35 life-affirming albums to help get you through self-quarantine, according to music experts
Fun fact: In the same amount of time you’ve just spent scrolling Netflix’s landing page in search of a program that might or might not temporarily ease the creeping COVID-19 dread, you could have been transported into a brilliant musician’s creative realm by simply putting down the remote, plugging in your headphones and listening — deeply, while your phone is on the other side of the room — to an album from start to finish.
As recommended in an essay on deep listening last week, you should try it. It’s a lost art, and remarkably therapeutic.
Readers seemed to agree. The piece has generated countless conversations across social media, and thousands of suggestions for long-players worthy of deep, intentional listening. As a way to further the conversation, The Times reached out to our favorite music writers with a simple question: Given our stay-at-home circumstances, which album have you been listening to most from start to finish, and why?
Johnny Mathis, “Open Fire, Two Guitars”
Mikael Wood, Times pop music critic
Neither over- nor under-delivering on the promise of its title, this quiet 1959 classic is one of the romantic pop crooner’s sparsest yet most sublime: just Mathis, his voice so supple it sounds almost wet, accompanied by guitarists Al Caiola and Tony Mottola in an expertly designed program of standards including “When I Fall in Love” and “Embraceable You.” Mathis could sing anything, of course; now in his mid-80s, he still can, as his recent rendition of Pharrell’s “Happy” (!) made clear. But with the arrangements as restrained as they are here, “Open Fire” emphasizes depth of tone over breadth of ability. It’s a dream to get lost in.
The Congos, “Heart of the Congos”
Randall Roberts, Times staff writer
Roots reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark recording studio in Kingston is considered hallowed ground by beat producers the world over, and “Heart of the Congos,” by the vocal duo of Cedric Myton and Roy Johnson, is Black Ark’s masterwork.
Released in 1977, its 10 songs rumble with an energy propelled by Studio One session bassist Boris Gardiner, guitarist Ernest Ranglin and a dinky, echoed drum machine. Thematically, the album moves like a lost book of the Old Testament, as Johnson and Myton’s sweet harmonies ponder a world ruled by an oft-merciless and vengeful Jah. From a sonic perspective, Perry’s production is filled with duct-taped trickery and inventiveness, one that transforms the Rastafarian singers’ meditations on life, work and sustenance, and mystical songs on the search for the Ark of the Covenant, into a sublimely spiritual experience.
We polled more than 40 TV critics and journalists, inside and outside The Times, on the best TV show to binge while stuck at home.
Jules Massenet, “Manon”
August Brown, Times staff writer
Like everyone else, my hopes to use these months indoors for sustained reading and creativity have devolved somewhat. So what music provides necessary escapism, roller coaster melodrama and a patina of doing something nourishing? Seems as good a time as any to get into opera!
A friend who, in another life, was a world-class lyric soprano, recommended Jules Massenet’s “Manon” as a fine place to start. I went with Victoria de Los Ángeles’ 1959 recording conducted by Jean Paul Morel, as it’s on Spotify and she’s one of the all-time greats. I’ve never been more happy to have two and a half hours of gorgeous arias, charming comic interludes and superhuman vocals to remind us what real bodies can sound like in this era of FaceTime happy hours. The album is a whole afternoon away from the news, yes. But older music is also a reminder that humans have been around a long time, and have lived through much worse than this.
Van Morrison & the Chieftains, “Irish Heartbeat”
Randy Lewis, Times staff writer
This 1988 summit meeting between the mystic poetic soul man of Irish popular music and the leading proponents of the country’s folk traditions was, and is, a thing of wonder. Morrison’s voice takes revelatory twists and turns to get to the heart of folk standards such as “The Star of the County Down,” “Carrickfergus” and “Raglan Road,” while the Chieftains’ instrumental virtuosity lifts that voice from the depths of despair to the pinnacles of ecstasy time after time.
Red Garland, “Red Alone”
Julia Turner, Times deputy managing editor, arts and entertainment
Long one of my favorites, this solo album from jazz piano great Red Garland has an air of melancholy — wise to the sadness that comes with living — but it also conjures a philosophical frame of mind. When it’s on, a resigned, graceful serenity emanates and I can feel my shoulders unclench.
Lhasa, “La Llorona”
James Reed, Times entertainment news editor
The pitter-patter of summer rain opens Lhasa de Sela’s 1997 debut, a meditative prelude to an album that so vividly sparks your imagination about its folk tales and the mystical woman behind them. Born to parents of Mexican and American heritage, Lhasa was 25 when she released “La Llorona” (the Weeping Woman), but already she emoted with the cracked beauty of her heroes Chavela Vargas and Billie Holiday. Sung in Spanish and lush with strings, the songs burn with a spectral glow as they reflect on spirituality and scatter across genres — jazz, klezmer, ranchera, cowboy tunes, blues, even a touch of burlesque. Lhasa’s voice holds it all together, by turns luminous and guttural and always intoxicating. She made only two more studio albums before she died in 2010 from breast cancer. She was 37. As explored in Fred Goodman’s engrossing new biography, “Why Lhasa de Sela Matters,” her music has lived on, a testament to the fact that it was never tethered to time or boundaries.
Can, “Future Days”
Dorany Pineda, Times staff writer
An epic, 40 minutes-plus-long Krautrock jam session. Though the 1973 record is only four songs (“Bel Air,” the last track, is 20 minutes of hazy bliss), the soundscape is expansive and as calming as it is intense.
Paul Simon, “Graceland”
Robert Hilburn, former Times pop critic
Paul Simon wrote “Graceland” in the mid-1980s, describing a worldwide struggle to balance feelings of seemingly unlimited scientific advances (the boy in the bubble) and unexpected terrors (the bomb in the baby carriage), yet the album addresses today’s complexities just as powerfully. The music is joyful and warm, frequently inviting you to step onto the dance floor. Simon’s words, meanwhile, strive for an essential healing. Ultimately, he tells us, we all will be received in Graceland.
Nina Simone, “Black Gold”
Alex Pappademas, freelance
I’ve found myself gravitating toward music that makes the inside of my head feel like a more spacious place to be — sounds evoking vastness or depth, recordings where it feels like you can hear the notes moving the air around. Big-room stuff, the bigger the better.
When New York’s Philharmonic Hall, which later became Avery Fisher Hall and is now David Geffen Hall, first opened in 1962, the conductor George Szell took a listen to its acoustics and said, “Tear it down and start over.” By the time Nina Simone played the Philharmonic seven years later the auditorium had been remodeled three times to improve its sound; many musicians who performed there continued to gripe about the room’s overabundant reverberation and lousy bass response. But the way “Black Gold” captures those quirks is part of what I love about it. When Simone sings Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” it sounds like there are miles of open country between her voice and the hushed small-group arrangement — congas, electric and acoustic guitar, everyone seemingly trying to play more quietly than everyone else, to the point that I swear you can hear the cord on Simone’s mic bumping against its stand. A good one to put on in the morning, when you’re staring out the window thinking about how clean the clouds look.
J Dilla, “Donuts”
RJ Smith, freelance
However big your place is, it has limits, and suddenly we all need to create a big world out of our very real physical limits. That’s what the Detroit-born hip-hop producer J Dilla did brilliantly on 2006’s instrumental album “Donuts”: Use a brace of obscure soul samples and homemade beats, snatches of words whose meanings here are always open-ended, to create a universe of strong feelings and weird inner moods. Dilla, who died in 2006 at age 32, produced hits for the Roots, D’Angelo, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. But on his own personal masterpiece, he built something quirky and probably personal, though you’ll never know why. “Donuts’” 31 songs move in less than an hour and the sum never feels disjointed — it’s like a telescope peering at a kaleidoscope, at a world you will never get to the bottom of.
Billie Holiday, “Lady in Satin”
Recorded in 1958, a year before her death at age 44, Billie Holiday’s “Lady in Satin” is filled with light and love. Her testimony is sacred: Song transforms pain into beauty, music mitigates fear and the deepest blues births the greatest joy.
Rob Tannenbaum, freelance
When R.E.M. released their first full-length album, “Murmur,” in 1983, the album’s distinctive, mysterious sound earned it a fond nickname: Mumble. The nickname referred to singer Michael Stipe’s lack of enunciation and the way he smeared syllables, turning lyrics into mysteries. The songs are clever and gorgeous, but at the forefront, there’s a young man who isn’t sure how clearly he wants to communicate.
In the last, oh, four years, my interest in some favorite artists waned. One day, I realized the commonality between all the music I was turning off: from Springsteen to XTC, they were white men straining to shout their important feelings or ideas. It’s too much like watching Tucker Carlson.
“Murmur” isn’t sure what it’s saying. Blurriness is central to its concept — it’s a watercolor, rather than a high-res digital photo. There’s no straining or self-importance. The impenetrability of the album is both enticing and frustrating. Additional listens only compound the frustration. But the songs are gorgeous, their moods are clear, and if an album isn’t sure what it’s saying, you can’t ever get tired of what it’s saying.
Kate Bush, “Hounds of Love”
Annie Zaleski, freelance
To be fair, “Hounds of Love” demands active, loud listening at all times, not just during a lockdown: Bush’s skyscraping vocals soar over verdant instrumentation — thundercloud synthesizers, theatrical arrangements, splashes of stringed instruments — to create lush, escapist music. But during this period of great anxiety and uncertainty, “Hounds of Love” feels like a lifeline — an album offering emotional solace and a promise of better days. The heartbreaking optimism of “Cloudbusting” in particular makes me lose it, as the song’s lyrics feel like a beacon of hope: “Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen / I don’t know when / But just saying it could even make it happen.”
Mort Garson, “Mother Earth’s Plantasia”
Andrea Domanick, freelance
Inspired by the growth patterns of plants, this gem of a cult electronic album will help you feel a little closer to living things in times of social distance. Released in 1976 by synth pioneer Mort Garson — who created the soundtrack to the Apollo 11 moon landing on CBS — “Plantasia” was originally a promotional item, intended as a kind of “sonic fertilizer” that was handed out to customers buying houseplants from Mother Earth Boutique, a small plant shop on Melrose Avenue. Beyond that, it was, somewhat bafflingly, only available with the purchase of a Simmons mattress through Sears.
Thanks to the album’s niche distribution, it was relatively unknown until the ’00s, when record collectors uploaded the work to YouTube, sparking an underground following. Last year it finally enjoyed a reissue via Sacred Bones, complete with a themed celebration at the Getty.
The record’s appeal is immediate and visceral — whimsical melodies and lo-fi rhythms build and intertwine in a kind of syncopated, aural hide-and-go-seek. Listen closely, and you’ll discover sophisticated compositions and patterns that echo the mystique and grandeur of the natural world. Whether you’re enjoying a safe stroll through nature or sidling up to a couchside fern, “Mother Earth’s Plantasia” makes for a welcome reminder that isolation is just a state of mind.
Pretenders, “The Singles”
Tom Carson, freelance
The quicksilver way Chrissie Hynde’s songs transpose from personal meanings to sociopolitical ones and back is forever crystallized by “Back on the Chain Gang.” But “Middle of the Road” and even her cover of “Stop Your Sobbing” can work the same magic, depending on your mood. Perhaps luckily missing from this compilation: “My City Was Gone,” which might be too painful to hear nowadays even if “Talk of the Town” or “Message of Love” didn’t provide, if not a cure-all, then palliative therapy.
Dirty Three, “Whatever You Love, You Are”
Jenn Pelly, freelance
With the Australian trio Dirty Three — the aching violin of Warren Ellis, the hypnotic guitar of Mick Turner and the drumming fireworks of Jim White — it can be easy to miss that there’s no singing here at all. The instrumental phrasings at play on their fifth album “Whatever You Love, You Are” mix post-rock with free jazz, and it’s pure poetry. This quietly epic LP has barely left my turntable over the last week; maybe that’s because its very nature seems to expand the dimensions of whatever room it’s playing in. “Whatever You Love, You Are” evokes the multitudes of the night sky on its cover — a darkness to get lost in, a North Star to guide you back, comforting and overwhelming in equal measure.
Kim Gordon, “No Home Record”
Steve Appleford, freelance
For some of us, tense times require tense music. On her first-ever solo record, Kim Gordon offers not easy listening but the disruptive approach she established during her decades in Sonic Youth. Now relocated back to L.A.., this longtime queen of the NYC underground stretches out again through layers of noise and melody, guitars and electronics, taking cues equally from the Stooges and underground hip-hop, with lyrics that are jagged and impressionistic. Amid the agitated hooks of “Air BnB,” Gordon escapes to some prefab accommodations, comfy and anonymous. And from the opening cellos of “Sketch Artist” that sound like fabric tearing to the deep throb and dread of “Murdered Out,” Gordon is dependably uncompromising, reflecting on tensions past and still to come.
Sade, “Diamond Life”
Molly Lambert, freelance
I’m finding that the genre I seek refuge in is quiet storm, the Smokey Robinson-coined, late-night-radio, sensual-soul subgenre. Sade’s “Diamond Life” is a perfect specimen, where studio-strict but somehow still loosely jazzy arrangements float like Arctic icebergs through Sade’s ocean moon tides.
Luther Vandross, “The Night I Fell In Love”
Danyel Smith, freelance
There is so much love here.
To record “The Night Fell in Love,” Vandross retreated with his crew to the tiny island of Montserrat. Session players became a band. And because Luther sang his vocals with them, you feel the exchange between vocals and instruments. In “Creep,” Luther near hums to his mini-choir “sing it for me four times,” and when they respond with that perfect creep creep creep creep, you know that soul (which is to sing with truth) has been tossed with precision (which American pop so often requires from black performers) and that Vandross seasoned it all with the grit that came from being raised by a widowed mother in the housing projects of New York City.
An underlying tragedy of “The Night I Fell In Love” is that Vandross, who as a performer came of age at the macabre height of the AIDS era, was unlucky in love. “The time that I’ve spent being in love,” Luther told Vibe magazine when he was 50, “has never been reciprocated.” Four years later, in 2005, he died of a heart attack (it was an unkept secret, but Patti LaBelle outed Vandross in 2017). These fears and melancholy make “The Night I Fell In Love” wildly relevant. The album presses my college nostalgia buttons, but it’s also a reminder of what can be created in an era defined by a deadly virus. Luther’s “Love” shouts back at the havoc, then and now.
Miranda Lambert, “Weight of These Wings”
Marissa R. Moss, freelance
If any complaint could be made about Miranda Lambert’s stunning double record “The Weight of These Wings,” it’s perhaps that modern life doesn’t allow for enough time to really take in and savor such an in-depth collection of music. But what better time to slow down and appreciate this 24-song collection that’s about letting go of existence as we know it and feeling strong enough to lead with your heart, even when things get tough? Lambert’s singing about the end of a relationship here, but thanks to her precise yet poetic lyricism, it’s as universal as it gets. “Dear old sun,” she sings on the album closer of the same name, “Let’s call it a day / And I’ll watch you set / And I’ll let you rest / But I’ll wait for you / Like mornins do / ‘Til I see your light.”
Gerrick D. Kennedy, freelance
Sampha’s long-gestating debut was born out of the loss of his mother, and the intensity of that pain informs much of “Process.” The experimental singer-songwriter interrogates love, anxiety and solitude over throbbing R&B beats and delicate balladry that play like diary entries scribbled during a stretch of sleepless nights. “Process” offers a sublime reflection of the way grief manifests in the body, and listening to it during these times of calamity feels especially transformative.
Abbey Lincoln, “Devil’s Got Your Tongue”
Jason King, professor, New York University
We’re living in an era of self-isolation, physical distancing and quarantines — surely the greatest experiment in forced mass disaggregation ever. While we’re stuck indoors in silos, maybe music can remind us of our intrinsic interconnectedness and shared planetary humanism.
Abbey Lincoln, the Chicago-reared jazz stylist-songwriter who passed away in 2010, was a musical philosopher who adventurously explored social and spiritual precincts of the human condition. 1992’s “Devil’s Got Your Tongue,” the third in her series of 1990s late-career “comeback” albums for Verve Records, kicks off with an exuberant children’s choir on the optimistic “Rainbow” before Lincoln delves into a poignant and whimsical tribute to her late mother in “Evalina Coffey (the Legend of).” Existential “Merry Dancer” twinkles with joyful exuberance and the Staples Singers deliver down-home gospel harmonies on the spine-chilling “The Music Is the Magic.”
Near the end, Lincoln transforms Frank Loesser’s melancholic standard “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” into an anthem of collective resilience and patience, by altering the pronoun “I” to “We.” “Time heals all things / We musn’t cling to this fear / It’s just that spring / Will be a little late this year.” Re-listening to it in the midst of our current anxiety-inducing crisis, Lincoln’s singing sounds like a gift, reminding us of the inevitability of replenishment when we most need to hear it.
Avalanches, “Since I Left You”
Eric Harvey, freelance
Even after a bit more than a week, the most patient of the self-quarantined find ourselves seeking either escapist fare that isn’t a Netflix reality show or a brain-sharpening indoor activity that isn’t another jigsaw puzzle. To wit: an album that fulfills both desires — the Avalanches’ 2000 masterpiece “Since I Left You.” The turn-of-the-millennium, sample-laden equivalent of an old suitcase plastered with travel stamps from sunny vacation spots around the world, “Since I Left You” was released at the peak of Napster-mania, and this group of Australian DJs’ balmy wanderlust was equaled only by the seemingly limitless new world of obscure recordings at their disposal.
“Since I Left You” is wholly comprised of samples — anywhere from 900 to 3,500, depending on whom you ask — which lends itself toward the archaeological type of deep listen. Marvel at the chorus of “Since I Left You,” a flipped and sped-up sample from the obscure ’60s pop single “Everyday” by the Main Attraction. Join the multiple Reddit threads trying to discover the provenance of the “flight 22 is off to Honolulu” earworm from “Live at Dominoes.”
Or for a different kind of deep-listening enjoyment, let your brain relax, close your eyes, and follow the greeting offered 45 seconds into the album: “Get a drink, have a good time now, welcome to paradise.”
Sly and the Family Stone, “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”
Jack Hamilton, pop critic, Slate
“There’s a Riot Goin’ On” is pop music’s greatest work of disintegration. Released in 1971, two long years after “Stand!” and a triumphant set at Woodstock, “Riot” was a stunning about-face, the Family Stone’s famed optimism curdling into cynicism and slow-boiling dread. Officially credited to the group but largely the work of Sly alone, “Riot” is the sound of paranoia, alienation and obsession, a record so exhaustively picked-over that it becomes the sound of its own process. It’s sticky and intoxicating, every sound compressed to a choke point, simultaneously surreal and immediate. It’s also a sublimely funky and indescribably soulful suite of dark humor and ragged beauty, one of the great headphone masterpieces of the late 20th century. “Riot’s” influence over the future of R&B is rightly celebrated — significant swaths of Prince’s catalog would not exist without this record — but it’s a completely singular work.
The Waterboys, “Fisherman’s Blues”
Josh Kun, professor of communication, USC Annenberg School
Pared down from nearly 100 songs recorded over two years, “Fisherman’s Blues” starts with a dream of escape (“I wish I was a fisherman / Tumblin’ on the seas”) and ends with a legend of lure, faeries stealing a child away from a world “more full of weeping than you can understand.” The line is from W.B. Yeats and his poem “The Stolen Child” is the album’s last song, followed by 50 seconds of bouzoukis and violins cutting through a highland mist to play Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” There’s also a tense, stuttering take on Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing,” a “Blackbird” snippet and a Hank Williams ode, which makes this sound like an album of covers and tributes, which it somehow magically isn’t. It’s more like a songbook of fables, rendered for an anxious world that everyone, all alone, is trying to find a way out of. It’s music for facing strange times on strange boats, and it’s never let me down.
Bobby Charles, “Bobby Charles”
Alison Fensterstock, freelance
I was excited for Bobby Charles’ scheduled set at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, but a lot of people smarter than me weren’t. That’s not because seeing Charles — the Cajun country-born songwriter who wrote for Fats Domino in the ’50s and helped shape the distinctly Louisiana rock and roll sound called swamp pop — wasn’t a thrilling prospect. It was because his last major performance had been more than 30 years ago, at the Band’s Last Waltz, alongside his fellow Louisianan Dr. John. And when Charles, in fact, didn’t show, Dr. John was one of the gang of friends and fans who covered the slot with a tribute to his music.
Dr. John’s slinky organ is all over Bobby Charles’ self-titled 1972 album, adding a sizzle of funk to its gorgeous blend of South Louisiana R&B, country and blues. He recorded the album for Albert Grossman’s Bearsville label during a stint living in Woodstock, and lots of hip neighbors are on it, including members of the Band, Geoff Muldaur, Bob Neuwirth and longtime Neil Young sideman Ben Keith. With such an ensemble, there’s a lot to hear in a deep listen: the way simple ’50s-style rhymes like “tease me/please me” seem to take on depth with the ambling pace of “Long Face”; the slightly weird, street-parade wobble of the horns that come in late on the gospel blues “All The Money.”
But what I hear the most now — both after Charles spent the last years of his life as a recluse, and in our own highly specific moment of distancing ourselves from others — is someone negotiating his relationship with people. “Small Town Talk” is a witty but deeply disappointed comment on scene pettiness; “I Must Be In A Good Place Now” and “Let Yourself Go” make cautious arguments in favor of love; “Grow Too Old,” the standout if you have to pick one, is a roadhouse rocker that worries about missing what life might have to offer. Charles ultimately chose to retreat, but the album — an ensemble effort celebrating his singular talent — is a shining example of the power of togetherness, which is something we’re all missing right now.
Genesis, “Selling England by the Pound”
Ernesto Lechner, freelance
I was a disaffected teen growing up on a Greek island during the ’80s when I bought a cassette of this Peter Gabriel-era Genesis album, and was instantly transported to a sonic landscape both whimsical and incredibly romantic. This 1973 session represents everything that was wholesome about British prog-rock: the limitless imagination and genre-bending eccentricities — that epic piano intro on “Firth of Fifth” evokes Rachmaninoff — all seeped in a quirky, Lewis Carroll-like sense of humor.
Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”
Ilana Kaplan, freelance
“Golden Hour” has been a record that I’ve come back to often since its 2018 release. But now, more than ever, I’ve found solace within the high highs and low lows of the record. Musgraves’ sincerity on the album is something that’s provided comfort, at a time where isolation from loved ones and life is illuminated. For moments where I’ve needed to feel empowered, I’ve turned to the discofied “High Horse,” which is as vulnerable as it is a kiss-off. But “Golden Hour’s” closer, the piano ballad, “Rainbow,” is cathartic: ideal for tears to stream down your face as the world stands still.
Wu-Tang Clan, “Wu-Tang Forever”
Elliott Wilson, chief content officer, Tidal
This 1997 double album is black art exploding above the top of the charts. It almost made pop irrelevant. The celebratory “Reunited” sets the Wu’s agenda: to lyrically challenge pop-rap. As GZA asserts, “Scatting off soft-ass beats / Them niggas rap happily/ Tragically / That style deteriorate rapidly.” The project’s dark sonic tone is cemented when Ghostface Killah recalls witnessing a friend’s murder (“Impossible”). I still can’t resist rapping loudly along to RZA’s boasts on the sinister “Duck Season.” “Forever” is stunning in sequence, but this album is malleable, and works on shuffle or in any order the listener loves.
Carla Morrison, “Amor Supremo Desnudo”
Justino Aguila, freelance
The Tecate native’s acoustic remake of her own 2015 album, “Amor Supremo,” highlights Morrison’s performance chops, guitar prowess and ballad mastery. “Tierra Ajena” (Foreign Land), featuring Ely Guerra, questions a lover’s actions; “Todo Pasa” (Everything Happens) examines life’s chaotic moments without losing all hope; and “Vez Primera” (First Time) reveals a torn soul on a discovery of self-worth.
Japandroids, “Celebration Rock”
Vanessa Franko, digital director of entertainment, Southern California News Group
You’re not hearing a static-filled malfunction of your turntable as “The Nights of Wine and Roses” opens — those are fireworks foreshadowing 35 minutes and 10 seconds of explosive punk. Filled with anthems that are instant sing-alongs and lyrics that ponder both lost youth and a generational call, the frenzy fades with a finale of more fireworks, signaling the end of the 21st century’s best rock album to date.
Gary Higgins, “Red Hash”
Lance Barresi, owner, Permanent Records and Permanent Records Roadhouse.
This timeless singer-songwriter album delivers both in good times and bad. Upon first listen, you’ll find it hard to imagine Elliott Smith not having heard this before writing his first album. Lyrically and sonically, it’s deeply moving from start to finish.
Deltron 3030, “Deltron 3030"
Jeff Weiss, freelance
The best speculative art is doomed to become almost-real. That’s why we process this soft apocalypse by considering how it all feels like “1984” spliced with “Brave New World,” “Idiocracy” bleeding into “Back to the Future 2,” the infection nightmares of “Contagion” contaminated with the visions of the great hip-hop space odyssey, “Deltron 3030.”
The turn of the millennium offered a natural canvas for dark clairvoyance and exactly 20 years ago, Del the Funky Homosapien, Kid Koala and Dan the Automator looked past the Y2K hoax into the hexed 31st Century. Into the void crashed a dystopian future haunted by a “virus to bring dire straits to your environment and crush corporations with a mild touch.” It indicts the false prophets of capitalism seeking to “imprison citizens with rhythm.” The news is brought to you by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Microsoft Inc. The Automator’s MPC plague symphonies remember a gorgeous but fallen world. And on the microphone, the skeptical sci-fi prophet Deltron decries “brainless entertainment” and “nuclear physicists genetically tailoring every bit of this stimulus.” Close enough.
The Radha Krishna Temple (London), “The Radha Krsna Temple”
Geeta Dayal, freelance
After the Beatles broke up, George Harrison famously immersed himself in a spiritual life — chanting Sanskrit mantras, studying Indian music and embracing Krishna consciousness. Harrison’s 1970 solo album “All Things Must Pass,” which featured the hit “My Sweet Lord,” is the record most people remember, but this charming LP he produced of Krishna singers in London playing bhajans, Hindu devotional music, is less well known. The album — full of chiming cymbals, lush harmonium and tranquil vocals — still has the power to soothe, nearly fifty years later.
Silver Jews, “American Water”
Corbin Reiff, freelancer
Every day I try to take my dog Page out for a long walk around the neighborhood. And every day on those walks I try to listen to at least one album in its entirety. It’s certainly a nice respite from [gestures wildly]. Lately, I’ve found myself returning to Silver Jews’ fantastic third album “American Water” more than most. Between David Berman’s clever, thought-provoking wordplay and Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus’ sometimes-languid and sometimes-twisted guitar solos, it rewards deep and repeated listening. “Honk If You’re Lonely” has certainly never hit harder.