As an abundance of down time is becoming the new normal while many of us are over a month deep into self-quarantining, it can be easy to become a little stir-crazy, not always knowing where to direct our new surplus of attention. However, some recent articles on “deep listening” suggest that this may be the perfect time to really listen to music in a way that we have forgotten is possible or perhaps never had the luxury to do at all.
We asked some of our staff about what albums they have been really listening to during this time and why so that we could share a little “quarantine listening starter pack” if you will. We hope you enjoy these picks.
Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
In a career that has spanned two and a half decades, Fiona Apple continues to be a relevant and intriguing songwriter.
Having emerged in the mid-90s, during an era that saw female songwriters taking a deserved spotlight in a way that had never been seen before, Apple was always a shining standout. Earlier songs demonstrated a remarkable maturity for someone who had yet not turned 20 when her debut album, Tidal, was released. That record, bolstered by heavy video rotation on MTV and appearances at Lilith Fair, helped catapult her to mainstream listeners.
Subsequent releases steadily focused less on radio-friendly singles, as Apple was never truly an artist whose songs could be promoted easily in such a way, likely making it challenging for her record label to market her by traditional methods. She’s consistently gone against the grain as it relates to her musical career – often taking a perfectionist’s approach in making sure she was satisfied with her work, even if several years would go by. But with her ever-growing and loyal fan base, this doesn’t appear to have affected her overall success as a respected songwriter.It’s been eight years since Apple’s last album, The Idler Wheel, and Apple’s devoted fans have been highly anticipating its follow up. That wait ends with Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Apple’s fifth album, which is perhaps her most defiant and strangest record, if not her most accessible.
Wonderfully messy, but still melodic and lyrically rich, Apple weaves whispered chants between guttural screams, covering topics that touch on relationships, bullying, sexual abuse, self-liberation, and feminism, among others. She also employs unique sounds to decorate these songs; stomping feet, fists banging on walls, barking dogs – all enriching the organic and raw quality heard throughout the album.
One can expect a lot of fanfare for Fetch the Bolt Cutters, as Apple has consistently been lauded by both critics and fans alike. Early reviews have already hailed it “a masterpiece” and “the best album of 2020.”
To those new to Apple’s music, Fetch the Bolt Cutters may not be the best introduction, as it’s not a record that one can appreciate wholly without understanding how her music has evolved over the course of five albums. However, once a listener takes the time and allows the album to properly seep in, it will become apparent that Apple has made yet another remarkable record that will likely be her most highly-regarded set to date.
– robbie mccown, creative director
Orville Peck – Pony
Orville Peck is one mysterious country artist. He was born somewhere in the southern hemisphere and
has lived there most of his life. According to some news sources, he is presumably older than 20 and
younger than 40. I admire his complete dedication to this aesthetic, never going anywhere without his
fringed Lone Ranger mask. The mystery surrounding this man bleeds into his music, and he conjures an
incredibly palpable atmosphere when you listen to his work. For this reason, his album Pony is one I have been turning to lately in the midst of the current chaos.
One can easily get lost in his beautiful melodies and vivid lyricism. I find that slipping into his songs is the
prefect break to the constant news cycle. Pony offers the culmination of his recent body of work,
starting with his memorable single “Dead of Night” which he released in 2017 and containing his newer
songs like “Queen of the Rodeo” and “Roses are Falling”. I hope that this album can whisk you away and
ease your mind in these trying times.
– meredith jennings, client services assistant
Solange – A Seat at the Table
Honestly, this album is a work of art. Solange’s third and perhaps most thematically unified record, A Seat at the Table, is all at once an intensely personal reflection on her experience as a black woman in America, and an exploration of grief, healing, and identity. The songs meander through the abundantly rich garden of Solange’s inner world taking the listener through a wide range of emotional truths. Interspersed between the songs are short but potent interludes containing interviews from her friends and family about their experiences that seamlessly transition each song from one mood to the next.
Sonically, A Seat at the Table is soothing, sensual, powerful, and fun. The sound is often light and almost dream-like with gentle nods to various eras of R&B and soul, layered with hazy, airy synth, and made complete with Solange’s warm, harmony-rich vocals. Pitchfork describes her voice on this record as “a palliative for the pain she describes, as she names truths to divest them of their power.”
During this time where we are all forced to retreat both literally and figuratively inward, I have found myself becoming more reflective and curious – examining some of my own experiences a little more closely as well as desiring to learn more about the stories and perspectives of others that may be very different than mine. I can think of no better place to channel that heightened sense of reflective curiosity right now than towards such a rich, complex, and worthy album that quite frankly deserves our undivided attention no matter when it is that we are listening.
– kaylah rodriguez, social media marketing specialist
Kraftwerk – The Man Machine
An early, back-handed reviewer of the album in Rolling Stone remarked that “Kraftwerk strikingly creates a sound so antiseptic that germs would die there”. This album examines humans and urban space in a way that’s fitting for the current environment. “Neon Lights”, the centerpiece, is gorgeous. A nearly 9 minute long electronic freeway created with not much more than vocoders and drum machines. A precursor of a synthetic horizon that they essentially created. Bundled with any number of JG Ballard novels, the two go hand in hand for a night of social isolation heaven.
Probably their most accessible album, The Man Machine hasn’t lost a step in 42 years since its debut. You can actually dance to much of it, which totally works while quarantining since no one will see you make a fool of yourself anyway.
– todd fletcher, client services
Pink Floyd – The Wall
Pink Floyd were a band ahead of their time, frequently pioneering new forms and recording techniques rarely explored in early rock ‘n’ roll. They may have even invented the socially-distanced live music performance, decades before livestreaming existed, as evidenced by the 1972 concert film Live at Pompeii – where the band performs in the ruins of an ancient amphitheater, for an audience of no one.
But if we look instead at the band’s studio output, then perhaps no album is better suited for self-quarantine than their infamous 1979 double album, The Wall. Using the rock opera format, at its heart The Wall is a story of self-imposed isolation – albeit for very different reasons than what we’re experiencing in 2020. The story ostensibly follows the disillusionment of a rock star named “Pink,” though the parallels of the protagonist’s life to that of bassist Roger Waters are obvious.
The first half of the album details a series of events – both during childhood and adulthood – that lead to Pink building a wall between himself and society. In the album’s second half, Pink begins to question his decisions, taking us on a wild ride through stages of regret, self-medication, paranoia, anger, even hallucination – imagining his role as rock star being akin to that of a fascist dictator. In the end, Pink tears down his wall, but the album ends with a short piece of music that loops back to the beginning of the album – suggesting the story itself loops, and Pink begins building a new wall as soon as he opens himself back up to society.
One would hope that our modern day predicament ends in a more optimistic fashion, but the album certainly does nail the feeling of isolation, particularly in the middle sections. It’s also an album that, to truly be experienced, should be listened to in its entirety. Perhaps there’s no better time than now to give it a try, when we have more time to digest it in one sitting.
– gary johnson, seo/sem specialist