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Staff Picks: Quarantine album reviews

By Cristina Paolozzi, Sophia Lopez, Rachneet Randhawa and Ava Zardynezhad, July 29 2021 —

Editor-in-Chief: Cristina’s Picks

Shore by Fleet Foxes 

Now, I’m usually more drawn to music that will pump me up — music that I can pretend to fight crime to, punching the air in front of the mirror in my room like some crazed eight-year-old. However, while my playlists have largely consisted of this type of music, there’s something to be said about the calm after the storm. Over this past year, the pandemic has definitely made me stop and reflect on what I was doing and who I let into my life. It made me realize how fast I was moving and how little I regarded my own self-care. Fleet Foxes’ fourth studio album Shore is the perfect collection of songs to stop and smell the roses to. Gentle acoustics and floating lyrics set the best ambiance for meditation, quiet study sessions or to drift silently into your own daydreams. Although released well into 2020, this album helped me to reflect and recharge coming out of the most chaotic summer for me in recent memory. I know living through uncertainty is never at the top of anyone’s to-do list, but if you’re going to do it, I suggest having this album in your back pocket. 

The third song on the album, “Can I Believe You,” will have your head bobbing while also providing a weird nostalgia you can’t quite put your finger on. Similarly, the piano and guitar parts in their song “Featherweight” remind me of looking outside the window on a cold day, watching the wind whip the branches on the trees around — an activity that is both mindless but incredibly vulnerable at the same time. Whether you’re having a lazy day at home, or need something soothing to take a break from it all, this album is the equivalent to the deep sigh you take as you sink into your couch after a long day. 

Indefinitely Ordinary  by The Wrecks 

This album is more the type of music that I’m typically drawn to — strummy guitar, peppy tempo and self-deprecating lyrics. Released in May of 2020 at the humble beginnings of the global lockdown, this album’s opening song “Freaking Out” definitely described the way I was feeling, constantly checking the news for COVID updates — ”I’m freaking out / but I feel fine.” Little did we know the course the pandemic would take. The mix of upbeat tone with sometimes darker lyrics, Indefinitely Ordinary explores loneliness, change and the impending paranoia of moving on. The scratchy vocals from frontman Nick Anderson remind me of those basement parties you see in teen movies, where a scrappy looking alt-band is ripping it up in the corner, totally oblivious and living in the moment. One of the softer songs on this album, “Four,” is a nice mix of violin pizzicato and sweeping orchestral moments. Coming in halfway through, it’s a nice break to sit quietly and mello out after the quick pace The Wrecks take on their first studio album. However, it’s really the title track of the album “Indefinitely Ordinary” that resonated with me the most. “I remember when I learned / how to slow down / You told me nights like these / never come around.” As much negativity and uncertainty the pandemic brought — and still brings — the lockdown was a stark reminder that just because you aren’t going a mile a minute, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Overall, Indefinitely Ordinary was an album that helped me to make sense of the world and it’s still something I’ll occasionally play as a way to stop and headbang for a little while. 

News Editor: Sophia’s Pick 


When quarantine began in March of last year, I had a lot of extra time on my hands — which meant I could finally explore some new music. Since Tiktok has basically taken over my life at this point, I’m aware of the music trends that come and go. “SUGAR” by BROCKHAMPTON was pretty popular on the app at the beginning of 2020, so I decided to give the group’s album a listen. GINGER is a well-crafted collection of songs, each with its own meaning and unique beat. 

By listening to BROCKHAMPTON, I learned a lot about their past and what music means to them. For those who don’t know, the group is made up of the producers, rappers and singers who all work collectively to make their songs. The group recently kicked out one of their rappers, Ameer Vann, who was accused of sexual assault. This caused the group to need time off to regroup and figure out how they were going to go forward with their music. The album tackles some of the problems the group members faced from this recent event. While not all the songs are this serious, songs like “NO HALO” and “DEARLY DEPARTED” deal with more of those personal topics. 

Overall, the tone of the album is not a cheerful one, that’s for sure. But, that doesn’t mean the album isn’t enjoyable. I mean, yeah, GINGER’s songs may not be ideal for a “Fun Summer Playlist,” but they’re definitely nice to listen to for a change. 

It’s hard to choose one song from this album as my favourite since all the songs are so different, but if I had to choose one, I would have to go with “NO HALO.” The beat on this song is great and I really enjoyed the verses of each member featured in the song — the combination of different voices on this track fits so well in my opinion. 

So, while GINGER wasn’t released during quarantine, it definitely got a lot of attention during 2020 and definitely kept me entertained. I recommend listening to this album, or just BROCKHAMPTON in general, as I think they’ve got lots of good, unique tunes that are worth giving a shot. 

General Editor: Rachneet’s Picks 

The Slow Rush by Tame Impala 

He’s done it again — the Slow Rush is the fourth studio album by Tame Impala released in February 2020 just shy of the “official” quarantine status. Ironically the indie and psychedelic rock and pop vibes were the core themes of the album including memories, nostalgia and uncertainty about the future. Alongside how the nature of time relies on the heart was a perfect euphemism as we catapulted into social distancing and the virtual world over these past fifteen months. Beginning with “One More Year” and ending with “One More Hour” you literally feel immersed play-by-play in a hypnotic narrative with time being the big theme and of self-doubt, new growth, relationships with loved ones and, with that, seeking out closure.

Like the title itself The Slow Rush was five years in the making being carefully crafted but so well worth the wait and it also best encapsulates how the whole COVID-19 fiasco was unravelled. This was not only a must for your official quarantine 2020 OST but also quintessentially one of Kevin Parker’s best works to date and arguably tops the headliner Currents (2015) from a handful of years ago. The melodic tunes utilizing sonic booms accented by hypnotic electronic thumps melt into your ears. Better yet, the emotional undertones are sensational and tickle to your mood’s delight.   

For all you introverts out there the tracks are like a swim to the moon and almost meditative and truly immerses you into a deep self-reflection of memories, nostalgia and uncertainty about the future with tracks such as “One More Hour” expressing Parker’s epiphany and the divergence of two paths of life. On one hand, we have his reflection of his past actions and how his life has come to fruition so far and that he must remain true to himself. And on the other, he is addressing his romantic interest or the love of his life. He expresses, “Nothing left to do but sit and observe the stillness of everything as time races faster than ever / Even shadows cast by the sun appear to move.”

The best tracks that serve as a euphemism for the global lockdown by far are “Instant Destiny” dropping feel-good lines like “The only thing special about the past is that it got us to where we are now / Free from feeling sentimental […] We don’t owe our possessions anything / Let’s do something that can’t be undone just cause we can / The future is our oyster.” And of course, “Tomorrow’s Dust” expressing “Out regrets tomorrow are out actions now / Future memories are present-day current events / Tomorrow’s dust is in today’s air, floating around us as we speak,” all hit home with the whole idea of trying your best to live in the present and at the same time succumbing to your innermost worst thoughts and contempt. Truly, it feels as if Parker dropped this EP as a foreshadowing to the worldwide quarantine itself. It was almost as if, much like the songs he created, were the playbook of 2020 and the tunes are so utterly emblematic of the malevolence that was to come. They highlight how to remain resilient and continue pushing forward towards the bright light at the end of the dark and unwinding tunnel despite your current circumstances.

Young Heart by Birdy

Birdy — A.K.A singer-songwriter Jasmine van der Bogarde — has truly stepped into her most authentic version ever by recently releasing an album of her resilient and poetic journey through painful heartbreak and loss and with that has become wiser and diligent in her craft. She was heavily influenced by her newfound influence of Joni Mitchell to explain the grief behind a romantic separation, alongside soulful nuances of Etta James and Nina Simone. A first major heartbreak can be traumatic but she has funnelled the emotional loss into newfound glory and her beautiful artistic expression. The tracks themselves are a euphemism of the rollercoaster ride of a relationship and its intricate nuances which are felt in the sheer raw stillness of loving something now lost forevermore. Her heavy contemplation also describes how many felt during the lockdown with tracks such as “Voyageur” serve as dark foreshadowing about suddenly departing from what has always been familiar and comfortable to you and the heartache and hardship associated with that with lines like, “Watching satellites, lying in the grass / I know our days are numbered / But you don’t know that I feel like that / You don’t hear solitude calling me away /And the hardest part is part of me wants to stay.”

And also “The Otherside” helps explain the strange and topsy turvy time we’re all going through and despite the difficult times we’re going to come out more resilient than ever. Also, “Surrender” outlines our destiny and what is fated for us. 

Overall the best track by far has to be “Evergreen,” which is also Bogarde’s favourite, and tells the story of two lovebirds who have fallen for each other expressing, “Nobody knows my love/Nobody knows my love / In the gods, we hide away / Nobody ever looks up / Like the heavy summer heats / I don’t see past my love.” This song symbolizes the album as a whole outlining the artist’s internal strife and struggle of coming to terms with losing her first love. As someone who began her music career at just 12 years old, she has not only grown incredibly as an artist but has evolved into the otherworldly with her most recent album release. 

3.15.20 by Childish Gambino 

He’s back at it — right before the onslaught of isolation, American rapper Donald Glover also utilizes the theme of time and is woven into the track titles which are labelled as timestamps. Ironically, it also felt as if this album was foreshadowing for the quarantine as it was experimental and unlike Glover’s nature to release something like this. It is based on eccentric impulses alongside a sort of restraint and rebellion and the whole idea of expecting the unexpected. The theme of finding freedom in the chaos speaks so eloquently of how we all felt this past year. It’s not his usual and standard approach but the quirky raps, electric-pop and injection of funk and R&B are of course a signature of his. Despite it all, Glover’s mischievous nature remains alongside the distorted and uncanny nuances. One of the closing tracks “47.48” best describes the quarantine in which he exposes the optimistic and innocent perspective one has whilst growing up only to be conflicted with the stark and coming of age reality check we all experience. This is best seen with lines such as “Little girl, thirteen / Broke down the violence / Little boys playing ’round, shot down / The violence, the violence,” and even features his son towards the end. 

Also the headliner track “19.10” is by far the best on the album which expresses and explores the reality of being Black and the beauty and baggage that follows with lines such as, “To be beautiful is to be hunted / I can’t change the truth, I can’t get you used to this.” This song speaks volumes of the brutal truths we all felt earlier last year with Black Lives Matter protests and other social movements unravelling into a behemoth all on their own and in every right. Glover’s decades-long music career has proven he possesses a palette of diverse taste and leaves something to be desired especially with this more subtle and exploratory release.

Chilombo by Jhene Aiko

R&B and Soul superstar Jhene Aiko Efuru Chilombo or Jhene Aiko — well known for her concept of “sound healing” and introspective 70’s R&B and 90’s neo-soul vibe — sings about real and everyday stuff we all deal with from relationships, parenting, sex and personal discovery. Her most recent release Chilombo was Grammy-nominated in three distinct categories this year and her most recent release is genuinely game-changing and from my perspective, one of her best works to date. Aiko’s vocals offer smooth melodies alongside utilizing crystal Hawaiian bowls amalgamating a unique and calming sound. Featuring collaborations with headliner artists like Big Sean, H.E.R, Future & Miguel, Nas, John Legend and Ty Dolla $ign and more, this album is bold and booming. There are so many stunning songs it was difficult to decide — overall each track truly delivers and gives us promise. Although it was a post-breakup album and outlines a failed relationship, it also helps the struggle we all feel with self-doubt including overthinking and jumping to conclusions including the anxiety of this past year. The track “Surrender” featuring Dr. Chill, best describes this feeling with lines like “Met you at the edge of my mind / Hanging by a thread in limelight / Just when you had asked for closure / That is when the signs got closer / Exit 405 to Sepulveda / Come to the Westside, I will show you love / It is only right if you open up / Tryna take your mind over.” Personally, my favourite track was “Speak,” which is all about women’s empowerment and being a badass biatch. However, by far the best soundtrack on the album itself is definitely “Lighting and Thunder” featuring John Legend tells the story of the role of two long lost lovers who reunite and the honest yet awkward discomfort of still having strong feelings for each other and are juxtaposed just like “lightning and thunder.” Symbolic lines like “Oh, what if the feeling’s reciprocal / She misses me like I miss her soul / I don’t wanna drown and see your regret / But it seems like that’s all I have left / What in the hell, what kind of spell did you put over me?” This really speaks to the song’s emotional overtones and upbeat melancholy which drive it home. While others may disagree that this is Aiko’s better work, I still do think there’s something relatable for everyone who listens to it. 

Miss Colombia by Lido Pimienta 

Okay, so we’re probably being biased as she came to Calgary Folk Music Festival 2021 recently as one of the headliners and performing artists. But this rising star isn’t afraid to think outside of the box. This Colombian-born and Toronto-based artist and winner of the Polaris Music Prize is truly a trailblazer. Combining her Afro-Indigenous ancestry with her Colombian cultural heritage, she merges her Latin pop style with other genres. Whether on stage or whilst on her soundtracks, she is poetically and politically raw — she isn’t afraid to expose the systematic inequalities Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) face in mainstream approval of society. Her remarks are there to unashamedly offend and challenge the status quo as a marginalized and underrepresented woman herself. This album serves as a social and poetic justice powerhouse. By far, “Eso que Tu Haces” best describes the isolation we all experienced during quarantine as the track emphasizes a circle of life and the dawn of a new day and to feel blessed with the fruits that life gives us. Dropping lines such as “Hoy te vi, sentada en la arena / Hoy te sentí, peleando en la marea / Mírame a la cara cuando me hables / Y no me digas nada si no quieres / Pero no me falles, me duele,” or, “Today I saw you sitting in the sand / Today I felt you fighting in the tide / Look into my face when you talk to me / And don’t say anything to me if you don’t want to / But don’t fail me, it hurts me.” Arguably you can also say that “No Pude” was representative of this past year’s lockdown especially with the global protests around racism that unravelled similar to how the song describes the pre-boiling point before everything explodes including all the violence, corruption, patriarchy and femicide we hear about in the news. 

As for the overall best track(s) on the album, it’s a close tie between the opener “Para Transcribir” as Pimienta expresses the struggle of being a first-generation immigrant having left her beloved homeland of Colombia behind and suffering an identity crisis of sorts. Its melodic vibe sounds homecoming and euphoric. 

And also, “Nada featuring Li Saumet” which is yet another strong women’s empowerment track, outlines the struggles and obstacles faced with being she/her/femme in navigating experiences like having your period, giving birth and directly relates to the cover art of the album. Boldly poetic lines such as “Yo te soy sincero, si es que mañana muero / No le tengo miedo pues soy mujer y llevo el dolor adentro / Soy mujer de lluvia de dolor de sangre en luna / De tierra, sal y duna / Con amor y sin duda,” or, “I am being honest with you, if tomorrow I die / I am not afraid of it, for I am a woman and I carry the pain inside / I am a woman of rain, of pain, of blood by the moon, / Of earth, salt and dune / With love and without a doubt.” She may have only launched her music career a few years ago — but she’s off to an incredibly bold start as she continues to ruffle some feathers.

General Editor: Ava’s Picks 

Inside (The Songs) by Bo Burnham

One of my favourite quarantine albums was unleashed upon the world quite late in the pandemic — literally a month ago. In the depths of quarantine anxiety and blues, hope shone upon me like light through the cracked-open door in a picture Burnham posted on Instagram in late April. The comedy special itself was more than just a comedy show — it was an experience. So, it was only logical that I lost my mind once Burnham announced the release of the music from his special as an album in early June. The stream of consciousness format of the songs on Inside (The Songs) capture the essence of many universal experiences that we’ve shared over this past year. Whether it’s questioning if we should be obsessing over the more trivial aspects and inconveniences of the pandemic when there is so much suffering, considering our privileges or aiming to be “an agent of change,” trying our best to maintain our mental health, exploring virtual relationships, or being rendered speechless by the state of the internet, Inside (The Songs) has a song for it.  As Craig Jenkins puts it, at its core,Inside is a meditation on the chipper, helpless inertia of caring.” After a year of feeling so frustrated about the state of the world and my general impotence when it came to it, a year spent perfecting mental gymnastics and a year spent in a state of alarming awareness, no other album could have been as comforting and as connecting. 

I have a lot of favourites off this album. Thanks to TikTok, many of these songs have become iconic hits. “Welcome to the Internet” mixes witty lyrics with a simple yet effective composition that works on so many layers. Lately, though, I have been listening to “How the World Works” on repeat. This little duet will light that leftist fire deep down and is one to contemplate for days. Otherwise, “Goodbye” will give you a little taste of everything that the album contains. 

Overall, Inside (The Songs) is the perfect quarantine album. It can be overwhelming at times, so I would definitely suggest listening to it in chunks. I’d also highly recommend watching the Netflix special if you can. 

After Hours by The Weeknd 

Bo Burnham’s Inside (The Songs) might have been the quarantine album, but Abel Tesfaye’s After Hours is the album that got me through quarantine. I know this album was released very early in the quarantine, but I was super late to the party. I distinctly remember the day I first heard “Blinding Lights,” because immediately after, I downloaded the song onto my phone and blasted it while I drove around downtown Calgary during the summer of 2020. From that day on, Tesfaye’s sweet voice and mad electro-pop beats have served as an anchor for my sanity. I also lived through pretty big pop culture moments with this album throughout 2020 and still in 2021. From TikTok exploding with ridiculous dance videos set to “Blinding Lights” to the single being performed at the Super Bowl — an event no one expected would be possible to hold during a global pandemic — to Tesfaye and his music’s infuriating and shocking exclusion from the Grammys, After Hours has been so present in 2020, it feels like it went through it all with us. The songs on this album vary thematically but there is a certain emotional rawness about the entire album that might be why it resonated so strongly over this past year, no matter how unrelatable the songs are to one’s personal experiences — kind of along the lines of what the world has felt through Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour. Even if you’re not a fan of R&B, synth- or electro-pop, this album is so diverse in terms of sound and themes that you’d at least enjoy one track off it. 

Obviously, thanks to social media and Canadian radio, I’m sure many are familiar with the main singles — “Blinding Lights” and “Save your Tears,” the latter having been remixed to give us a collaboration with Ariana Grande. However, my two favourite songs off the album would have to be “In Your Eyes” and “Scared to Live.” The former features a break up story layered overtop of a synth-based, upbeat composition. Even if you don’t relate to the lyrics completely — or at all, the song is just super fun to sing along to. Yet another break up song, “Scared to Live” is a remorseful yet reassuring ballad. Tesfaye assumes responsibility and encourages his ex to move on from their relationship and to not be “scared to live again.” I really like this song because of how reassuring it is. Even if past experiences have gotten you down, don’t let them force you to live your life in fear of similar negative experiences in the future — a message that couldn’t have come at a better time than during this pandemic. The song also gives a little nod to Elton John’s iconic ballad, “Your Song.” 

After Hours is an album that held my hand through many uncertain days during the summer and even more long, tireless nights as I finished the final year of my undergrad in a pandemic. This album has a special place in my heart and is still one I love listening to — especially in the car. 

Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple

One album that I’ve really enjoyed listening to this past year has been Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. This album has been brewing for a long time and it was released in April of 2020. The story of how the album was recorded, the creative process of it, the planning that went into the album’s release as well as the music itself are so timely and parallel the nature of the pandemic and lockdowns. Fetch the Bolt Cutters feels like a collection of essays in an experimental, musical format. This was an album I had to break down into chunks and listen to on many separate occasions. The lyrics include so much to unpack. Apple has really fetched the bolt cutters with this album. Every song is a manifestation of some thought, worry or experience she has had locked up behind bars and in this album she’s finally setting them free. In Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Apple discusses a range of issues, experiences and sentiments including physical and sexual abuse, bullying, hate, depression, relationship between women and more. The album is angry in all the right ways and the lyrics and the percussive composition of the songs, both, reflect that. This pandemic was a time for individual and collective contemplation, reevaluation and change and, inadvertently, this album speaks to that to a great extent. The songs on this album encourage similar reevaluations. Apple sings about many of her experiences as a woman and those of other women around her and through that she explores patriarchal oppression and different ways it manifests itself in our relationships and in our society.

It’s best to state that the topics the songs on Fetch the Bolt Cutters explore are at times very heavy and they may be triggering, so this album should be explored with caution. Every song on this album is worth listening to, but if I had to narrow it down to a few, I’d recommend “Shameika,” “Ladies,” and “Relay.” The first two songs explore Apple’s relationship with other women in her past. “Shameika,” looks back upon Apple’s school days and something a classmate, Shameika, had told her — “you have potential.” The song ventures into Apple’s character and personality as a child, her bullies as well as her friendships as an adult and how those all tie into this “potential.” “Ladies” brings up some critical ideas about how women are often pit against each other, often by patriarchal forces and expectations. “Relay” explains the nature of hate and resentment through the looping lyrics, “evil is a relay sport, when the one who’s burned turns to pass the torch.” She mentions all sorts of resentment and how giving into them and living a life wasted through constant comparison is to enter an “endless race.” There are many more great songs on this album, but once again, I’d encourage you to proceed with caution and to read about the songs before listening to them. In an interview with Vulture, Apple has explained every track on the album. This interview is a great guide to the album.  

Overall, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is definitely not an album one should listen to absent mindedly. Both the lyrics and musical composition are full of subtle nuances and complexities that might take time to fully unpack. This is definitely an experience that is improved by listening to the music more than once.

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