I was inspired by Tony’s piece last month to write some liner notes for my own playlist.
January Wedding | The Avett Brothers
It’s not the most traditional month, but the Avett Brothers can make anything sound romantic.
I hope that I don’t sound too insane when I say
There is darkness all around us
Winter Song | Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles
Okay okay, they talk about December, but there aren’t a lot of good February songs. Probably because February is the worst. If there’s any month that makes you ask “is love alive?” it’s February. So turn up the harmonies and sink into that cello line.
I’ll be your harvester of light
And send it out tonight
So we can start again.
Casmir Pulaski Day | Sufjan Stevens
In the running for Sufjan’s most heartbreaking song (and it’s a long list), this song from Come on, Feel the Illinoise takes place on March 1, a day Chicagoans use to celebrate Casmir Pulaski, a Revolutionary War hero. This was the second or third album I ever bought with my own money for my own taste, and I was tickled beyond reason to discover that one of the lyrics mentioned my birthday: the first of March.
In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing
All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see His face
In the morning in the window
Avril 14 | Aphex Twin
Aphex Twin is known more for his electronic noise tracks, but this understated piano melody will be stuck in your head for hours.
Don’t-miss lyric: the track is instrumental, but listen for the very pleasing piano key thunks throughout. I love guitar string squeaks and other live noises in a song, reminiscent of Tony’s “non musical things.”
21st of May | Nickel Creek
The now-defunct band Nickel Creek (on a side note, if you’re not listening to the new Prairie Home Companion with former member Chris Thile… you’re probably not fifty years old at heart like I am. But seriously, give it a try) wrote this song for their comeback album A Dotted Line in 2014. The date in the title is the day evangelist Harold Camping predicted the Rapture would happen. Formerly a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, Camping used “hidden calendars” in the Bible to make his prediction. Doesn’t seem to have come to fruition.
They laughed while Noah built his boat
Then cried when came the rain
They mock me now, but I will float
On the 21st of May
Green of June | case/lang/viers
“I recorded the demo of this with my kids’ drum set in their play room,” says Laura Viers, one third of the group (Neko Case of The New Pornographers and k.d. lang are the other members). “It was June of 2015 and Portland trees and greenery were in full bloom at the time. It was almost like I could see the green of the trees blowing on the breeze into the room. It’s a song about the redemptive power of love.” Light snare taps and the lively harmonies make the song feel like June.
The lilacs in the vase
Still got their life
Perfume the light
July July! | The Decemberists
Murder rates go up in the summer in most metropolitan areas, and this song just sounds like boiling rage in the summer heat. Colin Meloy’s reedy voice never seems to fit with his sometimes-morbid lyrics, but perhaps that adds to the unsettling nature of a lot of Decemberists songs. Extra points for having a month in the song title and band name?
Oh what a lonely thing
In a blood red drain
Summer Skin | Death Cab for Cutie
When I started this list, I was pretty excited because I could think of at least six songs off the top of my head, so I figured it’d be pretty easy to get the rest. It wasn’t. There are some songs with August in the title, but it’s just not stuff I’d listen to, you know? Some Van Morrison, a We the Kings song that sounds like every other We the Kings song… might as well just use the best end of summer song there is from the original high school emo band: Death Cab for Cutie.
Don’t-miss lyric: On the night you left I came over
And we peeled the freckles from our shoulders
Wake Me Up When September Ends | Green Day
Let the white fist clutching the blood red heart grenade take you back high school and how they inexplicably played this as a slow dance song at homecoming.
Here comes the rain again
falling from the stars
drenched in my pain again
becoming who we are.
October Song | Amy Winehouse
According to the very reliable source, Songfacts.com, “This was written in memory of Amy Winehouse’s pet canary, whom she named after movie star Ava Gardner. Amy recalled to Mojo magazine January 2008 how the bird would wake her in the mornings, ‘twittering away and rocking on her little swing.’ When it died the singer was heartbroken. She buried her beloved bird in some woods in East Finchley near London, singing ‘Lullaby Of Birdland’ as she laid Ava to rest. She added in the same Mojo interview: ‘I loved that bird. It was a sad time. But I got a good song out of it.’”
Lovebird, my beautiful bird
Spoken ’til one day she couldn’t be heard
She just stopped singing
Mr. November | The National
There are certain artists you just have to listen to at particular times of year. The National is one of my favorite bands, but they go on hiatus from my playlists in the summer—it’s just too dark and gritty for the beach. Come fall, though (which has been playing hooky in Michigan this year), they’re on heavy rotation. “Mr. November” is a perfect introduction to the season.
Don’t-miss lyric: “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November”
December Baby | Ingrid Michaelson
This is the saddest song you’ll hear today (unless you’re nostalgically listening to Tom Petty). Ingrid knows how to write a good breakup song, but this beyond that. It’s a song about a relationship gone bad, and her lyrics focus so specifically on those one or two or three little things we notice when things start to turn sour. Plus, she’s clearly lived a winter in a snowy place—no one else knows about the snow in your boots.
I wore the dress I thought you loved
But my boots are filling with snow you shoved
Off of the car we climb into
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.