2021, I cannot believe we are at the end of the year. It’s been a weird year filled with so much joy and frustration, blessings and breakthroughs, and it sucks that the end of the year feels exactly like the end of 2020, a forced, cautious optimism that heavily leans on the caution. But, I’m trying to remember how this year has felt like a new springtime for me, in the best sense and the worst sense.
When I recapped 2020 through my album of the year for that time, I mentioned how the “garden metaphor” songs in Petals for Armor were front of mind heading into 2021. Well, this year I was focused on tending to the garden of myself: from taking inventory of the damage of the last few years to planting seeds for new life to the painful uprooting of weeds that no longer serve me.
COIN’s Rainbow Mixtape perfectly captures the tending of myself in such an intimate and honest way through its pandemic-era stories in catchy, dreamy synth-driven songs. When I was listening to my favorite albums of the year in December as a way to start my end of year reflections, I remember listening to this one and just thinking “wow, I vividly remember these songs hitting me deep but damn, why is it such a sad collection of songs?” The truth is that every joy and high point of my year has had a bit of sadness and anxiety hanging over because the world and I are both going through growing pains. I can’t speak for where the world is going per se, but *gestures wildly* I think you can at least see the chaos. Special shoutout to omicron for ruining the vibe during the holiday season; more people should be able to witness my fabulously sparkly New Year’s Eve look.
I first heard this album in full during the springtime. COIN went with a modern release strategy by releasing the album in 3 parts, each EP signified by a set of colors. The Indigo/Violet EP which contained the songs “Sort It Out”, “You Are the Traffic”, “Make It Stop”, and “I Feel Alive?” was released in late 2020 and while I definitely heard it then, these songs didn’t hit as deep until they released the Green Blue EP in March. That EP, which contained “Sprite”, “Sagittarius Superstar (ft. Faye Webster)”, “Turnaround”, and “Earth to God”, really made me stop in my tracks as I realized how these songs were giving voice to what was happening in spring of this year. By the time the album came out in full in April, I was hooked.
For me, no album from this year better tells the stories of pain, care, and renewal and finding joy in the midst of absolute chaos. From pandemic feelings to thought life struggles to conversations in faith to unadulterated joy, this album has all the main themes I dealt with in 2021.
Songs About The Panda Express, Duh
The fact that this album directly addresses the pandemic just feels extra right in capturing my life this year. It’s not like the pandemic was a character I was able to ignore; Miss Rona insisted on being here in all of it. The songs “How It Feels”, “Different Moons”, “Earth to God”, and “Make It Stop” directly talk about the pandemic for me.
How It Feels
“How do you break my heart 6 feet apart, I’m trying to love you, you don’t know how it feels…”
When we look back at this era of music, I hope this one stands out because this is a perfect quarantine era song. The truth is, everyone has had a wildly different pandemic experience. Some folks will remember the unending stories of grief and pain they saw everyday, others will tell stories of crushed dreams and financial struggles, and some have both of those mixed with a dose of joy. I’ve tried to prioritize being extra kind to people around me because I really don’t know how it feels to be anyone else in this “unprecedented time” — God, I’m sick of that phrase, aren’t you? For me, it really sucks how the pandemic has felt like a big ol’ circle. We started off hopeless for all of 2020, ending with a glimmer of hope once the vaccine rollout started. Then, in spring and summer, there was a high note, followed by fall having a breakdown, and now I’m hopeless in winter again. You probably know how that feels.
“I’ll forge I’ll fight, but I fall short every time, I do…”
One of my lesser listened to songs until as of late, this one captures the melancholy I feel about the ways my relationships have changed over the course of the pandemic. Now, I know to expect friendships to change in my 20s because I’ve read about it. Uniquely, I feel like it’s sped up the process of my friendships changing: I’ve had friends move, friends get married, and new friends come into my life. The fact that the last time all my besties were in person together was my karaoke birthday party in February 2020 is so bittersweet because while I’m thankful that we shared such a fun night, everyone who was in that room is living a different life. I miss them all and I truly don’t know when I’ll see them again but I wanna make it work.
Earth to God
“Maybe you’re working another case, or we’re just floating in space. Earth to God…”
Now this song has been a major mood. Weirdly, at the beginning of this pandemic mess, I felt strong in my faith and I was clinging tightly to the fact that God’s still at work in it. Lately though, I’ve been exhausted and doubting the idea that there’s a light at the end of this dark tunnel. Some days it feels like God’s working another case and like things just keep getting worse out here. It’s hard to not be disheartened, right? It’s hard not to be burned out by the pandemic, the unending string of injustices in the world, the mess that is the US healthcare and political system, the devastation of climate change, the general chaos of being in your twenties, and so much more. God, I know you’re listening, so can you please tell us you’re still making good happen?
Make It Stop
“Just when you thought you had enough, you’re back at the beginning of it…”
I really hate to continue being a Debbie Downer, but this one seems to describe life since omicron broke out during the holidays. It really feels full circle in terms of how dangerous it feels to go outside and gather right now. This song captures the sadness of looking back at this year and not being able to celebrate properly because “we’re back at the beginning of it“. I’ve been listening to this one a lot lately because everything sucks and I have no control over a lot of things. I wish I could make it stop but that’s not something I have power over on a grand scale. So yeah, let me be sad please.
Songs About My Thought Life (Eek!)
Now, if you’ve read this far, I’m sure you know what I mean now by “damn why is this such a sad collection of songs?” Well, it’s gonna get a little more sad and a little more real as I talk about my thought life this year. A big theme of the year for me was stewarding my mental health. Honestly, for the beginning days of the pandemic, I was pretty intentional about prioritizing my mental health. But as things started to open up and my pre-pandemic “girl on the go” persona came into conflict with my more introverted, homebody lockdown-era self, I struggled to find a happy medium. I thought I had more time to figure myself out but honestly, I found myself struggling more than ever.
Then, through therapy and a building resentment whose source I was confused about, I learned how many toxic thought patterns were keeping me from living my life from a place of pure joy. This character arc of mine can best be described by “Hypnotica”, “Dream House”, “You Are The Traffic”, and “Sort It Out”.
“God knows I couldn’t read your mind…”
The opening track of the album, “Hypnotica” sounds like the cognitive dissonance I’ve had with myself. See, I am the queen of subtlety and literally no one ever picks up on it. It’s such a toxic trait of mine that I assume that people know my needs without me voicing them. It has sucked to realize how much I do that; it’s almost instinctual to ignore myself. However, every time I listen to this song, I picture myself mindlessly staring at my reflection while brushing my teeth during my morning routine in the spring. So blissfully unaware, ah that was before I had started to sit with my ugly toxic traits.
“So I took some predictable chords and I wrote you a song…”
Speaking of toxic traits, I would be remiss in not mentioning how I’m also the queen of unrealistic expectations, building dream houses out of molehills. An overwhelming feeling I’ve dealt with this year has been disappointment. I’ve had the tendency to daydream and expect the best of people so when it doesn’t pan out like I envisioned someone or something, it hurts. And instead of sitting with my disappointment and processing it, I’ve shoved it away, bottled it up, and said I’m fine. I’ve written some great songs and poems because of it, but it is not a healthy or sustainable way to live. Learning how to set boundaries and realizing how that ties with guarding my heart and mind have been key for me. It’s allowed me space to say “I don’t care anymore but it’s weighing me down” when it does happen. This dreamy song was left on repeat in the spring and again, I used to mindlessly listen to it before it took on a new meaning.
You Are the Traffic
“Hey, what can I say? I keep splitting in two…”
This song is genius. As an LA native, I’m well acquainted with traffic and witnessing people get super frustrated…when they in fact are part of the traffic. The way I understand this song with my mental health is that as much as I like to pretend I’m perfect and good all the time, I’m not. The painful part of therapy and the different relational struggles I’ve experienced this year is that it’s shown me just how much of a passive communicator with a savior complex I can be. I’m not meant to be the savior or the hero in everyone’s story. In fact, there’s times where I’m the villain in my own story! As hard as it’s been learning what a people pleaser with a savior complex I am, therapy has helped me humbly “submit into the season” of learning to be better than that in the future. This song serves as a reminder that we can’t forget how we’re part of the mess of humanity.
Sort It Out
“Sooner or later I’ll do you a favor, and we can work it all out…”
And now we come to a turning point with some more positive songs (I promise!). This song describes the way I’m learning to be kinder to myself. At some point, I remember telling my therapist how there’s a council of different versions of me a la Pixar’s “Inside Out”. Basically there’s a CEO version of me who’s the adult in the room, a rebel, an anxious schoolgirl, and a “higher self” Stevie Nicks-esque version of me. Through some exercises, I realized how dismissive the adult version of me has been to the anxious schoolgirl version of me and that’s caused a lot of dissonance and frustration with myself. That kid version of me wants to feel her big feelings and instead of actually taking that seriously, the adult version of me has been like “No! Get your shit together and toughen up because no one wants to see you cry!” That’s no way to speak to a child! So, I’ve been learning to speak more kindly and make space for that part of me because in doing so, I honor my emotional needs like no one was able to in the past. I literally was singing this song to myself while looking in the mirror the other day and I cried. It’s just a sight that I’m sorting it out.
Ok, deep breath in, deep breath out. That was heavy and we let it go as we move forward. Here’s where the sun starts to shine in this album, theme-wise. What I love about these two songs is that they are so vividly honest about where my faith has been this year. “Sprite” and “Turnaround” have helped me honestly speak what’s on my heart and find comfort in who I know God to be.
“I’ve been gone for so long, I don’t remember why. Don’t lose me again, oh I’m coming home…”
When I hear this song, I hear the sound of new beginnings. I remember listening to this on the way to my part time job every day in the spring; it was a big part of my morning routine. This song makes me want to cry because it reminds me of how lost I was from 2018 to 2020, but how God was restoring me in 2021. For the beginning of the year, I was very much in a healing stage where I was taking action to get better by setting up new habits to take care of myself. The spring time felt hopeful as I volunteered at vaccination clinics for my part time job and as I started to take seriously my journey to work in the music industry. The entire time though, I knew I wasn’t alone. The line “but as the time goes by, I will be on your side” served as a reminder that God was with me as I learned to take care of myself again. I wanted to start again and it feels like God gave me a new start when I got to June.
“How do you do it, love me when it hurts?”
I have listened to this song for comfort many times this year because it’s been a major reminder of peace. I hear this song and I remember that God hasn’t left me even though I’m so fickle with my opinions of myself. Some days I wake up and see what a beautiful miracle I am and I’m adamant about living joyfully. But other days, I don’t see myself as anything special and I struggle to get myself out of that hole. Self-esteem demons will do you dirty like that. The theme of faithfulness here has helped me develop “faithful” as my word of the year for 2022. This song is a beautiful reminder of God’s faithfulness to me and it inspires me to ask myself what it looks like for me to be faithful in my life. It’s a bit of a scary question and I can feel that January (as they often are for me anyway) will be messy to start. Don’t worry, I’ll explain my vendetta against January next week. But, it’s only up from there I guess.
Songs About Joy, If You Can Believe It
Joy?! In THESE unprecedented times?! Yup, and defiantly so. I keep trying to remind myself, especially as the year is ending on such a sour note, that I experienced a good amount of joy and high spirits. Like, why do I keep forgetting how exhilarating it was that I got to see Bad Suns in concert TWICE this year? It’s important to take the bad days and remember the struggles, but it’s crucial to remember the good times and how they shaped you. Life isn’t meant to be all doom and gloom all the time.
Sagittarius Superstar (Ft. Faye Webster)
“I don’t know if I could ever do without you and I hope to God I don’t get the chance to…”
I owe a lot of my sanity this year to some Sagittarius superstars and this is my way of saying thank you. As an Aquarius who made it a pandemic hobby to get too into astrology, I do like a bit of fire sign energy in my life. From my wise older sister and my joyful little niece to an unexpected mentor turned friend to a total stranger I met on the internet turned collaborator and friend—I found it easiest to accept help from these folks because I felt understood, especially as I have been sorting through the rubble of the last couple years.
My sister Diana is the only other person I know who understands the depths of the mess of our family trauma, so if there’s anyone who can validate me doing the work, it’s her. While it feels like I’m at square one with it, I’m thankful for the work my sister’s done to remind me that even though we both did not grow up in the healthiest circumstances, we’re brightening up our futures. I’m so proud of the ways she’s been able to set her family up and the growth she’s been able to see in herself. It’s honestly inspiration fuel for me to realize that the work I’ve been doing will pay off.
It’s been the biggest joy this year to see my niece Natalie grow. She was conceived and born during the pandemic and it’s wild to me that she literally has no idea what is going on. Like I’m out here dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions through crisis after crisis and meanwhile she’s grooving to Winnie the Pooh, eating everything in sight, and being cute as a button. Literally January 2021 was so dark for me, but every time I stepped outside my room to see her and my nephew hanging out in the living room, I remembered there was light in the world. I haven’t really ever had baby fever but something about how unadulterated the joy she exudes really has me being THAT aunt that’s all like “LOOK AT MY NIECE” every chance I get. I love her so much and feel so special that she’s started to say my name, especially before anyone else’s.
I would not have had the breakthroughs I’ve had nor spent hours at Starbucks laughing without my friend Megan. She’s been a crucial part of my spiritual formation this year. In September 2020, I joined a program through my church about developing my spiritual life and she was one of my cohort leaders. Her dry humor and amazing ability to care for others while checking in with herself made me feel safe and set a wonderful example for me. She has also understood me in ways I’ve JUST started to understand in myself. I still remember when she asked me “hey, let’s still be friends after the program.” I appreciate that she said that because she’s been one of the dearest friends I’ve made in this crazy season of pandemic-era life. She’s someone who has full permission to call me out on my bullshit and who often gives advice and encouragement that I need to reflect back to her. Those are my favorite kinds of friendships haha.
So I gotta tell a fun little story that still stumps me: at the end of 2020 when I was spending wayyy too much time on TikTok, I followed this classical musician named Joe. I was intrigued by his content because he was on a mission to make classical music cool again and as someone who had a lowkey vendetta towards the genre, it warmed my heart to see someone get so excited about it. Eventually I slid into his dms to talk about music production since I was just starting my own journey with my own music. Then in June, we hopped on a Zoom call to meet virtually and have been connected ever since! I’m still in awe that I didn’t know I needed validation of what I’d started here back in 2019 and all of a sudden, I got it from a total stranger who was as excited as I was when I started this blog. The internet can be a wonderful place sometimes.
With that all said, thanks to Diana and Natalie, Megan, and Joe, y’all are wonderful and I care about you all very much, you Sagittarius superstars.
I Feel Alive?
“But everybody hurts like me and you. I feel alive! And it’s okay, yeah, we’re okay…”
This is what joy in 2021 sounds like. In fact, the question mark at the end of the song title perfectly explains what I mean by joy and caution. Whether it was starting my amazing job in the summer, spending quality time with my sister and her family, going back to concerts, or just taking time to have fun while relatively healthy and vaccinated, this song reminds me how I experienced a lot of joy this year. Sure, I wasn’t able to be fully uninhibited in those moments but the joy still felt like those little rays of light breaking through the clouds. I even saw COIN in November and even though they didn’t play this song in the set, this one was the best one to listen to after the show. Amidst the growing pains of my twenties and the second year of a pandemic, I feel like this song best describes the memories of 2021 in the most honest way: things are hard and complicated but to be alive is a great gift. I feel alive and it’s ok. Yeah, we’re ok. We’re gonna be ok.
Well, that wraps up the year for me. If you made it this far, you now know a little too much about me, so congrats. I’m excited to see how SOUNDS LIKE FEELS LIKE will continue to grow in the next year and I hope you stick around for the ride. It’s gonna be a good time. Happy New Year everyone, stay safe out there and don’t forget to experience joy.
Honorable Mentions: Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks, The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Saint Motel, Sling by Clairo, Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power by Halsey, Sour by Olivia Rodrigo, Spaceman by Nick Jonas, I Know I’m Funny haha by Faye Webster, Harmony House by Dayglow, Woman on the Internet by Orla Gartland