I usually can’t read while music is playing; the exception is if we’re on a long car journey – my husband needs to have peppy music playing to keep alert while he’s driving, so I have to find a Kindle book or two that I can zone out with. In day-to-day life, though, I tend to read in silence. If I find myself a little dozy and want to stay awake to get more pages read or edited, my music choices tend to be wordless: a classical compilation, or some instrumental folk. However, here’s another exception: I can read and work very well to Sigur Rós, an Icelandic indie/post-rock group who sing in Icelandic and/or Hopelandic, their invented language. For some reason Jónsi’s ethereal falsetto just washes over me and I can turn off the part of my brain that tries desperately to make English sense out of the words.
Writing is another matter. Unless I urgently need to concentrate – for instance, if I’m writing my first article for a new venue and feeling daunted and inadequate (cough, LARB, cough) – I almost always have music playing. I often turn to albums I know very well: they provide good cheer but aren’t distracting, so make for good background music. My most played tracks of all are from three playlists I made for my sister around the time of her husband’s death. I chose songs that would be meaningful and even uplifting without being in any way sappy. Examples: “The Drugs Don’t Work” (The Verve), “The Heart of Life” (John Mayer), “P.S. You Rock My World” (Eels) and “All Possibilities” (Badly Drawn Boy).
I recently discovered the play count feature on Windows Media Player and had great fun going through and seeing which individual songs and whole albums I’d played the most in the couple of years I’ve used my secondhand laptop. In some cases I was surprised, but most of these artists I could have predicted:
My 17 Most Played Albums:
Fading West, Switchfoot (32 plays)
Flat Earth Diary, Krista Detor (30 plays)
Memory Man, Aqualung (30 plays)
The Take-off and Landing of Everything, Elbow (25 plays)
You Knows It, Folk On (25 plays)
One Wild Life: Soul, Gungor (25 plays)
Barely, Krista Detor (24 plays)
Collapsible Lung, Relient K (24 plays)
Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens (23 plays)
Sparks, Imogen Heap (20 plays)
Havoc and Bright Lights, Alanis Morissette (17 plays)
Chocolate Paper Suites, Krista Detor (16 plays)
With Love, Rosie Thomas (16 plays)
Ghost Stories, Coldplay (15 plays)
Born and Raised, John Mayer (15 plays)
The Impersonator, Marc Martel (15 plays)
This Earthly Spell, Karine Polwart (15 plays)
Of course, this mostly just tells you my listening tastes. But I’d like to think these artists hit a good balance of upbeat and mellow, catchy and contemplative. Or just plain daft, in the case of comedy folk trio Folk On. If I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, my inclination might be to play albums that defined the late 1990s or early 2000s for me, from artists like Matchbox 20, Snow Patrol, Coldplay, Sting and The Verve. (Not represented on this list, but I feel like I play them all the time: Bell X1, The Bookshop Band, Duke Special, and The Shins.)
Can you read or write to music? What are some of your favorite albums to work by?
We’re moving on Monday and may be without home Internet access for a week, so I’ll be scheduling a few posts ahead in case I can’t devote much time to blogging.