1. The Closest I’ve Come
Earthside’s massive debut begins with an ethereal instrumental track called “The Closest I’ve Come”. Even without lyrics, you can feel the meaning in this song. Ben (on drums) mentioned that the song has to do with the fleeting nature of this life, wherein we never quite seem to be able to make it. There is always something out of reach. There is just something in this life that keeps satisfaction out of our hands.
I know what they mean. The last few years have taught me this truth in spades. My whole life, I’ve always just wanted to help people. I’m a Christian, so obviously my beliefs come into play. However, when it comes right down to it, I just want to make a difference. I want to make an impact. But it seems like this world is meant to keep me from just that. Whether it’s the powers that be or my own failures, I can never seem to reach the top of the mountain. And it drives me insane, sometimes.
This isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, other forces keep you from achieving that which you desire. Other times, it’s your own drive and ambition that keeps you from feeling that satisfaction of saying, “I’m finally here”. Whatever the case may be, this life doesn’t let us rest long before it hurls us off another cliff.
The song really plays into all this pretty well. Moments of triumph and aggression are frequent: The song climaxes and drops off, almost as if it never quite reached the zenith. It’s a brilliant song with incredible musicianship, but more than any of that, I can FEEL this song in my very bones.
2. Mob Mentality
What is the meaning of this life? The lyrical content of “A Dream in Static” is centered on this idea of purpose in life in relation to creative ambition and being the best you can possibly be. Yet, it reaches further than that. “Mob Mentality” is the first track with lyrics, and it hits pretty hard.
“I’ve never felt so frail / So vulnerable to a wakeless morning / I’ve never felt so afraid / That it could all just end / Without a warning”. Usually, it’s the elderly that are worried about what they leave behind after they are gone. They are worried about a legacy, and rightly so. What did it mean for me to be on this planet? Did I change anything with this life I lived? Many people never even consider these questions, but others feel vulnerable that this life could simply end before they could make or do anything.
This tracks takes all of this one step further, though, as it expresses a distaste for systems of belief or government that tell us how to step in line; how to do as we’re told. The chorus reads “I need a reason that isn’t a rhyme /I need a meaning that isn’t a reason why”. I take this to mean that the author (Jamie on guitars) feels this grating desire to be himself and create something of his own without being told how this has to look or sound. He wants real meaning that doesn’t serve someone else’s purposes.
So often in this life, we are called to fall in line and conform. It’s not always a bad thing, but I believe we lose our God-given humanity when we decide to become a nobody. We can’t let fear or pressure to keep us from embarking down that path that we are led. In the end and after we are gone, that is how we will be remembered most of all. Aim for the stars. “Finally, finally I know”.
3. A Dream in Static
The title track on Earthside’s debut continues the train of thought from “Mob Mentality”. With Daniel Tompkins’ incredible voice, we are sucked down a wormhole of memory and sorrow. Honestly, the basic idea behind this song seems to be a popular notion nowadays, and it’s no wonder. We start out this life dreaming of doing great things and being so much. But something keeps us from becoming what we dreamed. “All my ambitions/ Painted in the distance / But something’s in the way / Of my becoming”.
What is it? What keeps us from achieving those dreams? After we age, “We mourn loss of control / Instead of taking it back/ We stand idle and wonder / All that could have been”. So many of us join the rat race of this life, never doing what we meant to do. We stand there wondering how to achieve that distant prize, but we never take the first step. We never get off our laurels. Life is hard work, but most of us only see our dreams through the grey snow of static, barely grasping the details or the how and why.
Daniel does a great job at expressing these caged emotions when he sings, “Disheartened / From fighting for no reward / I want more, I see”. The first step is seeing that we actually want more. The next step is reaching out. If we never take the first step, we’ll leave this life with nothing but regrets and missed opportunities. What will it take for us to come out of hiding?
4. Entering the Light
The next track on “A Dream in Static” from Earthside is another instrumental track that evokes so many feelings, despite having no lyrics. Jamie on guitars called it an “emotional palette cleanser”, and it definitely feels that way. Before I comment on the meaning, I have to mention that this song is like a hit of nostalgia for me because I’ve been following these musicians for close to 10 years now, and hearing some of these melodies present in this song reminded me of some of their past works, and so the meaning behind the song skyrockets for me.
We all hit that point, don’t we? Hopefully, anyways. We reach that point where we’ve had enough of the propaganda and hate of this world, and we’re ready for something far more pure and good. We are ready to reach out our hands to take hold of this life and to make something of ourselves. Not only that, but we feel the need to reach out our hands to others, too. As we enter the light of new world, we are ready to be the people we were meant to be. It’s like a new birth. A reincarnation. An epiphany.
So help me God, I want that. I want to be the man I need to be for my family. I want to be the man that this world needs to dispel the hate and sorrow and pain. I want to reach out my hand and make the difference in this world that my heart knows I crave. Entering the light, your life is no longer your own, but you are more in control than ever.
Another instrumental track from Earthside, “Skyline” represents that first step I spoke about earlier. Moving from a world of longing to a world of doing, the skyline is an important concept. It’s the lay of the land. It’s what lies on the horizon. That goal of yours? That prize? Better yet, that impact and change you want to make? It’s right there on the skyline. It’s right there, standing out against the sun, ripe for the taking.
Sometimes, there are obstacles you can see, too. Sometimes, there is a pitfall right in your path. But seeing that dream on the horizon; oh, that can only drive you on more and more.
One thing I love about this debut album is that the emotional progression therein is so palpable and obvious. Progressing from a state of dreaming and desiring to a state of becoming and doing, “A Dream in Static” is so full of feeling and hope that it isn’t a mystery to me why this album has become incredibly well known already. What’s on your horizon?
No one said it would be easy. “Crater” is the next song on “A Dream in Static”, and it hits me right in that “know it all too well” place. Crater. Cavern. Pitfall. When you survey your personal skyline, you might not see the darker side of pursuing your dream that is coming your way. “You’re far beyond the underlying forces/ Slight in a way untrue / Wait where’s the worth in holding on / When the rope to which you cling has cut you off”.
We all know the feeling of having our dreams and work come crashing down around us. We cling to a dream that gets cut off right when we are, oh, so close, and then we feel like maybe going on just isn’t worth it. What’s the worth in holding on? When the whole world is against you, why keep going? When you fall, why get up again?
What they never tell you, however, is that the true crater is your own emotions. When the world gets you down, the only thing that can keep you down is your own broken heart. Last year, I was laid off from what I thought was my life’s purpose. I was passionate. I had a vision. I was really, really good at it, too. But the powers that be had other ideas. I lost my position, and, I’ll admit, I gave up. I ate everything in sight and I lost my faith in God’s love for me. I hated myself, and I sank into a deep depression like I’ve never known.
It’s amazing what God will use to help you up again. It was Riverside’s “Love, Fear and the Time Machine” that clobbered my heart. That album was an absolute indictment of me and my feelings. It’s funny, too, because Earthside’s album is showing me everything I did and felt, too.
Never give up hope. When one door closes, that doesn’t mean another one will immediately open. Sometimes, other emotions and pains have to be removed first. When you fall, know that you can get up again.
7. The Ungrounding
“The Ungrounding” is the final instrumental track on “A Dream in Static” from Earthside, and it continues the theme from “Crater”. In fact, I’d say that it is an audible version of the big picture behind “Crater”. You see, when you fall into a crater made by the impact of some huge problem in your life, you will hopefully climb out eventually. But know this: Life is nothing but craters.
As Ben (drums) said, this life is constantly trying to pull the ground out from under your feet. The overtly technical nature of this track is a great representation of this tumultuous, uneasy life we live. And, as we continue to fall and continue to press on, the greatest force we should fear is despair. That certain nothingness (as Ben puts it) that threatens to overtake us and render us inert is always in pursuit. In a way, we have to make our own way. I believe that faith in Christ is necessary to do this, relying on Someone who has overcome this life already. In the end, we have to make our own purpose and our own way, and, even more, we have to accept that this life isn’t easy. It sucks, honestly. But we can be the one to change that, despite it all.
8. Contemplation of the Beautiful
The final track on “A Dream in Static” doesn’t end the way you think it might. It doesn’t end with a sense of hopefulness, exactly. It doesn’t end with this beautiful sense of knowing and becoming, such as in Riverside’s latest album. No, “Contemplation of the Beautiful” is a soul-crushing, absolute monster of a song that will destroy your ambition and rip our your heart. It does this, obviously, to achieve an opposite effect, but it takes you through hell to get there.
“Not beautiful / All I can ask is for why the burden’s with me / So I’ll free my soul beyond the world / Hope of escaping the truth forever”. This track kicks you where it hurts. It shows the intrinsic beauty of this life and even the beauty of our failings, but, when all is said and done, this life will destroy you. It’s a sad irony in this life that one of the most beautiful things to behold is the passion and drive of someone that will never succeed. They get stronger and stronger, but they just never quite make it. There is beauty and even holiness in the way we strive. Is the ending really even that important?
“What shows the reality /Of the true way we are?” There is this vague, yet powerful reason that we hold on, despite ourselves and the craters dotting the way ahead of us. It would be easier to abandon truth. It would be easier not to give a damn. Why do some of us have this need for purpose and truth? It’s a beautiful thing, yes, but it’s so damned annoying. “Far from this place / Inside the fear that I possessed / The will for growing stronger / The will to change and find one final way”.
Don’t give up. Find that one final way. If you do give up, something even worse will overtake you: fear and nothingness. You will be devoid of meaning. You will be devoid of purpose. Is there an innate meaning in this life? Obviously, that has been debated for millenia. My belief is that I derive meaning from the Creator and his purpose for this life. I believe he desires reconciliation with humanity, and that I am a tool to help bring humanity back in harmony with reality. My heart can grasp that. In the end, though, you have to decide what you believe for yourself. You have to overcome the fear of getting back up again. You have to fight your own heart to learn to be once again. Whatever you do, though, find your meaning, or this beautiful life will eat you alive.