Posted on April 10, 2021
I love a good week-in-my-life post and I try to do one every semester or so, since that does tend to shake my life up. Now, the semester is coming to a close and the assessments are in sight so I’m busy with uni work, with cowrites, and with health stuff. There’s a lot to juggle right now.
The week in this post begins on Monday 15th March and ends on Sunday 21st March 2021. I’d thought I’d have this up on the blog earlier than this but when I was writing it, I wasn’t thinking about the timing and then there was Autism Awareness Week to post for. But here we are, just a bit later than planned.
I struggled to wake up with my alarm. My sleep isn’t great at the moment and my alarms really aren’t doing their job. Most of the time I’m sleeping through them completely, which isn’t exactly ideal.
For a moment, I forgot that it had been the Grammys the night before and then suddenly it came rushing back. I went online and found out who won what. I’m sad Ingrid Andress didn’t win any of the three she was nominated for, but I am glad that The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Maren Morris) won Best Country Song, although Maren Morris won’t get a Grammy since she wasn’t a writer on the song. And then there’s Taylor Swift. I’m so, so happy that she won Album of the Year for folklore. I think she deserved more than just the one award – I mean, how did she not win Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with ‘exile featuring bon iver’?! – but I do also think it’s a good thing when there’s no one person that walks away with five or six, meaning more artists/songwriters/producers/etc are being recognised for their work (I’m not saying the Grammys are fair – we know they’re problematic – but this is one aspect that makes them fairer).
I’m so happy for her, especially after everything she’s had to deal with with her masters and still working through the fall out of everything that happened/came to a head in 2016. And I know I’m biased but it’s pretty widely acknowledged what a big deal folklore was (and is); it was absolutely the album of 2020.
I was so busy catching up with the Grammys news that I was late for my online Occupational Therapy session. Fortunately my OT therapist understands my passion for music so she didn’t mind. We ran through my exercises and she wants me to do them for a little bit longer before moving on to a new set of exercises. Having fallen down the stairs at the weekend, she warned me to take things gently – to take a bit longer if that felt safer and more comfortable – and said that an injury, even to an unconnected area, could cause a general flare up of pain. So hurray for that. Everything hurt from the fall but I figured that that was due to the actual impact (well, multiple impacts) rather than anything chronic pain related. I haven’t been dealing with this – chronic pain – long enough to be able to predict stuff like flare ups. So we’ll just have to see things go.
And then we were done. The sessions are always exhausting, even if I’m not being asked to do much. So, before I could fall asleep on the sofa (it would not be the first time), I got up and recorded the new vocals for the song I was presenting in class the next day, ‘Last One Standing.’ I really love this song so I was really nervous to hear people’s feedback; I really wanted them to like it.
I finished that and, as predicted, I fell asleep on the sofa for a couple of hours.
I had a gentle rest of the day, doing various admin tasks before starting The One on Netflix. I was craving something new. I got into it really quickly, which was great – exactly what I wanted. I only stopped when 9pm rolled around and it was time for Unforgotten, a show my whole family has loved since it began airing. We all just love Nicola Walker and I particularly love her as Cassie Stuart. Having said that, I’m struggling with this series. I think the case they’re working is super interesting – maybe the most interesting one they’ve tackled – but with Cassie feeling so trapped and angry, it’s not as enjoyable as it has been in the past so I really that hope they’re heading towards a solution that brings some of her warmth back. (It’s safe to say that I wrote this before we saw the series finale.)
I was really stressing before class (we’re heading towards the assessment and I always get so anxious that I’m not doing enough) and somewhat frantically messaging with my friend. She suggested we have a a quick video chat before the class started and that really helped to ground me. Then we signed into our class.
We didn’t have our normal (awesome) tutor but we had another awesome tutor; I’ve had her as a tutor a handful of times since I first started at ICMP, on the BA, and she’s really great. Throw in the fact that we were presenting our ekphrasis songs (songs that were responses to other pieces of art, like visual art, films, etc) and it was a really interesting and thought provoking session. The brief had really stretched people and the songs were all so exciting and so different in the best possible way. I loved all of them.
I was last and VERY nervous because I was (and am) so attached to my song. Fortunately though, everyone really liked it and had some really great responses, some really interesting thoughts, and some good things to think about in the redrafting process. I was so happy with the positive response that I finished the class feeling like I was glowing. My first ‘glowy moment’ of the year – that’s what I used to call the really awesome moments. It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt like I had a reason to use the phrase.
I meant to have a nap between classes – that always makes it easier to concentrate in the second class, which is, after all, three hours long – but I accidentally ended up binge-watching The One. It’s so compelling and so thought-provoking, in so many different ways.
The seminar was on authenticity but having studied authenticity in song lyrics pretty extensively for my Musicology essay, it was all pretty familiar. So while it wasn’t too intellectually taxing, I was tired and it was hard to stay focussed. I didn’t mind three hour classes when I was actually in them but I do find three hour classes on Zoom a struggle.
When the class was over, I curled up on the sofa and finished The One; the last episode was just one mind-blowing revelation after another. It was so good. I found Rebecca a particularly fascinating character; there was so much to unravel. Both Hannah Ware (Rebecca Webb) and Zoë Tapper (Kate Saunders) deliver incredible performances and there’s so much potential for another series. Me and my friend, Luce, (who was an episode behind me) freaked out together when she finished it about an hour later.
I’m always exhausted on a Tuesday, even if I do manage a nap, and I was falling asleep on the sofa around ten. So I dragged myself up and headed for bed. That’s pretty early for me these days. I’ve been trying to get to bed earlier so that wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
I slept really badly but I didn’t sleep in. I was still in pain so I couldn’t get back to sleep anyway and at some point during the pandemic, I started feeling guilty if I slept in (this is super unhealthy, I know – I’m working on it in therapy) so I got up, had a shower and breakfast, and got to work. I did some uni stuff and then wrote down my thoughts to collect myself before a meeting with my course leader.
The meeting was about the final module of the Masters, which is called the Major Repertoire Project where we can research and create a body of work about anything we want. I know what I want to centre my project around (I’ll share soon but I want to get the current module done first) but you can take various approaches to the research and I wanted to talk to my course leader about that. We had a really in depth discussion and she gave me some really good ideas to think about. So I’ve got a lot to figure out but I’m really excited to get into it.
As good as the meeting was, I was really tired afterwards. I got comfortable and tried my best to concentrate on blog post writing. It took hours but eventually I managed to finish my blog post on being diagnosed with ADHD. At least I had a pretty good view while I worked.
Mid afternoon, I was supposed to have a phone call appointment with a neurologist. And I did, except they called two hours late, it wasn’t the person it was supposed to be, and then they basically spent twenty five minutes trying to convince my Mum and I that any tests they do as a department would probably be a waste of time and likely wouldn’t show anything. And that was it. The call ended and I just felt confused and upset. Isn’t the point of a doctor to help you, rather than convince you that trying to find an answer to your problems is a waste of everyone’s time? I mean, I was referred to the neurologist by my GP because she thought this was worth investigating. And then I finally get to see said neurologist after rescheduling and it felt like they were fobbing me off from the moment the call started. So, that was… yeah.
I was all over the place and Mum did her best to distract me. She’d seen bits of The One (although I’d managed to prevent her from seeing anything too spoiler-y) but she wanted to see the whole show so we started it again; she was hooked straight away, just like I was. As we watched, I started doing some basic research based on the Major Rep Project seeds that my course leader had planted in my brain; I didn’t get very far but it was definitely interesting and a good distraction from real life.
And then I went to bed, completely exhausted. It was barely ten thirty.
I struggled up with my early alarm but all of my careful planning for the day had fallen apart before ten am. I’d had two cowrites booked for the day but then one of them needed rearranging so I suddenly had to try and rearrange the whole day. I was majorly stressing that I was going to have to cancel on somebody but fortunately I was able to rework everything so that I could work with both people.
I had a shower and breakfast before finishing the lyrics to a song I’d been working on and speaking to Richard about the plans for the acoustic videos (the ones I’ve been releasing over the last few weeks). Then I worked on blog post stuff until it was time for my first cowrite. My friend, Anna, and I worked on a really cool song that she’d brought a draft of to the sessions and we were both so proud of it when finished. It has some really great metaphors and imagery and we tightened up this awesome outro that she’d proposed. I feel like we created something really special and that felt so good.
When we hung up, I had an hour to eat a really late lunch (and watch some more of The One with my Mum) before my second writing session, this time with my friend, Dan. He didn’t have a draft like Anna but we’d been messaging about what to write about: he’d sent me some themes, I proposed some more concrete ideas, and then he chose one that resonated for us to work on.
We decided to call it quits after a couple of hours and although we hadn’t finished the song we’d started, I feel like we’d made a really solid start on a really interesting song. I really liked what we’d come up with and Dan seemed to feel good about it too.
I feel like my writing has improved so much over the last few months and it felt particularly strong that day. I just felt like everything I was coming out with was good, not necessarily right for the song of the moment but still good. And that felt kind of amazing. Obviously not every day or every session is like that but every now and then it happens and it’s so, so satisfying; it gives you such a motivation boost. And remembering days like that one are really helpful on the days when it feels like everything you write is complete crap. So it was a good day, despite the stressful start, and I felt really positive about my writing and my friendships and my creative relationships and my course. It was a good day.
I was exhausted and starving by the time we finished but in a good way, in the way where you’ve worked really hard and you need to replenish, in the satisfying way. Mum and I finished The One with dinner and she was as blown away as I’d been. It was fun to have someone to talk about it and dissect it with; there are so many interesting and thought-provoking ideas in there.
Even though it was already late, I couldn’t help doing some more research into some of the ideas my course leader had suggested before forcibly reminding myself that that was not the time to be getting into complicated academic research, that I needed to disconnect and go to bed.
For the first time in a really long time, I slept super deeply and actually woke up feeling somewhat human and not a zombie.
After a quick shower and breakfast, my Mum and I headed down to the GP surgery for another set of blood tests. I’ve completely forgotten what they’re for or who requested them with so many people involved right now but apparently they might give us more insight into my fatigue. The nurse was lovely and the whole thing was super quick and efficient.
Back home, I did some work for uni and typed up my notes from my meeting with my course leader, including some of the resources I’d started to find the night before. I wanted to get it all down before I started to forget things. This project feels so huge right now – I’m sure it will start to feel more manageable and achievable once I’m actually working on it and not just thinking about it in broad strokes – so I don’t know what I’m going to need to remember at this point.
I worked up until my therapy session, which are still online at this point. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: in person is better and, personally, I find it more helpful but I’m grateful to still have access to therapy at all so I’m not complaining. Since I’ve been in a better place, we talked about that and what’s contributed to that. I told her about my first glowy moment – the first one in so long – and she was so excited so we enthused about that together. But we also talked about how difficult I’ve been finding it to start on the assessment work; maybe it’s my anxiety around assessments, maybe it’s the untreated ADHD, maybe it’s a combination of both. It’s also just irritating to have to focus on the paperwork side of things when I just want to keep writing madly.
It was an okay session. Between all of the pandemic stuff and having sessions online, I find it hard to get into things deeply enough to really move forward. So mostly it’s been about coping, which is necessary but also really frustrating. It’s felt like a year of treading water when I’m just so desperate to make some progress, of any kind.
I spent the afternoon doing various admin, like emails and so on, and more uni work. And then, early evening, I uploaded the first of the acoustic session videos. Working with Sunburst Sessions (back in February 2020), we’d made a video for each track of the Honest EP but I obviously hadn’t finished releasing the EP at that point, hence why they’re only coming out now. I’m going in order of the EP tracklist so the first one up was ‘Bad Night.’
The video up and shared to all of my social media and WhatsApp groups etc, I had a long catch up on FaceTime with one of my parents before having dinner with my Mum. It was pretty late by that point and we were both tired so we watched a couple of episodes of Episodes (it’s one of our comfort shows – it’s not emotionally heavy and both Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan are brilliant).
I’m still sore from falling down the stairs so Mum gave me a massage (I’m so freaking lucky to have a massage therapist for a mother) and then we both headed to bed.
I was awake on and off throughout the night and I was wide awake between four and six am. Ugh. And then, of course, I fell into a really deep sleep that was a really struggle to wake up from. And because I’d slept later than usual – later than I usually start taking my current daily painkillers – I was in so much pain that I could barely move. I had to eat and wait for them to kick in before I could manage a shower. So… not the best start to the morning.
When I finally made it to the living room, Mum and I did the Census and then I logged into the blog and posted my International Day of Happiness post.
I spent the rest of the morning working through the feedback I’d received on my songs from this semester, which made the task of choosing songs for the assessment portfolio much more straightforward: I don’t think any of the songs I’ve presented are bad but there were some obvious standouts, all of which were actually in line with my gut instinct about what to submit. I just needed to work on them, based on the feedback, and then pull the paperwork together: the various drafts, the feedback, my notes, etc.
Early afternoon I had a writing session with my friend, Phill, but we ended up deciding that we’d gotten as far as we could online and so we’re gonna continue working on the song when we can meet up in person. We’re just having trouble with the lag time. I’m happy to do that and although that was the writing session effectively over, we stayed on the video call and just had a really fun and chilled out chat, which was really nice. Because socialising has to be so organised now, I’ve definitely found myself having fewer spontaneous and casual chats with people and I’ve missed that. So it was a really nice few hours.
After we hung up, I had some chill time. I was having a quick scroll through Instagram when I saw that Natalie Hemby, a songwriter I really admire, had posted about Travis Meadows, another songwriter I really admire, and how he’s been through A LOT recently…
I love Travis Meadows and his music so I went straight to the gofundme page. The video he’d made the week before, sharing for himself what had happened, was incredibly moving. I donated what I could and shared the fundraiser on all of my socials. (The fundraiser has since met its goal but is still open – I’m sure the hospital bills, past and ongoing, are much more than the original goal set.)
One of my parents came over for a bubble dinner and we watched Lucifer together and then I watched my friend Luce‘s online show. She played some great covers and acoustic versions of the songs she’s already released but she also played some new songs and they were incredible. They were so powerful. I can’t wait for everyone to hear what she’s working on because it’s truly amazing.
When her show finished, I had a couple of FaceTime calls with various family members and then went to bed. It was still really early – not even ten thirty – but I was exhausted.
I didn’t wake up until half nine and when I opened my eyes, I found three of the five cats watching me. Clearly it was long past breakfast time and they were impatiently waiting for me to deliver. So I dragged myself up, fed the clamouring masses (this is sarcasm just in case you couldn’t tell – I adore them), and had a shower, before settling in the living room.
I ate breakfast in front of the Netflix short Creating The Queen’s Gambit. I loved it, loved seeing how the whole thing came together, from the really obvious creative choices (like Beth’s hair and the sets) to the tiniest of details (like the interactions between the characters); it just made me want to watch the show again but I just don’t have the time right now. I would want to pay attention to all of those details and right now I have too much to do; the TV is pretty much just there for background noise at the moment.
I spent the morning working on my notes for my assessment portfolio. I was due to have a cowrite in the afternoon but then that got rescheduled to the next day. But I made use of the time: I spent several hours working on a research proposal for a Musicology conference. I’d absolutely love to present at this conference, so much so that it’s probably making me super perfectionistic about it. So I’m trying – I really am – to dial that back so that I can actually write the damn proposal. Because if I don’t write the proposal, I definitely don’t get to present at the conference.
After a few hours on that, I went back to my portfolio notes. It wasn’t a particularly interesting day but it was busy. I got a lot done.
Then, in the evening, I had another bubble dinner: pizza, Lucifer, and catching up. It was really nice. I couldn’t totally relax – I did a bit more uni work and some writing for various blog posts – but I had a really good evening. And then I went to bed early, completely knackered.
So it was a super busy week. But that’s not exactly new. I’ve been battling all semester with the danger of burning myself out before the assessment. I know that I really need to manage myself better. It’s just that sometimes my enthusiasm gets the better of me, especially when it comes to music things.
As I post this, classes have ended and the assessment deadline is coming up so I really need to concentrate on that. I just wish concentrating was easier. The practical work I don’t seem to have a problem with but the analysis – an essay that’s not really an essay – has me banging my head against my desk. It’s such a simple, straightforward task and yet I’m finding it so difficult. And on that note, I’m going to post this and go and work on it. Because there’s a hundred and one more things to do after I do that.
Category: adhd, animals, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, emotions, heds, mental health, music, sleep, therapy, university, video, writing Tagged: a week in my life, acoustic sessions, adhd, assessment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, blog writing, blogging, blood test, cat, cats, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, conference, coronavirus, covid-19, cowriting, cowriting session, creating the queen's gambit, dbt, dialectical behaviour therapy, ekphrasis, episodes, facetime, family, family of cats, folklore, friend, friends, glowy moment, grammys 2021, heds, honest ep, honest ep (sunburst sessions), hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, luce, major repertoire project, march 2021, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, musicology conference, my cats, natalie hemby, neurologist, nicola walker, occupational therapy, online classes, online concert, online learning, online university, pain, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, perfectionism, perfectionist, remote therapy, remote writing session, research conference, research proposal, seminar, singersongwriter, sleep, songwriter, songwriting, sunburst sessions, taylor swift, the highwomen, the one, the one netflix, the queen's gambit, therapy, travis meadows, unforgotten, university, university assessment, week in my life, writing session
Posted on November 28, 2020
As opposed to my usual week-in-the-life posts, I thought I’d do something slightly different this time and zoom in on what it’s like to be an autistic student at university (one doing an MA in COVID-19 times anyway). This is obviously just my experience – as the saying goes, ‘if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person’ – but I thought it might be an interesting post to write. I feel like it’s so important to share our experiences as autistic people, especially when media is being created that can be harmful to us (i.e. everything that’s been going on with Sia’s new film – I feel like I should be writing about that but I still don’t know how to; it makes me so upset that I can’t really write anything that feels articulate enough to represent the significance of the issue). So I hope this is an interesting read.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Monday was hugely busy, with a production session, two doctors appointments, and working on the essay of the module in the spaces between. I’ve been working on it somewhat steadily but since I have a feedback session coming up, I’ve been a bit more random in my approach to writing it – fitting writing time in wherever I can or just writing about certain things as they occur to me – so that I can get as much out of that session as possible.
So it was one of those days where I barely had time to think.
On Monday evenings, the Masters course have a song sharing session between 7.30pm and 9.30pm. I’ve been a couple of times but I tend to find it too much. I’m most creative at night and so filling my head with new songs and song analysis right before I try to sleep really messes up my ability to sleep, which I have to try to do relatively early with my first class on a Tuesday at 9am. And if I don’t get enough sleep on a Monday night, I’m useless in every class on the one day I have classes. So, unless there’s a really good reason, I can’t really prioritise them.
I also find them quite hard socially: as much as doing the Masters course part time was the right thing for me, it has meant that for both years, I’ve never quite felt part of the group. There’s a handful of us in the same position and I can’t speak for them but it’s always left me feeling a bit ‘other,’ like I don’t really fit anywhere – not quite part of the group in the first year and even less part of the group in this second year. Everyone on the course is lovely but it does have a pretty big impact on the social side of the course. And when you struggle with feeling like you don’t fit in, it’s hard to feel it in yet another area of your life. So sometimes that factor just makes it too hard on my mental health. Maybe it will feel easier when one of my best friends rejoins the course in January.
So, instead, I used the time to do some more work on my essay before emailing everything required for the feedback session to my tutor (I wanted to make sure he had enough time to go through it all before we met on Wednesday afternoon). Then I tried to unwind a bit. Somehow I still ended up going to bed too late – not that 11pm is hugely late but for me, the night before a class, it’s on the border of being dangerously late.
I have a prescription for sleeping pills because my anti-depressants can cause problems with my sleep but I try to avoid them where I can. Having said that, knowing how exhausting a uni day can be, I usually take one the night before to make sure I’ve had enough sleep to give me the best chance of getting through said long uni day.
THE DAY ITSELF
I wouldn’t say I slept well and I struggled to get up but I’ve had worse nights so I just tried to push through the fatigue. I got dressed and made up and then collapsed on the sofa for a rest. Standing for the time it takes to shower, get dressed, and do my make up makes me feel weak, and lightheaded, and sick – something we’re still investigating with, unfortunately, very little progress – but getting up as early as I had meant that I did have enough time for some recovery time. It’s all down to planning. My life is dependent on planning. I also managed to eat some breakfast and take all of my pills. I’m taking quite a few at the moment – more than the ‘normal’ ones that help me maintain my mental health – because of a Vitamin D deficiency and horrible nerve pain down my left side (I’ve been waiting for a hospital appointment for the latter since about April or May, which may be my personal record for appointment waiting times).
My seminar started at nine (if you’ve read my previous university posts, you’ll remember that I’m doing all of my classes online this semester). My normal tutor (who is legitimately one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met) started the class before handing us over to a guest tutor who gave us a two hour class on arranging strings and horns. He was incredibly knowledgeable and engaging and so it was really interesting. Plus, Tiger came and sat with me for most of it, which was very nice. University with cats is a definite advantage of online lectures.
I was struggling to concentrate by the end of the class so I was relieved when we wrapped up. It was a lot of knowledge and sensory information to try to process and sort through and digest. I felt more than a bit dazed. Fortunately, the session was recorded so I can either go back and listen to it in shorter sections or go back and search for something specific.
My next class wasn’t until five so I had rather a lot of time to fill. Pre-pandemic, I’d hang out at uni and do cowrites, go to the favourite local coffee shop with friends, or work on whatever was on the list at the time but I’m finding it much harder to use this time effectively, whether that’s due to having my classes online or down to the pandemic just really screwing with my brain. Stuff that wasn’t hard before is now and the only thing I can put it down to is the pandemic, even if I don’t know precisely why. All I know is that it’s a weird time and so it shouldn’t be surprising that certain things aren’t the same as they were before. But it’s still frustrating to have such a big block of time that I could be using productively and not have my brain cooperate. Early in the semester, I ended up staring at my laptop screen, desperately trying to work on stuff and just not being able to. I got more and more frustrated and demoralised and eventually I just had to accept that this is not productive time. So I’ve been trying to come up with ways to fill it that aren’t too demanding but still feel like there’s a point to them; I don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted it by just staring at my phone or mindlessly jumping between the open windows on my laptop because that’s just not good for my general mental health. So I’ve been trying things like reading or watching new movies or TV shows – these have been good sources of inspiration in a time where I’ve struggled to find inspiration – or having a nap if I need one… Things that don’t require a lot of energy but still feel worthwhile (most of the time).
I did a quick scroll through my social medias to see if there was anything that needed replying to and then did some admin work: replying to emails, updating my bullet journal, and so on. Just as I was about to move onto something else, I got a load of notifications from social media, all Taylor Swift announcing her acoustic concert film going up on Disney+, folklore: the long pond studio sessions. That was so exciting that it temporarily scrambled my brain, in both a good and a bad way. As an autistic person, I’m really not a fan of surprise drops because I just get hit by a tidal wave of emotions and I feel so overwhelmed that I actually feel sick. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the film because I am so, so grateful for all that Taylor has been putting out during the pandemic (her work really has been one of the things that’s helped me during this time) but the suddenness with which she’s been announcing things has been difficult because that doesn’t give me enough time to do the emotional processing that I need to do. So although I eventually settled into being really excited, I spent a lot of the day feeling painfully twisted up and anxious over the mess of emotion I was experiencing.
That did leave me floundering quite a bit, I have to confess. So, to try and take my mind off of everything I was feeling, my Mum and I caught up with the latest episode of His Dark Materials. It did help a bit. It’s such a great show; the casting, the acting, the sets, the interwoven storylines, etc are all so beautifully done. I loved the first series and I’m really enjoying the second one. I love Dafne Keen as Lyra (I so related to Lyra’s reaction to popcorn – it was freaking hilarious) and Amir Wilson as Will but I think it was Ruth Wilson as Marissa Coulter and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby who really stole the show this week (pun actually not intended – if you know me, you’ll know I love a good pun). Their big scene together was just so powerful and how Ruth Wilson played the aftermath was particularly emotive.
I spent an hour or so working on a new blog post but after a while, I was just getting slower and slower and eventually I gave up and had a nap. I slept for about two hours before struggling up for my second class at five. I could’ve easily slept longer but I did my best to shake it off and concentrate on the workshop. This is where we (in this case, all of the 100% online students – the rest are blended and do the workshop in person onsite) share the songs we’ve been working on over the week and get feedback from the rest of the group. For most of the semester, we’ve had briefs each week but now we’re just working on whatever’s right for us. So, for example, I didn’t have a song to present because I’ve been working on the feedback for previous songs and the essay, rather than a new song (although I did recently write a rap, although I’m not sure whether I ever want anyone to hear it). Everyone else had songs to play though so I could still participate and give feedback, although I’m not sure how helpful I was because of how tired I was. But I tried. Some days I was just have less energy to work with than others.
I had an hour break before the evening session, which runs from seven to nine; they’re technically extra-curricular but I try to attend them when I can, especially now that they’re online and therefore more accessible. I don’t want to miss out on anything I don’t have to.
During my break, I had a quick dinner and catch up with my parents. The Grammy nominations had also been announced so I went through those. I’m super pleased for Taylor Swift: folklore is such a great album. Six nominations – Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Song Written For Visual Media – is incredible and I’m really excited for her. Personally, I think she deserves at least several of those, especially considering the other nominees. I’m absolutely psyched for Ingrid Andress and her three nominations: Best New Artist, Best Country Song, and Best Country Album. I’ve been following her for years, having met her in Nashville at least a couple of years before her album was released. She’s an amazing writer and it would be just so awesome for her to win even one Grammy award this early in her career. But I’m concerned about her chances; she has some serious competition in all of those categories. The Best Country Song category, for example, is incredible, full of so many amazing songwriters that I love so much: Natalie Hemby (‘Bluebird’ by Miranda Lambert and ‘Crowded Table’ by The Highwomen, a group of which she’s a member), Maren Morris (‘The Bones’), and then Ingrid, of course. I want them all to win it. I was disappointed that Halsey still hasn’t been nominated. Manic is such an incredible album, as is Badlands (Live from Webster Hall), and it’s so frustrating that she doesn’t get the industry recognition she deserves. Especially given how popular ‘Without Me’ was, I’m really shocked that she’s never been nominated.
I just made it in time for the late session, which involved two of last years graduates presenting their final projects, one about using songwriting to explore different aspects of personality and the other about the experience of their gender transitioning and how sharing that story has the potential to increase understanding and empathy and break down barriers. They were both really cool projects but it was also massively helpful to see their processes, how they’d developed their ideas and researched them and how that research had lead them to writing the songs they wrote. It was fascinating and I definitely feel more prepared for my own project. I’ve got several ideas I’ve been turning over and the presentations have been helpful in my decision making process too. So I got a lot out of it, even if I was completely exhausted by the time the session finished.
It was about half nine and I probably could’ve gone straight to bed but I went and spent some time with my Mum, watching some TV together as we both wound down from the day. But it wasn’t long before we were both falling asleep so we put the cats to bed (they sleep in the kitchen so that we’re not woken up at five – the time they start demanding breakfast) and headed to bed ourselves.
THE NEXT MORNING
I’m not one of sleeping in so I always set an alarm. Then I can get up and start doing things (I have a real problem with needing to be productive) but usually, the day after a uni day, I sleep through the alarms I set. It doesn’t seem to change anything though. I keep setting alarms and sleeping through them. But that morning was special. I dragged myself out of bed at eight to watch folklore: the long pond studio sessions, as soon as it was available. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable to get up when I was so exhausted but it was absolutely worth it. The film was amazing, so amazing that I still haven’t figured out how to put all my feelings into words yet.
Since this post is just about my day at uni, I won’t write much more but just as I wrote about the Monday night, I thought I’d write about the Wednesday morning. Usually there isn’t a brand new Taylor Swift film to watch so I try to rest and recover my energy – physical, mental, and emotional – from the day before. As I said, I’m struggling with this need to be productive all of the time so with that in mind, I try to schedule undemanding tasks for Wednesdays. That particular day, I had a couple of half hour tutorials with tutors, so I spent the morning making sure I was ready for those. I’d already made notes of what I want to ask and discuss so I spent the rest of the morning going through those to make sure I felt as prepared as possible.
So, as you can probably tell, it takes a lot of planning and prioritising and rationing of energy to make it possible for me to go (or at the moment, ‘go’) to university, to make it possible to live my life in the most positive and productive (to a healthy extent) way. This isn’t an unusual day for me. While stuff like big Taylor Swift announcements and the Grammy nominations don’t happen every day, there’s often something that can cause emotional reactions like the ones described and I deal with fatigue and anxiety everyday. It’s one big juggling act. Every day. One enormous, exhausting juggling act every day.
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Posted on April 15, 2020
(NOTE: I’ve lost track of how long we’ve been in lockdown but it feels like forever and I’m BORED. And my boredom – combined with my passion for music (and writing/talking about it) – has culminated in this post. It’s a very, very long post so no worries, I won’t be offended if you don’t read all of it, or even read it at all. This was just a bit of a passion project that once I started, I couldn’t put down.)
This is ultimately a blog where I write about living with mental health problems and Autism but music is such a big part of my life that, now my creative brain is coming back to life (a round of applause for Phenelzine), some music content was always going to appear. And I was scrolling through my iTunes (or whatever it’s called now) when it occurred to me that while I write about the important songs of each year, I’ve never talked about albums. And as we’ve entered the new decade, I thought I’d write about some of the most significant albums for me over this last decade, the decade where music really became my life.
It was a really difficult job but I’ve narrowed it down to fifteen (I’m deliberately leaving out singles and EPs because otherwise we’d be here forever). This isn’t necessarily the order in which I discovered them but there’s no way to tell that so I’ve just organised them by release date…
Love Hangover by Alyssa Bernal (2011)
I’d been following Alyssa Bernal on YouTube, after discovering her ‘I’m Yours’ cover. She has such a gorgeous voice and when she covers songs, it doesn’t feel like she’s deliberately trying to make the song her own; they just sound new and fresh and like her own songs simply because she’s singing them. She’d posted a few original songs and those were the ones I always longed for (as much as I loved her covers) and so I was ecstatic when she was signed and announced that she was releasing an album. She toured with Lifehouse (she vlogged the experience – the first one is here) and it was so cool to hear the songs and see her find her confidence on stage. But then the album didn’t come, and didn’t come, and didn’t come (for reasons outside her control). It was so frustrating because she was so good; she deserved to have the songs she’d recorded out in the world. But somehow she got it released independently and while I was sad that some of the songs she’d previously posted on YouTube weren’t on it, I loved it and played it constantly. And now, almost ten years later, it holds such nostalgia for me. My favourites then and now are ‘Stay’ (I love the lyric , “Stay if I get lost along the way and I start fighting windmills, trying to make sense of everything that don’t make sense”), ‘Raincloud Grey,’ and I’m so, so glad that ‘Hey Love’ made it onto the album. I’m pretty sure that that song was the song that got me into songwriting: the lyrics especially just changed something for me, like when you read a book or see a movie and it feels like the whole world has changed. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song.
RED by Taylor Swift (2012)
This was simultaneously a hard call and an easy one. I love all of Taylor’s albums from the 2010s (shout out to Speak Now, RED, 1989, reputation, and Lover) but RED has got to be one of my favourite albums of all time. It was the first Taylor album I was there for from the livestream announcement (I became a fan sometime during 2011) and so it was all new and exciting to me. I remember being up at 2am, jamming to ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ when it was first released. It’s hard to choose favourites; it’s more a case of which songs do I love more than I love others. I love ‘State of Grace,’ because it was the opening number of The Red Tour, the first time I ever saw Taylor live. The moment during State of Grace, when the curtain dropped, was amazing and is a moment I want to remember forever. The song also became very important to me in a different way when a relationship in my family broke up. The lyric ‘we fall in love ’til it hurts or bleeds or fades in time’ was the only thing that explained all the emotion I felt over it. I love ‘Red’ because the lyric writing is so clever despite having such a simple concept. Me and my best friend used to play it on guitar over and over again and it was so much fun. I love ‘Treacherous’ and I always play it when I’m in the car at night. The bridge is so beautiful and the lyrics throughout the song are so emotive. I love ‘I Knew You Were Trouble,’ and I especially loved it after seeing it on TV when she sang it at the Brit Awards, the chaotic-ness of it, especially as it speeds up towards the end. ‘All Too Well’ will forever be one of my absolute favourite songs, as well as being one of my favourite Taylor songs. It’s so beautiful. The story is told so well, the detail is hypnotic, and the emotions are so strong and perfectly presented. I felt every moment of it. And to hear it live on The Red Tour was so special. I could talk about this song forever, how it’s another essential for any car journey, my favourite lyrics, the production, etc, etc. I really could. I’m actually writing an essay about it for my Masters at the moment. I love it so much. And ‘so casually cruel in the name of being honest’ has to be one of my favourite lyrics ever. I could talk about that one lyric forever. I love ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ because it always reminds me of that first night, the first time I heard it on the live stream. And I love singing along to it at full volume in the car. I love ‘The Last Time,’ and how the two voices sound together, how it really sounds like a conversation. I think it’s one of the saddest songs on the album. I love ‘Holy Ground’ and how joyful and almost triumphant it feels and sounds. I was so glad to hear her feel so good about a past relationship, even if it had ended badly. I loved the performance on the tour and whenever I listen to this song, I always feel a surge of hope that, eventually, everything will be okay. I love ‘Begin Again.’ I remember when it first came out: I was in college early and I was sitting in a stairwell with my eyes closed, just letting the lyrics sink in. A lot of the lyrics really resonated with me so I think it’ll always be one of the important ones for me. And I love ‘The Moment I Knew.’ Whenever I need to cry and let my emotions out, this is the song I turn on. It always breaks my heart how sad Taylor sounds. I think it’s so simple and beautiful – the imagery is just so vivid – although I can’t listen to it all that often because it makes me so sad. So… my list of favourites is basically the tracklist. I just love all the changing emotion and detail and imagery in the lyrics, the catchy – both subtle and obvious – melodies, the experimentation in the production, and so on and so on and so on. I love everything about it. And that was such a tumultuous period in my life that there are so many emotions and memories attached to it. And as I said, it was also the first time I saw Taylor live so the RED album and The RED Tour (I went to several tour dates and for one of them, I somehow ended up in the second row and I can confirm that Taylor’s hair is made of magic) are really special to me.
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Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves (2013)
It was really hard to choose between this first album and her third album, Golden Hour, but I think that, because this one introduced me to Kacey Musgraves, that just put it over the top (but still, a major shout out to Golden Hour). It was this album that had me falling in love with Kacey’s songwriting and it was one of the albums that got me into country music. I heard her play ‘Merry Go Round’ on Jools Holland, I think, and she was playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire the next night so I bought a ticket and played the album on repeat so that I’d know the songs and could sing along. My immediate favourites were ‘Silver Lining’ (such an amazing opener), ‘Merry Go Round,’ ‘Blowin’ Smoke’ (I especially love the production on this one), ‘Back On The Map’ (and the guitar solo in the live performance is just gorgeous), ‘Keep It To Yourself’ (I think this is my ultimate favourite – the loneliness, in the lyrics and the production, just gets me every time), ‘Stupid,’ ‘Follow Your Arrow’ (I love how enthusiastic the crowd gets every time she plays this song), and ‘It Is What It Is.’ So basically the whole album. I love how gentle her voice is, her attention to detail, the different stories and emotions on the album, and how those emotions seem to effortlessly spill from the lyrics. It’s a beautiful, beautiful album.
Native by OneRepublic (2013)
I can’t remember now how I came across this album and OneRepublic in general but I loved this album from the moment I listened to it. Ryan Tedder is an incredible writer and I love the production: I love the anthemic quality to the whole album. I want to be able to write songs like this one day. My favourites tend to change every time I listen to it but my top five have remained roughly the same: ‘Something I Need,’ ‘I Lived,’ ‘Feel Again,’ ‘What You Wanted,’ and ‘Preacher.’ They all give me such a lift; they give me this feeling of being able to breathe again after being underwater for too long. I think ‘Something I Need’ will always be my favourite OneRepublic song, not only because it’s a great song (Ryan Tedder’s described it as their ‘pub or last call song’ and it really sounds like one) but because it was a favourite song that me and my best friend in sixth form shared. It reminds me of her, of that time in my life, of summer, grassy fields, and driving with the windows down. The two of us actually got to go to the Teenage Cancer Trust show with OneRepublic shown in the video below and it was incredible. I only wish I’d taken more photos and video but at least I have this. Ryan Tedder is an amazing performer and has such a captivating stage presence. And when they did ‘Something I Need,’ he put everything into it. It was one of the best moments, everyone singing and shouting along as Ryan Tedder leapt around the stage, having just as good a time it seemed as we all were. That unity that you get at concerts, during songs like that… that’s just pure magic. In my opinion, at least. Whenever I listen to this song and this album, it reminds me of the lift that show gave me.
Don’t Look Down by Skylar Grey (2013)
I discovered Skylar Grey after she released her single, ‘Invisible,’ (which completely coincidentally was the name of my first single, something I completely didn’t realise until I started writing this) and just fell in love with her, her lyric writing in particular. I loved her solo version of ‘Love The Way You Lie’ as well so I was so excited when she released her album. My favourites even now are ‘Wear Me Out,’ ‘Religion’ (I love the simplicity in the lyric), ‘Clear Blue Sky’ (I loved this one so much that I learnt it on guitar and posted it on YouTube when I did YouTube covers and it was one of the most popular videos I ever posted), and ‘Tower (Don’t Look Down),’ which I think is my ultimate favourite off the album, although it’s really hard to choose. She has a gorgeous voice, the production is always interesting but fitting to the song, her melodies are so slick, and I just love the way she writes lyrics. They weren’t like anything I’d ever heard. She just depicts all of these different emotions so viscerally, with so few words, which takes such skill. And some of them are so achingly vulnerable, like in ‘Tower (Don’t Look Down)’: ‘I always knew that you would follow your big dreams, what I didn’t know is that your dreams never did include me.’ That breaks my heart every time I hear it. I think it’s one of my favourite lyrics on the whole album. It’s lyric writing like that that’s been a big influence on my writing. Someone actually asked me in class a while back if I’d heard of her because the song I’d just played sounded like one of hers and that was such a huge compliment to me. She’s one of those songwriters that just makes me want to get better, be the best writer I can possible be and then some. Like all of the songwriters included in this list really.
Brave Enough: Live at the Variety Playhouse by Sara Bareilles (2013)
This was a really difficult choice. I have to give a shout out to her other albums of the decade, Kaleidoscope Heart, The Blessed Unrest, What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, and Amidst The Chaos because I dearly love them all but there’s something so special about this one, about how it’s just Sara and her piano. I also love that it allows for a selection of songs from all of her albums. So maybe this is a little bit of a cheat but I have just said I love all of her albums of the last decade so I think it’s okay. I love the different production style of each album but as I said, I love how this one shows off Sara’s incredible range of skills: singing, piano, and guitar playing. It also lays bare her songwriting ability, letting the lyrics and melody truly shine. I love the revitalised version of ‘Love On The Rocks’ (it has some incredible lyrics in it), mashed up with ‘Bennie and the Jets.’ I love the unassuming but nevertheless empowering version of ‘Uncharted’ (probably my favourite song of hers, along with ‘She Used To Be Mine’). I love her cover of ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.’ I love the vulnerability of ‘Manhattan.’ I’ve always loved ‘Let The Rain’ but the eagerness of the crowd’s participation and Sara’s interaction with them is so funny and warm that I laugh every time I listen to it. I love ‘I Just Want You’ and how this is the only version of it, because she always wanted it to be a live song, since it’s about her connection with her audience (as I believe she once said). I love the updated version of ‘Come Round Soon,’ which begins with this incredible, laid back coolness that moves effortlessly into sheer power and ferocity. I love the nostalgia of ‘Once Upon Another Time’ and how you could hear a pin drop throughout the whole song, when it’s her voice alone and then when she brings in the harmonium (it’s an incredible performance). She displays her absolutely incredible vocals on ‘Brave’ and ‘Gravity,’ both such special songs. I could go on and on. It’s a beautiful album. Sara is one of my favourite artists as a whole but her lyric writing blows me away every time – the detail, the imagery, the emotion, all in such a short space of time with so few words – and I only hope I can write a song as good as some of hers one day.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! (2014)
I was introduced to Against Me! by one of my best friends and my brother, who were both really into them. They made me a playlist of their favourites and gave it to me to listen to. I’ve never really listened to punk rock before so it was all very new to me and a bit of an adjustment having only really listened to pop, country, and singersongwriter stuff but by about the third song, I was a huge fan. I loved most of the songs they’d given me, especially those from the then current album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. My favourites were and still are: ‘True Trans Soul Rebel,’ which always reminds me of one of my best friends who is one of the best, most incredible people I love; ‘FUCKMYLIFE666,’ which the three of us would scream along to in the car, the idea of being in tune abandoned in the face of sheer passion for the song; ‘Dead Friend,’ the story of which must’ve been hard to write about and so I always feel honoured to have had it shared with me; ‘Two Coffins,’ which is incredibly sweet despite the morbid sounding title; and ‘Paralytic States,’ a song that I feel deeply connected to, although I’m not ready to talk about why. I just love Laura Jane Grace’s writing: her lyrics are brutal but honest and empowering in their honesty, even when the songs aren’t emotionally empowering, if that makes sense. The stories told in the songs are also ones that I’m not used to hearing, including being transgender (obviously), the death of a friend, suicide, and more. These are all stories that I can relate to in some way and so it’s incredibly validating to have the music you’re listening to acknowledge these very real things, rather than simply stories of falling in love (not that there’s anything wrong with those songs in themselves). And the production on the album is just gorgeous; I particularly love the electric guitar sounds and am always trying to sneak similar ones into my own music, even though the genres are very different. Anyway, it’s an amazing album. And then we were lucky enough to see the band play when they came to London, which was amazing, one of the most amazing concerts I’ve ever been to. The crowd was so alive and invested and exhilarated; and screaming – literally screaming (our voices were all an octave lower and raspy the next day) – the lyrics together with fifteen hundred other people who were as passionate about the songs as we were was just incredible. So the album also holds some very special memories for me – I still get very emotional when I listen to it – as well as being lyrically and musically a big favourite of mine.
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Brave by The Shires (2015)
I can’t remember what made me download The Shires’ debut single, ‘Nashville Grey Skies,’ but I guess something about it just spoke to me. I do remember listening to in the car on the way to a gig and then serendipitously running into Ben Earle (one half of the duo, in case you haven’t heard of them) at the bar. He was lovely and we talked about music and songwriting and generally got on really well. And then the album was out and I was at their first ever album signing. I love pretty much every song on the album – it felt like a unique little gem of an album in an ocean of music – but my particular favourites were and are ‘Tonight’ (always a high point at their shows), ‘Brave,’ ‘All Over Again,’ ‘State Lines’ (the imagery in this song is just ridiculously good), and ‘Made in England’ (a song I’m so, so glad made the album – I actually think they should’ve named the album after it – because so much country music references traditional American imagery and I just loved and still love having a country song full of English imagery and stories). But I think ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ will always be my favourite song of theirs, of all of their songs. It holds so many beautiful memories that it will always be so special. It’s also something I desperately wish for: a Nashville in the UK. And I’ve followed them ever since. They’ve recently released their fourth album, which is really, really good. I just love the blend of their voices, their melodies, and the imagery in their songs. I love all of their albums (shout out to My Universe, Accidentally on Purpose, and now Good Years, although that was released in this new decade) but there’s something really special about this first one, maybe because it was the first and because it started such a journey.
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Badlands by Halsey (2015)
I think the first Halsey song I ever heard was ‘Colors’ and I instantly fell in love, with her lyric writing, her voice, and with the production. It was like she was the artist I’d been looking for, filling a gap in the music I’d been listening to. I listened to the Badlands album over and over again until I knew every word. I love how it’s a concept album and still experiences that she’s lived, ‘the Badlands’ a dystopian place (wherein the stories turned to songs take place) representing her mental state – I definitely related to the themes of mental illness and distress. I love the detail and emotion and imagery in her lyrics; they’re so real and vivid. I also love the attention to detail in every song, right down to specific sounds and backing vocals. Again, I basically love every song on the album but I do have my ultimate favourites. I love ‘Castle’ and how empowering it is. It’s an incredible opener, especially for a debut album, and the production only adds to that power. I love ‘Hold Me Down’ because it was one of the early songs I heard and so it’s intrinsic to Halsey in my mind (the VEVO version she did of it is incredible) and I’m so fascinated by it: it’s so dark, with so many layers and so much imagery. I love the emotion and the lyrics in ‘Roman Holiday,’ especially “’cause I remember when my father put his fist through the wall that separated the dining room.” There’s so much in that lyric that’s never addressed and I love how she does that: layer and layer and layer her stories with moments that aren’t always explained but are somehow absolutely vital to the song as a whole. As I said, ‘Colors’ got me into Halsey and I just love how detailed the story is and how she uses the colour metaphor but without it getting obnoxious or boring. And the bridge will always be gorgeous, always classic Halsey: “You were red and you liked me because I was blue, but you touched me and suddenly I was a lilac sky and you decided purple just wasn’t for you.” What fucking fantastic imagery. It’s a story all on its own. I don’t know if I can explain why I love ‘Gasoline’ so much but something about it just connects to something inside me and that’s really special. ‘Control’ is really important to me; I’d always listen to it before I had to do something scary because it made me feel brave and fierce and invincible. I still use the same strategy sometimes. And I love the lift ‘Young God’ gives you when you listen to it. I also loved what she did with Johnny Cash’s ‘I Walk The Line.’ The production is gorgeous and the way it builds is so satisfying.
I got to see Halsey live for the first time on The Badlands Tour in 2016 and she was incredible. It was basically just her onstage, her band (or tour musicians, I’m not sure if they were her official band) and she was absolutely captivating. The musicians were amazing and the backgrounds were stunning, something that has been a running theme throughout her career. It was an awesome show. So that makes this album extra special for me.
I actually got to meet her afterwards. I waited in the cold for hours and hours (it turns out she almost didn’t come out and we weren’t allowed to do autographs, only pictures, because she’d twisted her ankle on stage so everything was done at super speed) but she did eventually insist and hopped out to meet the few remaining people. She was so sweet and just delighted by each person who’d waited, which was a bit of a shock after seeing this fierce, defiant force of nature on stage. I was so excited to meet her but then, as it got closer and closer to my turn, my anxiety took over and in the end, I just couldn’t say what I wanted to say (I desperately wished I’d kept the letter I’d handed in for her). When the anxiety subsided, I was so frustrated with myself and I still am to this day because as she gets more and more famous, she plays bigger and bigger venues and the chances of meeting her again get slimmer and slimmer. I’ve left letters but I have no idea whether she ever got them.
Wildfire by Rachel Platten (2016)
I first heard ‘Fight Song’ when I was in a period of a deep depression and it was the only thing that made me feel better. I listened to it over and over and eventually managed to get up and shower for the first time in several days. It helped and I still go back to it on bad days when I need to get up and face the world. The album came out and while ‘Fight Song’ remained and remains my favourite, I fell in love with ‘Stand By You’ (it’s so uplifting and joyful) ‘Better Place’ (I love the lyric, “and the colours are golden and bright again”), ‘You Don’t Know My Heart’ (the rhythms in the chorus melody are so cool), and ‘Astronauts’ (I particularly love the first verse and the energy in the chorus is just so fun). She’s got an incredible voice and the melodies in particular are just stunning. And then, not long after it came out, her record label ran a competition for a handful of people to meet her before her first London show and somehow, I won a spot. I actually started crying in the car when I found out because day by day, ‘Fight Song’ and all of the songs on this album were pulling me out of my depression and suddenly I had the opportunity to thank Rachel for that.
Meeting her is a treasured memory and she was so, so lovely. She listened intently and hugged me over and over again, saying how glad she was that the song had been able to do that for me. And while she was meeting the rest of the group, I talked to a couple of people that I’m still friends with today and see at concerts.
I was right at the front for the show and it was so much fun. She’s such a great performer and she was just smiling so big the whole time; you could tell she was just having the best time. I haven’t had the opportunity to see her live since then but that almost makes the show all the more special: it was so small and already special because it was her first UK show. Hopefully I’ll get to see her again at some point.
Hero by Maren Morris (2016)
I’ll admit that it took me a while to get into Maren Morris but then I saw her live at Country2Country in 2017 and it just clicked – her voice just soared through the arena and I just got the songs in a way that I hadn’t up until then – and from then on I was obsessed with this album. Me and my best friend and writing partner, Richard, (who’s also a huge Maren Morris fan) would listen to it before every writing session, during our breaks (while we played Mariokart), in the car… All the time. We were (and still are to an extent) complete songwriting nerds about it, discussing in depth the lyrics, the melodies, and the production, and how unique they all are. Major shout out to GIRL because I love that album too but this one holds a special place in my heart, maybe because it’s the album that introduced me to Maren Morris, to her gorgeous voice and her incredible songwriting. I also saw her live on the accompanying tour with Richard (second row at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – it was an epic show) and also met her for the first time at the tour meet and greet (I was anxious and shy and felt like I only made an awkward impression, rather than the positive, personal, and maybe even memorable one I’d hoped to make). So, yeah, the album holds a lot of special memories for me. I love pretty much all of the songs but I do have my absolute favourites. The melodies in ‘Sugar’ are so gorgeous and catchy, and the imagery is really unique: “Just a little bit is all it takes, like a Coca-Cola on Christmas Day.” The sass in ‘Rich’ is just so great and it’s always so much fun at her shows. I don’t even know how to describe ‘My Church.’ It feels spiritual, like a hymn, but in a real way and it reminds me of Nashville and the atmosphere there and feeling so alive. ’80s Mercedes’ is a masterclass in imagery and the production is just so rich and gorgeous. I love the honesty and vulnerability in ‘I Wish I Was.’ So many people talk about how women always paint themselves as victims in their songs (which is total bullshit) but there’s something so real and admirable about the way she honestly takes responsibility for her part in the breakdown of the relationship and how as much as she wishes she was right for the other person, she’s just not. I especially love the line, “so go on, hate me if you have to, I still care about you.” I loved ‘Second Wind’ when Kelly Clarkson released it but there’s something particularly special about it in Maren’s voice. It’s so empowering and uplifting; it’s one of my favourite songs for when I need a pick me up. But I think that ‘Once’ is my ultimate favourite. Apart from the incredible vocals, I love the emotion in the song: the resignation, the pain, the nostalgia, the unresolved love. The lyric, “don’t forget that you loved me once,” just breaks my heart every time. It’s a stunning collection of songs.
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Oh @marenmorris, you absolute rockstar. What a show. I don’t even know what to say. That was amazing. After feeling so disconnected for so long, I felt alive. I felt real. And I’m so grateful to you for giving that to me. That’s what music can do. How incredible is that… 💜
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Isn’t It Strange? by Lauren Aquilina (2016)
Lauren Aquilina is another artist I initially discovered on YouTube and she was just so like me (I mean, we even have the same name) that I immediately related to her. I loved all three of her EPs: Fools (my favourite song was ‘Wonder’), Sinners (my favourite song was ‘Irrelevant’), and Liars (my favourite song and maybe favourite song of hers overall is ‘Square One’). I loved all three of those EPs so I wasn’t surprised when I loved her album, ‘Isn’t It Strange?’ I loved the lyrics, the melodies, the arrangements, the production, the sounds she used… The whole thing is just beautiful. When I first listened to it, I remember thinking that it sounds like it could’ve been written all in one night about the same person because it flows together so perfectly, sonically and thematically. And I loved that she included ‘Fools,’ a nod to her beginnings. My favourite songs were and still are ‘How Would You Like It?’ (I love how quiet, how simply this one is arranged – it allows the emotion the lyrics and emotions to have so much more impact), ‘Hurt Any Less’ (I love everything about this one: the production, the melodies, the fact that the choruses are in half time – I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone do that – the structure of the bridge section, the imagery, the lyrics in the second verse, the lyrics in general – I think my favourite lyric has to be, “this was never love, it was chaos,”), ‘Thinking About’ (I love how there’s one piano note that continues throughout the whole song, like the memory of the person you’re trying not to think about, and I think the lyric, “but all I’m thinking about is not thinking about you,” is so clever in its simplicity, and even more clever when the next verse starts with “I’m thinking about you and…”), and ‘Ocean’ (it feels, to me at least, that the production perfectly reflects the emotion and the vibe of the song and the lightness of it, combined with the freedom in the final lyric of ‘well, I know that one day it’s an ocean I’ll be,” makes it the perfect album closer). If my first album is this good, I’ll be one happy girl.
Puxico by Natalie Hemby (2017)
I remember actually squealing when I heard the news that Natalie was releasing her own album. I’d seen her perform at Tin Pan South a couple of times (I think) by then and she’s such an amazing songwriter and singer. She taps into detail so beautifully and brings out the emotion in a way that seems effortless. The songs link so well and it almost feels like you’re walking through the little town in Missouri the album is named after. The imagery is so vivid but with a kind of hazy nostalgia. And her voice has this gorgeous, almost raspy tone that only adds to that nostalgia. As good as I think the whole album is, it’s the second half that really stands out for me. I love the steady conviction in ‘Worn,’ that all the important things in life are just that. And I love the last couple of lines, “the finish of a wedding band, you and I, together we stand, worn.” I love the almost fragile detail in ‘This Town Still Talks About You.’ ‘I’ll Remember How You Loved Me’ has the most tender, gentle chorus. ‘Return,’ in my opinion, feels like the high point that the album has been building to, with some particularly gorgeous guitar parts in the middle and vocals that are just so emotional. It’s the perfect closer. I’d love to know how she wrote the album, whether she had all the concepts and then worked on the songs until they were perfect or whether she wrote a handful of the songs and then worked the rest around those or something completely different. I’m fascinated by the songwriting processes of all of these writers – I read as much as I can find in interviews and so on – and would love to know more about how they practice and improve their craft.
Unapologetically by Kelsea Ballerini (2017)
It feels very strange to be talking about Kelsea’s last album when she’s just released a new album but that is the oddity of life. Anyway. I first got into Kelsea Ballerini at the Tin Pan South festival on my first trip to Nashville in 2016. I’d heard some of her music but not had time to sit down and really listen to her album. Hearing her perform live and hearing her talk about songwriting, I just fell in love, with her lyrics and her melodies and her voice (I actually got to meet her afterwards but I was so jet lagged that I look somewhat zombie-like in the photo). I liked the first album (I did love ‘XO, ‘Square Pegs,’ and ‘Stilettos’) but it wasn’t until I heard ‘Legends’ that I felt like a true Kelsea fan. It just sounded like she was really solid in her musical and lyrical comfort zone and therefore producing great songs, but also like she was more comfortable exploring new things too. I can honestly say that I love every track on the album, although I didn’t love them all straight away. But within a few months, yeah, I loved every single song. But if I had to choose my favourites, I think they would be ‘Graveyard’ (the melodies are to die for), ‘Miss Me More’ (I love how empowering it is), ‘Get Over Yourself’ (I love the imagery and, again, the melodies are awesome and so freaking catchy), ‘Roses’ (the chorus lyrics are SO good), ‘Machine Heart’ (I love the way the chorus lifts and the power that movement has), ‘Unapologetically’ (I love how unapologetically – pun actually not intended – romantic it is and the production is stunning), and ‘Legends’ (I think this is my ultimate favourite on the album because it’s so lyrically rich and emotional; I think it’s the perfect closer for an album called Unapologetically). The songwriting is incredible (she’s a big inspiration when it comes to lyric writing – although I’m not sure I’ll ever manage to get as many words into a song as she can) and the production is just so rich and gorgeous. I saw her perform a few of times during the ‘era’ of that album and she was fantastic each time. (The new album is fucking great too.)
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Can I be @kelseaballerini when I grow up? What a fab show. I loved every second of it. I may have cried a little bit because I want to write songs and sing them too and I want it so badly but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are made to love things and I love music unapologetically.
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Open Book by Kalie Shorr (2019)
I was so excited for Kalie to release a full length album (I adored the preceding EP, Awake) and it tied with Taylor Swift’s Lover for my favourite album of 2019 (which I’d also been super excited about). It’s such a special album, filled with razor sharp wit, painful honesty, captivating imagery, and gorgeous guitar parts. The sound is just so Kalie, which makes complete sense if you read her social media bios (which only recently changed to ‘I’m an open book’): Country singer still recovering from her emo phase. She’s easily one of my favourite songwriters – I particularly love her lyric writing, her honesty, her refusal to shy away from subjects and emotions that most people might avoid and her ability to express them so accurately and beautifully – and I’m obsessed with every track on the album. ‘Too Much To Say’ is the perfect album opener, the chorus ending with, ‘I’ve got too much to say and I’ll tell it all to you.’ You’ve been warned. ‘Escape’ is breathtakingly vulnerable, exposing problems her family have faced along with her own, with a lonely electric guitar for a backdrop. ‘Messy’ is one of my absolute favourites: revealing the isolation of a disintegrating relationship through simple but visceral imagery. The internal rhyming in this one is just amazing too. ‘The One’ may be my absolute favourite, with stunning lyrics, visually and emotionally complex, with production that is somehow equally emotional to match. It follows the ups and downs of an imperfect relationship that ultimately ends in crushing disappointment and I cried the first time I heard it, and multiple times afterwards. ‘F U Forever’ is a delightfully upbeat and sassy song, throwing shade at every possible opportunity, but dig a little deeper and you can see the traumatic relationship underneath. Ultimately though, it’s a triumph – a ‘fuck you’ in no uncertain terms, leaving no twisted detail unexposed. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a letter to the next girl, a warning, dressed up in literary metaphor (a technique that reoccurs throughout the album). It has so many layers and hidden details that I’m still sorting through them months later; it feels like a concept album in one song. And just as we’re starting to find some peace, we’re hit with ‘The World Keeps Spinning,’ a tribute to her sister who died suddenly and tragically at the beginning of 2019. I can’t help but sob helplessly every time I listen to this one because I relate to it so strongly: the moment everything changes forever, the painful, unexpected details of loss, the cruelty of everyday life continuing as normal, all described so simply – not one word is superfluous – but so perfectly. In my experience at least. It’s Taylor Swift level storytelling. ‘Big Houses’ gives us an intimate glimpse into a relationship with her mother and her childhood, capturing and balancing the memories, both positive and negative, the good of her relationship with her mother and the implied difficulties they faced together. It’s nostalgic but not in a way that whitewashes the past; it’s real and uncompromising but it still sounds gentle, perhaps an ode to childhood when the hard edges were a little softer. ‘Gatsby’ (another literary reference) is a witty, self-deprecating song that describes the mask she wore to cope with the difficult emotions she was dealing with but also takes a hard look at the part she was playing in her potential downward spiral. It’s catchy as hell and the production is extremely congruent (one of my uni lecturers favourite terms) but as with ‘F U Forever,’ look beneath the surface and there’s a whole lot more going on. That’s something I love about Kalie’s songs: there’s a whole lot more in them than you hear in the first listen. ‘Thank God You’re A Man’ is perhaps the song I connected to least on the album but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it and its place on the album. I’ve always been particularly impressed with how the production feels all consuming, matching the concept of the song, of being consumed by another person. I love ‘Vices’ and how effortlessly it describes how easy it is to get sucked into bad habits, especially when you’re dealing with a lot. Lyrically, I think this song is incredible and its honesty and vulnerability gets somewhat overlooked in the face of songs like ‘The World Keeps Spinning’ and ‘Escape.’ ‘Lullaby’ is another of my favourites from this album: the lyrics are beautiful, the imagery is stunning, but it’s the emotions conveyed that really stand out for me, the combination of strength, surety, delicacy, and vulnerability. Ultimately I think the first line of the chorus sums up the whole song – lyrics, melody, and production – perfectly: “This is the sound of letting it go.” The album could’ve easily ended there but there’s one last song that feels both like a triumphant ending and the first steps of a new chapter. ‘Angry Butterfly’ might be the most emotionally compelling song on the album. It’s the culmination of the origin story that is Open Book, a brutally honest assessment of what she’s gone through and where she’s headed now, casting off the past but acknowledging how it’s changed her. This is her story, this is who she is now, and she’s not ashamed of any of it. This review kind of got away from me but oh well, it’s written now and I’m proud of it. As I’ve already said, Kalie is one of my favourite writers and I’m so inspired by her, by her lyric writing and guitar playing in particular (it’s a pipe dream of mine to write with her one day). This album is incredibly special to me and I think always will be, coming into my life just when I needed it. Having said that, I can’t wait to see where Kalie goes next.
If you want to see me ramble about my favourite lyrics of each track, you can find the Twitter thread here.
So I hope you enjoyed this somewhat all over the place review of my favourite albums of the 2010s and that you maybe found a few new albums to listen to. My current soundtrack still includes tracks from these albums but I also have a handful of brand new albums to listen to, including Manic by Halsey, Good Years by The Shires, kelsea by Kelsea Ballerini, and Lady Like by Ingrid Andress, all of which I highly, highly recommend.
Category: covid-19 pandemic, emotions, favourites, music, video Tagged: 2010s, against me!, album, album review, alyssa bernal, badlands, brave, brave enough, coronavirus, covid-19, decade, don't look down, favourite albums, favourite music, fight song, halsey, hero, hey love, how would you like it?, isn't it strange, kacey musgraves, kalie shorr, keep it to yourself, kelsea ballerini, last decade, laura jane grace, lauren aquilina, lockdown, love hangover, love on the rocks, love runs out, lullaby, maren morris, natalie hemby, native, onerepublic, open book, puxico, rachel platten, red, red album, ryan tedder, same trailer different park, sara bareilles, skylar grey, taylor swift, the shires, tower, transgender dysphoria blues, unapologetically, wildfire
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as several mental health issues. I’m a singersongwriter (and currently studying for a Masters in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is now available on iTunes and Spotify, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
I’m currently releasing my first EP, Honest, track by track and all five songs are now available on all major music platforms. However, there’s still more content to come…