Posted on October 16, 2021
Today is National Album Day and this annual blog post is one of my very favourites to write. Over the year – since National Album Day last year – I’ve written about my favourite albums or the albums that have given me a lot to think about. Albums are so important to me – both as a listener and as a singersongwriter – and once I get lost in the world of an album, that world just gets bigger and bigger. I find more and more layers, more and more things to think and talk about.
This year, the day has a theme and that theme is celebrating women. Most of the albums I’ve written about in this post are the works of women but there are a few albums written and recorded by men, partly because I started writing this post before I knew that there would even be a theme and partly because I really wanted to talk about their work – as I said, I get very excited and enthusiastic about songwriting and albums and music. These posts just get longer and longer as I listen to more music, as I learn more about music and songwriting and what goes into each album. Sometimes my enthusiasm just gets away from me and suddenly I’ve written an essay where I meant to write a paragraph…
Apart Together by Tim Minchin (November 2020) – I was very curious about what this album would be like, given that 99% of what I’ve heard of his has been comedy. But one of the things that makes this album so fascinating and so clever is how he incorporates humour into the songs: through wickedly funny lyrics in the middle of otherwise serious songs, like, “And wake up in four hours or so / Soaked in relief to find I am alone / With the wrappers of Pringles and Snickers / For which to atone” in ‘I’ll Take Lonely Tonight,’ a song about staying committed even when you’re lonely (or as Minchin himself says, “trying not to have sex with other people,” in his typical irreverent style); through exploring pretty profound emotions but in fairly ridiculous scenarios, such as the plane crash he sings about in ‘If This Plane Goes Down’ where he examines the shallow and the deep parts of himself (“If this plane goes down / Remember me as someone who tried / To find a balance between self-loathing and pride / Dug too hard for love at times,” for example); and via wry, self-deprecating self-reflection throughout ‘Talked Too Much, Stayed Too Long,’ where he sings about where he’s come from and where he thinks he’s headed, but always coming to the conclusion that he’ll ultimately be known for his tendency to ‘talk too much and stay too long.’ This mix of humour and depth makes the album very unique, in my music library at least; I think it’s a hard skill to master. And he has such a unique voice as a writer that, even when he abandons all humour and leans deeply and sincerely into raw emotion, as he does in the final track, ‘Carry You,’ the lyrics are absolutely identifiable as his. I also felt that the instrumentation and production were both extremely cohesive with each song’s lyrics and as an album as a whole. It’s a great album and I can’t wait to hear him perform some of them when I see him live in a few weeks.
Favourite Tracks: ‘Absence of You,’ ‘I Can’t Save You,’ ‘Talked Too Much, Stayed Too Long,’ ‘Leaving LA,’ ‘I’ll Take Lonely Tonight,’ ‘If This Plane Goes Down,’ and ‘Carry You.’
Open Book: Unabridged by Kalie Shorr (December 2020) – I was really surprised when I saw that I hadn’t included the original version of Open Book in last year’s National Album Day post when it’s one of my favourite albums ever, but then I realised that I’d written about it in my post about my favourite albums of the 2010s. I’m also in the middle of writing a post about the whole album, like I did with folklore (although hopefully not quite as long as that one turned out to be). So, that being said, I’ll leave you to read my previous post and await my upcoming post. However, I do want to briefly talk about the tracks that were added to the album for the Unabridged edition: ‘My Voice,’ ‘Eighteen,’ ‘Out of It,’ and ‘Lying To Myself.’ I love all four of these songs and I love how they all bring something different to the album.
‘My Voice’ is full of defiance and self-empowerment, a call to be yourself in an industry that’s constantly trying to make you into something else. If there’s such a thing as a ‘Kalie Shorr lyric,’ then “The only time I’m gonna be boxed in / Is when I’m six feet under in a coffin” is most definitely one. ‘Eighteen’ is heartbreakingly vulnerable (the bridge in particular – “I see you out with younger versions of me / While I’m trying to find who I used to be / I’m terrified that you and I will always be / Chasing eighteen” – gets me every time) and it almost always brings a lump to my throat: I can’t help but think of my own messy relationship and break up from around that age. ‘Out of It’ echoes back to the Awake EP and its title track but this time, Kalie isn’t getting sucked back in to her ex’s drama and it was so cool to see that growth. That’s something I love about songwriters who write autobiographically (for the most part at least): as a listener, you get to see then grow in so many ways, as a writer, as an artist, and as a person. And that feels like a real privilege. And finally, there’s ‘Lying to Myself,’ which questions a past relationship and whether it (and everything that came with it) was ever real, simply and perfectly summed up with the chorus line of “Wеre you lying to me or was I lying to myself?” They’re all stunning lyrically but this one has truly gorgeous descriptions, like “I pickеd out all my favourite things you said / Then like a delusional architect / I built you up like a house of cards” and the evolution of “And I helped you up on that pedestal / Damn, you looked incredible” into “You liked it up on that pedestal / ‘Cause damn, you looked incredible” (goddamn, if that doesn’t take the wind out of me every time I hear it – she could be describing my own relationship). The production of these songs fits in beautifully with the production of the original album songs but there was also something… more about them. Now that her next project is out, I feel like you can hear how those songs were trying to reach for that sound even though they stayed inside the sonic universe of Open Book.
The one thing that I’m not sure about – even now – is how the tracks are inserted throughout the original tracklist. I felt like that original tracklist was so perfect that adding the other songs into that was a bit jarring for me. But having said that, I’m not sure that having all four of them at the end would’ve been the right approach either so I’m not sure what the right thing would’ve been. I think it’s a really interesting way of doing an album re-release or deluxe edition; I think it’s just something that’s stuck with me because I thought the tracklist for the original version of the album was just so good.
Since I haven’t had the opportunity to specify which of the songs on the album are my favourites, I couldn’t help myself and included all of my favourites, even though I’ve only talked about the added ones.
Favourite Tracks: ‘My Voice,’ ‘Messy,’ ‘The One,’ ‘F U Forever,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Eighteen,’ ‘The World Keeps Spinning,’ ‘Big Houses,’ ‘Out of It,’ ‘Gatsby,’ ‘Lying To Myself,’ ‘Vices,’ ‘Lullaby,’ and ‘Angry Butterfly.’
evermore by Taylor Swift (December 2020) – This album obviously came as a complete surprise given that folklore (a pretty massive surprise in itself) had only been out about six months and describing it as folklore‘s sister album feels very fitting. And it definitely felt like a winter album somehow, in my opinion at least. I read one review that said while folklore is the better album, the strong songs on evermore are stronger and I think, in general, that holds true; folklore is definitely more cohesive but there are more songs that I love on evermore. But then evermore is a lot more experimental: less common time signatures (like in ‘tolerate it’ and ‘closure’), less common song structures (‘ivy,’ and ‘marjorie,’ for example), less conventional production choices (such as the very different sections within ‘gold rush,’ the choice to include a sample of her grandmother’s singing on ‘marjorie,’ and the percussion in ‘closure’), and so on. Some of these choices I really liked and some of them kind of knocked me out of the song because they felt jarring. But then that’s bound to happen when an artist starts exploring new territory.
While I think I’m still adjusting to these fictional songs, I loved the stories Taylor was telling: the heartbreakingly refused proposal and all of the history that led to that moment in ‘champagne problems,’ avenging a murdered friend and getting away with it in ‘no body, no crime (feat. HAIM),’ the complicated process of moving past a relationship in ‘happiness,’ the lessons she learned from her grandmother in ‘marjorie,’ learning to walk away in ‘it’s time to go,’ and so on. They’re all so rich and beautiful and totally absorbing. I still believe, as I did with folklore, that there are personal details and elements and feelings within many of these songs, even if the narratives aren’t true to her own life. Most of us are familiar with feelings of longing (”tis the damn season’), wanting someone you shouldn’t (‘ivy’), the non-linear processing of a broken relationship (‘happiness’), feeling under-appreciated no matter how hard you try to make a person happy (‘tolerate it’), having to make the hard choice (‘champagne problems’), and feeling like you’re in your own little world with someone (‘cowboy like me’). In my mind, exploring these emotions through fictional stories allows Taylor to go deeper into those feelings than she could if people were dissecting them through the lens of her personal life. There are songs that could be interpreted to be about Taylor’s experiences, such as ‘ivy’ and ‘cowboy like me’ being about a special relationship that she’s desperately trying to keep to herself and protect and the possible references to previous relationships in ‘coney island’ (lyrics alluding to moments in her relationships with Jake Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Harry Styles, and Calvin Harris) but then there are songs that are clearly about her own life, including lyrics that refer explicitly to events we know about or detailing moments she’s talked about in the past: ‘long story short’ reflects on the events of 2016 and finding Joe Alwyn; ‘marjorie’ is, of course, about and a tribute to her grandmother; and there are clear references to Scott Borchetta in ‘it’s time to go.’ But whether truthful, fictional, or a mixture of both, she tells the stories beautifully and the lyrics are stunning.
Favourite Tracks: ‘champagne problems,’ ”tis the damn season,’ ‘tolerate it,’ ‘no body, no crime (feat. HAIM),’ ‘happiness,’ ‘ivy,’ ‘cowboy like me,’ ‘long story short,’ ‘marjorie,’ ‘evermore,’ ‘right where you left me,’ and ‘it’s time to go.’
Crossroads by Roseanna (December 2020) – I love this album and not just because it’s my friend’s debut release (although I love that about it too). Between the beautiful lyrics and catchy melodies, her gorgeous vocals, and the glossy, polished production, I feel wrapped up in this little world she’d created. It kicks my Synesthesia-like responses into high gear: it feels deep purple and some of the songs just shimmer. It reminds me of autumn evenings, heartbeats, and the Northern Lights. I love it and I highly recommend it.
Favourite Tracks: ‘Shell,’ ‘3rd August,’ ‘You,’ and ‘How Does It Feel.’
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift (April 2021) – While I was excited for the re-recordings, a part of me was a bit anxious about them too; the idea that it might’ve been a distressing experience (given that it was something she felt she had no choice but to do) was upsetting so I couldn’t feel completely good about it until Taylor herself made it clear that it has, so far, been a really positive and rewarding experience. I’m really, really glad that that’s how she feels about it; I was and am much more excited for them now that I know that she feels that way.
I had a bit of a mixed reaction to this album on first listen. I’m super sensitive to sound (a part-gift-part-curse of my Autism Spectrum Disorder) so, to begin with, all I could hear were the differences. They were tiny differences, yes, but still overwhelming: some of the songs (‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version),’ in particular) felt faster even though they weren’t (I counted); the levels of the instruments felt different even though, when I played them one after another, I couldn’t figure out how they were different; I could’ve sworn that there were different emphases in the vocals but, in reality, there didn’t seem to be. The vocals in particular were difficult to process initially: my Synesthesia-like response (I see – and feel – colours, feel textures, and some other sensory stuff that I’m still trying to figure out) to them was very different to my response to the original album vocals and that was quite startling. It was very confusing and for a while I felt like my hearing had gotten all screwed up. It took a few listens before it all started to even out (although I can still hear all of those things). And I can hear differences: as fantastic a job as Taylor does of re-creating her teenage voice, there are still moments when she sounds distinctly adult (I felt like this was actually most prominent in ‘The Best Day (Taylor’s Version)’); some of the instruments have a slightly different sound, or even just tone, to their original counterparts, like the piano in ‘Forever & Always (Piano Version) [Taylor’s Version]’; while ‘You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version)’ is the same tempo as the original, I noticed that there’s an extra string pluck in the guitar/banjo part, which I think is what makes it sound faster; and I also noticed that there were a few backing vocal changes (I miss the repeat of “silence” in ‘Forever & Always (Taylor’s Version)’ – somewhat disproportionately, I think). I’m not trying to nitpick – I just notice these things and tend to notice them straight away. And now that I’ve had time to listen to it and absorb it, I love it and think it’s incredible (and somewhat surreal) how Taylor and her team have managed to recreate an album so similar to the original, over ten years later. The production is gorgeous and I love sifting through all of the layers that make up each song because so much goes into each track. Her vocals are just lovely and I’ve found myself enjoying songs that I hadn’t liked as much before a lot more because of that. My favourites on each album are actually quite different and given how sensitive my ears are, I think that’s valid because they don’t quite sound the same. But that’s given me the opportunity to love some of the other songs and that’s something I really didn’t expect.
While I do feel it listening to the songs I already know, hearing the ‘new’ songs – the Fearless era songs that we haven’t yet heard (apart from a leaked demo or snippet on YouTube here and there – really reminds me of what an amazing songwriter Taylor always was. It’s easy to say at this point in time but these songs were written when she was between sixteen and eighteen years old (approximately – I believe some of them she wrote even younger). The melodies are so natural and satisfying and her lyric writing was already so sophisticated. Some of the lines are just breathtaking. And there’s something really cool about the production: they absolutely fit into the Fearless sound but they feel more polished somehow, a little glossier. They actually kind of remind of the Red album’s country sound.
So, my first experience of the re-recordings was a bit rocky but I’m hopeful that, now I have some idea of what to expect, the next one (Red (Taylor’s Version), historically my favourite Taylor Swift album – although she does make having a favourite extremely difficult) won’t feel quite so… chaotic, I guess. Hopefully, my first listen will be a lot smoother.
Favourite Tracks: ‘Hey Stephen (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘White Horse (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘Breathe (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘Tell Me Why (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘You’re Not Sorry (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘Forever & Always (Piano Version) [Taylor’s Version],’ ‘The Other Side Of The Door (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘You All Over Me (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault],’ ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault],’ ‘We Were Happy (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault],’ and ‘Bye Bye Baby (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault].’
Wilds Things by Ladyhawke (June 2016) – I listened through Ladyhawke’s whole discography during my Masters project but this album was my favourite. I was hooked from ‘A Love Song,’ which is still my favourite song on the album. I also loved the production, although I do think the electronic style didn’t quite work for a few of the songs; sometimes it was just perfection and I utterly adored it but, on certain songs, it felt a bit incongruent. The only song I actively didn’t like was ‘Let It Roll’ but I’m pretty sure that that’s because it was in an advert or something that I heard over and over again until pure overexposure made me dislike it. But other than that, I really enjoyed the album. It’s uplifting and energetic and, if nothing else, I’m grateful to the introduction to ‘A Love Song’ because I absolutely adore that song.
Favourite Tracks: ‘A Love Song,’ ‘The River,’ ‘Wild Things,’ ‘Chills,’ and ‘Wonderland.’
And Now, We’re Shining by Sarah Close (March 2020) – The thing that always pulls me right into Sarah Close songs is the catchiness of the melodies. I swear, she could turn the phone book into an earworm. That, and the detail of some of her lyrics, are my favourite things about her music. She’s so good at balancing a more abstract statement, like “If it was me, I’d be kinder” or “Why is everyone trying so hard to be so cool?” with beautifully detailed lyrics that make you feel like you’re right there in that moment, like, “In your car fighting tears on the roadside, remember drives we used to take to nowhere,” “Now you’re backtracking like I’m keys that you forgot,” or “Thursday morning, I’m sat in the window seat, facing the exit ’cause I’m nervous we’re ’bout to meet.” I also love the pop production. It’s not that different to what I’ve been leaning towards so it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s part of why I like it so much, because it’s the way I hear my music too.
Favourite Tracks: ‘If It Was Me,’ ‘You Say,’ ‘Almost,’ and ‘Stay.’
Sour by Olivia Rodrigo (May 2021) – I’ll admit, I find the extreme hype around Olivia Rodrigo and other young artists releasing their first albums kind of tiring: I don’t particularly like having music essentially forced on me by the music industry and/or pop culture. It’s not really about the artist themselves, it’s about the way the world instantly insists that they’re the best thing since sliced bread. So I didn’t listen to Sour for quite a while. I felt kind of overexposed before I’d even heard it so I waited to listen to it until I could listen with an open mind. There were bits I liked: the relatability of ‘brutal’ (I mean, “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” is painfully real; had I heard it as a teenager, it probably would’ve hit me like a fucking train); the rawness of ‘traitor,’ evident in the lyrics, vocals, and production; how much she swears; ‘good 4 u’ is an absolute jam (and the “goddamn sociopath” lyric is such a ruthless shot to the jugular, which I just love); some of the details in the lyrics are beautifully real; ‘jealousy, jealousy’ is super powerful and probably even more so for listeners younger than me; and the harmonies are just gorgeous. But there were, of course, some things I didn’t like, mostly stylistic: the production could be awesome but there were several occasions where I thought it sounded kind of muddy, like in ‘brutal’ for example; her songwriting style is consistently super wordy even in the softer songs, which I found a bit exhausting after a while; and she has a tendency to do what a songwriting tutor of mine calls ‘Yoda-lyrics,’ where the writer twists a lyric to make it fit, like “your apathy’s like a wound in salt” from ‘good 4 u’ (the non-Yoda-lyric being “your apathy’s like salt in the wound”). So, yeah, mixed feelings but I like it for the most part.
Favourite Tracks: ‘traitor,’ ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back,’ ‘good 4 u,’ ‘enough for you,’ ‘favorite crime,’ and ‘hope ur ok.’
Evolve by Imagine Dragons (June 2017) – I hadn’t listened to Imagine Dragons for a while; somehow they just fell off my playlist. But then, when I was looking through Agents of Shield fan videos earlier in the year – I was trying to write a song from Daisy Johnson’s point of view and was trying to get a sense of the songs people were associating with her – Imagine Dragons songs kept coming up and I got hooked again. I love the epic sound of the songs and the intensity of Dan Reynolds’ vocals. Between those two things, they give the songs so much conviction and emotion, regardless of the subject matter. I feel like they always deliver with songs that make you feel like a goddamn superhero – something we all need from time to time, I think.
Favourite Tracks: ‘Whatever It Takes,’ ‘Believer,’ ‘Walking the Wire,’ ‘Mouth of the River,’ and ‘Start Over.’
Amidst the Chaos: Live from the Hollywood Bowl by Sara Bareilles (May 2021) – I was so gutted that I never got to see this show live so when this album (and the show in the empty venue) were announced, I was so excited. It was the next best thing and would keep me going until a real show was a possibility again. And it really does feel like listening to a concert; if you close your eyes and turn up the volume, you can almost imagine yourself there.
I feel like opening with a snippet of ‘Orpheus,’ with the section that emphases the lyrics, “We will not give up on love now” and “We did not give up on love today,” is like an opening statement for the show. I really love that: that that was the atmosphere, that that was what she wanted people to be feeling going into and during the show. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but I think that’s a really cool way of starting a concert. ‘Fire’ feels like the actual opening song and it’s so big and bold and full; it’s a good opener. Sara’s vocals sound incredible and the strings are just gorgeous. Her exclamation of “Holy shit, we’re at the Hollywood Bowl!” is just so Sara and made me laugh out loud. ‘Poetry By Dead Men’ has such a beautiful arrangement and melody and Sara just sounds so amazing. Again, I snorted with laughter when, between songs, she announces, “This is what I look like standing up!” She’s just so giddy about performing and about performing at The Hollywood Bowl; it’s really quite adorable.’Eyes On You’ has such a great energy live; all of the songs do. There’s something about live music that is so vibrant and while the instruments all sound great and the sound engineer is clearly doing an excellent job, the energy of performing live just adds such a special magic to a song. I wish I could explain it better than that. I love ‘I Choose You’ and it was so cute that there was a proposal during the song; I can’t believe something like that – people getting engaged at your concerts or using your songs for really big occasions like first dances and so on – ever gets old (I can only hope that I get to experience something like that someday). It was cool to hear her talk about her experience at the Women’s March and the thought process that led to the writing of ‘Armor’; hearing both that introduction and the song itself must’ve been amazing to hear live. And it was lovely to hear her talk about falling in love. When the audience cheered, she was like, “I knowwww!” That was very cute and made me smile. And I loved how much everyone cheered when she talked about Waitress; I love how invested everyone is in it because it means so much to her (I mean, that’s not the only reason – it’s a fantastic musical – but I think it has a special meaning to her fans because it’s special to her, because musical theatre is something she’s wanted to do her whole life). Her performance of ‘She Used To Be Mine’ was incredible and the crowd was absolutely silent, like they were so absorbed that they’d forgotten to breathe. It’s an amazing song and she sings it so beautifully; it gives me shivers. Then the spell is broken and the audience erupts into applause, applause that goes on so long that Sara is clearly very touched by the reaction. I was so happy to see that ‘Uncharted’ had been included in the show since the song means so much to me and I love this performance of it: I love that you can hear her smiling as she sings; I love how everyone sings the first chorus so loudly that Sara doesn’t need to sing; and I love how joyful a performance it is. I wish I could’ve been there; I wish I could’ve seen her face when everyone sang that first chorus. I bet that’s not something that ever gets old either. ‘No Such Thing’ is such a gorgeous song and it transitions so beautifully into ‘Satellite Call.’ It’s a mash-up that never would’ve occurred to me but it really works, thematically, musically, and emotionally. I absolutely love her introduction to ‘Brave,’ especially when she said, “As a songwriter, the greatest thing you could ever hope for is that your song kind of becomes part of… that it belongs to everybody else and that’s how this song feels to me and I couldn’t be more proud.” I think that’s very true. Performing ‘Brave,’ she sounds absolutely amazing; she truly has a one-of-a-kind voice. And that’s again highlighted in her performance of ‘Gravity.’ There’s something about the way she sings that song that shows off how incredible and unique her voice is: when she sings it, her voice just sounds so beautiful and so atmospheric – you can feel every little shift, every little flicker of emotion in her voice – and I really can’t imagine a time when it doesn’t hit hard. And just when I think she can’t sound better, she closes the show with ‘Saint Honesty’ with off-the-charts incredible vocals. She’s an amazing performer and my only sadness is that there isn’t a visual to go alongside it, as there was with Brave Enough: Live at the Variety Playhouse.
I really love it as an album: I love that she gave us all a chance to experience the Amidst The Chaos Tour; I love that she included songs from so many different albums and projects; I love that we get to hear her incredible performances; and I love that the song introductions and audience interactions weren’t cut out. She’s so personable and she balances the funny and dorky moments with the more serious and sincere ones so well. Those moments at concerts, when the artist stops to talk to the crowd and you can’t help but feel like they’re talking to you alone… They’re so special and leaving those parts in allows us to have a little bit of that experiences, even if we couldn’t go to a show, whether that was due to COVID or not. It’s a beautiful album and I love listening to her sing, listening to her talk to her audience, listening to her love every second of performing. It’s another project that makes me so proud to be a fan, so proud to look up to her.
I could easily justify including every track in my list of favourites because it’s like listening to a whole concert and the whole thing is just fantastic but I will try to follow my own rules (for once) and pick out just the stand out tracks (based on the performances rather than the songs themselves as this is a live album, although it’s probably unlikely that I can keep my feelings about the songs out of it entirely).
Favourite Tracks: ‘Orpheus / Fire,’ ‘I Choose You,’ ‘Armor,’ ‘She Used To Be Mine,’ ‘Uncharted,’ ‘No Such Thing / Satellite Call,’ ‘Let The Rain,’ ‘King of Anything,’ ‘Brave,’ ‘Orpheus,’ ‘Gravity,’ and ‘Saint Honesty.’
Strange Desire by Bleachers (July 2015) – I’ve heard various tracks from this album over the years but I’ve never sat down and really listened to it. So, before Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night came out, that’s what I did. And I just loved it, almost every single song. I loved the epic-ness of ‘Wild Heart,’ the production (it’s very much the sound I’ve always associated with Bleachers: big, emotive sounds, bright colours, and huge, open spaces), the vocals and the vocal effects, the big yet so eloquently stated message and then all of the little details in the lyrics, like “So put the shotgun back in the glove / Come on and wait another year for the / Dream far away / To come home, to be brave” and “They boarded up the windows / And the doors to my house / No one will ever read the letters / Or the lies that I told / From the years I was changed / By crooked hearts.” I love it and it was stuck in my head on a loop for days afterwards. ‘Rollercoaster’ really showed off how gorgeous Jack Antonoff’s voice is, although I did think the bridge felt very similar to ‘Closer’ by Tegan and Sara. I loved the concept for ‘Shadow’: “The song is about a New Yorker article I read about how everyone has a shadow, or a lesser version of themselves that only they can see,” but ultimately, that there will always be people who will love you, shadow and all. I’ve always loved ‘I Wanna Get Better’: I love how big and epic it sounds, I love the chaotic production that matches the tumbling emotions, and I love all of the imagery and the depth of each line (“And I’ve trained myself to give up on the past ’cause / I froze in time between hearses and caskets,” representing a very bleak time in his life: “There was 9/11, my sister died (of brain cancer in 2002 at age 13) and my cousin died in the Iraq War (in 2003). So a lot happened in a short span of time. It was an end to an age of innocence. I had PTSD and rarely left the house, and I disassociated from everyone for a long time,” for example). And what he’s said about the song only made me love it more, such as, “It had to be perfect because I was condensing all of me into one song,” and “The message is heavy, it’s not dumbed down… I didn’t write this song thinking to myself, ‘Well this is what I wanna say, but this is what people can handle.’ I just wrote the song and recorded the song. And I didn’t say to myself, ‘Well I want to have all this distortion in my vocal, but on mainstream radio that’s not really what people are doing right now.’ I did it anyway and thought, ‘Well, if the radio plays it, then I can be really proud of it, ’cause then I can feel like I’m a part of something that is pushing things into a different place.‘” I love the slightly mellower sound of ‘Wake Me,’ and the simplicity and sincerity of the lyric. I love the lyrics in ‘Reckless Love’ (like “I keep finding my way to the harshest words,” “I would burn my dreams away,” and “If you don’t let go you’re gonna break me”), especially the bridge. As much as I love ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ I think ‘Like a River Runs’ has to be my absolute favourite; I just really, really feel it, both in the song and what Antonoff has said about it. It just resonates so strongly in all the right ways. I love the production, I love the sentiment, I think the chorus is great, and I just love the lyrics: “When I fall asleep I can see your face / What I lost in you I will not replace / And I could run away, I could let them down / But I will remember your light,” “The summer’s gone and I’m alone / And I get the feeling that you’re somewhere close,” “The rhythm of your wild heart / It beats, been beating since you’ve gone,” “And I know you’re gone but still / I will remember your light,” and “And if you see me in the darkness / I hope you know I’m not alone / I carry you with every breath I take.” It’s a stunning song and I absolutely love it. The only song that didn’t really do anything for me was ‘I’m Ready To Move On / Wild Heart Reprise.’ I just found it a bit too weird and I don’t really understand what the purpose of it is. And then I loved the inclusion of the live versions of ‘I Wanna Get Better’ and ‘Rollercoaster’; they were a really cool addition and just make me want to go a Bleachers show so badly. The energy is almost tangible, even as recordings.
Favourite Tracks: ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ ‘Wake Me,’ ‘Reckless Love,’ ‘Like a River Runs,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better (Live in Boston),’ and ‘Rollercoaster (Live in Boston).’
Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night by Bleachers (July 2021) – I really like this album even though it’s a bit left field of my usual tastes. Arrangement and production wise, I loved the sounds he chose: the horns and saxophones were a gorgeous addition and an interesting choice since they aren’t an obvious choice in anything that even vaguely resembles pop music. There was a real warmth to every track; they had a lovely velvety sound. I was reminded of rich, warm colours like burgundy, purple, navy, and gold. What I do find frustrating is how difficult it is to make sense of what he’s singing, a combination, I think, of his style of singing and the production choices made around his vocals; he’s almost unintelligible at various points. I had to look them up just to understand what he was saying. After that, I had a clearer sense of the songs and they all started to grow on me, not just the ones I’d felt naturally connected to. He has some gorgeous lyrics and explores some really interesting ideas but, just from listening to it, I doubt I would’ve got that and if I hadn’t wanted to like it, I don’t know if I would’ve tried so hard to. So I think it’s a shame that the lyrics aren’t clearer because some of them are really beautiful – like, “So I rip floorboards from our place, black out all our windows and then I kick them from their frames,” “These steps toward faith, I can’t imagine it, pack my suitcase up ’til I can’t bear it, who am I without this weight on my shoulder?” “Just don’t go dark on me,” “Are my hopes finally gonna waste me? Am I the worst compass I could know?” and “I don’t know what to do with this faith” – and I wouldn’t be surprised if people move onto something else that’s easier to absorb.
Favourite Tracks: ’91,’ ‘How Dare You Want More,’ ‘Stop Making This Hurt,’ ‘Don’t Go Dark,’ and ‘What’d I Do With All This Faith?’
I Got Here By Accident by Kalie Shorr (August 2021) – I don’t usually include EPs in this list but I love Kalie’s music so I couldn’t leave it out. I’d heard ‘Amy,’ ‘I Heard You Got A Girl,’ and ‘Love Child’ before the EP came out but hearing them with full production and in the context of the other songs was a completely new and gorgeous experience; they all fit together so well. As expected, the songs are full of fantastic lyrics: “Do you want the other half of my sandwich, ’cause I know how much you love my leftovers, you love my leftovers,” “I heard you got a girl, she’s everything you need, sort of funny how, she kinda looks like me,” “I’m afraid that you’ll leave, I’m scared that you’ll stay, and I don’t know which one would be worse,” “Where I heard Rhiannon for the first time, my sister singing along for the last, now she lives in the sky with the radio waves, comes down when I play Fleetwood Mac… 1975 on speed dial, and Rumours in my blood,” “Tell me who to hate, yeah, you don’t have to worry, I don’t have to meet ’em, I believe your story,” and so many more. Her songs are so characteristically her: the stories she tells, the details in the lyrics, the plot twists, THE MULTIPLE PLOT TWISTS, the melodies… I could keep going; she just has such a distinctive voice as a songwriter. Also, as I said on Twitter when the EP came out, I have huge respect for Butch Walker and his production on the project. It’s so cohesive. The guitars in particular are just utterly gorgeous. They just make my autistic brain so happy, so calm in the chaos of everything around me: they have the same frequencies as magic and joy, orange skies and tears of relief. It’s a strange thing to try and explain.
Favourite Tracks: I don’t think I actually have any specific favourites (although ‘Alibi’ is an absolute jam); I just really love the project as a whole. It’s so cohesive, lyrically and musically, and although I have my favourite lyrics, I don’t feel able to pick any song above another because they’re all really good and all consistently really good. And they’re just so Kalie, something that the ‘Love Child’ visualiser shows in such a beautiful way…
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power by Halsey (August 2021) – (This one is going to be long because I have a lot of thoughts so please bear with me.) As one YouTube comment reads: “It’s the kind of album a queen sings while she declares war.” It’s a very apt description. It’s so cohesive (yes, it’s a concept album but not all concept albums feel cohesive) and so lyrically complex, deep and thoughtful and powerful. I have to admit that, despite the album being out for several months now, I still don’t feel like I fully understand it; I still feel like I have so many layers to peel back.
During her interview with Zane Lowe, she says that feels like she’s finally perfected the concept album – she considers all of her albums to be concept albums – even if it’s to a lesser degree like Manic, which she describes more as having a motif but still fundamentally being a concept album. Lowe comments that all of their albums sound like they’re a complete thought, rather than a selection of random songs thrown together, something Halsey said they would never do: their albums will always have some sort of central theme or throughline to them (I thoroughly appreciate this since I’m the same when creating music projects). The concept for this album was described as “the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth” and “the dichotomy of the Madonna and the Whore,” the societal idea that you can be sexually desirable but not a mother or maternal but not sexually desirable – an idea that Halsey addressed when announcing the album, “…me as a sexual being and my body as a vessel and gift to my child are two concepts that can co-exist peacefully and powerfully…“; it’s not a pregnancy album but an album she wrote while pregnant about her experience of pregnancy and the related issues of womanhood, motherhood, and so on. It could have easily been a girl power/female empowerment album but Halsey is crystal clear in their Zane Lowe interview that it isn’t, pointing out that the only times they talk about femininity, it’s in a negative context: describing the girl as a weapon in ‘Girl Is a Gun’; telling herself to “be a big girl” in ‘You asked for this,’ something that is often said condescendingly, to invalidate a female opinion; ‘honey’ describes a turbulent relationship, detailing the positive and negative qualities of both parties; ‘Whispers’ sees her cruelly list the reasons why she wants to be loved but never will be; in ‘The Lighthouse’ she plays the part of a siren, luring men to their deaths and revelling in the power she has over them, and so on. It’s only a ‘girl power album’ in that she, Halsey, made it but it’s ultimately too nuanced a concept – with lyrics delving into themes including feminism, bodily autonomy, the patriarchy, institutional misogyny, as well as Halsey’s more personal experiences – to be portrayed in a way that could be described as neatly as ‘girl power.’ There is so much to this concept that I feel like, while I like and appreciate the songs as songs, I’m still making sense of them in their wider context. This is something I love about Halsey – how thoughtful and thought-provoking their writing is, whether that’s through lyrics or poetry – but it’s something that I do, at times, find challenging: as an autistic person, I do have a tendency to take things literally and so sometimes I feel kind of stupid for not understanding themes or ideas that other listeners immediately pick up on. That’s something that I really liked about Manic, I think: the songs were still held together by a central idea but it was a bit more… straightforward, if that makes sense. The idea of ‘finding Ashley again after being Halsey for so long’ felt easier to understand and, in some ways, feel a part of. I’ve found that the more complex the concept or narrative that Halsey works with (hopeless fountain kingdom and If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power being the biggest examples of this), the more separate I feel from their music and from the fandom, kind of like, ‘well, if you don’t understand it, you don’t deserve to be here.’ It’s confusing and more than a bit draining sometimes.
Having said that, I do really like the songs, even if I’m still figuring out all of the layers and connections. The lyrics and melodies are as impactful as ever. Listing all of my favourites would take far too long but there are a good handful that just take my breath away every time I hear them: I think ‘Bells of Santa Fe’ is beautifully written, from “Don’t call me by my name / All of this is temporary” to “Jesus needed a three day weekend / To sort out all his bullshit, figure out the treason” to “Don’t wait for me, don’t wait for me, wait / It’s not a happy ending”; I love the verses of ‘Easier Than Lying,’ especially the first with the lyric, “I’m only whatever you make me / And you make me more and more a villain every day” and how that idea is developed through that section; ‘Lilith’ is super interesting and I love the power behind the lyric, “And by now, I don’t need a fuckin’ introduction,” something I also love about the lyric, “I come loaded with the safety switched off” in ‘Girl Is a Gun’; I love pretty much everything about ‘Darling’ but the bridge absolutely gets me every time, especially the lyrics, “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes / I’ll wrap them up in velvet twine / And hang ’em from a fishin’ line / So I can see them anytime I like,” which I think is such an excellent example of what a fantastic songwriter Halsey is; I feel similarly about ‘1121’ in that I just love every lyric and how emotionally raw it makes me feel; ‘honey’ took a while to grow on me but the melody is just incredible and I will probably have it stuck in my head somewhere forever, or at least until she writes something even catchier; the chorus of ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god’ – “I am not a woman, I’m a god / I am not a martyr, I’m a problem / I am not a legend, I’m a fraud / Keep your heart ’cause I already got one” – is so explicit and unapologetic that I can’t help but feel drawn in by it and the verse lyrics only add to that feeling; I absolutely love ‘The Lighthouse,’ the character that Halsey embodies, and the way they weaves the lyrics to create such visceral emotion in a song (to the point where I could probably write a whole blog post on it but I won’t); and ‘Ya’aburnee’ feels like the perfect closer, in its structure, its stripped back production, and the profoundly beautiful lyrics, like “I think we could live forever / In each other’s faces,” “And if we don’t live forever / Maybe one day, we’ll trade places / Darling, you will bury me / Before I bury you,” “So take my pockets, take me whole / Take my life and take my soul / Wrap me in a wedding ring / You know I swear I’d give you anything,” and so on (in her Zane Lowe interview, she talks about how this song contains some of her favourite lyrics and how it’s both a love song to their partner and their child, something Lowe had pointed out previously: the impressive and intriguing way Halsey can write a lyric that could be addressed to themself, their partner, their child, or their listener and that that distinction is left open to interpretation).
Having said all of this, I do think their lyrical style has shifted slightly since Manic, most notably in the way that they seem to be favouring metaphors over detail. There are very few lyrics like the vivid “Your eyes, so crisp, so green / Sour apple baby, but you taste so sweet / You got hips like Jagger and two left feet / And I wonder if you’d like to meet” and “I grab your hand and then we run to the car / Singing in the street and playing air guitar” in ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’ or the anxious chorus of ‘3am’ or the heart-achingly raw “And I remember this girl with pink hair in Detroit / Well, she told me / She said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die / ‘Cause we need you,’ and honestly, I think that she lied / And I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met / But I forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed / And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee / And hoped that my father would finally call me / And it’s just these things that I’m thinkin’ for hours / And I’m pickin’ my hair out in clumps in the shower / Lost the love of my life to an ivory powder / But then I realize that I’m no higher power / That I wasn’t in love then, and I’m still not now / And I’m so happy I figured that out / I’ve got a long way to go until self-preservation / Think my moral compass is on a vacation / And I can’t believe I still feed my fucking temptation / I’m still looking for my salvation.” This isn’t a criticism per se because every artist grows and develops and each project requires a slightly different approach but there was something so raw and real about the writing on Manic that I do miss on this album (although, of course, it also has things that I love that weren’t present on Manic). And while I think I preferred the production style on Manic (just a stylistic preference), I think the production of this album is fantastic. ‘The Tradition’ and ‘Bells of Santa Fe’ are cinematic and ominous; there’s a heaviness and dread to ‘You Asked for This’; ‘Girl Is a Gun’ and ‘honey’ are wild and energetic; ‘1121’ feels very vulnerable; there’s a confidence and swagger to ‘The Lighthouse’; and ‘Darling’ and ‘Ya’aburnee’ are gentle and intimate. All these songs sound very different but they somehow manage to exist in the same sonically cohesive bubble.
She says something really interesting during the Zane Lowe interview that I’m still thinking about all of this time later. Lowe commented on how their four albums feel reflective of their growth: out of the deeply conceptual albums of Badlands and hopeless fountain kingdom came Manic, where they seemed to find a real sense of their identity, and now we have If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, which he said felt like the final step before being able to share your truth and your story and your life with another person, a sentiment that Halsey agreed with. Halsey herself goes on to say that, while it isn’t true and is antithetical to the album (but as a real thought it deserves it’s own space), they felt like they had to say everything that they wouldn’t be able to say once they became someone’s mother; they had to get rid of all of the stories of guilt and insecurity and self sabotage and so on before starting over in this new chapter of their life. They say that they had a moment of panic at about six weeks pregnant about whether they had to be or were going to be boring now, given that so many things that they self identified with aren’t traditionally compatible with being a mother. They talk about a realisation about themselves and their future growth: “Oh, I’m holding on to my trauma because it’s part of how I define myself and I’m never really gonna grow unless I really let go of that trauma.” Lowe suggests that the album is a purging of sorts and Halsey agrees. That whole discussion – about identity and growth and purging oneself of certain parts of the past and certain things that inform who we are – has been really thought-provoking.
And finally, I also really liked the discussion of the title, ‘If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,’ given how interesting it is and how it isn’t directly referenced within the album itself. Lowe and Halsey talk about how it isn’t a ‘likeable’ title – this idea that if she can’t have a relationship, she’ll work and she’ll be ruthless and hardened and so on – but that it’s more of a starting point, something steadfast that she ends up developing away from because suddenly there’s this baby to consider; ultimately, she chooses love. She says that, “The irony is that the most power I’ve ever had is in the agency I have in that I chose love. That’s what’s given me the most power.” And that statement kind of takes my breath away because we know from what they’ve shared about their life that they’ve been through a lot and it hasn’t been easy; it would be much easier to abandon the idea of love out of a warped sense of self preservation but here they are, working through their shit and choosing love anyway despite the difficult things that they have experienced. They’ve found the comfort and power of taking their life back, making it their own, and putting themselves first, and that feels like an incredible process of growth that we’ve been given the honour of witnessing.
So, to end this incredibly long section on just one album, I feel like I didn’t fall in love with If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power in the same way that I did with Manic (which is totally fine – different albums resonate differently with each of us) but there’s a lot I love about it. It’s grown on me steadily and I think it will continue as I unravel more of the stories and ideas that makes this album so complex and thought-provoking. There’s a lot to admire about it and about Halsey and as much as I love listening to the work they’ve already put out, I also can’t help but look forward to whatever they choose to explore next because I know it will be completely unexpected and completely incredible.
Favourite Tracks: ‘Bells in Sante Fe,’ ‘Girl is a Gun,’ ‘Darling,’ ‘1121,’ ‘Whispers,’ ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god,’ ‘The Lighthouse,’ and ‘Ya’aburnee.’
Human by OneRepublic (August 2021) – While there were songs I liked on Oh My My, I much preferred the more classic soundscape of Native and their previous albums so when Ryan Tedder said that this would be their “most OneRepublic album” up to now, I was really excited and I can absolutely hear that; sonically, it’s definitely reminiscent of Native and Waking Up in particular, although it does incorporate some more electronic sounds (it reminded me of 1989 by Taylor Swift in that sense). The songs (‘Distance’ and ‘Savior,’ for example) are big and epic, which really reminded me of Native; that was something I always really loved about that album. And I think the newer electronic sounds were worked into the arrangements well. The melodies are just ridiculously catchy – if Tedder should be known for anything, it should be his ability to craft a melody so catchy that you’ll most likely remember it for the rest of your life – and Tedder’s vocals are as flawless and emotive as ever. But having said all of that, I was a little disappointed in the lyrics. There were some great lines but I felt like the majority of the album was made up of broader, more general statements. For example, “I’ll keep a message of you if you call, of you if you call / And choke on the memories” in ‘Choke’ from Oh My My or “Heart still beating but it’s not working / It’s like a hundred thousand voices that just can’t sing” in ‘Feel Again’ and “I’ll light your fire till my last day / I’ll let your fields burn around me, around me” in ‘What You Wanted’ from Native all feel deeply emotional with very distinct imagery whereas I didn’t get that same feeling with this album. I really enjoy listening to it but I don’t get that emotional lift that I get from some of their other albums, Native in particular.
Favourite Tracks: ‘Distance,’ ‘Rescue Me,’ ‘Savior,’ ‘Wanted,’ ‘Better Days,’ and ‘Ships + Tides.’
star-crossed by Kacey Musgraves (September 2021) – While I loved a lot of Golden Hour, I can’t help but feel like Kacey Musgraves has been slowly losing the thing that made her so unique back in the days of ‘Merry Go Round’ and Same Trailer Different Park. That feels like a very negative note to start on, which I don’t like doing, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking for a while and it’s something that makes me really sad. I’ve loved songs from all of her albums: nine on Same Trailer Different Park (I loved ‘Silver Lining,’ ‘Keep It to Yourself,’ ‘Stupid,’ and ‘Follow Your Arrow’ especially), five on Pageant Material (I think ‘Family Is Family’ and ‘Cup of Tea’ were my favourites), and seven on Golden Hour (I loved ‘Oh, What a World,’ ‘Love Is a Wild Thing,’ ‘Space Cowboy’ – although the grammatical error in the title still really annoys me… – and ‘Rainbow’). When I liked Golden Hour so much more than I’d liked Pageant Material, I’d hoped that it was just the difficulty of writing a second album after writing such a great (and wildly successful) first one so I was looking forward to this one: Golden Hour was a great third album, she’d had a lot of time to write new material (apparently she’d written forty songs to choose from), and she’d lived a lot of life so I felt like the chances of a strong album were good. But personally, I do feel kind of underwhelmed.
She’s described it as more country than Golden Hour multiple times but I don’t hear that at all – it’ just too shimmery, if that makes any sense at all. To me, it sounds much more like a glossy pop album that occasionally dips it’s toe into country; how it was actually possible to classify it as a country album, I don’t know. I’ve also seen her talk about Greek tragedies and a three act structure to the album, neither of which I would’ve naturally heard in the album: the three act description only made sense once I heard her break down the tracklist. I’m not trying to undermine what she’s saying or how she perceives the album but it just kind of reminds me of when the concept in a concept album isn’t clear enough so that, even if the songs are really good, that overall connecting theme gets lost.
When it comes to the songs, I have pretty mixed feelings. I liked how ‘star-crossed’ very effectively sets the scene for the rest of the album but then ‘good wife’ feels like an odd blend of Christian-pop and RnB. I really liked the imagery in ‘cherry blossom’ but the lyrics still felt a little simplistic compared to her usual writing; the lyrics to ‘simple times’ just felt like a stereotype of the 90s and they kind of made me cringe; and I liked ‘justified,’ mostly because it felt like there was more emotional depth and the lyrics felt stronger. I was kind of put off by the production of ‘breadwinner’ and then the chorus just made me cringe, particularly the lyric, “He wants your dinner.” I don’t know; it just makes me feel weird and uncomfortable. I really liked ‘camera roll,’ even though I don’t generally like songs with such technologically up to date language; I find it tends to date a song. But there were some lovely lyrics in this one, like “Chronological order and nothing but torture / Scroll too far back, that’s what you get / I don’t wanna see ’em, but I can’t delete ’em / It just doesn’t feel right yet, not yet” and “All the best, that’s all that’s left / Cruel evidence,” and it just felt much more Kacey than so many of the other songs. I really liked the chorus of ‘what doesn’t kill me.’ But then I really didn’t get on with ‘there is a light.’ I couldn’t work out what the arrangement was trying to do, the metaphor wasn’t one of her best, and the lyrics just got too repetitive. And while I like what Kacey has said about ‘gracias a la vida,’ I’m not convinced that including it on the album was a good decision. Given that it’s all in Spanish, the production is constantly changing, and that it’s unclear why it belongs on the album without her explanation, I don’t think it’s a strong closing track.
So, while I like the songs I like, I just feel a bit disappointed because we know what a great writer she is. Back in her Same Trailer Different Park days, I considered her one of my favourite artists but I just don’t enjoy her music the way I did back then. I’m not jumping ship as a fan but this album just hasn’t got me in the way some of her previous have. Mainly I’m just a bit sad because I was looking forward to it and looking forward to seeing her tour again but I’m not sure if there are enough songs that I like and if I like them enough to justify the cost of a ticket.
Favourite Tracks: ‘star-crossed,’ ‘cherry blossom,’ ‘justified,’ ‘camera roll,’ ‘hookup scene,’ ‘keep lookin’ up,’ and ‘what doesn’t kill me.’
Pins And Needles by Natalie Hemby (October 2021) – Since this album has barely been out a week, these are very much my first impressions of it; I haven’t had time to have a really thorough listen and really explore it yet. But I couldn’t not mention it on National Album Day when it’s an album I’ve been looking forward to for so long. There’s a lot I like about it. ‘Heroes’ has a great power chorus. ‘New Madrid’ has a catchy, emotive melody and I love the imagery in the lyrics: “And a heart that hasn’t moved in years,” “Remember when we made the Mississippi River run backwards,” “Shifting pieces, pretending we can’t feel the rift between us,” “And the ground we tread will bury us someday,” and so on. They’re just stunning. The only thing that bothers me is the way the emphasis is on the wrong syllable of ‘Madrid’ (on ‘Ma,’ instead of ‘drid’). I love the imagery and the metaphors in ‘Pins and Needles’ and the internal rhyming in the chorus is so satisfying: “You got my number, my thunder / And it’s your thumb that I’m under.” Ugh, so good! Again, I love the imagery in ‘Lake Air’ – “We were silhouettes / Ghosts in the rain / And we almost froze / When we left our clothes / By the water bank,” “I breathe you in / And kept you there,” and “There’s a certain sound / When the world disappears / And your heart is beating / So hard it’s all you can hear,” for example – it’s all so vivid, like you can see it playing out in front of you. I like the twist in the final chorus of ‘Banshee.’ I LOVE ‘Radio Silence.’ It’s easily my favourite song on the album and possibly my favourite Natalie Hemby song. It’s so sad but so, so beautiful and there’s such wistful longing there; I find it so deeply relatable. The main electric guitar sounds so sad, so lonely; it was the perfect choice of instrumentation for the song. The chorus is one of the most emotive choruses I’ve heard in a long time: “I tried to reach you through the growing static / I tried to replicate the fading magic / Did everything to keep the signal from dying / All I got was radio silence.” It captures the feeling of a friendship or relationship slipping away so perfectly and I just love the metaphor of reaching out only to get radio silence in return; it’s as lonely an image as the feeling of someone you care about fading from your life. The lyrics are gorgeous – “I wasn’t ready for / The way you shut the door / And left me standing in the frame” is one of my favourites – and the lift into the chorus hits in just the right way that it takes my breath away every time. The final chorus, doubled with different lyrics – “I tried to reach you through the growing static / I tried to replicate the fading magic / Did everything to keep the signal from dying / All I got was radio silence / I tried to tell you that it’s gonna get better / I tried to put the pieces back together / Did everything to keep the signal from dying / All I got was radio silence” – adds a new layer of emotional intensity and ends the song beautifully. And her vocals are just perfect. It’s a stunning song. I love the imagery in the lyrics of ‘Pinwheel’: “Pinwheel, my head’s spinning / Tilting all the world in a colourful collision / Pinwheel, visions always blurry / Everything’s a wash, like pictures in a hurry,” “Carried all my dreams by the handle / Heavy as an anvil,” and “Maybe I’m a ten cent amusement / And maybe I’m a weapon and you don’t wanna use it,” and so on. And although I can’t quite explain how, the production sounds like a funfair: all the bright colours; the loud, strange noises; and overly sweet or salty smells and tastes. I can’t explain it; that’s just the sensory experience that comes to mind when I listen to it. And I really like ‘Last Resort,’ for the most part. I loved the guitar; it was such a gentle, soothing sound. And again, I loved the imagery in the lyrics (she’s an incredible lyricist): “When you’re wandering / Lost in your own land / I’ll clear a long road / That you can follow / Lead you to right where I am,” “Caught in the storm / When the shelters you build / Fall without warning,” and “In desperation / Please remember me / When hell burns brighter / I’ll put out the fire / That burns in the bad memories” are my favourites. And the instrumentation is gorgeous too. I particularly love the electric guitar between the second chorus and the bridge; it’s just such a beautiful sound and it’s so emotive. My only issue with it is that, as far as I can tell, this is a song about how you’ll always be there for someone, steadfast when all else fails. But the chorus line of “I’ll be your last resort” sounds more like the narrator is saying that they’re happy to be the other person’s last choice and that doesn’t really jive with the rest of the song as far as I can tell. I feel like it should either be saying something like, ‘I’ll always be here, you never need to ask’ (or ‘I’ll always pick up when you call,’ if you want something that fits with the rhyme scheme) or the song needs to explore why the narrator is okay with being this other person’s last choice, why they’re still always there if that’s the case. Other than that, it’s a beautiful closer.
Favourite Tracks: ‘New Madrid,’ ‘Pins and Needles,’ ‘Radio Silence,’ ‘Pinwheel,’ and ‘Last Resort.’
I like to listen to albums as full albums – from start to finish and in one go, if possible – but I don’t always have the time to do that when life gets busy. So I do have a bit of a backlog on my list of albums to listen to, plus the upcoming albums that I’m looking forward to hearing. Some of these are:
But I like having a new album to look forward to and fortunately, there are always more.
Category: autism, emotions, favourites, music, response, special interests, video, writing Tagged: agents of shield, album, album review, albums, amidst the chaos: live from the hollywood bowl, and now we're shining, apart together, bleachers, concept album, crossroads, daisy johnson, evermore, evermore deluxe, evolve, fan video, fanvid, fearless, fearless (taylor's version), growth, halsey, human, i got here by accident, if i can't have love i want power, iichliwp, imagine dragons, inspiration, jack antonoff, kacey musgraves, kalie shorr, ladyhawke, lyric analysis, lyrical analysis, lyrics, music, musical growth, natalie hemby, national album day, national album day 2021, olivia rodrigo, onerepublic, open book, open book: unabridged, pins and needles, production, production analysis, roseanna, ryan tedder, sara bareilles, sarah close, sensory, songwriting, songwriting analysis, sour, star-crossed, strange desire, synesthesia, take the sadness out of saturday night, taylor swift, tim minchin, wild things, zane lowe, zane lowe interview
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 (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.