PLAYLIST: Ada Lea’s Sun and Moon Songs
Working with the same dichotomy that inspired her Saddle Creek debut what we say in private, the Montreal songwriter lists ten astrologically bent influences.
It’s hard to classify the sounds of Ada Lea’s new album what we say in private, as it mimics the playful intensity of Angel Olsen’s “Shut Up Kiss Me” on opener “mercury” before unraveling into Big Thief–like existential folk on the ensuing “wild heart.” The reason for this, perhaps, is Alexandra Levy’s scrapped plan to split the record down the middle between tracks she identified as “sun songs” and those she classified as “moon songs.” “Over time, that idea started to feel wrong and out of place, and a distance had grown between me and the concept,” Levy claims. “In the end I would just keep looking for more and more clues until it felt right to stop.”
The result, however, is a blending of the two on songs like “the party,” which begins with an inherently lunar acoustic tranquility before the chorus’s glowing ambiance sets in around the two minute mark. More experimental elements shine through across the album via spoken-word postscripts, distorted vocal samples, ambient blips, and—her evident strong suit—lo-fi crescendos, for a truly unique feel. As a brief intro to her influences on the album’s two distinct themes, the songwriter composed a track list citing four “sun” songs and six “moon” songs, each justified by Levy in more detail. For what Ada Lea listens to in public, stream along via the Spotify playlist below.
what we say in private is out today via Saddle Creek. You can order it here.
Kate Bush, “Cloudbusting”
Early morning, the sun is coming out. Kate’s delivery on this is so optimistic, it creates the most encouraging, buoyant mood for the listener. When I was writing the last few songs on the album, I’d listen to this song first thing as part of my morning ritual—get myself singing and out of my own way. The album was to show (loosely) the eight major phases of the lunar cycle, so each song represents a phase. I’d like to think that with the “sun” side, there’s more of a pull towards light, this general optimism within dark moments. I wanted this feeling of things moving slowly, slowly changing and taking shape.
Buffy Sainte-Marie, “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot”
Pure sunshine for me. Not that I connect with god being alive, but when I hear this song, I can’t help but be reminded of all the magic that exists in the world, how one thing leads to the next, how there is a gentle thread connecting one thing to another.
Joanna Newsom, “In California”
I saw Joanna play live in 2016 and it changed my life. She played this song, and at the moment where she sings the lyrics “there is another, who is a little older” I burst into tears and couldn’t contain the explosion of emotion that had risen to the surface. Whenever I picture the “sun” side of the album I envision this song, and that moment of the concert.
The Beatles, “Good Day Sunshine”
“I need to laugh, when the sun is out.”
Joni Mitchell, “A Case of You”
Apart from this album being called Blue, this particular song takes place in the evening time. I see this definitively as a “moon” song—no doubt!
Joan Armatrading, “Woncha Come on Home”
When I was young my parents would play Joan Armatrading on long car rides. When I revisited Joan’s work last year, this song stood out for me in a big way—chills. There’s such a melancholic hopefulness to the song. I see her by the window, things being half illuminated by a half-moon, singing the song.
Nina Simone, “I Get Along Without You Very Well”
I was in Toronto at a hotel when I first heard Nina’s rendition. My bandmate had a dream the night before that I played the tune and sung it in a non-jazz way. I usually like to pay attention to dreams, so I took this as a sign. That morning at five a.m. I checked out as many versions of the song as possible and stumbled across Nina’s rendition and couldn’t stop listening to it and crying simultaneously, pacing in the hotel corridors. This song is full “moon” for me—full on emotions, full clarity.
Mitski, “Two Slow Dancers”
This song had already come out when we had finished the album. I was at a chalet three hours from my hometown, sitting by the fire listening to the songs at midnight, as soon as they had been released. Weeks after, I found myself continuously coming back to it. Whenever I listen to this song, I am transported to that specific time.
Wilco, “Jesus, Etc.”
“You were right about the stars, each one is a setting sun.”
Leonard Cohen, “Famous Blue Raincoat”
This song represents a dark, moonless night for me, illuminated solely by street lamps. Darkness and an overwhelming sense of calmness. Leonard brings us back to a painful yet resolved moment in time. In Maggie Nelson’s book Bluets, I read that Leonard could no longer remember the specifics of the song. I found that incredible! How the mind has this capacity to forget! It is in this forgetfulness that we can move out of painful experiences, and Leonard leads by example.