39. Twenty songs from 2020
December 31st, 2020
Here, in no particular order, are some songs that helped me through this woeful shitpile of a year. I tried to keep it brief and include songs not already mentioned in past emails. A Spotify playlist is right here, but please consider supporting all these artists via their various links if you like what you hear.
1. Andy Shauf - Neon Skyline (Bandcamp)
Andy Shauf’s The Neon Skyline is a scale model of a dive bar. Back in January when it was released, a record about a night spent barhopping with friends, exes, and strangers seemed unremarkable—by July it was a necessary fantasy. This is the theme tune to that night.
2. Pinegrove - The Alarmist (Bandcamp)
I don’t think there’s a lyric I hollered with more gusto this year than ‘Marigold in the garden/My heart is out in the garbage.’ I don’t know, pal, you try being single in 2020.
3. Leah Senior - Bug in a Bath (Bandcamp)
A stone brought home from the beach—smooth, pocket-sized, and just feels right. Like Aldous Harding if she lived on the planet Earth.
4. Open Mike Eagle - Everything Ends Last Year (Bandcamp)
Anime, Trauma and Divorce is a record about how terrible 2019 was, but to me the worst days of 2020 often sounded like this song, sunken and claustrophobic, a gauntlet of precarious peaks and inevitable troughs.
5. Haruka Nakamura - better day (Bandcamp)
When the days didn’t sound hellish, they just sounded domestic, soft and conciliatory, like dust motes eddying in a corner of your apartment you’d never really considered before…
6. Adrienne Lenker - ingydar (Bandcamp)
…or getting lulled into daydreams by songs that sound like ticking clocks.
7. Frances Quinlan - Your Reply (Bandcamp)
Two songs with dead horses in the space of a year can’t be a good sign, but Frances Quinlan’s voice is a natural wonder, and her melodies are like a highwire act. The Tiny Desk Concert version is especially lovely.
8. Nap Eyes - Fool Thinking Ways (Bandcamp)
Nap Eyes’ dreamy, solipsistic Snapshot of a Beginner is one of my favourite records of the year.
10. Daniel Romano - First Yoke (Bandcamp)
A bank heist of a song—ruthlessly efficient, in and out in 4 minutes, emerging triumphantly with armfuls of gold bars. Also, an impeccable horn section, but that doesn’t really fit the metaphor.
11. Perfume Genius - Describe (Bandcamp)
Diamonds floating in a swamp.
12. Kiwi Jr. - Salary Man (Bandcamp)
What’s your favourite off-mic exclamation in a song? I like a well placed ‘Hey!’ myself, sometimes a ‘Go!’ if I’m feeling spicy. ‘Salary Man’ innovates in the space, executing a flawless, almost Mario-esque ‘Yahoo!’ in its last minute.
13. U.S. Girls - 4 American Dollars (Video)
Anti-capitalist disco. Absolutely.
14. Destroyer - Crimson Tide (Bandcamp)
Under neon signage made blurry in the fog, Dan Bejar continues to haunt dark city streets…
16. Wilma Archer ft. MF DOOM - Last Sniff (Bandcamp)
RIP DOOM. One last tragedy at the eleventh hour.
17. Lianne La Havas - Paper Thin (Soundcloud)
An appeal to the anxious and insecure, tentative but tender. I love the sound of this song, warm and open, sitting elbow to elbow with musicians in your living room.
18. Buck Meek - Second Sight (Bandcamp)
A wink and a smile.
19. Omar Apollo - Useless (Soundcloud)
A cooing, jangly lovesick confession from your early 20s.
20. Walter Martin - The Soldier (Bandcamp)
Since the dissolution of the Walkmen, I’ve loved Walter Martin’s solo work, which is funnier and less buttoned-up than that band, but still retains a little of their late-night sadness. This story song from the point of view of his father-in-law stuck me to my seat for its whole seven minute run when I first heard it back in January, and has stayed with me all year. It’s a heartbreaker, but a hopeful one.
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