2/12: A February Playlist

If January seemed like it was going to drag on indefinitely into eternity, February went by in the blink of an eye. My first full month in Leeds was packed full of weekend trips to Oxford and Edinburgh, lots of afternoons spent at coffee shops drinking flat whites and inhaling caramel shortbread, yet another viewing of Call Me By Your Name (whoops), and spending time with a lot of new friends who are quickly becoming some of my favourite people. The month seemed to slip between my fingers, and although I am sad to see it go, there is so much good on the horizon, and I cannot wait to step into it all.

February’s playlist took a little while to construct. With weeks dissolving quickly into nothingness, I felt like I didn’t have time to collect a well-rounded list of tracks. I spent the first half of the month listening to the same four songs on loop, occasionally switching them off in favour of The National’s Sleep Well Beast, which I can’t seem to stop playing. Eventually I got up to eleven or twelve songs, and this playlist is one of my favourite ones to date.

With so many road trips over the past four weeks, I turned to some old favourites to keep me company along the journey. ‘Soundcheck’ by Catfish and the Bottlemen is essentially my dream come true, a catchy track about a band guy trying to make a relationship work with a girl he likes. ‘All We Got’ by Chance the Rapper is a rediscovery, something I haven’t really listened to since I saw him in concert last May. The horns in the intro get me every time, and I love how smoothly it starts before going into an all-out celebration of music and life.

Aside from those two, February involved a lot of new discoveries. I’ve already written about ‘Mistake’ by Middle Kids, which is punchy and honest. Another new favourite is ‘Rough Boy,’ one of the stand out tracks from Public Access T.V.’s newest album. It reminds me a lot of The Clash, simple and to the point and fed up with the world around them. I also hopped on the Rex Orange County bandwagon, listening to ‘Loving Is Easy’ as if my life depended on it. The song is effortless and lush, the kind of thing you want to play on repeat on a cold day. Finally, I have to mention Frank Ocean’s version of ‘Moon River’. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a movie that makes my heart feel at home, and his cover of the film’s classic track is spectacular. It feels like magic, and I adore it.

My favourite track from this month is ‘Twentytwo’ by Sunflower Bean. I liked their last album, Human Ceremony, but this newest release is something spectacular, the model for how a band should grow from one album to the next. The track starts off like a hymn, vocals standing like pillars against the beginnings of a glittery melody, before building into verses that tell stories and an oddly placed chorus that feels like a call to arms. The repetition of ‘I do not go quietly/Into the night that calls me’ is empowering, and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the last few days.

February got me really excited about music. Not all of these songs are brand new, but the artists are relevant and the tracks hold something interesting and captivating that makes me wonder how many ears will listen to them in the years to come. These songs have the potential to carry themselves far into the future, and listening to them has reminded me that my art and my words have that power, too. Creativity is hard and I go through cycles of intense inspiration that are bordered by lags in output that make me feel defeated and unartistic. Despite those things, I keep going, because there are songs and films and books that have been monuments of our culture for decades, and we’ll never have more of them if we all hold back and refuse to give it a shot. In the coming months I hope we all embrace our artistry and have the courage to find ways to show the world our talents. I’m rooting for you.


Art Imitates Life: A Little Life

Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully. –Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Packing five months of my life into a couple suitcases was a daunting task. I spent a long time distilling who I am into my favourite band shirts and the pair of jeans that I wear as if they’re glued to my body and the notebooks that I carry around at all times. Worse than all that, though, was deciding which books to bring. I have shelves packed with novels and autobiographies, coffee table books and art history texts. I turn to them for companionship and inspiration and encouragement, and the idea of choosing only a few was a hard one to wrap my head around.

When it came down to it, I knew which ones I needed to have with me. I got the Patti Smith box checked off easily – Just Kids and Devotion and a copy of her 1978 poetry anthology titled Babel, which is something I still can’t believe I own. I piled on You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, a book that everyone who wants to live their best life needs to read. I was missing a novel, though, and although I could have brought my favourite Harry Potter book or Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or The Secret History, I eventually decided on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

This is not an easy book. It’s over 700 pages long. It’s dense and heavy and it sits inside your stomach once you’ve finished it. The first time I read it, I put it down multiple times because the passages were too heartbreaking and the emotions were too strong. The author has said that she wanted to write a novel like ombré cloth, something that starts out light and is pitch black by the end, and that’s what she did.

I brought A Little Life with me because it feels human. It lives and breathes, the lives of Jude and Willem and JB and Malcom intertwining with your own. The lows are really, really low, and the highs, although somewhat mundane, shine through the darkness like jewels. It puts your own hardships into perspective while simultaneously making you realize the value of the tiny, shimmery moments, even when they’re as normal as making eye contact with your best friend across a crowded room or going out for dinner at the same place with the same group of people every week.

The world that this book lives in seems attached to so many other things, and that’s why I’m writing this. There are no other books like it – and believe me, I’ve searched – but it comes up in art pieces and movies and songs. I like when one form of art bleeds into a million other forms of art, and A Little Life does that beautifully.

Visual Art

What drew me to this book in the first place was the cover. It’s a black and white photo by Peter Hujar, and when you relate it to the novel itself, it displays so much pain, reflecting the content of the book back at the reader.  It reminds me a lot of a photography series by Maud Fernhout called What Real Men Cry Like, which is a really beautiful depiction of boys being vulnerable and transparent about their emotions. Another similar piece is Robert Tait Mackenzie’s Four Masks of Facial Expressions, which are plaster casts depicting violent effort, breathlessness, fatigue, and exhaustion. It’s another work of art that depicts emotion exceptionally, just as the cover of the book does.


This connection may be because the film is fresh in my mind or because I am mildly obsessed with it, but I think Call Me By Your Name mirrors A Little Life in more ways than one. Both show the nuances and breadth of human emotion. Both are about connection and vulnerability and how hard it is to put your guard down. Both are not frivolous, but real, when it comes to describing relationships. It’s the last scene of Call Me By Your Name that reminds me of this book. Elio cries in front of the fireplace for nearly four minutes, letting the dam break and his sadness run through him. It’s glorious, and the parallels that can be drawn between he and Jude are numerous.


The very first song that reminded me of A Little Life was ‘All The Sad Young Men’ by Spector. The band does a really good job of communicating both connection and disconnection, and we see a lot of that in Yanagihara’s masterpiece. I eventually added ‘St. Jude’ by Florence + the Machine to the list. In the novel, Jude is named after the patron saint of lost causes, and that is exactly what Florence sings about in the track. Another notable one is ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ by The National, as Jude spends much of the book distancing himself from others because he believes this will keep them safe. The tracks I’ve included in this playlist are overflowing and emotive and they hold nothing back, much like A Little Life.

Reading this book all over again is proving to be difficult. I pick it up each morning and feel a bit of my heart fall out of my chest and into its pages. I feel for every single character, I understand some of the hardships (though definitely not the biggest ones), and I am so drawn to the lives of these friends that I feel as though I am one of them. Although it’s painful and heart wrenching, it also feels hopeful, and a tiny glimmer of hope is really all that we can ever ask for. That’s what keeps me going.

Side note: I checked my Goodreads page, and I was reading A Little Life at exactly the same time last year as I am this year. Life is cyclical and amazing and I love that my life now is connected to my life then, even in such a small way.

All The Love: A Valentine’s Day Playlist

There are moments that stick out in my mind when I think about the love I’ve seen and heard and experienced. When I saw Patti Smith play in Central Park in September, she looked to the sky each time she played a song for her late husband, and the love and adoration she still has for him was displayed blatantly across her face. My mom and my step-mom and my sister snuck letters into my backpack or handed me cards on the day I left for Leeds, and although I cried reading each one of them, they all made me feel so full. I’m learning that loving myself is rather important, too, and I spend mornings reading and nights journaling and I often find time to fit a yoga practice somewhere in between, because tending to myself means that I can tend better to others. Love is not always romantic, and it is not always extravagant, but it exists and it’s all around and that is perhaps the most reassuring thought there is. Musicians often have the best ways of expressing love, and this playlist collects all my favourite ways that they’ve done so.

The first love song I remember adoring is ‘I Always Knew’ by The Vaccines. It’s not just my favourite love song, it’s my favourite song, period. I love how nostalgic it feels, I love how the rhythm gallops and roars, I love the lyrics and the simultaneous hesitation and urgency. That album, Come of Age, also boasts ‘Lonely World,’ a much slower track with lines like “I feel like I have always known you” that make me swoon every time I listen to it. I had to include both of them here, because I am weak in the knees for The Vaccines, but also because they paint two different portraits of love, and I like the juxtaposition.

I am one hundred percent convinced that Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place’ is the best love song to ever exist. It’s glittery and romantic, the lyrics are enough to make my heart jump out of my chest, and every time I listen to it I imagine David Byrne prancing around a stage in a ridiculous oversized suit. I could pick out a lot of lines that I love – “I come home, she lifted up her wings,” or “Sing into my mouth” or “Never for money, always for love” – but really, the whole thing is magic.

When it comes to love songs, it’s often the lyrics that get me. ‘Cars Not Leaving’ by Gabriel Bruce has the singer professing a sincere but almost comical form of love, insisting that “This car’s not leaving if you’re not in it.” On ‘Dark Side of the Gym,’ The National’s Matt Berninger croons “I’m gonna keep you in love with me for a while.” Each verse in Wintersleep’s ‘More Than’ provides beautiful imagery of infatuation, but my favourite description is “I read your letter, printed it up, crumpled up the paragraphs so I could fit it in my mouth.” I express myself through the written word, and something about hearing others do the same always feels incredible, especially when it all comes across so beautifully.

It’s difficult to pick out only a few songs to talk about. If I were to discuss all twelve, we’d be here all day, but there are a few more I want to point out. Alvvays crafts an incredible ode to partnership in ‘Forget About Life.’ Spector’s ‘Lately It’s You’ feels like a shot straight to the heart, honest and vulnerable. ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie is, at this point, required listening at any time, but especially at a time when we’re all so focused on love.

I absolutely do not have the authority to be making a Valentine’s Day playlist. I’ve never been in love and I’m not in love now, but I know how it feels to love a city before you’ve even been there, or to love a band so much it hurts, or to love the feeling of sharing space with someone, even if you’re just listening to records or reading books or driving in silence. This playlist is full of romantic love songs, just because I love them, but I think it’s important to recognize the breadth and depth of love, the forms it takes and the ways it presents itself. Love is staying in bed on a rainy Sunday, doing nothing but drinking French press coffee and watching Netflix. Love is texting someone you care about out of the blue, just because you have something to say and you need to get it out of your mouth before you stop yourself. Love is standing next to someone at a concert, saying nothing and everything in the space that exists between you and them and the person onstage. We express love in a multitude of ways, and even the tiniest moments deserve the biggest celebrations. This is my own way of celebrating it all.

1/12: A January Playlist

Anyone who listens to and adores music can attest to the fact that certain songs and albums and artists have the power to transport you to a past memory or feeling or person. Music acts as a time capsule, an auditory representation of the ticket stubs and programmes and Polaroid photos that we shove into shoeboxes and store under our beds. Last spring, I started to become more conscious of standout moments and the tracks that came along with them, and I began creating a playlist for each month where I gathered the songs that I was listening to on repeat. I saw Phoenix play Field Trip at the beginning of June, and that month’s playlist inevitably included a few of their tracks. I added Stevie Nicks’ ‘Edge of Seventeen’ to October’s playlist after MUNA covered it flawlessly. I reread It by Alexa Chung in September, and at her mention of Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Blues Run the Game,’ I promptly added it to my early fall collection.

January’s playlist is one I’m going to hang onto for a while. It has been a long and eventful month, and these tracks have kept me company through a desperately needed fresh start, giving me something familiar to keep my eye on amidst a sea of change. Temporarily relocating to another country is no joke, and I am loving the leather jacket weather and new faces and streets that already feel familiar, but I’m also enjoying hanging onto my old pastimes, monthly-playlist-making included.

The first – and most obvious – track on this month’s list is The Vaccines’ ‘I Can’t Quit.’ I have already written a rather gushy post about how much I love it, and it was essentially all I listened to for the first week and a half of January. If it doesn’t end up being my most played track of the year, then Spotify should probably re-evaluate its numbers. I’ve also included the band’s second single, ‘Nightclub,’ which I inevitably adore. The riff is fantastic, the lyrics evoke vivid imagery, and sometimes it actually does make my head feel like a nightclub. My love of The Vaccines is nothing new, but with the release of Combat Sports on the horizon, it is definitely heightened.

Another notable addition for January is ‘Wish That You Were Here’ by Florence + the Machine, which I have somehow overlooked until now. It was playing at the bakehouse one day while I was sipping a flat white and journaling the last couple hours of the afternoon away, and as soon as I heard the first few notes, I rushed over to the counter and asked Abby what it was. Obsession ensued, and I have been listening to it while staring forlornly out of windows ever since.

New for me is Sufjan Stevens, who has been on my radar ever since I adopted Call Me By Your Name as my new favourite film. I’ve seen it three times, because apparently I enjoy pain, and the soundtrack has become some of my go-to listening material. Most of December was spent listening to ‘Love My Way’ by The Psychedelic Furs on repeat while attempting to be a better dancer than Oliver (hint: I’m a worse dancer, if anything). Now I’ve moved on from the upbeat tracks, and Stevens’ ‘Visions of Gideon’ seems to be stuck in my head at all hours of the day. I’m not complaining, but I would appreciate it if I could listen to it once without bringing up all the heartbreak that comes along with both the song and the movie.

The last one I’m going to mention is ‘Crying Lightning’ by Arctic Monkeys, because being in England has caused me to fully embrace the tendencies I had at fourteen, when this band was all I seemed to listen to. The group seems to be making a comeback, and the excitement surrounding festival dates and a potential album announcement is enough to make the remnants of my teenage heart flutter. I’m going to fully embrace singing the lyrics to this track every time I get Pick n Mix at the movies, and I’m probably going to make the pilgrimage to Sheffield to find all the AM-related monuments I possibly can, and I’m going to love every second of it all, no matter how dorky it is.

Creating space for my favourite songs of each month brings me immense joy, and starting fresh for 2018 feels very good. I like how unique every playlist is, I like how none of them really make sense, and I like that each track reminds me of a certain day or moment or feeling. The year has only just begun, but I’m already seeing a lot of change, and I’m happy to have the constant companionship of so many outstanding songs.


Playlist: This Is It

I don’t think there’s anything I love as much as the new year. I am the number one fan of fresh starts and blank slates, and January first is the best blank slate you can ask for. I spent the last few hours of twenty-seventeen making a vision board and writing out my intentions for the next twelve months, and while having a visual representation of what I want to accomplish was good, I needed some music to go with it all. So here we are.

While I pride myself on being an expert playlist-maker, this one is more personal than what I usually share on the blog, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Like life itself, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the fluctuations between tracks are sometimes extreme. Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground and Talking Heads and The Zombies cover the classic tracks department. Harry Styles is in there, mostly because I think the earnest way in which he belts out We don’t talk enough/ We should open up is how we should all approach our relationships with others over the next year. ‘Morning’ by Francis and the Lights is beautiful and it encapsulates a lot of great feelings. The National and The Walkmen and Broken Social Scene are included as well, the latter two because the tracks I chose are encouraging, and the first because, even though the song isn’t exactly motivational, I like the repetition of Gonna be a blank slate/ Gonna wear a white cape. I also included ‘Believer’ by American Authors, because I think we could all use some cheesiness to bring us into the present.

What we surround ourselves with – from the big things, like people and jobs and hobbies, to the little things, like music and posters and scent – plays a big role in how we move through each day, and eventually how we move through life as a whole. I like to think that this playlist is something I’ll come back to over and over again, and that listening to the tracks will instill me with renewed determination and will allow me to come back to all the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing. I hope we can all find it within us to spend the next twelve months being the best we can be, and that we all understand that we’re worthy of a good life no matter how we feel in the current moment. We owe it to one another to be kind and supportive and loving, and we owe it to the world to use our voices to speak up and create change. We’re all worth something, and we all have something to give. Let’s use this year to get a little bit closer to all of those things. This is it.


Weekly Playlist: Twenty Something

I’m going to see Judah + the Lion tonight. It’s been almost exactly two years since I saw them last, and in twenty-fifteen they were a tiny, virtually unknown band opening up for Mat Kearney. Fast forward to the present, and they just finished a tour with Twenty One Pilots and are being played in frequent rotation on mainstream radio. I feel like a proud mom.

The point of all this is that I’ve been listening to them on repeat. They have a really great song called ‘Twenty-Somethings,’ and now that I’ve actually turned twenty, I feel like I can relate to it a bit more. That song inspired this entire playlist – a playlist that encompasses the confusion of being a kind of adult but also kind of not an adult. A playlist full of songs about the fun of it, the worry of it, the joy of it, the lows of it, the wide range of emotion that a lot of us feel on a daily basis.

A lot of these songs are tracks I listened to all through high school. They’re angsty, they are incredibly full of feeling, they mean something, they feel nostalgic, and they take me back to certain moments. At the same time, though, they’re still songs that I relate to now, that I listen to when I get moody and feel like nobody could possibly understand what I’m going through, that are a comfort when I feel alone or when I just need to get happy or realize how ridiculous I’m being. Emotion is a funny and beautiful thing, and I love music for being an art form that communicates it so plainly and honestly.

These tracks may not all fit incredibly well together, but I do love them all. They bring me back to myself. They make me want to dance. They’re familiar not only because I’ve been listening to them for so many years, but because they often sound exactly like something I’ve been through, something I’m experiencing, or something I’m feeling. I’m convinced that’s the magic of music: it makes you feel less alone. It reminds you that you’re not the only one to feel shit or to be confused or to not know what the hell you’re doing. It tells you that all of that is valid and okay. It helps you push through. That deep connection and understanding is something I don’t think I could ever live without.

Weekly Playlist – First Days of Spring

The third weekend in February has somehow turned out to be spectacularly spring-like. The sun shines warm and bright, trickling into windows and lighting your face from the inside out. Snow melts slowly, clear water running in small streams down every available crevice. It feels a little bit like the world is transforming, hearts burning brighter and smiles spreading easily across faces. I love these days, the soft glimmers of hope they bring and the promise of warmth that they leave behind. Even more, I love the music that evokes the refreshed feeling of spring, and that’s what this week’s playlist is full of.

These tracks are light and airy, sunny and care-free. Some are soft and slow, like every Sunday morning in early spring should be. Others have a bit more vitality to them, the kind of energy that gets injected into your soul when the weather gets warmer and the days get longer and the sunsets start looking bright and water coloured again. A lot of them are nostalgic, dredging up past feelings and moments and spring experiences. It’s a mix, and it shows my ever-changing taste in music, and I like that a lot.

Even as the warm weather inevitably disappears back into a few more cold weeks, these songs offer a familiar warmth, a sunny disposition, and maybe a dance or two. I love how easily music affects your mood, and I hope all these songs inject a bit of springtime happiness into the last days of winter.