So it's April 4th today, and we have this pandemic thing going on—the novel coronavirus. I'm three weeks into working from home here in NYC, and something I've been thinking about on and off has been this nagging sense that my life doesn't actually feel all that different.
I've definitely been taking a lot more time to check in on various loved ones and important people in my life, trying to find ways to free up any cash I can spare to help support various local businesses I have ties to, and really just worrying about others more in general. But I'm not necessarily feeling as much impact in my own life, personally.
I'm working from home, yes—and I definitely miss various niceties at the Facebook office—but I'm also realizing how many of my habits and routines had already been shifting to give me the mental space to work more creatively. Whether I structured my life like this intentionally or not, I was already drifting from the daily goings-on of most of the world; I already kept odd hours, had a working space at home, and had interests and hobbies that I pursued almost entirely on my own.
One thing in particular that strikes me is that I had already made very conscious efforts at some point to increase the amount of really substantive content that I was reading, watching, and listening to. In practice, this meant that I'd try to read more books and fewer blogs or news articles, watch more movies while paring down the number of TV series I was following, and look out for good albums I could dig into while dodging the random new singles Spotify would recommend me. It was never a question of eliminating those latter groups, just trying to find a way to not let them overwhelm my interest in the former.
At some point I had found that if I didn't make a conscious decision to build these substantive experience into my life, it was very easy for them to get washed out while I was dealing with my day-to-day routines, and this was a much more dangerous trap than it might seem. I noticed that really good, substantive content stayed with me in a way that was sort of hard to explain. It gave me something to think about, kept my perceptions open to new kinds of experiences, and actually helped calm me down, overall, in a way that I could only really compare to exercise—it isn't necessarily obvious in any given moment, but I'm definitely less anxious overall when I'm reading a book a week versus when I don't even open the Kindle app for a month. The danger here is the same one as exercise, in fact: if I don't stick with it, everything feels more overwhelming, and when I'm feeling overwhelmed like that it becomes that much harder to step back into positive habits.
As it is now, I feel almost pleasantly un-stuck in time. A nice thing about really substantive content is that it stands on its own, giving it that "timeless" quality. It doesn't matter if something was first published 40 years ago if it's really good, because you have this primary experience with it—it doesn't matter if it's new, it's a new experience for you. That helps you break from the habit of compulsively seeking consensus with others that can be all too easy to fall into, and focus on just appreciating your own experiences with a work without worrying about your own taste being good or bad. It also, conveniently enough, helps you get a bit of psychic distance from whatever concerns you're dealing with at that moment, and can help you keep perspective on whatever challenges you're facing on any given day, which ultimately leave you better equipped to handle them.
Because this has been so helpful for me, I thought I'd do a few posts highlighting really substantive content that's been meaningful to me, personally. The idea is to promote the overall concept, give people some pointers if they find it hard to discover meaningful stuff, and just share some work that I've really loved across my life.
I'm (somewhat arbitraily) starting with music albums. I didn't want to try to put together any kind of definitive list—even of my own favorites—because it's not about the rankings, just sharing meaning. Instead, I quickly ran through my Spotify et al, looking for albums that met all these criteria:
- Albums I listen to all the way through, start to finish
- Albums I've listened to at different points in my life, at least a few months apart
- Albums that left me with some kind of expanded sense for what kind of music I like and want to find more of
Even without trying to be exhaustive, I ended up with these 68, and I think they cover a pretty broad variety of sounds and time periods. Hopefully there's something new in here for you, but also—hopefully—it makes you think of at least one or two albums you'd definitely put in your own list.
|1959||Miles Davis||Kind of Blue|
|1963||Bob Dylan||The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan|
|1964||Cannonball Adderley||Nippon Soul|
|1966||Cannonball Adderley||Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at "The Club"|
|1974||Parliament||Up For The Down Stroke|
|1980||Dead Kennedys||Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables|
|1980||Himiko Kikuchi||Don't Be Stupid|
|1980||Talking Heads||Remain in Light|
|1983||Yo-Yo Ma||Bach: Unaccompanied Cello Suites|
|1985||Kate Bush||Hounds of Love|
|1991||My Bloody Valentine||Loveless|
|1993||A Tribe Called Quest||Midnight Marauders|
|1994||Jawbreaker||24 Hour Revenge Therapy|
|1994||Ryo Fukui||My Favorite Tune|
|1999||Mos Def||Black On Both Sides|
|2002||The Mountain Goats||All Hail West Texas|
|2002||Wilco||Yankee Hotel Foxtrot|
|2003||Jay-Z||The Black Album|
|2004||Death From Above 1979||You're A Woman, I'm A Machine|
|2004||Modest Mouse||Good News For People Who Love Bad News|
|2004||Roy Davis Jr.||Chicago Forever|
|2005||Deep Dish||George Is On|
|2005||The Mountain Goats||The Sunset Tree|
|2005||The Shanghai Restoration Project||The Shanghai Restoration Project|
|2006||Clipse||Hell Hath No Fury|
|2006||Phoenix||It's Never Been Like That|
|2008||of Montreal||Skeletal Lamping|
|2008||Vampire Weekend||Vampire Weekend|
|2008||Zac Brown Band||The Foundation|
|2010||The Drums||The Drums|
|2010||End of a Year||Composite Character|
|2010||Kanye West||My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy|
|2010||of Montreal||False Priest|
|2011||James Blake||James Blake|
|2012||Breakbot||By Your Side|
|2012||Chief Keef||Finally Rich|
|2012||Kendrick Lamar||good kid, m.A.A.d city|
|2013||Pusha T||My Name Is My Name|
|2015||Jamie xx||In Colour|
|2015||Soichi Terada||Sounds from the Far East|
|2016||Car Seat Headrest||Teens of Denial|
|2017||2 Chainz||Pretty Girls Like Trap Music|
|2017||Playboi Carti||Playboi Carti|
|2019||Toro y Moi||Outer Peace|