For this first Indie Playlist of 2022, contributors were asked to pick songs that brought them back to a particular moment in their lives. Listen at tinyurl.com/wva345xe.
‘When It Rains,’ Brad Mehldau
The moment the first raindrops start landing on the piano keys, I find myself back on Mass Ave. in Boston. Many floors beneath ground level, I stand in the cavernous metal foundry of the Mass Art building. A student, often overwhelmed, I’m at ease in this creative space.
Bursts of sparks, dark metal dust, hammers pounding on anvils, and somehow, louder than any of it, the delicate raindrops playing over the piano keys and a rich, heavy rolling bass that sounds, quite fittingly, like a giant flexing panel of sheet metal.
I’ve always heard the piano’s voice telling a story. Telling her side of a story. Calm, patient, and direct, then building with emotion, nearly tripping over herself at times. The type of things that are said when there’s no more fear and everything is laid out on the table. —Kai Potter
‘Come as You Are,’ Nirvana
Everyone remembers the first time they heard Nirvana. “Come as You Are,” from the band’s classic Nevermind album, is one of my favorites. I was a kid sitting in the back seat of my family’s car when I first heard the band on the radio. I remember excitedly asking my older brother and sister who it was that filled my eardrums.
When I was 12 or 13, I went through a grunge phase. These were some of my earliest adventures with music; for the first time, I could easily access songs online. This was also about the same time I got Guitar Hero III for my PlayStation 2. The game had some great rock hits, such as Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade,” Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow,” and “Stricken” by Disturbed. “Come as You Are” was not on Guitar Hero, but I wished it were.
I’ve always admired how Nirvana mixes the soft with the harsh. The song begins with a slow guitar buildup that leads to Kurt Cobain’s raw vocals. Then it all descends into rock madness, with heavy guitar and drumming.
Anytime I hear this jam, I am reminded of riding the bus to school or biking around town. I was too young back then to understand Cobain’s lyrics, but maybe on some level I understood the vibe of going against societal rules. That’s what grunge is all about: “raging against the machine,” without a care for what others think. —Ryan Fitzgerald
‘Beautiful,’ Carole King
Carole King’s Tapestry has woven its way through several eras of my life, but the first percussive C minor chord of “Beautiful” brings me straight back to the parking lot of my high school. It’s winter of my senior year, and my best friend and I are fogging up the windows screaming along to it as we’re leaving a football game.
“You’ve got to get up every morning/ with a smile on your face/ and show the world all the love in your heart” was a mantra on my freezing 7 a.m. drive to school in my rural Connecticut hometown. The piano is almost militant in the background of the refrain, but the song softens into silky, sustained chords as King wonders, “Maybe love can end the madness./ Maybe not, oh, but we can only try.”
Her hope is palpable, as is the growing rasp in her voice as she grits her teeth against an unfeeling world. It’s still the antidote to my Monday blues. —Abbey Dwight
‘Jesus From Texas,’ Semler
When I first heard singer-songwriter Semler’s “Jesus From Texas,” I was taken back to a time when my Google search history was filled with rephrased questions (later carefully deleted): What should I do if I think I’m gay? Will people hate me if I come out? Can you ignore it?
The song opens with Semler strumming the guitar and singing, “My mom turned 18 in the 1960s and she doesn’t remember Stonewall./ To be fair, she can’t have known I’d be her kid./ That the bricks launched at police would compel me to exist.”
Semler made history as the first openly queer artist to top the Christian music charts in 2020 with the debut EP Preacher’s Kid, which explores questions of faith and sexuality. While many queer anthems proclaim the importance of loving oneself, accepting others, and being free, few songs talk about the road to get there. “Jesus From Texas” weaves the artist’s personal experiences coming to terms with their identity into a larger conversation about queer liberation: “And I think about that now down the ballot/ Of the ones I love and I don’t know yet./ I voted for you.”
Semler writes tenderly and honestly about the heartbreaks of coming out but also ties those experiences to resolutions. The song concludes with a powerful juxtaposition: “Oh what a terrible honor it’s been/ To learn that my blessings are things you call sins.” —Michaela Chesin