Well, here we are. The unthinkable has happened, and for many of us, life has ground to a halt. For those of my age group, it has meant canceling spring break plans and learning to adjust to a digital workflow. For those of elder generations, it has meant critical decisions regarding things like work, childcare, and gathering essential supplies. There’s a lot we don’t know, but one thing seems certain: we’re going to be social distancing and/or quarantining for a while.
There are countless implications of “long-term social distancing,” but one of the most pronounced is the extensive alone time we are facing. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be listening to a lot more music in my spare time. Here are ten great albums to check out, each capturing a different part of the spectrum of emotions we’re probably all going to feel in the coming months.
10. Grouplove, Healer
There’s not a lot to this album, just some good old-fashioned alt-rock. Jaunty choruses and Chris Zucconi’s so-bad-it’s-good singing are a great stress reliever. Their sound hasn’t changed much since their early 2010s heyday but the callback to a simpler time is sweet and nostalgic.
9. Willow & Tyler Cole, THE ANXIETY
In terms of embodying a moment in the form of sound, Willow and Tyler Cole have got everyone else beat this time. Released last week, THE ANXIETY is an album as chaotic as the feelings it discusses. Emulating ‘70s Brit punk and modern R&B in the same breath, the artsy duo scream and croon their way through just under a half-hour of rumination on the current state of affairs, and how the stress of what’s going on in the world and in one’s life can bear down on a person. Willow and Cole don’t seem to find a lot of solutions to the problem here, as the album seems to catch them mid-conflict while lashing out their negative emotions. It might not be effective, but it does feel healthy and cathartic.
8. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats, Unlocked
You’re going to have to work out sometime during your isolation… or write a paper, or clean the house, or do something that you don’t really want to do. For that situation, might I suggest the excellent collaboration dropped by Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats last month? Clocking in at just 17 minutes, Unlocked is perfect for a run or lifting session. Beats and Curry recorded the album in less than 24 hours, barricading themselves in the studio and working off of whatever inspiration that struck them at that time. Every bar on this record is full of that off-the-cuff intensity that can give you that extra push to complete whatever challenges come your way this quarantine season.
7. Tame Impala, Lonerism
The title says it all. This is Kevin Parker’s album about being a lonely person. Lonerism captures the despair of solitude like no other album but also zeroes in on its beauty. If you have to be by yourself you might as well sink back into the spacy melodies and looping breaks of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?.” “Apocalypse Dreams” also speaks to a situation pretty similar to one that a lot of us are finding ourselves in right now. “Everything is changing and there’s nothing I can do / the world keeps turning pages, while I am just sitting there.” There’s a helplessness on this record, but it’s a peaceful helplessness. Parker seems to find comfort in the fact that there’s nothing he can do about his situation, lying back, and surrendering to the groove.
6. Arcade Fire, Funeral
In a similar vein, Arcade Fire’s debut is an album that fully proclaims that things aren’t exactly ‘okay’ at the present moment. Written during a time of tragedy for the band members, Funeral reflects on loss and the way that it completely changes the course of our lives. “Ice has covered my parents hands / Don’t have any dreams, don’t have any plans,” singer Win Butler belts out on “Neighborhood #3 (power outage).” Despite the dismal premise, there is a vulnerable, authentic, and woody sense of catharsis in the blend of classical folk rock that they throw at us, and a tangible sense of relief on the album’s more joyous numbers like “Wake Up.”
5. Thrice, Vheissu
This beautiful album showed the world that Thrice was so much more than an emo-punk band from California that had some interesting lyrics. In recording Vheissu, the band broke out of their comfort zone and threw all convention to the wind. They incorporated free-form riffs and buzzing synths, finally giving in to their Radiohead influences. This is an album about overcoming and Dustin Kensrue uses powerful metaphors to convey this. “Can you see the sky turn red? / As morning’s light breaks over me / Know tonight we’ll make our bed / At the bottom of the sea.” “Red Sky” is dismal at points but recoups by the end “And soon the sea shall give up her dead/ We’ll raise an empire from the bottom of the sea.”
4. Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered
“Tabernacle and city capital turned inside out / Public bathroom, college classroom’s been deserted /Another trumpet has sounded off and everyone heard it.” These post-apocalyptic panic-bars ushers in “Untitled 01,” the first track on Kendrick’s 2016 Untitled Unmastered. A collection of one-offs and unused tracks from the rapper’s TPAB era, these eight songs fall somewhere in the space between a b-sides collection and an ep. For me, this album has always acted as a musical and creative palate cleanser. The twisted jazz-trap of “Untitled 02,” the prince-inspired quavers of “Untitled 03,” and the sinister whispers of “Untitled 04” are enough to get my mind off of anything. By the time I’ve gotten through five, six, seven, and eighth, I’m feeling fresh and inspired, ready to create.
3. Colony House, Only The Lonely
I know right? Another album about loneliness? Ned is really reaching, and this list is trash!
Not so! This album is one of the most positive takes on solitude ever because it is ground in a refusal to sink into solitude. It’s about being lonely together, with whom or what you’ve got, to ease the pain of the boredom. Full of pop from the outset, this record sports shots of nostalgia on surf-rock bangers like “You Know It” and “I Want It All,” and existential meditations like “Where Your Father’s Been.” The Tennessee Williams quote that inspired this album rings true throughout “When so many people are lonely, as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”
2. Gorillaz, Demon Days
For an Avantgarde take on the end of the world, look no further than the sophomore release of Damon Albarn’s fantastic traveling anime band. Following a somewhat dreary folk narrative about some sort of monkey island and a zombie apocalypse, Demon Days is a little thematically broad but musically complex. This is an album to listen to, I mean really listen to. Soak up the dreamy synths and the rough drum beats as Albarn incorporates a variety of guests (most notably MF Doom) and brings this cartoon world crashing down around your ears.
1. Four Tet, Sixteen Oceans
This album really speaks for itself and I don’t have a lot to say to justify its presence at the top of this list. You need to listen no further than “Teenage Birdsong” and you’ll get it, as lush textures and soft melodies wash over you and lift you up into a sunny cloud-land. Then there’s the quasi-white noise of tracks like “Bubbles at Overlook 25th March 2019” (which is 90 seconds of exactly what the title suggests) and new-age xylophone symphonies like “Mama Teaches Sanskrit.”Sixteen Oceans is the musical equivalent of resting for a spell in a zen garden. Its bold experimentation with age-old ambient ingredients renews, soothes, and inspires.