What I remember most when I listen to this set of songs from the fall of 2006 is moving and starting anew. After spending a year or so in the apartment we’d inherited when Tim moved out, Christine and I decided to finally look for our own place together. The location we ended up with was convenient in that it was close to the school Christine was working at, and halfway between my job and church, right off of Mission and Granada in Alhambra. The downside was that it was right by the train tracks, and the building would gently shake when the trains went by in the middle of the night. It took some adjustment, but it truly felt like our own place for the first time in our relationship.
In with the New:
Future of Forestry
Out with the Old:
The Fiery Furnaces
Listen on Spotify:
I had jury duty in September, at the criminal courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles. I whined and complained about it when I got called in at 7:45 on a Wednesday morning, and I had to fight traffic and one-way streets, and other things about L.A. that made me feel claustrophobic and paranoid, in order to get there. But you know what? I ended up serving on a jury for five days, and I found the process to be rather interesting (and a nice break from my job, which still paid me for the days I was gone). The hour-and-a-half lunch breaks gave me ample opportunity to explore Downtown L.A. on foot, and one of the spots I visited a few times, just to eat lunch in a relatively peaceful setting, was the Watercourt at California Plaza, which sits at the top of the Angels Flight Railway on Bunker Hill. I had vaguely remembered it from a field trip when I had a college course on Los Angeles ten years prior, so with a bit of walking and stair-climbing, I was able to find an urban oasis away from the ugly confines of the courthouse and some of the other rundown buildings in that area. Other notable destinations during my tenure as a juror were Olvera Street and Little Tokyo, places I went back to visit with Christine and her family when they were in town two months later for Thanksgiving.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Letters in White Lines”, Olivia the Band (Back to Friends Where Summer Never Ends EP, 2006)
The first of a new batch of songs from Olivia (that would later become their final album, as far as I know anyway) envisioned a door to a familiar house, and a man nervous to knock and go inside, as the start of a new life beyond what was already familiar to him. He was tempted to turn away and continue living in the familiar places from his past, and i guess writing the song was sort of a confidence boost to plunge forward into the unfamiliar. “Can’t you see that it’s not yesterday? Can’t you see that it’s today?” I need words like these at times in my life when I’m tempted to live in the past, rather than just going back to visit.
2) “Head Against the Sky”, Eisley (Head Against the Sky EP, 2005)
After a Labor Day hike to Monrovia Canyon, Christine, Tim and I stopped at this boba shop in Monrovia that, for whatever reason, seemed to have the entire Eisley discography on shuffle that day. Even obscure non-album tracks like this one, which I only knew from hearing them play it in concert earlier that year. It always puts a smile on my face when I walk into a place of business and they’ve got something playing that you’d never hear on the radio, but that I’m personally familiar with.
3) “Sweet Sacrifice”, Evanescence (The Open Door, 2006)
Having some new Evanescence to turn up to full blast in the car made those morning trips to downtown L.A. a whole lot easier. A rather harsh breakup was clearly on Amy Lee’s mind in a lot of these new songs, with this one finding her calling out her ex-lover for playing the victim and painting her as the bad guy. Her sarcastic retort of “You poor, sweet innocent thing!” was anything but subtle. It also kicked a lot of ass.
4) “Buckets for Bullet Wounds”, House of Heroes (House of Heroes, 2005)
This song had so many early signs of the traits that would gradually make House of Heroes one of my favorite bands. Very aggressive, biting commentary, rhythmic change-ups that caught me off guard at first but eventually made the strong hooks sink in even deeper, and enough heroic guitar antics to live up to their name. As far as I could tell, this one was about a society that didn’t do a darn thing to care for the sick and the needy. It just shunned them and passed laws to make sure the wounded and the dying didn’t bleed on our nice carpets. The first (and so far only) time I got to see House of Heroes in concert was at the short-lived Cornerstone West festival in Irvine that fall, and of course this feisty little song was one of the highlights of their setlist.
5) “Between the Rent and Me”, Snowden (Anti-Anti, 2006)
Since Tim had been a fan of The Violet Burning from back in the day,and I had just gotten into their new album, we made the trip out to Silverlake to see them perform at one of the many small hipster clubs out that way. First up on the bill was Snowden, a band from Atlanta that put a dance-punk sort of spin on otherwise jaded and depressing emo lyrics. I believe this was the song they were playing when we walked in. It rattled around in my head for days and days until I finally tracked down the mp3 of it.
6) “Rewind”, The Violet Burning (Drop-Dead, 2006)
The Violet Burning also did sort of a throwback, dance-rock sort of thing on this track. Lots of fun even though its lyrics are pretty silly – “Shoot, shoot, shoot me in the heart”, that sort of thing. I loved Michael Pritzl’s self-deprecating comments about how the CCM review of the album claimed to not understand this song, when in fact there really wasn’t much there to understand. Sometimes a band just wants to do a fun, nostalgic, don’t-break-up-with-me sort of song.
7) “Paralyzed”, Rock Kills Kid (Are You Nervous?, 2006)
Keeping the danceable indie-rock vibe going, this was probably the most recognizable hit from the short-lived Rock Kills Kid. Huge, meaty basslines, sharp guitar licks that sounded like they’d be most at home under the glitter and glow of a disco ball, and total sad sack lyrics about being “stuck inside a stupid dream” and too scared to make a move… why are there so darn many fun songs like this about utterly depressing subjects?
8) “Dead Man (Carry Me)”, Jars of Clay (Good Monsters, 2006)
Even Jars of Clay had to try the whole “downtrodden garage-rocker you can dance your ass off to” thing on for size that year! It was a shock to the system when I first heard it, but it became one of their most beloved songs, and a total blast whenever they would play it live. This one of course stood out from the pack by at least hinting that when you felt dead and your heartbeat barely registered, the one who gave you that heartbeat could still get you through it. I liked that it handled it with sort of a self-deprecating tone, rather than the neat “problem gets wrapped up by the end of the song” approach usually taken by Christian bands.
9) “Free Radicals”, The Flaming Lips (At War with the Mystics, 2006)
This song was highly amusing in 2006. Wayne Coyne did his most ridiculous Prince impression, the music was this oddball stop-start funk-rock jam with plenty of talkbox activity going on, and the lyrics were all about trying to talk some sort of a radical terrorist down from his perch where he was ready to hit the trigger and blow society to smithereens. “You’re turning into a poor man’s Donald Trump” was an effective enough insult when we all knew Trump as the arrogant host of The Apprentice and a rich but irrelevant blowhard in general. In 2016, when Prince died, and Trump somehow managed to get himself elected President of the United states, I had a hard time deciding whether the song was still amusing, or just downright terrifying.
10) “Youth”, Matisyahu (Youth, 2006)
I loved how this track fused together driving rock energy and more of a politically-charged reggae vibe. “Youth is the engine of the world” – while it’s often older folks actually making the laws, the energy of younger folks drawing attention to what isn’t right in our society can, at least in an ideal democratic setting, drive our society to realize what’s wrong and what can be changed. The sudden guitar blast at the beginning of this one made for the perfect segue out of “Free Radicals”. It’s one of those little things that made me smile when I played it back on the CD and realized I had timed the transition exactly right to avoid missing a beat between the two songs.
11) “White and Nerdy”, Weird Al Yankovic (Straight Outta Lynwood, 2006)
I’ve often said that Weird Al’s rap parodies are his best ones, because there’s the most space allotted to replace the original lyrics with rapidfire jokes. This ode to geek culture may be his best example of that – at one point after this became a comeback hit for Weird Al, people were congratulating Chamillionaire on “his” version of Weird Al’s song! It’s rare for an artist in any genre to come out with such an iconic siganture song two decades and change into their career, so I think this one proved to a lot of the world what us nerds already knew – that Weird Al still had some serious game. As for the question, “Do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?” – well, sorry, but this nerd’s gonna have to take a third option and go with Sisko instead.
12) “The Henney Buggy Band”, Sufjan Stevens (The Avalanche, 2006)
Now if you want music that’s actually pretty nerdy, this is a good follow-up to Weird Al, even if it’s stylistically in a whole other universe. Peppy horns that sound like they were borrowed from a marching band? Check. Obscure geographical references? Check. Meek lead vocalist who most likely was not a jock in high school? It’s Sufjan, so duh. I could never figure out what this song was about – some sort of a parade down the streets of some town in Illinois somewhere, I guess. Anything like this with a lot of percussion and horns tends to get my attention. Also I thought the title was cute. It reminded me of my friend Jennie from Oxy – who Krista (her neighbor freshman year and roomate the year after) would sometimes call “Hennie”, as a portmanteau of her first and last names. We had seen her a few months back at her 10-year college reunion, and somewhere around this point I may have gotten the idea for us to visit her in Seattle during our layover on our way to Anchorage the following summer.
13) “1Br/1Ba”, Vienna Teng (Dreaming Through the Noise, 2006)
Vienna’s ode to her new, cramped apartment with temperamental A/C and noisy neighbors seemed like a pretty good ode to ours. Parking’s a little better in Alhambra than it is in San Francisco, but a lot of our other problems were similar to those described in the song – flock of boxes stacked in the living room and no idea how to chip away at it all for the first few days, noisy upstairs neighbors (though the neighbors who were noisy for reasons described in the song were actually the ones horizontally adjacent to us, it turned out), difficulty of distributing cool air throughout the unit, etc. But it was our first real home together, and we were excited to make it feel like one despite the challenges.
14) “Vultures”, John Mayer (Continuum, 2006)
I was emphatically NOT one of the people who got excited by John Mayer’s “closing up shop on acoustic sensitive” and switching to more of a blues-rock format. It felt at that point like the legend of him being this really talented guitarist actually eclipsed his use of that skill on his records. Regardless of that criticism, this was one of the tracks that I did enjoy on his live album with the trio – nice laid-back groove, cool electric guitar licks, good falsetto, intriguing lyrics about his career being picked over by scavengers or whatnot – and I was happy that it got reworked for Continuum, which is honestly the last John Mayer album that did much of anything to hold my attention.
15) “Hey”, Leeland (Sound of Melodies, 2006)
Back when I still got pre-releases and press kits from a few of the major CCM labels, I’d occasionally have to endure these really cheesy ripoffs of mainstream bands that I figured (or at least hoped) would go nowhere. Leeland was one of those at first. From reading the description of their music, and already thinking there were too many piano-rock knockoffs following in the footsteps of Coldplay and Keane, plus the possible nepotism of Leeland Mooring being the son-in-law of Michael W. Smith (his label boss at the time), I expected really horrible things. So I wasn’t pleasantly surprised to find an album mostly full of merely average things, and some legitimately great songs every now and then as well. I don’t remember much of anything deep about “Hey”. It’s just a jubilant, bouncy, happy song, that sort of reminded me of what The Swift was doing at around the same time. (Anyone remember The Swift? Probably fewer people than the ones who remember Leeland.)
16) “Fair Weather”, Michelle Tumes (Michelle Tumes, 2006)
After the weeks-long marathon of packing, cleaning and moving, we decided in late September that it was time to treat ourselves to a weekend of nothing but fun activities. So we took a Saturday, drove out to Oak Glen (a favorite place we’ve since returned to for hiking and apple picking a few times), and took in the splendor of some fall colors in the orchards. Unbeknownst to Christine, we’d be attending a concert in Loma Linda later that day. Michelle Tumes had been a favorite of ours for several years, but I had not seen her in concert since that short opening set at the Fresno Fair back in the late 90s, and I don’t think Christine ever had. She was pleasantly surprised when we got to the Seventh Day Adventist church where Tumes was performing that night (for them, it was the Sabbath, and Tumes had played in their service that morning as well), and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that a lot of Tumes’ new material was much more like the lush, soothing, Enya-influenced material from Listen – which is still one of my all-time favorite 90s albums. “Fair Weather” was by far the most striking of the new songs – pristine piano meeting up with a driving, dramatic chorus, in a song that confesses to having a troubled human heart while remaining assured that God is constant.
Christine and I made a trip out to Santa Barbara in October, to catch Sleeping at Last in concert at a local coffeeshop. We were going to spend the entire day out there, but got going too late to have time for any substantial activities such as hiking, so after a very late lunch, we had some time to kill, and we decided to spend an hour at the Santa Barbara Zoo, which might not be as impressive as the San Diego Zoo, but it still had some fascinating animal exhibits and we had a great time there. This picture shows the view from a high point of the zoo grounds, looking out across a small lake at the east end of the city and the mountains above it.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Inside Job”, Pearl Jam (Pearl Jam, 2006)
I believe this song was written about guitarist Mike McCready’s struggle with alcoholism. Despite sounding a bit dark and brooding at the beginning, it’s actually one of the most beautiful and uplifting things that Pearl Jam has ever recorded. It seems like it’s coming from a place of taking ownership of the damage done and gradually learning how to turn that tide and reclaim the life you’ve realized you were starting to throw away. I love how the song transitions from a low-key, ambient piece to an ehilirating rock breakdown at the end. It was the perfect way for Pearl Jam to close their self-titled album, and when making this particular playlist, I found that it worked really well as an opening track, too.
2) “Rebirthing”, Skillet (Comatose, 2006)
My enjoyment of Skillet’s music was coming to an end with Comatose, which is basically the last time I’ve been able to take an album of theirs even halfway seriously. Ironically this was the album that really broke them through to the mainstream, and it had a lot more middle-of-the-road stuff that I didn’t really think played to their strengths. As corny as it is, I tend to prefer their louder, more melodramatic stuff, at least when the lyrics aren’t too blatantly preachy or riddled with poorly-thought-out clichés. “Rebirthing” was a great start to the album, though – a solid mix of strings and heavy guitars, great duet vocal between John and Korey, basically the kind of thing action movie soundtracks were made of in those days.
3) “Renovation”, Future of Forestry (Future of Forestry EP, 2006)
Tim and I had gone to see Something Like Silas in late 2005, which was one of the last shows they played under that name after “reconfiguring” the band, according to Eric Owyoung’s own words. Dude probably got tired of having to constantly answer the question, “Where’s your wife?”, and being expected to play all of the old songs in which Malina’s keyboards played such a prominent role. he straight-up admitted at that show that they had gotten a divorce. (I remember getting in trouble on the SLS message board for sharing this information. Not sure why, if the band’s lead singer was already sharing it at their shows.) The band’s new material was notably more aggressive, particularly this song, with its mile-a-minute drum rolls and in-your-face guitar attack – it just came in looking to tear things down and start completely from scratch. In 2006, with the release of this EP, the transformation to a whole new band was complete, with the renaming to Future of Forestry coming as a bit of a surprise, but the new style had me hooked from the get-go. There were other tracks that rang out with the reverent ambiance I had come to love in SLS’s work, too, but this track was definitely the most striking of the bunch.
4) “Sky Maps”, Iona (The Circling Hour, 2006)
Iona’s music was typically more spacious, ethereal, and comtemplative – when they had climactic sections of songs where they totally rocked out, there was generally a long buildup to it. So it really took me by surprise when they put their rhythm section front and center for quite a few of the songs on The Circling Hour, which is probably one of their most esoteric and underrated works. “Sky Maps” was similar to “Castlerigg” in how it had very little in the way of lyrics beyond a brief, poetic verse in its calm midsection, but the instrumental breakdown surrounding it found the band tightly locked into a fast-paced groove, with some beautiful guitar soloing by Dave Bainbridge and an awe-inspired sort of glow permeating the entire performance.
5) “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion”, The Flaming Lips (At War with the Mystics, 2006)
Autumn used to be one of my least favorite seasons. The sun starts going down earlier, the weather gets colder, and a lot of years it seems like I was more prone to depression during the fall and winter months. This song, with its beautiful chirping bird sounds at the beginning and its explosion of fuzzy guitars going way into the red near the end, put a nice little dream-pop spin on a man’s wish to rebel against the somber mood brought on by the changing of seasons. For me the autumn of 2006 represented far more beginnings than endings. Christine and I had a seemingly never-ending list of fun activities planned. I had my share of stress and conflicts back then, but my overall attitude was way more optimistic than it generally is at that time of year, and this song captured that feeling perfectly.
6) “Teach Me Sweetheart”, The Fiery Furnaces (Bitter Tea, 2006)
The Fiery Furnaces would hang around for a few more albums before the Friedbergers split off into their own solo careers in the 2010s, but this was the last track of theirs that really captivated me. Like much of the Bitter Tea album, it was a weird kaleidoscope of backmasked sounds and offbeat lyrics, but there was a strange, sad beauty to Eleanor’s vocals that I don’t think she had explored much due to the band’s commitment to overall weirdness, that would later show up in some of her solo work. Of course, the sadness in this case was due to some bloodthirsty in-laws making animal sounds and wanting to spill her blood. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be terrifying or just plain goofy. The cheesy organ solo near the end pretty much sold me on the notion that it was meant to be campy.
7) “Stoppin’ the Love”, KT Tunstall (Eye to the Telescope, 2006)
An underrated track from KT’s debut that took me a while to appreciate – it was more laid-back and mid-tempo than the upbeat workouts and the glistening acoustic stuff that had caught my ear on first listen, but especially after seeing some video of her doing this one solo with her guitar as percussion and a looping device to stack up all of the different sounds and backing vocals, I really fell in love with it. The album version was sort of a weird hybrid of folk/rock, bluesy R&B, a little bit of scat singing, and maybe even a little chamber pop due to the violin solo that shows up in the bridge.
8) “Maybe You’re Right”, Barenaked Ladies (Barenaked Ladies Are Me, 2006)
I bet a lot of folks listen to old Beatles songs and pine for what could have been if only Paul McCartney and John Lennon had gotten along a bit better for a lot longer. Not to compare the Beatles to the Barenaked Ladies, but that’s sort of how I feel about Steven Page and Ed Robertson when I listen to this track. This one is truly the last time that I was struck by a Steven Page track – his writing seemed to resonate with me less and less as the band’s writing process became more democratic and Ed Robertson seemed to take on more of a visible “leading man” role than Page, which eventually contributed to Page’s departure from the band in 2009. (That, and a cocaine possession arrest.) This one plays as a classic, flippant non-apology from Page, where he seems at first to be letting down his guard as he rehashes a conflict that came up, but as it builds to a boil, he seems to turn on his original intent and insist that he was right after all. There’s something about the way Page writes and sings that subverts our expectations of the dogged nice guy writing an apology song, and lets us revel in the stubbornness and hubris of a man not fully admitting to his own faults instead. Robertson’s background vocal on the chorus makes it feel like one of the last times that the two were in perfect sync.
9) “Love Turns 40”, Vienna Teng (Dreaming Through the Noise, 2006)
Aging isn’t a very sexy topic. Leave it to Vienna Teng to write a lyric about it and figure out how to make it work as a seductive, suggestive little torch song. The upright bass at the beginning sets the perfect after-hours tone, as a woman distraught over her own fading celebrity plans to up and leave everything about the life she’s settled into in the middle of the night. There’s some subtle commentary here about how showbusiness treats its aging starlets if you’re willing to dig for it. There’s also the notion that maybe the boring normalcy of non-celebrity life isn’t so bad after all. “Something keeps you faithful when all else in you turns and runs.” Whatever you glean from the lyrics, it is a gorgeous and tragic slice of chamber pop, as is pretty much the entire damn album it came from.
10) “Lost You”, Justis Kao (Acoustically Me EP, 2005)
It’s kind of funny to me that this man led worship at my church for several years, and yet the original songs of his I’m most drawn to are the ones that express heartbreak. This one feels exactly right with its super-classy chord progression on the piano (which for some reason makes me think of gentle ripples on a pond), a few backing vocals, and really nothing else. It doesn’t need snappy pop production or other sonic tricks to make it work. It’s simple the voice and instrument of a man who still can’t figure out how he let the love of his life slip away from him. Such tragically good stuff.
11) “Dreamlife”, Sleeping at Last (Keep No Score, 2006)
Sleeping at Last gave a gorgeous performance that October night in Santa Barbara. I didn’t know at the time that it would be the last time I’d ever see them as a trio. Ryan O’Neal’s brother Chad, who played drums for the band, left after this album, and they shifted to more an acoustic/chamber pop sound, which I also grew to love, but there was something extra special about hearing them create the appropriately dreamy atmosphere of a song like this, making them feel like a bigger band than they were in a really small venue. I spoke with Ryan after the show, asking about the sonic details of songs like this one, where apparently they had approximated a theremin to get that “ghost voice” that ends up being such a chilling highlight. I didn’t think too much at the time about how the lyrics could have been politically charged, or maybe I’m just viewing it through the lens of how I came to find myself more and more at odds with American Christian subculture in the years since. But looking back at it now, it really feels like a call for Christians to lay their weapons down, stop fighting petty culture wars, and trust in the grace of the God who rescued us all and knows which battles are the ones that truly need fighting.
12) “Light Gives Heat”, Jars of Clay (Good Monsters, 2006)
Now this one’s definitely a case of a normally apolitical band having something social conscious and totally on-point to say. When a song opens with the heartfelt cries of children in a foreign language, you figure it’s gonna be one of those “The world needs our help!” type songs that will likely get played in endless fundraising videos for missionaries. And it’s most likely about missionary work. But it’s a bit of a cautionary tale, asking Christians why we take those trips. Is it truly for the good of the people in those countries, or is it to pat ourselves on the back about how we’ve made a bunch of converts, meanwhile ignoring their actual material needs and really just teaching them how to behave like white Americans? It’s a delicate topic, because you want people to do the right thing, but also for the right reasons. “Examine your motives before you go” seems to be the take-away here. But man, that children’s chorus just kills me every time, and I don’t say that lightly because with most bands doing that sort of thing, I’d see it as a cheap ploy to tug at my heartstrings, so the fact that it actually works here means Jars of Clay had to play their cards exactly right for it to not turn into a big schmaltzy mess.
13) “I Was Watching You”, Rosanne Cash (Black Cadillac, 2006)
Speaking of small children and heartstring-tugging ballads, Rosanne Cash sure came up with a fine one here, touching on moments leading from her parents’ marriage before her birth, up to her father’s death in September of 2003, assuring them that she was always watching them and that “Long after life, there is love.” It’s a beautiful song that immediately brings to mind an old sanctuary, with a kindly woman staring down at the parishioners from the afterlife, whenever I hear it.
14) “Lullaby”, Dixie Chicks (Taking the Long Way, 2006)
Oh man, I really laid it on thick with the sappy country songs here, didn’t I? This very long and sparse ballad – just acoustic guitar, fiddle, and beautifully stacked vocals – was the one track on Taking the Long Way that felt like it would have been a perfect fit for Home. For these six gorgeous minutes, it was easy to forget about Natalie Maines as an outspoken, politically controversial figure, and focus on how well she harmonized with the other ladies in the group (who would go on to do more of this sort of thing in Court Yard Hounds once Maines decided she couldn’t be bothered to record anything new with the group), and just want to be that small child assured by its mother, “How long do you wanna be loved? Is forever enough, ’cause I’m never, never giving you up.”
15) “Never Give Up”, Ron Sexsmith (Time Being, 2006)
Since I put two songs back-to-back about never giving up, I actually had to Google just now when Rickrolling first became a thing, to double-check that I wasn’t making some sort of an inside joke at the time. (I wasn’t. That insufferable trend didn’t start until 2007.) Ron Sexsmith had a gift for shy-guy love songs like these that made a really good case for an embattled relationship to stick it out through the tough times, with him being her comforter come whatever may. Of course I had to put this song on one of the many lovey-dovey “Audio Scrapbooks” that I would periodically make for Christine. These sentiments came easily before time had really tested our relationship. Now I look back and wish I was even half as romantic as the guys who wrote songs like these.
16) “Ocean Size Love”, Leigh Nash (Blue on Blue, 2006)
A couple, separated by either a physical ocean or just a sea of emotional baggage, finds a way to make a long-distance connection and work their way back to each other. Leigh’s innocent, fragile voice is on point here, as it was in the days of tender Sixpence ballads like “Dizzy” and “Melody of You”. It’s heartbreaking to think that a lot of the songs on this lighthearted pop album were being written as her marriage to PfR drummer Mark Nash was apparently slowly falling apart. Still, I feel like the love songs that really come from a believable place are the ones where you can tell a couple’s relationship has that “lived in” sort of feel where they’ve really had to work through some stuff. There was so much wistfulness and longing in this lovely pop ballad that it felt like the perfect note to close on.