It's snowing and I'm listening to Tobias Jesso Jr. again

Tuesday, November 13, 2018 - 5:35pm

Tobias Jesso Jr.

Tobias Jesso Jr. Buy this photo
True Panther Sounds

In March of 2015 Tobias Jesso Jr.’s six-foot-seven frame seemed to materialize out of nowhere and place in our laps the sweet, devastatingly sad Goon. It was an album written in the wake of a bad breakup and his mother’s cancer diagnosis, and consequently pays testament to the different ways we can lose love — to death, to time, to words. Every song is grounded in the piano, with Jesso’s soft vocals seeping through the melodies. I remember listening to him for the first time winter of my freshman year. I was sitting in my dorm room as the first snowfall of the year graced Ann Arbor and everyone delighted in it, until two days later, it hadn’t stopped. Delight quickly turned to horror, misery, confusion and Palmer Field, which my dorm room faced, was soon buried under piles of snow. And I was still sitting there, tucked under blankets, listening to Goon.

Each year since on the day of the first snowfall I return to Jesso Jr.. He hasn’t released new music since Goon, and I’m fine with this, because each year, no matter how many times I’ve listened to it, the album feels new. Three years later and my body’s conditioned to see snow, feel the wind bite, and fall into the depths of songs like “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” and “Bad Words.” Christmas music just doesn’t do it for me. Jesso’s desperate pleas to his loved ones for forgiveness and attention do. 

I keep thinking that if I were to just finally kick it and get a S.A.D. lamp, this problem would be fixed. I could float through the cold winter months on a wave of Blondie, Robyn, The Strokes and spare myself the soundtrack of heartache. But deep down I know this isn’t true. Certain seasons call for certain music. When I think of winter, I think of blue. And when I think of blue, Tobias Jesso Jr. enters my Spotify queue. Fall is different; it’s colored with the orange and red of dying leaves and I find myself craving something cathartic and aggressive — Bright Eyes, Modern Baseball, Tiger Jaw. I only ever have teenage angst in October, the kind that brings me back to college applications and endings my senior year of high school when I discovered Conor Oberst and Elliot Smith for the first time. It’s the same cycle every year, one dictated by my undying allegiance to memory and nostalgia.

I know I’m not the only one who does this. Everyone has their specific music for specific seasons. In an informal and slightly desperate Twitter poll I conducted, eight people (and bless you eight people for indulging me) gave me their Fall / Winter Returns as I’d like to call them: the music that marks the beginning of the Midwest’s unforgiving cold. Former Managing Arts Editor Anay Katyal’s autumns and winters are lit up with Radiohead, and we should all keep him in our thoughts during those difficult times. Senior Arts Editor Dominic Polsinelli leans angsty in autumn like me with Title Fight and My Bloody Valentine (but in all fairness it’s snowing and he’s still listening to MBV). Someone else said Lana Del Ray and Lorde, another person tossed me The National and Bon Iver for the winter, two choices which I strongly agree with. These are seasons and climates which challenge us mentally and emotionally, and we bring to them the music that will get us through. I just wonder if their choices are as deeply tied to memory as my own or if there’s something else guiding their choices.

I always carry Goon with me through December, but there are other small musical traditions that pave the snowy path. When December 1st rolls around I listen to nothing but Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago until the day is done. Julian Baker sets in at the turn of the year, but not before I can fit in Ella Fitzgerald’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” at least a dozen times before Christmas. It’s not all sad songs, you see, but they all fall along the similar lines. I don’t like to think of myself as a predictable person, but this foresight on the months to come kind of proves otherwise.

It was January of my freshman year when The National became associated with the first two months of the new year. The inescapable gray of these months requires Matt Berninger’s droning voice and the Dessners’ symphonies. I don’t like to fall into this trap, and I hope more than anything that this year I can avoid it, but it’s difficult to picture a February where I’m not once again falling under “Pink Rabbits”’s spell.

Weirdly enough, I can’t think of a specific artist or album that drags me out of the winter sludge. Last year it was Beach House, and the year before it was Laura Marling, but it changes based on circumstance. I don’t have a specific memory to tie this season to, nor a specific color. Trying to picture it now, I feel like Spring should be green or yellow or pink, but I think that’s my dormant Catholicism recalling distant memories of Easter. Maybe there’s too much unpredictability in this season, especially in the Midwest when it starts and ends suddenly in a burst of color. Maybe there’s too much color in Spring.

Summer is kind of the same in this regard, but there’s always one recurring album playing in the background: Vampire Weekend’s Contra. At the end of my junior year of high school, Vampire Weekend played a show in Buffalo on the last day of school. Ezra Koenig greeted me that summer, and he has continued to ever since. There’s no color here, except for the pale brown of the dead grass and dusty shoes at Outer Harbor that night. And I’m a little ashamed by this: It’s such a sad contrast to their giddy, restless music.

But regardless, it’s snowing, and I’m listening to Tobias Jesso Jr. again. Goon is a singular constant at the start of a season that never fails to unleash unexpected change. And I’m OK with this, because for me, there’s nothing quite like hearing “For You” play as I walk to class through a frenzy of pretty little snowflakes I’ll come to resent by season’s end.

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