James Blake by James Blake
It’s been getting colder and darker in my Wien single, and so the lush throwback energy that defined my spring has transitioned into the sparse electropop of James Blake’s self-titled debut. There’s a lot of empty space in these songs; the rest is filled with Blake’s crooning and the occasional synth breakdown. There’s something indelible about the way Blake conveys so much emotion with so little material; the lyrics to some songs are a single phrase repeated over and over, but there’s no dearth of meaning. (If you’re saddened by the repeated lyric “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me / But I don’t blame them” on “I Never Learnt To Share,” just know that Blake is an only child.) This is the soundtrack to your finals season #sadboi hours, trust me.
Aja by Steely Dan
It would be an understatement to say that this album made my semester. My first encounter with Steely Dan was a transcendent experience, and that is certainly due to the absolute magic of Deacon Blues, my second favorite track on Aja. There’s something about the lyrics, “drink scotch whisky all night long / and die behind the wheel” that really just do it for me. As I sat looking at the brick wall outside of my Hartley single, I let the sexy saxophone vibes of Peg ease my mind. If you’re feeling like having a pleasant existential experience, stream Aja. PS: Pitchfork gives it a 10.
Aditi Misra and Zach Fisher
JESUS IS KING by Kanye West
When we woke up on October 24th, we were sad to see this album hadn’t dropped yet. I’d say it was worth the extra day’s wait because, once again, Kanye has broken from the molds of the music industry to create his own genre. Kanye touches on subjects as far-flung as Chick-Fil-A, his relationship with his father, and the need to abolish the 13th Amendment all while maintaining a theme of Christianity. Neither of us listened to gospel music previously — I’ve never seen an artist make this genre mainstream and prevalent in today’s society. His choir takes center stage while Kanye takes a position similar to a conductor allowing him to set the music as he has envisioned with minimal distraction. Don’t take the word of the negative reviews, and listen to the album yourself. You’ll transcend.
The Symposium by The Symposium
My roommate showed me this band shortly after we moved in together this semester. I’ve been listening to this album on repeat since August; it’s great for studying, writing essays, exercising, and even just thinking. If I’m being honest, all of the songs sound similar, but they all have a very unique ending that differs from the rest of the song. I appreciate these surprise endings and believe they’re symbolic of the semester I’ve had. Even when things are incredibly stressful, everything seems to work out in the end. (Also, you would probably enjoy this band if you like Tame Impala.)
Congratulations by MGMT
After two years of college that were largely overshadowed by mental health crises on both ends of the mood spectrum (yeehaw), I finally had a semester that was, in a word, kick-ass. I’m in a happy and stable relationship, I interned at a free legal services nonprofit and enjoyed the hell out of it, I ~thrived~ academically, I spent a lot of time with great friends, I kicked pretty much every single one of my bad habits (save for nail-biting), and I finally decided on post-grad plans (it’s LSAT prep season now for me I guess). I feel like I can finally kick back, chill out, and just enjoy the ride to wherever life decides to send me. Congratulations is a chill album from the Beach-Boys-on-even-more-acid opener to its contemplative, soothing closer, and listening to it sends me right back to 2010, when I bought a CD copy on the day it was released and listened to it nonstop for months — the last time I felt as calm and content as I do right now.
Pure Heroine by Lorde
My first semester of college was a really big transition from me, especially as I came from a wildly different school setting. And making that huge leap from childhood to adulthood, which was mostly against my will, became really scary for me. And with the need to make new friends, pick my own classes, and live in a huge city, this album reflected a lot of the anxieties about getting older, feeling alone, and everything else Lorde discusses. But on a lighter note, this album also brings me back to the first weeks of school when I grew closer with one of my current best friends, especially when we would blast it in her room and dance. Even though I was dealing with personal problems and this big transition, Pure Heroine reminds me of a person who means so much me, as well as some of the best memories I’ve had this semester. This album helped to remind me that everything’s alright, and I’ll always have someone to help me feel less alone!
(Also Lorde changed pop music forever and transcended the music industry. She needs at least ten more Grammys.)
The Sailor by Rich Brian
In the last few years, Asian Americans have garnered a lot of attention in media– including popular movie releases like Crazy Rich Asians and the rise of Asian American artists in music charts. Rich Brian is one of these artists who transformed from a joke into an actual artist who makes songs with depth. I almost exclusively listened to this album this year partially because when I listen to it, I feel very proud of how far Asian Americans have come within the last few years, but more importantly, because it’s just so good. The songs on this album are dynamic- there are slow and sweet ones like Drive Safe, but also faster ones that I listen to at the gym like Rapapapa or Confetti. My semester has been filled with really happy moments but I’ve also never cried as much as I have this semester. I like this album because it has something for every mood. I feel really empowered by Brian’s story of starting off as kind of a joke and having to use offensive ways/imitating popular rappers to garner any attention at all and then becoming who is now, which is an original rapper with his own story to tell through his own style of music.
Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) by Jai Paul
An album released somewhat unwillingly after the leak of an unfinished version, Jai Paul’s Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) was singular in its role in my semester. I began the year having lost some trust in my own individual self, feeling unworthy of compassion or connection and incredibly uneasy. I turned to tracks like “Vibin’” and “jasmine – demo.” There is something beautifully elusive and abundant in the melodies of Jai Paul’s music, and for me, the indecision and undefined, bittersweet quality of Jai Paul’s album well reflected the complexity of a semester in which I had to learn to observe, accept, release, and transform.
Heard It In A Past Life by Maggie Rogers
Almost all of Maggie Rogers’ merch brands her as a “witchy feminist rockstar” and if that description alone doesn’t convince you to listen to this album, I’m not sure what will. Shortly before I left for college this summer, I saw her perform at a festival and was captivated by her raw energy. Maggie puts her whole self into her music. This album is so well made, and I rarely find myself skipping any songs, but my favorite is “Light On”. It’s all about coping with fast-paced change and being able to find yourself “still dancing at the end of the day”. This is some of the best advice I got for my first semester of college, which threw many curveballs at me. Honorable mentions for songs include “Burning” for always making me want to dance, and “The Knife” for being called that, but also for its message about being there for the people you love.
Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood
Let Natalie Mering croon you to a complete crisis of self with her soaring, orchestrated masterpieces about the end of the world, the end of relationships, and the end of, well, all things in general. Sometimes life feels surreal because it is— that’s why we call on mystic sources, tarot decks and horoscopes, to attempt to establish order amid chaos. On “Picture Me Better,” she wails: “Waiting for the call from beyond / Waiting for something with meaning / To come through soon…” And nothing ever does. So all we can do is embrace the catastrophic now, and figure out how to cope. “A lot’s gonna change / In your lifetime” — a reminder, a warning, a battle cry, and a lullaby, rolled into one.
i,i by Bon Iver
As a first-year, this semester has been a really difficult few months for me. The moments of pure emotion bliss of my semester were the 3 (three) (number after 2) times I’ve seen Bon Iver perform since I got to New York. Seeing him live is a transcendent experience, it is an ethereal feeling that goes down to my bones. It reminds me of the capability of human creativity, how there is more to life than the humdrum of the everyday. This is perfectly encapsulated in his new album “i,i”. I have lied down in grassy fields across campus, earbuds in, listening to the whole album on repeat more times than is healthy, I can sing along to not only the lyrics but the weird noises Justin Vernon is able to make that somehow sound like the gates of heaven opening. The first time I heard the choir come in on “Faith”, I burst into tears, I’ve screamed the words to “Hey, Ma” across Morningside Park, and I’ve thrown many a one-woman interpretive dance parties in my room to “iMi”. This is the album of my semester, as it has gotten me through this semester, has defined my semester, and will continue to play in the background of my college experience.
Dragon by Two Steps from Hell
I’m not the type of person that can listen to lyrical music while doing work, so any and all cool instrumental pieces I can lay my hands on, I get. This album came out at the beginning of the year and it’s an epic, wild ride from start to finish. Despite only being comprised of instrumental pieces, it’s a really varied album, featuring a cool tribute to Avicii (“Emerald Princess”), a wondrous piece with wordless vocals and piano (“Cathedral”) and a good old fashioned epic battle piece (“Unbreakable”), each of which I listened to based on what I needed to pick me up that day. “Unbreakable,” for example, helped me to feel motivated and ready for midterms season while “Emerald Princess” just always put a smile on my face when I was feeling down. And what better way to greet winter than by listening to the whimsical “Snowball Fight”? Most of these songs connected with me in some way and proved a great way for me to fill the room that would probably usually be filled with my own stress with some bombastic, orchestral sound.
Djesse Vol. 2 by Jacob Collier
As part of his project to create a four-volume, 50-song album, Jacob Collier released Djesse Vol. 2 this summer, and I have not stopped listening to it since. For anyone who is at least a little familiar with Jacob Collier, you’ll know he is a literal musical genius, and this album really shows off his talents. This multicolored masterpiece has covers and original songs from all different genres, lots of featured artists, and sonic wonderlands for every mood. I had songs from this album on every playlist I made this semester; Djesse Vol. 2 woke me up gently, accompanied me on my walks to class, kept me awake while I studied, encouraged a whole lot of bedroom dance parties, and, after all that, lulled me to sleep again. Many of the songs are so outwardly joyous, and even in the more sad or slow ones, you can hear how delighted Jacob Collier is just to have the chance to create something beautiful. Beyond how gorgeous it is sonically, I adore this album for reminding me how, even during the worst points of the semester, just to exist here with small, daily happy moments is a tremendous gift.
Good At Falling by The Japanese House
Like it is for every freshman, my first fall here was defined by change. A constant unshakable feeling of missing the last step, the rug being swept out from under me, and while grasping for a handhold, instead just falling. So I became, like this album, Good At Falling. Good at feeling weightless, good at landing flat on my ass, and good at falling in love with the world around me. The album is melodic and beautiful, lyrical and soothing, but at the same time powerful. Songs melt into each other, with one beat gently replacing the last, and suddenly I’ve made my way through the whole thing again. The Japanese House sings “Different people have their different ways of living / I chose mine and it was unforgiving”, and it sounds like this semester.
God’s Favorite Customer by Father John Misty
I was a super big fan of Father John Misty throughout all of high school and for some reason didn’t listen to him again until October of my sophomore year. As much as I’d like to think this semester of college was specifically wack, they’re all kind of like this, and something about FJM’s music makes me feel a lot more grounded. He used to write a lot of songs that were harder to decipher (there’s one on his first album about a girl with a cemetery fetish, not sure what that’s about!), but he has a really deeply self-aware tone that makes me feel connected to his music. When you see me maniacally walking across campus, there’s a good chance I’m actually just listening to “Hangout at the Gallows,” which is a super soothing song. He ends the album by telling us “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)”…which is something I think many of us need to hear.
Leave your semester-defining albums in the comments, or just admire our taste!