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Saudade: Three Albums to Unlock a Certain Nostalgia

todayApril 1, 2021 1

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By Daniel Barrett
Music Journalist

In one way or another, we’ve all made sacrifices over the past ten-or-so months. “Sacrifice” is a broad word, and it means something different to everyone, but to some degree, we’ve all had to adjust to the world around us. The biggest part of that adjustment has come in the form of who we see and where we go.

 This isn’t news to anyone at this point, but as it turns out, those two things are vital in the way we perceive our own lives. The people and places around you shape your experiences and help to mold your ever-growing personality.

So, what happens when those things are completely cut out of your life without warning? For me, it was an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. My mind would wander to my favorite memories with the people I missed most and the places that I would kill to go back to.

It was a mix of melancholy and euphoria, examining the fondest corners of my mind, while simultaneously realizing that I had never felt further away from that kind of joy.

As I came to learn a few months after this initial reflection, this sensation is called “saudade.” Portuguese in origin, this word is normally brought up when describing different forms of art. I find that use to be very fitting, considering the only other time I’ve felt like I did months ago, is when I’m listening to music.

 All types of music serve different purposes and cater to a variety of moods, but “Saudade Music” (a term that I made up 5 seconds ago) is all I’ve been listening to lately.

What’s so interesting about this type of music is that it’s different for everyone. There is no singular genre that encapsulates the feeling, and no one person will ever respond the same way to a particular piece of music. With that in mind, here are 3 albums that never fail to strike that specific chord with me.

Light Upon the Lake – Whitney

If I was trying to convey the essence of Saudade to someone unaware of its meaning, Whitney would be my ace in the hole. More specifically, I would throw on their 2016 debut record, Light Upon the Lake.

Ranging from soft, pining lullabies to classic-rock-infused folk tunes, this album is bittersweet to its core. The production is warm and intimate, as each track is layered with a slight muffle that adds a sort of haziness to the experience.

For as understated as their collective sound is, Whitney has so much going on instrumentally on this project. The acoustic and bass guitars are essentially attached at the hip with how their riffs seamlessly blend into one another and they serve as the immediate backdrop for just about every track on the album.

The electric guitar is all over this record as well, but it’s never overly flashy. There may not be an excess of fancy pedal work and guitar solos, but it’s perfect, whining tone adds a whole new element to the band’s melodic capabilities.

With sparkling keys, soulful trumpets and smooth drums thrown into the mix, there is a certain cohesion to this album’s sound that plays like one singular unit rather than a bunch of individual pieces.

Instrumentation and production are vital to creating Light Upon the Lake’s nostalgic atmosphere, but what truly defines this album is its vocal performance from lead singer and drummer, Julien Ehrlich.

Equal parts charming and sorrowful, every extended note that Ehrlich lets out sounds as if he’s bearing his entire soul to the listener. Just like the rest of the group, his voice isn’t particularly powerful or excessive, yet he’s able to express so much vivid emotion through his tone.

It’s longing and wistful, but so overwhelmingly inviting at the same time. Ehrlich’s presence on this album is like a distant memory being carried away by the wind.

Light Upon the Lake encapsulates a yearning for companionship and self-discovery. Its doleful moments are never too grief-stricken, and its periods of joy are never sugar-sweet. The beauty of this album lies in its disinterest in telling the listener how to feel. It just wants us to feel something.

Top 3 Songs:

-“Dave’s Song”

-“On My Own”

-“Golden Days”

The Sun’s Tirade – Isaiah Rashad

The album cover is an animated graphic of Isaiah Rashad floating above an orange convertible car in front of a cloudy night skyline
Isaiah Rashad’s second studio album, The Sun’s Tirade. Photo via The Sun’s Tirade album cover.

It can be so easy to get caught up in all the external facets of our lives. So often, we define ourselves by where we’re living, what we’ve accomplished, who we know and what’s next on the agenda.

It’s so easy to perceive our surroundings and responsibilities because we’re faced with them every single day. To manicure the world around us, it’s just as easy to lose sight of how we change internally.

Interests can shift, habits can form, and our entire personality can rework itself without us even realizing it. Sometimes these changes are for the better, but in many cases, we’re liable to slip into a version of ourselves that we aren’t especially proud of.

In moments like this, nostalgia is no longer a window into our fondest memories of the past. It’s a harsh reminder of a time when we felt more like our real selves.

Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade is essentially a thesis on this exact reality. Through his short, but illustrious career, Rashad has never shied away from honest depictions of mental health struggles.

Although his debut record Cilvia Demo is regarded as a cult classic among fans, 2016’s The Sun’s Tirade has always resonated with me on a greater level.

Smooth and cool to its core, TST combats its heavy subject matter with jazz, funk, and hip-hop fusion that feels fresh and timeless no matter how many re-listens you give it. Its laid-back, carefree aesthetic does a good job in reflecting Rashad’s chilled-out demeanor, but it also serves as a shield for his more tortured psychology.

Depression, anxiety, drug addiction, complacency and self-doubt are all themes scattered across the album. Rashad is so blunt in the way that he presents these topics, to the point where portions of the songwriting come off more like diary entries than actual lyrics.

He struggles with the newfound sense of responsibility that comes with being a father and appeasing a growing fanbase. Rather than rising to the occasion, Rashad feels, in many ways, that he’s crumbling beneath the weight of heavy expectations.

Life is moving too quickly for him and he can’t help but reminisce on days of his youth when life didn’t seem so impossible. Rashad describes his drug use as an escape of sorts, but as he continues to reflect on his perceived shortcomings, he realizes that he doesn’t recognize the person he’s become.

TST isn’t all doom and gloom though, in fact, Rashad does a phenomenal job balancing the album’s darker moments with loads of personality and wit. His self-awareness provides such a relatable quality to his songwriting because he doesn’t present himself as the conventional “good guy” in every scenario.

Rashad is fully aware of his flaws, and even though he struggles to embrace them, he doesn’t mind having some fun with them either.

We don’t have to be in Isaiah Rashad’s shoes to see ourselves in his album. The circumstances may differ, but the fears and anxieties that he’s speaking on are universal.

When we go through long periods of self-doubt, it’s hard not to lose a piece of what makes us, us. Losing that spark for life is disheartening and scary, and thinking back to a more simple time in our lives can be easier than facing-off with our current reality. No, that may not be the permanent solution, but sometimes it’s just nice to reminisce.

Top 3 Songs:

-Dressed Like Rappers

-Silkk da Shocka

-4r Da Squaw

 Teen Dream – Beach House

The album cover is a yellow and whote striped print
Beach House’s third studio album, Teen Dream. Photo via Teen Dream album cover.

To my best understanding, Saudade is very much rooted in deep, all-encompassing love. Nostalgia would not exist without having something or someone worth missing.

When I start to miss someone, I like to create fake scenarios in my head, imagining what it’ll be like to see them for the first time again. It’s this romanticization of life that often goes far beyond what reality is willing to give us.

Teen Dream by Beach House is, as its title would suggest, one of the dreamiest bodies of work ever put together. Known largely for their more shadowy, somber brand of dream-pop, Beach House leans fully into etherealness with 2010’s Teen Dream.

Their hazy, atmospheric sound manages to make you feel like you’re sprawled out on a tropical island while simultaneously drifting through outer space. Each track on this album is luscious and complex, layered with slide guitars, drum machines and keyboards galore. It presents itself as romantic and blissful, even if the songwriting doesn’t reflect the same nature.

That gets me to what I love most about this album.

I was around fifteen when I first discovered this album. It was my introduction to Beach House, and it was one of the most euphoric things I had ever experienced at that age.

When I went to go listen to the other albums in their discography, I was surprised to discover that nothing else was nearly as bright and playful as Teen Dream.

Most of their other work was slow, moody, and frankly, a little depressing. I continued listening to Teen Dream for years to come, always under the impression that it was the uplifting anomaly of their catalog.

It wasn’t until years later, when I became a fan of the rest of their work, that I realized how wrong I was. I did a deep dive into the album’s songwriting, and I started to understand what I had been blissfully ignorant to for so long.

This wasn’t a love letter to the beautiful days of their youth. It was clinging to a naïve fantasy that had already passed them by. It’s a deep ache to relive glory days that may not have ever existed.

Lead singer and keyboardist, Victoria Legrand, serves as a constant reminder of this harsh reality. She has a ghostly presence on each track that’s every bit as haunting as it is tender.

Her voice isn’t overly expressive in the conventional sense, yet she’s able to produce gut-punches of emotion in every syllable. The way that Legrand rises from the very back of the mix and carries to the forefront of every track creates such a vastness to the album’s atmosphere.

My favorite pieces of music tend to be the ones that paint painful subjects in a beautiful light. Teen Dream is a sweeping, cascading, soaring depiction of hard truths and regret. It injects you with a sensational high initially but brings you crashing back down to earth with repeated listens.

 It’s a tale of caution about romanticizing memories, under the guise of a gutting romance soundtrack. Beauty is only what we perceive it to be.

Top 5 Songs (3 isn’t enough):

-“Silver Soul”

-Walk in the Park

-“10 Mile Stereo”

-“Take Care”

-“Zebra”

Featured image via Whitney album cover.

Written by: ktsw899

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