We're living in some very lonely times, but music can serve as a powerful tool to navigate this isolation. For the April collaborative blog, members of the collective discuss some of their favorite songs of solitude, reflecting on all complexities and human emotions surrounding it.
Song: “Mad World”
Artist: Jordan Rakei
The opening track from Jordan Rakei’s groove-heavy and often ethereal electro-soul album Origin starts with a plea: “Stay away from the motion and madness, stay away from the streets, for me / Hide away from the moments that make us, hide away from the streets, for me.” No one likes having to do what we’re doing, and even though I doubt Rakei had a global pandemic in mind when he wrote this tune, his refrain “It’s a mad, mad world. Why can’t we keep on livin’ here?” reflects the frustration we’re all feeling perfectly.
Song: “Song to Sing When I’m Lonely”
Artist: John Frusciante
Album: Shadows Collide With People
The Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist is well-known for his reclusiveness and bouts with addiction, and as such has a ton of solo material that oozes loneliness and uncertainty. This track is a great example, and despite the darkness of his message here, the upbeat, ballad rock feel keeps it light and gives it a tinge of optimism.
Song: “Count Me Out”
Album: Synthetic Soul
I can’t say enough great things about Chiiild’s debut album, Synthetic Soul. The first time I heard this song was on a walk through my normally bustling Seattle neighborhood, now eerily quiet and marked by boarded up shops and restaurants and people awkwardly trying to maintain physical distance on narrow streets. The instrumentals here are melancholy and cinematic, echoing the loneliness I felt seeing a place I love so much forced to turn inward. Still, Chiiild’s refrain “Don’t count me out ‘cause I’ll come back swinging” was a nice reminder that this is only temporary and gives me hope that in some ways, we might come out of all of this even better than before.
Song: “Solitude is Bliss”
Artist: Tame Impala
As much as this whole situation sucks, I’m an introvert, and have to admit that at times I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to slow down. This track from Tame Impala’s first full-length album might be a little on the nose, but Kevin Parker captures the sentiment perfectly: “Space around me where my soul can breathe / I've got a body that my mind can leave / Nothing else matters, I don't care what I miss / Company's okay / Solitude is bliss”.
Song: “Learning to Relax”
Artist: Dan Deacon
Album: Gliss Riffer
Much like solitude, Dan Deacon’s music, for me, is bliss. His beautifully bizarre, richly-layered electronic textures and frenetic beats toe the line between deeply hypnotic and compulsively danceable, and provide the perfect soundtrack to temporarily lose your mind to. As the title implies, the track is about the desire to just shut off for awhile, and being cool with just being, as he repeats: “I wanna take a ride / I like it when you drive with me / I've got nowhere to go or show you / Just take me out of my mind”.
Mitski starts this track with a sentiment we can probably all relate to right now: “My God, I'm so lonely / So I open the window / To hear sounds of people / To hear sounds of people”. I listened to an interview where Mitski explains that this was something she really did while living alone in a new country where she didn’t know anybody, just so she could feel the presence of other human beings. Unfortunately, this particular strategy for curing loneliness probably wouldn’t work so well right now. Her haunting and infectious repetition of “Nobody, nobody” perfectly captures the surreal feeling of walking outside and feeling like you might actually be the last person on earth. Still, it’s somehow upbeat and hopeful, and to me is a perfect anthem for the weirdness of our times.
Song: “Illusion of Seclusion”
Photay is one of the more unique electronic music producers out there right now. This track is peak Photay - massively epic synths, funky polyrhythms and a melodic refrain that you won’t be able to get out of your head. Throw some headphones on, lay back, close your eyes and remember that even if you’re feeling lonely right now, we’re all in this together.
Artist: Eyedea and Abilities
Album: By the Throat
No need to get down, except to Eyedea’s brilliant lyrics in this song. "Smile" calls on us to recognize the pain and suffering around us, in seemingly good and seemingly bad times — what time it really is depends on our perspective. "It ain’t all good, but it's all good enough, so I know I'm alright / Agony is truth, it's our connection to the living / I accept it as perfection and keep on existing in the now." And like most Eyedea songs, it has some sick, slow guitar work in the back to keep you grooving.
Song: “Please Die”
Artist: Nowhere Man & A Whiskey Girl
Album: Nowhere Man & A Whiskey Girl (Self-title)
Need a laugh about wanting to be alone? Here’s a whimsical tune about everyone else in the world being dead so you can finally find peace. It’s being hyperbolic, of course, but I can’t help but laugh when Amy Ross sings about ways everyone should risk their health to help her realize her loner dream: “Smoke unfiltered cigarettes, / Fly cheap economy jumbo jets, / Ride your motorcycles without helmets." It’s a nice lift, a way to laugh at yourself, when you’re alone and teen-angst-style angry at the world.
Song: “Dertli Dolap”
Artist: Özgür Baba
Let’s have a little fool-on-the-hill time in our isolation. What’s it all mean? “Dertli Dolap” is an old song about the mystic poet Yunus Emre coming upon a creaking water wheel. He asks the water wheel, “Why do you moan?” It tells the story of how it was a tree on a mountain, “they broke my arms and wings, / They found me fit for a water wheel, / For I’ve troubles, I moan.” It’s a thought-provoking story about purpose and rebirth, which is something worth thinking about when so many of us are facing unemployment, among other troubles. Be sure to put on some headphones — the crisp sound of Mr. Baba’s voice gets support from a background of various farm animals and… the occasional gunshot. It’s a gorgeous song, something of a chant, with a sense of foreboding.
Song: “Through Glass”
Artist: Stone Sour
Album: Come What(ever) May
I live by myself, and my closest family is over 70 miles away, so it goes without saying that the past few weeks have been very lonely for me. However, I haven’t necessarily been treating it as a bad thing. I’ve been using this lockdown as an opportunity to explore inner space. Time moves slowly when you’re all alone with nothing to do, but it’s a good time to really get to know your spiritual home - the thing that’s driving that sack of meat and bones that you use to travel through space and time that you call a body. Now is a good time to take inventory of your life. Have you been living life to its most authentic? Perhaps you’ve been putting up a facade for the sake of acceptance, or focusing too much on building up a persona on social media. Whether you try to or not, you put forth an image of yourself that leaves an impression onto others. Really, how much of that image is reflective of the person that you are? Perhaps you can think about it with help from Corey Taylor and co.
Song: “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”
Artist: Joanna Newsom
Album: The Milk-Eyed Mender
Music has and probably always will be a constant meditative hobby of mine - I put headphones in and become utterly infused with whatever I’m listening to. It’s sort of an escape from my tasks at hand, and it’s a pretty simple and effective one at that. One could say it’s my shortcut to solitude!
Recently the songs that most quickly put me in a state of solitude are those of Joanna Newsom; I tend to put her on at work and at home to perpetuate my inner serenity. Now, her music is wonderful and beautiful to me, but that doesn’t always mean her songs are “happy” (although a lot are!). Of course, as I said earlier, music really is my shortcut to solitude, but Newsom’s song "Crab, Clam, Cockle, Cowrie" is like a one-way express train to vast, wistful, gazing-up-at-heavy-clouds-by-the-sea solitude.
“That means ‘no’ where I come from” is the opening line, and lets us all know the song is about a rejection of sorts. The instrumentation is fairly calm and steady, with Newsom plucking her harp rhythmically, while she sings describing a sort of waiting in a deep darkness, perhaps the shadow of being abandoned by the initial rejection. “There are bats all dissolving in a row / Into the wishy-washy dark that cannot let go”. Newsom is both describing black bats commencing their nightly hunt as well as figuratively painting a poetic picture of bitter blackness filling her heart. The solitude feels real and every word she speaks reiterates here watching, waiting, and trusting of an empty sky; knowing that her current darkness will open to a morning like every other morning. “There are some mornings when the sky looks like a road” - eventually we have to carry the emptiness with us and walk on a brand new road.
Newsom’s hymn of sitting with solitude feels so massive to me, despite it’s quiet, simple arrangement. There’s a sky within the song that’s heavy with clouds, painfully slowly growing ever so slightly lighter and lighter as morning breaks beyond some impossibly deep night. I will always cherish this song as a reminder of holding faith and knowing mornings will come no matter what night holds in store. Beyond the heavy themes of the song, Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie is for me mostly a shortcut to solitude - I put it on and feel like I’m alone by the sea, up to my ankles in briny water, watching a sunrise through dark clouds gathered on the margin of the world.
Note: I have been working on these write-ups for a few days now, but I'm having a very difficult time trying to write. I haven't been doing much talking lately so my ability to string together words into cohesive thoughts is very dismal, so please accept my very sloppy descriptors of these songs. Thank you!
Song: "With the Ink of a Ghost"
Artist: José González
Album: Vestiges & Claws
Learning how to be alone with ourselves is one of the most important yet difficult tasks in life, and this song evokes the ultimate sense of comfort when one surrenders to uncertainty and gives into feelings of solitude. Similar to Alex's sentiment for his pick (above), we all must at some point learn to look inwards and discover our true selves without distraction. This is a very jarring time as we've all been thrown into this situation unexpectedly, and it leaves us with a lot of time to reflect on aspects of ourselves or our lives that we might not have been ready to face. "With the Ink of a Ghost" mirrors these tumultuous thought processes of loneliness and self-reflection, but leaves with a reminder of what can become of these situations when we learn how to find grace in solitude.
The first few lines of this song set the tone for an isolated individual, "Idle as it seemed/ Trudging through the mist/Following the creeks/Erasing dim lines on the list." The motif of mist, however, reminds us that although our peripheral view is mysterious and bleak, we can't see what's behind it. The song continues to strive for clarity, as he continues in the forest and can finally tell "indigo from grey". He then finds sunlight, vegetation, and admits that still "Among the mirrors of the scene/ Some appear frail and incomplete." This line reveals how breaking through the mist is only the first part of this self-reflective journey, and can set us up for an overwhelmingly lonely process of sorting out the pieces.
The narrator then tries to make reasoning for everything in his surroundings ("Find ways to make sense of all the lights/ To shake the winds/ To shake the currents and the rigid hives we're living in"), but ultimately decides to just become a "witness to the changing tides". The last refrain illuminates on the freeing feeling of letting go of the over-analyzing, the discomfort and the uncertainty of his loneliness:
Idle as a wave
Moving out at sea
Cruising without sound
Molding what's to be
Serene between the trails
Serene with the time and ink of a ghost
The dichotomy of the lyrics are further developed through the accompaniment of warm textures. Although the words themselves may feel disheartening, they are backed up by the intricate plucking of nylon-strings that weave a thick, full sound, like a sonic web for the words to fall back on. José González also recorded and produced himself, giving it a less polished feel. The room for imperfections in the muddy, analog sound provide a very warm, human touch throughout the the journey of this song. It's that touch that reminds us that feeling lonely, confused and isolated is an extremely uncomfortable part of being alive, but it's a process we must go through to be human -- and there is solidarity in knowing we're all going through it together. (P.S. - If you're interested in learning more about this album, here is an interview I did with José González back in 2015 during the Vestiges & Claws tour.)
Song: “Nothing With You”
Artist: The Descendents
Album: Cool To Be You
This is the ultimate quarantine love song. This song romanticizes the idea of sitting around and doing nothing with someone you love, putting off all of your responsibilities, and watching reruns on TV that you’re already seen 20 million times. Whether you’re stuck with your roommate, family or significant other, this song can at least help you feel good about putting off your “things I should probably be doing since I’m just at home all day” list and fry out with some junk television alone, together.
Song: “Orinoco Flow”
All hail the queen of solitude! I can’t think of an artist that better represents social distancing than Enya, who has been living alone in Manderly Castle in Dublin since 1997. Aside from admiring her hermetic lifestyle, I recently re-listened to this entire album, and all nostalgia and meme-ness aside, it still holds up as a timeless ethereal masterpiece.
Song: “Svartesmeden og Lundamyrstrollet"
Album: Arntor, Ein Windir
Similar to Enya, vocalist and songwriter Valfar Bakken of atmospheric-folk black metal band Windir is the embodiment of solitude and isolation. He lived alone in the mountains of Norway, and wrote music to further explore ancient Norwegian mythological folklore and connect with his ancestors through nature. There is something so powerful and moving about this song...I can only describe it as the feeling you have when you're alone and come across a sweeping, profound realization about yourself and where you come from. This music generally pairs better with the winter ('cause you know, black is metal is very kvlt/grim/frost-bitten), but nevertheless it's an ode to the power of solitude and my favorite hermetic songwriter. (P.S. - You can find footage of a Windir concert in this article I compiled of some great concert footage to watch while you're in isolation.)
Song: “Gotta Go Home”
Artist: Boney M.
Staying at home has never looked so fabulous! Even though this song is really about going home after a vacation, you can easily take the repeated chorus chanting “Gotta go home!” as a mantra to stay at your house, and hell, even make a dance party out of it. Boney M. has produced some of the greatest disco hits of all time, and it's a shame that most people only know this melody from Duck Sauce's "Barbara Streisand", because Duck Sauce definitely can't give you steel drum solos, sequined body suits, or the incomparable dance moves of Bobby Farrel.
Song: “Leave Me Alone”
Artist: KAYTRANADA feat. Shay Lia
This song is a fluid mix of upbeat, South African house tempos, beautifully accompanied with Shay Lia's brooding vocal delivery. Her tone is confident when she repeatedly states "leave me alone", but the intermingling downtempo beats give off this coyness, as if it's masking up some elements of hurt or loneliness. It's mirrors these isolating times well, where we want to be left alone, but also...not really.
Here are some bonus songs I've selected to match the theme of this collab blog:
"Lonely World" - Moses Sumney
"All Alone" - Gorillaz
"Go Home, Get Down" - Death From Above 1979
"Lonely is the Word" - Black Sabbath
"Solitude" - Black Sabbath
"Tired and Lonely" - The Spits
"Quarantine" - Ceremony
"Alone, Together" - The Strokes
"Solitude" - Drudkh
"Our Lady of Solitude" - Leonard Cohen
"Leave Me Alone" - New Order
"Wake Up Alone" - Amy Winehouse
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