Spring 2006. Lots of rain that winter made for good hiking in those months. Life was relatively free from turmoil as far as I can remember, so a lot of the songs I chose for this mix, particularly on Disc One, instead identified with the difficulties others around me were going through. Disc Two has a more drawn-out set of mellow songs to wind it down than my mixes usually do, which may reflect my more peaceful state of mind at the time, though it’s in sharp contrast with the heavier material at the beginning of that disc. Figuring out how to transition between the various moods on these soundtracks is a puzzle that I will never completely solve.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
This photo of the Santa Monica Mountains was taken while walking through a large, grasy valley in Point Mugu State Park, right before undergoing a hellishly steep attempt to the peak of the same name. I love hiking and exploring new places in my home state, but dang, this one was pretty long.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Untouchable”, Luna Halo (Luna Halo, 2007)
Several EP and demo tracks were floating around during the long gap between Luna Halo’s first and second album, and by the time this irresistible single showed up in demo form circa 2006, it was a clear shift toward a more mainstream and straight-up aggressive sound. I kind of missed the mystique of their old sound, but I had to admit that this sucker was addictive. Nathan Barlowe’s excited scream really sold the extent to which he badly wanted to be with someone he knew would always remain well out of his reach. Even once they cleaned this thing up and released an album version later in the year, I thought the band might be too obscure for the song to make waves in the mainstream, but then it found this whole other life when Taylor Swift did an acoustic cover of it. I’m no Taylor Swift fan, but her much mellower version was pretty solid, too.
2) “A Day Late”, Anberlin (Never Take Friendship Personal, 2005)
The theme of wanting what you can’t have continued into this song, definitely an Anberlin fan favorite, in which a guy expresses frustration that the girl he wanted to be with who rejected him back in the day, now suddenly decides she’s interested when they’re both in relationships with someone else. Talk about your terrible timing. I think this is probably why a lot of guys put off commitment – they’re secretly wondering if they might be closing the door on some other opportunity. I knew better than to get married before I had gotten any such worries out of my system, and I knew Christine was the only one I wanted and the only one who wanted me.
3) “Suspension”, Mae (The Everglow, 2005)
Sometimes the person you want and the person who wants you actually sync up and the timing is just right… and then suddenly everything’s moving at breakneck speed and you can barely catchy your breath, and it’s wonderful and terrifying at the same time. I always imagined that the overall story arc of The Everglow was about a couple getting in way over their heads before they really understood the profound impact their relationship would have on the rest of their lives, so it seemed fitting to place this track after “A Day Late”, as if to say the two people who couldn’t be with each other changed their minds and decided they should, before they had a chance to really stop and think about all of the upheaval it would cause.
4) “Wishes”, Superchic[k] (Beauty from Pain, 2005)
I have a bad habit of getting my hopes up a little too much for my single friends when they’re potentially getting into new relationships, and then getting irrationally angry at the person they could have dated what that person decides to turn someone down who I think is a damn good catch. This song, despite the simplistic teenage phrasing of it, represented my disappointment for a female friend who had what looked like her first real shot at a steady boyfriend during those first few months of 2006, only for him to abruptly decide he wasn’t interested and then fail to really communicate the reasons in a way that could give her in any closure. Let’s just say he was on my sh*tlist for a while after that. I can be stubborn about holding a grudge when a close friend gets hurt by someone’s poor communication.
5) “Typical”, MuteMath (MuteMath, 2006)
“Break the spell of the typical”. That was exactly what MuteMath did with a highly energetic song that has since become an iconic breakout hit for them, particularly due to its backwards music video and the band recreating the reversed performance on Jimmy Kimmel later that year. I’ve seen them in concert several times since then, and this one’s pretty much always guaranteed to get the crowd revved up.
6) “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, The Flaming Lips (At War with the Mystics, 2006)
This is either one of the catchiest songs in the world, or one of the most obnoxious. Christine likened the near-constant “Yeah yeah yeah”s to a group of hyperactive children (she worked at a daycare at the time, so she would know). Wayne Coyne reaching for high notes he can’t quite hit is a tough sell, too. But I always loved this one, and that’s never a guarantee with Flaming Lips songs. I loved its satirical observation of how, if we were given all of the power in the world, we like to say we’d be altruistic and use it for good, but really, we’d probably just use it for selfish things, so it’s better to not have that sort of absolute power in the first place. Insert timely political commentary here if you want – we were well into Bush’s second term at this point, after all.
7) “I Am the World”, The Elms (The Chess Hotel, 2006)
This bossy, swaggery song seemed like the perfect compliment to “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” because it just came stomping in with authority and some kick-ass guitar riffs and drum fills, telling us about the anything and everything that the world is and the world owns and the world does. I’m not sure if the “I” in this song was some sort of an authority figure or just literally the voice of the planet itself, but the overall attitude of it was so much fun that I didn’t really work too hard on interpretation with this one.
8) “Running Just to Catch Myself”, Mark Schultz (Stories and Songs, 2003)
I never followed Mark Schultz all that closely, but I remembered listening to this track in 2003 when it first came out, simply because others on the CMCentral message boards had commented on its extreme badness, and well, morbid curiosity got the best of me. Imagine if Billy Joel and a few of the aforementioned hyperactive children tried to write an epic song in the vein of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, from the point of view of a bored office lackey with ADD wondering if there was any meaning to his life beyond the daily grind. I thought it was pretty silly, but not as innately bad as others were saying. I then forgot about it for a few years until Christine found this record, probably in a bargain bin, and was amused by the song and said I had to hear it. And what do you know, the second time around I actually found it to be massively entertaining, in its own over-the-top stupid sort of way.
9) “Staple It Together”, Jack Johnson (In Between Dreams, 2005)
I have this weird memory of Tim getting this CD for his birthday, then loaning it to me one day while we were still living together, but the album came out in 2005 and he moved out later that year when I got married, so I don’t remember why I hadn’t actually listened to it until 2006. Anyway, this song fit well thematically because it was about a guy full of nothing but regrets for all the things he’d failed to do in his life due to being held back by hate and resentment. Jack Johnson can get a little sleepy for me overall, but I really liked the loose, fun “jam band” feeling of this track.
10) “The Setting Sun”, Switchfoot (Nothing Is Sound, 2005)
The upbeat tone of this song probably mattered more to me than the actual lyrics, which gave me the general sense of taking the longview and looking forward to some distant, triumphant place of belonging as an incentive to get through whatever hard stuff was going on now. Really, I remember it more as a highly melodic example of Switchfoot doing guitar pop really well. Nothing Is Sound got a lot of flak for not being The Beautiful Letdown, but now that I look back I think it might be the band’s most solid record, musically speaking, because they had just brought on Drew Shirley as a full-time guitarist, and as a result the guitar parts from both him and Jon Foreman were more assertive than on any other record they’ve made.
11) “Between the End and Where We Lie”, Thrice (Vheissu, 2005)
A man longing for daylight, and being told it’s just a myth by his oppressors, seemed like a theme that dovetailed nicely with the Switchfoot song. This was the perfect example of Thrice’s new experimental edge – the verse was very heavy on keyboards and percussion, and the chorus brought in the roaring guitars, but what really stood out to me was the off-kilter rhythm of it. The 7/8 time signature gave it such a sense of urgency and I couldn’t get it out of my head.
12) “Hosea in C Minor”, The Listening (The Listening LP, 2006)
What little I had heard of The Rock & Roll Worship Circus before they morphed into The Listening was a little too youth-groupy and glammy for my tastes. The Listening kept some of the guitar heroics, but there was a strong air of mystique to everything they did, and very few of their songs were straight-up “worship” in the congregational sense – instead most of them were meditative and felt like they reminded the listener of God’s presence in unique ways. This heartbreaking epic explored an often-misunderstood character in the Bible, whose wife’s unfaithfulness is used as a metaphor for the nation of Israel turning its back on God in the Old Testament days, and God still loving them (and by extension, all of us) despite their transgressions. You really feel the hurt and the longing as this song goes from moody and reflective to downright visceral (sweet guitar/synth break in the middle eight!), back to reflective again. I think it’s a brilliant example of how well a Christian band can creatively communicate a clear message of faith when the unnecessary constraints of radio-friendliness and the need to imitate other chart-toppers aren’t even part of the discussion.
13) “Can’t Complain”, Nickel Creek (Why Should the Fire Die?, 2005)
Speaking of cruelty and infidelity, I was a bit taken aback at Chris Thile’s callousness when I first heard this one, as he basically blamed his falling head over heels for a woman, moving in with her, and then cheating on her, on his being a guy, with the implication being that hormones will do whatever they want and you can’t stop ’em. This was the only new song that I can recall hearing at their 2003 concert that actually made its way onto their next album in 2005, and once I realized he was narrating a character whose views weren’t necessarily his own, I came to appreciate it as a cautionary tale about a man who didn’t care all that much but really should have. Plus you gotta love the surprise ending, just when they’re starting to lull you to sleep and suddenly… “NO SHE CAN’T COMPLAIN!!!”
14) “Invisible”, Justis Kao (Invisible EP, 2003)
Justis had been our worship director for a few years at that point, but I hadn’t heard much of his solo music, which was in more of a piano-based R&B vein, until he did a concert at our church with Corrinne May that spring. I was starting to realize at that point that Corrinne was emphasizing the “emotional piano ballad” side of her sound to the detriment of the other things she could do well, which to be honest made her set rather boring. But Justis’s surprised me in good ways, particularly with the personal story of pain and neglect in this song, where a man is basically treated as though he were invisible, by (presumably) a woman who won’t give him the time of day. He’s recorded some other, generally more produced, pop music since then, and I guess he’s making it work as a full-time musician since leaving us in 2010, but personally, there was a charm to the more laid-back “live acoustic” side of his sound in the early days that I find more appealing than his fully-produced pop stuff.
15) “Bittersweet”, Plumb (Chaotic Resolve, 2006)
Plumb, in her heyday, was an artist who seemed quite well-attuned to themes of personal brokenness and healing. Here, a woman who has held a grudge for who knows how long struggles with the need to finally let it go, forgive the person, and let grace start to do its healing work. The string flourishes added a nice dramatic touch to what was an electronic song at its core. This seemed like it brought a bit of closure to the sense of hurt and betrayal expressed in the songs leading up to it.
16) “Heal Over”, KT Tunstall (Eye to the Telescope, 2006)
There was real beauty in this song’s simplicity. Just an acoustic guitar and the same chords over and over, but the way KT’s voice turned each corner in the melody was strangely captivating. I imagined her sitting with a girlfriend over a cup of tea, promising her she’d be the shoulder to cry on and everything would be alright. It seemed like a perfect closer for Disc One once I had figured out how all of the previous songs were leading up to it.
The Evergreen Men’s Retreat in April 2006 was a great experience. I had been to one before, which really rocked my world as it unflinchingly discussed issues of male sexuality, but this one discussed passivity and the practice of being a “Christian Nice Guy”. I thought I was already a pretty assertive person, and therefore didn’t have problems with this false sense of being “nice”, but I turned out that I did quite a bit of underhanded things to avoid conflict and let things slide that needed to be said. This was a great time spent up at Thousand Pines camp, in Crestline near Lake Arrowhead. I had been there with Christine the year before for a Passage Retreat, so I knew how to show Mark where to go during a Saturday afternoon hike that led us down a very steep trail to the gushing waterfall pictured here. I don’t give myself enough of a chance to fellowship with just the men – it’s as if I’m afraid I don’t stack up to them very well, or won’t relate. This retreat went a long way towards proving me wrong.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Exhibition”, Falling Up (Dawn Escapes, 2005)
I chose this one mostly because I thought the elegant, gliding piano playing colliding with the heavy-hitting guitars was a nice way to set the stage for an action-packed set of songs that would follow it. But I was also intrigued by the prison break implied by its chorus: “Why are you sleeping?/You know I have escaped/Why are you sleeping?/You know I’ve been erased.” I’m still not sure if the “erased” part was in line with the typical spy thriller plot where someone forges a new identity to evade the authorities, or more of a nod to the Christian idea of dying to one’s old self and being “born again”.
2) “The Earth Will Shake”, Thrice (Vheissu, 2005)
This dark and heavy song comes from the perspective of a group of prisoners still behind bars, so in my mind it paired well with “Exhibition”. I loved the sheer musical weight of it – lots of bands in those days could play their guitars and scream, and it all tended to sound rather whiny after a while, but Dustin Kensrue does both with authority here, and it sounded awesome. I loved the audacity of the rough-and-tumble acapella break in the middle of this one, as if you could hear those prisoners banging their cups and silverware on the table in the mess hall, their chant rising up into a rebellion that led them to overthrow the guards and finally see the light of day.
3) “This Is a Heart Attack”, Blindside (The Great Depression, 2005)
I was quite surprised that Blindside turned out an album as dark as The Great Depression so soon after the more varied and colorful About a Burning Fire. It was a different beast altogether, and I really wasn’t in the headspace for it in late 2005 when it came out (ironically because I was a bit depressed myself at the time), but the urgency of this opening song eventually won me over, and the really heavy stuff that makes it on to my mixes had nowhere else to go but next to other heavy stuff (for ease of skipping it when Christine was in the car), so this is where it ended up. The urgency of the screams and declarations of war in this song were the kind of thing that let you know right away they had no intentions of slowing down just because they didn’t have major label support anymore.
4) “Roots in Stereo”, P.O.D. feat. Matisyahu (Testify, 2006)
While I first heard Matisyahu on the two songs from Testify he contributed to, it was actually The Elms’ guitarist Thom Daugherty (via his Xanga blog) who first suggested that I listen to Matisyahu, whose whole “Orthodox Jewish reggae singer” shtick was making waves back in those days. I doubt Thom was much into P.O.D., but I loved the synthesis of hard rock and reggae in this song, which is the kind of thing P.O.D. would do on their own anyway, but I loved the ecumenical statement inferred in this collaboration between Christian and Jewish musicians. Not much to it beyond that other than a bit of boasting about returning to their musical roots and so forth, but I admit to admit, it was a pretty sick groove, and I didn’t see the rhythmic change-up coming when Matisyahu took over for the bridge.
5) “Novocaine Rhapsody”, Dean Gray (American Edit, 2005)
There was really no way to bridge the gap between the heavy stuff at the beginning of this disc and the much mellower stuff that all got piled up in the last third of it. So, why not throw in a renegade musical match-up that took Green Day’s “Give Me Novocaine”, set it to the drumbeat from U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky”, and sprinkled in liberal doses of the verse melody and lyrics from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”? This was either brilliant, or it just illustrated how much Green Day was ripping off classic artists, but I found it highly amusing either way. It’s sad that the pirated nature of American Edit means you’ll probably never find it on Spotify and thus you’ll have to search the Internet to hear this weird little gem, but it’s definitely worth tracking down.
6) “Dragonfly”, Fernando Ortega (Fernando Ortega, 2004)
Though it still had a pretty laid-back groove, the growling electric guitars and vaguely “spaghetti Western” feel of this song were quite surprising coming from a man whose music up to that point was almost synonymous with the word “mellow”. If there’s a double meaning to be found here, I haven’t dug it up. Sometimes a man who has made it his dayjob to write modern hymns and songs of quite reflection for most of his career simply wants to write about something as pretty as the wings of a dragonfly without having to infuse it with tons of spiritual double meaning. Listening to this one, I liked to imagine I was strolling with him through his garden, in a villa somewhere in New Mexico on a cool desert evening, admiring the flowers and the insects all abuzz with pre-dusk activity.
7) “Casimir Pulaski Day”, Sufjan Stevens (Come On! Feel the Illinoise!, 2005)
This song about a holiday celebrated in the state of Illinois is one of Sufjan’s more stark and challenging songs, perhaps foreshadowing the somber, death-obsessed Carrie and Lowell that would come ten years later. While it’s not without its cheerier instrumental passages and its innocent, childlike observations, at its core it’s still about a young man who prematurely loses his girlfriend to a terminal disease, and all of the loose ends that don’t get tied up as a result of the ups and downs of their relationship (and the implied premarital fooling around) leading up to it. People gather around to pray for the dying girl and she still dies, and they don’t understand what part any of this could possibly play in God’s plan. Even the spiritual leader that Sufjan’s character looks up to loses his temper. (At least that’s how I interpret the line “The cardinal hits the window”. It could just as easily refer to a bird smacking into the window, which would also be appropriate since the song is about a tragic and untimely death.)
8) “Come Awake”, David Crowder Band (A Collision, 2005)
The last gasps of a heart monitor open this song, which seemed appropriate after a song about a young girl dying in a hospital. Crowder attempted to address the uncomfortable topic of death on what might have been his most misunderstood album, which was a bit of a gauntlet to get through due to the constantly changing musical style, but I felt that the best stuff came all in a row in the “C Part” of the record, which culminated in this beautiful ballad about death and resurrection. The climax it comes to as the dead are beckoned to rise up again and meet their maker might be predictable, but it’s still powerful. This one took the “Best Use of an Alarm Clock in a Song” award away from Jars of Clay’s “Famous Last Words”.
9) “You Are Mine”, MuteMath (MuteMath, 2006)
While MuteMath has a reputation for being insanely energetic, they have some really captviating mellow songs as well, like this beautiful slow-burner that has become a fan favorite over the years. It’s a remarkably devoted and intimate love song, one that’s malleable enough to support a variety of interpretations (husband to wife, parent to child, God to human) without its universal approach ever feeling generic. The phrase “You are mine” isn’t possessive here – it indicates more of a mutual belonging together, and the one saying it believes they are so head-over-heels in love with the other person that they’ll never kick the habit.
10) “The Face of Love”, Sanctus Real (The Face of Love, 2006)
What Jesus actually looked like has been a subject of some debate. As children, a lot of us were given this picture of a softspoken, bearded white man in a robe, usually with a sheep or ten in tow, when in reality, a man from the Middle East would probably have more of a brown complexion, and a carpenter who spent the later years of his life traipsing all over Israel to preach and do miracles would probably look a lot rougher around the edges, too. The Men’s Retreat that I went to that year addressed this notion of Jesus as “meek and mild”, pointing out that the “nice” thing to do isn’t always the loving thing to do, and how Jesus exemplified this in the times when he got genuinely angry about something, even to the point of turning over tables in the temple because the religious establishment had gotten so corrupt. This song is more gentle and ambient compared to Sanctus Real’s past work, so while it doesn’t get at the more visceral aspects of Jesus’s personality, it does point out that it’s easier to know Him by heart than by sight. We may not have an accurate picture of His face, but we know when we see Him in loving actions expressed toward those deemed “too lost to save” or “too low to serve” by our own society. I loved the newfound sense of maturity in Sanctus Real’s approach here; this reminded me a great deal of something Caedmon’s Call might do, which was appropriate because…
11) “Sing His Love”, Caedmon’s Call (In the Company of Angels 2: The World Will Sing, 2006)
Caedmon’s Call worship album #2. I wasn’t really a fan of the first one, and wasn’t really all that enthused to review the second one, which seemed to be a contractual obligation for the band after they had so effectively established their new post-Derek Webb identity on the criminally underappreciated Share the Well. I really loved the title track on this one. Good, upbeat acoustic shuffle, fun to play on the guitar. The rest of the album was forgettable.
12) “A New Law”, Derek Webb (Mockingbird, 2005)
Derek Webb, for his part, had certainly come up with some challenging material since leaving Caedmon’s Call, but he too committed the misstep of being too low-key and all-around forgettable on his third solo record, which nonetheless was a historically significant one because the response to him giving it away online for free online inspired the founding of NoiseTrade, a site through which I discovered a few other artists several years later. Mockingbird seemed so concerned with getting a message across clearly that little effort was spent on making the music interesting, so it was another one of those that I had to circle back around to after hearing it when it first came out and dismissing it. This song, though a bit repetitive, slowly won me over with its indictment of legalism, being written from the perspective of a lazy congregant who wants to be told what to think, what rules not to break, who to vote for, etc., without ever having to think more deeply about whether any of this is actually Scriptural. Evangelical subculture has made us so afraid to ask the hard questions and to venture into the perceived “grey areas” where actual discernment is requires and a simple list of rights and wrongs only ends up doing more harm than good due to how it ostracizes everyone who believes even slightly differently. I’ve never been a fan of legalism, but it permeated the church culture that I grew up in, so often I was guilty of it in ways I wasn’t fully aware, and it was only in my late 20s and early 30s that I really started coming to terms with that.
13) “All This Time”, Delirious? (The Mission Bell, 2005)
This was probably one of Martin Smith’s most personal and confessional songs, which made it even stranger that he traded off lead vocals with Stu G at a few points. I loved how there was still a bit of the experimental ambiance leftover from the Audio: Lessonover era despite this being one of their more straightforward, prayerful types of songs. The lines “How can I serve God and wealth? I can captivate an army but I can’t control myself” still speak volumes. When you’re famous, people put you on a pedestal. It lasts so long as you don’t make obvious missteps in front of them. But the people who see you everyday – your bandmates when you’re on tour, your family members when you’re at home, and most importantly, God – can see through the whole hero act. They know you at your worst moments they keep you humble. Delirious? was the kind of band that was set up from the get-go to make you expect a Bono-sized ego at the center of it (since so much of what they did owed a great debt to U2 on a musical level), and I also think there’s something Bono-esque about wanting to dismantle the myth and more clearly express the thoughts of the man behind it.
14) “Trolleywood”, Eisley (Room Noises, 2005)
Our first Eisley concert was at the House of Blues Sunset Strip in West Hollywood that spring. It was a weeknight and Christine had to work the next morning, and standing room only with three opening acts made it a bit of a gauntlet to get through, but we made the most of our date night despite how exhausted we both knew we would be. They played dang near everything from what was, at the time, their only full-length album, and you know how sometimes there’ll be a track you don’t think much of until you see it played live? This was that track for both of us. To me it was just an OK closing number on the album, and I think it even got on Christine’s nerves a little, but with all of the opening bands coming back out to sing along with Eisley as they closed out the night with this one, it was hard not to smile and be swept up in the childlike wonder of those mythical woods being discovered and then disappearing into the mist again. I liked the name “Trolleywood”. It reminded me of going to Griffith Park as a kid, because they had trains and the Hollywood sign.
15) “Oh What Love”, Cindy Morgan (Postcards, 2006)
I’m still not 100% sure I buy Cindy Morgan’s transition from pop diva to rootsy folk/country artist, but there were several moments on Postcards where she pulled this off brilliantly. What would have been a pretty enough piano ballad in its own right was transformed into something truly magical by adding a slide guitar to it. It’s an instrument that I usually enjoy for the sassy twang it can add to song when it’s done tastefully, but I hardly ever think of it as “pretty”. I can still remember the first time Christine and I heard this one in the car and how absolutely captivated I was by the slide guitar solo. It still moves me.
16) “My Lagan Love”, The Corrs (Home, 2006)
It felt good to rediscover The Corrs on what turned out to be their final album, when they stripped away all of the modern pop gloss and made a covers album entirely comprised of Irish standards, as a tribute to their homeland. The blend of traditional Irish/Celtic music and pop music was how they had first captivated me on their debut, and I was frustrated when they veered away from that on subsequent albums (though Borrowed Heaven had its guilty pleasures), so this felt like a real homecoming even if I wasn’t totally familiar with the home they were returning to. I didn’t know the history behind this particular song, but it was tastefully done without being the over-the-top “Titanic jig music” that a lot of folks probably think of when Irish music comes to mind. It was a beautiful way to open their album and to close mine.