Category Archives: Music

The Relient Case for MMHMM

mmhmm

Mmhmm is Relient K’s best album. I thought so when it was released ten years ago and I think so still today.

I was in high school when it dropped, on Election Day 2004. The version of Mmhmm I listened to back then, over and over again, still lays calcified somewhere in my subconscious. So baked in it was to my adolescence that it’s hard to render an unbiased verdict on the album’s legacy these ten years later. (Add to this that I was in a band that held up Relient K as the paragon of pop-punk.) And yet, I’ve revived its musical bones since then. Mmhmm is not frozen in time and perspective like other albums that stick to us simply because we were young and impressionable; it’s alive and wriggling for me even today.

The first of Mmhmm’s two exemplary qualities is its diverse timbre. Whereas Mmhmm’s predecessors (2001’s The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek and 2003’s Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…but Three Do) felt like self-contained musical ecosystems, sonically and lyrically, Mmhmm expanded Relient K into a greater realm, a confederacy of sounds living and interacting in the same world but nevertheless on their own adventures. I imagine it as a map of Middle-earth, with the cheery “High of 75” in place of Hobbiton, the doleful “Life After Death and Taxes” overlaying Minas Morgul, and the plaintive “The One I’m Waiting For” in Gondor’s stead. (Want a Cliff Notes viewing of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy? Just listen to Mmhmm.)

I like albums with a tightly cohesive sound, like they came from one of those domains, but sometimes I like touring the whole land, as it were. This is what we get to do with Mmhmm. It’s all still Relient K, and it’s all still pop-punk to an extent, but stretched to the boundaries.

But Mmhmm shines above all in its eloquence. This is the key difference between Mmhmm and its predecessors. Gone are the pink tuxedos, chapped lips, and literal gibberish of Two Lefts that charmed me as a fifteen year old but don’t hold the same sway now. The silly, pop culture-obsessed outlook of the band’s first three albums gives way, in Mmhmm, to a lyrical bravura that would also infuse the group’s subsequent albums, especially 2007’s Five Score and Seven Years Ago.

My favorite song on the album (though it’s hard to choose) is “I So Hate Consequences,” a rueful lament of the futility of running from our mistakes: “And after all of my alibis desert me / I just want to get by / I don’t want nothing to hurt me / I had no idea where my head was at / But if my heart says I’m sorry can we leave it at that?” It’s also the first instance in RK’s oeuvre of the screamo effect—an apt use given the song’s pent-up frustration, and the subsequent release of it in the tender coda.

Mmhmm is not without some random, manic fun. The flash-bang “The Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse is Betting On It” speaks the truth: “Opinions are immunity to being told you’re wrong / Paper, rock, and scissors / They all have their pros and cons.” As does the buoyant, very danceable “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend,” which could be sung by any dude in the throes of a rosy romance.

Even the track titles tell their own song’s stories. “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been,” “This Week the Trend,” “Which to Bury; Us or the Hatchet,” and “When I Go Down” synecdochically capture the guilt and frustration of failure, while “Be My Escape” and “More Than Useless” allude to the aspirational longing that pervades this record as much as RK’s later ones.

But the cornerstone of the album is the lyrical leitmotif: You took my heavy heart and made it light. That simple line appears in slightly different forms in “High of 75,” “Let It All Out,” and “When I Go Down,” which constitute the beginning, middle, and end of the record. It’s the through line frontman and lyricist Matthew Thiessen uses to join disparate songs together as a cohesive whole. It’s also emblematic of Thiessen’s great ability, one that all great songwriters have, to give words to feelings in a vulnerable and plainspoken way.

That line is also the reason why I’ve stuck with Mmhmm all these years later. I’ve drifted away from other music I liked as an adolescent, or revisit it only in bouts of nostalgia, but Mmhmm continues to speak to me. I’ve changed a lot over the last ten years. I’ve accumulated regrets, succumbed to identity crises, and struggled to reconcile who I want to be with who I’ve actually been. The emo-tinged power chords and piano-driven introspection of Mmhmm has been the perfect partner in that journey through young adulthood and beyond, and from darkness to light.

Originally published at The Simba Life.

Breaking Newsies

My betrothed and I caught the penultimate performance of Newsies: The Musical in Chicago on Saturday night. We’d been watching prices on StubHub for a while and finally jumped on them Saturday morning for the 8 PM showing. So glad it worked out because I’ve been excited to see it since its announcement years ago.

I went with “Breaking Newsies” because of the pun, obviously, but also because to make this show they had to break the original Newsies movie and rebuild it into something way better. I’m not exactly sure why I so love the original movie, which is—let’s be honest—a mediocre camp-fest meant primarily for kids, a la High School Musical (which is fitting given the two movies share a director.) But I watched it in high school with some friends who were strangely enthusiastic about it and found myself enjoying the music, which isn’t surprising given that it was wrought by Disney musical maven Alan Menken. “Seize the Day” is my go-to pump-up song, and what I listen to on repeat when I’m having a good day and want to keep it good.

Christian Bale famously disdains the 1992 movie he helmed, which makes no sense. If you turn off your left brain and remember its audience, the movie is quite fun, though about halfway through it dips considerably in quality. Once the strike is on and the “Seize the Day” a cappella chorale passes, it loses charm for the sake of plot and message—and who wants that in a silly musical made for kids?

This was what I worried most about in the musical. How would they fix the movie’s terrible excuse for a love story, honor the politics, and raise the stakes for everyone? No spoilers here, but I thought the adjustments they made to characters and motivations were savvy and ameliorative. The new songs, too, were welcome additions to the Newsies cult canon. They ditched weak songs (peace out “High Times, Hard Times”) and moved some existing songs around, but in a way that tightened the story and made it more cohesive.

What else should I have expected from a Tony Award-winning Broadway show based on a Disney property? The dancing was top-notch and remains my favorite element of stage shows in general. I’m always impressed by what these performers can do so well and so seemingly easily. We saw the penultimate performance in the Chicago run and yet the energy level seemed just as high as an opening night. I greatly admire what these professionals can do. I only wish from our nosebleed seats we could have seen the performances up closer.

The Spirit of American Experience

This might be one of my all-time favorite things. It’s an older version of the American Experience opening and theme (composed by Charles Kuskin) that so beautifully juxtaposes things I love dearly: film, American history, and music.

One reason I love reading about American history is this country’s ability to make music out of dissonance. The diversity of stories and characters in this video’s parade of images is but a dip into the great lake of trial and triumph this country and its people have swam in since the beginning. We’ve been at war with ourselves in a million little ways since before we were even a country. The producers of American Experience got that, and illustrated that in this montage.

A buffalo stampede and a Native American, followed by a white pioneer. A nineteenth-century African-American couple, followed by footage of Jackie Robinson. Theodore Roosevelt’s kiddish grin dissolving into the Sierra Nevada, followed by footage of the Dust Bowl, a factory, and a steam engine. Abraham Lincoln split-screened with Martin Luther King. A triumphant General Eisenhower fading to troops in Vietnam.

But the most poignant moment for me is toward the end (at :36 in the video). After a few soaring orchestral lines, the piano takes over the plaintive melody that underscores footage of kids chasing and waving goodbye to a passing vehicle, and then a swooping shot of the Statue of Liberty, America’s long-serving Greeter-in-Chief.

Goodbye and hello. Division and duty. Dissonance and harmony. In documenting this nation’s formative moments and movements, this wonderful PBS program (along with its celebrity brother Ken Burns) has captured the spirit of America. Likewise, this beautiful theme has captured the spirit of the show it represents, and I’m happier for it.

13 In ’13: A Pop Culture Omnilist

gravity

Standard operating procedure for making year-end culture lists says to rank your ten favorite films/albums/books, but I’ve recently soured against this convention. Choosing a pre-determined number of “the best” among many great works, as all award shows do, is great entertainment but entirely arbitrary. So this time around, I decided to institute my own arbitrary yet entertaining convention of naming the best 13 films, albums, and books from 2013 I encountered last year.

This omnilist honors the fact that consuming art doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I don’t wait to watch a movie until I finish reading a book, or until I’ve listened all the way through an album. These things happen concurrently, swirling around my head and heart together like cultural stew. With that in mind, I heard, saw, and read a lot in 2013, but these are the ingredients (divided by form and alphabetized) that came together the best in 2013.

Books

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
I followed Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut and ISS commander, on Twitter during his mission last year. In addition to the beautiful ISS-view photos of cities he’d frequently post, Hadfield made several short videos documenting how quotidian tasks like cutting fingernails and using the toilet are accomplished in zero gravity. Likewise, his memoir brought his life as a pilot and astronaut down to earth, describing the lessons on leadership, work, and sacrifices he’s learned both on this earth and outside of it. Entertaining, informative, and very insightful, this book shows that Neil DeGrasse Tyson isn’t the only Space Publicist out there.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
I heard about this book after I started reading Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative. At times memoir, biography, history, and cultural commentary, Little Way documents Dreher’s struggle to come to peace with the small Louisiana hometown he fled, and his saintly sister Ruthie, a schoolteacher who happily stayed put. When Ruthie gets terminal cancer, Dreher sees how the town he couldn’t wait to leave rally around his sister and her family, leading him on his own emotionally-fraught journey home. Dreher writes honestly, lovingly, and critically of his sister while pondering the true meaning of home.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This was the first book I read in my nine-novel November marathon, and it ended up being one of my favorites. It also initiated me into the Gaiman oeuvre, something I’m keen on exploring more after reading this novel. The prose’s lean style allowed the fantastical elements of the story to interplay nicely with the more grounded parts, like the boy’s interactions with his father and the new woman in his life. I often forget how life could seem more terrifying as a child, but I forget just as often that we undervalue the strength that kids have to overcome that terror.

Unapologetic by Francis Spufford
I found this very much of a feather with N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, another whirlwind theology book I read this year. While I also enjoy the earnest, intellectual theological writings of C.S. Lewis and the like, books like this one breathe much-needed fresh air into the faith-based discourse that can often come off as stuffy and anticultural. This is a book of and for the heart. Spufford isn’t asking if we can believe the reality of God; he’s asking if we can feel it. The Message translation of the Bible set out to rewrite the scriptures in contemporary language to keep its message “current and fresh and understandable,” but I think Unapologetic does this far better.

Film

Honorable mention films here.

12 Years A Slave
It’s hard to avoid the trap of talking about a film like this in award-season terms, judging its quality and worth by its viability as an award contender. This film is and will be an award-winner, but that descriptor in itself doesn’t say much about the tense, focused interpretation of Solomon Northup by Chiwetel Ejiofor, or Michael Fassbender’s typically immersive and impressive performance as a strident slaveowner. Two decades before the Civil War, Northup fought against the dehumanizing institution of slavery as an unwilling combatant, a Northern free man in a Southern slave’s shoes. If Abraham Lincoln became the biggest political lever of the Civil War, then Northup was the fulcrum. This film duly honors the pressure and pain Northup endured serving as the metaphorical fulcrum of the struggle against slavery’s destructive regime.

Before Midnight
When I saw this with Jenny in Chicago this summer, we got to the showing a few minutes early and walked into the theater. The movie was already playing, which I found odd since I knew we were a bit early. But we sat down and watched what we soon figured out was the very last scene. Lightbulb: we were in the wrong screening room. We went to the correct room and watched it from the beginning, but I found this snafu altogether fitting: seeing the end of this film (and presumably of the all-time-great series) at the beginning echoed the start of the whole trilogy, which found Jesse trying to convince Celine, despite all the odds and circumstances, to take a chance on him. Kudos to Richard Linklater & Co for making this beautifully wrenching and wrenchingly beautiful series happen.

Gravity
Though another (very fine) 2013 film already has this title, Gravity could have just as easily been named The Spectacular Now. For all its fireworks and heart-pounding brinksmanship and wide-eyed views of Earth and outer space, Gravity never departs from the now, the relentlessly present moment Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s astronauts are experiencing. Director Alfonso Cuarón grabs hold of us right away and says, Better hold on… and we do, barely. But the spectacle of the ensuing ninety minutes, for me, wasn’t just a nonstop roller-coaster (which it pretty much was), but a series of beautiful images like the one at top: Bullock’s capsule, accompanied by flaming space debris, catapulting toward Earth like a chariot of fire.

Her
In a year full of thoughtful, challenging films, this one has inspired the most post-viewing contemplation. It’s a kind of Rorschach test for the digital age: when you see this story of a broken, unsocial man who is befriended by, then falls in love with, a highly intelligent and customized operating system, do you think it’s a dream or a nightmare? Does this futuristic fable portend the end of human interaction, or does it show technology’s restorative promise? That the similarities between Her‘s near-future setting and the present day are so many—the constant connection to mobile devices, the self-imposed social isolation—suggests that we don’t have to wait for the future to answer that question.

Like Someone In Love
I don’t watch horror films because I don’t want to be haunted. Little did I know that Abbas Kiarostami’s follow-up to Certified Copy would be as haunting as anything I’ve seen in a while. There’s nothing paranormal in this Tokyo drama, but rather a fraught, mysterious air that permeates the simple story of an elderly widower connecting with a prostitute in unexpected ways. Like This Is Martin Bonner (below), the restraint Kiaronstami shows tightens everything on screen like a vice. No shot or line of dialogue is wasted. (This was released in 2012 but not in the U.S. until 2013).

Short Term 12
If Her is for the brain, then Short Term 12 is for the heart. This portrait of the staff and patrons of a short-term foster care facility for at-risk teens focuses on Brie Larson’s Grace, but moves around the facility’s sphere, capturing connections between Grace and the kids, and between the kids themselves. When Grace’s own troubled past starts hijacking her attempts to guide the teens through their own crises, her tough shell starts to crack. In addition to having young actors who can actually act, this movie sympathizes with the risk opening up requires.

This Is Martin Bonner
“I’m inclined to believe that director Chad Hartigan is some kind of superman when it comes to restraint.” That was critic Jeffrey Overstreet (who has been a particularly passionate supporter of this film) on Martin Bonner, which follows a pastor and a prisoner on their interweaving paths through life. Overstreet rightly praises the film’s restraint, which other faith-based films often lack. But the faith in This Is Martin Bonner isn’t didactic or caricatured; it’s real, which means it’s messy and imperfect but infused with love. This is currently available on Netflix, so see it while you can.

TV

House of Cards
Like any good work of art, House of Cards rewards repeated viewings. Knowing the full trajectory of the first season allowed me, when rewatching it, to see all of Frank Underwood’s gears turning as his master plan progressed. It’s also a visual feast, taking the noir aesthetic from the David Fincher-directed pilot and propelling us further into the dark underworld of politics and power-wielding. Not sure if I have Valentine’s Day plans yet, but I hope season 2 will be part of them.

Music

Lucius EP by Lucius & Days Are Gone by Haim
(I’m cheating here by listing two separate albums in one slot: my omnilist, my rules.) Wedding receptions are pretty much the only place I full-on dance. But when listening to Lucius and Haim, I can’t help myself. How can you not move and sing along to the Michael Jackson-flavored “Falling”? Or to Lucius’ “Turn It Around”? If women-powered dance rock groups is becoming a trend, consider this guy on the bandwagon.

(image via)

What Is This Feeling?

I made a goal to see more theater (musicals especially) and this year I’ve succeeded. The Book of Mormon, then Once, and now Wicked, which I saw on Thursday. I loved the music of Once in its own right, but it’s different from that of the others, which are more traditional showtunes. That said, there is something I love about showtunes I can’t easily describe. It’s almost entirely about the music itself, not the show’s plot or characters. I consider the people who write them to be craftsman of the highest order.

Consider “What Is This Feeling?” from Wicked (above). The first go of the chorus (which starts at 1:12 in the video) is a sparse iteration that builds to the second chorus, which adds the undulating strings beneath the backing band that’s punctuating the singers’ lines. The final two choruses are even bigger and better with the ensemble chiming in and the leads cranking up the melody. The chord structure of the orchestral undertow isn’t anything elaborate, nor are the sung melodies and harmonies; but when combined, it’s like beautiful musical alchemy.

That’s just one example of the many songs created for both the stage and screen that tap into the deep power of music. While I’m sure entire books and dissertations have been written on how music affects emotion, for me it’s not academic. I don’t know why the chorus of Anathallo’s “All the First Pages” gives me goosebumps. Or how the heroic strains of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” makes my heart soar. They just do. And the people who make that music get a standing ovation from me.

Electrick Children

135480

And you’ll see the glitter of crashing cymbals
and you’ll hear the thunder of rolling drums
and the shimmer of trumpets.
Ta-ta-ta!
And you’ll feel something akin to the electric thrill
I once enjoyed.
— “Seventy Six Trombones” from The Music Man

How does God speak? Through nature, according to the book of Job. Through Jesus and a holy spirit, says the New Testament. But ask Rachel, a teenaged fundamentalist Mormon who believes she has experienced an immaculate conception in Rebecca Thomas’ 2012 film Electrick Children, and she would tell you God spoke to her through a song.

On a rustic Utah compound, Rachel, dressed in plain Amish-type clothing, lives simply and dutifully within her Mormon sect’s rigid culture. On the day she undergoes “ecclesiastical interview” by her pious father that is documented on a tape recorder, the existence of which she only then learned. The device is intriguing and mysterious, but according to her pious father, “can be used for evil” and must be guarded only by those who can be trusted. But when Rachel can’t shake the allure of this (to her) new thing, she does what many teenagers do when confronted with the forbidden fruit: she breaks the rules. Picking out a cassette seemingly at random, she sneaks a listen of The Nerves’ 1976 song “Hanging On the Telephone” (covered by Flowers Forever) and is immediately transfixed. It’s like lightning through her body, an electric thrill that fills her with a spirit she hasn’t known before.

Weeks later, her thoughts (via narration) are told as if recorded onto a tape. “A few weeks ago, I experienced a miracle. An angelic voice came unto me and when I heard it, I was troubled… The only voice I heard was from a song on a tape. Could it be that he did this to me? This wonderful blessing of heavenly light. The voice that sang those words, wonder and spirit; Don’t leave me haaaaaaaaaangin’ on the teeeeelephone. Is he the one who felled me with this Jesus baby?” Juxtaposed with a telling of the story of Mary’s virgin birth, Rachel’s symptoms of pregnancy allude to a possibility too confounding to believe.

But it’s a possibility that her father does not believe, which leads Rachel to flee from an arranged shotgun wedding out into Las Vegas, the wilderness of civilization to her. “I travel beyond the walls of a home I cannot again call my home, in search of the father of my holy child — the man who sings on the cassette tape.” Static clogs her thoughts as she enters the unknown land. She’s on a quest and, though her zealous brother Will follows her in search of a confession of Rachel’s sins, she’s on her own.

The theme of encounter continues along Rachel’s journey. She meets a ragamuffin skater rebel, Clyde, who must have experienced the same electric thrill in Rachel as she did in the tape, for he becomes her shepherd even though he himself is a lost sheep. Later on she even finds the source of the voice on the tape, in an encounter that adds new light to her search for the father.

Spirit is alive in this story’s searchings. Rachel, Will, and Clyde all seek an encounter and a resolution to the dissonant tones clouding their minds. They are infused with an unnamable aura compelling them to act: Rachel, to find a (or is it The?) father; Will, to find atonement for (or escape from) sin; Clyde, to find reconciliation with his family and purpose for his connection with Rachel.

Electrick Children tells this nuanced fable with visual snap and a serene flow. Thomas, who also wrote the script, demonstrates care for the characters and respect for the wide-eyed searching that Rachel undergoes. This is a film not about where a journey ends but about how and where it begins. And the how and the where for Rachel’s odyssey happen to be the same electric thrill of encounter with a simple cassette tape. From there her quest, and that of the other wandering souls, is merely a response to the voice’s exhortation: Don’t leave me haaaaaaaaaangin’ on the teeeeelephone. 

Ringo Starr Beatles Songs, Ranked

Because the Internet needs more lists.

  1. “Octopus’s Garden” — Abbey Road (1969)
  2. “With a Little Help From My Friends” — Sgt. Pepper’s (1967)
  3. “Good Night” — The White Album (1968)
  4. “What Goes On” — Rubber Soul (1965)
  5. “Don’t Pass Me By” — The White Album (1968)
  6. “Yellow Submarine” — Revolver (1966)
  7. “I Wanna Be Your Man” — With the Beatles (1963)
  8. “Act Naturally” —  Help! (1965)
  9. “Honey Don’t” — Beatles for Sale (1964)
  10. “Boys” — Please Please Me (1963)

Favorite Music Of 2012

lord_huron1

To me, music is blood. It runs through me, providing life and warmth in even the coldest and loneliest times. Here are a few albums from the last year, with a song from each, that gave me life and color in 2012.

Lord Huron, Lonesome Dreams (Song: “Ends of the Earth”)
First Aid Kit, Lion’s Roar (Song: “Emmylou”)
Good Old War, Come Back As Rain (Song: “Amazing Eyes”)
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball (Song: “We Take Care Of Our Own”)
Michael Kiwanuka, Home Again (Song: “Always Waiting”)
Eric Whitacre, Water Night (Song: “Alleluia”)
Mumford & Sons, Babel (Song: “I Will Wait”)

(Image: Lord Huron)

New Wonders We Will Sing

Sandra McCracken’s In Feast Or Fallow is a true beauty. This collection of old hymns re-imagined is appropriate for any time and any mood, but especially for Easter. The peril and the promise, the despair and the hope, and the pain and the renewal of this holiday – it’s all in the hymns. The good ones tell Christ’s story from birth to death to rebirth, reminding us of our sin but also of God’s amazing grace and the amazing wonder of creation we witness every spring:

Look around, every sparrow, every flower,
All creation sings outloud, of a grand design
You are small, but you are filled with breath and life
If you seek, then you will find
As the Father looks with favor on his child.
“New Wonders” by Sandra McCracken

Let us continue to rejoice in the new wonders of every day, of every breath we get, and of the grand design that Jesus put into action when he rolled away that stone. Glory hallelujah.

Best For The Best: Nights of ‘The Animal Years’

Roger Ebert wrote a while back about responding to the question film critics inevitably get asked: “What’s the greatest movie of all time?” He usually responds with the perfunctory nod to Citizen Kane, which he jokes is the “official answer.” But this time, when asking himself not which film is greatest but which he would like to see right now, he says Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Why that one? Seeing it many times in his life at many different ages, he saw something different in each viewing – something his younger selfs didn’t or couldn’t have appreciated. “Movies do not change, but their viewers do,” Ebert writes. “The movie has meant different things to me at different stages in my life, but has always meant something, and because it clearly did for Fellini too, I think I will always want to see it again. It won’t grow stale, because I haven’t finished changing.”

I thought about that recently when I had my fourth annual Animal Years Night, wherein I listen to Josh Ritter’s 2006 album for the one and only time all year. See, I went to a concert years ago where the headliner’s lead singer talked about loving an album so much he only listened to it once a year so it would stay special.  I’ve written before about why I like to keep some life moments sacred, so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to create a holy moment for myself. I’m pretty rigid about this, too: I won’t listen to any song from The Animal Years until That Night. It makes me cherish every verse, every chorus, because I know I won’t hear it again for another year.

This all started four years ago when I was on winter break from school, back at my parents’ house and totally at ease. I sat inside looking out at the fresh coat of pristine snow falling in the backyard, illuminated by the full moon, and I listened to The Animal Years. (If you haven’t listened to it yet, you need to.) It was exquisite. The memory of that picturesque scene and the inner warmth I felt stuck with me.

Sighing just a little bit / Smiling just a little bit. — Monster Ballads

The next winter, I was a year older and back in the school grind when one night the snow started falling oh so beautifully and I thought, “This is a Josh Ritter kind of night.” I threw on my boots and jacket, grabbed by iPod, and ambled through the serene, snow-laden suburbs with The Animal Years in my ears. In between songs I could hear my feet crunch the fresh coat on the sidewalks as I ebbed and flowed through the golden light from the street lamps. I was content where I was in life, happy at school and hopeful for life after commencement.

For those who ain’t done packing yet / My clothes are packed and I want to go. — Idaho

After a summer of transition and a fall living abroad, I came back to the States unsure of where I would go next, what I would do, and who I would become. Living with some friends and working a dead-end job, I set out on my Animal Years Night in an aimless and discontented mood, worried about the future and trying to right all of the Big Questions in my head. But I was once again put at ease by the hard grace of the snow falling all around me and Ritter’s mellifluous voice telling me it would be all right.

We saw your old flames / And some were burning yet / It made us smile to see / Just how well tended each was kept. — In The Dark

Now, this last winter, being in a great place in life with blessings anew and exciting possibilities ahead of me, I waited and waited for the perfect night when the snow was in a slow fall and the neighborhood was quiet to listen to The Animal Years once again and let it wash me clean. And once again it was a bewitching 50-minute spell that was mine and mine alone.

I’ve changed a lot throughout my last four Animal sessions. Each time I was a different man with new questions and new assurances, but the same album in my ear. It’s reassuring to know that you have something in this fickle and fluctuating world that will never, ever change and will walk with you through life. Whether it’s a favorite album, a work of art, or a treasured book, like DiCaprio’s totem in Inception that special thing grounds us when we’re adrift and tells us something new every time we ask. Next winter, I’ll be a different man from who I am now with new questions and new assurances, but The Animal Years will meet me in that moment, the same it’s always been, to tell me it’ll be all right.

And there’s so much where we ain’t been yet / So swing up on this little horse / The only thing we’ll hit is sunset. — Good Man

(photo)