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
Right at the tail end of 2008, and into early 2009, I was feeling a pretty strong dose of the economic anxiety that I think a lot of Americans were feeling at that point. Part of it was due to Christine being in transition – knowing she didn’t want to work in daycare any more, but not feeling another calling to a type of job that was both exciting and feasible to pursue. So we were living off of just one income for the time being, and it was hard not to worry about our future plans getting stalled out as a result of this. Fortunately she knew what to do to help get my mind off of the worries, and a pair of trips that we ended up taking along the central California coast in January and February did quite a bit to lighten the mood in that difficult transitional phase of our life together.
In with the New: Animal Collective Fiction Family Josh Ritter A. C. Newman Blitzen Trapper Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts
I was really optimistic at the end of 2008. It had been a tough year, but things appeared to be changing for the better. Still, I think I was more aware of a lot of the turmoil in the world around me than I had been before. I can sort of see a cycle in these songs that I picked back then, which starts out with hope – perhaps hope that was placed in imperfect humans who meant well but couldn’t fix everything we wanted them to fix all at once – and then it moves into a sequence of frustration, jadedness and cynicism, fear, conflict, war, and even death. Ultimately, with the arrival of the Christmas season, it comes right back around to hope again… but it’s tempered with a lot more grace and patience and wisdom than the first time around.
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.
I’m just now realizing how richly nostalgic a lot of the summer imagery is within this set of songs I put together ten years ago. In August of 2008, Christine and I embarked on a truly epic road trip through the Southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. With the exception of our previous trip to Las Vegas, Christine had never been to any of these states before, and I hadn’t been to that part of the country in quite a while myself. On this trip we took in the Grand Canyon, Sedona, the Valles Caldera region of northern New Mexico, Santa Fe, some superlative sections of the Colorado Rockies, Salt Lake City, three Utah National Parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion), and finally Vegas on our way back to L.A. It took 12 days, and it tested my limits as a driver in ways that taught me to think more carefully about how many hours on the road I’d be committing myself to on future trips. But it was a great bonding experience that taught us we could enjoy nothing but each other’s company for long stretches of time out on the open road, and to this day it’s one of my most fondly remembered trips.
In with the New:
My Morning Jacket
Out with the Old:
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:
Out with the Old:
Steven Delopoulos (as a solo artist – appears later with Burlap to Cashmere)
Five O’Clock People