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30th April 2020

Songs for solace in self-isolation

Jasmine Bennett provides a playlist of the best songs to fall into during lockdown based on Nick Cave’s “hiding songs” concept
Songs for solace in self-isolation
Photo: Camilla@Flickr

The news of necessary self-isolation is not what anybody wants to hear, especially not at spring’s slowly encroaching arrival and the near-sight of holiday season. The concepts of quarantines and lockdowns aren’t reassuring.

Times are lonely, and so music can be a great source of companionship to fill the silence.

With that in mind, I turned to Nick Cave’s concept of “hiding songs” – tracks “that deal exclusively in darkness, obfuscation, concealment and secrecy”.

Cave revealed ten of his favourite “hiding songs” last year on his blog The Red Hand Files, alongside a quote from his poem titled, ‘The Sick Bag Song’:

Leonard Cohen will sing, and the boy will suddenly breathe as if for the first time, and fall inside the laughing man’s voice and hide.

He will realise that not only are these songs sacred, they are ‘hiding songs’ that deal exclusively in darkness, obfuscation, concealment and secrecy. He will realise that for him the purpose of these songs was to shut off the sun, to draw a long shadow down and protect him from the corrosive glare of the world.

The following picks of my own offer a track-list of songs dealing with thematic isolation. Sometimes a sad song is all we need to feel soothed in our solace.

1) ‘The Wolves (Act I and II)’ – Bon Iver 

It would be impossible to discuss songs for isolation without mentioning Bon Iver’s 2007/8 album For Emma, Forever Ago. Written in Wisconsin, in his father’s cabin in the woods, the album deals with the catharsis of broken relationships and isolation. Perfect for the lonely, extra perfect for the self-isolated. 


2) ‘Light Years’ – The National – 2019 

‘Light Years’ is one for all those separated couples during this tough time. In an interview with Radio 6 Music, lead singer Matt Berbinger said the track was ‘all about just feeling distant from somebody on a different orbit’ which I’m sure we can all relate to right now. We all feel light years away from somebody.


3) ‘Cabin Fever!’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – 1984

Magically discordant, this clashing track from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ first album explores the chaotic nature of self-isolation. The name of the track feels somewhat appropriate. 


4) ‘Don’t think twice, it’s all right’ – Bob Dylan – 1963 

Sometimes a bit of reassurance is necessary. Let the harmonica take control for a bit. 


5)  ‘Home to You’ – Cate Le Bon – 2019 

One of Le Bon’s singles from her album Reward, ‘Home To You’ acts as a reminder that this will all blow over in the end. I know we all feel so many miles away from those we love, from family, from friends, from lovers, from strangers. But it’ll be alright – we’ll all be home soon. 


6) ‘500 Miles’ – Peter, Paul and Mary – 1962 

Peter, Paul and Mary covered this song back in the 1960s on their debut eponymous album. Deeply enchanting and soft, the folk track seems rather fitting given the distances felt right now – the darkness we all feel. 


7) ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake, Nothing But You’ – Bombay Bicycle Club – 2019

The repetitive reminder of the darkness currently lingering over our head and on the news has become a constant. While the lead single of Bombay Bicycle Club’s comeback is suggested to be romantic, it also feels incredibly relevant title-wise. 


8) ‘Strangers In The Night’ – Frank Sinatra – 1966

‘Strangers In The Night’ is my favourite Sinatra song, but also a much-needed reminder that anything could happen from our current situation. Frank Sinatra gives us a beautiful reminder of the humanity and possibility humankind possess, which seems like the perfect note to end on. 

You can “fall inside” a playlist of Nick Cave’s own personal “hiding songs” on his Spotify.

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