An hour-long collection of handpicked tunes that represent the thaw.
At some point each year – maybe around mid-March – a specific instrumental track will spontaneously come to mind, and it will immediately be the opening tune to my annual spring playlist. This may not seem like a very significant thing if you live in an area of the world with a fairly even and predictable climate throughout any calendar year, but in the Midwest it is like the greatest kind of holiday when winter is finally bowing out. The closing number from Casey Gooden’s short film from last year, We’ll Find Something, simply feels like an instrumental representation of the ice thawing and making way for landscape pleasantries. It’s titled “Are You Awake”, and by the time it comes to a close with its synthy hums and beats, it is clear that there is only one way the new season of 2016 can be correctly rung in, at least on this particular playlist.
I’m speaking, of course, of Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”, a number that features genius sampling and a vibrancy in its main words that call to mind nothing less than a sun shining in on landscape that just endured an intensely grey four-month stretch. “Beautiful morning”, indeed, Yeezy. You had me at “I just wanna feel liberated”. Carrying this immediately forward without so much as a split-second to pause, “Golden Days” by newly formed group Whitney, keeps a pristine coat of paint on the overall mood, and in beautiful fashion at that. This makes way for what may be my pick for the most spring-identifiable song ever: Jens Lekman’s “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar”, in which it seems like actual hummingbirds on taking part in the percussion section. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to get through an insanely difficult winter, do yourself a favor and spin Lekman’s 2007 record, Night Falls On Kortedala. It could prove to be life-changing.
“If we’re gonna die young, then we are gonna die with a love song in our mouths”, Laura Gibson sings on a fresh new track, “Two Kids”. She seems newly revived here, and that’s the type of feeling this type of playlist needs. For some reason she makes me naturally think of Timothy Showalter, so I quickly follow-up with an early offering from his Strand of Oaks project, titled “Lawns Breed Songs”. Most people around this area of the country wack weeds with John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp on the headphones, but I’d rather have Showalter’s words blasting in my ear while I landscape.
“How about we put down the phone before we say something we don’t mean.”
Composed by Portland-based artist Arrange, an instrumental interlude comes into play with “Blinds With You” that sets a shift into motion. Sweeping synths and a commanding drum kit let us fully realize that the new season has settled in and we’re right there with it. Malcolm Lacey just nails it sometimes. The unpredictability of an Indiana climate are suddenly ignored, and The Promise Ring’s “Wake Up April” welcome in the hope for new beginnings. Certain people from my generation will always hold their 2002 record, Wood/Water, in special regard, and this number remains one of the enduring moments from it. It wouldn’t be a proper April – or a proper spring playlist, for that matter – without a specific mention of America’s favorite pastime. “No Crying in Baseball” is a piercing b-side from an exciting new band called Mothers, and although the lyrical content of the song doesn’t really touch on the greatest sport in the world, it earns a spot here simply because it is a fantastic reference to Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own.
Haley Bonar’s somber and lonely song “Hawaii” is now ten years old, and it will forever give me that strong feeling of soundtracking a spring evening around a bonfire as the air stands still and we all uniformly gaze at the starry skyline. We’re tipsy and we venture from the bonfire to the bar – the “Xanny Bar” to be exact – where Aaron Maine and Porches wax poetic on the hectic trenches of the cruel dating world. Then, waking up to a gorgeous morning, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy declares “Go on ahead, I’ll go by foot…along the bare grass and the green way, with nothing in my pockets…in glory”. Mr. Oldham’s words, accompanied only by a bold acoustic guitar line, beckon the very idea of lush gardens, budding tulip plants, and cardinals visiting window sills in rural settings. It almost feels like a dream, and I’m immediately whisked away into a “Dream State…” narrated by the wonderful Lucy Dacus. On my pick for the highlight on her terrific new album, No Burden, she repeats “Without you I am surely the last of our kind”, and it becomes both a significant moment on this playlist and easily an underrated highlight from the first quarter of the year.
“Come Here”, a monumentally important love song by Kath Bloom, steps in as the beginning of the final act to bring everything home. It’s impossible not to smile and think of Jesse & Celine in that record listening booth in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise when listening to this track. This weaves into the gorgeously produced “Promising Actress”, a song by the under-appreciated west coast artist, John Vanderslice. Whenever I want to paint a picture of what it would be like to coast down Mulholland Drive in Santa Monica, I point to this track and close my eyes. The combination of piano, strings, and keys in this song demonstrate just how much of a creative figure Mr. Vanderslice can be.
I don’t often close a playlist out with a cover, but J Mascis’ take on Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” quite simply evokes the mood of the spring season better than almost anything I can think of, at least as of right now at the present moment. His trademark, masterful guitar work speeds up Ms. Sandoval’s original tempo just a tad, and Mascis pays tribute to a modern classic perfectly within his vocals, making it an ideal tune with which to officially signify spring. It’s a seemingly endless battle year after year in the midwest, trying to claw our way out of the ice to see the light of the spring day, but we’ve made it again.