My soundtrack from the spring of 2010 is… a bit of a hodgepodge, honestly. Most of my soundtracks are, but this one in particular has a bit of an identity crisis. Lots of great music here from across a smattering of divergent genres, but not a whole lot of connecting tissue tying most of it together – and honestly, not as many specific memories tying the music to definitive events in my life. I think this tends to happen during a season of life when I’m reasonably settled and happy – the music I’m drawn to, which might reflect a certain amount of angst or difficult questions, is probably resonating more with stuff I’ve been through in the past, or stuff I’m glad to have never been through. All of this is to say, I’ve realized in retrospect that this is a less autobiographical set of songs than most of my soundtracks turned out to be. Nothing wrong with that – remembering a time in my life when there was a distinct lack of struggle or upheaval is kind of comforting nowadays, considering how isolated, unpredictable and stressful life is for me (and for most of the world!) ten years down the road.
In with the New:
The River Empires
Jónsi (as a solo artist – appears earlier with Sigur Rós)
Starting the year 2010 off in Hawaii, as Christine and I finished up the last few days of our vacation and our visit with her friends and family, offered a lot of chances for rest and reflection on the almost five years of our marriage so far, and what challenges were potentially ahead of us in this new decade. Going back to the first set of mix CDs I made to cover the first two months of that year, I’m reminded of how my outlook on music was changing (a lot more indie rock, not so much Christian music although I retained a few of my long-time favorites) along with my outlook on life (less rigid and black-and-white, more open to being shown new perspectives and subjecting long-standing beliefs to greater scrutiny to see if they still held water). A lot of it was more about capturing a certain aesthetic or mood rather than a specific meaning – yet after spending some time with this collection of songs again after all these years, I’ve realized as I zoom out and look at the set as a whole that there are still some distinct markers of experiences in my life or ideas I was wrestling with, that give the diverse and sometimes even contradictory elements of these playlists a reason for being together that maybe I couldn’t have fully articulated at the time.
In with the New: The Paper Raincoat As Tall as Lions
Here’s the best of what I was listening to as the previous decade closed out. While I definitely ended the 2000s in a much better place than I was at the beginning of that decade, there had definitely been some hard times toward the end of 2009, and we were looking forward to a year-end trip to visit family in Hawaii. I can tell looking back at a lot of these songs that I was really longing for some rest and recreation with a beautiful beach as the backdrop.
What was going on in my life back in the fall of 2009? I can remember going to a lot of concerts – at least four in the span of two months, if my math is correct. All of them rank among the most jaw-droppingly stellar performances I’ve ever seen from any live band – which includes the absolute largest concert I will probably ever attend, by a world-famous band that has been making music for as long as I have been alive. I can also remember the usual activities that I love to partake in most years at around this time, like going on a church retreat up in the mountains, and seeing fall colors and autumnal decorations at a nearby botanical garden. Beautiful places that sparked reactions of awe and admiration and a sense of peace. As I go through these songs I picked to represent the fall months of that year, I’m struck by how many of them also inspire a sense of awe, trying to express in the limited medium of sound what it would look like or feel like to approach heaven, eternity, the presence of God, etc. With that said, there’s also a lot of melancholy stuff here that deliberately contrasts upbeat and colorful musical performances with kinda depressing lyrics. What can I say – I’ve developed a weird affinity for that sort of songwriting, which has been true even in seasons of life where I would have considered myself relatively happy.
Our summer road trip for 2009, which was confined almost entirely to the state of California (and probably less than an hour in Nevada), may have seemed less ambitious than our 2008 trip encompassing the American Southwest, but I had made it my goal to visit a number of natural tourist spots in my home state that Christine had not yet seen, due to them being more than a day trip away from our home in SoCal. We managed to see the Humboldt Redwoods, Lake Shasta, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, and Mono Lake along that trip, as well as attending the wedding of a college friend in Oakland just a day after our own four-year wedding anniversary, and also visiting family and friends in Sacramento and Mammoth Lakes. This was probably more than we should have crammed into a single trip, but we made it work. That summer also marked a great technological leap forward for me, as I finally got around to joining Facebook after several years of resistance, and I had also bought an iPod for the first time in my life preceding our trip – a green 16 GB Nano. The sudden convenience of having all that music at my fingertips without having to haul a big book of CDs with us on our travels began to revolutionize the way I consumed music. Not needing a physical CD to enjoy an album in the car helped to diversify my listening habits and gave me that extra nudge to take chances on more artists I hadn’t listened to before. My soundtrack mixes had to stretch by a track on each disc to help accommodate some of these new interests – and even then, it didn’t feel like 17 songs on each side was nearly enough space to truly do it justice.
In with the New:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The New Pornographers
If you were to listen to this mix that I made in the summer of 2009, and take the songs as literal indicators of what I was going through at the time, you might assume that I had gone on a post-apocalyptic road trip, gotten lost at sea, enlisted in a foreign war, and became very, very convinced that I was going to die soon. None of those things actually happened, but the music told such vivid stories that I felt intrigued, even downright moved, by what a lot of the characters in these songs were going through. I remember this as a generally happy phase of my life, and I’m immediately transported back to that happy vibe by the opening songs on Disc One. But I was having some issues with insomnia at the time, as well as a resulting loss of appetite and general malaise that followed it most mornings. The final songs on the second disc are the ones that most honestly address that feeling of knowing I wasn’t in the healthiest place physically, and wanting to reach out for help and make some genuine changes to keep it from getting worse.
There’s a lot of war, betrayal, decay, and destruction that plays out over the course of these two discs. You wouldn’t guess it right away from a lot of the up-tempo song selections, nor from the downright worshipful songs that bookend the set, and certainly not from the lovely scenery taken from a few of my favorite hikes that got chosen for the the cover art. This didn’t come from some weird place of turmoil in my own life – either it was a reflection on conflicts going on in the world at the time, or else I just sort of realize a theme was pulling itself together in the individual songs I was enjoying around that time, and I put them together in such a way that it really emphasized the common thread between a lot of them. There’s also some weird stuff about astronauts and aliens here and there… and a few songs that were chosen to commemorate an unusually warm Southern California spring. So it’s not all dark clouds and disasters and bullets and bombs and blood. But yeah… I guess it’s mostly that.
In with the New:
The Reign of Kindo
Sara Watkins (as a solo artist – appears previously with Nickel Creek)
Out with the Old:
Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts