Culture / Music

Karen Choi, Through Our Veins (2016)

Yearning for a home beyond time
I had the chance earlier this summer to hear Karen Choi play at the Aster Café in Minneapolis. The musicians that backed her also appear on her latest album, Through Our Veins, and it was a lively, lovely set. Karen’s clear, expressive voice and the emotional pull of her alt-country sound grounds her music while her lyrics invite us to see past the details of the here and now into the greater reality in which we live and move and have our being. Never sentimental, this is music that embraces beauty while yearning for that which all beauty portends.

I’m getting back to the basic
I’m getting back down to what’s real
Spent all these years trying to get it just right
Now I’m spinning my wheels still
I want to love without limits
Want my hear to grow too big for its cage
Life is as short as a song
And as fragile as a bright blue robin’s egg…

I watch the trees hear the melody
Of the music of this beautiful sphere
I think that they want to break free and dance
But they can’t, they’re too rooted in fears
See life’s gonna throw you some punches
But only for those who love free
The open heart is most subject to wound
But only the open heart sees
[From “Through Our Veins”]

Her debut album, Paper Birch (2012) was a meditation on space, an exploration of how geography, distance and pilgrimage shapes us. She brought us with her and in the process helped us see our own path with greater clarity and affection. Now she turns to time, aware how this relentless dimension of reality is a measure of our finiteness as creatures waiting for eternity.

By now we know how the promised spring comes on slowly every year
We wait under the last winter’s snow, try to shake off heavy fears
Now I don’t know if this old heart can take another frost
I’m a daffodil, my hope must bloom despite the risk of lost…

I long for eternal sun,
Warm on my shoulders, dry my eyes
I long for eternal sun,
Make all this sadness come undone
Come undone
[From “Nineteen”]

Here getting older is not a reality to be denied or fought but rather a chance to rest in the hope that maturity is reassuring as we come to know that love capable of grace is on offer. The pilgrimage continues, and time’s passing is noted with the calm assurance that traveling together is so much better than finding oneself alone.

We both are starting to appear a little older
I’m trying to see every gray turned hair as a crown of glory
Turn the pages of our life, tell the story of our days
We’ve said our vows a thousand times in a thousand different ways

Take me high take me low, take me anywhere you go
I just wanna go with you, I just wanna go with you
When you’re struggling to survive, honey, you better let me drive
I just wanna ride with you, I just wanna ride with you
[From “Anywhere You Go”]

Through Our Veins has no time for regret over time wasted, since here the reality of time is part of whom we are, not an enemy to be resisted. Time is passing but it also makes home and love a more precious gift giving birth to the hope that an even greater home lies ahead. The flood of the century, gray hairs spotted in a mirror, an infant needing to be fed, photos that remind us of what is past, the promise of a robin’s egg, the morning’s rooster crow all become signals of mystery, of transcendence in a life that is so rich that its beauty, even in a broken, hard world, can make us pause and be overcome with gratitude and wonder.


Through Our Veins (2016) by Karen Choi.