The Best New Albums That Have Come Out in Quarantine
From Fiona Apple to The Strokes, here are the new records you have to hear.
It's no secret that people have turned to their televisions and streaming services more in these last few months than ever before because of the coronavirus pandemic. After all, movies and TV shows have always served as a means of escaping reality—and with more content available at our fingertips than ever before, the possibilities are endless. But why not give your eyes a break from all that screen time and seek solace in some great new music instead? When you think about it, nothing can make you feel emotionally connected or hopeful quite like hearing your favorite song or discovering an exciting new band. To get you started, here are the best new albums of 2020 that were released during quarantine. And for more music trivia, check out, 20 Songs You Totally Misunderstood, Explained.
Nine Inch Nails—Ghosts V and VI
Trent Reznor and collaborator Atticus Ross surprise-released not one, but two instrumental records in mid-March as a direct response to the coronavirus pandemic. The material is not dissimilar sounding to the type of music Reznor and Ross created for their Oscar-winning score of David Fincher's The Social Network. Only this time, they weren't using a movie as their muse.
Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts each aim to capture a specific feeling evoked by the experience of being in quarantine. The former "is for when things seem like it might all be OK," the pair told Rolling Stone, while the much darker latter is for, "Well, you'll figure it out."
Regardless of which record you gravitate to, the experiment is a worthy attempt. And who knows? Maybe spending time with either of these albums might even be therapeutic for you.
Fiona Apple—Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Fiona Apple was always a musical force to be reckoned with—and she may just be an even bigger and more important one today than she was in her '90s hay day. Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Apple's first album since 2012, finds the unapologetic songstress truly at the top of her game, not exactly something that gets written very often about 42-year-old female artists 25 years into their career.
She grabs you on the album opener, "I Want You to Love Me," and never releases her grip until the last deep breaths heard in the final moment of the closer, "On I Go," fade away. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is filled with Apple's trademark frantic vocal delivery, pull-no-punches lyrics, and spastic tempo changes, but it's the palpable urgency that pulsates throughout the album that makes it very clear you're listening to something special. And for the best songs that were written by someone else, check out The 50 Best Cover Songs of All Time.
The Strokes—The New Abnormal
The poster children for '00s downtown New York cool released their first album, the now classic Is This It, just weeks after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Almost 20 years later, amid a global pandemic on a scale like nothing any living person has ever seen, arrives The New Abnormal—the on-again-off-again group's sixth album, and their first in seven years. Both came out when the world was in crisis. Both have eerily prophetic titles—the latter, especially. And both capture The Strokes at their best in the respective eras of their career—early-2000s Strokes and late-period Strokes. (What was going on in those murky middle years is anyone's guess.)
The original lineup remains the same, but this is a different band than the one the press unfairly crowned two decades ago as the sole saviors of rock 'n' roll. Sure, you'll hear plenty of moments that are unmistakably Strokes-ian—the guitar riff on album opener, "The Adults Are Talking," would have fit right in on either of their first two records. But what you'll find overall is a more mature band going all in with the ideas, influences, and sounds they'd been dancing around all along. It's unabashedly '80s ("Bad Decisions" heavy-handedly channels Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself"), intricate, melodic, and meandering. Under the guidance of guru-producer Rick Rubin, you even admire the moments that are clearly misses—at least they are still swinging. No one likes change, but thankfully The Strokes' New Abnormal is one interesting enough to warrant a fair shake.
Brendan Benson—Dear Life
Perhaps best known for his work as Jack White's songwriting partner and co-frontman in classic rock-revivalists The Raconteurs, Brendan Benson has been putting out solid, '70s-infused power-pop for decades. (Do yourself a favor and revisit 2002's Lapalco, his undeniably catchy indie masterpiece.) On his seventh album, Good to Be Alive, Benson shows he's still got the goods when it comes to writing a hook, and the pipes to belt it out with the best of them.
There are definitely some unexpected—and seemingly uncharacteristic—points of experimentation that might raise an eyebrow or two amongst Benson purists. For one, the title track has a borderline techno vibe thanks to its synth-driven rhythms, which isn't something you'd typically hear in the Michigan native's brand of Big Star-influenced guitar rock. The good news? Most of these sonic departures work surprisingly well—a true testament to the artist's command over his craft. And for those who remain skeptical, skip to "Richest Man" and let Benson ear worm his way back into your heart.
Hamilton Leithauser—The Loves of Your Life
On his second proper solo album since his former band—the criminally underrated Walkmen—called it quits, Hamilton Leithauser builds on the dynamic, sophisticated songwriting heard on 2014's outstanding Black Hours. A concept album of sorts, each song on The Loves of Your Life is about a specific person and relationship that's meant something to Leithauser. He has always been one of the most dynamic singers in rock 'n' roll and he uses his voice to great emotional effect throughout the LP—often going back and forth between a heart-heavy croon and his trademark hair-raising howl in the same song.
The Loves of Your Life would have been a beautiful record regardless of when it was released, but at a time when we are all missing the relationships and people that shaped our lives, it becomes utterly stunning. The swelling opener, "The Garbage Men"; delicate "Isabella"; and "Cross-Sound Ferry (Walk-On Ticket)", a heartfelt farewell to an old friend and a different life, are just a few of the standouts.
Want a record that will wrap around you like a warm blanket and remind you there's still plenty of beauty waiting for us on the other side of this crisis? If so, Katie Crutchfield's latest release as Waxahatchee is not to be missed. St. Cloud is Crutchfield's fifth album and her best work by far—a tangible touchstone of the exact moment in the artist's career when she went from being a good songwriter and became a great one. It's a slice of modern Americana that presents like a classic without trying to sound retro for retro's sake. The sun-soaked twang of St. Could transports you to simpler times without forcing you to dwell too long on what once was—instead, nudging you to feel hopeful on what may be. It's an immensely listenable record. And for more classic songs that deserve another listen, check out 50 Songs Turning 50 This Year.
Lucinda Williams—Good Souls Better Angels
Lucinda Williams' latest is a scuzzy, bluesy, boot-stomping, middle-finger-waving, country-rock barnburner from one of the baddest in the biz. Album opener "You Can't Rule Me" almost serves as the album's mission statement—which, to put it as simply as possible, is: Don't mess with me, lest you regret it. Whether you're the president or an ex-lover matters not—as far as Williams is concerned, nobody's off limits. And that's what makes Good Souls Better Angels such a fun and invigorating listen. At 67 years old, Williams remind us that rock 'n' roll is supposed to be dangerous, sexy, and infectiously raw. Your move, millennial pop stars.
Fans of seminal L.A. punk band X were given a somewhat unexpected surprise at the beginning of May when the group quietly dropped their new album as a digital download on Bandcamp. Alphabetland is the band's first album with the original lineup in 35 years, so you could say they were about due.
Nearly all of the record's 11 songs were written in the last 18 months or so and largely revisit the sonic stylings of the band's early '80s aesthetic—fast, melodic punk rock with a tinge of twang. On songs like "Strange Life" and "Goodby Year, Goodbye" there's also a dash of nostalgia, as the veterans consider societal changes and their many punk peers who became casualties of the drugs and dangers of the defiant genre.
But don't take that to mean that this is a bummer album from some over-the-hill former punks. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Alphabetland makes a strong argument that X is as capable as ever of making a joyful racket while spouting snotty, yet insightful lyrics relevant to the times. That 35-year sabbatical served them well.
The Mountain Goats—Songs for Pierre Chuvin
When plans to gather with his bandmates and begin recording the next Mountain Goats' album were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, singer-songwriter John Darnielle had to find a different, quarantine-friendly, outlet for his creativity. Songs for Pierre Chuvin is the result of this forced pivot.
For 10 days in March, Darnielle retreated to his bedroom for 90 minutes at a time, writing one new song during each session—all of them inspired by the book A Chronicle of the Last Pagans, by French historian Pierre Chuvin. The 10 intimate tracks, with running themes of alienation and the desire to persevere, are made even more stark and striking by Darnielle's decision to record them on the same Panasonic boom box he used to capture his first songs in the '80s. It's all these unique factors that make Songs for Pierre Chuvin something of a lo-fi cult classic—art like this is a product of the times in the purest sense. And for bands and artists who haven't fared as well, check out The 50 Best One-Hit Wonders of All Time.