SYSH: 2020 Survival Mode

This year has been stressful politically and emotionally with the coming presidential election and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the adjustments to daily life, but one way that Catalyst staff members have kept their heads above water by listening to music. The following are the albums that helped us get through it all.

Lightless Walk by Cult Leader

The band Cult Leader features three members from the now broken-up band Gaza.
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Starting this playlist out with a bang is the 2015 debut album from American metalcore band Cult Leader Lightless Walk. The band came together after the breakup of metalcore band Gaza. The album carries a lot of frustration from Gaza’s downfall, but ultimately carries its own weight without being too reminiscent of Gaza. Catalyst staff writer Chris Wing has recently delved into the album, musing, “It is unrelenting and sludgy grindcore that feels like a nuclear bomb detonating in your headphones. It has some perfectly placed acoustic tracks, too, that provide some kind of break. It’s nasty.”

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

William Butler is the frontman for Arcade Fire.

“My thesis pertains to suburbia, so I feel like it’s only appropriate,” Catalyst editor in Chief Anna Lynn Winfrey said. Arcade Fire’s 2010 The Suburbs takes inspiration from band members Win and William Butler’s early lives in Houston, Texas. Win Butler told NME Magazine that the album “is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” The overall sound of the record was designed to be reminiscent of the music that the Butlers grew up with, such as Depeche Mode and Neil Young. The opening track “The Suburbs” starts with William Butler singing, “In the suburbs / I learned to drive / And you told me we’d never survive.” Butler uses the act of learning to drive as a metaphor for growing up and dealing with the twists, turns, ups and downs of life.

Chromatica by Lady Gaga

In 2018 Gaga starred in the box office hit A Star is Born.

“I don’t care if this stereotypes me,” former Catalyst Editor in Chief Jacob Wentz said about his love for Chromatica. As the sixth studio album from renowned pop star Lady Gaga, Chromatica is a personal look into her life as an A-list celebrity as well as her struggles with depression and her family’s trauma. On her previous album Joanne, Gaga tried to explore her family’s trauma around the death of her aunt Joanne in 1974 from complications of lupus, a disease that Gaga has. Chromatica has the emotional depth of Joanne, but takes it a step further because Gaga now understands that some trauma cannot be reversed and instead opts for taking one day at a time.

Isolation by Kali Uchis 

Kali Uchis has worked with many artists from Gorillaz to Snoop Dogg to Lana Del Rey.

Isolation is the 2018 debut album from Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis. This album called for a lot of reflection for Uchis and allowed her to rehash all that she had learned in her life, which ultimately led her to the creation of a unique sound totally distinctive to her. “I was worried that maybe my music wouldn’t be embraced by other people because it doesn’t really correlate with what’s trending at this moment, but I think embracing the isolation of that and taking the risk of making things that doesn’t sound like anything else right now makes music exciting,” Uchis said. Uchis explored a lot of the pain and pleasure she experienced in her life on this album, which drew Catalyst Online Editor Sergio Salinas to her music. “The pandemic has been a pain in so many ways and her album deals with overcoming obstacles and living in the moment,” Salinas said.

Fine Line by Harry Styles

Harry Styles posed in a ballerina costume for an episode of Saturday Night Live as promotion for his album Fine Line.
Photo courtesy of

Harry Styles’ anticipated 2019 second solo album Fine Line received raving reviews when it dropped—and rightfully so. The album explores Styles’ bachelor life post-breakup with French-American model Camille Rowe. Fine Line is noticeably more musically intelligent than Styles’ first album as he delves deeper into his personal sound and explores the depths of heartbreak on his quest for closure. “Harry Styles is a lyrical genius who continues to produce immaculate work,” Catalyst copy editor and NCSA President Sofia Lombardi said. The arrangement and order of the songs takes the listener on the ultimate journey of love and relationships as Styles tells his bittersweet story.

Gone Now by Bleachers

Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff has worked with Taylor Swift on her past four albums and assisted Lorde on her album Melodrama.

This 2017 second album from Bleachers was primarily written by Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff in his New York City apartment and it aims to explore the different losses people experience. When Antonoff was 18, his 13-year-old sister died from brain cancer, an event which became a major source of inspiration for him. With loss as a major theme for the album, one track stands out in particular: the album’s closing tune “Foreign Girls” which features the titular line, “Gone now / Thinking what’s gone now / Like a part of me walked out / And I know I’ve been a stranger lately.” This song perfectly captures how something traumatic can change someone, effectively rendering them an entirely new person. Antonoff closes out the song, and thus the album, with the lines, “Goodbye to the friends I had / Goodbye to my upstairs neighbor […] You should know that I loved you all.”

Listen to the spotify playlist with select songs from these albums here.

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