Editors’ Top Albums for Finals Week

Any Pixar motion picture soundtrack
Annie Uichanco, Sports Editor
Courtesy of Dan Goldwasser

As a music composition major, it’s hard to listen to other music when you’re writing your own, so I rarely listen to music when I study. But when I study, I usually play film scores as background noise. Whenever I watch a movie and enjoy a particular musical theme or notice myself toe-tapping, I peruse the album on Spotify and add my favorites to my “Study” playlist.

Most of my go-to film scores on the playlist are Pixar soundtracks. My top three are “Ratatouille,” “Up” and “Inside Out” — all composed by Michael Giacchino — but I also have to give an honorable mention to “Monsters Inc.” by Randy Newman.

There’s something very comforting about listening to the soundtracks of childhood classics. The end credits sequence of any Pixar film can comes in handy when you’re trying to solve a tough differential equation. The soft jazzy undertones, vivid orchestration and emotional swells that pull you back into the movie make doing work so much more pleasant. The next time you find yourself struggling to read a sentence in your textbook, I encourage you to think of a movie you love and play the score — it will surely put you in your happy place.

“Metaphorical Music” and “Modal Soul” by Nujabes
Aditya Prakash, Associate Editor
Courtesy of Nujabes

Hey, you know that “lofi hip-hop radio beats to relax/study to” playlist that has inevitably shown up on your YouTube autoplay at some point? Well, that entire genre of music was arguably popularized by the late Nujabes — a Japanese DJ known for his clean union of hip-hop and jazz. Between “Metaphorical Music” and “Modal Soul” — two primarily instrumental albums with repetitive, jazz-based samples — Nujabes puts out innumerable chill bops. In “Lady Brown” from “Metaphorical Music,” a tin pan-esque lo-fi beat is organically superimposed onto an intricate guitar loop — nuanced enough to invite appreciation, yet short enough to prevent distraction during a study session. The song is brought home by Cise Starr’s rapping, with lyrical gems like “From God down to Earth, she needs to be in a church, To prove we didn’t spawn from fish, but God’s work.”

Starr’s devotional poetry acts as a catalyst for momentary lapses of contemplation, but the abundance of repetitive loops prevents any train of thought from veering off track. In tracks like “Beat Laments the World,” a single 12-note bass loop acts as the foundation for the entire song, accented by a dancing counter-melody as Nujabes makes the piano his canvas. The track’s lack of deviation from this form is never monotonous, with a saxophone verse and accompanying rap in the middle acting as a palate cleanser.

Off “Modal Soul,” “The Sign” and “Light on the Land” also employ these infectious, simple loops to great displays, as vibrating basslines, intricate piano riffs and soulful, hip-hop lyrics come together in a firework display of acid jazz and rap.

“Waltz for Debby” by the Bill Evans Trio
Seungeun Cho, Emory Life Editor
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Four years ago, I bought my first jazz album and fell breathlessly head over heels for Bill Evans’ signature exquisite melodicism. Though I’ve since branched out from “Waltz for Debby,” I find myself returning inexplicably to Evans and his cardinal album.

“Waltz for Debby” was Evans’ final collaborations alongside double bassist Scott LaFaro, whose death in an automobile accident precipitated Evans’ descent into a deep depression that pervaded his later albums. The album itself, which consists of recordings from a single-day live session, offers some of the trio’s most refined works. Evans’ piano melts like drops of a crystalline icicle over LaFaro’s lilting counter melodies and drummer Paul Motian’s measured beats to create a dreamy, breathtaking masterpiece.

The titular track, arguably Evans’ magnum opus, demonstrates some of the trio’s best interplay. Composed by Evans himself, “Waltz for Debby (Take 2)” is at once crisp and melodic. On the trio’s rendition of the jazz standard “Porgy (I Loves You Porgy)” — included as an outtake in the CD version of the album — a melancholy piano melody ripples across shimmering drum work and mournful bass before fading into the muted murmur of the audience.

“Waltz for Debby” is a beautiful masterpiece, a dazzling peek into Evans’ introspective genius and more than deserving of a listen.

“Ghosts of the Great Highway” by Sun Kil Moon
Devin Bog, Associate Editor
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I think finals can be a great time to start listening to music you haven’t heard before. There’s something about just being exhausted and stressed out that makes finding new music so much more rewarding. Sun Kil Moon (Mark Kozelek’s) “Ghosts of the Great Highway” was definitely that album for me during midterms this semester. It’s such an effortlessly pretty album.

Kozelek excels at finding soul-crushingly beautiful, simple melodies and sticking with them, believing in them without embellishment. “Ghosts of the Great Highway” is just that same mentality applied to every single track, and it works amazingly — like, so well, you’re not even going to care that one song (“Duk Koo Kim,” my favorite by far) is almost 15 minutes long because that twangy, introspective guitar riff is so undeniably good.

Every track has its own interesting twist on this formula with distinct textures and tones, but they’re all able to contribute an introspective, sometimes somber yet life-affirming atmosphere in a really cohesive way. Again — so, so pretty.

“In Tokens & Charms” by Prateek Kuhad
Ayushi Agarwal, Photo Editor
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I become easily distracted by lyrics and tend to sing along while listening to music. Although Prateek Kuhad’s songs are lyrical, his voice is so soft and mellow that the album sounds almost instrumental. “In Tokens & Charms” album is the perfect background music for when you’re studying alone. My course load this semester is a mix of papers, readings and studying, and I feel like Kuhad’s album does a good job of fitting all moods. I can put his albums on repeat without realizing that they’re on loop. His music is so simple and calming that I can easily stay focused while studying without becoming overwhelmed.