"If it's causing you more stress than it's worth... it's not worth it." - Yellow
Question #21469 posted on 12/13/2005 3:01 a.m.

dear 100 hour board,

a friend of mine asked if i knew of some good "chill out" music that he might not be familiar with. he's one of the most musically aware people i know, and i can't think of any musicians that he hasn't at least heard of. any suggestions??

love, lanada

A: Dear lanada,

Nothing makes me happier than being able to answer questions about music. I'd be delighted to help you out with this.

I was just listening to Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos today after I got home from class. That does wonders for calming you down. Under the Pink is pretty good, as well. In fact, it's hard to go wrong with Tori Amos, although some of her music has a bit more edge to it ("Raspberry Swirl" comes to mind). I could have fallen asleep forever while listening to that today.

In that same vein, Sarah Slean is marvelous for relaxing. I got her album Blue Parade while I was living in Portland, so I will forever associate her music with the feeling of a rainy, wintry day. That feeling is soothing to me, so her music does the same for me. I just bought one of her EPs and am really excited for it to make its way to me so I can listen to it interminably.

While we're on the subject of wonderful female artists, I feel like I have to bring up Emiliana Torrini. She's absolutely amazing. She was born in Iceland to her Italian father, so she has an interesting sound to her. In fact, she sounds a lot like Björk (who I'll get to in a moment) at first. Both of her albums are fabulous, though I've been really partial to Fisherman's Woman of late. You may know her from the soundtrack of The Two Towers, in which she sings "Gollum's Song" during the closing credits. Fabulous.

You might have heard strange things about her, but I would highly suggest Björk. She's a little out there, but her music is phenomenal. I only have her Vespertine CD, but I love it. It makes me think of snow falling whenever I hear it. Very relaxing. I understand that her albums Debut and Post are also both amazing, though I have yet to hear either of them. She's on my list of music to listen to.

I would also suggest Moby. Everyone thinks of him for his techno, like "James Bond Theme," but I think his overlooked stuff is tremendously relaxing. Play may be one of the most complete albums I've ever heard. Songs like "Natural Blues," "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" and "Run On" create a very chill effect and have cool lyrics to boot. The second half of the CD has a more atmospheric feel to it, as there aren't really any lyrics to speak of. I bought it six or seven years ago and still consider it one of the best albums that I have.

Moxy Früvous is chillin' music, but not in the same sense that the above artists are. I think of it more as relaxing music, actually. It's just so happy and light that it's impossible not to be happy when you hear it. Not only that, but it has wonderfully clever political references in it from the early '90s. If this is your sort of chillin' music, then I would recommend They Might Be Giants to you (especially Flood).

I forgot to mention Beth Orton in the female artists section. Check out her Central Reservation album especially. She has a real folksy feel to her. In fact, she almost sounds like Tracy Chapman, now that I think of it.

Petra's going to hate me for beating her to this, but I really have to put in a plug for Sufjan Stevens. She introduced me to him a couple of months ago, and I'm really glad that she did. He also has a folksy sound to him. The only person I can think of to compare him to is Jeff Buckley (whose album Grace you should check out, by the way, although it's a double). His album Sufjan Stevens Invites You to Come On and Feel the Illinoise! is another tremendous album that I don't think I could ever get sick of. Any album with the lyrics "Steven A. Douglas was a great debater/Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator" qualifies as wonderful in my mind.

This is what I can think of off the top of my head. If you were looking for something else, or even if you just want to talk music with me, I exhort you to send me an email at theboardoptimistic at gmail.com.

- Optimistic.
A: Dear lanada,

Optimistic has made some good suggestions, although his tastes veer into estrogen-heavy realms a lot more than mine. (Be careful, Opto, or you might find yourself an exile in guyville before too long.) I'm also a big fan of Jeff Buckley, Sufjan Stevens (curse you for beating me to it, Opto! See if you get any more elbow-touching action from me after this heinous betrayal!), Emiliana Torrini, and sometimes Tracy Chapman. Although Illinoise is probably musically Sufjan Stevens's best album, I love the religious fervor of Seven Swans, so you should tell your friend to give both a chance.

The first band that jumped into my head when I saw your question is Sigur Ros. Check out their albums Agaetis Byrjun or () for a seriously chill trip. (I don't know anyone who listens to Sigur Ros without feeling like they've taken a particularly strong dose of some sort of mellow-inducing drug.) Along those same lines, Explosions in the Sky makes similar music, with a bit more of an "exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement" structure. Their album The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place is perfect for sleeping, talking, thinking, doing homework, and playing euchre. And if you like Sigur Ros for their total trippiness, I also recommend Mum, who use a variety of bizarre instruments and don't seem to be concerned about the banalities, like tunes or comprehensible lyrics. I first starting listening to them to irritate my roommates, and then ended up taking my own joke seriously, and liking them a lot.

Have I mentioned before that I'm convinced iTunes can read my mind? As I was writing this response, considering what band to list next, iTunes started playing Iron & Wine, the perfect band to list next. I own Our Endless Numbered Days and The Creek Drank the Cradle and can guarantee you that on those two albums combined there is only one song which will not put the listener in a chill-out coma.

I only know a few songs, so I hesitate to say anything strongly, but Calexico has been touring with Iron & Wine, and has some interesting country-flavored lo-fi.

Cat Power can, for the most part, be counted upon for "chill out" music. Her voice is fantastically interesting, and most of her songs are understated, delivered in a honeyed, hypnotic drawl. (I'm practicing to be a pretentious music reviewer.) Most of her albums are worth listening to, but my favorite is You Are Free.

CocoRosie makes some interesting music, although I'm not sure if it will make you chill out or grit your teeth on edge. In general, though, I do recommend their album La Maison de Mon Reve.

I find the "freak folk" of Devendra Barnhart very relaxing sometimes. He has some beautiful gentle tunes on the albums Nino Rojo and Rejoicing in the Hands. If your friend particularly likes "folksy" stuff, I also recommend Nick Drake. I like Pink Moon and Bryter Layter the best.

The album most played on my iTunes is Dolorean's Not Exotic, mostly because I used to listen to it every night as I fell asleep. It's amazing music, and definitely has a calming effect.

In a similar vein (one-man-with-a-guitar), Hayden's album Skyscraper National Park is one of my favorite CDs. Hayden has a beautiful voice, a talent for arrangement, and interesting lyrics. Plus, the album's got a lot of nostalgia for me. I recommend it.

M. Ward isn't the chillest music of all time, but it's interesting stuff, and worth a listen. There's something very old-fashioned about it, as if he were recording on old, scratchy 45s.

If your friend has heard of everyone, I'm sure he's heard of Yo La Tengo, but they're worth mentioning in the "chill out" music discussion. It's hard not to chill out to 17 minute jazz-inspired pieces. Their albums And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, and Summer Sun are all great, blending a number of musical influences.

I should also mention Damien Rice, whose album O is, at times, the very epitome of mellow.

I don't like these two much myself, but you could also try Onelinedrawing and The Pernice Brothers.

I've saved the best for last. The music of Mark Kozelek, either in Sun Kil Moon or in the Red House Painters, is always good for mellowing out. My personal favorite of his oeuvre is the album Ghosts of the Great Highway (particularly the song "Salvador Sanchez," which makes me positively blissful every time I hear it), but the other albums are also very good. If your friend is a Modest Mouse, he should definitely check out their latest, Tiny Cities, which is a wohle album of Modest Mouse covers done in Kozelek's typical quiet, bare-bones style.

My mellow mix also includes songs by Radiohead, Wilco, The Shins, Carla Bruni, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, The Decemberists, Thalia Zedek, and The Minus 5, but I can't guarantee that the entire albums are equally chill.

It seems that, between the two of us, we should have mentioned something that your friend hasn't heard. I certainly hope we helped you help him. And Optimistic's exhortation applies to me--if you need any more talk of music, I am just a short email away.


A: Dear Lanada,

Gypsy Kings, Gregorian Chant, and "The Lumberjack Song" by Monty Python. Find any good classical music; the big names are always good, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart. If you can there's a two-CD album called "The Most Relaxing Classical Collection . . . Ever!"

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty "Take THAT you Mongrel!"

Captain Brimstone rides again.

[Note: Do NOT send any of these things to the younger brother noted in the previous question. At least without prior approval from his mission president.]