Movement is essential to sound. A playlist is essential to moving.
I moved to Chicago at the beginning of the month and started my first full-time job a couple of weeks later. Since then I’ve been trying to memorize the El stops so I don’t have to frantically find a spot by the map or pull up Google Maps and have it voice my directions out loud (totally blowing my cover). Besides a beautiful semester stint abroad in London, the only cities I’ve inhabited are Cincinnati and South Bend, Indiana: neither are public transportation hot spots.
My earbuds serve a serene purpose in the city: soundtracking my movements. I’ve found Miguel’s “Shockandawe” a great accompaniment to the reaction I had when a stranger walked up to me and made a fart noise with his mouth in front of my face. I’ve found Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s lackadaisical crooning a soothing force after purchasing a donut that was five dollars (at that moment I too was “Over Everything”). Barnett and Vile even muse on their own headphone experiences in the track: “When I was young I liked to hear music blarin’ / And I wasn’t carin to neuter my jams with earplugs / But these days I inhabitate a high-pitched ring over things / So these days I plug them up” Vile reminisces followed by Barnett’s confession that she crunches her ears up inside headphones.
I thought that moving to a new city and starting a new job would send me spiraling back to nostalgic reassurance, but I’ve actually been accelerating the newness with new releases. It helps that a few of my favorites — LCD Soundsystem, Alvvays and Courtney Barnett — made new music to accompany me, reassuringly but adventurously, into unknown neighborhoods.
I’ve also found new favorites to suit my corporate career: Rostam accompanies my post-snooze routine with “Bike Dream,” “You wake up late, you feel your heart begin to work/ And now you’re all dressed up of course / And hailing cabs out of your door”; The infectiously fitting Chicago-house inspired track “Bother” by Les Sins, whose refrain repeats, “Don’t bother me / I’m working,” adds an ebullient energy to my Excel spreadsheet formatting; SALE’s single “Talk A Lot” whispers encouragement as the clock hits 4 p.m.: “Trust the moment / You’re making it look easy / Trust the moment / Just shake off that, easy / Trust the moment / I’m feelin’ so breezy / Trust the moment / Free me of that bullshit.”
Music is amazing because one minute I’ll realize a typo in an email I sent and fall down a spiral staircase of insecurity, but plugging into Alvvays effervescently echoing the word “lollipop” on “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” pulls me out by the wrapped white paper stick. Earbuds can be a hinderance to casual interactions, but listening to Now, Now’s excitingly smooth Carly Rae-esque ballad “Yours” can give me the boost of confidence I need to introduce myself to a stranger.
As I move on from a campus where my jobs were to manage the radio station and edit the entertainment section of the newspaper, my playlist is keeping me sane as I curate my tastes from the El, my desk, my bed and hopefully some cooler places soon as I continue to explore the city, earbuds playing these songs on rotation for a while.