Divad’s Soundtrack #63: July-August 2006

My memories of the summer of 2006 are largely dominated by fond remembrance of our first trip back to Hawaii since we got married. Visiting family, and friends who were now starting to feel like family, made Oahu seem more and more like a second home, though there was still plenty left for me to discover. The second part of the trip was to the Big Island, which was a first for both of us. Despite how much I had enjoyed Kauai and Maui on past trips, the Big Island quickly emerged as my favorite part of Hawaii, due to the scenic and biological diversity on display – it was like an entire continent in miniature. This still stands out as one of my all-time favorite trips.

In with the New:
Pearl Jam
Rock Kills Kid
House of Heroes
Leigh Nash (as a solo artist – appears previously with Sixpence None the Richer)

Out with the Old:
downhere
Jack Johnson

It Was Worth a Try:
Thom Yorke (as a solo artist – appears elsewhere with Radiohead)

Listen on Spotify:

divads-soundtrack-63aDISC ONE
While on Oahu visiting Christine’s parents in July, I finally attempted a trail that I had been meaning to hike the last several times we had traveled there, but always got sidetracked. This was the Aiea Loop Trail, a fairly well-traveled route, though I only ran into one or two people the entire time on this particular day, likely because there was light rain. I had been told the trail was easy to follow, but I inadvertently took a detour onto the Aiea Ridge Trail, which had steep dropoffs on both sides, and I noticed the H-3 Freeway in the valley beneath me, eventually realizing that I was following it all the way up to where it tunneled through to the other side of the island. This picture is a view of the highway that you’re supposed to actually be able to see from the Aiea Loop Trail – where it curves off to the right is where the tunnel is, and the fact that I could see it much more close up from the Ridge Trail eventually clued me in that something was wrong.
Where in the world is this?

2006_PearlJam_PearlJam1) “World Wide Suicide”, Pearl Jam (Pearl Jam, 2006)
After years of being mildly curious but not sure if they were too edgy or political for me to fully appreciate, I finally took the plunge and tried a Pearl Jam record. It certainly helped that their self-titled record – known by some as “the avocado album” – was probably their most instantly accessible effort since Ten, the record all my high school friends had been fawning over a decade and a half prior. they chose a hell of a lead single for this one. It felt almost wrong at first for such a bouncy, catchy track to discuss such dark things as war and suicide. It wasn’t so much about people killing themselves as it was about governments manufacturing excuses to go to war with each other and wiping out untold numbers of their people in the process. Not a terribly happy subject, but one that probably got a lot more attention than it would have to the tune of a brooding alt-rock ballad or some sort of an experimental deep album cut you might have found on a Pearl Jam record in the years between Ten and this one.

2006_JarsofClay_GoodMonsters2) “Mirrors & Smoke”, Jars of Clay feat. Leigh Nash (Good Monsters, 2006)
Good Monsters wasn’t due out until September, but it leaked a good month and a half early, and of course I was all over it as soon as possible. I still get such vivid memories of our time driving around the Big Island when I listen to pretty much any track from this record. My early favorite was this country-influenced duet between Dan Haseltine and Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer, a pairing which I’d heard once or twice before, but I loved the “June and Johnny” sort of vibe they were going for here, with a man recounting his inadequate attempts to express love to someone and a woman rebutting that he was gonna have to try a lot harder than that. Despite the relationship in peril it seemed to describe, the song was just plain fun, and I could tell the two singers were having a blast riffing off of each other. I’m still bummed that Leigh had to drop out of Jars’ fall tour and I never got to hear her sing this one on stage with the band.

2006_TheListening_TheRockNRollWorshipCircusBecomesTheListening3) “Triple Fascination”, The Listening (The Listening LP, 2006)
This was another Listening track that didn’t mind taking its time to be exploratory, even though it had an immediate, stadium-sized guitar riff that it loved to ruminate on over and over again. I had thought “Triple Fascination” was a reference to being in awe of the Trinity, but now that I look at the song a little closer, I realize it’s about the different ways a human responds to God – “Love, the silent conversation/fascinates the mind, the soul, the body.” Once again, the band did a great job of evoking a reverent, otherworldly sort of mood and letting it linger more than a conventional praise chorus or pop song would usually allow for.

2006_Starfield_BeautyintheBroken4) “My Generation”, Starfield (Beauty in the Broken, 2006)
Also doing a pretty good job of making moody alt-rock work in a “worship music” context was this surprisingly dark opening track from Starfield’s second album, which I recall being all over the local Christian radio station as we were driving around Oahu. I’m normally not a fan of songs that imply young people nowadays are somehow more empty and less spiritual than the generation before them, but this was coming from a member of that generation and I think it did a good job of expressing a sense of desperate yearning without getting too preachy or playing the blame game.

2006_SleepingatLast_KeepNoScore5) “Umbrellas”, Sleeping at Last (Keep No Score, 2006)
Keep No Score is also a record that very strongly reminds me of our time on the Big Island. I had no idea how radical of a change this record would kick off for the band back then – I loved the emphasis on more acoustic and orchestral elements in their sound, but I still considered them an alt-rock band back then and it’s so bizarre to think of them that way now. Ryan O’Neal didn’t have a wife or a kid yet when he wrote this song, but the sheer admiration, devotion, and willingness to take a bullet for loved ones he expressed in this song made it probably the best thing he’s ever written. I’m still not a parent yet, but I melt a little as he sings “You were meant for amazing things”. I want to sing that to a child of my own someday. And that ending – which I lovingly refer to as the “string-gasm”, remains one of my all-time favorite instrumental codas in any song I’ve ever heard.

2006_ViennaTeng_DreamingThrougtheNoise6) “I Don’t Feel So Well”, Vienna Teng (Dreaming Through the Noise, 2006)
Of all the iconic records that made 2006 a boon to my music collection, none still fascinates me as much as Dreaming Through the Noise, my favorite album thus far by my all-time favorite singer/songwriter. Hearing her preview almost the entire album for us during a 2005 show, I knew I was in for a much more mellow and intricate collection of “chamber pop” songs than what she’d previously won me over with. Running down to the record store to buy and album on its release date was still a ritual I took part in back then, and I actually went to the trouble of finding a Tower Records on Kamehameha Highway that actually carried the album, so that I could soak it in during my solo hike along the Aiea loop trail that afternoon. The oddball melody to this nervous little song about the fear of commitment had gotten stuck in my head just from hearing it once a year prior, and the surprising little instrumental flourishes from the piano, strings, and accordion added tons of dimension to what could have been an extremely simplistic and repetitive tune. The hushed atmosphere of this and so many of the other songs on Dreaming made it seem like it melted perfectly into the ambient sounds of the rainforest I was walking through that day, to the point where I couldn’t tell at first where one began and the other ended.

2006_VariousArtists_FreakedAGoteeTributetodcTalksJesusFreak7) “Between You and Me”, Relient K (FREAKED: A Gotee Tribute to dc Talk’s Jesus Freak, 2006)
Speaking of iconic records, though from a completely different genre, Jesus Freak was well-loved by so many youth group kids from the 90s, myself included, that it seemed like Gotee records was asking for trouble by letting other bands – many of them unknown at the time, cover all of its songs for a tribute album. I mean, so many of us knew every little whisper and sound effect, so how we were going to respond to a deliberately different interpretation of any of them? Relient K definitely didn’t follow the expected template when reworking this R&B-inflected song about reconciliation into more of a pop/punk tune, but it worked because they were well suited for the sophisticated chord progression and the interesting melodic twists and turns that the song took. It’s not a perfect cover – I’m still a bit baffled that they cut it off right after the bridge rather than letting the sweet coda play out like it did in the original. And they didn’t really play up the vocal harmonies the way that I know Relient K is capable of, so Michael Tait’s smooth, soulful approach definitely makes the original the better version. Still, I think it’s a great example of a song that’s strongly written enough to sound great in a completely out-of-genre context.

2005_DavidCrowderBand_ACollision8) “A Beautiful Collision”, David Crowder Band (A Collision, 2005)
“There seems no end to where You begin.” With very simple words, and a generally top-notch musical performance, the DCB had a real knack for inviting the listener into an experience of the infinite-ness of God. There’s so much to choose from on A Collision that it took me nearly a year to realize how much I loved the title track. I actually think my favorite memory of it isn’t from when it was still new to me in 2005/06, but from when the band played it on their farewell tour in 2011. Given the explosion of percussive beauty that happens near the end of the song, the band apparently felt the need to bring out a second drummer, who was dressed exactly the same as their drummer B-Wack, right down to the shaggy wig, making it look like they’d genetically cloned the guy. I’m still kind of amused that they did this just to see who was paying attention and never explained it.

2006_ThomYorke_TheEraser9) “The Clock”, Thom Yorke (The Eraser, 2006)
Maybe it was because I was just impatient for Radiohead to get their next album done already, but I was rather “meh” on Thom Yorke as a solo artist. I liked the minimalist indie-tronic vibe, but so many of the songs just felt like they went nowhere. This one got me pretty excited, though, with its furious beat click-clacking around and the eerie wailing of Thom’s vocals, implying the looming threat of time running out. What really made my jaw drop was seeing a YouTube video of him performing this one unplugged on Jools Holland. It’s not the type of song where you’d expect such a thing to work, but his fingers just flew furiously across those guitar strings, recreating the relentless momentum of the song with no apparent looping or overdubs, and it was sheer magic.

2006_KTTunstall_EyetotheTelescope10) “Suddenly I See”, KT Tunstall (Eye to the Telescope, 2006)
I had no idea who Patti Smith was when I first heard this song, but apparent KT Tunstall was a huge fan, to the point of modeling her first album’s cover image after Smith’s album Horses, and this song is basically a tribute to her influence on Tunstall as a young artist. It was one of her bounciest singles – probably second in that department to “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”, and it just made you want to aspire to be like the kick-ass woman she described in the lyrics. (Then the song ended up in The Devil Wears Prada. That film might have been the beginning of the end of my interest in “chick flicks”.)

2006_RosanneCash_BlackCadillac11) “Radio Operator”, Rosanne Cash (Black Cadillac, 2006)
Looking back, I can’t figure out for the life of me how I had stylistically similar tracks by the daughter of Johnny Cash, and Jars of Clay paying homage to Johnny Cash, and I didn’t think to put them together. With that said, this one fits so darn well alongside “Suddenly I See” that maybe I did think of it at the time, but still liked this order better. I don’t know who the person at the other end of the radio is in this song, or whose song is going out over the airwaves that was such an inspiration to Rosanne, but that nostalgic vibe, paying tribute to a favorite musician or song that in turn influenced another musician, is still quite strong. Plus it’s just downright playful, and that’s an unusual vibe to get from a record that was mostly about mourning the passing of her parents.

2006_SanctusReal_TheFaceofLove12) “Fly”, Sanctus Real (The Face of Love, 2006)
My memory of this song, fun and catchy and hard-hitting as it was, really has nothing to do with the song itself. Just the fact that it was stuck in my head one Saturday when Christine, always the inventive one when it came to unique places to eat or explore when we had a weekend free, managed to find a Hawaiian-themed diner tucked away in a bowling alley, of all things, somewhere down in Torrance or thereabouts. Yeah, pretty random memory. It was delicious, though.

2006_TheVioletBurning_DropDead13) “Humm”, The Violet Burning (Drop-Dead, 2006)
The first track on Drop-Dead, unlike the big, swagger-y rockers that had first drawn my attention, was more of a laid-back, personal prayer, with kind of an industrial beat and a mysteriously off-key synth bass riff behind it. There was something arrestingly beautiful about the vulnerability of Michael Pritzl’s vocal delivery in this one. It wasn’t a “worship song” in the conventional sense, but it was definitely the sound of a man awestruck at the love of God, something so big and all-encompassing that he could never find it solely looking within himself.

2006_Matisyahu_Youth14) “King Without a Crown”, Matisyahu (Youth, 2006)
This song makes me think of Kona, on the leeward side of the Big Island. It’s a more touristy town than Hilo, so of course you’re going to have more of your fancy resorts catering to travelers, and blaring reggae music from the lanais where they sit and eat their expensive dinners. It may be inauthentic – Hawaiians gave the world Hawaiian music, and reggae comes from a completely different ocean – but when the reggae song in question is a surprise hit by a Jewish artist from New York, it’s going be geographically mixed up no matter where you play it. I was still amused that this Psalm-like breakdown, which closed out Matisyahu’s album and which I’d heard was even more of a riot on his live record, was actually getting some sort of mainstream airplay, and I have a fond memory of it setting the mood while we looked out over the water as the sun set over the Pacific, while we celebrated our first anniversary a week early, doing our best to blend in with the upscale tourists before we retreated back to our relatively cheap hotel for the night.

2006_Downhere_WideEyedandMystified15) “1000 Miles Apart”, downhere (Wide Eyed and Mystified, 2006)
Second-to-last on a record that I’ve previously mentioned saved its best stuff for the end, this beautifully harmonized little ditty did its best to challenge those of us who think we’re not prejudiced, but still feel uneasy about being surrounded by a cultural context that is not our own. It’s easier to fear what you don’t know. Sometimes I’ve actually enjoyed being the only white guy in some of those “fish out of water” situations, but I’m not gonna lie, I have my unfounded fears and prejudices too, that can lead to some amount of paranoia when I’m driving or walking in certain neighborhoods. And sure, living in a city like L.A., there are certain areas where everyone needs to keep their wits about them at all times. But most of us privileged suburban kids don’t really know how to tell the difference between a true ghetto and a working-class neighborhood we derisively refer to as “ghetto” just because the people look different from us or a lot of signs are in languages other than English.

2005_JackJohnson_InBetweenDreams16) “Better Together”, Jack Johnson (In Between Dreams, 2005)
When you’re making a mix heavy on Hawaii nostalgia, it doesn’t hurt to throw a Jack Johnson song in there. This one makes a really good case for finding beauty in simplicity – it’s like a lot of his songs in that there’s not much aside from voice, acoustic guitar, and percussion, but the way his fingers seem to dance on the strings in the song’s intro riff really sets it apart. This is an unabashedly romantic song about how it’s so much better pondering the vast mysteries of life, the universe, and everything when you’ve got a partner by your side to bounce ideas off of and share in the experience. The armchair philosophizing probably wouldn’t mean much of anything if not for the angle of two people having each others’ backs as they navigate the mystery. A good friend once told me she wants this song to be played at her wedding. For all I know, a more recent song may have taken its place in her mind in the years since she said that, but I haven’t forgotten, so if that day ever comes for her (and I remain optimistic that it will), I might just have to learn how to play it.

divads-soundtrack-63bDISC TWO
While we went to the expected beautiful scenic points on the Big Island, such as Waipio Valley and the Volcanoes, and planned some other excursions such as driving the Saddle Road and making the trek out to the Southernmost Point in the 50 States, I think the place that I most fell in love with on that island was Hilo. We had this gorgeous view of the bay, and a park called Coconut Island, from our hotel room, and when I woke up very early the second day we were there, I stepped out onto the balcony and took this beautiful picture of the sunrise behind Mauna Kea, illuminating the observatories and the bay with beautiful shades of red and purple. Two hours later, this same view was completely clouded over and it was raining – typical windward Big Island weather.
Where in the world is this?

2006_RockKillsKid_AreYouNervous1) “Midnight”, Rock Kills Kid (Are You Nervous?, 2006)
Rock Kills Kid was one of those one-album-wonder bands that Tim got me into. I don’t know if this sort of sorta-new wave, sorta-retro-disco rock actually got airplay on stations like KROQ back then, so I’m not sure how he found them. They were goofy, but fun. Being a bit of an insomniac, this song about being awake for no good reason in the middle of the night, with nothing meaningful to do to pass the time, kind of amused me. Turns out it was actually about their lead singer squatting in a recording studio because he was literally homeless while they were recording their album. Now that’s just sad. But at least you can dance to it.

2005_HouseofHeroes_HouseofHeroes2) “Friday Night”, House of Heroes (House of Heroes, 2005)
Also about wasting away the late hours of the night (though in more of a public setting as a sad sack guy tries to pick up girls by the jukebox) is this song, a great early example of House of Heroes’ ability to inhabit a “touch macho guy” kind of a character for the length of a song and make it clear that he’s up to no good, but still experiencing some inner turmoil about the morality/legality of his actions. They slowly became one of my favorite bands over the years, and this was where it all started.

2006_TheElms_TheChessHotel3) “Black Peach”, The Elms (The Chess Hotel, 2006)
I liked to imagine that the party girl described in this song, who came to raise a ruckus but who would take no nonsense from men who got too up close and personal for her liking, was at the same club as the guy from “Friday Night”, and maybe he was the guy who got his lip busted after he pushed his macho act a little too far with her. Either way, this was a fun little Southern-inflected rock song that, despite being relatively harmless, probably would have suffered from some editing if The Elms had tried to put it out on a CCM label.

2006_DixieChicks_TakingtheLongWay4) “Lubbock or Leave It”, Dixie Chicks (Taking the Long Way, 2006)
While we’re on the subject of heading south and raising a ruckus, the Dixie Chicks did a pretty good job of that on this song, one of the few unabashedly country tunes on an otherwise disappointingly poppy album that abandoned the creative progress they’d made on Home. This one was basically a taunt to the extreme right-wing devotees who had blacklisted them for their infamous criticism of President Bush, and it referenced the life of Buddy Holly as sort of a framing device for the idea that often a great musician isn’t fully appreciated until they’re dead. That might have been a bit egotistical on Natalie Maines’ part, but she was right to call out the hypocrisy of a town seeming to have a church on every corner and a facade of “Southern hospitality”, while so easily and viciously turning on someone once they were revealed to have differences in their political beliefs.

2006_JarsofClay_GoodMonsters5) “All My Tears”, Jars of Clay (Good Monsters, 2006)
I cannot underscore how important this song became to me almost immediately upon hearing it. It’s actually a cover of a cover, by way of Julie Miller and then Emmylou Harris, so it’s a country song in a pop/rock song’s body, given Jars’ up-tempo, celebratory take on it that wound up on the album. A lot of Jars fans actually prefer their acoustic renditions of this song to the album version, but to me the shimmering piano, triumphant electric guitar, and the trade-off between the lead and backing vocals is just pitch perfect here. The melody of it feels like it could be an old spiritual from long ago that someone revived, even though it was really written in the mid-90s. I relate so strongly to its admonition to celebrate rather than mourn the passing of a fellow believer, that I’m pretty sure I’ll want this song to be played at my funeral someday. A lot of Jars fans have expressed similar wishes, unsurprisingly.

2006_RosanneCash_BlackCadillac6) “Black Cadillac”, Rosanne Cash (Black Cadillac, 2006)
The lead track on Rosanne Cash’s album was the one that most directly referenced the passing of her father, and it’s definitely more mournful than celebratory, but it’s an honest and loving tribute, and I love the symbolism of the “man in black” being laid to rest by way of a ride in a black Cadillac, under a black cloudy sky. The ominous, dark bass and the trumpets paying homage to “Ring of Fire” are a really excellent touch here, and you can hear the pain in Rosanne’s voice as she laments “One of us gets to go to heaven, one has to stay here in hell”. It’s an uneasy attempt to put closure on the “what could have been” questions about an uneasy father/daughter relationship, and I appreciated her bravery for writing such a song.

2006_TheFlamingLips_AtWarwiththeMystics7) “The Sound of Failure/It’s Dark… Is It Always This Dark??”, The Flaming Lips (At War with the Mystics, 2006)
Such a beautiful, exploratory, song on what I still regard as the best album of The Lips’ “dream pop” phase (and I’m sure the lion’s share of their fans will disagree with me on this point). I wasn’t sure who this song was about, or what she was standing in the graveyard mourning, but since they dropped awkward-yet-adorable dated pop culture references into it – “Go tell Britney and Go tell Gwen/That she’s not tryin’ to go against all them”, I got the impression she was some sort of musician whose time in the limelight was long since over, and who had found acceptance in not trying to vainly compete with modern trends. The Lips seem to be following that formula of not caring about modern trends, since their psychedelic approach here leans heavily on 70s influences, with the fuzzy/funk influenced guitars and the generously long instrumental flight of fancy that brings the song to over a seven-minute runtime. I grew to love every single moment of it, right down to the mournful flute coda, which on my mix led perfectly into…

2006_LeighNash_BlueonBlue8) “Nervous in the Light of Dawn”, Leigh Nash (Blue on Blue, 2006)
…the mournful flute that opens this laid-back acoustic pop song, which sees the sun finally beginning to rise after a long night of uncertainty. As much as I loved our trip to the Big Island, I remember that Christine and I had gotten into some sort of an argument our first night there that went unresolved when she fell asleep, so I did my fair share of tossing and turning and lying awake when I really could have used the rest, replaying the things I should have said or done over and over in my head. Since I was awake at sunrise because of this, that’s when I snapped the beautiful photo that I ended up using for the CD cover. She woke up not long after that, and all the bitterness from the previous night was just gone. Despite how tired I was that day, it was one I was excited to get started due to all of the exploring we had to do and beautiful places we would see. Back home, I’m not a morning person at all, but for some reason when I’m traveling, I just can’t wait to get the day started most of the time because good memories of days like that one give me enough positive reinforcement to yank me out of bed.

2006_BelleSebastian_TheLifePursuit9) “Song for Sunshine”, Belle & Sebastian (The Life Pursuit, 2006)
As mentioned before, the earliest Belle & Sebastian songs that I came to appreciate were the ones where they did something weird. In keeping with The Flaming Lips’ entry on this disc, B&S were in full 70s mode on this one, laying the funky/psychedelic guitar effects on thick and giving the whole thing a bit of a “hippie lounge” sort of vibe. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the social commentary here, but the almost distractingly cheery group vocals on the chorus easily made up for that. I just felt great listening to this one – and then I wasn’t sure if I was getting away with something I wasn’t supposed to, due to the lyrics seeming a bit dire in comparison to the music.

2006_TheFieryFurnaces_BitterTea10) “Waiting to Know You”, The Fiery Furnaces (Bitter Tea, 2006)
This one’s a charming little waltz, full of old-timey saloon piano and various electronic splashes and splotches, apparently about a woman scoping out a Navy yard in search of a future husband? That’s fairly grounded subject matter by Fiery Furnaces standards. For me it was just the right amount of whimsical, something that I felt Eleanor Friedberger would once again capture well on her first few solo records, but a balance that she had a hard time maintaining with her brother Matthew driving the insanity level of a lot of their songs into the red.

2006_SufjanStevens_TheAvalanche11) “No Man’s Land”, Sufjan Stevens (The Avalanche, 2006)
Getting a grasp on the meaning of Sufjan’s leftover bits and pieces from the Illinois album was even harder than it was for the tracks that actually made the album. “A tribute to the various transportation hubs in Illinois and ways of getting around the state” was the best I could do here, though with such oddities as there being “car in the bay by the boat that swept and swayed”, it was still open to interpretation. What I was most drawn to here were the trumpet fanfares, handclaps, cheery backing vocals offering their own rebuttal to the notion that “This Land Is Your Land”, and the seeming impossibility of figuring out what the heck time signature this song was in.

2006_SleepingatLast_KeepNoScore12) “Envelopes”, Sleeping at Last (Keep No Score, 2006)
This song was my first taste of Keep No Score, with its jagged electric guitar riffs and clickety-clacks drums colliding against an otherwise smooth melody and vocal delivery, it was a really interesting variation on the dream pop/indie rock sound of Ghosts. The abstract lyrics about birds with paper wings dropping messages in envelopes for us to read pique my curiosity to the point where I’m still not sure I’ve mined the depths of this song’s possible meanings.

2005_NickelCreek_WhyShouldtheFireDie13) “First and Last Waltz/Helena”, Nickel Creek (Why Should the Fire Die?, 2005)
My choice to include this song – really two tracks that were meant to be presented together, one a sad and off-kilter instrumental farewell to a failed relationship and the other an edgy, arrogant defense of a man’s extramarital activities – sort of brought my experience with Why Should the Fire Die? full circle, since I had first listened to the album on Kauai and had been hand-picking songs from it steadily ever since, with the last one striking my fancy as our Big Island trip wrapped up. Thankfully it’s another one of their songs that has absolutely nothing to do with what I was going through at the time – Chris Thile does a great job of playing a character here that he himself has described as “a conniving A-hole”. And the massive drums at the end were an awesome surprise, coming from a “newgrass” band who usually just approximated percussion by muting their strings. I didn’t know it at the time, but the group would disband in 2007 and this would by the last song of theirs to appear on one of my mixes until the group got back together in 2014 – coincidentally the year we road tripped through Montana, and ended up listening to “Helena” on our way to Helena.

2006_ViennaTeng_DreamingThrougtheNoise14) “Pontchartrain”, Vienna Teng (Dreaming Through the Noise, 2006)
Wandering around Hilo, I was reminded that though it struck me as a peaceful and idyllic place, it was also on the precarious edge of disaster. Due to its location on the bay, it had been ravaged by tsunamis from earthquakes as far away as Chile and Alaska, and one of the majestic volcanoes looming above it in the distance had come within a few miles of wiping it out in the 1980s. Vienna Teng’s slow, brooding, and downright chilling ode to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina loomed in the back of my mind as we walked around the waterfront on our first day there. Sometimes the line between who lives and dies when tragedy strikes can be as mundane as the elevation or topography. Yet despite paying the price for living in such a volatile corner of the Earth, people still connect to the land strongly enough to want to rebuild after a disaster and make it feel like home again. There’s something admirable about that, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same way about New Orleans if we ever make it there.

2006_PearlJam_PearlJam15) “Come Back”, Pearl Jam (Pearl Jam, 2006)
Pearl Jam downshifted into “classic rock ballad” mode quite effectively here, singing a song from the point of view of a widow who had lost her husband to war or some other disaster, who felt that she was being visited by his ghost, but not at all haunted by him – she wished he could stay and they could return to some semblance of their previously happy lives together. This felt like an appropriate follow-up to a song about such a grim tragedy. Those left behind have to sift through the wreckage of their memories, but eventually the strongest ones find a way to rebuild what they can of their lives and move on, while keeping in remembrance the loved ones they have lost.

2006_CindyMorgan_Postcards16) “Come Home”, Cindy Morgan (Postcards, 2006)
Ukulele-driven twee pop is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Cindy Morgan, but it’s one of the many unpredictable styles she tried on for Postcards, and I have to say that she hit just the right balance of cutesy and genuine here. This song seems to be welcoming a believer back into the fold after a long time away – perhaps someone made them feel unwelcome, or perhaps they found it hard to believe while going through personal tragedy. Either way, the sentiment here is much like that of the father welcoming back his prodigal son – no judgment, no needing an account of where you’ve been, just sheer happiness to see them again and welcome them home. This is an aspect of the Christian faith that’s always resonated deeply with me, even though I haven’t always been the best example of that welcoming attitude. Knowing you always have a home to return to, no matter how far you’ve strayed, is a comforting and powerful thing.

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