Tag Archives: Patty Griffin

Awkward Playlist: Frustration / Depression

One of the major ways that I cope is by making lists. It’s funny because list articles generally aren’t my favorite to write. Sometimes I’ll make a quick list of art that evokes an emotion, or connects things in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

One of the ways this takes more solid form is creating playlists of music videos and performances. It’s not just the song, it’s about what the video and performer evoke, the way all of it together flows into the next or contrasts with it.

Sometimes I’ll go through dozens of music videos putting 10 in the right order. I always feel like what I come up with is imperfect, that there’s something missing I haven’t tripped upon or been introduced to yet. I’m frustrated when a song doesn’t have a video or performance I like, and then I sit on the list for ages wondering if I should put the song itself in. But I also feel like whatever I do come up with is useful for storing an emotion, processing it, seeing it turned over and over in this weird tumble dryer of videos.

As something extra, I thought I’d put together a playlist of videos every two weeks – no discussion like I might put in an article, just an order of videos that helps me to think about something, cope with it. In this one, it felt like I had permission to be sad and frustrated. They’re emotions that I often deny myself – angry and frustrated, sure, but sad I fear de-railing work, I fear getting in the way. I hate the way it makes me doubt myself, second-guess my worth. I fear wasting time when I already have trouble focusing. I hate permitting stress when it feels like I already have enough, as if that doesn’t somehow create more stress.

I think putting these particular videos together helps me create a space where I have permission to be sad, where I can let that be legitimate, where I can feel safe feeling that, and realize how badly I sometimes need to allow that for myself.

“Tap Dancer”
Local Natives


“Rich, White, Straight Men”


“Value Inn”
Laura Stevenson


Little Simz ft. Tilla


Denai Moore


Nils Frahm


Patty Griffin


“Coming Down”
Anais Mitchell


“Just Make it Stop”


Sarah McLachlan


“Helplessness Blues”
Fleet Foxes


“On a Hilltop Sat the Moon”
Amon Tobin


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Have You Heard… Julie Byrne?













by Gabriel Valdez

“I’ve been called heartbreaker
For doing justice to my own.”

Sometimes a song can feel like getting lost in dappled light. It can lift time and make me feel the texture of the memories I most fear losing. These songs let us exist in two places at once, in two times.

The joy in this is the lightness of unpacking sensations from my past. The heartbreak is my inability to feel them fully again, as in presence. I sit with the sensation not of a moment, but of its memory. The windows into it are always shifting. I can’t climb into it fully, but I can feel the breeze come through, hear the echoes of it float in.

Sometimes a singer like Julie Byrne can take the heartbreak of being contained by the present in a way memory can’t be…and the joy of sensing all that memory floating free. In that moment, you’re sitting there with someone. You’re not alone in the joy or the heartbreak. Someone else is there with you, sharing the same conflicting longing and closure, aching and satisfaction, embarrassment and pride.










“I dreamt of the warmest days of love
Which knew not sorrow nor betrayal
When truth was will in the singing of the gale
But when I lay in a verdant field
None could stay my rising.”

It’s sunny there, and the wind will sway the branches, and if you can find stillness with the longing of your past, you can understand and appreciate it. You can see the elements of a memory, realize perspective you couldn’t in the moment.

Not all memories are good, either. Some are anxious, panicking, moments when someone made you lesser because that’s what kept you. Sometimes, you can reclaim the parts where you grew, without feeling like someone else has ownership or control of them. You don’t hear the echoes of doubt or fear that once were intertwined with the good things you learned about yourself.

You realize not being able to step back into those memories can be good. You didn’t fear losing them, you feared losing the elements that helped you grow to become who you are. You feared losing pain would risk losing the lessons learned from it, even when the lesson learned was to step away from pain.






“I’ve been sitting in the garden
Singing to the wind
Searching for an anchor
I’ve been seeking god within.”

We can hold on to the lessons of strength we each learn from rising back, without having to internalize the doubt or coercion that made us pen ourselves away in the first place. We can hold on to what we learned from pain and doubt, without having to hold on to the pain and doubt. We’re not what someone else tried to make us into out of the anxiety of what would happen if we didn’t reshape ourselves. We’re what overcame that fear and intimidation. But sometimes it takes a spark to think of it this way, to put it all together. Sometimes it takes a song, or sometimes a painting, or a movie, or a play, or conversation.

It takes a stillness in ourselves, imparted by something else to cease our restlessness and look at the memory in joy and heartbreak, in fear and strength, with the breath of panic that you thought you’d put behind you, and the calm to be able to accept that it no longer controls you. That’s what resilience is. It isn’t cold and calloused. It’s turning the panic of incomprehension into the calm of understanding. It takes a stillness to witness who you are and how you got there.

We come out the other side of it, without needing to get lost to anger and frustration. Maybe we even learn how not to get lost in panic and anxiety. We learn better how to get lost in our calmness. Julie Byrne offers a good place to slow the world down, like getting lost in dappled light.


If you like Julie Byrne, try: Dawn Landes for something lively and practical, Marissa Nadler for something darker and mysterious, Patty Griffin for the storytelling, or Joni Mitchell for the imagery.

Have You Heard… is a stream of song and band recommendations, many of which may be new to you. We hope it’s less concerned with celebrity and image, and more concerned with the music and what it evokes.

The feature image of Julie Byrne is from Brooklyn Vegan here.

Best Less is More of 2014




One of the hardest things to capture in poetry is a moment of beauty. Come on too strong, and it becomes cliché. Approach the moment too softly, and no one has any idea what you’re getting at. The key lies not in judging the moment for your audience, but in creating a space that accepts every interpretation they might have. You have to welcome to your most personal moments people you don’t know the first thing about.

Today we feature Bluebird by Dawn Landes.

Never heard of her? Elegant is an understatement. Landes’s ability to evoke emotion in the space of a note change is rare. I remember NME criticizing Bluebird early in 2014 as “too nice” and lacking “grit.” It is too nice. It’s not interested in grit. The song “Bluebird” is about watching a bluebird. “Bloodhound” is about encountering a bloodhound on a forest trail. Sometimes these things don’t need to be complicated. You know how much nice music there is that’s still accomplished and evocative? Not much.



“Try to Make a Fire Burn Again” fills a void I hadn’t realized artists like Jewel and Natalie Merchant had left. A personal ballad about the kind of yearning you bravely keep quiet around company, it perfectly captures the essence of struggling to comprehend a romantic loss. There’s a peace to Landes’s struggle, however, an acceptance that understanding it completely might be counterproductive. It’s a mature quality lost in the industry’s more melodramatic love songs.

“Bloodhound” captures a southern gothic bluegrass that takes most artists into swampy, dark material. Landes keeps it light, and the balance between those darker, gothic hues and the lighter Americana tones feels like the song equivalent of dappled shadow on a warm day in the woods. You can compare it to Patty Griffin or Joanna Newsom, but it’s less self-serious about reflection, enjoying the moment rather than getting wrapped up in it.


The first four songs on Bluebird are as strong a start as any album had in 2014. If there’s a masterpiece in them, it’s the last of these, the soft “Heel Toe.” It treads into the echoing, empty stage sound of Neko Case that makes a song serene and haunting at the same time.

What’s best about Landes is that – while there are a ton of supporting instrumentals here – they restrain themselves from stepping on each other. They don’t overwhelm her voice, there’s zero wall of sound to compete with here. You can tell what each player is doing, the musical space he or she takes up, and appreciate how each instrumental intersects.

And that’s what I like about Landes. Those individual instrumentations, her voice, the clarity of it all, gives her songs a tremendous sensory quality. I can close my eyes and feel so much more than just the sound.

In this, her songs act as musical monuments, if such gentle songs can be called monuments. I can inhabit her songs in a way I fail to inhabit many moments anymore. I’m writing this on a computer looking at a screen. Her songs feel like the wind and the sun on my face, the rustle of the trees overhead, the possibility of quiet moments of peace – even during the frustrating parts of life – that I don’t allow myself as often as I should. Landes gives us bookmarks for individual thoughts and moments, and they allow me to ever-so-briefly transport myself into them.

I compare Landes to more accomplished artists – Jewel, Merchant, Griffin, Newsom, Case – because I think she covers a remarkable amount of territory by creating clear, “nice” music. I like my grit more than most, but I don’t think I could inhabit Landes’s songs if they weren’t this kind and welcoming. There’s no judgment in her music. There’s just acceptance. That’s nearly impossible for an artist to capture.

– Gabriel Valdez

This article is part of our series on the top 35 albums of 2014. Here’s the list as we unveil it.

No Miley Here, Insanity Edition – 2013’s Best Music Videos, #20-11

Music Videos 2013 number 2

by Cleopatra Parnell, Vanessa Tottle, & Gabriel Valdez
special thanks to Hayley Williams

We continue into the maddest portion of the countdown with music videos that aren’t so downbeat, but are wackier and occasionally more adult. (Parental guidance suggested!)

Because of that and Vevo’s hosting, you may have to click through to YouTube to watch some of these:

#20: It’s You – Duck Sauce
directed by Phil Andelman

Duck Sauce are two DJs who are most famous for their house mixes of Tori Amos. There’s no deep message to this one that I can sort out, but it’s indescribably wacky.

#19: I Love You – Woodkid
directed by Yoanna Lemoine

The latest entry in a continuous narrative meant to span Woodkid’s entire album The Golden Age, we’re ostensibly told the story of a man who loses his love and drowns himself. What the story really tells is how a loss of faith can turn a man unfeeling, and how the instruments of his younger passion seem to wither as he grows cynical. This is one of the most stately videos to come out last year.

#18: The Stars (Are Out Tonight) – David Bowie
directed by Floria Sigismondi

Floria Sigismondi, director of The Runaways, just has a talent for fusing fashion and celebrity to tell multilayered stories. This one follows the message of Bowie’s song pretty closely, presenting an unsettling domesticity that takes to task our obsession with and emulation of celebrity, as well as our demand of that same emulation from our loved ones. Starring David Bowie and Tilda Swinton alternately as a nice, suburban married couple, themselves, each other, and various Freudian dreamstates.

#17: Hard Out Here – Lilly Allen
directed by Chris Sweeney

Lily Allen got in more trouble for featuring a music video with twerking models and champagne moneyshots than the performers she’s satirizing. You could say her critics missed the point, but I’m pretty sure they got it – they just didn’t like that she was making it so effectively.

#16: Your Life Is A Lie – MGMT
directed by Tom Kuntz

At least Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” was good for something, namely this two-minute takedown by MGMT. It’s cleverly absurd, visually rich, and incisive in its criticism. What’s wrong with us? How did we not rank this higher?

#15: King and Lionheart – Of Monsters and Men
directed by WeWereMonkeys

Please meet one of our new favorite 80s movies.

#14: Jubilee Street – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
directed by John Hillcoat

Ray Winstone stars as a man addicted to his meetings with a prostitute. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric video on its face, but it’s also a damning consideration of the male ego. It plays with the passage of time, the evolution of a place, and examines one’s stubborn steadfastness to refuse the reality of past actions.

#13: Young and Beautiful – Lana Del Rey
directed by Chris Sweeney

With a brilliant performance video, Chris Sweeney’s second entry on this list blends bright colors with a muted presentation. It communicates power through very simple artistry, evoking Lana Del Rey’s obsession with 70s glamour and the classical, Fantasia-influenced orchestral presentations of the 40s.

#12: Ohio – Patty Griffin feat. Robert Plant
directed by Roy Taylor

Gabe here. I’m not a big fan of country music, but my album of the year last year was Patty Griffin’s American Kid. It’s a reflective series of songs that surpasses simple messages and meanings and instead seeks to invoke the most pensive and difficult times in our lives, the times we learned our way through trouble. Someone once told me never to use the word “masterpiece” in criticism. Screw that guy, because it’s a good word and American Kid is exactly that. This video creates a powerful sense of place using only paper cutouts, magic lamps, and creative lighting that allow the viewer to spend a relaxing and thoughtful day along the Ohio River.

#11: Pursuit – Gesaffelstein
directed by Fleur and Manu

Welcome to the polar opposite, a Cyberpunk Rorschach Test of classical, industrial, and military imagery. It seems to declare the beginning of a new age of corporate aristocracy, the age of the test group and power through military faith, the age of excluding anything less than the image of technical perfection, achieved only by applying the same sleek designer lines to women and whole societies as we do to cars and strike fighters. It’s a video that just becomes scarier the more you watch it.

Videos #30-21 ran on Tuesday, April 8.
Videos #10-1 will run on Tuesday, April 15.