#1: Colleen Green – “I Want to Grow Up”

In the process of wordbombing the internet with solipsistic rants about how much the album SPOKE TO ME, I don’t think I did justice to how good I Want to Grow Up is as just a simple rock album. Now armed with a full band (at least in studio), Colleen Green really rocks on I Want to Grow Up, which has big 90s-inspired riffs and songs that are impossible to get unstuck from your head.

In a way, the fact that it’s so fun to listen to might have hurt I Want to Grow Up in terms of being perceived as Serious Art. When an artist plays quiet folk music, gently strumming their guitar and singing dramatically, it is automatically lent a certain authenticity and we credit them for baring their soul in the music. Green does this on I Want to Grow Up as well as anyone else, but it is sometimes overshadowed by the hooks, her deadpan delivery, and humor, which are all signals to not take this seriously.

But I Want to Grow Up is a truly great album that deserves serious recognition. What still stands out about it is Green’s fearlessness in communicating her fears and anxieties in such a blunt manner, and the way she taps into so many unspoken feelings shared by others. I lost count of how many times this album said something that I’d been thinking about forever, but hadn’t said out loud. Green nails every specific aspect of the minutiae of growing up and trying to overcome your own insecurities.

Even if I didn’t relate to it so hard, I Want to Grow Up would still be great because it’s such a focused album, with a clear progression in the songs. And most importantly, it is almost a complete portrayal of who Green is, from her darkest fears on “Deeper Than Love” to her blase sense of humor and conversation-holding anxieties on songs like “Pay Attention.” I love albums that really reflect the artist’s personality, and I Want to Grow Up did that better than any other I heard this year.

“I Want to Grow Up” Track-By-Track

I’ve already written a couple of posts about Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up, while also consistently championing it on social media for the last few months. By now, I imagine people are kind of sick of me talking about it. But everything I’ve said about it doesn’t do justice to how much I’ve thought about this album over the course of the year and how it has become the soundtrack to my 2015 life.

“Soundtrack of my life” is a phrase I find really corny. I tend to be more detached about music, analyzing it as an art form and looking at the artist’s intent rather than trying to insert myself in the proceedings. This is partially because I enjoy critically examining things in this way, but also because my experiences (or lack thereof) never were really the subject of songs.

Songs are often about extreme moments in life: the highest highs and the lowest lows. Great art is often associated with dramatic feelings like ecstasy or heartbreak. If my life were a graph, it would just be a straight line down the middle. Nothing that great has ever happened to me, but nothing that bad has either. I’ve kind of floated along, feeling mostly invisible and inconsequential, waiting for something to happen. Needless to say, that floating, invisible feeling isn’t usually the subject of music, because it’s perceived as not being interesting.

I Want to Grow Up really resonated with me because it’s the first album that attacks that invisible feeling with pinpoint accuracy. After years of listening to music in a detached, analytical way, this album stepped up, confronted me, and basically punched me in the face. I almost had to stop listening the first time I played it because the lyrics were too real and I was getting paranoid that Green had gained direct access to my thoughts.

A couple months ago, I did something I never do: I went to a record store and saw Green play a concert. She played by herself with an iPad programming the drums, and performed every song on the album except for one (more on that later). Afterwards, I did something else that I really never do: I approached her and told her how much I loved her album and how it said everything I had been thinking. We exchanged some small talk about her tour before I shuffled out of the store, hoping I hadn’t embarrassed myself, but knowing that I truly needed to thank the person who made this album, which is not something I’d really felt a need to do before.

It’s all very gushy, but that’s the power of I Want to Grow Up: it’s an album about the type of people who normally don’t get immortalized in songs, the slackers and “losers” who have feelings too. And I give Green tons of credit for the execution, which is exactly what it needed to be: simple, direct, and powerful because of it. This is my attempt to write down everything this album has made me think about this year, track by track.

Track One: “I Want to Grow Up”

“I’m sick of always being bored/I think I need a schedule”

In addition to all the praise I’ve heaped on it already, I Want to Grow Up also arranges the tracks perfectly so the album feels like it’s telling a story. Here, the title track serves as the album’s thesis statement. A common creative writing lesson I learned was that your main character always needs to want something, which drives their action. In this case, Green obviously wants to grow up, and the rest of the album follows from that.

The lyric about “needing a schedule” jumped out at me on first listen because it’s such a mundane, true observation for anyone who has slacked off for extended periods of time. I’ve had long employment droughts in the last couple of years and every time I end up keeping a ridiculous schedule where I stay up all night, then have problems sleeping the next day, etc. This often meant being awake at about 12-6 a.m. when no one else is and struggling to find ways to fill the time, then sleeping too late to do anything productive during the day. It’s fun at first, but “I Want to Grow Up” articulates the desire I had to break out of that cycle, and also the difficulty doing it.

Track Two: “Wild One”

“And now I know he’ll never be my man/it breaks my heart but I understand”

I consider this the most traditional song on the album in terms of lyrical content. It’s classic pop stuff: loving the “wild one” who can’t be tamed and wishing you could change them. On a broader level, it is about one of the big themes of this album, which is really wanting something, feeling that it’s within your grasp, and not being sure how to get it. I want to grow up, but how? Is there a life manual or something that will fall from the sky? What am I supposed to do next?

Track Three: “TV”

“A big big blanket to wrap around myself/In my room/Where I don’t have to worry about a conversation/And I don’t have to worry about being fun”

“TV” is probably the most slackery song on an album full of them, a love song dedicated to the television that serves as a constant distraction from the real world. This song starts to get at one of the other big themes of the album, which is how people use technology to escape from all their real-world anxieties. In your room with the TV on, you can finally be yourself: there are no social obligations, no need to conform to what people expect of you — the TV almost becomes your truest friend because it is always seeing the real you. I often use TV and the internet as a crutch (especially during late nights), a temporary reprieve from everything life is throwing at me that I can’t handle. The problem is that these day-to-day distractions can accumulate until weeks go by and I’ve done practically nothing, which is the addictive danger of TV friendship that this song understands — the thing that in the moment seems like an escape can become another obstacle.

Track Four: “Pay Attention”

“How do some people talk so much?”

In the age where seemingly everyone has ADD, “Pay Attention” captures the inability many of us have to hold a conversation and put up with irritating small talk (“talk so small you need a microscope to discern much at all”). “How do some people talk so much?” is pretty much a verbatim thing I think all the time, especially at family gatherings where everyone has an opinion about stuff I never think about. The way other people seem to effortlessly make conversation while I never know what to say is a constant source of frustration, especially when being quiet is interpreted as being aloof or disinterested.

Track Five: “Deeper Than Love”

“Because I’m shitty and I’m lame and I’m dumb and I’m a bore/And once you get to know me you won’t love me anymore”

The phrase “centerpiece” is overused in music criticism, but it applies here: “Deeper Than Love” is in the middle of the album, is six-minutes long, and is its darkest moment, plunging head-first into all of our deepest fears. This is the song Green did not perform when I saw her play live, I suspect because she wasn’t comfortable singing it for an intimate audience.

The line I quoted is probably the one I’ve thought most about from this album. I do a lot of communicating online and I think a lot about how we perceive ourselves and others on the internet. I’m a lot better at articulating myself in writing than in person, so the online version of me naturally will look better than the “real” me while having the same thoughts. But it’s still an inherently incomplete picture that other people fill in: they might draw conclusions or think stuff about me that isn’t there, just based on how I post.

I’ve historically been scared to try to make any online friendships into “IRL” friendships for reasons given in the lyrics of “Deeper Than Love.” I’m always afraid that people will have built an image of me in their head that the “real” me won’t be able to live up to, especially given social anxiety and nerves that don’t exist as much online. “Deeper Than Love” really nails this intimacy fear that I suspect is common, especially in the era of online dating where everyone is working with limited, self-presented information. It becomes easier to keep people at a distance than deal with the possibility of not living up to what other people want you to be.

Track Six: “Things That Are Bad For Me (pt. 1)” 

“Like a pet trained to return/But humans are supposed to learn/And change when things are going wrong/I always let it go for way too long”

The “things that are bad for me” in the title is left general in this song, so the listener can fill it in with their own bad habits. The lyric I quoted reminds me of all the holding patterns I let myself get into, especially when I’m unemployed and slacking. I feel worthless because I don’t have a job, which leads to me not applying to jobs because I’m worthless obviously, so why would anyone hire me, and it becomes this self-fulfilling cycle of low-key self-destruction that is certainly bad for me.

Like Green, I know I’m a human and I’m supposed to change when things are going wrong. But it just isn’t that easy, and this album gets that. While relatives and other people tell me “just get a job,” they don’t recognize how difficult it can be to break out of these negative cycles and routines, especially once they’ve accumulated over a period of time. I Want to Grow Up recognizes that these are real problems while also not ignoring the “first-world” aspect of them — I feel privileged that these are the only problems I need to deal with, but that only makes it more frustrating when it’s difficult to overcome them because it seems easy for everyone else.

Track Seven: “Things That Are Bad For Me (pt. 2)”

“There’s an energy inside my brain/set to self-depreciate/some kind of anxiety/makes me do things that I know are bad for me”

Part one was about recognizing her own bad habits; part two is about what causes them. As someone who often struggles with tasks that others seem to find easy, I can’t help but wonder sometimes: why am I like this? Why do I keep doing these things I know are bad? Why can’t I be normal?

“Things That Are Bad For Me (pt. 2)” is where the album starts to really gel into a cohesive story. So far, every song has been about these different anxieties and fears and ways to escape from them. This is the one that explains how these problems overlap and connect with each other, like each is a separate thread that combines with the others to make a web that is nearly impossible to escape from.

Track Eight: “Some People”

“Why is it so easy for some people?”

Something I mentioned in my first post about this album was the feeling of not being able to stack up with your peers. This issue is exacerbated now by social media which quantifies “success” in a very narrow way: with numbers of friends, likes, etc that serve as easy comparisons to others. If your numbers are lower, it’s hard not to feel “worse” and wonder how some people make life look so easy.

The big pressure that comes from this feeling is to conform, to be like everyone else that is perceived to be more successful than you. “Some People,” especially the second verse, painfully expresses this feeling, as Green lists a litany of things she could do to try to fit in: dye her hair, drink alcohol, wear more makeup. When being yourself doesn’t seem like it’s good enough, it’s hard to resist the temptation to join the herd.

Track Nine: “Grind My Teeth”

“I think about the future/about society/it’s all so overwhelming/it makes me grind my teeth and cry”

I’ve semi-jokingly called Green “the voice of our generation” based on how this album sums up so many fears and anxieties of millennials. “Grind My Teeth” is the first time she looks outward and mentions bigger fears, about the future, society, and “our generation failing.” On an album obsessed with personal anxieties and shortcomings, this song serves as a reminder that there are big things to worry about too, like how we’re all screwed and everything sucks. Just in case things were getting too easy for you.

Track Ten: “Whatever I Want”

“Don’t want to be scared/I’ve got to see what’s out there/Lately I’ve become aware/That I can do whatever I want”

I finally got my driver’s license in January this year at age 25. Driving is still scary, but one thing I instantly gravitated towards was getting to listen to music in the car, which lived up to all the hype I had heard about it. I Want to Grow Up was released a month or two later and quickly became my go-to car album, soundtracking many of my commutes to my job I didn’t really like with its simple guitar-driven rock sounding pretty good with the windows rolled down (my car’s AC doesn’t work).

The weirdest adjustment to finally driving has been realizing that I can just… do things. For a long time, while everyone else was able to get around and live their lives easily, I was still always dependent on others to drive me or get me things. I got used to not doing much socially because I would need to get a ride and it was a whole hassle not worth dealing with. The feeling that I can now do “whatever I want” is hard to grasp, and I still haven’t fully capitalized on it because it’s kind of scary to have so many options suddenly at your fingertips that weren’t there before.

I suspect “Whatever Your Want” is not about Green getting her driver’s license, but it has that same feeling of beginning to gain independence and realizing that you don’t need to hold yourself back anymore. It’s an optimistic note for the album to end on, but it doesn’t feel cheap or like it supersedes what the rest of the album is about. Instead, the most powerful part is it’s about Green reaffirming her individuality despite all the pressure to conform (as heard in “Some People”), and recognizing that you can only be yourself, even if it sometimes feels like “yourself” isn’t good enough for the rest of the world. And that’s okay. Because eventually, with enough little baby steps, you can create a world of your own that is just as good as everyone else’s.

“Vulnicura,” “I Want to Grow Up,” and the Albums of the Decade

This post was initially going to be about my albums of the decade (so far). I put an initial list of 20 albums together, agonized a lot over the order, and had started writing the blurbs when I decided to abandon the whole thing because part of me just felt like it was a waste of time. Most people just want to see the list anyways, so here is what I ended up with at the time I threw in the towel a couple weeks ago:

20. Allo Darlin’ – Europe
19. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
18. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
17. Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance
16. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent
15. SubRosa – More Constant Than the Gods
14. Nona – Through the Head
13. Janelle Monae – The Archandroid
12. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
11. No Joy – Wait to Pleasure
10. Colleen Green – I Want to Grow Up
9. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
8. Ex Hex – Rips
7. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
6. Afrirampo – We Are Uchu No Ko
5. Throwing Muses – Purgatory/Paradise
4. Björk – Vulnicura
3. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
2. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

(I made a youtube playlist with a song from each album if you’re interested.)

The toughest part of the list was deciding what to do with my two 2015 favorites: Björk’s Vulnicura and Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up. With albums that have been around for a few years, my opinion on them is pretty set in stone, but these two were new enough that my feelings on them were constantly shifting throughout the process. And they both ended up illustrating my problem with making these sorts of lists, which is that my personal feelings get inevitably tangled up with ideas of objective Importance in music, and it becomes this unsatisfying struggle between brain and heart.

These sorts of lists and rankings were basically made for albums like Vulnicura. It’s original, complex, and beautiful, the work of a truly individual artist in peak form. Most of all, it’s very serious, and year-end lists are the natural habitat of “serious art.” The top of my list certainly reflects these biases, and I do have a soft-spot for a well-executed serious album that I feel accomplishes something beyond just being enjoyable to listen to. So I never really thought twice about putting Vulnicura very high on the list, since it just felt right.

Figuring out what to do with I Want to Grow Up was a lot tougher. Originally, it wasn’t on the list at all. As I grew more and more obsessed with it in the last few months, I eventually threw it on there, and then continued to move it up as I seemed unable to stop listening to it. It became kind of the Cinderella story of the list: mentally, I envisioned Colleen Green stunning Wild Flag in round one, scrapping past St. Vincent, beating EMA with a three-point buzzerbeater, etc.

This underdog image fits Green, who is about as far from Björk as an artist can be. While Vulnicura is made by an artist with seemingly no limitations, I Want to Grow Up is all about working within them. Green doesn’t have Björk’s ridiculous vocal range (it’s okay, no one does). Her songs are conventional, simple guitar-driven pop nuggets — far from the lengthy and complex sonic landscapes of Vulnicura. And while Björk always has fantastical imagery in her album covers and videos, the cover of Green’s album shows her just wearing a plain dress with a sad birthday hat on her head.

Those limitations are why I initially didn’t think I Want to Grow Up was as good as I think it is now: it’s an album that doesn’t really present itself as “important” in the way albums on these lists are supposed to be. On the surface, it sounds so much like it’s going to be another one of those 90s revival albums that is fun to listen to but quickly forgotten about. And the subject matter of the songs — Green’s slacker anxieties and difficulties with becoming an adult — can also easily be perceived as trifling or juvenile compared to something like Vulnicura that is so adult. I actually suspect Green wants be underestimated and not taken seriously, so the truths in her music hit that much harder.

Green’s current Twitter bio (@ColleenGreen420, by the way) is “I can only be me,” which sums up her appeal: she may not have the prodigious natural gifts Björk has, but she knows it, and I Want to Grow Up is (somewhat ironically) a very self-assured album made by someone who knows exactly how to use the skills they do have. Green establishes herself as a great pop songwriter on the album, which is stacked with addictive hooks. But I think what Green really has going for her is her personality, and I Want to Grow Up is really a masterpiece of character. Her lyrics are funny, sad, and moving in equal measure, and she writes with remarkable clarity. I get a really strong sense of who Green is through her music, which is difficult to accomplish and a trait I really value.

Most of all, I Want to Grow Up has meant more to me personally than any album in a long time. No album has ever felt like it was reading my mind this way, and I have huge respect for Green’s ability to capture the feeling of mundane slacker terror and self-destructiveness that has been so familiar for me. This is really cheesy, but it actually made me feel less weird and alone, knowing that someone else is out there who is having these similar thoughts. To the extent that music can really be “important,” I think it lies in that kind of connection with the artist, which is why I’ve come around on the innocuous I Want to Grow Up as one of my favorite albums of the last five years.

The comparison with Vulnicura isn’t meant to try to figure out if one album is better than the other — debates like that are why I kind of soured on making a big deal out of the list. I just find it interesting that two albums can succeed with such different angles of attack. It illustrates something I like about music, which is that each artist has their own tools to work with: Colleen Green can only be Colleen Green, and Björk can only be Björk. And each, in their own way, is capable of making an album that feels important and necessary to me, as they each have done in 2015.

Colleen Green – “I Want to Grow Up”

Something I’ve found interesting about getting older is that people seem to grow up at different speeds. I know some people my age who breezed into adulthood and are already grown-ups. Things have always moved much more slower for me, and my life usually feels like a series of very cautious baby steps compared to the confident strides that other people are making.

The Facebook era makes this even more stressful by turning growing up (and life in general) into a quantifiable competition: you can now measure the quality of someone’s life by how many likes their posts get, how many photos they’re tagged in, or how many “friends” they have. If you’re lagging behind your peers, Facebook does a good job of informing you by using an algorithm to make sure all of their momentous accomplishments are shoved in your face every time you view your timeline (which only happens because you set a Facebook bookmark years ago that you’re too lazy to remove, but still accidentally click on sometimes while going about your Internet business). The grown-ups always have those big highlighted Facebook posts that take up 90% of your computer screen and get dozens of likes and comments. Meanwhile, mine is mostly some sparsely read blog links with some intermingled bad jokes.

Colleen Green’s latest album, I Want to Grow Up, as you could probably guess from the title, captures this not-quite-adult feeling I’ve had with a brutal level of accuracy. I’m not normally big on the idea of lyrics “speaking to me,” since I find it corny and self-absorbed, but in this case it was hard to ignore that every song on the album was basically my internal monologue for the last few months. On each song, Green describes these anxieties — ranging from TV addiction and a short attention span to the ultimate fear of dying alone — as if she’s constantly facepalming after just screwing something up (some sample lyrics: “I’m shitty and lame and I’m dumb and I’m a bore,” “I can’t hold a conversation,” “I’ve gotta stop doing things that are bad for me.”) It’s a familiar mindset for anyone who has been stuck in life and knows they need to do something, but isn’t sure exactly what they should do or how to do it.

All of the negativity and self-loathing would make this a hard album to listen to if Green didn’t have a gift for writing catchy, addictive pop songs. I Want to Grow Up is full of bright, grungy melodies, which along with Green’s voice provide a dissonance between the sound of the music and the dark lyrics. At least half of the songs have been stuck in my head in the last week, with the title track, “TV,” and “Things That Are Bad For Me” leading the way. But the most jolting track on the album is “Deeper Than Love,” a painful song about the fear of intimacy and the possibility of never finding the one — or a one. (It also has another lyric I relate to a lot: “I don’t wanna think about it. It’s too scary.”)

I Want to Grow Up is not a very subtle album. The lyrics are as literal as it gets, and the songs are all mostly familiar sounds to anyone who likes 90s music. I actually think this is part of why it’s good. It takes familiar structures and signifiers (slacker pop songs) and warps them with the lyrics, which have a real edge because they are so straight-forward. Ultimately, your enjoyment of the album probably hinges on those lyrics. If you get where she is coming from, are in a similar place, or have been in that place yourself, it’ll be an enjoyable album that has real emotional depth. If you’re one of those people who grew up easily, I could see her annoying you, and you would probably be better off spending your time playing croquet and drinking tea or whatever it is that real adults do.