This article is part of our ongoing series 'Lockdown Listening' in which our writers share what they've been listening to during the London Coronavirus lockdown(s).
To listen to our writers' songs, follow and listen to our Spotify playlist.
1. Mitski - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business, 2013
I’m not sure that listening to an unholy amount of Mitski is necessarily a healthy coping mechanism, but it’s certainly been mine. Over the lockdown summer it was her third album, Bury Me At Makeout Creek that I had on rotation, but this winter it’s been Retired From Sad, New Career in Business that’s hit the spot. This is Mitski’s second album, produced as her final project as part of her music degree. It features a full student orchestra and is probably her most sonically complex and varied album. But the thing that keeps me going back to Mitski’s work is her writing, whether over gnarled indie rock guitars or a full wind section, her songs are pure poetry. Retired From Sad, New Career in Business is no exception, perfectly chronicling the anxieties of growing up, leaving home and living despite the cruelness of the world.
2. Gian Carlo Menotti - The Medium, 1945
I have to be honest that a large part of my listening to this the past few months has been because I am directing a student production that will hopefully go ahead in June. But regardless, this opera is a real hidden gem, and has been one of my favourites for many years. Menotti has still not really received his flowers for the incredible work he did in making opera more accessible, and for the unique, modern musical style he developed, building on the verismo tradition. There are many beautifully crafted moments, ranging from the dissonant to the harmonious and everywhere in between. One of my favourite sections is ‘Monica’s Waltz’ which opens the second act, in which we see the full scope of Menotti’s writing ability and see the characters of Monica and Toby realise their love for each other. It’s a beautiful moment with some incredibly beautiful music.
3. SOPHIE - Immaterial, 2018
On 30th January this year, legendary producer and DJ SOPHIE died in a tragic accident as she fell from the roof of her home in Athens. SOPHIE was a trailblazer, a musical genius, an icon to the LGBT+ community and there was no one like her in pop music. If this is the first time you’ve heard her name, I strongly encourage you to go and listen to her back catalogue. Her death was a huge shock and a huge loss. In the wake of the news, I alternated between listening to this track and ‘It’s Okay to Cry’, both taken from her debut (and only) album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES. While ‘It’s Okay to Cry’ was perhaps the more comforting listen for obvious reasons, ‘Immaterial’ feels like the right song to celebrate SOPHIE’s life and legacy. In ‘Immaterial’, she created a strange, technicolour anthem of self-acceptance, as saturated, pitch-shifted voices chant over overproduced dance beats. Despite SOPHIE’s experimental, often harsh and disorientating soundworld, her music is also deeply emotional. Through ‘Immaterial’, SOPHIE dreamed of a better world, and that dream lives on in her music and the memory of her life.
4. Anais Mitchell - When The Chips Are Down from Hadestown, 2010
Perhaps surprisingly, I am actually often a fan of original off-Broadway recordings, and this is the case with Hadestown. Anais Mitchell’s masterpiece has a strong claim to being one of the best musicals of the 21st century, and this original off-broadway recording is my favourite. Mitchell creates a fresh musical world, taking influence from jazz and folk music, to tell the myth of Orpheus like you’ve never seen it before. I’m hard-pressed to choose just one song, as Hadestown never dips in quality, but ‘When The Chips Are Down’ is definitely one of the most fun songs. The Fates, accompanied by big band and jazz piano, sing in gloriously close three-part harmony as they convince Euridice to journey to the underworld.
5. Los Campesinos! - A Slow, Slow Death, 2017
I’ve been blasting most of the Los Campesinos! back catalogue since the pandemic hit last March. They blend angst-ridden, heartfelt lyrics with upbeat, indie pop songs, and that balance is the perfect antidote to a time full of uncertainty. ‘A Slow Slow Death’ is a cathartic expression of what it feels like to live in modern Britain. Released in 2017, post the shambles of the Brexit referendum, its lyrics take on another dimension in the face of the new flavour of pandemic incompetence emanating from Downing Street in the past year. But ‘A Slow Slow Death’ is also somehow optimistic, with an anthemic, rousing chorus that manages to be both heart-breaking, comforting and hopeful all at the same time.
6. Akira Senju - Crime and Punishment from the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood soundtrack, 2010
A big comfort for me in Lockdown Three has been rewatching Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Over a decade since its release, it still stands up as one of the best fantasy series of all time. Akira Senju’s extensive and beautifully crafted score is one of the elements that elevates this series over other attempts to adapt Fullmetal Alchemist. While there are many excellent excerpts, one of my favourite parts is ‘Crime and Punishment’, a haunting string lament. Senju’s command of tension, dissonance and resolution is one of a kind.
7. Soccer Mommy - Indie Rokkers, 2020
Finally, for some time now I have been completely obsessed with Soccer Mommy’s cover of MGMT’s ‘Indie Rokkers’. It is, perhaps unfortunately for MGMT, much better than the original. Soccer Mommy brings sparse, distorted guitars and a softer touch that is exactly what a song like ‘Indie Rokkers’ needs. Listen to it and dream of easier times. Oh, and buy it from her Bandcamp where the proceeds will go to Covid-19 relief funds.
If, for some reason, you want to see more of what I’m listening to, you can follow my last.fm profile here! https://www.last.fm/user/comeonbeanoone
Elena Veris Reynolds, March 2021
Read other articles from the series here. They include:
Go to this Spotify playlist to listen to all the songs mentioned throughout the series!