Essential Wax is our new series in partnership with U-Turn Audio where we talk to a different artist each week about the records that have made an impact on them and their work. We kicked it off last week with Dan Deacon on his favorite records he’s bought on Discogs. This time we’re talking to Anna Bulbrook about her favorite albums by amazing women that are intrinsically tied to memories of growing up.
Classically-trained violinist turned multi-instrumentalist, Anna Bulbrook boasts an impressive musical resume. She’s been a member of the alternative rock band, The Airborne Toxic Event for the past eleven years. With The Airborne Toxic Event, she’s played on several late-night TV shows, performed on the season finale of Gossip Girl, and received an RIAA-certified Gold record for “Sometime Around Midnight“. Outside of The Airborne Toxic Event, Anna has also performed and recorded with artists ranging Beyoncé, Kanye West, Vampire Weekend, Sia, and played on Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros‘ debut LP, “Up From Below“. She also releases her own dreamy music as The Bulls (listen below).
After spending the better part of a decade feeling like a lone woman in the alt-rock scene, Anna decided to take matters into her own hands and founded GIRLSCHOOL; a music festival, community and brand with the purpose of creating opportunities for talented women and girls to succeed. 100% of the net proceeds from ticket sales of every ticketed event goes to a non-profit that empowers girls.
It’s fitting, then, that Anna’s top 5 records for Essential Wax are iconic albums by hella inspiring women. Anna describes them as “five albums by amazing women that trigger sense memories so overwhelming that I will never be able to uncouple the sonic experience of listening to them from specific moments in time. Nor would I want to.”
Here they are, Anna Bulbrook’s favorite albums by amazing women and why they still hit close to home:
I’m eight years old. I’m in a cabin in the woods with my best friend Katie’s family. It’s deep winter. We leave salt bricks out on the stone wall by the picture window for the deer to lick in the snow. I get a second-degree burn on my palm catching a flaming marshmallow before it falls on the floor; I learn not to do that. Katie and I insist on listening to one tape on repeat for the entire drive there and back. Katie knows about this tape because she has a much older sister. Katie and I dance ecstatically to this tape in our room. We jump on the bed until we fall over, and listen to this tape. We go out in the snow, come home with wet feet and hair, and listen to this tape. And that is how I “meet” pop music. I will always, always love this album.
The assignment is to create a large-scale, photo-realistic piece of art with pastels. I’m doing a piece related to the Irish potato famine—I don’t remember why. We’re in the high school art room working overtime to finish. The mood in the room is focused; the air is cottony with pastel dust. I am not able to listen to music while I read or do homework, as my inner classical violinist seems to only be able to listen to music actively. But then someone puts a tape on and turns it up, LOUD. It’s Björk’s “Joga.”
“State of emergency. How beautiful to be…”
And that is how I meet this record, and this artist. As I get to know Björk’s work more, I am blown away by her approach to classical instrumentation. I didn’t know strings could sound so… cool. As a fan of classical new music, I find that her taste and arranging makes intellectual sense to me in a special way that a lot of pop doesn’t. It’s meatier; it has heft. This song begins a Björk phase for me that hasn’t ended.
I am sitting on yet another airplane, leaning my forehead against yet another window, wishing for yet another flight to be over already so I can put my feet down on firm ground. I listen to this record over, and over, and over. Travel time is measured in how many times I will listen to this record. I learn how to read The New York Times on my phone while listening to music because of this record. It feels like I am on tour forever and I listen to this record forever. When I finally get home, I can’t listen to it for a long, long time.
I will forever admire how an album that has such a defined, mellow palette, that is so restrained in its rhythm and melody, is so memorable. It’s understated, but fucking sticky. That is the magic of Beach House. Also, if I could steal her voice like Ursula does to the Little Mermaid, I would. I would steal the shit out of it.
My first real concert—when my parents let me and my friend Lauren go by ourselves for the first time—was seeing Fiona Apple at the Orpheum on her victory lap for this album. She sat alone in the center of the stage with a piano and a spotlight, and yet she sounded exactly like her. I don’t know why this impressed me so much, maybe I instinctively knew it was special to be able to bring the intensity of the vocals on the album to the Orpheum in Boston, alone. Lauren and I spent a good third of the concert gathering all of the cigarettes we could get our hands on, and smoking them furiously in the bathroom with half of the young women of Boston while Fiona left her guts all over the stage. We were so caked in smoke smell that it stank up the family car for a week. Somehow, we didn’t get in trouble.
We are juniors now; we feel pretty cool about ourselves. In our class homeroom, there is this gray-blue carpet everywhere. It climbs up the built-in seating. We sit on this carpet every morning for assembly before class, avoiding the chewing gum stains. After assembly, different groups of kids cluster in different corners of this room throughout the day with different boom boxes, playing their different music–but all of them own this record. All. Of. Them.
Sometimes you can catch kids sleeping on their backpacks between classes to the sound of this record. If you walk through campus, this album is wafting from somewhere on a boom box. If you see a friend sneaking their DiscMan at school, it’s to listen to this record. If one of the seniors flaunts their off-campus privileges by driving through campus, they are blasting this album from their car. This. Album. Is. Everywhere. All. Of. The. Time.