Playlist of My Life: Sarah Evans `26

Sarah Evans `26 walks around campus while listening to music.
Sarah Evans `26 walks around campus while listening to music.
Brisa Zielina

My family and I all have very different music tastes, with a wide range that encompasses pop, rock, heavy metal, oldies, 80s music and a little bit of country. I’ve been influenced by them all to varying degrees, excluding heavy metal — despite my dad’s best attempts. He used to play the Rockabye Baby! version of “Enter Sandman” to help me sleep as a baby, in the hopes that it would rub off on me when I get older. 

We did manage to unite over Taylor Swift’s early country discography, back when my mom was still driving us around in a magnesium minivan with a CD player. These were the days before Swift had hit it big. I can still recite every word to all of the songs in her debut album, but none more than “Our Song.” 

A lot of music-related memories took place in that car. I remember listening to “Red,” Swift’s fourth studio album, on the way home from school and realizing she was branching out into different genres. Although it was jarring at the time, that — to me — was the start of her climb to true fame. 

Song lyrics are ingrained into my mind, by virtue of the fact that they’re repeat occurrences on my family’s road trip playlists. In particular, “Build Me up Buttercup” always makes it onto my mom’s top picks. It’s an upbeat song that just makes me happy, for no particular rhyme or reason. Although my music taste has dramatically shifted from the early days in the car with my family, this song reminds me that music doesn’t have to be pretentious to be good, despite what many Grinnellians would say …

My music taste started to change in my early high school years, when I began branching out. One artist I found around that time was Sara Bareilles, whose discography stems from the poppy, upbeat style that she became famous for. However, her sixth studio album “Amidst the Chaos” breaks from this style in unexpected ways, and truly demonstrates Bareilles’ mastery of her craft. My personal favorite is “Orpheus.” 

I went to see her in concert in 2019 with my friend Megan. Megan and I often talk about music together — we both played piano with the same teacher when we were younger, and she’s currently studying music in college. I’ve recently started up the piano again, in an attempt to reclaim something that I once loved doing and only stopped because I was too busy. 

I’m reminded of the concert when I talk to Megan, when I hear this song, and when I’m in a silent room and the effects of my concert-induced tinnitus become impossible to ignore.

Amidst my later high school years which were marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, I was introduced to other genres of music. 

A girl I knew in high school put this song on her Instagram story, and I’ve been obsessed with Lord Huron ever since. I used to go on long drives before gas prices shot up, traveling through neighboring suburban towns and forested areas on winding roads, windows down, listening to my music on full blast. This song is upbeat, yet still encapsulates a lot of what I was going through mentally — the lyrics talk about going through a dark time and asking somebody to meet them where they are. The pandemic was one of the loneliest times of my life. For my friends and I, there was a degree of separation that was difficult to overcome. 

Lord Huron also introduced me to Allison Ponthier through a collaboration they did together, and I’ve been obsessed ever since, as you can probably tell from my S&B staff bio. 

She was my first introduction to indie folk, which characterizes my music taste as I’d describe it today. I love the queer elements behind her work. “Chasing a Feeling” epitomizes a lot of what her music is to me. It’s introspective, it’s lyrical and it evokes emotion for me personally. I appreciate the uncertainty that comes out behind her music — she doesn’t pretend to have life all figured out yet, and I’m excited to see what she comes out with next. 

“To the Mountains” also fits into the indie folk genre, and mirrors my tendency towards escapism. I take a lot of long walks while listening to music because I often feel the urge to get away from the world for just a little while. This song makes me want to go live by myself in a little cabin in the mountains, cutting contact with everyone and leaving everything else behind. Although this is just a fantasy, it has helped me get through stressful moments in the past. 

Other songs, instead of representing where I wish to escape to, remind me of where I come from. 

Noah Kahan’s descriptive lyrics center around his experience growing up in a tiny New England town, and he’s become wildly popular in the last year for his folk style. Although my New England childhood differed — I grew up in a mid-sized suburb, not a small town with dirt roads — my hometown still has the same air of stagnancy, at times. Many families have been there for centuries, and there are plenty of roads and schools named after “high school friends’ grandfathers,” as Kahan puts it. This leads to many old-timers wanting to preserve the town in its present state, taking every opportunity to resist change. 

I love New England, and there’s a real possibility I’ll end up there post graduation. Still, I wanted to get the hell out of there for a couple of years. As my uncle who grew up in Massachusetts but now lives in Chicago told me, if I didn’t leave for at least a little while, I knew I’d never break out of the so-called “New England bubble.”

If I had to describe “Long Lost” in one word, it would be “wanderlust.” Lord Huron’s discography follows a broad story arc, which leads to albums with interwoven themes, vivid imagery, characters with backstory and lots of lore to dive into. All of their songs are absolutely incredible, and this one is one of their best, lyrically. 

The last two songs on this playlist encapsulate some of the best times of my life, primarily because they represent good times I’ve had with friends. 

I truly love Brandi Carlile. This song sums up what life should be: just messing around on a rock hurtling through space with people that you love and care about, and people who love and care about you. The whimsical tone the music takes fits the song’s overarching message — a rejection of money and fame in a search for a more simplistic life. Although I may not always live up to this ideal, I think it’s something I’ve learned to aspire to, regardless of where life takes me. 

This song was the perfect one to end on because of the personal meaning it holds for me. It represents the first time, last fall, that I felt I had truly found my place and my people. The lyrics themselves describe a search for meaning, and concludes that there isn’t one simple answer — life is all about the journey. Despite being cliché and simplistic, I’ve still found it to hold true thus far. I listened to this song a lot last fall, and remember sitting in the backseat post-Walmart run while it was blasting. I am eternally grateful to “my people,” friends and family alike, for being such a positive influence — both on this playlist, and on me.

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