Studying, I argue, is the desperate endeavor to turn off the outside. Sitting at a desk for 12 hours requires endurance, diligence, bottomless coffee, and the ability to forget about everything that exists outside the walls of your immediate cubicle.
In practice, the ultimate “shutting down” of the exterior world is quite natural. Yet, when you hit the late hours of your studying—and suddenly find yourself theorizing about the trope of the mechanized wheel in Russian literature instead of learning the UCC—how do you effectively keep the outside out?
Many argue that we have two distinct systems for paying attention. The first is comprised of our immediate consciousness, or more colloquially, our focus. We can control our attention and direct it to our notes, our outlines, etc. The second, however, is an unconscious attention span that moves beneath our conscious thoughts. It is more basic, more instinctual, and functions inextricably with our emotional/neurochemical systems. For fear of going full-Freud, simply, the unconscious element of our attention system is what draws us temporarily from our notes. We check the weather, look at photos of our dogs, and wonder what exactly led us down this unwelcome discursive path.
Music can be a great way to distract yourself from your own distractions. In listening to music while studying, you stimulate the unconscious level of attention and constrain it. The walls of your world shrink almost to the very edges of your cubicle. While the scientific evidence on whether or not this actually is the case remains split, music may be an effective way to help you endure those late library nights.
Without further ado, I present the ultimate late-night outlining playlist. It will keep you motivated and focused, and hopefully prevent you from wondering about Russian wheels.
Forest of Gold—Mazde
You need something to keep your energy levels up. We’ve all been there.
Let 23-year old Germany-based “Mazde” endow you with some much-needed rhythmic vitality. Technically “future pop,” his delicately syncopated music relies on the synthesis of heavy bass and ephemeral melody. Relatively atmospheric in nature, Mazde will put you right back in the outlining mood.
Devil Eyes—Hippie Sabotage
Who doesn’t love a great duo of talented brothers? Kevin and Jeff Saurer have performed with Ellie Goulding and Tove Lo. Their honest, uncomplicated, and enduring sounds will help you get through all of the footnotes, assiduously.
Indie electronic. Described by Glide magazine as “heavy beat-driven improvisation[s]” that furnish “an atmosphere of excitement, energy and the unexpected,” Hot Chip’s music is wonderfully whimsical, witty, and perhaps a tad perplexing. If you need something a little zanier, Hot Chip will satiate you.
Doin’ It Right (feat. Panda Bear)—Daft Punk
Perhaps a relic of my time in high school. I contend that no day of studying is complete without a little Daft Punk. On the more effortless and melodic side of Daft Punk’s collection, “Doin’ It Right” is abundantly tedious in the best way.
London-based Alexander Kotz creates (self-proclaimed) “zero-gravity atmospheres.” While I’m not entirely sure what that means, it is hard not to appreciate the elegant beats and drone-like quality of his music. His songs—for lack of a better word—rumble.
Can’t Do Without You—Caribou
As one of the more eclectic musicians of our time, Caribou (or Manitoba, or Daphni) has amassed quite a few accolades. More recently, he received his doctorate in mathematics. His music, verging on dream pop, will sweep you away with fanciful refrains.
As a cheerful amalgamation of alternative R&B, “funktronica,” and “neo soul,” Nao makes the weather outside seem a little less dreary. Having previously worked with Disclosure and Mura Masa, she makes music that is the perfect 9:00 p.m. studying elixir.
Known both as an individual DJ and a member of the better-known “The xx,” Jamie Smith produces bass-heavy, euphonious works that are both relaxing and motivating. His music has been described as “post-dubstep,” which—if a reference to post-structuralism—highlights his dependence on multifaceted melodies and conflicting thematic lines (more from Jamie xx later).
Let It Happen—Tame Impala
While I’m not usually one for the lyric-driven track while studying, I make an exception for Tame Impala. The upbeat synthetic quality of the recording counters the libretto to maintain the more pointed nature of the melody.
Pitch Black (feat. Lissa)—Mazde
See “Forest of Gold,” above.
Cough Syrup—Young the Giant
Let Sameer Gadhia’s dulcet voice carry you through any (and all) moments of self-doubt. At the intersection of alternative rock and indie pop, Young the Giant will give you the energy you need to finish that last interminable chapter.
Black Mambo—Glass Animals
On the calmer side of this playlist, “Black Mambo” has a tranquilizing effect on the listener. You’ll find yourself nodding your head in the midst of the library stacks—an action much preferable to nodding off.
Beautiful Escape (feat. Zak Abel)—Tom Misch
Twenty-two-year-old Tom Misch began playing violin when he was five. When he was nine, he was playing guitar. By 11, he was mixing his own compositions. Contemporary Mozart? I think…anything is possible. Misch’s upbeat and positive synths will keep you focused on your ultimate studying goals.
Lana del Dre—Tep No
A Toronto-based music group inspired by “the warm weather.” I’ll take it.
Sleepless in NYC—Autograf
“There’s nothing left to hold / And the night is all I know.” As we can all identify with being “sleepless in New York City,” this track comes as a much-welcome companion.
If you study while listening to white noise, then Bondax is for you. With tumbling beats woven into the sounds of the ocean, the street, and the world beyond the library, Bondax creates textured, cerebral tracks.
I also posit “Hush” by Tourist. These two songs go effortlessly together and are both unconventional, original, and radiant.
Loud Places (feat. Romy)—Jamie xx
If you need a hug, this one is for you.
Yet another young, rising star, SG Lewis has played before the likes of Timberlake and Pharrell, and—more recently—alongside Disclosure in Ibiza. His songs are deeply emotional and rely on a complicated melodic dialogue between vocal tracks and beats to create a truly unique sound.
Young Rich and Radical—Club Cheval
It’s getting late and melodies are no longer cutting it. Club Cheval, a French music collective, coalesces the familiar beats of house with the vivid harmonies of R&B.
Shiho & Kyoko—Les Gordon
An unusually brilliant and eclectic song for your walk home from the library.
Happy studying, and happy listening!