Divad’s Soundtrack #74: May-June 2008

The spring and late summer of 2008 saw me finally getting into a couple of bands that I’d been on the fence about for several years, but wasn’t quite in the right headspace to fully appreciate until they dropped new records that year. As I look back on the set of songs I chose for this particular soundtrack, I’m noticing a theme of wanting to fly away or escape from some sort of captivity in a handful of the songs on Disc One, while Disc Two dives deeper into disillusionment with hypocritical leaders, and with the “prosperity Gospel” I was still trying to shake of the last vestiges of as I was confronted by issues of poverty and marginalized groups that had been treated poorly by the Church. Heavy stuff, though I saved a few lighter songs of “romantic gratitude” for the end, just to conclude the set peacefully. There’s also a pair of songs about counting, and a number of songs that switch between 3/4 and 4/4 time, which was apparently a thing I was really into at the time.

In with the New:
Ivoryline
After Edmund
R.E.M.
Yoav
Feist
Elbow

Out with the Old:
Starfield
Steven Delopoulos (as a solo artist – appears later with Burlap to Cashmere)
Five O’Clock People

Listen on Spotify:

DISC ONE
The cover photo for this disc was taken during one of our many trips to the Bay Area, primarily to visit Christine’s sister Angela, who was still living there at the time. This is a view of the Oakland Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland, taken from the deck of the Embarcadero Building on the San Francisco side. I had never explored this part of the waterfront on previous trips to the city, and as it turned out, for many decades of the city’s history, the building had fallen into disuse due to the Embarcadero Freeway blocking the waterfront from the rest of the city. The Loma Prieta quake in 1989 damaged the freeway so badly that it had to be demolished, and an interesting side effect of that decision was a notable aesthetic improvement returning the Embarcadero to some semblance of its former glory, even if now it’s mostly a bunch of restaurants and newsstands like you might find in an airport, rather than a full-fledged shipping hub like it used to be. The bridge was also quite famously damaged in the same quake, and I liked this image of a “bridge over troubled water” due to how it visually tied in with a few songs that had to do with flying or otherwise crossing difficult terrain that showed up on this disc.
Where in the world is this?

1) “Lovers in Japan”, Coldplay (Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, 2008)
Even though I chose this track as the opener, it was an eleventh-hour edition because Viva la Vida had come out at the end of May. The album was merely days old when I chose this track, but I had fallen love with it pretty much right away. The happy, stuttering march of drums and harpsichord was just so unique and full of life for the band, on an album where every track sounded distinctly different and virtually none of it fell back on the clichés of Coldplay’s previous sound which, by that point, had started to grow a bit tiresome. I’ve never actually been to Japan, but the country holds deep significance for me. I first fell in love with it afar as a place that I just became visually fascinated with for depictions of its natural scenery, its architecture, its gardens, and its efficient use of space despite having a mind-boggling number of people crammed into a space more or less the size of California. Then I married a woman who could trace 50% of her ancestry back to that country. If traveling there wasn’t already a bucket list item, it certainly became one at that point. This song makes me smile all these years later, as I anticipate a still-unrealized dream of exploring that bustling but beautiful place, with the woman I love by my side.

2) “M79”, Vampire Weekend (Vampire Weekend, 2008)
I guess this track was never officially a single, but I remember it as the second song played on Vampire Weekend’s first SNL appearance, and I loved the bouncy beat and busy strings. The imagery seemed to compare some sort of a crowded public transit experience with an adventurous trek across the Himalayas, once again pulling together a hodgepodge of cultural references that I could never quite hope to untangle. M79 is actually the name of a few motorways, though apparently not the one that actually crosses the Khyber pass, a remote mountain pass in Pakistan that gets mentioned in this song. I suppose this song represents the sort of travel experience that i find fascinating even though I don’t feel the need to experience it first hand – a rugged trip through very remote conditions in potentially unforgiving weather, with a hefty side dose of political instability just to make the journey extra interesting. I love to read about people’s experiences with such places, but still being a novice where international travel is concerned, I don’t think that’s the sort of situation I’d be prepared to charm my way through.

3) “Be Still and Breathe”, Ivoryline (There Came a Lion, 2008)
I really resented Ivoryline the first few times I listened to them. I was convinced they were trying too hard to be a more Christian market-friendly alternative to Anberlin, a band that already had Christian themes woven into a lot of its lyrics for those willing to dig for them. They just seemed unnecessary. It was probably my ignorance about the scene that had heavily influenced both Anberlin and Ivoryline that caused me to think that – now that I look back, Ivoryline didn’t lean as heavily on the 80s influence, and you could hear more of the edgy post-punk/emo style in Jeremy Gray’s voice, even if it never went full-tilt into screamo. A lot of their stuff just struck me as repetitive, but this track was pretty hard-hitting. The chorus hook, “Everything they said about you/Everything they’ve know was wrong!” hit hard and fast, and the buzzsaw-like guitars came swarming in, reminding me a bit of the Tool track “Schism” except without all the rhythmic irregularities. Lots of good influences here, even if I never felt like the band completely found a unique voice of their own.

4) “You Waste Time Like a Grandfather Clock”, The Myriad (With Arrows, With Poise, 2008)
The opening track on an utterly fascinating album by The Myriad had one of the band’s most engimatic choruses: “You waste time like a gransfather clock/And that’s when we start counting sandbags.” I was so baffled by the notion of how a grandfather clock could waste time that, when the band opened for Eisley at the Glass House in Pomona that spring, I actually approached one of the band members after the show and asked him about it. He tried to explain it to me – something about this old relic just sitting there ticking away the seconds – and I honestly still didn’t get it. I wish I could remember now which member of the band had answered that question for me – it was probably someone from their rhythm section, which by the way was especially tight on this song, as the band shifted back and forth between an enigmatic 6/4 in the verses and a pounding 4/4 in the chorus. The band’s drummer, Randy Miller, was a total force of nature on this one, and I’d feel especially bad if he had been the one I talked to and I’d forgotten to get his name, because he died from cancer just a few short years later, apparently bringing the band to a premature end.

5) “Love Is the Protest”, Jars of Clay (Greatest Hits, 2008)
Back when I was in my first year of college and Jars of Clay only had one album out, I had already predicted that if they put out a greatest hits record someday, “Flood” would be its first track. The collection that Essential Records ended up releasing not long after the band had finally wriggled free of the label (which, confusingly, was not the label that released the dubiously titled The Essential Jars of Clay at around the same time) did exactly as predicted – and was rather perfunctory throughout the rest of it, basically saying, “Hey, if you liked that song, here’s some other stuff from their first album you’ll probably remember, plus a handful of other songs you mighta heard on Christian radio!” Even picking the most obvious tracks from my favorite band still made for a strong collection of songs, but I was starting to realize at this point that these supposed best-of collections weren’t for the super-diehard fans like me who already knew all the albums by heart. They were a last-minute cash grab aimed at casual fans who probably hadn’t bought an album from Jars since that landmark first one. And predictably, there was a new track at the end of the collection to entice folks like me who otherwise owned everything. I couldn’t complain about “Love Is the Protest” – it was a noisy little delight of a song, crashing in on shuffling drums and booming bass, doing its big goofy dance as it celebrated the ways that actually, genuinely loving people might bring us Christians out into some unorthodox and uncomfortable places. Looking back, it’s a pretty good snapshot of the transitional phase between Good Monsters and The Long Fall Back to Earth – the band’s “big rock record” and “big pop record”, respectively. Was it worth buying a bunch of songs I already had all over again just to get this one? Trick question – I got it for free since I was still reviewing stuff for the label at the time.

6) “We Need Each Other”, Sanctus Real (We Need Each Other, 2008)
For a brief period there, I was actually really big on Sanctus Real, because their fourth record was a surprisingly tight and energetic take on the band’s inspirational yet edgy pop/rock sound. Even an anthem like this, that was quite obviously designed to carry the simple message of “Hey, isn’t friendship and Christian accountability great?”, managed to sound downright heroic in its execution. It helped that Matt Hammit seemed to be coming from a place of having hurt someone and wanting to apologize and be a better friend here. That felt real. I’d been there more times than I cared to admit. His delivery here was passionate enough to ensure that the chorus got deeply embedded in my brain not long after my first or second listen – including late at night when I was trying to sleep, for some strange reason.

7) “Thank God”, After Edmund (Hello, 2008)
After Edmund was one of those bands where the sound often intrigued me more than the actual songs – they had the same sort of mystique to them as a Myriad or an Anberlin, but they had a trickier time finding the right balance between artsy and youth-groupy modern rock songs, often falling into an odd place in between. The opening track from their debut record, though, was downright pheomenal – the disorienting opening, designed to throw the listener off from the actual melodic hook of the song, suddenly kicked in hard once it became clear where the band was going with it. And the shake-the-rafters chorus came at an otherwise clichéd title from an interesting angle – “Thank God I lost all my hope in everything that isn’t You.” I have good memories of listening to this one as I was driving around the Bay Area during the visit captured in the cover photo I described above.

8) “Hosanna”, Starfield (I Will Go, 2008)
If you went to any church that had Hillsongs music in their repertoire in the late 2000s (or for that matter, probably even today), then you likely know this one. “I see the King of glory, coming on the clouds with fire…” Ring any bells? The song was just about reaching its peak at Evergreen when Starfield’s admittedly lesser known version was released. The way I was used to hearing it from our worship band at the time wasn’t quite as much of a slow-burn as the Hillsong original, nor was it as amped-up and fast-paced as Starfield’s, which for a while became my favorite arrangement. I could certainly get into debates with folks who loved the original due to its reflective pauses and the way it slowly crept up and sent the good kind of chills down a worshiper’s spine – Starfield’s version didn’t tap on the brakes for nothin’; it was just blaring guitars and drums most of the way through, sort of a throwback to when bands like Delirious? were first getting popular. Quite sacnadaously, Starfield didn’t even finish the bridge! They just jumped from “Show me how to love like You have loved me” right back into the chorus. I’m not really selling this version all that well, am I? I guess I’m realizing that as fun as this was in 2008, Starfield may have been in a bit too much of a rush to capitlize on the song’s high recognizability at the time, while missing some of the heart of it in the process. Still, I can hear “Hosanna” in just about any form nowadays, and it’s honestly one of the few contemporary worship songs that I’ve never gotten tired of.

9) “Baptize My Mind”, Jon Foreman (Spring EP, 2008)
The Spring EP was where I really fell in love with Foreman as a solo artist. Winter had hinted at bits of exotic instrumentation on a few songs, but Spring just let the colors run wild, particularly on this celebratory track with its flutes and strings and harmonica and nimble guitar-picking in an odd time signature. It was very Sufjan Stevens-y, and I was 100% on board with that. Perhaps due to the tricky arrangement, it’s not one that I’ve heard a lot of other fans of Foreman’s work talk much about, or that he seems to have played very much at his solo gigs, but it turned out to be my absolute favorite track on that entire seasonal collection.

10) “Anything You Say”, Deas Vail (All the Houses Look the Same, 2007)
This song’s lyrics paint a beautiful (if somewhat enigmatic) portrait of a lonely person being taken by the band by some sort of a parental figure, and learning to look up to that person with a childlike reverence and wonder. It was part of a phenomenal run of songs in the middle of the album it came from that had rather labyrinthine arrangements, shifting rhythms back and forth and stuff like that. Listening to how the beautifully flowing piano melody interlocks with the drums going at breakneck speed still amazes me – and then the band shifts into more of a straightforward “piano rock” chorus in 4/4, pulling off the change even more slickly than the aforementioned Myriad song. I could just never get tired of this record.

11) “Draw My Life”, Fauxliage (Fauxliage, 2007)
“Draw me a picture/Draw it in color/’Cause I wanna see my life/Through someone else’s eyes.” There are some lyrics that only work when given the childlike innocence of a voice like Leigh Nash’s, and this is one of them. Somewhere between a deep pain she’s trying to erase and an almost naive optimism that the future is still hers to paint on a blank canvas, this melancholy, down-tempo song exists, with its float-y keyboards and slow, grinding drum programming serving as a vaguely trip-hop inspired background for Leigh finding comfort in the chance to start over and reinvent herself. The bridge section, wher ethe melody shifts and her voice echoes in several layers, is my favorite part of the song – that’s where it really lets the light in, almost as if it’s being refracted through a prism, revealing fragments of rainbows as they ricochet off the walls.

12) “Gobbledigook”, Sigur Rós (Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, 2008)
Sigur Rós had their own version of winter thawing into spring on what I liked to call their “naked butts album” due to the, um, cheeky cover art. It was definitely a chanvge of pace for the band, ditching a lot of the heavy feedback and moody ambiance in favor of lighter, more acoustic instrumentation, and some outright upbeat and happy songs coming early in the track listing. This track, both the lead single and the album opener, was an oddball by anyone’s standards, with the constant “la la la”s and the acoustic guitar jumping around to way too many chords to keep up with, and the title even poking fun at what their lyrics probably sound like to the average, non-Icelandic-speaking observer who can’t tell when they’re legitimately singing in their native language versus when they’re just making a language up from whole cloth. This song was a fun, ridiculous celebration of a lot of things we had all assumed Sigur Rós was not up until that point. It also had a dedidedly NSFW music video, at least for us Americans who are weird about nudity.

13) “Helicopters”, Falling Up (Captiva, 2007)
There was pretty much no hope of making that bizarre Sigur Rós work in context with whatever I was gonna put next to it. So eh, let’s just throw a Falling Up track with its own weird rhythmic thing going on at the beginning of it in there and call it a day? This was one of those songs where trying to get the hang of the keyboards and drums seemingly fighting against each other to see who got to establish the off-kilter beat of the song was half the fun of the song. I was almost disappointed when it resolved to a 4/4 chorus, even though it was one of the more memorable chorus on an album with its fair share of twists and turns that took their time to become “catchy” to my ears. I’m only just now realizing that the band may have been planning several moves ahead with this one – the opening track on their 2013 album Hours had the line “My heart beats like a helicopter” in its chorus, even though helicopters are never actually referenced in the lyrics of this song, despite its title. And there are some references to lights in the rafters, something weird happening with a person’s breathing… all possible elements of the story from the Hours audiobook that Jessy Ribordy was likely still formulating in his mind at the time, not minding that these oblique lyrical references would be downright impossible to untangle without those pieces of the puzzle that only he knew about.

14) “Give What You’ve Got”, Delirious? (Kingdom of Comfort, 2008)
The end of disc one is where the whole flying theme really comes to the forefront. One of the most fun rockers Delirious? had come up with in a long time smashes and crashes and dips and dodges in 6/8, with Stu G’s guitar riff riding gloriously atop the whole mess, like a barbarian king swooping into battle on the back of a trained eagle. I honestly can’t say this was one of the band’s deeper songs, but I sure knew it was gonna be fun in concert (which it was the following year when the band came to L.A. on their farewell tour). I loved the line “We’re gonna spread our wings and fall into the sky” – it reminded me of the classic line from Toy Story where Woody derisively told Buzz he wasn’t really flying, he was just “falling with style”.

15) “Daedalus”, Thrice (The Alchemy Index, Vol. III, 2008)
Now here’s a not-so-fun song about soaring on the wings of a bird. Specifically, because you’re a mythical character trying to escape an island where you and your son have been imprisoned, and you get the bright idea to paste together some birds’ feathers and prematurely achieve the miracle of human flight centuries before the Wright Brothers. As anyone familiar with the Greek myth already knows, this didn’t turn out too well for Deadalus and his son Icarus, whose hubris led him to fly too close to the sun, causing his wings to melt and send him plummeting to a watery grave. You know, like your average Wile E. Coyote contraption, except not hilarious. This was actually Thrice’s second song inspired by that particular fable, the first being “The Melting Point of Wax”, which was from the son’s point of view. This one finds the father lamenting his tragic choice, and its arrangement is more prog rock than screamo – it takes a while to build up, but I love the slow, grinding gears of the guitar, bass and drums as everything slides inevitably, horribly into place.

16) “Blackbird”, Alter Bridge (Blackbird, 2007)
I still regard this song as Alter Bridge’s magnum opus. It’s their “Freebird” or their “Stairway to Heaven”. I know that sounds like a bold claim coming from a band that is basically three-fourths of Creed trying to de-grunge their image and move back toward classic rock and metal. But holy crap, this song still blows my mind. It’s basically a eulogy to a friend who died during the album’s creation, and judging from the lyrics, he may have died from some sort of illness that took him slowly, since they come with the bittersweet implication that his loss is deeply felt by those here on the ground, but he’s finally free of his pain and can fly away completely unburdened by any unfinished business here on Earth. It is a bit cheesy and sentimental? Sure, though the perishing alt-rock voice of Myles Kennedy helps them to not overplay their hand in that department. The song’s biggest strength is how generously long it is, building slowly in the vein of a classic rock ballad with no need to fit the constraints of radio, and leaving ample space for not one, but two absolutely righteous guitar solos from both Kennedy and Mark Tremonti. I normally wouldn’t expect that sort of shredding to work in more of a sentimental ballad like this one, but it gets me absolutely pumped for the final chorus. Once I realized what an amazing highlight this track was, I knew there was nowhere better for it to go than at the end of disc one – “Blackbird” just needed a moment of respectful silence afterward to be fully appreciated for the monolith that it was.

DISC TWO
One activity that Christine and I were really big on that summer, and that I now find myself wishing we’d kept up, was riding our bikes together. It took a lot of work to awkwardly strap them both to the rack that I’d attach to the back of my car so that we could take them down to the beach or whatever, but we probably got more exercise that summer than we did in other entire years of our marriage. In different segments, we managed to cover the entirety of the 20+ mile bike path that follows the beach from Santa Monica down to Torrance, and on one particular June afternoon while riding with some friends, we took a side trip to walk along the canals of Venice Beach – a cute little residential neighborhood that had obviously been built as a homage to the famed waterways in its Italian namesake.
Where in the world is this?

1) “Mr. Richards”, R.E.M. (Accelerate, 2008)
It’s probably a bit of a misnomer to refer to R.E.M. as a “new” artist that I was just getting into at the time, when I’d been aware of the band and enjoyed several of their songs since college, and Accelerate was actually the third full album of theirs that I had listened to when it was newly released. 2001’s Reveal was actually when I had first taken the plunge and decided to go beyond just singles and hear an R.E.M. album in full for the first time. The album didn’t click with me then, but I revisited it around 2003 or 2004 when Josh, who had been so tireless in his recommendation of music to expand my horizons, actually sent me a 2-disc collection of his personal favorite R.E.M. tracks, which included several picks from Reveal. I slowly came to love that album, and I really should have put a track from it such as “The Lifting” or “All The Way to Reno” or “I’ll Take the Rain” on one of my soundtracks back then, or perhaps even the newly-released “Bad Day”, which to me sort of felt like a re-do of “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”, the very first R.E.M. song I fell in love with as a college student. The came another opportunity with the 2004 release of Around the Sun, which just about any R.E.M. fans and even the members of the band will probably tell you was a disaster. So, fast forward to 2008 and the release of Accelerate, an attempted return to a faster, heavier rock sound for the band, and I finally started gelling with a few of their songs in real time. Even so, “Mr. Richards” is quite an odd pick for the very first R.E.M. song I’d ever put on one of these mixes. I really enjoyed its shifting rhythm, which went from a slower grind in the verse to double-time in parts of the chorus, and its (possibly?) politically-charged lyrics about a disgraced public figure who had apparently been caught in the middle of a scandal he was hopeless to keep a lid on with the prying eyes of the general public watching every move. Nowadays I wouldn’t even say this is one of my Top 20 R.E.M. songs – I still like it quite a bit, but it’s not even my favorite track on Accelerate any more.

2) “Condescending”, P.O.D. (When Angels and Serpents Dance, 2008)
It’s interesting that I put two tracks back-to-back by bands with three-letter acronyms, that were vaguely about some sort of a hypocritical character being called out by a narrator who could see right through him. P.O.D.’s version was of course a lot more blunt, since they weren’t much for beating around the bush. But credit where it’s due for an unorthodox approach – this was an era where P.O.D. was trying to throw off the shackles of nu-metal, which was now a dying trend, and find ways to present their hodgepodge of punk and metal and reggae influences in a way that wasn’t as dependent on rapped verses. They shifted between 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures for the verses and chorus of this song, respectively, and I found that this changed things up, allowing the verses to be a little more openly frustrated while the chorus was more mockingly melodic. Sonny Sandoval narrated it from the perspective of a youth being told what’s what by a stuffy adult he clearly couldn’t relate to. There were a few times when he sang (and screamed) songs from this point of view, and it generally struck me as a criticism of the Christian music industry in which this outspokenly Christian band still felt like misfits after all these years, because they didn’t have the squeaky-clean presentation that all the youth pastors and music industry gatekeepers apparently expected of them.

3) “Adore Adore”, Yoav (Charmed & Strange, 2008)
Yoav Sadan is an Israeli musician of Romanian descent, who was raised in South Africa and later transplated to New York. I didn’t know all of the cultural details when I first listened to his music, though – the main hook that really sold me was his use of electronically looped acoustic sounds, nearly all of them coming from a single guitar, to create a mesmerizingly layered “folktronica” style of music. I was primed for this after getting into other artists like KT Tunstall and Andrew Bird who made use of live looping in their performances. It was still unusual to hear an entire album constructed using that tecnhique, though. The eerie opening track, which grew more and more sinister as its quiet, finger-picked sounds got overlaid with louder and more shaprly strummed chords, heardling the coming of a pop star savior who apparently had Americans flocking in front of their TVs to worship on a nightly basis. Yoav’s music wasn’t religious per se, but it almost felt like he was building this character up to be revealed as the Antichrist. It was deliciously creepy.

4) “Ruin of the Beast”, Steven Delopoulos (Straightjacket, 2007)
This nimbly fingerpicked song probably was about the Antichrist, given the little bits of Revelation-esque lyrics that crept into Delopoulos’s stream of consciousness, but it also could have just been about a really inept politician who somehow managed to dupe the world into believing he knew what he was doing for just long enough to get some awful stuff done. The chanting monks and other little touches like church bells gave it an otherworldly feel, even though at the heart of it, it was really just Steven and his guitar, plucking those notes at breathtaking speed, creating a calming river of sound that was deliberately jarring when paired with the surreal and occasionally violent lyrics.

5) “1234”, Feist (The Reminder, 2007)
I’m not sure how I came to decide that a set of songs about dangerous and duplicitous leaders/celebrities should be followed up by a twee indie folk song ostensibly about counting. Sometimes the set of songs I’m enjoying during a given two-month period of my life is so varied that when trying to put them all in a row on one of these mixes, there’s bound to be a jarring segue somewhere. This song had certainly made the rounds in pop culture, giving Leslie Feist a brief popularity bump due to its use in an iPod ad and an appearance on (if I recall correctly) the last Saturday Night Live to precede the writers’ strike in late 2007. The Reminder was mostly filled with intimate folk songs that did not sound like this at all, and it took what felt like forever for me to crack the rest of that album open. Sometimes an artist makes that one song that’s a little more poppy and playful than the rest of their stuff, and it becomes an unexpected hit, and that hit haunts them for the rest of their career, but Feist’s infrequent new releases since then have made it pretty clear she’s not interested in recapturing that lightning in a bottle. This one was a lighthearted good time, but it thankfully wasn’t the only song from that album I came to enjoy.

6) “7 8 9”, Barenaked Ladies (Snacktime!, 2008)
Now this song really was about counting. And it was meant for kids. You wouldn’t think a band with a name like the Barenaked Ladies should be making children’s music, but the guys had a goofy enough sense of humor that it actually made a lot of sense. This song amused me by musing about what would happen if the old joke “Why was six afraid of seven? Because seven ate nine!” actually came true and there was no more number 9. This apparently held dire consequences for the lifespan of a cat, but not so much for our solar system, where Pluto had just recently been demoted from the list of planets anyway (too soon!). Probably the best (read: cheesiest) line was when Ed Robertson mused, “Vampires will have to think of some other method/’Cause without their canines, how will they suck?” Honestly, that sort of punny humor works better in children’s music than it does in a lot of grown-up Barenaked Ladies songs, now that I think about it.

7) “Throwing Punches”, The Myriad (With Arrows, With Poise, 2008)
Out of all the songs I enjoyed most on The Myriad’s album, this was the one that had the most intriguing sense of mystique to it, and the one I was most pleasantly surprised to hear them play live. It was mostly just the distant thump of a programmed drum part, some reverb-y piano and keyboards, and vocals, with some weird backmasking and pitch-shifted vocal effects here and there – very icy, very introverted, very Radiohead. It wasn’t a “catchy” song in the traditional sense, nor was it easy to understand, beyond the vague sense of what someone thought was love actually turning to be incredibly il-advised, risky, and downright dangerous. Anyone who wasn’t already into the band was probably downright baffled when they played it live, but for me, that was an incredibly blissful few minutes.

8) “Come Clean”, Eisley (Combinations, 2007)
In no other world would it make sense for me to put a relatively easygoing acoustic Eisley song next to such a bizarro Myriad song, but both songs were highlights of the bands’ respective setlists when they shared the bill at the Glass House that spring. This one was just slick and bouncy enough to work as a single, but also stripped-down enough to work in a “live unplugged” sort of setting, letting the lovely, repeating acoustic guitar chords and the sisterly vocal harmonies take prominence. If not for my obsessive need to put songs together by bands that I had seen tour together, this one might have made sense to cap off that run of four songs at the beginning of disc two that either venerated or called out iconic figures in popular culture who spun lies to mesmerize the masses. Eisley’s take was a bit sweeter and more understanding than most, basically confrontining a nameless “mister” and saying they didn’t really buy any of the nonsense he was spewing, but they’d give him a fair chance to be honest because they could tell the guy meant well deep down. Why did I put it this deep in the track listing again? I honestly couldn’t remember, until I re-listened to the song and heard the sounds of children playing at the end as it faded out. Now there’s the kind of segue I can look back on and actually remember what I was doing!

9) “Children in the Street”, Edison Glass (Time Is Fiction, 2008)
As the pounding drums fade in and the title of this song is shouted urgently and angrily, it’s clear that it was written after witnessing children in abject poverty, juxtaposing that with the safe and insular lives a lot of enjoy in America, realizing our prosperity relative to most of the word and lamenting that we aren’t doing more to help. It’s got a post-punk sort of energy to it, very much in the vein of an early U2 record like War. This kicks off a run of songs that deal with the haves and the have nots in some way – it’s not like I was outwardly becoming a big red flag-waver for social justice at that point, but the topic was clearly on my mind as I was connecting with songs like this that examined our comfortable lives, especially as Christians, and asked if there wasn’t some sort of a disconnect there between our talk and our walk. “Will anyone ever care about anyone besides themselves?” It’s easy to feel disdain for the people we consider to be the truly rich and ask why they can’t solve world hunger and all that, but the rest of us? Maybe we don’t aspire to becoming filthy rich, but upgrading to a home with a bit more square footage sure seems like a more attainable goal to us most of the time than actually helping someone less fortunate than ourselves.

10) “Somebody’s Baby”, Jon Foreman (Winter EP, 2008)
“She yells, ‘If you’re homeless, sure as hell you’d be drunk/Or high or trying to get there, or begging for junk/When the people don’t want you, they just throw you money for beer’.” The opening lines of this pretty but astonishingly sad song are among the bluntest that Foreman has ever written. We will always have the poor among us, and occasionally we’ll throw some money their way, but is it done with any actual hope of addressing the problem, or just to temporarily assuage the guilt we feel when confronted with it face to face? This song looks unflinchingly at the life of a woman who has grown angry and bitter from years of living on the street, being ignored or even treated with hostility by the people she’s trying to ask for help, and reminding us that she was somebody’s baby girl before she became this symbol of a grotesque problem that we instinctively want to turn our eyes away from, rather than dealing with it honestly and charitably. God still sees her as that precious child, as worthy of love as the rest of us. So will we treat her with some semblance of the love we claim God has for her? Or will we leave her to rot because of the discomfort she makes us feel? The song concludes with her body being found and no one showing up to grieve, so at least for now, the brutal, unvarnished truth is that we don’t care, or at least not enough.

11) “Kingdom of Comfort”, Delirious? (Kingdom of Comfort, 2008)
I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting this one from a band like Delirious? One of the biggest praise bands in the world announces Kingdom of Comfort as their album title, and the first place my mind goes is, “It’ll probably be some mushy song about God comforting us.” Nope. Turns out it’s not a praise song at all, but rather a prayer to be saved “from the kingdom of comfort where I am king, from my unhealthy lust of material things”. Certainly an unorthodox way for them to start off an album that was mostly filled with praise songs and upbeat anthems of encouragement to Christians like their usual, but it framed it in such a way that there reminder lingering in the background, of the false God it was sometimes easier to serve than the real one who loved us unconditionally, but also asked if we were truly ready to give up everything to follow Him.

12) “Fight Good Sinners”, Five O’Clock People (Temper Temper, 2008)
This, the last song on the last album by an already-obscure band whose music is completely out of print today, is now such a hard song to find that a Google search barely even turns up any references to the specific song or the Temper Temper album, let alone any audio of the song. It’s somehow managed to escape the YouTube-ization of every album ever. So you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that this was a rousing folk anthem unlike anything else in the 5OCP discography, mandolins and acoustic guitars and strings and sprightly percussion all encouraging a broken but unified community of believers to rise up and show that they truly love the and value the things God loves and values. I’ll probably never know what happened to the band members after this, but I hope they’re all out there fighting that good fight in whatever way they know how.

13) “Remedy”, David Crowder Band (Remedy, 2007)
I had mistakenly overlooked this as just another “simple” song, almost a Christian lullaby of sorts due to the basic chord progression and repetitive melody, until I heard David Crowder explain some of his thought process behind writing it on the Remedy tour. I figure lots of songs have been written about wanting God to swoop in and save the sick, the poor, the dying, etc. But there was a subtle shift in focus toward the end, not just asking God to “be the remedy” but also praying, “let us be the remedy”. We can’t be God, of course, but we can be used by God to help heal a broken world. Crowder told this story when explaining the song, about seeing someone drowning in a river and pulling them out. You could, of course, continue to pull people out of that river, and that would basically be compassion. Or you could travel further up the river to figure out what kept causing people to fall in and do something about the source of the problem, and that’s justice. In its own simple way, this song, as the centerpiece of the album it came from, reaffirms the need for both compassion and justice in a world woefully lacking in both.

14) “Come All You Weary”, Thrice (The Alchemy Index, Vol. IV, 2008)
There’s a reason why the Earth disc is my favorite of the four volumes in The Alchemy Index project, and it goes beyond just the novelty of hearing a typically heavy rock band go fully acoustic and explore the rootsier side of their influences. This song, which is the only track on that volume to include an electric guitar (and I love the understated, kinda-bluesy performance from Teppei Teranishi on this one), is one of the most Jesus-y songs I’ve ever heard from a band that doesn’t bill itself as “Christian”. Dustin Kensrue is a Christian, and he’s been more straightforward about that on some of his solo material, but he pulls a neat trick here by almost directly quoting from Scripture while highlighting the very universal appeal of a compassionate leader inviting those who are weary, starving, rejected, beaten down, and otherwise abused by society to simply partake of the bread and wine and to be loved. The line that struck me the most – and the reason why I think a song like this worked best coming from a band operating outside of the “Christian music” bubble – came in the second verse: “Come all you weary, who move through the Earth/You’ve been spurned at fine restaurants and kicked out of church.” I had been thinking a lot that year about the kinds of people who had typically been shunned from religious settings, and one of the groups that came to mind, especially since Pastor Ken had started to talk more about them at around that point in time, was gay Christians. People who the church typically expected to get their morals all straightened out where “traditional” Christian views on sexuality were concerned and then start showing up on Sunday mornings. And this was well before I had worked out in my own mind what the Bible actually said on the matter once translation bias and centuries of society stigmatizing queer folks were taken into account, so I’m not going to say I had some sort of huge enlightenment on the issue back then. I just figured, what if the Church were open to people wherever they were at, and we’d perhaps have some messy disagreements to work out, but at least people would be here all worshiping and trying to be part of a community together, rather than feeling completely shunned and having nowhere to call a spiritual home? On a Saturday night that May, Pastor Ken had hosted a panel between three people with differing views on the Church’s response to homosexuality: himself, a longtime member of our congregation named Marian who I would get to know many years later as one of the founding allies behind our church’s support group for LGBTQ Christians, and a former member of our congregation named Gary, who himself was a gay Christian and who had moved on to a more affirming church (ironically All Saints in Pasadena, the one my ex used to attend and that we had argued a great deal over when I didn’t like it at the time). What struck me most profoundly, just in giving Marian and especially Gary the chance to be heard by a congregation who at that point was used to hearing a lot of doctrine but very little personal experience where the subject of being a Christian “struggling” with same-sex attraction was concerned, was how we tended to treat people who didn’t agree on this issue as through they’d never considered the same old theological points that always get brought up by more conservative Christians on this issue. Plenty of Christians have actually considered those Scriptures and come to the conclusion that they were addressing something entirely different, and sure, that takes a lot of careful study and debate to arrive at that conclusion, but let’s at least not treat people like they’re stupid and have never read the words that are right there in front of them in plain English, y’know? There’s a lot more to it than I could do justice to in a single paragraph, but what I felt deep down at that point was a desire to be welcoming rather than exclusive, to at least have the willingness to agree to disagree if that meant everyone could have a seat at the table, and find rest and refreshment together in our common worship of a loving and compassionate God. Why is this so hard for us – and why is it so much easier sometimes for people on the fringes of the Church, or even who exist completely outside of it, to find that Jesus’s words resonate more deeply with them than they do for those who are deeply embeddeed in the religious establishment? “Come All You Weary” – which I’m sure has meant a lot of different things to a lot of people who have heard it, from devout Christians to people from very marginalized and disenfranchised groups – continued to be significant to me over the years, to the point where when I finally joined that support group for LGBTQ Christians many years later, and I got to lead worship at their first ever weekend retreat, I chose this song for the group to reflect upon as we all took communion together. This song will always remind me me of some very life-changing events that opened my eyes to a group of people I had previously failed to care for the way I should have all along.

15) “Mesmerized”, Lifehouse (Who We Are, 2007)
Shifting gears again for the last few tracks, I had a few kinda romantic songs about sunrises, and I figured those would be a good note to end on. I’m sure this song was a frequently overlooked one on Who We Are for being neither a big rocker or an intimate ballad like their best songs tend to be. But I liked the fluid ease with which this song moved – it had guitars, but the drums, bass and piano were more prominent, and it nicely captured the image of two people who had led hard lives finally finding rest and comfort in each other’s arms, contemplating the first rays of the new day as they lay in bed together after a presumably very magical night. I don’t mean to make it out to be a sex song because it really wasn’t about that, even if perhaps it was there in the subtext. it was just about enjoying a moment of simple beauty together and having a calm moment to breathe in the middle of a whirlwind existence. Since the sunrise is a time of day I’m usually not awake for, I consider it to be a bit of a spiritual experience when I am conscious to see one… at least if it’s for voluntary reasons and not just insomnia.

16) “One Day Like This”, Elbow (The Seldom Seen Kid, 2008)
It’s fitting that this disc would be bookended by bands that I should have gotten into years prior, but for some reason didn’t. Like R.E.M., I had actually listened to a full album of Elbow’s before – 2005’s Leaders of the Free World in this case – found that it didn’t click with me at the time, then got into the band when they put out something a little more accessible and later went back to discover the greatness of that earlier album I had previously misunderstood. The Seldom Seen Kid probably brought a lot of new Elbow fans into the fold – they were one of those bands that had been around roughly as long as Coldplay and yet never quite caught on in the States, which I felt was really undeserved once I got into them, but then look how long it took me to get into them. “One Day Like This” was a huge single for the band and it remains one of their signature songs after all these years – it’s got a nice slow groove to it, some decadent strings, a few repeating sections that really worm their way into the listener’s brain, and an overall sunny spirit since it is literally about opening the shades, seeing the sun again after a very long period of depression, and learning to embrace life anew. It’s a romantic song in the sense that it sounds like a man is celebrating his lover coming out of the deep rut she’s been in, thus giving the relationship a renewed lease on life. But since the surrounding tracks on The Seldom Seen Kid seem to mourn the passing of a dear friend who had died too soon, perhaps even one who had taken its own life, it takes on a different meaning when considered in that context. Either way, it’s a gorgeous song that hasn’t gotten old for me despite literally the last three minutes out of more than six basically just being a long, slow fadeout repeating the same vamp over and over: “So throw those curtains wide/One day like this a year’d see me right.” Guy Garvey – a man whose voice I would come to fall in love with over the next few Elbow records until it finally dawned on me (pun intended) that they were one of my favorite bands, sung that refrain as though it were the chorus of a hymn echoing off the rafters of a cathedral. This wasn’t a religious song in the strict sense, but to me it felt like a song about being born again.

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