Summer Soundtracks: Lydia – Illuminate

A lot of things can define a summer soundtrack. These are the albums that have been there through thick and thin, remind you of the best days of your life, and always get the party going. Think block parties, beach trips, and the smell of sunscreen. Per the usual, I don’t use these criteria to define my summer. The only one that applies here is that this is an older album. Lydia’s album Illuminate has been there for me for a long time. It turned 10 years old in March, but it’s not a dated album by any stretch.

You can buy or stream Illuminate on Apple Music.

The album isn’t what you think of when you think of a typical summer album, but it’s light, airy, and consistent. At 11 tracks, it’s almost an hour long and follows a storyline. Lydia is known for their theatrical musings, but that’s something the band has moved away from in their past couple of albums.

The reason I love this album and keep coming back to it is it’s lack of intensity. It’s easygoing and sad, but the music is so beautiful that you can’t stay away from it. I just remember where I was when I first heard “I Woke Up Near the Sea” (a Spotify curated playlist from forever ago) and it was in the summer. Nothing was wrong and everything was easy. I had finally been getting into my own music and building my repertoire and Lydia has been a constant member of my group of staple artists.

Evident in a lot of the points I bring up in my writing is the ocean. I love watery, oceanic metaphors and this album is full of them. Even the album art is a girl standing by the sea in the wind. There are a lot of references to drowning and being in over your head and I think these are the carotid arteries of both adolescence and young adulthood.

I didn’t realize it when I was 17 listening to this album for the first time, but adulthood is not easy. It isn’t just growing up and grocery shopping and driving. It’s so much more complicated than that. It’s going to the same job year after year and missing hours of sunlight. It’s watching bills pile up. It’s going to funerals for people who have died too soon. But it’s also going to weddings and first birthday parties. This album, despite its melancholy themes, still manages to find the balance. It’s gentle with your feelings.

I think that’s why I love it. The best albums run the emotional gamut. This album does lean more toward the sadder side of things, but sometimes that’s okay. There are lines like “We never stay lonely” (“Fate”), and “San Francisco sounds quite lovely / So I’ll just wait for your call” (“Stay Awake”). There are twinges of the positive to be found. The band clings to these moments.

The last song on this album is my favorite. Musically it’s intricate and there’s always something new to find. The best artists pay attention to the smallest details. The instruments aren’t just accompaniment in this album; there’s always a new set of sounds to explore. But this song hits the hardest because it ties everything together: “Now the One You Once Loved Is Leaving”. It ends with a Wurlitzer piano, and Mindy White brings the album to a lull as it fades out. There’s no loop, it just restarts the experience over again after the sound of a door slam. It ends cathartically. It’s not how you wanted it to end, it’s not how you planned, but there it is in front of you. Just like real life.

So I know this isn’t the typical summer choice. It’s not high energy or played on every radio station a million times; it’s not very fun. It’s quiet and insightful. It has its highs and lows. The reason I love it for the summer is because it makes me nostalgic for simpler times, and that’s what summer is all about.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

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