It’s not like my music collection is unlistenable right now, but the songs about isolation come to the front. There are some love songs on these albums, but not a lot of songs in which other major figures appear. Comfort, but no intimacy. Close enough to play in your ear, but not to touch your face.
AJJ, Good Luck Everybody
AJJ has always been the most liturgical of punk bands. The first track on their perfect early album People Who Can Eat People Are The Happiest People begins, “Rejoice! Rejoice, God’s ears are stitches!/Rejoice! His eyes are big X’s!/Rejoice! His arms are burning witches!/Rejoice! His hands perform hexes!”" and they’ve gone on like that for thirteen years so far. In Good Luck Everybody, they lean on the “folk” side of folk-punk like a tired dog leaning on its human, warm and rough. The liturgical impulse comes out in several forms, both sarcastic and sincere, cumulating in a final track that calls out wearily for “solitude for the stoic/mirth for the merry/a quiet room for the overwhelmed/arcades for the ADHD/health for the sickly” — basic needs, some kind of soothing and help, but without a lot of optimism about it. A toast with the last clean glass in the house. It’s mostly an album about American politics, but right now it sounds like something even more immediate.
Grimes, Miss Anthropocene
It’s nihlistic, it’s paranoid, it’s self-cancelling, it’s suffused with insomnia and runaway anxiety and repetitions that feel like that scene in The Master where Joaquin Phoenix has to fling himself at the wall faster and faster, and it’s explicitly about sickness and contagion. I don’t listen to it very often, and I don’t take it dead seriously when I do — it’s too good at aestheticizing and sublimating — but nobody is going to make a better album about this moment than Grimes did before it started.
Mitski, Be the Cowboy
I know it takes some gall to recommend the album every queer in America has already made a mood board for, but I’m shocked by how well Mitski pairs with COVID-19. Even its mind palace of a love song, “Pink in the Night,” is about obsessing alone. The iconic lines “I know I’ve kissed you before, but I didn’t do it right/can I try again, try again, try again/and again, and again, and again?” sound like a person with OCD trying to work through a compulsion. If you’d kissed them right, things wouldn’t be in such a mess.
Sir Babygirl, Crush on Me
This is even more unlikely than the Mitski, but Sir Babygirl crackles with a kind of manic static, and sometimes manic static is what this year feels like. Its world is vindictive, nervy, high-stakes; “This party’s just another haunted house/I can’t wait to lose all my friends tomorrow! […] I can’t wait, I can’t wait, to ruin the rest of my life!” And as with Be the Cowboy, even the gorgeous love songs jangle and pop. Not all of the things that “Flirting with Her” feel like sound especially great — “butterflies screaming”! “skinning your knee”! Yes, the crush left her name on Sir Babygirl’s lips, but that scream of excitement reminds you that passion and anxiety are physiologically the same.
Mary Bichner, Now the Spell is Broken
A brief but intense classical-pop EP inspired by a certain era of shoujo anime, especially by Sailor Moon. I’ve always appreciated this era because of its honesty — its use of camp and heightened style to create a pure, concentrated, supercharged emotion. Bichner translates it perfectly. I need this album right now because it doesn’t reflect my mood, but refracts it. Focus.
Siouxie and the Banshees, “Cities in Dust”
Not the rest of the album, which I’m sure is great. Just “Cities in Dust” on repeat, forever.