Daily Music writers share their first listens of 2023

Daily Music writers share their first listens of 2023

Sometimes, we think way too much about beginnings. They’re important to keep in mind, but if you spend too much time considering how you’ll start, perhaps you never will. Beginnings can be planned with lots of careful intention, or happen by accident. And for the writers of the Music Beat at The Michigan Daily, the soundtrack to these beginnings is an important part of how we process them.

Can you remember the first song you listened to this year? Can you remember how you felt, what it meant to you? Perhaps it was music playing as a house or club full of people cheered and kissed and drank as the clock switched over into a new morning. Maybe it was a song you heard on Jan. 3, when you got into the car for the first time in a sleepy, cozy week. Was it an electrifying start? Was it something that made your blood move three ticks faster, made you wish you could run into the new year faster than the seconds move? Or was it a song that holds its own host of memories, that reminds you of the past, as you moved into 2023? What sounds are you holding close to your chest, as we’re asked to prepare ourselves for a new phase of life while the winter days don’t feel palpably changed? Here are some contributions from Daily Arts’s Music writers who have spent time asking themselves the same questions.

“Auld Lang Syne” (traditional, lyrics by Robert Burns)

For those of us that hang out with our parents on New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne” is ubiquitous. In media, as in the cultural consciousness, the song is synonymous with New Year’s and its lilting melody is immediately recognizable across countless different renditions. Take, for example, the iconic New Year’s Eve scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” Over the tender opening chords of “Auld Lang Syne,” the two confess their love for each other at long last. Speaking for all of us who have ever tried to look up the lyrics, Harry (Billy Crystal, “Here There”) complains, “What does this song mean? My whole life I don’t know what this song means.”

“Auld Lang Syne” is a Scots phrase that translates idiomatically to “days gone by” or “old times.” The song’s origins can be traced back to Scottish poet Robert Burns, who first transcribed it in 1788 and described it as “an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print.” Burns’ version is partially his own composition and partially borrowed and the song’s melody is similarly cobbled together.

In some sense, this collaborative nature of “Auld Lang Syne” is still with us today. A Google search for “Auld Lang Syne” yields about 800,000 videos, by artists ranging from Mariah Carey to Julie Andrews to a guy playing the bagpipes in his living room. But what about it is so far-reaching? New Year’s celebrations and holiday music are so culturally specific and yet, “Auld Lang Syne” has been translated into innumerable languages and performed all over the world. The feeling it creates is beyond words, a combination of the simple, sentimental melody and the wistfulness baked into our cultural associations with it. On a holiday whose purpose is to mark time’s incessant march forward, there is a deep sense of nostalgia in returning every year to a song that reverently looks back. Though its lyrics are confusing even to English speakers like Harry, on some indescribable level, “Auld Lang Syne” makes sense to us. “Anyway,” as Sally (Meg Ryan, “Top Gun: Maverick”) tells Harry, “it’s about old friends.”

Daily Arts Writer Nina Smith can be reached at ninsmith@umich.edu.

“New Year’s Day” by U2

Christmas music is great, for the most part, but it has a suffocating effect on music consumption that usually evinces itself by the time Christmas Day rolls around. Only once radio stations and supermarkets stop playing “Last Christmas” and “All I Want for Christmas is You” does it become possible to appreciate that there is a holiday with an associated genre of music so vast. It encompasses Baudrillard’s Four Stages of Simulacra, from the haunting medieval chants written for Christmas Day Mass to some guy on the internet attempting to approximate the syllables of Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song” to viral acclaim. For a few short weeks in December, the signs which once pointed to a reality of a deeply faithful and reverent society become that reality, revealing the true universality that unites humanity far more than any religion.

And then, almost immediately, comes a holiday without a millennium’s worth of liturgical and vernacular music, and that unifying force goes back into hibernation: New Year’s Day. For what it’s worth, New Year’s Day is widely associated with one song, “Auld Lang Syne,” which is more than can be said for most holidays. But even though New Year’s Day doesn’t have an associated genre of music, there are a few notable songs about the holiday, like U2’s 1983 single “New Year’s Day.” Admittedly, the song isn’t really about New Year’s Day in the conventional sense — the lyrics refer to the Polish Solidarity movement of the early ’80s. But the song’s energetic groove, fiery guitar solo and optimistic refrain (“I will be with you again”) make it a great song to begin any year by listening to.

Senior Arts Editor Jack Moeser can be reached at jmoeser@umich.edu.

“Wonder” by Lomelda

This might not technically be the first song I listened to in 2023, but it’s the first one I have a clear memory of listening to. I was on the flight back to Michigan, and just as the plane touched down, the song rumbled and shifted, the sweet noises of guitar, drums and bass like a bag of sounds being shaken together. “You’ve got a lot / Give it your all,” Lomelda (aka Hannah Read) repeats, making sure the words and feeling start pounding along your veins. We continued taxiing over the runway, hitting patches and bumps as the song collected itself into a movement of passion. It’s a track that finds its strength in emotional repetition, its instruments shakily building until the guitar and Read’s voice release themselves together, leaving you with no choice but to move with this explosion in some way … or sit quietly in a too-tight economy seat and let your body shudder with the movements of the plane. I had physically returned from the sky into Michigan and the song felt like a shaky attempt at fortification, preparing me to move on to the year where a lot will change in my life. That was the last flight that I will take into Michigan to return to school and I’m glad “Wonder” accompanied it. 

Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at fiakamin@umich.edu.

“All in bloom” by Ellen Arkbro & Johan Graden

With the arrival of the New Year comes the copious amount of lists of great things from the Old Year. I was looking at one such list from a friend of mine, when I noticed they had put a record by Kate NV they had discovered that I really enjoyed. I reached out to them to mention this and they pointed me to another item on the list that I wasn’t familiar with. “All in bloom” by Ellen Arkbro & Johan Graden was, for all intents and purposes, quite a meditative start to the New Year. Solemn, pensive chord strokes delicately knit a background for Arkbro’s morose voicing. A quiet chorus of horns then harmonizes and weaves into this background. That’s truly all that happens in the track, and yet the feeling that one is left with is nothing less than utter captivation. But there’s more than just that: “All in bloom” depicts an ode to possibility, a catalog of all the doors left open and ones thought to be permanently closed. Of course, if one were to take the position of interpreter, what does it mean that this was the first song I heard in 2023? Maybe it means that even in circumstances whose exterior seems hopeless, perhaps especially those that feel hopeless, the interior is still under constant development, opportunities continuously opening. Underneath the stagnation of a barren tree lies a beautiful chaos in bloom.

Daily Arts Writer Andrew Gadbois can be reached at gadband@umich.edu.

“Back That Azz Up” by JUVENILE, Lil Wayne, and Mannie Fresh

A bombastic start to my 2023, “Back That Azz Up” is a classic song in the New Orleans bounce canon and it definitely brings the heat. The brazenly sexual lyrics, the chaotic disarray of handclaps, 808s and sharp hi-hats, the slapdash record scratches and JUVENILE’s sloppily-produced multi-layered vocals give this song a gait similar to a drunk person stumbling onto a dance floor, completely disoriented yet invigorated. It’s a mess, but it’s all in good fun —  any listener could glean that JUVENILE, Lil Wayne and Mannie Fresh were having a blast making this track. After all, some girl’s ass was so fat that they felt inspired to make one of the biggest club bangers of the late ’90s in an effort to persuade her to “back that azz up.” For a party track, it does exactly what it needs to do.

Daily Arts Writer Zachary Taglia can be reached at ztaglia@umich.edu.