Let's face it: These are anxious times, and many of the comforts, routines and distractions that make daily life easier — sports, church services, musical theater, late-night social gatherings, you name it — are being scaled back or canceled due to fears about the spread of coronavirus. So many of us are feeling the stress of uncertainty and, in many cases, isolation.
NPR Music's staff is no different. So when someone asked us to list the songs we turn to when we need calm, a huge playlist poured out. Encompassing classical, folk, jazz, ambient, pop, blues, soul, hip-hop, indie-rock and more, the block of music we're calling "Isle of Calm" is there to help settle your jangled nerves, slow your heart rate and string up a little hammock for your soul. We hope you enjoy it — there'll be much more to come as we get through these next few weeks together.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And finally today, it's no exaggeration to say that the coronavirus outbreak is upsetting, nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing to many. So we want to do our part to help you feel a little less stressed out. For this, we've called on our friend NPR Music's Stephen Thompson, who's taken on the task of putting together a list of songs to help ease our anxiety during this crisis. And he is with us now in our recently cleaned studio.
Stephen, welcome back.
STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: It's great to be here.
MARTIN: Don't touch anything.
THOMPSON: I wouldn't dare.
MARTIN: All right. So, first, what is one song that for you defines the meaning of an anti-anxiety song?
THOMPSON: Well, the first song I picked is called "Nick Drake Tape" by a band I love called Clem Snide. I used to actually sing this song to my children to calm them down, and it has always had a really calming influence on me, in part because it's a song about using music as a mechanism to settle your nerves. Let's hear a little bit of it.
MARTIN: All right.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NICK DRAKE TAPE")
CLEM SNIDE: (Singing) That Nick Drake tape you love - tonight, it sounds so good, as brown as leaves can get when sleep is what you should.
MARTIN: And because you are a good colleague, Stephen Thompson...
MARTIN: ...You reached out to other colleagues at NPR Music to find out what songs they recommend for reducing anxiety. Let's go through a few of them.
THOMPSON: Yeah. We put together a whole playlist on Spotify. And everyone on the team just happened to have a lot of selections at the ready for stuff that they're using to calm their anxieties.
One piece that I really, really loved is by the hosts of NPR Music's Alt.Latino. He just did an episode of his show about music to calm down. And the title of the show is "Calma," which is also the title of this album by Omar Sosa, who's a piano player from Cuba. And it's mostly solo piano. And it is so mellow and comforting and warm and beautiful. Let's hear a little bit of the song "Madre."
(SOUNDBITE OF OMAR SOSA'S "MADRE")
MARTIN: That is lovely.
THOMPSON: Yeah. You just kind of lean back and settle into your chair...
THOMPSON: ...A little bit.
MARTIN: That is beautiful. OK, what else you have?
THOMPSON: Well, the mix jumps all over the place. There's classical and jazz and ambient music, folk music, pop music, blues. One that I brought is by Kendrick Lamar, a song called "Love" that to me is not only just a really beautiful and warm song, but it also evokes the feeling of being out in the world and kind of driving on a sunny day.
I think songs that can evoke a sense of place that maybe if you're cooped up in your house and not able to experience that, I think it's really - I think it's helpful. I think it's calming in its own way. Let's hear a little bit of "Love."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE")
KENDRICK LAMAR: (Singing) Give me a run for my money. There is nobody, no one to outrun me. Give me a run for my money. Sipping bubbly, feeling lovely, living lovely. Just love me. I wanna (ph) be with you, hey. I wanna be with you.
MARTIN: I love it because I think a lot of people think that calming music has to sound like spa music...
THOMPSON: Right (laughter).
MARTIN: You know what I'm talking about?
MARTIN: For those of you who know what I'm talking about. But it doesn't. And I thought, what a great idea.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE")
LAMAR: (Singing) If I made up my mind at work, would you still love me? Keep it a hundred, I'd rather you trust me than to love me. Keep it a whole 100, don't got you, I got nothing.
MARTIN: OK. What else do you have? I think you have one more here.
THOMPSON: Well, I've got something that kind of does sound like spa music, and I love it. It's by the German composer Max Richter. He made a boxed set, an eight-hour piece of music, in 2015 called "Sleep." And it's kind of ambient orchestral music that's designed to map over a good night's sleep. And boy, if you ever get a chance to see this in concert, they actually bring out beds.
THOMPSON: I could not recommend it more. It changed my life. So let's hear some of a beautiful piece. It's called "Dream 8 (Late And Soon)."
(SOUNDBITE OF MAX RICHTER'S "DREAM 8 (LATE AND SOON)")
MARTIN: So, Stephen, tell us how we can find the playlist that NPR Music has so thoughtfully created for us.
THOMPSON: Well, you can just go to nprmusic.org. It's a really, really lovely mix that also will let you discover some new music along the way.
MARTIN: All right - especially since people can't really go to concerts right now.
MARTIN: So thank you so much for this. Tell us one more to go out on, if you would.
THOMPSON: Well, let's go out on one of my favorite voices in all of music, the great Mavis Staples. She put out a terrific record in 2013 called "One True Vine." This is the title track. Her voice just sets me into a comfortable place immediately.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE TRUE VINE")
MAVIS STAPLES: (Singing) I was last in line...
MARTIN: That is NPR Music's Stephen Thompson doing his best to help us through these anxious times. And if you want to recommend songs to help relieve stress, you can tweet us too at @npratc using the hashtag #nostressplaylist.
Stephen Thompson, thank you.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Michel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE TRUE VINE")
STAPLES: (Singing) I was dead at first. I had done my worst when you came...
MARTIN: For Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Thank you for listening. We hope you have a safe and peaceful night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.