Southeast Engine, A Wheel Within a Wheel (Mistra Records, 2007)
I’ve been enjoying Leland and Philip Ryken’s Literary Study Bible and took the plunge into the Book of Revelation. The Rykens wisely warn against trying to fit all of the descriptions of Jesus (for example, a sharp sword coming out of his mouth, eyes like flames of fire) into a composite picture. The same principle applies to other apocalyptic works, including the recent recording Wheel within a Wheel by the indie folk-rock group, Southeast Engine. It's not clear exactly how all of the arresting images and sounds on this CD fit together, but it's apparent that there is a “U-shaped plot,” a descent followed by an ascent.
The CD begins with “Taking the Fall,” an appropriate title for a song about the initial descent. The tune begins with the wheel of fortune spinning (the randomness of our beginnings?) and then slowly coming to a stop. When it does, the band kicks in, and contributes just the right background for lyrics about “moving through the endless speed of light.” It's clear that the subject’s life is out of his control. In the next selection, “Ostrich,” the singer recalls a time when “there was nothing we could do to spoil the moment,” and contrasts that with these days in which “the sun is nothing more than a glare in your eyes to keep you dissatisfied.” The descent continues in subsequent songs: “We Have You Surrounded” and “Quit While You’re Ahead.”
There's sobering wisdom in “Psychoanalysis”: “some cataclysmic failure will put you to the test and it could bring out the best in you; it could bring out the worst in you.” However, there are signs of ascent as the song ends with a vision of flames, omnipresent eyes, and a wheel within a wheel.
“God Let Me Back In” is the turning point, a mournfully beautiful song of repentance, “a begging for redemption.” It’s my favorite track, one that can serve me as a confessional. Succeeding tracks describe the subsequent ascent. In the final cut, “Let it Be So,” the protagonist has progressed to the point that he can take in his stride a vision worthy of Hieronymous Bosch (“I met a demon with iron teeth; I met a blindfolded angel who refused to speak.”) This song is not the end of the story, for this is an ascent that never ends. I'm very glad I heard this story the way that Southeast Engine tells it.