About 45 seconds into Tory Lanez’s RL Grime-produced “In For It,” a booming bass drum kicks in on the heels of an intro that seems to signal impending doom. Throughout the track, Lanez issues hoarse incantations against a backdrop of industrial, hollow clangs and menacing tones. For a song that’s supposed to be about getting it on, “In For It” has a really sinister quality that manages to feel both sensual and aggressive at the same time. It sounds like a battle is coming—like you’re about to go to war. Since it dropped in April, I have listened to it close to five hundred times.
“In For It” is one of several songs that I excessively latched onto this year. It has an addictive quality that makes it easy to listen to over and over again in one sitting. I developed my attachment to it around the same time that I ended a long-term relationship. Something about its darkness empowered me to embrace anxieties about being alone. Just hit a fifth of the bottle/ And I’m in for it, I’m in for it, Tory chants. I recognized a curiosity for no-strings-attached encounters through this song. It soundtracked a period of my year where I otherwise felt vulnerable to my thoughts and emotions.
Kelela’s “All The Way Down” is another song that I listened to incessantly this year. Her soft, flute-like vocals perfectly complement DJ Dahi’s instrumentals, and I played this song anywhere and everywhere for at least four straight weeks in the fall. I listened to Kelela as I settled into the third temporary apartment I’ve lived in this year, and as I coincidentally dyed my hair to its third color several weeks later. I leaned on “All The Way Down” as I processed my parents’ plans to each move to a new country in 2016. I suppressed new anxieties—this time not about being alone, but about not knowing what to expect from life in the near future—by listening to it over and over again. Listening repetitively also had another benefit: the feeling of slowing down time, stretching a moment into infinity.
In a recent episode of The Organist podcast, philosopher Simon Critchley suggested that the passage of time isn’t linear and can specifically be traced by episodic moments. “Life is something which is punctuated by a series of episode blips,” he explains. “And those episodic blips can be linked to specific musical experiences—songs.” There’s a consistency and steadiness to life that emerges from playing a song on repeat. I anticipate all the chord changes on “All The Way Down," I know the verses by heart, and I can pinpoint the exact moment in the song when I know I’m already looking forward to hearing the beginning again. Knowing what’s coming next has meant more to me this year than ever.
“Listening to this song was the most tangible way I could find to check out of everything and just exist.”—Khalila Douze
When thinking about my year, it’s these one-off tracks that truly stand out and help me trace the steps I’ve taken over these last 12 months. One song that I played all year long, indulging in it in doses, was Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie’s “Chingham (feat. Bisa Kdei).” It didn't come out this year but it was new to me, and I would casually come back to it anytime I needed a cognitive escape. It has a free-spirited melody, and an easy rhythm—one that instantly makes me want to dance. It was a song I needed when the world seemed at its worst throughout this year; when I couldn’t find the words to address my feelings about the racially motivated killing and uprooting of innocent lives. It gave me a sense of control over my reality. Listening to this song was the most tangible way I could find to check out of everything and just exist.
“I consciously retain my stupidity when it comes to music,” Critchley asserted in The Organist episode. “And it’s a sheer source of seemingly endless pleasure.” What he categorizes as stupidity—the suspension of thought in the presence of a perfect “pop” song—I’ve decided to embrace as self-care. I have never felt more adult than I did this year: not being with family for the holidays and being okay with that, paying bills on time and actually keeping track of my credit score, coming to terms with life playing out so unexpectedly. This year, I found myself in entirely new situations without knowing how I’d deal with them. In 2015, playing specific songs on repeat for pockets of time has been my way of stopping the clock on an over-saturation of information and feelings. Processing emotion and curtailing anxiety is hard work. But, no matter the circumstance, playing the right mind-numbing song on repeat can be the most rewarding form of catharsis.