Music Column: Warming up from winter blues

Green is a junior visual and media arts major and the Beacon’s music columnist.

Winter is not a good time of year for my mental health. It happens like clockwork every February—the rejuvenation I get from seeing my family and friends over the holiday fades, and soon depression and anxiety burrow into my brain for the rest of the winter.

Given my attitude toward this time of year, it always seems like cruel irony that Valentine’s Day falls right in the middle of February. In the past, I have jumped at the opportunity to turn into a regular Scrooge and treat the holiday as a reminder of my own unhappiness. This year though, with the help of a little musical therapy, I decided to adopt a different approach.

I cannot magically vanquish my depressive episodes. However, when I allow myself to practice small acts of self-care, I can attempt to keep anxiety and depression from overwhelming me completely. With that goal in mind, here are three love songs I plan to listen to this Valentine’s Day—songs full of warmth to lift me out of the winter blues, and to remind me that spring isn’t as far away as it seems.

Last Valentine’s Day, the song “Uuu” by Field Medic helped keep me from despairing completely when my family’s beloved dog, Linus, passed away. Field Medic, whose real name is Kevin Sullivan, creates folk-punk music that is low in production value but overflowing with tenderness—the perfect combination to rescue me from my February depression.

“Uuu” is deceptively simple in its construction, featuring nothing more than Sullivan plucking an acoustic guitar and singing into a tape recorder. The lo-fi nature of this track, along with its soft, heartfelt vocals removes some of the distance I normally feel from a studio recording. I find myself swept away by the tune’s charming, romantic lyrics.

The chorus is almost childlike in its straightforward sincerity. “I want you, you, you,” sings Sullivan, “to love me ‘til daylight.” In the verses, he spins gorgeous, synesthetic metaphors. “All I ever needed was your redwine voice,” stands out as a particular favorite. The sensuous beauty of these lyrics remind me of how much more vividly I can experience the world when I am happy—or in love.

Worlds away from Field Medic’s unassuming folk punk is “Anita” by St. Louis rapper Smino, but I find this song just as effective a winter blues antidote. Visionary Chicago beat-maker Monte Booker handles the majority of Smino’s instrumentals, and on “Anita” he layers an infectious keyboard line over bouncy, crackling drums. The result is smooth, energetic, and sexy—the perfect beat for Smino to show off his distinctive voice, which blurs the line between singing and rapping to create a melodic style all his own.

At its core, the song is about Smino yearning for the eponymous Anita. He bellows her name in the song’s chorus, stretching his vocal chords to grandiose heights to express the magnitude of his infatuation. The way Smino pronounces the name makes it sound like he is saying “I need her,” a lovesick plea that comes across as sincere, not desperate.

“You make December feel like summer,” Smino says at the end of the second verse. In a song full of intricate wordplay, this declaration of warmth amidst frost stands out the most to me. The line also effectively describes the way “Anita” makes me feel. The song is a shot of springtime in the dead of winter, and its upbeat rhythms and joyful lyrics are impossible not to sing along to. Like “Uuu,” I relied on these words last winter as I struggled with loss and depression. On my worst days, Smino was still able to bring a smile to my face.

I only discovered “Uuu” and “Anita” a year ago, but they quickly became go-to songs for when I need to brighten my spirits. But 2018 is a new year, and I wanted to find another song to combat the demons I am fighting this winter. “Love Without Reason” by British/Icelandic female punk trio Dream Wife fit the bill.

In contrast to Field Medic’s folksy poetry and Smino’s tightly packed wordplay, Dream Wife’s lead singer Rakel Mjöll Leifsdóttir performs stark and to-the-point lyrics. Over a simple drum beat and thrashing guitars, she sings, “I feel like I love you without reason.” As she repeats this line with increasing intensity, I become entranced by the almost elemental feeling she evokes through such a simple phrase. Leifsdóttir is uncertain why she feels the way she does, but she doesn’t let that stop her from shouting it at the top of her lungs.

This kind of raw emotional honesty is something I struggle with, especially when the winter months numb my feelings into anxiety and malaise. That’s why “Love Without Reason,” in all of its life-affirming glory, is such an important song for me right now, perhaps even more so than the other two. Dream Wife’s anthem of unapologetic devotion isn’t just a hint of warmth on a cold day—it’s a blazing fire, jolting me out of my winter ennui and reminding me, even if just for the length of the song, that the cold won’t last forever.

Listen to Joseph’s wintertime playlist here.

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