18 Songs for a Laid-Back Smoke Session

The legendary John Prine.
The legendary John Prine. Danny Clinch
Another 4/20 season has arrived. It seems fairly obvious what this "holiday" is about, but there's something more still here. It's ultimately about celebrating something more communal and elemental than, say, bong rips or dabs. Regardless of why you'd participate, maybe you need a specific kind of experience, and a few hours to cut through the stress and rigors of the year. And who could blame you — it's only mid-April and we've already had the Russian invasion of Ukraine, year three of COVID, and economic woes galore.

So, to enhance your smoke session, we've assembled a truly laid-back playlist. There are a lot of familiar or not-so-direct cuts, with everything from experimental jazz to weird ambient and angsty folk-rock. But all of these songs share one essential thread: they'll turn things off for a while and let you wade through some sweet sonic serenity. Happy 4/20, everyone!

John Prine, "Sam Stone"

The legendary John Prine has a voice that can break your heart and stir the spirit — often in the very same note. With this 1971 classic, though, Prine manages to present a gritty country ballad with deeply inspired harmonies and some understated but nonetheless genius guitar playing. The end result just might sway you into peace, or firmly into that pocket of profound emotional and joyous expression of basic humanity where all Prine songs seem to exist and flourish.
Cobra & Vulture, "Tornado Warning"

Sure, the very idea of storms often carries with it terrifying notions of destruction and purging. But pair that imagery with the jangly instrumentation and sickeningly sweet harmonies of this Montreal collective, and the warnings feel infinitely more uplifting. It's a very singular instance where the subject matter may get lost in the haze, but it's the sounds and their interplay that will tickle the brain, uplift the heart, and slap a smile on your otherwise mostly vacant face.
Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"

This is perhaps the most powerful song ever recorded. (At least if you ask this particular writer.) Something about McFerrin’s robust harmonizing, the fact that he played every "instrument" with his mouth, or the indelible image of Robin Williams in the music video — you can’t help but feel an instant sense of joy when this song comes on. It’s the sonic equivalent of laughing as the world plots against you, and its joy transcends all the noise and madness to infect your very soul.
KAINA, "Anybody Can Be In Love"

The marriage of pop and R&B is nothing new, but few other artists approach the blending process like KAINA. The Chicago singer-songwriter's latest feat, from the excellent It Was A Home record, lays down some chunky grooves and psychedelic vibes to spin some fresh magic into an otherwise uplifting ballad of love’s true powers. But it’s KAINA’s gorgeous harmonies that cut through it all, and that voice can supercharge even the most stoic of hearts.
L’Orange, "OK Not Perfect"

As a general rule, weird vocal samples talking about the arduous nature of daily existence aren't inherently soothing. But this North Carolina DJ-producer suddenly switches things up into some deeply affective horn samples, and all of a sudden you're melting into the couch with a perma-grin. But if you're able to listen more intently somehow, there's some great production here, which ultimately just adds to the experience of being carried away to the fourth dimension of peace.

No one would ever accuse this English rock band of ever being peaceful. (Or, like, quiet and reserved.) But the opening track to 2021's Crawler is actually somewhat sentimental and gentle. If you can cut through some of the more menacing tidbits — the song plays a little like a warning alarm from a space frigate in the 23rd century — you will find an inspired performance from frontman Joe Talbot. And when he's not yelling his bloody head off, Talbot is a source of robust beauty and focus.
Mirah, "Murphy Bed"

Is this a flirty song? Yeah, it talks about wanting to spend some, um, personal time with someone on a Murphy bed. (And if you can generate naughty thoughts about a Murphy bed, you know you're mostly hard up.) But put all that sensuality aside, and what you're left with is a powerful performance from Mirah, one where she uses her playful vocals and that swirling, semi-psychedelic guitar to lull you into pure tranquility. And, on the upside, you won't actually have to sleep on a Murphy bed tonight.
Loscil, "Persistent"

Vancouver's Scott Morgan tends to have a decidedly cinematic quality to his music released as Loscil. (That explains why he often runs an array of audiovisual events and projects.) In the case of "Persistent," it's the soundtrack to either flower petals floating on a summer breeze; a couple sailing into the tropical sunset; or some weird robot hurdling into deep space. Either way, the sense of calm and peace practically roll off every note of this profound little electronic ballad.
Mount Kimbie, "Audition"

There are some real challenging pockets of this understated song from this top-notch English production duo. But if you can weave your way around, say, the thudding drums or the serpent-like guitar, there are moments of pure peace to be found. In fact, there are some prolonged periods here where the heavens practically open up and reveal the rhythms of pure love and happiness. All the work to get there could be a larger metaphor for life, but who has the time for all that deep meditation?
Shana Cleveland, "Face of the Sun"

Shana Cleveland's work as the frontwoman of La Luz often involves a lot of '60s-leaning pop and rock. But her solo catalog, perhaps as represented by "Face of the Sun," has a more swirling, psychedelic quality overall. Could this song be used for channeling some long-gone spirits? Maybe. But it could also peel away the very walls of your reality and leave you in a warm embryo of unfettered serenity. Now that's a truly multifaceted talent if we've ever encountered one.
Paul Simon, "Long, Long Day"

Paul Simon makes music that's too weird to be folk and too folk to be experimental. But with this early ‘80s gem, he seems to do away with some of his usual nuance and trickery for a song that very much feels like a direct ballad. But don't be fooled too much — Simon manages a true feat with a song that feels like both a playful little ditty as well as an ode to the winding journey that is life and its many obstacles. It's both that easy and yet so much more nuanced and compelling.
Sampha, "(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano"

Unlike other songs on this list that are distracting for being overly busy, this is a bare-bones piano ballad. But that doesn't mean it's at all boring, and Sampha can use anything to set the mood for a gorgeous performance that is filled with equal parts love, sentimentality, and a dash or two of bitter feelings. It's quite the potent combination, and the final result will slowly dissolve away all of your thought processes and wrap you in a blanket of sweet, sweet emotions.
Tim Kinsella, "The Crossing Guard"

Maybe the main piano part here is a tad bit overwhelming. And you could also make an argument that talk of arm-less crossing guards could prove to be mostly disconcerting. But this weird little ballad — complete with backup vocals from Angel Olsen — is a decidedly silly affair. It's sort of like eating a giant bowl of cereal and watching weird Saturday morning cartoons from Europe. It takes a little more effort to consume, sure, but it'll still leave you feeling warm and hugely entertained.
Bartees Strange, "Fallen For You"

This D.C.-based singer-songwriter does a lot of things very well on his debut album, 2020's excellent Live Forever. But when he strips away some of the hip-hop vibes, the big moments of rock noise, and even some of his more playful tendencies, he can really sing to your very heart. "Fallen for You" is a prime example, and he moves effortlessly from making you sway lightly to all but drilling you into the ground with his sense of universal love. It's the very best kind of full-body experience.
Snail Mail, "Pristine"

Lindsey Jordan (a.k.a. Snail Mail) has a rather multifaceted voice. It's not powerful in a traditional sense, but it does have the splendid ability to lull you one moment and then devastate the next. That's why "Pristine" is such a great song for this playlist: you can really ride the emotional currents, and feel all the highs and their accompanying lows like you're playing some weird mental video game. Don't fret, though; it's actually less intense and far more soothing of a prospect than you might expect. Nina Simone, "Four Women"

There's nothing about the majority of Nina Simone's rich catalog that you could describe as "light" or "easygoing" (at least in any direct sort of way). But as she proves with "Four Women," that's mostly a good thing. Because underneath the socio-political context, which you should absolutely pay attention to any other time, her beguiling voice and piano mastery can transport you to another place entirely. What you do once you're in this fresh dimension, of course, is entirely up to you.
Belorusia, "Oneiro"

On the one hand, including more ambient in a playlist about chilling out and slowing down time seems like cheating. But on the other hand, this song is absolutely effective at that mission statement. The last 90-ish seconds of its five-minute runtime, especially, are super effective, as you can practically hear and feel every note slowly dissolve. Like nachos for snack time, if it ain't broke, then don't bother ever trying to fix it.
A. Savage, "Ladies from Houston"

Andrew Savage, frontman of punk-ish provocateurs Parquet Courts, doesn't get nearly enough credit for his awesome solo album, 2017's Thawing Dawn. Case in point: in an album of some truly stellar tracks, this standout is a powerful ballad of alt-country as if written by Cormac McCarthy. And none of that slow, sprawling narrative actually gets in the way. If anything, the song is sort of like being absorbed by a really good AMC drama, and being lost is somehow the most compelling experience ever.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan