Notes on a playlist: New tunes for the new year

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The first few months of the year feel full of contradictions. While the new year brings with it a fresh start and an optimistic vibe in the air, I quickly get frustrated with the winter and discouraged by the cold, dark days. This calls for a playlist that hits a very specific balance. When creating “new year new playlist,” the collection of songs I’ve been listening to the most lately, I tried to find songs that struck a balance between unadulterated happiness and sadness. 

“Filming School” by Sidney Gish is a beautifully odd song that seems to be cautioning the listener against going to film school. I know I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve recently started listening to Gish’s music more and more, and I really appreciate her wryly poetic lyricism. In “Sin Triangle,” another track by the artist, she engages in geometric wordplay: “Two-faced bitches never lie/ And therefore I never lie/ Diagram this sin triangle/ But the biblical kind and not sine.” This song also samples narration from a 1951 educational short film about how to improve your personality, according to Genius. The juxtaposition of this audio with Gish’s vocals is both strange and cohesive, and somehow, it works really well.

Big Thief has written some of the most heart-wrenching songs I know, but “Spud Infinity,” one of the group’s more upbeat and quirky tracks, never fails to cheer me up and make me smile with its silliness. I love jamming out to lyrics like, “When I say heart, I mean finish/ The last one there is a potato knish” and “A dime a dozen, aren’t we just?/ But a dozen dimes can buy a crust of garlic bread.” Not to mention, they can also inspire you when you’re not sure what to have for dinner.

Next, “Body Better” by Maisie Peters is a song about self-doubt and insecurity, but it’s so upbeat that it refuses to let you wallow in negative emotions. Peters’ sound has evolved over the years from stripped-down melodies to catchy dance-pop, and while her talent shines through in both, I really enjoy the trajectory she’s on now. 

Japanese Breakfast’s “Everybody Wants to Love You” and Leith Ross’ “(You) On My Arm” are both love songs but with a subtle tinge of melancholy. In my opinion, the best love songs convey longing as well as happiness, and these two do so masterfully. The next song, “Summer” by Mumm-ra, feels perfect for this playlist, as the singer describes a love interest who’s only truly happy in the summer. It’s a simple idea, but it really resonates in February.

I have been eagerly awaiting the return of boygenius, the supergroup formed by Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, since I was a dramatic high-school senior listening to their EP over and over again to cope with my teenage angst. Four years later, my wish has come true, because they’re releasing an album in March. Three singles have already been released, with each single primarily featuring one of the artists. “True Blue” is Dacus’ piece, though the others contribute beautiful backup harmonies. The lyrics detail a strong bond with artful specificity, and listening to this song always makes me think of my best friends.

I’ve developed a habit of listening exclusively to unhinged-sounding hyperpop when I’m working on a last-minute assignment, to the chagrin of most of the people I live with who call it my “stressful music.” I don’t actually listen to very much hyperpop outside of that context, but “Spoiled little brat” by underscores is one exception. Something about the song’s electronic sounds and distorted vocals just engage my brain in the best way possible.

I’m looking forward to the spring and the return of my trusty warm-weather playlists, but if it’s going to be winter for a little longer, “new year new playlist” will be here. It’s the soundtrack to my walk to class, cozy evenings in my house and begrudging time spent working on my thesis. Overall, I think it’s a good collection of songs for this cold but fresh time of year.

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