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  • Evan Laslo

I Got COVID-19 and Listened to Over 17 Hours of New Music: Here’s What Stood Out, by Sarah Snyder

The plan was never to clear out my 17-hour-long “Liked Songs” playlist on Spotify, where I’d saved every song that looked mildly interesting in the hopes that Future Me would listen to it someday. But plans changed when a positive COVID-19 test left me on an air mattress in my parents’ basement with 10 days to do absolutely nothing.

I’m privileged enough to not worry about necessities, but I was left with an entirely and undoubtedly first-world problem: going stir-crazy. In an attempt to curb my restlessness, I turned to Spotify, where 353 unlistened songs awaited my ears. That’s about 17.5 hours of completely new music that I had almost no previous knowledge of. Looking back, it was a lifesaver from the mundane sounds of my washing machine and HVAC.

Some music was immediately removed, some landed a spot on my favorite playlists, and some just had to be shared. From a haze of new music that ran the course of four days, here were the standouts:

A few songs were catchy enough to distract me from my original goal, causing me to listen to a completely separate album. “XS” was one of those few cherished songs. Coming from Rina Sawayama’s 2020 album SAWAYAMA, this song keeps you on your toes with the opulence of Y2K R&B and hard-hitting nu metal guitar riffs.

Behind the genre-blending sound, “XS” is a mockery of hypocritical capitalism in the face of climate change. It’s easy to overlook in favor of the nostalgic tune, but Sawayama says “I wanted to reflect the chaos of this post-truth climate change denying world in the metal guitar stabs that flare up like an underlying zit between the 2000s R&B beat that reminds you of a time when everything was alright.”

It’s a dark and honest theme with an earworm of a tune, and I spent another 45 minutes going down the wormhole of SAWAYAMA, the artist’s debut album. It was nothing short of a masterpiece, offering nu metal tracks like STFU! and introspective pop songs like Tokyo Love Hotel.

Personal favorites included the disco funk tune Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys) and the soft, heartfelt Chosen Family. The album rightly deserves the love critics are giving it, calling SAWAYAMA thrilling, dynamically explosive, and a signal flare for a new golden age of pop.”

There are songs like “XS” that have a profound message and require your full attention, and then there are songs like “War With Heaven” by keshi and 88rising, which are easy to understand and even easier to jam out to.

I wrote an entire article about this album, and yet had four or five songs that I saved on this playlist for a later date. I’m almost ashamed of October 2021 Me for skipping over this hidden gem tucked near the end of the album.

Now, keshi has his fair share of deeper songs like right here and i swear i’ll never leave again, and I’ve enjoyed these for ages. Still, there’s something very comfortable about the predictable flow and simple lyrics that create this tune from the Shang-Chi album.

keshi never fails to deliver gorgeous melodies, and the 88rising-produced soundtrack was joyful perfection. His grand lyrics mesh oddly well with the chill and funky track that doesn’t leave your mind easily.

The tune is nostalgic, and it’s the kind of song that I would obsess over in high school, placing it between indie pop concert stubs and summer swim league participation trophies. At some point, childhood embarrassment and the desire to grow up fast wanes in favor of sweet memories, and the same applies to “War With Heaven.”

Although many songs that go viral on TikTok are run-of-the-mill, this song deserves the hype. The soft ballad is a raw and emotional tune that details the singer’s struggles with self-worth and image.

Canadian native Nemahsis has a gorgeous, honeyed voice and soft vibrato that reaches sweeping high notes in the chorus. I’m not often one to play a sad song on purpose, but “paper thin” is the perfect example of an exception.

I can’t stop raving about the guitar’s full tone and gorgeous instrumental melody, and there aren’t any bells or whistles to clog up the simple tune. While I won’t be listening to it on repeat— I’m an avid believer that music dictates mood, and a sad song isn’t quite the right way to start my morning—I won’t easily forget Nemahsis’ beautiful voice.

Lucy Dacus is my unsung hero for the indie rock genre: no matter how popular she gets, I’ll always believe she deserves more love and listeners. Her lyrics are easy to understand, but the deep emotion behind them is always breathtaking. It took me ages to get around to her newest album Historian, but “Night Shift” immediately stole my heart.

The song is a melancholic, yet hopeful story about the aftermath of Dacus’ break-up from a five-year relationship. The lyrics are detailed and describe how she tries to move on. Just like “paper thin,” there’s no heavy or unnecessarily strong effects or instruments to take over the tune, and the basic 3-piece backing band does its job perfectly.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the sweet perfection of the final refrain, where Dacus sings “In five years, I hope the songs feel like covers / dedicated to new lovers.” Her lyricism is always on par, but her genuine delivery makes this song one of my favorites from her discography.

If you’re looking for more in Dacus’ work, which I’d compare to Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, some of my favorites include Brando and VBS from her third album Home Video. Her music is always cathartic and honest, and it’s the perfect way to end your night.

I can’t say enough about how much I adore Eric Nam’s work, and his latest album There And Back Again is gorgeous, beginning to end. Just like Rina Sawayama’s “XS” led me to listen to all of SAWAYAMA, “Any Other Way” brought me to Nam’s seven-song sophomore album.

If I were to choose one amazing artist that deserved to be given the fast lane pass to stardom, it’d be Nam. Granted, he’s had immense success internationally, but I won’t stop praising his music until it’s on every radio station’s Top 100 rotation.

“Any Other Way” is your generic love song: the lyrics are simple, the chord progression isn’t unique, and the theme doesn’t sweep you off your feet. But the chorus—a beautiful earworm of a tune—holds my attention and gives this song a place on this list.

The chorus’ melody is gorgeous and begs to be danced to, (and Nam gives it his best shot in the music video). The song also has a sweet whistling tune that makes various appearances, and I’ve found myself trying to recreate it whenever I sing along. I can’t whistle to save my life, but that’s beside the point.

There And Back Again has to be my favorite of Nam’s works to date, and the tracks Lost On Me and I Don’t Know You Anymore almost took the place of “Any Other Way” on this list. I highly suggest just listening to the album in full—it’s an amazing look on relationships and life in its most recognizable and relatable form.

As soon as COIN came out with their new single, I was back on the COIN train and listened to whatever songs I could get my hands on. I placed “Chapstick” on my “listen to this later” playlist less than a month ago, and it is more than deserving of its place on this list.

“Chapstick” is a funky rock tune with a strong bass line and snare drum beat that keeps the song constantly moving forward. The guitars have gritty backing melodies, and the distorted background vocals and rhythmic tambourine turn the chorus into a cool, refreshing refrain.

Beside the instrumental composition of the track, the lyrics are easy to remember and even easier to get stuck in your head. Lead singer Chase Lawrence plays with rhythm and speak-sings much of the song, a nice choice that differentiates it from the full melodic instruments backing up the track.

“Chapstick” was released on a two-part single that also includes Cutie, a song that’s both similar in style and extremely different in performance. Both have made it onto a multitude of my already-established playlists for good reason.

Honorable mentions for this list include Birthday Cake by BIBI, TELL THE TRUTH by Jon Batiste, and Girl by The Internet and KAYTRANADA. In terms of personal reflection, waiting over a year to clear out this playlist was not the move. Still, it was fun to reminisce on some of the songs I had placed at a time that feels so far away now.

As COVID-19 shifts to an endemic in future months, music is a surefire way to offer yourself some accompaniment in your quarantine solitude. Sharing those tunes with others is almost as good as hearing them for the first time, so here’s the playlist! Listen to your heart’s content, but don’t neglect your own list of songs to listen to, or it’ll be hundreds long before you know it. Happy listening!

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