Favourite music of 2020

I've listened to a lot of music this year, but very little of it was released in 2020. Partly that's down to lockdown leading me to seek out the kind of introverted favourites I listened to as a teenager (Belle & Sebastian, The Sundays, a lot of R.E.M. thanks to this excellent podcast surveying their career). 2020 was a difficult year, as it has been for a lot of people, and I needed the familiar as a source of comfort and solace. Perhaps when things brighten up the urge to investigate the new will return. 

All of that dovetailed nicely with a playlist I was building of canonical pop songs for my baby daughter (Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Nick Drake, Motown), which for selfish reasons I preferred to singing nursery rhymes. That gradually morphed into a giant collection of things daddy likes, from Erik Satie to Aphex Twin to the mellowest jungle and grime I could find. The initial intention to familiarise her with the classics has been diluted somewhat, and she may not thank me for it. But then again maybe she will. I'm looking forward to finding out. 

A lot of the new music I've investigated this year has been on the ambient electronic side of things – stuff that comfortably slots into the background while working from home. I've listed them below, but first a short run down of 2020 songs that have managed to float above the melange of chill beats and old favourites.

Favourite songs:

5. Low End Activist feat. Flow Dan - Game Theory

Impossible for me not to fall for Flow Dan over a beat that harkens back to the earliest days of grime and dubstep, when the two genres were still somewhat indistinct from each other as they emerged out of UK garage. There's plenty of menacing low end business here, but it's elevated by the swing of the drums – encouraging a bit of a skip to Flow Dan's bars, which is a welcome change of pace for him. A great tune in a year where I haven't come across many.

4. Phoebe Bridgers - Kyoto

Not enamoured of the album as a whole, which melted into the background for me and not in a good way. This single is one of its more upbeat moments, where the soaring chorus provides a bit of contrast to the sullen and slighly dazed delivery in the verses. The production is weirdly restrained and muffled for something that has horns and cymbals propel the crescendos. It's a pop song that isn't entirely comfortable being a pop song – and that may be part of the charm.

3. Gulfer - Forget (Friendly)

This year's self-titled LP isn't quite the roaring success of 2018's more concentrated Dog Bless, which was my favourite record of that year. In fine math rock tradition Gulfer's songs studiously ignore predictable structures – with mixed results. They really hit the jackpot here, though. Each element builds on the previous one to a richly satisfying denouement. Chest-pumpingly huge as the best sweaty guitar music should be.

2. The Beths - Jump Rope Gazers

Again this year's album isn't quite the unparalleled success that 2018's Future Me Hates Me was, which may have beaten Gulfer as my favourite record of that year if I had heard it in time. But the title track on this year's effort may be the best thing they've ever done – anchored by a stadium-sized riff and leading to a very sweet and understated declaration of love that will mercilessly worm into your skull and heart. An anthem for the ages.

It's only four songs and I make the rules anyway. This is quite a personal one. When my daughter had a serious accident at the start of this month, the video for Skullcrusher's 'Day of Show' was one of the only things that would keep her calm through the frighening events that followed. The EP is just 12 minutes of ambient-tinged folk, whispy and ethereal in a way that tugs at the corners of your attention without imposing itself on it. Its use as a lullaby to soothe a toddler is very far removed from the intentions of the artist, whose lyrics detail the fraught moments of self-doubt and self-actualisation that you experience in that uncertain period after the end of your education and the beginning of the rest of your life. But the tone and melodies, inspired by Nick Drake by way of Radiohead, were exactly what my daughter and I needed during the long nights in the hospital ward. 

Other 2020 records I liked:

Akasha System - Epoch Flux

Minor Science - Second Language

Sufjan Stevens - The Ascension

Tengger - Nomad

And some amazing 2020 reissues:

Foul Play - Origins

Hiroshi Yoshimura - Green

Move D & Benjamin Brunn - Let's Call It A Day

No comments:

Post a Comment