National Album Day 2020

Back in the early weeks of lockdown, I wrote a (very long) post about my favourite albums from the 2010s. I love albums; I love the putting together of a collection of songs to create a bigger, more expressive and more meaningful piece of work, both as a listener and as a songwriter. I think it adds so much more to the listening experience than the release-one-single-at-a-time approach. I love diving into them and getting lost in these little pocket universes they create and generally, once I love an album, they remain high on my musical lists.

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And since today is National Album Day (as well as World Mental Health Day), I thought I’d do a little write up of my favourite albums of 2020 so far…


Manic by Halsey (January 2020) – Despite coming out so early in the year and with all the competition since, it’s easy for me to say that this is at the top of my list of 2020 albums, or of albums in general. I absolutely adore it. I love her previous work and the way each body of work existed in a larger metaphor (Badlands is another of my very favourite albums) but there was something truly special about this album and how personal it was, how it felt like we were truly seeing Ashley for the first time; there was something so sacred about that, especially on the first listen. I love how eclectic this album is – in genre, production style, featured artists, subject matter – because that’s something that’s always been indicative of her as a person: she experiments with her hair, her style, her musical projects, her artistic projects, and so on. That the album reflects that feels very authentic and real. And yet somehow it fits. It works. I could write in depth about every song but I’ll just stick to a couple of points: I loved how you feel the transition from Halsey to Ashley in ‘Ashley’; I love the journey, both lyrically and production wise, that we experience through ‘Forever … (is a long time)’; I love the vivid imagery and storytelling that we get in songs like ‘Finally // Beautiful Stranger’; I love and feel honoured by her willingness to be so open and vulnerable about some of the most difficult parts of her life, such as we hear in ‘More’ and ‘929.’ I’m so inspired by her as a songwriter and as an artist and as a person that I think this album will be very special to me for a very long time, if not forever.

Favourite Tracks: Ashley, You should be sad, Forever … (is a long time), 3am, killing boys, More, Still Learning, and 929.

Good Years by The Shires (March 2020) – I’ve loved The Shires’ music since they released ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ in early 2015 and Ben and Crissie are just such lovely people. Their voices sound gorgeous together, complimenting each other perfectly, and their melodies are always incredibly catchy; I’m usually singing the melodies before I even know the lyrics. The production is also stunning; I would describe it as having the glossiness of pop music while staying very true to the country instrumentation and arrangement. There’s a warmth to it; I always feel enveloped by the very sound of the songs. My only wish would be for some development album to album, for example in the song content; after their first album, love songs feature heavily on every album and I just think it would be really interesting to hear them sing about different subjects. They proved on the first album, Brave, that they could do it and do it well with great songs like ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ and ‘Made in England’ and they’ve come so far since then.

Favourite Tracks: Lightning Strikes and About Last Night.

kelsea by Kelsea Ballerini (March 2020) – I’m consistently awed by Kelsea’s ability to perfectly balance country and pop, blending the intimate storytelling and warm instrumentation of country and the glittery production and melodies of pop. And I love how you can feel her growth in each album, as an artist, as a songwriter, and as a person. To me, this album sounds like the universal inbetween of becoming a real adult: getting comfortable in your skin but still nursing some of your deeper insecurities, walking that line of the steadiness of adulthood and the flightiness of youth, and establishing the anchors of your identity while continuing to grow.

Favourite Tracks: club, the other girl (with Halsey), bragger, half of my hometown (feat. Kenny Chesney), the way i used to, and needy.

Lady Like by Ingrid Andress (March 2020) – I’d been excited for Ingrid to release music ever since I first heard her play ‘Lady Like’ at a Tin Pan South round in 2018. She was just fantastic and I couldn’t wait for her to release more than the two singles that were on iTunes at the time. It only took one song to tell what an amazing talent she was. I love the album – I particularly love her lyrics, her ability to weave humour into one song and then vulnerable, heart-wrenching imagery into another, and it’s really cool to have so much piano in country songs – but I was a bit disappointed that there were only eight tracks and that I’d heard all of them by the time the album came out. It’s great, of course, to finally have them to blast in the car and so on, but I would’ve loved to hear a song she’d been holding back for the release or something like that. And I was really sad that ‘Blue,’ which she’d played on tour, didn’t make the album because it was absolutely stunning.

Favourite Tracks: Bad Advice, We’re Not Friends, More Hearts Than Mine, Life of the Party, and Lady Like.

folklore by Taylor Swift (July 2020) – I’ve already written a bit about this album (and because I am such a songwriting nerd, I’m writing another post about it in more detail because there’s just so much to say about it) but I couldn’t not include this album in this post. I’ll just try my best not to go overboard. This feels like the album of a pure singersongwriter, an album where the songs themselves are given centre stage to shine. Somehow the album is her most experimental yet while still being so true to the songwriter that she has always been. I love the production style, which often centers around the piano, the minimal arrangements, and the lower vocal range that Taylor takes the time to explore. I love the different narratives and perspectives that she writes from while still sharing her emotions and experiences. And I love how vulnerable she allows herself to be, over and over again. Whether these lyrics are autobiographical or drawn from elsewhere – “You know the greatest loves of all time are over now,” “I can see you starin’, honey, like he’s just your understudy, like you’d get your knuckles bloody for me,” “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace,” “I’m still a believer but I don’t know why, I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try,” “Before I learned civility, I used to scream ferociously any time I wanted,” “Pulled the car off the road to the lookout, could’ve followed my fears all the way down,” “And you know damn well, for you I would ruin myself, a million little times,” “But the rain is always gonna come, if you’re standing with me,” and “Stood on the cliffside, screaming, ‘Give me a reason'” – they prove what an incredible songwriter she is, what a deeper thinker she is, and how deeply she feels emotions (something that has always made me feel really connected to her and her writing). These are emotions she’s related to, whether the events happened to her or not, and to turn those feelings into something so beautiful and to then share it with the world is so, so special. There’s so much more I could say but it’s a stunning album and I love it more than I can express. It’s one of those albums that arrived in my life just when I needed it and my god, I am so grateful.

Favourite Tracks: the 1, exile (feat. Bon Iver), my tears ricochet, mirrorball, this is me trying, illicit affairs, and mad woman.

If It Wasn’t For You by Caylee Hammack (August 2020) – I first heard Caylee sing at Tin Pan South in 2017 and I just fell in love with her songwriting. I’ve been waiting for her to release music ever since and so when she announced this album I was ecstatic. ‘Family Tree’ was the perfect first single: it feels like such a central theme in the album and one of the strongest songs in every aspect. Just because of what was going on in my life when it came out, I haven’t had the opportunity to really delve into it – into the lyrics and stories and so on – but I’m really loving listening to it and just taking it all in (full disclosure, I cried when I first heard ‘Forged In The Fire’ and ‘Mean Something’). She has an amazing voice and I love her ballsy, unapologetic attitude but that she can also let that fall away and open up to write and sing these incredibly vulnerable songs. Her lyric writing is also something really special: her songs are full of little details that make them so unique. I can’t imagine anyone else singing them and really making them work. There are also various production choices that really stick out to me, things that you – or at least I – don’t hear all that often, like her use of backing vocals and ‘non-musical sounds’ like the cheering of a football game on TV in ‘Family Tree.’ My only sadness concerning this album is that she didn’t include a song she sang when I heard her at Tin Pan South, probably one of the most heartbreaking songs I’ve ever heard: “Laid an old friend in the ground before saying ‘I’m sorry’, and that’s something that I don’t expect forgiveness for, I should’ve called more.” I would’ve loved that song to be included on the album because it was absolutely beautiful.

Favourite Tracks: Preciatcha, Sister, Forged In The Fire, Family Tree, Mean Something (feat. Ashley McBryde & Tenille Townes), and Small Town Hypocrite.

Badlands (Live from Webster Hall) by Halsey (August 2020) – Before I talk about the live album, I have to mention the original first because it’s one of my favourite albums of all time. I love how different it is; I love the production and all the extra details that give it it’s unique sound; I love her vocals and the the myriad of little ways she uses her voice to convey emotion; I love the stories she tells and the lyrics she writes, all of the detail she includes and within them, which ones she chooses to develop, the themes she brings into the songs time and again. She’s truly one of my favourite artists.

But back to the live album. I love how much energy and passion she puts into her performances and I love how you can hear her smiling and responding to the crowd as she sings (and oh my god, how gloriously loud the crowd are). Her vocals are incredible (they’ve grown so much since she toured this album) and I love how she’s made little changes: changing the rhythm, speaking a line instead of singing it, and so on. The music behind her, whether it’s live or programmed or a combination of both sounds great and I can absolutely imagine her up on that stage, leaping around just as she did when I saw her on the Badlands Tour in 2016. I also loved the spoken parts (and especially relevant to this post, how she talks about how much she loves albums and how much everyone in the crowd loves albums if they love Badlands as much as they clearly do) because she speaks so beautifully and has such an interesting way of seeing the world. I guess my only sadness about those tracks is how clearly she’s talking to the audience right there (as it should be in a live show, in my opinion) and it just reminds me how I’ve never felt part of the fanbase – or any artist’s fanbase – regardless of how much I love her. I always feel on the edge, feel like if I took one step back and disappeared, no one would notice. And given just how close Halsey is with her fanbase – always taking photos, signing things, replying to tweets, getting tattoos with them, making them feel truly valued as individuals – it’s not difficult to feel even more invisible than usual. I guess that’s one of the downsides of artists being able to connect to fans one-on-one: it’s great for the fans it happens to, but really hard for those it doesn’t.

It’s worth noting that it’s hard to separate my favourite songs from the Badlands album and my favourite performances from the Badlands (Live at Webster Hall) album but I’ll try my best because they’re not necessarily the same…

Favourite Tracks: Castle, Hold Me Down, Hurricane, Roman Holiday, Colors, Tiny Little Babies – Talking Break, Strange Love, Forget Her and Find Her – Talking Break, Coming Down, Control (this one is so powerful), Young God, Gasoline, Some Kind of Stardust – Talking Break, and Is There Somewhere.

More Love: Songs from Little Voice Season One by Sara Bareilles (September 2020) – I’m aware that having not seen the show, Little Voice, yet, listening to this album may be a different experience than that of someone who has seen the show. I do really want to watch it but with my mental health in mind, I’m conflicted: I want to see anything Sara Bareilles is involved in creating because I love her and I love her work but I’m also wary that media about my chosen career path, about becoming a singersongwriter, has the capacity to seriously trigger my anxiety, something that I’m extra cautious of in these present times when my anxiety is already so high. But regardless of that, I couldn’t let a Sara Bareilles album come out and not listen to it. I have found it a little harder to get into than some of her others (but again that maybe be that I haven’t seen the show that gives the songs context). But there’s something so distinctly Sara Bareilles about it that I love. The songs feel hopeful and have a certain warmth, creating an instant emotional connection. It’s just stronger with some than others. The production feels like the big sister of the Little Voice album and her vocals her just incredible. Her lyrics are just stunning as always – “I’m barely brave enough to be breathing,” “So I will write it down, all the jagged edges,” “I’m facing all of my fears, I’ve lined them up and wonder how I’ve been with them for years,” “I hit my head against the wall, a portrait of my grief,” and “Looking over the precious moments, it hurts don’t it, they can cut both ways” – and I feel like they’re coming to me just at the right time. There’s something about Sara’s music that has always felt just so healing and I’ve never needed that more than I do right now. I think it’s also worth noting that I’ve never had to pause an album so many times to write down song ideas.

Favourite Tracks: More Love, Simple And True, Coming Back To You, and Little Voice.

ballerini by Kelsea Ballerini (September 2020) – While I’m pretty sure I prefer kelsea to ballerini, I think this is a really fascinating project and it’s really cool to see how different the songs could’ve been, what a different life they could’ve had. I found the instrumentation a little repetitive but I loved some of the changes she made, particularly the little lyric tweaks that gave you a brand new, and often a more vulnerable, insight into the songs. Some songs had a completely different emotional vibe that was really unexpected but so cool to experience. As fans, the songs obviously speak differently to us with these changes but I admit that I’m super curious how they’ve taken on new meaning for Kelsea. It will be really interesting to see, when she is able to tour again, how she chooses to perform these songs, which version she chooses or leans into more.

Favourite Tracks: club, homecoming queen?, bragger, half of my hometown, the way i used to, needy, a country song, and la.

Lady Like (Deluxe) by Ingrid Andress (October 2020) – This album was announced less than an hour after I wrote the paragraph of Lady Like, where I talked about wanting some songs I hadn’t already heard. That made me laugh; it was like I had willed it into existence. The livestream before the release was great and it made my little songwriter heart happy to hear all the stories from the behind-the-scenes of writing those songs. And when it was over, the album was available on iTunes. I love that she changed the tracklist to tell the chronological story (using the tracklist to actively tell a story is something I’ve always been a fan of, rather than just putting the songs in an order that sounds good – not that there’s anything wrong with that) so it was a bit like listening to the album all over again and I just feel like it gave the album a slightly different vibe, a different emotional context. I’m not gonna talk about the songs from the original album because I’d just be repeating myself but the five new tracks were definitely a cool addition to the album as a piece of art (I’m still sad about ‘Blue’ though – hopefully she’s just saving it for a future project). I liked the simplicity and honesty of ‘Feeling Things,’ ‘Boys’ is youthfully lighthearted and flippant, and ‘Waste of Lime’ is full of the acerbic wit and attitude that Ingrid does so well, just as well as she does vulnerable and heartfelt. And the added voices of Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman from Little Big Town bring a beautiful, almost choral effect to ‘More Hearts Than Mine.’ As I said, I think these extra tracks really add to an already great album and I’m so glad that Ingrid decided to expand on the Lady Like era before moving onto the next project.

Favourite Tracks (not including those from the original edition of the album): Feeling Things and Waste of Lime.


I’ve struggled to sit and just listen to new music over lockdown – my brain seems insistent that I always be doing something to keep my anxiety at bay – so there are still multiple albums that I really want to listen to but haven’t been able to focus enough yet to do so. Some of these are:

  • Gaslighter by The Chicks
  • Rise and Shine by Cassadee Pope
  • Petals For Armor by Hayley Williams
  • Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
  • Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
  • Such Pretty Forks in the Road by Alanis Morissette
  • Stay Alive by Laura Jane Grace

I’m really looking forward to them though and having something to look forward to in times like these is definitely not a bad thing.

A(nother) Week In My Life (In Lockdown)

It hasn’t been that long since my last week-in-my-life post but life is so different week to week at the moment that I thought I’d do another one once I started to see how the week was turning out. I thought, if anything, it would be interesting to be able to look back and see how different different periods of time could be during this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.

The week in this post started on Monday 20th July and ended on Sunday 26th July.


MONDAY

I got up around eight, determined to be productive: do admin, send emails, work on blog posts, and so on. But I quickly discovered that the internet was down for the whole street and so I had to adjust my plans. I went back to my photo library and managed to finish sorting out my photo library: I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this but when I loaded my photo library onto my new laptop, there were multiple duplicates of every single photo and the only way to be sure that I was getting rid of all of them (and not losing any of the originals) was to go through it manually. It took about two weeks of dedicated work but that morning, I finally finished deleting the duplicates, cutting the library down from 85,000 to 30,000 – no wonder Photos was running so slowly… I wasn’t quite done: I had to finish organising the remaining original photos into albums but it was real progress and that was very satisfying.

Since I was filming the music video for my next single, ‘Back To Life,’ the next day, I’d recoloured my hair a couple of days earlier (it had grown out A LOT) but since my usual dye had been discontinued, I’d had to guess at a new one and I wasn’t super happy with it so with my Mum’s help, we dyed it again, using a much redder dye than the previous one. It still wasn’t quite what I wanted but it was better than before.

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I spent the afternoon working on (and finishing!) my next blog post, My Lockdown Favourites, and then, in the evening, I tried on the outfits and jewellery for the video, just to make sure that everything matched and was comfortable enough to move freely in. I avoid weighing myself because of my struggles with food – I don’t believe I have an eating disorder but I have gone through phases of disordered eating so I’m careful to avoid things that trigger that, like keeping a frequent eye on my weight – but I don’t think I’ve gained much, if any, weight during lockdown. My weight fluctuates within a certain range and I’m currently wearing the bigger size of jeans but that did happen pre-lockdown times. So I was relieved that everything was comfortable and that I don’t need to spend money on new clothes.

I was happy with the two different looks and as comfortable with our safety plan as I could be, given that I find just going out incredibly stressful, but I still felt very anxious about making the video. We were shooting early to avoid as many people as possible, would be masked (apart from me when I was on camera), and would be socially distanced, but I was still anxious about being out, about acting relaxed and happy for the upbeat song while feeling so anxious, as well as all the normal anxieties about making music videos and being filmed. So it’s safe to say I was struggling. But if we didn’t shoot the video, we couldn’t move forward with the EP, and I would continue to carry all of that anxiety.

In an attempt to relax a bit before bed, I caught up with one of my parents over FaceTime and watched an episode of The Mentalist with Mum. Then we went to bed early, given that we had to get up pretty early for the video shoot. I don’t know how I’ve managed to come up with three music videos (four shoots in total), all that have involved getting up at vaguely ridiculous hours.


TUESDAY

My alarm was due to go off at six but I woke up at five thirty. That was positively luxurious compared to Richard’s ‘call time,’ since he’d had to leave his house before five (he was catching the first train from London – we’d talked about this a lot before we even started planning but he said he felt safe doing it, otherwise we wouldn’t have gone forward with the filming). But that extra time was good: it gave me some time to settle myself and collect my thoughts.

When my alarm went off, I got up and got showered, made up, and dressed in the first outfit I’d be wearing. I had a bit of breakfast and it was all going really well when, of course, I discovered a problem: a white residue had appeared on the frames of my glasses. It’s happened before but Mum had managed to get rid of it using a general household cleaner but nothing seemed to be working this time. We were supposed to be picking Richard up from the train station but I couldn’t do the video with my glasses looking the way they did (it was really noticeable and would look horrible) and I was rapidly spiralling into a meltdown, which I really couldn’t afford to have if we were going to film the video. In the end, Mum had to go and get Richard while I desperately tried to clean them, using anything and everything I could think of. A combination of googling and just experimenting later, I discovered that a thorough scrubbing with toothpaste was the answer. So, just in case you ever find yourself with the same problem…

PRO TIP: If your glasses develop a white residue on the frames, a good scrubbing with toothpaste will make them look as good as new.

I was just finishing when Mum and Richard got back and we headed straight out to the beach. I’d expected it to be pretty quiet, given that it was eight in the morning and a section of the beach a good distance from Brighton, but it was actually quite busy: there was an almost constant flow of people, most of whom weren’t wearing masks. This only added to my stress, in terms of safety and in terms of filming.

I don’t want to give too much away since this post will go up before the video is released. But we shot footage in three different locations (which included a somewhat awkward outfit change) and got everything we needed. I’d been worried about singing and making eye contact with the camera, something I’ve never done before, but that turned out to be much easier than before. It was hard work though, especially considering I’ve been inside for the last several months and my high level of anxiety. But we got it done and I’m cautiously optimistic about it as a finished video.

Here’s what I posted on Instagram afterwards…

Braved my anxieties to work on something special with the lovely @sandersonphoto today 🌊 (x)

After so much physical exertion (for the last year or so, even standing for extended periods of time can make me feel lightheaded and dizzy), it was a struggle to get back to the car. My whole body hurt, particularly my hip and knee joints and my steps got shorter and shorter. It felt like there was broken glass between the bones at each joint. It was horrible.

Eventually we made it back to the car and then home. We sat socially distanced in the garden for some lunch and then, as I watched Richard attempt to reconnect with the cats, I ended up falling asleep in my chair, completely exhausted by the emotion, the anxiety, and the physical activity. Fortunately Richard understands that this does happen – it’s happened before. I didn’t sleep for long and then we had a good catch up before dropping him back at the station around four. We were both really wiped from the early starts and the shoot.

Home again, I flopped down on the sofa and caught up with my other three parents who were all eager to hear how it had gone. Then me and Mum watched a couple of episodes of The Mentalist, had dinner, and went to bed early.


WEDNESDAY

It was a really tough day because I was in a lot of pain after the shoot the day before. My whole body hurt, every single time I moved, every time I even shifted my weight. It was hideous. No one has managed to explain why I experience this level of pain after ‘normal’ levels of activity and our investigation has been stalled by the pandemic. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to find out, or at least find some solid ways of managing it so that I don’t feel so limited (I think the lack of exercise – swimming is the only form of exercise that I can do without pain – hasn’t helped).

I’d planned to have a very gentle day anyway, knowing I’d be tired, so I settled in to watch Absentia Season 3. I knew from watching the first two seasons that I would get so absorbed that I wouldn’t want to stop until I finished it so I dedicated the day to binging the whole thing. I’m finding this to be a really good form of escapism at the moment, especially because I don’t have the concentration to do anything but watch it. Anyway, it was really good and I really, really enjoyed it. Having only started it a month or so ago, it’s already one of my favourite shows. I think the first season is my favourite but I’ve loved all of them and I love Emily Byrne (played by Stana Katic). She’s such an interesting character with such a complex history that I could just watch endless episodes of her. It’s definitely a show that I’ll watch over and over again.

This is the trailer for Season 1 even though I was watching Season 3 – I just don’t want to spoil the show for anyone.

I was so overwhelmed when I finished it that all I could really do was sit and absorb it. But eventually my brain started working again and I had a quick scroll through social media (I haven’t been spending much time on it recently but I do try to check in every now and then so that I’m update to date with what and how my friends are doing) before doing a bit of work, despite my dedication to a day of relaxation. A Dutch journalism student had reached out to me, asking if he could interview me as a new artist dealing with the pandemic. I’d been happy to help and he’d sent me a series of questions that I’d been thinking about so I pulled them up and wrote out my answers before sending the document back to him.

I FaceTimed with one of my parents (it’s hilarious – we talk more now than we did pre-pandemic even though we’re currently doing less and therefore have less to talk about, leading to some pretty bizarre conversations) and then me and Mum had dinner with The Mentalist. And after taking some time to digest, she gave me a massage (I think I’ve mentioned previously that she used to be a massage therapist) to help with all the pain I was in. It wasn’t exactly comfortable but I think it helped in the long run.

Lying on the carpet post massage, I was so relaxed that it was very hard to get up. I didn’t end up going to bed until around eleven.


THURSDAY

Despite the less than early night, I woke up at six and couldn’t go back to sleep. I was still tired but I enjoyed the cool and quiet of the early morning. It’s the time of day when I feel most calm, I think.

I stayed curled up in bed but I got to work, answering all of my outstanding messages (and there were A LOT of them). Over the last month or so, I’ve found that taking a couple of days away from social media can be really good for my mental health but then almost all of my socialisation with my friends is through social media so I’ve been working at finding a comfortable and healthy balance. The messages do pile up every now and then though so I’m not there yet. But I’m trying.

That done (and it felt like a real achievement considering how many messages there were), I got up and went downstairs to feed the cats. I was still in pain but it was mainly just in my joints and where the body bends, rather than absolutely everywhere like it had been the day before. So that was progress.

I spent the morning updating my bullet journal and working on various blog posts with Friends on the TV with volume turned down low (background noise helps me work and it seems to be the only thing that doesn’t distract me). I was just getting on with that when I got a handful of notifications from Taylor Swift’s social media accounts, announcing that she was releasing a new album at midnight (or 5am for me in the UK).

My brain basically short-circuited. It was such a shock – a good one, yes – but a shock nonetheless. I was incredibly excited but I also had this weird mix of adrenaline and anxiety rushing through my system; I think the only way I can describe it is that it’s like when my plans suddenly get derailed and I’m left scrambling to try and figure out what the new plan is. It’s not a comfortable feeling. Having said that, I don’t want to come across as negative because I was genuinely immensely excited but sudden changes are a lot to handle when you’re autistic so I was dealing with a lot of overwhelming emotions.

Given this news, my concentration was shot for the rest of the day. Usually, we have a lot longer to wait between announcement and release so the anticipation builds over months but this time, it felt like it was all compressed into less than a day. It took hours to get back into a headspace that wasn’t just ‘OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! TAYLOR SWIFT IS RELEASING A NEW ALBUM AND WE’LL HAVE IT IN LESS THAN TWENTY FOUR HOURS!’ and even then, the thought would leap up out of nowhere and smack me in the face, derailing my thought process. So it wasn’t the most productive day ever.

I spent (or tried to at least) the rest of the day trying to catch up with my diary so that I could immediately write down my thoughts on the new album the next day. I didn’t quite make it but I got close enough that I would still be writing about it on its release day.

Something that I started doing with the ‘Red’ album was predicting which songs I would like based on the titles. Obviously that’s not much to go on and there’s no logic to it really but it’s a fun exercise. My guesses for ‘folklore’ were ‘the last great american dynasty,’ ‘exile’ (I mean, a collaboration with Bon Iver?!), ‘my tears ricochet,’ ‘seven,’ ‘august,’ ‘this is me trying,’ and ‘epiphany.’ So I wrote those down, set multiple alarms to wake me up for my traditional 5am first listen, and went to bed early.


FRIDAY

My alarm went off at 4.45am and I flipped through various apps on my phone, just trying to wake myself up for the 5am release. But when the time came around, the album wasn’t available on iTunes. Fortunately lyric videos for each song had been uploaded to YouTube so I watched those according to the track listing. It’s always really important to me to listen to a new album in order because that’s a creative decision the artist made when they put it together. I often continue to listen to albums like that (unless I’m in a specific mood and need the validation that songs of a similar emotion provide).

As I listened, I noted down my thoughts about each track. I love how our relationships to songs change over time and as we discover all the layers within them so I always find it really interesting to look back and see what my original thoughts were for comparison. I don’t know if anyone cares but I’m going to stick them in here because I love the album and loved it from the first listen.

  1. the 1 – I instantly loved the nostalgic feel, created by the warm and gentle production. It had gorgeous lyrics with beautiful imagery and the melody felt easy and natural; I was singing along by the end of my first listen. It was instantly a favourite.
  2. cardigan – This one felt darker and a little more jaded with slightly more chaotic production. But it still had a warmth to it; it reminded me of a fire on a winter evening. The lyrics were detailed with more beautiful imagery.
  3. the last great american dynasty – This one has such an expansive, detailed story and I just loved the idea of this truly shameless woman but I didn’t personally connect to the song until it flipped and the story turned personal and then I was grinning like an idiot. The production felt very fitting with the story being told and again, the detail (and wide vocabulary) made for a great song.
  4. exile feat. Bon Iver – This is the collaboration I never knew to hope for. Bon Iver has a gorgeous voice and I just loved the two opposite sides, telling their story both in concert and over each other in a way that only intensified an already incredibly emotive song. It was an instant favourite and had me sobbing on the first listen. The lyrics were absolutely stunning and while I loved pretty much all of them, I really loved the first and final lines of the main chorus. There was just something about it that hit me square in the chest.
  5. my tears ricochet – The vocals in this one were particularly gorgeous and the lyrics were gorgeous and rich, kind of reminding me of velvet and stately rooms. The story is a mystery but beautifully detailed and I’m looking forward to listening over and over again until I understand it better. (I have to add that as soon as someone pointed out that it was, or at the very least could be, about the betrayal of Borchetta and sale of her masters, I fell in love it, with the metaphor and the emotion.)
  6. mirrorball – I instantly loved the guitar sound and I just loved the lyrics, how fragile they were but still so full of hope for love. It had some really beautiful lyrics and somehow, the whole song – lyrics, melody, and production – sounded just like a mirrorball.
  7. seven – I found this one a bit hard to follow but it had real character and some beautiful lyrics. I also really loved the relationship between the characters in the song.
  8. august – This one just sounded like a hazy summer day to me and the story was just so clear. The production was full and glorious and again, I loved the relationship between the two characters and the obvious complexity of their relationship, even though we don’t know who they really are or if they’re real at all.
  9. this is me trying – I was instantly struck by the production: thick and stunning and emotional. And I loved the reverb on the vocal and how it added to the emotion of the song. It was a favourite straight away, with gorgeous lyrics and imagery, and it was so honest and vulnerable in its simplicity. I just wanted to close my eyes and live in it. I found the rhythm of the bridge a little bit jarring but I’m sure I’ll get used to that with more listening. It seemed more real than some of the others. I’m not sure why but some of them just seemed more real.
  10. illicit affairs – It took me a while to get into this one – I found the verses lyrically beautifully but the rhythms tripped me up a little – but I loved the stripped back-ness of it. I loved the chorus lyrics and I adored the bridge: the pain and the fury in it were just so real, so brutally honest and vulnerable.
  11. invisible string – I thought this one told a really lovely story with both tongue-in-cheek lyrics and beautifully sincere ones. But I didn’t like something about the production of the vocal, something that made it a little uncomfortable to listen to.
  12. mad woman – Definitely the biggest oh-my-god of the album. I kind of wanted it to be a huge, relentless wall of sound but I think the calm, beautifully honed steel approach is probably more effective, given the subject matter (another take on Borchetta, Braun, and the sale of her masters). I loved it and loved her refusal to be shamed for being angry. The lyrics were truly awesome and I loved how she went straight for the jugular, all in in an incredibly gratifying demolition.
  13. epiphany – I found this one hard to listen to because the emotions were so raw but it was beautifully written, a stunning tribute to the people described and their stories. I cried from the first verse until long after the song finished.
  14. betty – I thought this big, busy story was told really well but I didn’t really connect with the characters. I just ended up getting distracted wondering who the characters were, who the songs were about. The production also wasn’t really a style I love but the key change did make me smile. And hearing her sing, ‘would you tell me to go fuck myself’ made me laugh, even though she’s singing in character.
  15. peace – This is, I think, one of the most beautiful, vulnerable, honest love songs I’ve ever heard. It reminds me of wedding vows, of all of the promises she’s willing to make but then asking him if they’re enough to outweigh the hard times. She lays everything bare and I think that’s part of what makes the song so special. The production is also simply gorgeous (even though I would’ve loved a big, glittering bridge but I get that that’s not how this genre or style seems to work). It was another real favourite and I was a puddle of tears by the end.
  16. hoax – This one feels intricately connected to ‘peace’ somehow: a darker but still painfully honest, vulnerable love song. Having said that, I could be completely wrong. I don’t feel like I fully understand it with just one listen because there are just so many lyrics and metaphors and emotions to unpack but I’m looking forward to listening to it over and over again and sharing theories with other fans until I understand it better. But back to the song, the beautiful lyrics are only accentuated by the simple production. It ends the album on a very complex note, which isn’t something she traditionally does.

I’m really looking forward to hearing ‘the lakes’ and seeing how that fits into the album and I’m just really excited to listen to the album over and over and over again, until I know every little detail. Again, because I love it so much (and because I’m a Songwriting Nerd), I’ll probably make a whole post about it at some point once I’ve listened to it more and have a better understanding of the stories. If that’s not your thing then I absolutely won’t be offended if you skip that post.

I bought some merch (the international shipping is atrocious but I’m trying not to beat myself up since I’ve barely spent any money since lockdown began) and spent the morning on Tumblr, reading people’s reactions and theories and analyses of the new songs. This is always one of my favourite parts of a new Taylor album, everyone coming together to peel back all of the layers in each of the songs. It reminds me of this Daisy Johnson quote from Agents of Shield (my favourite TV show): “Usually one person doesn’t have the solution, but a hundred people with one percent of the solution? That will get it done. I think that’s beautiful… pieces solving a puzzle.”

Early afternoon, I had a Zoom session with my therapist. We talked through the week since my last session, discussing the difficulties and how I’d dealt with them. She also let me ramble about Taylor Swift for a little bit because she knows how much I love her and how important her music is to me, both as a person and as a songwriter. For the most part though, we talked about how much I have and still am struggling with the different reactions people have had and are having to the pandemic and lockdown. I’ve never been able to get my head around the way some people have managed to be super motivated and productive during this time while I feel like I can’t move past the fact that we’re in a pandemic, that tens of thousands of people have died, hundreds of thousands of people are mourning, and so on. It’s like this giant roadblock that I just cannot navigate around. Yes, I’ve been able to do bits and pieces here and there but this is always in the middle of my brain, making it impossible to be much more than minimally functional. I don’t think a person is bad or wrong for being able to compartmentalise or manage however they are managing; I just don’t understand how someone actually does it. Usually I can understand how someone might approach a situation differently even if I can’t actually do it myself but right now, I can’t. I wish I did; I wish I knew how to not feel constantly overwhelmed by distress and grief and fear.

By the time we finished, I was really starting to flag; the early start, the emotions of ‘folklore,’ and the difficult discussions in therapy. I was TIRED; I was struggling not to fall asleep on the sofa. I lay there for a while, just processing everything, and when Mum came upstairs to check on me, we ended up watching The Mentalist together while I did some diary writing. My emotions were all over the place and I just needed some gentle time.

Dinner and another episode later, me and Mum got in the car and went for a drive. I always introduce her to new albums on long drives and it’s a tradition we both really love (something we haven’t done since before we went into lockdown). We didn’t have anywhere to drive to so we just decided to drive up to a particular junction on the motorway and back, listening to the album beginning to end. For some reason, it feels like an album that sounds best in the dark, hence why we’d waited until the evening. It was really fun and we both really enjoyed it. Mum’s initial favourites were ‘illicit affairs,’ ‘this is me trying,’ and ‘mad woman.’ After a day of listening to it, my top three were ‘this is me trying,’ ‘mirrorball,’ and ‘exile.’ But I really, really love a lot of them. It’s mostly a case of which ones do I love more or less and which ones do I connect to more or less.

There was a diversion due to roadworks so we ended up getting home pretty late. We were sorting out the cats and getting ready for bed when we came to a decision on something we’ve been discussing for a while: we decided to buy the one thing I wanted for my birthday, a Gretsch hollow body electric guitar. I’ve wanted one for months and it was going to be my birthday present but me and Mum had discussed it and decided to buy it a couple of months early so that I can make the most of it before university starts again in early October (my birthday is at the very end of September). I want to improve my skills and also just play for fun as much as possible before I have to start factoring in university work, in whatever form that takes. We’ve been talking about it for a while now but that evening, we decided to finally stop talking about it and actually do it. It was very exciting and would be arriving in just a few days (the picture below is from when it arrived).

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SATURDAY

I woke up feeling tired and unsettled and anxious and it just got stronger and stronger throughout the day. I just felt really overwhelmed by all the things I feel I still need to do before uni starts again, which ironically and frustratingly made it harder to get anything done.

It was a rainy day so the cats spent a lot of time indoors with us, which was a comfort. They’re usually busy playing in the garden so it was nice to have them around. They were all pretty affectionate but Sooty was especially snuggly and I gratefully accepted every invitation to cuddle.

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I posted my weekly blog post, My Lockdown Favourites, and then spent most of the day catching up with my diary. It’s so easy to get behind and that causes me such anxiety. I also spent a bit of time at the piano and continued messing around with a couple of song ideas I’ve been working on recently. I’ve been experimenting with writing from the point of view of fictional and historical characters over lockdown and although I find it much harder than writing about my personal experiences, it’s a fun challenge and one that I think is improving my songwriting skills, as well as resulting in some interesting songs. So, all in all, it was an okay day.

In the evening, one of my parents came over for dinner in the garden. We’d also planned to watch Hamilton together but given how stressed and anxious I’d been, we decided to postpone that until next time so that I’d actually be able to enjoy it. I’ve really been looking forward to seeing it so I was grateful for the flexibility; I wanted to be able to really get stuck in and engage with it and I just didn’t feel able to that day. Still, it was really nice to see her in really life and hang out together.

When she left, me and Mum watched a couple of episodes of The Mentalist while I did some diary writing and then we went to bed, far too late as usual. Sleeping badly has got me all twisted up about going to bed so I dread it and put it off and usually end up sleeping worse because of it. It’s a habit I’m trying to break but so far I haven’t done very well. It’s just so easy to get sucked into trying to finish whatever I’m doing.


SUNDAY

I slept restlessly (as is my new normal) and woke up feeling tired and low. But I dragged myself up and me and Mum fed the cats – it really is a two person job with five very eager cats. They’re so cute though and watching them practically inhale their food and then skip out into the garden to play is a good way to start the day.

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Mum headed out straight away and drove to our gym since she hasn’t been able to get anyone on the phone. Because of my Chronic Fatigue and the ongoing problems with my joints, weight bearing exercise can be really painful so swimming is really the only serious exercise I can do. I’m really concerned that gyms are opening too early but as they are, I at least wanted to know what the safety precautions are and what my options might be. Our gym has a therapy pool that was always empty first thing in the morning so we would use that but when she returned, she reported that the therapy pool wasn’t an option because they didn’t have enough life guards yet. And when it came to their safety precautions, I just didn’t feel like it was worth the risk. But we’re going to keep talking to them and try to work out an arrangement as a disabled member. So it’s not the end of the road but it was very disappointing and didn’t help my mood.

I was supposed to have a music lesson (via Zoom) but my anxiety was even worse than the day before so, in the end, I cancelled it. Fortunately my teacher is one of my parents and so she understands that if I say I can’t do something, I really can’t. I’d really tried to motivate myself and push through my anxiety but I just felt like I was going to start crying at any moment. It was just too much.

So I curled up on the sofa with the TV on low and continued catching up with my diary. I always get behind when Taylor Swift releases an album because I end up writing so much about it – the lyrics, what I like and what I’d do differently, the production, my overall thoughts – and sticking in interesting analyses from Tumblr. I’m always amazed at how quickly some people are able to analyse a song and see all the layers while I’m still overwhelmed by the amount of layers and all the emotions the songs evoke.

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I also did a bit more work organising my photo library but I hadn’t got very far before I was interrupted (very pleasantly) by one of my parents dropping in to say hello. She hadn’t planned on staying long but then we got talking about ‘folklore.’ She’s a huge music nerd so she’s always interested to know what I’m listening to. I played her a couple of the songs and that turned into a full album listening party, which was really fun, although I’m always a little anxious about playing her music that’s special to me because she can have really strong opinions. But she was really into it (she particularly liked ‘mad woman’) and asked me to share it with her so she could listen to it some more. So that was very cool.

I ended the day having dinner and watching The Mentalist with Mum (we are both complete saps when it comes to the Jane and Lisbon relationship in the final season) while I continued writing my diary.


So that’s another week of my lockdown experience. I feel like, aside from unexpected difficulties with my mental health or an autistic meltdown, I’m finding a groove where I’m as productive and comfortable as I can be. It’s far from what I would’ve wished for during this period (apart from the new Taylor Swift album) but I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m managing a bit better, in the sense that I’m better at taking things day by day.

So I hope this was interesting to read, interesting to see someone else’s experience and maybe escape your own life for a bit. I hope you’re all doing well, staying safe and coping the best you can.

My Lockdown Favourites

As stressful (and often traumatic) as it’s been, lockdown has provided the opportunity to try out different pursuits, things that we didn’t have the time or mental energy for previously. Even though said lockdown isn’t actually over yet, I’ve been thinking about some of the things I’ve discovered or things that I’ve been finding relief in during this difficult time and thought I’d share them, in case they’re helpful or comforting to anyone else.


The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy – My therapist gave me this book just before lockdown and I read it all in one go. It’s comforting and inspiring and the illustrations are just stunning. But even though I’ve read it, it’s a really good book for just dipping into, for just opening at a random page, and ruminating on the message of the words – while there is progression to it, it’s not in a traditional story format so you can simply read it in this way.

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My Kelsea Ballerini sweatpants – Obviously any good pair of sweatpants will do but my favourite pair come from the merch line accompanying Kelsea Ballerini’s third album. I know that a lot of people have talked about needing to get up and get dressed as they did pre-pandemic to be productive but I’m honestly more productive when I’m comfortable and these are just super soft and cosy without being too thick. I’m pretty sure they’re one of the best pieces of merch I’ve ever bought.

Kalie Shorr – I’ve loved Kalie’s music for years, especially her debut album, ‘Open Book,’ which came out last year. Her music really is unique: her lyric writing is brutally honest and perfectly balances detail and metaphor, her melodies surprising yet effortlessly catchy, and the production not only perfectly matches each song but takes you on as much as a journey throughout the album as the lyrics do. It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard and as a songwriter, I learn more from it every time I listen to it. I’ve been playing to it a lot during lockdown and even learning some of the songs on the piano as I try and improve my skills. It’s so cohesive, emotionally, lyrically, and sonically. It’s so utterly Kalie. I hope that, one day, I’ll be as assured of my musical identity as Kalie is.

My keyboard – I love playing the piano but between life and managing my mental health, I do often find it difficult to just sit down and play simply for the fun of it. If I have a university assignment or song idea, of course I’ll work at it until it’s perfect but I struggle to fit in time to just play because I like the sound or learn a song I love or practice a specific skill. So having this extra time has allowed me to do that. There’s also the added bonus that piano playing takes up so much concentration for me that I’m distracted from my near constant anxiety, something I’m very grateful for.

Absentia – I’ve been meaning to watch this show for ages; it’s been on my To Watch list in a number of bullet journals now. But I always felt guilty for putting the time aside to get into a new show. In these current times though, it’s been the perfect escape and I found it so addictive that I ended up watching a season a day. If you like a mix of crime show and thriller, plus an awesome, well developed female lead, then this is a show for you.

Banana Bread – It’s a bit of a lockdown cliche but seeing everyone making banana bread inspired us to make it again. I haven’t had it in years and oh my god, I’d forgotten how good it is. We went a bit overboard, probably making (and sharing) at least fifteen of them…

Fanfiction – As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been struggling to really get into reading. Whether it’s my anxiety about the pandemic or my mental health in general, trying to absorb brand new characters, settings, and storylines just seems to be too much for my brain and I just can’t concentrate. Reading stories set in familiar worlds (Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary, Harry Potter, Criminal Minds, etc) with familiar characters just feels more possible and I love how they build on and fill out something that I already love. I’ve always found it to be a really good form of relaxation, a really good way of escaping reality when everything gets too much. Maybe one day I’ll make a post listing my favourites because some of them are genuinely among the best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read.

1SE App – I’ve been a fan of the 1 Second Everyday app for years but I’ve found it particularly helpful and enjoyable during lockdown. It reminds me of the good moments, that I am actually achieving things, that we are moving forward. I don’t know if lockdown is going to have a definitive end but if it does, I may post a one-second-a-day-of-every-day-in-lockdown video. Otherwise I’ll probably post the video of the whole year at the end of 2020.

Lauren Cimorelli – I have been loving Lauren Cimorelli’s recent music, especially ‘Atom Bomb’ and ‘Rabbit Hole.’ The lyrics create these beautifully dark and romantic images, they’re super catchy, and the production is awesome: vivid and chaotic but glittering and iridescent. They really inspire me to get better, particularly at production.

Isn’t It Romantic – I’m not usually a huge fan of romantic comedies but me and my uni friends have been having regular movie nights, taking turns to choose the movie. I can’t remember who chose this one and I was prepared to simply watch it and then forget about it but I absolutely loved it, so much so that I’ve watched it three or four times since that initial viewing to show it to other people. I loved the ridiculousness of it and how it made fun of the romantic comedy genre, while still being a really fun, feel good film.

Broadchurch – My brother and his Mum watched all three series in a week and insisted that me and Mum would love it so we tried it out and got through it in even less time. It follows the partnership of the moody, complex DI Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and the bright and bubbly DS Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) as the try to solve cases (one per series) in the small, seaside town of Broadchurch. It was thoroughly gripping and we repeatedly went to bed hours later than intended because the cliffhangers were so intense.

Taylor Swift – I know folklore only came out yesterday but I’m already completely obsessed with it and I know I’ll be listening to it daily for a LONG time. I do miss the big, bold, glittering production from her previous albums but I also love this new sound for her. I’m finding it completely impossible to choose a favourite but I absolutely adore ‘the 1,’ ‘exile (feat. Bon Iver),’ ‘my tears ricochet,’ ‘mirrorball,’ ‘this is me trying,’ ‘illicit affairs,’ ‘mad woman,’ ‘epiphany’ (although it’s actually painful in its sadness), and ‘peace.’ It’s a stunning album.


So these are some of the things that I’ve been enjoying in lockdown (the words ‘enjoying’ and ‘lockdown’ in the same sentence sound very strange). I hope these are interesting to you and if you have any favourites of your own, please share!