SOUNDS OF SOLACE - THE MUSIC WE'VE BEEN RETURNING TO
by Kai Daniel Malloy
‘It’s my breakdown and I get to choose the music’, was a mantra that recently circulated the internet via the medium of meme, and whilst the phrasing is a tad clumsy, the sentiment is not at all inaccurate. When in periods of difficulty, it seems many of us are eager to curate the soundtrack. Whether it be a particular song, album or artist, there tends to be a certain roster of music that we see ourselves rinsing in a crisis. What’s interesting is how vastly different the music we turn to can be for every individual, which prompted ARCCA to investigate through asking a selection of young people hailing from different backgrounds what they have on rotation during tricky times.
Expressing an enthusiasm for the bright and buoyant genres of disco, funk and soul, Daniel turns to music that is ‘guaranteed to get you up and dancing.’ To shirk off lazy habits and bid welcome to productive energy, he seeks tunes that will psyche himself into a good mood, initially discovering his love for gleeful disco music through KAYTRANADA’s posts to social media in which he shared old school dance tracks. This opened a digital portal, wherein Daniel began scouring online for ‘awful quality’ phone recordings of rare disco vinyls. Paired with his mother’s own collection of records at his fingertips, a world of bustling discotheques with syncopated basslines and four-to-the-floor rhythms presented itself to Daniel.
In times of stress, he spins Nomalizo, a sprightly song by African funk and soul artist, Letta Mbulu. He lauds its danceability, uplifting energy and theatrical vocals, which culminate in an energising and empowering disco track. He also sees himself tuning to Anderson .Paak, particularly his Malibu album, as in his opinion he embodies all of the virtues of a compelling artist -- ‘he’s versatile, he’s dripping in charisma, i think he’s literally got so much character to him and when he’s on a song he’s just so noticeable.’ Daniel also highlights that whilst the echoes of disco and funk can be heard in .Paak’s work, he remains distinctly modern and singular. Amidst all of this groove-heavy music, Daniel also expresses a love for mellower sounds, regularly returning to folk musicians such as Simon and Garfunkel. He describes the nostalgia attached to their music, as he used to sit in his bunk-bed, listening to their albums on repeat through a little cassette player. Ultimately, in times of crisis, he seeks accessible and listenable music -- music that is enduring and timeless.
Hannah describes an upbringing grounded in music, with an array of sounds being played, ranging from hiphop to experimental, largely courtesy of her father’s eclectic record collection. This exposure to avant-garde tunes from an early age informs a present taste for leftfield electronic music - in particular, techno, house and jungle - as well as informing the music she herself creates, though hiphop remains the genre that Hannah returns to on a daily basis. During difficult periods, Hannah spins ‘Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1)’ by Outkast, citing the, as the name suggests, storytelling quality of the lyrics, as well as the unique beat which lends itself to being played in any situation -- ‘ it makes me dance but I can also chill to it.’ This versatility is also present in another of her favourite artists, Hiatus Kaiyote, and is one of the reasons for her ‘rinsing’ of their albums. Another is due to the vocals being comfortably within Hannah’s range, which is important as she enjoys music that she can sing aloud to, because ‘when you’re feeling a bit down you just want something your brain fully connects to.’ It makes sense then that Hannah sees herself revisiting Jessica Pratt’s album Quiet Signs too. Throughout lockdown, Hannah has also seen herself discovering loads of new electronic music, as well as returning back to that which she knows very well, such as UK garage. She highlights Chaos in the CBD as an electronic artist who she has on regular rotation. She also points to the rediscovery of Grouper’s album, The Man Who Died in His Boat, as she has spent much of the past year in her childhood home, wherein she discovered the artist at a younger age, and wherein her taste in music was shaped into the broad form that it is now.
Kiera describes her taste in music as being split between the channels of ‘poppy rock’ and show tunes, though it is susceptible to change, ‘especially during a period like lockdown’. She suggests that the music she returns to largely depends on her frame of mind, though there is a consistency throughout this year indoors in the concerted effort made to discover new music. Kiera cites the influence of the exposure to a wealth of music at a young age via her father as a reason for her explorative streak, as ‘when you have a parent who has a vast music taste you almost try to outdo them in a way’. One of the tracks that Kiera sees herself returning to is ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ by XTC, as it holds fond memories and puts her into a good mood. Similar reasoning can be made for Kiera’s long standing love for The Beach Boys. She describes the nostalgia they elicit, as they were ever present growing up, and remain one of her most listened to artists on a yearly basis. She also honours their timelessness, for every time she tunes in to their music she suddenly remembers that she knows every element of their compositions, and is yet to grow tired from them. Essentially, Kiera seeks ‘familiarity and safety’ in the music she returns to, which is likely why she also returns to show tunes. Citing the song ‘Positive’ from Legally Blonde, she suggests that when she’s feeling low, she genuinely seeks optimism in the music she listens to - ‘I wanna feel good and happy for it.’ The same goes for the La La Land Soundtrack. Not only is it the one album Kiera can listen to whilst she works, its inclusion of the ad libs and snippets of sound effect that are present in the film give it a warm, comforting quality.
‘I find music and sounds that are quite structured, attractive and calming to listen to’, says Lydia when describing her love of ambient music. She points to the complexity of the layers and ‘stability of the sound’ as some of the genre’s most captivating qualities, suggesting that the constance of ambient, in that the tones don’t change around too much, provides a sense of grounding when there is turbulence in her life. Oftentimes Lydia doesn’t feel like listening to music and opts for silence, struggling to complete tasks with noise in the background. When she does tune in, she seeks that which will make her feel most presently engaged, meditative and in focus -- this happens to be ambient. Lydia sees herself returning to organ player Kali Malone’s discography, particularly the songs ‘Spectacle of Ritual’ and ‘Fifth Worship II’. She explains how she can really tune into these shifting, building soundscapes, that are constant in their intricate minimalism. Lydia also reveres the artistry of Malone’s work, citing an interview wherein she discusses the time-consuming process of tuning an organ, which results in the actual playing being a very precise and strict procedure. She suggests that this quality of meticulousness often draws her to certain music. Lydia also sees herself spinning the song ‘People thought my windows were stars’ by post punk band, deathcrash. Whilst not ambient, it bears similarities in its ability to evoke a mood, though its sound changes around quite a bit more. The song makes her feel nostalgic for something that she can’t place - perhaps the live show she saw them at several months ago, or the beguiling quality of its tone that falls neither side of depressing or joyful. In general, Lydia finds herself listening to songs over and over, before taking a break and revisiting, and this is no exception.
Drawn to music that tends to be rather noisy, Matteo describes his taste as leaning towards the textured, enjoying tracks in which you can sense that there’s a lot going on structurally. He enjoys busyness and an element of rawness that is indicative of craft; of the tangible sense that a human has been grinding away to achieve a specific sound. This inclination for the crafty manifests itself as two genres: indie rock and electronica. Such a taste was informed by his parents playing ‘Jools Holland music’ in his youth, with much of his early listening experience being of live performance, and online musical platforms rife with underground sounds. Converse to Matteo’s love for the accostal and grating, a song that he has been spinning is ‘Thank You’ by Dido. This year in particular he has craved music where nothing generally happens, so enlisting the help of ‘the queen of beige’ feels apt. He also suggests that the song’s narrative, depicting a setting of grey skies wherein the sight of another human would be enough to change the tone of a day, seems fitting in the current solitary climate. Another song he has on rotation is ‘Banshee Beat’ by Animal Collective, a track that is constructed in front of you piece by piece, ‘building on itself it becomes more revelatory, accumulating layers and meaning.’ Matteo also sees himself regularly revisiting Joni Mitchell, as she is an ‘erudite, talented songwriter who captures such specific moods’, and much like his other favourite tracks, in her music ‘the search is meaning as opposed to landing on an actual moment of discovery.’ He also mentions Joanna Newsom, and her mystic lyric of ‘Sapokanikan’, wherein she mashes histories and understandings throughout time together -- her music tinged with a sense of nihilism that Matteo finds weirdly comforting. He suggests that much like good religious art, the music he returns to in a crisis points to things much larger than our understanding and makes them easier to comprehend by obscuring them.
Nana describes a taste in music that was once grounded in rambunctious rap and trap, but has since mellowed into a more chilled swirl of R&B-influenced sounds, ranging from neo-soul to lofi hiphop. She credits her parents for her palate, as they would put on a lot of jazz and disco music in her youth, so finding her own music taste ‘has really been rooted in a lot of soulful music being played in the house all of the time.’ During difficult periods, Nana has ‘BLEACH’ by BROCKHAMPTON on rotation. She points to the soulful character of the song as well as the heartfelt lyrical content as reasons for her returning, qualities which she only fully realised upon repeated listens. She unpacks how she had never considered the words that were being sung, until a rough period when she suddenly recognised that ‘this song is exactly what I’m going through right now’ - the first instance Nana had had of properly relating to a song in the moment. She also sees herself revisiting tobi lou’s music, an artist who she describes as capable of provoking ‘the mood to power on through’ in his work, in which he combines depictions of personal struggles with lighthearted, comedic elements. This is a theme in the music she returns to: a combination of being listenable but also having depth. Adverse to her love of chilled sounds, Nana also sees herself returning to Nicki Minaj’s discography. She points to the element of nostalgia, with the lyrics just flowing out of her like an opened tap, but also to the confidence-boosting nature of the braggadocious lyrics as reasons for her frequenting -- ‘I remember I am actually that bitch. I forgot for a second but I am!’ Similarly, she regularly revisits trap music, such as Travis Scott, citing the high-octane production and the bravado of the lyrical delivery - often tuning out of the actual content itself - as an opportunity for catharsis.
Although their genres of choice usually flit between soul and R&B, Shaista boasts a very broad taste in music, ranging from old school Motown and psych-rock, to modern electronic and post-punk. They suggest that trying to define their listening habits under a singular style is an ‘impossible question’, as they are so dependent on mood. When they’re ‘feeling like a seventeen-year-old angsty piece of shit again’ they play their nu-shoegaze / punk informed playlist titled ‘Twenties Angst’, genres they discovered through film scores, such as that of Lost in Translation. When they want to feel lively they listen to vogue / ballroom or disco music, tastes that were expanded by their years spent surrounded by electronic sounds in Bristol. When they’re feeling nostalgic, or ‘like I don’t want the music to interrupt my brainwaves’, they listen to their long standing genre of choice, R&B. In times of uncertainty, Shaista has ‘Cuffed’ by Nick Hakim on rotation. They describe it as a song they can never grow bored of due to its comforting quality; a quality painted across its vast, fuzzy landscape of pared back production. They also see themselves returning to Dua Lipa’s ‘Don’t Start Now’, amongst other nu-disco pop artists such as Jessie Ware, describing the inherently feel-good quality of both the song and the revival of disco at large - a genre whose talk of dancefloors and nightclubs is quite untimely, but cautiously optimistic, considering the year in lockdown. Shaista also sees themselves returning to Lianne La Havas’ self-titled album as it reminds them of their family, but also as every element of the composition, from the soothing vocals to the intricate guitar riffs, shine with beauty. They refer to it as a warm hug album, a title they also bestow upon Snoh Alegra’s Ugh, Those Feels Again. Shaista has also been seeking pure nostalgia this year in particular, so amidst much of their modern listening, they have also been returning to ‘warm hug albums’ in the form of Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding vibes.