Top Ten Revision Albums & Playlists

Laurie Wilcockson 17 May 2021
Image credit: Creative Commons

I’ve never liked revision, because I’ve got the attention span of an overenthusiastic puppy in a ball-pit, so exam season is easily my least favourite time of the year. When I do finally decide to revise, the only thing that can motivate me is good music in the background, so in honour of the encroaching exam period, and as part of my campaign of sustained procrastination against actually starting my revision, I have decided to put together a list of my favourite albums and playlists that I couldn’t live without.

10 – All the Little Lights, Passenger

Passenger was of course the one-hit-wonder behind Let Her Go who had a brief stint dominating the charts in 2013, and this is the album that that song originates from. Weirdly, Let Her Go is not the best track on the album, I would argue, by quite some margin. Staring at the Stars is the standout to me, but all the songs seem to flow into each other well enough that it’s quite hard to differentiate from one to another. Acoustic and gentle, both in voice and sound, it’s an easy album to listen to without too much difficulty.

9 – Our Earthly Pleasures, Maxïmo Park

Maximo Park are a fairly cult guitar band from the late 00s, and their sound is just arthouse enough to have kept them out of particularly wide recognition. This album is brilliantly slow and melancholy, aside from the iconic bangers Books from Boxes and Girls Who Play Guitar. Russian Literature is especially dreary and unexceptional, which I find perfect for revising. It doesn’t capture my interest and distract me, but it does provide a sound I enjoy just enough to keep me happy listening to it.

8 – The Stranger, Billy Joel–xg

The artist of love ballads and piano solos, Billy Joel is the grandmaster of emotive storytelling in music, and in my opinion Vienna is probably one of the best songs of all time. I would even venture to suggest that in terms of longevity and recognition, The Stranger might even be the best album of all time. And yet, it doesn’t destroy your focus. There’s something about piano music that is just an easy listen, at least to me. The only hesitation I have, when picking an album, is that sometimes it’s too easy to get invested the songs, and get lost in them – Vienna and Scenes From An Italian Restaurant especially.

7 – A Certain Shade of Blue, Two Day Coma

Two Day Coma’s debut album, A Certain Shade of Blue, is perfect for revision. There has always been the idea that music without lyrics works better for studying, and I think that’s true in terms of focus, but it’s more motivating to have music you just enjoy listening to. Certain Shade is an album that captures a brilliant equilibrium. Its songs don’t necessarily follow typical structures, and their most successful song to date, Shudder, seems to be built upon evolving just one line into an entire song. Coupled with the frontman’s soft and gentle voice, this makes the lyrics almost stop being words and become part of the backing music.

6 – Mozart Study, on Spotify

You can’t discuss study music without discussing Mozart as well, the two are almost synonymous. One has to wonder as to whether Mozart always wrote with revising teenagers in his mind, because he works so perfectly for it. Other top tier classical and baroque composers don’t have the same effect, I feel. Beethoven especially is impossible to help focus you. As someone with no understanding of classical music whatsoever, I would struggle to tell you why its so perfect, just that it is.

5 – London 0 Hull 4, The Housemartins

A classic album from the ‘80s, London 0 Hull 4 is jaunty, cheerful, and always exciting. Not necessarily a good prerequisite for revising given my last two recommendations, but I stand by it. I’ve always found the Housemartins to be the happier sounding, albeit less well remembered, younger sibling to the Smiths. Their music is gospel-like, with lyrics being a blend of socialistic politics and religious hymn. This aspect of it was leant into during production, with their songs having a certain amount of echo and choral backing vocals, turning this from a jangle-pop album into one that’s easy to play as background music while studying and not have it destroy the atmosphere. Fun fact, the drummer of the Housemartins, Norman Cook, went on to become Fatboy Slim.

4 – You Want it Darker, Leonard Cohen

Cohen’s final album, You Want it Darker, is perhaps his best. It’s certainly his most emotional, although that may mostly be because it was released only days before his death. It combines themes of love, regret, and a sense of contentedness, and exists as a series of monologues atop soft layers of organs, keyboards, drums, and clean-sounding guitars. The most significant track on the album, I would argue, is Leaving the Table, a track I discovered

from a Mitchell and Webb show, Back, of all places. A song about giving up, it really shouldn’t work as revision music, but if you like slow music and bass riffs, and overlook the theme of the song itself, it’s perfect.

3 – Debussy: Clair de Lune and Other Piano Favourites, on Spotify

Perhaps the one composer capable of outdoing even Mozart in terms of revision music is Charles Debussy. The founder of impressionism, his music is deliberately soft, and it is his solo piano pieces that makes him so gentle and easy to listen to. I always find it reminds me of the soundtrack to Up, which is always a positive, because that is without dispute the best soundtrack to a Disney film ever.

2 – The Queen’s Gambit Soundtrack, on Spotify

On the subject of soundtracks, the Queen’s Gambit last year gave us a remarkable one. You’re the One by the Vogues and Yeh, Yeh by Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames are my particular favourites. It’s old music, relatively simple, and has an air of nostalgia that’s quite remarkable given the vast majority of those who watched it weren’t even alive in the 50s or 60s to be nostalgic about it. It’s an easy listen without much need to pay attention to the lyrics, and because most of the artists are people that our generation won’t necessarily recognise, it’s easy to not get distracted by any of them.

1 – The Trick to Life (10th Anniversary Edition), The Hoosiers

If I had to pick my favourite albums of all time, I could reel off a list as long as my arm, and it’s a list that changes monthly. But the Hoosiers’ The Trick to Life will consistently rank near the top. The difficulty I then have with using it as revision music is that I find myself falling into the trap of listening to the lyrics rather than focusing on my work. That being said, the Hoosiers were kind enough to solve this issue for me, when in 2017 they released the tenth anniversary version of their classic album, which included a series of remixes, live versions, and most importantly for me, the entire album as instrumentals. With that, I do believe I’ve found the perfect revision album.