Denice Williams – Free
From 1976, soul music so pillowy and cosseting, it makes Minnie Ripperton’s Loving You sound like Motörhead.
The Mellows – Smoke From Your Cigarette (feat Lillian Leach)
A favourite of fabled doo-wop aficionado Lou Reed. Close your eyes and the appropriately named Mellows can take you from lockdown in your home to a mid-50s Manhattan nightclub at 3am.
Janet Kay – Silly Games
The apotheosis of the soft, pop-facing British reggae sub-genre lovers’ rock, Silly Games is a magnificent record. You can also amuse yourself by attempting to hit the high note Kay reaches at the end of the chorus.
Barbara Mason – Darling Come Back Home
There’s nothing particularly soothing about Darling Come Back Home’s lyrics – which deal in the kind of romantic desolation you might expect, given its parent album was called I Am Your Woman, She Is Your Wife – but the music is another matter: dubby, spaced-out, slow-motion disco.
Gayngs – The Gaudy Side of Town
Prince was a fan of Gayngs’ solitary 2010 album, Relayted, which figures: the somnambulant The Gaudy Side of Town is pitched blissfully between super-smooth R&B and something weirder and trippier.
Al Green – I’m Glad You’re Mine
From 1972’s masterful I’m Still in Love With You, the Rev at his most seductive. Fans of Massive Attack’s debut album, Blue Lines, might recognise the opening breakbeat.
Penguin Cafe Orchestra – The Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away and It Doesn’t Matter
Eleven minutes that drift by beautifully, The Sound of Someone You Love … feels like the musical equivalent of a gentle breeze.
This Mortal Coil – You and Your Sister
An impossibly gorgeous – if desperately sad – song by Big Star’s doomed founder Chris Bell, given an exquisite string arrangement and sung by Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly, then both members of the Breeders.
Freda Payne – We’ve Gotta Find a Way Back to Love
Sampled by A Tribe Called Quest, among others, We’ve Got to Find a Way Back to Love is impassioned, sunlit and uplifting enough to take your mind off anything.
Fleetwood Mac – Only Over You
From their overlooked 1982 album Mirage, Only Over You is irresistible: Christine McVie at her most hushed and warm.
Air – Casanova 70
Their reputation as the band who launched a thousand interior design show soundtracks overshadows how fantastic Air once were. Casanova 70 is serene, spacey and sexy.
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Your Young Voice
There’s almost nothing to Your Young Voice – piano, acoustic guitar and Kenny Anderson’s fragile voice repeating two lines of lyrics – but it’s enough to transport you.
The Carpenters – Rainy Days and Mondays
Sneer at it as MOR if you want but Rainy Days and Mondays’ combination of luscious arrangement, Karen Carpenter’s extraordinary voice – rich and velvety but ineffably melancholy – and the lyrical evocation of suburban ennui is incredible.
Pink Floyd – Fat Old Sun
It’s a shame Pink Floyd didn’t make more records like Fat Old Sun: buried on side two of Atom Heart Mother, its hushed, dreamy, very English take on country-rock is a late summer’s afternoon distilled into five minutes of music.
Kiki Dee – Amoureuse
A French hit – by Veronique Sanson, once the wife of Stephen Stills – translated into English, Amoureuse is one of the great forgotten singles of the 70s, a fabulous, moody epic.
Young Gun Silver Fox – Distance Between
London’s premier yacht rock revivalists, Young Gun Silver Fox never slip into pastiche. Distance Between is ultra-slick, silky but soulful – perhaps it’s time for a cocktail …
Isaac Hayes – Ike’s Mood 1
Another song fruitfully raided by Massive Attack, Ike’s Mood 1 might be the greatest example of Isaac Hayes’ expansive vision of soul music. Its wistful ambience is really pervasive.
Rachel Sweet – It’s So Different Here
A lovely anomaly in Rachel Sweet’s new wave/country rock catalogue, It’s So Different Here is a languid, alluring, heat-hazy evocation of foreign travel, perfect to drift away to.
Michael Kiwanuka – Solid Ground
The mellowest track on the singer-songwriter’s superb third album strips his sound back to electric piano and strings. The full band appear right at the end, but by then Solid Ground worked its quiet magic.
Judee Sill – The Kiss
The jewel in Judee Sill’s slender but extraordinary catalogue of songs, The Kiss is pretty much perfect. Tender but powerful, it seems unbelievable it languished in obscurity for decades, only really attracting attention after her death.
Don Cherry – Hope
Recorded by the US jazz great with a bunch of Swedish hippies in the summers of 1971 and 1972, this stirring piece announces that the world’s beauty will prevail.
Nora Guthrie – Home Before Dark
One of the most wondrous songs ever recorded, the daughter of Woody perches on the precipice of innocence and experience as chamber pop sweeps around her.
Huerco S – Promises of Fertility
Anyone who takes solace in Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works at times like these will cherish this bruised but shining track from the Brooklyn producer.
The Sea and Cake – Inn Keeping
Sam Prekop’s husky and debonair American voice is one of the most relaxing things ever – the classiest podcast-producer voice imaginable, put to perfect use on this puttering ambient indie-rock.
Ryuichi Sakamoto – Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (Playing the Piano version)
Spotify is full of “piano chillout” dreck, but this solo piano version of Sakamoto’s movie theme floats above it all. The melody remains uniquely soothing: it seems to look back on past sadness with a stoic resolve.
Låpsley – Speaking of the End
Perhaps Låpsley has been listening to Sakamoto – this perfect ballad shares his piano style, where each note is pressed into the song like a pin in cork. It closes her superb second album, out on Friday.
Deerhunter – Sailing
A spartan waltz from the Atlanta alt-rockers, with Bradford Cox seemingly adrift in a small craft out at sea, surviving on stoicism alone: “Only fear / can make you feel lonely out here / you learn to accept / whatever you can get.”
Phil Phillips – Sea of Love
Talking of ocean metaphors, Phil Phillips has the greatest of them all: a doo-wop pop song cut adrift from worldly stresses on to a sea of pure adoration.
Malena Zavala – Could You Stay
The Sea of Love for the 21st century. Singer-songwriter Zavala could coax even the most assiduous self-isolator back on to her sofa with this lulling ballad.
Austin Cesear – 1 Year
Sitting somewhere between shoegaze and house is this enchanting track from the San Francisco producer, with guitars crashing like slow, weak surf over brass, snares and looped vocals.
Supreme Jubilees – It’ll All Be Over
Faith will no doubt be playing a powerful part in many people’s lives right now, but even unbelievers can share in the certainty it brings with this assured downtempo gospel song. (It was sampled to much more party-starting effect by DJ Koze and Gerry Read recently).
Mark McGuire – The Marfa Lights
Listening to this komische soft-rock ballad is like diving into Balearic waters and then down deeper into your own psyche – a real trip out of the everyday.
Frode Haltli – Jag Haver Ingen Kärare
A profoundly beautiful folk song from the Norwegian accordionist’s 2007 ECM release, Passing Images, with trumpet notes from Arve Henriksen so lulling that supermarkets should perhaps be looping them over their PAs.
Mogwai – Take Me Somewhere Nice
In which the Scottish post-rockers reveal their soft centres: strings, trembling husky vocals, and lovely pattering brushed drums add up to a charmingly syrupy number.
Fennesz – Rainfall
Austrian producer Christian Fennesz has perfected an ambient blend of static and gorgeously full-toned guitar that keeps the entire world at bay.
Max Roach – Members, Don’t Git Weary
A spiritual jazz plea for solidarity and strength that will in turn suffuse you with the vitality to get up each morning.
Lord Kitchener – No More Taxi
Remember when all you had to worry about was whether to splash out on an Uber home from the afters? Let Lord Kitchener’s infectious charisma take you back to a time when public transport woes were more carefree than they are now.
Mos Def – Umi Says
While there is plenty of escapist rap for these trying times, it might not chill you out. However, Mos Def’s ultra-mindful track, backed with jazzy organ vamps, will help you focus on living for today.
Kraftwerk – Computer Love
For all its melancholy and yearning, the way this song’s numerous perfect melodies each resolve is profoundly relaxing, while the thrum of the rhythm section adds further certainty.
Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe
Cruise calmly on a ragged beam of beautiful, bagpipe-adjacent electronic drone, created by one of the 20th century’s great electronic composers.
Aphex Twin – Avril 14th
Undoubtedly the most soothing moment in a catalogue known for its impish spikiness.
Bill Callahan – Small Plane
A small vignette of hard-won domestic bliss after a frequently rancorous catalogue: just Bill and his love learning how to balance their sensibilities.
Blood Orange – Best to You (feat Empress Of)
The acute loneliness of Lorely Rodriguez’s lyrics is counterbalanced by the dreamiest and most enveloping melodies and production in Dev Hynes’s catalogue.
case/lang/veirs – Honey and Smoke
kd lang, one of music’s great seducers, works her magic in an all-too-rare latter day release, from her 2016 trio album with Neko Case and Laura Veirs.
Cate Le Bon – Are You With Me Now
While Le Bon’s lyrics speak of being haunted by loneliness, her gorgeous melodies are a tonic, her brambly guitar full of pep.
Fiona Apple – Shadowboxer
Apple’s account of a lover’s treachery isn’t exactly a comfort, but her languid swagger is just the thing to strut around an empty house to.
Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)
On the title track from her greatest record, Welch sounds entirely self-possessed as she stares at the horizon and waits for time to do its work.
Grouper – Heavy Water / I’d Rather Be Sleeping
Thousands of insomniac and anxious devotees of Liz Harris can’t be wrong: the cottony thicket of Heavy Water is lo-fi’s equivalent of the weighted blanket.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Devotion
MC Taylor is chasing “a peaceful mind so full of grace” on Devotion, a weighty acoustic track from HGM’s lo-fi days that still seeds hope among its forlorn slump.
Lucinda Williams – Still I Long for Your Kiss
A song for love in the time of social distancing, an accordion-laced number where Williams finds pleasure in yearning.
The National – Lemonworld
The peak of Matt Berninger’s flair for romanticising isolation, the titular Lemonworld is a sad, sexy, private utopia – and one of the band’s most underrated songs.
Neil Young – On the Beach
You don’t need to consume Young and his band’s infamous “honey slides” – sautéed weed and honey that they consumed during this album’s making and said “felt like heroin” – to be overtaken by his languid ode to loneliness.
Pet Shop Boys – Being Boring
From 1990’s Behaviour, one of the Pet Shop Boys’ most aerodynamic and effortless tracks contemplates how life never quite works out as you expected.
Robyn – Honey
A sensual yet urgent house reverie that betrays none of the Sisyphean eight-year effort Robyn put into getting it just right.
Rosalía – Pienso En Tu Mirá
Malamente seemed to be everyone’s favourite track from El Mal Querer, but the coiled longing and tactile palmas handclaps of Pienso En Tu Mirá were its most seductive cut.
Sleater-Kinney – Get Up
By nature, Sleater-Kinney never made songs to soothe, but the Hot Rock era found them at their quietest and strangest, and Get Up perfectly balances fear and fight.
Solange – Cranes in the Sky
The entirety of Solange’s 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, works as a balm, though the celestial vocals and high-register piano of Cranes in the Sky are like the sound of someone trying to make themselves feel lighter than air.
Sufjan Stevens – I Want to Be Well
This proggy splurge of frustration came when Stevens was suffering from a mysterious illness that felled him for a period, and marked the moment where the experimental music he made on the side came to the fore of his catalogue.
William Tyler – Cadillac Desert
Any of Nashville guitarist William Tyler’s work will see you through these unsettled times, not least Cadillac Desert, which pairs stirring resonance with effervescent layers of guitar that glimmer like a mirage.
Jack Rose – St Louis Blues
Slurring, spry and goofy, Rose’s rendition of the folk classic is a welcome reminder that you can see the world from your front porch.