From the Australian wildfires to the murder hornets, this year feels like something out of an apocalypse book. In the same way that listening to sad songs during a breakup is cathartic, end-of-the-world music can be a comforting soundtrack for “these unprecedented times.” Here are ten apocalyptic albums to get you through 2020!
Hozier, Wasteland, Baby!
Written while he was on tour in America in 2016, Hozier’s 2018 album Wasteland, Baby! captures what it feels like to be alive in a time of crisis, both personal and political. The album as a whole is best summed up in the first line of the titular song: “all the fear and the fire of the end of the world happens each time a boy falls in love with a girl.”
The Irish singer-songwriter pays tribute to his American R&B influence with songs like “Nina Cried Power” (feat. Mavis Staples)—a love song to protest songs—and “Almost (Sweet Music)”—a song about the comfort that music brings us in the darkest of times. One of the great feats of the album is the depth of raw emotion that Hozier creates with his poetry and soulful baritone croon, and signature otherworldly sound.
Janelle Monae, The ArchAndriod
Janelle Monae cornered the market on cyberpunk apocalyptica long before 2020 made the idea of a robot dystopia seem normal compared to everything else going on. The ArchAndroid is Suites II and III Monae’s Afrofuturistic science-fiction epic, the Metropolis Saga, which tells the story of Cindi Mayweather, a time-traveling android sent back in time to free her fellow androids from a society that treats them as second-class citizens.
The album is a true masterpiece, so grand and cinematic that listening to it feels like more like sitting down to watch an opera. You don’t need opera-glasses, however, to see the parallels between the androids in Monae’s Metropolis and the oppression of minorities in real life. Included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, The Archandroid covers genres as varied as hip-hop, classical, electro-pop, big band jazz, glam rock, and folk.
Bastille, Doom Days
If Bastille thought things had gotten out of hand back in 2019 back in 2019 when they released the This Got Out Of Hand Edition of Doom Days (2018), they probably didn’t anticipate just how true that would be. Now that we’re in 2020 and things really have hit the fan, the album feels more timely than ever.
Bastille has always been a band that embraced catastrophe as a subject for their music; their breakout hit “Pompeii” is literally about the sudden destruction of the Roman city of the same name. With Bastille’s usual percussive pop, Doom Days tells the story of partygoers trying to cling to escapism while their relationships and the world collapse around them.
Childish Gambino, 3.15.20
Childish Gambino’s newest album, released in the heart of the first surge of COVID-19, is, like all of Donald Glover’s art: simply excellent. Glover has announced that his fourth Gambino album will be the last. It is extremely minimalistic in presentation, with a plain white square as a cover, the date of its release as its title, and almost every song titled after its timestamp on the album.
The songs themselves are full of the post-postmodern anxiety that Gen Z and millennials will find pervades our lives in times defined by uncertainty. In the end, Gambino’s capital-E-Existentialist philosophy offers a possible way forward: in the chaos of a society robbed of meaning, we are free to discover and create our own.
Sufjan Stevens, Age of Adz
If you’re into introspective experimental electronica, Sufjan Stevens Age of Adz is the apocalyptic treat. Like all of Stevens’ music, it’s heavy and complex, both lyrically and instrumentally. Unlike a lot of Stevens’ other music, however, the instrumentals are almost entirely electronic.
The surreal album is inspired by the late artist and self-proclaimed prophet Royal Roberts, whose art focused on spaceships and the apocalypse. Age of Adz focuses on these themes as well, but ties them in with more intimate songs about anxiety and love.
Radiohead, Kid A
Ranked the #1 album of the 2000s by Rolling Stone, Times, and Pitchfork, this Grammy-Award-winning album is a must-hear. Influenced by everything from jazz to the Beatles, classical to hip-hop, Kid A is abstract, experimental, and intensely postmodern. The electronic instrumentals prioritize texture over melody. The lyrics were written almost like a Dada poem, bits of disassembled words and phrases thrown together like a collage.
It’s the unmitigated chaos that makes Kid A a great album for our apocalyptic times. The album is haunting, with songs that feel like falling down a hill, grabbing at trees and rocks for whatever purchase you can find. Kid A resonates with the uncertainty of our future and the absurdity of our present.
David Bowie, Diamond Dogs
Imagine David Bowie wrote 1984. The glittering, haunting glam-rock dystopia you’re envisioning is exactly what the late artist delivers on his 1974 album Diamond Dogs. Listed as one of NME’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Diamond Dogs was David Bowie’s first solo album after breaking up The Spiders, and his last glam rock album before moving on to R&B.
Bowie originally wanted to write a musical based on George Orwell’s classic novel. When he was denied the rights, the songs from that aborted project became Diamond Dogs. Bowie’s dazzling landscape of urban chaos is full of “fleas the size of cats, rats the size of cats,” scavenging children, and gender-nonconforming rebels.
MF DOOM, Operation Doomsday
Hailed by many as one of the best hip-hop albums of all time, MF DOOM’s debut album is a classic of ‘90s underground hip hop. Recorded in three weeks on a borrowed MPC, this was Daniel Dumille’s debut album as MF DOOM after the death of his younger brother and breakup of his previous musical group, KMD.
In Operation: Doomsday, Dumille introduces his persona, Doom, whose mission of “destroying rap” is set parallel to the Fantastic Four villain Dr. Doom, who tries to blow up every major city in the world. By structuring the album around samples from a Fantastic Four episode, MF DOOM brings a tongue-in-cheek cartoonish aesthetic to the threat of impending destruction.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an album more apocalyptic than Muse’s Absolution. The 2003 alternative rock album is obsessed with endings, from “Time Is Running Out” to “Dying Thoughts of an Atheist.” Even the cover depicts the end of the world: one man is left behind while everyone else is taken up, either by aliens or by a religious event like the Rapture.
Relationships end, governments collapse, and the lyrics are full of loss, dread, and regret. Even more motivational songs, like “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” stress that your time to live well is limited. It’s all-in-all a pretty dark album, but if you’re looking for music that fits the end-of-the-world vibe, you can’t get any more straightforward than lyrics like “this is the end, the end of the world.”
The Mountain Goats, Songs For Pierre Chuvin
In terms of 2020 mood music, you can’t really get any more direct than the album John Darnell recorded in his bedroom during quarantine in March. It’s stripped and minimalistic, literal bedroom rock, and the first Mountain Goats album to be recorded this way on Darnell’s boom box since All Hail West Texas in 2002. It sounds like quarantine feels: chill, spare, isolated, and contemplative.
Inspired by Pierre Chuvin’s book, Chronicle of the Last of the Pagans, the album’s primary theme is the impact of Christianity on practicing pagans after Rome adopted Christianity as its state religion. While fourth-century religion and politics may not seem relevant to our times on the surface, there’s something deeply timely about reflecting on the death of a culture. It resonates with our 21st-century disconnect from the traditions of the past, and with the still-fresh wounds of colonialism around the world.
What music has been getting you through 2020? Comment your favorite songs and albums below!
Featured Image Source via MadameNoire.com.
A. A. Ford is a writer from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a student majoring in English and Theology at the University of Notre Dame. In addition to her articles for Society 19, Ford is known for her poetry and fiction, which can be found at https://aafordstories.wordpress.com/. In her free time, she loves directing stage theater, spending time with her friends and family, and trying her best to glorify God by her life.