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
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.