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Favourite Albums of 2020

Women In Music Pt. Iii

5.  Haim – Women in Music Pt. III:  Released in the early summer, it took another six months before I really listened to the third album from the Haim sisters. Employing a number of musical styles, the band released another set of great songs including their three stellar singles from 2019. Highlights include first track “Los Angeles” and the pop rock of “Don’t Wanna”.

A Hero's Death

4.  Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death:  The fiery rock of the band’s debut Dogrel was our favourite album from last year. The band further expanded their sound with added atmosphere and nuance particularly on “Living in America” and “Love is the Main Thing”. Second single “I Don’t Belong” was a highlight as the minimal instrumentation allows singer Grian Chatten’s weariness to shine.

Fetch The Bolt Cutters

3.  Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters:  Fiona Apple’s first album in 8 years was a staggering accomplishment. It caught many ears when it came out to a locked down world reeling from the early throws of the pandemic. The lyrics are raw as Apple recounts terrible dinner parties, arguments with bandmates, and the fury of “For Her”. “Shameika” is the standout track for it’s uplifting childhood story one liner told over a rollicking piano.

Miss Anthropocene (Vinyl)

2.  Grimes – Miss Anthropocene:  Over the past few years, Grimes has been in the media spotlight due to her relationship with billionaire Elon Musk. Not always putting her best boot forward, it’s not always easy being a Grimes fan. But then the latest album drops and all is forgiven. An atmospheric and cinematic delight, the highlights are many. After a few dense soundscapes, the acoustic guitar of “Delete Forever” is standout as is the club beats of “Violence” and pop chorus of “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around”. Grimes is an enigma and truly wonderous musician.

folklore

1.  Taylor Swift – folklore:  Famously in the summer of 2019, pitchfork.com went back and reviewed all the Taylor Swift albums they had otherwise ignored over the years. A year later, Swift released a surprise album in July. She once again worked with Jack Antonoff but also with new collaborator Aaron Dessner from The National. This news was catnip to introspective 40 year old rock fans the world over. At 17 tracks, the album might be a tad long but jumping around, it’s hard to find a wrong note anywhere. Swift makes it sound easy on a run of tracks from “Mirrorball”, “Seven”, the pop of “August”, and the heartbreaking “This is Me Trying”. Then right at the end of the year, Taylor Swift released yet another surprise batch of songs that once again sent music fans scrambling to download and endlessly listen to while parsing through the lyrics.

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10 Favourite Songs of 2020

10. Jessie Ware – Spotlight:  One of the most surprising tracks of the year was hearing the first single from Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? album. As Ware sings the intro, suddenly the beat comes in and moves the song in an unexpected disco direction. A revitalized Jessie Ware was a joy to listen to in 2020.

9. The Fiery Furnaces – Down at the So and So on Somewhere:  The Fiery Furnaces have always been a bit hit and miss but their first song after being gone for 10+ years was all hit.  Simple keyboards and beats that hit in all the right places. At times it sounds like an accomplished 12 year old put it together which made it all the more charming.  “Don’t you remember we were happy there?”  We do!

8. Gia Margaret – body:  A late comer after hearing it on the excellent Cillian Murphy BBC6 Radio show. Set over the sound of twinkling white lights, this beguiling track uses a speech from philosopher Alan Watts that is beamed in from a different era. It is beautiful, sad, and inspiring all at once. Regardless of what Watt says, I feel the feelings.

7. Justin Bieber (Feat. Quavo) – Intentions:  One of my favourite beats of the year, hearing Bieber sing – “picture perfect you don’t need no filter” is a lyric tailor made for the social media age. The top 5 single is a winner with its laidback groove and positive vibes.  Not to mention the Raptors shoutout.

6. Bad Child – HI DEF:  Randomly found this one while listening to the Adult Alternative Channel on Stingray music. One of the few rock songs on this year end list, it’s a great one to jump around to as the girls in the video do. After this 2020 BS is over, looking forward to once again being “…wasted with my friends”.

5.  Fontaines D.C. – I Don’t Belong:  Besides Bieber, this is the only other returning artist from 2019. The first guitar lick sounds like it was airlifted from a Lil Peep track while Grian Chattan sounds tired but also manages to expand his vocal delivery. “I don’t belong to anyone, I don’t want to belong” is surely an anthem for those locked in their bedrooms after a rough break-up… or breakdown.

4. The Blaze (Feat. Octavian) – Somewhere:  There’s a few tracks that come out of nowhere and just stay as a favourite all year for no discernable reason. This year it’s The Blaze which rides a groove that builds then comes back down to earth. This is for the dark corners of the club, where the people move “quick like Ferrari” when the lights come up again.

3. Z Berg – Into the Night: The track appears on the 2020 solo debut from Elizabeth Anne Berg that feels like stepping into a fantasy world.  The cinematic song sounds like a fairy tale showing both the light and dark as she sings, “as life got too heavy, so I got too light” before she disappears from sight and back into the night.

2. Keeley Forsyth – Start Again:  The second song released by the actress turned musician is the oldest track here having appeared in January 2020. The minimal arrangements are not much more than a beat a few synth stabs but are nonetheless haunting, like a disturbing dream as she searches “over and over and over and over”.  Leave the lights on.

1. Fiona Apple – Shameika:  Fiona Apple’s 2020 album Fetch the Bolt Cutters received ecstatic reviews upon release in June. The basis of this standout track is a childhood acquaintance that tells Apple that “she has potential”. The clattering beat and piano form the backing track that all comes to a stop as Apple delivers the “potential” line before the drums and piano bang back in to drive the point home. To hear the positive message delivered by a teenager from about 30 years ago is disarming in this era where people spend hours fighting online.  It’s an amazing track on an excellent album that is hard to get out of your head once it’s in there.

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Favourite Distant (Re)Discoveries 2020

5. Isobel Campbell – Runnin’ Down a Dream (Song): When the first round of COVID hit in March of this year, it was not uncommon to see streams of people walking down our otherwise quiet street. I joined the walkers, as I always do, and this track was a main listening experience at that time. The great Tom Petty song gets redone with a hovering synth that sounds like a drone and Isobel’s barely above a whisper vocals.

4. Alice Boman – Don’t Forget About Me (Song):  My favourite track of the year that was actually released in 2019. It likely popped up on an Apple playlist early in the new year and was instantly slotted in as a constant listen. The two beat percussion that appears a handful of times is a subtle highlight but it’s the lyrics that really hit. “I don’t want to ruin this illusion/by saying something wrong/so I say nothing at all” – Devastating.

3. Bjork – Debut (Album):  At some point in the 90s I owned Bjork’s Debut album. And at some point in the 90s I sold it just to buy it back in the last year. I didn’t really get it all those years ago and it took a lot of listens to get it now. But when I did, it stuck. The dreamier second half which is what I ended up listening to the most. A great album by an extraordinary artist.

2. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (Album):  For the last two years in a row I’ve listened to Van Morrison on bitterly cold winter walks in January. The expert folk, rock and jazz musical bed creates a hazy world where Morrison speaks to you and tries to tell you his dreams. It’s an otherworldly listen that is breathtaking each time. “You breathe in/you breathe out”

1. The Beastie Boys – Beastie Boys Music (Album) – The Beastie Boys released this single disc greatest hits in late October of 2020. For some, this music has always been with us. Hearing “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” on a cheap ghetto blaster as an 11 year old in hockey dressing rooms, “Sabotage” at Lollapalooza in the early 90s, “Intergalatic” banging out of club speakers in the late 90s, and back to “Paul Revere” in a Vegas lounge side room to a small handful of partygoers. The Beastie Boys have never been too far from the stereo over the years but hearing this collection of songs brought their greatness back to the forefront. A must have for all 40 year old rock, rap, and alternative music fans.

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Favourite Albums of 2019

5.  Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains:  The music world lost a lot of great musicians in 2019 including David Berman of Purple Mountains.  This was my first introduction to the man’s music and was touched by many of the lyrics contained here.  Knowing what happened to Berman soon after release makes some of the songs hard to listen to but this is part of his legacy that he passed on to us. Purple Mountains touches on many of the emotions we all feel from time to time and let’s us know we are not alone. This album will live on for a very long time.

4.  Robert Forster – Inferno:  Another long running musician that I was really hearing for the first time in 2019.  Ex of the much-loved Go-Betweens, Forster doesn’t sound dissimilar to Leonard Cohen and at times on tracks like “The Morning” and “Life Has Turned A Page” he offers much wisdom.  Like Cohen, Forster’s music is mature and on the cover he looks dapper as hell.  We can still aspire to be this cool.

3.  Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride:  This came out in May and was ready made for the summer. More complex musically than past releases and adding in a few cameos, most notably from Danielle Haim, this continues to increase the range of Vampire Weekend releases.  Many gems to be found here including “Sunflower”, “How Long”, and especially our song of the year – “Harmony Hall”.  Like most albums at 18 tracks long, there are a few that can be skipped but those are relatively few on an album that can be played on repeat for several hours.

2.  Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!:  This album is getting lots of love even from people who don’t normally show it to Del Rey. Admittedly, the last few albums can be a bit hit and miss at times but this one never lags and distills the best of her sound onto 12 songs. “Venice Bitch” was a favourite from last year and “Mariners Apartment Complex” sounds like a movie in four minutes. “California” and “The Greatest” are timeless tracks that could have been released at any time in the last 40 years.  This is Lana Del Rey’s best album.

1.  Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel:  It’s not very often a straight up rock record gets us this excited but Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. delivered blow after blow on their debut.  It’s amazing that this literary band released poem collections before forming a band, as they seem ready made for the big stages in the UK. “Hurricane Laughter”, “Chequeless Reckless”, and “Boys In The Better Land” are a roar heard across the world as people keep falling for the band’s charms.  This is the best rock album we’ve heard in years.

Posted in Listed

Favourite Distant (Re)Discoveries 2019

5. Ken Burns – Country Music (Documentary): Several years ago, I loved the Prohibition documentary that Ken Burns produced for PBS so was excited when the country music one was announced some time ago.  It did not disappoint. Covering the inception of country music through 1996, Burns hits the major highlights of the genre and successfully ties it into the larger music scene and American society in general. All eras are fascinating. A review of the two-disc soundtrack will be posted soon.

4. The 1975 – TooTimeTooTimeTooTime (Song):  The 1975 album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships had several bangers but this lighthearted romp was the one that really caught our ear and who’s video was played almost nightly for a few months. Sounding like an updated version of a Sugar Ray track, it’s hard not to sing along to the chorus of this infectious single from 2018.

3. Otha – I’m On Top (Song):  Otha’s “One Of The Girls” was our 2018 track of the year and in early 2019, we heard this one that was released towards the end of last year. If we had heard it last year, Otha may have had our top two favourite tracks of 2018. Never changing her bored, deadpan vocals to sing the lyric, “right now, it is time to have fun” adds a layer of detached cool to this terrific dance pop song.  Otha’s 2019 single, “Tired and Sick” narrowly missed our top 10 this year.

2. The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (Album):  We finally put our money down for a compilation from The Rolling Stones and picked this tried and true classic. We discovered some new favourites such as “Mother’s Little Helper” and were reacquainted with the greatness of tracks such as “Paint It, Black”.  The run of tracks from “Get Off My Cloud” to “Street Fighting Man” is breathtaking.  This isn’t just some of the best rock n roll ever made, this IS the best rock n roll ever made.

1. The Kinks – Are The Village Green Preservation Society (50th Anniversary) (Album) – We picked up the two disc anniversary version of The Kinks classic even though we already had a version from a few years ago that covers mostly the same tracks.  For some reason, the first time around I liked it but didn’t really love the album. Upon, hearing it again I was completely knocked out by it and listened steadily for several weeks.

The title track, “Village Green”, “Starstruck”, and “People Take Pictures of Each Other” are all standouts on an album that covers rock, psychedelia, whimsey, nostalgia, and British music hall. Looking back, I followed a micro version of what happened to the album upon release.  Mostly unloved when new, The Village Green grew in stature over the years and is now considered a classic and an album to truly cherish.