Hit the books with our newest playlist, which is packed with chill back-to-school beats for focus & concentration. Features Tycho, Japanese Breakfast and more.
As the last days of summer come to a close, it’s time to swap out the beach reads and sunglasses for textbooks and blue light filter lenses.
School is back in session, which means it’s time to hunker down and hit the books. Luckily, studying doesn’t need to be a slog. In the same way that summer playlists enhance road trips and late night hangs, music is a great way to get in the zone for a marathon study sesh. In fact, studies have found that listening to music while doing homework or studying can improve your mood, keep you focused and even help you retain information.
Chill, mid-tempo music is great for concentration, so our Focus & Concentration playlist is all about the instrumental grooves and laid-back vibes. There will not be a test—at least not from us, anyway.
Grab your study snack of choice and hit play to get your study on.
Psalm Trees – “Fever”
This dreamy track is featured on the “1 AM Study Session” compilation curated by the one and only Lofi Girl (aka Chilled Cow), the YouTube channel of choice for millions of homework sessions. In other words, this song is a certified study jam according to the leading authority in study jams. Can’t argue with that!
With the sound of rain behind a crisp drum loop and swaying harps, this track is a nice way to get settled in, find your ideal headspace and ease into work mode.
Air – “La femme d’argent”
Perhaps best known for soundtracking the misty melancholy of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, French electronic duo Air first displayed their downbeat, retro sound on their 1998 debut Moon Safari to much acclaim. “La femme d’argent” particularly exemplifies Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel’s knack for combining the electronica, funk and obscure Italian film scores into infectious, ethereal pop jams.
The track’s groovy bassline, throwback stingers and chunky suitcase piano solos gradually give way to reverby synths and glitchy soundscapes, invoking the feeling of a James Bond movie that takes place in space (which yes, is a movie that exists and one you should watch after studying).
Sven Libaek – “Music for Eels”
From a track inspired by vintage film and TV scores, we go to an actual vintage TV score by Norwegian-Australian composer Sven Libaek. The 1973 Australian documentary Inner Space is an up-close look into the hidden lives of the ocean’s inhabitants, and so Libaek delivers a buoyant and playful collection of songs inspired by various aquatic creatures.
Fittingly, “Music for Eels” is a slinky, mischievous tune that’s perfect for a steady swim through a coral reef or cave. Water metaphors aside, the song also includes all of the irresistible trappings from a 1970s bop: wah-wah guitars, a lead vibraphone melody and a tasteful flute solo to bring it all together.
Japanese Breakfast – “The Ewer (Night)”
We’ve already established that your studying soundtrack can improve your focus and your grades. Video game scores are just as important to the overall player experience. It would simply feel incomplete to explore the land of Hyrule or hop through the Mushroom Kingdom without their respective themes in the background.
Today, modern games have gone well beyond the days of chiptune to utilize immersive cinematic scores that set the tone of their unique worlds. For 2021’s Sable, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast crafted a set of spacious, wistful synth pop that felt right at home in the game’s sci-fi-influenced desert world.
This nighttime track for the Ewer region––the protagonist’s home and the area where you start your journey––accomplishes what every “beginning area” song should: welcomes you into the world and hints at the many adventures that await you. Whether that adventure is exploring the ruined desert planet of Midden or the depths of your macroeconomics textbook, this song will help you refocus and turn your mind to what’s next.
Tycho – “Awake”
A late-night study session isn’t complete without occasionally spacing out and realizing you’ve read the same sentence for 10 minutes and already forgot what it said.
When sleep isn’t an option until the work is done, “Awake” by Tycho can help you do just that (along with the largest cup of coffee you can find). The track’s massive drums, urgent bassline and intricate guitar layers create an unshakable, driving beat that pumps you up and keeps you going until the night is done.
NEU! — “Hallogallo”
Featuring the first recording of the famous “motorik” drumbeat, “Hallogallo” by the German krautrock band NEU! set the tempo for punk, electronica and an entire metric ton of “chill beats for studying” playlists.
Drummer Klaus Dinger debuted the iconic 4/4 rhythm on NEU!’s 1972 debut. Dinger and guitarist Michael Rother split from electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk in 1971, taking their music in a less robotic direction on their first album, Neu!
On “Hallogallo”—German slang for “wild partying”—the multi-instrumentalist duo layer droning reversed ambient guitars and groovy wah-wah chucks with a steady beat that refuses to quit, putting you in the zone for ten solid minutes of uninterrupted study time.
Aphex Twin — “Ageispolis”
“The cat ate your homework, Mr. James?”
Strange but true, Richard D. James’ cat nearly gnawed its way through the cassette tape containing the masters of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92, almost knocking ambient techno off the table of musical history forever.
Fortunately for those of us pulling an all-nighter to knock out a few last-minute assignments, “Ageispolis” survived what we imagine was an extremely cute feline confrontation to grace our earbuds with James’ lo-fi ambient techno beats.
While developing his ambient sound, James studied engineering at England’s Cornwall College, where he earned his National Diploma before briefly studying electronics at Kingston Polytechnic in London.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith — “Mt Baker”
On the soothing “Mt Baker” from her 2021 EP @0 EP1, composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith focuses her studies around the Buchla modular synthesizer, California’s answer to the Moog synthesizer and the voice of the so-called “west coast” school of electronic music.
While later designs included a traditional piano-like keyboard, early Buchla instruments like Smith’s Buchla 100 and Buchla Music Easel use touch- and pressure-sensitive interfaces for a natural, more organic playing experience.
As such, music made with the Buchla synthesizer tends to feature more experimental textures compared to the Moog, made famous by artists like Wendy Carlos, Stevie Wonder and Tangerine Dream.
Boards of Canada — “Roygbiv”
Comparing Boards of Canada’s 1998 debut album Music Has the Right to Children to the Velvet Underground, Miles Davis’ electric Bitches Brew and Slint’s post-rock epic Spiderland, Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson writes, “Sometimes an album is so good and makes its case so flawlessly that it spawns a mini-genre of its own.”
On “Roygbiv,” brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin form a brain trust of summa cum laude stature, putting their heads together on a vibing track with elements of trip hop, ambient techno and psychedelia.
Arzachel — “Queen St. Gang (Soul Thing)”
Arzachel’s 1969 self-titled album was their first and only record––mainly because the band didn’t exist—at least not by the under which the album was recorded. Recorded in a single day by a group of college friends who primarily performed as the prog-rock band Uriel, the album featured fake names and bios for the band members and was released with no promotion involved.
For one reason or another, the album was saved from obscurity by underground vinyl collectors, and the album achieved cult status before finally getting a CD release in 1994.
While the whole album is a fascinating artifact of 60s underground psychedelia, “Queen St. Gang” particularly stands out as remarkably en vogue. This fuzzy slow jam achieved the lo-fi, indie-soul sound a la Standing on the Corner or the Menahan Street Band well before either of those groups (or genres) existed. One can only hope to hold up that well at 53 years old.
Brian Eno — “An Ending (Ascent)”
Finished hitting the books? If so, congrats! Celebrate with a cool-down song as you pack up, unclench your jaw and transition out of work mode, courtesy of ambient legend Brian Eno.
A heavenly track off of 1983’s Apollo, “An Ending (Ascent)” is especially comforting after a long day of work, welcoming you into a landscape of gentle drones and cascading harmonies. It’s the sonic equivalent of a light at the end of a tunnel, which in this case probably leads to your bed.