Posts by Lydia
Welcome to the monthly series where I write about the ideas and inspiration behind the Spotify playlists I release on the first of every month. There tends to be a personal story behind each of these, so I’ve committed to some friends, readers and myself to use this space to practice leaving my ego behind to make room for vulnerability. It’s scary being so forthcoming on the Internet, where strangers, friends and coworkers alike all reside, but I keep coming back time after time because of the responses I get from people saying thank you for writing about things that typically aren’t talked about openly. Thank YOU all for letting me open up and get real through good times and bad, time after time. On we go.
As I was working on February’s playlist in January, things all seemed to come crashing down once again.
What I hoped would be a month of new beginnings presented itself as a month of unforeseen endings. If you’re able, bear with me through this story; it’s longer than the average. But at the end of it, I hope you’ll feel a closer connection to this music, to me, and to the theme of finding change and turning points when they’re least expected.
This month’s playlist is about energy.
2018 was a tough year for me; I’ve been eager for 2019 to come around. I’m hoping to start the year with some new energy. And apparently that was no secret. I heard from some people that this playlist immediately sounded different.
It’s about balance.
Energy with calmness. Light with dark. Male with female. Lost with found. Remembering with forgetting. Equality with inequality. Love with hate. New with old. Hope with fear. Strong with delicate. You can listen for the metaphorical meanings and make your own interpretations. But this was also about the most literal forms of balance. Hip hop, Baroque guitar. New finds, old favorites. New Justin Vernon, old Justin Vernon. (Really though, Justin Vernon appears 5 times.)
It’s about a prayer.
Because I heard somebody say that the best prayer sounds like ‘Godspeed’ by Frank Ocean. And the world today gives a lot to pray for. Many of those emotions can be heard in these songs. This prayer’s for you. For me. For all of us.
Here’s to 2019.
Note: if the playlist displayed is no longer of the current month, find the appropriate month at the link below.
If you’re not familiar with Brené Brown, let me do the honor of introducing you to a wonderful woman who has dedicated her professional life to studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. Her book Daring Greatly taught me two important life lessons:
- “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
- “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
I look back at the version of myself who once wrote really honest Straight Talk Sundays regularly on here and I admire her openness and expressiveness. In the years that have passed since I contributed my thoughts regularly to this outlet, I fear the majority of that courage to be vulnerable has been lost. It feels tucked away and still not yet ready to come out fully. Perhaps someday. But for now, I’ve found the best way to express my feelings and emotions are through curating the creations of others in the form of monthly playlists (find November’s here and other months here). Today, in an effort to take one more step forward, I want to write about this month’s backstory.
The last month has been a challenging one. I’ve been dealing with some pretty debilitating health issues; I spent the majority of October either at home, in the hospital, or at doctors’ offices. I’ve had to take a good chunk of time away from work, which in itself has taken the courage to be honest with myself and put myself on the sidelines. I’ve missed my family. I’ve continued to miss my dad, who passed away over 8 years ago. I’ve missed a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
I haven’t been able to find much motivation to do many of the things I’ve always loved. It’s no secret that searching for new music is one of my favorite things to do, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my life finding pleasure in that. But I couldn’t find it in October, which is the month I use to put together November’s playlist. So this month’s playlist is mostly a collection of what I found from friends and some old favorites, accompanied by a few new findings of my own.
For reasons you can likely now understand, this month was certainly a more calming collection than some others. And it’s worth noting that these playlists are intended to be played in order as opposed to on shuffle. If you do listen in order, you may notice a sonic progression arranged a bit like that of a bell curve. It starts slow, it begins to get a bit more upbeat, peaks at the hip hop section I always save space for, then brings it back home with some slower arrangements, ending with two peaceful instrumentals and lastly a reminder from Andre 3000 and Big Boi to “hold on, be strong.”
There are songs intentionally placed next to each other that I feel were meant to be together. I imagine what a beautiful thing it would be if the artists could know what their song’s match is. To me, “I Miss You” (Branchez remix) fits perfectly beside another remix called “I Still See Your Face” by San Holo and Flaws, because don’t we all when we miss somebody? There are two Big Wild songs right next to each other, one that repeats “I do it for the love, I do it for the love” over and over again, the next repeating “show me love, show me love, show me love.” Chance the Rapper of course makes another appearance this month, and the song that follows is one he sampled in his song “Everybody’s Something” on Acid Rap. I have found myself asking the world to show me love and to remind me that “everybody’s somebody’s everything” throughout not just trying times in my own life, but also some pretty devastating times in the world around us. Just turn on the news to get a sense for what I’m talking about.
A good number of these songs were played in yoga classes that I’ve gone to as frequently as I can throughout all of this. The practice has brought me calm, community and strength. My confidence in my physical balance has been compromised throughout this journey, and while challenging, achieving different poses in yoga classes has helped me rebuild that a bit. Often led by this wonderful teacher who happens to have a phenomenal taste in music that I borrow inspiration from, I’m reminded in class to be courageous and embrace my own imperfections. And I take this next quote from Brené Brown quite literally: “When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, ‘Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again’—my gut reaction is, ‘What a badass.’” So I fall, I get up, and I keep working on my badass self. And for what it’s worth, I’m having fun finding badass new songs for December already, so I think I’m making progress!
There’s more in there, but I want to leave some for you to find or interpret on your own. With that, if you’ve listened to the music, thank you. If you’ve read these words, thank you once more. And if you’ve read these words without any judgment, thank you the most. Thanks for letting me share my feelings, my imperfections, and giving me the space to be a little courageous. It’s uncomfortable! But I hope you can hear a little more if and when you choose to listen to this and perhaps be reminded to be courageous and intentionally make space in your life for something you love as I have for music and writing. The title of Song 35 is for you.
Cover art sources that I could find: TylerSean and Emily Carstens
Straight talk: I’m a pretty anxious person. As I fear many young professionals can attest to, we live in a pretty stressful environment. Technology has totally changed the traditional way of living: constant access to email on your phone may unofficially encourage working around the clock, social media has enabled whole new levels of FOMO, and the average American thinks of their phone every eight minutes. Eight minutes! I could keep going, but you know all of this stuff, and you probably feel it too.
In an effort to deal with the anxiety this creates for me, and as I noted in my last Straight Talk Sunday, I’ve spent a lot of 2018 focusing on investing in myself.
One of my favorite days of the year is January 1st because you’re encouraged to sit down and think about what you want to focus on in the upcoming year and set goals accordingly. I love carving out the time to figure out what I want to get better at, think about what gives me energy, and find a way to hold myself accountable to doing those things.
All that said, the problem I’ve found with setting new years resolutions on January 1st is that they rarely last throughout the year. I also fundamentally disagree with the fact that one should only consider what their resolutions should be once a year. So I’ve switched my focus from annual resolutions into monthly resolutions.
The theme of my resolutions is almost always to better myself. Note: while I’m currently working on boosting my confidence and reminding myself daily that I’m a badass who’s doing a great job at this whole life thing, I also think it’s worth recognizing that there are always ways to keep improving. For example, I think I’m doing really well at work, but I know that I’m terrible at setting boundaries, taking breaks, and managing the high-stress environment that comes with a career in sales. So what happens if I hold myself to goals and activities to get better at each of these things?
For me, that led to three goals I want to focus on this year:
- Get better at managing stress and anxiety
- Make time for things that give me (and others!) joy
- Develop skills that I am passionate about
Having defined those, I set monthly intentions that aim to fulfill each of these. Here’s what I’ve done so far :
- January: Meditate 5 times a week. Meditation is a way to achieve relaxation and stress reduction by focusing your attention and eliminating a constant stream of thoughts and worries that may be causing unnecessary stress. I’ve found this to be a really effective way to control the voice in my head and become more aware of the present moment.
- February: Read before bed 5 times a week. Similar to meditation in some forms, I find reading to be relaxing, educational, and a great way to focus on a different narrative than a constant stream of thoughts and worries
- March: Run 50 miles. In the past year or so, I’ve gotten really into running. Not only is it another way of managing stress, it’s a way for me to get outside and see the beautiful city I live in. 50 miles was a relatively arbitrary number that seemed stretchy but achievable and would set me up to be in good enough shape to run a half marathon at a decent pace in early April
- April: Write 5 handwritten letters. I’ve grown up in a family that appreciates snail-mail. I still receive letters and postcards from my mom, who grew up receiving letters from her father when she moved away from home. The joy I get from receiving a handwritten letter is something I hope to always be able to experience, and I hope by putting time into this, others get to experience a similar joy
That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Future months are not planned out yet, but given I have set principles and themes that they’ll tie to, setting the intentions is relatively easy and fun.
As I look back on each of these months’ intentions, they’ve each helped me manage stress, bring me joy, and develop skills that I consider to be worth investing in. And because of that, I find myself carrying these things over into future months as much as possible. It’s April, and I still try to wake up and meditate on most days of the week, I read before bed almost every night, and running is a part of every week for me. These are things I truly enjoy, making them much more than just “one and done” activities.
The reason I share all of this is because I truly believe I’m not alone in finding being an adult in today’s world to be fun, but also really stressful. I have a great job, am surrounded by wonderful, smart and successful friends, and live in a fantastic apartment, but I’d be lying if I said I feel like I have it all figured out. I often question whether I’m on the right path, if I’m in the right place, etc. I don’t envision myself finding out the answers to those questions overnight, so I’m incredibly intentional about taking baby steps to manage stress and invest in things that give me energy. It’s on me to figure out what those things are, set intentions to do them, and to hold myself accountable. And the best way I’ve found to do that is in this process of monthly resolutions or intentions.
I hope this is helpful if you find any of these feelings to be familiar. I’d encourage you to join me on this monthly journey and share with me what you’re working on. If it helps as a starting point, here are three quick recommendations:
- Find your focus — figure out what your goals are before picking monthly intentions
- If you’re into reading, a couple books I read recently and recommend:
- If you want to start exercising more frequently, I’ve copied a cardio playlist I created and continue to update. I also recommend testing out podcasts while exercising; that was a game-changer for me. Some good ones to start with are How I Built This, 30 for 30 Podcasts, and The Moth.
Thanks for reading, and leave me a note or send me a tweet me @sunsetrearview if you do or are interested in doing something similar! Would love to hear your goals or intentions!
When people in my life these days who didn’t know me during Sunset’s peak years find out that I have a blog, they often seem surprised. “Do you still write for it?” “How do you have the time?” I get these questions frequently, and for a long time now I’ve had to answer with an ashamed “no,” quick to follow up with praise for the amazing team of writers I have who do just about every bit of work for the site today. As I venture back into writing, I wanted to share some thoughts on where I’ve been since the days when I posted on here every day.
I’m a little scared to say this, but to be totally honest, for the past year or so, I’ve been thinking about shutting the whole operation down. I’ve written many a pros/cons list about it, but I’ve never been able to get the pros to outweigh the cons. Sure, it stresses me out when the site goes down and I haven’t the slightest idea how to get it back up. The cost of maintaining the site isn’t insignificant. And I haven’t been able to make time to write as I’ve been working really hard to build my career. But staring back at me from atop the list of cons is something that’s hard to put into words, let alone a bullet point: this site is a big piece of who I am, and frankly it’s a big piece of what got to me where I am.
So where am I?
Well, I don’t really want to bore you with a long, drawn-out story…yet. So here are a few bullet points about where I am, physically and mentally. Because if you’ve been a reader of this site, you know I’m not one to hide my feelings.
- I’m 30, living in San Francisco
- I’ve built a good career since moving out here. I’ve worked at a startup, at Google, at an ad tech company, and now at Pinterest, where I lead a team of 10 salespeople
- I’m a very proud aunt of 5 (soon to be 6!) little kiddos
- Nearly 8 years after losing my dad, I still struggle most days with the sadness that comes with losing a parent
- To cope with that, I’m investing a lot of time in myself. What does that mean? I spend the majority of my time outside of work running (just ran my first marathon this year!), reading, learning about a bunch of things that interest me (more to come in future posts), meditating, taking time to be grateful for a lot of things in my life, listening to music that I love – new and old, cheering on my sports teams and exploring places around the world
- And I’m feeling pretty ready to get back into writing
So maybe you haven’t been a reader of Sunset in the past. In that case, you may be surprised to see me talk about my real emotions. Yeah, it’s been 8 years and I’m still sad. No hiding that shit. But honestly, I wasn’t always that willing to openly talk about my feelings on here. I used to simply use this platform to write about music and what I heard. I didn’t include anything about what those songs made me feel or why. Until one day I’ll never forget.
I was having a conversation with my boss at my very first job out of college. He asked me about Sunset and my vision for it. After hearing my ambitions, he told me quite simply that he didn’t think I was going to be able to achieve them. Umm…what? My heart sank. Truthfully, I was offended. I was putting so much time and effort into this website and, just like that, he had the right to tell me it wasn’t going to work?
But I let him keep talking. He said that without injecting my own personality or emotions into the site, there was nothing to separate my blog from every other music blog on the Internet. I shared with him my fear of exposure, particularly as a female writer. He wasn’t entirely insensitive to that, as he understood that at the time it was a bit scary to put a picture of your face on the open web (I’m aging myself a bit here), but was able to convince me of the benefit of making your true self visible to the people you’re writing for.
Truthfully, it was a major turning point in my life. He was right. As soon as I put my personality into my writing, it began a conversation. I became connected to other writers, to readers, and perhaps most importantly to myself. Eventually, Sunset became about a lot more to me than just finding new music and writing about it. It became an outlet for me to share my feelings, which ranged from excitement to extreme sadness when returning to writing after my dad passed away in 2010. But the more I put out there, the more I heard back from people who were reading. People understood me, and on many occasions were able to sympathize and/or empathize with me, which got me through a lot of hard times. They celebrated with me when an artist I had been writing about began to “go viral.” They encouraged me to keep going, keep writing, and keep investing in the site.
When I interviewed for my first role at Pinterest, I remember being asked what I’m most proud of in my life. I loved that question, and it was an easy one for me to answer. Sunset. It’s something that I worked really hard to build. Among many other things, it taught me the importance of never giving up, of teaching myself new skills when I’ve felt challenged, and of investing time in myself and my own dreams, because even if they’re not what pays my bills, sometimes they’re everything I need outside of what pays the bills.
So as I’m sitting here in my apartment on a Sunday evening, reflecting on my weekend, my life, and where I am today, I realize that I owe it to myself to keep investing in this website and, in return, in myself. Because I’m pretty damn grateful for this website and all of the opportunities it has given me. It’s a part of me. And I hope it’s a small part of you. Or at the very least, that it’s been able to give you the smallest bit of joy, because at the end of the day, that’s what this thing is all about.
More to come from me later, but for now, will leave you with a short playlist of some of my favorite songs I’ve collected and written about over the past 9 years of writing for Sunset.
Hello, strangers! It has been a minute since I last posted, but in celebration of Sunset coming back from being down for a few weeks and [gasp!] finally being mobile friendly (I beg you, disregard the fact that I work in digital media and have had a non-mobile friendly website for the past 9 years), I am back! I am committing to writing a longer piece soon about where I’ve been, what I’ve gotten into, my thoughts on life, all that. But for now, I wanted to get back to my roots of introducing you to some music that’s moving me at the moment.
While I was out on a run this morning listening to a 60 Minutes Podcast (yes, I am old, and yes, I admit to listening to podcasts rather than music as I run now; again, more on that later when I share some thoughts on life), I was introduced to the Zomba Prison Project. Before continuing to read this, I recommend pressing play on the Spotify player below to get a taste of what this group sounds like. I was immediately captivated by the familiarity of the instrumentals and — despite my inability to understand one word — the soft nature of the vocals. Sure, the song titles of some tracks are a bit jarring, but without knowing anything more than what the music sounds like, I’d have had no idea what I was about to find out: this entire album is written and performed by a prisoners at a maximum security prison in Malawi.
The album was recorded and produced by Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan and his wife, who set out to travel the world in pursuit of talented artists. If I was a betting woman, I’d put my money on the fact that they were pleasantly surprised when they stumbled across the talent they found at Zomba Prison. Built in the 19th century and designed to hold 340 people, the prison is home to over two thousand Malawian prisoners, most of whom have been given life sentences.
When invited to create music, one woman volunteered and sang a song that displayed vulnerability and sadness of her situation. Following her lead, the floodgates opened, and many other prisoners volunteered to tell their stories via song. What resulted is a collection of stories I cannot translate, but that one can hear the beauty and a mix of sadness and hope in. As mentioned in 60 Minutes, these prisoners turn to music to find an escape, but as soon as the music stops, a harsh reality sets in.
In 2016, this album was nominated for a Grammy for Best World Music Album. While it didn’t win, the inmates at the Zomba Prison were given a cause for celebration. And if you allow yourself to let go of preconceived notions and recognize music for what it is — a universal language of unity — that’s a pretty beautiful thing.
A lot of people who read Sunset have asked me where I’ve been; it’s been a long time since I’ve published an article. To start, I’ve been working at my day job. I’m not sure if people know that Sunset was never my full-time job. Earlier in my career, I just used to have more time to spend on it. For years, I would go to work, go home, and sit down to work on Sunset for several hours. Every day. Weekends were mostly full of listening and writing.
But after moving to San Francisco from North Carolina, this evening time started slipping away from me. The culture out here in San Francisco is very different. Work hours are longer, social calendars are more demanding, and weekends spent inside typing away on a computer are much more guilt inducing. There were a few years when I really resented that fact about my life in San Francisco. But I’ve grown into it. Two years ago, I found a job that I really care about (if you care to know, I work on the media partnerships team at Pinterest…a fancy way of saying I sell ads. And yes, somehow I care about that…), and I am devoted to advancing my career.
So what brings me back today, over two years later? Well, to begin with, I’ve still been here behind the scenes. I still contribute to the monthly playlists that Jordan puts together, help find new writers for the site, and, well, I still pay the bills. Yes, I do see the tweets and Facebook message from folks asking if I still accept submissions. I apologize for not responding to all of them; it’s just a shortage of time. But I still choose my own path of music discovery (often through my writers’ picks, honestly) and I often happen across a gem. I’ll almost always post them here. That happened for me recently, and that’s why I’m back here writing today.
I first heard of Jessie Reyez a few months ago as I was watching Pigeons & Planes coverage from SXSW. I’m pretty sure I was watching their Instagram story; funny to think that’s one of my ways of discovering music today. When I started this thing, I was using MySpace to discover most of the artists I wrote about. That’s a great reminder of how long this site has been around for (almost a decade!).
As I was watching the footage of Jessie for the first time, I saw this uniquely beautiful young artist with a stunning voice, a natural gentle strum of her guitar, and beneath those things, a distinct sense of anger, authenticity and emotion in her delivery that I couldn’t forget. I was hooked almost immediately.
I got the opportunity to see Jessie live in San Francisco this past Thursday night at Rickshaw Stop. For context, Rickshaw Stop is one of the smaller venues in San Francisco, but it packed a pretty good punch on Thursday night for the sold out show. First, let me just say that I was again reminded of my age when I saw the crowd lined up at the door. This happens at most concerts I go to, but as I stood there in the line to get into the venue in my work clothes with my laptop and all, I felt myself longing for my younger days when I could devote more of my time to my passion for music. This feeling crept into my thoughts again as I realized it was after 10pm and still no sign of Jessie. When is a girl to sleep?? Alas, I digress.
When she did come out on stage, I saw just what I hoped to see. A young artist with a hell of a lot of swagger who truly seemed excited to be up on that stage. She started the show with a hat covering most of her face while she sang “Fuck It,” and as the show went on, we saw a few different variations of her look. Hat went away, hair went up, hair came back down, sweatshirt came off – all matched the mood of the music. But through it all, we heard and saw Jessie telling her story of where she came from. She brought the attitude — and then some — that hooked me that day I stumbled across her as I was perusing Instagram. The common “fucks” she throws into her lyrics were delivered like a threat; Jessie was here to tell her story with a vengeance.
I came across this feel-good track the other day by Nic Hanson called “Rain.” It’s got elements of Mayer Hawthorne, Robin Thicke, and Raphael Saadiq with a pop-infused soul vibe.
When I asked Nic Hanson what he had to say about the track, he touched on the track’s inspiration and the benefits of being a creative, independent artist:
“Rain” is like the stuff that plays in my head all the time. I love that vibe and grooviness that came with 90’s R&B but I like the heaviness of today’s music. I like to leave a raw sound – a kind of imperfection – on my songs. I feel that people like me have a tendency to wait too long, THINKING about the right time to do something, wanting everything to line up perfectly. I’m tired of waiting and thinking about creating my art. I just want to create more. I just wanna DO it. That to me is one of the beauties of being an independent artist, having the ability to move at any pace you want.
There’s a huge amount of demand for this type of drive and vibe today, so Nic Hanson may have a bright future ahead of him. He’s worth putting on your radar.
One of the things I find hardest about music blogging is finding a song that at first makes me think “oh shit, this is beautiful,” but then the vocals enter and the song is ruined. It happens far more often than I’m comfortable with, but I will say that it’s overshadowed by the amazing feeling that comes when you hear another song with a beautiful intro that’s accompanied by vocals that give you chills.
Luckily I stumbled across the latter yesterday when I heard this song “Run” by Rebecca Peters. She reminds me quite a bit of Florence + the Machine with her powerful vocals, emotional lyrics and rich instrumentals. If there’s any artist a new indie singer-songwriter wants to be compared to on the market, Florence might be the one; that’s a powerful endorsement that I wouldn’t throw around lightly.
As someone who has loved music and writing since she was a little girl, Rebecca Peters worked up the courage to quit her full-time job in advertising to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter based in Sacramento. She’s won a bunch of small-town awards in Northern California, but she’ll soon be moving to Los Angeles to try to take her career as a musician to the next level. “Run” is her first official single, and if it’s a sign of what’s to come, she’s got a bright future ahead of her.
Gnash continues to prove to me why he’s one of my favorite artists of 2016 with his latest track “Wake Up,” featuring Chelsea Cutler and Goody Grace. What stands out to me the most is the versatility of his sounds and yet consistency of his message. His lyrics are ones that anybody who has ever gone through love and heartbreak can relate to, but his sonic compositions have ranged from electronic, quasi-hip hop, and a pure indie songwriter sound with his recognizably smooth voice, as heard in today’s release. Fact is, no matter the approach, the outcome is always beautiful, which is why I’m incredibly bullish on Gnash.
Hit the jump for the lyrics.
I love the looks I get when people first find out how much I love hip hop. What I love even more than that is convincing hip hop haters that they can like the genre too. One of the artists I’m quick to introduce them to is Seattle rapper Sol. He tends to create very melodic hip-hop music that borders pop music. He just put out two new tracks called “100 Songs” and “Happiness” that I’m sure just about any can get behind. Check for yourself, and listen closely to the lyrics on “Happiness.” So good.
I love it when I hear a song and immediately know that I’ve found something special. Something cool, different.
I’m onto something tonight upon learning of Teddy Sinclair, whose name you may not be familiar with just yet, but whose work you just might be. She co-wrote “Kiss It Better” on Rihanna’s latest album Anti and “Holy Water” on Madonna’s album Rebel Heart. She has recently formed a band with her husband, Willy Moon, called Cruel Youth. In her own words, “Cruel Youth is an intravenous hit of our love and everything I find beautiful.”
Mr. Watson is their debut song together. It’s artful, it’s soulful, it’s mysterious, and for that it’s earning itself multiple plays this Friday evening.
Hit the jump for lyrics to Mr. Watson.