The second Monday of every month, we explore the trappings of the millennial mama with parenting tips and tricks that are more Tycho than Tangled.
If you’re like my family, the holidays are spent watching the same movies (Muppet Christmas Carol on repeat), eating the same food (#homemadefudge4life), and listening to the same holiday music. This is our son’s first Christmas and we’ve been hard at work, creating our own traditions by infusing our music taste into the mix.
In order to bring you the best and brightest Indie Christmas playlist, I had to comb through some fairly terrible holiday tunes. Did you know that Oasis managed to get it together long enough to make “Merry Christmas Everybody”? Or that The Killers composed the jaunty tune “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”? These are just a few of the gems I would not expose my child to.
We’ve laid out some of our favorite new classics below, with even more in the AudioMama Vol 3 playlist. Turn on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, pop some Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies in the oven, and listen to the sweet sounds of Bright Eyes moping around on Christmas Eve.
“Christmas Is Going To The Dogs” – Eels
Plum fairies are replaced with chew toys in this playful tune made for your favorite pup! Indie artists tend toward the morose (we’re looking at you, Bright Eyes), so this is a rare uplifter.
“Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past” – Sufjan Stevens
Remember that year you drunkenly told your office crush ____ while ____ and after that he / she totally _____? The memories may never fade, but at least you’ve perfected the perfect smile-while-avoiding-direct-eye-contact.
“My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year)” – Regina Spektor
Sometimes an old classic gets a makeover and you remember why you loved it in the first place. Sometimes an old classic gets a makeover and you’re introduced to it for the first time. I’d never heard this Peggy Lee number, but with Regina Spektor at the helm it instantly brings to mind classic that New Year’s movie scene of a forlorn lover waiting at the doors of a party for Mr. Right to waltz in.
“Linus & Lucy” – Anderson .Paak
A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of those rare movies the whole family can enjoy. Anderson .Paak gives Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus & Lucy” a more improvisational jazz feel. It’s tight and cheery, with the perfect modern twist.
“50 Words For Snow” – Kate Bush
While it’s not directly a Christmas song, “50 Words For Snow” has the kind of magic meant for the holidays. Bush was fascinated with the claim that the Inuit people have over 50 words for snow. The song features Stephen Fry listing out Inuit words for snow while Kate eggs him on: “Come on Joe, you’ve got 32 to go.” The words devolve into nonsense: “19 phlegm de neige / 20 mountainsob / 21 anklebreaker / 22 erase-o-dust / 23 shnamistoflopp’n / 24 terrablizza / 25 whirlissimo / 26 vanilla swarm / 27 icyskidski…” you get the drift. See what I did there?
If you’ve got a good tune for our list, tweet @AudioFemme and we’ll add it! Happy Holidays!
Members of long missed DC band Fugazi are coming out with an album in this spring. A self-titled debut fromThe Messthetics, featuring Brendan Canty and Joe Lally, is out March 23 via Dischord. Johnny Cash’s family will release a music version of his poetry collection, Forever Words. Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, T. Bone Burnett, John Mellencamp, Elvis Costello, Chris Cornell, and Jewel are among the artists involved in the April 6th release. American Guilt,Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s new record will also come out that day. The band have announced a tour in support of the follow-up to their 2015 record, Multi-Love; they’ll play Brooklyn Steel on April 25th & 26th. Nils Frahm has announced a tour in support of recent album, All Melody. The ambient musician makes a stop at the Knockdown Center in March. On April 3rd and 4th, rapper Talib Kweli shows his hometown some love, bringing his full band to Brooklyn Bowl. SIR,Fischerspooner’s first album in 10 years, is out on February 16th. They play three dates in California in March. Depeche Mode continue their road run. The legends have announced another round of US dates for their Global Spirit tour. They will play Barclays center on June 6th.
Quincy Jones Trashes Michael Jackson, The Beatles, U2 in Latest Interview
In a recent interview with Vulture, iconic record and film producer Quincy Jones implied (among making claims that he dated Ivanka Trump and knows who killed Kennedy) that The Beatles barely knew how to play their instruments, Michael Jackson stole material for some of his best-loved songs, and that U2 is no longer making good music (despite having very warm words for his friend Bono). Surprisingly, these are not the only shots he fired – he also criticized T-Pain’s work on a 2010 collaboration they did, recalls Cyndi Lauper nearly ruining “We Are The World,” and grumbled about the state of pop music today, saying, “It’s just loops, beats, rhymes and hooks… There ain’t no fucking songs.” Jones is nearing his 85th birthday in March but isn’t slowing down, with a ton of projects in the works, including a Netflix documentary and a CBS special hosted by Oprah.
Bonnaroo announced its day-by-day roster this week. The fest is still light on women, but compared to much of their competition, the organizers have done a slightly better job at including female headliners, although we’re not clapping yet. Sheryl Crow, Sylvan Esso, Paramore, Dua Lipa, and Alison Wonderland will be there this year. The Friday lineup includes festival EDM mainstay Bassnectar, as well as Khalid and Muse. Saturday gives us Eminem, Bon Iver, Kaskade, Anderson Paak, and Nile Rodgers. Sunday’s finale will showcase The Killers, Future, Broken Social Scene, and Alt-J. The 2018 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is June 7 to 10th in Manchester, Tennessee. SXSW has announced even more additions for this year’s fest. Princess Nokia, Tennis, Bugzy Malone, and many more will play from March 9 to 18 in Austin, Texas.
It’s the end of an era! Best Buy, once a major player in national music sales and your favorite high school shoplifting spot, has announced that it will stop selling CDs in stores on July 1st. Meanwhile, Target is attempting to switch its music sales business model to a consignment-based system. The soundtrack for indie coming-of-age movie Call Me By Your Name is having an unexpected sales streak in vinyl. The record is a mix of classical music, Euro pop, and Sufjan Stevens’ originals. The American troubadour penned three songs for the album, including the single “Mystery of Love,” which is up for Best Original Song at this year’s Oscars. Lana Del Rey got emotional on stage at her show in Atlanta following an attempted kidnapping thwarted by Orlando police. Finally, an awards show where Frank Ocean may finally get his due! He’s among the nominees for Music Artist of the Year at the 2018 British LGBT Awards. Speaking of the English, the BBC have released a list of the “12 essential records that capture the spirit of New York City.” Their picks include Wu-Tang and The Strokes. St. Vincent visited Spotify to record two new tracks, a stripped down version of her original song “Los Ageless” and a cover of Rihanna and SZA track, “Consideration.” Black Panther: The Album comes out today as well as new music from Palm, 2 Chainz, Franz Ferdinand, MGMT, Dashboard Confessional, Citrus, and Frankie Cosmos.
After the site announced it would donate its share(about 12%) of all purchases last Friday, music fans bought about $1,000,000 worth of music. According to Bandcamp, that’s “550% more than a normal Friday (already our biggest sales day of the week).” Combined with the many artists and labels that promised their 88% of profits would also go to the ACLU, the actual figure being donated is close to $100,000. Good job, music fans. And it’s not too late to donate! If you want to get some music out of it, check out the Our First100 Days compilation:
Market Hotel Offers Coworking Space, Hopefully Shows Soon
On 2/7, the venue tweeted that “All citations related to the October ‘gotcha’ raid on Market Hotel, particularly the ‘warehousing’ summons, have been dismissed!” The DIY space was forced to relocate shows in Fall 2016 after what many deemed an unfair police raid, around the time they were applying for a permanent liquor license. No official word on when the space will begin hosting shows again, but in the meantime, it’s being used as a coworking space.
Is Indie Rock Dead? Um, Probably Not
Yes, another debate about the life of a genre was started last night between David Longstreth (Dirty Projectors) and Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) on Instagram, for some reason. Longstreth wondered if the genre has come to be “boujee in the word’s negative sense: refined and effete, well removed from the raindrops and drop tops of lived, earned experience,” while Pecknold’s thoughts on the matter included nuggets such as “Also don’t rly know what counts as ‘indie rock’ these days… like, Whitney, Mac DeMarco, Angel Olsen, Car Seat Headrest? Idk if any of that has ‘cutting edge’ written into the M.O., even if it’s fun to listen to.” The rest of the conversation is mostly indecipherable, but maybe you want to take a stab at it.
Anyway, guys: no kind of music is dead (except maybe disco). This is 2017! The internet is a super useful tool when it comes to looking for great bands of all genres, or for realizing that genres can be meaningless labels. Better yet, get off the internet and go see a show this weekend.
Vancouver singer-songwriter Lindsay Kupser recently released her new record Quiet Songs. A Berklee College of Music graduate, Kupser created five tracks that walk the line between poetry and lullaby, with a fitting description “quiet singer-songwriter” from the artist herself. While at Berklee, she studied jazz composition and performance. The album begins with the raw lyrics of “All of my Bones Broke on Thursday Evening,” a song composed of brutally honest and direct observations on love and heartbreak paired with calm and relaxing guitars. Immiedetely the listener understands why Kupser’s style has been compared to idols such as Sufjan Stevens, Joni Mitchell, and John Mayer. It is stripped down, and while still developing, strives for an exploration of turning one’s anguish and demons into relatable and lovely folk lyrics.
The stripped down soundscape continues into “Couldn’t Move to Brooklyn” where Kupser waxes poetic about her current backyard and decision not to follow suit of so many young artists and make the trek to Brooklyn. While the 23-year-old singer-songwriter may not see Brooklyn as a fitting home, we’re sure that her album will find its way into the ears of many Brooklyn residents. Brooklyn is a noisy and busy city, with sirens blaring and the hubub of bar conversation continuously spilling into the streets. If the landscape of her current location of Vancouver works for Kupser, the romantic artist might as well stick with her current locational muse.
“I’m not afraid of the light or the pain” sings Kupser on “It Is My Turn,” a mournful yet elegant track and our favorite of Quiet Songs. On “Tough Country” we get a peak into Kupser’s childhood memories, as she describes sitting on a floor of the home she grew up in unpacking and observing old photographs.
At times, the rough simplicity of the tracks leave the listener wanting more, and wondering what will come next. She is a skilled poetic writer with a lovely voice and an ear for a calm melody. Such a young artist, the women of AudioFemme look forward to keeping our eyes on her and what the future holds for Lindsay, even if she never does move to Brooklyn. The five-track Quiet Songs concludes with “Everything Feels So Hard Always,” an elegant and simplistic musing into the difficulties of big life decisions all young adults, in particular artists, grapple with.
The minimalist recordings of Quiet Songs feature Alec Watson of Absolute Paradise and Ethan T. Parcell of Vesper Chimes. Previously, Kupser released “The Boston EP.” Quiet Songs was released on March 14, 2015 and self produced and mastered by Alan Douches. Listen to “It Is My Turn” below. For more Lindsay Kupser, find her on Facebook, Twitter, and visit her website.
At eleven this morning, Spirit Family Reunion are giving their best sun salutation and we accompany them with hands and hearts. These rabble-rousers make dangerous music, you know the type, the kind that makes you want to swallow a glass of whiskey whole and howl into the night.
Throughout the day Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear sing us regal goat songs, the Barr Brothers serenade with sweet harp lullabies, and Nikki Lane rocks us dirty. When an audience member voices his approval, Langhorne Slim assures us that “you sound good too.” I look around at the scenic harbor and feel a pang of jealousy for every musician that gets to play music where the air smells of raven waters.
Even Sufjan Stevens mentions that playing this festival is a lifelong dream come true for him. His humanity has never been more apparent. He laughs as the audience helps him remember the words to the second verse of “Casimir Pulaski Day” and when he chokes out some of the higher notes he recalls that those same notes were a lot “easier when [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][he] was younger.” We hear in Sufjan’s voice the ephemeral nature of everything; he intones “we’re all gonna die” and we allow ourselves to both recognize and release this simple fact. It is a moment of perfect chaos, heavy lightness. Sufjan plays us out with a hypno-dystopian version of “Chicago” and for the moment we believe in fairies.
The Decemberists, ever professional, come outfitted in suits and make the kids twist and shout. We head out just in time to catch the next water taxi and marvel at how easy it would be to get used to this.
Anyone who’s worked in retail can tell you what a headache Christmas carols can be. You’re working eight hour shifts surrounded by irate customers who forgot the meaning of holiday cheer in a rush to get presents for their shitty boyfriends and picky sisters. These people have no regard for the fact that you’re stuck in a mall neatly folding the pile of t-shirts they just demolished instead of out getting sloshed with your friends or exchanging gifts with your loved ones. And all the while, that awful Mariah Carey song is just blaring. Over and over and over again.
I’m of the opinion that not even David Bowie could save “Little Drummer Boy” from being the most annoying piece of music ever composed, and that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is basically a rape-carol. But that doesn’t mean the whole Christmas catalogue is a lost a cause. There have been a handful of songs (usually lesser known and therefore less overplayed) that can still manage to put me in the holiday spirit instead of making me want to gouge my eyes out with a nutcracker. These are my personal favorites.
The Kinks – Father Christmas: Somewhere along the line, I stopped asking my parents for gifts around the holidays and started requesting practical things instead: a trip to the dentist, a gift card to Target, rent money. These things would keep me alive whereas candles from the Dollar Store would not. So I am not sure if I side with Ray Davies or the antagonistic children who mug him while he was playing Santa, but choosing sides isn’t the point. On the one hand, threatening violence is not cool, children can be terrifying, and machine guns are not appropriate gifts. But what these kids really want is jobs for their dads or the cold hard cash that will allow them to survive their harrowing, impoverished existences, rather than dolls or blocks or whatever. They’re just trying to check some volunteer Santa’s privilege (and ours) by reminding us that there are plenty of folks out there who can’t put food on the table at Christmastime (or any other time). But this isn’t some depressing ballad; the message comes in a catchy rock ‘n’ roll wrapping, its riffs Xmassed up with some cheery chimes that make a nice foil for Davies’ ragged snarl.
Sufjan Stevens – Christmas Unicorn: The thing about Sufjan is that all of his songs are about 10,000% better if you just imagine he’s a singing unicorn. And from the first line of this song, he presents himself as not just any unicorn, but a Christmas unicorn, with a mistletoe nose and a shield and a gold suit. Sounds cool right? But wait: Sufjan as the Christmas Unicorn is actually a symbol for American hypocrisy, out-of-control consumerism, Christians adopting Paganism, Baby Jesus, drug addiction and insanity. But this outlandish gem from last year’s epic (what isn’t epic with Sufjan?) Christmas-themed limited edition six LP vinyl boxset Silver & Gold doesn’t stop there. It goes on for twelve minutes and gets so weird it needs a play-by-play. After the introductory takedown of hodgepodge Anglo-American Christian-Pagan ideals, there’s an expansive instrumental break that falls somewhere between swirly space rock and something you’d imagine playing over loudspeakers at a Ren-faire, flutes and all. About halfway through, the meandering melody grows pegasus wings and starts flapping around all wildly a la those choruses from “Chicago”. And eight minutes in, it becomes a Christmasified cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. This song is the best kind of holly-jolly trainwreck.
Joni Mitchell – River: Easily one of the most gorgeous songs in Mitchell’s oeuvre (and of all time, pretty much), the power of “River” lies in Mitchell’s ability to evoke nostalgia via her contemplative lyrics and her timeless voice. She’s alone on Christmas due to perceived failures on her part, ruminating on a recent breakup and feeling detached from the festive mood of the approaching holiday. It’s an anthem for any adult’s first Christmas away from home, the first holiday where those carefree childhood days have faded and you can no longer escape all the grown-up responsibilities you have in the simple act of lacing up a pair of skates and taking to the ice. Extra points on the shout out to all the evergreens slaughtered for the sake of Christmas spirit.
The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping: The Waitresses had two songs. One was the theme song for “Square Pegs” which famously starred Sarah Jessica Parker (before she was famous). And the other is this Blondie-esque narrative about a semi-Scroogey girl having a frustrating holiday/life. See, all year long she’s been bumping into this cutie, and because of her first world problems (like sunburn – ugh!) she’s never actually able to connect with him. The daily stresses keep piling up until she just, like, can’t even with Christmas. I mean, her turkey was all in the oven and she forgot cranberries! But in a fateful trip to the only all-night grocery, she finally finds love; her crush is in the check-out line, having also totally fucked up his grocery shopping. Bright brass and zippy guitar lines are the perfect accent for this tale of bitterness diminished by serendipitous Christmas magic.
The Sonics – Don’t Believe In Christmas: While it seems like any number of bands (especially those on the Burger Records roster) might write a song like this today, it was released in 1965, a decidedly un-scuzzy era for rock n’ roll. It’s snarky and skeptical and goes beyond greedy to straight up entitled, moving about a mile a minute all the while. When you don’t get cool presents or kisses from the ladies, there’s simply no reason to celebrate. Ironically, the single finds its home on an Etiquette Records compilation entitled Merry Christmas, also featuring The Sonics’ singular contemporaries The Wailers and Galaxies. Most of the songs are brilliant originals completely overlooked every December. It makes sense that they don’t play The Wailers’ scathing anti-consumerist romp “Christmas Spirit???” in Saks Fifth Avenue but “She’s Coming Home” and “Maybe This Year” evoke melancholic hope with a slightly psych-tinged execution. That sound carries over into the Galaxies’ unique covers of Christmas favorites. Elsewhere on the record, Santa stiffs The Sonics once again; lead singer Gerry Roslie asks the titular Claus to bring new guitars, money and babes in his sack but gets “Nothin’! Nothin’! Nothin’!”, according to Roslie’s embattled cries. Looks like not believing in Christmas didn’t stop the guy from trying.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Happy Xmas (War Is Over): Shortly before the rest of The Beatles started recording Christmas fluff, John Lennon furthered his anti-Vietnam War protest efforts by releasing this 1971 single featuring Yoko Ono and Harlem Community Choir. Lennon believed that coating the political content in sweet, sugary Christmassiness would make his message easier to accept (his Christmessage?). It was not an instant classic, but endures today as a reminder that we should all just get along. It also reminds us that the English say “Happy” instead of “Merry” which shouldn’t fuck with my head as much as it does. The track was produced by Phil Spector (who certainly did not get along with Lana Clarkson, the actress whom he murdered). If you’re going to listen to traditional carols, though, you can do no better than 1963’s A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records on Spector’s label. There’s even a bearable version of “Frosty the Snowman” by the Ronettes.
The Everly Brothers – Christmas Eve Can Kill You: It’s not just the twangy pedal steel that gives this song its melancholy mood. Its emotionally devastating lyrics are narrated by a sad hitchhiker trying to catch a ride on a frigid Christmas Eve, ignored by drivers in a hurry to get home to their families. The moral of the story is that you should really be kind to your fellow man, especially in the winter, and even more especially on holidays. But let’s also be real – it’s actually dangerous to pick up hitchhikers; they can kill you too.
The Fall – (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas: Okay, so this bizarre offering from The Fall is way more cryptic and terse than say, “Dashing Through The Snow” – what is a Protein Christmas anyway? We may never know. It’s a reference to (and a rewrite of) “Proteinprotection” but, just like a previous episode of Lost, we had no idea what was going on the first time around either and were basically left hanging without answers to the mystery. It might have something to do with DNA, or aliens, or both. But Mark E. Smith’s atonal poetics and Scizophrenic laughter punching through meditative, repetitive bass rhythms make for a great debate winner with your punk friends who think they’re too cool for Christmas.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – There Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects: No one’s gonna make a fool out of Sharon Jones. Least of all her mother, with that trifling explanation of how presents wound up under her Christmas tree. Replete with a jazzy sax solo that revisits “Jingle Bells”, this groovy soul number from the prolific funk revivalists takes a cynical look at all the continuity errors in the Santa myth while simultaneously pointing out economic inequalities that don’t simply end with a lack of fireplaces in housing developments.
The Flaming Lips – Christmas at the Zoo: In this hazy, lazy jam from Clouds Taste Metallic, Wayne Coyne sings about freeing animals from the zoo Brad-Pitt-in-12-Monkeys style. Zoos are sad fucking places, it’s true, but something about listening to this song is akin to flipping through and filling in a coloring book with your most psychedelic crayons. Rubbery guitars waver like the bars bent back on peacock cages, trumpets sound like liberated elephants. Coyne’s Christmas obsession didn’t fizzle after the release of the song in 1995; they released a secret Christmas album in 2007, re-recording one of the tracks (“Atlas Eets Christmas”) four years later with Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band. And then there’s Christmas on Mars, a film Coyne wrote, directed, and starred in with other members of the Lips. It debuted at Sasquatch Festival in 2008.
Joey Ramone – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight): This is the only worthwhile selection on Joey’s 2002 Christmas Spirit… In My House EP. It’s got to be one of the few Ramones-related songs that separates “want” and “to” instead of using the stylized “wanna”; I was under the impression that the Ramones had no idea such a thing could be done. Yet here it is, right at the intersection of Christmas cheer and heartfelt pleas to your significant other to end the bickering for once. The reason this song is listenable when the others on the EP are not is mainly because it hearkens back to Ramones glory days, only trading a bit of the usual grit for some shades of Doo-Wop and festive jangle.
Crocodiles/Dum Dum Girls – Merry Christmas Baby (Please Don’t Die): Dum Dum Girls’ collaborated with Crocodiles in a 2009 all-night recording session that resulted in this Yuletide look at love and mortality. Christmas, no joke, is a time when a lot of people struggle with depression, and this song is particularly sweet in that it addresses a lover who seems to have fallen prey to those demons. Real-life couple Dee Dee and Brandon Welchez take turns spreading the cheer in this garage pop jam, which should be enough to rouse even the saddest bopper.
Kishi Bashi – It’s Christmas, But It’s Not White Here In Our Town: In this short and swoony number, the multi-instrumentalist with a heart of gold longs for an idyllic, frost-covered wonderland, the reflections as dreamy and romantic as a tape on rewind. Kishi Bashi’s vocals are extra angelic, layered airily over sweet strings. It could have been a great opener for one of those claymation Christmas specials, maybe one in which the protagonist has to fight to save the town from a snow-less winter. But in a real-life heroic move, the musician donated all proceeds from sales of the snowflake-shaped flexi-disc to Ear Candy, a charitable organization that provides kids with used instruments.
The Pogues – Fairytale of New York: There really aren’t enough Christmas songs with the word “faggot” in them. JUST KIDDING, THERE’S ONE TOO MANY. Kirsty MacColl’s cavalier use of the epithet almost disqualified it from the list, but this song is a fixture on so many lists already because all anyone associates with it is ending up in the drunk tank on Christmas and those triumphant “And bells were ringing!” chorus declarations from Shane MacGowan. I considered including Wham!’s “Last Christmas” or The Vandals’ “My First Christmas (As A Woman)”, decided that the latter did more harm than good and that the former represents the kind of annoying things I hate about Christmas songs in the first place. Incidentally, there is no such thing as the NYPD choir. According to the song’s Wikipedia entry, the NYPD does have a Pipes and Drums unit but they didn’t know “Galway Bay” when they appeared in the video for “Fairytale”, playing the Mickey Mouse Club theme instead.
So there you have it. These songs go above an beyond the cloying carols dripping with good tidings. Whether political or personal, they represent a more thoughtful, far less narrow view of what Christmas is about, embracing the controversial and updating the conventional.
In other news, Iggy Pop wants you to have a happy holiday, or go swimming, or cuddle with his cockateel, or something.
Whatever it is about the change of seasons in New York City from summer to fall that makes me feel especially nostalgic is something I hope I never lose. Maybe its the crunching leaves underneath my foot as I rush from my apartment to the subway and onward to class every day. Or maybe I’ve already consumed more pumpkin-flavored food and drink than one person should in such a short period of time.
Because of this overwhelming sense of nostalgia, when I’m presented with the idea of sharing the songs that have gotten me through tough moments in my life, I had the problem of having one too many songs to choose from. Music has always been a fluid element in my life; it weaves through the moments and people and feelings I encounter. The most meaningful musical moments weren’t always the ones that let me wallow or the ones that incited me towards action; they were the ones that allowed me to just exist in a singular moment and reflect. The songs that feel like a warm blanket on a cold day are always been the most comforting.
This collection I curated is ten songs that have done, and still do, just that.
“With a Little Help From My Friends” – Joe Cocker
I could’ve very easily gone with an Elvis Presley tune in place of this one. I wanted a song that reminded me of my grandpa, and Elvis had been a constant presence in our relationship. However, even more constant in hazy childhood memories from the dusty basement he spent all of his time in and the rickety blue pick-up truck that took me to and from elementary school is the sound of my grandpa mimicking Joe Cocker’s voice. It would echo through our house on Saturday afternoons while accompanied by the blaring noise of his stereo. When my grandpa passed, I listened to this song on repeat because it felt like I could still hear his voice. The soulful rasp of Cocker’s belt is warm and inviting as he wistfully answers the questions posed by the gospel choir backing him. His uncertainty comforts and eases to the point where I feel like I should respond, too.
“Silent All These Years” – Tori Amos
My mom played this song for me when I was still in the single-digit age bracket. I remember she played the track on our relic of a computer for me while my grandma cooked dinner in the kitchen. My mom was only 21 when I was born, so her taste consisted of 80s pop hits and angry 90s alt-girl singer-songwriters. I didn’t understand a single line of the song then, but I would put the track on repeat every time we were in her car before flipping to RadioDisney after the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth play. I’d spend my time dissecting the lyrics and wondering if she was saying “mermaid” or “moment.” But the title and chorus resonated with me outside of the mysteriousness of the context. Shy and always too scared to speak up, I knew what it was like to be silent for too long. And I was glad Tori Amos understood.
“True Colors” – Cyndi Lauper
Senior year of high school was filled with change and small steps towards maturation and growth. As we all prepared to move away from home and dive into adulthood, the most meaningful gift graduation gave me was the strengthening of important friendships in my life. Throughout the stress and anxiety of leaving my Midwestern hometown to live a big city life on the East coast, I learned to survive with and from my best friend Jonathan. I dedicated this song to him after he came out to me that year, and since then, we’ve adopted it as our theme song. Lauper’s vulnerable vocals are such a beautiful reflection of what it means to truly love another person for all that they are. Everyone should listen to this song when they’re feeling a bit lonely or missing a close friend; nothing serves as a better reminder of what it feels like to be loved by another.
“Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley
Buckley’s cover of the Leonard Cohen hymnal sounds deceptively melancholy. The first time I heard it, the song drifted through the speakers in my mom’s car about a month into my freshmen year of high school. It was the first song to elicit tears from me. After repeated listens over the past six years, I’ve begun to better understand the underlying glory rather than the sadness. For some reason, I feel like I turn to this song during some of the most painful portions of my life — death, fights, stress, etc. Buckley’s range and the ease of his emotive capabilities have been able to express my sadness and recovery from all different kinds of pain better than I ever could.
“The Resolution” – Jack’s Mannequin
Andrew McMahon will always top my list of inspiring musicians. His battle with leukemia, subsequent recovery, and lyrical reflection of this battle have been moving to me since I first started listening to his band Jack’s Mannequin. Another song that defined Senior year of high school, “The Resolution” became my personal anthem to make it through the seemingly endless obstacles that separated me from having a sane year. What makes this song lack the cliche of other “inspirational” jams is its honest search for answers and clarity. It’s not about what happens when you’ve reached the end of the tunnel; it’s about figuring out the most effective way to navigate the tunnel first.
“Wicked Little Town” – Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig and the Angry Inch happens to be one of my favorite films, so the soundtrack holds a special place in my heart. The summer between senior year of high school and freshmen year of college, I watched the film at least once a week with my best friend and listened to the soundtrack almost every night. The chorus’ repeated message of “and if you’ve got no other choice/you know you can follow my voice/through the dark turns and noise/of this wicked little town” resonated at a time when I felt desperate to escape the confines of my small, directionless suburb. It was my own wicked little town, and the omnious lyrics of the song felt like a glimpse into my future if I stayed there.
“Landslide” – Fleetwood Mac
The perfection of this hit record lies in its universal appeal. My mom would sing along to the lyrics in her car whenever it played on the radio. I remember her always directing the lyrics of the chorus to me (“Well I’ve been afraid of changing/‘Cause I’ve built my life around you/But time makes you bolder/Children get older/I’m getting older too”). It felt like a lullaby when I was younger, but as I’ve grown up, the song has transformed into a musical embodiment of my growth into adulthood as I continuously speculate “can the child within my heart rise above?” My mom still sings that chorus to me.
“Chicago” – Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens’ outstanding track from the incredible album Illinois literally hits close to home. After moving to New York from the Chicago suburbs, I’ve adopted this track as my official homesickness jam. When Chicago and the people I love who are still there feel especially distant, I listen and remind myself just how much “all things grow, all things grow.” The idea of being in love with New York “in my mind, in my mind” feels especially pertinent in those moments when I just want to curl up on an old friend’s couch and be reminded of those high school inside jokes and all the mistakes we thought we had made.
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” – Elton John
Not many singer-songwriters can pluck at my heartstrings the way Elton John can. I had never heard this song until the spring semester of my freshmen year in college, and if there’s ever a situation when a song fell into my lap at the right time, it was this one. “My own seeds shall be sown in New York City” felt like a beckoning to me to never give up on what I came to the city to do. If the subtle inspiration wasn’t enough, Elton reminded me of the wonderful friendships I had formed in this city with his line “I thank the Lord for the people I have found. While “Chicago” draws me back to the past, “Mona Lisas and Matt Hatters” makes homesickness feel like a silly idea in the first place.
“Don’t Rain On My Parade” – Barbra Streisand
With all the stress, anxiety, and whirlwind of emotions life can throw at you, sometimes it’s worthwhile to remind yourself that you actually are the baddest bitch on your block and quite possibly the universe. My ever-growing adoration towards all things Streisand makes me incredibly biased towards any of the tunes she sings. However, this particular track from the classic film Funny Girl keeps me from forgetting during my more anxious moments that it’s never worthwhile to let the world get me down when life is just waiting for me to take a bite out of it.