Music in isolation: an 8-song guide

Sam Davies

Anxiety, panic, boredom—we go through a lot when we’re on our own. Thankfully, music’s always been here for us

We need music now more than ever. Whether we find comfort, catharsis, understanding or hope in the tunes we’re listening to, artfully arranged noises can function like a best friend when you've got no actual friends to talk to.

Here’s some music to fit every internal episode you’re likely to go through while locked down at home. If you listen closely, it might just feel like the music’s listening back.


John T. Gast “Infection”

Last month Netflix snapped up the rights to Contagion, a moment of morbid opportunism that was swiftly vindicated as Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 pandemic film shot straight into the streaming site’s top 10. If "pandemic music" exists, “Infection” is it, all toxic basslines and burbled vocal samples that could have been recorded through a ventilator. It’s by John T. Gast, who is as unfathomable as the “invisible enemy” we’re all gripped by (seriously, try and find out who Gast really is).

 

Alice Deejay “Better Off Alone”

Embrace it. You really are better off alone right now, and what better way to celebrate that than with Dutch trance one-hitters Alice Deejay. It’s actually about love and connection and being together and so on, but try not to think about that as you belt out the chorus while blinking back tears and thinking about loved ones. The song is both utterly timeless and obviously from the year 1999.

 

Patricia Escudero “Gymnopedie II”

Take a deep breath… and relax. The term "ambient music" didn't exist in 1888, when Erik Satie began releasing the "Gymnopédies," but evidently music has been used as a tool for calm since long before Brian Eno set foot in an airport. This interpretation by Spanish composer Patricia Escudero, from a century later, is as soothing as it gets.

Read more: 7 Best known classical piano pieces 

 

The Mighty Boosh “Isolation”

All the things I’ll never see
All the things I’ll never be
All there is that’s left for me
Is here in this eternity
Of isolation

Let’s face it: we’re all going a bit mad. But in solitude, there’s genius. And comedy. Since its mid-Noughties heyday on late-night BBC Three, cult British sitcom The Mighty Boosh has aged. But haven’t we all?

 

Dizzee Rascal “Sittin’ Here”

Solipsism is the theory that you, the self, are all that truly exists, that, for all you know, everyone—and everything—else could all be fake. If any music has ever captured the single-minded, sometimes paranoid outlook of looking after number one, it’s grime. It can, of course, be celebratory and harmonious as well, but the opening track of grime’s defining work (Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 Mercury Prize winner, Boy In Da Corner) is all about being on your todd, doing exactly what most of us are doing right now.

Read more: A brief introduction to Grime music 

 

My Bloody Valentine “Sometimes”

Shoegaze, the distortion-heavy subgenre of guitar rock pioneered by My Bloody Valentine and immortalised by their 1991 album Loveless, was named after the default posture of its artists and the fans who listened: teenagers moping around with hair over their faces and eyes aimed at their feet (shoe gazing—like, literally). Now that we’re all moody and unable to visit the barbers, My Bloody Valentine suddenly make a lot of sense. “Sometimes” features in Lost In Translation, a film about lonely ennui in which very little actually happens. Go relate.

Read more: A brief introduction to shoegaze

 

Tame Impala “Runway, Houses, City, Clouds”

Tame Impala is now quite possibly the world’s biggest one-man band. You might have thought it was a group, but almost every song in their discography was written, recorded and produced by Kevin Parker. The Australian psychonaut often names his music things like “Solitude Is Bliss”, “Lonerism” and “All On My Own In My Head”, and there’s something delightfully isolationist about listening to his kaleidoscopic mindscapes on headphones. “Runway, Houses, City, Clouds” is the best thing he's ever made.

 

Julee Cruise “The World Spins”

If you're feeling lonely, cut off, and just generally like, weird, irritating and inescapable happy songs are the last thing you need. Instead, match your mood with music that makes your stomach churn, like Julee Cruise’s 1989 album Floating Into The Night. Tracks like “Falling” and “I Float Alone” are tailor-made for lockdown delirium, but closer “The World Spins” is a reminder that life does, in fact, go on regardless. If you want the full experience, watch Twin Peaks, the series that made Cruise famous—at your own risk that is.

 

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