The Cobalt Season: In Search of a Unified Theory

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : June 1, 2007

I don’t review music on this blog…at least not usually. Why? Though I have good taste in music and have a passing knowledge of what’s “hip” these days, I’m hardly a music guru. And nobody has every called me an “urban hipster”–at least to my face. But the BIG reason why I don’t review music here is because most music has crap lyrics. And the groups that have good lyrics don’t really touch on the sorts of themes I explore on Jesus Manifesto.

There are a few exceptions–like the Psalters, Rich Mullins (who is in my top 10 list of dead people), the Arcade Fire, Copy, U2, the Cobalt Season…and others. And since the Cobalt Season is the only of these groups that has asked me to review their stuff, I am now going to offer my first music review ever.

I was an instant fan of the Cobalt Season when I listened to an earlier album But I Tell You. The mellow, soulful melodies served as a contemplative delivery system for a anti-imperial lifestyle that centers on Jesus. To be honest, their melodies didn’t excite me NEARLY as much as their lyrics. Here’s an example:

Well Mom, I only wanted to be like Jesus
But it seems that I keep fucking up
And Dad, don’t write me off just yet
I think I might be onto something here

And friends, Romans, countrymen
Won’t you lend me your ears?
This Holy American Empire
Gotta tell you it’s crumblin’ down
To the ground

’cause everything’s for granted
And nothing is for sure
So let’s grab a Starbucks baby
And let’s spend a little more
Forget about the dreams we had
Just work and sleep until we’re dead
Are we blind to what’s ahead

But I Tell You has a handful of great songs, some good songs, but a few flat ones too. I love good music, and I love deep ethical reflection…but it is RARE to find the two incarnated into the same work. And in But I Tell You, they almost hit their stride. But not quite.

I’m happy to say that In Search of a Unified Theory–their newest offering, the Cobalt Season finds their stride. Their music is richer, deeper, and tastier. And the lyrics are–as expected–incredible.

The album is a soul-searching pilgrimage. And here I think a comparison with Rich Mullins–at least the spirit of his music is appropriate. Rich Mullins pursued Jesus with unabashed spiritual intensity. And I think the same is true of the Cobalt Season. This album–this musical pilgrimage–is filled with pain and ambiguity and uncertainty. The Cobalt Season are minstrels for the spiritually disenfranchised. It is a musical exploration of the via purgativa (something that my former professor LeRon Shults has recently brought into the emerging church conversation). It affirms the shadow side of life in a way that I wish Rich Mullins had in his life. This album is an exercise in pursuing Christ, but failing…yet still yearning. This “way of purgation” can be clearly seen in one of my favorite tracks “Help Me Out Here:”

Where do we go from here? God only knows
Or perhaps that’s just a bunch bullshit spiritual prose
Perhaps we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for
Perhaps God has been just waiting at our door
He’s waiting at the door
And I’ll try to be the first to tell you when I’m wrong
I’ll write a book about it right here in my song
Here is where I start to try and start again
Learning to become a father and a friend

Help me out here…I’m getting tired
Help me out here…I’m getting tired
Help me out here…I’m getting tired
Help me out here…I’m getting tired

In a way, this album is the spiritual soundtrack for the emerging church. My favorite track is “Careful Not to Draw Your Maps in Pen and Ink”–a musical rebuke of certainty. It could serve as a sort of anthem for Emergent ;)

You are gonna change your mind someday
So just let go of all your thoughts on tomorrow
You may find your bearings in disarray
Though you may lead and trip and fall and follow

And all that you thought black will be proved red
Full of life and complication and sorrow
And all that you thought white was in your head
For life is lived in the shadows that we borrow

And I’ll look far, but may see nothing
And I will thirst, but may not drink
And I will yell to those behind me
“Careful not to draw your maps in pen and ink”

The same road disappears up ahead
Will you ever understand this equation?
The compass in your hand is all but dead
Time to feel your way around this evasion

Read the words again, for you might see
Life where you saw death, a way to your salvation
Best to lay down what you thought was certainty
Freedom’s found in the in that calmed frustration

And I will strain to find a pattern
And hold my breath ’till I’m on the brink
And I will yell to those behind me
“Careful not to draw your maps in pen and ink”

You are gonna change your mind someday
Just let go of all your thoughts

You can buy the album (along with their other albums) here.

for further reading . . .

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One Response to “The Cobalt Season: In Search of a Unified Theory”

  1. Jeff on June 1st, 2007 8:25 am

    I’ve had dessert with Ryan & Holly at Cafe Latte. We had good conversation, but I’ve never heard their music. I’ll have to check it out.

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