The Top 10 Ten Chillest Albums For When You Need to Focus (But Also Need to Rock)
Arc is all about outfitting your busy life with the feeling of chill focus, a state where you find yourself relaxed and joyful while also maintaining a clear, fresh, and concentrated mind to be at your best while working or working out.
Whether toiling or kicking back, we believe the right music is the perfect counterpart to our objectives. The perfectly chill song or album can put you into a more focused, thoughtful headspace, while motivating you to accomplish whatever you need.
Join us now as we explore a handful of the chill-est albums and artists on earth; superstars behind the soundtrack to your best efforts. We’ve done our best to focus on albums that are chill enough to work to, without the distractions of sudden tempo changes, jarring vocals, or 33-minute bagpipe solos.
And we’ve also done our best to find something for everyone. Okay, we will admit. We’re not K-Pop experts. Just yet.
Here’s our list:
The Genre: Indie rock pop
The Artist: Sigur Rós, Iceland’s wizards of post-rock minimalism who employ a violin bow on a guitar, among other aural eccentricities, to add to their ethereal atmosphere.
The Album: “Agaetis Byrjun,” a quiet, droning meditation rippling with reverb, falsetto vocals, and syrup sweet melodies, all sung in Icelandic while circling its heavenly crescendos.
Additional Recommendations: Rhye’s “Woman,” The XX’s “Coexist,” Soccer Mommy’s “Collection,” Radiohead’s “Ok Computer”
The Genre: Folk/Acoustic
The Artist: Iron & Wine, the soft-spoken, acoustic-inflected project of songwriter-and-artist Sam Beam.
The Album: “Our Endless Numbered Days,” a quiet, gracefully lo-fi LP full of haunting melodies, softly intricate instrumentation, and whispered enigmas
Additional Recommendations: The Cowboy Junkies’ “Trinity Session,” Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago,” Elliot Smith’s “Either/Or,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions’ “Until the Hunter”
The Genre: Goth
The Artist: Nine Inch Nails, the legendary industrial-experimental-rock-pop-metal outfit helmed by Trent Reznor.
The Album: “Ghosts VI: Locusts,” a spookily beautiful symphony of piano tinkerings, guitar torment, and foreboding synth that makes you feel like you’ve slipped into a chase scene in a horror film. And like it.
Additional Recommendations: Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works Vol. II,” Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ “Ghosteen”
The Genre: Hip-Hop
The Artist: J. Dilla, the dearly departed Detroit DJ and producer behind legendary tracks for Common, The Pharcyde, and De La Soul.
The Album: “Donuts,” a masterful mosaic of turntablism blending sampled soul classics, catchy jingles, drum-driven beats, and heroic rap boasts.
Additional Recommendations: MF Doom’s “Special Herbs” Vol. 0-9, DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing,” Digable Planet’s “Reachin’,” Chester Watson’s “Past Cloaks,” Brand New Heavies’ Vol. 1
The Genre: Country/Bluegrass
The Artist: William Tyler, a Nashville guitarist and songwriter who often keeps things strictly instrumental.
The Album: “Modern Country,” a diverse pastiche of structured, vocal-less tunes played gorgeously with Tyler on lead guitar. It was named one of Rolling Stone’s Top Country Albums of 2016 .
Additional Recommendations: Gillian Welch’s “Hell Among the Yearlings,” Uncle Tupelo’s “March 16-20,” Jim James’ “Acoustic Citsuoca,” Ben Nichols’ “The Last Pale Light In the West,” Garcia-Grisman’s “Garcia/Grisman”
The Genre: R&B
The Artist: Sade, the elusive British-Nigerian chanteuse with the sensual floating voice
The Album: “Lover’s Rock,” a spacious, sultry rumination on love and heartbreak. Still considered the 80’s phenomenon’s “new album,” even though it came out in 2000.
Additional Recommendations: Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” D’Angelo’s “Voodoo,” Maxwell’s “Urban Hang Suite,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”
The Genre: Jazz
The Artist: Miles Davis, the legendary trumpet player-provocateur who pressed the boundaries of jazz music through several decades.
The Album: “Sketches of Spain,” in which Miles laces Iberian strains into a beautiful brooding classic centered around his plaintive trumpet.
Additional Recommendations: “Hamp & Getz,” John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” Mile Davis’ “In A Silent Way”
The Genre: Ambient
The Artist: Brian Eno, the genre’s godfather who many know best for his production work with U2 and David Bowie.
The Album: “Ambient 1: Music For Airports,” a masterwork of layered loops, minimalist beeps and boops, celestial vocals, and sporadically lush arrangements that (fortunately) sounds more like you’re at a spa than stuck in Terminal 4.
The Genre: Classical
The Artist: Beethoven. Hopefully, you’ve heard of him.
The Album: Symphony No. 6. While his 9th may be the most iconic, this ode to country life is likely his most peaceful. At least until its finale. Either way, it’s stirring and beautiful.
Additional Recommendations: In a genre so full of sterling examples of beautiful, moving, and mellow music, it’s hard to choose just one. We frequently veer from Debussy to Ravel to Rachmaninoff to Saint-Saëns to Brahms on enraptured whims, but tend to stick to online classical radio stations .For Spotify users, we suggest the “Study: Classical Concentration” playlist, while other music apps all have a surfeit of albums providing the most focus-friendly classical compositions, from “In Bed with Bach” to catching “Z’s with Zimmerman.” Okay, we made those up, but you get the point.
The Genre: International
The Artist: Augustus Pablo, the Jamaican youth who captivated reggae fans with sparse production, echo effects, and a toy melodica.
The Album: “East of the River Nile,” a traveling soundscape of deep bass, mournful chords, and fleeting, textured sound-effects.
Additional Recommendations: Bebel Gilberto’s “Tanto Tempo,” The Mission Soundtrack, Claude Fontaine’s self-titled album, Mercedes Sosa’s “En Argentina,” Amalia Rodrigues’ “The Queen of Fado,” Putomayo’s “Acoustic Brazil,” “The Rough Guide to Cape Verde”