Given that we are now seemingly living in a perpetual state of lockdown (shout out to the tier 3 gang), I thought I would reflect on some of my favourite lockdown music drops. At least there’s some good to come out of all this chaos!
Drop 6 – Little Simz
This five-song mixtape encapsulates lockdown for me. It feels anxious, gloomy and claustrophobic in the best way. She admits ‘practising stillness is a challenge’ – I feel ya girl.
Times we living in don’t seem real / But it was never a fairytale to begin with‘you should call mum’, Little Simz
It’s an effortless, rough-edged mixtape; drums, running baselines and relentless bars. Honestly, it’s my favourite project of her’s to date. Not that this would surprise Simz, she boasts, ‘this will be what they was waiting on from me’. Bravado tries to paper over cracks of self-doubt, with the perfect amount of vulnerability and bite. From the frantic, pulsing beat of ‘might bang, might not’ to ‘where’s my lighter’ and its melancholic, contemplative keys.
The songs feel like a single room, four walls shaking with a thumping beat. A beautiful void of introspection to enter. Simz divulges ‘I ain’t slept good in days, yo’.
Isolation Tapes – Mahalia
R&B artist Mahalia’s three-track EP is gloriously mellow and soft. ‘BRB’ is a slow, rainy-day song about loneliness and longing. Mahalia sings ‘Gotta hold it down for a little bit longer, then we’ll be together for life, yeah I’ll be right back’. While ‘Plastic Plants’ reflects on the disappointing nature of real-life relationships in comparison to the artificial love of the movies. Mahalia sings wistfully ‘You were meant to call me on the daily / Link me like a daisy chain upon my hair’ alongside smooth keys and percussion. ‘Too Nice’ is the crown jewel. Borrowing from her predecessors Aaliyah and Destiny’s Child, Mahalia delivers a flirtatious hook amidst sexy guitar chords and synthy sparkles. This one really makes me miss the club.
Maybe when I come back to the ends, we can catch up / I can’t wait to kiss you, baby‘BRB’, Mahalia
Quaranqueen – Lady Leshurr
A brilliantly ridiculous EP, Lady Leshurr is as witty as ever in her high-speed wordplay. Lyrics are expertly delivered with mischievous humour, from ‘don’t cough around me, keep your salivas’ to ‘6-feet away, don’t test me today’. Lady Leshurr has somehow made a track that makes me want to get down to rhythmic echoes of ‘we hate corona’ and the infectious melody ‘Ms Rona, Ms Rona, better pack your bags cos it’s over’.
British rap and grime are at their greatest when artists constantly use their surroundings as source material, and Lady Leshurr is Britain’s queen by her own admission.
Aporia – Sufjan Stevens
After widespread commercial success for his more accessible music, Stevens continues to flit between genres. This time, he spent lockdown making a gorgeous, experimental record with his stepfather Lowell Brams. Almost an entirely instrumental album, Aporia is ambient and atmospheric: swelling with synth, reverb and modulated strings.
It is ambitious – like a rediscovered soundtrack of a long-lost epic. There are moments of tension but mostly peace reigns in these formless synth-scapes. It’s hard to find the words to describe Stevens’ music – I’m not sure if there are any that can do it justice.
Beautiful, unfocused and familiar. I could daydream to these songs for hours.
The Black Hole Understands – Cloud Nothings
Work on this album began when band members realised live shows would not occur in the foreseeable future. Due to the promote production and mixing, the noisy thrash and improv tendencies of earlier albums are not present here and it is a blessing. Moving away from furious punk jams, this record is much more pop-rock though still energised. Hooks are melodic and catchy, guitar riffs are jangly and vocals are clear and soft. Lyrics are achingly apt: ‘If you wanna go I’m waiting / Let’s split the scene / Wait it out on our own’.
Life won’t always be like this / something’s gonna happen / when you wait a little longer‘The Sound of Everyone’, Cloud Nothings
folklore – Taylor Swift
I couldn’t not mention the surprise drop from Swift, which has been lauded (rather reductively) as her ‘indie’ album. Subdued, breathy folk-pop spotlights story-telling and gorgeous escapism.
Swift let her imagination run riot during lockdown and the result is a more evolved and adventurous project than ever before. Swift’s maturity and superbly honed songwriting skills are plain to see. The classic Swift love songs include ‘cardigan’, ‘august’ and ‘the one’. Then there’s more unexpected stand out songs; ‘mirrorball’ is all dreamy shoegaze, ‘invisible string’ is soft country, ‘seven’ and ‘my tears ricochet’ are ethereal and string-heavy.
I’ve written in more detail on Swift’s album here.
Lockdown Sessions – The Coral
A collection of pretty acoustic nostalgia made up of some covers, classics and previously unreleased tunes. ‘Rhapsody’ is sweet and ‘Just Like Tears In The Morning’ is folky gold, reminiscent of early stuff from The Lumineers. And ‘Liezah’ is one of those rare acoustic versions that are more beautiful than the original release.
God, how much I wish I was at a house party with some dickhead playing Oasis covers on his guitar at 3 am (though I’d probably have to tolerate ‘Wonderwall’ not ‘Married With Children’).