In light of the fact that a number of us are all stuck inside again, we here at Instant Classic have compiled a short list of albums that hold a spot in our hearts for many and varied reasons.
When compiling this list we wanted something that felt like it captured some of the current moods of the moment in time that we’re all faced with, but also looked to the recent past as a beacon for the way things might once again be.
Following that line of thinking, the albums that comprise this list were all released in the 21st century (aside from one Aussie classic from ‘88 we felt was a good fit).
Often when publications compile ‘best of’ lists of songs or albums they look to the distant past, longing for a sense of nostalgia that many of us no longer have even a vague sense of. And really, there’s enough lists out there telling you to revisit ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’, so we thought this might be a welcome change.
Hopefully this selection of albums serves as both a future reminder of the pandemic-affected timeline with which we currently contend, as well as an historical record of a point in time where our lives were racked with uncertainty and fear, but also hope. One that we can look back on in years to come with an appreciation that life has once again become a little freer.
The Many Moods of Lockdown
At the time of writing this, Melbourne has just entered its second (and hopefully final) lockdown of the pandemic. We’ve grouped these albums into a list of extremely specific emotional states. They’re all strands of being that we think a lot of you may relate to and might have experienced at some stage during this time of heavily increased inside-ness.
So the next time you’re stuck for something to listen to in any one of the following circumstances (feel free to extrapolate a bit if you’re reading this post-pandemic) we hope these suggestions bring you comfort, company, or just a great record to vibe with.
Existential Dread with a Wry Smile
Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher (Dead Oceans, 2020)
Phoebe Bridgers' new album couldn't have come at a more perfect time, having been released about four months into the pandemic. We don't think there's another artist who so perfectly encapsulates 2020’s feelings and sentiments of simultaneous helplessness and frustration, but who also offers comfort and light.
Punisher is an album composed of brief and hyper-specific vignettes from the singer’s lived experiences, set against a backdrop of quiet anxiety and gorgeously produced instrumentation. The fact that it was actually released mid-pandemic gives an even greater sense of its claustrophobic sonics being made to fit the times.
From the opening unease and spectral strings of ‘DVD Menu’ to the crescendo-as-coda rush of ‘I Know The End’, there’s a feeling of being submerged that never quite lets up, though it’s more akin to a warm blanket of sound than anything else. It’s rare for an album to deftly convey emotional catharsis as something so painfully relatable and heart-rendingly beautiful but Punisher does just that. It’s an album for these times that serves as both musical embodiment and spiritual salve.
Quarantine Breakup Heartache
Marika Hackman - I’m Not Your Man (AMF Records, 2017)
Marika Hackman’s 2017 LP is one that seethes and storms at turns, crackling with the energy of grunge but centered by heartbreak. That energy couples with plenty of quotable lyrics to offer an album that’s as good to sit back and enjoy for its brilliant songwriting as it is to scream along at the top of your lungs after a significant other’s adulterous transgression.
These are breakup songs that offer emotional cleansing, notably the gentle, acoustic-laden ‘Cigarette’ which examines themes of love and disdain with Hackman’s silver tongue delivering searing verses chronicling the breakdown of a relationship; “And I tried to hold my tongue / But you, you yanked it from my grip / Bathed it in petroleum, lit a cigarette and gave it a kiss.”
Album closer ‘I’d Rather Be With Them’ sounds gorgeously melancholic on the surface, but a closer read of the lyrics reveals a dramatic and dark recounting of a romance's collapse. Hackman said of the song and album: “It is really sad. I think I’m a really overly romantic person and I’m kind of obsessed with love and the breakdown of relationships…so I quite like being really over dramatic about it…I think that when I perform that song it’s going to make me really, really sad…I don’t want to leave people feeling really bleak, but there’s actually an arc of a relationship going through the record that was completely unintentional.” The exhilarating drama and poignant pathos of I’m Not Your Man are what makes it a great breakup album. It does what any great album should do at a time of emotional collapse; it validates those feelings that are necessary for closure, and imbues you with the strength to move on.
Nostalgia for the Recent Past
Frank Ocean - nostalgia, ULTRA (Self Released, 2011)
Sure, the title of Frank Ocean’s 2011 mixtape is a perfect fit for this particular lockdown mood, but aside from the title there’s a very specific impression conveyed by this collection that invokes feelings of teenage years, of looking back on the past with rose-tinted glasses.
Ocean famously used the track of The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’ for ‘American Wedding’ without Don Henley's permission, and a legal battle ensued. Resultantly, you won’t find this tape on any streaming services and vinyl pressings are all unofficial but they do exist and can be found on Discogs. A quick YouTube search returns ample results from fans that have posted the tape in its entirety.
Everything about this recording feels nostalgic, right down to the bright orange early 80s BMW E30 M3 on the front cover. The sampled tracks stoke old memories, the lyrics pine for days past, and the samples of a cassette deck being rewound and fast-forwarded throughout takes us back to making mixtapes for friends and crushes in high school. This is a set of songs that have the ability to transport you back to when life was just a little easier, like a hug from someone familiar and loved. And that’s something worth seeking out.
Focus In The Front, Party In The Back
DJ Koze - Amygdala (Pampa Records, 2013)
This is an album that you can throw on at lower volumes during work hours and enjoy laserlike concentration, perhaps without realising that the album’s snaking melodies and playful beats are casually embedding themselves in your cerebral cortex. But then you might turn it up and turn the lights down after dinner with your vice of choice in hand and head, and properly immerse yourself in all 83 minutes of this dazed electronic epic.
Scarcely is a techno album with over an hour’s runtime this engrossing, but Amygdala surprises and delights at every turn. From the woozy opening bars of the Caribou-featuring ‘Track ID Anyone’, through to a pitch-shifted Matthew Dear doing his best drug-addled cyborg on ‘Magical Boy’, what really strikes about this album is the minute details.
It may be a techno album by name, but the nature and scale of the compositions and arrangements bring to mind some of the grander prog projects of the 70s. They also share an intrinsic appreciation for and musical manifestation of all things narcotic, but Amygdala is singular in its vision of contemporary music.
Memories of Home
The Go-Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane (Mushroom Records, 1988)
This selection may feel a touch incongruous when placed next to the slew of relatively recent releases we’ve served up so far, but if we’re talking about yearning for another time when home was a little closer, there aren’t many albums that do a better job of invoking late 20th century Australia. This album sounds like love in pubs, love on beaches, love in a studio apartment overlooking the water with the cricket murmuring quietly on the telly.
Despite being an Australian band, 16 Lovers Lane was the only Go-Betweens album with the original lineup that was actually recorded in Australia, at the now-famous Studios 301 in Sydney. In the years that followed it became their most beloved. ‘Streets of Your Town’ has become something of an Australian anthem, but the album in its entirety invokes a longing for the Aussie summertime.
Singer Grant McLennan said of the recording process; "We'd spent five years in London—blackness, darkness, greyness and poverty—and suddenly for some reason we seemed to have more money in Sydney, and we all had places to live and being in a city where after five years (in London) we can go to the beach in ten minutes." You can hear those feelings in the songs of 16 Lovers Lane, it’s an album of a band freed from the gloom of a previous life, and we think that effect on the psyche is just what people could use right now.
Forget The World and Just Bliss Out
Yamaneko - Heaven Spirals Wide (Local Action Records, 2019)
Ambient music is a genre too often maligned or mistaken for something you’d expect to hear on a loop at a Balinese day spa. The reality is probably not as far from that summation as we and some others might like to admit, but there’s far more to the genre than most know. Brian Eno was once quoted as saying “ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” And that’s a just-about-perfect encapsulation, self-deprecating as it may be.
Heaven Spirals Wide is the fourth and most recent full length from the now Tokyo-based electronic auteur Yamaneko, though it was chiefly written and recorded in his previous homebase of London. It’s an incredibly evocative set of compositions, and its soundscapes would be just as at home on the rainy streets of Croydon as they would in a quiet Shibuya apartment on a snowy midwinter weeknight.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the arrangements are coming or going. On occasions Yamaneko morphs ambient soundscapes into sounds that threaten to become full blown dance tracks, like on the towering ‘Fall Control’, where the music imitates a fever dream of a rave from years ago that you can't quite recall. But most of all, it’s perfect for times that you just want to empty your mind of conscious thought and mentally levitate a little. Hell, you could throw it on during your lunch break and just stare at a white wall for half an hour, ignoring emails and phone calls as they continue to roll in like the lapping tide.