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How my dad’s favorite albums helped me survive junior year

| Tuesday, May 4, 2021

I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. Even aside from the gross ways diet companies exploit people’s insecurities around the first day of every year, New Year’s resolutions seem doomed to fail. In the two decades of New Year’s Days I’ve experienced, I’ve tried my hand at a few resolutions (meditate more, keep a gratitude journal, take pictures every day) only to find myself having entirely abandoned my lofty goal in early February.

Yet everyone I know seems to undertake the Sisyphean task of a New Year’s resolution each year. This year was no different for me — I woke up on Jan. 1 and gave myself a resolution. The only difference this year is that four months later, I somehow still have not given up.

My resolution for 2021 was simply to listen to a new album each week, something I had never heard before. It didn’t matter whether it was a new release or a classic I had somehow avoided — the only rules are that it has to be something I have never listened to all the way through before, it has to be a full-length LP and I have to listen to it all the way through.

At this point I’m committed — I have a Google Sheets spreadsheet with every album I’ve listened to so far, and after each listen I note my favorite songs, write a review and rate the album out of 10. It’s hard to say why I settled on this project. I guess I felt like my most-loved records needed a bit of a break, and I needed to expand my horizons beyond Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers.

If it started out as a way to make my Apple Music “Recently Played” slightly less embarrassing, it’s developed into something much more profound.

I had a few albums I had shortlisted that got me through the end of January, but after that it became surprisingly difficult to find albums to listen to. So, I turned to others — friends and family, music critics, the occasional music TikToker. What I found in these albums was something in short supply these days: connection.

First there was “Elisabeth” by Zach Bryan, the second full-length album from the up and coming Americana star. My boyfriend, a Georgian who has helped gradually erode my knee-jerk dislike of country music, recommended I listen to Bryan, and naturally I picked the album named after me. In “Elisabeth” I found a quiet, reserved exploration of love and community. The album had me yearning for summer nights around a campfire with those I love while I was stuck writing papers in the darkest days of a South Bend winter.

Then there were my dad’s recommendations. He did radio broadcasting for many years before I was born, and has had a bigger influence on my music taste than anyone else. My friends’ first concerts were Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers, whereas my first concert was Matthew Sweet. (Not to play “I’m not like other girls” — the first album I bought with my own money was Selena Gomez & the Scene’s “Kiss & Tell,” so). He gave me albums that he grew up on that were, frankly, embarrassing omissions from my library — Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” and Elliott Smith’s “Either/Or.” I’m not going to pretend like I have anything new to say on either of those albums that a much more eloquent music critic has not already said. Listening to them felt less like discovering new songs, and more like a way to feel closer to my dad from hundreds of miles away.

Speaking of home, in March I found Iowa native Hailey Whitters’ “The Dream” on a list of 2020’s best country albums. I feel desperate to escape the endless plains of the Midwest sometimes, but listening to “The Dream” reminded me why my parents chose it as the place to raise me and my brother 20 years ago. I got some recommendations based on my friends’ favorite albums, allowing me to peek inside their heads for an hour to really understand why “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac makes them click. 

I found one album this year that even allowed me a peek inside my own head. This past year has been really difficult for me — I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and it came out in full force this year. It’s hard, it’s frustrating and it’s incredibly isolating. In one of my worst moments, Julien Baker released “Little Oblivions,” and it felt like she had opened up my chest and held my heart in her hands. She’s opened up about struggling with OCD herself, and hearing her sing about the self-sabotage, repetitive rituals and intrusive thoughts was an emotional and enlightening experience for me. Struggling with OCD can be such a lonely endeavor — as wonderful as my support system is, my family and friends just can’t really understand what I’m dealing with. In “Little Oblivions,” I found someone who understands.

This year has been really hard for everyone I know. We’ve all been robbed of time with our families and friends, of all the moments that make us feel connected to others. Music cannot solve these problems. Julien Baker made me feel less alone, but it wasn’t until I started seeing my therapist again that I actually started healing. What music can do, in the meantime, is put a hand on our shoulder and remind us that we are never really alone.

As this school year comes to a close, things are undeniably looking up. We may not be entirely out of the woods yet, but the sun is visible through the trees. Live music is coming back, and I’m hoping to be able to experience some new music with others, rather than alone in my bedroom. I still have 34 weeks to fill, though, and I’m running out of people in my life to ask, so if anyone has any album suggestions, my inbox is always open.

Ellie Konfrst is a junior majoring in political science, with minors in the Hesburgh Program for Public Service and civil & human rights. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, she’s excited that people will finally be forced to listen to all of her extremely good takes. She can be reached at [email protected] or @elliekonfrst13 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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