The Sounds of Solitude

Essential LPs from Paul McCartney, Megan Thee Stallion, Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny and others who’ve turned pandemic lockdown into unforgettable music.

by
Paul McCartney. Credit: Courtesy of the Artist.

Enjoy this selection of outstanding projects crafted in large part in the solitude of quarantine. While they traverse divisions of genre and attitude and atmosphere, they all prove resoundingly that art can thrive in any time and place. – Ed.

Paul McCartney
McCartney III

Paul McCartney’s 1970 hit “Maybe I’m Amazed” — with its bluesy piano, thunderous drums, reggae-ish guitar and anthemic organ — was all Paul. He played the entire band and sang (with harmony help from his wife, Linda, the tune’s inspiration). Ditto for the album the song is from, his freshman outing McCartney, as well as 1980’s McCartney II. So in the spirit of those legendary LPs — they bookended a fruitful post-Beatles decade that also saw the release of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, John Lennon’s Imagine and Ringo Starr’s Ringo — comes McCartney III, out now and featuring the Walrus on pretty much every note. The ebullient new album perfectly exemplifies why McCartney has been on top of the hill for roughly six decades: Everything is a hook. Nothing is ever tossed off or phoned in. Every part of every song is a catchy, hummable earworm. It’s a miraculous achievement.

The album is at its best on a pair of dark, hypnotic jams entitled “Deep Deep Feeling” and “Deep Down.” On the former, over two distant piano chords, McCartney chants, “Sometimes I wish it would stay/Sometimes I wish it would go away.” And on the latter, egged on by slow-burning organ lines and Stevie Wonder-esque keyboard bass, Macca sings, “Gonna get deep down/Wanna do it right.” He’s conflicted; he’s determined; he’s getting to the core of what it means to be human. Brad Farberman

Bad Bunny
El Último Tour Del Mundo

In 2020, Bad Bunny owned the streaming charts, kept our feet snug with his Crocs collaboration and released three full albums — that’s three as in Los Tres Reyes Magos. And that’s exactly how each of them felt, like treasures from the reggaeton gods. The lattermost of the three, El Último Tour Del Mundo, was the one he created entirely in quarantine, in between traveling to Los Angeles, Puerto Rico and Mexico. The album was less perreo Bunny and more rockero Bunny. Arriving on Thanksgiving night, it was the perfect after-pernil dessert. “This is, like, a relief for me because I was quarantined. ... The only thing that I had was the music, and so eso me mantuvo vivo como digo yo [that maintained me alive],” he told ET. We all needed a ticket to this tour, and he gave us a VIP pass. Jesús Triviño Alarcón

Megan Thee Stallion
Good News

TIME’s hot cover girl came to define the hip-hop state of the art by upholding the best and most important lessons of rap history. Amidst the emo mumbling and smartphone production that have threatened to define the culture, this second-generation MC delivers virtuoso dirty raps with the kind of elemental force reserved for block parties and bandshells back in the day. Following suit is her production oversight, which, like the best golden-age beats, reiterates how thoroughly hip-hop belongs inside the rock ’n’ roll tradition. In the end, her most potent innovations are in the sex: She’s so unapologetically forthright, and so popular, that she makes filthy club bangers into postmodernism — the sort of gonzo stuff critics feel challenged by. When, on “Body,” she says, “All my pictures been gettin’ these n----s through the quarantine,” she’s right. But really the audio does just fine too. Evan Haga

Trey Anastasio
Lonely Trip

Guitarist Trey Anastasio is so prolific, not even 2020 could slow him down. His main band, the jam legends Phish, released a new album in April; his Trey Anastasio Band dropped a live one in September; and in October and November, he played a popular series of audience-less concerts at New York’s Beacon Theatre, streamed live on Twitch. Tucked in among all that was the unassumingly gorgeous Lonely Trip, on which he played nearly every instrument. Tender and intimate, the tracks were recorded at home, and you often feel as if you’re on Anastasio’s couch, watching it all unfold. And the lyrics can be pointedly transparent; when Anastasio sings, “Sometimes for the greater good/I do what I know I should,” you know he’s telling you to stay home. B.F.

Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger
Force Majeure

Bassist Dezron Douglas and harpist Brandee Younger have worked with Pharoah Sanders and with John Coltrane’s son, Ravi Coltrane. And Younger is the premier jazz harpist on the scene today, much as Ravi’s mother, Alice Coltrane, was in the ’70s. So the duo of Douglas and Younger have plenty of connections to the pioneers of spiritual jazz, and they didn’t shy away from exploring that sound in regular performances livestreamed from their apartment during the pandemic. These tracks are taken from those sessions. On Alice’s wistful “Gospel Trane,” the musicians bounce and weave with one another in a skyward dance. And while strolling through Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” you can hear them calling out to each other verbally as well as musically. “G minor?” asks Younger at one point. After a bit, Douglas says, “Back to major.” A true conversation. B.F.

Ludovico Einaudi
12 Songs From Home

The prolific Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi has earned his title as the king of classical streaming by crafting earnestly melodic, instantly likable melds of minimalism, film music, Satie, solo Jarrett, world, new age and related snowy-glen sounds. In other words, he’s made quarantine music all along. 12 Songs From Home, a solo recital recorded on a smartphone, will feed telecommuters, coffee sippers and like homebodies in reflective moments, and its lo-fi aesthetic somehow acts as a savvy advertisement for the particular glories of the piano. Critics and academics might scoff, but Einaudi makes mood music to live with — audio that expands the room and lowers the volume on the bad news. In these times, that’s no mean feat. E.H.

Chris Potter
There Is a Tide

Tenor saxophonist Chris Potter is simply a virtuoso; when he’s playing, you get the feeling he can do anything. But on 2020’s There Is a Tide, he takes this notion to an almost unimaginable next level. Playing every instrument himself — bass, drums, keys, guitar and a cornucopia of horns — he flies freer than ever, deftly navigating section after section, style after style, solo after solo. There’s the African-influenced “Mother of Waters” and a no-wave-y guitar groove on “Rising Over You,” and “Rest Your Head” is almost folky, with Potter on acoustic guitar. We’re never quite sure how we got from one place to another, but that’s the best part. B.F.

Taylor Swift
folklore
evermore

In July, without warning, Taylor Swift emerged with a new album. But the real surprise came when her folklore collaborators were revealed. Members of the National, Bonny Light Horseman and Bon Iver — the top of the indie heap, basically — had taken part in the sessions, alongside her regular producer Jack Antonoff. The result is a sensitive, low-key statement filled with aching drama and pastoral contemplation. Music for a chart-topping campfire.

The strongest moments on folklore and its companion album, evermore, are when Taylor actually gets to duet with her new associates. On the haunting piano ballad “exile,” she teams up with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for lines like “I think I’ve seen this film before/And I didn’t like the ending.” And on “coney island,” she shares the mic with the National’s Matt Berninger for a heart-wrenching question: “Will you forgive my soul/When you’re too wise to trust me and too old to care?” B.F.  

Meek Mill
QUARANTINE PACK

In the year of Covid-19, hip-hop continued to thrive on social media and streaming (and even, despite CDC warnings, in the streets). Meek released a four-track EP, QUARANTINE PACK, in November, and delivered the strong-and-direct yet nuanced raps he’s known for, with a robust lineup of guests: Lil Durk and 42 Dugg (both of whom had huge years as solo and featured artists), and Dream Chasers talent Vory. “Middle of It,” the sort of energetic intro that has become a Meek trademark, feels like a war anthem aimed at detractors. On “Pain Away,” Meek and Lil Durk detail the struggle inherent in using money as a way to cope with all kinds of tragedy — cops murdering Black youth, family death, betrayal. In the end, his excellent EP is a reminder that, for Black Americans, hustling for money and success remains less an aspiration than a means of survival. Juan Navarro

Laura Jane Grace
Stay Alive

If not for the pandemic, singer-songwriter Laura Jane Grace’s Stay Alive would’ve been the next Against Me! LP. For lesser rockers, forging ahead band-less could lead to certain disaster. But Grace made her name bridging the gap between protest-folk traditions and contemporary punk, in the process perfecting her bullshit-free songcraft and earnest, unmistakable high tenor. On the Steve Albini-produced album, you may occasionally miss the roar of the stacks; “Why Kant I Be You?,” for one, begs to be heard on the road, in all its pop-punk glory. But mostly the intensity remains undiminished, even when Grace takes a melancholy detour, as on the cowtown ballad “The Mountain Song.” E.H.

Charli XCX
how i’m feeling now

Charli XCX, the British electropop artist best known for her infectious 2014 hit “Boom Clap,” said in April that she would be making a lockdown album. And then it dropped in May. So the frantic, dancey sounds of how i’m feeling now belong to a very specific moment, right down to the cover art — Charli alone in bed with a camcorder. “anthems,” in particular, is nothing if not the anthem of 2020. Over a jittery synth beat, Charli sums up everyone’s year: “I’m so bored/Wake up late, eat some cereal/Try my best to be physical/Lose myself in a TV show.” B.F.

FEID
BAHÍA DUCATI

If reggaeton were a high-school lunchroom, FEID would be the kid who gets along with the jocks, the nerds, the plastics, the Che disciples and even the band teens. He’s the one who can fit into any crew and be its most popular. The Colombiano’s music is reggaeton at its heart, but he also dabbles in R&B, trap soul, reggae and straight hip-hop. On his mixtape BAHÍA DUCATI, the Latin Grammy-nominated songwriter and artist explores these genres and more. It’s intimate and sensual — the ideal mix to quarantine to with your favorite mami or papi. J.T.A.

Adrianne Lenker
songs

In just a couple years, Brooklyn’s Big Thief has become the center of indie gravity. As a unit, they’re apparently incapable of any missteps, and they were responsible for two of the most acclaimed albums of 2019 (U.F.O.F. and Two Hands). This year we’ve enjoyed solo efforts from Buck Meek and Adrianne Lenker (twice). songs is a tender collection written and created in rural, desolate surroundings following a breakup and during a global pandemic. Lenker is a master of turning personal grief and intimate honesty into something universal, and thus she’s crafted a fitting soundtrack to the year we’re about to put behind us. This album, however, will stay with us long after our hearts have healed and the world is back in shape. Bjørn Hammershaug

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