Lean Year: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Lean Year: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Lean Year is composed of musician-teacher Emilie Rex and filmmaker-musician Rick Alverson. Their ethereal debut, self-titled record is out now and below you will find what has influenced the multi-faceted duo.

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Glen Campbell, Galveston 
Rick’s father’s work required the family to move quite a bit when he was younger. In Fort McMurray, Alberta, they had this mint green Jimmy GMC 4×4 with an 8-track player. His dad, Pat, loves Glen Campbell, and one of his strongest memories from that time is being stopped on the freeway under an overpass waiting out a snowstorm. Pat played it over and over. We still listen to the record all the time.
Gillian Welch, Revival 
I brought my dad’s guitar, my mom’s divorce present, back to school my sophomore year in college and proceeded to torture my housemates with really bad Lucinda Williams and Bob Dylan covers. A friend of mine gave me Revival soon after, and I fell hard. I loved Welch’s voice and delivery. These were some of the first songs I could play recognizably on the guitar.
Fela Kuti, Expensive Shit 
I didn’t have any of Kuti’s albums early on. My first introduction was my friend’s copy of The Best Best of Fela Kuti. Lyrics, beats, melodies, arrangements…everything was so brilliant. I think his music rewired my brain, while singlehandedly catalyzing an unparalleled era of epic dancing in Ann Arbor. Later that year, when I studied in Legon, Ghana, just outside of Accra where he’d spent so much time, we’d go into the city and hear these same songs. Kuti’s genius, music, politics/activism, and actions — all of what makes him this revered but complicated figure — added a depth and texture to everything, from the post-colonial literature and politics I was studying to my very intense and complicated experiences living there. I have a couple of Kuti records on vinyl now, but the B-side track, ‘Water Get No Enemy,’ on Expensive Shit remains one of my favorites.
Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love 
I was living in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2007 when I found a cassette tape of Tunnel of Love in one of those boxes that follows you around for a decade, but you refuse to open. It was a WTF? moment where I questioned my core decision-making abilities. My dad loves Springsteen, but I didn’t recognize this album that had silently survived at least five moves. I popped it in my old Honda’s tape deck on the way to work and pretty immediately realized I knew the words to every song. I totally broke down. I’d been missing home, but had been away for long enough, at a formative enough time, that I wasn’t sure what it looked like anymore. Music has always had this way of cementing sense of place in my memory. Rick always makes fun of me for loving this one so much — so cheesy, so 1987, but it breathed some life back into home for me.
Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate 
Rick has many selves as an artist, but I think he was a poet first. I didn’t know him when he was in his twenties, but we have a trunk full of poetry that testifies to long days and nights scrawling away in the journals within. Makes sense that he’d love Cohen as a poet-songwriter, and he’s always been especially drawn to Songs of Love and Hate. Is there a more perfect song than ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’? It’s so intimate and candid.
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