Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

music

MGMT Leave Their “Little Dark Age” Behind

in Arts by

A year ago, a new album from MGMT wouldn’t have been particularly highly anticipated, and it especially wouldn’t have been expected to be any good. When “Little Dark Age,” the lead single from the band’s 2018 album of the same name, was released in October 2017, it seemed as if the band had found a new creative gear. Synth pop with a dash of goth, “Little Dark Age” was a fresh, exciting sound for the  00s indie darlings. MGMT have evolved their sound with each release⸺not always for the better, as their self titled LP was a relatively uninspired, lo-fi psychedelic album. “Congratulations,” the group’s 2010 follow up to “Oracular Spectacular,” saw the band experiment further with psych rock and pop to critical acclaim, but failed to generate enthusiasm with fans of their previous record and its hits such as “Kids” and “Time to Pretend.” Now, no longer haunted by the spectre of their past hits, MGMT are back with a well-executed and catchy synth and psych pop album.

 

“Little Dark Age” kicks off with the zany, infectious song “She Works Out Too Much.” Cascading synths and the driving bassline make this track exciting and danceable. The main draw, however, are the sarcastic lyrics which describe a failed relationship due to a lack (or excess) of exercise: “The only reason we never worked out was / He didn’t work out enough.” Voiceovers color the song with a variety of workout commands and exercises. In its last third, the song builds triumphantly with a section of saxophones, giving the song a climactic finish. These odd song topics continue with the song “TSLAMP,” or “Time Spent Looking At My Phone.” This track features the widest array of different sounds on the album, with synth passages and classical guitar interrupted by humming vocoder vocals which function more as instruments than as a way to deliver lyrics. “TSLAMP” sees the band musing about phone obsession: “Find me when the lights go down / Signing in and signing out / Gods descend to take me home / Find me staring at my phone.” The album’s lead single remains one of the strongest songs, as its haunted synthpop aesthetic is catchy and fun while remaining spooky. “Little Dark Age” exemplifies the strength of the albums hooks. While the instrumentation and quirky lyrics are certainly a huge draw, the sticky grooves and choruses are what will keep listeners coming back. “When You Die” contrasts its light, groovy instrumentation with aggressive declarations of hatred: “I’m not that nice / I’m mean and I’m evil / Don’t call me twice.” This track benefits from guitar work reminiscent of George Harrison which keeps the song plucky and light while the reverb-drenched vocals tell the listener off.

 

Unfortunately, the album takes a slight dip in the second half with the songs “James,” “One Thing Left to Try,” and “When You’re Small.” While these songs still have their interesting moments, they aren’t quite as engaging from start to finish as the tracks from the first half. Songs such as “When You’re Small” and “Days That Got Away” are meandering and low-key, relegating them to a pleasant if relatively inoffensive position in the tracklisting. The album closes with the song “Hand it Over,” which sounds as if the band is performing in an underwater dream sequence. While “Hand it Over” may not shake the listener like “She Works Out Too Much” or “Me and Michael,” the choir-like voices in the chorus play nicely off of Andrew VanWyngarden’s vocals in a way which soothingly brings the project to a close.

 

“Little Dark Age” is a welcome return to form for the indie darlings behind “Electric Feel,” “Kids,” and “Time to Pretend”. While the project lags slightly in its second act, there are plenty of memorable, infectious hooks paired with great synth pop instrumentals. With their most recent release, MGMT have left their self-proclaimed “Little Dark Age” behind.

 

“F*** You,”Brockhampton at the Theatre of Living Arts

in Arts by

Brockhampton, a Los Angeles collective of artists and designers, performed two shows for their Love Your Parents Tour at the Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia on Jan 30 and 31. The crowd was made up of mostly teens and twenty-somethings, sporting colorful Brockhampton sweatshirts and T-shirts. Toward the front, fans waved face cutouts of Brockhampton’s performing artists: Kevin Abstract, Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, Matt Champion, and Joba. As the lights dimmed, a man wearing a blue hospital mask and headlamp walked through heavy smoke to the middle of the stage. Standing in the middle of the stage, the man knelt and, standing up, pulled on an orange jumpsuit, Brockhampton’s choice costume. As the crowd exploded into whoops and cheers, he pulled off his mask and headlamp, revealing himself to be Brockhampton’s cover boy, Ameer Vann, whose face is featured on each album cover of Brockhampton’s 2017 “Saturation Trilogy”. At the same time, the rest of the group rushed on stage to open the show with “Boogie,” the explosive first track off their latest record.

The group, led by Kevin Abstract, met through an online Kanye West forum and then moved into a house, which served as their creative space, in a neighborhood in South Central L.A. Not one member of Brockhampton is older than twenty-four, the group have not signed with a label, everything is produced in-house, and they haven’t done much press or social media marketing. Despite this, within a period of one year, Brockhampton has released three critically-acclaimed albums and garnered an impressive fan base of self-identified weird, young people who want to be heard. Brockhampton resist the established music industry through genuine artistry. The boy band “saturated” the scene with their music, letting their art speak for itself. Their success sets the stage for a different music industry which will be less capitalistic and more artistic, focused on creative integrity, innovation, and authenticity.

The group, diverse in sexual-orientation and race, imagine themselves as a modern boyband, the “best boyband since One Direction.” Consequently, their audience has accepting perspectives and willful opinions.

“It’s really cool to be surrounded by people who enthusiastically sing along as Kevin raps, ‘Why you always rap about bein’ gay? /  ́Cause not enough n***** rap and be gay.’ Those people are trying to change things,” said Matt Becker ’21, a friend who attended the concert.

In a question and an answer, Kevin Abstract addresses the lack of openly gay and bisexual rappers. He wants to use Brockhampton as a voice for the voiceless, to speak for those who can’t, and the audience feels his anger and frustration below the bouncing music.

Brockhampton fill their music, fashion, and performance with societal commentary. The group of six performers stand in a straight line across the front of the stage, taking turns rapping and singing.

“Brockhampton did a really good job performing together, which you don’t really see a lot in solo rap. They feed off each other’s energy. When you’re in a group setting, you feel that when you are rapping, and that fuels you. Even if only one person is rapping, they are all still performing together,” said Charlie Cole ̕21, another friend who attended the concert.

The group’s chemistry is apparent: members sing-along with each other’s verses, bouncing around the stage as a cohesive, chaotic unit. Furthermore, the group express their opinions through words and images. They appear as a group of prisoners, dressed in orange jumpsuits, through which the group comment on racial and class biases. Brockhampton, a group of misfits, may feel as though they are imprisoned in a world where they are not accepted, trapped by forces beyond their control, prisoners to a society which oppresses the very diversity and love that Brockhampton stands for.

Throughout the performance, Kevin often interrupted the set to comment on his belief of human love. The group has attempted to rebrand the middle finger as an act of love instead of hate. The phrase “f*** you” and the accompanying gesticulation are hateful, but also sexual. Brockhampton wants the phallic middle finger to symbolize the latter. Sexual love is human; it transcends gender, race, and class.

“When we flip you off, we really mean we love you,” said Kevin Abstract. In replacing love with hate, Brockhampton disrupt the system of anger and hatred in which they themselves are prisoners.

 

Lunch Hour Concert Series

in Arts by

If you’ve ever walked through Parrish on Monday on the way to lunch, you might have heard a bit of music in the parlors. These performances constitute the lunch hour concert series, an ongoing project providing students and faculty the opportunity to start off the week by sharing some of their favorite music pieces.

The atmosphere is cozy and intimate as the musicians set up in the east parlor with the audience sitting cross-legged on the ground or curled up on the sofas and chairs scattered around the room. As opposed to a traditional concert setting, in which the musicians are on a stage and the audience is rigidly aligned in rows and columns of stiff-backed chairs, the Lunch Hour Concerts exhibit the musicians’ expressions and techniques from up close, as well as other audience members’ reactions. I see this as creating a little spontaneous community around the expression of art. If concerts were like lectures, the Lunch Hour Series would be seminars, where the exchange between the musician and audience, as well as the exchange between audience members with other audience members (although subtle), affects the takeaway of the performance.

From the musicians’ perspective, the same is true. Sumi Onoe, a first-year who ended the first semester series with her piano pieces, shared what set the Lunch Hour venue apart from big concert experiences for her.

“It was more relaxed and interactive,” she said, describing the same “vibe exchange” that I felt as an audience member. While she noted that the proximity can be scary, with an audience full of friends (she says she forced them to come), Onoe says it felt more like playing at home.

For Rebecca Regan ‘19, who sang with Lili Tobias ‘19 on piano and later performed as part of a choral quartet, the experience was also enhanced by the intimate setting.

Echoing Onoe’s experience, Regan eloquently shared that in a concert setting, “the edge of the stage acts as a boundary,” whereas the atmosphere in Parrish Parlor “feels more like a normal way for people to get together…wonderfully free of ceremony.”

While the close proximity does create an exciting intensity, it may also subdue the artist’s full range of expression. Because of the anonymity of the audience in a large concert setting, with bright stage lights creating the effect of a large black hole in front of the performer instead of individual faces, it is easier for the performer to focus on being a conduit for art. The evenly lit and cozy Parlors, however, can make the performer feel more self-conscious.

Regan describes this feeling of self-consciousness. “I felt so very much myself, and recognized as myself by the audience.” This made it harder for her to fully express the full emotional range she usually brings to her selections in a casual and intimate atmosphere.

The relaxed setting of the series has also been a way for the musicians to open up their repertoire. Onoe chose to bring a Prokofiev piece that she last played in the third grade to her set along with pieces she’d been working on more recently. Regan reflected that she chose to sing a piece that wouldn’t be considered polished enough for concert performance but that she really enjoyed.

Many of the chamber groups that performed in the Lunch Hour Concert Series did so in preparation for their performance for the more formal Fetter Chamber Music Series. Jasmine Sun ‘18 and Ayaka Yohiro ‘20, who were part of a quartet that started off the series for the spring semester, agreed that it was a good way to bring their repertoire for the Fetter Concert to a different audience.

Eligibility is not limited to students; the most recent performance on Feb. 5th featured Andrew Hauze, a music professor at Swarthmore. He shared that the concert’s  platform of being open to both faculty and students creates a “lovely musical dialogue” between two groups usually strictly set apart as teacher and learner.

Even if you would never listen to the music being played normally, most of which are classical music, it’s hard to feel bored when you are so close to the process itself. An article in the Harvard Gazette, “The Look of Music,” talks about a study that shows that people can identify superior musicianship by watching a musician even without the audio. I find myself reminded of this when watching Lunch Hour Concerts, because even if I am not engaged by the sounds, I am by the physicality of playing striking loud chords on the piano or drawing out a tenuous note on the cello.

While 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. on a Monday may be a busy time, it’s worth coming to witness Parrish come to life with this unique performance arrangement. The upcoming concert will most likely be announced on Friday.

 

See You Sweat: Injury Reserve at Olde Club

in Arts by

Injury Reserve’s set began with a simple, sad piano line. Those familiar with the song whispered excitedly or shouted in anticipation. The Friday night crowd in Olde Club wouldn’t be left waiting long as the explosive drums and vocals kicked “Oh Shit!!!,” the single from the group’s 2016 album “Floss,”  into gear. MC Ritchie with a T growled the titular chorus like a junkyard dog, demanding the crowd’s energy. Even those new to Injury Reserve were soon chanting along: “Oh Shit! They said, “Man we want some more hits… What that sound, like man, that’s some cold shit…’”

Originally from Arizona, Injury Reserve is a California-based hip hop trio featuring MCs Stepa T Groggs, Ritchie with a T, and producer Parker Corey. Striking while the iron was hot, their most recent project, the brief EP “Drive It Like It’s Stolen”  was released less than a year after the critically acclaimed Floss. It’s clear from their work ethic and from their lyrics that Injury Reserve feels they’re being underrated. Injury Reserve has put out a project every year since 2013, consistently gaining momentum since their debut “Live From the Dentist’s Office.” Despite their undeniable growth, a true commercial breakout has proven elusive. In their song “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe” Groggs muses: “It’s way more than a catchy ass hook / Don’t know the right people, you ain’t getting no looks / If it was that easy, we’d be getting more looks.” However, it seems unlikely that Injury Reserve will compromise their sound in an effort to chart higher. Parker Corey draws from an eclectic sonic palette, making beats that range from aggressive, industrial cuts like “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe”, to the jazzy saxophones of “S On Ya Chest,” and the more contemplative ballad “ttktv,” which evokes James Blake more than many contemporary hip hop artists. With such a versatile sound, Injury Reserve has never been shy about naming influences like Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and The Cool Kids. The beat to “See You Sweat” in particular evokes Pharrell’s production style and Ritchie with a T’s constant repetition would have fit right in on a N.E.R.D. record.

Much of the personality in Injury Reserve’s music carried over into their live set as well, as Ritchie with a T took the role of making fun of the crowd or cracking the occasional sarcastic joke and then jumping back into a passionate verse about feeling unable to trust those around him. “Washed Up.” Their live performance, just as their recorded music, was characterized by great range. Songs like “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe” had the Olde Club crowd shoving each other whilst screaming along with Ritchie “Ah! We made it!” However, the more vulnerable moments featured Groggs and Ritchie reflecting on inner demons and the gravity of personal loss on the somber  “North Pole.” While significant attention thus far has been given to Ritchie with a T’s performance, Groggs would not be outdone. At one point the beat cut out due to technical issues, but Groggs rapped his entire verse until the song’s conclusion without missing a beat. Another standout moment was the performance of “What’s Goodie,” where Ritchie and Groggs showed off their lyrical chemistry, trading the odd bar throughout the course of the track. Also important to note were the production tweaks made by Parker Corey for the live set: most of the beats were louder and more distorted. This decision allowed the trio to turn songs such as “Washed Up,” which might otherwise not move a crowd, into climactic, high energy moments. In this way, the group didn’t box themselves into a sonic corner. In fact, their set was a relatively even spread of songs from their three most recent projects. Their performance certainly benefited from the intimate setting, as Ritchie’s nasty, growling delivery kept the energy near the stage high.

After an encore performance of “Oh Shit!!!,” Ritchie with a T left the stage, saying: “We are Injury Reserve aka Brockhampton aka Run the Jewels aka whatever other rap group you wanna compare us to.” This was a playful jab at the hip hop community’s need to compare indie rap outfits, but there was serious ambition in his voice. Injury Reserve feels as if they’ve been underrated and overlooked in hip hop, but with a new album confirmed to be releasing this year, the trio appear determined to reach new levels of exposure and success.

 

Your New and Improved Winter Playlist

in Campus Journal by

Tired of listening to the same old Christmas songs now that it’s February? Wish you had the perfect playlist to take you somewhere warmer? Have some songs in mind now that you’ve read those first few sentences and want this list to validate your choices? Then look no further than this winter playlist, hand-crafted for 50% snow-loving weirdos and 50% those dreaming of catching a suntan. Let’s get into it!

1. “Oh, Miss Believer” by Twenty One Pilots

I don’t know about you, but the major thing I miss about Christmas music is the sleighbells. If you’re not afraid of getting a little emo, add some angst to your snowy walk through the Crum.  

 

2. “Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon & Garfunkel

If you’re really into the classics, this is an upbeat number about the
changing of seasons and how to deal with it. If you’re anything like good ol’ S&G here, alcohol might work.

 

 

3. “Mt. Washington” by Local Natives

We get it. Sometimes it’s nice to be left alone when you’re suffering from hypothermia while walking to Sharples. With the hook on this song, if anyone bothers you, just unplug your headphones and let them have it.

 

 

 

4. “Sunshine Riptide” by Fall Out Boy ft. Burna Boy

Unlike many songs that go for a ~Caribbean feel~ without actually involving reggae, this song does its best to remind you that humans need sunlight, and you REALLY need to go outside.

 

 

 

 

5. “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran


Throwback! Admit it – you jammed to this song in middle school. We
all did. It deserves to be here on that basis alone.

 

 

 

6. “Lemon” by N.E.R.D & Rihanna

If you have the winter blues, you are definitely going to need this
absolute bop to show you that not all isbad in the world, and that you can always count on Rihanna to help you feel better.

 

 

 

7. “Strange Attractor” by Animal Kingdom

If you’re one of the lucky ones to have found your Winter Bae, congratulations! Use this song to serenade them. Hopefully, they’ll be able to get over the fact that you called them strange for half of the song.

 

 

 

8. “Around Me” by Epique

Not lucky enough to find a winter bae? That’s also fine! Use this song to prevent yourself from settling for second best. Remember: no f-boys.

 

 

 

 

9. “Ashes of Eden” by Breaking Benjamin

I know, I know – Breaking Benjamin is pretty hit or miss. I promise, if you set up the atmosphere for this one – sit by the snowy window, grab a hot chocolate, wear those hand-woven fingerless gloves all the people have on in the pictures when you Google “winter aesthetics” – this song can be soothing. Just try it.

 

 

10. “God’s Plan” by Drake

Last but not least, if you feel like God is wishing bad weather on you, find comfort knowing that it’s okay to only love your bed and your mama.

See You Sweat: Injury Reserve at Olde Club

in Arts by

Injury Reserve’s set began with a simple, sad piano line. Those familiar with the song whispered excitedly or shouted in anticipation. The Friday night crowd in Olde Club wouldn’t be left waiting long as the explosive drums and vocals kicked “Oh Shit!!!,” the single from the group’s 2016 album “Floss,”  into gear. MC Ritchie with a T growled the titular chorus like a junkyard dog, demanding the crowd’s energy. Even those new to Injury Reserve were soon chanting along: “Oh Shit! They said, “Man we want some more hits… What that sound, like man, that’s some cold shit…’”

Originally from Arizona, Injury Reserve is a California-based hip hop trio featuring MCs Stepa T Groggs, Ritchie with a T, and producer Parker Corey. Striking while the iron was hot, their most recent project, the brief EP “Drive It Like It’s Stolen”  was released less than a year after the critically acclaimed Floss. It’s clear from their work ethic and from their lyrics that Injury Reserve feels they’re being underrated. Injury Reserve has put out a project every year since 2013, consistently gaining momentum since their debut “Live From the Dentist’s Office.” Despite their undeniable growth, a true commercial breakout has proven elusive. In their song “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe” Groggs muses: “It’s way more than a catchy ass hook / Don’t know the right people, you ain’t getting no looks / If it was that easy, we’d be getting more looks.” However, it seems unlikely that Injury Reserve will compromise their sound in an effort to chart higher. Parker Corey draws from an eclectic sonic palette, making beats that range from aggressive, industrial cuts like “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe”, to the jazzy saxophones of “S On Ya Chest,” and the more contemplative ballad “ttktv,” which evokes James Blake more than many contemporary hip hop artists. With such a versatile sound, Injury Reserve has never been shy about naming influences like Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and The Cool Kids. The beat to “See You Sweat” in particular evokes Pharrell’s production style and Ritchie with a T’s constant repetition would have fit right in on a N.E.R.D. record.

Much of the personality in Injury Reserve’s music carried over into their live set as well, as Ritchie with a T took the role of making fun of the crowd or cracking the occasional sarcastic joke and then jumping back into a passionate verse about feeling unable to trust those around him. “Washed Up.” Their live performance, just as their recorded music, was characterized by great range. Songs like “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe” had the Olde Club crowd shoving each other whilst screaming along with Ritchie “Ah! We made it!” However, the more vulnerable moments featured Groggs and Ritchie reflecting on inner demons and the gravity of personal loss on the somber  “North Pole.” While significant attention thus far has been given to Ritchie with a T’s performance, Groggs would not be outdone. At one point the beat cut out due to technical issues, but Groggs rapped his entire verse until the song’s conclusion without missing a beat. Another standout moment was the performance of “What’s Goodie,” where Ritchie and Groggs showed off their lyrical chemistry, trading the odd bar throughout the course of the track. Also important to note were the production tweaks made by Parker Corey for the live set: most of the beats were louder and more distorted. This decision allowed the trio to turn songs such as “Washed Up,” which might otherwise not move a crowd, into climactic, high energy moments. In this way, the group didn’t box themselves into a sonic corner. In fact, their set was a relatively even spread of songs from their three most recent projects. Their performance certainly benefited from the intimate setting, as Ritchie’s nasty, growling delivery kept the energy near the stage high.

After an encore performance of “Oh Shit!!!,” Ritchie with a T left the stage, saying: “We are Injury Reserve aka Brockhampton aka Run the Jewels aka whatever other rap group you wanna compare us to.” This was a playful jab at the hip hop community’s need to compare indie rap outfits, but there was serious ambition in his voice. Injury Reserve feels as if they’ve been underrated and overlooked in hip hop, but with a new album confirmed to be releasing this year, the trio appear determined to reach new levels of exposure and success.

 

Jukebox: the power of the playlist

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I have a playlist for just about every genre and every mood. There’s “Air Karaoke.” “Lazy.” “Jitters.” “Covers.” “Classic Rock.” “If You Don’t Know the Song, Ask Your Parents.”

I could keep going. “Boy Bands.” “Candy Kids.” “Jukebox.” “Dance Around.” There are a few titles that are less coherent, less dignified: tucked into my “Curated” folder, there are playlists with names like “wave feeling,” “that’s a bop,” and “why.” One of my favorites is just, simply, “echo, from a distance.” It only has two songs. “Acoustic” has three hundred and twenty-three.

Most people — so I’ve been told — don’t organize music the way I do. I have folders within folders, separating playlists dedicated to genres from playlists of songs good for dancing from playlists of instrumental pieces. Good singalong songs have their own subfolder.  To boot, they’re subdivided: one playlist for those great singalong songs you only know the chorus to (“Who Are You” by The Who), one for dorky/nerdy songs (“Dragostei Din Tei” by Ozone, most often referred to as the “Numa Numa Song”), one for the songs I’ve sung with my friends (“Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood, which we belted at the top of our lungs as we raced down I-70, the windows cracked open and the wind rattling our bones), and more.

The thing is that this — this organization, this collection — began here at Swat. I grew up around music, but never spent much time engaging with it beyond passively listening. I’m a mediocre piano player; I never practiced between lessons. I can pick out a few chords on a guitar. My music collection was organized more or less exclusively by the function that lets you sort alphabetically by artist — or else it was organized into playlists my dad gave me. He’s been a music lover as long as I can remember. Long before ZZ Ward or alt-j or Glass Animals were on the radio, I’d heard their discographies while in the car with him, and now, when they get airtime, he lights up. “What a cool band,” he says each time. There’s this knowing smile he has, this sort of bright-eyed humor I hope I’ve inherited in addition to his eyebrows, his height, his chin. “Wonder where you heard it first.”

I heard a lot of music with him, first. The first iPod I ever had — and most of the ones since — was a gift from him, and it came pre-loaded with songs. Far from being sorted by mood, or genre, or whether or not they’re good for Lindy Hop or West Coast Swing, it was a collection of music he thought I should know, for one reason or another. The only song I can remember off that first playlist is U2’s “Vertigo,” but now and then a song comes on that feels intensely familiar, as though I have known it a long, long time.

For the most part, then, I listened to the radio on the way to school and back. At home, I read, or wrote, or watched TV. I did my homework in study hall in silence and came back home to occupy myself one way or another. If I listened to music, it was the same song on repeat, over, and over, until it was done. Over the course of years, I played “Who Am I” from Les Misérables so often the play count was listed as 24601. After that, I didn’t touch it again.

I think I believed my habits wouldn’t change when I came to college. If anything, I envisioned having more free time. I’d heard the phrase “academically rigorous” thrown around, but, well, my high school was “academically rigorous,” and I had found that for the most part, I had no trouble carving leisure time out of my days.

But Swarthmore isn’t making an idle boast re: academics.

And it wasn’t making an idle boast about student involvement on campus, either. Even with only a few clubs — comparatively — I manage to fill up my days rapidly with meetings, dance classes, and meals. Spring last year, I would run from one class to the next to a meeting to a meal where I would shovel pasta into my mouth for fifteen minutes and haul myself up the hill again to do homework in McCabe. And while that was enjoyable in many ways, it kept me on the go. To boot, I don’t focus well around other people. Work time was sacred, silent. Solitary, and necessarily productive. With a busy Swarthmore life, the time I had to myself was time reserved for staring at the ceiling of my bedroom and just doing — nothing. Not the video games I’ve been wanting to play for years. Not the writing I wanted to do. Not the leisure reading I was sure I would accomplish. Not even Netflix. For me, watching movies takes something out of me — and all that energy had been spent on other things.

Swatties deal with being here in different ways. Some do okay. They don’t stress too much; they seem to glide. Some schedule their self-care. Some go to CAPS.

I started making playlists.

They were just themed, to start. “Lazy” was the playlist for daydreaming and staring at the sky (“All we do is lie and wait,” sings Oh Wonder. “All we do is feel the fade.”). Or I was walking to class, and needed some energy; it had been a long night. A long, long night. So I made “Pump Up:” “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse, and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, and “Champion” by Fall Out Boy. I started partner dancing and I made playlists for that, too. It spiraled from there.

The thing about music — the thing about this kind of self-care because for me, that’s what it is — is that it can exist, superimposed, on my life here at Swarthmore. When I’m working, I have headphones in. When I’m walking to class, I have headphones in. While baking cookies with friends, I have a playlist on, and it’s nothing but Wicked and “Shia LaBeouf Live” by Rob Cantor and songs from Steven Universe for hours. Soon I had twenty playlists, and then fifty, and then a hundred. In the five minutes before a meeting, or while waiting for the 12:30 lunch rush to die away, I’d add songs to playlists (at least three per song, even if I have to make new ones for it) so that when I wanted a certain sound, I’d have it right there. “Middle School Angst?” Now and then, that’s the mood. “Rather Odd?” Trust me: it comes up. And, more seriously, sometimes “We Built This City” by Starship and my “Bright” playlist is the one thing that gets me up and out of bed.

I think of it like an investment: a few moments here and there in order to make something perfect for a moment in the future. I don’t know whether it will be tomorrow, or in two years, but one day I’ll want nothing more than that playlist I titled “Placeholder 2” in a pique of annoyance at not having the words to describe just what Lykke Li and K. Flay have in common. And when that moment comes, I’ll have it. I’ll have given myself that gift. On bad nights, on great nights, on the nights when it’s all just distinctly okay, I have a wealth of gifts I have given myself over the years.

At home, where my collection of music first began, I don’t talk much about my playlists. It doesn’t come up. When I do, it is often just in reference to how many of them there are. I don’t talk about blasting “The Hounds” from Protomen until my leg aches from how fast I’m bouncing it, until everything around me is drowned out except the panicked, hectic drums. But I hear from my dad about how he would sit out on the ledges in the back of his law school and put his headphones on and play “Stop Making Sense” by the Talking Heads as loud as he could stand it. When it was time, he’d stand up, take the headphones off, and walk into the building to compete with other students — and, with luck, to take home a prize.

Maybe that’s why we listened to “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen so often when I was growing up. To pass this on, consciously or not. Either way, I am grateful for it. While I won’t say I’d be lost without my music, I am so much happier for it. And that is worth so much to me.

And by the way: at the moment, my playlist count is two hundred and fifty-three.

By the time this is published, I’m sure I’ll have more.

A reflection on self-efficacy and social media

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

A couple weekends ago, I saw Chris Thile, a mandolin-playing musician with three Grammys and the MacArthur Genius Award. During a pre-show demonstration for Swat students and staff, Thile spoke about a delicate part of being human.

He presented us with a paradigm of creativity: the frustrations of attempting to think individually. To do so means to be creative, but also independent, in your work and life. If you were not a child prodigy like Thile was, getting to a level of mastery that is conducive to exploring the borders of music, literature, science, and math might seem a little farfetched. For many of us, the daily chores of life can be challenging enough. And let’s not even talk about dating.

In a 2015 interview for Rolling Stone, Thile said, “We travel all over the place and we interact with people, and [we see] person after person experiencing life through phones … The basic human desire to connect with other human beings is alive and well, but the quality of the connection we are settling for is lower.”

Conversing, as a basic human function, has its roses and its weights. When we talk to one another, we respond almost instantaneously with our own, unadulterated selves. It’s a gift and a burden, wrapped up in a word, a smile, a simple one-line response. We cannot edit what we don’t like about ourselves. But the hope is that we come to tolerate, if not love, the parts that make us the most us and, in the process, find a sense of self-efficacy. Albert Bandura, a leader in positive psychology, defines the term as a person’s belief in performing at a level that allows them to exercise influence over the events that affect their lives. Through conversations, although there are risks, we often find ourselves projecting the most individual sides of ourselves.

One might think that social media would bolster users’ self-efficacy. Platforms give people the skills of communication, without the baggage of body language, class, ethnicity, and gender. In theory, this sounds like a utopia for garnering individual thought and self-efficacy through dialogue.

The shadow cast on your screen, however, comes from the inadequacy of these platforms to create the equivalent social gravity of engaging in a conversation face to face. This is part of why they are so appealing. It is also why striking up a conversation when your phone is in your pocket can be especially hard. Little by little, our capacity to present ourselves, without caricature, to people we have not met before could be dwindling to the lullaby of social media.

Social media is not some neoliberal comfort pill, but rather a tragic reality. Relying on social media for instant gratification, for relief from loneliness, depletes one’s social capital of real world friends, lovers, and family. It conflates our hurtles and achievements into the humdrum of feeds and icons and a flat grey malaise. This kind of communication is such an oversimplification of human interaction that I fear we become simpler ourselves. Vaclav Havel, the Czech president and playwright who saw the fall of the USSR and the splitting of Czechoslovakia, predicated of our generation, “The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.”

I acknowledge that in places like Venezuela, where people are desperate for true, non-governmental information, social media has been crucial for organizing activists and for supporting freedom of speech in otherwise dim times of oppression. With that said, many of us in the U.S. are abusing social media to our own detriment.

Later on in the Rolling Stone interview, Thile says of technology and his Grammy winning record The Phosphorescent Blues, “I think we can start making these things work for us and not the other way around. The record, lyrically, is something of an exploration of those kinds of thoughts. What does connection mean to various kinds of people and how do we best pursue that at a time when it’s very easy to take things connected for granted?” You might be thinking, this is all well and good in grand philosophical terms, but in practice, what can I do? Chris Thile’s show reminded me of how we often fail to compliment self-efficacy in others, much less in ourselves. It is one of the tragedies of our generation that we spend so much time absorbing what others do instead of creating, inquiring, and reflecting. This essay is not some esoteric call to action, but rather about putting down your phone and thinking about what you have to say — that’s it.

At the Thile concert, I saw a person thinking for himself, improvising, and having a damn good time. It is too late to be a child prodigy, sorry reader, but who wants to win a Grammy at sixteen anyways? Nevertheless, it is the perfect time to realize that you are and will ever be more than what a social media platform has to say about you, and to make a little music of your own.

1 2 3 13
Go to Top