Music for Cooling Off
“Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
You've probably heard something like that in anything from Gilmore Girls to Gilligan's Island. It's from a 1697 play called The Mourning Bridge by William Congreve, and it's just as true today as it was then. Here are some great songs to listen to for cooling off after a frustrating day.
Ready to listen right now? Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a Spotify playlist.
“Águas De Março”—Antônio Carlos Jobim
It's hard to find better “cooling down” music than bossa nova, and there's nowhere better to go for bossa than the man who created it. This classic Jobim album has a lot to offer, but this duet – quiet and yet joyful at the same time – is a highlight.
“If She Wants Me”—Belle and Sebastian
This is a cheerful song, in a quiet way. So much of Belle and Sebastian's music is melancholy that even when they're singing about being there for a friend, it's not too upbeat. This'll make you feel better, without being irritating or cloying.
“Lebanese Blonde”—Thievery Corporation
The catchy sitar riff, the hypnotic bass, Pam Bricker's contemplative vocals, those touches of brass…this song almost feels like you're on something without actually having to be, which was my way of describing it long before I knew what the title was referencing.
“Speed Dial No. 2″—Zero 7
Nearly all of Zero 7's atmospheric electronica is great for winding down, but this song in particular—again, about a friend coming to the rescue—is particularly entrancing, and it features vocals from Sia Furler, from nearly a decade before she finally broke out as a solo artist.
French electronic masters/Daft Punk contemporaries AIR have seen more success in soundtracks and scoring work in the US than in Top 40 radio play. Which is a shame, because a country full of people mellowing out on this song might be a little nicer.
“As We Go Along”—The Monkees
This odd little ditty was written by Carole King and used for the surrealist, countercultural masterpiece that was Head. The song switches from 5/4 to 3/4 time, which sounds like it would be jarring, but Mickey Dolenz's soft, hesitating vocals over a lilting guitar ground a song that's warm and calming and romantic all at the same time.
“One Day”—KT Tunstall
Honestly, nearly any of KT Tunstall's more acoustically-oriented work (Eye to the Telescope, Acoustic Extravaganza, Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon) is great to chill to. This is just a representative sample.
“The Golden Age”—Beck
The opening track to Beck's Sea Change has become a modern standard, a piece of pop repertoire for a staggering number of artists. But there's something about the original that makes you take a long, slow breath the second you hear it.
“The Only Ones”—Moloko
This album came as the trip-hop duo were reaching their musical peak—and as they were breaking up. The overall effect is staggering. This song in particular has all the lush orchestration and ever-so-slight jazz harmony they built their name on, all the sexy cooing from Roisin Murphy, but a melancholy over the entire thing that ties it all together.
Austin Wintory's music is slow and meditative, perfect accompaniment for the reflective video games that he's fond of scoring. Journey was actually the first full album of game music to be nominated for a scoring Grammy.
“Sweet Darlin'”—She and Him
People who dismiss She and Him as a vanity project for Zoe Deschanel are missing out. The New Girl actress actually went to LA in the first place to try and make it in music, and the band started when M. Ward discovered her massive archive of lusciously-harmonized a capella demos. Depending on how irritated you are, this might come off as a little twee, but if you're in the mood for it, it's great.
“You Know I'm No Good”—Amy Winehouse
Back to Black is an utter masterpiece…as long as you skip “Rehab.” This song in particular is like a nice gin and tonic after a long day at work.
“Highway in the Wind”—Arlo Guthrie
Arlo Guthrie is best-known for “Alice's Restaurant,” the novelty song that gives this album its title. And his sense of humor certainly isn't hard to find on that and songs like “The Motorcycle Song.” But the son of Woody Guthrie also had a sincere side, and as his guitar gently rolls through this moving song, you'll be glad you went out of your way to find it.
Nocturne #1 in B-flat Minor—Frédéric Chopin (performed by Arthur Rubinstein)
Chopin was sort of a showoff, and most of his music was written to showcase his skills and inspire as many women as possible to try and “meet” him after the show. But he did occasionally find a moment to reflect, and the low-key beauty of his nocturnes makes them great pieces for cooling down.
“Valiant & Valiant”—Alan Silvestri
Alan Silvestri's score for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a masterclass in changing directions. The score is built almost entirely on frenetic Looney Tunes-esque music and soaring, yearning Old Hollywood noir scores with mournful trumpets over a jazz rhythm section. “Valiant & Valiant” is that last one, and this track is great for catching your breath.
The xx's debut was recorded in a garage at night, and while it doesn't sound like it was made in a garage, it does sound like it was made at night, somehow. You can taste the night air as surely as if you were driving with the windows down.
“Say Goodbye”—Norah Jones
Part of what keeps Norah Jones endlessly fascinating is her relentless pursuit of collaborations with other good musicians. Talib Kweli, Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis, Outkast, Belle and Sebastian, Billie Joe Armstrong, Foo Fighters, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, and more. So when she announced a new album with hip-hop producer Danger Mouse at the helm, nobody should've been surprised. This single lives up to the promise of that pairing.
“Spring and a Storm”—Tally Hall
These Maryland-based pop maestros trade in sprawling epic song structure and massive Queen-esque harmonies without ever losing a sense of intimacy. That they only released two albums is a full-on historical tragedy. But from the thoughtful, rainy intro to the mantra “Create until nothing is left to create and the universe bursts with an overworked sigh,” this song will help you calm, deal with, and redirect your feelings, all in the span of about five minutes.
“Don't You Believe a Word”—Sloan
Part of a larger suite by the founders of Canadian indie rock, this song still works perfectly on its own. How it manages to be so driving rhythmically and so soothing at the same time is a question science has yet to answer.
“Strangers on a Train”—Lovage
Lovage was hip-hop producer Dan the Automator, Mike Patton of Faith No More, and Mr. Bungle and Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields. The result is a big, beautiful sonic feather bed to disappear into. It's also fantastically sexy. This is actually a less-sexy entry, but if you're in the mood for something a little different (and even less subtle) check out “Stroker Ace.”