Written by the WIUX Web Content Team / Curated by Ian Ausdal
There's almost no point in repeating it: 2020 has been an absolute trainwreck. With no shortage of unpleasant surprises, this past year has caused a mass upset in the lives of every individual from every corner of the globe. But above all the loss and sorrow, the hardships we faced caused many of us to shed our soft skin and reveal a new, stronger, more prudent version of ourselves. And while the world took the seldom-found opportunity for celebration last week to ring in the New Year, with conditions beginning to look up as the COVID-19 vaccine slowly makes its rounds across the states, it is presently clear that there is still much (much) to be worked on.
And that is why it is important for everyone to find joy in the things that they already have. In fact, this is a skill that many of us have newly acquired over the past few months. As we all continue to evaluate the true value of things, It should be no surprise to anyone that chief among the things that people hold near and dear to their hearts is music.
While material things come and go, and people can be removed from your life, music is one of the few constants that can be consistently relied upon to lend support and comfort. The power of music has been greatly affirmed over the course of the pandemic, with viral videos of impromptu balcony concerts popping up across the internet and a countless number of bands and artists hosting livestreams to sate the voracious appetites of their fans for live music. With the scientific research to back it up, there is no question that music acts as one of the greatest contributors to the goodness of life.
That being said, the events of 2020, as trying as they were, have deepened the many individual connections that we all have with music. As we say our goodbyes to this wretched year and work toward a more promising future, we would like to take a moment to reflect on the albums that have given us the most during periods where we felt like we had the least.
These are the albums that saved our lives.
Quadrophenia by The Who (1973)
What do Macklemore and The Who have in common? Both wrote songs that made riding around in a motorized scooter somehow seem glamorous. Released in 1973, Quadrophenia is a double LP concept album revolving around the story of a working class mod named "Jimmy" in early 1960s England. The songs on this album beautifully string together to tell a coming-of-age story that is all too real. Jimmy's troubled life is fraught with dead-end friends, lifeless jobs, experiments with drugs, toxic relationships, gang involvement, parental strife, and the heartbreaking realization that his boyhood idol is just as human as he is. Despite all the confusion in his story, there is an underlying sense of empowerment in Jimmy's journey toward discovering his self-worth that highlights the strange, twisted beauty of Youth. Full of catharsis and anger, this album builds and builds to an ending that is left irresolute, reminding the listener that they are truly the ones in charge of determining their own destiny.
A Love Supreme by John Coltrane (1964)
I feel unable to capture the sheer impact of this album with my words. In times of disillusionment, disorientation, and emotional strife, the playing of John Coltrane's Quartet is a proclamation of clarity, re-centering my spirit to the North Star. The passion and fervor of belief is intermingled with moments of transcendent tranquility. Only through this art can my mortal self glimpse the iris of God.
She Is by Jonghyun (2016)
She Is is the first full-length solo album released by K-pop idol Jonghyun of the boy group SHINee. This album features Jonghyun’s distinctive vocal talents as well as his skill with music production and lyricism. This album is very dynamic—blending together influences from various genres including R&B, EDM, and dance, as well as inspiration from musicians such as Prince and Maxwell. She Is always pulls me into the atmospheric and lush world that Jonghyun created, reminding me of his ability to communicate powerful yet universal emotions with passion and honesty. It’s one of the albums that solidified my appreciation for K-pop, and it serves as an excellent entry point for those who are interested in exploring the world of K-pop further.
Stranger in the Alps by Pheobe Bridgers (2017)
With Stranger in the Alps, Phoebe Bridgers became the patron saint of sadgirls and sadboys everywhere. Sparing no details with her confessional songwriting, this stellar debut became a world in which to seek refuge and get lost. There, one can feel validated that they’re not the only one having vivid nightmares, thinking about death a bit too much, or having a tough time growing old.
"Busted" from Phineas and Ferb (2008)
Less of an album as a whole and more just a specific song, "Busted" from Phineas and Ferb may sound a little weird, but it's still important to me. Vanessa Doofenshmirtz singing that song for me was what many people refer to as my "Gay Awakening". I didn't fully connect the dots until a couple years later, but Vanessa Doofenshmirtz singing the acclaimed duet with Candace was definitely the kickstarter.
Worlds by Porter Robinson (2014)
Worlds came out in 2014, so this past year fans celebrated the album's 6th anniversary! I was going through a rough time when it was released, so being able to listen all the way through was super calming, and, through those tough times, the album inevitably became a staple piece in my listening library. It was also a very pivotal work for the entire electronic music genre, as Porter Robinson broke away from the "traditional" style (if you will) that many artists at the time were making that were more in the realm of club bangers/festival ragers etc. But Worlds is gorgeous and never fails to make me emotional; it's still as beautiful as it was the first time I heard it.
Ed Buys Houses by Sidney Gish (2016)
It was a hard choice between this one and Sidney Gish's sophomore album, No Dogs Allowed. Both were played on repeat during my first year in university, but because Gish wrote this album during her freshman year (? maybe sophomore? anyway, its earlier than the other) in college, it seems more appropriate. I found myself struggling with school for the first time, so the song "Hexagons and Other Fun Materials" was especially relatable. Then listening to her recent live sessions singing these songs after graduation with a rougher, brasher tone felt like an interesting look into the future.
Badlands by Halsey (2015)
I came across Badlands during a very difficult few years of my life and I related to a lot of her lyrics about her mental health. Knowing that there was someone else out there who could put those same thoughts and feelings I had into words helped me feel less alone. I would also highly recommend listening to this album while driving through the actual Badlands in South Dakota.