I first heard about Leah Nobel’s Running In Borrowed Shoes through an NPR interview on a Saturday morning. In a very similar approach to Humans of New York, Nobel visited coffee shops in New York with a sign, asking strangers to share their stories with her. From these interviews, Nobel created an album, exploring what it means to be human. While the album’s approach was incredibly unique, I was apprehensive to listen to the album with high expectations—oftentimes interesting concepts don’t equate to interesting albums.
After I listened to the remainder of the fifteen minute segment, I tentatively opened my Spotify app and clicked play. Quite honestly, the music wasn’t particularly exciting to listen to, and a few seconds into the first song, I almost shut off the album. But the album was so lyrically beautiful that I found it hard not to become enthralled in every song’s story. Each song details a different human condition, penned so eloquently that I forgot a woman, not the universe, was singing to me.
My absolute favourite song on the album, “Coffee, Sunday, NYT”, is also lovingly called The Introvert’s Anthem by Nobel. The song is essentially about stopping to enjoy life’s slow, simple moments. It’s about taking time and “walk (ing) the line between lazy and loving” yourself. The piano, harmonies, and snaps become the heartbeat of the song, mixing into an upbeat ode to taking life one simple week at a time. I’d highly suggest listening to it on a Sunday morning, taking a deep breath, and smiling.
The fourth song on the album, “Steps,” is drastically different from the upbeat, light melody of “Coffee, Sunday, NYT”. Beginning with a sample from the original interview, Nobel’s voice cuts through the piano chords and starts with clear, melodic vocals. Followed by a drum beat that feels like running, the chords build and lyrics progress into more of a movement than a song. “Steps” feels desperately composed, tragically precise. The song tells a story of a young immigrant’s loss of faith after experiencing the Rwandan Genocide. His Christianity turns against him, and as he moves to the U.S. away from the hate and violence, he also leaves his faith. “Steps” is about forgiving his God, and step by step regaining and rebuilding his faith in a new, healthier environment. Essentially, this is a story of forgiveness, and I find myself listening to it in particularly hard times.
Finally, I’d suggest to all students ending or beginning their college search process to listen to “Messy Kitchen,” the final song on the album. I find “Messy Kitchen” the most hopeful and comforting song amongst the tracks. Nobel’s soothing voice reminds me of a calm future, a less turbulent phase of life. While the verses are about imperfectly striving to be an idealized self, the bridge sympathizes with struggles and encourages persistence. Nobel reminds us that no one has everything figured out. Our daunting life moments will pass, and when they do, we will grow and progress. My favourite lyrics from the song, “success is not a place you go, it’s just showing up,” have been especially helpful as college decisions are released, and I need to be reminded that life is what you make of it. I listen to this one when I need a reminder that I’m only eighteen, that I don’t need to have my life mapped out to be successful.
I highly recommend this album, not necessarily for the musical complexity but instead for the storytelling. Leah Nobel has spun a diverse range of experiences into an album, a commentary on what being human is. While I certainly enjoy listening to Running In Borrowed Shoes in the background of other activities, I recommend just sitting down and listening to the stories told through songs. In our ever-dividing, politically charged world, it is easy to feel distant to other humans, but after listening to this album I’ve begun to agree with the headline on Nobel’s website: we have more in common than we think.