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Arts & Culture, Reviews

Quarantine collection: seven albums produced during social distancing

From Dua Lipa’s high energy disco hits to Taylor Swift’s renewed acoustic identity, these musical works consider an isolationist renaissance

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2020

Perhaps the isolationist existence provokes some sort of artistic intuition. Many famed artists have produced their most iconic works during periods of self-isolation: Virginia Woolf during depressive dazes, Edvard Munch after contracting the Spanish Flu, John Adams during a self-induced Californian cabin fever. So, it was only natural that the COVID-19 quarantine might offer some comparable artistic innovation. Here are seven albums produced during the past six months that offer a timely and periodic reflection on the artfulness of being alone and the longing for being together.

Charli XCX, “how i’m feeling now”

The British pop singer’s most vulnerable and punchy collection of work to date, “how i’m feeling now” embodies the lockdown-induced longing for human connection in its delivery of electronic love anthems. Utilizing open collaboration with fans and home-production, the succinct 11-track album serves up poptimism on a platter. The second track, “forever,” is both optimistic and suspicious of the future of human interaction: “I know in the future (future) / We won’t see each other … / … But I will always love you (love you) / I’ll love you forever.” Here, XCX’s bullish, autotuned declarations of affection remain hopeful for love despite physical separation. 

Top tracks: “forever,” “7 years,” “party 4 u”

Phoebe Bridgers, “Punisher”

Phoebe Bridgers is more candid than ever in her sophomore studio length album, “Punisher.” She curates a sophisticated sound that is best heard through headphones. Incorporating elements of pared back symphonic flares and fingerpicked folky guitar riffs, Bridgers seems to play into the lonesomeness of 2020. Bridgers entertains escapist, futurist narratives of the pandemic culture too: In the music video for “Kyoto,” she green-screens herself onto a modern Japanese cityscape while singing “Dreaming through Tokyo skies / I wanted to see the world / Then I flew over the ocean / And I changed my mind.” It is at whimsical times like this that “Punisher” becomes redolent of Elliott Smith and Leonard Cohen. Like her predecessors, Bridgers’ works have a referential yet unique homeyness that feel both divulgent and sophisticated. 

Top tracks: “Kyoto,” “Moon Song,” “I Know the End”

Taylor Swift, “folklore”

One of America’s most divisive pop stars has cultivated her newest, most authentic image in “folklore,” becoming elusive, murky and demure in her eighth studio album. More “indie” than any of her prior creative endeavors, Swift seems to be taking a new direction sonically and lyrically. Guitar plucks and Jane Eyre references guide the listener through a ghastly balladic landscape: “Isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string  / Tying you to me,” she sings in “invisible string.” Much like the rest of her works, Swift fans will love it and Swift haters will hate it. Swift is certainly successful in conjuring the misty woods on the album art, but a few of the singer-songwriter’s ballads end up lost in the fog.

Top tracks: “invisible string,” “cardigan,” “the last great american dynasty”

100 gecs, “1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues”

A dumpster fire in the best way, the rising duo’s remix album boasts a plethora of guest artists who continue to carry the warped electronic sound further into the mainstream musical landscape. Often memed for their proclivity for grating, autotuned vocals and harsh instrumentals, 100 gecs cultivates a polyamory of metal, electronic and club-pop in “1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues.” On the remix of “Ringtone,” Charli XCX, Rico Nasty and Kero Kero Bonito poppify the originally deafening song by interpolating melodic singing and cute chimes reminiscent of a Nintendo 64. 

Top tracks: “money machine (A.G. Cook Remix),” “ringtone (Remix) [feat. Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, and Kero Kero Bonito],” “stupid horse (Remix) [feat. GFOTY & Count Baldor]”

A.G. Cook, 7G

A.G. Cook is best known for pioneering the new musical genre and label of PC Music, boasting artists like Tommy Cash, Hannah Diamond and even Charli XCX. Cook’s first solo album is 2 hours and 39 minutes of electronic ear candy. The dissertative experimental album offers up 7 “discs” despite its immaterial nature. Each disc is composed of 7 tracks that vacillate between covers, original songs and occasionally minutes of cacophanus electronic sound. Though it might not seem cohesive, it is undoubtedly prolific and auteurial, inviting listeners into the genius mind behind some of pop’s biggest names. On a cover of Sia’s 2014 “Chandelier,” Cook collaborates with pop singer Caroline Polachek. As Polachek sings the well-known chorus, “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier,” over synths and the angelic plucking of a harp, the pair constructs a nearly unrecognizable song that feels like both an alien abduction and an ascent to heaven.

Top tracks: “Gold Leaf,” “Chandelier,” “Idyll”

Perfume Genius, “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately” 

The fifth studio album by artist Mike Hadreas, who is better known by the moniker of Perfume Genius, is unforgivingly exploratory and visceral. Dissonant, melodic and everything in between, “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately” is a genreless, sublime collection. Moments of muddied electric guitar as heard on “Describe” are punctuated by subdued instrumental flourishes on “Moonbend”: “Carving his lung / Ribs fold like fabric / Moon sketch the line / Moon bend the knife” he chants over the whimsical instrumental that almost sounds like Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of the Fawn.”  Though he seems to struggle with cohesion at certain points, Genius is certainly unafraid to set his listeners’ hearts on fire with this cinematic epic. 

Top tracks: “Jason,” “Describe,” “One More Try.”

Dua Lipa, “Club Future Nostalgia (DJ Mix)”

Dua Lipa imagines what a post-pandemic club scene might look like in “Club Future Nostalgia (DJ Mix).” Featuring collaborations with Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Mark Ronson and Missy Elliott, the collection of 17 songs remixing Lipa’s earlier project “Future Nostalgia” leans into the disco sound that felt like the pop singer’s truest maturation yet. Lipa described the motivations of the album as “something that would make people want to dance, to bring them a bit of happiness,” in an interview with Apple Music. “I just wanted to create something fun,” she said. The percussive remixes are silly and joyful and bubblegum in all the ways that make you want to dance alone, nostalgic for a future where we might not have to be six feet apart. 

Top tracks: “Future Nostalgia (Joe Goddard Remix),” “Levitating (The Blessed Madonna Remix),” “Kiss and Make Up (Remix) feat. BLACKPINK & The Blessed Madonna”

Listen to a Spotify playlist of the top tracks. 

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