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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

You Should Be Living

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Oct
You Should Be Living
Sounds like … the pop-friendly alternative rock of Denison Marrs, Jimmy Eat World, and Switchfoot mixed with the emo rock of Further Seems Forever, Pedro the Lion, and Dashboard ConfessionalAt a Glance … an interesting alternative rocker that's probably too underground and too vaguely worded for the majority of listeners.

For a relatively new underground alternative band, Two Thirty Eight has had relatively strong buzz surrounding them. Their debut album, Regulate the Chemicals, caused enough of a stir to attract the attention of rock fans and record labels alike, eventually earning them a record deal with Tooth & Nail Records. They promptly re-released the album with a couple new tracks in anticipation of Two Thirty Eight's sophomore effort, You Should Be Living.

It's not surprising the band's new album sounds superior to their independent release, since they've matured as a band and now are supported by a record label. Two Thirty Eight plays much better than your average garage/college-rock band, often displaying some impressive flourishes and arrangements. They combine the intelligent power-rock sound of Denison Marrs and Jimmy Eat World with the emo rock of Further Seems Forever and Pedro the Lion. Chris Staples (the band's lead vocalist, guitarist, and principal songwriter) has a voice that combines the passion of Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), the gritty edge of Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), and the laid-back weariness of Bill Mallonee (Vigilantes of Love). He's joined by guitarist Kevin Woemer, bassist Ben May, and drummer Dylan Roper.

Fans will recognize "The Sticks Are Woven in the Spokes" from concerts and the re-release of Regulate the Chemicals. Though a fine rocker, the lyrics used to express brokeness and the monotony of daily life are awkwardly rhymed: "Yesterday I broke my favorite chair; it cracked as I was sitting there / And on my way to work, I fell asleep / That girl reminded me of another girl I used to see / and her ghost continued haunting me all day long." The same is true of "Modern Day Prayer," a self-explanatory song of confession that's weakened by lines such as: "We knew You as kids, but lost You in smoky bars / We lost You in the boom of lowered cars / In parties that grew into the yard." It's still an effective rock track with an impressive and startling change in feel near the song's end, but I wish more bands realized they don't need to feign a British punk accent to capture the emo-rock style.

Nevertheless, Two Thirty Eight displays a lot of promise with their strong sound and intelligent lyrics. The bouncy, jazz-inflected shuffle of "Forty-Hour Increments" challenges the listener to make a change from the ways of the world: "Don't be afraid to pack your things, leave the comfort money brings / And find your own way out of here alone / 'Cause we're all homeless anyway, we're searching in so many ways / I do believe there is a place for us." The superior rock of "That Sad and Holy Glow" addresses the mounting guilt and sadness of a sinful life without Christ: "Credit is a whore who won't wake up and leave / But believe me, I'm not sleeping with her anymore / I don't want to be a slave, I just want to be free / And honestly I'm paranoid of people chasing me." Chris uses school as a metaphor for conforming to the world in the alternative rocker "Sad Semester." With a fairly despairing outlook in most of these songs, some much-needed grace and hope is infused to tracks such as the confessional and contemplative "Rhythm and Blues," and "Step Into the Light," which reminds us that we're all sinners and all welcome before the Lord: "Step into the light / We're all prisoners here, locked up in our minds / Don't be afraid / Come sinner or saint / Everyone here is a human tonight."

You've got to love the original wording and titling, especially "The Bathroom Is a Creepy Place for Pictures of Your Friends," which is simply an observation about interior decorating — the title is funnier than musings of the song itself. I appreciate Two Thirty Eight for attempting to add some always-needed intelligence and creativity to the Christian music scene. Even the simply drawn birthday cake in the cover art, when combined with the album's title, serves as an effective metaphor for being born again. But as good and right as it is to write songs that make you think, is it not possible to write songs that make people think too hard? I suspect the meaning behind the songs on You Should Be Living will be lost to most people. Like so many Christian rock bands in the underground scene, there's not quite enough here to clearly decipher what they're trying to say, though you'll get the general idea. Not as good as albums by the likes of Denison Marrs, Further Seems Forever, and Cadet, You Should Be Living still will appeal to the college rock crowd, and it offers enough reasons to justify keeping your eye on this up-and-coming band.