Over the past year, the most common trend to emerge in the roll out of new music has been the lockdown album – albums which were fully conceived, written, recorded, and produced since the COVID-19 lockdowns started in March 2020.
This article will look at three such albums which were written, recorded, and released within the last year, briefly describing how each album has helped define the meaning of the “lockdown album”.
Folklore – Taylor Swift
Alongside its sister album Evermore (released last December), Folklore has become widely regarded as not only the quintessential lockdown album, but the definitive album of 2020. It is easy to see why.
Folklore is the sound of lockdown personified: quiet, reflective, and contemplative, while providing an alluring, yet vital escape from the omnipresent gloominess of the outside world, wrapped up in a soundscape of indie folk and chamber pop, with subtle shades of indietronica and rock.
Born of a wandering mind running wild while in quarantine, Taylor Swift’s eighth album saw the pop icon reconnect (albeit virtually) with in-demand producer Jack Antonoff (who has collaborated with Swift since 2014’s 1989), while adding The National’s Aaron Dessner into the fold. Folklore was one of the first musical projects conceived during lockdown, which employed the now-common work from home approach.
However, while working virtually is not unheard of between major artists and producers (and is undoubtedly a definitive element of the album), Folklore’s success as a lockdown album is purely because it is an apt reflection of how increasingly insular our individual worlds have become over time, with little in the way of tangible escapism to help quell the anxieties of the present.
How I’m Feeling Now – Charli XCX
British singer-songwriter Charli XCX used the early days of the spring lockdown of 2020 to write a new album “to be very indicative of the times” using “the tools I have at my fingertips to create all music, artwork, videos”. The result would become the widely acclaimed How I’m Feeling Now.
In keeping with that intended spirit, How I’m Feeling Now was entirely written, recorded, and produced as a direct reaction to the enveloping events of the pandemic’s earliest days and weeks.
However, the most substantial difference between How I’m Feeling Now and an album such as Folklore is that Charli produced the album with collaborating with her fan base specifically in mind. Fans contributed artwork, videos (as seen in the music video of “Forever”), and even song ideas. The album’s Apple Music page contains liner notes describing how some of the album’s eleven tracks came to be.
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What came out of the six-week recording period (very short by contemporary standards) was a thirty-seven minute expansion of Charli’s established experimental electropop sound. While not the widest album in terms of scope, or possessing the highest of production values, How I’m Feeling Now exemplifies the universally relatable themes of isolation, love, and the longing for reconnection, while showcasing the immense work ethic of one of the most interesting acts in modern pop.
McCartney III – Paul McCartney
With the limitations placed on social contact during the pandemic, several albums have been released with a “do-it-yourself” approach.
Taking said approach as literally as it comes, McCartney III sees the former Beatle Paul McCartney playing all instruments on almost every track (the sole exception being on the track “Slidin’”).
However, it’s worth noting that the DIY approach to making music has been a definite element of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career. 1970’s McCartney was written in the interim period of John Lennon leaving the Beatles and McCartney announcing the group’s dissolution.
Similarly to the challenges of that period, COVID-19 simply gave the Liverpudlian an excuse to hunker down and mess around in his private studio, crafting a moderately accessible pop rock album with just enough eccentricities to pay respect to its highly experimental predecessors.
While artists who identify as a “DIY musician” are rare, they never disappeared entirely in popular music (the late Prince and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala are notable “DIY musicians”). With that said, for those musicians who often craft their material from working alone, either in sudden bursts of creativity, creating music for the love of it, or as a by-product of other projects (as McCartney stated while promoting the album), then lockdown could easily prove to be a highly fruitful period for such individuals.