A lot of these old playlists I made for myself are an interesting window into what I was thinking and feeling at the time. This one is especially so. Amidst a lot of the usual “this song was fun and bouncy and maybe a little bit snarky” fare that tends to grab my ear in pretty much any stage of my life, I can tell as I go back and listen to some of these songs that I was really wrestling with deeper concepts of legalism vs. grace, a death in the family and the thoughts it left me with about what sort of legacy I’d leave behind when it was my time to go someday, and some of my own hopes and fears about one day becoming a parent. Looking back and trying to figure out what my younger self wanted to remind me of when he picked these songs has been quite cathartic, actually.
In with the New:
Robert Randolph & the Family Band
Out with the Old:
Rock Kills Kid
All Star United
Listen on Spotify:
Christine asked me if I wanted to go anywhere special for my 29th birthday, and I decided it was time to finally get that Vegas trip done that I had been promising her for a few years. So we drove up in the dead of winter, despite below-freezing temperatures in the area (ironically, the only snow we saw was on our way up the 15 out of San Bernardino). While driving around the Strip was a bit confusing and got us turned around and stressed out, we eventually found our way to tourist landmarks such as the Bellagio, whose fountains are picturd here with Paris Las Vegas’ Eiffel Tower replica in the background. The fountain show, set to music, provided a cheesy but kinda romantic interlude in the middle of an otherwise hectic day of rushing around to take in as many sights as possible. It was so cold that day that a small fountain by the Bellagio’s main entrance had actually frozen over.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Forgiven”, Relient K (Five Score and Seven Years Ago, 2007)
The new Relient K record wasn’t due out until March, but it leaked on my 29th birthday in January, and I still recall that feeling of being given a special gift whenever I listen to it. I loved the stylistic variance and the band’s willingness to try new things, while still coming up with catchy songs that for the most part rivaled their standout material from Mmhmm. This song, my favorite from the album, was an especially nice surprise because on the one hand, it was a very straightforwardly “Christian” song about everyone’s need for forgiveness putting us on a level playing field where we shouldn’t be so quick to judge or hold grudges against others, but on the other hand… wow, they got away with using the word “damned”. Repeatedly. In a song that Christian rock stations were actively playing! Apparently when you’re singing about deserving literal damnation but instead being saved from it, that’s allowed. I kid around, but I did enjoy this song for more than just its monster hooks or its defiance of conservative language norms. “We’re all guilty of the same thing/We think the thoughts whether or not we see them through” was a pretty good summation of what I felt was the biggest change in my faith so far as an adult. I’d always paid lip service to the notion that we’re all sinners, but I think it was easy for me to arrogantly harbor feelings that I was somehow a better Christian because my sins were lesser. And that sort of thinking sets up hierarchies within the Church, where certain people get marginalized or excluded because we think their sins make them less holy than us. It’s no fun for anyone in that sort of environment. I knew I couldn’t go back to being that kind of a Christian.
2) “Something Beautiful”, Newsboys (Go, 2006)
Another big Christian radio hit in those days was this Euro-dance throwback tune that reminded me quite a bit of the Newsboys I loved in the 90s, except it didn’t even need a witty Steve Taylor lyric to make it work. it was simply a celebratory song about God bringing beautiful change to people’s lives. The line “It’s a child on her wedding day/It’s the daddy that gives her away” ensured that this would get played at several weddings in the years to come, but it never became such a cliché that I got tired of it. For a brief window there in the late 2000s, I genuinely got excited about the Newsboys again.
3) “Oh! Gravity”, Switchfoot (Oh! Gravity, 2006)
Wow, three songs in a row that were all Christian radio hits at the time? That was getting rare for me by that point. This song was such a weird, but oddly catchy burst of manic energy that I didn’t expect it to have a wider appeal beyond their fanbase, but I guess Switchfoot had earned enough capital with the CCM audience due to their mainstream success that radio stations were still willing to take a chance on them at that point. And wow, I’m talking about radio a lot for a guy who had already stopped listening to it by that point, for the most part. Why did I love this song? I mean, listen to that crazy atonal piano interlude leading into the second verse. That pretty much summed up the mood of the entire thing. How can you not love such a moment of whacked-out genius?
4) “Anti-Anti”, Snowden (Anti-Anti, 2006)
I don’t recall if the word “hipster” had entered my vocabulary yet in 2007. But I’ve always been kind of fascinated by the tendency of some people to rebel against things solely because they are perceived as “cool”. In trying to be counter-culture, I guess you can fall into this weird void where you’re anti-everything, and then you have no choice but to recognize that as a trend unto itself and rebel against that, and then it just gets so weird and self-referential that your only two options are to make awkward self-aware jokes about it, or else fall into a pit of nihilistic despair. I’m glad Snowden opted for the former, in the form of this jumpy, jiggly, and highly danceable song that was probably way too catchy for its detached lead vocal to be believable. Maybe that was intentional?
5) “A Kiss to Send Us Off”, Incubus (Light Grenades, 2006)
The monstrous drum rolls and muddy guitar riffs in this track were a nice contrast to the more funk-influenced drum and bass groove heard in its verses. I loved that there was such an odd collision of the sexy and the psychotic in this song. Incubus had a knack for writing about the interaction between the sexes in unconventional ways back then. The one thing I really didn’t like about this song was how the bleed-in of the strings from “Quicksand” on the album made editing this one to flow well on a mix CD a royal pain. But hey, that was my problem, not theirs.
6) “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That”, Robert Randolph & the Family Band (Colorblind, 2006)
Robert Randolph and co. were definitely closer genre-wise to actual funk rock than Incubus, even though their lead instrument, the steel guitar, is more frequently seen in rural music settings than urban ones. Randolph just played the hell out of it, and it was fun to listen to. This song got them a lot more commercial attention thanks to the stomp-clap beat and the way it hints at other hip-hop and R&B music popular at the time. On first listen, it seemed dangerously close to Outkast’s “Hey Ya”, and I’m ashamed to admit that I heard this one just recently in a restaurant after not having heard it for a while, and I erroneously thought it was Pharrell Williams. OK, so originality was never Randolph’s strong suit. Unifying a diverse audience who just wants to party and have a good time with a little bit of church thrown in, however, definitely is. This song makes it clear that all are welcome, and for all of the hokey lyrics you’ll typically get on one of their records, I never found this one to be anything less than genuinely inspiring.
7) “My, Oh My”, The Wreckers (Stand Still, Look Pretty, 2006)
Joining forces with Jessica Harp for this one-off country duo was a bit of an odd detour in Michelle Branch’s career that she never really recovered from. But wow, hearing those two ladies sing together was pure gold. This bouncy, twangy song certainly did nothing to hide its rootsy origins, even going so far as to lament the urban sprawl with its heartless big-box stores encroaching on the wide open fields that once represented their childhood innocence. I figure the hallmark of a good country act is that they can make sad nostalgia sound like a total blast. This song was absolutely perfect for that.
8) “Work”, Jars of Clay (Good Monsters, 2006)
Amidst the pounding snare drum hits and the dirty guitar licks that sure were a shock coming after two full albums of acoustic rootsiness from Jars of Clay, it was easy to miss how surprisingly cynical these lyrics were. The song basically admitted that it was easier to give up and be apathetic than to fight the tide and actually put in the work to make life worthwhile. Not exactly the Aesop that a lot of the Christian radio audience was hoping to hear… yet for someone reason this song did pretty well in spite of it. it probably helped that the song sounded like it was kicking and thrashing and putting up as much of a fight as it could. The novelty of the band literally drowning in a room filling with water in the music video was kind of old hat, but compare it to the apparent complacency of Radiohead doing the same thing in a much more subdued fashion in “No Surprises” a decade earlier, and it’s clear that the intended mood and message was quite different.
9) “Sunrising”, Future of Forestry (Twilight, 2007)
Future of Forestry – just like their previous incarnation, Something Like Silas – had their big, grandiose rockers and their gorgeous, reflective ballads. But this track was special. it was the best of both worlds. It definitely had that moody, pre-dawn atmosphere to it, but they were not at all content to let the song be subdued because of it. Their drummer at the time – I think his name was Spencer? – pretty much dominated this song. I’m sure to some listeners, the sheer noise level of the bridge section might be overbearing enough to disrupt their meditative mood, but for me it was perfect, mixing with the high-energy guitars and the bells ringing out like an old church in celebration at the first rays of the new day. Eric Owyoung’s lyrics were as beautiful as ever as he tried to wrap his head around the concept of eternity – “Hear the call of the night/Open the borders of time.” Few songs are at once so energetic and so capable of making time feel like it’s standing still.
10) “Alexithymia”, Anberlin (Cities, 2007)
Cities, which came out that January, reigns supreme as my favorite Anberlin album and one of the absolute best rock records that the 2000s had to offer. Yet I didn’t really recognize that when it was first released, at first dismissing some of the album’s cornerstone songs that would later become personal favorites, in favor of this more rhythm-oriented dark horse pick, which I still love to death as I do most of the record, but which I wouldn’t necessarily pick if forced to name my Top 10 Anberlin songs. The mouthful of a title refers to having the inability to recognize one’s own emotions, and by extension the emotions of others, which I can imagine would lead to some self-destructive and sociopathic behavior if left unchecked. The individual described in the song seems to let this affliction erode at his relationships to the point where he’s only got his poor, lonely self to face up to at the dinner table. With a chorus stating that “There’s more to living than being alive”, you’d almost mistake it for a Switchfoot lyric if the surrounding context wasn’t so darn devastating.
11) “Are You Out There?”, Olivia the Band (Back to Friends Where Summer Never Ends EP, 2006)
Realizing you’re a lost soul and crying for help are the hallmarks of this full-throated pop-punk song. I probably put it here as a response to “Alexithymia”, a sign that the person had become more self-aware and was trying to reach out to the very people he’d pushed away. While a lot of Olivia’s work could be a bit samey, this one always stood out to me because of how full-bodied the rhythm guitar licks were and how effortlessly they went back and forth from dirty and noisy to fluid and melodic, all without the song ever feeling anything less than frantically urgent.
12) “Run Like Hell”, Rock Kills Kid (Are You Nervous?, 2006)
I’ve always been drawn to a songs where a loud, larger-than-life drum beat is a prominent fixture, but man, I was really piling those on thick with this mix, now that I look back on it. This song had a nervous, bouncing-off-the-walls energy to it that I just loved, and it also carried a sense of urgency to it that I thought meshed well with the Olivia song, just in a more electronic/retro-rock sort of way. I’m bummed that a second album never materialized from these guys. They just seemed to appear out of nowhere with this super-addictive album, rack up a bit of mainstream buzz, and then disappear with only vague rumblings of a follow-up in the works before they disappeared for good.
13) “Adrift”, Barenaked Ladies (Barenaked Ladies Are Me, 2006)
One of the most unusual songs to open a Barenaked Ladies album was this track, which features Ed Robertson playing the banjo and somehow managing to make bad puns (“The onion rings/The phone makes me cry”) work in the context of a heartfelt song about missing someone at home while you’re out on the road. I didn’t fully appreciate it at first, but once I realize how many moments of subtle genius came together to make this song great, I was really captivated by it. The song became significant again to me for a different reason three years later, when Christine and I took our first trip outside of the United States together, and she deliberately cued up this album so that a Canadian artist would be playing as we crossed the border from Washington State into British Columbia.
14) “Along the Wall”, Leigh Nash (Blue on Blue, 2006)
The image of a couple trying to work out their differences from opposite sides of a wall separating them really stuck out to me as I listened to this song. It was still early in our marriage, and while we’d adjusted pretty well to living together, there were still aspects of it that caused us to get under each other’s skin. Earlier in my life, I was a very confrontational person who would just go right up to you and tell you off if you did something that offended me, even slightly. I know I can be a real monster to people when I get angry. But a lot of conflicts in our marriage have only been resolved after a self-involved “cooling off” period on my part, where I’ll retreat to the other room and close the door, and sometimes that results in these brief conversations that happen through the door, where I have to admit I’m not ready to talk yet because I’m still feeling irrational, and I don’t want that to result in a shouting match like it so often did between my parents. And I hate to ice someone out like that when I love her so much, but often it’s the best way I can think of to protect her from me until cooler heads prevail. I was saddened to learn, later in 2007, that Leigh Nash’s marriage to PfR drummer Mark Nash didn’t work out and they had gotten a divorce. That cast a very different light on a lot of the songs on her solo album, which I had read as simplistic love songs at first, but which I later realized could have been the result of trying to work out some underlying problems in a relationship that was falling apart.
15) “Belief”, John Mayer (Continuum, 2006)
Wow, has it really been this long since I considered a John Mayer song to be soundtrack-worthy? I keep listening to his new albums when they come out, and not finding much in the way of highlights. But he was really on point with this one. “Belief is a beautiful armor/But makes for the heaviest sword.” I’ve always been annoyed by people who think the best way to convert others to their way of seeing things is to yell at them loudly, or belittle them, or ambush them on the street with tactless chants and signs. Or blow them up, for that matter. Even if the people trying to do the convincing are doing it in the name of the religion that I personally claim to belong to, it’s a turnoff. I feel like I have to do damage control and say, “I’m not like them, I swear.” I think respectful dialogue can at least help someone understand how you see the world, even if at the end of it you still disagree with each other. I hope the friends I’ve had over the years who belong to different religions (or none at all), or different political persuasions, etc. feel like any discussions we have about our differences are illuminating rather than denigrating and demoralizing. When I think about how my own beliefs in certain social or political issues have morphed over the years, it did sometimes come from people challenging me to really think things through, but if they were ever rude or condescending or overly aggressive about it, I’d probably just tune them out because nobody likes to be bullied into conformity. And I don’t feel this way out of some hippie-dippie illusion that we’re all “right in our own way” or whatever. I just figure we learn more from understanding why people believe differently than us, by hearing about that from their own perspective, than we do by ostracizing them for thinking differently and then claiming to know everything about their belief systems.
16) “City Hall”, Vienna Teng (Dreaming Through the Noise, 2006)
One area in which a long-held belief of mine was being very gently challenged back in those days was on the topic of same-sex relationships and gay marriage. Like most evangelical Christians raised in a politically and theologically conservative environment, I was taught that this was wrong, period. So, cue the rationalizing when my favorite songwriter, on an album I would grow to appreciate as her absolute best work, comes out with this pretty little country-inflected love song about a couple taking a road trip to participate in a modest marriage ceremony at a city hall… with a bunch of other couples… in a hilly seaside town… wait, does she mean San Francisco? HOLY CRAP THIS IS ABOUT GAY MARRIAGE AND NOW I AM UNCOMFORTABLE. I don’t want to say I changed my mind on the issue overnight just because a song said so. But at the same time, there were no gay friends or family members getting up in my face about this issue. Just depictions of gay relationships in media that, however imperfect the portrayal may have been, made me start to wonder if some of the stereotypes I’d been taught about these people were bunk. It spurred a lot of questions in my mind about how (if at all) their relationships were different from the opposite-sex marriage I now cherished so much, and never once had to worry about whether my privilege to be legally bound to this person for life could ever be revoked. And about why, if being gay was a choice, someone would actually choose it knowing the misery and misconceptions they’d have to suffer through, and if it wasn’t, how God could create people that way and then doom them to a life of solitude (or else punish them so harshly for not being able to go through with it). I didn’t have any of that figured out yet, but I think I was asking the right questions. At least I’d gotten to the point of “Whatever we believe, we Christians shouldn’t be jerks to them and shouldn’t ostracize them from our churches.” Little did I know that at around the same time, God was prompting our church’s senior pastor to see that this was a marginalized group that needed someone in church leadership to stand in solidarity with them, which would soon lead to a period of soul-searching for our church as we wrestled with how this community could better love gay Christians who had been hurt by their spiritual communities and/or families. It wasn’t until 2015 that I’d actually have any gay friends (that I knew of, anyway), or come to identify as an “ally” who believed as strongly as I now do that they should feel safe within our walls and have a voice and an influence of their own there. I am now so incredibly thankful for these friends. They have reawakened within me a gratitude for God’s grace and even for the privilege of belonging to a church community that I had started to take for granted. And I know all of this is probably very controversial to a lot of my Christian friends who go to other churches, some of whom used to go to this church and have moved on. But when I think back to this song, even though the writer wasn’t coming at it from a religious angle and even though it took me a long time to realize how I felt about its story, I do think God was trying to teach me something.
Early 2007 was a really good time for road trips. The 3-day weekend in February gave us the opportunity to drive up north and visit Lina and Angela again. Angela was now living in Oakland, so we got a brief tour of her neighborhood and little bit of neighboring Berkeley. On the way back down to L.A., Christine and I spent the night in Santa Cruz, a city I’d never visited before, as a sort of belated Valentine’s Day getaway. This picture was taken from the Municipal Wharf, looking west at the beginnings of a beautiful sunset over the beach. On the final day of the trip, we went through Monterey, the 17-Mile-Drive, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and the long, winding stretch of PCH through Big Sur, which was beautiful, but we lost most of the photos that Christine took that day due to a memory card snafu. I liked this sunset picture best out of all of the ones from that trip anyway.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Light Grenades”, Incubus (Light Grenades, 2006)
I don’t remember whether the phrase “truth bomb” had become popular yet at that point. But “light grenades” were apparently Incubus’s version of roughly the same thing – it changes your worldview in an explosive, but ultimately illuminating way. This song sure hit like a bomb, sending shards of guitar shrapnel everywhere and spitting rapid-fire lyrics in an atonal, punk rock sort of fashion as it tried to make its point in under two and a half minutes. I’m still not entirely sure what point it was making. But it was AWESOME.
2) “The Song of the Year”, All Star United (Love and Radiation, 2006)
All Star United’s “cheesy power pop for its own sake” approach had kind of grown stale for me by this point, but their facetious, inside-baseball jabs at the Christian music industry in this song were hilarious, and reminded me of their early sarcastic songs like “Smash Hit” and “La La Land” that I loved so much a decade prior. This one’s chock full of templatized lyrics that satirize the cookie-cutter process of writing religious song lyrics with winning Dove awards in mind, and the questionable theology of crediting such mediocre work to God when it actually wins awards. A lot of that industry seems wrapped up in very superficial mentions of God and Jesus and the overuse of familiar “Christian-ese” terminology that is probably bewildering to a lot of outsiders. All Star United wasn’t always exempt from this, either, but at least they had the good sense to challenge the norms every once in a while.
3) “Make a Face Like You Mean It (Vampires)”, House of Heroes (House of Heroes, 2005)
Sort of springboarding off of that idea that music is being manufactured to please industry insiders more so than actually reaching an audience in a meaningful way, is this song from House of heroes’ self-titled record that you’d expect to hear from a band with many more years working in the industry behind them. Here, the record execs demanding that artists do their song-and-dance for an audience just mindlessly wanting to rock out and spend their disposable income on merch get portrayed as soul-sucking vampires, which unfortunately is the experience many a young artist has when they score a record deal and think they’ve made it big. Being able to see those pitfalls early on is probably what helped House of heroes to avoid them over the years. They’re one of those bands that I’ve always felt could have been bigger, yet they needed to side-step some of the clichés of the industry (whether CCM or the mainstream rock market) in order to follow their own muse, and they’ve made some really great, if underappreciated, records because of it.
4) “Make Money Money”, John Reuben (Word of Mouth, 2007)
Word of Mouth was one of those albums where on my first listen, I was like, “That’s weird; I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to rap to that!” due to some of the odd beats and musical backdrops Reuben came out with. This song features a banjo, for crying out loud. But it’s all part of his “goofy white boy not trying to take himself too seriously” shtick, and this one ended up going down as one of his all-time best tracks. Unlike your average rap song about making money, this one doesn’t glorify the bling; it’s just about the sacrifices a young artist goes through to make ends meet. It’s also not overly negative about money like you’d expect from a lot of Christian artists. The money’s simply a tool, to be saved or spent wisely, instead of extravagantly and conspicuously spent on luxuries, or shunned altogether as if the practical need for the people who make music to be able to feed their families isn’t a “holy” enough consideration. There’s a lot of wisdom in the goofiness here, with a bit of satirization of the dumb things young hipster spend their money on to go with it.
5) “Summer’s Coming”, Sean Watkins (Blinders On, 2006)
What starts out as a bit of an offbeat noise-pop experiment eventually turns a corner into one of the breeziest, most feel-good choruses that Watkins has ever come up with. It’s a nice illustration of the conflict in a man’s mind, between his tendency to skeptically question and obsess over every detail as if nothing good that could ever happen to him comes without a price, and his more optimistic side, that simply wants him to let it go and enjoy the warm summer weather and cool ocean breeze while it’s there for the taking. Ideal road trip song, right here.
6) “Tension & Thrill”, Sleeping at Last (Keep No Score, 2006)
The opening track on Keep No Score – still Sleeping at Last’s finest collection of songs, in my humble opinion – resounds with unbridled optimism. The combination of lively strings and a thick wall of electric guitars and drums is a perfect bridge between their old “rock trio” sound and the more “baroque pop” direction they’d take on future recordings. This song just seems like it’s got so much giddy anticipation bottled up inside it that it’s frothing up and spilling over the brim. The experience of being truly understood and deeply loved by someone is depicted here as this infinite source of exploration and fascination.
7) “In Wonder”, Newsboys (Go, 2006)
Why do I remember this song being a cover? It’s actually a Newsboys original, but it would have slotted into one of their worship albums so well that it feels like something they’d have signal-boosted after picking it up from Hillsongs or some worship music factory of their ilk. For once, that’s not a knock on the Newsboys. Maybe I’m just a sucker for worship songs that emphasize God’s creativity as seen in the visual splendor of the world around is. Traveling to various corners of the country to see some of those majestic natural sights, or just appreciating the quiet beauty of the slowly changing landscape during what we thought would be an uneventful leg of a long road trip, may seem like a frivolous pursuit to some. Yet when I’m out there experiencing some of these places for the first time, I feel that renewed sense of wonder. Sometimes those faraway places feel more like a sanctuary, and put me more in a reverent, worshipful mood, than actual sanctuaries built by human hands.
8) “Twilight”, Future of Forestry (Future of Forestry EP, 2006)
Man, Future of Forestry named an album Twilight just in the nick of time, before the unrelated book and movie franchise blew up. So this song is emphatically not about vampires. It is, however, a beautifully textured song about a young couple, either on the verge of falling in love or the verge of breaking up (I’m really not sure which), sharing a prayerful moment as the sun either rises or sets, and just sort of pondering the fragile, ephemeral nature of it all. I love how beautifully the bells, the deep bass, and the layered backing vocals come together in the end. It’s another one of those songs that captures a moment in time you wish could never end.
9) “4:12”, Switchfoot (Oh! Gravity, 2006)
The gag with this quirky little song is that it takes exactly as long to play it as the title indicates. Four minutes, twelve seconds. Sure, the first verse gives it the pretense of waking up at 4:12 in the morning, but they probably just started with the length of the song and worked backward. As with a lot of Switchfoot songs, this one’s a plea for us to believe that life’s more than just the material world, doing a series of meaningless tasks just to make sure we sleep and eat and survive, ad nauseum until we die. If there’s one point that Switchfoot has pretty much hammered into our skulls over the years, it’s that there’s more to life than meaningless material pursuits. But at least they had a lot of fun making basically that same point here. “Souls aren’t built of stone! Souls aren’t built of stone! STICKS AND BONES!!!”
10) “Looking for Angels”, Skillet (Comatose, 2006)
A lot of Skillet songs are cheesy. That’s never not been true. But this is the rare song where John Cooper acknowledged that he knew it was a bit cheesy, due to the spoken word verses, and he really didn’t care. It needed to be more conversational, I guess. I thought it was kind of goofy at first, but I gained a lot of respect for the song when I realized it was one of those rare CCM songs that emphasized social justice and actually doing something to turn the tides of hunger, discrimination, human trafficking, etc., rather than just maintaining this pious posture of prayer and hoping it would all work out. “Be the miracle”, as that similarly cheesy movie Bruce Almighty put it. Tying it all together with a memorable, melodic chorus that stuck in my brain as the album faded out certainly helped. Theologically, I get that angels aren’t people. But I can definitely think of people who were there at just the right time and place to help me get through dire straits, and it sure felt like a form of angelic intervention at the time. Could I be used in that some way in someone else’s life, even if I never got to fully know the outcome of it? That’s one of my biggest prayers.
11) “Tears of the Saints”, Leeland (Sound of Melodies, 2006)
Sort of in that same vein, this long-ish worship ballad that was one of Leeland’s first radio singles (it had to have been heavily edited, I’d imagine) feel into that rare category of emphasizing action, and not just singing pretty words to God. “This is an emergency!” might not seem like the right lyric for a song on the slower side, but it was a genuine emotional gut-punch all the same. It’s very easy to generalize about lost, broken people who need Jesus, and our charge to basically bring Jesus to those people. But it adds another layer to it when, in the second verse they sing, “Even churches have forsaken love and mercy.” I feel like I was very slowly becoming more and more aware of the ways in which our insular, church-y subculture had left some of the very same people on the sidelines whose need for Jesus we liked to sing songs about. Something wasn’t right there. Would Jesus come into some of our churches and flip tables in anger over our treatment of some of these people if he were on Earth today? If so, could changing our words and our songs and culture to be less cliquish and more genuinely compassionate and inclusive be a better way of reaching these people than simply going out into the streets with our tracts and canned apologetic speeches?
12) “Caelum Infinitum”, Michelle Tumes (Michelle Tumes, 2006)
Another extremely Enya-esque lyric from Michelle – “Under the starboard sail I glide/Floating on seas that paint the sky/Into the eternal maritime/Laden with troves of seraphim” – with a Latin phrase that meant “infinite sky” making up its chorus, and a near-symphony of Tumes clones filling that beautiful sky alongside a beautiful string section. it wasn’t the first time she had done any of these things, but it may have been the most effective example of it. I’ll always remember this as the final track on her self-titled album, even though the bare-bones “Hold on to Jesus” actually came last – this one just felt more appropriate as a heavenward-facing grand finale.
13) “Now Three”, Vienna Teng (Dreaming Through the Noise, 2006)
I like to think of this quiet, yet dramatic ballad as a sequel of sorts to two of Vienna’s earlier songs: the tragic “Between”, and the calm, motherly “Lullabye for a Stormy Night”. It evokes such strong images of a stormy night, of three people weathering the storm together, and of the mother figure who Vienna seems to portray in the song having more than enough love for all three of them. “Between” was most certainly about a love triangle, yet I had this idea at the time that it could also be a bout a child introduced into a relationship that wasn’t ready for it, becoming a bit of a destructive presence that drove them apart. Here, the child was a blessing and there was more than enough love in the relationship to nurture it through to adulthood, in which that child’s love would then spill over into the rest of the world as she went out and changed it for the better. The song almost takes on a prophetic angle in that sense. It represents two conflicting viewpoints that I had about parenthood at the time – a feeling of caution, of not wanting to introduce a child into the world until I knew we were strong enough as a couple to raise that child in the most loving environment possible, and a feeling of joy at the thought of passing loving, compassionate, and hopefully selfless values on to a new generation.
14) “Lay Your Head Down”, Peter Bradley Adams (Gather Up, 2006)
Speaking of lullabyes, this song was pretty much written as one, though it seems to take inspiration from “Rock-a-Bye Baby” in that the lyrics are rather melancholy. There’s no baby falling from a broken tree branch in this case, just some autumnal lyrics about the sadness of the seasons changing. There are a lot of gentle, pretty, but kind of sad songs like this that I enjoy. I figure when you’re singing a song to a baby, the melody and tone of it will matter more than them than the words anyway, so maybe a song like this is meant to soothe the singer’s fears as well as those of the child they’re singing to.
15) “Deathbed”, Relient K feat. Jon Foreman (Five Score and Seven Years Ago, 2007)
Relient K has a lot of songs that I think are fun, or well-written, or interestingly composed, but there are few that I’d say have the same emotional impact as the final track on Five Score. It aims to tell the life story of a man who did pretty much everything wrong but was still a believer at the end of it all, and at ten minutes, it’s incredibly ambitious, but they’d sort of been hinting at the potential for something like this with past album closers like “Jefferson Aeroplane” and “When I Go Down”. You can hear a lot of different styles blending together here, from the bouncy piano rock they were starting to perfect on Mmhmm, to more folksy, Sufjan Stevens-influenced interludes filled with a plethora of different instruments. In a lot of people’s minds, a man who wandered aimless throughout most of his life, smoking and drinking himself into oblivion and alienating pretty much everyone he loved, wouldn’t be much of a sympathetic protagonist. Yet if God loves everyone and we believe God’s grace is sufficient for everyone, then why can’t a sad sack like this guy turn it around at the bitter end of his life, and look back, and see the echoes of God trying to reach him all along? I think this one hit me especially hard because my uncle Dean had died of cancer just a few months earlier. There were aspects of the story in this song that reminded me of him – I wouldn’t say his life was as tragic as the man in this song, but he did struggle with some addictions and it was the cancer caused by those that got him in the end. Yet toward the end of his life, I do think he turned some things around. Alcoholics Anonymous had become like a second family to him, and from what little I knew of his experience at the time, he had put a lot of energy back into the support group that had taken him in at one of his lowest points, and he was also active at a local church in Pomona, where we ended up holding his memorial service at the end of December. It’s an interesting thing, to go to someone’s funeral and see people you don’t know from Adam, whose lives had been touched by this person in ways you couldn’t have known about while they were still alive. When Jon Foreman comes in at the very end of this song, sort of as the voice of Jesus welcoming his son home, I can’t help it. I tear up every time. Because one day that’s gonna be me, too, and I’m not going to have deserved or earned it any more than anyone else.
16) “No Fear in Love”, Iona (The Circling Hour, 2006)
This surprisingly straightforward anthem of selfless love (straightforward by Iona’s standards, at least – no byzantine instrumental interludes or sudden tempo changes or three-part song structure or anything like that) seemed like a really good note to finish on. “There is no fear in love/There is no self to gratify/There is no argument to win or lose.” Selfless love doesn’t worry about whether others have sinned more or less than you have. It doesn’t try to force people into believing everything the way you believe it. It doesn’t ostracize people who don’t fit the stereotypical idea of the well-behaved church-going evangelical Christian. It has more than enough grace to cover your failures up until the bitter end. And it can conquer any fears I might have about being an impatient, ignorant, or otherwise inadequate parent. I really think I was trying to address that fear, especially, when I chose this song as the final thought to close out this playlist. At the time I didn’t know how or when Christine and I were actually going to pursue parenthood. But it’s interesting to look back and remember that I was actively thinking about what kind of parent I’d be, and whether I’d live up to my own expectations of what I thought a father should be, that early on.