Are We There
Sharon Van Etten
Even though Sharon Van Etten has been recording songs for a few years, I hadn’t heard her music until last month, in a restaurant, where they were playing Are We There on repeat. I pulled my server aside to ask, “Who is this?!” After that, it took me almost two weeks to listen past “Afraid of Nothing,” the album’s first track. I couldn’t get over the clarity of Van Etten’s voice or the intensity of the song’s lyrics. Most of the songs are about love, but with titles like “Your Love Is Killing Me,” “Break Me,” and “I Love You But I’m Lost,” you’re in for a more reflective than swoony experience. It’s kind of awesome to hear someone sing about their feelings without apologizing for having them in the first place. Are you spending your summer getting over a breakup, or pining for something that’s unrequited? This is your jam. —Danielle
Ramona Lisa is the (brilliant!) alter ego of Caroline Polachek, who’s best known as the singer-songwriter behind Chairlift, but she also co-wrote and co-produced “No Angel,” one of the coolest songs on Beyoncé’s latest record. I had high hopes for Arcadia, but the first time I listened to it, I didn’t like it. The second time I listened to it, I also didn’t like it. I don’t know why I kept listening after that, but I did, and by the fifth or sixth time, its strange, sparse songs were running through my veins. Listening to them made me acutely aware of the things happening in my brain and the world around me and beyond (Cosmic energies! Being transported to another dimension!) Caroline’s voice is by turns sweet, breathy, and otherworldly, and as she weaves it into and out of ancient-sounding strings and wind instruments, it’s almost like a whole other instrument. The overall sound is closer to classical music than Top 40 pop hits, but you can still dance a little to it—not, like, smooth-moves dancing, but some Elaine Benes-style convulsing, like you’re trying to shake the whole universe with your body. I put this record on any time I need to search my brain for answers, and it usually helps me find them. —Laia
I discovered this album when I was about to leave Australia, where I’d always lived, to take up residency overseas. A long-term relationship had ended, I’d lost my job, and I felt really alone. I spent a lot of time in my new home reflecting on the abyss I thought my life had become. Spinnerette complemented my somber mood but also made me realize that stuff would be fine, I’d be fine, and the unknown isn’t as scary as it seems. I’m a big lyrics person, and this record is full of words that spoke directly to me: “How do I find my way?” (“Distorting a Code”); “I’m gonna win, I’ll never give in” (“Ghetto Love”); and “I’ve made my bed, don’t have to lie in it” (“A Spectral Suspension”). I’ve loved Spinnerette’s Brody Dalle from her days as the driving force of the punk band the Distillers; this record is musically more mature than the Distillers’ straight-ahead punk jams, but it’s got all of Brody’s fire—plus control and focus that make it all the more powerful. Listen to it when you want to master your own destiny. —Bianca
Automatic for the People
1992, Warner Bros.
R.E.M. has put out a lot of albums—15 to be precise—but Automatic for the People is my go-to when I’m facing uncontrollable changes. The record’s piano and string arrangements, which are a little slower than the band’s classic guitar-jangle, are soothing enough to put me to sleep (in the good way). The reflective lyrics, especially on songs like “Nightswimming,” also give me hope. I listened to this album nonstop after my friend Marcel died. It helped me deal with the hurt until I was ready to fumble out of the darkness again. —Stephanie
2005, ANTI/Quannum Projects
When faced with the universe’s unknowables, I turn to “message rap,” a subgenre of socially conscious hip-hop from the ’90s and early ’00s, when being earnest about society’s ills was all the rage. The duo Blackalicious dealt heavily and well in this trade, and The Craft, with its light, trippy songs about a halfway imaginary world filled with positive vibrations, may be their most inspired crusade. Songs like “My Pen and Pad” encourage you to detach from your current woes and go with Chief Xcel and Gift of Gab into space, while the meet-cute tale in “Powers” is an intergalactic ode to feminine mystique. Even the most overtly political song, “Black Diamonds and Pearls,” which kicks off with the reading of a brutal letter written by someone inside the prison-industrial complex, rescues me from despair with its soaring refrain. When I’m listening to The Craft, I never fear the future. —Caitlin D.
Modern Vampires of the City
The beauty of Modern Vampires of the City is that it is a little disorienting. The songs’ wordy lyrics and disjointed rhythms sometimes don’t make sense on the surface, but on a deeper level, they present situations in which people are, sometimes painfully, finding their purpose. In “Ya Hey,” for example, singer Ezra Koenig tells an unnamed person that even though they love EVERYTHING, nothing loves them. It’s enough to send anyone into oblivion, and the other songs’ messages can leave me feeling similarly unsettled. But I still find some clarity in piecing together my own interpretations. —Chanel
Nine Inch Nails
2013, Columbia/The Null Corporation
Nine Inch Nails is one of my favorite bands, but when they released Hesitation Marks, I was not into it. At the time, I was stuck in the mindset that for an album to be good—especially an NIN album—it had to be loud and angry. Because there was no screaming on Hesitation Marks, I thought it was cold, emotionless. I’m glad I kept listening to it, because I figured out that I was wrong: The lyrics are some of the most gut-wrenching I have ever heard, and the instrumental pacing hits me hard with every listen. The restraint I disliked at first resonates with me now, particularly when I need to momentarily quiet down to look within. —Britney F.
1984, Warner Bros.
I have been listening to this album since I was seven years old, and it still gets me hyper in the same way it did 30 damn years ago. I have to overlook the lyrics’ latent misogyny to get into some of the songs—the ’80s were a different, more terrible decade, when men wearing copious amounts of spandex felt comfortable declaring that women existed purely to be sexy accessories, and the general public didn’t complain (much). But every time I hear the synthy opening chords of “Jump” or the guitar-driven shout-party that is “Panama,” I turn into a flesh bag filled with electricity. Claim their grimy beats as your own whenever you need a burst of energy or to have a personal festival of awesomeness. —Danielle
2013, Young Turks
The fascinating thing about FKA twigs is that, even though she’s been on the covers of i-D and Dazed & Confused, and her video for “Water Me” went viral last year, she maintains a mysterious sense of simplicity. EP2 is the modestly titled followup to EP1. Its four tracks glean their power from their minimalism: “Papi Pacify” is as chilling as it is sexy, and its video (full of strobe lights, dark shadows, and, best of all, glitter) is an example of how FKA twigs perfectly synchs imagery with lyrical meaning. On the surface, “Water Me” is a fragile love song about rejection, but I think it’s more about setting boundaries—and leaving a person you thought you loved because you no longer respect them. —Eleanor
The Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso’s lyrics are deceptively simple—you hardly notice as he seamlessly flows from English to Portuguese to English throughout Transa. Veloso wrote the album while he was living in exile in London in the ’70s (Brazil’s government at the time viewed his music as a political threat). On the first track, “You Don’t Know Me,” Veloso sings, “You don’t know me, bet you’ll never get to know me, you don’t know me at all”—during a period when I felt isolated in my personal life and my career, those lyrics became a mantra that helped me through the loneliness and uncertainty. Soon after Transa was released, Veloso was able to go back to Brazil. Today, I’m more at home, too, but his words stick with me. —Cynthia
1997, One Little Indian
I turn to Homogenic during times of emotional uncertainty. That’s partly because of “Jóga,” a song in which Björk sings that “emotional landscapes, they puzzle me” (I can relate). It’s also because of the song “Hunter,” whose lyrics describe a person who is ceaselessly searching. But mostly it’s the way Björk’s lyrics urge me to move on from confusion. In the melodic and operatic “Bachelorette,” the singer-songwriter declares that she’s not just one thing, but multitudes: a fountain of blood, a path of cinders, a whisper in the water, a tree that grows hearts. And the album’s sometimes glitchy, often spare instrumentation opens spaces between Björk’s verses that allow you just to be with your own thoughts and feelings. —Estelle
The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
2006, Interscope/Tiny Evil
When I’m experiencing an internal battle, I put on this record and let my mind wander around until I arrive at a solution. I’m partial to long songs (I like it when there’s some time before I have to think about what to play next), and there are a handful of five-minute-plus tracks here, like the contemplative “Luca,” which slowly adds more and more layers of instruments, melodies, and cathartic lyrics. The record’s quiet verses calm me down, and its emphatic choruses motivate me to get stuff done. —Shriya
The songs on the Cure’s second album sound like lullabies about deep secrets and hidden personal truths. The spare and haunting synth, and the way Robert Smith whispers lyrics about love and memories and regret, leave plenty of room to think about old relationships, friendships, and who you want to become. “A Forest,” “M,” “Play for Today,” “In Your House”—there are so many songs on Seventeen Seconds that have helped me soul-search that I can’t even pick a favorite. I recommend listening to them all again and again and again and again. —Stephanie
When a kid in my sixth-grade class handed me a burned copy of Daft Punk’s Discovery, it was a game changer. At the time, I’d been listening mostly to ’N Sync, Britney Spears, and Destiny’s Child, and this record was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Tracks like “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Face to Face” put me in a trance. To this day, I get lost in Discovery’s digital ether whenever I’m getting bored with radio hits. —Chanel ♦