In the fall of 2008, I was struggling with the idea of change. Some doors were closing in my life – experiences I had greatly enjoyed had come to their natural end, and my natural instinct was to fight that. My whole concept of what it meant to be a Christian in a contentious political climate leading up to the election that year was changing pretty radically. And I can see in this set of songs I put together at the time that there is a lot of coming and going represented in the lyrics here, a lot of leaving people and reuniting, and a lot of need for the assurance that no matter how much change we go through, how much we kick and scream and protest what God is trying to do in us or in the world around us, or how much our very concept of faith might evolve as we leave behind the innocence of youth, God’s love for us is the one permanent thing that will never change.
In with the New:
TV on the Radio
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
Family Force 5
Listen on Spotify:
One of the hardest things for me at the end of summer 2008 was the dissolution of The Passage, Evergreen’s college fellowship. I had only just joined their leadership team the year before, after hanging out with the group in an unofficial capacity for a few years. What can I say – transitioning out of college had been hard for me, and I wanted to help make it easier for others, and in a way that felt like it helped keep me young, getting to go on retreats and other outings with the college students and other young adults who were part of the group. It ended abruptly just when I felt like momentum was picking up in terms of the relationship I was building with people. I sort of defaulted to the church’s young adult fellowship, called Branches, as a way of holding on to some vestige of that same form of relationship-building. By then I was 30 and definitely pushing the definition of “young adult”, but a lot of these folks were already my friends anyway, so it didn’t seem like I was crashing their party. This photo was taken by a fellow “Brancher” known as Chico, during the fellowship’s fall retreat at a conference center called Forest Home. We were all filing across the bridge spanning Mill Creek on our way to the zipline – though I wasn’t one of the ones brave enough to actually try it this time.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Versions of Violence”, Alanis Morissette (Flavors of Entanglement, 2008)
This was a really weird track to start with – the lurching, menacing electronic sounds and Alanis’s eerie, chant-like vocal melody certainly made this more of an oddball deep cut on a record that was a bit of a sonic shift for her at the time. My rule is never to start one of these playlists with a song that actually begins the album it came from, and I had chosen a lot of those this time around, so that’s how Alanis got shoved up to the opening slot, I guess. What’s fascinating to me about this one as I look back at it is that her list of irksome behaviors that cause conflict between people, little things she calls “versions of violence”, correlates pretty well to what I now understand as “microaggressions”. I hadn’t heard the term at the time, and I don’t think my sensitivity to others was well-developed enough to understand how a well-meaning action on one individual’s part could still reasonably be described as aggressive or violent by the person who was inadvertently hurt by it. That all makes a lot more sense to me now. Alanis has always been most interesting to me when, instead of the primal rage she’s stereotyped for expressing in her music, she digs beneath it and tries to express what makes the human heart and mind react the way that they do to interpersonal conflict.
2) “The Resistance”, Anberlin (New Surrender, 2008)
The opening track on Anberlin’s major label debut certainly found them putting their best foot forward. Nathan Young’s relentless drum intro on this one has gone down as one of the band’s most iconic passages – not bad for an album in the unenviable position of having to take what brought the band such strong acclaim on Cities and make it palatable to a wider audience. This song describes a political resistance movement from the inside, serving as the voice of a people pushed to the brink of desperation, with no choice but to break the law as they physically push back on an oppressive government. In 2008, this all felt like an allegory for stuff that was happening half a world away. In 2018, with #TheResistance basically being synonymous for anyone who opposes Trump, it plays quite differently – I hear the song and think, “That’s a lot of people I know and love”. I love the use of the term “paper tigers” here – which if I understand it correctly, means a threat that’s been built up to sound a lot scarier than it actually is, for the sake of scaring people into supporting a certain social or political agenda. The song still rocks harder than most in Anberlin’s catalog after all these years, and it’s thrilling to look back at it now and realize that it’s actually gained relevance.
3) “Addicted”, P.O.D. (When Angels and Serpents Dance, 2008)
While I wasn’t entirely on board with P.O.D.’s attempt at more of a raw, less commercial take on the rap/rock genre with this album, the lead track was pretty strong, with Sonny Sandoval’s raggedy vocals describing a drug addiction from the point of view of the addict. On the one hand, there’s a world of color and euphoric feelings and an effective means of escape, but then there’s also the way that the physical changes it causes to your brain can enslave you, and the terrifying lows and even suicidal thoughts after the junkie comes crashing down from the high. I get the sense that someone else is in the background of this song, trying to reach out to the addict, but not being terribly helpful – basically just trying to get them to quit cold turkey without understanding what it takes for the human body to truly detox after that sort of an experience.
4) “Dancing Choose”, TV on the Radio (Dear Science, 2008)
TV on the Radio had two (admittedly rather petty) strikes against them in my mind before I even heard any of their music. First, some of the press for their new album was styling it as “Dear Science,” with the comma included as part of the title, and my OCD-ness just refused to accept this abuse of punctuation. Second, “Dancing Choose” just sounded like an awful pun, and that was the name of their lead single. Turns out this was a pretty brilliant song – the half-rapped, half-sung lyrics came fast and furious from Tunde Adebimpe, giving me an impression of a young upstart ravenously devouring each and every political article he came across without taking the time to truly digest the information, and then regurgitating it to others in the most condescending way possible without the self-awareness to understand where he was violating his own impossibly high standards. This was an election year – we were doing a lot of screaming at each other back then over issues we just assumed anyone on the other side hadn’t fully opened their eyes to. That all seems pretty mild now in the wake of the 2016 election, but I suppose 2008 was the first time I truly realized how ugly all of the noise – even from well-meaning people trying to advocate for equality – could get when tempers really flared up.
5) “Outrage”, Capital Lights (This Is an Outrage!, 2008)
This was just about the smarmiest, most smart-assed pop-punk song of its era, complete with a bouncy rhythm and a synth line that was way catchier than it had any right to be. I absolutely loved it, largely due to Bryson Phillips’ witty wordplay. On the surface, it was basically just a kiss-off to a girl who had done him wrong, and who he had wasted far too much of his time on. It’s worded in such a way that the breakup was apparently meant to blindside her just as much as the revelation she was cheating probably blindsided him. Trying to keep up with the lyrics of both “Dancing Choose” and this one was a fun challenge, and even though they are markedly different songs on disparate topics, that’s probably why I put the two together.
6) “If”, House of Heroes (The End Is Not the End, 2008)
I don’t think I realized just how epic of an album The End Is Not the End was on the first few listens. I’d been trying to get into it over the summer, and finally it clicked with me, starting with this bouncy rocker (with a similar mood and feel to “Outrage”, which is definitely how those two songs ended up together) that seemed at first to be a feel-good love song, but that revealed to more careful listeners how it was about a love so shallow, it wasn’t really love at all. This song sets up an if/then premise – “I could be in love if the sun came out every day”, “If you were mine, I’d have the world”, etc., where the “then” part of the clause can never come true because the “if” part is an unreasonable expectation. This one was a perfect blend of the band’s catchy power pop sensibilities and their tendency to subtly misdirect the listener into thinking they were doing something different from what they were actually doing. It’s pure genius wrapped up in faux-superficiality.
7) “There Is Nobody”, Yoav (Charmed & Strange, 2008)
This might have been the track where I was most impressed by Yoav’s uncanny ability to mimic dance-pop music with just an acoustic guitar. There were some pretty weird bending and scratching sounds along with the thumping beat that gave this song its driving force, and some finger-picked high notes that felt like stand-ins for a catchy synth line. All of this seemed to be a distraction technique to avoid loneliness – and the bleak lyrics here make it pretty clear that the guy felt utterly alone even when surrounded by people. There are songs that encourage you to dance your cares away, and then there are songs that warn you all the dancing and drinking and hedonism in the world aren’t going to erase the emptiness that gnaws at your soul, and this was definitely one of the latter.
8) “Closer”, Jars of Clay (Closer EP, 2008)
This song was most listeners’ first introduction to the new, 80s pop-inflected Jars of Clay sound, a pretty bold shift for their first album out of the gate as an independent band (Christmas Songs notwithstanding). I was still mostly of the mind that synth-heavy 80s music was cheesy at this point, and at times Jars seemed to be playing up the cheese on purpose in this song, as the synths and finger-picked guitar swirled around amidst lighthearted metaphors like “You’re my shirt, iron-on/I’m the tick, you’re the bomb/You’re the L and the V, I’m the O and the E.” Dan sung it in a way that indicated he knew it was silly. Yet there was a meaningful message about human intimacy underneath this one – it was trying to address all of the technology and social constructs and excuses and whatnot that get into way of two people being real with each other, I think. I put it next to “There Is Nobody” as a deliberate contrast – two very danceable songs, one expressing an utter lack of connection with other human beings, the other one fighting to restore that connection. What’s hilarious about this one is that some of the Christian radio gatekeepers objected to the line “It’s cold and I miss your skin”, thinking that Jars of Clay had gone and tried to sneak a sex song into their playlists. (Even funnier is the fact that their forthcoming album actually had a song about sex on it and even people like me who pay attention to the lyrics didn’t catch on… but we’ll cover that one on a 2009 playlist.)
9) “How in the World”, Family Force 5 (Dance or Die, 2008)
You can go ahead and laugh at me. I’ve got no defense for this one. It’s pure, unadulterated silliness – coming from a band I otherwise couldn’t stand, no less. Family Force 5’s usual sound was a deliberately over-the-top, raspy-as-all-hell blend of rap, rock and glitzy pop sensibilities that they dubbed “crunk-core”, and even knowing that is was all meant to be a bunch of trashy fun, it was a bit much. On this song, they went full-on boy band, trading the rougher edges for wall-to-wall synths, heavily auto-tuned vocals, and a mushy pop melody that somehow managed to hit my sweet spot. Something about how shameless it was just amused me, I guess. I legitimately thought that the lyrics, in which a guy expresses that he doesn’t know how in the world he found a girl who was such a good fit for him, were how I felt about my marriage. Three years in and despite my growing jadedness about life in general, I was still enough of a hopeless romantic for this one to strike a chord. I don’t think I’d like it if I heard it for the first time today. But I won’t lie, the nostalgia factor’s pretty strong with this one.
10) “Starlings”, Elbow (The Seldom Seen Kid, 2008)
Now if you want to approach unabashed romanticism from more of a sophisticated adult perspective, Elbow’s got you covered here. This opening track from The Seldom Seen Kid – a record that I had on heavy rotation for pretty much the entire latter half of 2008 because it was just so creamy and groovy and downright delicious – made the odd choice to have a quiet, island-style sort of backdrop that was punctured by these occasional blasts of horns and strings from an orchestra. To my ears, it was downright majestic. To Christine, hearing it in the car when the quieter part was barely even audible, it was just irritating noise that started and stopped for no apparent reason. So yeah, she wasn’t sold on this one. But Guy Garvey’s lyrics had me absolutely over the moon here. He knows he’s managed to capture the affection of a woman who he perceives as way out of his league, and he’s to the point where he’s fantasizing about proposals in scenic natural settings, and seeing the entire world around him as though it were a reflection of the love that bursts forth from his heart each day, unable to be contained, like a flock of birds noisily swarming in the evening sky. It’s a hell of a catch-22 when I hear what I think is one of the most romantic songs ever, and the person I’m actually in love with hears the same song and goes, “Eh, not for me”.
11) “Sun It Rises”, Fleet Foxes (Fleet Foxes, 2008)
Yet another opening track here from an album I was listening to practically nonstop in those days. This seemed like a perfect autumn song, due to how the layers of guitar and those achingly gorgeous vocals gradually stacked up as the rays of the run lit up more and more of the landscape. I couldn’t help but picture an ever-brighter world bursting forth with every possible shade of green and gold as I listened to this one. Looking back, I’m amazed at what a vivid impression this song manages to paint with very few lyrics – it’s the way each line is drawn out via the diverging harmony parts that seem to dart off in their own direction and do as they please, yet all of it works together to create a more detailed picture than the words themselves could manage to portray. (Originally I had cut the “Red Squirrel” intro from this one and just went straight into the first guitar lick of the actual song, thinking it was a bit jarring of a transition coming out of “Starlings”, but now that I hear it intact on Spotify, I think I’m okay with that segue after all.)
12) “The Moon Is a Magnet”, Jon Foreman (Fall EP, 2007)
The six songs on Fall were actually the first set released under Jon Foreman’s name as a solo artist, nearly a full year before I made this playlist, but since I had initially heard it back-to-back with the Winter set in early 2008, and I was drawn more to the starker drama of that set, I could of overlooked Fall for the most part until it was, y’know, actually fall again. The most oddball of the cuts on that EP finally jumped out at me, with its wayward rhythm seeming to skip a measure whenever it felt like as an almost drunken woodwind ensemble tried to keep up. It was beautiful in its own lopsided way, with Jon Foreman imagining the moon as a unifying symbol that draws lonely and misunderstood people together under the cover of night. (Or… something. It’s definitely one of his more obliquely written lyrics.)
13) “My Moon My Man”, Feist (The Reminder, 2007)
The pounding piano chords were such an effective backdrop on this catchy song. Feist didn’t lean on the “wall of sound” as hard as I wanted her to on a lot of these tracks, preferring to let her hooks sink in with a bit more subtlety, but once this song burrowed its way into my brain, it just wouldn’t let go. Interpretations of this lightly sexy, but also emotionally conflicted song seem to vary, with some thinking it’s about a breakup and the last night she and an old boyfriend spent together, and others taking the moon as an anatomical reference and coming up with… well, let’s just say a more overtly sexual interpretation. “Take it slow, take it easy on me”? “It’s the dirtiest clean I know”? Alright, I can see how some might have taken it that way.
14) “Make It Mine”, Jason Mraz (We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, 2008)
I had such a love/hate relationship with Jason Mraz at this point. His music, which I once considered a witty and highly creative blend of folk, rock, and occasional jazz and showtune influences, had been whittled down at this point to more of a sparse, feel-good folk-pop vibe, without nearly as much variation and with the songs not striking me as all that clever most of the time. I listened to this one when it came out and sort of ignored it for a while, not even thinking the lead single “I’m Yours” was all that much to write home about (it got better, but we’re not there yet). Something about the opening track, which was probably the most upbeat thing on the album resonated with me – the lyrics didn’t provide much more than a generic “go out and chase your destiny” sort of thing, but I liked the blue-eyed soul vibe of it, the way that the melody twisted and turned beyond what I’d expect from a poppy single in this vein, and the way that the sassy horn section and occasional bits of synth intervened, adding some subtlety and complexity to a song that might have otherwise been too irritatingly cheery for its own good.
15) “Undercover”, Deas Vail (White Lights EP, 2008)
The White Lights EP brought a bit more rock edge to Deas Vail’s sound, without losing the more keyboard-heavy, euphoric aspects of it. This track in particular got surprisingly loud, giving me the feeling that a man was looking up into the night sky and feeling unsure about whether to be filled with awe and wonder or rage against the heavens in frustration. Looking back, it’s a bit of a weird tonal shift coming out of “Make It Mine”, but I think I was going for some sort of a “seize the night” sort of theme by stringing these songs about the moon and the night sky and so forth together. The way that the guitars, strings, and pounding piano all come crashing headlong into a bit of noisy feedback at the end made for a pretty solid transition into…
16) “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 2”, My Morning Jacket (Evil Urges, 2008)
…a very looooong and experimental dance number that was technically not the closing track on Evil Urges, thanks to the abrupt “Good Intentions” outro that was literally seconds long. I’m still closing with an album closer here. I made an excuse for breaking my own rules here, and it wasn’t a very convincing one, but a song this long would have been a hell of an interruption in the middle of a playlist, so I didn’t know what else to do. It was very easy to get caught up in the bass groove here, and the gradually building euphoria as Jim James mused “Oh, this feeling is wonderful, don’t you ever turn it off”. He’s singing about the human touch here, and I don’t think it necessarily has to just be a sexual thing, though that may have been part of it. There’s a theme here that I think is similar to what “Closer” was getting at and what some of the other songs I picked were lamenting a lack of – a true, deep connection with another human being, heart to heart, mind to mind, and sure, skin to skin as well. This one’s equal parts spooky and elated as it keeps on grooving along for eight full minutes, gradually slowing down and sputtering out in a bizarrely memorable coda that took quite a few listens before I came around and admitted to myself that I kinda liked it.
One of the spontaneous day trips Christine and I took that fall was to Carpinteria, a small seaside community adjacent to Santa Barbara. They have an annual avocado festival, where one can try all sorts of delicacies such as tempura avocado, avocado ice cream, even avocado tea. The avocado is one of my favorite foods, so of course I was game. During that trip, we also wandered along Carpinteria State Beach for a while, a relaxing way to cap off the afternoon. I couldn’t remember what caused the pitch black mineral deposits that seemed to have oozed across the beach, but it added an interestingly eerie vibe to an otherwise bright and scenic beach setting.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Coming Home”, Alter Bridge (Blackbird, 2007)
Pretty straightforward and hard-rocking song here to open up Disc Two – a man who has wandered far from home realizes the connection he has missed all along, to the people who know and understand him best. Celebrity is fleeting, and throngs of adoring fans don’t really know and love him on a deeper level, he realizes: “All the shooting stars, they all fall so hard, they all fade like a played-out song.” So he does an about-face and returns home, to be truly known and loved again. Possibly a prodigal son story – just without all the prostitutes and wallowing in pig troughs and such.
2) “Where Do I Go From Here”, Relient K (The Bird and the Bee-Sides, 2008)
This high-energy pop-punk song was a B-side that I wouldn’t have minded hearing at all on Five Score and Seven Years Ago. I loved how the banjo was a complete misdirect at the beginning, before it kicked in hard with a syncopated punk beat much like “The One I’ve Been Waiting For” at the beginning of Mmhmm. I’m not sure if I intentionally put a song with the lyric “Leaving, may not be coming home” at the beginning of it right after a song called “Coming Home”, but it does feel to me now like these songs were two sides of the same coin – one finding peace and a sense of belonging in returning home, and the other finding numbness and confusion due to not knowing if their old hometown was still meant to be home. There’s actually quite a bit of sadness hidden in this insanely upbeat and energetic song that I hadn’t fully realized back then.
3) “The Accident”, The Myriad (With Arrows, With Poise, 2008)
The buzzing guitar riffs in this song reminded me of a swarm of bees. It would be very bad news for me if I were to wander into a swarm of bees, since I’m allergic to their stings. That of course is not what this song is about… but it is about bad news. You know how, when someone has bad news to tell you, it’s customary for them to tell you to sit down, maybe lead up to it in some other way so that you’re prepared for there to be some sort of a shock when they hit you with it. I actually really hate that. When I can tell that someone is stalling due not knowing how I’ll react, or even worse when they say they need to talk to me about something but can’t actually do it right away and it seems really ominous, I end up freaking out a lot more than I probably would if they just ripped the band-aid off and told the bad news to me bluntly with little to no warning. That’s what I think the protagonist of this song is feeling. There’s been some sort of a horrible accident, and here’s this man who has shown up to tell him the bad news, and the listener never actually finds out what the bad news is… we just know that the bearer of bad news taking his time to “drag through all the pieces” is absolute torture.
4) “Broken Lungs”, Thrice (The Alchemy Index, Vol. III, 2008)
A song from the point of view of a 9/11 truther was definitely a gut-wrenchingly uncomfortable way for Thrice to open the third disc of their Alchemy Index project. Seven years on from that tragedy, I’d heard various conspiracy theories and even sat through one iteration of the Loose Change documentary, but I still thought it was a bit of a tall order to claim that the U.S. government set up that tragedy on purpose. Still, I also didn’t want to dismiss it as unprovoked violence from a faraway corner of the world and assume America’s hands were entirely clean of any catalysts leading to that attack as a form of retaliation. What makes this song work (aside from the breathtaking – pun intended – way that it builds from a near-whisper in reverent memory of those who died that horrific day up to a full-throated scream in which Dustin Kensrue demands truth for the survivors and their families) is that it never claims to give an answer. It simply looks at the facts laid out before us and points out that not everything adds up, and that the people left grieving deserve to know what really happened. I’m imagine a lot of fans disagreed with this song, or at least felt conflicted over it. I think that was intentional.
5) “Violet Hill”, Coldplay (Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, 2008)
Coldplay’s version of a political protest song was very foreboding – pounding piano, dark, descending guitar riff, the overall feeling of a soldier marching off to meet his doom and not being sure he was doing it in service of a valiant cause. I don’t know if the snowbound battle described in this song references an actual historical event or if Chris Martin was just taking creative license, but boy were these lyrics provocative either way: “Was a long and dark December/When the banks became cathedrals/And the fog became God/Priests clutched onto Bibles/Hollowed out to fit their rifles/And a cross was held aloft.” The intersection between patriotism, Christianity, and pro-gun culture really wasn’t sitting right with me at that point. I didn’t buy into the notion that being a Christ follower meant blindly believing whatever actions my country took on the world stage were the right ones, or that America was somehow favored by God in a way that other nations weren’t. It just didn’t make sense to me if God loved everyone and Jesus came for every lost soul. And I no longer wanted to be a participant in cultural or religious wars that were supposedly being fought in Jesus’s name. If it resulted in the death, devastation, or dehumanization of souls on the losing side, then that was still an unspeakable loss as far as I was concerned, and I didn’t want my God being named as the cause for those injustices.
6) “Amazing Grace (Give It Back)”, Sixpence None the Richer (My Dear Machine EP, 2008)
Of the four tracks on Sixpence’s comeback EP, this one was lyrically the most hard-hitting. Leigh Nash and Matt Slocum have a real gift for capturing the mood of those dry, desolate periods in the life of a Christian where it seems like hope is far away and God is stubbornly quiet. Leigh described that experience here as feeling like a long walk through a desert, longing for God to bring forth “streams in the desert” just as the Bible promised. And she doesn’t hide her frustration in this heartfelt prayer: “You’re everywhere, in every time, and yet you’re so damn hard to find.” I really appreciated the bravery of not censoring that line (and I was subsequently annoyed when it got bowdlerized to “and yet you’re always hard to find” when the song was redone for the Lost in Transition album a few years later). While I think it’s important to approach prayer with reverence, understanding that God is God and we are not God, I also think it’s pointless to load our prayers up with flowery words that we don’t really mean when what we really want to say is “God, I’m pissed off and I feel no hope and I don’t understand. Please be the God you promised to be.” God knows our thoughts anyway. God’s heard the absolute worst things we could ever say to Him already. Why bother with the charade?
7) “Run to You”, Third Day feat. Lacy Mosley (Revelation, 2008)
I’m actually wondering now why I didn’t put this song immediately after “Coming Home”. It would have made perfect sense (as well as being a good fit in terms of its rhythm and the style of music), because I’m pretty sure this one is a prodigal son sort of story – though you’d be forgiven for not noticing, as many Christian rock songs as there are that vaguely express a feeling of being far from God and wanting to run back into His arms. I enjoyed this one more for the performance than for the lyrics, I think – Third Day had really pushed themselves to think outside of their usual box on Revelation, and that led to songs like this one that were more rhythmic and more based around vocal harmonies, as well as others on the record that were more hard-rocking or more Gospel-inflected, etc. than their usual. They would never recreate the low-budget innocence of their early days, but at least they got something interesting out of their more slick and commercial sound on a song like this one. I loved the duet vocal from Flyleaf’s Lacey Mosley here – I had never really gotten into her band, but she had a higher pitched alt-rock warble that meshed really nicely with Mac Powell’s deep Southern rock drawl. The denouement at the end with the various layers of voices all coming together to close out the song was certainly one of my favorite moments on any of Third Day’s later albums. Unfortunately, my memory of this song is marred a bit by a behind-the-scenes DVD that I must have been sent a promo copy of by the record label at the time, in which Mac and either his tour manager or one of his bandmates were discussing how they would do the song live, and someone suggested bringing Lacey on tour with them and he flat out refused. Apparently he didn’t want the temptation of sharing a tour bus with a female performer. You know, the “Billy Graham rule”. While that’s the sort of thing that I bet wound up on the DVD to make the band look all virtuous and noble, I really think it kind of sucks from a female artist’s perspective, to be seen primarily as a source of possible temptation, rather than having the “creative colleague” sort of relationship that all the men in the various bands on that tour got to have.
8) “Should You Return”, Copeland (You Are My Sunshine, 2008)
It’s funny how quickly I went from not thinking much of Copeland, to putting the sort of trust in them that would lead me to by a new album of theirs (the last before their breakup in 2010, not that I knew it at the time) before I had heard a single note. I can still remember putting You Are My Sunshine on for the first time and being totally short-circuited by the hazy, introverted nature of it. it was more experimental than Eat, Sleep, Repeat, which was already a record I had learned to love very slowly. And sure enough, this one eventually wormed its way into my brain as well, and I have strongly positive memories of it to this day even though I know I had to fight with it quite a bit to get there. This opening track, with its multi-tracked vocals and its icy keyboards and pretty much everything seeming to get off to a more languid start than I expected, was the poster child for “Copeland songs I didn’t like at first, but eventually grew to love”. Part of the reason I pay attention to things like unusual vocal or instrumental textures on a record, sometimes to the point where that intrigues me more than whether a song is instantly catchy or upbeat, or whether I can understand the lyrics, is because of this album and especially this song. Not that there was a whole lot here that I found hard to understand – the album opened with a bittersweet goodbye of sorts, a lost love that apparently wounded Aaron just as deeply as his time spent with the person lifted him up. He’s paralyzed and doesn’t know how to move on, so he has no choice but to sit in the sorrow of the person’s absence – at least for now – and hope that they would find it in their heart to return someday when they’re both in a better place.
9) “Librarian”, My Morning Jacket (Evil Urges, 2008)
Normally I would consider “sexy librarian” to be a rather silly, if not totally off-putting subject for a song. But Jim James was so sweet and heartfelt in this folksy little ode to a bookworm who couldn’t recognize her own beauty because it didn’t conform to society’s standards, that I could help but share his crush on this fictitious woman. It helped that Christine was considering a career change to library science at this point in her life. I was totally on board, and listening to this song, I can think of a then-recently built library in San Marino that we had toured while she was learning about the requirements for the job, and thinking, “I could get used to seeing this place often.” Ultimately, that career path didn’t pan out, as it would have required longer and more expensive schooling than we had anticipated. But listening to this song gives me fond memories of one of those rare times when I actually responded positively to what could have been a life-altering change. Too often, I’m stubborn and I want to stick with what works if it’s bringing home a steady paycheck, and I think because of that, she had been reluctant to get out of the daycare business because she didn’t want to disappoint me by being jobless for a prolonged period of time. This time around, I somehow managed to listen to her needs and encourage her to give it a try even if it ultimately turned out to be not for her, and to let my worries about the potential risks to our stability take a backseat to the understand that she needed to get out there and try some new things and figure out who she was becoming in this new chapter of her life.
10) “Blue Ridge Mountains”, Fleet Foxes (Fleet Foxes, 2008)
Yet another achingly beautiful song from Fleet Foxes’ debut album here. This was one of those “travel songs” that gave me vivid images of a place I’d never been – the “Blue Ridge Mountains, over near Tennessee”. This seems to be yet another song about a missed connection between two people (literally, in this case, as one of them missed their connecting flight), resulting in the other one having to go it alone on his adventure deep into the Appalachians on a cold, moonlit winter night. In this case, the two people missing each other from afar are brothers – possibly estranged ones who had hoped to understand their family roots a little better by returning to an old cabin their grandfather had built. Listening to the thrilling climax of this song, with the booming toms, the yearning layered harmony vocals, and the persistent piano melody calling out into the cold night air, it was easy to forget the actual backstory of Fleet Foxes as modern men hailing from Seattle, and instead envision this as a lost recording of a criminally underappreciated folk band who had never broken out of obscurity back in the 60s or 70s, and had disappeared into the woods, never to be heard from again, their tragic story destined to be unearthed as an urban legend a generation later.
11) “Forevermore”, Katie Herzig (Apple Tree, 2008)
Christine gave me a funny look when she caught me singing along to the closing track on Katie Herzig’s album, because its entire chorus was borrowed from an old children’s song that she recognized – “Say say, oh playmate/Come out and play with me/And bring your dollies three/Climb up my apple tree.” I wasn’t gonna lie, it was catchy, and I liked how the innocence of it was juxtaposed with the verses Katie had written, envisioning an overly romanticized love affair in the first verse and then realizing the world doesn’t always work that way in the second verse, which led to the sadder version of the children’s chorus: “Say say, oh playmate/I cannot play with you/My dolly’s got the flu/Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo.” it was like the song bounced back and forth between past and present, stopping to sympathize with things that made both little Katie and grown-up Katie feel sad, but still holding out hope that brighter days would be ahead. In case this wasn’t irresistibly cute enough already, she had to end it off with a cute little whisper of “One two three four!”, and when we saw Katie in concert the following year, she and her all-girl band even went so far as to throw a fake trumpet solo (done with their mouths) into the bridge section. I loved it. I still do.
12) “Time Is Fiction”, Edison Glass (Time Is Fiction, 2008)
“Forevermore” was there as a transition into a few more serious songs that tried to grasp what “forever” actually looked like, I guess. The final track from the one and only Edison Glass album I managed to get my hands on before they broke up was certainly an oblique and mysterious way for them to go out, pondering the changing season’s in a man’s life and also the (relative) permanence of words written on a page that he was studying. The song didn’t spell it out, but it seemed rather God-haunted, realizing that the seasons would still change and words of wisdom written down centuries ago would still be remembered long after he and all the people he knew had passed on. His ultimate conclusion that “Time is fiction” and “I can hear it, the rhythm of your heartbeat” seemed to imply a sense of peace as he looked out into that vast unknown, knowing there was a world yet to exist long after he had become ashes, and being totally OK with that becuase he trusted in something bigger than himself that would live on.
13) “Eternal”, Sanctus Real (We Need Each Other, 2008)
“I could never lose Your love to sickness/I could never lose You to divorce/And there’s no concept of abandonment/For I am safe within Your arms.” This shimmering, beautiful song about eternity and the safety of knowing you can never lose God’s love may well be the linchpin of this entire set of songs. I don’t think it was intentional that I had compiled so many songs earlier in this playlist about people coming and going, getting together and breaking up, losing themselves in faraway places and then coming home to find themselves all over again. This song tried to grasp the ungraspable – the permanence of God and the boundless of God’s love for us – and I have to say that for a four-minute, Christian radio-friendly pop/rock song, it really knocked it out of the park by being up-tempo without being annoyingly cheery, delicate without being slow or monotonous, layered without ever feeling overproduced. All of the human relationships that we wish could be permanent, but that due to the passage of time, the changing of hearts, or the failing of our human bodies, always have to end in some form, are contrasted interestingly with our relationship to God as Matt Hammit reminds himself: “This life will pass away, but You will never change.” He manages to make it sound like a sacred wedding vow – “In this marriage of our hearts, there is no death do us part” – which makes sense, because the Bible does describe humanity as “the bride of Christ”.
14) “The House of God, Forever”, Jon Foreman feat. Sarah Masen (Summer EP, 2008)
I’m not normally one to string together a bunch of worship songs on one of these CDs. Usually there’s one, maybe two, songs in that vein at most, and even then it’s a struggle to make them fit. I guess I was just in an especially meditative mood at this juncture in my life and a lot of these beautiful, in some cases directly scriptural, songs were really speaking to me. Jon Foreman’s rumination on the 23rd Psalm is about as straightforward as they come – a simple acoustic guitar strum, a bit of harmonica… but then there are the strings and the homespun harmonies between him and his sister-in-law, Sarah Masen, a voice I hadn’t heard since the last of her solo records had come out way back in 2001. This felt like a reunion of disparate voices that I never would have even thought belonged together if they weren’t related – and it’s turned out to be one of Jon Foreman’s most enduring solo songs, one that I’ve used myself when leading worship on several occasions. The 23rd Psalm is one of the most well-known verses of the Bible, to the point where it’s almost a cliche, and yet the words still resonate with me in nearly any musical form I hear them presented. I suspect there’s a reason I was named after the guy who originally wrote them.
15) “My Alleluia”, Jaci Velasquez (Love Out Loud, 2008)
It’s weird that, in 2005 when Jaci tried to go the “quirky indie rock” route, even though I was getting into a lot of that sort of music at the time, I found it completely unconvincing coming from her, and I had more or less been ignoring her music for several years until a few tracks on her 2008 album caught my attention. This was one of them – it felt very much like a praise song, but it wasn’t forcing a big radio-friendly chorus down the listener’s throat or falling back on a simplistic, cliched refrain. It was slow, piano-driven, a little moody, even, and it felt like it was coming from a very honest and reverent place of realizing that God was so big and the bounds of His love so incomprehensible that the singer didn’t even know where to start. That idea has inspired numerous musical reflections over the centuries, so this is hardly anything new for a very good reason – it has always been, and will always be true, and I vastly prefer this sort of song to the ones that seem to put God in a neat little box and act like we’ve got God all figured out. Even though this was a compelling vocal performance, it’s notable that Jaci intentionally restrained herself here, not going for the big powerhouse vocal everyone knows she’s capable of, and it gives the song a welcome air of humility, allowing the listener to feel comfortable with their own smallness in the grand scheme of things. Years later, when I have pretty much no use for the inspirational pop side of the Christian music industry, this still speaks to me, even though a lot of Jaci’s other material that I used to like back in the 90s now strikes me as overly cutesy or corny.
16) “Children of the Heavenly Father”, Plumb (Blink, 2007)
Plumb’s ethereal cover of another classic hymn – one that I wasn’t familiar with until her version came along, but that I learned was well over a century old – hits a similar sweet spot to her version of “God Will Take Care of You” in that it effectively translates the reverent mood of the song into an ambient pop atmosphere, the background running thick with gentle waves of synth and spacey keyboard chords and an otherworldly violin melody in the space between the verses. It feels like a sacred composition calling out to the listener from beyond the boundaries of time. And even though the vocabulary in this song doesn’t really qualify it as children’s music, it’s important that she put it on her album of lullabies, because the arrangement feels like a soothing modern-day version of a music box, designed to communicate a safe and loving atmosphere to an infant as it drifts off to sleep. I have a very specific memory of this song from that very same retreat seen in the cover photo from Disc One – Saturday morning, probably around 7 AM, when I was listening to Blink as I explored the retreat site and wound up sitting in a quiet clearing, taking in the cool morning air and trying to listen for whatever God wanted to tell me was in store next for my life, this song came on and I felt an unspeakable sense of peace that stuck with me throughout the morning. It made me wish that the end of life could be that peaceful, or at least that my first thoughts upon realizing I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil could be – feeling as safe and secure and loved, as I am reborn into whatever awaits me in eternity ,as I did when falling asleep in my mother’s arms as she sang lullabies to me in the earliest days of my life.