It’s that time of year again. The sun is out, the birds are singing, and students across the country are hidden away inside libraries and artificially lit bedrooms, buried beneath post-it notes and books larger than their heads. Exam season is upon us.
I’m very pleased to say this will be my last exam season for what is hopefully a long, long time. Coming to the end of my final year of university tints my revision with a certain nostalgia. If this is the last time I’ll ever have to trawl through reams of notes in the hopes of stuffing my sorry little brain full of factoids, I’d better make the most of it. But just how does one go about “making the most” of what is, unquestionably, a terrible period in a lowly student’s life?
By putting on those banging tunes, of course.
Ok, so studying doesn’t really call for banging tunes in the strictest sense of the word. If there’s anyone out there who can concentrate on Saudi Arabian foreign policy whilst listening to anything on this eponymous playlist, I will be seriously impressed. For me, studying requires a very mellow form of tune that relies heavily on acoustic guitars, soft-spoken vocalists, and plinky-plonky melodies. There’s something about music like this that transports me to a zone of concentration – a vacuum in which nothing else exists but me and my notes on the decline of the Ottoman Empire. It’s a kind of nerdy bliss.
To ease myself into this blissful space, I recently did what all wannabe DJs do and created a Spotify playlist. My original plan was to write out the tracklist on here, but at 6 hours and 2 minutes long, that would have to make it the War and Peace of blog posts. Instead, I’m going to drop a little link to the full playlist here, and make this post a “highlights reel”. So without further ado, enjoy a sample of the music that’s helping to ease me through this stressful period. Do you have any songs that help you chill out and/or concentrate? Feel free to leave a comment below!
1. “Stranger Things Have Happened” – The Foo Fighters
This acoustic rock track found its way to my ears via the Foo Fighters’ Grammy Award-winning album, “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace”. Laid back and full of pleasing harmonies, this song contains a number of lyrical gems that make any literary-nerd’s heart sing, such as “I’m breathing in this silence like never before”, and “you are not alone, dear loneliness”. In fact, you should really listen to this whole album. It’ll transport you to a hazy summer afternoon full of longing, nostalgia, and poetry…
2. “Thinkin Bout You” – Frank Ocean
Appearing on what was undisputedly the best album of 2012, “Thinkin Bout You” is a soulful, synth-driven ballad with a strong yet minimalistic beat throughout. Originally written for Bridget Kelly, Ocean first leaked his version on Tumblr in 2011- and the rest is history. If Ocean’s voice isn’t enough to immediately calm you, I don’t know what is.
3. “Holocene” – Bon Iver
The music video for “Holocene” truly captures this song’s atmospheric feel. Featuring Nashville tuning and lead-singer Justin Vermon’s characteristic falsetto, this is a track for escaping to a faraway world. The lyrics transport you to a place beyond human society, where nature reigns and “at once I knew I was not magnificent…I could see for miles, miles, miles”. It’s slightly mopey and kind of haunting – but no less deserving of a nomination for both Record and Song of the Year at the 54th Grammys.
4. “Karate” – Anne-Marie
A love song told through the metaphor of karate – very fitting for two-times shotokan karate World Champion and rising star Anne-Marie. Featuring a retro, video game-esque narrator (“you win, perfect”), a stripped-back beat, and polyrhythmic layers of Anne-Marie’s crystalline voice, this is an artfully constructed track. Sit back, relax, and watch Anne-Marie execute her katas with style and grace. See also: a kickass live performance from the red carpet of the 2016 EMAs.
5. “In the Morning” – NAO
The original ‘wonky funk’ artist, NAO placed third in the BBC’s Sound of 2016 lineup for a reason. As “In the Morning” showcases, she has something truly unique: a gift for translating a feeling into music. I first heard this track on my Discover Weekly Spotify playlist, and haven’t stopped listening since. It’s contemplative, steady, and raw. With striking honesty, NAO depicts the emotional rollercoaster that is falling out of love with a partner: “he’s falling even deeper, didn’t see it coming, his heart belongs to me, but I’m still running”. I really recommend giving this and her other tracks a listen.