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Music Is Medicine


Music has been an intrinsic artform for humanity for millennia. Fragments of ancient musical instruments have been found that date back thirty-five thousand years. It's even believed that music predates language. Regardless of which civilisation you examine, music will always remain firmly central to its culture. “Music may be the activity that prepared our pre-human ancestors for speech communication and for the very cognitive, representational flexibility necessary to become humans.” - Daniel J. Levitin, author of the excellent This Is Your Brain on Music.


It's widely agreed that music is good for the soul. I simply don't know what I would do without it; it has so often rescued me from an otherwise melancholy journey, miserable day or bad mood. It uplifts and connects us, and I find that fascinating. Generally, the kind of music that soothes us has its roots in our previous positive experiences with music in in our lives. Once again in the words of Daniel J. Levitin:- "We take pleasure in the sensory experience, and find comfort in its familiarity and the safety that familiarity brings." When we are in need, we turn to music as medicine; an on-demand dose of whatever will raise our spirits in auditory form.


Below are five exemplary pieces of music I'd like to share that I'll often prescribe myself, and which never fail to improve my mood.


Fleet Foxes | Featherweight


A standout single from Fleet Foxes' 2020 album Shore; Featherweight is a hopeful reflection in a world in turmoil. Along with the rest of the album, the message Featherweight tells is that, despite how bad things may seem, it will pass, and things will change; and this is echoed repeatedly in the chorus:


May the last long year be forgiven / All that war left within it

I couldn't, though I'm beginning to / And we've only made it together

Feel some change in the weather / I couldn't, though I'm beginning to.


I could say this for many Fleet Foxes tracks, but upon listening to this song I am transported away from whatever is troubling me into some serene, magical, warm place of comfort. Robin Pecknold's songwriting and performances never fail to heal me. (I've chosen to include a live version for this article, but be sure to also watch the incredible official music video for this song.)


Geowulf | Saltwater


I've only fairly recently discovered Geowulf, but they have quickly risen to become one of my favourite bands of late. They fall into the dreampop/chillwave genre, which is renowned for its heavy use of echo and reverb in both its vocals and instrumentals. The result of this is that the music gains an ethereal and dreamlike essence. I find a lot of music in this genre very comforting, as they have a strange nostalgic warmth to them. Saltwater is Geowulf's biggest hit, and I think the mesmerising chorus is to thank for that. It's infectiously catchy, with an inviting sound that I can't help but smile to whenever I hear it. It's like being wrapped in a big blanket of vague, dreamy familiarity.


Vampire Weekend | Hannah Hunt


An uncharacteristically slow song for Vampire Weekend, Hannah Hunt is perhaps one of their greatest. I always look forward to the one-two punch duo of the songs Hannah Hunt and Everlasting Arms in their 2013 album, Modern Vampires of the City. It's intimate and peaceful, gradually building up to a more energetic crescendo (around the 2:20 mark if you're watching the live version below) that acts as an excellent finale for the song. Frontman Ezra Koenig's signature vocals are immediately appealing, but the standout element of this song is arguably the piano, which takes centre stage between the vocal segments.


Jack Johnson | As I Was Saying


You could easily accuse Jack Johnson of not innovating or shaking things up in his 20+ years of releasing music. I beg to differ though; I think that he had a good thing going, and has simply continued to perfect his craft. The pinnacle of his work for me is As I Was Saying, a hopeful serenade about fighting through the trials and tribulations of a relationship, and that "this is worth saving". A few of the final lines of the song always stick with me as a poetic and sanguine message:


I've been erasing / Rewrote the second half like this

So my protagonist might find his way back home.


As someone who tries to remain optimistic about the world, this resonates with me and reminds me to remain so, even when it's often increasingly hard to do so.


Courtney Barnett | Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party


Courtney Barnett is one of the greatest singer/songwriters around right now, and there are a plethora of her songs that I could have chosen for this spot. I think I ultimately settled on this as it's emblematic of the best of what Courtney has to offer. The opening guitar riff is contagiously energetic, and it sets the tone for the rest of the song. Her lyrics are excellent here as ever as she manages to blend witty, amusing everyday anecdotes and catchy choruses to great effect, with the central "I wanna go out but I wanna stay home" being an undoubtedly relatable dilemma that I'm sure many people can get behind. This song simply never fails to stimulate me - it's a three minute-long pep talk available on demand. I also find it almost impossible not to attempt a terrible Aussie accent as I sing along to Courtney's tunes, which is always amusing.


So - self-administer yourself some feelgood. Continue to listen to your favourite songs on repeat, because there's no overdosing from this treatment.

 

FURTHER READING


Can't get enough of this topic? Well, I've got some good news for you. I've put together a short list of related articles, videos and other content from around the web that is related to what I've written about. Feel free to click away and take your brain on an adventure.


Your Brain on Music | Daniel Levitin, ideacity, YouTube


What does music do to the brain, body and soul? Scottish Ensemble


Review: Jack Johnson's From Here to Now to You | Caitlin Carter, Music Times


Music is good for the soul - and music therapy is good for the body | Unbound


Saltwater by Geowulf Review | Indie Accent


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