This has been a hard post to write, a hard post to maintain through the year. For more than twelve months now, I feel like I’ve been all but drowning in my depression. And when I’m really depressed, I find it really hard to listen to music, to find joy in anything (which, as we know, is a common phenomenon with depression). It got to the point where, as you’ll see, I stopped listening to music all together. Even now, I’m still struggling but I have always loved doing this post each year so I tried to push through, push through my difficulty writing in a way I’m happy with, and finished it. I hope I did an okay job.
Here is a Spotify playlist with almost all of the songs (some are yet to be released) so you can listen along if you would like to.
1. Unsteady (Erich Lee Gravity Remix) by X Ambassadors
I was so depressed in January that I wasn’t really listening to music at all. But, on the couple of occasions that I did listen to music, I was usually looking for songs that matched how utterly miserable I was feeling, something that was really, really hard to find. But something about this song resonated though and listening to it, I cried and cried and cried. It wasn’t bad crying though. I mean, yes, I was crying because everything was awful but I needed to cry so I was grateful to have a song that helped.
Favourite Lyrics: “Mama, come here / Approach, appear / And Daddy, I’m alone / ‘Cause this house don’t feel like home // If you don’t love me, don’t let go / If you love me, don’t let go // Hold, hold on, hold on to me / ‘Cause I’m a little unsteady / A little unsteady”
2. Another Way by Kina Grannis
This song isn’t new (the album it’s a part of, It’s Hard To Be Human, came out in October of last year) but it’s felt very relevant and very poignant recently. I’ve spent so much time recently (and generally) worrying – and I mean, panic attack level worrying – about whether I’ve made the right choices, whether I could be contributing more if I was doing something different, whether I’m following the right path, doing the right things… Hearing this song whilst in the middle of these worries, it didn’t fix them – I don’t think any one thing could – but it was really comforting. The bridge in particular really hit home: “So what if we choose that we’ll let go of / All the things we’ve no control of / What if we learn to love whatever comes to be.” That lyric reminds me of a Halsey quote that I’d recently heard – “I need to start enjoying my life for what it is right now instead of mourning the expectation of a life that I was probably never meant to have” – and between them, I’m trying to ignore the scary thoughts that tell me I’ll never achieve enough or achieve the things I want to achieve.
Favourite Lyrics: “Maybe this could be / Exactly what should be,” OR “How would you know if someone wiser / Wasn’t forging in these fires / What if you’d washed away what could’ve set you free,” OR “So what if we choose that we’ll let go of / All the things we’ve no control of / What if we learn to love whatever comes to be.”
3. I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers // Humble Quest by Maren Morris
I wrote about how much I loved this song (and the album it belongs to) last year but then, in March, I got the chance to see Bleachers live in Boston when they played the Strange Desire in full. It was an incredible experience that I feel so lucky to have had. Hearing all of those songs was amazing – ‘Like a River Runs,’ which is probably my favourite Bleachers song of all time, was a very close second for this list – but the energy, both from the band and from the crowd for this song was just unreal, unlike anything else I’ve experienced. I love the song and hearing it live is something I’ve wanted for so long: it didn’t just live up to my expectations, it blew them out of the water.
WARNING: FLASHING LIGHTS!
Favourite Lyrics: “Woke up this morning early before my family / From this dream where she was trying to show me / How a life can move from the darkness / She said to get better // So I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet / And I crash my car cause I wanna get carried away / That’s why I’m standing on the overpass screaming at myself / ‘Hey, I wanna get better!’ // I didn’t know I was lonely ’til i saw your face / I wanna get better, better, better, better / I wanna get better / I didn’t know I was broken ’til i wanted to change / I wanna get better, better, better, better / I wanna get better”
I love Maren Morris and the fact that her new album came out the day I flew into Nashville felt like some kind of magic. I listened to it on the plane as we flew from Boston to Nashville and I fell in love with the album but specifically with this song. It was my favourite from the moment I heard it. The lyrics are stunning and so deeply relatable – to so many things and so many situations. I’ve been trying to find my way and find my footing and it’s been so hard and I feel so lost sometimes but this song soothed some of that turmoil. It’s uplifting and encouraging and was just what I needed. I like that it isn’t resolved – “I still haven’t found it yet” – because it’s a lifelong search. That was an added comfort. It’s kind of funny to me that this ended up being my favourite song when I really wasn’t sure about it as an album title when it was first announced.
Favourite Lyrics: “Haven’t looked up in a while / Been biting my tongue behind a smile / Falling on swords that I can’t see / Poison my well on the daily / Got easier not to ask / Just kept hitting my head on the glass / I was so nice till I woke up / I was polite till I spoke up // I’m on a humble quest / And damn I do my best / Not gonna hold my breath / ‘Cause I still haven’t found it yet / No, I still haven’t found it yet”
4. Where Would You Rather Die by Kalie Shorr // Free by Florence + The Machine
Something’s gone wrong if there isn’t a Kalie Shorr song on these yearly lists. I could have picked any of the songs Kalie played during her Tin Pan South set but this one was so Kalie in the storytelling – and the backstory. The writing is hilarious but beautifully nuanced and it paints such a vivid picture. I hope she releases it at some point (I feel like, between this song and ‘LAX,’ there’s a running theme of wild adventures in LA) because it really deserves to be heard and her songwriting deserves more recognition.
I was in the presence of so many great songwriters this week, but @kalieshorr has written songs featured in Yellowstone, so how do you beat that? Plus you don’t hear a lot of songs about the pleasures of being murdered in Beverly Hills pic.twitter.com/89xOGHUGZR
— Austin Harris (@ImAustinHarris) April 4, 2022
Favourite Lyrics: I honestly can’t choose. The whole song is so beautifully put together. And hilarious.
This song – if you exchange the dancing for singing or writing songs – could have been pulled straight out of my head, straight out of my heart. There’s so much of me in this song that it took my breath away when I first listened to it. Almost every lyric could be describing my experience in the world as a neurodivergent person with mental health problems and how music is the thing that keeps me going although my love of it and dependence on it does sometimes make life hard. Florence sounds incredible and I love Jack Antonoff’s production, as I usually do. It gives me a lift, not unlike ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris, and I need as many moments like that as I can get.
Favourite Lyrics: “Sometimes I wonder if I should be medicated / If I would feel better just lightly sedated / The feeling comes so fast and I cannot control it / I’m on fire, but I’m trying not to show it” AND “As it picks me up, puts me down / It picks me up, puts me down / Picks me up, puts me down a hundred times a day / It picks me up, puts me down / Chews me up, spits me out / Picks me up and puts me down” AND “I’m always running from something / I push it back, but it keeps on coming / And being clever never got me very far / Because it’s all in my head / ‘You’re too sensitive,’ they said / I said ‘Okay, but let’s discuss this at the hospital’” AND “Is this how it is? / Is this how it’s always been? / To exist in the face of suffering and death / And somehow still keep singing?” AND “But there is nothing else that I know how to do / But to open up my arms and give it all to you”
Note: One of my best friends, LUCE, released her single, ‘Helium Balloon,’ in March, which is not only my favourite song of her EP but is also a song that I was lucky enough to help with the writing of. It’s a very special song and it’s supporting Cambridge Rape Crisis so please give it a steam or buy it to help a really important cause. Another of my best friends (and a frequent collaborator of mine), Richard Marc, released a new EP called Throw Me A Line, which includes three songs that I worked on with him. It’s so cool that this EP is finally out when we’ve been working on some of these songs for so long.
5. Liars Like You by Sarah Close // Seeing Someone Else by Ingrid Andress
This song blew me away from the moment I heard it. I just love the vulnerability, both in the lyrics and reflected by the delicate production. While a big production would sound great, the simplicity of just the piano and Sarah’s sweet voice made the message of the lyrics – addressing the awful manipulation by someone she loved – so powerful. The lyrics are direct and beautiful and the production is warm but contained, really allowing the lyrics to shine. And as much as I loved the song, I loved it even more when the music video came out. On the surface, it’s an aesthetically beautiful video for a beautiful song and that’s great; sometimes it’s that simple and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s something really mesmerising and almost meditative about watching Sarah skate while listening to the song and while it’s a beautifully choreographed music video, you can almost imagine it as Sarah skating and skating and skating, playing through memories and sorting out how she feels and ultimately putting that relationship to bed.
Favourite Lyrics: “And the worst part is how much I miss you / Hate myself cause I want to forgive you” AND “Your voice doesn’t crack when you say it / Your eyes, they don’t give it away that / Even you forget which parts are true / That’s the problem with liars like you / So you laugh like I said something funny / Call me crazy till I think I must be / You’re so good at doing what you do / That’s the problem with liars like you”
From the moment the first chorus came in and the twist in the narrative was revealed, I just loved this song because having someone you love fall in love with someone else is horrible and sad but having someone you love love the person that you used to be but aren’t anymore is so heartbreaking. And a less common theme found in songs. I loved the storytelling, I loved the vocals, I loved the production. I do wish it had a bridge though; I think it could’ve gone in a couple of different, really interesting directions that would’ve added another layer to the song.
Favourite Lyrics: “I think you’re seeing someone else / I think you’re seeing who I used to be / I bet you wish I was the girl that you met / Out at a bar making a mess of twenty three / And if you’re honest with yourself / You know you’re hanging onto history / Yeah, yeah, you say you’re still in love / But it’s so obvious when you look at me / I think you’re seeing someone else” AND “Maybe it’d be better / Maybe it’d be worse / If I had someone to hate / Blame for all the hurt / Well, this won’t work when you’re still here and / I’m not her”
Between mid-May and late October, I was so depressed that I barely listened to any music at all so I don’t feel like I can include any songs because that time is actually kind of marked by the lack of music.
10. Anti-Hero by Taylor Swift
Only Taylor Swift could get me listening to music in the midst of the worst depressive episode I’ve ever had. There are so many songs that I could put in this slot – ‘Maroon,’ ‘Anti-Hero,’ ‘Snow On The Beach ft. Lana Del Rey,’ ‘You’re On Your Own, Kid,’ ‘Midnight Rain,’ ‘Vigilante Shit,’ ‘Bejeweled,’ ‘Mastermind,’ ‘The Great War,’ ‘Bigger Than The Whole Sky,’ ‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,’ ‘Hits Different’ – but I listened to ‘Anti-Hero’ so much (and still do) that it comes in first by a mile. It’s fun and funny and very cathartic to sing your whole heart out to. There are so many lyrics in this song that I feel so deeply (maybe even alarmingly so), deep down in a place that I rarely share with people – like, “I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser / Midnights become my afternoons” (the latter is so, so true with my difficulty sleeping this year), “I should not be left to my own devices / They come with prices and vices / I end up in crisis,” “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me / At tea time, everybody agrees,” “It must be exhausting, always rooting for the anti-hero,” “And I’m a monster on the hill / Too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favorite city,” and “I wake up screaming from dreaming / One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving / And life will lose all its meaning / (For the last time) – that have developed as a result of being neurodivergent and having both physical and mental health problems; they make me feel like a burden, like I’m taking up too much space or like my stuff is always sucking up all of the oxygen in the room, like I’m not enough for anyone or anything. The song can’t fix those feelings (that’s probably too much to ask for, even from a Taylor Swift song) but being able to sing along to it, loudly and fiercely and shamelessly does release some of the pressure of those feelings, even if only for a few minutes.
The video is also hilarious and full of interesting metaphors…
Favourite Lyrics: “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me / At tea time, everybody agrees / I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror / It must be exhausting, always rooting for the anti-hero // Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby / And I’m a monster on the hill / Too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favorite city / Pierced through the heart, but never killed” AND “I wake up screaming from dreaming / One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving / And life will lose all its meaning / (For the last time)”
11. Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve by Taylor Swift
Midnights came out just as I started seeing a new therapist, which involved sharing my history and a necessary part of that was a relationship that absolutely wrecked me, a relationship that has some very strong parallels to the one that Taylor sings about in this song (although it wasn’t romantic – it was messy and complicated and I don’t know what it was). This song and the themes it touches on – feeling taken advantage of, feeling damaged by a relationship, feeling permanently changed by the experience, feeling ashamed and/or guilty about your own part in it – resonated so strongly that it kicked up a lot of feelings for me, which was only intensified by talking about it in therapy.
The song itself is written beautifully, making the impact of the story she’s telling even more powerful. With no obvious hook (and the title coming from a section other than the chorus), the song feels almost messy in a very relatable way, rushing towards the end – faster and faster, with more and more desperation – like she’s trying to purge the trauma of the experience. The lyric, “If I was some paint, did it splatter / On a promising grown man? / And if I was a child, did it matter / If you got to wash your hands?” is incredibly powerful – and we know that Taylor has some hard-hitting lyrics in her catalogue – and describes a feeling I’ve definitely experienced, as does “But, Lord, you made me feel important / And then you tried to erase us.” The religious theme, which may or may not reflect Taylor’s personal experience, is very poignant, and fitting for trying to make sense of a traumatic event since a loss of faith, whether in God or something else, isn’t uncommon in such situations. It also makes for very beautiful imagery, like ‘stained glass windows in my mind.’ The bridge may be one of the most beautiful things she’s ever written and all the more impactful for the stunning metaphor and imagery in the earlier lines when followed by the simple, gut-wrenching “I regret you all the time.” And I think we all felt our hearts skip a beat when we heard the lyrics, “Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts / Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first.” Working through shit like this, there’s that period of time where hitting back and being angry feels good and keeps you moving but after a while, it burns out and just leaves you feeling empty and broken. The idea that she feels like this man stole something irreplaceable, something that was a part of her, is heartbreaking, which makes the following phrase, the plaintive “It was mine first,” even more painful. It also sounds like something a young person, even a child, would say, reflecting back on the earlier line – “And if I was a child, did it matter / If you got to wash your hands?” – which just twists the knife that is the core message: what happened to her was a trauma and one that still affects her deeply.
Favourite Lyrics: “If I was some paint, did it splatter / On a promising grown man? / And if I was a child, did it matter / If you got to wash your hands?” AND “But, Lord, you made me feel important / And then you tried to erase us // You’re a crisis of my faith / Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve / If I’d only played it safe” AND “God rest my soul, I miss who I used to be / The tomb won’t close, stained glass windows in my mind / I regret you all the time / I can’t let this go, I fight with you in my sleep / The wound won’t close, I keep on waiting for a sign / I regret you all the time” AND “Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts / Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first”
12. What Sarah Said by Death Cab For Cutie
I came across this song at random and although I’ve loved it for years – in a it’s-a-beautifully-written-and-absolutely-heartbreaking-song kind of way – it felt like hearing it for the first time. It really resonated and the sadness and helplessness just felt so true to my own that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The piano part is atmospheric and emotive and the lyrics are simple but stunning. It’s not a song with a story – in that something happens – but it’s a snapshot of a moment, of an epiphany, and the attention to detail makes it heartbreakingly poignant, with lyrics like, “And I looked around / At all the eyes on the ground / As the TV entertained itself” and “And then the nurse comes round / And everyone lifts their heads.” There’s a harshness to it – “As I stared at my shoes / In the ICU / That reeked of piss and 409” – but also a fragility – “And it came to me then / That every plan / Is a tiny prayer to father time.” There are moments that just knock the wind out of you and those are the ones that I’ve always felt most drawn to, like “Amongst the vending machines / And year old magazines / In a place where we only say goodbye” and “It stung like a violent wind / That our memories depend / On a faulty camera in our minds.” Those lyrics always resonated with me so deeply and I feel them even more now; they’re the painful truths that we don’t like to think about, just like the the revelation that it feels like the song is building to from the first note. I hear the line, “Love is watching someone die,” and it’s like the world drops out from under you, made all the more gut-wrenching by the following lyric, “So who’s gonna watch you die,” which I think can be interpreted in multiple ways, all of which are very powerful.
Favourite Lyrics: “And I rationed my breaths / As I said to myself / That I’d already taken too much today” AND “Amongst the vending machines / And year old magazines / In a place where we only say goodbye // It stung like a violent wind / That our memories depend / On a faulty camera in our minds” AND “And I looked around / At all the eyes on the ground / As the TV entertained itself” AND “And then the nurse comes round / And everyone lifts their heads / But I’m thinking of what Sarah said / That love is watching someone die / So who’s gonna watch you die”
Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will know that I am pretty much incapable of keeping to my own twelve song rule but, this year, it seems that I have (which says something in itself about the year). Here we are. This year in music, this year in the lack of it. I hope this was interesting and that maybe you found a new song or two that you like. Again, here‘s the link to the Spotify playlist.