Music to soundtrack summer

Summer is as much metaphor as it is real. We use it as an ideal to get us through exam period, and hold it up as this infinite euphoria of freedom, opportunity and endless blue skies. However, rarely does it quite live up to these expectations. The to-do lists we planned, the reading lists we had, the ambitions we held often get abandoned. Really, what summer symbolises is a time a time for growth. How we chose to mould this time acts as a metaphor for a reflection of our true selves.

I know people this summer who have travelled up and down the country in a desperate attempt to escape ‘home’. Who have published magazines. Travelled. Worked. Absorbed every book they can get their hands on. Who have spent it drinking, clubbing, writing. The painting that we choose to create when the canvas is entirely blank and the paint brush is firmly in our hand teaches us more about ourselves than a term of university or seven years of school ever can.

When retelling our lives, we choose the narrative. We get the paintbrushes out again, and repaint the painting. We edit it to make the skies more serene than they were, the laughs louder than they were.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I look back, I look back kind of like this:

Everything becomes a montage in which only the most explosive things (good or band) make the cut. And, in this cut, something always stands out for me.

Every year I make a ‘Summer Playlist’. This is hardly original. But these songs are always something that come to define my summer. I remember the music that I listened to that summer just as much as the memories that I lived. When I look back, I not only see these memories, but I see them on a backdrop of the music that summarised my life at that particular moment.

Like every other year, music has played a significant role in my summer. I have been to various gigs and festivals and have spent more time than ever drunkenly listening to records with people. Music has the power to unite and to speak the words that we don’t know how to say.

When I look back on my summer Olive Tate style with my internal video-montage, it’ll be these songs that are the soundtrack:

1). Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

Whitney fell into my summer the way that first unexpected ray of sunshine falls upon the greyness of the pavements and makes them bright again. Unexpected.

Opening track ‘No Woman’ exists as a whisper that manipulates the silence around us to create a perfect sense of whimsical sublimity. Max Kakacek’s strumming guitar creates a cool ripple of water and singer/drummer Julien Ehrlich’s angelic falsetto is the light that shines upon it, creating a sense of tranquil serenity. The floating trumpet that drifts throughout the album feels like a fresh summer breeze, adding to this nostalgic tone – it is an arm reaching out for a time past.

When I saw them live at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham (a beautifully intimate 150 capacity venue), you really got the impression that the band are trying to encapsulate a moment, a feeling. In the same way that a photograph can freeze the way the light hits upon a lake, Whitney attempt to freeze the beauty of and sorrows of life’s most simple things.

An album that deals with a breakup with an outlook with an optimistic look to future sunsets, it is an album of nostalgia and maturity. As my friend kept always them as, they are a melancholy kind of optimism.

2). The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It

I know. I get it. You don’t need to tell me about it. I KNOW.

Before this summer, I was just like you. I looked down on The 1975 and laughed at the fact that the Loose Woman presenter’s son had started a band. But how times have changed.

My friend Ewan, determined to prove my narrow-mindedness wrong, brought me the album on vinyl. Grudgingly I listened to it and, grudgingly, I fell in love with it.

An album of many faces, it is one that captures a euphoric excitement while combining it with the same still moments of intimacy as found in Light Upon the Lake. It is mature yet it is young. It is an album that demonstrates that, despite growing up, we will always face challenges along the way, and these challenges will make us feel like we have reverted backwards in life to an almost child-like vulnerability.

Matt Healey questions mournfully “if I’m lost, then how can I find myself?” and with these lyrics longing for an answer of identity teamed with the album’s stunning artwork (which features various of the album’s song titles in pink neon lights set on a backdrop of nature), we are reminded that love can often simply feel like a desperate attempt to lay claim on the world. We often wish to, simply, feel like we have a sphere in this world that is ours and ours alone – a world that the sprawling mass of the outside world can’t put its own polluted stamp on.


3). The Horrros

‘Still Life’ sings about a world which is slowly embarking on its predetermined history – a course of history that feels as though it is controlled by The Horrors themselves. You can almost hear the birds ascending and nature transforming itself in the song’s final explosion of brass.

Constantly feeling like they are a band that are surveying humanity’s every move (‘I See You’ and ‘I Can See Through You’ certainly give off this impression), they put life under a microscope, and show it to us in an euphoric-fuelled energy.  A little gothic ray of sunshine, ‘Who Can Say’, features the beautiful lyric ‘And when I told her I didn’t love her anymore, / She cried. / And when I told her, her kisses were not like before, / She cried. […] And I kissed her, with a kiss that could only mean goodbye’, proving to us again the hardships of life while giving us reassurance that these hardships are only one of life’s right of passings.

4). David Bowie

What summer soundtrack would be complete without the alien starman himself? ‘Moonage Daydream’ reaches to a higher dimension while tracks like ‘Wild is the Wind’ offers a mature reflection on the unpredictability of life. The spaceboy may be dead, but his light will always linger on.

5). Echo & the Bunnymen – The Killing Moon

A musical forest in which we get submerged in a shrubbery of haunting guitar lines and wistful vocals, it is – in a similar vibe to The Horrors –  a song about the inevitable of life, or should I say, death. The song has a beauty that finds its power in a surrendering to nature, fate and death itself. And it is this acknowledgement that even the greatest of melodies end in silence, that gives the song its power.

The music I’ve listened to this summer has been distinctly more reminiscent than in previous years – yes it might still be fairly generic indie, but that’s not the point. I’ve shunned the buoyancy of ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ for songs that demand us to not only look at the world around us, but to truly see it for what it is. It has not looked at the world through rose-tinted glasses that suggests that love is an unearthly force that has the power to save us from all our problems. It has been music that stresses the inevitability of life and forces us to look at the present, demanding we be grateful for both the bad and the good times for helping shape us into who we are today. Perhaps what they’ve shown (in their own unique ways) is to accept the wildest winds that life throws at us. That we need to learn, and to grow in order to keep up with life’s fast pace.

And this is something that I’ve be constantly doing in the past year: growing. It is inevitable, it is scary, but it something you have to embrace. Starting university for me symbolised (something that is hardly original) a new chapter in life – a new playlist. But it became a more monumental song change then I could ever have hoped for. Perhaps it’s not me that’s changed that much, but my self-perception. In the past year I’ve grown into the person I was always destined to be, but something that could only be achieved with a bout of self-confidence and belief. The playlist unexpectedly went from coldness of the The Smiths to the buoyancy of Gorillaz within the change of a song.

This summer has seen me strolling carefree in the streets of Amsterdam, laughing at thin air after having spent the day in sex museums, coffee shops and in pubs talking to strangers learning about what it means to be young, living and, most importantly, me. It has seen me drinking in parks until 6am. Dancing in gay bars until 5:30am. It has seen me reading poetry to change your life. Writing to better myself. Slugging through a never-ending reading list of 16th century plays that I have not wanted to read. Organising bills. Dealing with landlords.  Buying microwaves. Handling my gran’s death. It has been a summer of (literal) highs and lows, yet this juxtaposition forces you to question what have been the real highs, the real lows, and what’s just been the stocking fillers along the way.

Going into second year of university in which everything counts and no longer being the mystified fresher that I was this time last year, I have learnt what I really enjoy – I have learnt about me. I would much rather stay in with a bottle of port with my best friend talking about Karl Marx and philosophising about life while listening to Bob Dylan, than feeling obliged to go to some rnb/chart/house night, just because everyone else is going. Yeah, going out sometimes can be fun. Sometimes. But none of my greatest memories from first year happened inside a club. Various of them happened after a few glasses of cheap wine, various of them happened sober, but none of them in a club. None.

A few nights ago, I spent the evening lying on my bed, 7 double and Malibu and cokes down, with my friend Ewan. We were listening to Whitney and The 1975 on vinyl (which he kindly brought me, and something that has made the album even more personal). Lava lamp on, fairy lights lighting the room, E.E. Cummings nestled on the floor. The trumpets of No Woman drifted in the air, floating along the stream of alcohol that was flowing throughout my system. A certain passage resonated more loudly in that moment than it ever had before.

‘I’ve been going through a change
I might never be sure
I’m just walking in a haze
I’m not ready to turn’

Yes, times are changing. I’m not quite sure where the future is heading. I am walking through a haze. And, no, I’m not ready to fully say goodbye to my youth – not quite yet. And that’s ok. Because you don’t always have to know where life is heading. You can feel like you’re walking through a slightly mystified haze. And, as long as you embrace that change – and thus, maturity – is an inevitable destination, then this haze becomes a little less terrifying. It becomes an embrace rather than a fight, and it is an embrace that that you can’t help but surrender to.

I’m no longer the teenager who just wants to mindlessly jump around to Arctic Monkeys shouting “YOU USED TO GET IT IN YOUR FISHNETS!”. I have ambitions. I have dreams. I want to talk about philosophy and literature and feel that I, yes I, have an opinion that is worth listening to.  I am the Online Music Editor for the University paper, the Film News editor for The Indiepdent and I am the University’s Concert Band Manager. One day I’m going to have to enter the real world, and I’m going to have to be armed ready to face such a day.

While I may not be ready ‘to grow up’ and say goodbye to the drunken and tired walks home at 6am, I can see that those days have an end. It might not be today, but it’s coming. I haven’t ‘grown up’ just yet, but I feel I have entered into a new stage of my life, one in which these drunken escapades of youthful exploration laughing mindlessly in clubs feels more past than present. They feel like living memory; a haze.

Echo & the Bunnymen may have reminded us that we have ‘fate, up against our will’ and the inevitiility of life but, for now, I’ll just keep looking back at the video-montage of the golden days that has been my final summer as a teenager.

Juliette Rowsell





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