Before getting into the main post, I wanted to tell you guys some stuff coming up about the blog. The main thing is that I’m going to be changing the types of content that appear on here. Don’t worry, 1001 songs will still be continuing, I’m just going to be adding more things like this: reviews, personal thoughts on music, upcoming artists, (hopefully) interviews, and other cool music postings. I’m really going to work on updating my look as well, so hopefully that comes down the pipeline as well. All 1001 songs posts regarding the songs themselves will still have numbers, but reviews like this will not. Ok, now that that bit of housework is done, let’s get to that title. Be warned now, this is not a typical short review. This is a long dissection of why I believe this record to be THE BEST. It’s more of an essay, but it may be the most meaningful one I’ve written.
The most important punk record of the last decade came out yesterday. Bold statement? Yes, and I understand that music is among the most subjective of art forms. But I truly believe that this one particular record holds something potent and something that actually has the power to change lives in a way that no other record has done in a long time, especially in my own life.
That record is Senses Fail’s Pull the Thorns from Your Heart and as a warning right now, this is not a record for fans of certain genres of music. This record definitely falls into the post-hardcore category, and it’s quite aggressive and there are more screamed vocals than melodic ones. However, if your mind is open to that sort of record, the melody punctuates moments of extreme light and clarity that really adds a beautiful duality to the record.
For the past decade (and even longer) the various sub-genres of the modern punk scene, emo, pop-punk, hardcore, post-hardcore and numerous others, have generally stuck to specific, and often introspective and painful themes of life. Lost love, self repair, yearning to be more…the list goes on. Granted, these themes are very powerful and often create some of the hardest hitting, most emotional songs for my generation in particular. However, what Senses Fail and their frontman Buddy Nielsen have done is evolve like no other band in the scene has done before.
After putting out a fantastic album about the joy and beautiful experience that is experiencing the love of a significant other, called Renacer, I was unclear what the themes of this new album would be. However, the content of this album, and the previous one as well, stem from the spiritual and mental rebirth of Buddy Nielsen. In Renacer, Nielsen expresses how falling in love has started him on his path to a better life. Nielsen has stated that his past is one full of drugs, drinking and abuse from himself and others around him. If Renacer shows what the love of another can do to change a person, Pull the Thorns from Your Heart is all about self love and it’s healing power, an idea that is constantly attempting to be reinforced to everyone in the age of the internet, but especially to generation Y.
Nielsen’s shift to eastern philosophy and Buddhism is the key component of the lyricism of the record. The title itself comes from a quote by the Sufi poet Rumi:
“To wander in the fields of flowers
pull the thorns from your heart.”
The quote itself speaks of keeping your heart vulnerable and open and never being afraid to feel, even after times of extreme pain and sadness. Letting yourself open up and tearing down the walls that hurt yourself is a very good way to express what Nielsen is telling his listeners. The record is a documentation of his own struggle with his sexual identity as queer, and the regret of his past abuses and his promise of “I will not die in shame.”
The record is unique in the sense that I had never listened to an album that is not only divided into 4 sections of Buddhist thought which Nielsen explains in this series of videos:
It’s also unique in the way that it uses Eastern philosophy and thought as a lens to preach self love, the beauty of vulnerability, and the idea that we can all overcome pain. Quotes from Rumi, the Buddha, Gandhi, and other eastern holy men and spiritual guides all provide important ideas on peace and love mixed in with Nielsen’s own struggles and thoughts on his life and hardships. With all of the campaigns that seem to spring up in this internet age on self love and learning to coexist in a fragile world of culture and self, this album provides a new tool with which not just youth but people can listen and find the courage through the lyrics and music to strive to overcome worldly pain and open their hearts to love and beauty. I want to highlight the lines in each song that I’ve found most meaningful, and you’ll see why an album like this, especially in this genre, is so different yet just what we need in this day and age:
1. The Three Marks of Existence
It takes compassion to confront your pain
It takes strength to be vulnerable enough to float on the rivers of shame
Be ground, be crumbled
You’ve been stony for too long
Like wild flowers grow where you are
Let your heart burst, let it explode
2. Carry the Weight
I hope you never know what it’s like to hide a piece of yourself inside
Or to be so fucking ashamed you’d rather kill yourself than be alive
I’m still scared but I’ve got courage to be
More vulnerable and one day free
Now my heart isn’t covered in concrete
I breathe, I breathe
No longer scared of the vulnerability
No longer scared of the person that I see
3. The Courage of an Open Heart
I was so alone, buried in sadness, love dragged me out of it
So alone, buried in sadness, love dragged me out of it
I want to love with the courage of an open heart
There is a beating in my heart and it is the scariest thing I have ever felt
To know that the difference between joy and sadness is such a small sliver
There is a welling up of emotions inside me that I just can’t bare; tears stream down my face
There are moments of extreme joy, there are moments of love, there are moments of madness
And this is life; we cannot change what arises, only how we greet it
The wounds that never heal are the ones you refuse to see
Be the change you seek
5. Take Refuge
May I forgive myself for the person who I think I should be
And may I love myself even when it feels like I don’t deserve to breathe
What you seek is seeking you
There is no agony like holding on to an untold story
Inside of you, poisoning the truth
When I stare into the sky and I know that I am part of this
Unfolding into beauty, my eyes steam with tears, rainbow ribbons grace the ground
I have died a thousands times, I have breathed a million breaths, but it has taken me this long to be present
It’s taken an eternity to see this evidence
There is so much love and so much kindness
There is so much hope, someday you’ll find it
Take the armor off your heart and let it beat
7. Dying Words
Be a lamp unto yourself
Shine the light onto the truth
There’s so much beauty in this world I just didn’t see it
I’m too busy protecting heart with good reason
Some of us have been so abused, so mislead, so far from love
We don’t even know how far we’ve gone
Why did I stay in prison when the door was left wide open?
What was it that I was clinging to?
I changed the perspective, not just the view
Love has changed me
What are the stories you tell yourself
That you aren’t good enough or shouldn’t feel?
The love that you deserve is pounding in your chest
Reach inside and fucking grab it
8. The Importance of the Moment of Death
I was so tired of being alone
I was so tired of listening to the chorus in my head
Telling myself I wasn’t good enough to be happy or proud or loving to myself
What kind of life is that to lead?
Finding the courage to open up my heart finally let me fucking breathe
No one should ever be judged for who they love
No one should ever have to be afraid
There is so much grace in being vulnerable
There is so much beauty in being brave
9. Pull the Thorns from Your Heart
I’ve been looking for a pearl this whole time
It’s been right in my chest
I went diving to the depths of hell once
But I only found death
And it said to me
“Don’t be afraid of your end
Be bold, be authentic
Be brave enough to love again”
Pull the thorns from your heart
To wander in the fields of flowers
10. We Are All Returning Home
The times that you take to wait
For all the things that you need
Are the times that you’ve wasted
Reach up from the soil and bloom
Go to the places that scare you
Shine the light on what is it that you’re not willing do see
We are all returning home
We think we are separate, so we roam
Searching for something to satisfy this thirst
We must turn inward
Do you hear that roaring between your ears
Do you have the courage to listen
Can you make peace with your fear
11. My Fear of An Unlived Life
One day I will be gone
But all the things that I have done will remain
We are all longing for compassion
We are all longing for acceptance
There is nothing that shows more strength
Than meeting pain with compassion
Because we all have wounded hearts
We are just as blind in the dark
And we all quiver in fear
When the ones we love disappear
How can we ignore a message like this that speaks so deeply to our soul? I’ve never experienced lyrical content like this. In this world where there’s so much fear both within and without, it’s so beautiful to have a message of letting go and opening your heart to love and the beauty and kindness that surrounds you everywhere.
The other unique juxtaposition we find is how Senses Fail’s sound, in spite of lyrics like those above, actually gets heavier. We almost venture into the realm of straight up hardcore in a lot of these songs, but the moments of experimentation and melody are reserved for the moments of greatest clarity and revelation. The band experiments with elements of shoegaze and some post punk in songs like “Surrender,” but the majority of the record is hard hitting and heavy as hell. This has a lot to deal with the lyrical content, as Nielsen really pours out his soul piece by piece with each song. Never forget, this was a brave, brave record for him to write.
The rest of the band really contributes musician wise. Every song is well constructed and the talent is really present in the fact that it may not be THE fastest or THE heaviest record, but each soundscape fits each song in exactly the right way. From the hard hitting plea of “The Three Marks of Existence,” to the urgency of “The Importance of the Moment of Death,” to the cathartic and revelatory title track, each song provides its message in a way the makes sense for the genre, but also in a way that showcases what this band has evolved into. Guitars chug and sound great and heady, drums are crisp and clear, and the bass provides some of the most virtuosic lines in the bands career.
Why is “Pull the Thorns from Your Heart,” the best punk record of the last decade? It presents itself in a way that is totally unique to any record I’ve experienced thus far in the scene, with Nielsen’s Eastern philosophical lens providing beautiful and poetic ways to promote happiness and peace within ourselves. The music complements the lyrical content (which in my opinion always comes first) perfectly, and showcases an ideal evolution that so many bands constantly talk about going through with few rarely actually achieving the goal. Finally, it speaks to us. All of us. We all go through pain, struggle, hardship, loss, self consciousness…I’ve spoken about these things many times in the songs I’ve reviewed. But as I look around me and I see the next Dove Real Beauty campaign or the passage of gay marriage in the supreme court, or a tragic shooting that showcases the parts of our culture that scare us most, or even seeing a post somewhere online about how people don’t fall in love the way they used to or…well you get the picture. Look around you. There are things that scare us everywhere, and there is kindness everywhere. There is darkness and light, but sometimes we only choose to hide ourselves in the darkness. We get afraid and close ourselves off or judge ourselves when we need to realize we are one. We run from our chances at love because we’re scared of the outcome, or choose to ignore the world around us. Why is this album the best? Because it reminds us to keep ourselves vulnerable in this world.
Feel. It’s a brave thing to feel. Feel scared. Feel hurt. Feel loved. Feel alone. Feel angry. Feel joy. Feel it all. We have been stony for too long. We all deserve the love that is hiding inside ourselves right now. We have the power to choose love always. Not just for others, but for ourselves. Never forget that.
Be bold. Be authentic. Be brave enough to love again.
Be a lamp unto yourself.
All you need is already within you.
“To wander in the fields of flowers
pull the thorns from your heat”