Music To Grade To
September 25, 2020 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend some instrumental, groovy, non-intrusive music so I can focus on grading all these damn papers.

I spend a lot of time grading papers in my home office. To do this with maximum focus, I need to listen to INSTRUMENTAL music while I work. I have some great go-to Spotify playlists for this purpose, but they're getting a bit old, and I could use some new ones.

My grading music needs to be:
- Instrumental: words distract me from reading;
- Good: no shitty, phoned-in, Muzak-style stuff;
- Groovy: not so I can dance to it, but so the rhythm can help me focus on my (often tedious) work.

Here are the playlists that do work for me, but that are getting a little tired to my ears:
- Hindustani Instrumental: I LOVE THE DRONE
- Instrumental Psychedelic Stoner Rock: This has been my mainstay, and I've discovered some terrific music by it (My Sleeping Karma and The Egocentrics are particular favorites). I would love more in this vein.
- Instrumental Stoner Rock: A similar but shorter playlist with some overlap with the above.
- Dub/Ska/Instrumental Reggae: One of my favorite genres, and full of fat, spacy grooves.

I'm open to all genres; the above are just examples. My musical taste is pretty broad. I'm open to classical, ambient, anything drone-y, so long as it satisfies my criteria above.

I would like to keep this to Spotify (specific bands, albums and/or playlists), pleaseandthankyou!
posted by Dr. Wu to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
Bang on a Can's rendition of Brian Eno's Music for Airports is my go-to. It's just shy of 50 minutes, so when it's over, it's time to get up and go outside and look at trees and birbs and tell my pupper she's the best girl.
posted by Caxton1476 at 10:38 AM on September 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you haven't yet heard Peter Gabriel's album Passion give it a listen. It's sort-of the soundtrack he did for Last Temptation of Christ ("sort-of" because Peter likes to tinker with things, and what is on the album is a bit different than what's in the film); there are some vocal elements, but it's all "aaaaaaaahhhhhh" or "ooooooooohhhhhhh" or some non-English chanting (often Peter-Gabriel gibberish) as opposed to recognizeable English words.

Recommending because you say you "love the drone" in the Hindustani instrumental, and Peter has said that when working on the Last Temptation soundtrack that his motto was "when in doubt, drone".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 AM on September 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Also this looped version of "Stone in Focus" by Aphex Twin, while not super-groovy, is the epitome of drone-y. Bonus: the static image in the linked video. I always imagine I'm on a slowly drifting ship, and contemplating that mass of Antarctic rock - "no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end" - is somehow reassuring.
posted by Caxton1476 at 10:43 AM on September 25, 2020

Shigeo Sekito Special sounds 1, 2, 3 and 4. These skirt your requirement for muzak style stuff; this might not gel with you....some folks I know describe it as easy listening muzak kind of thing, but honestly, with a pair of good headphones specifically, I find these to be pretty fantastic.

If you're okay with bleeps, bloops and heavy moog action, Mort Garson's Plantasia and Ataraxia are...oh god, pheneomenal.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:43 AM on September 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Some of these I know of, some of these I know but hadn't thought about in a long time (e.g., Passion), and some I'm already looking forward to: I love a Moog! Please keep 'em coming!
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:45 AM on September 25, 2020

I listen to a lot of Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko (youtube albums 1, 2).

You might also like Flow State, which shares about 2 hours of "focus music" running the gamut from electronic to jazz to "world music" to classical to film sound tracks. They provide spotify links as well as other ways to listen. You can subscribe to the substack and get it e-mailed to you daily; for a paid subscription you also get a Tuesday playlist made up of individual tracks and suggestions from other subscribers.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:51 AM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I always suggest post rock for this. I would suggest Tides from Nebula, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, If These Trees Could Talk, Jakob, This Will Destroy You, 65daysofstatic, Caspian, and Mono. Here is a link to a previous comment of mine, with links. Am I allowed to post a link to my Spotify playlist, or does that count as self linking?
posted by sacrifix at 10:52 AM on September 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Tortoise. Youtube has some live sets.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:58 AM on September 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure how to get your links to work, but I'm bad at Spotify. Hopefully some of these hit the right note...

I watched the Manhunt: Unabomber miniseries several weeks ago and I can't even guess how many times I've listened to the soundtrack (score?) since then. That's a youtube link, I wasn't able to find it in Spotify when I searched a while back. I also, entirely unrelated despite the titles, have loved the soundtrack to the movie Manhunter for years, so much I asked my own question about it. Now, that one has vocals in it--I don't find them distracting/obtrusive, but if you like the sound but not the vocals, my old ask has a lot of great recs in it that have no vocals.

I also really like the score to the movie Moon.
posted by phunniemee at 10:59 AM on September 25, 2020

There's also so, so much great live classic jazz on youtube.
Maybe start with Brubeck.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:01 AM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think you are really going to dig Khruangbin.. only their most recent (2020) album has vocals and they're not really vocals as much as another instrument. Prior albums were almost completely instrumental.
posted by some chick at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2020 [8 favorites]

This is orthogonal to what you asked for, but it works for me - Mozart. He’s got rhythm, if you steer clear of his operas, there’s no words, and I find something about his music invites focus.
posted by dbmcd at 11:09 AM on September 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack is one I use a lot for coding; it's got good propulsive beats but in a background-y sort of way. One or two of the tracks has some Jeff Bridges narration, but the rest is entirely instrumental.

Lena Jonsson and Brittany Haas have an album of Scandanavian/Celtic fiddle duets that is propulsive and great working music.

Tinariwen are a bunch of Tuareg musicians from Mali who play great drone-y North African guitar music it sounds like you might also like.
posted by lhputtgrass at 11:09 AM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

My go-to for this is ambient dub / dub techno / minimal techno. You might search for playlists with those terms. Here are some specific suggestions:

Variant's Vortexual series - here's Element Three

Deepchord Presents Echospace - The Coldest Season

Todos' The Kilchurn Sessions

Bill Laswell's Sacred Dub podcast

Also, you might want to sign up for the Flow State newsletter - recommendations for instrumental/ambient music every weekday.
posted by googly at 11:10 AM on September 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: oooh, good stuff here. I'd forgotten about Tinariwen - great suggestion. And I'm keen to give some of these soundtracks a listen - hadn't thought of that angle.

@sacrifix: post it, please!
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:16 AM on September 25, 2020

Response by poster: Huh, my Spotify links don't even work for me. Dunno what happened - sorry. Here they are again:

- Hindustani Instrumental
- Instrumental Psychedelic Stoner Rock
- Instrumental Stoner Rock
- Dub/Ska/Instrumental Reggae
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:21 AM on September 25, 2020

Jinx, came for Tron Legacy - Soundtrack OST - 01 Overture - Daft Punk. Same caveat that a few of the track have some sampled dialog from the movie but even that's not very lyrical. I used to put this on repeat in the morning and code for hours.... good beats.

I also love Underworld - Rez (or the Rez/Cowgirl). The Cowgirl bit has some words going on but they're more of a drone beat than lyrics.

You might want to search up on Music for Programming / Coding as a bunch of that tends to be just the right beats and no/little in the way of lyrics. Once you find your BPM you're set.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:23 AM on September 25, 2020

Came here to say Khruangbin, their stuff is fabulous for working to.

I also really enjoy Darkwave/Synthwave like Mega Drive, Dance with the Dead, this Spotify playlist, and the Stranger Things soundtracks in general. (Note, some Mega Drive stuff is more dynamic than others, and some has spoken interstitials that might be distracting -- depends on the release.)

The Art of Noise is also largely instrumental. Their (Who's Afraid Of) The Art of Noise? album is one of my work go-tos.

Also mentioned by googly - Bill Laswell has some great groovy albums that are instrumental and great to work to. His work with Material, for example, is great to groove to. He's also played on / produced a ton of stuff that's really good, groovy, trancy and fun to work with in the background. Rhythmagick by Aïyb Dieng is a good one.

Also really loved Bernie Worrell's Elevation (The Upper Air), which was produced by Bill Laswell.
posted by jzb at 11:26 AM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been enjoying this Deep Focus spotify playlist lately.
posted by hydra77 at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2020

Grant Green is pretty good in this department. Feelin' the Spirit is a good place to start. All of his stuff is completely instrumental, and really good.

Kayhan Kalhor
might be up your alley if you haven't already checked him out (again, all instrumental). I went down a rabbit hole of his stuff a while back and did a post about his music.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:45 AM on September 25, 2020

Here's the link to my post rock playlist: insufficient
posted by sacrifix at 12:08 PM on September 25, 2020

Check out Pantha du Prince
posted by gnutron at 12:13 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding Khruangbin. Come in specifically to mention them.
posted by tayknight at 1:13 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Serein is a great label with a lot of chill music that I listen to while I write. Some quick recommendations from their catalog:

Nest - Retold
Imprints - Data Trails
Brambles - Charcoal (I'm listening to this now)
The Balustrade Ensemble - Capsules & Renewed Brilliance

Eluvium's very droney - Talk Amongst the Trees is a great intro.

Balmorea is a bit more on the chamber music side.

Hammock is great, on the shimmery side. Lots of albums to choose from.

I'll be monitoring this thread closely! I think we have similar needs and taste.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:15 PM on September 25, 2020

my partner is a professor and his go-to grading music is anything Bach wrote for the harpsichord-- concerti, sonatas, suites, the Well-Tempered Klavier-- it's quiet and pleasant and can be ignored.

"...and there's no dynamic range," he adds.
posted by hollisimo at 1:17 PM on September 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

You might like Buerismo by Copper Age. Kind of stoner/doom metal, the whole album is over an hour long and lopes along nicely, no vocals.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 2:22 PM on September 25, 2020

I wrote an entire project listening to Propellerheads' decksanddrumsandrockandroll on repeat.
posted by mookoz at 2:24 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Totally listening to Coltrane and thinking "you could absolutely grade papers to this"
posted by Tardis_Spin at 2:30 PM on September 25, 2020

I agree with sacrifix's recommendation for post-rock (and the playlist he linked to is stellar). Eno's also good. I really like ChilledCow's lofi playlists to groove to while doing work, though I feel like something's missing without the girl forever writing while the day slowly passes outside her window.
posted by xenization at 2:51 PM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

I really liked an instrumental duo from Portugal called Dead Combo, Particularly their first album, Vol I.
posted by vunder at 3:05 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding “Chilled Cow” lofi hip hop.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:14 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm very grateful for all these recommendations! Thank you.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:45 PM on September 25, 2020

Sigur Ros has vocals, but they're falsetto Icelandic gibberish. Some of the songs can be...intense.
posted by notsnot at 4:20 PM on September 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

SomaFM Mission Control
ambient with filtered space voices...
do you copy?
posted by ovvl at 4:59 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

My go-to grading/writing music when I really need to focus is the Bach cello suites. But, lately I've been listening to a lot of Fugiya & Miyagi and also Breakmaster Cylinder when working. (Most of the albums in both cases are pretty similar. Some of it has lyrics. But not important lyrics.) Looking forward to hearing some of the other suggestions here.
posted by eotvos at 8:13 PM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Kinda basic answer, but I've actually found Spotify's mood playlists to be pretty good. In the Focus category there's this post-rock one, which has similar goodness to the one sacrifix posted. This one (Brain Food) looks like it might have potential too. The category has everything from jazz to hiphop to piano.
posted by Pink Frost at 11:42 PM on September 25, 2020

Pilotpriest's Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Lyric-less electronic music with a background drone that's always evolving. I put this on when I have a serious stack of lab reports to crunch through.

Also nthing Khruangbin and ChilledCow lofi hip hop as I have literally queued them up on YouTube in the last week so I could focus on grading!
posted by bones to dark emeralds at 1:21 AM on September 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Calm Before The Storm playlist is beautiful post rock, featuring a number of the band that sacrifix mentioned. It's my go to for deep work.
posted by cholly at 3:47 AM on September 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm late to the party, and I know you said Spotify, but I was *really* excited to discover 'Dr. Dick's Dub Shack' earlier this year. They've been broadcasting 24/7 since 1998, with no talking, no ads, and constantly updated mixes.

I actually spent a little effort trying to find Dr. Dick, and he responded but was somewhat circumspect.

posted by jpziller at 6:41 AM on September 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Beastie Boys have an album of instrumental funk album that you may really like.
posted by jeoc at 5:31 PM on September 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

The Bad Plus.
posted by markbrendanawitzmissesus at 1:40 AM on September 27, 2020

Jonsi and Alex - Riceboy Sleeps
posted by legendarygirlfriend at 8:27 AM on September 27, 2020

I might suggest Rachel's (here, on Spotify) or A Winged Victory for the Sullen.
posted by the sobsister at 9:22 AM on September 27, 2020

* Gabor Szabo - Dreams
* Ludovico Einaudi - In a Time Lapse (might be better thinking music rather than grinding through grading music)
* Mick Gordon - DOOM (2016) soundtrack . Occasionally a few words (e.g. silly doom narration) but mostly great industrial metal.
* Godspeed You! Black Emperor albums - e.g. Yanqui UXO
* Russian Circles albums - Guidance, Station
* We Lost The Sea - Departure Songs . Their earlier work isn't instrumental and won't fit.
posted by are-coral-made at 2:15 PM on September 27, 2020

I really like Emancipator for this. Albums:
Dusk to Dawn
Safe in the Steep Cliffs
Seven Seas
Mountains of Memory
Soon It Will Be Cold Enough
posted by Lexica at 4:32 PM on September 28, 2020

three Bandcamp pages I've recently bookmarked:

Cluster Official
original Krautrock space explorers -- seems to include all of their albums

"it's somehow like an aural underwater snowstorm"

Dub Syndicate
sixteen releases going back to the early 1980s

and seriously, Bandcamp is my preferred option. Everything's streamable but with an easy option to purchase albums (download or hard copy assuming availability) or just individual tracks (download) ... with artists getting a very fair share of the proceeds.
posted by philip-random at 5:12 PM on September 28, 2020

Response by poster: OMFG I love Mega Drive. How did I live without this?
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:03 PM on September 30, 2020

I like the chill hop playlist on Spotify. My cooler daughter says there are better Chill Hop playlists on Youtube. I also like the hip hop classic Donuts by J Dilla
posted by mecran01 at 6:54 PM on September 30, 2020

I love the Cinematic Orchestra for concentrating on work
posted by newz12 at 10:11 AM on October 2, 2020

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