1. Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat)
“I dropped down again/ From a star/ On a desert island/ Full of skies/ And I saw a boy/ Looking up/ Dreaming of his future/ From my past”. So begins Riverside’s “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”, not quite a concept album, but certainly wrapped around one massive theme: maturity.
The album begins with “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat)”, which would strike most as being a weird title, yet the inherent meaning here is astonishing. The song begins with our protagonist (Duda himself) having a dream or vision of himself as he lies dreaming as a child on the beach. He sees the wonder and excitement for the future in his young self’s eyes and he lays out his plans in the sand. There was no fear. There was no agitation. There were no inhibitions. All that existed in his young mind were plans and dreams and pure, innocent desires.
Do you miss that? I can relate. Adulthood hits us like a sledgehammer in the back of the head; and, all of a sudden, we are scared of failing. We never set out to fulfill our dreams. We are “afraid of a thousand hats”, meaning that we are afraid of all the possibilities and identities that we could become that are contrary to our dreams. We allow fear to define who we are.
Why are we so afraid to love? To live? To go for it? Why did we have more bravery and more imagination when we were young? “One day, just you and I/ We’ll find the bridge to the Neverland”. Perhaps the way forward is to find a connection to our past.
2. Under the Pillow
I’m an over-analyzer sometimes. So, as I approach this second track “Under the Pillow” with knowledge of the primary theme of this Riverside album, I can’t help but connect this track to “Cybernetic Pillow” from “Rapid Eye Movement”. In that track, the protagonist is lost in a world of make believe and perfect people, afraid and running from reality. “Under the Pillow”, I daresay, could very well be Duda rebuking himself for that song.
So, what’s the track about, then? The main idea is that we cannot expect to become anything if we can’t remove our heads from under our pillows; or, rather, removing our heads from the sand. What are we afraid of? But it goes deeper than that, too.
“You kept yourself to yourself day by day/ Growing delusions in the blue flowerpots/ Your filter bubble on the touchscreen display/ Has recommended to you what you should want”. Not only is this person wasting away while letting fear control them, but they are relying on social media or pop culture to tell them what they should be. In the end, you can never live up to that. You can never have that perfect body or that perfect fashion. You can never have all that stuff that somehow makes you “valid”. You’ll never be able to agree 100% with everyone. It’s impossible. So, instead of living, this person decides to become a nobody, watching the world go by through the dim light of a cell phone.
“Watching too much daytime TV”—letting the masses and media tell you whom to be—will only result in disappointment; and, like Duda says, “all your tomorrows will become yesterdays”. Get up. Be yourself. Live from your gut; your heart. “You must learn to stand your ground” and be the person you are. The world needs you.
“Hashtag me and go/ I’m addicted to your love/ I’m addicted to my aimless drive”. I have lost count of how many negative comments I have seen about this third track, “#Addicted”. Yes, it seems that most reviewers simply didn’t get what Duda was trying to do here. Aside from the myriad of comments calling it “cheesy”, most of these reviewers seemed to think he was trying to be “hip” or “with it” by using social media lingo in his lyrics. What he was communicating, however, is exactly the opposite of that.
We all love Facebook, right? I’m not so much a fan of Twitter, Instagram, or any other platforms, but Facebook is more or less a utility for me to communicate with friends around the world. And that’s were it ends. However, no one can deny the temptation to live in this digital world. You can post a picture of you doing something completely asinine, and you’ll receive hundreds or even thousands of “likes”, and so on. The temptation, then, is to revolve your world around the whims of the faceless masses; to crave the “love” of total strangers. When it comes down to it, though, these addicts have only one friend: a screen.
“There’s a mask upon my face/ I can’t live without/ So you won’t recognize me/ When I am in the crowd”. In the world of social media, it’s possible to be anonymous, creating a mask that allows you to be recognized only online. No one in the real world knows you. Most never achieve the glory in reality that they can online, and so our world today is full of people competing for online glory via clickbait, stupid videos, or straight out immodesty. In the end, the real world—full of amazing causes, impoverished people, and real wonder—is completely lost and less important.
That is not to say that the online world is useless. It’s simply dangerous because of our human nature. Heck, I find myself grabbing my smart phone more often than I should. It’s in all of us. But it is possible to transcend this. It is possible to understand what true love and true friendship are. We don’t have to rely on little pictures on a screen to give us satisfaction. There’s a real world out there that needs you and me.
So, Duda is simply communicating the two-dimensional world of these addicts where hashtags are more important than principles. He is being facetious lyrically. If Duda is anything, he is not someone concerned with impressing everyone. And I respect that greatly.
4. Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire
We now move onto what has become one of my favorite Riverside songs, not just on this album. “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire” is lyrically very much like the Reality Dream Trilogy albums, except for one major difference: the blame. In the older albums, the lyrics seem to place much of the blame for the dysfunction and disorientation of the protagonist on his lover (this wasn’t always the case). However, with this new track, he takes the blame on himself.
“I want to fly/ I want to feel my life/ Still belongs to me/ No matter what”. Have you ever felt like you should have been flying by now? That you should have matured and done something with your life already? Instead of being an exquisite butterfly fluttering over painful obstacles, do you feel like a groveling caterpillar, just waiting for the day when the barbed wire no long snags your skin? And as you bleed, who is to blame?
“I’m tired of suppressing all of my needs/ I want to belong to the cloudless sky/ Not to the shaded ground”. At first, it seems like he blames his lover for not fulfilling or knowing his needs. But then, “But it’s so hard to admit/ That I lived without your light/ Trying not to believe that I need it more”. It seems like he comes to the mature realization that what he needed was right there all along—that his needs and his satisfaction weren’t necessarily the most important things in life.
So, as a caterpillar, he watches the fluttering butterflies on the breeze of love and life, and he can only wait and dream of that day where what he has lost will come back to him again. In the end, he was afraid of love. And that was no one’s fault but his own. He knows that now.
5. Saturate Me
“iCrowd patterns/ Beliefs/ Guided trips/ Search for hints/ Copy/paste/ Brain turned off”. Is it safe to convict the Apple fanatics out there? Duda doesn’t seem to care. In a world of endless renditions of cheap fads, how can we stand out? How can we go against the grain? We can ironically be quite different by simply being ourselves.
“Lack of self-confidence/ Trapped inside sweet wrappers cage/ Sky is blue – so I’ve been told”. When our lives have gotten to the stage where all we know about the world is what has been fed to us, that is a problem. There’s a world out there that needs help and craves new ideas, but many of us have simply gotten lost in a world that isn’t real at all. It feels so sweet and it empowers us with “knowledge”, but we never actually use it.
This track feels like a transitional piece to me. This is the part of the album where Duda finally says “I don’t wanna feel like I’m no one anymore”, another faceless nobody in the crowd of faceless nobodies. He feels so saturated with sheer junk and pop culture that he doesn’t know if he can stand on his own, think for himself, or truly “be”. But he’s going to try.
If “Saturate Me” is a transitional piece, “Afloat” is the direct result of it. You see, “Afloat” is a rather simple tune, but it packs a wallop in the emotional sense. After reaching his peak of being nobody and of rejecting the love of real people, we see here his ability to just let it all go.
“Dream on, my pain/ My scar/ My blame/ You’ve been a part of me/ Unless and until.” This is a song written to himself; to his pain and bitterness and emptiness. And now, he will let it all float away. Or, rather, he will be left afloat as he drops these things that are drowning him in the sea of life.
In a way, there’s a sort of sadness in letting his emptiness go. It’s all he’s ever known. It’s sorta like a dead end job that you know you need to leave; but, when the time finally comes, you kinda miss it. His pain has been nothing but a scar and a thorn in his side, but now he remorsefully lets it disappear. He is now a new person. He can now truly “be”.
7. Discard Your Fear
What was originally my favorite song on the album, “Discard Your Fear” is an ode to a situation that many modern people have experienced. Depression caused by too much of everything is actually pretty common. We aren’t built to have a never ending stream of excess, ideas, and desires. But that is what many of us have, though there are many that struggle just to survive.
“Life with your passivity/ In the face of choices/ Forced you to turn back/ Settle with your lies/ But the stubborn glass/ Doesn’t want to talk to you”. Having so much, we take life for granted, letting it pass us by. So, in the face of so much connectivity and stuff, we often tend to disconnect from reality, many times because we feel so worthless or incompetent. We ignore choices. We ignore life. We ignore our past. Sometimes we dwell on it, too. We settle for lies and the propaganda forced down our throats, and we forget that life is more than just a screen of idyllic things.
What meaning does life have, then? The only satisfying life to live is one lived for others. But we can only get there when we abandon vanity and ditch our fears of failure, of not measuring up, and of being loved. “Discard your fear of the unknown/ Be here and now/ Just find yourself within peace/ Try to free your mind”.
All of those questions are just in your mind. Make up your mind to free yourself. Come to peace with your past and with who you are. And live. BE. The only thing stopping you is yourself. As Riverside said elsewhere, “With open arms, I’m standing out against my past”.
8. Towards the Blue Horizon
“Let me tell you a story/ About you and me in those days/ How much passion and joy we shared/ How often we turned back time”. We have now passed the threshold. The next few tracks on “Love, Fear & the Time Machine” are dedicated to the peace, the willingness to love and be loved, and the confidence that knowing yourself can bring.
There’s also another element: time travel. This simply refers to memories, but it’s clear that his memories have changed somehow in the course of the album. No longer is he bound by them, but now he remembers the good things he had and the joyous days he shared with close friends, dreaming and living.
So, now he wants to feel the same way he did. He misses it. “As we ran through the silence/ At the speed of sound/ Towards the blue horizon/ We could open skies”. He remembers the power of simply living life. Kids have such freedom in that way, and, quite honestly, I think many of the world’s problems stem from kids who were never allowed to be kids. He remembers the dreams that could shatter the sky, and the sense of peace in the future. The blue horizon was so close. So close.
And it can be that way again.
9. Time Travellers
Strangely enough, the ballad “Time Travellers” is the song off the new album that I see most discussed and loved around the ol’ Interweb. Don’t ask me why, but something about the simple melody and hopeful tone grabs your brain by the horns and won’t let go. This track, however, also has a beautiful place in the story being told.
“Traveling across the fallen earth/ And the foreign lands/ We survived/ To believe that this is not the end/ This is not the time”. If you remember what I said about “Towards the Blue Horizon”, the story has taken a peaceful and hopeful turn. Duda’s lyrics present hope for a better, more youthful experience of life. He wants that beautiful peace that accompanies knowing who you are. So, after traveling so far and suffering so much (at his own hands), he decides finally to take that plunge into the past, both to wrestle with his it and to cherish it, too.
“Let’s go back to the world/ That was 30 years ago/ And let’s believe this is our time”. He’s finally making progress by looking to his past. Gone is a resentment and bitterness towards the tough things in life, and in has come an appreciation for whom he has become and the ambitious dreams he once had. No, he doesn’t want to go back. Instead, he wants to charge forward with a renewed sense of wonder, purpose, and confidence. Going forward by looking back.
10. Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching)
We’ve come to the end of Riverside’s “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”. But the final song is my favorite on the album, mainly due to how much it speaks to me. “Found” is a prologue to the story we have been discovering here, almost like he is reminiscing over the journey he has taken. Ultimately, he is looking back and coaching his younger self (and us) to persevere.
He looks back and sees his dreams fade at the horizon of stars and water. As his world was cast into darkness, he didn’t know that the sun would eventually rise. And it does. As he “yearns for daylight”, he realizes that he is craving the very things he has feared. He is changed. Soon enough, “the sun emerges from behind the clouds” and he is free to see things as they really are. He isn’t afraid of whom he is anymore. His chains fall to the ground as the sun glints off the cold metal.
The video seems to add an extra layer here with the idea that he has been chasing his mother(?) his whole life, and finally finds himself in her position, needing to help a child make sense of the world. It’s a hard-hitting, very personal revelation. Now, it’s not that he has become someone else. It’s not that the world changed. No, his own heart has changed to accept himself as he is, and to move forward for the work that is meant for him. All the things he has learned he must now share. He has found purpose. He has found peace and joy. And it was within him all the time.
I wrestle with all of this. This album feels written for me personally. I have found this type of peace and joy in knowing who I am in relation to your Creator; knowing that Christ lives within me, empowering me for some work in this life. Some don’t see it this way. But I do. I struggle still, being human; and knowing that Christ is within me, I can be sure that all of this is okay. It’s okay to be human.
I feel like the “unexpected flaw of searching” in my own life was that I searched everywhere only to find the answer was within me, yet not created or placed there by myself. It helped me find greater meaning and purpose: greater joy. Ultimately, I feel that discernment and wisdom come, not with age, but with establishing that connection with Someone not of this world.