July 20, 2021

The return of This Beautiful Mess; A conversation with Arjen van Wijk and Lydia van Maurik

On a cold Sunday in January, I sat down for a Zoom meeting with prolific Dutch songwriters and musicians Arjen van Wijk and Lydia van Maurik. I have been a fan of their music for nearly two decades, and the timing of this interview was due to the recent reformation of their band This Beautiful Mess. In July they released a
new 6-song EP, their first output as a band in 15 years.

As we began chatting, which was my first time to talk with either of them, Arjen noted that he also hadn’t seen or talked to Lydia in a while due to the lockdown. This Beautiful Mess had played a show in November 2020 (with Tess Wiley opening), but they had not seen or talked since. So bringing together friends and bandmates was a fun byproduct of doing an interview.

I have been listening to Arjen and Lydia’s music since 2003 when I visited their home country of the Netherlands and saw their “other band” Brown Feather Sparrow perform at Flevo Festival. “Other band” could also refer to numerous other entities, as Arjen and Lydia have released music with countless monikers and collaborators.

Arjen and Lydia have been largely musically inseparable since they met, playing in each other’s bands and being friends outside of music. When first reached out to Arjen about doing this interview, he agreed, but only if Lydia also took part. Lydia and Arjen collaborated on both Brown Feather Sparrow and This Beautiful Mess and Lydia described that relationship as, “With one band, Arjen was in charge, and with the other band, I was in charge.”

Arjen’s primary musical outlet has always been This Beautiful Mess, which I learned was originally called Subatlantic Starfish. He said the first label that signed them claimed “Starfish” was too common of a name, citing the fact that it was also Coldplay’s original moniker. I asked and had it confirmed that “This Beautiful Mess” is a reference to the Sixpence None the Richer album of the same name (which happens to be my favorite album of all time; and the song "Bright Abyss" makes a lyrical reference to the 1995 Sixpence album.)

Arjen also co-fronts the post-hardore band The Spirit That Guides Us, a highly orchestrated folk/ indie-classical group called Van Dryver, and People Get Ready.  Lydia also co-fronted the noise pop band Einz Zwei Orchestra. In recent years most of Arjen’s and Lydia’s musical output has been the highly-collaborative How To Throw a Christmas Party. But as we began this interview, we focused on how they met, their collaboration for what is now more than twenty years, and the recent resurrection of This Beautiful Mess.

The formation of the band and Falling on Deaf Ears (2001)

Both Arjen and Lydia grew up in conservative Christian homes in which very little mainstream music was heard, and at times, it was forbidden. Both of Lydia’s parents were classically-trained musicians, and she began taking piano lessons at an early age. Lydia says, “After a while my piano teacher discovered that I was really bored with all the studying of the notes. So he would just give me a few chords and say ‘figure something out with them’. So that's I think that's how it started...and I was much better at [composition]. So in the end, that was all I did. Then I started playing guitar and singing and writing songs.”

Arjen’s dad is a trained church organ player. Arjen elaborates, “[My parents] were really strict about the music in the house. So maybe sometimes when my mother was cleaning, there could be a little Beatles, but most of the time, there was not. We were not allowed to buy pop music…” Lydia interrupts, “But you did.” Arjen, “Well, I did, yeah. By that time I was already 12 or 13 and when I had my first radio and then I got hooked listening to older folk music.” Arjen was active singing in his church choir, which he did from age 8 until his mid-teens, and he really enjoyed it.

Arjen describes the big change in his music perspective and interest that occurred at a church Easter meeting. Every year there was a theater performance at the church, and a live band that accompanied the play. Arjen was surprised to discover that the drummer in the band was Axel Kabboord, one of his peers. They had been in school together since they were six years old, but Arjen says he had no idea Axel was a drummer. Arjen says it wasn’t that the music was great--he describes it as a cross between traditional gospel and Kenny Marks--but it inspired him. He says, “I thought, this is what I want to do.” Lydia chimes in, “You fell in love.”

The early origins of This Beautiful Mess in the late 90’s were Arjen and Axel as an acoustic duo who mostly played covers. Arjen began writing songs, but always with Axel alongside him. They rounded out their line-up with Abne Herrebout and Joop Flamman. As they fleshed out their full-band sound, Arjen describes it as melodic grunge. But he says they began to have more and more New Wave influences, and then there was one album that he drew huge inspiration from, The Flaming Lips 1999 album The Soft Bulletin.

Arjen says, “Around that time we signed to Sally Forth Records. We had the songs written and then we went to the studio with Minco Eggersman and René De Vries and they asked us, ‘What do you want it to sound like? What do you like?’ I said that we liked 80’s and we like this new album from the Flaming Lips, so if you can make something like that, we are fine. We were super-naive, we had no idea.”

Falling On Deaf Ears was originally released on Sally Forth Records in 2001 but then was also picked up by Deep Elm Records in the United States. Deep Elm would go on to release many This Beautiful Mess tracks on their numerous compilations, including the infamous Emo Diaries (chapter seven). The song “Clean” appeared on numerous compilation albums in Europe and the United States, and had radio airplay. They even won a Dutch national 3FM airplay award and an acclaimed Essent award with the song.

“They did a good job [with the album],” says Arjen. “But René had all these arrangements for keyboards on the record. But we didn't have a keyboard player--there were four of us. And so we thought, well, we have to find one. We have to find somebody who can play the keys and [find them] really fast because the tour was already booked and the release date was coming up.”

Arjen and Lydia met in college. 

Arjen: “We were just hanging out and studying theology…” 

Lydia: “We were very normal people…” 

Arjen: “We were indie kids who were totally different from the rest. So I think there was no other way that we would be good friends because we…” 

Lydia: “...Needed each other to survive the whole weird world.”

Both Arjen and Lydia were playing a lot of music in college, but not together. Lydia elaborates: “Sometimes people invited me to come to the practice room and jam, and I had no idea. They were playing covers and everybody would know the songs and I wouldn't. So I just couldn't join in. So I guess that's why I made my own music...I was really good with melodies and I could play and I could sing. But that was all.”

Arjen says he realized he knew someone that could fill the keyboard spot, but he only knew of Lydia as a piano player. Arjen says, “Maybe she doesn't want to play all these keyboard parts, but I thought, well...I can just ask her, and that's what I did.”

Lydia: “Was nothing more. I was just a quick solution. That's all.

Arjen: “It’s a quick fix.”

Lydia: “It all went really fast...because when I started with This Beautiful Mess I had no experience at all with playing in a band. I had only been in a church band. I had no experience, I just played the piano. That was it...classical piano. But I did have stage experience, and had written some songs. Arjen asked me, and we would just hang out a lot. And so I thought it would be fun. But of course it was a lot of work to get to know all these all these kinds of keyboards...so it took a while to figure everything out. That's how it started.”

The first song This Beautiful Mess recorded with Lydia is the gorgeous single, “Unsuitable For Any Melody But Yours.” It appeared on the Deep Elm sampler Unreleased vol. 1 alongside songs from Brandtson, Planes Mistaken for Stars, and Pop Unknown.

Temper the Wind to the Shorn Lamb (2003)

This Beautiful Mess' popularity grew significantly with the release of their second album, Temper the Wind to the Shorn Lamb. It is the most readily available album from the band (on streaming services), and how I discovered them when I bought the CD. It was written and recorded around the same time as the Brown Feather Sparrow debut, Wide Awakens Everything

During my time at Flevo Festival in 2003 I spent a lot of time in the merch tent listening to music. Every day they played the same through the speakers, I had no idea who it was, and it was fantastic. I approached the cash register, and said, “I don’t know what album this is you are playing, but can I buy it?” The worker responded, “Ja! It is the new This Beautiful Mess! Are you an American?” I responded yes and he continued, “You will be the first American to own it!” While This Beautiful Mess did not perform that week, Brown Feather Sparrow did, and I also purchased Wide Awakens Everything.

Lydia had assembled her band with other friends and self-released the Brown Feather Sparrow demo EP flutteringwingssparksoflittlejoyticklemysoul. But as the band continued, and members left, the lines between the two bands began to blur. 

Lydia says, “Axel produced Wide Awakens Everything with René, and then Arjen was just always around. He was around more than the rest of my band. We had time, you know, we were students who just hung out and so then I think that just happened. I remember we did have auditions for a new keyboard player...and it was all very complicated and then suddenly I was like, why am I doing this, like we could just ask Arjen.” 

Arjen: “I was just around when you recorded because we were good friends...we both went from school to the studio together...First we thought, we're already together in This Beautiful Mess. Is it okay to also be together in Brown Feather Sparrow?. But then we thought, well, who cares.”

Lydia: “You were in charge of This Beautiful Mess. And I was in charge of Brown Feather Sparrow. That's what makes it different music.”

Arjen: “We had no plan...We were writing songs and we would just, okay, that goes through there and that goes to there…”

In February 2003 This Beautiful Mess entered Mailmen Studios in Utrecht with Martijn Groeneveld to record their second album. While still a part of Sally Forth Records, they had also signed a deal with Sony, and the expectations were high.

Arjen: “We had three months in the studio. Three whole months. Recently for the new EP we went back to the same studio and Martijn, who is the boss of that studio said, ‘Do you remember you were in the studio for three months for Temper the Wind? That will never happen again.’

Lydia: “It was ridiculous.”

Arjen: We were playing pool, writing songs in the studio, and it was crazy times but also funny because we recorded enough songs to make a double album. So we wanted to release a double album. But Sony didn't want that… We actually had a lot of meetings with Sony and they were always a bit strange because they wanted the video clips and they had this certain image of us and we didn't really fit that image. We had a hit song…”Clean” on the first record and it did, it did relatively well on the radio. It was no hit song by any means, but it gained significant airplay,  so they really wanted a song like that again. We had ‘Don't Go There’, So they made a video for that.”

Arjen: “We had this strange relationship with Sony and it wasn't a good match.”

Lydia: “It was a really different world...we were always skeptical…”

Arjen: “We had all these kinds of different small indie labels who released Falling on Deaf Ears and then for Temper the Wind when Sony said now we want to do everything…”

Lydia: “It's a huge record label. So it's completely different and in our experience these people were always drinking and talking and drinking and talking and you had no idea if they were lying or not. We were used to being friends with everybody. So that was a big step. And then in the end, I think we decided to quit. At some point, mostly because we couldn't keep the band together.”

Arjen and Lydia went on to explain that while they were playing tons of shows-- which created tension in the band with other ambitions individuals had--they still weren’t playing enough shows to make it. The next step would have been playing outside Europe, which they were not able to do. Besides the USA, Deep Elm distributed Falling on Deaf Ears to Canada and Japan. So much of a fanbase developed in Japan that Temper the Wind’s companion album, Away With the Swine, was released as a 6-song EP in the Netherlands, but a full, 11-track CD in Japan. That album was released in 2006 and 2007, after the band had ceased touring.

After all the Temper the Wind touring, the band was discussing writing a third album, but things weren’t working. Axel was pursuing his medical degree, and he knew that if he waited too long to become a doctor he would no longer have that option. Axel was the first to step down, and the band didn’t want to continue with a different guitar player. Even Arjen said it was too many shows and added, “It's a strange balance between doing your music as best as you can. But it's not enough to live off so you have to also have another job. When we were still in school we had all the time in the world. We were like in school, and then drove to a show. And then the next day we were back at school...we had crazy times but we did it.” 

Almost the return; People Get Ready (2010)

Brown Feather Sparrow continued to be active through 2010, releasing two more full-lengths. Band members came and went with only Lydia and Arjen as the constants. The first comeback for the full This Beautiful Mess line-up was People Get Ready. The name change was pushed by a record label; a change Arjen regrets in hindsight. The sole People Get Ready album was released in 2010.

Arjen says, “People Get Ready was actually our first comeback as a group together in 2010. We really had big plans with that and...it was a little bit more political, more aggressive. It flopped like crazy. I mean, like, we really hoped that we could take a step forward with it because it was more accessible and more song-songs. But that didn't work out and all the talks that we had with record labels didn't work out. Nothing worked out. And we were really disappointed. And we thought, well, screw it.”

Lydia: “Well, we were spoiled as well.”

Arjen: “We were also spoiled because…”

Lydia: “It was the first time that we actually really had to do it ourselves.”

Arjen: “Yeah. And it turns out, we couldn’t.”

Lydia: “We're still a little bit, like, almost ashamed about the whole thing.”

Arjen: “Really disappointing. Because we really put in a lot and so when we kept seeing each other, we were like not making music together anymore.”

Second Mountain Songs (2021)

New Year’s Eve 2018 into 2019 the friends were gathered and René had recently received an email from someone in Germany asking if they would perform again as This Beautiful Mess. Arjen said, “Well, that’s not going to happen.” Lydia added, “Axel was just completely done with music, and he had four kids in the meantime and a big job as a doctor. So for him, there was just no room in his life.”

But Arjen did bring up the idea with everyone and much to their surprise, Axel said he liked the idea. Lydia was surprised: “What happened to him?!”

Arjen: “Okay, I didn't expect that… It still wasn't really I wasn't in my head at all. We were just friends together, but then I actually said, yeah, I'd like to do it. And then when Lydia, and René, and Stefan all said yes--I was shocked. Yeah, of course I want to do it! I just never, never imagined that it would happen again. So of course, that was the start.”

Lydia: “And then we just started to meet up again and make songs, but there was not really a serious ambition. But then in the end, when you have a few songs that are really nice, and then you're like, okay, we should try to figure something out.  We didn’t want to spend too much money, but then the producer Martijn said you can have a one day in my studio for almost nothing. And then we had to do it.”

Arjen: “So we were kind of tricked into it. And it's funny because the old chemistry is still there. I don't know how that works. But it's still there and we really enjoy playing together. And it's like, you have this thing called muscle memory...Man,  I don't know, it's interesting to still have that. Maybe the ambition is gone, but the drive to create something beautiful is still there.”

Beautiful it is. Second Mountain Songs picks up where Temper the Wind left off. In a way this is not surprising considering it is the same musicians, and in the same studio as 2003.

At the time of the interview in January, the band had only released one new song, “All The Leaves Fly For Us.” I spun the song over and over again, and it is perhaps now my favorite Arjen has ever written and one of the best representatives of the This Beautiful Mess with Arjen and Lydia’s dueling vocals and Axel’s guitar work. I was eager to ask some questions about the song, and hear Arjen’s perspective, especially on the line, “We need new memories instead of near-certainties,” which resonates with me deeply. When I told him how much the song meant to me, Arjen asked me a question--he wanted to know why--why did it mean a lot to me? Here is what I said:

I was thinking about it definitely from a spiritual aspect, I would say. In my faith, I think, for a long time, I was obsessed with being certain about things. Being certain about things was really important to me--I needed to have good theology and I needed to know all this stuff. And I think in more recent years I've more embraced mystery--like God is mysterious and I don't need to understand him...and that God is love and God is grace like you've talked about in your songs. That's what it meant to me. You know, I was thinking...new memories. I guess I was thinking about what I am going to do with my family today or in the next few weeks...to establish new memories, rather than I don't know near certainties. I guess I've shifted from certainty; before certainty was important to me and now I'm like I don't need to be certain about anything. I don't know...so that was my take.

Arjen: “Yeah. Beautiful. So I'm interested how Lydia feels about it, but I wrote it. I like the contradiction between new memories, because memory is something from the past. How can it be a new memory? How can it, but still I really love that new memory; and near-certainties is actually a term from philosophy. So you have near-certainties that are some things that you can't prove, but they are so obvious, they have to be true...If  I could choose and I totally agree with what you said before, I totally agree. I've made that same transition. To me, it's more important to make new memories with my kids and with my friends; I think that's more important than to focus on what's right and wrong. So that's what the song is about. It's more important to use my heart in relation to others.”

Lydia: “It's really fun and really inspirational to speak to you because for me 90% of making music is making music for people. That's been missing, of course, especially now in the whole lockdown. So it really makes me happy to hear you talk about these songs and see how curious you are. And then you have this whole theory about a lyric that I didn't even think about yet.”

Later, when chatting about some of the themes in How to Throw a Christmas Party, Lydia says, “We’ve always connected to the most vulnerable and to injustice. That's a really big theme in the music, and of course, I think This Beautiful Mess is mostly a reflection on that; what's your own role and your own failures…” Arjen completes her thought, “Yeah I think so, too. I think the main theme is grace, always. This Beautiful Mess is almost exclusively about grace and how it's all different angles that you can encounter grace in everyday life.”

This Beautiful Mess' 2021 release Second Mountain Songs, can be purchased now on Bandcamp, either on vinyl or as a digital download. Arjen shared that the title of the EP is inspired by the David Brooks book.

Postscript: How To Throw a Christmas Party

How to Throw a Christmas Party is some of my favorite original Christmas music of all time. They have five LPs or EPs, all released between 2010 and 2015, and all are “pay what you want” on Bandcamp. (And if you use Apple Music, I created a 17-song How to Throw a Christmas Party best-of playlist). 

I have been playing How To Throw a Christmas Party songs at home and in the car since my kids were babies, and from their perspective these fantastic songs are just as traditional as other popular holiday music. While not directly related to the story of This Beautiful Mess, it was the primary way Lydia and Arjen continued to make music--along with dozens of other musicians--in the decade of the 2010’s between People Get Ready and Second Mountain Songs.

Lydia describes the end of Brown Feather Sparrow and birth of How To Throw A Christmas Party: 

“In 2010 we took part in a Dutch music competition. As we were waiting for the awards I was in the dressing room with the eventual winner, and we were getting to know one another, and talking about how we each liked one another’s music. We both thought it was stupid that we had to compete with one another. We were talking about how we should record something peaceful; we should make a Christmas album. We wanted to make a statement that the outcome of the competition was stupid and we wanted to make a statement that we can make even more beautiful things blah, blah, blah, it was overly really warm and cuddly. And then she won, and we were second. And I was a little bit offended because they actually said in the jury report that we were a ‘promising’ new band. And we’d been around for 10 years! So I was like, ‘Okay this is never going to happen.’ So then I decided we're going to quit and we're going to do a goodbye album--A Christmas album. So I contacted everybody who ever made music with me and that's how How to Throw a Christmas Party was born.”

How to Throw a Christmas Party was originally the title of the Brown Feather Sparrow swansong album, but it eventually became an all-new band name as there were so many different songwriters and players that have been involved.  Lydia says, “It was interesting because I think about half of the people who joined us in the beginning weren’t a Christian. So we had to find a way...to tell the Christmas story in a way that everybody could relate to. So we picked out the parts that are really inspiring, even if you don't believe it really happened. And then that made the connection to the current issues. And then everyone could really connect to it.

“I always thought of the group like the really early Muppet movies. You know how they all just run into one another, and they become this huge gang of weird people who become something beautiful. That’s how How to Throw a Christmas Party happened!”

Lydia, Arjen, and I all share mutual love of the Muppets. I could have chatted with Lydia and Arjen for hours about How to Throw a Christmas Party, but in our limited time, I chose to focus on two songs from the catalog, “Kamp Zeist” and “Cracks in the Universe.”

I asked about “Kamp Zeist” for a few reasons, most notably it is one of the few songs with Dutch lyrics, with the exception of a single line in English: “I’m locked up, but I’m free.”

Lydia: “The song is about a friend of ours that lived in our house and he was an illegal immigrant. Oh, wow. There we go. So he got detained and the song is about me visiting him in the detention center. And there is the conversation I had with him. That line is what he said to me because he spoke English with us. I'm locked up but I'm free. So it's just his words in the conversation.”

Arjen: “The title of the song is really controversial because this detention center was near Zeist. But when you say ‘Kamp Zeist’ you make a referral referring to the Second World War. And that's why with the Christmas Party, we tried to connect Christmas to the refugee situation--from Syria, mostly at that time. Kamp Zeist was a place where people were like they were in prison. It is still there to this day. We're not proud of our country when it comes to this situation. It's a long story. It is just that to us it was completely logical to connect these things to each other.”

I tell Lydia and Arjen that “Cracks in the Universe” is my family’s favorite How To Throw A Christmas Party song, and one of the most all-time listened to Christmas songs by us in the last decade, period. I ask Lydia how it came about and inquire of its meaning.

Lydia: “I’m a little bit anxious to admit, but it's a Doctor Who reference. There's a hole; it is in a few seasons. Everything is about how something went wrong. And then there's a crack in the universe and things keep getting through and everything becomes a mess; that's the simple version of it. And that started me thinking maybe what could happen when the creator of the universe gets born into a body, then maybe something would crack. And then all these spiritual beautiful things just leak into our universe. I thought it was a funny idea. It almost didn't make the album, because we couldn't get it right [musically]. There are a few different time signatures, and the chorus to fit into the verses and everything was challenging. Then in the end we just decided that it could be like a Disney musical, super-fun song and then it suddenly clicked.”

July 8, 2021

The top 20 songs I want to hear at Furnace Fest

I am pumped for the return of concerts, and I am starting with a bang. My last show was seeing Bad Books in June of 2019 (over two years with no live music!), and my next show (unless I see Hop Along on Sept. 14) will be Furnace Fest. With that in mind, here are the top 20 songs I am hoping to hear at Furnace Fest in September. For those of you that use Apple Music, here is a full playlist of the songs. Otherwise for each song I embedded the Bandcamp link when available.

"O, Porcupine"
(4:31) by mewithoutYou from the 2006 album Brother, Sister

First seen? Cornerstone Festival in 2002
Last seen? Switzerland in 2016
I mean, come on, Jeremy Enigk was just added to Furnace Fest and he is the same day as mewithoutYou! This is a no-brainer. "O, Porcupine" is my favorite mewithoutYou song from my favorite mewithoutYou album. Otherwise, I can't wait to see songs from the self-titled album live as that album is my second fav from the band and I haven't seen them since it was released.

"Aurora" (8:03) by Mineral from the 2019 album One Day When We Are Young

First seen? Birmingham, AL in 1997
Last seen? Italy in 2014
Since I was fortunate enough to see Mineral in the 90's, and during the fantastic reunion tour of 2014, my main desire is to hear the two new songs released in 2019. "Aurora" might actually become my favorite Mineral song at some point.

"Death To Traitors" (6:40) by Beloved from the 2003 album Failure On

First seen? And last seen at Cornerstone Festival 2002.
The only other time I had seen Beloved it was my introduction to the band. To see them play songs I now know and have been listening to for 15+ years? Can't wait!

"Courage, Courage" (5:07) by Luxury from the 2014 album Trophies

First seen? Atlanta, GA in 1995
Last seen? Cornerstone Festival 2002
Since I was fortunate enough to see Luxury more than a dozen times when they were active, my main hope and excitement is to hear them play songs of their best and most recent album, Trophies.

"Wither/Ascend" (6:19) by Stavesacre from the 1997 album Absolutes

First seen? Birmingham, AL in 1996 (Crush Warehouse)
Last seen? Memphis, TN in 2001 (OneFest)
Honestly I am just so excited to see Jeff Bellew in the band again. I did thankfully get to see Stavesacre twice in 1996 and 1997 with him, but every show from 1999 to 2001 I saw without him just felt weird and subpar. The last time I saw Stavesacre play Dirk was actually also unavailable (sick?) and it was a bizarre and confusing line-up.

"Fight Song" (4:14) by The Appleseed Cast from the 2003 album Two Conversations

First seen? Birmingham, AL in 1998 (Slacker 66)
Last seen? Italy in 2014
Appleseed Cast is one of my favorite bands of all time, and I love all their work, so picking a favorite song is nearly impossible. I love all the tracks from their most recent album The Fleeting Light of Impermanence, but hearing the crowd sing along to "Fight Song" will be epic. 

"Second Chances" (2:29) by Stretch Arm Strong from the 1998 album Compassion Fills The Void

First seen? Nashville, TN in 1999
Last seen? FurnaceFest 2002 

"Paris In Flames" (4:32) by Thursday from the 2001 album Full Collapse

First seen? Montevallo, AL in June 2001
Last seen? Birmingham, AL in September 2001
Strangely I only really love this one Thursday album, which obviously is heavily influence by seeing them twice in tiny clubs around the time Full Collapse was released.

"Born Lonely" (2:59) by The Casket Lottery from the 2020 album Short Songs for End Times

While being aware of The Casket Lottery for decades, their new album is the first I purchased immediately. I have never seen them.

"Sacred Fire" (4:55) by Jeremy Enigk from the 2017 album Ghosts

First seen? With Sunny Day Real Estate in Atlanta, GA 1998
Last seen? Solo in Atlanta, 2010
While I of course hope for one or two Sunny Day songs ("How it Feels...", "The Ocean"., which he does perform solo), I would love to see songs from Enigk's most recent album performed.

"Light A Match"
(4:36) by The Beautiful Mistake from the 2002 album Light A Match, For I Deserve To Burn

Never seen. And their new EP is excellent, but I am heavily nostalgic for the debut.

"Lies of Serpents, a River of Tears" (2:39) by Zao from the 1998 album Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest

First seen? And only time, Nashville, TN 1999
While 2021's The Crimson Corridor is terrific, I really just can't wait to see and hear a song from the album that introduced me to the band. Will Brett Detar join them for a song or two?

"The Moon Is Down" (3:12) by Further Seems Forever from the 2001 album The Moon Is Down

First seen? Pensacola, FL in 1999
Last seen? At Cornerstone Festival 2002

"The House Of Hopes... Dreams... And Wishes" (3:36) by Unwed Sailor from the 2001 album The Faithful Anchor

First seen? Cornerstone Festival 2001
Last seen? Cornerstone Festival 2002

"Limelight (feat. Manchester Orchestra)" (5:03) by Touché Amoré from the 2020 album Lament

Never seen. Andy Hull lives in Atlanta so surely he can drive over to sing on this song?

"Overdue" (2:59) by The Get Up Kids from the 2002 album On a Wire

First seen? Birmingham, AL, 1997
Last seen? HevyFest in the UK in 2015

"Into The Dark" (4:04) by The Juliana Theory from the 2000 album Emotion Is Dead

First seen? Pensacola, FL, in 1999
Last seen? Pittsburgh, PA in 2004

"Painless" (4:20) by Mae from the 2005 album The Everglow

Never seen. But I did love The Everglow.

"When Paula Sparks" (4:55) by Copeland from the 2000 album Beneath Medicine Tree

Never seen. I am actually a way bigger fan of Copeland's more recent music, with Ixora being my favorite album of theirs. But I know the plan for the fest is to play this album in full, and this is my fav track from it.

"Spirit Breaker" (4:52) by August Burns Red from the 2013 album Rescue & Restore

Never seen, and this is my favorite August Burns Red song.

June 29, 2021

Amplified in the Silence; Top 25 Manchester Orchestra Songs

As I transition from writing a top 25 list for Jimmy Eat World, to doing the same thing for Manchester Orchestra, I became aware of a unique distinction between these two bands. Jimmy Eat World I would call a "song" band. Meaning they write fantastic singles, and after one or two spins of one of their albums it is easy for me to pick my favorite song or two from the album. (I don't even know if Manchester Orchestra has ever had a single, but I did hear "The Gold" in Kroger last month so maybe that counts?)

Manchester Orchestra is an "album" band. I have had The Million Masks of God for a couple months, listened to it countless times, and I struggle to even pick what song I like best. Looking over Manchester Orchestra's discography, this trend continues. The band does a fantastic job of writing and recording full albums with perfect opening tracks, closing tracks, sequencing, connected songs, etc.

The other distinction between these two bands is that their "jumps" came at completely different points in their career. For Jimmy Eat World, I would say their "jump" came after Static Prevails (1996), which is either their debut or second album depending on who you ask. They made remarkable improvement as songwriters and musicians with Clarity (1999) and then have remained consistently strong for two decades.


Manchester Orchestra's "jump" came much later in their career. They released four full-length albums between their start as a band in 2004 and 2014's Cope. Manchester Orchestra was so all over the place in that first decade that they almost lost me as a fan after a fairly bad 2010 concert at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta (see photo by me above; full gallery of photos of that show with Thrice here.).Then came the insane jump to A Black Mile To The Surface. Black Mile is so good one could argue every single song on the album is better than every single song the band had released previously.

In fact, writing a top 25 list for Manchester Orchestra is almost pointless because one could easily argue that the 22 songs that represent A Black Mile To The Surface and The Million Masks of God are 22 of the best 25 songs the band has ever written, recorded, and released. But I have done my best to include songs from the whole career.

I must mention that Andy Hull is a PROLIFIC songwriter who writes for far more than just his primary band. He has released so many outstanding songs for Right Away, Great Captain, Bad Books, and more. But my list will be Manchester Orchestra songs only.

One of the fun experiences with Manchester Orchestra over the last few years is that my whole family of five has grown to love them. My wife has absolutely fallen in love with them because of Hull's profound and deep lyrics, and my 13-year-old son is actually the one that prompted me to write this list.

I am thrilled for the return of concerts, and just a few days ago I bought 5 tickets to see Manchester Orchestra play at the Fillmore in Detroit next March. It is an all-ages show, and will be the second rock show my three kids get to attend; the first is Middle Kids at The Loving Touch on October 1.

I'm not going to rank all the Manchester Orchestra albums, because it's almost pointless and there is very little debate among fans. A Black Mile To the Surface is #1, and The Million Masks of God is probably #2 even though it was just released this year. The only place I might vary from others is that I would actually put I'm Like A Virgin Losing a Child at #3.

Amplified in the Silence; Top 25 Manchester Orchestra Songs:

25. "I've Got Friends" (4:58) from the 2009 album Mean Everything To Nothing

24. "I Can Barely Breathe" (4:59) from the 2006 album I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child

23. "Sleeper 1972" (4:08) from the 2006 album I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child

22. "Top Notch" (3:22) from the 2014 album Cope

21. "The Only One" (2:39) from the 2009 album Mean Everything To Nothing

20. "Pensacola" (3:36) from the 2011 album Simple Math

19. "Apprehension" (4:34) from the 2011 album Simple Math

18. "The Neighborhood is Bleeding" (2:49) from the 2006 album I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child

17. "Simple Math" (5:04) from the 2011 album Simple Math

16. "Bed Head" (4:05) from the 2021 album The Million Masks Of God

15. "The Ocean" (4:22) from the 2014 album Hope

14. "Every Stone" (3:39) from the 2014 album Cope

13. "Keel Timing" (4:18) from the 2021 album The Million Masks Of God

12. "Virgin" (4:28) from the 2011 album Simple Math

11. "Annie" (4:29) from the 2021 album The Million Masks Of God

10. "Angel Of Death" (5:48) from the 2021 album The Million Masks Of God

9. "Where Have You Been?" (6:17) from the 2006 album I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child

8. "Telepath" (2:29) from the 2021 album The Million Masks Of God

7. "The Maze" (2:58) from the 2017 album A Black Mile To The Surface

6. "I Know How To Speak" (6:00) from the 2018 single

5. "Obstacle" (3:43) from the 2021 album The Million Masks Of God

4. "The Gold" (4:33) from the 2017 album A Black Mile To The Surface

3. "The Silence" (6:59) from the 2017 album A Black Mile To The Surface

2. "Architect" (3:54) from the 2013 single, co-written and recorded by Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

OK, I'm going to cheat here. My favorite Manchester Orchestra song is "The Grocery", but it is the third in a three-song sequence that is spectacular, and hard to break up:

1. "The Alien" (5:29) and "The Sunshine" (1:57) and "The Grocery" (5:12) from the 2017 album A Black Mile To The Surface

June 28, 2021

Turn Off the Radio; Top 25 Jimmy Eat World Songs

Jimmy Eat World 2001

Photo by me, July 2001, 99X Studios, Atlanta, Georgia

While I haven't written any top 25 lists in quite some time, I've had them on the brain--it is more of just the reality that I am not blogging much at all. I have brainstormed lists for Stavesacre, Manchester Orchestra, Patty Griffin, and Middle Kids in recently years, but it was a Twitter discussion that prompted me to finally put my top 25 Jimmy Eat World songs down on paper. I often post top 25 lists to refute other lists I read online (especially in the case of Death Cab and Thrice). This one is not that--it is just my favs.

I narrowed it to 25 songs and created a YouTube playlist months ago, but didn't get around to actually sorting the 25 songs "in order" until today. (I can already tell you Manchester Orchestra is coming next, because there are few artists I listen to as much these days, my whole family likes them, and my 13-year-old son continues to ask and prompt me on what my favorite Manchester Orchestra songs are.)

First of all, to recap, here are the top 25 lists I have published previously:

What if Lu had lived? Top 25 Poor Old Lu Songs (2017)
Please Don't Kiss Me Top 25 Sixpence None the Richer Songs (2017)
For the Love of Guitar Top 25 Aaron Sprinkle Songs
Don't Be Defeatist Top 25 Eisley Songs
Farther Than I Can See Top 25 Thrice Songs
Farewell Walla Top 25 Death Cab for Cutie Songs (2014)
It is surprising I waited so long on a Jimmy Eat World list, because it is their lyric that inspired the name of my blog (and originally paper zine) back in 1999:
"Imitate and water down
Selection breathes on its own
Till we crash I'll write it out
Selection breathes on its own
Make them open the request line
Let selection kill the old
Turn off the radio"
As I've done previously, I'll start by ranking my favorite Jimmy Eat World albums:
10. Jimmy Eat World (1994)

Does this album count? I usually don't include it as I think of it more as rough demos, and the band rarely acknowledges its existence. I only have MP3s I downloaded off Napster back in 2000 or so and can't remember the last time I have listened to it.
9. Damage (2013)

Really despise this album; I can't even pick a single song on it I like. Felt so lifeless and forced to me at the time. A strange blip in a consistent career.
8. Chase This Light (2007)

Despite how low I have it ranked, I do enjoy this album, but I feel it was sequenced incorrectly and some non-album tracks should replace some songs that were included.
7. Integrity Blues (2016)

Was a big return to form for me; was concerned the band was done after Damage.
6. Invented (2010)

Was impressed by this album at the time, but rarely revisit it as a whole.
5. Surviving (2019)

My initial impression, that holds up after two years, was how great this album is. We'll see where it stands in a decade.
4. Static Prevails (1996)

I discovered Jimmy Eat World with Clarity, and then immediately went out and bought this CD. Love the aggression that understandably passed with time.
3. Bleed American (2001)

I had the unique experience due to file-sharing services of hearing all the demos for this album before it finally dropped. I was actually putting the demo of "The Middle" on mix tapes/CDs in early 2001. Won tickets and saw Jimmy Eat World do a live studio performance for 99X in Atlanta the day this album was released.
2. Futures (2004)

I was blown away by this album when it dropped, and that feeling has never gone away. I totally understand anyone that has this as their fav Jimmy Eat World album.
1. Clarity (1999)

No other Jimmy Eat World album comes close for me, and this is a top-10 album of all-time for me. I discovered the album and band a couple months after it was released, and I've never stopped listening to it frequently. I have taken a bunch of notes with the intention of writing an essay about it, but still haven't gotten a draft finished. Someday!

25. "Episode IV" (4:29) from the 1996 album Static Prevails

24. "Movielike" (3:48) from the 2010 album Invented

23. "Anderson Mesa" (5:15) from the 1996 album Static Prevails

22. "Delivery" (3:13) from the 2019 album Surviving

21. "World Is Static" (3:57) from the 1996 album Static Prevails

20. "555" (3:41) from the 2019 album Surviving

19. "Gotta Be Somebody's Blues" (4:46) from the 2007 album Chase This Light

18. "The End Is Beautiful" (4:25) from the 2016 album Integrity Blues

17. "Disintegration" (7:44) from the 2005 EP Stay On My Side Tonight 

16. "Sure and Certain" 3:36 from the 2016 album Integrity Blues

15. "Your New Aesthetic" (2:41) from the 1999 album Clarity

14. "Coffee And Cigarettes" (3:46) from the 2010 album Invented

13. "Jen"(3:00) Officially unreleased, but was on the original version of the 2004 album Futures

12. "The Most Beautiful Things" (3:52) from the 2000 Jebediah Split EP

11. "Here It Goes" (3:23) from the 2007 album Chase This Light

10. "Futures" (3:58) from the 2004 album Futures

9. "Polaris" (4:51) from the 2004 album Futures

8. "Goodbye Sky Harbor" (16:11) from the 1999 album Clarity

7. "Hear You Me" (4:45) from the 2001 album Bleed American

6. "If You Don't, Don't" (4:33) from the 2001 album Bleed American

5. "Lucky Denver Mint" (3:50) from the 1999 album Clarity

4. "The World You Love" (5:01) from the 2004 album Futures

3. "Sweetness" (3:40) from the 2001 album Bleed American

2. "23" (7:24) from the 2004 album Futures

1. "For Me This Is Heaven" (4:06) from the 1999 album Clarity

YouTube playlist; selected the best live video performance I could find for each song when possible: