By James Lanik
Just a couple weeks after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 crisis a global pandemic, nearly the entire world, has found themselves self couch ridden for days on end.
So much has already been said about the state we have found ourselves in, so I won’t attempt to add my thoughts on the matter. All I know is to stay put and don’t endanger yourself or others!
This unprecedented era of self-isolation has already proven to take its toll on the extroverts among us; however, even the most dedicated homebodies have begun to feel a bit claustrophobic.
March 2020 has clearly shown to not be a time for trap bangers and Friday night raves at the Marc. During a time defined by panic and a deep uncertainty for the future, we can look towards music to ground us back in reality.
Music offers us a tool for calming and self-reflection, so I put together a short playlist of easy listening and downtempo tracks that I think are perfect for putting on while doing household tasks or hobbies.
I also made sure to include some deeper cuts that serve as great introductory cuts to some lesser-known artists. The playlist itself isn’t long, but that’s the point.
I hope to provide you with some great entry points into your journey with these artists and ones like them. If you like what you hear, check them out!
In this day and age, many musicians’ livelihoods are in a more uncertain position than they have ever been before, so any support you’re able to give benefits them significantly
“Slomo” – Slowdive
After a quarter-century-long hiatus that began with the band fading away with nothing more than a whimper, Slowdive opened their comeback album in the most “Slowdive” fashion possible.
The music on the album takes its time getting to where it wants to be. Shimmering waves of reverb-soaked guitar riffs and synth lines slowly crescendo into the forefront of the mix, grounded by a simple but effective bassline.
The result is a gargantuan wall of sound that only Slowdive could shape to be as dreamy as this. Only this time around, they’ve simplified things. The rough and serrated edges of their shoegaze roots have been replaced with a renewed focus on clean production and dream-pop bliss.
“NYC” – Interpol
My favorite 2000’s sad boy rock band had to claim a spot here somewhere. Interpol achieves quite a remarkable sense of space in this song even with the lack of a bassline until almost a minute and a half into the song.
From the start, the band has proven to be masters of their craft. That craft is matching the Strokes’ garage tinged grooves with Interpol’s special blend of mood. This song has it.
By the time the lead guitar’s droning tremolo and Paul Bank’s deadpan bellowing fill your eardrums in the second half of the song, you can close your eyes and easily imagine yourself standing in the center of Times Square all alone with nothing but your thoughts.
“Airplane Song” – sleep well.
Sleep Well. opens their first proper studio album with this infectious anthem. The opening guitar melody moves heads instantly, and the group’s blend of spacious instrumentation and authentic bedroom rock sensibilities make this track a local underground favorite. The ten-minute rendition of this song the band plays to close out their concerts can’t be missed either.
“Walk in the Park” – Beach House
Beach House may have expanded their sonic palette since this 2010 cut, but to me, this song will always remain the emotional climax of their work.
This is the pinnacle moment in which each component of Beach House’s sound comes together to a beautifully harmonious effect. Victoria Legrand’s cavernous vocal lines, cheap synthesizers retooled to maximalist effect and ostensibly lovestruck lyrics eventually give way to their true somber meaning.
“Milk” – Sweet Trip
Just like many dream-pop acts lay vocals in the mix of instruments, this heartbreak ballad is decidedly guided by Valerie Cooper’s elegant lyrical direction.
The intensity of emotion is felt as she reaches her loudest chorus line with a slew of overlapping guitar melodies in tow.
“Heat Wave” – Snail Mail
Lindsay Jordan’s heartbreakingly honest songwriting conveys the sense of a world full of teenagers that just missed the emo-pop revolution of the 2000s.
Her Snail Mail project would have been superb, but in the post-Paramore world that it exists in, it seems to carry extra weight with the modern young adult crowd that its sensibilities so clearly mirror.
“Heat Wave,” while never becoming a Top 40 hit, still seems to be the face of indie rock to come. The strings are clear, seemingly conveying the thematic overtones of summer heat through warm, saturated chords.
Her voice, by contrast, is unmistakably raw and bare with no attention paid to cleaning up the cracks and warbles of her vocal lines as she sweeps up and down her register.
Its sincerity makes her flaws and lyrical inflections the unmistakable star of the show. If you’re listening to the lyrics, you probably already knew that was the point.
“We Will Always Love You” – The Avalanches (feat. Blood Orange)
Blood Orange interpolating The Roches’ “Hammond Song” is something I never knew I needed, but I’m all here for it!
This song is an enjoyable listen on its own, but I encourage you to use it as an opportunity to give the original sample a listen as well. I believe doing so will give you a better appreciation for the twilight coat of paint that The Avalanches gave it.
Considering The Avalanches’ history of constructing new songs entirely from a collage of hundreds of different samples, I’m intrigued to see how this new approach of taking a single sample and retooling it will work for them.
“Cherry-coloured Funk” – Cocteau Twins
At the risk of my unintentional hipster side showing, I couldn’t resist this one. The Cocteau Twins album “Heaven or Las Vegas” has become the undisputed blueprint for dream pop-inspired music for years to come.
I’d argue it still has not been topped even after 30 years. Elizabeth Fraser’s effervescent voice is impossible to pin down, gliding and swooping up and down octaves at a moment’s notice.
Most of the time, the lyrics are almost completely indeterminable, but they don’t need to be. No one knows what awaits in Heaven, but the amber and violet soaked “Cherry-coloured Funk” makes me believe that the Cocteau Twins have at least approximated the soundtrack.
“Willow Creek” – Moon Dunes
I love bands whose names accurately depict the kind of sounds you’ll be in for. I also love local bands. Moon Dunes is both, and their first-ever track on streaming services remains the best crash course on what their mission statement is.
Laidback celestial licks accompany an ever-present sense of calm and contentment. Its music you want as a soundtrack to you and your squad’s lazy days, but it’s just as good by yourself.
Listen to the playlist here!
Featured image by James Lanik.