Growing up, I never developed my own music taste. There wasn’t any need for me to. The upper level of my house was consistently filled with my parents’ eclectic blend of Nickel Creek, Moby, Imogen Heap, Prince, and British soft rocker Fink. Meanwhile, a short jaunt down the staircase landed me in the midst of my sister’s selection of songs from Jo Jo and other chart-topping tweens. There simply wasn’t a silent square inch for me to fill.
Thus, when I left for college, I quickly found myself stripped from my usual soundsphere and in need of populating my own. I tend to be a total silence studier, so this started slowly. However, in the last year, my musical world has undergone a veritable Cambrian explosion. The cause? Teaching.
As it turns out, while my brain demands silence to study, if I’m aimlessly rifling through scores of student journals in silence, it ossifies at an alarming rate. Thus far, I have found music to be the only balm for stacks of student essays and have taken to hunting new artists and albums with a feverish fervor. After procuring them, I promptly listen them to death within days and head back out in search of more fresh melodies.
The result is that now, after a semester of student teaching and a few months of teacher teaching, I have accumulated a much larger and more varied heap of musical interests than I’ve ever had before—from chart-toppers to artists tucked in the further corners of Spotify. But whether they’re firmly established in the top 40 or far from it, there are a few artists to whom I owe my loose grip on sanity this year, and I would like to formally thank and plug them now.
First on the list is MØ, whose debut album No Mythologies to Follow carried me through the creation of a unit plan on the Greek drama, Antigone. In many ways, MØ (pronounced “moo”) seems like a girl that you were always a little weirded out by on the school bus. A native Dane, Karen Marie Ørsted seems a confounding compound of chic New York hipster and backwoods West Virginian meth dealer. MØ’s music, however, is an explosion of electro-pop that’s a world all its own.
Throughout the album, MØ’s slinking vocals drape over relentlessly up-tempo beats to generate a sound that feels simultaneously bright and dingy. These juxtaposing elements create an intriguing sublimity that make songs such as “Pilgrim,” “Waste of Time,” and “Glass” certainly worth a listen and some time spent puzzling over.
Next, I would like to thank Sara Bareilles, whose album The Blessed Unrest can be credited with preventing me from falling asleep on a pillow of Spanish tests on multiple occasions. And while Bareilles’ album was released in July of 2013, I did not have the good fortune of discovering it until February of 2014 and haven’t been able to shake it since. Grammy-nominated for album of the year, this compilation showcases Bareilles’ veteran songwriting status and ability to craft a spectrum of cohesive songs that feel both deeply personal to Bareilles as well as extremely accessible to listeners.
Often in the past year I have danced in my bedroom to “Brave,” zoned out while driving to “Satellite Call,” or laid on my kitchen floor and basked in the swell of “Islands.” It’s a fantastic album that I relate to and appreciate in new ways every time I hear it.
However, my greatest and most recent “thank you” goes out to Jon Bellion for his debut album The Definition. Having just happened upon the album last month, I’ll need to assess time’s wear on my interest in it, but I can confidently say that it is the most I have ever enjoyed an album on the first listen because Bellion is such a strong storyteller.
The first song of the story, “Munny Right,” begins bluntly with “Eighth grade, I feel depressed as shit.” From there Bellion, takes the listener on an odyssey through coming of age, risking everything for his dream of music-making, coping with culture shock, and finding and losing love. The story ultimately ends with the song “Luxury,” simultaneously a declaration of success found and a plea that “I don’t lose myself in the luxury.”
However, despite the gravity of the story he tells, Bellion bedazzles each song with quirky sonic hiccups and playful metaphors, gifting each song with its own unique identity. Every tune has its own allure and personality, and passing through each one feels somehow like travelling. But my favorite part of the album is Bellion’s voice that accompanies the listener to the end. I’m not sure why, but every time I hear a track from the album, I am startled by how Bellion’s voice somehow rises above the music to feel piercingly present and unobstructedly clear.
When I finally reached the end of The Definiton I was surprised that I actually felt deeply emotional, and I think it’s because the album felt so right. In it, Bellion is doing what he is meant to do, and it was a wonder to witness. The album is a celebration of that realized passion we all strive for and that keeps our wearied heads on straight.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.