This article was originally published in The Creative Cafe.
Certain albums feel like home.
What do I mean by that? I mean that certain albums just make me feel safe. Secure. They’re familiar and comforting. I know every little detail of them and each listen feels like coming home after a long day. I play these albums to re-calibrate and centre myself, like a form of meditation.
I grew up listening to tapes, minidiscs and CDs so I tend to think of music in terms of albums, listened to end to end in the right order. Play an album enough times and you start to hear the next song as soon as one finishes. You start to feel the shape of the music, how the songs lead into each other, why they’re in that order. You know the album as a whole.
The other good thing about CDs is that they were expensive — at least, for a teenager. I never owned more than about 10 albums at a time so I listened to them again and again. They became a part of each era of my life. Putting them on again feels like walking through your front door and leaving the day’s bullshit behind. And as I barely feel like I have a home at the moment (my flat is basically just a place where I sleep, nothing more), musical comfort has become more important than ever. While I no longer listen to CDs, I still play albums the old-fashioned way. End to end. Only a couple at a time.
No, I don’t know anything about music in the technical sense. For me, it’s all about emotion and how certain albums and songs connect to moments in our lives, becoming part of our memories, and bring it all back when we listen to them again. Here are some of the albums that are my personal auditory home.
I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning — Bright Eyes.
I love this album so much it makes me giddy. It’s my absolute favourite ever and I’ve honestly listened to it in full easily 1000 times. Probably more — sometimes I’ll just play it on repeat all day for weeks at a time and getting stranded on a desert island with just this album would be no great loss. Heck, I have one of the songs tattooed on me. But I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, is not the sort of album you dance to or even listen to with other people.
This album is: crying alone on your bedroom floor at 2am, smoking on the porch after a fight, walking the streets on the first days of Spring, staring at a cup of bad coffee in a late night fast food place, it’s heartbreak and addiction, it’s losing someone you love and fighting to hold onto the memories, it’s meeting someone for the first time and knowing you’re going to love them. It’s everything good and pure and beautiful in the world.
Ruminations — Conor Oberst.
Yeah, we all knew there would be a lot of Conor’s solo/band work on this list. But my god. Ruminations is magical. Ruminations truly feels like home. Over the last year, I’ve moved a lot, lost too many people in different ways and constantly felt like things were sliding out of my grasp. Through all of that, Ruminations has been my anchor, the still point in a spinning world, the album I reach for when I can’t sleep, when I’m alone, when my lungs ache. Perhaps the best thing for understanding why this is such a special album is the back cover, featuring words from Simone Felice:
“It began like it always begins, with a phone call. It was Conor…He’s one of those friends with whom you don’t have to spin a meaningless web of niceties before you come to the heart of the matter. We cut to the chase. He’d had a tough winter. Gotten stranded in a nameless black hole. Had even reached the place where he wasn’t sure if he’d ever write another song.
…I rarely find myself at a loss for words or shocked by the things I hear from the beautiful maniacs that people my life…And in a fever he recorded these songs to get them down. Hungry. Exposed…And all this rainy night, alone with my headphones on, I rowed the river Styx with him towards sunrise, poetry, our tequila.”
That’s what Ruminations feels like: rowing towards sunrise, crawling from darkness to light, trying to believe in something and finding consolation in words. The whole album was intended as a demo tape but had such incredible power that the label released it and I am so grateful for that decision.
A Hard Day’s Night — The Beatles.
This will always be my favourite early Beatles album. It’s just a glorious explosion of energy at the point where the group were perhaps on the best terms with each other. It’s mad, it’s fun, John’s throaty vocals are a delight and I can’t tell you how many teenage nights I spent dancing in my room to this album. My godfather described The Beatles at that point as a supernova burning brighter and brighter until it burns itself out. 1964 was the time when that light first became blinding.
Born In The USA / Born To Run — Bruce Springsteen.
Sorry die-hard fans, but I always count these two as one album because they’re so cohesive and connected in my mind. And I normally hate stating that I love Springsteen because it’s a magnet for aggressive mansplainers who feel like they own the guy. Chill out. We can share.
You can’t go on a long car ride without blasting Springsteen and feeling like you’re in the opening credits of a film. Sometimes I wonder if I’m remembering this album as better than it is- surely it can’t be as amazing as I’m remembering- and then I play it again and it’s even better than I imagined.
EP I — Cigarettes After Sex.
Last December, I went to Brighton with my ex to see Cigarettes After Sex live. There’s always that moment at a gig when you’ve been stood in a sweaty, cramped room for hours, someone has spilt beer all over you and your feet ache, and for a moment you can’t remember why you’re even there or why it’s worth all this travelling and waiting. Then the band comes out and within seconds you know why you’re there, you know you’re as happy as it’s possible for you to be. Cigarettes After Sex played softly — it was the gentlest gig I’ve been to- and everyone just held their breath and listened. This album is: sitting on someone’s bed asking them about their dreams, wood smoke at twilight, fog, haze, whispering, softness, quiet, calm.
I Love You, Honeybear — Father John Misty.
The summer after I finished college was the happiest time in my life, a few months of pure bliss. This album was the soundtrack to that time and although I’ve grown sick of it in some ways, I love that it lets me revisit what will probably be the high point of my life.
Sleep — Flatsound.
Where does one begin with Flatsound? In his words: I wrote an album called Sleep/ and realised it’s about waking up. This album feels like home because it’s about discovering the strength within yourself, building that sense that you’ll be okay.
England Keep My Bones — Frank Turner.
Frank Turner grew up fairly near where I live now, so I’m very familiar with many of the places he describes like Rufus Stone and Winchester. That also means that, despite him being born over a decade before me, we had some similar experiences growing up. I played it endlessly at school. When I finally saw him live I completely lost my voice the next day from screaming.
This album is: you’re never quite as strong as you sound, apologising to people who stick around, sitting in a yurt with strangers playing the guitar and wondering how you’re going to get home, running into the cold sea to feel alive, not everyone can be Freddie Mercury, losing your religion, trust and determination. My sole complaint is that in one song he says that when he dies he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes thrown in London’s water reservoirs and in another he says he wants his body throwing in the sea. Make your mind up dude.
The Sunset Tree — The Mountain Goats.
The first time I heard of The Mountain Goats was when a penpal I met through my old blog sent me a mixtape with This Year on it and it gave me a unique sort of comfort: I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.
Romance Is Boring — Los Campesinos!
My ex and I once met Gareth, the lead singer of Los Campesinos in a bar in Hackney (he was lovely and it was one of those rare, pleasant meeting your hero moments.) After, we reeled at the sense of connecting an album that had been part of so many private moments with a real person.
Romance Is Boring is best known for The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future which is one of those intense songs that everyone claims is the story of their life, and everyone shuts their eyes and mouths that haunting line: this thing hurts like hell. Perhaps once a week I walk down to the sea, usually after dark, to look out at the waves and let the sound of them, like static, drown out my thoughts. And then, amid that static, I always hear this song in my head. But I don’t think of the future. I always think of the past.
Bridge Over Troubled Water — Simon and Garfunkel.
My mum once said that this is an album about not feeling alone. It sounds like hope feels. Everyone connects to it. It’s wonderful.
That’s my list. Let me know yours.