Posted in Listed

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.

Posted in Listed

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.

Posted in Album Reviews

Bruce Springsteen – Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

In about a week’s time, Bruce Springsteen’s first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. turns 48 years old. Produced by first manager Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, the Dylanesque album was first rejected by Columbia Records owner Clive Davis which forced Springsteen back to writing two additional songs that would then become the singles.

“Growin’ Up” starts with a stark piano before it starts to pick up steam through the first verse where Springsteen declares  “when they said, ‘sit down’ I stood up”. According to setlists.fm, this is the song from the album that still gets played live the most and is a great introduction to The Boss brand of songwriting.  “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” features no chorus but one can hear the roots of the Hold Steady taking hold.  Throughout “For You”, the music strips away leaving just Springsteen singing before the drums of Vini Lopez revs the music back up again.  The horns of Clarence Clemons and handclaps in the chorus elevates, second single “Spirit In The Night”. 

The most famous song here is “Blinded By The Light”. The wordy first track and single failed to chart but is punctuated with horns and the breakdowns are a soulful delight. It would take a slim lined version by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to bring out the hit potential and remains Springsteen’s only US #1 as a songwriter.

Where the album slows is on the more earnest tracks with just him and either guitar or piano.  “Mary Queen of Arkansas” drags on for five long minutes while “Lost in the Flood” does slightly better describing a veteran returning home. It is not a coincidence that the Essential Bruce Springsteen album from 2003 rescues the lighter, more brisk tracks and leaves the rest behind. A decent debut with a few bright spots that will start to burn brighter in just a few years.

7/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Haim – Woman In Music Pt. III (2020)

Women In Music Pt. Iii

In 2019 Haim released a handful of great singles including “Summer Girl”, the angelic “Hallelujah” and the Savage Garden like “Now I’m In It”. Following up that run of success, the three sisters released their third album, Woman In Music Pt III back in June of this year. Producer/writers Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij are back on board from the band’s last album along with singer Danielle Haim in production and full band on writing duties.

Taking in 60s soul, 70s singer-songwriter, 90s indie rock, and modern R&B sounds; Haim cast their net wide. Horns introduce lead off track, “Los Angeles” that works as a love letter to their home city. Distorted vocals appear on “I Know Alone” with a dance oriented, percussive chorus. Este Haim’s slinky bassline on “Don’t Wanna” is irresistible and “Leaning On You” recalls Fleetwood Mac at their poppy best.

The scratchy “Man From the Magazine” calls out inappropriate male interview questions with just a guitar and drum beat which is in sharp contrast to the electronic beats of “All That Ever Mattered”.  Similar to past work, all the tracks here sound like something the listener will have heard before but with the band’s own spin.  Woman in Music Pt. III is a fine collection of songs but one where the 2019 singles tacked on at the end are the standout tracks.

8.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

The Beastie Boys – Beastie Boys Music (2020)

Beastie Boys Music

Over the past few years, The Beastie Boys have released retrospectives in several different forms.  Following the far too soon passing of Adam Yauch in 2012, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz have released a book, a documentary and now a Greatest Hits package, Beastie Boys Music.  The non-chronological single disc takes in highlights from their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill through last studio album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two released in 2011.

Eschewing the “Jimmy James” announcement of “this is the first song on our new album” from 1993’s Check Your Head, instead “So What’cha Want?” opens BBM with its distorted vocals and stomping beat as the band marries rap, alternative rock, and punk in one go. Check Your Head saw the group move in a new direction by using more instrumentation and yielded two more classics in “Pass the Mic” and the aforementioned “Jimmy James”.  “Pass the Mic” is one of the groups finest vocal performances as all three turn in memorable verses over a heavy percussion beat.

Most fans introduction to the group was through the frat boy schtick of the debut which contained seven singles and is certified diamond having sold over 10 million copies.  Five of those singles appear here, including “(You Gotta Fight) For Your Right (To Party!)” and “Brass Monkey”.  Next to the full sound of “So What’cha Want?”, 1986’s classic “Paul Revere” sounds a bit thin in comparison though it’s hard not to get caught up in the classic story as the track continues. One of the few stumbling moments on the album is the segue from “Paul Revere” into late period single “Make Some Noise”. An OK track but here it feels shoehorned in.  Much better is the segue from massive 90s club track “Intergalatic” to the energetic “Ch-Check It Out” from To the 5 Boroughs. The horn introduction “Don’t Play No Game I Can’t Win” turns into a dub reggae delight with added vocals from Santigold. By the time “Play No Game…” appears, the disc is still only half way through. 

Widely considered one of the best videos of all time from Spike Jonze, the actual audio of “Sabotage” still sounds like a bomb going off. The funky “Root Down” appears along with one of the surprise inclusions of the Q-Tip aided, “Get It Together”, a highlight of 1994’s Ill Communication.  Upon release in 1988, it wasn’t long before the blue tape versions of Paul’s Boutique ended up in the bargain bins at local record stores.  With only two singles and sales way down from the debut, it took several years before the album was rightly regarded as a landmark 80s rap release that is represented here by “Shadrach” and the disco funk of “Hey Ladies”.

After leaving the listener breathless for well over an hour, the metal guitar of “No Sleep to Brooklyn” closes things out. While most fans will have a few favourites left off (“The New Style”, “Shake Your Rump”, “Gratitude”, etc), it’s hard to argue with what is included.  The non-chronological order of songs allows it to jump from era to era, classic to classic with minimal energy let down. In the end, Beastie Boys Music does what a greatest hits album should do – it reminds the listener of the consistency and greatness that MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D achieved over their three-decade recording career and provides a sampling of some of their best moments.

10/10