Much like the classic mixtape, Tracklisted presents a collection of songs under a selected theme, which you can check out below. Click on the provided Spotify playlist and listen to this week’s arrangement while you read a few words about the selections.
This week, we bring you a special Tracklisted from JW Sargent (Oh! The Story), who recently released his debut solo EP, titled In Retrograde. He had this to say about his choices:
“When I decided that I wanted to start writing as a solo artist, I really didn’t have any concrete ideas or expectations for what my project would be. Rather than force myself into a specific direction, I wanted my music to develop naturally, so I drew heavily on the songs and albums that I was listening to at the time. In Retrograde is about trying to make sense of the chaos of life; finding love, coping with loss, and overall just trying to figure out one’s place in the world. While these songs are just a sample of what influenced me during that period, I think they represent the ideas that In Retrograde is based on pretty well.”
Pianos Become The Teeth — Late Lives
I got really deep into Pianos Become The Teeth right around the time I decided to start writing and singing songs as a solo artist. This was 2013 — at that point, I had just left Baltimore, where I’d gone to college and lived for a total of seven years. I left my friends and my job and was living in a new city, Philadelphia, in a really weird, but cool apartment above a neighborhood bar. I set up a makeshift studio in between an old fireplace that spit ash all over the carpet, and a wrought iron spiral staircase that my landlord had padlocked so I wouldn’t go up on the roof and fall through the ceiling. I knew very few people, and I spent a lot of my time sitting at my studio desk listening to Pianos and a few other key bands, feeling pretty lost and lonely and just starting to tinker around with ideas for my first few songs.
I identified with the Pianos song “Late Lives” a lot during this time, and kept coming back to it throughout my recording process, once I got started on my EP, when I felt stuck.
The line that really resonated with me was, “You can’t be everything you want to be before your time.” At times, I was working so hard to transform concepts and ideas and bits of inspiration into completed songs, but felt like I was yielding next to nothing. Early on in the process, I kept a lot of my stuff to myself, only showing a handful of close friends bits and pieces of the songs. I desperately wanted to skip to the part where people actually got to hear what I was working on.
This Pianos song was a reminder to me (even when I didn’t want to accept it) that you can’t fast forward through the tough parts of the creative process, and that breakthroughs and good things will happen when they’re supposed to. One of my main goals for In Retrograde was not to cut any corners. I wanted to do this project the right way, with thoughtfulness and attention to detail and a lot of revisions when necessary. This song helped me slow down, stay the course, and let things continue to develop naturally.
The 1975 — Fallingforyou
Fortunately, I started dating my girlfriend, Jennifer, shortly after starting the project, which made the process less lonely. In the beginning of our relationship, she lived in DC — about two and a half hours from Philadelphia. I used that time in the car to jot down song ideas and lyrics (I also recorded some voice memos which I plan to never show anyone). “Constant,” and a lot of the other stuff that I was writing at that time, was inspired by this new long distance relationship. And “Fallingforyou” captured what I was going through and what I was trying to say in my songs, and to her. I always put this song on when I was driving back from DC on Sunday nights after our weekends together. I always stayed too late at Jennifer’s apartment and wound up taking lonely, late night drives home, and this song provided the perfect vibe.
Tokyo Police Club — Hot Tonight
Tokyo Police Club has been one of my favorite bands for a long time. I love their music on a number of levels: their bass and guitar parts are awesome, drums are in the pocket, and they incorporate synths in a really cool way that doesn’t sound out of place or forced. Plus, they’re really upbeat and a lot of fun to listen to — perfect spring/summer music.
But Tokyo Police Club is most significant to me because they helped me get over my fear of singing. I’ve been a musician for the majority of my life, and always had an interest in singing my own songs. I chickened out for years, and didn’t push myself to get over that fear. I wasn’t really convinced I was that great of a singer, especially after working with a lot of talented ones.
I used to listen to Forcefield when I would go out for long runs along the Schuylkill River (“Hot Tonight” sticks in my head the most) and as I listened to the record in that focused state, it dawned on me that I loved the songs because David Monks’ voice is so distinct. He’s always been a badass in my eyes, never trying to sound like anyone else or any other band. I do a lot of thinking when I run, and I really internalized that idea that untraditional voices can be impactful and good; including mine.
Bleachers – Shadow
My friend Tyler got me into Fun’s Aim and Ignite when we were in college together and ever since then I’ve been a big fan of the band, so when I found out Jack Antonoff was going to be releasing a solo project, I was super interested. I saw some videos about the making of the record and realized that I was trying to do something very similar — blending guitars with synths, and using samples, amongst other things. But more than that, I was trying to create my own sound after writing with bands for so long — exactly mirroring what Jack Antonoff did when he stepped outside of Steel Train and Fun. to be a solo writer and musician.
Bleachers’ debut album is a great record from start to finish, but I particularly love the energy and dynamics of “Shadow” — it has big, theatrical choruses, but still breaks down with a very analog synth driven bridge. Bleachers, in general, is an outlier for me in that I don’t typically listen to a ton of pop-driven, upbeat artists, but this album reminded me to have fun (no pun intended) with my music and incorporate pop vibes and influences into my music, which I tried to do with “Run.”
The Menzingers — Good Things
I started listening to The Menzingers because an old coworker of mine would always put them on the speakers at the office. The song that immediately stuck out to me was “Good Things.” I love how honest and upfront it is in dealing with struggle, starting off the song with, “I’ve been having a horrible time pulling myself together.” Everyone has had those days, and I love how The Menzingers don’t cloak that sentiment in symbolism. I get to indulge my bad days or bad moments a little bit when I listen to this song, which I admittedly do from time to time. Plus, they are from Philadelphia so I have to support the home team.
Bon Iver — Perth
“Perth” is very high on the list of my favorite songs of all time. It’s hard for me to even start describing how great this song is with all of its nuances, dynamics and creativity without just saying that Justin Vernon is an incredible songwriter. “Perth,” and the whole self-titled Bon Iver record for that matter, has so much depth. From the instrumentation, to the vocals, to even the structure, its so interesting to listen to. And the more you listen to it, the more you find parts that you hadn’t heard before, which is something I’ve always tried to do with my songs. I love building different layers and sounds so that you can hear the parts different ways and the song becomes more interpretive. Bon Iver is a huge reason for that.
Foxing — Night Channels
I distinctly remember listening to Dealer for the first time. My girlfriend and I were driving to her parents’ house in Syracuse, NY, which is about four and a half hours from Philadelphia. As I’ve already mentioned, time in the car always gives me inspiration and ideas. We listened to the whole Foxing album on that drive, but “Night Channels” stuck out to me. I’ve always been a sucker for a sad song and “Night Channels” was melancholy in all the right ways. I had been working on my song “Ghost” for a while at this point, which was inspired by the loss of my grandmother and a general feeling that life is transient, but I was having trouble conveying those emotions and ideas in a meaningful and creative way. “Night Channels” has elements of reflection and nostalgia but also conveys a certain degree of helplessness, all of which I had felt and was trying to express, so this song really helped me dial that in and get through my writer’s block.
The Japanese House – Teeth
“Teeth” was actually the first song I heard by the Japanese House and it got me hooked on the band. I love the way that a variety of digital sounds are combined with clean electric guitar and heavily vocoded vocals to make something that doesn’t fit specifically into one genre. I like that the structure is totally free-flowing and that there are so many Easter eggs and somewhat hidden elements to notice when you really listen. The Japanese House was big for me in shaping what I wanted my music to sound like; I love the juxtaposition of acoustic and electronic instrumentation and I love the fact that, while the songs sound like a full band, the project is centered around one person, so it feels incredibly personal and relatable while being genuinely creative.