Music remains one of the best medicines on the planet. It’s a universal language that’s ever-relatable, inspires escape, and even allows us to grieve.
Right now, there’s a lot to process. I can’t imagine doing it without the incredible support good music provides. Whether you’re looking to lower your blood pressure, cry a river in the bathtub, challenge your mind, or simply dance the night away, we’ve got some fine suggestions for coping with what’s unfolding.
Tough times are much less so with the right tunes.
There’s a lot of anxiety in the air and it’s vital that we both relax and sleep. Fortunately, there’s music that inspires calm waters. For wafting, fluid, mist-like guitar work that’ll send you right off to bed, check out Cigarettes After Sex. The band’s whispered atmospheric rock is the lullaby we all need right now.
Katilyn Aurelia Smith is another act up to the task. The Washington State-born composer specializes in ambient synth music that’s ideal for a long exhale. In fact, her latest recording, Tides, was crafted specifically for meditation and yoga, and ebbs and flows nicely, with a rhythmic backbone that’ll place you into a peaceful trance. Moses Sumney is also worth a listen. His sound is hard to pin down but quite therapeutic, falling somewhere between neo-folk and futuristic soul. He’s already received some big endorsements from the music world, like James Blake.
Cigarettes After Sex
Katilyn Aurelia Smith
You can put some pep in your step and even spark a dance party with the right record. My go-to is Brazilian music, with its enveloping and intoxicating sound and its deep grooves. Jorge Ben Jor is among the best, a massive stage presence who expertly fuses bossa nova, funk, and samba. The frosting on the sonic cake is the Portuguese language, which might be the best suited for music on the planet. Dip your toes in his work with Africa Brasil, an energetic record just brimming with sunshine from 1976. If you’re not dancing to “Xica da Silva,” you’re not alive.
Generationals is another band whose purpose seems to be to make you feel alive and well. The New Orleans duo creates blissful pop-rock often backed by big beats. The group’s 2014 album Alix is the musical equivalent of an ice-cream cone on a hot day. Another act who invigorates in a different kind of way is Rostam. This talented polymath used to play with Vampire Weekend and has since launched a fetching solo project built around art-pop and lush electro landscapes. His 2017 effort Half-Light puts a smile on even the saddest face with its sparkling textures and gorgeous melodies.
Earlier this month, Fiona Apple dropped what most will likely dub the album of the year in Fetch the Bolt Cutters. The album is incredibly thoughtful and very much of the present. It feels like the soundtrack of a musician trapped at home during quarantine, too talented for her own good. It’s jazzy, spiritual, dense, dramatic, and pure genius. If you want to be reminded of humanity’s vast creative potential, even when we’re on our own isolated at home, this is your album.
Beirut is also responsible for some brainy music that’s easy to get lost in. Their involved, worldly music pulls from traditional sounds all over the globe and in that sense offers a kind of international travel we’re not allowed to do physically right now. Latest album Gallipoli is especially of-another-place, inspired by frontman Zach Condon’s overseas travels. Beirut’s music feeds the mind in that its old world in nature and also of a bygone time that’s simply nice to flee to presently, even if only in your headphones.
It’s okay to want to feel and naturally react to the times as well. Music can coax out the deepest of emotions and while things can get sad and hopeless fast, it’s important to recognize such depths. As a wine person once said, sweet is only sweet if there’s sour.
Charles Bradley may be the king of emotive music. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago but left a lasting impression on the music world. He started as a James Brown impersonator and ultimately launched his own successful solo career when he was in his 50s. As somebody who’s written about music and been to countless festivals over the last fifteen years, I can genuinely say that Mr. Bradley put on the most emotional live set I’ve ever witnessed. Luckily, a lot of that passion translates to his recordings, so check them out, including his great posthumous release, Black Velvet. Also, his camp has released most of his albums as instrumentals, which is cool in that it showcases how talented his sprawling soul band was but also highlights just how big his vocal presence was, as while they groove something fierce, there’s also an eerie void.
If tearing up is your healthy outlet, a good Antony and the Johnsons album provides the perfect backdrop. The musician’s vocals are from another planet and conjure up every feeling. “My Lady Story” is easily one of the saddest songs of all time and seems extra appropriate right now.
Antony and the Johnsons
Music is a great way to distract from the more unsavory realities of present-day pandemic. And while just about every guitar hook or bass line can grab your attention, sometimes you really need to fly far far away. A great way to do that is through traditional music from faraway places. Throw on some Gabby Pahinui and sail to the warm waters of Hawaii. His slack-key guitar is basically CBD in music form. Go to Trinidad & Tobago through some steel drum music or travel to the southern Sahara with Bombino.
Better still, confuse your brain with sounds that generally belong to a specific season. There are no rules anymore, anyhow. Embrace your inner maniac and spin some Vince Guaraldi holiday music. Hell, play the national anthem and pretend ballgames are still happening, or imagine what you might be doing Fourth of July Weekend (think positive thoughts).
Another good trick is to play live albums. The freewheeling set lists and roar of the crowd will have you fondly recalling the days of large public gatherings. I recommend a good box set like the Monterrey International Pop Fest from the golden era of classic rock in 1967. Or, just gawk at Beyonce’s unreal Coachella performance from 2018.
Monterrey International Pop Fest
Beyonce’s at Coachella 2018
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