I really don’t need to tell or remind you that we’re living in strange times. If you’re anything like me, you became completely desensitised to the word ‘unprecedented’ a month ago, and between the Zooms and painstaking celebrity live streams have been attempting to find some sense of escapism in the dystopia we now call normalcy. For me, there will always be no quicker route to calm than through music.
Banana bread and buzzcuts come and go, but if it’s done right, the perfect album can provide a brief airlift out of the chaos.
Here are five albums for the different quarantine states I’ve found myself rotating between. I’m sure there will be many more to come, but at least for now, these records are helping relieve just some of those ever so excruciating pub withdrawal symptoms.
Music for… ESCAPING: i,i // Bon Iver
Now, forgive me for starting so boldly but for me, this album was easily the best release of 2019. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you listen to Bon Iver’s first three albums to get the full experience. i,i marks the end of a four-season cycle of albums, with this one being assigned to Autumn. The seasonal dissonance shouldn’t be too much of a problem at a time when we’re all stuck in doors anyway. I triple dare you to listen to this album and not be washed away by Justin Vernon’s tsunami of an artistic vision. The record is a culmination of Vernon’s stylistic shape-shifting over a twelve-year period, with consistent musical nods to his previous albums, cementing his status as one of the finest, most intricate producers of his generation. A collaboration with James Blake’s velvety vocals on track ‘iMi’ is a welcome delight, and I’d like to point you particularly towards ‘U(Man Like)’, ‘Faith’, ‘Naeem’, and ‘Salem’.
Music for… PRANGING: West Side Story Soundtrack // Sondheim and Bernstein
I’ve cheated slightly here. It’s not just the West Side Story Soundtrack I’m recommending, but a film as well. I won’t say too much about it, but it pains me to know that there are people out there who haven’t seen this glorious piece of cinema, simply because of the stigma attached to the ‘musical’ label. It’s now on Netflix, so if you can, watch it, you won’t regret it.
As for the soundtrack, I find that Bernstein and Sondheim’s revolutionary web of Latin rhythms, jazz, and classical music only improves each time I listen. Centred around the tritone, often called the devil’s interval, it’s been heralded as the greatest musical score of all time, and with tracks such as ‘America’ still being scarily relevant today, it’s not hard to see why. Put this soundtrack on and analyse its musical beauty, compare your love life to the Shakespearean purity of Tony and Maria, marvel at how little attitudes towards immigrants have changed or just feel your heart swell alongside those violins. Whatever you want to prang about, this music will act as the perfect trigger and by the end of the 80 minutes you’ll be all aboard the Spielberg remake hype along with the rest of us.
Music for… WALLOWING: Song to a Seagull // Joni Mitchell
Ah, Joni. Pandemic or no pandemic, Joni will always be my go-to if I’m in need of some time-out from reality. Choosing just one album of Mitchell’s might have been my most difficult task since deciding between the social life of student house isolation and the appeal of the free food at home. But we persevere, and I landed on her debut, Song to a Seagull — primarily because it acts as the perfect jumping-off point into the stunning world of Queen Joni. Upon her discovery, Mitchell had already gone through enough emotional turbulence to last a songwriter a lifetime, something prevalent throughout the album. The beauty of Song to a Seagull is that whilst tender and raw, the carefully selected chords and plucks of the guitar simultaneously radiate optimism and strength.
You can’t help but lose yourself in Mitchell’s intricate lyrics, depicting heartbreaking and joyous stories of the cacophony of characters she creates. On top of all that, you also can’t help but fall in love with her unparalleled songwriting, and ability to transport you into her own weird and wonderful world. Lucky for you, this is just the beginning.
Music for… BOOGIEING: First Time in a Long Time – The Reprise Recordings // Fanny
I’m not sure about everyone else, but something I’ve found extremely therapeutic during quarantine has been having regular solo boogie session in my room. I present to you one of my absolute favourite albums to get my groove on to. Now, granted, this isn’t the original record, but First Time in a Long Time is the perfect collection to get any newbie started on the icons that make up Fanny. One of the first commercially successful all-female rock bands, Fanny’s anthology is full of certified bops that will help you to re-channel that empowered, badass energy that might just be lacking in the face of global crisis.
Music for… DOING LITERALLY ANYTHING: The Ocean // Deca
Again, choosing just one album of Deca’s was no easy feat, and so I decided to go with the one that made me fall in love with the rapper in the first place. Featuring his most famous track ‘Breadcumbs’, The Ocean seems to have this magical power that makes it appropriate for any setting. I’m not sure how, and I’m really not sure why, but I’ve tested it in a number of settings (exercising, cooking, going to sleep, drinking, travelling, cleaning, dancing, I could go on) and it just works. It was no surprise to me, then that it acts as a perfect soundtrack to quarantine.
If you can find something it doesn’t work for, find me on Twitter (@charlottebresh) and please let me know.
Words by Charlotte Bresh
This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which is still on sale and is raising money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.