Most of us are locked in, all of us have lost the chance to socialise, to meet and drink and talk and eat and see music and work out and enjoy things outside the house. But music doesn’t have to stop and The Great Confinement has opened up a chance to explore at home, to dig up old favourites and find new pleasures.
In this series we ask: what music is making you happy. Today, Dr Darren Saunders.
WHAT ALBUMS OR ARTISTS HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING SINCE BEING CONFINED TO HOME?
My mindset during social isolation has become strangely similar to the one I adopted in the long, dark and dreary winters I experienced living in Canada. With a newborn baby girl, and a very limited social circle in a new town, music became an important focal point. There was this great old-school record store near home, and the guys and girls there gave me a great education in Canadian music.
So I've found myself drifting back to the music I was listening to at that time. Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Hey Rosetta!, Ohbijou to name a few.
I’m reading Ben Folds’ book A Dream About Lightning Bugs at the moment. So I’ve been picking back through his albums as a reference point to various points of intersect between his stories and bits of my life to which he’s provided the soundtrack. There really is some brilliant stuff in his catalogue, and he’s always been a favourite live act.
One of the silver linings to come out of social isolation has been the really lovely ways so many artists and musos have been using social media to reach out and support us all through the stress and chaos of the pandemic. A particular favourite has been Jimmy Barnes, regularly posting stripped back covers of old classics with his wife Jane accompanying on guitar. There is a such a warmth of spirit behind that tortured voice that really shines though. It’s also had me listening back through old Cold Chisel albums. Circus Animals is still a fave of mine.
WHICH HAVE BEEN GETTING MULTIPLE SPINS?
Working at home with a household full of people has me listening to a lot of music to try and drown out the background din, so I’ve been gravitating to familiar favourites that don’t require too much concentration. On that front, I don’t think there’s ever a time when I can’t find something by Springsteen or Radiohead to suit whatever mood the roller coaster of living though a pandemic has me in.
I have been slowly getting my head around Thom Yorke’s latest album Anima, after seeing the spectacular and mind-bending short film of the same name. I find it always takes me such a long time to navigate my way through to really appreciate any new music by him or Radiohead. That complexity is also the thing that gives it such longevity and enduring interest I guess.
I had one of those “Wow! what band is that?” moments recently while waiting for coffee. The band turned out to be Middle Kids, so I’ve been finding my way into their stuff too, and really enjoying it.
WHAT ALBUM FROM YOUR PAST HAVE YOU REDISCOVERED? WHAT DO YOU STILL LOVE ABOUT IT?
Social isolation has occasionally thrust me into a reflective and nostalgic mood, pining for everyday things we all took for granted. I used to be a pretty nostalgic bloke. Then I saw Henry Rollins do a spoken word show a couple of years ago in which he had some really interesting stuff to say about continually looking forward, and it really had me rejecting nostalgia as a regressive force. But it has its place.
We live near the beach, and under normal circumstances I get into the ocean almost every day, as much for my own headspace as physical fitness. Having been deprived of that pleasure for a few weeks (apart from the odd "stealth mission”) has been really challenging and I found myself dusting off some classic old Richard Clapton tunes (like Blue Bay Blues, Capricorn Dancer).
There are some beautifully evocative lines in those songs, and something about the expansive guitars (particularly in some of the later acoustic reworks) that somehow at least get my head feeling like it’s in the ocean. I don’t think he gets enough credit as one of our best songwriters.
The other thing I really took for granted and am now missing terribly is live music! One of my fave live acts for a long time was Something For Kate. Beautiful Sharks was one of a handful of albums that kept me company through writing my PhD thesis, a particularly brutal form of social isolation of its own. So that has been getting a good workout along with Official Fiction. Always loved their interesting song structures, banging live sound, and Paul Dempsey’s thoughtful lyrics, with the odd nod to science in there.
HAVE YOU FOUND NEW MUSIC? WHAT’S EXCITED YOU ABOUT IT?
One of the unexpected joys of spending so much time with the kids at home has been the chance to connect through some mutual musical exploration. Billie Eilish is on high rotation in that incredibly obsessive way only kids know, and I have been hooked. It’s refreshing to hear something so unique jumping out from the vanilla pop around. There are some really interesting contrasts in her music. It’s Nick Cave dark in places, but with a really light, stripped back touch, not heavy-handed at all. And she has an absolutely fascinating voice, fragile and powerful all at the same time.
WHAT’S THE BEST MUSIC TO FLATTEN YOUR (ANXIETY) CURVE?
I tend go in very contrasting directions here. Right now, Gorecki Symphony #3, and Yo-Yo Ma’s recording of the Bach Cello Suites are doing the job very nicely. Yo-Yo has also been doing some lovely posts on social media during this crisis.
I also find listening to punk is a really good way to clear my head. The last live show I saw before shutdown was No Fun at All and Pennywise at the Enmore, so they've been getting a good workout recently, and Dead Kennedys always does the trick too.
Dr Darren Saunders, a biomedical scientist and science communicator, is associate professor in medicine at University of NSW.