wait for the holy God.”

2005_Delirious_TheMissionBell10) “Fires Burn”, Delirious? (The Mission Bell, 2005)
Man, I had forgotten how much I took that theme of longing for Heaven and just sort of ran with it – it’s all over this song, too. Delirious? had an interesting knack for putting the moody, minor-key, textured stuff right up against the anthemic, praise chorus stuff – it was like they spent as much time learning from Radiohead as they did from Matt Redman. The imagery of fires burning as a sort of beacon carrying a message of hope across the land was inspired by a scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, when fires were lit on mountaintops across Middle Earth as a way of getting… some signal to some army very far away, it’s been a while since I’ve actually seen it.

2005_DavidCrowderBand_ACollision11) “Our Happy Home”, David Crowder Band (A Collision, 2005)
Here the DCB chimes in on the subject of Heaven as well. It’s presented at the apex of a weird and wonderful album that happens to be preoccupied with death, so by the time you get to this swampy, highly rhythmic, banjo-laden cover of an old hymn on A Collision, you’ve gone through a sort of death and spiritual rebirth as presented in the songs leading up to it. Admittedly the mix of old-timey hymn language and drum machines and other weird sonic effects was a bit much, and the breakdown at the end where they kept purposefully missing a beat was downright bizarre, but I loved the DCB for their willingness to tweak the formula.

2005_FallingUp_DawnEscapes12) “Fearless”, Falling Up (Dawn Escapes, 2005)
“Lights from the waters have swept me away.” There was something immensely gorgeous and reassuring about that chorus that really got my attention, even though this song came at the end of a long string of almost interchangeable up-tempo rockers on Dawn Escapes that were probably too much of a good thing. Here they mixed the heavy stuff with the beautiful, reflective stuff, and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. This song reminds me of that emotional turning point as I stood atop Parker Mesa on that cloudy Saturday afternoon, admiring the view as a few rays of light broke through the clouds and lit up small parts of the surface of the Pacific. It wasn’t a profound epiphany. Just a reminder that I was doing OK, perhaps a symbolic gesture of hope that better days were coming. The juxtaposition of that image and this song playing in my head may well have been the inspiration to use photos from my hikes and travels as the cover images for these soundtracks.

2005_KevinMax_TheImposter13) “Platform”, Kevin Max (The Imposter, 2005)
10 years prior, dc Talk had asked some pretty deep questions of themselves on “What If I Stumble?” Those questions are echoed in one of KMax’s finest songs, which finds him confessing his shortcoming as he asks God how he could ever be worthy of the platform he’s been given: “Why’d You choose me when You knew I wasn’t tough enough?/Why’d You send me when You knew I would run?/Why’d You put me into places that I didn’t want?/Why’d You call me when You knew I’d hang up?” He was at a bit of a crossroads as an artist on this album, and clearly grappling with his own qualifications to even write and record the songs that would get pored over and possibly misinterpreted by listeners from radically different walks of life. Should he continue to let his freak flag fly and hope people could figure out where he was coming from, or was the answer to preach the Gospel with a little more clarity to the tune of more mainstream-sounding music? He’s ping-ponged back and forth quite wildly between the two in the years since. I’ve enjoyed some of it and I’ve reviled most of the rest, but I think those early solo albums were the last time I truly felt like KMax was a kindred spirit.

2005_RebeccaStJames_IfIHadOneChancetoTellYouSomething14) “Forgive Me”, Rebecca St. James feat. BarlowGirl (If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something, 2005)
My once-intense fandom of RSJ was another one of those that I realized I had almost completely outgrown that year. It’s telling that she put out another pop album that year, with all the glitz and gloss and huge hooks of an album like Pray or Transform, and I wasn’t really interested. The one song that really spoke to me was this pristine piano piece, an exquisite vocal duet with the Barlow sisters. Since everyone involved in this song was basically a poster girl for sexual purity, you’d expect that to affect the lyrical content, but surprisingly, it’s a very confessional an almost liturgical song, a reminder that none of us are above the need for forgiveness. It wasn’t terribly specific about the sins committed or anything, but I thought it was extremely heartfelt, and it re-humanized an artist who, perhaps by no fault of her own, had become more the face of a moral issue than a flesh-and-blood person in the eyes of an industry that had made her out to be a hero.

2005_NicholeNordeman_Brave15) “We Build”, Nichole Nordeman (Brave, 2005)
Ending the disc with three contemplative, piano-driven songs by female vocalists was quite intentional. I wanted to look back and remember that I had finally found some clarity and serenity at the end of a hectic year. The timing of this song – which I think Nichole wrote not long after she got married – coming out the year that Christine and I tied the knot was just perfect. It’s about intentionally building a home for yourself, using the physical house and the forces of nature that try to tear it down as the metaphor but making it clear that it’s the heart where that hard work really has to be done. (The parallels between this song and the “home” metaphor used in KMax’s “Sanctuary” were a happy accident that I did not realize until now.) It’s not a “happily ever after” that just magically happens to you. You have to work to achieve a happy life together and work to maintain it. And I knew that just months into our marriage, but I’ve probably spent most of the last ten years forgetting and then re-learning that lesson.

2005_CorrinneMay_SafeinaCrazyWorld16) “Safe in a Crazy World”, Corrinne May (Safe in a Crazy World, 2005)
As saccharine as Corrinne’s love songs can sometimes be, there’s something I have to admire about the incurable optimist in her, even though I am very much not that kind of a person. The line “You understand me, embrace my fragility” in this song’s chorus has stood out to me ever since Christine heard it and asked me what “fragility” was. I explained it as vulnerability – literally, being fragile. A lot of us put up a facade, but our hearts can be broken so easily. When you love someone, and especially when you marry them, you’re putting yourself in a position to potentially have your heart broken on a very deep level. And yet when someone can understand the areas where you’re vulnerable, and find ways to embrace and even empower you rather than preying on your vulnerability, when you can confess your deepest fears and not be rejected, when the person you love can be a place of refuge even when the rest of the world is raining down hell upon you, that’s a much deeper form of love than the mere crushes that most love songs appear to be about. I’m not very good at loving like that, to be honest, but over the years I’ve tried to learn how.

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