There’s a knuckle-cracking kind of music. The kind that releases something in you, a popping, weightless emancipation. Usually, for me, it siphons away an invisible pressure I didn’t know was building.

That pressure isn’t invisible at the moment, though. With the world like it is. I’m still alone most of the time, despite the uneasy loosening of lockdown restrictions. They might be looser, but I’m still here, gathering myself in what’s left of their confines. It’s all just too weird, still – so there’s time, and restricted space for the pressure to build. All this nothingness, pushing at the boundaries of the brain. Accumulating.

I love music. It seems almost absurd to write that -who doesn’t love music? – but I do, I take it with me everywhere. I feel naked without it. I didn’t realise most people don’t carry their speaker with them around the house from the moment they wake up, until I was living with housemates in Manchester. Then I had to negotiate airspace for other people’s podcasts or (shock! horror!) silence. The best music has the best bits of life contained in it, and in this state of perpetual containment – it helps.

The first song that activated my nervous system was Superstar by Sonic Youth. Something about the whisper-song sent a prickling tingle down my spine and woke me up when I didn’t know my eyes were closed

The UK band Glass Animals does that for me too. I don’t know why; everyone has different triggers. It’s something about their combination of synthetic sounds – deftly layered, acidic pop with melancholic storytelling interwoven throughout. Their best songs are the ones with a constant conflicting undercurrent, a tap-tap-tapping that there’s definitely a proper musical term for which I, quite frankly, don’t know. I’m not a musician, man, I just love it.

ZABA, their first album, was great. I saw them play it in 2015 at Blissfields, a very tame teenager-y festival near my high school town. I didn’t know who the band was yet, but I was drunk (illegally), it was really hot, and I was with my best mates, so, yeah. It was their second album, How to Be A Human Being, that did it for me. That fervent, erratic collection of other people’s stories filled me with electrostatic jittering, the love of a song that becomes a strange sort of need.

(Pork Soda, Life Itself and Agnes are my three favourites, but they’re all damn good.)

I saw them live again in 2016 in Brighton, when I was falling in love for the first time. We were at the stage of falling where you can’t tell anyone the extent of it – not even yourselves, not really – because it’s too delicious a secret. You can only let yourself taste it sparingly – so afraid of flooding your tastebuds and ruining it, losing your appetite. Getting lovesick in a bad way.

We saw the gig at Brighton Dome and were driven back. He pretended his house was near mine (it wasn’t) so our friend’s mum would drop us off together, to my empty house. We put How to Be A Human Being on the big living room speakers and fell asleep on the sofa, still listening. Fuck being sparing, conserving the joy of it. We wanted it all at once.

I felt the same way in Manchester this February, seeing them play at Gorilla, a tiny venue that has just escaped closure during the pandemic. It was one of their first gigs since drummer Joe recovered from serious injury. You could feel the love pulsing from the band. They were spitting energy from every pore, loving us, each other, everything. A roomful of people crackling with tension, ready to release at a familiar drumbeat and riff. Dave, the lead singer, walked through the crowd as he always does. Everyone reached for him, grasping part of his shoulder or back. We used to be able to do that! I wrote that night that it was amazing how life can compress so much good into so small a time and, a month later, we were in lockdown.

I don’t have any stories about their latest album, Dreamland, yet because, at the moment, it’s just mine. I’ve listened to it alone, like most things these past six months. I adore Space Ghost Coast to Coast, a bittersweet, scathing examination of toxic masculinity. It’s impossible not to dance to Tangerine. Domestic Bliss makes me cry. The building crescendos make me aware of my staticity. The music forces me into movement, knuckle-cracking preparation to carry on. I don’t know yet where to; I probably won’t know for a while.



Also by Libby