Soundtrack of a Year

I’ve put together these annual mixtapes for some time now, in one form or another. Some years I focus on particular seasons, others are more a “year in review.” To me these CDs are like a scrapbook or diary—they best represent the things that happened to me, the lessons I’ve learned, and the memories from the year that I hold on to the most. I love making them, and especially love being able to share them with others.

I recently had a few people request that I create “liner notes” to go along with this year’s mix to explain the significance of the selected songs. I thought that would be a pretty cool idea, though I had no idea how incredibly challenging it would be, too.

2015 was a very good year for me in a lot of ways, but it came with a lot of serious change and challenges. While going through the monthly playlists I created with this project in mind, I was able to recount exactly what had happened in that timeframe and the emotional state I was in during most of it. It reminded me of the power of music, and admittedly overwhelmed me a bit.

Some of the songs on this list hold a lot of emotional weight for me; some are just ones I really enjoyed and think you might enjoy, too.

Molly Drake, “Do you remember?”- I first stumbled upon this song last winter, either at the end of some podcast or randomly on Spotify after looking up a song with a similar title.

It came to me at a pretty appropriate time of the year—January always seems to be reserved for recollection and reflection, which can certainly be bittersweet. 2015 seemed especially focused on such thoughts, and knowing that my goal for the year was forward motion, I needed to sort through some of the physical and emotional baggage that was leaving me feeling tethered.

So discovering this song that so poignantly deals with the beauty and pain of reflection, time, and change at the official kickoff to this time felt a bit kismet.

The part “There were so many May times when every word was a song; there were so many gay times…before it all went oh so wrong” especially got me for a while because it made me think of just how much has changed recently. But I also love how to song focuses on the flipside of change and the passing of time: “Time was always a vagabond; time was always a thief. Time can steal away happiness, but time can steal away grief.” I also really dig how you can hear her flipping the page of the sheet music, too.

Wolf Parade, “I’ll Believe in Anything”- This song doesn’t correlate with a certain time period of last year like a lot of the other ones do. I don’t even remember when/where I picked it up, but it found its way on a couple random “songs I like” playlists and it just manages to make me feel a little cooler whenever I listen to it, which is no small feat, what with the dwindling alcohol tolerance and the earlier and earlier bedtime. This song was to my 2015 what Krill’s “Never a Joke” was to my 2014.

The Japanese House, “Pools to Bathe In”- This song feels like the grown-up version of Imogen Heap to me. It’s another one that wasn’t necessarily emotionally significant, but it stood out among the songs collected throughout this year.

Sufjan Stevens, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”- There are certain songs that can immediately bring you back to a particular moment so clearly, it’s almost scary. This song does exactly that, transporting me to a memory that now, in hindsight, I can see was a turning point.

I have a tendency to binge on songs that strike an emotional nerve, and this one hit me during a particularly low period last February. I was working that day, but the office was closed thanks to a heavy snowfall, which left the town pretty out of commission. I was excited for it, because I essentially jumped from one job right into the next and I had been feeling exhausted since I started. So it was nice to have a snow day, even though it technically wasn’t.

I got up early to help shovel that morning and kept rotating between shoveling and retreating back to my bed to edit unshowered in my pajamas. Beyond not being able to fully shake the numbness that came from having to spend long stretches outside in the cold, my feelings about my job and my on-again/off-again relationship were coming to a head that day.

This song became a salve that day, soothing my heartaches while also intensifying them. I can’t even remember how many times I listened to and cried to this song that day, especially the part where he goes, “fuck me, I’m falling apart,” because I mean really, haven’t we all been there before? At the time, it seemed like I might be having a breakdown, but now I realize it was just a breakthrough. I think it was after that point that I decided that even more changes were going to be necessary to get to where I needed to go.

Cayucas, “Will ‘The Thrill’”– This song is the closest thing I have to a “guilty pleasure” on this CD because it reminds me of my freshman year of college and leaning hard on college tunes like Jack Johnson and Ben Harper. It definitely has that vibe, but I don’t feel like I have to turn this down in my car for my snobbier music friends.

(If you have your doubts, wait til it’s and usually warm spring day–or, as it’s been, a warm winter day–or you’re heading down to the shore in July.)

Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”- I initially had this on the mix, then took it off because I wasn’t sure if it’d hold up with multiple listens. After running through this playlist a couple more times, I realized it needed to be on here. This song epitomizes a large chunk of last winter for me and my mindset at the time. I liked the cheekiness of this album, its brazen assaulting rawwwk moments, especially in this song. I think I especially needed a little infusion of that rock ‘n roll attitude in my life, even if it was just to trudge through some of the less exciting points of the year (I distinctly remember listening to this while cooking eggs in my parents’ kitchen).

Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”– This is another song that has considerable emotional ties for me. Although I’d say my romantic relationship has gone through several chapters and turning points, it was around the time this song was playing when it really became clear–maybe for both of us–that perhaps what we had going could translate into an actual feasible relationship.

I think that’s why this song stuck it to me so much—it just seems to be this love story taking place in this strange folky apocalyptic narrative. Especially towards the end of the song, when Tillman sings “Everything is doomed, and nothing will be spared, but I love you, Honeybear” while it seems like the instruments are playing a bit looser and the melody is starting to unravel, I always can imagine a couple standing, hands clasped together, watching the world self-destruct together.

Young Fathers, “Shame”- As I was narrowing down the songs to put on this mix, I had a seriously hard time deciding which Young Fathers tune to pick. This also made me realize my biggest concert regret for 2015: not seeing them play live when they came through at boot and saddle. Do yourself a favor and take some time getting to know this artist.

Phosphorescent, “Sun arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)”– To me, there is a very distinct line through the middle of last year–before Iceland and after–and this song represents the first track to the B side of 2015.
I listened to an awful lot of Phosphorescent leading up to my trip (I actually debated also including “Wolves” on this mix since it  was in such heavy rotation the weeks preceding it), and although I listened to the Muchacho album on repeat while there, this was the song that I had a very distinct “moment” with while driving around.

I had only been at the residency a few days, still struggling to figure out my focus/get adjusted to being away. It was getting later in the day, which didn’t exactly register since we were beginning to near nearly constant daylight. I decided to go for a drive to clear my head and get more familiar with the area around where I was staying. I drove around for awhile, admiring the strange and beautiful landscape with this CD on repeat. As I was coming up to the mountains, the song began to play and it literally took my breath away. I’d like to think I’ve always appreciated nature, but something in that moment truly moved me, and I literally cried from the beauty of it all.

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Dan Deacon, “Learning to Relax”- This was another CD that I had listened to before my trip, but that ended up in heavier rotation once I was away. I’m not really sure why, but the songs just seemed to especially resonate with me at that time. I loved listening to this while driving around Iceland, exploring the island and sorting through the mess within my head. For whatever reason, this track especially stuck with me. The more I listen to it, the more it reminds me of songs by some of my other favorite artists–Broken Social Scene, Animal Collective, etc–so it almost feels like the next step in my musical taste evolution.

Hugar, “Horn”- Probably one of my favorite unexpected moments of my Iceland trip. I had been on the fence about going into the city to see Olafur Arnalds’s side project, kiasmos, but I found a cheap Airbnb close by and decided to go for it.

I got to the club at the time they said the show would start, which means I had to wait around for awhile. Reykijavik is a notoriously expensive “going out” city, and since I already splurged on the concert ticket and room, I resolved to only have one $12 vodka tonic. Some nights going out alone are harder than others, especially when you’re doing it sober. I hadn’t totally be up for a night out, and I was finding it hard to rally, especially because it didn’t seem like I’d have much luck finding anyone to really interact with, which is sometimes one of the joys of these kinds of experiences. It’s hard to tell if it wasn’t happening because of the crowd, or because of the vibe I was throwing off, but it was one of those times where being alone on a crowd felt isolating rather than invigorating.

Hugar was one of the opening bands for kiasmos and since I got there so early and I had a pretty good seat to watch their performance. When the group crowded the stage with its many members and instruments I felt skeptical and a bit claustrophobic on their behalf.

They quickly piqued my interest when they started to play, however, with each member of their large ensemble a talented musician in their own right. But it definitely was the horn player who captivated me, especially with this song. It felt like he was playing specifically for me, and he managed to lift me above the melancholy I was feeling when I first got there.

Arcade Fire, “Ocean of Noise”- It’s funny how certain albums/songs end up boomaranging for me–initially being played in heavy rotation and then nearly forgotten for months or years without much more thought.

When I first came back from Iceland, I was in a pretty weird headspace–I was half relieved to return home, half reeling from the trip and all the changes already awaiting me. I’m not sure what exactly got me thinking about this album again, but I dusted it off and kept it on repeat for a good portion of the summer. I specifically found myself listening to this one during that time. It definitely was a good album for emotionally processing.

Screaming Females, “Hopeless”- Another instance of “boomeranging,” although this time around it was only a few months between the rediscovery. I first got into this one during the late winter/early spring of last year. Screaming Females’ Rose Mountain was one of the albums I enjoyed most this year, and I especially related to this song. Fortunately, they happened to be touring for this record during the summer, so I was able to experience the songs I listened to on repeat months before at one of my favorite venues in Philly. The timing of their tour worked out pretty well, because it allowed me to embrace this song again while going through some late-summer transitions.

D.R.A.M, “$”- The nice thing about dating someone who equally is obsessed with discovering new music is that I end up having access to even more good stuff. C sent me this one in the early fall, and when I didn’t immediately respond/react, he sent it again. I am grateful for that.

Solstafir, “Fjara”- I ended up going through a pretty significant metal phase in the months after returning from Iceland. I regret nothing. \m/

Cold War Kids, “First”- This song pretty much epitomizes this past fall. There were so many crazy days, trying to figure out what I was doing with my life (theme for this year, really). I found myself struggling with some significant depression—I wasn’t happy with my job, I was dealing with a lot if random health problems (I’m always amazed with the different ways stress manifests itself), and found myself still struggling with some residual feelings from things that occurred during the previous months. It seemed like this year of “turning points” wanted to make sure to get one more in before closing out, and so there I was, working through more life changes. This was definitely a car/driving song for me, and it seemed like any time I was having a particularly difficult day, I’d flip through the radio and this would come on. It felt like a beacon of light in the middle of a very dark time, and I think I’ll forever associate it with driving up and down 95. And it seemed to have worked—I managed to find a new job by November and starting making significant progress on clearing out my headspace and refocusing myself again.

The Echelon Effect, “Tracking Aeroplanes”- I remember telling a friend back in my mid-20s that I didn’t “get” instrumental-only music—it just didn’t appeal to me. Her reply was, “Give it a few more years. The older you get, the more you’ll appreciate it.” I was annoyed at the time, and thought she sounded pretty condescending, and absolutely wrong. And now here we are…

(Despite popular belief, there are times when I absolutely do enjoy being proven wrong… :-) )

This is just a small representation of the songs that made up my year. For those who might be interested in checking out a more complete list, check out my complete playlist from 2015: http://bit.do/2015Playlist

Happiest of holidays, friends. I hope 2016 brings you great tidings of joy, growth, and damn good music.

With Luv,

Sara