Music

Follow the Sound

Albums that lure us out of and into our own heads.

atlasAtlas
Real Estate
2014, Mexican Summer/Domino

When this album came out last month, it garnered mixed reviews from my friends. I’m not ashamed to say that I listened to it on repeat for like a week straight. It doesn’t sound too different from Real Estate’s previous stuff (which isn’t remotely a bad thing—they consistently nail the best kind kind of dreamy, shoegaze-y guitar pop, so why mess with that?), but as a whole this record is more solid than anything I’ve heard by them. It still speaks to their usual themes of nostalgia and longing and sun-dappled adolescences in small towns, but the songs in this offering are somehow more self-assured, cleaner, less lost. The bulk of the tracks are subtly upbeat and full of crispy drums and cute little noodley guitar riffs (the perfect soundtrack for driving to the beach with all the windows rolled down and your hair blowing everywhere while you think about what a beautiful place the world is). Even the downright sad songs, like “How Might I Live” and “Talking Backwards,” retain this air of hopeful nonchalance that makes me feel a little more confident about even the ugly parts of life. —Esme

Blood-Orange-Cupid-DeluxeCupid Deluxe
Blood Orange
2013, Domino

Cupid Deluxe has saved me so many times from dysphoria and anxiety and sadness, and has done so effortlessly. Blood Orange—otherwise known as Devonté Hynes—makes music that is a kind of cradling disco-synth situation: A soulful something that makes you want to dance and probably cry and smile at the same time. Have you seen the video for the song “Time Will Tell”? It breaks my heart and pieces it back together every time I see it. Dev dances by himself in such an honest way—the way you dance alone in your room. My heart just swells, and I feel like I have a friend with me when I watch it. The lyrics also are perfect: “Time will tell if you can figure this and work it out / No one’s waiting for you anyway, so don’t be stressed out / Even if it’s something that you’ve got your eye on / It is what it is.” I chant this sometimes when I’m upset. It is exactly what I need when I am lost. —Arabelle

submarineSubmarine
Alex Turner
2010, Domino

You know when you love something so much that it’s hard to talk about? Like, you’d rather not say anything about it because if you start, you’ll talk and talk for hours until your friends are like, PLEASE STOP, WE GET IT. That’s how I feel about the movie Submarine and its soundtrack, which was composed by one of my all-time favorite musicians, Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. Alex’s gentle croon could not be a better fit for this truly tender film. The soundtrack consists of sweet acoustic ballads that capture the mood of the movie entirely. They’re about being young and confused about who you are and how to deal with yourself and your various relationships. The songs are moody, introspective, and relatable—perfect those days when I’m feeling a little bit salty and need to be reminded that the universe is filled with compassion. —Shriya

brokenBroken
Nine Inch Nails
1992, Atlantic

Broken was the one album that truly validated my anger, and I’ve returned to it again and again. Sometimes it helps me get through intensely heavy feelings, and sometimes I just crave its rawness. The six songs (eight, if you count two hidden tracks) on this EP are full of distortion, heavy guitars, and Trent Reznor’s hard-hitting screams. I have felt so many of the things that he sings about—like that my own existence is flawed, and that I am a pit of anger, hate, and sadness. Hearing that someone else has felt the same way is a kind of release. When everything is crashing down, it makes me feel OK. —Britney F.

young professionalYoung Professional
Free Cake for Every Creature
2013, self-released

Young Professional is a completely refreshing little album that bumbles through the feelings of being a young grownup. It’s about being stuck in that messy place between teenage-hood and adulthood, and it isn’t afraid to enter the realms of being a weirdo, telling tales of making oatmeal at 2:40 AM, being buzzed alone, or talking about how nice your breath smells in the morning. Katie Bennett, the singer, brings a level of sincerity to each word, which makes it really special. There is not an ounce of pretension. It’s like hearing a diary. In the opening lines of the song “Don’t Go Away ahumfp acgroomf,” she sings, “Always been afraid to say / Let’s hang out every single day / ’Cause I wanna be close to you / But I don’t wanna bore you.” That is simple and true enough to pound right through my heart, and it’s something I feel every girl in the world can identify with. —Allyssa

heaven or las vegasHeaven or Las Vegas
Cocteau Twins
1990, 4AD

Let me try to re-enact what it was like to listen to Heaven or Las Vegas for the first time: I come home from the used-record store, where I picked it up. The first song, “Cherry-Coloured Funk” starts, and it’s warm and reverb-heavy, with enough sharp notes to keep it from getting too pretty. The lyrics are hard to make out, but they’re surreal and have a steady rhythm to them, like a Lynchian lullaby. I figure, Great, perfect music to have on in the background while I work. But then the song crescendos into the chorus, and OH MY GOD, I HAVE TO DROP EVERYTHING I’M DOING. I turn it up. I’m pulled in by Elizabeth Fraser’s high-pitched voice, which is like a sonic icicle that chills the heart of the song. I’m trying to process what I’m hearing. This song alone is worth the cost of whatever ridiculously low price I paid for the album, and I listen to it on repeat until my roommate asks me to please switch it up. I decide Fine, I’ll listen to the other nine tracks. None of them are the religious experience that “Cherry-Coloured Funk” is, but they’re still incredible. This is not background music. I’m getting lost in it. —Anna F.

surfer rosaSurfer Rosa
Pixies
1988, 4AD

Surfer Rosa was the Pixies record I got into after my first boyfriend made me a mixtape that had some of their songs on it. I was just starting to explore the world of “non-radio” music, and MAN ALIVE did this stuff blow my mind. I became obsessed with “Gigantic”: It starts off super-soft, but then before you know it Frank Black is yelling in the background like a cat in heat. It kind of sums up the bizarre sound of the whole record. “Where Is My Mind?” is another standout jam, with creepy guitars that are perfect to listen to when you want to feel like a menace. The literal BEST things about Surfer Rosa, though, are the weird spoken-word intros to some of the songs. In “I’m Amazed,” you can hear Kim Deal gossiping that “There were rumors he was into field hockey players.” You don’t really know where it’s coming from, or who she’s talking about, but it makes me wish I could just sit in a diner and drink coffee and shoot the shit with her. And in “Oh My Golly!,” Frank just yells “YOU FUCKIN’ DIE!” out of nowhere, which is my FAVORITE. Sometimes it jolts me a bit out of my chair, which makes me laugh. —Laia

future crayonThe Future Crayon
Broadcast
2006, Warp

Usually when a band releases an album of rarities and B-sides, you can pretty safely assume that said album will be full of rough demos, extended tracks, and scraps of live recordings, and therefore for die-hard fans. The Future Crayon, a rarities and B-sides album, is the complete opposite of that. Because of the exquisite quality of the tracks on it, it could easily pass off for a best-of that was never made. I would happily recommend it to anyone as hors d’oeuvres before committing to bigger chunks of Broadcast because it lightly touches on each of the styles explored throughout their discography. The mysterious, French New Wave–style pop hooks that are on many of their other releases can be heard in stand-out tracks like “Poem of Dead Song” and “Illumination;” there is electronic, sample-based experimentation on “Hammer Without a Master” and “DDL”; and my favorite tracks, “Test Area” and “Locusts,” take experimental sci-fi sounds and make them more structured, playful, and haunting. I can always hear their Birmingham, England, roots shining through, too. The natural vocal style of Trish Keenan, who very sadly passed away in 2011, always brings the cinematic otherworldliness of the instrumentals back down to earth. —Eleanor

mahogany soulMahogany Soul
Angie Stone
2001, J Records

Generally, if I’m down or confused I will listen to music to help center me or provide a kind of emotional compass. Time and again, that music has been Mahogany Soul. Angie Stone has a huge body of work—she started recording in 1979 as a teenager in the group the Sequence, which released the first-ever hip-hop album by a female act—but I find this to be her most impactful album for sad times. The ardent depth in her voice is as calming as a salve, and the songs are SO RELATABLE in their directness. “Pissed Off,” a song about her boyfriend’s ill treatment of her, diagnoses that “You’re overprotective and you’re jealous / Change when you’re around the fellas,” while “Time of the Month” sounds like a gospel song about getting your period (“It’s that time of the month / Don’t even mess with me!”). By the time “20 Dollars,” a slow jam full of real talk about living paycheck to paycheck, comes on, I’ve lost myself in the warm sea of Angie’s voice, and I feel better. —Julianne

dragging a dead deer up a hillDragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
Grouper
2008, Type Records

I recently had a debate with a sweetheart over this album. While he insisted that it’s about love, I am certain that it’s about loss. “Sure, he said, “But it’s also about yearning. Like when you’re constantly reaching out.” I feel like it’s more about turning inward and finding peace in isolation. This minimalist record takes me back to the shell of my dorm room during a particularly rough winter, in terms of both the weather and my personal life. Drenched in reverb and interspersed with the listless strumming of an acoustic guitar, it still makes me want to pull away and deep-sea dive through my own head for a while. In “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping” Liz Harris sings softly, “I want a love I had inside/ Want to feel it moving through me,” but then interjects, “I’d rather be sleeping.” Maybe it really is about love, though it hardly seems about embracing it. —Suzy X.

midnight memoriesMidnight Memories
One Direction
2013, Columbia/Syco

I never understood people who could passionately declare that certain songs/albums/musicians changed their lives or got them through hard times. I’ve always been really passionate about a lot of bands, but didn’t feel like my life was improved or made better by their songs. That is, until recently, on a really tough day, when I felt myself getting anxious and stressed. I instinctively reached for my headphones, hit play on Midnight Memories, and I instantly felt myself calming down. Since then, this record has been my failsafe tool for shaking off anxiety. The track I always come back to is called “Through the Dark.” I like the way the verses and bridge flit between encouragement and understanding (“You tell me that you’re sad and lost your way / You tell me that your tears are here to stay / But I know you’re only hiding / And I just wanna see you”). When I have a personal crisis, it’s like a friend that helps me deal. —Brodie ♦

23 Comments

  • Me_Magalloway April 24th, 2014 11:10 PM

    One album that I find myself getting totally lost and drawn in to is múm’s “Finally We Are No One.”
    It’s super low-key and subtle, and everything about it makes you feel like you are in a daze. It instantly draws me away, and clears my head.

    It’s the best.

    http://navigating-fairyland.blogspot.com/

  • TessAnnesley April 24th, 2014 11:37 PM

    Rookie is my favourite because it never thinks twice about having recs for Broadcast and Cocteau Twins alongside One Direction

  • Spiderland April 25th, 2014 1:46 AM

    One of my favorite recent discoveries is actually an ep called Offcell by a duo from San Diego known as Pinback. Its consist of 5 well developed indie rock songs that are extremely dynamic. It sounds like two very close friends making something together instead of just two people playing instruments for the heck of it. Its a very cohesive ep that wastes no time whatsoever. It did not click on me in the first listen though, it took me four listens to appreciate the whole ep.

    For those wondering what it sounds like, the ep reminds me of the more melodic moments of Modest Mouse and Built To Spill with a pinch of nostalgia(especially true for Victorious D and Grey Machine.) More than anything it reminds me of high school because its honest yet it has the lushness and energy of youth that I find in a lot of my high school peers. In fact, if my high school experience so far made a sound, it would sing like this ep.

  • Elizabete April 25th, 2014 8:44 AM

    SUBMARINE! I feel the same about Submarine and its soundtrack, Shriya, too bad I can’t get anyone else to watch it, ugh. The film is so beautiful and the soundtrack is absolutely perfect, also the industrial scenery of Wales and just everything…

    http://melodyfairitale.wordpress.com

  • honorarygilmoregal April 25th, 2014 8:51 AM

    Much love for all the cool music recs <3

  • sockervadd April 25th, 2014 8:56 AM

    yeeees! <333
    Midnight Memories is my cure for anxiety as well. I think it's a shame that so many people refuse to take One Direction seriously just because they're a boyband, because they really are great. (In my opinion at least) Their music has saved me and so many others and like people shouldn't feel ashamed for actually listening to and enjoying their music.

  • soviet_kitsch April 25th, 2014 9:14 AM

    any gliss album could fit on this list too, and the one song in particular that does is “gimme the hit” (which btw, has to be one of my favourite songs ever, and i’m one of those insufferable music snobs lol)

  • drmcatcher April 25th, 2014 9:26 AM

    I LOVE The Cocteau Twins, and my fave track on Heaven or Las Vegas is “Sugar Hiccup”, without a doubt

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot April 25th, 2014 10:54 AM

    Laia – I keep hearing all the “Non-radio music” from my wayward youth in weird places, like grocery stores, or Target. It freaks me out a little bit, like “HEY! Give that back! That’s MINE!” People abhorred me and ostracized me for much of what I listened to, and now I can hear it when I buy dairy products? So weird.

  • jumpship April 25th, 2014 11:43 AM

    AHH i lOOVE the pixies! just saw them live a few months ago and it blew my mind, holy. rad list!

  • elliecp April 25th, 2014 1:24 PM

    PIXIES

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • herdinthehalls April 25th, 2014 4:10 PM

    The reason why I wanted to see Submarine in the first place was because Alex Turner did the soundtrack. Great movie, great music. I’ll have to check out some of these other albums, too!

    http://rockpapermisc.blogspot.com/

  • tangratoe April 25th, 2014 9:57 PM

    I love Atlas! I bought it the day it came out and have listened to it so many times since. The music is just so relaxing and puts me in such a great mood.
    Made my day to see it on this post :)

  • Reginechassangel April 25th, 2014 11:03 PM

    I was listening to grouper the other day and i thought it went really well with this month’s theme so i was scrolling through this like “grouper, grouper, where is grouper?” and i was happy when i actually saw it. that album is the best ever. it gets surreal when you’re listening to it alone in your room.

  • ghostelic April 26th, 2014 12:52 PM

    pixies and cocteau twins! great! all i wanted.

  • HollyMargaret April 26th, 2014 4:11 PM

    SURFER ROSA!! I LOVE the Pixies and the almost raw sound of this album – Doolittle is also a great album but has a totally different feel to it. Wish I was around to see them all together in the eighties!

  • Berries April 27th, 2014 10:43 AM

    For me it’s ‘Frank’ by Amy Winehouse.

  • flocha April 27th, 2014 2:07 PM

    every time rookie mentions alex turner/the submarine soundtrack I start squealing

    http://whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.com/

  • obeykid April 27th, 2014 5:48 PM

    I love the movie Submarine and the soundtrack was amazing!

    My favorite to listen to “it’s hard to get around the wind” because it’s so heartfelt and the vocals are beautiful.

    My favorite album to get lost into is definitely Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight. People do say that it’s cliche, it’s not Hybrid Theory but it doesn’t need to. It stands alone and it was a period of experimentation for them and the result was beautiful. Not many artists write about catastrophic events like Katrina (The Little Things Give You Away) and do it in a way that also applies to everyday life. That whole album and their entire discography is good enough for me and I’m one of the few people that ‘get’ them.

  • clarekawaii April 27th, 2014 8:16 PM

    ahh wow! i agree with this list so much!! i love real estate, blood orange and free cake for every creature especially :))) every time these album recommendations are posted they never fail to be super cool

  • hollyshould April 28th, 2014 9:41 PM

    The XX – xx. I put it on to nap/daydream and am guaranteed everytime to be transported to a different place/time.

  • Rebekster July 18th, 2014 2:10 PM

    I LOVE REAL ESTATE! soooo dreamy ;)