When I cornered opinions editor Tommy Roche in the office two months ago with a plea to exchange iEdits, I was relieved at his reluctant “okay, sure.”
Since then, I feel our friendship has multiplied tenfold, and I approached this daunting task with excitement and a solemn promise to—as Tommy said—“psychoanalyze the shit” out of his playlist.
I never could have predicted what I would find.
Tommy self-describes his playlist as “increasingly chill,” but I’m here to tell you that it most certainly is not. While the surface melodies might fool you, the deep musical undertones and poignant lyrics of each song on Tommy’s playlist suggest otherwise. Every word is wrought with emotion, and the only “chill” in the playlist resembles the calm found in the eye of a hurricane—one surrounded by chaos.
Tommy kicks off his playlist with “Erase Me” by Lizzy McAlpine and Jacob Collier. By the time the beat dropped just over one minute in, I was hooked. As the piece dips, builds, and fades, it presents the first theme of Tommy’s playlist: uncertainty. Riddled with questions, Tommy unknowingly invites us into a world all his own.
When I saw Taylor Swift take his second spot, I—a diehard Swiftie—was ecstatic. “the lakes,” a ballad of confinement and breaking free, introduces listeners to his second theme: nature. The song elicits images of Tommy searching the woods in his not-so-upstate New York hometown. One line has not left my head since first listening to his playlist.
“Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die,” Swift sings, pulling together images of exactly the kind of peaceful oasis that Tommy might be running toward.
In the chaotic swirl of expectations and pressure that complicate our lives, Kacey Musgraves’ “Slow Burn” and Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White,” suggest a sort of quiet acceptance. Within a crumbling world, the calm of the music brings about a delicate acceptance of what cannot be changed.
“Wetsuit” by The Vaccines was an immediate favorite. As many college students can relate to, this song touches on the inevitability of time passing. And yet, as much as Tommy seems to fear the inescapable nature of time, he has found an anthem of his own escape.
“We all got old at breakneck speed / Slow it down, go easy on me / Go easy on me / Put a wetsuit on, come on, come on / Grow your hair out long, come on, come on,” The Vaccines sing.
As he grapples with uncertainty, and turns to the refuge of nature, Tommy’s next three songs raise a question that I can only assume he, too, is asking: Where is home? “Green Papaya” by Lianne La Havas, “Angela” by The Lumineers, and “Oh, What A World” by Kacey Musgraves each deal with this question in a different way. Is home where you go? Where you leave? Or the people you surround yourself with?
Next up Tommy’s playlist is “7 – Acoustic” by Catfish and Bottlemen.
“And I don’t think through things, I never get time / ‘Cause I don’t think things through,” the band sings to open the song.
The guitar twanging in the background of this line plucks at the listener’s heartstrings, and Tommy introduces what I believe to be the third key theme of this playlist: love. This theme weaves its way in and out of Tommy’s playlist as he grapples with the eternal question: Who are my people?
I could not have hand-picked a better end to Tommy’s playlist. “Sour Flower” by Lianne La Havas is the first glimmer of calm I have found among the waves of uncertainty in his playlist. This song lets everything go—it suggests confidence, a sense of belonging, and the perspective that it is beautiful to grow slowly. It is a quiet cry of freedom.
Now that I have completed my deep dive into the psyche of one of my newest close friends, I am confident of exactly two things. Firstly, I know Tommy at least a little bit better. And secondly, I still have a long way to go.
I never would have expected this list of songs to cross my desk, but I am grateful that it did. As I join Tommy in the opinions section in the new year, I look forward to getting to know him further, psychologically dismantling more of his music, and receiving perhaps well-deserved criticism for my somewhat bold claims.