A few months ago, my best example of music made in isolation would’ve been Bon Iver trapping himself in a Wisconsin cabin 15 years ago and emerging with the epic breakup album “For Emma, Forever Ago.”
This story was something of a marvel at the time. It created Bon Iver’s image of the lonely bearded folk musician who spent months by himself singing and playing his guitar and chopping wood. You can hear those conditions in the songs: They sound lonely.
This made Bon Iver stand out. Who else makes music like that?
Making music alone, to some degree, is the only option for artists who want to create during the coronavirus pandemic. And we’re probably going to hear some element of that in the music that comes out of this time.
We’re getting a glimpse of what this era of isolation music sounds like, and in broader terms, how musicians are defining life during lockdown.
Here are a few examples of how it’s sounding.
Taylor Swift’s surprise album
Taylor Swift is not like the rest of us. Instead of, I don’t know, doing nothing in recent months, she dreamed up and recorded a collection of 16 songs that critics are hailing as one of her best albums. She surprised the world by announcing “folklore” less than 24 hours before releasing it. She wrote the songs during quarantine and worked with collaborators remotely to socially distance.
None of it was planned, but rather inspired by being alone. “In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result,” she wrote. “Folklore” shows a softer side of Swift and even includes a duet with the King of Isolation, Bon Iver. The album is proof, to me, that we have plenty of good music to look forward to from musicians who have been cooped up.
Julia Nunes’ monthly releases
The singer-songwriter has challenged herself to release a new song every month during the pandemic, with music videos filmed mostly around her house. The quarantine has also given the 31-year-old time to revisit her earlier work. She recently revamped a song she wrote when she was 16, called “August.”
Billie Eilish’s quarantine single
Billie Eilish had good practice for making music during a pandemic. She made her debut album with her brother, Finneas, mostly in his childhood bedroom. Her latest release — and her first made in quarantine — was made in similar conditions.
Called “my future,” the contemplative ballad has Eilish, relatably, singing about her uncertain future. Also, will more quarantine songs be stylized lowercase? That, for now, is uncertain.