I’ve realised I like to associate certain things with my music. This is often involuntary but, on some occasions, I will make the conscious effort to eternally link a place with a specific sound.
In my last discussion of music, I spoke about two albums that make me think of home when I was younger. Now I want to move a bit closer to the present and cover the three albums which will forever mark my first three years of university.
Carrie and Lowell, Sufjan Stevens (First Year)
Having this as my musical link to first year might seem rather dark. In Carrie and Lowell, Sufjan Stevens is coming to terms with the death of his mother, Carrie, and reflecting on their difficult relationship. It is an album where an unavoidable stream of remorse permeates every line but it is so much more than just eleven interpretations of sadness.
With moments like the middle of ‘Should Have Known Better’ when the melody is transformed by the introduction of a new sound, an electronic keyboard, there is also the introduction of hope and acceptance. This is reflected in the change in Stevens’ vocals as well; they go from being a hushed cry to a powerful declaration of fortitude and, every time it comes around, it fills me with admiration for Stevens’ resolve and, also, for that of everyone else in a similar situation.
My connection to this album comes from a flatmate introducing me to ‘Death with Dignity’, a track that I instantly fell in love with. It opens with a blissful guitar picking pattern (as many tracks on the album do) before Stevens’ whispering vocals enter soon after. Rather than despair, lines like ‘Every road leads to an end’ offer hope and I have always seen this album as a reminder to embrace the moments in life that populate the everyday.
It gave a soundtrack to the quiet evenings at university and felt like the first moment of connection between me and my new flatmates which I will always be grateful for.
Bloom Innocent, Fink (Second Year)
My choice for second year is very different. The opening track of Bloom Innocent begins and instantly I am back on the bus to campus. It’s eight am on a cold November morning and I’m wrapped up in my scarf, watching my breath condense on the window. They were dreary mornings and I sometimes had a real struggle to force myself out of bed but they were made drastically better by the musical accompaniment.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the album itself is the cover. It features a tree standing alone in a rust-coloured field. All the leaves have fallen off the branches but the clouds in the background fill in to give the tree its shape. Put this image next to the title, Bloom Innocent, and there is already a story before the first wailing note is struck.
From there on, the entire album seems to go through a slow process of building and growing into its grand orchestral moments. There are some bizarre yet beautiful instances when you get the combination of beats, violin, piano and Fink’s vocals. Bizarre only in as much as they seem an uncommon collaboration yet it always works in this album.
When I think of Fink’s work, as varied as his albums are, I always picture him first with only a guitar and maybe minor accompaniment. Bloom Innocent is much more of a complete experience than that. Fink is an artist from whom I would never expect the same thing twice yet one of the standout features of his work, for me, has always been his lyrics. They never seem elaborate or overly complicated but convey a lot in their simple refrains.
On this album the song where I focus most on the lyrics would have to be ‘Once You Get a Taste’ and its lines like, ‘You can’t blame the book for what’s inside it’ expressing a complete draining of will power after you get that taste in the title. Even in this track the lyrics are repetitive and many sound to me like wailing cries with an underlying desperation, but I love how it’s desperation for the good in the world rather than a hopeless kind or a reluctant defeat.
It’s a stunning album on its own but when you also get the offerings of the acoustic version and the ‘horizontalism sessions’ which strips the album back to only the instrumental side and reverses the order of the tracks, there is so much to explore without even looking further into Fink’s back catalogue of songs.
How To: Friend, Love, Freefall, Rainbow Kitten Surprise (Third Year)
Another suggestion from a flatmate, Rainbow Kitten Surprise have been a valuable addition to my music collection this year. I have already written about the music that kept me company during revision but this was a very late inclusion in that rotation and I have listened to it a lot since then as well. It’s strange to think that something that was added so late on could sum up a year of university for me but it had a huge effect on my mood in those final months of work.
If you are unfamiliar with them, I would say the best way to describe Rainbow Kitten Surprise would be as a burst of positive energy. Despite the subject matter of lyrics or the exhausted sound of their lead vocals (which is not intended as a criticism only a description of a unique sound), the pace of their tracks never fails to lift my spirits and fill me with energy.
‘Painkillers’ is a perfect example of this. The lyrics are all about dulling your senses to the world around you just to get through the days but the meandering pace of the verses blends seamlessly into sudden bursts of lyrics that seem to offer an upbeat feeling despite the meaning behind it all.
It’s an album which features many distinct sounds with some songs relying on cool base lines while others emphasise powerful strikes of the piano keys, clever drum beats or electronic sounds and effects. Somehow, it works though. The common denominator here is the fact that almost all of the songs feature the changes of pace that I have already mentioned and that’s enough of a trademark sound to carry the album through to its conclusion.
And if I can just take one final moment to comment on an album cover once again, this is another one that always catches my attention no matter how many times I see it. The universe seems to be spilling through torn wallpaper while a coffee table and pair of chairs sit in the foreground. Perhaps this is that burst of energy seeping into the everyday that each of the songs on the album seem to allude to or otherwise a comment on imagination and the places it can take you. I don’t know for sure but I always enjoy speculating.
I do wonder what will be the sound of my final year but it’s not really something that I can control. Sure, I could try but these past three have all come about naturally and have a stronger link to the memories because of it. I like that these three are unique in their meanings to me. One is a reminder of the earliest days at university, one of just getting through the days of work and one a burst of positivity to get over a finishing line. All of them are now special to me though and became so without my realising it.
It does occur to me that other people might not form such random and sentimental connections to things but it seems to come as naturally to me as breathing so I don’t plan to stop soon. That’s all I have to say for now but trust me when I say that there are many more tracks which accompany memories at university and many more I want to talk about in the future!
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