songs of the summer.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Another school year has wrapped up, and summer has begun. Somewhere between finishing up the last few school assignments, ending my job at APU, and organizing my life for the next few months, I packed up my bedroom into my car and moved back home. The last few days have been a mess of unpacking and cleaning, getting set for a relaxing summer and some space to breathe. After the craziness of this year thus far, I've appreciated the empty days to take care of work and recover from busy weeks at school.

While I was unpacking, I stumbled upon an old notebook I took with me everywhere in high school. It's covered in stickers, the cover is taped on, and it's a mess of papers, notes, and lyrics from my early days of songwriting. Most of the stuff is too simplistic and rather embarrassing, but a lot of it reflects the start of something that meant a lot to me throughout high school and beyond. I found a passion in pursuing music, writing and reflecting, feeling that surge of joy in sharing my music with others and playing for audiences big and small. It dominated my life, I would run home from school and pick up my guitar, writing and experimenting with new melodies, jotting down notes and recording on my computer during the weekends.

Throughout college I continued writing and recording, but more recently my guitar has stayed in it's case instead of in my hands, I haven't written music like I've used to in some time, and it hasn't felt right. I want to change that, get back into the swing of writing and playing music. Now I'm not putting pressure on myself to produce a ton of music this summer. That's not good for you, it's not conducive to real writing and authentic songs. It puts a deadline on something that takes time, and space, and a lot of work. Instead I'm using the space to get back into the routine of playing music regularly, finding inspiration, and writing when I feel the need to write.

So, I'm bringing back a series I used to do in high school, highlighting artists and songs that have been in my head recently. These are the songwriters and artists who inspire me to write, not just music but good music. Music that reminds me why I want to keep writing - to make a connection with those who listen to it.

Here are some artists I've been digging recently:

Imaginary Future

I started listening to Imaginary Future (singer/songwriter Jesse Epstien) shortly after re-listening to his wife, Kina Grannis' latest album Elements. I was lucky enough to see both of them play live at Chapman University last month, and Jesse is absolutely incredible live. His solo acoustic set captured the lyrics he has put so much thought into, and his voice compliments his style so well. His latest album, Sunlight, is composed of 11 songs dedicated to Kina. While the songs take a turn from his previous quiet emotional simplicity, it is a wonderful album of energizing songs that has thus far been the soundtrack to my summer.

Alabama Shakes

I am obsessed with this band. I found Alabama Shakes a couple years ago, after Boys & Girls debuted in 2012. I remember watching their music video for Hold On and feeling so inspired I dug out my old electric guitar and started playing right away. Brittany Howard is one of the most authentic songwriters I've encountered, and the fact that she writes, plays, and embodies music that is herself is downright awesome. She is super talented and paired with the likes of Heath Fogg (guitar), Zac Cockrell (bass), and Steve Johnson (drums), makes for all around good soul music. Their new album, Sound & Color shows maturity and an incredible musical imagination.

George Ezra

Not going to lie, I heard this song on the radio and have been singing it non-stop over the past week. I might be late coming to the Ezra party, but something about this track just felt refreshing. The words hold meaning that just sat right with me, and it is a track that will send this kid far, if he keeps writing and performing music like this. The rest of his debut album, Wanted on Voyage, shows great potential and a powerful artist ready to share his music with the world.

Vampire Weekend

I'm posting a throwback track for Vampire Weekend, because I actually haven't listened to them much, until rediscovering their album, Contra, which came out in 2010. I have a few of their albums in the mess of my iTunes, and while on shuffle one day came across this track that caught my ears. I love this stuff, and it became my go-to for rides to school and pick-me-ups in the afternoon. Rest assured, I'll be working my way through the rest of their stuff this summer as I re-discover these talented dudes.

Death Cab for Cutie

Paul informed me that he got tickets to see Death Cab for Cutie at the Hollywood Bowl this July. Not only do I get to see this incredible group live, but I get to do it in one of the most historic venues in California. These guys have been my soundtrack for summers since 2013, and this track stuck with me the most off their album Codes and Keys from 2011. Even the old classics like "I Will Follow You into the Dark" and "A Lack of Color" are still close to my heart, despite being released over 10 years ago.

Sheppard

Leave it up to a bunch of a Australians to make one of the coolest music videos of this year. Their new album, Bombs Away, is stellar stuff and this track is a highlight for sure. I first heard this song on a dance floor at a wedding in April, and was hooked. The optimism, the harmonies, the drums which guided the entire rhythm from start to finish had me head over heels for this track and this band. I am stoked to see what else these guys produce, with a single on mainstream radio from their debut album, they definitely have the potential to keep going up.

Mumford & Sons

Haters can hate, but Mumford should have lost the banjos ages ago. Sure, I loved Sigh No More and Babel, but their newest album hits it out of the park. I couldn't recognize them when I first heard it, but once Marcus started singing, it was a no-brainer. Wilder Mind is a must-buy album for this year and will have you hooked in no time. The 16 track deluxe version of the album is glorious, and has tracks like this one, "Tompkins Square Park" and "Believe" which capture honest words and incredible melodies. Definitely interested in seeing what Mumford goes with this transition to alternative rock, but this is a great first step.

There are plenty of others, but for the sake of time and space, I'll leave it at these stellar artists. I'd love to have any and all recommendations and feedback: leave a link or a name in the comments and I'll be sure to check them out. I'm always up to exploring the musical world, and your recommendations are always welcome.

In the meantime, I'll be enjoying the start of a relaxing summer, listening to good tunes, and hopefully working towards some of my own.

Respectfully submitted,
Leah

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