30 Songs to Guide My 30s, with DDB's Alec Stern

The agency's director of music on the songs that move him right now

The 1975 "I Think There's Something You Should Know"

Today is my 30th birthday. And with that milestone, there's a lot to reflect on. 

Ten years ago, on the day I turned 20, I was in college. I was still undecided in terms of a degree. I was enrolled in a school that felt like the wrong place for me to be—big on Greek life, Big Ten sports, and a culture that just never felt like home. I'd never ventured too far out from my bubble. So much around me felt a little … off.

But I never felt all that lost, and I know much of that footing came from the role music was playing in my life. Around that time, I'd begun writing and recording my own songs. I'd interned the summer before at a big event production company in Chicago, my first real experience in the industry. And there was so much music coming out that was blowing my mind. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This Is It. High Violet. Halycon Digest. Cosmogramma. The Suburbs. Innerspeaker. Plastic Beach. Age of Adz. The Monitor. Contra. It was an incredible time for music—a moment where indie artists and tastemakers were becoming mainstream, and the stratification of genres was really beginning to tumble.

And in the middle of it all, I was finding my voice. I clung onto music back then, having faith that whatever future was ahead of me, music would play a significant role. 

Ten years later, that belief has come true in ways I never could've anticipated. Music is fundamental to my life in nearly every way. It's in my livelihood as the director of music for the global advertising agency DDB, where I have the opportunity to run music production, creative and strategy for some of the world's most influential brands. A decade ago, I didn't even know music supervision was a job, let alone one that could exist outside of the music industry hubs of New York or L.A., and certainly not the kind of thing someone like my grandmother would not only understand but feel genuine pride in me for doing. 

Aside from my work, I've grown more fully as an artist and producer, developed a passion for DJing, published music essays and written the first draft of a novel where music is a running theme, and am in the very early stages of planning a music-centric podcast (the details of which I'm keeping close to the chest). Music has taken me everywhere, from performing live at personal meccas like The Double Door and The Bottom Lounge, to participating in panels and conferences in Toronto, Miami and Sundance, to name a few, and even to New York City, where I produced the cast album for a full-blown Broadway musical for Skittles on Super Bowl Sunday 2019. Music has been the catalyst for new friendships, deepened old ones, and created opportunities and memories I will take with me for the rest of my life.

All of this leads me to believe that as my experiences deepen, my connection to music will only grow in the next decade. Because it's as integral to who I am as anything there is. And it's in that spirit that I put this list together. Rather than doing a retrospective on meaningful songs in my life up to this point, I wanted to take a moment to plant a flag in the ground of some of the songs that feel meaningful to me right now.

Some of these are deeply personal, others I simply feel strongly about for one reason or another at the moment. To be honest, I tried to put as little analytical thought into the selections as possible, so it's a little light on the kind of obscure relics I could have sprinkled in to make me look cooler than I actually am. But if there is any through-line to be found, all of these songs have an elemental quality that sparks something in me that I hope to take as a welcoming and guiding light into my next chapter.

I hope you enjoy. Be well, stay safe, and happy listening.


"Hard Drive" by Cassandra Jenkins

It takes 55 seconds for "Hard Drive" to resemble the thing we generally categorize as a "song," but that's because it takes time to build a world. And oh, what a world Cassandra Jenkins constructs here. There is a fundamental anxiety and unease to "Hard Drive," one we can all likely connect with in one way or another. But the grace of the song is in the forward momentum, starting at that 55-second mark up until its final moment. It's a slow but steady climb, the putting of one foot in front of the other, that is the basis of any emotional journey. You just keep moving, despite the uncertainty. That's where the beauty lies.


"Fragile" by Eryn Allen Kane

It's no wonder Bessel van der Kolk's intensely compelling The Body Keeps the Score has consistently been on best-seller lists for the last year: Trauma, it seems now more than ever, is omnipresent. Just about everyone has experienced some form of it, mild or otherwise, within the last year, and that's not to mention those who suffer from it for reasons that predate or are altogether separate from this pandemic. One of those causes, one all-too-rarely discussed or diagnosed with a particular impact on people of color, is generational trauma. On "Fragile," Chicago's Eryn Allen Kane heartbreakingly shines a light on the foundational pain that has been passed down to her through the women in her bloodline, and she writes and performs from a place of deeply staggering vulnerability. She sings of the walls she and her ancestors have built to protect themselves. And yet, I can only imagine all the walls that have come crumbling down for listeners everywhere since she shared this song (and its brilliant self-directed video) with the world. Her voice and her story are essential.


"Movement 1" by Floating Points and Pharaoh Sanders (ft. The London Symphony Orchestra)

My instruments of trade are all based on the use of fingers. But I've always envied those who gravitated toward the saxophone and all the ways it allows you to express yourself through breath. Even before I really would've been able to articulate it that way, I was drawn to the instrument and the power it could wield. Sure, you can make a guitar "talk," but I always envied the way one could make a woodwind sing. Or moan. Or cry. Hearing 80-year-old Pharaoh Sanders express himself with such astonishing transparency, urgency and tranquility across Promises' nine movements is a gift that genuinely makes me feel more alive. 


"Reflections (ft. Jamila Woods)" by oddCouple

About three years ago, Zach Henderson, who produces under the moniker oddCouple, sat in my new office at DDB with a dilemma. Years of producing and DJing had given him a small but passionate following, but he'd arrived at an inflection point: go all-in as an artist, or take an offer to become a music supervisor at a competing agency. I don't remember having much firm advice for him, but his confidence in his vision was something I'll never forget. At the end of the day, he followed his heart and hasn't looked back since. His first single in over four years, "Reflections" featuring the sublime Jamila Woods, just dropped, and the praise has been deafening. As Stereogum put it, it "sounds very Chicago in the best way possible." And with its core message, "If I knew the end before we began, would I do the same?", it's clear that for oddCouple, no matter what happens next in his career, the answer is clear. Because he believes in himself, and that's the strongest commodity you can have in whatever you do. 


"Pick Up Your Feelings" by Jazmine Sullivan

There's something bigger going on here. Yes, it's a cold hard anthem with an irresistible groove and a truly "amen!"-inducing chorus, but Jazmine's crafting something bigger than just a bona-fide club smash here. It's most evident in the song's bridge; a callback to the intro, but placed at this point in the track, it feels like you've all of a sudden been thrown into orbit miles above the earth. The beat is gone, everything is suspended in midair, but Jazmine is somehow, someway still rhyming her ass off. And then, with dauntless ease, she rockets us back to earth for one more massive earthbound chorus. Every time she does it I want to knock over whatever chair I'm sitting on. Even if I'm driving. It's masterful in a way she knows you're picking up on, even if you can barely describe it. Make room for the queen.


"not a lot, just forever" by Adrianne Lenker

"Little by little, but endlessly." That's how Adrianne Lenker describes the overarching idea for this miniature miracle of a song. The concept of something growing or changing or expanding or evolving in the smallest, maybe even indetectable way, but that change being everlasting. I could live in a concept like that. I think Adrianne is making some of the most quietly powerful music in the world right now. Whether it's on her own or with her band Big Thief, each album, each song, each line is like a Mary Oliver poem; deeply in touch with the rawness of being alive in a given moment. 


"I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You" by Bob Dylan

When you travel, you pick things up and leave things behind. Sometimes, it's a person, like "The Girl from the North Country," and sometimes it's a part of yourself. At nearly 80 years old, much of the mythos of Bob Dylan has revolved around this idea. Friends, lovers, ideologies, and even personal identities have come and gone. So much of his brilliance as an artist and icon has been his ability to get ahead of these changes, guiding the very road he's traveling on, bringing us along whether we're caught up or not. But here, on an album titled Rough and Rowdy Ways, he's found a place to rest, and perhaps more importantly, a person to rest with. Thirty-nine albums into his career, he's letting us see him at his most sincere, delicate and sentimental. 


"Encore From Nagoya" by Keith Jarrett

Two years ago, my wife embarked on a journey toward a dream of being an artist. She'd seen up close that living a life in line with one's true passion was in fact possible, and decided she was done wasting time pretending she didn't know her own fundamental truth. And I have to say, watching someone you love find their voice is one of the most incredible things one can witness. She's become so in tune with her creativity, learning to trust her innate abilities and instincts while also having the bravery of getting out of her own way. And this piece, by one of the greatest creators and improvisors who's ever walked the earth, feels like that concept brought to life; of finding inspiration, trusting it, and letting it become what it ultimately wants to become. And through that process, he creates something that up until that point had been all but impossible. It's masterful. 


"Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)" by the Bee Gees

What an absurdly fun, insatiably awesome song this is. It begins like what you'd consider typical Bee Gees affair—a soft groove, an overly earnest vocal about being lovelorn, all done to practical perfection. But then it keeps building. And building. And building. To utterly absurd levels. Their already unnervingly high, gloriously harmonized voices reaching inhumanely higher. And that's all before the key change to end all key changes, the kind of thing that makes any song you decide to play next feel embarrassingly small by comparison. It never fails to make me laugh, but it's a laugh born of astonishment. It's so over the top, but at the same time, may we all possess this kind of audacity at some point in our lives. I love hearing them go for it every time. 


"Free" by SAULT

One of the greatest feats of this song is how the band was able to come up with a bass groove completely different from "Walk This Way" while using a nearly identical opening drum beat. Your brain feels it knows what's coming, but what they ultimately end up giving you is something so much better. And that's kind of the story with this band; they just keep blowing us away, surprising us all at every turn. I'm convinced this band has superpowers. There's seemingly nothing they can't do in terms of style or substance. And yet we know almost nothing about them. No band, in my mind, was more connected to the pervasive cultural mindset that was summer 2020, cranking out not one but two masterpieces of massive cultural weight and irresistible groove with no advance notice. They are, above all, the sound of stepping into your own power, and that'll never go out of style.


"Digital Love" by Daft Punk

I've never cried about a band breaking up before, but I definitely teared up when Daft Punk did. Because their catalog brings me incredible joy. "One More Time" was the theme for my senior prom. Alive 2007 has been on every running and workout playlist I've ever made. Speeding up "Lose Yourself to Dance" and transitioning it into Bowie's "Let's Dance" is a DJ move I'll employ every chance I get. I even saw a Daft Punk cover band, pyramid and all, at college. Yes, a Daft Punk cover band at one point did exist, and I paid hard-earned student loan debt-inducing money to go and see them. Because Daft Punk, even as robots, always gave me a life-affirming thrill. I listen to their music and find myself thinking not "How did they do that?" but more "I can't believe they did that." Daft Punk may be gone, but my astonishment that they ever existed at all only grows.


"Move On" by Jack Larsen

With Jack, I started out as a fan, hearing his song "Break" in a pitch email from the local label Closed Sessions and feeling like I'd gotten the wind knocked out of me. Then I interviewed him, desperate to write something to give his art broader exposure with any tools I could provide. Then we became friends, and finally, collaborators, and "Move On" was the result of our first studio session together. It's the sound of embracing all that is unknown; not without fear, but cultivating just enough space for adventure that the fear can be overcome. Rarely have I felt more electricity in a room than when this song was being built. Layering guitar after guitar and feeling its bigness come into focus, it remains one of the most prized memories of my artistic life. Jack, I am forever your biggest fan and will be there for you till the wheels fall off. Thank you for allowing me into your world. 


"Hold You Like a Harness" by Hip Hatchet

I bought an album by a folk songwriter by the name of Hip Hatchet on Bandcamp sometime in my early 20s. It'd come on my radar through a friend of a friend's Facebook post, and I liked the album's opening song enough to buy the record. Then, as happens with the sheer amount of music out there in the world, I forgot about it. That is, until years later, when I'd found myself in this line of work called music supervision, working on a brand spot where the client wanted something "with a Johnny Cash-esque grit, but with real warmth that feels like a new day." Umm … yeah, we were all clueless. Until somehow, someway, I remembered this song and knew it would be perfect. And it was. Weeks later, after the deal had been formalized, I received a handwritten letter. He'd written me to say he'd recently broken his hand and had taken up a manual labor job to pay for the surgery, but the work was getting in the way of allowing his hand to heal. He'd been having genuine worries about ever playing music again. That is, until this license deal had come through. He'd now have the ability to quit that job and allow his hand to rest, all but enabling an artistic future. He's since gone on to make several amazing records and has landed a small handful of other placements, too. And he's become a real friend. To me, this song and that placement is why I take so much pride in what I do. Real lives can change from this. I've seen it happen. I'm not the first to say this, but I'm a believer: Good art finds its way. This song is living proof.


"Mother" by Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves has a lot of magic tricks up her sleeve, and they are sprinkled all throughout Golden Hour, which just turned 3 and is still on pretty-constant rotation at my house. But to my mind, her greatest trick shows up on track five, "Mother." And the trick is this: She's able to bring you to your knees in 78 seconds. That's it; that's all she needs. Any extra moments are utterly unnecessary for her magic trick to work. This song is what a life flashing before your eyes must feel like. The emotional density packed in is unlike anything I've experienced before or since. Even Hendrix's "Little Wing," which I always considered to be the most perfectly brief piece of staggering musical genius, is TWICE as long as "Mother." C'mon Kacey. You're just showing off here. But in all sincerity, thank you for the tears and for your magic trick, which reignited my belief in what a song can do.


"I Think There's Something You Should Know" by the 1975

Sad, but dancing about it. There's something about that act of clinging to movement, about pushing yourself toward the kinetic in spite of what aches, that has always felt like home to me. "Dancing on My Own." "Warm Blood." "Loud Places." They all exist in this space and are all pieces of songcraft I cherish. But "I Think There's Something You Should Know" by the 1975 is something of a stepchild of this lineage because of the world in which it was released. A world where many of the things that sustain us and keep our devils and our gremlins at bay have been stripped clean. Where keeping it together has become an occupation. Where, unlike the other great songs of this genre, the dancing can truly only happen on your own. When read as text, each line here feels like a text message typed but never sent. "I don't feel like myself, I'm not gonna lie. How would you know? It doesn't show." How many of us have longed to be vulnerable like this in the last year? How many of us, when asked how we're doing, have begged for the freedom to respond with something as direct as "I think there's something you should know"?


"Music Is God My Love" by Chassol

I've never met Chassol, the French composer who has worked with Frank Ocean and Solange in recent years, but I have a feeling we think about music in a similar way: that it's there, all around us, in all walks of life and in any environment one can find themselves in. If you've never thought of music (or the world) in this way before, listen to "Music Is God My Love" and tell me otherwise. Not only is the phrase itself lovely, but the way Chassol is able to turn those six plainly spoken syllables into something truly melodic, rhythmic and harmonic is spellbinding. Since coming across his work, I now want to find the hidden music in everything.


"Am I Dreaming" by Yukari (유카리))

What does a dream sound like? Is it something we could ever capture? Or replicate in a tangible way? I don't know where I found this song or how it came into my world, but I am so grateful it did. Because it feels like a place I've been but exists outside of my memory. It reminds me how big and how small the world really is; that there is so much to explore out there, more than any of us could ever see in one lifetime, but even if we can't see everything, we can see anything. It's all within reach. And something about that notion makes the constraints of space and time feel like they're bursting wide open. The way Yukari constructed this piece makes me believe she's free in a way I think we'd all aspire to be. I hear it in her voice every time she sings that simple, awestruck mantra again and again. "Tell me, I am dreaming."


"Freeze Tag" by Dinner Party

Seasons change, years go by. Some things get different, some things stay the same. Lots of things evolve, and some things just repeat. When you find yourself in a spot you've been before, you find yourself wondering what's different now than the last time. I have no genuine way of understanding the very real world this song comes from, a world we are experiencing with seemingly unending mercilessness right now, but I think about all of this when I hear "Freeze Tag" by Dinner Party, the supergroup of Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder and Kamasi Washington. It's a song that feels like its stuck in a loop for most of its runtime. The music is breezy and shuffles with a loving carefree energy, as guest vocalist Phoelix tenderly sings the same 10 lines over and over again. About how he's handled by the police. About the pervasive systems of oppression keeping his community under. About the confusion and stress and exhaustion of it all. But also, about trying to somehow keep "looking for the dove." About waiting on a beautiful summer. About how even in the face of all of this violence and ugliness directed toward him, he's still thinking he wants to dance. And the cycle goes on and on and on, until a lovely bare piano outro, the first new instrumentation in the entire song, cuts through. And every time I hear those piano notes so lovingly played, I have faith that somehow the hero of this story was able to break free. Somehow, the cycle has been broken. 


"Weird Fishes" by Lianne La Havas

It must be something about the general state of the world, but there have been so many good Radiohead covers in this last year, and all the best ones have been by women. Phoebe Bridgers and Arlo Parks teamed up for "Fake Plastic Trees," Skullcrusher did "Lift," Madison McFerrin did "Everything in Its Right Place," and Rosie Carney put out a whole The Bends cover album. But Lianne La Havas did it best with her cover of "Weird Fishes." She gives us what we're expecting for only two seconds before turning it into something that could only be understood as hers. It's an intoxicating vibe filled with majestic performances, finding new soul in a piece already bursting with it. Radiohead's original holds a truly special place in my heart, so for me to like anyone else's take this much means a lot. But Lianne and her band transform it into something wholly their own. She finds truly personal meaning in words and melodies that aren't her own, and in doing so, taps into something that sounds a whole lot like transcendence.


"Under The Pressure - Live" by the War On Drugs

The thrill of watching musicians build a world brick by brick, everyone together in a space experiencing something take shape—it's why we go to shows in the first place. Otherwise, we'd be perfectly happy with studio recordings. And while the War On Drugs are masters at giving their studio recordings a brilliant take on this kind of feeling, it was only a matter of time before they put out an actual live album. The fact that they released it during lockdown was a particularly loving gesture. And while I've missed shows in theory many times during the last year, nowhere has that feeling been more acute than right around the 8:00 mark of this recording. The band is building up the song's signature riff, bit by bit (the poor drummer; slamming that closed high hat with precise fury while the rest of his bandmates get to float around untethered), and right as it explodes, you can just faintly hear the crowd, likely 30,000 strong, singing the wordless melody back to the band. The joy in their voices is absolutely unmistakable. I haven't been to a show in over a year, and I know that sound like the street I grew up on. And it gives me chills every single time.


"Come to Me Open" by Growing Concerns Poetry Collective

"As if all of us Black folk flew away laughing instead of getting on the boats that day." This spoken line by McKenzie Chinn of Growing Concerns Poetry Collective from their single "Come to Me Open" is as clear an identifier as to why art will always need to exist as I can think of. Their album Big Dark Bright Futures is bursting at the seams with history, poetry, philosophy, sensuality, curiosity, affirmation and imagination. It's an expression of all things life; richly delicate in its intimacy and awesomely bold in its wonder. 


"I Find Light" by Elijah Wolf

Certain songs are able to capture the feeling of a place or experience with gorgeous accuracy, and when I hear "I Find Light" by Elijah Wolf, I'm driving on an unmarked part of the map of this grand country on a still summer morning with the windows down. You can feel it, right? Smell it? Hear it? In a time when we're all stuck in place, living largely through screens, memories and cautious hope, the call of the open road and all its waiting experience is ever present to me. It represents a raw sense of exploration and discovery; of something new. We all need to find our light these days as a way of holding on, whatever that means to each of us. And to me, the landscape so eloquently laid out here by Elijah Wolf acts as my compass. It's out there, and when it's time, that's where I'll be.


"Lilac" by Porridge Radio

"Lilac" is like getting hit by a tidal wave; you're completely enveloped and spectacularly overwhelmed, and by the time it's over, you'll need to remind yourself of where you even are. The energy is in the rawness of the performances, perfectly bottled up in this singular recorded form. It's hard to imagine any computers were involved, and listening to it on one feels like the wrong way to do it. One day, I'll be in a field somewhere with tens of thousands, sundrenched and safe, arms raised to the sun, singing these so badly needed words as loud as my voice can be stretched. And I will feel alive. "I don't want to get bitter, I want us to get better, I want us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other."


"Parking Lot" by the Weather Station

"Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?" So ends Bob Dylan's epic "Ballad in Plain D," and nearly 60 years later, the idea of freedom as related to birds finds a new home in song through "Parking Lot" by Tamara Lindeman, who records as the Weather Station. Here, the sight and song of a bird perched on a rooftop near a venue's parking lot is a reminder of all of the things that feel trapping to the singer. You can feel the anguish in her voice as she searches for some kind of meaning in her life as a touring musician, and for validation in the tears she continues to cry night after night. But the conviction in her voice is unmistakable. When she winds up for the song's big catharsis moment, repeating the words "You know it just kills me when I …", it sounds like she's about to break free of everything. Bursting apart? More like bursting through.


"marjorie" by Taylor Swift

Desperation and discovery are more closely aligned than I think we tend to realize. One can so easily slip right into the other without awareness or intention. And what I love so much about this song from Taylor's second great surprise record of 2020 is the way it glides from a place of painful longing to the thrill of realizing there is something more happening than meets the eye. And I'd imagine anyone who has lost someone close to them can understand this feeling, especially when you come across an old photograph, or something they once possessed. The hole in your heart pulses, making itself very known, and all of a sudden, the pain you'd maybe gone a while without feeling grabs hold of you forcefully. But then, you notice something: a detail, an accent, something that maybe you hadn't noticed before. And all of a sudden, it's like you're meeting them again for the very first time. Harmonizing with Justin Vernon, who ended up kind of being her natural counterpart, the two of them sing, "If I didn't know better, I'd think you're still around." I know that feeling, but I'm not sure I've ever felt brave enough to think it out loud. I'm so grateful they dedicated a song to that suspicion. I feel more open to belief because of it.


"One Minute You're Here" by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is thinking about death, but I won't ever let him die. In my heart, the man will outlive us all. He will continue to be there at the right place and at the right time whenever I or the collective "we" need him most. He'll be there to remind us that everyone, everyone has a story. He'll be there when our faith is tested, when we're battered and bruised, and when we find ourselves in a space and time of deep, glorious peace. He'll be there to make us fall in love with words all over again. And he'll be there to protect and re-light the flame that is the spirit of rock 'n' roll, that vital flickering light in all of us in one form or another, forever. Someone once wrote that to have lived on the same planet at the same time as Prince feels impossible. To continue to live on the same planet at the same time as Bruce Springsteen is a gift I will never take for granted.


"Alegria" by Elia y Elizabeth

Alegria translates to joy in Portuguese, and hearing it here, it's plainly obvious even if you don't speak the language. And that's because joy drips from any speaker this song comes from. It feels like the intro credit sequence to the best '70s film you've never seen. With a relatively laid-back shuffling swing, the band and singers play it cool in the verses, but just can't help themselves in the choruses. There is just too much to be joyful about, and the whole thing just explodes. There is no question everyone involved—from the bassist to the engineer to the studio janitor— was smiling ear to ear when this recording was made; their elation is written into the fabric of it.  


"Solstice" by the Antlers

Eleven years ago, the Antlers were the band I needed. Coming off a string of traumatic losses—a classmate and friend, two dear relatives, and culminating in my mom's passing when I was a college freshman—their rawer-than-raw and deeper-than-deepness was the exact place I felt my heart wanting to go. One of my first interactions with the idea of music supervision was hearing their song "Kettering" on a commercial for the upcoming HBO programming season; a piece of highly emotive cinematic post rock that in no small way influenced much of the music I myself have made in the last decade. All of these years later, I'm still on my way toward something I'd consider identifiable as peace. But in this moment, in this turning point, I can only say how good it feels to hear a song like "Solstice," coming from this band specifically, as I inch closer. Because against all odds, the Antlers finally sound like they've found it.


"Hope" by Arlo Parks

I've been buying vinyl for years. I have bookshelves stacked with them. It's a collection I take great pride in and have always loved how tangibly it can remind me of the things I've been into over the years. Some records admittedly get more play than others, but they've all been collected with a purpose. Out of all of the music released into the world, these are the albums that in some way express who I am, or at least who I was at a given time. As many people do, I've had dreams of passing my records along to someone young, someone discovering music in their own lives, and my records being some sort of key to unlock their own great love. Recently, someone much younger than me, who I love deeply, has gotten deeply into music, and like many of her generation, vinyl is seen as the coolest thing in the world. And what a bonding tool it's been. To share this love and language with someone, and to see it expanding their world in real-time, is an experience I've secretly hoped for since I was in her shoes. I got her the Arlo Parks record because it's filled with songs like "Hope," and songs like "Hope" are the kind of thing that deepens a bond like we have. Two people, separated by a decade and a half, dealing with our own shit, but still in awe of how a song can move us. Whenever I listen to it, I wonder if she is, too. 


"Marea (We've Lost Dancing)" by Fred again… ft. the Blessed Madonna

Trusting someone with your story is an act of tremendous bravery. Whether it's through a song, a performance, or even someone speaking their truth off-the-cuff, I see the cultivation and elevation of stories and the magnification of the uniqueness of our voices and perspectives to be the through line in just about everything I do. And I'm especially drawn to the power that arises when a story is given new life through music. It reminds me that nothing is ever finished; that anything and everything we do can find new life in the most unexpected of places. That all of our voices have meaning. Memories, expressions and ideas can be kept alive this way. U.K. producer Fred again… must believe in this as strongly as I do, as his just-released debut album Actual Life (April 14–December 17 2020) is filled to the brim with voices given new life through music. It's his way of making these words and the people who have spoken them live forever. And with the album closer "Marea (We've Lost Dancing)" featuring the Blessed Madonna, he clings to a sense of hope with a palpable sense of purpose. Through lamenting the tragedy of this last year through the lens of dancing, of the loss of touch, movement and connection we've all been made to live without for such strenuously long time, he is able to look forward to something better. The song ends with the phrase, "What comes next will be … marvelous." I can think of no better mantra for us all to aspire to than that.

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