Features Editor Lara Sanli shares her top choice albums to listen to while practicing self-isolation in quarantine.
Like many other students, I’ve spent a significant portion of quarantine maintaining a series of carefully curated playlists. They came in handy when I was stressed, bored, or whenever I needed something just cathartic enough to have a calming effect on me. But inevitably enough, as quarantine life became more monotonous and my repetitive playlists became more monotonous with it, I’ve gotten sick of them. I decided to switch it up by seeking a different kind of musical experience: the full album.
Choosing to make it through a whole album, uninterrupted, even when you have the option to instantly put on any other random song, whenever you want, is extremely impressive. At the risk of sounding slightly pretentious or melodramatic, the full album is an underrated experience.
Here are some albums where every single song is worth a listen from start to finish. Hopefully, even if only for the limited duration of one of these albums, you can escape this crazy world and get lost in something else.
“Par de Olhos,” YMA (2019)
If you enjoy Beach House, The Marías, or Tame Impala, chances are you’ll like YMA, too.
YMA, one of the most influential rising artists with the Brazilian indie music scene, achieved phenomenal success with her first full-length album. Although its brief run time is just shy of 30 minutes, “Par de Olhos,” which translates to “pair of eyes,” successfully transports the listener into the atmospheric realm of dream pop. YMA sings in both Portuguese and English, and the language she sings in shapes the mood of the song. English songs, “Shake It” and “Sun and Soul” are more upbeat, but she keeps a slow, sultry mood with the Portuguese songs “Vampiro” and, my personal favorite track, “Colapso Invisível.” Deep synths mesh with slow, breathy murmurs, and every song on the album maintains a degree of ethereal and intimate psychedelia.
Every single minute is worth listening to. You won’t regret it.
“A Safety Meeting,” Manwolves (2018)
Manwolves, a six-piece multi-instrumental band from Chicago, combines hip-hop, jazz, and rock to achieve a genre-bending sound that is fundamentally their own. Jamie McNear, lead vocalist, switches between his singing and rapping, often impressively blending them so at times they are nearly indistinguishable. With vocals, guitars, bass, drums, keys, and trumpet all together, a lot is happening at once. But instead of being overwhelming, it works, and all the instruments complement each other.
Amidst a series of strong singles and EPs, “A Safety Meeting” is Manwolves’ first and only album. It’s feel-good and casual, oftentimes reminding me of San Diego with its sunny, uplifting sounds—Manwolves actually played a show at The Che Cafe back in 2019!. Tracks like “Georgia Peach” and “Weather Is Warm” are about falling in and out of love, while “Fisherman’s Friend” is about the menthol lozenges of the same name for smokers. Other songs, such as “Fear and Loathing,” deal with heavier personal and mental topics, but the songs still sound uplifting to the point where, if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, chances are that you wouldn’t be able to tell the song is about anything challenging at all.
The laid-back nature of “A Safety Meeting” offers a refreshing reminder not to take life too seriously, and I’m thankful for it.
“Belladonna of Sadness,” Alexandra Savior (2017)
For all you Sad Girl simps out there, I present Alexandra Savior’s debut album: “Belladonna of Sadness.” Garnering comparisons to the likes of Lana Del Rey (in fact, many critics argued that she was too much like Del Rey), Savior mixes vintage, eerily atmospheric sounds to achieve a sound that’s both sultry and dangerous — but she’s the belladonna, so of course it is.
The 11-song album album starts out with “Mirage,” which features smooth and appropriately spooky synths to make a quintessentially sad girl point about the futility of performing multiple identities: “She’s almost like a million other people/That you’ll never really get to know/And it feels as if she’s swallowing me whole.” The next song, “Bones,” is, as the name suggests, dark and visceral, but the album soon picks up with “Shades” and “M.T.M.E.” “Girlie” makes good use of the xylophone and roasts a nemesis in Los Angeles who is “always looking for a wilder ride.” The last song, “Mystery Girl,” sounds like Halloween. It’s the perfect gothic and glamorous ending to an equally gothic and glamorous album.
Beethoven Meets Cuba (2019), by Ludwig Van Beethoven, Klazz Brothers, Cuba Percussion
In “Beethoven Meets Cuba,” The Klazz Brothers and Cuba Percussion join to fuse Beethoven’s classics with a Cuban style. When I first stumbled across the album and glanced at the cover, I falsely assumed the album would be relatively quiet and repetitive enough so that I could play it as background noise while completing my homework. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
“Beethoven Meets Cuba” is worth your complete and utter attention. Dramatic and over the top, it skillfully weaves styles and even some synths that I never thought could accompany each other this well. Cuban percussion accompanies piano in their version of “Für Elise” — which, hot take, I enjoy significantly more than Beethoven’s original — to give the album a phenomenally rich start. The real gem of the album comes toward the middle, with the three movements of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 “Pathétique.” Each of the songs individually demonstrates the stylistic range of the artists, but taken as a whole, they demonstrate an epic. At times the listener feels carefree, ready to dance, and at others, they’re swept into melodrama.
“Natural Affair,” The Growlers (2019)
The Growlers trace their beginnings back to 2006, in Dana Point, California, where they played at house parties and in garages. They eventually rose to underground prominence within the Southern California music scene for their quirky blend of surf and psychedelic-rock, which became its own genre: beach goth.
Full disclosure: I love The Growlers. I’ve been lucky enough to see them in concert several times, once even attending their annual Beach Goth festival. I proudly wear their merch, display three of their posters in my room, and have tickets to see their postponed Natural Affair tour after quarantine ends. However, “Natural Affair,” their sixth full-length album, was met with lackluster reviews. Critics called it cliche, repetitive, and stylistically disappointing. It seemed to move toward a more poised, mainstream pop sound, and away from the iconic beach goth genre The Growlers are credited with creating. A significant proportion of fans were disappointed, too. To them, the album didn’t seem like celebratory artistic growth or experimentation; it felt like The Growlers were forgetting the roots of their sound.
At first, I was one of those fans. I listened to the singles as they came out — most of which I unfortunately did not like. I did not start enjoying them until I listened to the album in full when I could finally appreciate their context.
The album starts off with the titular song, “Natural Affair,” which is very pop heavy and can get annoying if listened to on repeat. Thankfully, the album soon improves after the first few songs with “Social Man,” a funky, but surprisingly non-cringe social commentary about lead singer Brooks Neilson’s notorious refusal to participate in social media. His perfectly raspy I-love-cigarettes voice accompanies a stellar blend of percussion and ‘80s riffs to remind listeners that “Social man must be careful/He might end up alone/When his cover is blown.”
“Coinstar,” my favorite song on the album, oozes nostalgia, and is perhaps the best example of Neilson’s vocal delivery. “Truly” includes gorgeous, futuristic synths. “Tune Out” is one of the most upbeat songs of the album. Every time I listen to the chorus my problems somehow, miraculously, disappear. “Try Hard Fool,” an overt roast at try-hards, is a catchy bop that embodies The Growlers laid-back mentality.
Listening to “Natural Affair” makes me feel like I’m living in better days, back in pre-COVID-19 San Diego. Hopefully, when you listen to it, you’ll momentarily let go of your worries too.
Images courtesy of Album of The Year, Mild Sauce, Genius, CeDe.com, mxdwn Music
Art by Angela Liang for the UCSD Guardian.