What My 28th Year Sounds Like

I’ll turn 28 on Monday, which means it’s time for another birthday playlist. This will be the third year I’ve made an official playlist to celebrate my birthday, and I’ve honestly been thinking for months about what theme I should have. For my 26th birthday, I chose a song for every letter of the alphabet. Last year, I chose 27 songs that reminded me of literature I love. This year, I realized that I chose songs I wanted to be on the playlist and tried to find a theme to match. So instead of a strict theme, what I created is a chronology of the songs I’ve loved listening to this year.

Most of these songs are on albums released within the past year, and most of my favorite bands appear as usual (Arcade Fire, Muse, Mumford & Sons, and The Gaslight Anthem all make an appearance, with some new favorites). And the list is in chronological order, from the songs I obsessed over on my last birthday to the duo I’m currently obsessed with right now.

So…for the third straight year, here’s my birthday playlist (and here’s the link to the complete YouTube playlist). This is what the 28th year of my life sounded like:

1) “Abraham’s Daughter,” Arcade Fire, from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Two days before my birthday last year, I drove to Shelby, NC, where some scenes from The Hunger Games were filmed. I spent the first part of the summer listening to this album on repeat. This song was the sole reason I bought the album in the first place, and it’s my favorite track.

2) “Kingdom Come,” The Civil Wars, from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

My first introduction to The Civil Wars (who’ll make another appearance). I listened to this song on repeat almost as much as the previous song. This song captured the tone of the film so very well.

3) “Man On Fire,” Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, from Here

Before I bought this album, all I knew about ES&MZ was that they had toured with Mumford & Sons, which was enough to convince me of their worth. I actually downloaded the album after a great review in Entertainment Weekly, and I listened to it for weeks last summer. This was the first single from the album.

4) “Poison & Wine,” The Civil Wars, from Barton Hollow

Well, I also listened to a lot of this band in addition to Edward Sharpe. This song is my favorite from the album; it’s haunting and sad and beautiful.

5) “Dear Believer,” Edward Shape & the Magnetic Zeros, from Here

I loved “Man on Fire” first, but I love this song even more. I remember the moment I really listened to the lyrics for the first time. I stopped what I was doing, started the song over, and realized this is one of the most honest songs about faith I’ve ever heard. The repeated line “Maybe reaching for heaven is what I’m on earth to do” is golden.

6) “Survival,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

This was the theme song for the London 2012 Olympics, and the first we heard from their new album. We Muse fans had been waiting for years!

7) “Extreme Ways (Bourne’s Legacy),” Moby, from The Bourne Legacy soundtrack

With Jeremy Renner taking over the Bourne franchise from Matt Damon, we also got a new remix of Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” a song that I never grow tired of. In fact, this is my alarm clock every morning, too. Also, I love Jeremy Renner. Any song that makes me think about him is obviously a song I will love.

8) “In My Heart,” Moby, from 18

As much as I love “Extreme Ways,” though, this is my favorite Moby song, and sometimes, I wonder if this isn’t my favorite song of all-time, ever. The world just seems right when I listen to this song, and I spent many long nights grading while listening to this song on repeat. It keeps me sane and hopeful.

9) “Octopus,” Bloc Party, from Four

Another album I’d been waiting a long time for. Bloc Party had not released an album in four years and had even parted ways for awhile. I didn’t connect with this album quite like I had with previous albums, but I certainly like it, and it keeps me awake late at night, too.

10) “Madness,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

Even though “Survival” was a song that defined the summer, this album didn’t actually arrive until October. And, boy, was it worth the wait. Previous to the release, Muse received a lot of criticism for releasing a dubstep-influenced album. This is not the first album I would recommend to someone who has never listened to Muse, but for longtime fans, it’s very nearly perfect, I think. And “Madness” is one of the most addictive songs I’ve ever heard.

11) “I Will Wait,” Mumford & Sons, from Babel

This was the album I’d been waiting for the most out of all of the excellent albums released last fall. And it’s glorious. At this stage in my life, Mumford & Sons is the voice in my head, the one that I need to hear constantly.

12) “Hopeless Wanderer,” Mumford & Sons, from Babel

The first song on the album on which I hit “repeat.” This song seems like the definition of my 20s.

13) “Handwritten,” The Gaslight Anthem, from Handwritten

I love The Gaslight Anthem because they love music, and they’re nostalgic and hopeful. Brian Fallon pours his whole heart onto the page, and this song is fantastic.

14) “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from The Heist

I could write pages on this song. But I’ll just say this–at the end of the fall semester, one of my students gave an excellent presentation on why people should shop at thrift stores. I hadn’t heard this song at the time, so I didn’t realize that my student (and his classmates) had referenced the song throughout the presentation. When I did hear it, I was sad that I’d missed months of listening to it because it’s incredible. On the surface, it’s fun and ridiculous, and underneath that, it’s a critique of hiphop culture that’s gutsy. I love these guys so much.

15) “Follow Me,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

My favorite track from the new album. It’s a soaring, anthemic song about love, and I cannot get enough of it.

16) “Ho Hey,” The Lumineers, from their self-titled album

I first heard this song because my friends Jane & Walter played it for their last dance at their wedding in November. I bought the album shortly thereafter, and when I competed in a pop-culture quiz bowl tournament in December, I was the only person in the tournament to answer this question correctly. Winning.

17) “Little Talks,” Of Monsters and Men, from My Head is an Animal

I heard this song once over Christmas break, but never heard the announcement about the band. After that first time, I couldn’t stop thinking about this song. And on the morning of New Year’s Day, as I was driving home around 3 a.m., I finally heard the song a second time. As soon as I got home, I searched for the lyrics, downloaded the album, and thought my heart might burst from how glorious this song is. This album is INCREDIBLE. I’m so happy to live in a world in which Of Monster and Men make such great music. This song, for me, will always feel like a new year.

18) “Wagon Wheel,” Old Crow Medicine Show, from O.C.M.S.

Darius Rucker released a cover of this song, and I saw a lot of people on Twitter complaining about how the original was so much better. After a suggestion from a former student, I listened to the song again for the first time in years and remembered how great it was. And then I just kept on listening.

19) “Stubborn Love,” The Lumineers, from their self-titled album

My favorite song from the album: “Keep your head up / Keep your love.”

20) “Lakehouse,” Of Monsters and Men, from My Head is an Animal

I was so obsessed with “Little Talks” that I didn’t realize the beauty in all the other songs on the album for awhile. This song was a sort-of sleeper agent. After several weeks, I was struck by how beautiful it is.

21) “Keepsake,” The Gaslight Anthem, from Handwritten

My favorite track from the new album. The guitars and drums match Brian Fallon’s voice so perfectly.

22) “We Did It When We Were Young,” The Gaslight Anthem, from American Slang

I saw TGA live in March, and after that show, I slid this 2010 album in my car’s stereo and didn’t take it out for weeks. This song is slow, melancholy, nostalgic, powerful.

23) “Don’t You Worry Child,” Swedish House Mafia feat. John Martin, from Don’t You Worry Child EP

When I finally managed to listen to something besides TGA (sometime around mid-April), I realized Swedish dance music is awesome (and, once more, a great soundtrack for late-night grading).

24) “Radioactive,” Imagine Dragons, from Night Visions

I wish this song had existed when I was writing my thesis. Thematically, it’s perfectly dystopian. I also wish the rest of the album were as good as this song, but instead, they just sort of sound like a blend of Coldplay and OneRepublic with a big drum. (Disclaimer: I actually like both of those bands…I just don’t need a duplicate.)

25) “Sail,” AWOLNATION, from Megalithic Symphony

This song makes me want to run a marathon or punch someone in the face. It’s that good.

26) “Vipassana [Ryan Lewis Remix],” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from VS. Redux

I love hiphop. I never though I could love it this much, though. This is the first track from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ 2010 EP. This is a song about faith (not so much Christian faith, but faith nonetheless), and Macklemore’s lyrics are real and heartfelt. And he’s an incredible rapper. And he’s hot. (If you’ve read this far, you deserve my honest opinion, right?)

27) “Otherside (feat. Fences) [Ryan Lewis remix],” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from VS. Redux

Macklemore’s biggest hit previous to “Thrift Shop.” It’s a song about his addiction to drugs and alcohol and his decision to become sober. Crazy good stuff.

28) “Can’t Hold Us,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from The Heist

The video for this song premiered on YouTube in April. This is the song that convinced me to download The Heist, which then convinced me to download everything else that Macklemore has ever done, with or without Ryan Lewis. I sing this aloud in my car. I hear this song in my dreams. I talk about this whole album with anyone who will listen to me. I have a feeling this will be the song that defines my summer, the album I listen to on repeat for many more months. If this is the theme of my next year, it will be a good one indeed. 

ONWARD TO 29!

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27: The Second Annual Birthday Playlist

Two years ago, when I turned 25, I posted a playlist I’d made of songs inspired by My List of Things to Do Before I Die. Last year, I made an official birthday playlist–26 years of life, 26 letters of the alphabet, and a favorite song for each letter. I had so much fun making that playlist that I decided to make it an annual tradition.

This year, on Sunday, I’ll be 27, a number that has no immediately recognizable connections to music. I, thus, decided to make a themed list with 27 songs. Should I make a list of songs associated with 27 places I’ve been? A top song from each year of my life? 27 rules of grammar (which sounds like so much fun!)?

All of those are great ideas, but none really fit where I am right now. At 27, I have just graduated with my Master’s in English, having finished a thesis on some of the greatest books I’ve ever read and having won an award for excellence in writing. The theme of my playlist erupted naturally out of my top passion in life: literature.

I set out to create a list of 27 songs with literary references. Many are songs that I love because of the direct literary references or because they remind me of great works of literature. Quite a few are on the alphabet playlist from last year. And, of course, my favorite bands–Switchfoot, Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire, The Gaslight Anthem, and Bloc Party–are heavily featured because of the literary quality of their music.

I give you, then, 27 songs about literature:

[Note: All the links are to YouTube videos of the songs, some official, some fanmade. I also created a complete playlist on YouTube, mostly for my own use, but here’s the link to that.]

1. “Great Expectations,” The Gaslight Anthem

“And I never had a good time / I sat by my bedside with papers and poetry about Estella.” This is the opening track from TGA’s fantastic album The ’59 Sound. The title and the mention of Estella are both in reference to my favorite Dickens novel, making this a natural choice for the opening to my 27 playlist. Even the music video evokes imagery of Miss Havisham’s house.

2. “Doublespeak,” Thrice

After compiling my playlist, I realized that I was a few songs short of my goal of 27, so I Googled “songs with literary references,” and this is my favorite of the few that I added from those lists that I found. “Doublespeak,” of course, is a reference to Orwell’s 1984, one of the  great British dystopian novels.

3. “1984,” David Bowie

Another one of my recent finds. I had no idea that Bowie had originally planned an entire concept album based on 1984. This song and several others are the results of that intention, but apparently, that didn’t work out.

4. “Oscar Wilde,” Company of Thieves

I took a class last summer on Irish lit, and while playing my iPod on shuffle driving home from class one night, this song played. Perfect for my playlist!

5. “Resistance,” Muse

Easily one of my favorites on this entire playlist. This song mentions the “Thought Police,” another reference to 1984. However, this song has a much stronger literary connection for me. Muse’s album Uprising came out in September 2009. Around that time, I read Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequel The Ask and the Answer for the first time. Just after finishing the second book, I was driving home listening to “Resistance,” thinking about Todd and Viola and the incredible world Ness had created when it occurred to me that this song was the perfect soundtrack for those books. Ness himself has said on his blog that Uprising as a whole could be the soundtrack for his books, and I certainly agree. I listened to this song many, many times while writing about The Knife of Never Letting Go for my thesis. Actually, I listened to a lot of Muse in general while writing my thesis…

6. “The Heart is Scarlett,” The Winter Sounds

There’s only one video of The Winter Sounds performing this song, and it doesn’t do this incredible song justice. I’m not sure if “Scarlett” is an actual reference to Gone with the Wind, but what I love about TWS anyway is that this song is from their album Church of the Haunted South. The first time I heard TWS playing, I met Patrick, the leader singer, and asked if the title was an intentional reference to Flannery O’Connor, who called the South a “Christ-haunted landscape.” I’ve written a few essays about that idea over the years, and I love it, so this song makes it onto the list because of the connotations of Southern literature.

7. “Afternoons and Coffeespoons,” Crash Test Dummies

Another one of my recently discovered songs. I love that it’s in reference to T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which has one of my favorite lines in poetry: “I have measured my life in coffee spoons.” Echoes of Eliot are throughout this song, so it’s definitely worth a listen. Also, this video is from their appearance on Letterman in 94, so it’s a classic!

8. “One Headlight,” The Wallflowers

This one was also on the 26 list, but it’s one of my favorites, so here it is again! Also, this might be a stretch, but I included it because of the reference to Cinderella. It’s a fairy tale, so it totally counts as literature. And I get to listen to The Wallflowers even more.

9. “Ready to Start,” Arcade Fire

 Yet another song from the 26 list, and also, another reference to a fairy tale: “All the kids have always known / That the emperor wears no clothes.” Also, a darn good song.

10. “Ares,” Bloc Party

A mythological reference to the Greek god of war. This song is angry and alive and really fantastic to write to. Actually, along with Muse, I wrote much of my thesis to Bloc Party, particularly their album Intimacy, of which this is the first track. And I’m super excited because their first studio album in four years will be released this fall!

11. “The ’59 Sound,” The Gaslight Anthem

The second song from TGA to be featured on this playlist, this one also contains a reference to Dickens: “When we float out into the ether, into the Everlasting Arms / I hope we don’t hear Marley’s chains forged in life.” The words are so literary: the idea of ethereal angels dates back to the Victorian age, and of course, they reference A Christmas Carol. Love it!

12. “Sigh No More,” Mumford & Sons

Seriously, these guys are some of the most literary musicians I know of. The title of this song (and the album), as well as the opening lyrics to this track come from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Even though I’ve owned this album for two years and listened to it hundreds of times, this song still makes me a little giddy.

13. “Richard Cory,” Simon & Garfunkel

Inspired by the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem of the same name.

14. “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John

I do love Elton and his excessively large eyewear. This one, obviously, was chosen because of the reference to L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

 15. “Faust, Midas, and Myself,” Switchfoot

 My favorite track from Switchfoot’s 2006 album Oh! Gravity. They weave together the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil and the story of a man overwhelmed with greed to comment on what’s really important in life. This video is a live version from their 2009 Hello, Hurricane tour.

16. “Wandering Star,” Portishead

The first song I’ve included on this playlist with a biblical reference. Jude 12-13: “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of sea, foaming up their own change; wandering stars for whom is preserved the blackness of darkness forever.” I don’t want to be a wandering star, but I sure do love this song.

17. “Timshel,” Mumford & Sons

 Timshel is a Hebrew word, sometimes translated as “thou mayest,” that appears in the Genesis story of Cain and Abel, as well as in Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

18. “America,” Simon & Garfunkel

A few months ago, I started reading Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods while my friend Jenna drove us home from Williamsburg on a rainy Sunday. I read the first 200 pages of this book in the car and was immediately captivated by the story of Shadow, who is hired by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, and, thus, begins a journey into understanding the mythology of American culture. Although Gaiman includes a lot of musical references in the novel, I realized, on that slow, rainy day, that no song would better fit the way I felt at that moment than this song.  Thus, while there are no specific literary references, this song seems undeniably connected to one of my favorite novels.

19. “Daughter’s Lament,” Carolina Chocolate Drops

Okay, so maybe this one is cheating a bit since it comes straight from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond soundtrack, but it directly references a mockingjay and is so perfect for the whole series that I decided to include it in the mix.

20. “Never Let Me Go,” Judy Bridgewater

Judy Bridgewater doesn’t actually exist. But in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, the protagonist Kathy H. listens to this song on repeat on a cassette, and the song is a vital plot device. When the novel was adapted into film, this song was recorded for the soundtrack and is absolutely perfect, I think, especially as it so eerily contrasts the tone of this subtle, beautiful dystopian novel that is one of my favorites.

21. “The Cave,” Mumford & Sons

This song makes me think of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature. I’ve written about it before here. Plus, this video wins bonus points for being recorded in a book store.

22. “City with No Children,” Arcade Fire

P.D. James’ book The Children of Men was adapted into the brilliant film Children of Men, marking a rare occasion when I love both the book and films versions of a text. This song, down to the title, is a perfect soundtrack for the book.

23. “The Prayer,” Bloc Party

If F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were contemporary, this would be the perfect soundtrack. The song has that same theme of being young and driven to acquire one all-encompassing desire, despite the consequences. The singer could be Jay Gatsby. (Also, the video is a little trippy.)

24. “Shankill Butchers,” The  Decembrists

In Irish lit last summer, I did a presentation on a poem called “Wounds” by Michael Longley. My professor, who is a huge Decembrists’ fan, referenced this song after my presentation because “Shankill” is referenced in this poem about war in Northern Ireland.

25. “Banana Co,” Radiohead

I didn’t know this song existed until yesterday, but I’m so glad it does. This song is a reference to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of my favorites. In the novel, members of the Buendia family work at a banana company, which is the source of revolution.

26. “We Used to Wait,” Arcade Fire

This song has a reference to Eliot, too! Eliot’s “Prufrock” opens with “Let us go then, you and I / While the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized on a table.” This song has a very similar reference: “Like a patient on a table / I want to walk again / Want to move through the pain.” Both texts question the fragility of life, of trying to hold on. These are–in all seriousness–two of my very favorite texts.

Note: this video shows the project The Wilderness Downtown that accompanies the Arcade Fire song. I love it!

27. “The War Inside,” Switchfoot

 All right, so this song doesn’t have a specific literary reference, but Jon does sing, “I feel like we’re livin’ in sci-fi,” and let’s face it, I have been living in science fiction for months with the writing of my thesis. Plus, this is my favorite song from their last album Vice Verses, and I love it, so it seemed appropriate to close the playlist this way.

 Happy 27 to me!

Baby Playlist

A few weeks ago, some other ladies and I hosted a baby shower for our friends Steffany and Steve, who are expecting a baby in July. The shower was a couples shower, held outside in an orchard, so the atmosphere was more like a summer barbecue. One of my primary responsibilities was to create a playlist for the party, and the results are something I’m pretty proud of. In fact, I’ve listened to the playlist on several occasions since the party! Of course, as befitting the occasion, the theme was “baby”:

(Links are to YouTube videos)

It’s a Boy,” The Who

“Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice

“Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Guns N’ Roses

“Born to Be Wild,” Steppenwolf

“Be My Baby,” The Ronettes

“Baby I Need Your Loving,” The Four Tops

“Hey Baby,” Bruce Channel

“There Goes My Baby,” The Drifters

“Baby Love,” The Supremes

“Sweet Baby James,” James Taylor

“Baby Driver,” Simon & Garfunkel

Timshel,” Mumford & Sons (The only one without a direct title reference; however, I chose this because of the line “You are the mother / The mother of your baby child / The one to whom you gave life” and because it’s such a beautiful song.)

“Always Be My Baby,” Mariah Carey

“…Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears

“Can’t Get Enough of You Baby,” Smash Mouth

“Baby,” Justin Bieber (Steff is a HUGE Bieber fan and was delighted when this song started to play!)

Baby, Baby,” Amy Grant

“Baby, I Love You,” Aretha Franklin

“Baby, What a Big Surprise,” Chicago

26: A Playlist for the Alphabet

Tomorrow is my 26th birthday. While last year seemed like such a milestone, this year, I’m not sure I’ll even celebrate. Maybe that’s because I’m busy and tired, or maybe it’s because most of the people I want to celebrate with are out-of-town or busy. Probably, though, it’s because 26 just doesn’t seem like a special number. (25 = 5 x 5. I like everything to be in multiples of 5, so last year, 25 just seemed like the absolute perfect number and the perfect age to be. Weird, huh?)

However, 26 is the number of letters in the English alphabet, so that’s kind of cool. To celebrate, I decided to make a new iTunes playlist–one of my favorite songs for each letter of the alphabet. You’d be surprised how difficult that was–do you know how many of my favorite songs start with the letter W? A lot. But here’s what I came up with:

A: “Awake My Soul,” Mumford & Sons.

My most-played track on iTunes. My current favorite song, period. Is it wrong to tell you that I cried when they played this live Tuesday night in Asheville? I don’t have words to explain how much I love this song. Watch this video and smile because not only is the song beautiful, but Mumford & Sons are also just SO DARN  CUTE. 🙂

B: “The Ballad of Love and Hate,” The Avett Brothers.

The song that made me love The Avett Brothers. Also a beautiful song.

C: “C’Mon, C’Mon,” Switchfoot.

Like so many Switchfoot songs, this one is about purpose and fighting for a life worth living. It’s from one of their EPs, and I actually only acquired it a few months ago.

D: “Drift Away,” Dobie Gray.

Old-school rock ‘n roll. Music about music. Wonderful. Also, this video is Dobie Gray singing the song in 1974.

E: “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” The Gaslight Anthem.

My favorite song from the fantastic album The ’59 Sound. I love this song because it’s slow and nostalgic and it still rocks. This is a song that makes me want to be young and idealistic and never really grow up.

F: “Fields of Gold,” Sting.

One of the songs I grew up hearing on the radio that I realized as I got older I really, really loved. But then again, how could you not love Sting?

G: “Gold Digger,” Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx.

No, this isn’t a joke. This actually is one of my favorite songs–so much so that it was easy to pick out a track for the letter G. I can sing all the words to the song. Harvin finds this fact to be the absolute most intriguing thing about me.

H: “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise,” The Avett Brothers.

Sometimes, this (along with “Awake My Soul”) is just what I need to give me the energy to walk out of the door and face a new day: “If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected / Decide what to be and go be it.” Also, the video is just wonderful.

I: “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” Death Cab for Cutie.

Now, for something completely different. Melancholy and a bit emo, but I love it anyway.

J: “Joy to the World,” Three Dog Night.

Do I really need to explain why this song is awesome?

K: “Kiss Me,” Sixpence None the Richer.

This song came out when I was 13 and obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who, at the time, was attending the prom without her vampire boyfriend Angel. 🙂 This song is everything a romance-minded 13-year-old girl could love, and I (not so secretly now) still love the song.

L: “Let Me Back In,” Explosions in the Sky.

From their newest album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. The first time I heard this, I was on the way to work (I had woken up early to download the album on the release day). And I realized when listening to this track that I was grinning like crazy because this song is so crazily-beautifully-wonderfully fun and hopeful that I could not control my smile.

M: “Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows.

I never get sick of this song. I can’t even explain why it’s so good; it just is. I love Counting Crows, but this is unarguably the greatest song they’ve ever written.

N: “Next to Me,” Civil Twilight.

This was also a difficult letter to choose, but in the end, I had to go with one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. This is one of Civil Twilight’s newest songs (from the re-released album that actually came out about a year and a half ago), and it’s my current favorite CT song.

O: “One Headlight,” The Wallflowers.

Oh, the 90s. Weren’t they great?

P: “Pinebox,” The Winter Sounds.

If you’ve never listened to The Winter Sounds, go look them up right now. They’re amazing. They’re also great live, and this is such a phenomenal song.

Q: “The Queen of Lower Chelsea,” The Gaslight Anthem.

Not many songs start with the letter Q, but fortunately, there’s at least one great one. From The Gaslight Anthem’s last album, American Slang, released last summer. They grew up some after The ’59 Sound, and if that album made me want to stay young and idealistic, this album makes me realize that, even if being an adult brings changes, it’ll be okay anyway.

R: “Ready to Start,” Arcade Fire.

From The Suburbs, which rightfully won Album of the Year at the Grammys this year. Good heavens, this album is amazing from start to finish, and even though this song wasn’t my favorite in the beginning, I’ve found myself listening to it more and more lately as I’ve realized how brilliant it is. The song is edgy and even a bit defensive; it’s about recognizing that we often do things because of what other people we think, and it’s about being intentional in saying we’re not going to live our lives a certain way just because other people do to. Example: “All the kids have always known / That the emperor wears no clothes / But they bow down to him anyway / Because it’s better than being alone.”

After Arcade Fire accepted the Grammy, Win Butler set the trophy on an amp and proceeded to play this song as everyone started asking, “Who is Arcade Fire?!?”

S: “Stand By Me,” Ben E. King.

“When the night is young / And the land is dark / And the moon is the only light we’ll see . . . ” Come on, you know you love it, too.

T: “Teardrop (Live),” Civil Twilight.

I discovered the band Massive Attack because Civil Twilight almost always covers this wonderful song at their shows. The lyrics are a little different, and I prefer Civil Twilight’s version (probably because I just love them so freakin’ much.) Also, aren’t they adorable? Yes, yes, they are.

U: “Uprising,” Muse.

Epic. So epic.

V: “Virgin,” Manchester Orchestra.

This song makes me want to fight somebody. I get sort of twitchy and restless when I listen to it. That’s actually just what I expect of Manchester Orchestra. I don’t really know why that’s a good thing; it just is. Here’s the band performing on Letterman just a few weeks ago:

W: “We Used to Wait,” Arcade Fire.

Although a ton of great songs start with W, this was the obvious choice. I like to listen to this song on repeat while I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Expect a lengthy blog post about that soon. In the meantime, go to the website The Wilderness Downtown and be amazed.

X: “Xanadu,” Olivia Newton-John.

I almost cheated and chose Moby’s “Extreme Ways” for this, but then I decided not to break my self-imposed rules. I chose this one because Xanadu is a ridiculously awesome movie, just like the 80s.

Y: “Your Hand in Mine,” Explosions in the Sky.

My favorite Explosions song. So beautiful. [Note: This almost lost to my favorite Switchfoot song “Your Love is a Song.” But in the end, I decided this was even better to start closing out the playlist.]

Z: “Zephyrus,” Bloc Party.

I had one song that starts with Z in my entire iTunes library. Fortunately, it’s a great song by a great band.

Mumford and Sons

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a Bonnaroo mixtape created by SPIN magazine. I was super excited about it because it contained the Gaslight Anthem’s new single “American Slang” several weeks before the album was released. And while I certainly love The Gaslight Anthem, I found on that album a treasure: a live version of the song “White Blank Page” by London folk rock band Mumford and Sons.

I bought the full album on Monday, and it’s one of the best musical purchases I’ve made in a long time. The entire album–12 tracks long–is brilliant. Marcus Mumford’s voice is strong and deep, the instruments (including a mandolin and banjo) rock, and the songwriting is absolutely brilliant!

There are times when I listen to the album, and the music sounds like it should be played on the porch of a mountain cabin in Appalachia. And then there’s the song “Dust Bowl Dance,” and I imagine some film of violence and poverty in 1930s Oklahoma. These are definitely not the kind of voices I imagine coming out of London, but then again, what do I know about the London folk scene? 🙂

I’ve been listening to the album all week. And hoping that eventually, they add tour dates in the US.

Here’s a video of “White Blank Page,” filmed in a bookstore in London. Excellent music + books everywhere = a beautiful video:

And one of my favorites, especially lyrically, is track 4, “Roll Away Your Stone”:

“It seems that all my bridges have been burned / But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works / It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart / But the welcome I receive with every start”

A Soundtrack for a Life

I am six days away from my 25th birthday; therefore, I will soon be celebrating my first quarter-century on this earth. With my penchant for any number that is a multiple of 5 and my tendency to extract some great meaning or lesson from every potentially important day, is it any wonder that I’m experiencing some sort of quarter-century crisis?

By crisis, I mean those lingering questions: am I the person I want to be? By now, my moral character and personality are pretty unchangeable, I think. Do I have fatal flaws that will doom me in the future? Have I accomplished enough? Am I reaching my potential?

These are ridiculous questions. The logical part of my mind (small though it may be) understands that I’m probably ahead of the curve compared to even my own expectations. After all, just this past year, I was hired to teach college freshmen just two months after I turned 24 years old. I’m well on my way to earning a Master’s degree in English. I’ve begun traveling much more often than usual. I’ve lived on my own and managed to pay rent, bills, and necessities for three years now.

Still, the questions remain. I have a List full of unaccomplished goals (but, as I keep adding to the List faster than I can accomplish those goals, I realize that the List will always be lengthy). I am single, and many former close friends are married and raising families, making me wonder if I’m missing out on that important aspect of life. (Don’t lecture me in the comments, folks. I love my life, and I’m not ready for a family just yet. But a girl wonders sometimes.)

In light of all these emerging questions and my impending 25th birthday, I’ve found myself listening to a certain playlist on my iPod recently. I’ve got dozens of fun playlists filled with great music, but this one is special, and it’s not one that I play for others often. It’s one that I just call “The List,” one that corresponds to The List of Things to Do Before I Die. I save this list for the moments when I let my mind wander through those questions, when I think about all I want to accomplish in the next quarter-century of my life, when I let myself reflect on those desires and goals that I truly have: not the ones others have for me, but those times when I ask myself what I truly want. It’s essentially a carpe diem playlist. And I thought I’d post it on here. Don’t be surprised by how often Switchfoot shows up.

1. “I Am,” Train, from their self-titled debut album.

This one is the opening track because the song seems to be about a list of unaccomplished goals:

“I never been on a railroad / So many times they pass me by / I never crashed in the desert or seen a rodeo / Don’t know much about the world wars or Vietnam / I’ve yet to read about Uncle Tom / Never climbed a real rock or seen Colorado / Am I the son I think I am? / Am I the friend I think I am? / Am I the man I think I want to be?”

2. “Let It Be,” The Beatles.

Because, really, who doesn’t need a reminder not to worry so much?

“When I find myself in times of trouble / Mother Mary comes to me / Speaking words of wisdom / Let it be”

3. “Burn Out Bright,” Switchfoot, from Oh! Gravity.

Sort of a cautionary tale against an average life:

“Does it have to start with a broken heart? / Broken dreams and bleeding parts / We were young, and the world was clear / But young ambition disappears / I swore it would never come to this / The average, the obvious / I’m still discontented down here / I’m still discontented / If we’ve only got one try / If we’ve only got one life / If time was never on our side / Then before I die, I want to burn out bright”

4. “Bullet Soul,” Switchfoot, from Hello Hurricane

“I wanna sing one for all the dreamers / I’m singing this one for the sparks / Here’s one for the friction makers / We are the bleeding hearts / Don’t care whoever you are / We rise and fall together / Our hearts still beat below / Oh, you can’t stand by forever / You’re a kid with a bullet soul / Are you ready to go?”

5. “Without Reason,” The Fray, from Reason EP.

Sometimes, a little spontaneity helps:

“I do it on a whim / It’s rhyme without reason / Whatever comes to mind, I’ll pull it from thin air / I’ve learned to improvise, to fill my time / I don’t want to live this life without reason”

6. “This is Your Life,” Switchfoot, from The Beautiful Letdown

Essentially, the most important song on the playlist…and one of my all-time faves.

“This is your life / Are you who you wanna be? / This is your life / Is it everything you dreamed that it would be / When the world was younger and you had everything to lose?”

7. “On the Bus,” Evan and Jaron, from Evan and Jaron.

Probably the first song I claimed as one that inspired me to simply live.

“Never say never / And don’t wait forever / It’s the perfect time to see that now is the time / To take a chance, take a shot, take control of the situation / I can’t stand around here telling you / About the things I’ve done and what I’ve gotta do / So are you on the bus or not? / ‘Cause we’re leaving the station.”

8. “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey.

Everyone’s favorite anthem. Plus, it’s about a small town girl. Also, do I really need to quote the lyrics? 🙂

9. “Up Around the Bend,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Exciting things happen around the next bend in the road. Just ask CCR:

“There’s a place up ahead and I’m goin’ / Just as fast as my feet can fly / Come away, come away, if you’re goin’ / Leave the sinking ship behind / Come on the risin’ wind / We’re goin’ up around the bend”

10. “Butterflies & Hurricanes,” Muse, from Absolution.

Seriously, I should wake up to this song every morning. It’s an epic anthem:

“Best / You’ve got to be the best / You’ve got to change the world / And use this chance to be heard / Your time is now”

11. “The Journey,” Dolores O’Riordan.

I found this one a Paste sampler last summer, and it’s a perfect closing track for the playlist!

“When I was lost / I saw you pointing toward the sun / I know I am not the only one standing here / And in the darkness, I was walking through the night / I could see your guiding light very clear / This is your life / This is your moment”

Your love is a symphony.

Friday, I headed down to Charleston for what was sure to be an epic adventure. I met up with my favorite Georgetown girl, Jessie, to see my two favorite bands, Civil Twilight and Switchfoot, play on the same stage at The Music Farm, this really awesome venue in downtown Charleston.

The fun began as I was driving down King Street, and I spotted Andrew McKellar walking down the sidewalk. Andrew is the guitarist for Civil Twilight and, therefore, awesome.

Jessie and I met up, parked in the visitors’ center parking garage and wandered around briefly. We then went back to the visitors’ center, and decided to kill a few minutes after realizing that if we moved our cars to the parking garage, we would only have to pay a flat fee of $2 for parking the rest of the evening. Just after 5 p.m., as we each drove into the parking garage, we spotted a man holding a camera standing on the sidewalk just inside the garage. Kneeling on the ground nearby was a shaggy-haired, blonde man writing with a black marker on pieces of cardboard.

The man with the camera was Andy Barron. The kneeling man was Jon Foreman.

I’m shocked Jessie and I managed to pull into the garage and find parking. I was literally jumping up and down seconds after I climbed out of my car. We rushed down to the lower level, where I high-fived Jon Foreman and Jessie chatted with Andy (friend of and photographer for Switchfoot) about his camera.

It was a beautiful moment and the show hadn’t even started yet. What followed was a delightfully simple few hours: walking up and down King Street, coffee at Starbucks, and a wonderful dinner at this tiny Italian restaurant where Jessie’s friend Luke is a waiter.

The show was magnificent, of course. Few members of the crowd knew anything about Civil Twilight, but by the time they started playing their cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” the crowd was totally hooked. I loved watching the reactions of people around me–I could see people texting and updating Facebook statuses about Civil Twilight, and when people began to recognize “Teardrop,” the excitement was palpable. I love this band. 🙂

And Switchfoot just keeps getting better. It was my 6th time seeing them live (and my 10th seeing Civil Twilight!). One of the best moments came when Jon introduced the song “Your Love is a Song,” which is my favorite song from their latest album Hello Hurricane. He said he’d never tried to explain the inspiration for the song onstage before that night. Sadly, the video isn’t the right file type to upload to WordPress, but if decide to upload it to YouTube, I’ll be sure to post it on here later.

This isn’t a great photo, but it’s the only one I got of the whole band. Also, while it’s great to be in the middle of a crowd, it’s less great when you’re only 5’2″ and can’t actually see more than the hairstyles in front of you.