Sisterhood of the Traveling Playlist

by Sarah Gray


My younger sister is into music.  She runs the festival circuit, occasionally finds herself part of a band, has composed the odd song or two.  To a large extent, I rely on her to introduce me to new music.  An embarrassing percentage of the music on my iPod is from my sister.  Honestly, I have never even heard of or listened to a great deal of it as the amount borders on overwhelming.

Generally speaking, our tastes are rather divergent.  We don’t dress similarly.  She has a Mohawk and dermal piercings.  I own a number of articles of clothing from J. Crew and have never so much as dyed my hair.  We don’t have a ton in the way of overlapping interests.  We don’t keep the same kind of company.  I sincerely doubt, if we were not related, that my sister and I would ever really cross paths.  Music is where we share the most common ground and it has in many ways been the jumping off point for our relationship as adults.

As most people know, there is a lot of conflict built into family.  First of all, there is no telling what kind of people you are going to get.  You don’t get to vet them the way you do with friends.  Plus you are all stuck in this confined space together (also known as a home), for close to two decades.  That said, you feel this odd biological pull toward these people.  To be fair, I can be a difficult person to live with, particularly if you are the sort of person who craves attention and emotional support.  Generally speaking, I like it on the quiet side and I prefer to be alone when I am home.  As such, during our childhood, I largely ignored my siblings.  There was just enough of an age gap that we were never really on the same wavelength.  They still tell stories about growing up in which I star as some kind of house despot, which is a designation I’m sure I share with countless other oldest children.  I maintain they are exaggerating, but my abrasiveness effected my sister the most.  She is the sensitive one.  And the nice one.  As a result, we have not always gotten along particularly well.  I find emotional sensitivities to be tiresome.  I could fairly be considered overbearing and impatient.  When we were younger bridging this gap was a much bigger problem than it has become, largely, possibly exclusively, due to our mutual affection for music.  It is hard to imagine what our relationship would look like without it.

Despite having generally disparate tastes, we intersect more often than not music-wise.  Some of my favorite bands have been recommended by my sister: Muse, Sia, She Wants Revenge, Metric, Phoenix.  Don’t get me wrong, I love music.  I just often don’t take the time to seek out new artists.  I let myself run into them organically, at the gym or out at a bar.  Or I get them from my sister.  Mostly, I get them from my sister.  She is usually ahead of the curve trend-wise.  I am not cool.  I do not generally feel the need to be on the cutting edge of anything.  I spend most of my time on the internet reading the news or looking for new books to read.

She has definitely recommended a few duds.  She has a truly inexplicable affection for Incubus, which I have made considerable effort to appreciate and I just can’t get there.


I mean, I wouldn’t call them terrible, but I fail to see what there is to get excited about.  I feel similarly about Matt and Kim and Tegan and Sara, and Haim.  My sister will go on and on about these bands.  She says things like, “they’re my obsession,” “my musical idols,” “I love them so much I can’t even describe.”  She bandies extremes the way some people use prepositions.  You could give me a million dollars and get a far more tempered response than my sister would give you about something that she accidentally stumbled across on Pandora.  We’ve been to some great concerts, Phoenix, The Airborne Toxic Event, Metric.  Concerts are a good activity for us.  Both of us are in a good mood, out doing something we like that is loud and distracting enough to keep us from needling each other.  It has been years since my sister and I have spent any real time together that did not involve a show or Christmas.

I recently reached out to her for a list of newer bands that are starting to make headway on the scene; bands that are about to “pop off”(which is something I would never say, but my sister would).   She sent me a promising list, which after vetting, is well worth checking out.  Phantogram is my favorite.  They have a Florence and the Machine meets Metric kind of feel.  “Fall in Love,” is a standout track.

“Don’t Move,” and “Black Out Days,” are also worth checking out, though after scoping out a number of them, I did not encounter any I didn’t like.

Daughter has a similar sound with an ethereal female vocalist combined with a slow, haunting background, which based on the list I received, my sister seems to be particularly into these days.  They appear to be fans of simple, one to two word song titles, “Still” and “Candles” are both worth a listen.

They have kind of a downer feel, good songs to listen to in your sweatpants while eating ice cream alone in your apartment.

Until The Ribbon Breaks has an interesting sound to it with an effective use of electronic elements without being over the top.  I mean, some electronic music I kind of feel like, how is this different from listening to the refrigerator?  Until The Ribbon Breaks blends electronic with non-electronic elements to produce a really mesmerizing quality to their music.  They have the sort of songs that you like more each time you listen to them.

I mentioned that I was not really looking for electronic music when I asked her for a list, because it is just not my thing.  But she resists my resistance.  She wants everyone to love the things she loves as much as she does.  This is one of her better qualities, but I resist her inclusiveness.  In the interest of illustration, some bands that I was originally going to cut from this list include Charlie XCX, Chvrches, and Bastille.   Now, I can see how these may appeal to people into this kind of music, but Chvrches and Charlie XCX sound like the Mickey Mouse Club to me.  And, I may be the only person on the planet who doesn’t like that Pompeii song by Bastille based on how often it seems to be on the radio, but I think Bastille is like listening to Wonder Bread.  They are wholly underwhelming.  Lucky for me and my sister, we long ago abandoned the need to agree on much of anything.

It has taken a while for our relationship to develop into what it has become, which still leaves a lot of room for growth.  Do I wish we were closer?  Sure.  But more importantly, I wish it were easier because I know we both feel like we work hard when we are together and I don’t think either of us feels like we have the relationship we really want.  That said, music makes us the best selves we can be with and for each other.  There are a ton of things we will never agree on and our lifestyles are unlikely to ever really converge.  We do not inhabit the same spheres, but our shared affection for music has, in a lot of ways, helped bridge those gaps.  There will always be good bands, so if nothing else, we’ll always have a reason to get in touch.


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