Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk: Mood music and deep listens

Pleasure activism isn’t just about happiness—it’s about deeper feeling and fulfillment.
In a detail from the cover of her 2022 album "Special," the artist Lizzo is shown posing in a sequined cap that covers her head and neck.
Lizzo, in a detail from the cover of her 2022 album “Special.”

Pleasure activism isn’t just about happiness—it’s about deeper feeling and fulfillment.

How is it already August? This summer is moving so fast. Perhaps I’m feeling like I lost time because I recently had a rare-for-me summer depressive episode (typically I’m a SAD—seasonal affective disorder—bitch) so I spent a lot of time sleeping and alone inside. I try to be pretty open and public about my depression because for a long time I felt like if I wasn’t experiencing suicidal idea or on medication, then I wasn’t really depressed and I should just keep it to myself. But being honest about how I feel, asking for support, and getting care from my partners and friends are ways I lessen the severity and length of a depressive episode. During this most recent one, I’ve been really connecting to the pleasure of music in two ways. First, the pleasure of mood music and second, the pleasure of deep listening to a whole album. So, music is this month’s pleasure practice!

Let’s start with mood music. Often we think about mood music for sexy times or maybe fast-paced songs for working out, but making a playlist to set the mood can deepen our pleasurable experience of any moment. I made a playlist that reminds me of my long-term partner that I listen to when I’m missing them, in addition to a twerking playlist and a playlist of nostalgia songs from high school. Toward the end of my depressive episode, a local organizer comrade reached out to offer their playlist of songs for the upswing out. I listened and it was a great blend of positive affirmation and joyful survival songs that gave me such deep pleasure and filled me with gratitude. As I’ve said in this column before, pleasure activism is not about being happy all the time but about expanding our capacity to feel and to be really tapped into our feelings.

Even as I was in a depressive episode, I felt proud of myself for how I was asking for help and deeply touched by the way I was receiving support from across my local and virtual communities. One way to engage in music as a pleasure practice is to create or find playlists to fit your mood or to shape the mood you want to create for an upcoming event or experience. I like finding starter playlists and creating my own based on what others have put together so that I’m introduced to more new music and artists, too.


Another way to engage with music as a pleasure practice is to do a deep listen. This involves listening to an entire album and focusing as much as possible on just the music. In high school I used to get a new CD and listen to the whole thing in my bed, reading along with the lyrics in the little booklet. Now lyrics are available on most music apps, but the practice still applies. When Lil Nas X’s album Montero came out last year, I listened to the whole thing, reading along that night. Recently I’ve done the same with the Lizzo album Special over and over and over again. Sometimes I also go back and give deep listens to albums I’ve loved in the past. Not every album is a no-skip situation, but the ones that are unskippable are definitely worth your time and attention.

Make some time for mood music and deep listening this month and embrace music as an intentional pleasure practice. Don’t forget to send me your badass bitch playlists! I’d love to hear them.

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

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