By Rosie Accola
Sometimes, records show up when you need them to.
After years of half-heartedly listening to poorly recorded lo-fi demos in my friends’ basements in exchange for relief from boredom on a Friday night, Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle entered my life as a record I can truly get behind. It’s a record that speaks to the nonlinearity of healing, and the relentless nature of any mental health struggle.
After a particularly draining semester, I was drawn to the lyrics of Sprained Ankle’s title track: “A sprinter/ learning to wait/ a marathon runner/ my ankles are sprained.” For the first time in months, listening to this record, to this song, I was able to relax.
Julien's set was transcendental, to say the least. She opened with “Good News,” my favorite track off of Sprained Ankle. The lyrics are one of the best depictions of anxiety that I’ve ever heard; it’s a song that is painfully affirming. That night, as Baker's voice filled the room, volleying past the balconies, I was in awe that such a powerful emotive force could be generated with just vocals and a guitar.
“This next one goes out to some friends who are here tonight, who treat me so much better than I deserve.” At this point, already in a vulnerable state thanks to the opening number being my “let’s process your feelings” song, I was a wreck.
The balding rock dad in a track jacket standing next to me looked concerned as I blubbered “I’m just really, really proud of her,” between sobs. That poor rock dad couldn’t have known that earlier that day I took Julien and some other Hooligan compatriots to all my favorite places. For all the strangeness and hurt of 2016, it was the year I learned that being proud of my friends is my favorite emotion.
The first time I heard Death Cab for Cutie, I was eleven years old. I saw the music video for “I Will Follow You into the Dark” on VH1 and quickly downloaded the song off of iTunes like a law-abiding citizen. I loved the microcosm of a narrative contained within the song and I similarly thought that 6th grade was, “as vicious as Roman rule.” Death Cab continued to be a musical touchstone for me throughout my teenage years and twenties.
Transatlanticism got me through my first facsimile of both a long-distance relationship and a break-up, “Expo ’86” is my anxiety anthem, and I like to walk to the train while listening to Plans.
Ben Gibbard’s set was a solid mix of Death Cab, solo material, covers, and Postal Service songs. Gibbard opened with “Women of the World,” an Ivor Cutler cover fitting for the current political situation, which made me grateful for his self-awareness as a listener.
Since the show itself was an acoustic set, I was skeptical as to how the techno anchors of a Postal Service track would translate into an acoustic setting, but the stripped down guitar made me realize the power of the lyrics. Without the joyful synths, I was able to comprehend how “Brand New Colony” is devastatingly romantic without resorting to platitudes.
The gravity of Gibbard’s presence didn’t hit me until he launched into the Death Cab classic, “405” and I couldn’t help but smile as I sang, “misguided by the 405/ it lead me to an alcoholic summer.”
Death Cab for Cutie is one of those bands whose discography can appear deceptively small. As the set continued I kept having to reconsider my favorite Death Cab song — it was “Cath”! No, it was “Brand New Colony”! Oh fuck, it was definitely “Soul Meets Body”, how could I forget about “Soul Meets Body”? Hearing these songs live when they usually entered my life through tiny laptop speakers was surreal; the live rendition of “Passenger Seat” gutted me. When I started listening to Death Cab, I never imagined I’d be able to one day hear “I Will Follow you Into the Dark” live. It was magical. I told my co-worker that, “Ben Gibbard was amazing and he melted my face off,” to which my co-worker responded, “I don’t know if anyone’s ever reacted to Ben Gibbard like that.”
However uncanny it may seem, I was in awe of Ben Gibbard even when he gently critiqued the skill level of a drunken crowd member’s mouth guitar. The fact that I get to write that sentence is a gift. Thus, I never realized that Ben was a breathing sentient being until he was standing in front of me. I was so used to putting “three hour Transatlanticism” on loop to study that my brain couldn’t comprehend that he was a real person, capable of banter and mannerisms just like myself
When I was younger, I couldn’t shake the feeling that music was going to act as a conduit for something greater within my life. I didn’t know what it would be, but I knew it would be important and worthwhile.
Last year, I lost some of that reverence for art. I stopped listening to records and I doubted why I bothered to go to shows in the first place. Listening to Ben Gibbard strum the final chords of “Such Great Heights” as the audience clapped along, I remembered the incredible capacity that music has to unite and heal. Ankles [get] sprained, people hurt you, but sometimes all you need is the perfect record to get back on your feet.