The year of the anthem: “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder

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During the first semester of my sophomore year, I took a class called “Race and Gender in Pop Music.” Fortunately for me, this didn’t simply just mean pop music, but also extended into the breadth of rock and roll. I loved it.

One day, our professor gave us this task at the end of class:

“Next time we meet, I want you to think of what your anthem is – like a song that really represents you.”

And she gave us a week to think.

By next class, I hadn’t thought of a song – I couldn’t choose. I told the class “White Flag” by Dido was my anthem because it was the first song that I felt like I ever “got into.” After that song, I became a Dido fan and that’s how I became the music-geeky person you know today.

Since then, I always liked pondering about what my anthem was as sort of a thought to get entranced by whenever I was daydreaming. Would it be “Thunder Road” by the Boss? Would it be “Falling Slowly” after all of those times that I watched Once? For awhile, I thought it was “England” by the National, but I believe that “England” is my favorite song. That is different from an anthem.

Two years later, this year, I created my anthem.

I first listened to this particular song after I watched High Fidelity for the first time. For a long time, the song always had this sort of romantic connotation to it. I mean, if a young John Cusack made a mixtape for me and this was on there, who wouldn’t be smitten?

I had always really liked Stevie Wonder growing up, but his music was always in the background for me. I don’t know if I would even really consider myself an official fan either – I’ve hardly gone through his discography. However, I was always, at the very least, a casual fan because I always loved playing the Stevie Wonder trumpet parts in band.

“Sir Duke” was always so much fun to play and I’m pretty sure I started playing “Superstition” when I was a freshman in high school. I’m particularly fond of “Sir Duke” because the first time I listened to it was in the car while I was waiting for my mom to pick my sister up from a friend’s house. I, unsurprisingly, was hiding from social interaction and listening to music. This… song came on, and it was so optimistic and upbeat and happy and I had to dance. I had no way of telling what the song was (it was before the days of Shazam), but I didn’t care and just simply danced. I knew that the song would come back into my life again. And it did.

But it was High Fidelity and this power of such emotion that seriously drew me into his music. It played to the melodramatic entertainer in me. Oh, reveling in such vocal prowess! I started listening to more of his stuff and got more interested in other soul and funk artists as well.

It was this year when “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” became my anthem.

It was first when I was starting to finally feel better about everything in LA. I had been able to get back into the swing of driving after my accident and I was being a lot more cautious. I was starting to be less mousey and anxious at with the people I was meeting and thinking of myself with the mindset that yes, maybe this isn’t a fluke that I’m here.

Cognitively, I was in a better place.

I liked the routine that I established. While I still was dealing with my anxiousness, I could find periods of happiness that were becoming less of pockets of time and more breadths of stability. I didn’t automatically expect upheaval – things could be normal and I would be all right with that. I was getting to know people better and was happy with the wonderful closeness that I was developing with new friends.

Amoeba Music was part of that routine. It was quick to drive there from the apartment and if I didn’t have much homework or if I was done, why not go? Why not just walk among all of that music, all of that history, all of that sound? The life of the place boosted me whenever I walked in and it felt like home.

One day, perusing the CDs, I found the High Fidelity soundtrack. I always loved the music in the film and it made me think of Chicago. Despite feeling more comfortable in this new city, I couldn’t wait to be home again. The bridges, the river, the lake. So, of course, I was going to buy the album.

Driving back, there was a moment in the car while listening to “I Believe” where I finally let go.

I can be really hard on myself. It’s annoying to my friends, family and myself. Not so much because we’re all heartless. It’s because we all know that I don’t need to be like that to myself and that it’s debilitating to always hear about my self-criticisms. My self-deprecations. A spiraling sense of drama of something that doesn’t exist but something that I feel.

When the semester started, I went into LA a little physically heavier than I’ve been that the last few years. Not extremely noticeable to other people, but because I used to weigh even heavier, I’m very vigilant about the way my body feels. I remember packing for the LA semester and crying because I kept trying on all the clothes that used to fit me just three months before. I couldn’t even pretend to button some buttons or make some zippers work.

With that, I went to LA with a critical look on myself. This reflected in how I interacted with people. It was like how I used to be in high school – I was more subordinate, quieter, timid, less confident. Certainly not the pub-strutting version of myself that I grew into while I was in London. The previous semester was also different because I was going into London with a better sense of self-worth. LA, I was already feeling like I was tired of dealing with my problems.

When you have a negative mindset about yourself, it makes your way of interpreting events more difficult. You tend to pick out the bad in situations a lot more easily. I let my feelings of discomfort rule my head at times. Reaching back to the past – calling home, reaching out to friends that I missed at school and from home – was a coping mechanism. It was sometimes healthy, but sometimes it was excessive and took me away from the present.

Despite this, I had traveled too much to let a city rest on its own without me. I felt best when I explored.

My screenwriting professors at the end of each class would always tell us to “Keep going.” I’d think about that whenever I had to drive places or do tasks at work that I had no experience with beforehand.

I started to work out more and I ate well considering there was a gym in the apartment complex and that there were eighty thousand grocery stores within a five-mile radius.

It was the routine.

It was working hard.

Knowing how to do those two things makes me feel like I’m on track even when I’m having a moment where I’m being hyper self-conscious. In the corner of my mind, even though I was overwhelmed, I knew that if I worked on focusing on those two things, I would feel better.

Once some of the initial anxiousness ebbed, I loved being in the moment of working. I was able to enjoy myself more during class and I certainly loved studying at my favorite coffee shop. I was beginning to allow myself to feel happy because I knew that I deserved to at least give that to myself.

So it was that moment, in the car, listening to “I Believe,” when that feeling truly settled.

And I realized that it wasn’t a love song.

Relationships and romance can be incredibly stressful. Of all things, it is very easy to get caught up in the minutia with those experiences. It’s not until later when you think to yourself, “That didn’t work, but I feel wonderful that at one point in time, someone felt that close to me.”

When you do finally take it in, it just makes you feel good that you were that good to yourself and that someone else noticed. And it’s not like you even were trying to be anything, you were just feeling so good about doing your own thing and that made another person, even with their own walk of life, be drawn into you.

That’s self-worth. That’s confidence.

It was with that mindset when I was listening to “I Believe” when I realized it wasn’t a love song but a song about overcoming those feelings of self-doubt and being above tormenting yourself emotionally. Why are you doing that to yourself? You don’t need to do that.

You have so much and so much to offer.

When Stevie sings “I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever” I saw it in a different perspective – it wasn’t to anyone specific. It was the fact that one day, you will find someone who will love you.

And you’re always knowing of break-ups and divorces and all of that. But that hope is so powerful, that optimism is so uplifting. Because we do live in a world of break-ups and divorces, so why not put yourself out there because then you’ve at least tried. And you’ll meet people and some of those people will still be in your lives; they’ll just take a different shape. And at very least, why not feel let yourself feel good to believe in that hope?

Apart from relationships, why not put yourself out there in the world? The world is a cold and hard place but that’s why people are so grateful to find all the good that’s in the world. That’s how people get over crippling diseases and traumatic events and feeling depressed because thank God for the things that makes you feel good.

It was that moment where I started belting along with the song. Like comically.

You know what moment I’m talking about. When he’s saying that “God answer my prayer.”

I grew up in a church that was so wonderful to me but to be honest, my religious views are murky right now. But I felt so relieved to know that I would be able to allow myself to let go of my self-criticism, that I wouldn’t always be so trapped in my mind, so I sang along.

Despite the beautiful revelation that I had, of snapping myself to as I pulled into the parking garage, despite returning to that song in a new light up until the plane ride home, I thought that it was as simple as that. That I would never allow myself feel bad again because I had already learned my lesson.

Your mind moves with you no matter where you go.

I was very content and solid this summer. I had a fantastic internship that I loved. I was video editing again, and, oh my goodness, I missed it so much after a year. I didn’t even realize how much I missed it. But being someone that is fastidious about the correct placement of things (not my clothes in my room, rather the posters on my wall), editing is a grand sense of relief. That eagerness to create and edit is all right there on the timeline.

I was feeling content. I was feeling solid.

I allowed myself to forget that it was temporary.

There was one night in the summer where “I Believe” was a blast of reality. I didn’t listen to it with the right mindset.

I had just had an absolutely wonderful time in the city with a friend that I had met up with at a coffee shop. I had a great day at work and I had plenty of time to make the train at Union Station. I walked along Wacker Drive with the sunset glimmering on the river, walking next to the bridge that Rob Gordon milled around on when he was contemplating on his love with Laura. I let the dialogue from the film flitter around in my brain, switching back and forth from pretending to be Rob and imagining what it’d be like to be loved by Rob, to be his Laura. The buildings, beige with the glow of the lampposts, looked like river facades of Amsterdam. The L car routinely rattled on auburn tracks as I passed underneath its bridge. I kept walking, feeling as if I was stepping into a perfect moment. Or maybe that was just the caffeine kicking in.

I had reached the archways of the Lyric Opera, the lights hanging, illuminating the sidewalk below. The beautiful, grandiose buildings across the street created a cubism portrait of the skyline in front of it.

What a perfect place, I thought, thinking of how a city, once again, made me feel at home, no stressors in any part of my mind. I want to spend an eternity here. I want to find love here.

The song had swelled to when Stevie was singing about prayers. I crossed the street and looked down, the road and the future suddenly seeming so long, so vast, like when you stare at a diagram of our solar system for too long.

This is all just temporary.

A nasty feeling crept up from my stomach to my brain. The freeing feeling, the summer, this moment – that’s all it was, just a moment. And it was going to go away. One day soon, I would be back in a place that I had left behind. I had left people behind.

And my mind menaced me.

The rest of the train ride home I sat shaking, listening to nothing, watching people walk up and down the aisle. I told myself that it was because I drank too much coffee.

I didn’t listen to the song for awhile. In fact, for a variety of reasons, it really hurt to listen to it. I became afraid of my own anthem because I was allowing myself to dwell. I was allowing those negative thoughts to come back.

Especially when I went to back school.

Seeing people that you befriend nearly two years prior and then expecting to have the same friendship again is like having drunk goggles on. You’re pretty sure you know what you’re doing, but every now and then things get a bit wobbly. I fortunately did have a lot of good people that I relied on, at school and at home and other places where I had met people.

But I had changed. And it’s not like they were going to know exactly how.

I had reset the cognitive clock and I was the early-February version of myself again. Unsure and nervous. This time, I had been in Syracuse before, but everywhere I walked, I remembered so vividly what it was like to walk next to those beautiful beige river facades, those glowing lampposts. I had become petty about looking at trees instead of skyscrapers.

I worried that I had become ungrateful. I was acting spoiled in some respects, but I allowed myself to wallow in self-pity instead of acting against my neurotic tendencies. My high school habits were easy to rely on because they were that – easy.

To be honest, I still at times revert back to that sort of thought process. That wariness, that search for the negative. Creating scapegoats, crying for no reason. When I was in LA, I thought it was all going to go away but I hadn’t allowed myself to admit to myself that I am harder work than that. I’m smarter than that. I’m so smart that I can manage to trick myself thrice times over.

But you know what does help? Learning to own it.

I am very intelligent and I have always considered that my greatest strength. That is always what I rely on, which is why I am at such ease when I work, when I create. In a way, I have made myself so strong that even though I could be pulling myself up from some dark emotional hole that I dug for myself, there is no way in Hell where I am going to give up on what I am working on, what I am working for. At my center, at my core, is perseverance and diligence. Even if I can’t always reflect that emotionally, I will always reflect that in what I do with my productivity.

I thought that I would be a better person if I were less of a control-freak with my own mind instead of accepting who I am. Because even if I am allowing my mind to branch off in a thousand tiny spindles, at least I know who I am, truly. And that takes courage.

I got this feeling in my gut when I began to listen to “I Believe” again.

I was walking up the monstrosity of the hill that I have to climb each day to get to class. It was the second to last week of school. I was preparing to go into finals mode and my brain began to compartmentalize the hours in the day, the techniques and tools that I needed to use for each final or project that I had to turn in. My mind was at its most productive and I was feeling vibrant.

I was walking up the hill and seeing my breath in front of me and dared to listen to the song again. Instead of being bombarded with nostalgia, I remembered what I felt in the car, belting, and used that to push me up. Lift me up into that feeling of power, that feeling of surety. This semester was an emotional rollercoaster but by God, at least I was going to destroy my finals. And I did.

So here I am, on the cusp of a New Year, as we all are. There are many, many people who have felt the things that I have felt, have been on the roads that I have had to cross. It’s just taken me until now to join the variety of collective experiences, the good and the not-as-fun, shall we say.

I’m going to graduate this upcoming year, as many of my friends and my peers will do as well. We’ll be searching for something, be it a job or a home or a network. Or something simpler, like truth. Or grander, like the world. And as we do, every now and then, it’s nice to drive around, listen to Stevie Wonder, and just let it all out.

Because in the end, it’s okay.

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We all get strange: Portugal. The Man, moments of listening and the lead-up to Lollapalooza

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Portugal. The Man is at the perfect level of hipster. There are enough people who don’t know about Portugal. The Man, but there are enough people that do. Its cult following that is starting to expand out into the masses of indie fans with their most recent album Evil Friends. Whenever people ask me about the band, I always like to gloat and say “Oh yeah, they have a bunch of albums. I think The Satanic Satanist is my favorite.” I don’t even try to hide how smug I am. Yeah, I’ve known them for awhile. Yeah, they’re great. Yes. Yes you should listen to them. Join me.

I can’t really claim that I was a true hipster fan, though. I started to listen to them my freshman year of college. They were a little too bizarre for me in high school, so good thing to know that I’ve gotten even weirder as a person as the years have gone on. The first song I heard by them was “Lay Me Back Down” and I was uncomfortably drawn to it. I didn’t think like the wavering vocals but… but maybe I did? The psychedelic swirly sound? Was it musical or was it noise? What I did dig was the groove. So my senior year of high school ended with me listening to the band feeling confused… but glad that I was confused. Sort of explains how I felt for that year in general.

Then it was freshman year of college, the trial-and-error-and-cry-a-lot year. The year where you have extremely weird peaks of happiness and life fulfillment (“Oh my GOSH I love this TARGET RUN the school is doing for freshmen I’M GOING TO TARGET WITH MY NEW BRETHREN”) and extremely weird lows (“The dining hall DOES NOT HAVE ALMOND MILK my life is RUINED”). All in all, freshmen year is great but unsettling at times.

I was used to a pretty consistent existence. I never moved around as a kid (being eight-months-old moving out of the city doesn’t really factor into my memory) and the kids in the area were largely people I grew up with since I was little. They knew that I was sensitive and emotional and artsy and sporty. Everyone had context. Then I got to college and no one knew anything about me. I can’t begin to count the amount of people I have freaked out with my own freak-outs. The worst are the banal experiences that turn into catastrophes: burning popcorn and having everyone leave the dorm as the smoke detector goes off. Yep, that was me wallowing in my tears outside on the sidewalk. Oof, it’s painful to think about. It’s even more painful to think that I’m still that emotional at times.

As my life felt more surreal, I turned to the psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd. If things were confusing for me, things were even more so for these guys. Listening to Pink Floyd my first semester set me up for the wealth of psych rock that I have grown to love and heavily listen to today.

Second semester, I needed a little something more than just one band. Experiencing winter was tough. I felt alone at times and I was far from home and needed to not feel alone. Why do we forget that so many people love and care for us? It’s like we shut off part of our brain that is filled with logic.

Claire, come on, you’re not alone, I’d tell myself.

I didn’t feel like that all of the time though. When I was sitting down with my head in my hands, it could take me a long time to be able to get back up again.

I tried listening to music and it’d sometimes work if it was calming enough or interesting musically. The best song, though was “Sleep Forever.” It just matched with how I felt. It wasn’t exactly an uplifting piece, but it was what I was looking for – it made me remember that I wasn’t alone.

After that, Portugal. The Man went from a casual listen to a band that I was affectionate towards. I got stuck listening to that one song for awhile, but as I continued to feel better and as winter dissipated, I started listening to “The Sun” and “Senseless” and a few others here and there.

Then, last summer, Evil Friends came out.

I found out about the album through the music video they made for “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” For those that are unfamiliar with the video, this is how it plays out:

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Moody singer in a kitchen okay that seems pretty normal for a music video.

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Oh, I like this – cool composition with the screens and the silhouette.

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You… you having fun there in your… slumber party?

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You sure do like your blankies, sir…

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Your friends seem like they could use a bit of pep there…

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AH OH GOD oh I’m sorry total Poltergeist flashback geez don’t do that again please.

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SHIT THAT’S A LOT WORSE PLEASE DON’T STEAL MY SOUL.

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YEP BYE.

That’s not even the half of it, either. The music video for”Atomic Man” you say? Fluttering eyelids and distorted head movements?

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Just as unsettling.

But I loved it.

Here was my ticket into the fandom, my way into their weird world. The album’s composition was tight and each song was like a moment in their minds. So much of our life is about fulfilling a story but it’s nice to find those things that momentarily suspend that drive for a beginning-middle-end. Things that just are. And things that just are strange.

It became the soundtrack for the moments where I could turn off my brain and focus on an action rather than a thought. I ran with “Hip Hop Kids” in my ears. I commuted everyday on the train into the city with “Do You” playing as I stepped onto the platform to begin my walk to work. I didn’t have to think about anything in those moments. I didn’t have to plan or strategize or analyze. It was just me walking or running or sitting and just listening for the sake of listening.

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After having the comfort of those songs for a few years, it felt so rich to finally see them at Lollapalooza. My dad and I walked up to the edge of the field, the first sounds of the set beginning to echo through the park.

Was that…?

No. No way.

“…another brick in the wall!”

They were starting their set with a Pink Floyd cover.

“Dad! Dad they’re starting with Another Brick In The Wall!” I exclaimed, practically skipping to the stage.

“This is cool,” he said while looking to the stage, bolstering my excitement.

We got up close and met up with a few of my dad’s colleagues, all happy to be here and instead of at the Perry’s stage. They laughed at me as I kept inching closer and closer to the stage but making sure that I hung back enough to be with them.

“Claire, you can stand in front of us, it’s fine,” my dad sighed.

“Oh, okay! I’ll do that then,” I said, my mind off lost in the music.

My favorite part of the entire set was that a good twenty minutes of it is was a string of songs all blended together. I could pick out where one song ended and the other picked up, but it all remained so solid and the transitions were so fluid. I felt like I was lifted up into the clouds as the rain started to trickle down.

The pulsing rock never disappointed either and added to the pace of the songs, some songs more driving than others. It was a psych rock ballad pieced together like a montage of melodies and rhythms.

As they closed with a cover of Queen, I could feel the moment linger in my head after the music had stopped. I felt so in the moment and so in the present and nothing was in my mind. The rain felt so cold and the brisk air made everything smell earthy and so… real. I felt so real and it was so weird to be so much in the present but I liked it. I liked feeling so real. And I liked feeling so strange.

As the band says, we all get strange and we know it, but we’re cool with it.

Dancing’s Done by Thumpers – Edward Hopper eat your heart out

Whenever I walk through the Loop, I feel like I am entering a 1940’s photograph.

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It isn’t just the architecture or the beautiful emphasis on the beige and stone in the buildings. It isn’t just the steel or the above-ground subway system or the smoke rising from the grates.
It’s the way that the sun hits the side of the buildings, how the windows reflect the sky. It’s the way that the sunlight beams through each avenue, weaving its way through grid after grid of skyscraper. It’s the bustle of commuters and workers and the dawn all merging into one.
Buildings and light make me feel nostalgic for art museums. I still go to them, but as a kid the Art Institute wasn’t an uncommon field trip experience. I got to go much more often than nowadays. The closest that I got to reliving that experience was when I was in London and I had the opportunity to go to the National Portrait Gallery or the British Museum nearly every day.
Buildings and light make me especially feel nostalgic for learning about Edward Hopper. I remember first learning about Night Hawks in school and then when I saw the real deal, that was it. The starkness in each painting was prolific. The seemingly simplicity was, in reality, shaded and layered. It may just seem like a woman looking out of a window sitting in a coffee shop, but just think – what is she wondering about?
These feelings can be found in Chicago. The buildings, tall and brown and the sun hitting against the edges to cast shadows onto the pavement. Finding a coffee shop and sitting at the window table and watching the rest of the world walk by.
The song that I feel compliments these variations of rumination is Dancing’s Done by Thumpers. The percussion, the trickling notes, the layered vocals. It’s breathless and impactful all at once. Simple yet complex. And it makes looking at the start sunbeam-lit building all the more beautiful as the morning comes into fruition.

Personal Legend Playlist: Songs found while traveling the world

Personal Legend – Definitive List (Spotify playlist)

There is also the Personal Legend – Memory Bank playlist that is an ongoing list of songs that I listened to throughout the year as I remember them.

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This past spring, I started reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, the story of a young shepherd who leaves everything in his life behind to go on a quest- or his “Personal Legend,” as a magical king he meets calls it – to find his treasure at the Pyramids.

I guess that’s why I haven’t wanted to finish it. I don’t want my own quest around the world to be over.

I’d like to blame the fact that I haven’t finished reading on being busy. You know, I could say things like, “When you’re past the furthest reaches of your world it’s a little difficult to remember to do little things like that. Read books. Watch TV shows. Keep up with a blog.”

But it’s something more than that. It’s the fact that I don’t like endings.

This past year, I lived in New York City, London and LA. I had been to all of these different places before, but I had never lived in any of them before. And I certainly had never lived in a metropolitan setting before.

My whole life, I had always wanted to do two things: travel and live in a city. When I actually took the initiative to make it happen, everything changed. No question about it. Maybe there are things I recognized in each of these places, but in the beginning my head was swimming in the newness and discovery. It was enthralling and at times overwhelming. I always had a wonderful support system of friends and family from home, school and each place that I lived in (shout out to all of you lovely people). Sometimes it’s still hard, though, just because there are some situations that are just tough to deal with whether it’s something as bad as a car accident or something as great but stressful as traveling across Europe.

Through my travels I always had my music. Music, which has always helped me through times of change and discovery and wonder and elation and confusion and hurt and despair, became even more important in this year of hopping from place to place to place. Music was one of my constants. Music grounded me, but also it enhanced the discovery.

My mind expanded along with each new path I took. After going to as many places as I could, and as weird as it may sound, the world feels like it’s in my head. The vastness lives in my mind through memories.

All of this is a lot to process before, during and after. Especially if you want to write about it.

Something that I’ve realized since being home is that coming back is just as much part of travel as is the actually act of traveling. You’re back but in such a different way. You can sit down and realize that while you were traversing in that ether of extraordinary living, you did things beyond your imagination. You met people who did more than just inspire you; they guided and shaped your experiences. You became the adventurer you always wanted to be.

I lived the fantastic and the impossible. And it feels amazing.

So maybe this particular adventure is done. But that just means there’s going to be a new one. This summer I have an internship and I get to be at home, a place I’ve barely been in for over two years. Next year is my last year at school. I need to be ready for it.

Sometimes you have to let the dust settle after you’ve run a marathon. Sometimes you need to breathe a little. Sometimes you need to take it piece by piece.

Sometimes to move forward you have to reflect. The good, the bad, the ugly – the whole adventure. You must look back and look at it straight on or else you’ll just always be checking what’s behind you instead of looking ahead. Or, more importantly, living in the now.

So I’m going to reflect in the way I know how – by making a playlist. Songs are really just memories with melodies.

Here are some of the memories of my life in New York, London and LA.

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1. Hearts Like Ours – The Naked And Famous

In my mind, this will always be the New York song. My commute from where I lived in East Village to work was a ten-minute walk (and I had no inkling of how good I had it). As I walked to Fifth Ave every day, I would pass through Union Square. My favorite days were when it was sunny and warm and the farmer’s market was set up. The vivid sights and smells passed by as I walked through the vendors. From there, I would cross the street and walk down to Fifth Ave, turn left, and there it was: the Empire State Building. Every day.  My dream realized, the grandness all around me, as I would walk to work I would look up at the tall buildings and look at the shops and restaurants in awe while listening to this song.

If I could, I would put the entire In Rolling Waves album in this playlist just because that particular album really has stuck with me throughout the whole journey. Rolling Waves is especially distinctly attached to my memory of walking over the Millennium Bridge in London. I had some time after class to relax so I looked at the Thames. What a relaxing, peaceful sight. The river flowing past and the sun setting on the bridges before me. It was so healing to watch and to listen to the song. My existence didn’t matter, just the waves and the light.

One other Naked and Famous song that sticks out to me is also Girls Like You, a song I had started listening to when I ran at school. I don’t know if this was the particular song I was listening to, but I’m pretty sure this is what I listened to when I sprained my ankle. How rewarding, then, two months later running through the Narnia-esque Central Park, ankle healed, and I was on top of my world.

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2. Don’t Swallow The Cap – The National

As shiny as the inspiration felt, something I didn’t expect was the murkiness of change and facing difficult situations. Moving is a form of uprooting yourself and I was planted in a foreign environment.

A friend and I saw the National perform in Barclays Center and it was a fantastic set. The encore was the most powerful moment when they performed Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks; the band did it as an acoustic piece and the entire stadium sang along. One giant chorus.

After the performance, Trouble Will Find Me became an album on repeat for the rest of the summer. Don’t Swallow The Cap was the song that would float around in my mind as I laid in bed at night, watching the stream of light peeking through the blinds from the honking taxis and storefronts that sold pizza past midnight. One individual in a sea of people.

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3. New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down – LCD Soundsystem

As much as I loved New York, there were things about it that really, really sucked. I hated the feeling that I could never be alone. And boy, I am someone who just sometimes needs to be alone. I’m already quirky enough as it is. If I don’t have that time to recharge without people constantly looking at me, then my self-consciousness and sensitivity are only heightened. People can sometimes not understand how I’m acting, and I’m not much of a help because I don’t really know what I’m doing ether.

But it’s a sort of sickness, you know? To be drawn to be something that isn’t good for you. The over-crowdedness, the haphazard sleeping, the overstimulation, the aloneness in a sea of people. These are all things that I shouldn’t be drawn to, but I am. I have a taste for the daring, for the challenging. It is foolish, though, to mistake characteristics of a place as challenge to change. This was something I had to confront while living in the supposed “city of my dreams.”

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4. Gravitas – Little People

In contrast to the overwhelming clutter of movie bodies on the sidewalk, whenever I listened to Gravitas I could feel the rhythm of the city. The mass amounts of people instead invigorated me, not suffocate me.

There is such a wonderful texture of life in New York City – I can’t think of a place that I have been to in the country that is more diverse. People from all over the world and from all different backgrounds. It’s amazing to think how we come and go in each other’s lives. In my mind I like to visualize it like strings. Each string is individual, but once the two meet either it can be a knot if it is a short encounter, say meeting a musician on a metro car, or the strings can become intertwined, no matter how far away each string started.

And I’d be passing by these people of the world everyday. My favorite place to think about this would be in front of the Flatiron Building, sitting next to the cafe. I’d have a book that was bought from the Strand and I’d be watching people enter and exit Madison Square Park, riding their bikes and weaving through the taxis. So many people that I’d never see again or I would and not know. So many people with their own worlds. And then I’d open my book and be entrenched in my own world.

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5. Dreams – Passion Pit

One of my favorite movies growing up was You’ve Got Mail, so I had a sense of obligation to listen to Dreams at least once every week while living in New York.

I listened to the original a few times, but my heart was always set on Passion Pit’s cover of the song. It felt relevant to me, like it was from my generation. (Really, I just wanted to flatter myself in thinking that I was this generation’s Meg Ryan).

Through all the ups and downs of living in East Village, I always really liked the feeling of living in New York. That I could say that, even if it was for a summer. I know it’s really dorky of me to have such exuberance, but when has that ever stopped me?

Because, through ups and downs, I still have memories of going to the Daily Show. Of walking through the best bookstore in the world every day and writing scripts at the coffee shops nearby. Of watching the fireworks. Of seeing a free show at Central Park. Of the dazzling buildings above and that I lived and worked in them like everyone else.

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6. Loaded – Primal Scream

“Just what is it that you want to do?”

“Well, we want to be free. We wanna be free to… to do what we want to do. And we want to get loaded and have a good time. And that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna have a good time. We’re gonna have a party.”

No opening to a song could better describe the period of time that was between the months of September 2013 and December 2013. This is otherwise known as: London Semester Abroad.

This is the song that starts The World’s End, which I watched right before going abroad. And it put me in the perfect mood to go to Britain.

New York was a summer of work and I was ready to let loose. And really let loose. I was brimming with confidence and ambition – this was my time to shine. Studying abroad had always been something my family praised and encouraged us to do, and now I was carrying on the family name abroad. I couldn’t let them down.

That, and I was in London. As much as I loved and dreamed of New York, London was London. It still has that effect on me – I feel like my life is a series of events that leads me back to that city.

I grew up loving British media and now I was going to be able to get a taste of being part of the culture. And God, I loved it. I loved the pubs, the West End shows, the museums, the diversity of people. The Tube was heaven-sent compared to the L and the Metro. The different dialects in the city, the river Thames, the fact that Europe was just a plane or train ride away. The world lives in a city and that city is called London!

And, oh, the pubs. There is nothing as beautiful as a pub. I felt like I was walking into an elaborately set up living room every time I entered one. Even if it wasn’t an authentic pub, it was still wonderful being part of the experience. I could feign being a local or fit right into my extended tourist status. Pubs were warm and filled with glorious beer and fish and chips. Pubs were where people conversed and friendships were formed.

Traveling Europe was something that was also a priority, right from the beginning. That’s where friendships were made or grew. I have so much admiration and respect for the friends I made in the program, and those people that I explored with will always have a special place in my heart.

The feeling of packing, repacking, unpacking, repacking, unpacking became routine – I was traveling nearly every other week. To see the world and test how far I could go was exhilarating. One of the best weeks of my life was spent in Keswick with the Encompass Trust and meeting truly inspiring, incredible people from around the world. Shout out to you guys if you’re reading this!

I don’t remember sleeping that semester. Pretty much at every hour, every minute, every second of the day I had something planned. So much so that I remember literally running to class a lot, especially if it was a show at a theatre in another zone.

Without a doubt, I had a party.

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7. Loud Pipes – Ratatat

The Tube song, as I like to think of it. My commute for this semester from the flat to school took thirty minute with roughly a 10 minute Tube ride. Also, the Tube was really the best way to get around London (although I subjected many a-friend to my feats of walking around… I could go seven hours without stopping).

The rhythm of the tube and its dependency made the morning experience relatively easy and mainly enjoyable (if it wasn’t incredibly crowded or if there were repairs). “Mind The Gap” and everyone would politely walk on. Standing by the little window at the front of the car was always fun if you wanted to be silly and have your hair flapping everywhere. People were mainly quiet on the Tube, but every now and then there were kerfuffles (largely the arguments were about rudeness).

My favorite station to come out of was the Liverpool station. It was grand and the windows and escalators made everything feel so tall, but mainly my regular destination that I had once I got out of the station…

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8. GMF – John Grant

Near the end of the semester, I got into the habit of regularly going to Rough Trade East in Shoreditch. I would always pass through the Old Spitalfields Market, gazing at the different merchandise that the vendors set up. Coffee shops, knick-knacks, fedoras. Magnets, journals, ornaments, Banksy wall signs. Any quirky little thing you could think of was in Spitalfields.

But that wasn’t the ultimate destination – that was a few blocks over. I would pass by the AllSaints and turn into a small street with a sign directing me the right way. I would turn the corner and a Space Invader and Andre has a posse would greet me high above on the buildings. And then, there it was, my indie haven: Rough Trade East.

In New York, my regular place of media meditation was the Strand, a bookstore with weaving shelves of books old and new. Everyone who shopped and worked there had a love for the literary. It felt so good to be surrounded by so many words. In London I had Rough Trade, where I was surrounded by eclectic music and coffee aromas from the in-store cafe.

Rough Trade was where I realized that I still have so much to learn – here I was thinking I was on top of my game in music knowledge, but when they released their top 10 albums of the year, I had maybe only heard of one of them. So, instead of listening to them online, I would just come to the store since they would play the entire albums overhead. That’s how I started listening to John Grant.

GMF (Greatest Motherfucker, if you want to bypass the censorship) is intricately written and beautifully sung. It’s sad but it isn’t, it’s funny but it isn’t. His sarcasm and anger at those who didn’t understand him was so pointed and it never felt heavy-handed. These sorts of musicians are the reason to go outside of your normal realm and see what else is out there.

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9. All In White – The Vaccines

Leaving London was harder than I could have even imagined. Once I was there, the semester had this glow and warmth like it was never going to end. As the weeks grew fewer and fewer in number, I had to face the inevitable end of my abroad adventure. I didn’t want the bliss of living in London to end, so I tackled these feelings through the best way I knew how – walking.

In New York, a common habit of mine would be to just walk from point A to point B in Manhattan to just see what life had to offer above the Metro lines. Because places I needed to be in London were further away, I didn’t have as much of a chance to do this as often. So, after my last class, I decided to walk home from school to the flat. It was pretty much a straight shot via Oxford Street. I decided to listen to the Vaccines, one of the many Brit rock bands that circulate through my listening cycle. I had first started listening to their What Do You Expect From The Vaccines? album in line at the Trader Joe’s in East Village, it was only fitting to listen to it straight through in London.

Double-decker buses whizzed by under the string of lights. The storefronts brightened the sidewalks and started to dim the further away I got from Oxford Circus. Hyde Park gleamed with the Winter Wonderland festival in the distance. And finally I was almost home with Jay Jay Pistolet crooning in my head. These scenes of familiarity would soon just turn into memories, but not before I could say good-bye.

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10. Do I Wanna Know? – Arctic Monkeys

This song started to be in my listening cycle in London and carried over into LA as the album shot up in the charts. I had always liked the Arctic Monkeys, but AM is what stopped me from being lazy with listening to their stuff. I have a before and after memory: The “Before” memory was in Rough Trade when their album started to be displayed all around the store. AM was one of the albums that they played overhead and I could feel that this was the start of something big. (Or at least, I’d like to believe that I had that sort of intuition). The “After” memory was when I was sitting in the car in LA after one of my first days of work. I had missed my turn home and I was destined to turn around and wait in the intimidating line of traffic.

I had not driven in over a year and hardly in the past two years. I put in AM to calm my nerves.

“Alright. Alright, so you made a mistake. But we have the Arctic Monkeys and it’s gonna be okay… oh god I’m so screwed,” I said to myself. But then Do I Wanna Know? started and it was this slight bit of distraction helped my fear ebb.

So I did it. I was able to get home and get through about three fourths of the album. So it’s an understatement when I say that AM is a very comforting album for me.

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11. Lazy Eye (Acoustic) – Silversun Pickups

This is not the song I was listening to when I got into my car accident. That was Substitution, and I almost put that on the playlist.

I could try to explain what it was like going through that. But I don’t want to. I like to think of my memory of listening to Silversun Pickups in LA as a positive one.

I thought a lot about which Silversun Pickups song to put on the list just because there was resurgence of their music in my listening cycle during the beginning of the semester. This was largely due to the fact that I finally, finally, finally got to watch a record store performance after my failed attempt in London.

After just haphazardly picking up flyers at Other Music in New York and never really doing with them, I decided in London that I would actually take initiative. So, after class one night late in the semester, I hopped on the tube and went to Shoreditch to Rough Trade. It was a half hour after the performance had started and… it was over. I was walking into a semi-full store with cables being coiled and microphones being taken down.

This time, I wasn’t going to miss my chance.

Amoeba Music was having an acoustic set of Silversun Pickups featuring Nikki and Brian. I was able to write an article about it on Amplified, which you can find here.

So I drove down into Hollywood, the traffic becoming less foreboding as I had become more accustomed to driving again. I was proud of myself for being able to navigate and park during rush hour. I got inline outside and was the second to last group to be let into the store. Fortune would run out the next day (as that was the day of the accident), but not at that time. At that moment it was about the music and the band.

Entering Amoeba is the most satisfying feeling for a music junkie to ever experience. After so many articles describing the decline of the record stores and being used to hole in the walls (which are still fantastic, just different), it is a shot of adrenaline to walk into a warehouse-sized store of just media, most of music. Rows and rows and rows of new and used. Discounts! Sweepstakes! Sell back your old music! These were signs that popped up around the store, whether it was near the poster section or next to a listening station near the book section. Upstairs was the film and television section and it was made for cinephiles: there are different sections such as films categorized by directors. So, this was of course the place that I chose for Record Store Day. I didn’t stand in the line, but I was able to get a silkscreen shirt and sneak Regina Spektor’s single at the cashier so I fulfilled my goal of getting a RSD exclusive.

Entering Amoeba on the night of the in-store performance was that feeling times 30. The store was packed with people, like lined up next to each other. I was on the right side of the store facing the little stage, looking over the bookshelves to get a good look.

Brian and Nikki were dynamic on stage together as a duo and in their music. The best part of it was that everyone around me was just excited as I was.

“Yes, oh yes I wanted them to play this!” a girl my age next to me gushed as they started Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings).

I smiled, bemused and happy. The feeling to be surrounded by people who like the same music as me is new, so talking about bands like Jukebox the Ghost or Local Natives is still exciting to me. Growing up I’d largely keep to myself what I listened to because I figured none of my peers would like it. Thankfully, I’ve met people that have proven me wrong and have in fact started many enriching friendships based on music.

I was on my tiptoes for the concert, my stomach tightened as each song played. They weren’t playing it yet.

For their last song, they started playing Lazy Eye and now it was my turn to be bubbly and emotional.

“You were waiting for that one, huh?” she laughed next to me.

“Oh my gosh, yes, this is the best, just the best.” I blabbered, my smile widening.

And they closed the set with that powerful, gut-wrenching song. That vortex of emotion and instrumental angst. It filled the whole space of the store.

I had never felt so happy to be part of a community.

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12. The After Party – Bad Books

After the accident I couldn’t really listen to my normal cycle of songs. I’m someone who has always had emotional ups and downs, but this was different. This was like I was in a fog. I walked and I talked but I still felt like I was living the accident, the numbness and the shock not really shaking off. I knew I needed something different, something to cut through the dullness. I asked for song recommendations and this is the one that stood out to me. I didn’t listen to it until it was night and peaceful. I had been writing down me thoughts and feelings into the late hours and felt that it was time to try to listen again. The song started and it was dark and broody, tranquil and harrowing. The intense aloneness that I had been feeling was being described in such a visceral way… it was like I had thought of it.

And then… crash. The ending of the song was an explosion – with the shouting and guitars being shredded, the loneliness turned into anger and confusion and desperation. My heart flipped over and it was like I came back online. I broke down as the song finished, calm as the guitars strummed to the end.

I wasn’t in a good place yet, but at least I was there again.

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13. Whirring – The Joy Formidable

If The After Party is what helped me get back online, Whirring helped me deal with change, inconsistency and the day-to-day frustration of simple things like driving. I had listened to the song before, but only the three minute cut that SPIN Magazine had released online with their monthly free playlist downloads (when they still did that sort of thing). The first time I really listened to the song, though, was when I was trying to fall asleep one night.

Thinking that I’d have a nice little moment of yesteryear nostalgia, I was greatly mistaken when the song didn’t end. I already knew that it sounded different from the version that I had gotten to know, but I didn’t think it’d keep going…

But I couldn’t stop listening. The title of the song made so much more sense now, the guitars and power blasting through until the end.

This was the strength that I needed.

I listened to this when I felt unsure or tired or questioning. The feeling of being anxious, especially when driving, was starting to be more tolerable. I had a song that could get that anxiety and frustration out. I didn’t need to shout or cry; I had Whirring.

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14. Strong Hand – CHVRCHES

This is one of the ultimate LA workout songs, perfect for the mind and body.

If you go abroad and you gain weight, you’re doing it right. But, coming back to reality, it’s important to get healthy again. Luckily, I was no stranger to developing a workout routine. At school when I first started really getting into the routine of working out (I had to – second semester of freshman year was a blur of Cheez-its and Gatorade every night), El Camino was the album for me. On the elliptical I felt unstoppable, unreachable. The Black Keys are my force.

It hadn’t been until CHVRCHES’ The Bones Of What You Believe where I felt so amped up by an album as much as El Camino. I’d play it in the car driving to school, while I was running. Strong Hand is what turned me into a fan.

This song was fun, vibrant and ballsy. Their best fan video is a choreographed workout video and it’s awesome. The song embodied my drive to get back in shape and take on the craziness of LA. Once you get past some of the anxiety that goes with the city, LA has things that are unlike any other place in the world. Sentences like “I met Danny Pudi and talked about Chicago” are commonplace in LA, something which floored me. Panels, festivals, exhibits, markets are everywhere. It was like a caffeine-kick to join the brilliantly textured scene of the city.

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15. Heaven – The Walkmen

The semester ended with friends, exploration and triumph. In LA there are so many “what-ifs” where you can easily go crazy with worry. “What if I don’t talk to as many people as I can? What if I can’t go to the beach this weekend? What if I miss that screening?”

It’s better to just live in the moment and see how much you can do.

What I was able to do was hang out the amazing friends that I had met while being there. With a few of them I was able to finally have one last exploration to Santa Monica Pier, something I had wanted to right from the beginning. I wanted to feel like I was adventuring until the very end.

What I was also able to do was talk to as many people as I could about the business. I got so much great advice and learned so much from a variety of people. Now what I need to do is digest it all.

So what song was there to better describe accomplishment and optimism than the Walkmen’s Heaven? This was the song that played over the credits over the HIMYM finale. I watched it with a few friends, one of them being a mega-fan of the show. It was an elating experience to watch her reactions, and her passion was inspiring. As I left their apartment after the show was over, I listened to the song.

“Remember, remember all we fight for.”

Without the friends that I had made and developed in each city I would not have had the phenomenal experiences that I had. Without the people that I kept in contact with overseas or back home or back at school I would not have been able to still feel connected to other places that are significant to me. It’s these people that inspire me and make me want to continue to get to know more people and to explore and keep testing myself. I have so many goals for myself and I want to achieve as many as I can. I know that I have the strength and sometimes I just have to remind myself that I do. That feeling of dreaming even after all of the experiences that I have had hasn’t gone away and that’s the best feeling of all.

We do the things we want to do for a reason and with every leap that you take, you learn how to jump a little further.

As for me, I’m still jumping.

~

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Bonus Track: Chelsea Dagger – The Fratellis

This song applies to every city that I was in… How could I not include the Chicago Blackhawks song? In New York, I watched the Blackhawks win it all: the Bruins fans were dumbstruck and the Blackhawks fans were choking on air after those 17 seconds. Even a few hours after the game I was still jumping up and down outside of my building on the sidewalk and shouting to my brother on my phone.

In London, I lost touch with hockey. However, it was when I watched an Arsenal match in a true football pub that I felt the nostalgia for my hockey viewing days. The shouting, the jeering, the cheering. People spilled their beers like it was no matter when their team scored a goal. The electricity of sports viewing was contagious, and I wanted to get back into the routine of watching my team.

So, I did in LA. If I could I would catch a game and get back into the swing of things. I’m newer to the hockey fandom, but not new in the slightest to sports fandoms. By the end of LA, I was keeping up with the Hawks diligently.

Things come and go and things resurface. It’s all about the place and the time.

Let’s Be Still by the Head and the Heart – Sit with me and listen to this

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The lounging front of the Head and the Heart’s new album Let’s Be Still is something we could all afford to do more often – just relax.

The new album is encouraging for the rising band – it is strong, it is set in their sound, and it expands upon themes explored in the band’s first album. It also sounds like a band that has a name – they stepped up to the pressure of creating an album to follow such a strong start.

It’s also the best thing that you can listen to if you’re a little rattled.

I’m a bit rattled.

This has been a year of shake-ups and mess-ups and come-backs and happiness and sorrow and reflection. Running around and realizing myself but having to remind myself to be a team player, yet at the same time promote myself because, you know, real life is around the corner. Do I really want to be doing this? Is this good for me?

I feel like I’m constantly on a subway, watching things blur by and the ground rumbling below my feet, with people coming and going and changing and sitting and standing and being afraid to bump into one another.

My appearance and heart changes constantly. I am shades of myself with different people and in different places. What I want in Manhattan is different from what I want in Queensway. My identity is a liquid, and I feel like only so much can ground me. Fortunately, and obviously, music tends to do this.

After being so used to speaking quietly and holding my head down, to not rock the boat, I’m finding that I have a voice. But I haven’t quite figured out the power that my voice has. It sometimes comes out stronger than I intend, with my opinions thickly woven into my words. Not everyone agrees with what I am saying. But how else am I supposed to communicate?

I’m shaking that “oh, I’m not worthy” vibe off, but I can’t think I am the most worthy. Because that is self-destructive.

My values are so set and so defined and I never really knew that until this year. Working with people through a complication is one thing, but failing at working out a solution is another. Things fall and break. Things hurt. Things are confusing. But I keep going on. I move from place to place to place.

Life moves on. And you breathe.

The people that stick with you, that really are still with you, let you breathe. They’re watching you rattle and rumble and run around – being crazy – and they stand still. They stand still so you can stop for a moment and just do something normal for a change. Go to a movie. Talk about a band. Visit a museum. Not worry about all of that soul-searching garbage for once.

With those people, your personality is a given. Maybe they haven’t known you for long, but they know you in the sense that they know you’re a person. They don’t put you on a pedestal or give you tasks to try to accomplish so you can prove your worthiness. They say things like “you look nice” when you’re wearing a new shirt or “hey can you pay me back?” because maybe you forgot to go to the bank and they want to remind you so you don’t have to worry about being in debt to them.

You also need to let yourself breathe from time to time.

I find that I breathe the best either staring at buildings or looking out onto water. In recent times, this has been the Thames and when I was looking at the BBC Broadcasting House. The Thames is a wide and fast river, more dynamic than the Chicago river. Think if Lake Michigan was put in a long, winding line across the land. The water moves and you don’t need to think of anything. You don’t need to think of that form for housing or how you’re going to approach a professor you want to ask questions about a class. You’re just looking at the water, and it’s like a painting. An impressionist painting in motion.

And buildings. Buildings are solid, buildings are real, and buildings are grounded. They are there. I feel like I have this striving sense of wanting to be here, to feel like I am in the moment. Buildings are always in the moment. They are there. And they can be so inspiring. A building can represent a beautiful passion, like how the BBC represents my passion for storytelling.

So breathe and be still. Sit and look at things. Don’t think about people, fill yourself with your surroundings.

The Head and the Heart is the antidote for the always-going, always-changing. It’s great to have goals and ambitions, but you need to lighten up from time to time.

These are things I tell myself, but things that are only understood by not thinking about these. These are things that I must feel. I must feel peace and I must feel the ability to breathe in order to actually breathe.

Listening to the album, I am in a different state. The instruments are all so real sounding, the words and the voice sound so honest. People just living. People just looking.

So sit and look around. Be everything and be nothing. Be still.

Brit punk and the world of a new sense of mainstream music

In a hummus shop, I heard the Vaccines.

At first I wasn’t sure, but once I heard the singer, I knew it – “If You Wanna” was being played in Hummus Bros on Southampton Row.

To say “I was stoked” would be to say it lightly.

Hearing gems such as the Libertine’s “Can’t Stand Me Now” being played casually in stores, shops and pubs is something I really need to get used to, and boy, I better let it soak in.

Every now and then back in the US, you’ll walk into a store like Forever 21 or AllSaints and hear something like Au Revoir Simone or tUnE-yArDs, but normally you hop in a cab, and the same top 40 is being played on the radio.

I should clarify something. This isn’t a rant against top 40. In fact, pop and mainstream music has paved the way for independent bands to either rebel against that type of sound or play off of it and make it unique. Pop as we know it in the 21st century is something that constantly changes, so completely writing it off is also hard to do because, well, what of pop are you dismissing?

That being said, I get really tired of artists like Miley Cyrus sometimes.

Why do we turn to people such as that? Because we’re told to listen to her. She has the visual, and bands such as Palma Violets – a fantastic new age punk band with a loosey-goosey attitude that played at Lolla this year – don’t. Then again, not every band wants that same kind of visual.

But, I’ve grown up with not being a fan of top 40. It doesn’t mean I hate all of it, but I am, in the most true sense of the phrase, not a fan. I don’t go out of my way to follow it because I don’t have to since it’s everywhere, and most of the time I’ll either flip the channel to XRT or plop in a CD since I’m still affectionate of albums on CDs. It’s where it started for me – CD players, not iPods.

It’s very easy, as a rock, indie, and alternative fan, to completely dismiss pop or top 40. It’s easy to get into rants, and to feel self-righteous that you listen to the Sheepdogs instead of Kanye West.

But there’s a catch! Indie is starting to become mainstream.

There’s a couple of ways this is happening – indie artists are starting to be top 40 artists. Thank Foster the People for that with “Pumped Up Kicks” (although why that song out of all of them made it big still fascinates me).

Also, Ellie Goulding is becoming a sensation, but she’s not completely new. “Lights” is from 2010, but in recent years it’s become a household song.

This is also happening with the Black Keys – Brothers made it big and you’ll have to go out of your way to find someone who’s listened to Thickfreakness.

Who do we have to thank for this? The Brits, of course.

Now, you can’t completely generalize it, but a lot of these sort of rock or indie bands that make it big in the US were initially hits in the UK.

The reason why I am such a big Kings of Leon fan is because my dad gave me the CD of Because of the Times – which was a sensation in the UK. It wasn’t until “Sex On Fire” and then, more widely played, “Use Somebody,” that Americans started hearing the Kings on Kiss FM and the like.

So I have been given a golden opportunity.

Being in the UK for the semester, I have the opportunity to see rising British acts and acts that have made it big in the UK, but are only a whisper in the states at this point. The most relevant example of this for me personally is the Vaccines. They played to a reasonably sized Lollapalooza crowd in Chicago. In London, they played to a packed O2 Arena, which houses 20,000 seats.

Yeah.

Whether or not the Vaccines reaches Kings of Leon fame doesn’t concern me. But, if they gain success and enjoy it and use it to their advantage, then all the power to them. I cannot stand it when people criticize their bands for getting big. I’m sorry, you don’t like seeing their success? Or the fact that your friends can actually join in a conversation about them now?

Again, as an indie fan it’s easy to have that attitude. The “I was here first!” syndrome.

So, while I’m here in London, I’m going to be musically exploring as much as I can. If I go to a show, check Amplified for a review.

For now, cheerio.

A delayed Lollapalooza post: Phoenix’s “Love Like A Sunset, Pts I and II”

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So I’m a bit late, but I have very good reason to be.

I’ve just finished my craziest and most bizarre summer, as I lived in East Village in Manhattan. It feels surreal, like it was a dream that didn’t happen. I’ve readjusted to calm suburban life, but I still find myself thinking about walking out of my door into that sea of life, that bustling Union Square and busy Fifth Avenue.

Also, I’m late because I wanted to let Lollapalooza sink in. I wanted to figure out what specific piece of the insane, beauty that is that festival I wanted to focus on. It’s always such a whirlwind of a weekend, and it’s always so worthwhile when I’m there. As much as I want to take photos and update Twitter about every song and band I see whenever I am at Lolla, at the same time, I want to put away my phone and my camera and I just listen to the music. I try to find a middle ground between the two feelings.

Fortunately, I was timely with my coverage of the festival, as you can see on Amplified Magazine. A lot of my reviews will be on their website from now on, but I’ll still use this blog as a way to inject into the internet personal essays and feelings about music and bands I experience.

The moment I want to focus on is a moment from the end of the festival.

It was when Phoenix played “Love Like A Sunset.”

I wasn’t sure they were going to play it, since it is largely wordless and it doesn’t have nearly as popularity as “Lisztomania” or “1901.” But, it’s definitely my favorite piece that I’ve heard by Phoenix. It was the first pair of tracks that I heard that exemplified the beauty of synthesizing electronic sound with live instruments. It was a blend and a saga of sounds, it felt like an epic poem but in music form. And a modern, relevant version of the classical symphonies of the past.

But then, they did.

It’s a good thing too, since I was about to leave and go see Knife Party and the Cure. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to see Knife Party, but enjoying Phoenix’s set was worth it. And the crowning achievement was “Love Like A Sunset.”

There are a lot of bands at Lollapalooza this year where I had specific memories tied to particular songs. Phoenix wasn’t really one of them, I just simply liked Phoenix for the music. My most potent memory I have associated with a song they have done is “Love Like A Sunset” and it is a collection of memories of listening to it on the bus ride home after school. It helped cleanse the mind after a long day.

The song is simply, to put it in a word, beautiful.

And the light show was so good with it. The different colors with the beats, like a sunset of color, the shots of landscapes.

And then, when the words come in, you sort of feel like you’re out of your body. Your identity fades away and all that you feel is the place and the music.

The night sky and the grass under your feet. The Chicago skyline, home after a summer of being in a new place, and a comforting song that soars the way that you had hoped when you listened to it the first time and thought, “I’d love to see this live.”

Of Monsters and Men: The meaning of a band and the Aragon Ballroom concert experience

A few days ago my dad asked me which song defined my past year at school.

“It’s okay if you say you don’t have one,” he said.

I, being the motormouth that I am when it comes to things like movies, television, and music (good thing that’s my major, right?), rattled off a couple bands and songs that made up my experience, trying to piece together what was the one thing that defined the year.

What I didn’t realize, however, is that he was right. It wasn’t just one song or one band. But, there were a couple notable bands.

And Of Monsters and Men was one of them.

Before I saw them at Lollapalooza last year, I was like everyone else and had only listened to ‘Little Talks.’ Now I’m like everyone else and listen to the album on repeat. But it was that concert that inspired me to religiously listen to that band. I was so intrigued by their sound and their stage presence that I wanted to listen to them more. That, and I felt like they deserved my attention away from the concert experience, because, unfortunately, it was a pretty lousy crowd. My friends and I were surrounded by seemingly particularly-taller-than-normal guys that were quite crude, and, let’s face it, drunk off their rockers. There isn’t anything wrong with imbibing at a concert, but if you’re going to be one of the sardine-like moshers, at least have some consideration and try to attempt to sober up before you invade peoples’ personal bubbles.

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So, My Head is An Animal was added to my list of albums I played on repeat. What made this album particularly special, though, is that it was the perfect workout album.

Without “King and Lionheart,” “Mountain Sound,” “Six Weeks,” and “Lakehouse,” I would have never lost the weight that I did.

Of Monsters and Men had spirit and optimism that’s rare to find. It incorporated wanderlust, love, inspiration, friendship all into an album. There were the strong percussive songs like “Six Weeks,” and the uplifting trumpet solos in “Lakehouse.” I got a boost of confidence and courage every time I listened to them, and when you’re trying to establish a healthier lifestyle, incorporating uplifting music into your routine is some of the best advice I can give.

They also were just fun. They were perfect to walking to class or running to on a sunny day. Also, the album was very dance-able, which is a plus in my book.

So after nearly a year of becoming incredibly endeared to this band, I saw them again, and was determined to give them my undivided attention.

The opener was Half Moon Run – a band neither my brother, dad nor I had heard about before we went to the concert. We were pleasantly surprised, however, as their sound reflected my sort of style of bands that I enjoy.

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“They kind of remind me of Local Natives!” my brother said.

It was just four of them, and they knew that not everyone in the crowd knew who they were, but that didn’t stop them from head banging and jumping around on stage. Their set was short and sweet – only a half an hour long. They were gracious and fun, with an impressive variety of songs. One song was dance-y and the next had people swaying and slowing down.

My brother and I then moved from the outskirts of the crowd on the right of the stage into the heart of the crowd, centering ourselves right infront of the stage which donned a large curtain. The speaker system filled the room with various French female vocalists, and I was convinced they were all Edith Piaf.

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“No, Claire. They aren’t all Edith Piaf songs. That’s just the only French singer you know,” my brother said.

He was right, I have to admit.

After about a twenty minute wait, the band came out from behind the curtain, their shadows showing up in blue lighting. They started “Dirty Paws” and then…

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The curtain came down in a flourish, revealing the band and their set.

The backdrop for the show was made up glowing hanging orbs, which would change color along with the rest of the lighting. It was beautiful, and the array of shades and shadows that played on the stage was also a visual delight.

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The band pretty much went through their entire album, and while not in order, they did start with their first song and end with their last song for the encore. In the midst of the show, though, they did play a few unreleased tracks. Needless to say, I was giddy when they played the new songs.

As much as I love standing and dancing to bands, I would really love to see Of Monsters and Men in a more intimate setting. A small lounge set up, with people all sitting around the band, enjoying the music and maybe getting up to dance for songs like “Little Talks.”

Despite this, I still loved the show. I’m always a sucker for clapping along to a song, and especially if the rhythm isn’t just a basic clap-a-long. Variety in clapping styles is something I appreciate.

“Lakehouse” was the best song they performed.

“This is a song about the summertime,” Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir said before leading into the song. There were some hoots and hollers from the crowd, from those excited for the next couple of months to come.

The song starts out so simply, so calm. And then there’s the switch of vocals and the building percussion, and then – it gets soft again, but not as soft as the beginning. And the song just swells and swells and swells into all that’s left to do is sing “La la la la” because the song has reached a new level of euphoric instrumentation and sound.

It made me think about all the good in my life and all the excitement that I have in store for me. The unknown, the future. But also, it made me think about the happiness of good memories and the friends and family that I have and hold so dear. If bliss was a moment, it was dancing to that song.

They of course “ended” their show with the ever effervescent “Little Talks,” and then came out for their encore, which was “Yellow Light.”

“This is our last song, it’s a lullaby.”

Funny, because usually when I listen to it, I’m usually waking up.

Not only is this an album that is perfect for working out to, but it is also a perfect album to fall asleep and wake up to, especially for long train rides. I don’t sleep well on trains, so having at least one enjoyable element to an overall non-enjoyable sleeping experience is nice to have. I’ll put on “Dirty Paws,” and before I know it, the train is rocking and moving along the countryside as “Yellow Light” begins to play.

Out of all of the visual effects the concert incorporated, the fake, falling snow with the encore was the best. It just gave a peaceful, passionate feel to the performance, and nice ending touch.

We left the concert satisfied. It was just a good experience, and sometimes you need that good, solid experience. It helps put everything in perspective.

Especially to the travelers out there, with songs like “From Finner.” You can find happiness and inspiration anywhere.