Throughout history, music has been a reaction to the world around us, and it is hard to think of a more turbulent time inspiring art than the quarantine we are all enduring. Music was especially comforting for everyone during these times, and the new releases that reflected the current situation helped commiserate with us.
The first album I think of during quarantine is Charli XCX’s “How I’m Feeling Now.” This album was released on May 15, 2020, and was made in the span of six weeks with intense collaboration from Charli, her fans and producers. An interesting mix of distorted and abrasive instrumentals with pop hooks sung delicately by Charli, “How I’m Feeling Now” kept me coming back with its introspective look on life before, during and after quarantine. It captures a certain vulnerability of being in one place twenty-four hours a day. (Favorite songs: “forever,” “enemy,” “7 years,” “detonate.”)
Kacy Hill’s “Is It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again?” is the perfect soundtrack for just sitting and feeling your own complicated mix of emotions. Hill is an incredible songwriter whose brilliance in crafting vivid lyrical tapestries goes mostly unstated by the general public. This album is a serious look at heartbreak and insecurity through a unique lens of confronting your own shortcomings and growing from being hurt. Hill’s voice is incredibly smooth, and the instrumentals she sings overall have an adult contemporary synth-pop vibe that makes one want to drive through a freeway tunnel at midnight. (Favorite songs: “Porsche,” “Unkind,” “Dinner,” “Higher Me.”)
Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher” never fails to make you miss traveling, or even just being able to go anywhere at any time. As she sings about feeling out of place, missing home and wishing to go back to simpler times without all the heartbreak and struggle—anyone who listens can resonate with that emotional journey of leaving a place you are used to and the instability it brings. Throughout the album, Bridgers talks about an uncertain future and her own hopes for it, even amidst the fears of being alone or never truly belonging. (Favorite songs: “Kyoto,” “Garden Song,” “I Know the End,” “Halloween,” “Chinese Satellite.”)
Rina Sawayama’s “SAWAYAMA” is one of the most inventive, evocative and interesting alternative pop albums I’ve heard in a while. It blends genres so effortlessly to the point where you are constantly on a ride through all sorts of soundscapes that you would not even expect to find yourself in. “SAWAYAMA” is incredibly nostalgic. Sawayama sings about going to her favorite places with her friends, and the feelings of being young and having so much to look forward to. The album is constantly challenging norms and turning the pop songwriting structure on its head to create a truly unique experience. (Favorite songs: “XS,” “Bad Friend,” “F*ck This World ‘Interlude’,” “Tokyo Love Hotel,” “Commes de Garçons.”)
Sometimes we need music to wrap us in a blanket of comfort and commiserate with us. These albums are capturing the current cultural zeitgeist in a way that most usual singles are not. Whenever I felt like dancing, crying or sitting in the dark on my own, these albums helped me get through this summer with my mental health still somewhat intact.