Music is a Breathing Force

I’ve been wanting to do an entertainment blog for a while but have admittedly been a little stuck, as I’m waiting to do larger review posts when this season is over. So for inspiration I looked up what some recent music tags have been, and I found one called “Shuffle the Music,” where bloggers will pick the first 15 songs on their music library shuffle and explain any kind of relevance or importance they are to that person’s life.

I’m going to change it up a bit though. I’m only going to do the first 5 songs that appear on my Spotify shuffle, and I’m going to explain the significance of both the song/artist and one quote from the song that resonates with my life right now.

1. “My Love Goes Free” by: Jon Foreman

“You’re a bird with a pretty mouth / You’re a bird with songs to shout.”

Besides the fact that Jon is my biggest inspiration as a writer and a man of faith, his songs always speak to me in delicate places of my heart. To me, this song is almost a Foreman equivalent to McCartney’s “Blackbird.” It’s essentially about a caged bird singing to be let free, which I think is a beautifully delicate theme that anyone who feels oppressed or underrepresented can relate to.

This particular lyric has the same sentiment that “Blackbird” has for me: I’m a reserved and composed woman, while also being one who feels the need to start new conversations. I will stop at nothing in order to get a message to others that I feel they haven’t heard enough, which is exactly the purpose of my fictional, yet autobiographical novel “Status: Untilled, Moldy Heart.” Many revisions to go before I sleep, but this is for both petite women and everyone else’s self-image issues. This novel is reassurance and victory, and hopefully my readers can rejoice in Ryden’s journey, as they reflect on how far they’ve come on their own.

 

2. “Tear in my Heart” by: Twenty One Pilots

“Sometimes you gotta bleed to know / That you’re alive and have a soul.”

Firstly, this is one of the most refreshing and unique love songs I’ve ever heard. And if there’s anything we’ve heard enough of, it’s love songs, so that means a lot. I mean, who puts romance and the government in one song? Only Tyler Joseph.

This song was one of the first ones I really gravitated towards when I discovered Twenty One Pilots (3?!) years ago. But I really love the opening line, because of how simple and important it is. Even the hard and sticky blood that comes out from heartbreak is beautiful, because it means you’re human. Sometimes you only learn great lessons when you’re bleeding for good or bad reasons. Blood = reassurance. Although I’m going to stop using that word now. Fun fact: I don’t like internal things of any kind (i.e. blood, organs).

As of right now, Gracey Rose is the tear in my heart (and I’d like to hope Jesus is too).

 

3. “Focus” by: Sigrid

“I will not degrade myself / Even if it means that we are not a we.”

Yikes. I’ve been relating to this song a lot this season through inconvenient romantic feelings (can anyone else relate?). The song is all about getting over someone you know is not beneficial for you for one reason or another.

This year, I have been so happy to have stumbled across Sigrid. She helped me through the rough draft of my novel, but also can relate to all of my hardly existent romantic problems. To me, she represents the authenticity we cannot have enough in popular culture: a bare and natural face without makeup, relatable and quirky dance moves, raw vocals, and a grounded 21 year old for younger girls to look up to, who doesn’t feel pressured to sacrifice her values for the sake of being trendy.

The highlighted lyric has always stuck out to me, and I think it’s a sentiment really lacking from female love songs. At least, this is the first time I have explicitly heard a woman sing these words. Although it’s hard to just push feelings aside, as I’ve realized lately, it’s also important to establish that your own self-respect takes precedence over feelings that can oftentimes not be based on that kind of logic. It’s a great reminder to never settle: not in feelings and romantic relationships, nor in career choices and life-altering decisions.

 

4. “Yesterday” by: The Beatles

“Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away / Now it looks as if they’re here to stay / Oh, I believe in yesterday.”

I know I said Sigrid helped me through my rough draft, but honestly I think The Beatles singlehandedly did. Not only are they mentioned a billion times in my novel, but they’re such huge icons for a reason. As many people could agree, they really represent why I love music so much. Many of their songs contain universal and breathing lyrics that are always relevant over the decades, and this song is no exception. One way I’m going to revise my book is to place a relevant Beatles lyric at the beginning of every chapter.

The transition from yesterday to today can make all the difference, whether good or bad. In one day my dog was taken away from this world, in one day I realized I had inconvenient feelings that changed my relationship with a friend, in one day I felt unsafe as a woman.

But throughout everything, I really enjoy ‘I believe in yesterday.’ I think so often we write off the past, but we would be nothing without our past decisions, nor would we have the opinions or drive for change we have today if not for yesterday. I believe in yesterday’s purpose, because it shapes  my entire life, and it has shaped how I can now live in freedom, knowing I am constantly forgiven–a forgiveness that is not based on works.

 

5. “Someone Else” by: The Greeting Committee

“And maybe you didn’t mean it / But when a dog bites, ‘sorry’ won’t stop the bleeding.”

While finding 20 new artists this past semester as an internship goal, I found The Greeting Committee. I’m still getting into their music, and truthfully, this song isn’t as well-known to me as the others I’ve listed. However, I do really love this lyric. I wrote a poem about this a few years ago, but basically even sentiments people ‘don’t mean’ can haunt a person’s thoughts for months or even years afterward. I know casual comments people said to me once have subconsciously affected me to this day.

For example, 7 years ago someone mentioned I ‘talked too much,’ and since then, I grew more reserved in nature. The good news is that comment doesn’t matter anymore: I’m more of an ambivert now than ever before (which means I can be both introverted [reserved] and extroverted [outgoing] in nature). But that’s exactly why you have to be so careful about the kinds of things you spout to others without properly thinking them through. Just because it’s not an explicitly rude comment doesn’t mean it’s an uplifting comment. We need to uplift each other as much as possible, and respect one another’s unique personalities.

What songs or lyrics do you relate to most lately? Who are your favorite artists and why? I’d love to hear thoughts on any of these topics I brought up.

Hopefully this was semi-interesting, I’ve never partaken in any kind of blog tag or trend before! Have a wonderful day, friends!

~Annah

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Top Favorite Book Series

Since giving up social media last week, I have gotten bit by the reading  bug again. Although only on my second book of the summer, I plan on growing that number rapidly, as my to-read list is also expanding exponentially.

As you can tell by the title, I thought it would be fun to talk about my favorite book series! I tend to be pretty selective about what books I want to read, especially if they’re a series. Usually I don’t chance getting into a series unless I’m pretty positive I’ll love it, so I honestly can’t think of any series I’ve read that I haven’t loved. I’m more drawn to reading standalone books.

Most of these are well-known, so instead of giving full run-downs of the books, I’m going to briefly describe them and then explain why they have meant so much to me.

1. (You guessed it) Harry Potter – 7 books

Out of all pieces of entertainment, Harry Potter has impacted my life the most. My first venture into Harry’s wizarding world was at the age of 5, when I tried to pick up and read Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, the book I had seen in all of my siblings’ hands. Although my first journey through the book lasted only a few pages, I remember being excited by the prospect of multiple books being about the same people–it was my earliest memory of encountering a book series.

Harry’s adventures have followed me over the vast majority of my life, with numerous rereads along the way (my friend and I are currently reading them aloud together, and trying to finish them before graduation). Although a common answer, Rowling has been one of my favorite authors, because she taught me the true depth of imagination and has continued to show me through Harry that despite deep grief and worldly trials, love will always come out on the winning side.

Through the ginormous phenomenon, Rowling showcased how essential children are to the literary world and how no one is too old to delve into the depths of their brain’s creativity. Childlike wonder is a valuable trait the world needs. 

2. The Hunger Games – 3 books

To me, this trilogy was one of the most unique and intriguing concepts I had ever heard of. When I first started the book, I had no idea what to expect, and was surprised and entranced by the gripping tale of a young woman thrust into a twisted national game show where she must fight other children to the death to win.

It’s no secret that I love dystopic books, and The Hunger Games series tops the ones I’ve read. The combination of politics and game shows seemed so fresh to me, and I loved the concept of a fictional world that was also plausible, by exaggerating aspects of our society. I think dystopian books can be an intriguing look into what others find as downfalls of our society, like political deceit and greed in the case of Suzanne Collins’ popular trilogy.

I think what both draws readers into dystopia and what pushes readers away from dystopia is the fact that in the midst of far-fetched tales of puzzles and violence, we can see some great and disheartening seeds of truth about the evil in our world. But that’s all the reason we root for the protagonists–because as bleak and violent as it gets, they persevere and keep fighting for what they believe is right, even if it means overthrowing a government system.

3. Percy Jackson – 5 books

Rick Riordan’s series both introduced and hooked me into Greek mythology. In middle school, pretty much everyone I knew read these books. What makes them so great is that they center upon relatable and sassy characters that attend a camp–a tangible, warming concept to most children. Riordan then pairs these unique and fun heroes with Greek stories in a fun, understandable way that also educates his audiences. I think that’s a really great example of effectively drawing children to literature and education. Personally, I haven’t read many other Greek-related works except Riordan’s, which makes his tales memorable and unique for me.

4. A Series of Unfortunate Events – 13 books

This series was another childhood, elementary-age staple. I’m also starting to realize there’s a theme in these series… education masked by imagination. Although Lemony Snicket’s writing style is quirky and much less discreet; oftentimes in his narratives he makes asides to define words for the reader within the story’s context. Some people found the writing style odd and awkward, but I thought it only enhanced the story’s voice and made readers feel closer to the lives of the three Baudelaire orphans.

I remember having to wait for a couple of these books to publish and then trying to read them as fast as I could. One friend in third grade and I read The Penultimate Peril at the same time, making it a competition to see who could read it faster. But I also know my favorite part of these books, both as a child and now, is the theme of age vs. intelligence.

For those of you who don’t know, the books center on three children who’ve lost their parents and are transferred to live with a guardian named Count Olaf, who ends up being an evil man that will do whatever it takes to get his hands on their parents’ fortune. Eventually, the adults believe that he’s evil and transfer them to another guardian, but Count Olaf continues to follow them in different disguises. The children try to convince the adults in their lives that Count Olaf is following them, but time and time again, the adults never believe them until it’s too late and he’s escaped.

Too often, adults look down on children or think they know better than others simply because of age, and I think that can cause a lot of blindness among individuals. Yet children are wiser and more valuable than we give them credit for, in mindset, attitudes, and opinions.

5. Divergent – 3 books

This is another dystopian series and one of the most controversial series out of my favorites, mostly because many people hate the ending of the last book. However, I really enjoyed this series and Allegiant was the first book I ever read that made me sob for a good five minutes. Again, the themes or plot choices in the books I like that many others tend to dislike are usually based on reality or truths we don’t like to think about. In this case, not everything is tied up in a nice bow, and that’s life really.

This is another dystopian concept I found intriguing, plus it kind of takes an idea from Harry Potter that is really interesting to me: there are different, distinctive groups/types of people. In this series, people are sorted into different factions when they turn 16, that open up certain types of societal roles for them. There is Amity (the kind), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), and Candor (the honest). But there are also the factionless, who either failed intiation tests into the different factions or refused to join theirs, and divergents, who can fit into multiple factions and are dangers to the society. As you can imagine, the story centers upon a girl, Tris, who is divergent and trying to hide that fact from the government.

6. A Great and Terrible Beauty – 3 books

I adored this trilogy in every way possible; it combines everything from fantasy to romance to adventure. I made quick work of these in high school. My favorite aspect of them is that it takes something very current and enjoyable, a fantasy world, and juxtaposes that in the midst of nineteenth century Britain. Mainly, I tend to enjoy a combination of two very different things in books, and I think that’s a great way for writers to come up with original ideas, especially in fantasy. It also had some hints of Indian culture, which has always been a subject of fascination for me. Definitely the least heard of series in my list, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a dramatic fantasy adventure.

7. The Maze Runner – 3 books

I’m in the midst of the third book now (book #2 of the summer), but I already love this series. Many people dislike it for its graphic imagery, and while I tend to be a bit squirmy with violence, James Dashner’s writing really pulls me into his dystopian world. He has one of the most vivid writing styles I have ever read, and while it’s not the most complex writing, it really allows you to empathize with the protagonist, his emotions, and all of the difficult situations he has to undergo.

This series follows a boy named Thomas, who shows up in this place called the Glade, without any memories of his past, not even his name. He and the other boys living there are stuck with no escape, surrounded by an ever-shifting maze with scary creatures that come out at nighttime. Eventually Thomas is invited to take on the most prestigious role in their little Lord of the Flies-like society: Maze Runner. His job is to help find an escape to the maze, all while getting back before sundown, when the maze doors close and offer certain death. Each book has been incredibly different, so it’s really hard to predict how the series is going to end, but I’m excited (and a little scared) to find out.

8. A Future Trilogy That Shall Not Be Named

Okay, I couldn’t resist. I’ve had a trilogy on the brain for a couple years now. It was one of those lightning-struck, I-don’t-know-where-this-came-from ideas, but I have been really excited ever since the idea landed in my head. My hesitations and reservations that prevented me from getting down to business are now quashed, as I’ve taken a novel class that has presented me with the technical plan I need to tangibly reach my goals that were only abstract before. All of the aforementioned series, with their wonderful characters, are definitely huge inspirations to my own writing. But before I can get to that trilogy…

July is Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a regular part of novelist vocab, but sounds like a weird disease to other people. Essentially, November is the original NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but July is a laidback camp variation. Normally in November, writers around the world attempt to pen 50,000 word novels in one month. But in July, writers are encouraged to work on any writing project (novels, poems, scripts, etc.) and set any kind of goal they wish (e.g. word count, page count). Writers create online “cabins” with friends or strangers, and track one another’s goal progress as a team. Community and accountability are great ways to stay motivated as a writer (and in life in general).

I’m dying to write my trilogy, but I have a standalone I need to complete first, as I’ve decided I want it to be the first glimpse readers have of my work (even though it’s completely different). Now that I already have a rough draft, my goal this July is to spend 100 hours working on revisions, which will include rewriting, revising, and researching different aspects of my story. I’m not going to lie, my characters are bursting to talk again.

So if you need me, I will be camping out at my computer, with a notebook, or with a novel in hand all month, soaking in all of the outside perspective on my story and my writing style as I can, while trying to craft a more vivid, engaging story for my future readers. When I get exhausted I just tell myself–this is for all of the petite women out there who don’t have a voice yet. Not for long.

~Annah

My Favorite Gems of 2017

As the year closes off, I wanted to take a moment to reminisce. While 2017 was emotionally draining in many ways for me, there were also golden nuggets of goodness everywhere. I wanted to highlight random bits and pieces that made this year a little brighter. Some aspects of this list are unique to 2017, while others have been around and I only just discovered them this year. While you read, feel free to come up with a list of your own, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. (…especially anything music-related!)

Song: This has two parts: my favorite song I discovered this year was “Knock on my Door” by Faouzia, but my favorite song that actually released this year was “Rhythm of Your Heart” by Marianas Trench. (Shout out to my sister Cassidy and my friend Hannah for these finds!) In both cases I think they’re great to dance to, maybe even at a New Year’s Eve party?! Sometimes a good dance party can make or break your day.

Book:The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Apparently I missed this bandwagon a few years ago… but better late than never! Rudy stole my heart and Zusak took all of my tissues, but I’m grateful and now I have my own copy. YAY! (99% of the time I only buy books that I already love and would read again/to future children. My book collection is only my absolute favorites.)

Musician/Band: Almost Monday

Still waiting for new music, because these guys ROCK. That’s all I have to say about that. *cues Forrest Gump’s voice*

Bible Verse: Hebrews 12:1-2

This verse has been the tune of my heart this year, and whenever the going gets tough I just remember ‘run with endurance’ and ‘endure for the joy’ set before me. I also shared this verse in a letter to a yellow angel named Luke, with some unique Annah annotations that I copied down in my own Bible. Keep running, friends.

Movie: I found my all-time favorite movie this year, yet it’s an oldie: Harold & Maude. Since watching it and sniggering alone in my dorm room last April, I have watched it approximately five more times. However, my favorite movie that came out this year was probably Dunkirk (which I just watched again last night!)

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Photo Credit: FanFest

It made me cry within the first five minutes, as most of my favorite entertainment does, and I thought it left a powerful impact with its unique musical rhythm and bare movie essentials. It put me constantly on edge and as empathetic as possible to situations I have never experienced. Time and time again, through literature and imagery, soldiers and their sacrifices astound me. Sometimes it seems like the ones that survive sacrifice even more than those who gave up their lives, because the remainder of their lives are transformed by tragedy. To have to rebuild sanity afterwards… I could never imagine the pain.

TV Show: Riverdale

Honestly, I watched season 1 in three days… Based on Archie comics, the dark mysteries alone will keep you watching episode after episode. They certainly know how to attract viewers, I’ll give them that.

YouTuber: Mark Ferris

Honestly, I don’t watch television. Instead, I watch YouTube, and it’s probably one of my favorite ways to unwind after a long day. I subscribe to many different people, but most are usually entertainers, comedians, or daily vloggers (video bloggers). Mark Ferris, a lanky, lovable, amiable man from Britain is probably my male alter ego. His videos make me laugh all the time, probably because we have the same sense of humor. Mostly he just makes vlogs, which I also appreciate as they’re essentially a visual alternative to blogs.

Phone App: Spotify

Most people frequently use Spotify, so it’s no secret that everyone loves this music-streaming app. However, I constantly find and adore different features of the app what seems like every week. As someone who tries to listen to anything and everything, I appreciate that they make playlists of music for you based on your interests. My favorites are “Discover Weekly,” “Release Radar,” and “Your Top Songs 2017,” kudos to a recent feature that summarizes what you listened to the most over the year and how often you listened.

Class: Intermediate Creative Nonfiction

This category is exclusive to students, but  my favorite class I took through the spring and fall this year was definitely “Intermediate Creative Nonfiction.” We focused on writing memoirs, read some great memoirs like The Glass Castle and The Mountain and the Fathers, and workshopped one another’s work. It helped me further develop my creative writing voice and allowed me to let loose with my writing humor.

Album:Self-Titled by Harry Styles

I talked about this recently, but I thoroughly enjoy Styles’ album every time I return to it. There’s no way for me to describe how much I love Styles’ musical work without it sounding corny. Basically, he’s bringing fresh work into what I would consider a ‘bland’ popular music scene. (Controversial opinion, I know…) I still appreciate techno and electronic pop sounds, but that really can never beat the sound of real instruments in my opinion. Also I just read in an interview article that Styles’ popular single “Sign of the Times” is meant to be a mom talking to her baby, so that just added another layer to an intriguing tune. I’m linking the video because the filmmaking is incredible as well! (Did I mention Styles debuted in Dunkirk?! Multi-talented at 23 years old.)

Food: Bunnies

Seriously, just go buy some of these crackers and eat the glorious food. It’s organic. 😉

Concert: Jon Foreman (9/29)

My favorite musician makes for my favorite concert. Foreman asked us for a Grand Rapids ‘Yeehaw’ and we gave it to him. My sister and I had a great night and the honest, intimate question-and-answer at the end was pretty cool. Wise words were spoken by all.

Creative Writing Piece: “Yellow Birthday” poem

I posted this in a previous blog from August with the poem’s title. This was inspired by Luke, previously mentioned. Loss: short-term sadness, long-term joy.

Event: Dance Marathon

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Back in March my college hosted this annual 24-hour event, and we raised money for the Helen DeVos children’s hospital. Money went towards casts, bills, and other medical necessities. Luke used to go to that hospital frequently; it was an incredible opportunity to support those in need. I moraled and cheered on my 24-hour dancer friends for 8 hours. We had a blast and I’ll likely participate again.

Experience: Joining flute choir

This past semester, I joined my college’s flute choir. I joined for zero credit, because flute has always been a great way to de-stress for me. As a junior, I am now officially sad I never knew about the group sooner. It has been an incredible once-a-week relaxation, with lots of laughs and smiles. I’m definitely looking forward to more fun this semester.

I always think simple pleasures are necessary, and this list definitely supports that claim. If you and I were to count the little blessings and enjoyments over the years, I think we’ll likely find that they far outweigh any pains, large or small, that have come our way. There is always more light and hope than we think in dark situations. Here is to another exciting, joy-filled year in 2018. Here is to finding the silver linings, even when our outlooks are looking grim.

Remember, you can and will persevere, you always do.

~Annah

OwlCrate December 2017

Over the past couple of years, subscription boxes have become extremely popular, especially among younger generations. You can order one, pay for a few months’ worth or buy a whole year’s worth, depending on the subscription options per box. There are all kinds of subscription boxes—beauty, fashion, literature, fandoms, and more—for children or adults, all at varying price ranges. The enticing part for many is that the box arrives each month with surprise contents, based on the themed box you ordered.

I’ve always wanted to try one, so for December I ordered a box from OwlCrate. This particular box is $35 per month, and they send you a recently published YA (young adult) novel, along with other literature-themed gifts, depending on the month’s unique theme. December’s theme was “Seize the Day.”

I will give you some brief snapshots (literally!) of what I received, before giving my review of the book, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, which I happened to read in two days!IMG_2875

I’ve never actually owned a candle before, mostly because strong scents give me headaches, and was pleasantly surprised by this candle, called “The Dreaming Tree.” It’s not too strong and contains a comforting apple scent. The blue glitter added a cute touch.

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There were a couple other reading goodies, like the OwlCrate-themed pamphlet with interviews concerning a couple of the box contributors, like Mills, as well as Mills’ autograph, her author note about the novel, a bookmark with other famous novel quotes on it, and a sneak peek into another recently published novel. I loved reading about the creators’ passions for their products and how everything included in the box was handcrafted or personalized for OwlCrate readers. I also appreciated how one box supported multiple authors, not just one.

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Other goodies included a themed pin, a novel-themed patch, a magnet, a wooden ornament, and a book planner/log for weekly or monthly reading schedules. I’ve already started using the book planner!IMG_2878

By far, my favorite inclusion was this tote bag, that’s Harry Potter-themed with a quote which reads: “Don’t let the Muggles [non-magic people] get you down.”

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Mills’ novel Foolish Hearts was a contemporary realistic fiction story that centered upon a senior named Claudia, who becomes mixed up with a new crowd through participation in her school’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Honestly, I haven’t read a high school story like this in years, so I was pretty skeptical about enjoying it at first, but I ended up loving the characters. Gideon Prewitt, the popular-yet-dorky guy ,was definitely my favorite character and many of the teenagers reminded me of former or current friends. One of the other characters is obsessed with a boy band called TION, which reminded me of my teenage years and constantly obsessing over boy bands, whether the Jonas Brothers, Allstar Weekend, One Direction, or 5 Seconds of Summer (although, if I’m honest, I’m still a fangirl). I thought TION had an uncanny resemblance to One Direction, and it turns out they were the inspiration behind the band!

I ended up giving Foolish Hearts 4 stars, because it succeeded my expectations of a teen drama/romance/contemporary story, the characters were lovable, and Mills writes dialogue in an accurate and engaging way. The characters included LGBTQ+ representation through a lesbian couple, which is an aspect of the story readers may appreciate or dislike. However, despite that topic of conflict, I think Mills’ novel is one most can identify with, whether they are currently in high school or had similar experiences when they were in high school.

The book touched upon the importance and value of relationships–not just romantically, but through friendships and family, too. I thought Mills balanced the narrative well between romance, family, and friends.

Overall, my first experience with OwlCrate was positive and I would definitely invest my money into it again in the future. The OwlCrate website features all of their previous boxes that you can browse (and buy!) for a better idea of the themes and contents. For those of you interested in subscription boxes or want to browse/know more about the concept, CrateJoy is a great resource.

I wish you all a relaxing and Merry Christmas!

~Annah

Tunes for the Treats and the Tears

Multiple albums were released throughout 2017 that kept me dancing and finger-snapping throughout every season. Muggy summer jam sessions and numb winter toe taps—music has been the glue holding each season together. These albums have kept the corners of my mouth up, the introspective thoughts pumping through my bloodstream, and the weights off of my lungs on fiery or frostbitten days.

Self-Titled by: Harry Styles

Harry Styles
Photo Credit: Billboard

Although Harry Styles is a debut album, it also happens to be the product of a young and well-versed musician. Styles compiled an addictive album that combines pop, rock, and a flavor of the Beatles’ psychedelic era. Consequently, the nostalgic sixties feel brings a seemingly “new” and attractive flavor to our popular music scene, and has brought multiple singles to the forefront of the radio’s attention.

From slower ballads like “Two Ghosts” and “Sign of the Times” to upbeat rock tunes like “Kiwi” and “Carolina,” Styles incorporates a wide diversity of musical flavor among the ten-track album. Musically, Styles has proven that his tastes expand beyond the small confines of his former band, One Direction’s, uniform pop sound. The beauty of his self-titled album is that every song has a fairly unique composition, yet subtle guitar contributions and Styles’ well-trained rustic vocals tie the tracks together nicely.

As far as mega-popular artists go, Styles tops the list for me. The majority of his songs revolve around love as one might imagine, yet he brings originality and unique taste to each track that distinguishes his work from other avid love songwriters in the industry. Besides small phrases in a couple songs, none of Styles’ music is overtly sexual, which is refreshing for the popular music scene. There are many other important topics to touch upon in music that popular artists seldom do, yet even when resorting to love songs, Styles handles it tastefully. Plus, even if his music is not your cup of tea, Styles maintains a charming, charismatic personality that makes him pretty difficult to dislike.

After Laughter by: Paramore

After Laughter
Photo Credit: Target

Who likes to dance and occasionally cry? After Laughter will hit every emotion with its diversity of song topics. Paramore, led by Hayley Williams’ bold, dynamic-careful vocals, has transitioned from punk-rock to pop-disco in this album.

Synthesizer plays a consistent role across the 12 tracks, which consist of multiple happy-sounding sad songs, like “Fake Happy” and “Hard Times.” Overall, the album tells a cohesive story, starting with upbeat tunes, lulling in the middle for sadder introspections like “26,” catching a second wind of bolder thoughts, and finishing off with “Tell me How,” which questions how to establish new perspectives from past pain.

My favorite lyrics are in “26”: “Hold onto hope if you got it / don’t let it go for nobody.” This album resonates in difficult seasons and can even help prepare for future seasons of struggle. I always think pain can never be addressed enough, and whenever musicians dive into the details, it lightens everyone’s load knowing we all share in such difficulties.

6/10 by: Dodie

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Photo Credit: Genius Lyrics

While only comprised of six songs, Dodie amazed me with 6/10. As a musician and YouTube personality, this thoughtful British woman is still establishing her path in the music scene. She managed to create a catchy album of songs that touch upon anxiety, depression, love’s attractiveness and damage, and a little instrumental thrown in!

Dodie’s voice is soft and meaningful. As I frequently enjoy watching the YouTube videos she creates, I can say that the brief album showcases her personality well. Both vulnerable mental health struggles and an unapologetic happy attitude are woven in, among her yellow-splashed cover and catchy ukulele tunes.

Most songs are pretty simple—vocals, ukulele, piano, maybe some soft drums. The words tend to speak for themselves and I value that immensely (of course). Also the lyrics “let’s write a story / be in my book” are pretty relatable. Dodie’s strength derives from beauty in simplicity.

Flicker by: Niall Horan

Flicker
Photo Credit: Niall Horan (Twitter)

First of all, I realize I’m incredibly biased towards this Irishman (he may or may not be a five year crush… a girl can dream). Also I get to see Niall and go to Ireland next year, which is INSANE.

Now, time to be an objective reviewer. Ha. My family is rolling their eyes right now.

Firstly, two things: there admittedly were more love songs than I had hoped (I could make a whole rant about how we don’t need more love songs, or at least full albums of them). Ironically, I’m incredibly proud of the lyrical content… besides “Slow Hands” and a couple f-bombs—not necessarily grandma-worthy. But Horan generally touched upon songs in a tasteful manner like Styles, his former band mate.

Throughout his debut album, Horan established a classic guitar and soft vocalist theme, similar to musicians like Jack Johnson. “On My Own,” an upbeat, Irish-flavored rock track, brings a Springsteen reminiscent sound into the album’s narrative. Flicker provides a strong value for music’s rawness, through emotional tracks like “Paper Houses” and “Flicker.” Similar to Dodie, it’s clear that Horan wants listeners to focus on the words, especially in vulnerable moments.

As a result, the authenticity in Horan’s work generates trust among listeners. It doesn’t hurt that this laidback Irishman is not boastful in his work, but seeks to transition from an immensely successful boy band to the direction of a quiet, respectable solo artist who wants his backup band to garner as much recognition as he receives daily.

 

All of these albums were worth every penny and deserve all the praise they’ve received. Thank you to each musician and music as a whole. I would not have nearly as many moments of joy without the beautiful art and its products.

~Annah

Fall Semester Book Reviews

While almost all of these books were for my English classes, there were many wonderful tales present over my semester’s worth of reading. It was a good set of fiction and nonfiction books, with a good variety for people of many tastes. In all honesty, I’ve always been someone who is not fond of nonfiction and I tend to think it’s incredibly dry, but I read some exquisite memoirs that have officially transformed my view of the genre.

Some of these books are easy reads and some require more effort and dedication, so whether you have multiple weeks of break ahead of you or only an hour after work every day, there should be something in the mix for everyone.

  1. Persuasion by: Jane Austen

Austen writes with such lovely language and this was my fourth book I’ve read by her (the others being Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma). After reading four, I can also tell you her books all center on the same ideas: a wealthy family, romance, and endings that usually have everyone coupling off. While I think men could enjoy her books as well, they are usually going to be enjoyed by females mostly.

The story centers upon Anne Elliot, one of three sisters, who’s considered an outcast in her family because she’s not as concerned about wealth or beauty. This ties in closely to Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, protagonists of Austen’s other stories. As one might guess, the novel also centers upon the theme of persuasion and how that has an impact on decision-making and interpersonal relationships in one’s life, whether positively or negatively. People who enjoy romance and the importance of individualism will find this book entertaining. I gave it four stars, as I appreciated the themes and her smart wittiness and sarcasm among dialogue.

  1. The Glass Castle by: Jeannette Walls (reread)

Initially I did not plan on including this book, only because I have read it before in high school. However, since I reread it for class this semester, I decided to review it for those of you unfamiliar with the memoir, because it is a great story (and now a movie!).

This memoir follows former gossip columnist, Jeannette Walls, through her adolescent years, as she grows up within an incredibly unconventional family who lives a rugged, unstable lifestyle always on the move. A beautiful woman with a glamorous professional career, Walls initially generated extreme shock across America with the publication of the book, because the hardships throughout her past were completely unexpected. The book begins with Walls sitting in a taxi on the way to a fancy party, when her ride stops next to a woman rooting through the dumpster: her mother. The story is authentic, unforgettable, and a page-turner for anyone who enjoys an intriguing narrative. It’s definitely a five-star story and I appreciated getting to reread it to find new details I missed the first time.

  1. Jane Eyre by: Charlotte Bronte

Last year, I saw this story come alive through my college’s musical version, but the novel contains far richer detail than the play could ever have conveyed. Jane’s story contains themes of faith, romance, and independence—not too different from Austen’s style, except less sarcastic and more genuine in character interactions. Certain aspects are even reminiscent of Les Misérables, such as Jane’s firsthand experience of different social classes and a Christian friend who permanently influences her outlook on life, similar to Jean Valjean.

Unfortunately, I had to rush through this novel in particular and was not able to give it the full attention it deserved (as anyone familiar with college knows). But anyone who enjoys Austen’s work would appreciate it, as well as anyone appreciative of feminist undertones. I gave Bronte’s book four stars, because while there were many well-written sentences and sentiments, it would not be at the top of my recommendation list for everyone, like my five-stars.

  1. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by: Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s fictional work is very science-based and reminiscent of the scientific revolution within Britain’s Victorian era. (One of my classes was British literature, as you can probably tell.) It’s a novella and a quicker read if you’re not looking for too big of a time commitment. Some might classify the story as horror or science fiction, but I also think mystery is a large part of the plot. Without sharing too much, the story focuses on good versus evil, as well as individual identity. Anyone intrigued by mystery or science fiction would enjoy this story that I rated four stars.

  1. Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir by: Donna Johnson

Johnson’s memoir centers upon the Pentecostal tent revivalist culture most prevalent throughout America in the mid-twentieth century. It forces readers to consider the religious practices and form an opinion on them, even though Johnson makes her opinions clear in this recounting of her childhood. Anyone curious to learn more about different denominations of Christianity, religion in general or aspects of culture that are lesser known would find this book a page-turner. Similar to Walls, the stories Johnson tells are extraordinary in good and bad ways. Her accounts will astonish and surprise you, especially her sentiments at the end. I gave it four stars, as it stood out as less of an objective perspective to me and the timeline was confusing—qualities I think are crucial in memoir.

  1. The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up in the Big Dry by: Joe Wilkins

Wilkins wrote this memoir about his life in the Big Dry, a place in Montana. With his father passing away while he is young, he continues to search for a father figure and his values without someone constantly there giving him direction, in this coming-of-age story. Every sentence breathes memoir covered in poetry; it’s an incredibly artistic book. Rather than a chronological story like Walls and Johnson, his is comprised of short chapters, each one a different memory. This book is great to pick up and put down if you have limited time to read, which makes it even more attractive to any kind of reader. Despite the general lack of female figures, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a woman and think it’s also an important dialogue for grasping the pressures and confinement surrounding the concept of masculinity.

This memoir was by far my favorite book I read this semester, considering I already read The Glass Castle. As my one new five-star read, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

  1. Uninvited by: Lysa TerKeurst

My friends and I are just finishing this book up as our semester ends, and it’s honestly the perfect book for group discussions. TerKeurst writes vulnerably and beautifully in this Christian book explicitly geared toward women. Concerning rejection, Uninvited speaks directly from TerKeurst’s personal experiences and how she has changed her perspective with God’s help, in order to keep the negative feeling from running her life.

I have only read a few explicitly Christian books, but I would probably give it four stars. That’s not to say it wasn’t great—it was! But certain chapters were not as engaging as others, and compared to other Christian books I’ve read, every sentence didn’t resonate as fully.

~Annah

Band Gives Monday a Good Reputation

(Note: Original title was “Almost A Growing Sensation.” Sadly, strikethroughs aren’t formatted to the title… I was bummed.)

I’m interrupting my normal blog rotation to tell you about this really special band, hot off the press of the industry. Everyone wave, because they’re likely reading this.

Almost Monday
Photo Credit: Almost Monday

A new band has entered the music fray and they are off to a strong start. Who are they? Almost Monday, a San Diego-based band comprised of Dawson Daugherty, Luke Fabry, Cole Clisby, and Michael Leto.

I had the honor of discovering this band through Switchfoot last fall. With such a genuine, introspective group of men backing Almost Monday, I can only imagine what bright, joyful personalities these guys must have. Anyone approved by Jon Foreman has to be pretty special, and that’s becoming increasingly clear to me as I witness and interact with the talent that is Almost Monday.

The band’s official debut single “Take Me Higher” aired across iTunes, Spotify, and Tidal streaming platforms Nov. 1. Plenty of praise has already been conveyed through the band’s fan base, already nearly 600 people strong. This number will quickly rise as devoted fans spread Almost Monday’s name to other friends and across social media.

However, you could never tell that “Take Me Higher” is their first official single. It exudes a confident, knowledgeable tone of a band that fully understands the music scene and has created a unique sound that fits perfectly into the present-day desires of music consumers. The combination of pop and disco-funk elements, among the synthesizer, bass dynamics, and Daugherty’s well-trained falsettos, ring with a Michael Jackson flavor that result in irresistible dancing.

From here, the potential future projects from Almost Monday seem limitless. They have already showcased their infectious, talented dynamic through one single—clearly, they could excel in many different genres. Until then, I will be streaming “Take Me Higher” on my “Jams” playlist, and I encourage you to do the same.

Follow Almost Monday on Facebook (@ALMOSTMONDAYBAND), Twitter (@ALMOSTMONDAYY), and Instagram (almost.monday) for more updates from the guys!

With a catchy musical sound and amiable personalities, Almost Monday’s just getting started and will surely be doing big things for the music scene.

~Annah