Compiled and edited by Saskia Maxwell Keller
Contributors to our first-ever Indie Playlist were given minimal instructions: choose a song or music video that you love and tell us about it. The songs and pieces they picked are varied in terms of genre and mood. Catch it on the Independent’s YouTube channel, under “Playlists”: tinyurl.com/y6tbob6y.
“Take Me Back,” Sarah Jarosz
I listened to Sarah Jarosz’s “Take Me Back” on repeat while driving cross-country this past summer. The song, with its harmonized vocals, is beautifully nostalgic. The lyrics evoke a wish to go back, to be somewhere else, which seems perfect for this time.
She pairs these wistful lyrics with subtle chord progressions and virtuosic guitar. Over it, her voice is heard, thoughtful and distinct.
Jarosz had a recording contract by the end of high school. In 2013, she graduated with honors from the New England Conservatory. While there, she has said, her “ear was stretched to consider more harmonic possibilities.”
Listen to this track a few times, or a few dozen. You’ll begin to hear the careful way she has chosen her words, and the quirkiness of the accompaniment. Like all great songs, it improves with repetition. —Désirée Elsevier
Camille Saint-Saëns, Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor, 3rd movement, Julia Fischer and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie
This electrifying performance is a revelation on several levels: the shamefully underrated Saint-Saëns at the peak of his Romantic powers, and the drop-dead gorgeous Julia Fischer nailing the finale with her impeccable technique, intelligence, and passion.
It’s a mystery why the German-Slovak Fischer, only 29 in this recording, isn’t better known in the U.S. Perhaps it is because she is equally gifted as a violinist and pianist, and doesn’t fit into any neat category.
The cameras capture many striking moments. One of my favorites is at around 3:30, when Fischer is not playing but reacting to the orchestra of young musicians surrounding her, who must have been thrilled by her presence. —Edward Miller
“zombie girl,” Adrianne Lenker
Adrianne Lenker writes her songs from a place we all know but inhabit only fleetingly. “Silence” is a good word for it, but Lenker supplies others: “heavy focus,” “emptiness.”
In the “zombie girl” video, we catch glimpses of the secluded Berkshires cabin where she recorded her two newest projects, songs and instrumentals. A shaky camera walks us through the woods, zooming in on trees and purple sky.
In the song, Lenker describes waking from a dream in which she’s visited by an ex-girlfriend. She interrogates the “emptiness” that follows her in the wake of the breakup. Perceptive listeners might hear Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” in the melody. Lenker shows us how to listen to our solitude, even the uncomfortable parts. —Will Powers
“Solo? Repeat!” Anne Müller
“Solo? Repeat!” is part of the album Heliopause, by Berlin-based cellist Anne Müller. Though classically trained, Müller crosses over into the pop realm, working with artists such as Nils Frahm and Agnes Obel.
Heliopause is a solo album in the truest sense. It was composed, recorded, and produced by Müller. You can hear this in “Solo? Repeat!” as it loops and builds upon itself.
The beginning is very vulnerable. You can hear the brushiness of the bow, and the tapping of Müller’s fingers.
Then Müller begins playing a sequence of arpeggiated chords. Down in the depths, a beat comes in. On top, Müller floats a melody and adds layered harmonies.
With each permutation, it gains momentum and, seemingly, confidence. Perhaps that is why it’s so satisfying to listen to. —Saskia Maxwell Keller
“More Than My Hometown,” Morgan Wallen
Authentic country music is about narrative — which is what Morgan Wallen, country’s mulleted wunderkind, serves up perfectly in “More Than My Hometown.”
Wallen’s small-town love interest wants adventure, bright lights, and paved avenues. He doesn’t: “You got a wild in your eyes that I just wasn’t born with/ I’m a same gas station cup of coffee in the morning.” He loves his woman more than most things — “More than a California sunset/ More than a beer when you ain’t 21 yet” — but his hook and heartbreaker: “This might be the last time I get to lay you down/ I can’t love you more than my home town.”
Wallen’s guitar thrills; his voice soothes; his twang might take the cake as country’s thickest. But on the first, second, tenth listening, his lyrics are the showstopper: clever and light, with enough twists to justify that 11th replay, and enough longing to bring someone to mind. —Josephine de La Bruyère
J.S. Bach, “Goldberg Variations,” recorded by Glenn Gould in 1955
I first heard Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” — an aria, or theme, with 30 variations, commissioned by a German count with insomnia for a harpsichordist named Goldberg — at the New York City Ballet as a child. My parents had brought me to see Jerome Robbins’s ballet of the same name. At that performance, Bach’s composition was played on harpsichord — a keyboard instrument that cannot vary in volume — and, not surprisingly, my parents and I dozed off.
As an adolescent, I bought an LP of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the variations, which offered an entirely different experience. I was hooked.
The eccentric Gould, playing on piano — an instrument more expressive than the harpsichord — took a rarely recorded piece that resembled an étude in its simplicity, sped it up, pared it down (eliminating repeats), and turned it into something sublime. His playing can be as wistful as a birdsong, then trill with verve. —Howard Karren
“Lingus,” Snarky Puppy
In 2014, the Grammy award-winning ensemble Snarky Puppy filmed one of the most incredible music sessions of the decade — “Lingus.” The horn section, four keyboardists, three guitar players, two drummers, and bassist take you on a journey that is both planned and masterfully improvised.
At the start, a dirty synth bass and hard-hitting beat lays down a foundation for the mountain of funk that ensues. And they don’t let you down.
The band moves smoothly from a dragging funk section to an uplifting Latin groove. When the legendary organist Cory Henry delivers an out-of-this-world solo over the drumbeat, the beauty of live performance and improvisation is on full display. —Johnny Liesman