Porter House Listens: Our Writing Playlist

Illustration of two people sitting near a surreal record player.

“Long Playing Historical Record” by Nick Perry

Do you need to write with playlists thematically curated to your current work in progress, or do you consider even being aware of the existence of song lyrics while writing to be sacrilegious? We understand we present this writing playlist to an audience with opinions as infinite in number as they are in volatility; nonetheless, we offer it to you below, along with humble defenses of our choices.

Joanna Newsom
Kaitlyn Burd, Fiction Editor

Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me and Divers are two of my most beloved albums. Both have been as inspiring to my writing as they’ve been distracting from it. As it turns out, when someone is a compositional genius, it’s difficult not to pay attention to those compositions and to the whip-smart lyrics that accompany them.

“Electric Counterpoint III Fast” – composed by Steve Reich, recorded by Pat Metheny
Asa Johnson, Poetry Editor

Reich’s layered, minimalist composition reaches its finale with the third movement’s entrancing upper-range melody; its funky, video-gamey bassline; and its sustained guitar chords. Listening to this track is always productive for me, because I find it easy to get lost in the flow of the conversations between musical phrases—repetitious enough to create a steady pace with a driving momentum, yet varied enough to sustain interest without distracting.

Ambient 1/Music for Airports by Brian Eno
Ben McCormick, Nonfiction Editor

As a rule, airports suck, but the music for them is useful. It’s designed to calm people in one of the most stressful places we have, to center us when we’re destabilized from place and time and community—exactly how I feel arriving at the page.

Airports is a lyric-less, sparse work that allows me to feel as though what’s in front of me is all I need. A wandering piano plays against distant angelic harmonies and synth undertones, and it does just what I want it to: focuses me, then gets out of the way. My colleagues who write to lyrical pieces are superheroes or sociopaths or both; the words are too loud in my head. I can’t afford a cryogenic chamber to climb in after the chaotic collisions of a day living on this earth, but Brian Eno’s work is a nice substitute. It fosters its own atmosphere. Though claiming to run about forty-seven minutes, after any play I’m not convinced it’s been more than twenty.

All kinds of music accentuate certain emotions in writers already vibing their work, but what I need more than anything these days is to be opened up at all. Airports won’t be this list’s Escalade, nor its Mustang; it’s the Camry. And here’s the beauty of the Camry: it gets you to work.

“Head Underwater” by Jenny Lewis
Natalie Brown, Reviews Editor

Music sets the mood for a lot of my fiction, but only if it’s music I already know very well. Listening to music that’s like a best friend allows me to let the lyrics in without having to think about them. Like all writers, I have themes and motifs and settings that recur in my work. My fiction often takes place near bodies of water—oceans, natural pools, beaches. I also write mostly about women and their relationships and emotional lives. Accordingly, the album I find myself writing to most often in the past few years is Jenny Lewis’s The Voyager. The Voyager ticks all my boxes: I’ve listened to it countless times, it feels beachy and watery and has just the right vibe I’m looking for a lot of the time, and it’s created by a woman.

“Immunity” by Jon Hopkins
Ali Riegel, Copy Editor

I tend to be sonically ambidextrous when it comes to my writing habits. Sometimes I can work without headphones in a busy, clattering coffee shop; sometimes I have trouble focusing when I’m writing in bed on a quiet night. When I do need a soundscape to aid me in my efforts, I always go to “Immunity,” the warm, sorrowful conclusion to the album with which it shares its name—an album of alternately pulse-throbbing and intimate electronic/ambient tracks by Hopkins, a longtime Brian Eno collaborator. I like to put this ten-minute finale on repeat, or pair it with a similar work like Music for Airports, to create the meditative environment for a long, productive writing session.

“The Crane Wife 3” by The Decemberists
Rachel Spies, Podcast Editor

I can only write to music I know backwards and forwards, otherwise I get distracted. Right now I’m writing a lot of lyrical prose and listening to The Crane Wife by The Decemberists on repeat to help keep me in the right headspace. “The Crane Wife 3” is an especially repetitive song that can accompany my thoughts without needing attention. There is a balance throughout the album of instrumental interludes that also makes it a great album to write to.

“Blue in Green” by Miles Davis
Caroline Frost, Art Editor

I owe it to my father for instilling a love of jazz in me at a very young age. Of the many CDs in the case kept in his old Izuzu Trooper, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue was one he played endlessly. To this day, I continue that tradition by throwing it on when I’m writing, reading, or cooking. “Blue in Green” is one of two ballads on the album—an intricately beautiful piece switching between the slow, seductive piano of Bill Evans and the grandiose, transcendent trumpeting of Davis himself. It also features legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, so it’s no wonder the album has been heralded as the epitome of “cool jazz.” I love “Blue in Green” for writing to because the instrumentals are deeply emotional, meditative, and dreamy, enabling me to relax and focus.

“Destroy Me” by Mr. Kitty
Josh Hines, Publicity Relations Manager

I’m currently listening to “Destroy Me” from Mr. Kitty’s ETERNITY album while I write. I’m so far down the rabbit hole that is Spotify’s discover weekly playlist that I don’t know how to get back to those sweet, soothing melodies of Skrillex that lead me into this musical wonderland of synth-pop.

“the wedding!” by Brevin Kim
Brady Brickner-Wood, Managing Editor

Other than an occasional session with headphones—where my go to albums are Mary Lattimore’s Hundreds of Days and Nils Frahm’s Felt—I prefer to write in silence. (Shout out to all my fellow earplug wearers.) Although music isn’t explicitly part of my writing process, it plays a vital function in my creative life. In my writing, I try to harness the same impassioned flair you feel when a song totally fucks you up. I often experience music viscerally, so when something does fuck me up, it does so thoroughly. When I first heard Brevin Kim’s “the wedding!”—from their wonderful new EP, cliff—I wanted to both bust my head through a wall and linger in the song’s frantic emotional core. The Dylan Brady-produced beat is dizzyingly brilliant: a gentle guitar riff gives way to a swell of metallic textures and squealing synths and distorted 808s. Amid the madness, Brevin Kim’s Cal takes off, delivering an urgent, pleading performance. (“I’ve been running ’round inside my bedroom / Thoughts inside my head give me no leg room / Brought me back to life the night I met you / Mute me, shoot me down, please, I beg you.”) “the wedding!” is an exhilarating track that contains textural, technical, and emotional multitudes—qualities often found in our favorite stories and poems, too.

“Blindsided” by Bon Iver
Taylor Kirby, Asst. Managing Editor

Listing Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago here isn’t a choice so much as it is psychological conditioning. When I ask Alexa to put this classic indie folk album on shuffle, my brain knows from many hours of practice that it’s time to start typing. It’s aural entrapment within an ambient soundscape, but it works.

Will Pellett, Content Editor

Since high school, I’ve relied on the ambient melancholy ballads of Explosions In The Sky for inspiration. Their post-rock discography has helped put my pencil to paper or fingers to keys countless times. Instrumentals have been and continue to be the soundtrack for my creative projects (This Will Destroy You, J Dilla, Clams Casino). Lyrics are a distraction. Someone else’s words, competing with the jumbled thoughts in my head, interrupt an attempt at self-expression through my own language. I’ve only recently been able to filter in softer, shoegazey vocalists into my writing playlists (Beach House, Slowdive, Jay Som, some Radiohead). Thus it would be disingenuous to not promote an instrumental song. “Hedron” is inviting and maddening, a contemporary jazz tune that knocks you off balance. I find myself writing at a pace to match the song’s progression and tempo changes. Listening to the song is transactional: your words become the lyrics to the song, and the song, you now feel, has been paired with the story it was meant to score.

“Evergreen 143” by Electric Youth
Amanda Scott, Asst. Executive Editor

Before this summer I’d never heard of Electric Youth, but with the release of Memory Emotion, I was an instant fan. It’s everything you crave in a synth-pop album: cyclical, dreamy, contemplative. It’s the perfect sonic experience to get lost in, especially while writing. I can’t recommend it enough, and “Evergreen 143” is my favorite earworm from the album. Complete with sultry vocals, the song moves slowly and patiently, inviting the listener to sit with the melody, feel the groove. And perhaps it’s that—this permission to feel—that I appreciate most about Electric Youth’s style. I can’t wait see what the duo serves up next.

Article illustration by Nick Perry.

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