Posted in Music

Crazy for Christmas Carols – A Theory

It’s December, so now I can officially wish everyone a “Merry Christmas.”

Yes, I am one of those people who refuses to start celebrating Christmas until December 1. No, it’s not because I lack Christmas spirit: I love Christmas so much that I want to keep it special. Christmas ceases to be Christmas when it lasts 1/4 of the year. It’s like eating dessert for three months straight.

Simply stated: when you play Christmas music in October, you ruin my Christmas.

Now, because I’m out of the dorms for the first time in four years, my Christmas has not been spoiled, and I’m ready to listen to Christmas music again. But right before I hit play, something occurred to me.

Why are people so crazy about Christmas music, anyway?

Other than the fact that it’s verboten for eleven months of the year. Several theories quickly sprung to mind, each one more credible than the last.

Theory One: Somebody’s favorite song of all time is a Christmas song.

We all know the many virtues of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. Or maybe you’re a classicist, choosing Perry Como and Bing Crosby over that new canned stuff. Or, maybe you’re a suburban Michael Buble mom. No judgment.

See the source image

The point is, maybe Christmas songs are your Kryptonite. Christmasite.

You know what I mean.

Theory Two: The only instrument someone knows how to play is a jinglebell.

Not really a theory.

Just wanted to be mean.

Theory Three: Nobody ever has to relearn the words to Christmas songs.

This is the strongest of my theories, aka the only viable one. The reason why people love Christmas music so much is because they know all of the words by heart, and people are by nature stupidly lazy.

Plus, there are rarely new Christmas songs to learn.

Hear me out on this one: when was the last time there was an original Top 40s yuletide hit? “All I Want for Christmas is You?” “River?”

It’s been a while, folks.

Not that people don’t try to write new Christmas songs, mind you. Almost every Christmas album is 95% Christmas covers with one or two originals thrown into the mix.

Doesn’t mean they’re any good.

Doesn’t mean they’ll stop trying, either.

But as creatures of habit, we naturally gravitate toward what we know. There is something really comforting about turning on a radio station and knowing the words to every song, and having everyone around you know them, too.

It reminds me of when I was in middle school and I was only allowed to listen to Family Life Radio and NPR. I so badly wanted to know all of the songs that my friends did, to be part of the cool crowd, to understand their references so I could laugh along, too.

Probably still guilty of these sentiments today.

So, enjoy your Christmas music, lemmings. Drink your cup of good cheer. Go ahead and wassail or waffle or whatever it is you do.

I will sit here with my sensible, prudent, and well-timed festivities-you gotta be a Grinch BEFORE your heart grows two sizes too big, you know.

ALSO, if you feel like getting into the Christmas spirit in a timely fashion, here is my go-to Christmas playlist with zero repeat songs(there are only so many versions of O Holy Night that a person can stomach on a seasonal basis). Also, zero repeat artists, because Michael Buble does not deserve premium space every Christmas season. Plus, I’ll be adding to it throughout the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Music

Don’t Pity “The Fool:” Listen to It!

I will never regret quoting Mr. T to title this post.

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Over the past year, there’s been one specific album that I’ve fallen in love with. For me, the real test of an album is whether I return to it, again and again, with a new favorite song or lyric in mind. In this case, I know for a fact that several were on my Top Tracks List for 2016(which is one of my favorite things that Spotify compiles, TBH).

Ryn Weaver’s debut album, The Fool, features 11 nearly-perfect tracks with a single, unifying theme. Here’s what Ryn said about it, in her own words:

“The record poses the question: Is it foolish to settle for what you always thought you wanted as a 22-year-old woman, or is it foolish to go and leave what’s so beautiful, stable, and certain? I think that’s a question a lot of young women have these days, especially coming from a generation of girls who — in my opinion— have less of a road map. It’s not just about being a woman: It’s about being a modern human and about fear of commitment.”

22-year-old woman. Making choices. Becoming an adult.

Sound familiar?

Ding-ding-ding.

That’s me, folks. A 22-year-old woman about to graduate from college, who recently had to choose whether to stay in Grand Rapids or return home. As I re-listened to The Fool this weekend, it took on a whole new dimension of meaning for me as I go through my last month of classes.

So let’s get started.

Track One: Runaway

  • As first tracks go, this song sets the tempo for the entire album. Clever lines steeped in emotion drive the verses with lines like these: “they tell me temper, temper, little lady/Better bite that tongue, it is not becoming/My blood boils rapids to break the levee/And let it keep on running, running.” All of this leads into the chorus, a refrain of that fear of commitment the artist spoke about: “runaway/run, run, run.”

Track Two: OctaHate

  • I won’t pretend to say that I know what “OctaHate” means, but it sure is a catchy title for a catchy song. Check out this imagery: “lost in the cracks/of the landslide/you saw me slipping on/my blind side/I’m feeling lost/feeling tongue-tied/and now I’m frozen/in your headlights.” Do you sense the desperation, the feeling of being trapped? Because I definitely do.

Track Three: Pierre

  • This is probably tied for my favorite track on this album, simply in terms of fun. I love how it starts off with these grand stories of love and conquests, only to progress to this honest chorus: “I can’t let him in/you call me up and ask me how I’ve been/I’ll call your bluff and/keep on telling, telling, telling you lies/keep on telling, telling, telling you lies/no, I can’t let him in/you play me rough, but I won’t let you in/so, call my bluff, I’ll/keep on telling, telling, telling you lies/keep on telling, telling, telling you lies/oh, count down to the day they may come true.” And then she launches into the next story, but now, as a listener, you know what’s she really thinking. You know it’s a lie.

Track Four: Stay Low

  • This song is a nice breather from the intense emotions of the previous songs. It’s chill and quiet, just the sort of thing for a late summer night, maybe even a drive. Lines like these show the maturing emotions of the singer: “and you know/I get so sick of the telephone/I cry and you cry/and then I thank you/tell me if your day was rough/and then you let me make it right.”

Track Five: Sail On

  • Now another song of love and loss brings us back into the heart of the album. The first verse starts with a mythical allusion: “I took your hand and/held it in my clutch/but it was never mine to hold/you’re loving something/of a Midas touch/the ones you need/you turn to stone.” Ouch. Now that’s a good line.

Track Six: The Fool

  • Ah, yes; the title track. Here we see the crux of Ryn Weaver’s argument, of what it means to become a fool for someone, no matter how much they think they know. As the chorus states: “So I curse my stars for a fair game/while you nurse my scars and the old flame/I’m a fool for you.” Where, then, does that leave the rest of us?

Track Seven: Promises

  • And so foolishness breaks down into fear and faithlessness. This track is definitely another one of my favorites, especially as each bridge meets the chorus: “is that my lion’s pride?/I meet my mountain then I run and hide/and I cross my heart and hope to die/unless I happen to lie, I/never meant to break my own promises.” Favorite thing: acknowledgment of the fact that sometimes, lies are as unintentional as breaking a promise.

Track Eight: Free

  • Now we reach the point in the album where things seem to be looking up. This track feels lighter, somehow, like the singer has found something she had no idea she would find. The lyrics read: “my compass may be broke/but you follow where I go/and you never really seem to mind it.” Finally, it seems, we are starting to find our way home.

Track Nine: Traveling Song

  • Here we find a song that acknowledges the journey that we all embark upon: adulthood. As the chorus states: “oh, nobody knows where they are going/oh, how we try to wrap our minds/over the edge of all our knowings/be it a bang of the divine/tip of my iceberg, blues are showing/I’ve never been on for goodbyes/so, till I meet you there, I’m singing/a traveling song to ease the ride and so you know/everywhere I roam/I’ll see you on the road.” Good to know that everyone else is as confused as the rest of us, isn’t it?

Track Ten: Here is Home

  • We are close to the conclusion of this album when we learn a very important lesson. Sometimes, home doesn’t end up being a place, but a person. That’s when you know the search is over. Here’s my favorite line from one of the bridges: “oh, chase the greener road/everybody roams but you.”

Track Eleven: New Constellations

  • This final song is again tied for my favorite. It shows the final thoughts of the singer after learning how to act “the fool.” There are so many good lines, it’s hard to pick just one: “so keep calling me crazy ’cause I never learned/you should stop loving fire because you got burned/now it feels like I’m living some sick déjà vu/like the answers were there when I stared into you.” Okay, so I’ll pick two: “’cause it’s hard to believe that it’s wrong/to want more than the truest of blue and a love like a roar/I will run to wherever I want to go.”

We are left with the message that we have the freedom to go where we want to go, but in truth, this may be less of a destination and more of a concept, even a person. I love reaching the end of this album because it has such an infinite, thoughtful conclusion. Even when we act “the fool,” we can still gain wisdom in the end.

 

Posted in Music

Mmhmm, and Other Words of Assent

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There are very few albums that I distinctly remember buying.

Most of this is because by the time I became a teenager, the digital age had made physical CDs nearly obsolete. I have probably bought less than ten CDs for myself in my entire life: Spotify and iTunes have taken care of that. Still, I know of at least one album I purchased in real life that is still one of my favorites today.

Picture this: 2006, the music section of a bookstore. I grabbed a copy of “Mmmhmm” by Relient K, almost as an afterthought. I knew a lot of their songs already, courtesy of my cooler, hipper older sister, but not enough to guess how great this album was. Picking it up was really more of a game of chance.

14 perfect tracks. I’m not exaggerating. The variety in subject matter and length is one of the things that makes it so dynamic. From poppy to punchy to gut-wrenchingly real, there’s a reason why Relient K celebrated its tenth-anniversary with an honorary tour.

Track One: “The One I’m Waiting For”

  • We start off with a pop track. There are very few overtones of religion, which is a laid-back way to introduce the album. It’s just a song about a girl who’s maybe a little stuck up, maybe a little too confident in herself. Here we also see one of the first instances of a classic Relient K trope: a sudden change in tempo. This theme will reappear frequently throughout the track list. As the first track, this song serves a foreshadowing purpose: “something tells me that this is going to make sense/something tells me it’s going to take patience/something tells me that this will all work out in the end.” This song then prepares us for the rest of the emotional motifs of the album.

Track Two: “Be My Escape”

  • And now we are in the thick of it. The second track is raw, emotional, and intensely relatable. It deals with not only the burden of guilt, but also the idea of trying to hide that guilt and run away form the things that are plaguing you. This song also introduces the presence of God on this album, where he plays the role of ally and antagonist almost equally, and this track is no exception: “I fought You for so long/I should have let You in/oh how we regret those things we do/and all I was trying to do was save my own skin/but so were You.” This focus on guilt and failure leads us straight into track three.

Track Three: “High of 75”

  • It’s taken a long time for me to realize that this peppy, upbeat song is actually about a struggle with mental health. For twelve-year-old me, it was literally just about the weather: “and tomorrow, I know/will be rainy at best/and the forecast, I know/is that I’ll be depressed/but I’ll wait outside/hoping that I’ll catch sight of the sun.” Older me has learned to appreciate how it captures the struggles and hopes of someone who has not, in fact, been feeling sunny at all.

Track Four: “I So Hate Consequences”

  • After an upbeat song like “High of 75,” track four brings us back to the same whirlwind of emotions from “Be My Escape.” This song, however, ends quite differently, with a direct appeal to God: “and when the doors were closed/I heard no I told sos/I said the words I knew you knew/oh God, Oh God I needed you/God, all this time I needed you, I needed you.” This is the first time that God is addressed specifically by name, and it hits the listener hard.

Track Five: “The Only Thing Worse Than a Beating a Dead Horse is Betting on One”

  • Full disclosure: this is a weird one. Relient K seems to like to put a short song to act as an interlude in the middle of their albums. But at least it supplied us with this unforgettable lyric: “opinions are immunity to being told you’re wrong.”

Track Six: “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend”

  • Another pop track takes us out of the darkness we were growing so used to. This one was probably twelve-year-old Meredith’s favorite track, solely for lines like this:”if it wasn’t for him/he would be able to see/if it wasn’t for him/he would be as happy as me.” Don’t worry, though; it gets darker from here on out again.

Track Seven: “More Than Useless”

  • This track is still pop-esque, but it packs a different kind of punch. The message itself remains uplifting, of how God tells us that we can find our value in him, and yet there’s something underneath it all that betrays someone’s deeper thoughts: “sometimes I think that/I’m not any good at all/sometimes I wonder why/I’m even here at all.” It seems that this crisis of faith still has not been resolved.

Track Eight: “Which to Bury, Us, or the Hatchet?”

  • And we’re right back in the angst. This is a song about fighting, but it’s more than that. It’s about trying to love somebody when your own opinions and pride stand in the way. This is where we get the classic lyric: “I tried to hold your hand but you’d rather hold your grudge,” which is one of the best zeugmas I can remember aside from “our teeth and ambitions are bared.” In any case, this track leads us straight into the next song with a feeling of sadness and futility.

Track Nine: “Let It All Out”

  • After such an angry track, number nine takes an easy breath of self-reflection. It’s less about someone else, or some other problem, and more about the inner conflict that comes from holding on too tightly to the things you should be letting go. The words: “oh, inconsistent me/crying out for consistency” shows the inner longing for something else, for something better, that only God can bestow upon the sinners.

Track Ten: “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been”

  • Ah, yes: the anthem of youth groups. This song might not have been made for congregational singing, but it’s still as catchy and poignant as the first time I heard it. Who can forget this bridge: “stop right there, that’s exactly where I lost it/see that line, well I never should have crossed it/stop right there, well I never should have said/that it’s the very moment that I wish that I could take back.” Nobody, that’s who. With the added bonus of teaching me the meaning of the word “proverbial,” there’s a reason why this song is one of Relient K’s best work.

Track Eleven: “Maintain Consciousness.”

  • Otherwise known as every student in school ever, this track is evidence of how much routine can suck the life out of you, even when you’re young. My personal favorite line as a 22-year-old has become: “because it’s 17, 18/ 19, routine/and here at 23/it’s the same old me.” This song is also rife with the ever-present Relient K tempo changes, which makes the song sounds as scatter-brained as its content, which is a nice detail.

Track Twelve: “This Week the Trend”

  • Again, this song touches on the struggle between being young and being wise. It’s about following your friends and your culture until you realize how little you actually have figured out. Throughout the song, there are examples provided: “and this week the trend/was to backstab every single one of my friends/and leave a voicemail message trying to make amends/all the while hoping things work out in the end.” We’ve all been there, Relient K. Thanks for putting it into words.

Track Thirteen: “Life After Death  & Taxes (Failure II)”

  • What’s most interesting to me about this song is that is seems to be a review of all the things that have happened throughout the album. Consider these words: “and this is how I choose to live/as if I’m jumping off a cliff/knowing that you’ll save me/and after all the stupid things I did/there’s nothing left that you’d forgive/because you already forgave me/yeah, you already forgave me.” All of these issues, all of these mistakes, they then lead us straight into the final track of the album, number fourteen.

Track Fourteen: “When I Go Down”

  • This final song is the culmination of every emotion that’s been expressed in this musical collection. In the face of all of these trials and struggles, the lyrics read: “when I go down/it hurts to hit the bottom/and of the things that got me there/I think, if only I had fought them.” Again, we’re brought back to that place of trying so hard and still failing, but this song finally gives us the answer we were looking for, in belonging as children of God. The song takes a turn near the end into this: “and life is now worth living/if only because of you/and when they say that I’m dead and gone/it won’t be further from the truth.” In the end, the listeners are left with the message that in spite of all of our troubles, there is still worth to be found, but it must be found outside of ourselves if we are ever to find hope.

All this to say that after over ten years, this album has grown up at the same rate that I have. In the midst of spiritual struggles with anxiety and stress, it’s overwhelmingly comforting to realize that I am not the only person to suffer in this way. At the same time, these songs also give me and others a pattern with which to approach our problems, knowing that “things will all work out in the end.”

Sometimes: all you can say is Mmhm, and move on.