A Lunar Year Playlist — A Look Back Through Music

Pig lantern with a lotus lanterns on its back and around it with a Korean temple, shrubs and large stones in the background and foreground.
Year of the Golden Pig Lantern at Samgwangsa Temple. Busan, South Korea. February 2019.

We celebrated the Korean Lunar New Year in Busan this past February, and it had marked a year since my wife, Tammy, and I moved to South Korea in February 2018. So I thought it was a perfect time of transition to reflect on this Lunar Year and our time living overseas thus far. We’re currently in Siem Reap, Cambodia and funnily enough we’ll be celebrating the Cambodian New Year in April.

Since January 2014, I’ve made it a tradition to reflect on the previous year by listening to “The Strombo Show Hundo.” It’s a countdown of 100 songs and is curated by Canada’s George Strombolopolous and his team at CBC music. It’s an eclectic music mix that has something for everyone: classical, dance, folk, hip-hop, metal, pop, rap, punk, rock, singer-songwriter etc.

And every year, cherry picking songs from the “Hundo” list, I compile my own music playlist that I send to friends and family. I also include a bit of a reflection on what the year has been for me.

Normally, I would pass on a burned CD in person or mail it off, but because I’m overseas this year, I’ll instead offer my playlist via Spotify (you can sign-up for a free account on their website, but it may not be available in your country) and YouTube . You can perhaps even recreate it yourself with iTunes or whatever music playing programs you use.

So I’m sharing 17 tracks with you, along with some pictures and reflections on 2018 and the beginning of 2019. The song numbers are from the 2018 “Hundo” list, and you can click through to the artists’ websites in the subheadings. I hope you enjoy it and please let me know what you think.

*Note: Some lyrics are not suitable for work (NSFW).

Spotify playlist — “A Lunar Year: A Look Back Through Music.”

Song Tracks 1 & 2:

96. Mac Miller, “2009” / 94. Nick Ferrio, “Anxiety”

A man in ripped jeans at the knee and a rolled up dress shirt playing guitar, while a dog peeks around him and a woman is walking behind him in an urban setting.
A busker playing guitar in the neighborhood of Gastown. in Vancouver, Canada. July 2017.

These two songs make me think of the beginning of 2018, as I wrapped up over 12 years of work with Covenant House Vancouver — 14 years, including some volunteer work with Covenant House International. It’s an organization helping at-risk and homeless young people, and I am grateful for my time there. I’m grateful for the exceptional people I met and worked with, and for the experiences of much heartache and joy in working with young people struggling with and at times overcoming — among other things — situations of abandonment, rejection, abuse, substance use, and mental health.

“Now every day I wake up and breathe
I don’t have it all but that’s alright with me”

Mac Miler

Mac Miller’s song “2009” is beautiful and poignant, touching on depression, addiction, and heartache — but also little realizations of peace, acceptance, and clarity in life. Mac Miller’s death is but a microcosm of difficulties many people face around substance use and mental health.

The opioid crisis in Vancouver is still very real, and I witnessed both tragedy as well as hopeful change, with young people seeking and finding employment, health, recovery, and housing. Be kind to those who struggle with drug use and mental health — there are stories we need to listen to and spaces we need to create to offer healing, help, and empowerment. I encourage you to seek understanding and education around homelessness, the disease of addiction, and mental health.

Nick Ferrio’s song “Anxiety” also touches on mental health and the stigma associated with it — which is hopefully lessening more and more. The song reminds me of Gabor Mate‘s work on anxiety and mental health, which in part, points out how we all struggle with mental health issues on varying levels.

I think the most important support I came to access myself, and help others access, was therapy and counselling. I found it beneficial being able to talk about my feelings — both good and bad — process disappointment, setbacks, trauma, where I saw myself and where I was going in life. It’s perhaps not for everyone, but we can hopefully ensure that no one feels alone and is able to reach out for help with any problem; and that people who are distressed in anyway, depressed, struggling with anxiety or feelings of suicide can reach out and see hope in their situations.

“I need to put my phone down
Try to slow down
Put aside ambition and anxiety”

Nick Ferrio

Personally, it’s been a challenging year moving overseas for the first time to a new country and working remotely from home. I’ve tried to not isolate myself too much. It was a challenge connecting with others, whether it’s family and friends back in Canada or people in Busan, but I’m grateful for both the new connections I have been able to make and the supportive relationships I’m still able to maintain long distance.

If there’s anything I’ve learned working with Covenant House, it’s that we are all not that different. We all need love, a place to call home, community, support, and someone to listen to us and cheer us on. We all have difficulties in our past, addictions of varying degrees, need for good mental health, a roof over our heads, balance and stability in our lives. We’re all looking for meaning and want to contribute something good in this world.

Song Tracks 3 & 4

87. Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel” / Stars, “My Favourite Book”

A woman looking at books surrounded by crammed stacks of used books and old bookshelves with a man in the foreground hunched over.
Tammy browsing through books in Bosudong Book Alley, in Busan, South Korea. June 2018.

“You come in, I can read you, you’re my favourite book.”

Stars

Jannelle Monae’s song, “Make Me Feel,” is just fun and funky, and “My Favourite Mistake” is a bit of a throwback song that I remember hearing at a Stars’ concert with Tammy at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl, in Vancouver, Canada. We celebrated being together as a couple for 10 years in February 2018, and I am grateful for her love, her support and our relationship.

Song Tracks 5 & 6

93. Lost Cousins, “Trails” / 86. Yamantaka/Sonic Titan, “Someplace”

Both these songs are great metaphors for our move to South Korea last February, in leaving the familiar and comfortable and trying to get adjusted to a new culture and environment. They are songs that can reflect change any of us is going through when we are thrust into something new and different.

The band Lost Cousins said in a statement that “Trails” is a track “about feeling lost in a familiar situation and environment. The lyrics reference a child following a trail they thought they knew perfectly, but as the song progresses, they learn that they’ve lost all sense of direction. This misadventure is a metaphor for making major life decisions and the effects of their outcomes.”

“Someplace” is an ethereal song. In an interview with Jordan Darville at The Fader, Yamantaka/Sonic Titan describes this song in this way: “Dynamically, I think we tried to create the sense of trepidation when embarking on a new venture. Wanting to move on, to blast past your old concerns and go on. You’d rather be someplace new and potentially dangerous than accept the slow decay of the situation you’re already in. It’s time to go faster, to get more and go further.”

For me, it has been a year of stretching beyond past endeavours into new challenges — including starting a new small business with editing, photography and writing. And this entails, like most travel, getting lost at times, reorienting oneself, and discovering new things about yourself and the world.

It was such a privilege being able to live in Busan for a year, and travel all over South Korea getting to know its people, food and culture as much as we could. We visited many temples, cooked and ate a lot of bibimbap and met a lot of interesting people along the way.

Song Track 7

25. Richard Reed Parry, “I Was In the World (Was the World In Me?)”

A woman hiking down a path surrounded by mountains, hills and silver grass while sun shines towards the camera and creates sunspots.
Hiking in Jirisan National Park, South Korea. October 2018.

On another tangent regarding “trails,” we really enjoyed the hiking culture in Busan. We visted numerous National Parks throughout South Korea and enjoyed our local mountains in Busan as well. South Korea is 70% mountains, and the locals have really embraced hiking as a form of exercise and getting outdoors. Both young and old get out to hike, although we were told that there is some light-hearted derision towards a segment of the middle-aged population who are more into looking fashionable in their high-end hiking gear than actually hiking.

The actual trails, I think, are perhaps a bit indicative of the South Korean way of thinking and history; we are used to hiking trails being more singular in nature (although there are some off beaten trails), whereas the trails we have seen in South Korea have shot off like artery’s in our bodies — numerous and hard to follow at times, but they often all get you to the same place. And there are stark reminders of past wars with bunkers, helicopter pads, and sometimes even warnings of mines sprinkling some trails.

“I was in the woods with the falling trees, leaves were in the air that was breathing me; breathing in the air now my body takes leave as we turn turn turn again”

Richard Reed Parry

It all makes for a fun hiking adventure if you don’t know how to read hangul, although there are usually hikers kind enough to point you in the right direction. I think “I Was In the World (Was the World In Me?)” just reminds me of all those times we’ve gone hiking in South Korea, when we’ve been able to get out into nature and remember that we are all connected to each other and to the natural world.

Song Track 8

84. Ellevator, “New Arrival”

This is a great song when you are reflecting on life. It makes me think of having to let go of previous iterations of who I was through my previous employment. This has felt a bit like a sabbatical year where I’ve been able to take a step back and try and try on some new hats in terms of creativity and employment. It’s been a lot of falling down and failing but also some small steps and learning along the way. Ultimately, I think it is about being true to who you are.

Song Track 9

83. Odie, “Phenomenon”

“I can feel it, coming on
I think I wanna change the, whole world
Can you see the, phenomenon”

Odie

This just reminds me of the possibilities to enact change in my life and in the world around me. It conjures up what is possible for good in this world, and that others are wanting the same. I’m working on a portrait project on identity, dreams, and change, and I hope to share it with you in the coming months on Instagram and Tumblr.

Song Track 10

76. Zaki Ibrahim, “Cut Loose”

Because you just have to “cut loose” sometimes.

Song Track 11

75. Amigo and the Devil, “Cocaine and Abel”

“I’m not proud of all the choices I’ve made for a lot of my life
Following the shadow when I damn well know that behind me is the light”

Amigo and the Devil

A beautiful song. I think listening to “Cocaine And Abel” is for when you want to reflect deeply on the wrong choices you have made in the past, like when you have hurt the ones you love. And perhaps letting go of those mistakes and moving on to make better ones.

Song Track 12 & 13

“Hatha Yoga: Standing Yoga Poses (20 min), Part 1” / 36. Khruangbin, “Maria Tambien”

A woman in shorts and a tank top doing a yoga pose on one leg with the other leg tucked under and her hands pressed together over her head beside a small-tiered waterfall and surrounded by large rocks and greenery.
Tammy doing a tree pose by some waterfalls. Busan, South. July 2018.

Mindfulness has always been an important tool for me in the past, but this past year I’ve found that practicing yoga is both beneficial for mind and body. It’s ironic that it took me leaving Vancouver, a big hub for yoga, and traveling to South Korea to discover this.

As you may know, Tammy is a fitness and yoga instructor, and I was lucky that she developed a few yoga routines for me to try this past year. The song “Hatha Yoga: Standing Yoga Poses (20 min), Part 1” (not on the “Hundo” list) is one that I’ve practiced yoga to often.

While I am still very much a beginner in yoga and have not practiced it on a very consistent basis, I feel like I’ve made some good strides in my flexibility, form and core strength, and I am looking forward to learning more about yoga. I’m slowly learning that yoga is about breathing life into parts of your body, not necessarily about flexibility. It is about what your mind and body is needing in the present moment.

A view of the Taj Mahal on a partly cloudy day, with two woman walking beside blue reflecting pools and fountains, and people milling about.
The Taj Mahal and blue reflecting pools and fountains in Agra, India. August 2018.

We also had a memorable four week trip to Rajasthan, India in August 2018. Some of the highlights were going to the Taj Mahal, volunteering at an animal rescue, and attending a cooking class in Udaipur.

A close-up of a white calf's face as it feeds on a bottle of milk, with its one eye and nose prominently displayed.
Feeding calves at Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur, India. August 2018.

While Khruangin is a fusion band, they have an Iranian influence. And I was suprised to find out that India actually has a large Persian influence in its culture, due to a large population that emigrated from Iran in the past. So “Maria Tambien” conjures up memories of India in all its complexities.

Song Track 14

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

Eight colorfully designed posters featuring letters that spell out "Busan" for its 2018 International Film Festival, with "Now Showing" lettered above it.
The 2018 Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). Busan, South Korea. October 2018.

Another highlight last year was attending the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). Not quite the same experience as the one we’ve become accustomed to in Vancouver (VIFF) but satisfying in its own way. We saw some really well-made films—documentaries to feature films: Chi-town, Dead Women Walking, Float Like a Butterfly, and The Songs of Grassroots, to name just a few.

“Tell me somethin’, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?”

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

However, the best film I saw last year was not at BIFF — it was the critically acclaimed film “A Star is Born.” There are numerous tracks which resonated with me, but “Shallow” spoke to me about whether we are content with who and where we are; about longing for change; and in Lady Gaga’s words, in an interview with Jon Blistein in Rolling Stone, “. . . the need and the drive to dive in to the deep end and stay away from the shallow area(s)” in life. I didn’t know what to expect with Lady Gaga’s acting or Bradley Cooper’s singing, but I was pleasantly surprised by both.

Song Tracks 15 & 16

35. Jean Michel-Blais, “Roses” / 1. John Prine, “Summers End”

These are two beautiful songs about illness and loss — things we perhaps don’t want to think about, but in reality happens all of the time around us.

Jean Michel Blais said in a statement that, “’Roses’ is a funeral piece dedicated to my friend’s mother who died from cancer. The ostinato, the repeating single note in the intro, represents her beating heart, and the ever-present tumour, sometimes forgotten but still growing. How do ill people find peace, if they can at all? ‘Roses’ is my attempt to reflect a journey of someone’s musical memories, wandering from pop to classical remembrances, concluding on nostalgic harmony.”

And although John Prine’s song is primarily a song about loss, I think it’s also a song about “coming home.” We had a quick visit back to Canada this past January to visit family and friends in Calgary and Vancouver. As much as we will continue to travel — however long and wherever that will take us this year — I think it’s important to have family and friends we can circle back to. I am reminded about reading something about nomads — that although they often uprooted themselves, they followed a pattern of returning to places they have been — places of familiarity and sustenance.

“No you don’t have to
Be alone
Just come on home”

John Prine

While we travel, I am grateful for family and friends we can go back to and ground ourselves a bit. My hope for all of us this next year is that we will all experience moments of “home” wherever we are — that we all have safe places to go back to, and that no one feels truly alone.

Song Track 17

Avicii, “The Nights”

“He said, “One day you’ll leave this world behind
So live a life you will remember.”

Avicii

The last song is just a fun one to dance out to and is another one from a musician who died last year (RIP Avicii). It’s consistent with the theme of loss but also of living our best lives.

Listen to Music

"Listen" painted in block letters on a white wall with a quote beneath it and 5 skinny shelves on the wall holding sparsely spaced postcards.
Listening room at the National Music Center in Calgary, Canada. January 2019.

“Music can break hearts, challenge conventions and give voice to emotions. Slip on some headphones and then share some thoughts. How does music make you feel?”

National Music Centre listening room, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Lastly, I’ll leave you with 31 songs from the “Strombo Show Hundo” that didn’t quite make the cut but that I really enjoyed. There are many political ones addressing the landscape of poverty, politics, Indigenous resistance, racism, sexual assault, sexual exploitation and social justice—and also ones about love, loss, work, and just plain old fun.

The “B-side”

Spotify playlist — “A Lunar Year: A Look Back Through Music (B-Side).”

99. Soccer Mommy, “Cool”; 98. Kacey Musgraves, “Slow Burn”; 95. Ice Cube, “Arrest the President”; 85. Men I Trust, “Show Me How”; 82. Drake, “Summer Games”; 81. Kali Uchis Feat, Tyler, The Creator & Bootsy Cline, “After the Storm”; 80. Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers, “Apocalypse Now (& Later); 79. Mitski, “Geyser; 74. Deafheaven, “Canary Yellow”; 72. Gorrilaz, “Humility”; 70. Courtney Barnett, “Nameless, Faceless”; 67. Noname, “Blaxploitation”; 61. Bahamas, “So Free”; 59. Dizzy, “Backstroke”; 57. The Internet, “It Gets Better With Time”; 52. Greg Keelor, “Gord’s Tune”; 50. The Kills, “List of Demands (Reparations)”; 49. Born Ruffians, “Miss You”; 40. Coeur de Pirate, “Premonition”; 38. Jacques Greene, “Avatar Beach”; 34. Charlotte Wilson Day, “Doubt”; 32. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”; 27. Hubert Lenoir, “Fille de personne II”; 21. Iskwe (Ft. Tanya Tagaq), “The Unforgotten”; 12. Kamasi Washington, “Fists of Fury”; 9. Marie Davidson, “Work It”; 8. Shad, “The Stone Throwers (Gone in a Blink); 5. Jennifer Castle, “Crying Shame”; 4. Jeremy Dutcher, “Ultestakon”; 3. Snotty Nose Rez Kids, “The Warriors”; 2. Rezz, “Witching Hour”

Support Musicians

I encourage you to support the musicians by downloading their songs, and I recommend giving a listen to The Strombo Show Hundo yourself. It’s an inspiring listen and gives you all sorts of artists to look up and musical trails to meander down. I have found so many musical gems on the there in the past. And you can even find some of the past Strombo Show Hundo Lists for 2016 and 2017 on iTunes if you want them.

Share Your Thoughts and Playlists

I would love to hear what you’ve been listening to this past year. What are your favorite songs, who are your favorite musicians, and what would make your playlist this year? Please leave a comment, send me an email, or let me know on Facebook or Twitter. Or even better, share me your playlists through Spotify or YouTube.

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