In times of trouble, escaping into the art that calms you is key to keeping your sanity. And you could certainly classify right now as a troubled time.
Lately I've had the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, a three-disc opus from musician Stephin Merritt, on constant rotation. The title is both a cheeky innuendo and a gauntlet throw of sorts, and though it's epic, it's not daunting terrain to traverse. There's something about the sheer expanse that's soothing. Sinking into it is like getting lost in a dense novel, and there's a sense of discovery with every listen: A 45-second song you'd once passed by without so much as a second glance now catches you off guard as a classic.
I put out a call on social media and got dozens of responses from local musicians, venue owners, engineers, talent managers and music fans about the songs and albums they've been listening to in this moment of global anxiety. Here's what some of them said.
Norman Robbins, lead singer and guitarist of BaLonely
The two-man British band Ultimate Painting was only in existence for a few years, and mostly stayed under the radar during that time. But one of their biggest fans is Norman Robbins, who opened for them at a local show and became obsessed with their music, particularly their album Dusk.
"The music became more and more special to me the longer I listened," he says. "It really did become a sort of drug to me. I needed it all the time."
Most of the songs on Dusk lock into a low-key groove, pulling you into their patterns before ending a couple minutes later. That's exactly what's most satisfying about them, Robbins explains.
"When a band repeatedly gives you what you want, whatever that may be, it is comforting," he says. "It changes for everyone, but I think that generally, comfort is repetition in music."
Karli Ingersoll, owner of Lucky You Lounge
At the beginning of the year, Karli Ingersoll ran an end-of-the-decade scan of her Spotify profile and discovered her most-listened-to artist was the Innocence Mission, the long-running indie folk act from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The husband-and-wife duo Karen and Don Peris have mastered the art of lo-fi folk, buoyed by ethereal vocals.
"I found them in my early 20s when I was first starting to play music," Ingersoll says, and it was the band's third album, 1995's Glow, that was her gateway. "I bought a used CD of it at Hastings, and I played it so much that it started skipping."
Ingersoll says she covered some of the Innocence Mission's songs during early concerts, and acknowledges she once tried to approximate their style.
"With every musician, there's a sound they wish they could do, but maybe they don't sound enough like it naturally," she says. "And that's them for me."
James Hunt, owner of Berserk
When Kelly Fay Vaughn died earlier this year, her extensive vinyl collection was donated to other music obsessives, including her friend James Hunt.
"Her mother gave myself and another friend of hers from Portland all of her records," Hunt says, "and he and I sat together and went through them."
Amongst her collection was a treasure trove of '70s power-pop from bands like Dirty Looks and Neon Hearts, and a bunch of obscure '60s garage rock releases, including the Icelandic band Thor's Hammer and the Pleasure Seekers, an all-girl rock band that featured future rock star and Happy Days star Suzi Quatro and her sisters.
Hunt has been hosting virtual sessions of Berserk's weekly DJ feature Vinyl Meltdown, which Vaughn was a part of, spinning records under the name DJ Suzanne Bummers. In a way, she's still participating along with him.
"I've been missing her a lot," Hunt says. "What's been providing me a lot of comfort is going through those records and just letting Kelly turn me on to music I hadn't heard."
Matt DeLong, live sound engineer
In a good month, sound engineer Matt DeLong is behind the boards at 20 different shows. Of course, that's no longer a possibility.
"It's a whirlwind of emotions right now, especially with something I've done more days than not halting to a complete stop," DeLong says. "I definitely never thought that would happen."
He says he often eases the tension with the work of neo-psychedelic or jazz-fusion artists, and he specifically points to the song "Don't Blame Yourself" by Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2, a shuffling, ever-mutating eight-minute track.
"It's got a little bit of a jam feel to it," DeLong says. "It's a lot of pleasant phrasing. I like longer songs, so it kind of tells a story throughout it. It's all very relaxing chords and calming Beach Boys Pet Sounds-like harmonies."
In the meantime, DeLong says he's seen enough support and harmony within the scene to be convinced that it will eventually recover.
"It's almost relieving to see how the community has come together to support themselves and support each other," DeLong says. "It reassures my idea of what the Spokane music scene is."
Ryker, local talent manager
It makes sense that Ryker would be thinking about local music right now. A manager and mentor with several indie artists under her wings, she's always thinking about their future.
"We have no idea what comes next," she says, "and we have no idea when live performances come back."
She points to Blake Braley's new EP Darlin' as a notable musical salve ("Thank God he just put that shit on Spotify, because I was going crazy"), and to the work of hip-hop artists Jango and T.S The Solution, and Tri-Cities artists MistaDC and Karma.
Ryker also praises Vanna Oh! — "I just love how unapologetic she is" — and her friend Cami Bradley's folk duo the Sweeplings, particularly the track "Carry Me Home."
"The way that song starts, it's like Cami can create such an eerie environment, like the mist is rolling and you can't see more than 5 feet in front of you," she says. "She starts with this whisper in your ear and the way it rises, and it's like you're in another world."
T.S The Solution, hip-hop artist
Devonte Pearson considers himself a homebody by nature, but maybe not to this degree. The musician and producer, who performs as T.S The Solution, says he's staying sane by "talking to positive people, people who can take the positive out of these weird situations rather than sulking in misery."
While live shows are on hold, Pearson is still mixing songs for other artists and featuring on other peoples' tracks, and he's working on new material that he hopes to release later this month.
"It forces us as artists into different directions," he says. "We're used to explaining our lives and our stories through music, and now our lives are just four walls. You've got to get creative in figuring out which stories to tell."
As far as comfort listening goes, Pearson name-checked the late Nipsey Hussle and his album Victory Lap, which he considers a testament to "staying ambitious through it all."
"That definitely helps in those borderline depression and anxiety moments," he says. "It gets me refocused and recentered. It's up to you to brush the dirt off and get back to it."
Matthew Hughes, lead singer and guitarist of Atari Ferrari
There's a moment in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1999 epic Magnolia when its ensemble cast stops cold to sing Aimee Mann's song "Wise Up," a deliberately showy device that critics at the time either called a pretentious flourish or a transcendent moment of coincidence and beauty.
It had the latter effect on Matthew Hughes, who had never experienced Mann's music before.
"I had just moved into my own place, and that was the first movie I watched in my new place alone," he recalls, "and I just cried so hard."
It led him to check out more of Mann's work, and it was her 2002 album Lost in Space that stuck with him most. It's "the last album I want to hear before I die," Hughes says.
"Her music has a way of existing in that kind of reality, but still with grace and humor," he explains. "I think that's how I like to exist when I'm put in the same situations. She is writing from pretty dark and anxious feelings and making something productive, honest and communicating how she feels with the music." ♦