Sing Along Until You Feel Better: Phil Ajjarapu’s Death Defying Debut is More Than Worth a Listen

by Jake Muncy


“Sing Along Until You Feel Better,” the title track off of Phil Ajjarapu’s debut album, opens with a borrowed flourish, quietly playing through the first few notes of “La Marseillaise,” the French National Anthem, before jettisoning the pomp and circumstance with a long saxaphone blare, transitioning into the song proper. Because I’m an uncultured American, hearing “La Marsellaise” doesn’t conjure up any particular memories or thoughts about France: my mind skips striaght to American pop culture. In particular, I think of the scene in Casablanca where the anthem is played to drown out singing Germans in Vichy-controlled Morocco. There’s a beautiful, evocative tension there, a gesture of protest that turns celebration into defiance.

Phil Ajjarapu’s debut has a similar sort of defiance baked into it, a will to making a joyful noise in trying times. As a debut, Sing Along Until You Feel Better demonstrates an energetic, flexible musical mind mixing and matching ideas from various musical traditions and eras to create a satisfying, playful collection of pop songs to salve a troubled mind.



In March of 2012, Phil Ajjarapu was in a serious motorcycle accident. Barely surviving, he was laid up in treatment and recovery for months. Before that, he had been a session musician, playing bass and doing side work for a number of other bands, haunting the studio but never as the lead man. After his brush with death, he decided that needed to change, launching a successful Kickstarter for the project which would become Sing Along Until You Feel Better. The album feels like a summation of those events, a capper to a trying period in life, displaying the experienced polish of a creator used to working in a studio and the pure, mournful joy of surviving after having come so close to death.

Because that’s what strikes me most about this record: despite being at times somber and longing, at times wry and cynical, the music here always feels like a work of joy. Ajjarapu’s voice is vibrant and soft, a crystalline shade of blue layered with echoes and harmonies. His voice carries the album through a variety of modes, from the big band romanticism of the opening track to the stripped-down, Andrew Jackson Jihad vibe of “Nothing is Connected,” a song that keeps the hopeful, warm mood even as it sings an ode to the reality that sometimes, things just happen.



Because I have died, and risen from the dead, and I’m not sure if I can live again,” Ajjarapu sings on “I Don’t Know,” but you sense he had a smile on his face when he sang it. There are tales here of lost love, broken pasts, and lost senses of purpose, material that could easily feel cliched and self-serious, but the warmth and power of Ajjarapu’s personality pulls them together, smoothing over weaker parts of the album and infusing the sweeter moments, like the sentimental “Wedding Song,” with a lovely sense of authenticity.

The title track is an invitation, one made even more explicit in the lyrics: “If you don’t know what to do, you should sing along until you feel better.” But it’s also a promise, one that this album keeps: singing along will make you feel better. Phil Ajjarapu’s choice to step out of the shadows of other artists in the studio was a good one, and this is a beautiful debut well worth checking out.

Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to writing for Ovrld, he contributes to The AV Club, is the Games Editor of Loser City and his writing can be found anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.