Andy Djaba, Fred Fyles, Henry Eshbaugh
Right in time for the end of exam season, the usual suspects recommend some LPs that you should’ve been listening to all along.
E.MO.TION | Carly Rae Jepsen
The commercial success that has escaped E.MO.TION, the musical masterpiece of Canadian pop queen Carly Rae Jepsen, is one of the greatest injustices of the modern music industry. Don’t @ me. The twelve songs that make up the album, as well as the eight that were included in the EP of B-sides, are, without exception, stone cold bangers. Jepsen enlisted the help of a wide range of producers, including Dev Hynes, of Blood Orange fame, Rostam Batmanglij, and Este Haim, resulting in an album defined by smooth baselines, funky melodies, and catchy hooks. The whole thing just… bops. Trust me.
“The commercial success that escaped E.MO.TION is one of the greatest injustices of modern music”
So, you might be asking, why would you recommend an album that is the complete antithesis of ambiance? An LP consisting of tracks that would never be seen dead on a ‘Deep Focus’ Spotify mix? Well, the reason I recommend E.MO.TION as a revision album is because there’s much more to revision than simply studying hard. To revise properly, you need to get into the right mindset – the ‘I’m gonna show this exam who’s boss because I’m amazing and nobody can tell me different’ mindset. Jepsen can help with that. Next time you’re feeling like you’re at the end of your tether, just take a quick break, and put on this album. Trust me – as soon as the iconic saxophone intro kicks in on opener ‘Run Away with Me’, you’ll start to feel a whole lot better. By ‘I Really Like You’ you’ll be feeling confident enough to take on the world, and by the time ‘LA Hallucinations’ is queued up, you’re gonna be ready to plough on with your quantum physics notes. God bless you Carly Rae Jepsen.
– Fred Fyles
The Disintegration Loops | William Basinski
William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops are not only a brilliant piece of ambient music, perfect for long days revising in the library, but they come with their own evocative backstory. The recordings were produced when Basinski was transferring early recordings made on magnetic tape to digital format; as the tape loop passed through the tape head, the magnetic ferrite would slowly flake off, resulting in a gradual degradation of sound. If this wasn’t already meaningful enough, Basinski completed the project on the morning of 9/11, listening to the final recordings on his Brooklyn rooftop as plumes of smoke on Manhattan Island signalled the beginning of a new global era.
The Disintegration Loops are different from other ambient music; while we are listening to repeated samples, each time the sound plays, it’s slightly different than what came before. Over the course of an entire loop, the sound will change with imperceptible slowness, from a relatively clear sample, through to a murky sludge. What you’re listening to is, quite literally, the effect of time and decay, transmuted into music; the recordings are romantic and incredibly moving, creating a sense of doubly-removed temporal distance – we are listening to sound that first existed nearly 40 years ago, and has come to us through a variety of permutations, like the light from a distant star.
In total, the four loops run to nearly five hours in length, meaning – to bring us back to cold practicalities for a minute – they are excellent for timing revision breaks. When I was deep in revision mode, I would listen to the whole thing straight through, and then finish up for the day. On a more philosophical level, the album reminds us that everything fades eventually; the universe has one direction, and that is towards decay. Puts that fluid mechanics module into perspective.
Baduizm | Erykah Badu
If you’re stuck in the computer lab, feeling like your life is going nowhere, then don’t listen to this album. Erykah Badu was only 24 when she released ‘On & On’, the first single from her debut Baduizm, helping kick-start the neo-soul renaissance, and becoming an instant icon of modern music.
Baduizm was released over 20 years ago, and yet still retains a freshness. From the opener, ‘Rimshot (Intro)’, it’s clear we’re in the presence of a visionary: anchored by slick bass licks, overlayed with relaxed beats, and then topped off with Badu’s melodic, instantly-recognisable voice, Baduizm was one of the best albums released in the 1990s, and helped pave the way for innumerable women in music, with a direct line to modern albums like Solange’s A Seat at the Table or Janelle Monaé’s The Archandroid.
“If Badu can get Drizzy through his distrust of the modern world, she can get you through another day in the library”
The hour-long album moves through a series of moods, but Badu always retains a sense of amused detachment. She’s the perfect companion for a hard day of revision. She even has Drake’s seal of approval – he raps about going over to her house for a cup of tea and advice about love in ‘Days in the East’. If she can get Drizzy through his distrust of the modern world, she can get you through another day in the library.
Process | Sampha
My time as an Imperial student officially came to an end on Friday and, during my four years here, I have come to the harsh realisation that I have the attention span of a gnat. I struggle to focus on revision for more than half an hour and, without music, my falling asleep in the blink of an eye is almost inevitable. Having said that, if the music is too engaging, it becomes a distraction and I get little to nothing done. My go to for revision is smooth R&B. The chilled, lo-fi production creates the perfect atmosphere conducive to making those brain gains. Sampha’s iconic 2017 album Process is ideal for studying. On the album, he expresses the emotions of loss, love, and growth within multiple tracks, using his unique voice to tell the story of his mother’s passing. The album served to prove why his talent has him as one of the most trusted collaborators in the industry, working with the likes of Drake, Solange, and more. Sampha’s smooth vocals overlay subtle instrumentals and, as a result, Process makes for an overall calm and soothing listening experience. It is perfect for revision because it relaxes me, allowing me to get in the right frame of mind to study, and it doesn’t serve to distract. Process also has the added bonus of being engaging enough to pay attention to the lyrics during your breaks and get lost in Sampha’s world.
– Andy Djaba
CTRL | SZA
In 2017, SZA dropped her stellar debut album CTRL. The album was met with overwhelming critical acclaim and, although she was snubbed by the Grammys, she did take home R&B Album of the Year at the 3rd Annual NeighbourHOOD Grammys. To quote NeighbourHOOD Grammys Committee member, Jamell Samuels, “CTRL is an astounding album written almost entirely from the perspective of a sidechick. For too long, the women on the side have been neglected in the music industry and SZA’s album plays a pivotal role in shining a light onto their plight, raising awareness and starting a necessary dialogue on proper mistress management.” All jokes aside, SZA’s beautiful voice shines on CTRL and the album marks a departure from the more ethereal sound of her previous mixtape efforts.
Beat Tape 2 | Tom Misch
Shoutout to my brother, Josh, for putting me on to this album. I recently discovered Tom Misch and was thoroughly impressed with his most recent album, Geography, which dropped in April. Much like Geography, Beat Tape 2 is a smooth, chilled offering which serves to highlight Misch’s musicality and instrumentation. Unlike Geography, on Beat Tape 2, Misch allows his vocals to take a backseat, letting the multiple featured artists take control of the singing (and rapping, in Loyle Carner’s case) over the top of his production.
Yes Lawd! | NxWorries
Yes Lawd! is the 2016 collaborative effort of NxWorries, a group comprising eccentric vocalist Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge. Anderson .Paak is the epitome of a unique artist and it is difficult to categorise his eclectic style and to put into words exactly what he brings to the table.
“Nxworries’ Yes Lawd! will undoubtedly put a smile on your face, despite being trapped in the sweaty confines of the library”
I know one thing for certain, Anderson .Paak is a wavy dude. Anderson .Paak can rap with the best in hip-hop, has a unique voice that seems well-suited to R&B and the music he releases has shades of neo-soul and funk. He is the quintessential alternative artist and, in Knxwledge, he has managed to find the perfect musical partner to complement his artistry. This album is packed with chilled, summer time vibes that will get you through revision by reminding you of the good times ahead. With tracks like ‘Jodi’, ‘Sidepiece’, and ‘Lyk Dis’, Yes Lawd! will undoubtedly put a smile on your face, despite being trapped in the sweaty confines of the library. To be honest, I could recommend any Anderson .Paak because I am of the firm belief that everybody needs some .Paak in their lives. However his solo music tends to take a more upbeat, groovy direction which some may find too distracting for revision in comparison to his collaborative output with NxWorries. Save albums like his solo effort Malibu for a quick dance during your break.
Harmony in Ultraviolet | Tim Hecker
This, fellas, is a heckin’ good album. It’s got a real transcendental gloom to it – I like listening to Foreign Policy’s ER podcast with it goin’ in the background. There’s just something nice about how the broken-up-over-the-shitty-phone-link conversations about the Impending End of the World and whether Amazonian natives have the right to kill disabled newborns goes so nicely over a grimy chorus of harsh noise; and yet, Hecker pulls naught but the loveliest of harmonies out of seemingly nowhere. There’s a reason why this album has topped the lists of many an ambient album reviewer, and it ain’t the cover.
The exact vibe is pretty difficult to pin down. It has elements of that feeling of coziness during a rainstorm; there’s just a hint of malaise – a pinch of decay – a drop of grit – maybe just a little bit of the ol’ too-bummed-to-feel-my-extremities, just like you, you sad-sack, haven’t-slept-in-three-days, walking corpse of a student in exam season. Well, frankly, it’s hard to pin down. The whole point is the vibe, not virtuosic displays of technicality, or deep lyricism to read into, or some tragic backstory about how the ‘Guy Who Made The Happy Album Really Wanted to Kill Himself And That’s Why I Listen, Because I’m 14 And Appreciate the Clusterfuck That Is Human Emotion’, and if that vibe is difficult to succinctly express, well, maybe that’s a hint that the album is nice and nuanced.
I’ll give you more than a hint, though: the album is deeply, deeply rich. There’s no need for flashy technicality; the beautifully-architected soundscape and the complexity of the mood so effectively evoked by the album cement its position in my pantheon of adored albums; the handy fact that it’s a slow-paced instrumental album makes it pretty good to study with. Go forth and enjoy.
– Henry Eshbaugh
Dream Catalogue | 2 8 1 4
Well, hey, this is a spread about albums to study to. If we’re doing the “variations on a theme” thing, that theme might as well be crippling depression, because nothing else quite sums up the mood of exam-time.
“Dream Catalogue’s 2 8 1 4 sounds like the last album I wrote about fucked Blade Runner and went on to have a vaporwave album for a love-child”
I kid; this album isn’t quite as dour as you might suspect from the first paragraph. It is, however, decidedly mellow and middlingly dystopian. Scratch that, it sounds like the last album I wrote about fucked Blade Runner and had a vaporwave album for a love-child.
Swelling synths, reluctantly descending arpeggios, that whooshing sound every door in every sci-fi TV show makes when the disposable guy in the red shirt goes through – what’s not to love? If rainy cyberpunk near-future LA is your aesthetic and you need a peaceful soundtrack for the thousand-yard-stare out your window every night, notes clutched and crumpled, tears rolling, you’ll love this album.