Tag Archives: Relient K

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.

Doing Unspeakable Acts To E.T.

I stopped by Half-Price Books the other day hoping to get lucky. After perusing the record collection as usual, I ventured into the clearance section. I’m a bad book buyer because I’m so indecisive and there are so many classics I have yet to read that I eventually get overwhelmed and end up not buying anything. But this time I managed to cross the bridge and buy some books.

I picked up Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and a collection of Langston Hughes poetry. I’ve been on the lookout for a cheap Hughes collection ever since I read him in an American Literature class and fell in love with him. But Lamott’s book was a surprise and a bit of an impulse buy for me because I rarely buy anything without researching it before hand to avoid being disappointed and regretting departing with my cash.

I’d heard of Anne Lamott before. I think she visited my school to speak but I couldn’t go. But I decided to take a chance on her 1999 memoir because I heard that she was a liberal Christian. You don’t hear from them often.

I loved Traveling Mercies. I cruised through it, and I don’t do that often. Even though I’m an English major I have to really try to finish books. Most of the time I don’t even finish the assigned readings for my lit classes unless they catch me. But I clung to Lamott’s humor and sincerity and no-bullshit view on life. I can only hope to see the good in every part of life she does in spite of (and because of) the suffering she’s endured.

I loved how she can be so freaking funny in moments of complete confusion or distress. She describes the feeling of hitting your child: “It’s so awful, attacking your child. It is the worst thing I know, to shout loudly at this fifty-pound being with his huge trusting brown eyes. It;s like bitch-slapping E.T.”

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been reading at camp, which is over this week. To make a big life lesson so very concise: I’ve learned a lot about humility and patience.

I’ve got the new Coldplay album on steady rotation. Check it out. Also the song “You’ll Always Be My Best Friend” by Relient K off their new EP/B-sides record The Bird and the Bee Sides.

On a less happy note, what’s the deal with Favre? Notice I blame him and not the Packers for this soap opera. I’m starting to wish he never retired, despite what I wrote shortly after he did so. Oh, well. Rodgers is our man. Get used to it Cheeseheads.

Soundtrack of the moment, part II

These are some songs I’m listening to. I think you should too.

“Lost in Space” – Aimee Mann – Lost In Space
Such a hauntingly beautiful song. Imagine driving through the desert at night with this whole album on repeat and you have an awesome musical experience.

“Seize the Day” – Alan Menken – Newsies soundtrack
Man, I love this movie. If you haven’t seen it and loved it, I will fight you.

“Hoodwink” – Anathallo – Floating World
What a mind-blowing album. These dudes mold music into forms never seen before.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Their later stuff is way better than the surf rock stuff they started out with. Check out the entire album.

“Come Together” – The Beatles – Abbey Road
One of the coolest and most memorable openers I’ve ever heard.

“Jesusland” – Ben Folds – Songs for Silverman
What can I say? The dude knows how to make good music.

“Trolley Song” – Dave Brubeck – Greatest Hits
Sounds exactly as the title suggests. This guy is a piano player if I’ve ever heard one.

“Break on Through” – The Doors – The Doors
This song always reminds me of Forrest Gump.

“Tiny Dancer” – Elton John – Madman Across the Water
Of Almost Famous fame. A really catchy song from a gifted musician, however odd he may be.

“Belle” – Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams
This just puts you in a street cafe in Paris. It’s almost too good a song.

“Mother” – John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
You can tell that it’s a cathartic song for John. I highly recommend all of his solo work, especially Imagine and Mind Games.

“Waiting on the World to Change” – John Mayer – Continuum
Am I a sell out if I like John Mayer and his ridiculously catchy tunes? Oh well, it’s a good song with an honest message.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways
The man’s a straight-up badass. This is his last album and a damn good one at that. You can hear the pain in his voice and feel the ache in his fingers.

“Money” – Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
In an album that’s basically half instrumental, this song shines through as one of the best.

“When She Loved Me” – Sarah McLachlan – Toy Story 2 soundtrack
Man, this song just killed me. An incredible addition to a near-perfect film. If you aren’t in tears by the end, you have no soul.

“Deathbed” – Relient K – Five Score and Seven Years Ago
I’m in the minority that think that this album is not their best, in fact, a far weaker effort than mmHmm. But this epic masterpiece stands out amongst the other forgettable songs.

“Cecilia” – Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
One of the many infectious folk-rock tunes they created. Get all the albums.

“Zoo Station” – U2 – Achtung Baby
I’ve never been a gigantic U2 fan, but I really liked this album.

“Roundabout” – Yes – Fragile
A great mix of classical, 70s rock, and psychedelia.

Soundtrack of the moment, part I

No, this isn’t that stupid random listing of songs that supposedly follows your life. These are some songs that have changed me, made me think, made me cry, and want me to become a better person. Enjoy.

“Candy Shop” – Andrew Bird – Oh! the Grandeur
So nostalgic. The groove makes you want to do the Charleston.

“Martha My Dear” – The Beatles – The White Album
There are so many Beatles song I could have chosen but this one is so catchy and my current favorite. Do yourself a favor and listen to this whole double album.

“Vienna” – Billy Joel – The Stranger
I recommend this entire album. I wish I could make music like Billy Joel.

“Love Affair” – Copeland – Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Ridiculously good song off of a ridiculously good album. Their musicianship and composition skills inspire me so much.

“Changes” – David Bowie – Hunky Dory
One of the catchiest songs you’ll ever hear.

“Time Bomb” – The Format – Dog Problems
This band is going to be huge. Such a great blend of acoustic pop, rock, and brilliance.

“Backyard” – Guster – Keep It Together
I just love the grooves they create. The chord progressions are so emotionally charged.

“The Mixed Tape” – Jack’s Mannequin – Everything In Transit
I didn’t know anything about this band before listening to this disc. So glad I did. The first time I heard this track it felt like music was completely new and uninhibited.

“At the Mercy” – Paul McCartney – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
I never listened to any Wings stuff, so that’s probably why I love this. Paul’s still got it.

“Bicycle Race” – Queen – Greatest Hits I
At a weird yet awesome song. You will not be able to forget it.

“Short People” – Randy Newman – Little Criminals
Most people probably know Randy Newman from the Toy Story soundtrack but his other stuff is piano pop at its best.

“Samson” – Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope
Brass + strings + inspiration = musical bliss. Such a heart throbbing song.

“I So Hate Consequences” – Relient K – mmHmm
Lyrically, this band is the greatest I’ve ever seen. Everyone can relate to these songs, and this is just a taste of the spiritual and emotional maturity that Matthew Thiessen brings.

“The Only Song” – Sherwood – Summer EP
Pop rock glory.

“The World” – The Starting Line – Based on a True Story
An solid, anthemic pop punk rock song.

“Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” – Sufjan Stevens – Come On Feel the Illinoise!
This man is truly gifted. Where he gets his inspiration/ideas is beyond me.

“Amateur Lovers” – Switchfoot – Oh! Gravity.
This album is so much better than Nothing Is Sound. Had to pick one song but listen to the whole album.

“View From Heaven” – Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue
Such an emotional song from an unlikely source. A great summer record.

So there are just a few of the songs that fill my day. What are yours?

I fought you for so long…

Imagine: Darkness, accompanied by golden light from surrounding “Narnia” lamp posts. The snow slowly permeates everything in sight, including your face. The path you’re on shines like diamonds and swivels oh so gracefully alongside a sparkling river. Soft piano music dances into your ear, choreographed perfectly with the falling flakes. Now, tell me that God is not with you at that very moment.

Snow is commonly thought of as a metaphor for a sense of renewal or rebirth, but I see it as being able to see our worth. God drops this stuff down on us to show us that we can sparkle like diamonds and are so clean and new if we choose to be. Go outside the next time it is snowing at night and see what happens.

P.S. If you want to experience a living and breathing God, listen to Relient K’s album mmHmm. He is all over those lyrics.