Sometimes you don’t decide to form odd traditions and habits; they just happen. Case in point: at the end of every semester of grad school, after surviving another hell-term of life stress, work, and such, I started rewarding myself with CDs. After six semesters of this, I’ve realized that these albums have formed a time capsule of those points in my life, the music I was listening to, and what they mean to me in unique ways. I know that buying physical albums seems old-fashioned to a lot of folks, but it’s that extra step that makes them more meaningful to me.
It began accidentally. In the middle of packing and moving houses at the end of 2017, I picked up Paramore’s After Laughter and found a voice for so many of my emotions. The rhythm and tempo was upbeat and bubbly, but the lyrics were dark and pained. “Hard Times” encapsulated the difficulty of entering grad school, managing a household, and holding onto a relationship. “Fake Happy” empathized with the pseudo-smile I had plastered on my face most of the time, pretending everything was fine or okay when my world felt like it was collapsing. “Rose-Colored Boy” gave me permission to express my unhappiness and my emotions, that they were valid.
After surviving the spring semester, I picked up The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac. I’d already been listening to “The Chain” on repeat for writing inspiration, but I found a bit of calm in my inner storm listening to the band’s music. Some of the songs were ones I was familiar with before, but others were newer to me. I’d often blast “Second Hand News” or “World Turning” on the stereo in my car as I drove around town. In fact, I kept this album in there for months, turning it on when I needed to find that sense of peace.
I wanted something upbeat and happy after the end of 2018. Clean Bandit’s What is Love? was the perfect answer to my newfound sense of freedom, hope, and the energy swirling in my life. I’d been a longtime fan before buying the album, but I spent a lot of time dancing, driving, and singing along to “Mama”, “Solo”, “Baby”, and “24 Hours.” Their unique sound brought a sense of sunshine to my first spring as a single woman, and I’ll always appreciate the midnight dance parties and gorgeous guest vocals on the tracks.
When I realized this was definitely a tradition, I went all-in and treated myself to Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour and The Thrill of It All. When I’m studying, I often put YouTube on a bit of a shuffle and their music kept popping up that spring; I’d already heard some of the singles that were on the radio back in the day, but I found that I liked most of their songs, if not all, so why not go full album? That first summer in my apartment, I listened to Sam Smith’s albums while I read on the couch and the sunshine gently warmed the room; it was absolutely lovely. “I’m Not the Only One” broke my heart. Their powerful vocals in “Pray” awed me. And “Like I Can” always makes my heart beat a bit faster. Somehow the albums are both relaxing and thrilling at the same time.
I bought two new releases by artists I’m longtime fans of to celebrate the end of the fall semester in 2019. Halsey’s Manic and Kesha’s High Road both resonated with my mindset and heart in different ways. I’ve always respected and adored both women’s music, but the evolution of their sounds on these albums is fantastic. Halsey’s lyrics often touch close to home in songs such as “Graveyard”, “You should be sad”, “3am”, “Without You”, and “killing boys.” While Kesha blends her past sounds into a new sound with great tracks such as “My Own Dance”, “Raising Hell”, “Shadow”, “resentment”, and “Cowboy Blues.” Both albums remind me that you can be a strong, creative, beautiful woman and your bruises don’t make you any less so.
Lastly, I found myself in unique contemplations in my final semester of grad school and this was reflected in the music I listened to and the albums I ended up choosing. Both artists are ones I admire for their talent who I listened to on repeat while I worked this semester: Lorde’s Melodrama and Amy Winehouse’s The Album Collection (Frank, Back to Black, Lioness: Hidden Treasures). I don’t even know how many times I’ve listened to Melodrama over the past few months—it’s a mood—and it’s well past time it’s been added to my collection. “Writer in the Dark”, “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, and “Liability” have all been top tracks for me. And, obviously, I’ve known about Amy Winehouse since her “Rehab” days, but I didn’t realize how much I loved her other tracks until I put them on repeat. She’s great rainy day, shower, relaxing music; melancholy, but optimistic in some way at the same time. “Me and Mr. Jones”, “Wake Up Alone, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”, and “Fuck Me Pumps” have been some of my favorite discoveries. Hopefully, these women will make the next few months of solitary confinement a bit easier.
I knew from my many years of gathering favorite songs of the year that music could be a time capsule of moments. These albums, however, have shown me that music can also be just what you need in a given moment, a memory of that moment, and an escape all in one. I’m so grateful for all the wonderful music I discovered and loved during the past three years, but these nine albums will always be special in my heart.