Twenty songs from 2020
(File under: music, lists)
Firstly: Thank you.
I started this newsletter nine months ago, back when the idea of writing a weekly email being enthusiastic about things seemed reasonable. As the year went on, it became more of a challenge, but what made it easier was those of you who emailed to say hello, or thank you, or to share your own enthusiasms. You're a nice bunch.
If you enjoy these emails, I'd be incredibly grateful if you could spread the word, tweet, tell your pastor, etc. Thank you.
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.
Happy new year, friends,