In April, over 85% of people in the United States were under some form of lockdown. I spent most of the Spring in Philadelphia working from home, living with my girlfriend and my four other roommates. Moods were mercurial as astonishment turned to fear, confusion to fun and everything in between.
Now living alone and with some time to reflect (plus it’s not like the news cycle is still as crazy… right?), I’ve picked 5 key songs, and their accompanying moods, that defined my experience in quarantine.
5. Thundercat – “Dragonball Durag”
Mood: Fuck It
Thundercat was supposed to come to Philly on my birthday in late March, but alas, everything came crashing down. On March 13, he cancelled the rest of his then-underway tour by posting an extremely bass-boosted Ken Burns-effect of Michael Jackson. This was super on-brand for Thundercat, who released not only the best video of the year (above, directed by Zack Fox), but also the catchiest song in “Dragonball Durag”.
The start of quarantine definitely had moments of “Shit, I don’t have to go into work, I can just smoke weed and marvel at how bizarre everything is”. By eliminating the outdoors, life became an absurd continuum of domestic theater. Upstairs, downstairs. Entering a room was soundtracked by the opening bass notes of this song, which was literally fucking impossible to get out of my head. Any response (whether spoken or internal) to “how are you?” was inevitably “I feel kinda fly…” Bonus points for, like Thunder, being covered in cat hair. Not sure if I still smelled good, I don’t have a great sense of smell.
4. Judee Sill – “The Kiss”
I got really into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in March – about 3 years late, but this was unexpectedly perfect timing. Trapped inside, I could easily convince myself that spending hours exploring the cliffs and shrines of Hyrule was not hopelessly nerdy, but totally reasonable – practical, even. What better way to pass this time of uncertainty and anxiety than to enter a parallel universe, horseback-riding through lush mountain landscapes?
Definitely a good idea, and while the game had a nice soundtrack I usually preferred listening to other music while playing. Concurrently discovering Heart Food, a soulful folk masterpiece by Judee Sill, was icing on the cake. “The Kiss” is an impossibly gorgeous song. A mystical, angelic tear-jerker. In turbulent times it guided me towards love.
3. Cam’ron – “Losing Weight Part 2”
Remember wondering if it was okay to go outside? In the city, every run to the grocery store felt like a deadly mission. Surrounded by potentially contaminated bodies, buildings, light poles, I wondered where I could go and what I could touch without ending up sick.
I would play this game where I would take a walk, but if I saw anyone coming towards me or on the same sidewalk, I would turn or cross the street. It helped me feel like I was both dodging danger and making my walk more interesting (which, after staying inside for days on end, was helpful). “Losing Weight Part 2”, from Cam’ron’s brilliant Come Home With Me perfectly soundtracked these paranoid walks. Over an anxious beat that sounds like the Halloween theme, Cam raps about goons that will “rat-poison your relish”, and the vibe walking around was just fear. “It’s real dog, I live in the fire,” says Juelz Santana. Exactly.
2. ‘Til Tuesday – “Coming Up Close”
Some 80s rock ballads hit a soft spot. The day after the 2016 election I think I listened to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” at least 5 times, completely despondent. “Coming Up Close” is kind of like that.
‘Til Tuesday was Aimee Mann’s band, and you’ve probably heard their hit “Voices Carry” (FWIW I always thought she was singing “oh-so scary”). I can’t remember how I found “Coming Up Close”, but it was around the time quarantine began and I immediately fell in love. It’s very 1986: immaculate shimmering production, synthesizer, and just look at the hair on the cover art.
For all its 80s cheese, this song made me pretty sad. It’s incredibly wistful: Mann sings about driving around on a summer night, being sad, being alone in a hotel room. And I doubt I’m the only one who spent much of quarantine reminiscing about things we used to be able to do that we can’t anymore. Traveling without worry, going to a restaurant, having a party, even just y’know, human interaction, being able to hug people and stuff. Fuck, man. How many times was each depressive slump or existential crisis soundtracked by that grand chorus of “Eeverything souunds liike… welcome home, come hooome“. I suppose only Spotify will tell.
1. Odunsi (the Engine) – “Better Days”
Even though it came out last summer, I’m sure I listened to “Better Days” more than any other song this year. If we learned anything from Rex Orange County, it’s that “You got me fucked up” makes for a great chorus. Following this formula, Odunsi, the effortlessly cool young artist from Nigeria, created a classic.
With a title like “Better Days”, of course this would be the perfect quarantine song. Meditative, yet fun, danceable but not a banger, it’s the one to jam out to alone. For when you finish the work week and don’t have much to look forward to on the weekend, but at least you can relax. Feeling blue, but there’s a big twinkle of hope. Things might never be the same, but it’s not gonna be like this forever.