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Rhythm & soul: Your white winter hymnal

By Kathleen McWilliams
On February 5, 2014

When I got the UConn Alert about classes being cancelled yesterday I was pleased to say the least. A snow day is the perfect excuse to sleep in, watch movies and listen to music for the sake of listening. By that I mean, I'm not listening to music at the gym to power through my work out, or while I study to keep my sanity. I mean listening to music in bed just to listen. If you haven't tried this before, I'm tempted to say you have a low appreciation for music, but the reality is we don't often have time to meditate through music. Music, at its best, is an experience. Listening to live music, as most concert goers understand, is an experience filled with adrenaline, and in the same vein, sitting back and listening to music can be incredibly cathartic.
When I listen to music I'm usually on the go. I'm listening to "Paris" by Magic Man while I work out, or "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire on my way to work. I don't stop and listen closely to the lyrics; it's just the background music to my busy schedule or something to focus on other than the biting February wind.
Admittedly, most music is not really contemplative thinking material. I think that one listen of "Timber" by Ke$ha is enough for me to understand what is happening and what she means. Other bands however, are more complex in their meanings and it takes a few listens to figure out exactly what the songs mean. Much like a good poem, a good song might take some effort to decode. I know my columns often focus a lot on "conscious" music choices, that is, making sure the music you listen to aligns with your values, but I challenge anyone who reads this (Hi Mom!) to take some time to spend with your music. It's often a healing experience and can leave a stressed out college student feeling refreshed. If you need a few suggestions of places to start, I'm going to recommend a few.
1. Andrew Bird- American songwriter and instrumentalist Andrew Bird is one of the few super popular indie acts that hasn't risen to mainstream acclaim in the past five years. His exquisite blends of instruments (think violins, mandolins and obscure percussion) backs up cryptic, but truthful lyrics about everything from love to mental illness. His voice is amazingly soothing and he makes for a great listen on a snowy winter day.
2. Kate Bush- Now this artist is not for the faint hearted. If cookie cutter pop music is what you gravitate towards, Kate Bush is going to be unfamiliar territory. A British artist who is largely unappreciated for her contribution to pop and indie music, Bush is an ethereal songstress who takes experimentation to new levels. "Wuthering Heights" her most popular song, is a hysterical ode to Emily Bronte's novel, and tells the story of Heathcliff and Cathy in an obnoxious, but artistic falsetto. The song is a terrible introduction to Bush and I'd recommend starting with her softer music, such as "Running Up that Hill," "The Man With the Child In His Eyes" and "Snowflake." They are delightfully pensive songs that challenge listeners to think outside of the box.
3. Lou Reed- I've said it once before and I'll say it again- no one mastered song writing like Reed. Wit? Emotion? Pain? Delight? It's all there and it all makes fantastic listening. My go-to lazy morning in bed songs are "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love." If you listen closely you'll understand why so many mourned his death and why his music transcends the punk canon.
4. Blitzen Trapper- If there is one thing I need to make clear it's the fact that I hate country music. I hate twang and flaming pickup trucks and everything else that belongs to country. Except country inspired music. Blitzen Trapper is a Portland, Ore. based band that mixes country overtones with classic folk music to produce some of the most lyrically captivating sounds in indie music. "Black River Killer" tells the story of a man wrongly accused of murder, while "Love the Way You Walk Away" discusses a toxic relationship. On the surface there is nothing to these songs, but with a closer listen meaning is revealed.

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