The Key’s Year-End Mania: Megan Cooper’s top ten train tracks (a commute playlist for 2017)
Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. Today, Megan Cooper shares the soundtrack that kept her sane on SEPTA.
This past year, I’ve spent a quite a bit of time on public transport. Not having a car, while splitting my life between the ‘burbs as I finished up school (woo I’m done!) and the city as I worked and went to many a gig, you could say the R5 Regional Rail line was — for better or for worse — sort of like a second home to me.
Because although SEPTA often left me shaking my fists towards the sky at impossibly excessive delays, my feelings of seething hatred would immediately melt into warmth and contentment as soon as I’d slump into my window seat — eager for the twenty or so minutes of peace to come. Devoid of road rage and panic that parking spot quests bring, train commutes are a unique kind of solitary experience where the world seems to slow down and stand still as it ironically whirs right past you. So unless you’re on your way to some event you need to get mega hyped for, abrasive and loud tracks don’t really have a place here — at least for me. Though I love me a good ole punk jam, this quiet setting is reserved for reflective mindfulness where chill, soft and introspective songs reign supreme.
So, in no particular order, here’s a list of ten songs that served as my trusty train companions this year. Ranging from laid-back and soothing, to somber and melancholic, to atmospheric and poppy, these songs will get you in your head, make you feel many a feeling, and maybe even give your brain a comforting little hug of solidarity.
Chastity Belt – “Different Now”
I don’t think there’s ever a time when I don’t want to listen to this song. Henceforth, I end up spending many a train ride jamming silently to this tune. Chill, ambient, kind of poppy, with moody vocals matched by resilient anthemic shouts for a happy-sad kind of feeling, this track is like my bread and butter of music. Not too depressing to bring you down, while not too sugar-coated or amped up to ask too much of you, this perfect medium is coolly unpretentious and low-key through its undeniable catchiness.
(Sandy) Alex G – “Powerful Man”
I don’t know why, but the first few piano notes that open this track might be my favorite part of the song. It’s like a super brief warning saying “hey, the rest of this is going to be painfully beautiful, so get ready, bud.” This track is definitely music for a particular kind of reflective head space that I find myself listening to often in the quiet and stillness of my morning train ride. Woven by lyrics detailing a bittersweet story of family, this song is heartwarming and troubled and sad and lovely; where the rising lines “I couldn’t tell you, what it means to me” and its ensuing mental cacophony amazingly mirrors the nuances and intricacies of familial relationships — particularly between siblings — while conjuring such a tangible feeling that it’ll urge you to reach for the phone and check in with that brother or sister.
Soccer Mommy – “Waiting for Cars”
Though saying the name of Sophie Allison’s bedroom pop project honestly makes me fairly uncomfortable, I became obsessed with her self-described “chill but kinda sad” lo-fi tunes this year. Her record, Collection, largely plays to hopelessly heartsick tales of falling in love with perfect strangers, and “Waiting for Cars” flows in the same blue vein. Definitely more of an evening commute track, its intro of muted guitar and sparkly piano builds an atmosphere of calm reflection where you might just find yourself dreamily romanticizing that earlier missed connection as you peer out the train window to the star-speckled sky.
Florist – “Blue Mountain Road”
Listening to Florist requires an extremely contemplative state of mind. Though I love this record with all my heart, I know I can’t just go playing it willy-nilly. Especially on train rides, and very especially on morning commutes to start the day. I have to be in a pretty securely stress-free mind space for that. However, when I am in that open, delicately-meta mindset, hearing lines like, “And being alive is not singing along / we’re looking outside of the window into the darkness of it all,” while trees and clouds blur past the smudged train window, is the best kind of bittersweet comfort.
jodi – “Remember”
The artfully plucked and threaded stream of consciousness lyrics from lines like “I say something and you reach out to touch me / feels like metacarpal karaoke” or “I’m too partial now to parse it out / feel the dirty water parting now, ” will have you rewinding and reworking the words’ meanings again and again in your head, while the steady, twangy fuzz of nostalgia grounds you in place. Plus, the nifty guitar riff at the end will make you want to do a little dance right there in your SEPTA seat.
Slaughter Beach, Dog – “Acolyte”
Whether you’re tired and need a pick me up, or are doing pretty swell and want to further bask in that golden warmth, “Acolyte” is the move. And with a country-ish beat resembling the steady rumbling of the train, this song is both a great uplifting wake-up tune for a morning commute and/or the early evening sonic remedy for a dragging day of nonsense. The tangible sincerity oozing from every corner of this perfect little love song makes it feel like the comfort food of music; the home-cooked mashed potatoes of song, if you so please.
Phoebe Bridgers – “Funeral”
I first listened to Stranger in the Alps a few months back whilst Megabus-ing across pretty PA as pink, sunsetting skies touched the vast, rural landscapes. And I think that’s the setting I’ll always associate with Phoebe Bridger’s beautiful emo-folk ballads. So rather than a short work commute trip, I recommend Bridger’s songs for lengthy travels — especially this track, which got me good from the blunt yet delicate first line. “Funeral” is for when you’re feeling blue and just want to wallow in your blueness.
Cigarettes After Sex – “K.”
This song is so lulling and atmospheric that it can offer a sense of relaxed calm even after the most tiring of days. I often found myself listening to this slinky, subdued track after leaving the library around 1 a.m. Ha so risque, I know. With my brain practically mush from writing research papers, those train trips back required stripped production and hushed vocals to soothe my exhausted noggin, which is exactly what “K.” provides.
Hazel English – “Never Going Home”
Though technically this song was first released on a different EP before being released this year, we’re just going to count it because it’s a mega jam perfect for trips to new places. With atmospheric vocals and poppy hooks, this track bubbles with a feeling of dreamy adventure that will get you psyched for whatever new journey you’re setting out for; whether interpreted as physically moving away from home, or more metaphorically as some other personal step in a new, exciting direction, “Never Going Home” will make you want to dance your way there.
Harmony Woods – “Jenkintown-Wyncote”
C’mon, I couldn’t not include this track — it’s basically Regional Rail’s theme song. Or it should be, let’s get on that, folks. One of my higher-energy commute picks, the specificity of the lyrics — from paying seven bucks for a half hour trip, or later lifting your eyes to find the outside world engulfed by a dark tunnel — along with the steadily chugging beat and driving guitar that pull the song along, offer a peppy kind of solidarity that makes me smile every goshdang time.