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Swallow Darkness Whole

If you want to know the truth, it's been a rough year for me.  And my family.  Not because of huge, disastrous events and misfortunes.  It's nothing huge or traumatic, but without going into detail--for me, it's been a year of feeling mostly displaced and under strain.  No, it hasn't been all darkness and gloom; there have been bright spots.  Like the camp I worked at over the summer & the kids I befriended there.  My parents moved to the Seattle area which was sad for me, but great for them.  (And they are still inviting me to come and join them, so don't be shocked if I up & move to Washington...)  I guess it's been a mixed bag of a year, but right now I just feel sort of weighed down and frustrated with my life.

I don't say all this to complain, but to explain.  When I share the things that have brought a little bit of light and hope to my life, I want you to understand that they are like islands of relief in what sometimes feels like an onslaught of disappointment.  I am blessed to have such a great family & far-away friends, and I know it.  I also go to a fantastic church & women's group here.  These things help ease my melodramatic sense of stress.  But one other thing that brings relief and even release is music.

In particular, I've recently gotten into a band called Sleeping At Last.  I first heard their song "Umbrellas" on the Relevant podcast and was blown away.  It took me a while to explore their other music, but for a while they had their album up for free on noisetrade.com, and I downloaded it & fell in love with them.  The more I've heard, the more quickly they've become a new favorite band of mine.  Though they have a different sound from Switchfoot (my very fave, for those that didn't know!) they have the same poetic, honest quality to their lyrics.

Recently, Sleeping At Last launched a new project, called Yearbook.  Instead of doing another traditional 10-12 song album, working on the songs for a year, and then recording it & releasing it all at once, they have committed to writing and releasing three new songs a month for a whole year.  They've already successfully completed the first two months, October and November, and I highly recommend them.  Not only is Yearbook and innovative project, the guys in the band are also very vocal about their process and often tweet and update facebook on the status of the songs for each month.  For people like me, who splurged and signed up for the whole year (actually, it was a good deal, considering you get about three CD's worth of songs by the end!), it feels like I'm involved.

The reason I wanted to share about this project is not just because I find it creative, and a perfect example of what post-modern music making can look like.  I wanted to share because I have found SAL's songs to be very encouraging and healing over the last few months.  They have a folksy, acoustic sound, with lots of piano, strings, and yearning, soulful vocals.  But it's not only their sound--their lyrics acknowledge the brokenness and fragility of life, but speak to a an understanding of hope in something bigger, truer, greater, and deeper.  Though I'm a writer, I don't know if words can fully express how much I have needed these songs this year.  Because music has a power that goes beyond scientific explanation and quantification, the best I can do is say that their songs have poured into me, sifted through the chinks in my armor, and filled me with light and hope.  They are not songs to rock out to; they are often more like lullabies that soothe the soul the way a mother helps a fussy child finally fall asleep and rest.

Sleeping At Last's Ryan & Dan paint soft impressionist watercolors with their gentle melodies and poetic lyrics.  They know how to use shading, and they know how to capture light.  The pairing of their melodies with their words have brought tears to my eyes more than once.  Right now, I'm particularly enamored of their song "Emphasis" from "November":

‎"Life is a gorgeous, broken gift/ six billion pieces waiting to be fixed/ love letters that were never signed, sent to where we live;
The sweetest thing I've ever heard/ is that I don't have to have the answers/ just a little light to call my own;
Though it pales in comparison to the overarching shadows/ a speck of light... can reignite the sun/ and swallow darkness whole."

That's just the tip of the iceberg.  They have so many beautiful songs.  On their previous album, "Storyboards," they used film as an ongoing metaphor for life.  One of my favorite songs from it is "All This to Say":

"Before we were born
God gently told us the truth,
but understanding is something that stops
as our bodies bruise...

Layer by layer, the framework was formed
on an epic of paper:
we breathe to explore.
and fast-forward motion
will gracefully show
the flickering story
that all of our sketches unfold."
There are several really great songs from that album.  Though I haven't heard all of the songs from the previous album, "Keep No Score," the aforementioned "Umbrellas" took my breath away (and helped me flesh out a scene near the climactic end of one of my novels!); "Needle and Thread" is beautiful in every way and is something I can imagine singing as a lullaby:

“'You were a million years of work,'
Said God and His angels, with needle and thread.
They kissed your head and said,
'You’re a good kid and you make us proud.
So just give your best and the rest will come,
And we’ll see you soon.'

All the blood and all the sweat

That we invested to be loved
Follows us into our end,
Where we begin to understand

That maybe Hollywood was right:

When the credits have rolled and the tears have dried,
The answers that we have been dying to find
Are all pieced together and, somehow,
Made perfectly mine.

We are made of love,

And all the beauty stemming from it.
We are made of love,
And every fracture caused by the lack of love."

On my darker days, when all I see are obstacles and enemies, it does my heart immeasurable good to hear the gentle insistence of these two musicians who beautifully but firmly remind me that there is a God, and He is Love, and that is the truest thing in all the universe.  Suck a speck of light can reignite me, and if I can be reignited, so can others.  And together, maybe we can swallow the darkness whole.

1 comment:

Wendy McConnell said...

Well, I'm sold! You paint a beautiful picture of beautiful music without ever hearing a note. I'm going to go download some Sleeping at Last now!