THE 100 BEST SONGS OF 2020!!!
Written by Chris-R on December 31, 2020
Well, at least it wasn’t boring.
Let’s not beat around the bush, much of this year’s music was inextricable from real world circumstances. There is simply no dancing around the little issue of COVID-19 and a global pandemic kind of dampening everybody’s lives this year, not least of which because it obviously cross-contaminated a lot of the music we got.
This is the first time in my cognizant lifetime when I can recall everybody anywhere joining together to agree that the entire year was just a bad one. As Tommy Wiseau once said: “People are strange these days”. Which days? Take your pick. Mr. Wiseau knows not linearity in time.
In any way, there was still a lot of great music to appreciate this year, and I am beyond ecstatic that I get to share my 100 favorites songs this year with all of you.
The list will feature some of what I am hoping were recurring themes in music this year, as in, I want to believe that this list of mine faithfully covers the large trends that constituted this year in music, not just existing as a pigeonholing of my own tastes in music.
Fair warning to any of you readers who like to R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A., this was not a particularly knockout year for music that was strictly guitar based music. For some perspective, Forbes had actually declared Machine Gun Kelly and Miley Cyrus as the King and Queen of Rock music this year. Neither one has made my list.
Perhaps for no easier reason than it being easiier for a rapper or a pop starlet to record a verse of her vocals from her house and send it around to anyone who needs it, but the act of gathering a rock band together proved more daunting in this year. These things happen.
But there were positives too.
In personal news, I released a music video this year!!
But hey, as we all know, misery loves company and I think it needs a deserving soundtrack.
Pour yourself a glass of strong, valiant glass of Hydroxychloroquine and let’s jump in.
WE’RE COUNTING DOWN THE TOP 100 SONGS OF 2020!!!
These are selections for the INFORMED music listener.
Scroll below to read what I have to say about each of the top 100 songs, along with the Spotify playlist featuring every track.
Hold my ‘rona.
(Please note: there are some sections of this list that aren’t fully written yet. Check back later for this list’s final version.)
I’ll be filming some narrations to this list, check it out!
“There Is a Drone in Griffith Park”
Let’s consider this track with its grand, sprawling nature to be the makeshift overture of the full list to come.
“There Is a Drone in Griffith Park” greets the listener with a mirage of synthesizers tempered almost orchestral, all figuratively tuning up to its Middle C before unveiling its central riff. The track is filled to the brim with cascading keyboard patterns that are all designed to mesmerize, each part drifting in and out of focus, simulating draperies of light and sound that flow to and from each channel with an unusual ease.
The track doesn’t stagnate while in its initial phase, and yet it still manages to lurch forward at its midpoint -propelling into a section of bright guitar fixtures and prickly arpeggiations to match.
The musical endeavors of L.A. Takedown (which, in actuality, is the brainchild of one Aaron M. Olsen), tellingly draws from a career in television soundtracking, a hidden toolkit to help in manifesting some exploratory soundscapes.
Each new additional layer to the song’s primary motif armors the main musical idea as it expands into a full song, honing in all instruments -synthesizer, guitars, live bass, and whatever else have you- into calling all occupants of interplanetary craft.
It’s a classic song archetype: boy meets girl, girl ignores boy, so boy writes an entire song about her that says everything he wishes he could tell her in real life. But reality gets in the way sometimes.
This peppy little Indie cut is structured most predominantly as a two chord fling, but the chords that are being strummed on actually couple up quite nicely alongside its lyrical sentiments of unsuredness in youth. It flares off those nostalgic impulses buried deep within the listener, demonstrated by earworm melodies that hits every note down the major scale as surely and reliably as the earth can be counted on to rotate around the sun. Another day passed, another year gone, and another song to write about it.
For a guy with little to say, self-admitting as such in this very song, it’s pretty humorous to find that our singer still manages to run out of breath in his vocal delivery at points, croaking out the tailends of some of his lyrics. It gives the whole ordeal some extra personality. A sizable share of the song’s praises goes to Jelani Aryeh‘s performance directly, as he maintains a nice controlled quiver to his voice on the song.
“Stella Brown, I don’t know what to talk about
How has my head just hollowed out?
Thoughts used to orbit all around”
Our singer communicates almost exclusively in wandering trains of thought, engaging in several hopelessly meandering and fully rudderless “what-ifs?” fantasy scenarios, as these are the only kind of self-imaginative creations where he can control all the odds and be exactly the man he thinks that she deserves. “On Venus we could find peace”, he distractedly grumbles underneath his breath like a world-wronged teenager fuming angrily to himself while in the shower. Maybe he’ll wisen up one day and tell her everything that he can make a rock song about. It just might even work out in the end.
But yet, a song is not real life.
“Still Feel Like A Kid”
Rock music has long since held an obsession with youth that can oftentimes border on unhealthy.
There is this particular hope that some songwriters have that their music will grow and adapt with their age, this idea that crossing certain kinds of life’s goalposts will open up different avenues to write songs about. That’s the general approach to “Still Feel Like A Kid”, a Country-Rock song about being happy with growing age and the belief that you are only as old as you say you are. I believe that to some, this song might find a bit more, let’s say, usefulness than other songs released this year.
The song operates as a list of daily happenings that prove your “adultivity”, like:
“I just asked my folks not to pay my rent
But I still feel like a kid
Finally learned what NASDAQ meant
But I still feel like a kid”
The music itself is pretty entertaining too, Dawes clearly went to the same church of the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street worship that filters its influence back out into whatever inspires bands to turn out like Wilco.
This song uses a chord progression that doesn’t just cruise along in a crunchy Country-Rock manner as much as it stilts and staggers in equal measure, finding way to present all of the the expected unexpectedness of adulthood. It works to keep your attention well enough for a 3 minute song.
The band Dawes still feel like a kid, and their song still manages to come up as a triumph.
“The Who’s Who of Who Cares”
On “The Who’s Who of Who Cares”, Outlaw Country rulebreaker Dougie Poole is slinging his not-so-tall-tales of old country spun through a Leslie speaker.
Dougie Poole finds a unique slant for himself by treating the comforting traditionalism of Country music with a steady hand of 60’s Psychedelia. This track has it’s expectedly peripheral Country music elements that drop in and make their cameo appearances, because of course you’ve gotta get your pedal steel guitars and cowboy strummer guitar chords into the fray, but Dougie mingles it with some other non-Country oddities that gift the track its signature twinkling afterglow.
It should be stated that this song doesn’t immediately set off my BS-o-meter like plenty other Country-lite tracks do, that is, I’m talking about those barely Country songs that sound almost too ashamed to even take a go at Country music full hog, the ones that are annoyingly too eager in leapfrogging away from Country traditionalism in search of incorporating the other more trendy “it” sounds instead.
I think a large reason as to why this Country+ approach doesn’t rub me the wrong way on “The Who’s Who of Who Cares” is because that it’s otherness is being baked into the very narrative itself. For starters, the temptingly bordering on disparte music elements of “The Who’s Who of Who Cares” come together in an incredibly organic fashion and it gives the song a fresh personality in the process. And secondly, musicians writing Country songs about not being Country enough have long since been a genre staple in one way or another, so this is just a clever way of incorporating it into something that feels brand new.
When beginning the whole track with the lyric “They told you out in the Country that you ain’t Country enough”, the Brooklyn residing Dougie Poole proudly wears his externa Country influences on his wide pleather sleeve. The humorous lyrics detail the one-off meetings and chance encounters with what Dougie calls “the who’s who of who cares”.
“In the bars they know your name but you drink on the house
There’s a seat for you just waiting at the table with
the who’s who of who cares”
The idiosyncratic Dougie Poole declares himself to be another drifter making his way down the road and breaking out of the thin white lines striped down the Honky-Tonk highway.
It’s a tale of forging your own path, advising each and everyone to march to the quantized beat of their own 808 drum.
“Little Less Polite”
It’s ain’t too easy being the tough guy all the time. Sometimes it can even be more enthralling when a buttoned-up common stick in the mud just lets loose and takes y’all to the ghetto university.
That is, “Little Less Polite” isn’t your usual bad-guy fare. Believe me, there’s more than enough songs already out there that do that just fine. It’s instead all about what happens when a good man decides to go bad. And as we all know, the best way to get this motif across is through a delightfully bouncy Funk Rock sound with a preppy regime to it.
While the ultra perky guitar lines keep choogling along, it makes itself known as yet one another of those innumerable times where white funk players just have to stop to say “thank God for Stratocasters”. The keyboards are well-tempered too, being peppered into the track with some strong hints of revelry to it. And let’s not forget about the pump-up posse of soul horns that help to punctuate the track even further, granting the song some levels of braggadocio that can only be achieved through a pocket groove played this tight.
The band Ripe uses the same manner of tongue-in-cheek lyrical musings that urged shock-rocker Alice Cooper into cutting loose and declaring that there’s “No more Mr. Nice Guy” in his #25 U.S. hit from 1973, the band implies that it’s a behavior that can be turned on and turned off with a simple flip of the switch.
That said, this approach does have its inherent drawbacks. The act of telling somebody when squaring up for a fight that you’re “about to get a little less polite” makes it sound like you’re about to get your ass kicked by Clark Griswold. Or that you’re gonna be receiving a one-way ticket to fist city from Richie Rich himself.
Still though, the name of the game here is fun, and any excuse to leave modesty at the door is a welcomed one indeed.
What can I say? I am but a wee, hopeless schlub to the irresistible charm of The Chats.
Some repeat readers of my past best-of lists might already be familiar with the oeuvre of The Chats. They broke onto the scene with the ridiculously low-grade music video for their slacker’s anthem “Smoko” 3 years ago, which in and of itself doesn’t sound right to me. Are we really just 3 years removed from “Smoko”? Welp, time flies when the planet is on fire.
I’ve been making these lists for three years now, and The Chats are the only act to regularly appear on every year-end of mine so far. If they turn a successful 2021 into a clean 4 uninterrupted years, then I’ll have all but no choice to graduate them into rock knightdom (I think the process involves a broadsword and a rack of Natty Lights.)
This year, they released a pretty satisfying album of scrappy-is as scrappy-does Punk Rock shrapnel, featuring just the right amount of their usual Chats-only fare that any fan could reasonably hope for. Songs about being drunk and disorderly were called “Drunk n Disorderly”. Elsewhere, there are riveting rockers about doing the dine n’ dash that’s simply called “Dine N Dash”. I think what I am trying to say about the Chats is that they don’t play many mind games with their audience. The music they play could only ever have a full transparency to it.
They capped this year off with another single, and this one was written as a tribute to Australia’s number one greatest export: (an export greater than iron ore?!?!?) that is, AC/DC. This is not a joke either, the track really is just a loving work of gratitude for the Hard Rock titans, and their expectedly bare-bones guitar crunch is perfectly fit for the occasion.
In another year where Hard Rock music is still hanging out in the dregs, it really is a breath of relief to hear some young rock n’ rollers pay service to a band like AC/DC. I think any form of AC/DC idolatry is something to be celebrated in our modern age. Rock n’ Roll music with a capital “R” is drifting further and further away from the public consciousness, so I think any wholehearted and sincere appreciations towards that music is fully admissible.
The band doesn’t get gushy in their sentimentality, obviously, as they leave behind a few fantastically backhanded compliments, like calling AC/DC “The second greatest band in history”. Me-thinks these ever-so modest chaps want you to go ahead and guess who the first greatest band might be.
This type of humorous bickering directed at respected rock icons reminds me of a similar song by the ACTUAL greatest band in history, Tenacious D, and their ridiculous ode to metal god Ronnie James Dio. The D’s nod towards the storied life and work of Dio was all about Ronnie getting too old to rock anymore, and thus needing to pass his cape and scepter of hard rockitude off to Tenacious D. The closest thing to a compromise on the song is when Jables suggests to him: “Your sauce will mix with ours/And we’ll make a good goulash, baby.” The D’s tribute (heh) came full circle, when Dio himself requested that Tenacious D star in his next music video for the song “Push”. Pretty cool, right!
I clearly don’t think The Chats have thought anything too far out in the future for this one, but I can see plenty possibilities less real than the one where the actual AC/DC takes notice of the song. I’m just saying, if they have a band meeting and decide that Axl Rose just isn’t best suited for fronting AC/DC anymore, then why not take a chance and plop a mulleted bass playing ginger in there instead. It’s a match made in Aussie heaven, I tells ya.
“A Star Is Born”
The internet can be a terrifying tool in music creation. As willfully nebulous as the very concept of internet community even is, it has allowed for many newer lanes of music making to come to light, providing a platform for some of the most highly combustible song constructions to ever see release.
Jerskin Fendrix is one of the more freakazoid music creators to be putting music out there right now, and “A Star Is Born” is his greatest point of excellence yet. It’s one of those magical songs that has enough ideas for at least 12 completely different ones, all of which are crammed into a tight and frenzied 3 minutes.
The easiest impression to get from his music, is that Fendrix’s influences compile together probably in the same way that something would be categorizable as Hyperpop, the rapidly expanding music scene that it is. Hyperpop has an extreme online presence and this music does share a resemblance, it’s a fair assumption to make. I’m not sure how disingenuous this may or may not be though, because whether he even pulls from the same fabric of PC Music affiliates still remains to be seen.
A large factor to the success of “A Star Is Born” as a piece of music to be enjoyed is that the bizarro, wackadoo sound bytes being used in the song actually culminate into something larger, instead of simply cancelling itself out. It leaves behind a stunning carpet-bomb of sawwave energy and pitch bent MIDI pianos.
The song appears at first to be a woefully misshapen hodgepodge of crazy music snippets, but when looking under the song’s hood (metaphorically, that is), there are undoubtedly a few moments of near or actualized brilliance that poke out above all the experimental rubble. The music is certifiably fractured -beginning the whole track with some electronic shrieks is quite the choice, and the track rarely lets up from there.
On further relistens, the track is less swing-and-a-miss than it initially makes itself out to be, because it’s constructed with a surprising level cohesion in its melodic choices and sound design -even if there definitely are still some large liberties being taken in the music (was that a DJ scratch I heard?).
The future is now, old man.
“Don’t Get Buried In Your Hometown”
Sitting at #93 on the list is a lovely little song titled “Don’t Get Buried In Your Hometown”: some rather solid life advice, if I may say so myself.
From the song’s most immediate moments, the music is bolstered down by a steady onslaught of organ churned music coming straight from the calliope, creating something of a half-dream happening being haunted somber. Emile T. is a French singer, and his slight vocal inflections give the track an underlying sense of melodrama and theatrics. The voyeuristic lyrics being sung perfectly matches the tense chords when he reaches for something that’s a touch more grandiose and complex than his age probably allows him to, which is relatable in and of itself.
“Don’t Get Buried In Your Hometown” has these ceaselessly pulsating quarter notes at its foundation, grimly indicating a looming passage of time, creeping forward ever so slightly, -ever so consistently- without any idea of reprieve to come.
The timbre holds a palpable sense of dread, the kind that could almost turn into a panic attack at moment’s notice. That is, until the song slowly tilts and morphs into its lighter passage during its chorus, with a bendy, rubberband bass line that almost resembles a Jaco Pastorius excursion, although perhaps not where proficiency is concerned.
These brief instrumental interstitials suggest notions of travel, implicating a sense of movement that could either be towards or away from the hometown in question, which is up for anyone’s own interpretations. I will note that it sounds markedly ‘happier’ than its neighboring sections of music, so take that for whatever it’s worth.
Most importantly, this song is about travelling just to get away. Going on and on, not toward or away, moving only to move.
Let me set a scene if I may.
“Congratulations, contestant number 7!” exclaims Monty Hall to you, as the nationally beloved gameshow host walks eagerly towards your panel with a toothy smile. Noticeable beads of sweat drape across his forehead underneath the set’s blazing red hot stage lights. While it is distracting, you correctly guess to yourself that this noticeable discomfort from Monty you’re picking up on won’t be detected by the audience watching at home – the cameras can’t possibly show this level of detail. The networks make him break his back, so you don’t judge the man.
While you are are momentarily lost in thought, wondering if Monty’s ten mile long microphone cord is really all that necessary, the game show host disrupts your train of thought when he opens his mouth and exclaims to you, in a voice that’s permanently set to CAPS LOCK mode: “You’ve just won a lifetime’s supply of Arm and Hammer laundry detergent!” (cue studio applause) “But!” he interrupts himself, allowing for a steady and dramatic drumroll as he prepares you for the kicker of a question: “would you like to see what you could have won if you’d only picked door number 3 instead?”
Mr. Hall has a cheshire cat grin on as he opens up the third door and shows off the brand new Camaro behind it. You could have driven home inside this cherry red Camaro if only you hadn’t chosen door number 2 instead. Monty doesn’t want to rain on your parade, but he knows that you know that ya blew it. You carry your laundry detergent under your arm and go home, making a mental note to not watch this episode of “Let’s Make A Deal” when it airs live.
Does this sound like a fun experience to have? Well now somebody wrote a whole song about it.
Making a song about the sleazy slicked-back gameshow host archetype is a pretty inspired one, and writing a rock song about being the runner-up is a great way of making you feel like a loser even when you win. The “what if?” scenario being exposed, is the cheeky announcer flaunting “Here’s what you could have won.”
The UK rock band TV Priest take an inspired approach to this well-known persona and pumps that phony polyethylene television star full of dirty, girthy Post-Punk power.
Most Post-Punk weirdos operate with this belief they could magically put on anybody’s skin for the duration of a song if you mock them hard enough. If you want to put figureheads on full blast, then you’ve just got to totally and perfectly embody them in a set of lyrics.
This time, it’s that of your quintessential game show host type, a crows’ feet stained cracked actor who has all the charisma to edge out above any similarly sleazy used car salesmen types or frighteningly similar TV evangelicals.
In this track, the lyrical motif goes beyond just a “The Price Is Right” episode that separates up blocks of daytime TV soaps, no no no, the singer snarls that these gameshow rules were specifically “scribbled on a temple wall”. Jesus Christ was also a game show host, and assumedly Jackson Pollock and Grandma too. Which is an idea that’s almost spit-take worthy if I weren’t already being too distracted by the razor’s edge guitar slashes going on all throughout the song.
The sound of the song is violent and menacing, and I wouldn’t prefer it any other way. The riffing is filled with these fat, overfed guitar notes that are ready to burst when plucked with a pin.
At the end of the day, we know somewhere in the backs of our minds that all the piffy prizes we gift ourselves are just momentary distractions from any of life’s indecencies we come across. Pointing out the mundanity of day-to-day living is some usual fodder for the Post-Punk genre. I’m not saying that band’s using genre tropes is akin to cliché, but still, this lyrical framing in “Runner Up” cranks it up all that much further.
Maybe it’s best to not want what you haven’t got.
“You’re Not Alone”
The year 2020 marked the return of Semisonic, a College-Rock band who is semi-beloved, and became semi-famous in the late ’90’s from their catchy blend of Alt-Pop hooks, College-Rock relatability and a music video or two that turned into MTV staples. That’s right, Semisonic’s new E.P. and its lead-off single “You’re Not Alone” is the band’s first batch of new material in 19 years, and although this may sound like a non-event to some onlookers, there still exist many listeners out there who continually find comfort in their back catalog of music and believe that this rock band has some worthy material that rewards some digging beneath the surface.
Coming from a relatively older vanguard of Rock music, “You’re Not Alone” is anchored by a melodic, major-keyed riff that sounds as though its waking itself from a long sleep, coming to face an early Sunday morning. It’s not quite a guitar riff that took upwards of 20 years to write, but it still is one that you could be proud to hang your hat on. It’s quite nice to see that the band had not lost their sense of direction in the years since their radio silence.
The band’s instrumental has some power in its restraint as well, especially in the pre-choruses where the band exorcises out any and all bad energy hiding in the empty spaces between their full band hits. It’s unified and effective.
Admittedly, I’ll chime in and say that the lyrical department can be a bit clunky on this one. It’s chock-full of whatever that tipping point is from where a song’s lyrics can turn from earnestly sentimental into faux motivational (author’s note: fauxtivational?). While it is easy enough to connect with in its broad brushstrokes, the lyric still registers as rather shallow.
For instance, the opening lines…
“Everybody knows that the world is wrong
The only thing to do is to write a song”
…is exactly the kind of lyrics you’d come up with when you’ve been away from the pen for a while. If Semisonic were an old school Hip-Hop B-Boy collective instead, I’d bet money that their comeback single would begin with boasts of being the real baddest D.J. in the U.S.A.
But even if the lyrics by themselves aren’t worth putting all that much thought into, at least the guy who’s singing it probably actually thinks it’s a message worth believing in. He’s got gumption, and there are still at least a couple moments in “You’re Not Alone” where he gestures towards something more grandiose than the factory set “believe in yourself and you’ll succeed” fluff. I’m talking lines like:
“Nobody ever told you ‘life is long’ and believed it”
“What would even be the point if we knew what comes next?”
These are fine messages by themselves, it’s perfectly fine juju to put in a song and it probably strikes a legitimate chord with many of their long-standing listeners. That’s most important to them, I’m sure.
Plus, coming off the back of these hellish past few years, if there are any songs out there with the intent of creating encouragement in people and banding together, then that is worth appreciating. I’ve been conditioning myself to find more reward away from my usual pessimism as of late, and I’d imagine others are doing the same.
From the ashes of Semisonic’s past, they find their footing again with great ease. Nobody in their right minds should have doubted they’d be able to bounce back however, since we all know that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Bartender, close tab!
“Need Your Love”
Let’s tighten it up now, because this is the kind of new music to tighten up with.
I can’t exactly wager that the Denver, Colorado music duo Tennis can dance just as good as they walk, but I can vouch for them having successfully etched out a nifty sound for themselves that favorably draws reference from retro sounding 1970’s AM Radio fare, giving them a crisp and relaxed sound in their musical approach.
“Need Your Love” is a mighty fine song coming from them, putting some seriously engaging drums at the forefront that lands on the song’s upbeat with a supremely weighty thwack and pairs nicely with a staccato piano that’s hammering away. In fact, I’ve seen at least a couple music publications draw comparisons to Carole King‘s Jazz-lite ode to a relationship meeting its book-end, “It’s Too Late”, and such a point of comparison could never be a bad thing as far as I’m concerned.
While I say that, the tune it reminds me most of, personally, is “Pillow Talk” by one-time “Love Is Strange” performer, Sylvia. Both tracks have that (for lack of a better descriptor) pillowy affectation to it, careening forward with breathy intentions. I think you can guess what those are.
Singer Alaina Moore has a real convincing Soft Pop romanticism in her voice that comes through quite marvelously in this song. Whenever she reaches the part of the song where she keeps singing “I hope you’re happy”, it comes across like a pouty kid not getting her way in a toy store.
The track also undergoes seismic shifts when it alternates from its faster tempos in verses to its cigarette drag slow choruses. It gets across a different, shall we say, mouthfeel from one part of the song to the next. The song has its small variety to it and is all the more enjoyable for it.
Now make it mellow!
“Get all your records out and throw them all away” begins Laura Marling‘s plea for one’s own self-help. “No one left to listen to, much less left to say.”
On her new album, Laura Marling desires to turn her music into an outlet of support, striving to create self-worth in a world determined to put you down.
Atop her treacly acoustic instrumental, she sniffles out a laundry list of helpful rules to follow in life -which when placed into the context of its album title and the concept it suggests, being named Song For Our Daughter, it feels like the wise words from someone with some real life experience being passed on down to an optimistic youngling.
“Build yourself a garden and have something to attend
Cut off all relations ’cause you could not stand your friends”
Laura’s outlook on this album has been described before as “wistful”, a mature yearning for what is to come and what may never even be.
The music is alright too, probably a pinch too paltry to be a true showstopper on its own in my opinion, but it still has enough musical merit to either hum it in your head or out loud.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about the song is how it directly quotes a Steve Gadd shuffle in its drum pattern. There may be 50 whole ways to leave your lover, but there apparently still exists just the one method of pulling that drum part.
The chords being strummed are pleasant enough, perhaps inching a little too close to “Magic Carpet Ride” territory for my tastes – which is not insinuating anything as nefarious as plagiarism, it’s just that I’ve heard this kind of chord progression being done before, time and time again. I will say that the acoustic guitars being double tracked allows them emote earnest and warmly throughout the song, so it’s got that going for it.
The song’s high point is when the track expands considerably in its bridge, high-end keys fill out more of the picture and what sounds like finger-cymbals add into the equation as well. The tail-end of this section ascends to its highest point when Laura lays down her own vocal harmonies, plainly, yet rhapsodic to back her up.
Laura implores her listeners to look deep inside and find their own power within.
“I’ll Be Your Host”
There is little in life that’s more aggravating than engaging in niceties even when you’d much rather not.
The newest album by Los Angeles’ Touché Amoré, Lament, rides high on the growing wave of Emo music’s reclamation in the larger state of the Rock-o-sphere from recent times. Much of the music’s identity is shaped by its washed-out production timbres and incredibly propulsive guitar riffage… this song’s fidgety aggressions on the snare drum bring to mind a kettle about to boil over.
“I’ll be your host/Against my will” shouts the chorus, all being expressed with singer Jeremy Bolm‘s fork in the garbage disposal vocal delivery. This lyrical sentiment is one based in real-world circumstance for the band: this song is reportedly a message to the Touché Amoré fans who themselves have found solace in the band’s lyrics during their own personal hardships. The lyrical message to the fans is one of “If you’re suffering, then so I am I.” Which, of course, is best portrayed as a bloodied shambolic wreck of raw nerve and flayed tendons all spasming in rage. Did you record any of that? Mic it up.
But I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a “reluctant hero” story, as our singer is very much too snotty and self-absorbed in this song for that kind of label. The track does eventually find its solace in its own unique way, from a simmering middle-eight with reflective tones, allowing for its bitter comedown that has been suggested from its lyrical onset.
Touché Amoré may be your host, but it’s clear that we’ve won nothing except hurt feelings and bruised ribcages. Good day, sir.
“Sat By A Tree”
If you are in the market for a modular synth extravaganza, then you’d best sit back and plug on in for this number.
2020 saw the release of Dan Deacon‘s Mystic Familiar, Deacon’s first studio album since 2015’s positively received Glass Riffer: a record that is still being doted upon even today. Mystic Familiar prides itself as being a keyboard enthusiast’s Cirque Du Soleil of sorts, a record that is all about geeking out and making its synth wizardry worth the price of admission -if you are into that sort of thing, that is.
“Sat By A Tree” is one of the more life filled outings on the album, setting up a hectic pulse early on and not letting up until its very close. The melodies are chosen seemingly at near random, I’d assume by placing trios of notes onto a spinning wheel and allowing them to fall wherever they may land.
The greatest charm to “Sat By A Tree” is its dense sound comprised of teeny-tiny music quirks. There are squared off keyboards that squick and wheeze to the electronic beat, and there appear to be some skittering cowbells hidden beneath the walls of sound, bass parts get modified through fields of distortion, and it’s not uncommon at all for vocals to undergo some serious pitch alteration.
Violins gift the song some desired poignance at its close and tidies things up in a neat little package. When put together, the amalgamation of sounds does connect to an overall feeling, and it is an uplifting one at that. Regardless of how its plastic sounds all originated, the end result is one of virility.
Tune in and drop out.
-King Chubby and the Gang
The blistering, Old-School Punk indebted debut by King Chubby and the Gang‘ is music being played by joyfully flammable matchstick men trying their very best to self ignite mid-song …the music is wicked speedy and positively incendiary.
The band is dead set on letting England shake via their lightning strike guitar ground-pounds. This type of happy sweaty Punk, what with its crunchy guitars that frantically adds the pinky in there for some good old fashioned Chuck Berry riffage, could be easily recommended for any fans of an Andrew W.K. type. Heck, it could even be roped into Oi! Punk if you’re especially convinced that’s where it should be.
Their debut album is titled Speed Kills, assumedly a nod towards the 6th track on British Art-Rockers 10cc‘s self-titled album. And make no heads or tails about it, speed is the name of the game here. Like for instance, how every single one of the drummer’s fills sound like a body falling down all the stairs.
I’m also just heads over heels for this production sound the band achieved, the guitars sound so clearly defined through their amplification and the vocals are given a great space in the mix to unleash themselves proper. Flecks of backing vocal harmonies help color the track in even further.
Declaring itself to be an anthem for “Pariah Radio” is a fantastically fun way to celebrate a band’s self-proposed distance from the mainstream. This is a band that you wouldn’t want to touch with a 10 foot pole (as opposed to our 2020 standard six foot pole we’ve all been using. No? Just me?)
You yourself might be asking: “Ok look pal, I see the song’s runtime. This ain’t even a whole two minutes! Can a rock song this short really still leave an impact?” And I just say,
Cyanide is bitesized too, ya know?
-Claud, Del Water Gap
“My Body” is a plaintive electro ballad that leads off with a request of needing love in a bathroom stall. Alright then. This is going to be a song of lonesome love with too much time to kill.
The song tangles itself around the whole idea of “I’m not in love with you but I’ll make love to you”, playing with the do’s and do not do’s of intimacy with a partner that might not stick around.
It’s accomplishment as a song is found in the small series of fascinating choices it makes, like how Claud uses their vocals in a complete pitch-correction overhaul. Autotune is a fine and steadfast opportunity to detach the voice from the body, creating a bit of distance in the narrative itself and from whomever sings it. It is doubly interesting then that it employs primarily an acoustic guitar as its central instrument, an instrument that one could easily surmise as more “authentic”. When paired together over some canned drums, it creates something that’s both new and old. Not quite here, not quite there.
The lasting effect is something that feels hollow at its middle, getting across the depressing idea at its core. At least, I would certainly hope that the chorus of “you only want me for my body” is just about the saddest thing that you could ever hear. It gets across such a profound feeling of emptiness in this execution.
The track never fully leaves the ground far enough to soar away, but rather it hovers around instead.
“The look on your face could make you think it’s fate when you’re totally naked.”
“Just a Kid”
Princess Nokia had an interesting approach to music this year, dual releasing two albums with completely opposite messages. Her first album of the year was Everything Sucks and the second was the more optimistic Everything Is Beautiful. I’m a lonesome loser, so I preferred the Everything Sucks album.
The darker of the two albums, Everything Sucks, is mostly a Horrorcore pastiche, with Princess Nokia waving her freak flag high and showing no restraint in unleashing her deranged and unusual vocal performances, clearly owing some sizeable debt of gratitude to Nicki Minaj‘s unique vocal stylings. At the end of an album full of neat detours in the “Crazy House”, or talking up the benefits of being “Gross” and all that fun stuff, the album has the decency to end on it’s most sincere, reflective track, “Just a Kid”.
I do not know what Princess Nokia’s upbringing was like. I have little reason to not believe that this song is auto-biographical, describing her rough childhood and history of being moved from household to household and experiences with familial deaths. Yeah it’s a downer, but it’s very affecting as a work of music and gives a better glimpse behind the suckitude into who Princess Nokia may be.
“Serafina” is probably not that same boy-meets-girl song you’ve heard one thousand times over.
The spoken word, tortured narrator plays the song off as a conversation:
“What’s your name, if you don’t mind?”
She said, ‘My name is Serafina
But people call me Sera to save some time'”
And luckily for Serafina, he has more than enough time to give her.
The rest of the band has next to no interest in playing the song straight at all, they go for the jugular with no hesitance in a spiralling cataclysm of Duane Eddy surfin’ guitars delivered with a haughty Gothic bent. The drum recordings reek of dirty warehouses and guitar effects that go thump in the night.
If the titanium edged glint to the song recalls that of another Noise-Rock band, perhaps you’re not alone, seeing as how Bambara has supported the Horror-Rockers Daughters on a 2019 tour, and the similarities between the two are at least palpable. I would argue that any surface level comparisons to Daughters are not one to get hung up on though.
The track scratches that perfect sweet spot for all the gloomy antics to be had.
The legendary Cali Punk act X are back in action with their first album in 27 years, ALPHABETLAND.
Now normally, most any band who has been out of the spotlight for some long period of time would usually need to readjust to meet their audience’s expectations for what an aging Punk group should sound like, but X gets by on this new comeback album pretty undeterred because their schtick was semi-consciously always kind of old fashioned even from its upstart, so the passage of time has done little to affect their innate charm had as a band. The guitars pound away at some full chords in root position, the drums thump at the beat steady as ever, and Exene Cervenka and John Doe sing their usual co-lead vocals the whole way through, it’s such a blast to hear them get back to doing what they’re so well known for.
This track “Strange Life” is all about the strange days, strange nights, and strange lives they’ve lived, and I have little doubt that their journey in getting to this present day has led to a life that would be rather strange – probably stranger than yours or mine. Their third album (and in my estimation, their approximate masterpiece) Under The Big Black Sun, gave a sneak preview into what their strange private lives might look like. So having a full career in the rearview gives them extra leniency towards this particular style of pat-yourself-on-the-back life well lived song lyric.
Thankfully, the music doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t, it all has a very self-assured classic rock sound to it. In this instance, its debt of rock servitude comes across sounding rather comparable to an AC/DC-ish riff. For myself at least, it certainly recalls “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N Roll)”, which is at least a fitting song to be reminded of.
When it comes to classic feel-good Punk music, it’s more than safe to say that X hits the mark.
“Lick The Bag”
For all the times when ninety-nine and a half just won’t do, sometimes you also gotta lick the bag.
Do you really think that Wilson Pickett would have appreciated me namechecking his song alongside such an abrasive and ridiculous piece of music just now? Well, I hardly doubt that this band would care. Viagra Boys are a Swedish noise-rock band who obsess over making songs with the ugliest grooves this side of misshapen Ruffles.
“Lick The Bag” is the sonic equivalent of a constant itch, and a pretty clear allegory for compulsiveness and addictive tendencies. I’d go even further, and say that all these disgusted grunts by vocalist Sebastian Murphy are in the name of a more flippant dependency, as he seeks out for more and more and more.
The band has a grand ole time too, and is filled to the brim with sound effects that tinker around and rattle from the rush. We get some digitized saxophone chokes, synth tones that are both confrontational & decayed, and some incredibly wonky sounding percussion.
They demand you “turn the bag inside out”, and cover every square inch, over! under! sideways! down!
Don’t stop ’til you get enough, I guess.
“She’s A Self Made Man”
Wise sages could advise you to never mess with any gal who calls herself a “self made man”, you’re assuredly going to regret it.
“She’s A Self Made Man” is a fuzzy Thin Lizzy style rocker, full of husky vocals, Southern grit, and full-blooded guitar riffing. Now, there has been no shortage of powerful women calling themselves ‘The Man’ in music and beyond, because after all, any human who’s doing totally B.A stuff can worthily be called ‘The Man’. It sends across a cool message. It’s a man’s man’s man’s world after all, who wouldn’t want to take the bull by the horns on this one? The gate is wide open.
Larkin Poe really do justice to the title with it’s music, it’s hard to argue with someone who describes herself like “a cannonball moving down the track” and sounds like she believes it. The duo meet each other on the track when pairing for an Alice In Chains-y vocal proximity while singing the title’s phrase, it’s super invigorating and intense.
That’s not to forget that the track eventually segues into a rambunctious slide guitar part, readied all coiled up and hissing. The guitar slide bounces between an energetic series of off-notes that hit so right on her bottleneck guitar sections.
Crank it up, and get ready to rip, tumble and run.
“Out In Space”
-Wiz Khalifa, Quavo
Wiz Khalifa spent his time stargazing at the skies above and has come back down to Earth with a super spaced out and zen’d to high heavens rap track.
I can’t help but laugh at how a growing number of pockets in the Rap game have been gradually coming to terms with the idea of Tame Impala heavily informing a new brand of production styles. This growing bubble of music affiliated with Psychedelic Rap music has only been getting larger and larger in recent memory, and many artists from all over have been watching and taking notes. I’m not sure what musical grounds Wiz shares with Travis $cott of all people, but I can’t blame him or anybody else for wanting to take a slice of the apple pie.
Full disclosure, I actually have like zero gauge at all for whether or not this buzzy, spaced-out, Kid Cudi reminiscent acid rap style comes authentic to Wiz at all, but he sounds fantastic on this track. Wiz gives the song the rapid fire rap flow that it deserves -not one that is very virtuosic in that regard, but instead it works to achieve nothing but forward momentum, building a head of steam and blasting off outside the observable universe.
Quavo of Migos fame makes a welcomed enough appearance on the track, and he seems perfectly at home over this instrumental. The duo pairs well together and it’s all alright by me. Toss in a “real G’s move in silence” line as an off-the-cuff reference to Lil Wayne‘s legendary lasagna bar, and you’re gonna have a good time.
“I came from the bottom I know where the basement is”.
“A Prayer Before Dawn”
If you’re stuck somewhere in the middle of a cold, harsh, and brutal December, then why not try to headbang the frost away?
“A Prayer Before Dawn” by Unreal City is a thrashy rager of a track that’ll be sure to satisfy any metal hellhounds out on the prowl. The PA group makes hardcore music that is readily primed for anybody who’s still clamoring for the glory days of Slayer and Testament. It creates an icy cavern of discomfort, spouting off lines like “Violence is a spiral/I keep spinning down”, which is in all actuality a pretty apt descriptor for this song.
The guitars on this track are practically knife-carved from visceral muscle itself, and they are chugging away at spiky chords played at compelling intervals. When the guitars do eventually clean up, it evokes images of a toiler on the sea, reckoning with a real tempest of a guitar solo that threatens to capsize the whole operation.
It all comes together in an epicus doomicus heavy song to incinerate your home and kick the dust in your eyes.
“I get mean when I’m nervous, like a bad dog”.
This “bad dog” in question is a harbinger of fear on this track, lifted up by a haunted Indie-Rock guitar piece that escalates up and outward throughout the track. Well, it’s more the spooky scary kind of affair, like a cardboard cutout of a halloween exhibit.
It is rather unusual for Japanese-American songstress Mitski to be the focus of a dark song with menace, she is not really the first person you’d think of who can really gnash her teeth at onlookers. So, she uses her skills as an artist to construct interesting ways of manipulating fear to still work in her favor. I don’t think full-on “aggression” is really in her singing toolkit; I sincerely doubt she’ll ever get behind the microphone and unleash any Courtney Love power shrieks. She usually prefers reservation in her vocals, thus when making the musical backing on “Cop Car” that denies her usual vocal tranquility, it marks its own purpose. This is also the return of the Mitski double-tracked vocal, seeing as how Be The Cowboy made a conscious effort of being recorded with just Mitski’s solo voice to achieve its enchanting one-woman-in-a-room effect.
Mitski chases sounds that are harmonically interesting, rich, or engaging. She leans on a tritone chord and let’s the Devil’s interval do all the talking for her. The chords are unmistakably simple and creates a mood that veers towards the heavy and apocalyptic. It is invigorating to hear an artist who is confident in working with her chord sequences first and then deliberately creates melodies that are special crafted to fit inside whatever harmonic sequence she has created. Which maybe sounds like the bare minimum to music making, but when there are so many artists out there who seem to treat their chord progressions or song melodies as a complete afterthought, Mitski and her through-composed music seems all the more special.
This cut is evidently a composition from Mitski’s earlier years that’s been left on the shelf until now, making sense to why this track falls more in step with her earlier more guitar-centric songs. This one seems to date back around to her Bury Me At Makeout Creek days, and it got either re-recorded or gussied up for a release in some big Hollywood popcorn muncher’s horror flick. The film it’s from, “The Turning”, got an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, movie theaters were closed all year, I didn’t see the movie.
It is not a bad move for Mitski to unearth some of her unused songs, especially now that there are more eyes on her than ever since Mitski’s 2018 Be The Cowboy album was undoubtedly the most critically revered album of its year (maybe make an exception for Kacey Musgraves‘ Golden Hour, but no, I still think Mitski’s album got the critical edge between the two.)
Let me state for myself, that since I now have some added hindsight and a more substantial knowledge of Mitski’s back catalog of music, I can properly assess that Be The Cowboy was probably not the most logical starting point for a new listener like myself. Not as an accessibility thing, no no no, but it’s just a way more pin-pointed and myopic rendition of her usual songwriting craft where it sounds way less effortful than it really was in actuality. That was my read at least, I was a little unimpressed with my first few listenings to the album, but I now think that it is a fantastic and digestible smidgen of Art-Rock.
Put that puppy on a leash already.
“CRUNK AIN’T DEAD!”, is what Duke Deuce constantly shouts.
I’m certainly one to differ, but ever since Duke Deuce took the scene, he wants the whole world to know that Crunk is alive as ever -as long as you truly wish it to be. Which makes it sound like some Willy Wonka imagined hocus pocus, but I’ll respect the man for taking a stand. A stand for Crunk music. Now, I’ve got my own doubts that Crunk ain’t dead, since I’m pretty sure that in actuality, Crunk is dead as Jazz music, but I’ll entertain his notion if I can at least get some fun music out of it.
Memphis Massacre II is a great, nostalgic little trip of an album, as Duke Deuce fawns over the 2000’s era of Bling Rap and drippy Mafioso swagger. It’s crowning moment -as I’ve already suggested- is his “Crunk Ain’t Dead” remix that is so studded, that one of its featured rappers is probably already wearing it as a grill. He wrangled in an A1 group of Crunk’s finest, with Lil Jon, Project Pat, and Juicy J on the track, which makes for a fantastically entertaining revisit to that particular era of Hip-Hop.
Let it be known that I am a filthy vermin who was born in 1997, so this revisiting or reassessment of Crunk music doesn’t particularly trigger any knee-jerk reaction in me. By the time Crunk was in its fullest swing, I was more preoccupied with Yu Gi Oh! cards and “Fairly Odd Parents” reruns than anything concerning the monstrous popularity of Crunk music at the time. I do not froth at the mouth or perk my ears up high when I see Buzzfeed do a “Where Is He Now?” on rapper Chingy. I can’t tell if that makes whatever Duke Deuce is going for here advantageous to my listening experience or not: I don’t have much nostalgia over that bygone time for Hip-Hop, but I also didn’t have the experience of it grating on my last nerve like many others can well recall, in the darkest moments of Bling Rap curdling into Ringtone Rap.
That being said, Duke Deuce can still participate fine in Rap’s modern climate, and “Trap Blues” works on at least a couple more levels than the rest of the album does. He sets it off right with a blustering, dusty sax sample, setting the mood for a beat that is colder than a polar bear’s toenails. Talking about da trap yo yo buddy yup yup word to ya muthah is absolutely fair territory for any Crunker past or present, and if anyone were to come across this song in a vacuum (or Spotify playlist) and mistake it for a straight up Trap Rap song, I’m sure no one would complain.
There is also way more melody in his performance than one would really expect. Duke Deuce switches up the flow more than he probably really needs to, there is a bit more effort put into it than many others surely would have bothered with.
I’m inclined, against my will, to also assume this song is substantially more lowbrow than I might think it is. But I’ll still gun for it. I see little reason that Roddy Ricch‘s “The Box” gets to stand head and shoulders above other flow-switchers, yet another rap song like this doesn’t get to do the same.
Regardless if it’s a foot in the past or another relic of today, “Trap Blues” is a banger that’ll be sure to leave you trappin’ and snappin’.
“I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey”
-Corb Lund, Jaida Dreyer
If you pull your barstool next to mine, I’ll place a dime in the jukebox and we can take it from there.
There’s no two doubts about it, Americans have a definite history of placing an unhealthy lot of importance into our collective drinking habits. Fair as it may or may not be, a man can be quickly defined by his own choice in alcohol in an uncaring, hand-brushing manner. American archetypes live long and die hard, that’s just how it is. Yet on the flipside, if a woman were to order a dirty martini at the bar, she’ll raise the eyebrows of every patron in the joint.
Thus, it only makes sense for some rootin-tootin Country music to be written about yer pard’ner’s drinking habits. Only this one has a twist to it, as it’s styled after a lover’s debate: it’s a couple each giving their own elevator pitch as for why their alcohol of choice should be for the other too.
“‘Well I think you oughta try whiskey babe’
‘Well I think you oughta try gin’
‘Well gin sounds kinda risky babe’
‘Whiskey makes me cringe’
‘Yeah but whiskey makes you frisky babe’
‘Much to my chagrin’
‘Well I think you oughta try whiskey babe’
‘Well I think you oughta try gin'”
If a potential amie fervently tried to coerce me into drinking glass after glass of Malibu to keep up, I couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t try to even the playing field as well.
The concept is cutesy and amusing, and the wordplay can be straight up unusual at times. I can’t help but chuckle at how optimistic an attempt it is for them to incorporate the word “chagrin” into the chorus of a catchy Country sing-along. Also, if a song can make you cringe by drawing out every last syllable in the word “cringe”, is that at least kind of a job well done?
“I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey” is plucky in both its language and music backdrop. Their argument is met by a musky guitar line that prattles along and has a pedal steel guitar mimicking a lonesome train whistle bellowing out miles away: signalling that the train has left the station.
The voices of both Corb Lund and featured guest on the song, Jaida Dreyer, pair together effortlessly with their immaculate chemistry, which in itself does most of the song’s heavy lifting. It brings to mind the successes from any of those old Nashville duets à la what Loretta Lynn would do with a Conway Twitty type, or the joys of any Johnny Cash and June Carter hootenanny.
The narrative is also interesting in that it’s not just an explicit matter of Me vs. You, but rather it is simply a matter of personal taste. Part of the song’s humor comes from how each one is rather perturbed by the effects of what their respective alcohol of choice does for the other; it’s a behavioral issue as well. It would have been easier (and probably less engaging) if the song were framed as a lover’s spat, or simple argument, so I like that it’s instead a game of convincing the other party. The song is playful, and that goes a long way in country music for me and gives it a free pass in the process.
I’m a sucker for compromise and I have to wonder if they can eventually find their middle ground. Maybe they’ll enjoy sipping a fine, smoky martini together. Maybe they’ll take alternating turns, where Friday will be whisky night, and Saturday is gin time.
Or actually, screw it. Maybe they’d be better off for each other taking swigs from turpentine bottles and chugging Listerine.
“The Lesser of Two Upheavals”
’68 makes music that is furious, oftentimes hideous, and permanently throbbing like a bad headache.
“The Lesser of Two Upheavals” is a moderately experimental cut that cycles between Industrial rock fragments and is all about creating perpetual motion. The track as a whole is combustible and warbled, and that turns the whole experience into a pretty impressive feat.
’68 is a duo’s approach, and this track reaches into the goodie bag and pulls out some crazed oddities like vocals delivered through harsh muttering, and drummer Michael McClellan pummeling the drums like it owes him money. The pair work in tandem with one another, always traveling together in a unilateral fashion.
The track descends further into chaos with it’s unnervingly fraught vocals singing the harrowing “If I just looked better I could be your man”; a line that’s made even more uncomfortable once the disastrous vocal harmony climbs atop of it.
“The Lesser of Two Upheavals” publicly debases itself and sneers at anyone too weak to keep up.
If this is lesser of the two upheavals, then I’d be knocked to the floor if I ever heard whatever the more raucous variation is. #releasetheREALupheaval
Clear your cache and set the stage for Poppy: the one who is neither or nor.
The whole Poppy experiment as it is, is something akin to digitized sugar. She and her team seem to thrive their most when expanding any gimmick into something that at its end, actually comes out resembling substance.
Just look at this album cover. On her new album I Disagree, she takes a respectable swing at incorporating Metal music into her ironic branch of Pop pedigree. “I Disagree” is a valid enough mission statement for the whole Poppy study as we know it, instead of agreeing to any confirmations as to what she is, it’s more beneficial for her to just flat say what she isn’t. Disagreeing is resistance. Resistance is power. Power is Poppy.
The chaotic mix-and-match approach on this song and its full album is… disorienting, to put it lightly. Proficient metal guitar riffage can turn on its head at moment’s notice and recode itself into a bubblegum flurry. Real flesh-and-blood drum kits will wither and waste themselves away once drum machine breakbeats take hold. This song will partake in eyebrow raising pauses for some Japanese vocal interstitials, and just what is even going on here? Maybe it’s naïve for me to want Poppy’s music to have elements that actually gel instead of acting as a self-serving separation of disparate music ideas, but I’ll take what I can get.
I’d prefer the track to remain unblinking instead of engaging in a routine wink-and-a-nod to the knowingly bizarre instrumental, such as the chorus that links a drop tuned guitar crunch with Poppy’s powdered sugar sweet “burn it to the ground” singsong refrain. La la la la la, GRRRRRR.
Poppy vocalizes this wild music with a bratty yip, rather than that of a Lacuna Coil or Flyleaf singer Lacey Mosley snarl and pounce. Which is not to say that Poppy can’t rough it up as well, but it’s still surprising that a brat pop vocal style can still meld as well as it does with an intense and foreboding instrumental style done as such.
But is Metal a genre that can still thrive when it is being purposefully deprived of any of its sincerity? Who cares! Authenticity is a weird game to get too hung up on, so I’m just gonna have to pretend that I don’t care about whatever intentions are behind this project and just accept the music at its face value. It’s corpse face-painted value, that is.
Luckily, the music seems to be well informed by some collaborators who take actual refuge in heavy music. There is some bridgework established with Metal affiliates and the involved production work, and this track wisely disguises its Pop production sheen into an Industrial Metal façade. That isn’t to say that this Poppy song came about organically, in fact I think most everything about Poppy’s existence feels like a strange science project.
It can be painfully obvious at times when artists from the non-Rock world decide they want to use Brootal Metal as a broad veneer without any real understandings of its workings and underlying machinations. This is not being said to gate keep, as I believe that anybody can take influence from anywhere, no matter their experience level in the sounds they lift from, but there is a real drawback to one dimensional borrowings when done improper.
This is partially why my praise for the runaway favorite tracks by Rina Sawayama from this year; “XS” and “STFU!” is still rather muted comparatively, even though I recognize it’s beyond novel for a boldfaced Pop diva to be copping sounds from Heavy Metal music (even if it’s a nondescript variation of it). It comes across as way more exciting for listeners on the Pop side of the fence, but the Metal input often has little to nothing at all worth grabbing on to for anyone entering it with a healthy background and understanding of Metal musics. It feels as characterless for the genre as royalty free YouTube stock music would be. The inspiration may be there, but the cluelessness to its appeal is why it feels limited at times.
So does all this amount to much worthwhile for Poppy’s I Disagree album? I’ve been waffling with the idea since I’ve first heard this record, but I’m happy to say that I can find enough positives to safely declare that this bizarre approach is worth its weight in salt. Plenty of songwriting tactics fall through the cracks and its entirety is probably less than the sum of its parts, but dang is it a fun ride while it’s on the up and up.
“Deep In Love”
-Bonny Light Horseman
The trio known as Bonny Light Horseman put forth a really magical, casual strummer of an album this year, and it was one of the more underappreciated music offerings to be found in 2020. The one-time supergroup Bonny Light Horseman is a communal gathering of respected Folk/Country troubadours who are touching-up old Folk songs and giving them a realignment into the 21st century.
I’d hesitate to call this music project a “star-studded supergroup”, but rather it’s a marriage of reliable forces working in this particular lane of music, featuring the musicianship of Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson, and Josh Kaufman, who all come together to create a lasting work that is consciously unadorned and faithfully traditional in its sound.
That is, their music is a true meat n’ potatoes approach to Folk music making, which can sometimes be a nice break from the 2010’s mish-mash of Folk music that’s been pressed against some other unlikely genre sounds. When the worlds of Bro-Folk and Folktronica have got you down, I’m grateful to have an album like this to pick me back up.
The group made their live debut at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival, which in itself demonstrates a certain level of reverence for the music that they play. The performances on this song, and its full record, are rather affecting in its delicate nature, with its willowy nylon guitars and the quaint touch of tender femme vocals in play. As the song breezes along, brushes on the drums begin pitter-pattering steadily beside the musicians, leading to mental imagery of nature that is sure to follow.
It builds an au naturel essence around it, tempting you to envision woodchips ‘neath your feet and to soon begin deeply breathing in the country air.
Have you ever wanted to be some place that is nowhere and everywhere all at once? I think I’ve got you covered with this next tune.
The primary asset to “Nowhere” is its curious, roaming bassline that kicks it root down. Elsewhere, it has some sly snare pops and mysterious guitars that float and dissipate in the background. It’s very charming.
Singer Denitia sings the song through pursed lips, in a fashion that proves utterly captivating. If the kit were grimier or filled with artificial vinyl crackling as window-dressing, this would be but a stone’s toss away from Trip-Hop music. Most music elements on the song puncture the track with staccato micro-bursts, the end effect is a grainy fabric of mesh and lace.
The whole track comes together very naturally and is an easy one to get lost inside.
Mr. Elevator has got just the right stuff for flyin’ high in the friendly sky.
“Bamboo Forest” is an instrumental that knows how to take its lighter than light woodwind synths and turn them into a compelling pocket symphony. An effort is made in declaring “every instrument, an island” on this track, as there are lowered piano rumblings in the left channel, a cheeky harpsichord patch that says its piece before bowing out, and a drummer who plays his role as the locomotive conductor to the piece.
It is also full of these bright-eyed major 7th chords, creating an imaginative destination way out on the horizon. However, those once carefree chords do eventually see harmonic minor add-ons, eventually signalling them as being consequential.
The end effect is crystalline, shimmering, meditative even. One could imagine electric harpies singing out as the song whizzes on by.
Everything comes all together like artificial nature.
-Strawberry Girls, Nic Newsham
Is that an octaver guitar I hear?
If the answer is “yes”, then there is a decent chance that it’s another firestarter by Strawberry Girls, a band who has their name attached to one of the more exciting guitar songs of this year.
Strawberry Girls already has a solid amount of bangers in their roster, including a sneak favorite of mine: “Agua Verde”, the surprise summer romp you never really thought you needed. The band is clearly very technically gifted and easily identifiable by their guitarists, allowing the band to have been comfortably associated under the larger Math Rock genre umbrella.
This track, “Mini Ripper”, hosts a guest vocal from Dance Gavin Dance frontperson Nic Newsham as something of a meeting of the minds. Seeing as to how both Newsham and Strawberry Girls have had their share of collabs together before, Newsham sounds very relaxed and in the zone while doing his thing over the song’s instrumental. He has his lyrical musings about hanging up the mic after the microphone had hung him, and it gets itself across as a decent role reversal in lyric writing, I’ll give him that.
The track finds easy opportunity to spice itself up with its sharp guitar lines and its accelerating drumrolls, rocketing all the way up the roller coaster ramp with rickety texture. That is, before the track crashes down at a more suitable cruising speed for our singer to jump up on and fraternize with.
There are subtle little quirks in the lyrics too, like how it’s bridge rattles off likeminded rhymes of driving in “an auto” like he “won the lotto”, and builds up a rhyme scheme that all but begs him to include a line about driving after getting blotto, but there’s unexpectedly a full break in the scheme to instead sing “make sure you drive carefully”. Neat! Maybe that’s all inference on my part, but I found it to be a nice bit of direction/misdirection.
The track is not without its low points however, not least of which are from some of the “yikes” inducing quips that Nic Newsham throws into the mix, unfortunately showcasing a man well out of his depth, coming up with lyrics that come out less like successful “gotcha’s” and instead land like exactly what it is: the less-than-clever lyrics of somebody stuck with the very limited viewpoint of being just some guy in a successful rock band. He throws in his half-baked digs like “oh what a bummer, I got cancelled last summer” and takes on apparent accusations against his “stupid opinions about civics and women”, recorded presumably while white-knuckle gripping a sippy-cup filled with them Lib tears. I daresay lyrics like these make Blackbear look almost sympathetic in comparison.
Even if parts of the lyrics are, let’s say.. regrettable, very little of the stink comes off on Strawberry Girls themselves. A decent reason why this song ranked as high as it did on my list was just that its guitar riff is absolutely one of the most instantly memorizable of the year, you hear it once and you probably won’t forget it soon after.
“On The Floor”
Perfume Genius‘ 2020 album Set my Heart On Fire Immediately was highly anticipated by any of those who’ve been ‘in the know’ about his previous material for a while, and once the reviews started to roll in, it became self evident that the new album was certainly worth the wait.
As per his past repertoire, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately‘s music typically lends a heavy ear towards the more regal 60’s sound of Chamber-Pop and “On The Floor” in particular was singled out for praise due to how it breaks out of the mould for a bit, working hard to create a distinctive vibration to call its own.
His previous LP, 2017’s No Shape also gathered plenty significant and buzzworthy notice, not least of which was the attention it received from the Grammys, where Perfume Genius and producer Blake Mills walked away with the award for Best Engineered Album. Which makes sense, much of its acclaim stemmed directly from it being an absolute audiophile’s paradise, and it developed a reputation almost overnight largely centering around its masterful mixing, rightfully becoming one of the decade’s quintessential “headphones listening” albums.
As previously stated, much of his catalog refers back to the playful romanticism of 1960’s music, bringing a rather baroque nature to the table. This song’s backbone is in its carefree 6/8 shuffle and the off-beat triplets that are continually being accented which turns it into a spacey waltz affair. This is not set in stone however, and is subject to change over the course of the song, seeing as how parts of the song allow the beat to drop out beneath Perfume Genius for him to glide his way down the scale, like a prince sliding smoothly down a banister.
Amidst the wild backing track, what-with its shuffling guitars pogoing between both channels and throbbing keyboards that jettison blood away from the head, there is always the constant of Perfume Genius’ mournful shake in his voice. It almost sounds like he is singing this song behind a locked door, self-isolated away from the rest of the world.
As to be expected, his backing vocals are also enveloped in studio effects, not unlike him singing the song while dodging between the traffic of his own head full of thoughts. I think it’s alright to say that this track has its fair share of disorientation to it, with keyboards that dribble back and forth behind wave after wave of watery guitar effects, all while an impellient fuzz-bass soldiers on. The plinking riffs pivot and turn around as the guitar sweeps across the strings like a slot machine jingling away.
All of this seesawing back and forth peaks on a gorgeous tension chord, with him singing “I just want him in my arms” in a moment that could almost make even Phil Spector proud.
“Too Many Husbands”
Coriky‘s debut album this year was a pleasant surprise to be sure, and depending on who you’d ask, it was even a small return to form for Fugazi kickstarter and founder Ian MacKaye. This new band, Coriky, is in essence Ian MacKaye continuing his work from his 2000’s group The Evens, alongside drummer/rotating vocalist Amy Farina and bassist Joe Lally, also formerly of Fugazi, along for the ride.
The album single “Too Many Husbands” is anchored by a guitar bit that’s sharp and antagonistic. It’s a six-string clanging type of song with single note stop-and-start riffs, not to mention its unrelenting drums and intermittent bass work. It definitely brings to mind some of Steve Albini‘s Post-Hardcore razor-edged demon barks that came from the likes of his bands such as Shellac and Big Black (among others).
Amy Farina takes lead on vocals for this track, infusing the song with an emblazoned attitude that is completely untethered to any sense of other’s desires besides herself and herself alone. The track gradually expands itself outward with new tricks and twists to throw onto the pile, like it’s razzed-out pick scrapes and lowly tuned tom-toms.
Whatever Coriky says is “too much”, I’d argue is not even close to enough. Keep ’em rolling.
“I Can See”
Two years after the tragic passing of Mac Miller, his bated-breath follow-up album Circles album was released in 2020: leaving behind a carefully compiled and splendidly crafted set of tunes that will make you feel like you are trawling the megahertz. Circles is the sister album to 2018’s Swimming, creating the loose yin and yang of “swimming in circles” and becoming a de facto punctuation point to mark his sentence’s end.
Seeing Mac Miller have such a knockout year this year despite him not being around to see it is obviously going to be bittersweet. How could it not be? There are plenty of new listeners of his who have only gotten into his work after he had already passed on, and I hold no ill will towards those who’ve discovered his work late. In a year that is regularly being consciously pockmarked by its rising death tolls, a year where the frailty of life is constantly on the forefront of everybody’s minds, it would only make sense that some of the biggest and most popular music right now has come from the likes of posthumous artists, à la Juice WRLD, Pop Smoke, and Mac Miller.
But I also want to make sure that people don’t think that the value of Mac Miller’s music has been grossly overinflated in reaction to his death, because I was there when Blue Slide Park came out in 2011, and believe me, it was absolutely monstrous in popularity during my time in high school. I can vividly remember the extreme outpouring of love that my peers showed him at his height, and I still know some of my old classmates who got the album cover tattooed on their body, Mac fans were something else.
The whole Circles record has this wide smattering of orchestral Technicolor pastels, and standout song “I Can See” is no exception. There is little else that is more exciting than hearing the opening to this track with it’s Sega Genesis keys that begin gently careening against the nighttime’s stars. This album’s secret weapon is in its GOATed producer Jon Brion, who adds his usual splash of musicality against the music he’s working with, all while still selflessly taking the backseat per usual. He provides ever-so tender minutia of symphonic touch-ups and close-miked warmth that utterly transforms this record.
I hope Mac Miller’s fans aren’t burnt by this (as it seems now) final album from him predominantly featuring his budding singing talents rather than his known and established skills as a rapper. “I Can See” has its emphasis placed on Mac’s reliably frayed vocal tendencies. He hits the notes he needs to hit, and has a particular charm in the way his lips arduously stretch around the words and phrases he sings.
I’ll take a cue from the time a young David Bowie in his “Song For Bob Dylan” lovingly described Dylan’s voice to be “like sand and glue”, and I’ll go ahead and say Mac Miller has a voice like shag carpeting. I think his desire to sing more has given him even more versatility in the process, seeing as how he was able to all but abandon his rapping skills for his last couple of albums.
The great irony of Circles is in how this album comes out the other side ending up as “life affirming” music. There’s ample reason why so many listeners were devastatingly touched this year when listening to his simple request of hearing “Good News”, sung in his usual mousey voice. A little bit of compassion goes a long way these days.
Circles searches for paths of serenity and calm within the storm. I’m almost certain that Mac has found what he was looking for.
The preacher has given his word, and the word is good.
Marcus King is one of the more exciting artists I have had the pleasure of coming across this past year, he’s an artist who blends his Southern Rock charm with blue-eyed soul wailing on his 2020 album El Dorado. “The Well” is delivered like a true Southern preacher man perched on his 10 foot tall soapbox, howling about the fires of Hell and claiming that salvation can be found both in the cleansing waters drawn from the well and from some goodle fashioned Rock n’ Roll music.
All these talks of hellfire are appropriate, as Marcus King delivers the song through a strained blues grit vocal and a true fire in his gullet, further displayed front and center against the drum’s steady kick that marches onward with a militaristic two-step strike. Elsewhere, the instruments operate under a galloping click-clack rhythm for Marcus to ride atop of.
While large chunks of the album dabbles in a comfort food Soul music sound, I, of course had to gravitate towards the barnburner Southern Rockers on the album. There’s something so alluring about his imposing cowboy swagger and all of the chicken-pickin’ guitar leads he pulls out. Even from the track’s earliest moments, you just know you’re in for a good time when the guitar feedback whines away at it’s very opening, clueing the listener in to what excitement waits ahead.
Marcus has described the southern fried guitar multiplications of Lynyrd Skynyrd as a key influence to his playing, and it doesn’t surprise me much at all. “The Well” ends with some soloing that’ll leave your average player’s fingers in knots, and the guitar licks are all hot n’ heavy fun. Another highlight is when the riffage temporarily modulates down a full step before resuming its blue-collar rocking back in its home key, a quick vacation away from home.
I could actually see this album becoming a total roadtrip favorite in the near future, well-equipped for long treks spent driving down dirt roads and along dusty canyons.
A country boy can survive.
“Long Violent History”
Among the reasons that 2020 was a year for the history books (and not the good chapters, either) was due to how the year became a pivotal moment in re-examining racial and cultural injustices -we got here through terrible, abhorrent circumstances, but the conversation is where it is currently at all the same.
Anybody with half a conscience has felt the effects of this year’s brutalization inflicted on the African American community and beyond. How could you not? This ongoing conversation and endless glut of damning footage has gotten even the most politically avoidant of artists to come out of the woodworks and use their heightened platform for a greater purpose. Nobody in their right minds would have anticipated rapper Lil Baby to take his red hot moment in the limelight to contribute his scathing take-down “The Bigger Picture” to the movement, but it felt impossible for him not to say something, anything at all.
You know it’s gotten bad if even the country guys are getting involved. Chris Stapleton‘s newest had him stepping up to the task with the harrowing send-up to homegrown white terrorism, “Watch You Burn”, and Eric Church spouted off with the backhanded, heated, “Stick That In Your Country Song”, an indignant rebuttal against his nation’s set in bedrock norms. Taking these messages and transplanting them into a genre with long-standing, mostly apolitical leanings makes it all the more attention-grabbing and pertinent.
The very best of this year’s politique de la Country however, came from Tyler Childers, who oversees the tense and rigid subject matter with a guided hand and fiery blood coursing through his veins. This song comes at the end of his very true by form, fully Bluegrass album -an album from Childers this year that was all instrumental and mostly lackadaisical, not too preoccupied with any consequential music- up until its final track “Long Violent History”, which shows that he can really walk the walk and isn’t just putting on a show in an empty gesture. His usual impassioned vocals parlay into our larger societal woes.
“It’s the worst that it’s been since the last time it happened
It’s happening again right in front of our eyes
There’s updated footage, wild speculation
Tall tales and hearsay and absolute lies”
The list of politically-minded popular songs in Country music is small, but not non existent. Some could give solid arguments that the genre has always had political intentions, but I think many would agree that these largely faded over time. One could remember Garth Brooks‘ for-the-time shockingly controversial “We Shall Be Free”, which managed to ruffle devout Country fans feather’s in the song’s lyrics long string of empty platicisms. Or, one could instead recall Loretta Lynn‘s genuinely rapturous “The Pill”, one of Country’s most resilient feminist anthems that got banned most everywhere in 1975. There of course are other Country songs with an agenda from the more underground acts, like Lavender Country dispelling gender norms with bombast language, but that was purely from the outside-looking-in, and not a total genre infiltration.
Tyler Childers has kind of defied any strict categorization up to this point in time. He’s normally been tagged with the “Alt Country” signifier, which, while not fully transparent to which angle he comes from, is still telling enough to what his standing place in the grander world of Country is. While his watershed moment this year was the sharp dissection into societal tensions on “Long Violent History”, last year’s song of his to write home about was his ode to *ahem* shall we say, dancing with yourself, on “Ever Lovin’ Hand”.
I’m not bringing up his past, jokey songs to dilute his pressing message here, it’s instead brought up to better illustrate Childers’ brand of speaking his mind with little interference from the higher-ups in suits. Somehow, he hasn’t become an exiled Country music pariah like the exponentially freaky Sturgill Simpson had turned into, but he’s able cruise at his own pace and still calls the shots.
Tyler Childers’ go-around at political lyricism, thankfully really is accusatory and stance-taking, instead of plodding about as a half-measure approach of “both sides are at fault” and stumbling into pitfalls of rampant “whataboutism”. Tyler comfortably resides in the greater outskirts of Country music so that’s perhaps why he’s able to get away unscathed with such a pointed message, whereas nobody could or would ever expect to hear Brad Paisley write this same set of lyrics.
It is a complete ballistic attack on all sides, like how Father John Misty‘s Pure Comedy depicted a modern society in the throes of semi-poetic collapse. It takes the musical vantage point of modern Americana to communicate the unyielding stress of being an American with a conscience, assessing our racial divide like a ravine cradling against a sharp, rocky decline.
“How many boys could they haul off this mountain
Shoot full of holes, cuffed, and laid in the streets
‘Til we come in to town in a stark ravin’ anger
Looking for answers and armed to the teeth”
Childers doesn’t stoop, pander, or talk down -it’s a round table chat of “calls ’em like he sees ’em” here. In interviews, Tyler speaks he wants “Justice for Breonna Taylor, a Kentuckian” like me; “Long Violent History” genuinely comes across as a songwriter fueled by human connection.
“Long Violent History” describes a world surrounded by fear, confusion and a painful regularity. Come find your peace today, before it’s gone from us tomorrow.
“Oh would that be the start of a long, violent history
Of tuckin’ our tails as we try to abide?”
If you’ve been looking for a true blue Rock band that can hold your interest, look no further than the band Advertisement.
The group came through with their American Advertisement debut album this year and it is a cramped yet stunning display of Rock readiness with the kind of untapered energy that could only be found from a giddy, amped-up band. “Upstream Boogie” is among the highest echelon of tracks the album has to offer, snaking along with full-shoulder electric guitar strums and an apparent deathwish to have. The track also thrives from its head bobbing Elvis Costello-ey keyboard parts that is further benefited from having a singer who tackles the track with a cockeyed Mick Jagger affectation.
When the band isn’t going for hot-blooded performances like on “Upstream Boogie”, the larger American Advertisement album has its wider selection of spoon-stirring soulful rock songs among other excursions that resemble a ZZ Top “Cheap Sunglasses” fashioned bad-boy affair.
Add in a neat dual guitar riff-along at its end and you’ve got the winning recipe for a pretty great tune.
“How Do You Feel”
On this cut by the band Post Animal, they position themselves as journeymen on the prowl.
“How Do You Feel” comes straight off of the band’s second album, titled Forward Motion Godyssey (hey, that’s pretty good!) and it’s a fairly impressive sampler tray as to what these eclectic Indie synth rockers have to offer to the larger listening world.
The song rides high on its velvety bassline and space-station guitar punches, accompanied by the song’s singer having a kinetic and seductive vocal timbre that, to my ears at least, brings to mind the vocal stylings of The Weeknd.
The song, while still respectable in its first half, truly begins to levitate and vibrate at a higher frequency once it gets to its middle instrumental section where the vocals bow out, and the band does what can only be described as turning on the warm jets. The keyboards are waxing and waning like an S.O.S. signal lost at sea, it’s really rather intoxicating.
How do you feel? Now that you mention it, I really don’t feel half bad.
“Speed Me Up”
-Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, Lil Yachty & Sueco The Child
Who’dda thought that of all things, the “Sonic the Hedgehog” feature film would be our indicator for a pre-pandemic simpler times. Oh February, please take me back.
This year, I’ve talked with a good handful of people who were reminiscing on the Sonic film for no other reason than it was the last film they got to see in an actual real life movie theater before the ‘rona hit and shut theater chains down. I had considered seeing it myself at the time but just didn’t get around to it, which I have at least a little regret about now. So now we live in a timeline where the “Sonic the Hedgehog” motion picture and “Trollz: World Tour” are important cinematic artifacts in the year of Corona; they aren’t what I would have personally hand selected to be our pandemic benchmarks, but hey, you get what you get.
I may not have actually seen the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie, but I knew in an instant of hearing the film’s curated posse rap cut “Speed Me Up” that I would get a ridiculous amount of mileage out it. Now, speaking as a long-time quasi-serious music fan, I feel that I’m well beyond the whole concept of having any “guilty pleasures”, but that being said… YEESH! Oh wow is this song a pretty mindless event. I don’t need all my music to be an intellectual affair, but this is still pretty up there in the department of cheap junkfood thrills in music.
“Speed Me Up” is a tag-team rap collab that’s all about our favorite lickety splitly video game rodent: Sonic the Hedgehog. And the fact that this track is (in theory at least) designed to be for children is only barely enough to cover its bases, because I don’t think there’s any tangible reality where a rap track about Sonic the Hedgehog would ever be a brainbuster. The only other video game tie-in song for Sonic the Hedgehog I can think of comes from Right Said Fred of “I’m Too Sexy” fame, and their laughable ode to the blue mascot titled “Wonderman”, that is plenty evidence enough that Sonic the Hedgehog does not attract the poetic laurate types in music making. That said, I still think that if there ever was a time for a rap song to exist about Sonic the Hedgehog, that time is now.
Because let’s face it: if you’re a modern rapper, you’re probably gonna be at least a little nerdy. Back in 1994, Biggie left it at “Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis/When I was dead broke/Man, I couldn’t picture this” and stopped it there, but I can guarantee that most his generation’s peers in rap had little to no interest in taking their video game rhymes any further. Rapping about kiddy stuff like video games would sorta dampen their hardened street image, and apart for paying lip service to passing references of ColecoVision or Atari in order to fill a rhyme scheme, it was deemed an unsuitable topic for rappers. That’s not even to mention that I don’t doubt that the lion’s share of rappers realistically weren’t much for video gaming in their real personal life. It’s hard to play some Gex when you’re out thugging.
The featured artists on “Speed Me Up” hardly need any refresher course on the going’s-on of the Sonic games. There are easy references made to gold rings, Knuckles the Echidna, spin dashes, Miles “Tails” Prower, doin’ the double dash and a wide assortment of vidya game sounds that bounce all around in the background: spring sounds, bumper hits, coin get, it’s all here. While this subject obviously places a limiting box around the rapper’s subject matter, I think it makes them find creative ways to flex their Rap muscles and come up with some inventive ways to bring it all back to their strengths. Not every song can be about bling and keyless whips, after all.
If they tried making this “Speed Me Up” track in the 90s, Rap groups like Onyx would swear up and down they had no idea about anything about the Sonic the Hedgehog character, and that’s no fun. I think rappers are past caring about nerd credit these days, though. I’d imagine that the lady who went on Jeopardy that was super into “NerdCore Hip-Hop” would totally jam along to this song, and Alex Trebek would still be clowning on her from the afterlife.
All right. Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now. The closest direct point of comparison to “Speed Me Up” is the wholly ridiculous rap from the movie “Space Jam”, that for some inexplicable reason goes absolutely hard as nails. It’s like nobody involved in the rap track got the memo that the song was just a throwaway for a kid’s movie. This is not a joke, “Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars’ Anthem)” had verses from Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, Method Man and B-Real on the track, all of which were either at or nearly at their prime. It would feel like punching down to compare any of these rappers with the likes of a Lil Yachty from “Speed Me Up”, but the point to be made is that this “end credits rap song” schtick can actually be seen as a time honored tradition for the genre.
I’ve also got to wonder if some of the faster-than-fast and whiter-than-white rappers out there are at least a little miffed that the movie’s producers exclusively chose mumble rappers to be on their song that’s all about speed. Lil Yachty rapping on this track sounds like we’re getting bars from Cleveland Junior, which can come across as a little counterproductive. Also, they straight up had to censor an “ass” in Ty Dolla $ign‘s verse, did he just completely forget what song he is in?
I also have zero clue as to why more Rap songs don’t use a Motorik beat like this song has. For anyone who’s unaware, a Motorik beat is one of the Krautrock genre’s defining sounds, it’s a drumbeat where the drums kick on the 1, the 2, and the 4 beats with a snare accent on the 3. It creates a sense of forward momentum and constant motion, which is perfect for a hedgehog who can roll around at the speed of sound. Using the Motorik beat on “Speed Me Up” was utterly inspired.
In a year where “Speed Me Up” is an actually dynamite song, the similar children’s movie rap tie-in song of 2020: “Krabby Step”, sits at the kid’s table, literally. Not to imply that Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t also for the kiddos, but the ‘ow the edge’ from Shadow the Hedgehog existing in the Sonic series helps to even matters out. “Krabby Step” is Lil Mosey of “Blueberry Faygo” fame and his Rap friends acting out a stale meme at Nickelodeon’s behest, it’s good fun but it’s not very enjoyable as a piece of audio. In other words, “Krabby Step” is the Chum Bucket to “Speed Me Up”s Krusty Krab.
Sidenote: have y’all had the chance to revisit the original The Spongebob Squarepants Movie Soundtrack lately? Stephen Hillenburg had some absolutely patrish taste in Indie bands of the era, he was able to snag Wilco, Flaming Lips, The Shins, Motörhead, and more for the Spongebob soundtrack, it’s kind of crazy.
Whatever. Sonic is love, Sonic is life.
IT’S NO USE! BWAAHHH!!
This one goes out to all the Disco men and Disco ladies out there.
Remi Wolf caught her biggest break yet this year when her I’m Allergic To Dogs! E.P. seriously began to make the rounds, and its breakout track “ID Card” started to put her name into some real conversations worth having. My personal favorite from the tape is her tasty slice of Disco music idolatry showcased on “Disco Man”.
Let’s be upfront and address that the Disco in this song “Disco Man” is not a Disco to an overwhelming degree. Because, if you did want to hear the kind of Disco music that makes your knees buckle, heart tighten, and girdle fasten, you’ve got plenty of other swell options to choose from this year. I know that Roísín Murphy‘s Roísín Machine was a fantastic little delve into the style and era, and Kylie Minogue kind of gave the game away by releasing a whole album named, plainly, Disco. Have we said the word “disco” enough in this paragraph? Let me say it again just to make sure: Disco.
That being said, “Disco Man” by Remi Wolf only ranks at about a 4 on the Mohs Scale of Disco Intensity, or Discocity if you will.
In “Disco Man”, Remi sings a flirtatious lark regarding her falling head over heels for what she describes as a “Disco man”. I have all but no choice as to stop and wonder all about what the inner logistics of this proposed Disco Man would even be like. My fascination with her choosing to pine after a -let’s say it again- “Disco Man”, mostly comes from the fact that I have little doubt at all that such a Disco heartthrob of a man actually exists out there, because for starter’s, modern disco is back in vogue and is firmly a white man’s game. We get some hints and descriptors from the verses:
“Always dressed in black tie with white guys”
“Gas station glasses on his way to Rio”
“He likes his movies when they’re Tarantino”
So is this Disco Man a Tony Moreno lookalike who makes all the ladies swoon as he struts on by? Or is it way more likely instead that he’s some pale and pasty dude who plays bass in a Funk bar band and watches way too many “Mystery Science Theater 3000” marathons? I know where I’m placing my bets.
Remi herself brings buckets of personality to the song and personally elevates this already delightful little romp ‘x’-amount further. When she totally sticks her neck out there to wail on those high notes at its climax, you can feel her voice quaking from the rafters. The instrumental completely pops and the tempo is a fantastic one to groove along with. Any instrumental follies or lyrical deficiencies are easily hidden by her force of personality, Remi Wolf is an artist to keep an eye on.
“Disco Man” also has a set of lyrics that straddle the line between an all too knowing wink to the audience and/or being a way too simple vocab first draft of a song that never got fleshed out. “If you meet me at the Disco, man” is about on the same level as a Kacey Musgraves‘ “You can have your space, cowboy” on “Space Cowboy”, it’s a stretch and a half. The latter example walked away with the Album of the Year Grammy though, so my theory may be flawed.
Specifically, I’ve got serious gripes with the way she bends and warps a completely inflexible phrase like “He’s got a lot of fiscal plans” in the chorus into something that resembles “fisckolle plans” in the process. She really stretches that rhyme scheme just as far as it’ll go, having to repeatedly sing this line is either marginally creative or just circles all the way back around to becoming a complete farce. And the fact that the line just keeps repeating itself with total glee has to either reinforce its unavoidable banality or fully circumvents it in the process. I’m still rather undecided. It sure makes for a catchy hook though! It is not without its charm.
Looks like we’ve got no choice but to burn this disco out.
Tei Shi takes no time to wallow in the mire, “Disappear” is immediate as a song can get and makes great use of its themes about hitting rock bottom and finding a way to get back up above it. This song is defined by it’s melancholic Bossa-Nova guitar sequence -let’s take a page from freaky folkster Tim Buckley and call this guitar pattern Happy-Sad. I like being able to call a spade a spade when I’m able to.
Tei Shi sings a rather prickly vocal melody on the track, singing about her desires to find “a pill that makes me feel nothing”. I’m pretty sure that somebody else had already made an instruction manual on how to disappear completely, but a pill that makes you not feel and disappear works just as well I suppose.
The chords that are being swatted away at on a bayou-lazing acoustic guitar choose some emotive jazz-styled chords that sift around and tread water merrily, before circling all the way back once more to right where we kicked it off. It invites itself in for due repetition and doesn’t get the chance to grate on the listener’s nerves. While the instrumentation is dissociative and near-skeletal, our singer Tei Shi uses some double-tracked vocals to create a warmth in the song that’s greatly appreciated -it’s like lying down under a weighted blanket while a snowstorm blusters outside your window.
For my own enjoyment, the song does get a little more dicey once talks of “we” sprout up. I think a song about fully disappearing out of loneliness is a subject best fit for one individual, adding someone else into the equation kind of throws things off kilter in my eyes.
There’s also this weird part of the song where her harmony vocal notes seriously start to curdle on the line “I’m always complaining” into something uncanny, it sounds like it has to have been a complete oversight. But at least the lyrics at that precise moment still tie into her neediness while the music behind cuts out on the line, so let’s give benefit of the doubt and call it a feature that steps this song up rather than the obvious bug it is.
Anyway, “Disappear” is a very enjoyable romp that I’m sure I won’t forget any time soon.
That there, that’s not she. She’s not here, this isn’t happening.
Out of the new ruling Pop class of 2019, it’s difficult to argue that the seat at the head of the table could hardly belong to anyone else besides Billie Eilish. You could, of course, have your own different metrics to measure by. One could argue that Lizzo‘s improbable rise to the top of the charts with her singles that were already years old was more impressive than that of Eilish’s widely-hyped album release, or you could be even more easily inclined to bestow Lil Nas X with a rhinestoned cowboy hat as crown for having the indisputable song of 2019, the deathless “Old Town Road -Remix”. But still, it is hard to deny that there was anything but one name on everybody’s tongue last year: Billie.
That’s what made this year all the more surprising, in that Billie Eilish has pursued a relatively quiet period of music making for all of her 2020. OK, ha ha, Billie Eilish and “quiet music making”, I know all of her music sounds super quiet, that’s her whole thing. Or rather, I mean to say that 2020 was a surprisingly vacant year of music coming from her. I wouldn’t say that it is anything to get particularly worried about, her previously released material is still holding well and enduring just fine into 2020 and beyond, and Billie Eilish did enjoy a major moment in the limelight way earlier this year when she became only the second artist ever to fully sweep all 4 major categories at the Grammys (fun fact: until this happened, you have never heard Billie Eilish and Christopher Cross mentioned together in the same sentence).
And yet, while the world at large is plummeting towards a doom and gloom endgame scenario, the dark, hazy stylings of miss Eilish were nowhere to be found. Well, mostly nowhere that is. Besides her Bond theme that she made with her brother and co-writer Finneas (which was released pre-pandemic so that doesn’t really count), and the middling “everything i wanted” that proved to have serious legs on commercial radio against the odds, she put out an itty bitty song called “my future”.
In the larger scheme of things, “my future” is a pretty minute song. Let’s just say that “my future” did not receive the rapturous, immediate acclaim that her previous songs had been met with -which is not really so much a slight on the song itself, but more-so a comment on its supremely unorthodox nature coming from a popular recording artist such as Billie Eilish. It is not a song designed to feed the hype machine, or to be the indisputable song of the summer. For now, it’s a considerable left hook delivered to the media pundits who are devilishly monitoring the development of Billie Eilish’s career as a massive persona in the public imagination.
Radio diehards would have to wait several months longer for her to finally release the single “Therefore I Am”, a more logical crowdpleaser that seemed to satisfy most everyone and was generally regarded to be a better suited follow-up for her, even if the thrills are relatively mild. Oh well, I still chose her other song which was clearly not for radio to be on my list.
“my future” finds a cozy cranny to hang around in, somewhere between a transfixed, focused desperation and a lazy lullaby. For the majority of the song, the music is occupied only by her bubbling wurlitzer keyboard and her usual lost era Jazz singer voice, cooing away with her dainty whisper games.
It still kind of gobsmacks me that the track takes so goshdarned incredibly long to get to where it’s going. It’s not like this is a Godspeed You! Black Emperor cut or nuthin’ like that, I’m aware this is all contextual, but for what eventually blooms into a pleasant, bouncy, even danceable number, the patient journey it takes to get there is still fairly staggering. But when the other shoe does eventually drop, it turns on a dime into a cooly orchestrated lite Funk romp, with crisply programmed drums and soulful guitar accents played with a loose left hand.
The lyrics Billie pens are admirable as well, and depicts a young woman determined in finding herself a good headspace to occupy with a healthy outlook on romantics, addressing her own needs for self-respect and self-love, sacrificing to-be relationships to work on herself instead. She struggles to face desires about what her future can be, without giving into any of her throbbing. biological. urges. Still though, I can’t help but ponder how “my future” is a pretty flimsy way to turn a guy down. Like, “it’s not you it’s me.” But, “it’s like, really, really me.”
Now that my thoughts on this song are out there into the world (hi, world!), I’ll state that I can’t get really get behind some of the discourse I’ve seen surrounding this song. Namely, those remarks made from detractors who criticized her for being a Pop artist who has the gall to release a song that doesn’t sit well against their usual radio fodder. “my future” might get a later distinction of being a hidden gem from Billie that got lost in the shuffle during her coming to grips with her stratospheric stardom. Or maybe it will secure a forever place on her next studio album, and the conversation around this song will then become quite different. I don’t have all of the answers.
So, is this the sound of Billie Eilish’s future? Who knows, but it’s a very interesting pitstop along the way.
No shame in the game, not everybody likes black licorice.
Actually, that’s being quite generous, I find that black licorice usually deserves a routine placement in the trash can or instead left on the shelf, most people just ain’t about it. So with this in mind, maybe it should be at least a little alarming when someone begins finding the polarizing nature of the candy to be relatable to themselves and their own love life.
“Black Licorice” is a light Alt-Rock breakup song, where the singer of Peach Pit unfavorably compares himself to the infamous candy that is the scourge of trick-or-treaters across the world.
For the record, I am one of the few candy connoisseurs out there who enjoys black licorice just fine, it’s a dying art, it is. But it sure ain’t for everyone – and most wouldn’t hesitate in being vocal about their deep-seated distaste of it. There’s something of an empowering yet impossibly sad allure of hearing someone sing about how they believe that they are destined to always get the unpreferred treatment in life.
Sorry, maybe I just can’t get over this central metaphor. Believing yourself to be an acquired taste is both rather unusually liberating and has a definite aura of pitifulness to it. He believes that all she could ever want is the opposite of him.
The song takes place in the time spent coming off of a messy breakup, one that is played as two people being simply incompatible. This phase of the breakup he’s in is less-so stuck in that early, devastating heartbreak part -this isn’t a wailing Shangri-La’s-esque display of teenage agony- but rather it instead sounds more like the bittered post-breakup defeat that renders you solo, shoe-scuffing forlorn, and eating too much Häagen-Dazs ice cream alone in your bedroom.
The music is a real delight too, of course, kind of existing in this unsure gray area that never pulls or pushes too far in any one direction. The guitars as well are, to make it stately, bittersweet. It’s mainly powered through by an acoustic guitar that’s being processed in some phaser technology to give it a daydreamy affectation. The drum playing is spry while scene-setting, and the band isn’t afraid to flare off when the time is right, including a sneaky section being played in 7/8 time before snapping right back into its chorus.
Of course, there are very few people out there who believe that everybody can love them all the time. If that’s how it’s got to be, then keep on comparing yourself to those non-acquired tastes by the masses like your black licorice, circus peanuts, or Arby’s sandwiches.
But let me ask you this: do you know what other food there is out there that not a lot of people actually like to eat? Caviar. Put some respect on yourself.
“In A Good Way”
If a girl opened up to me and confessed “You make me wanna cry… in a good way”, it’s difficult to say if such a statement would actually be a complimentary chin-up to my ego or not. I’ll admit that it’d probably just bum me out, but I can see a possible reality where this is a desirable thing to hear.
Faye Webster approaches the subject with just the right level of care, soberness, and maybe even a small dash of crashness to it too. Now, “In A Good Way” is not my first run-in with the singer, her Atlanta Millionaires Club record certainly made the rounds last year and picked up some nice, respectable adulation for it in the process. That which I have heard from the Atlanta Millionaires Club album did not personally strike much of a chord with myself, but even if that’s just how I feel, I still do see it’s value.
What first drew me in to “In A Good Way” was how with the sparse areas that’s left open between its respective instruments, each sound seems to exist in its own spacious gap between fluttering heartbeats. This song uses its sleepy guitar chords to actually build a decided mood instead of using so-so kinda-sorta chords as an alarmingly not-too-reluctant crutch, as some modern indie guitar acts may be inclined to do. The soft guitars land right on color notes that grant it a fragile porcelain sheen. It’s a sonic experience that’s like lightly stepping on crispy autumn leaves.
The song daisy-chains together some additional elements as it lilts along, like how there are some irresistibly sappy strings that appear for a hot flash, attached in thin silvery strands directly to the tearducts.
Her singing is another crucial component to this song’s success. In this instance, her voice sounds carefully constructed out of tissue paper. The subject matter calls for a level of intimacy, and it sounds like her vocals are all but one sturdy blow away from caving in completely. It’s all about letting your guard down, and that itself has a charming allure.
This song makes me want to listen to it on repeat, in a good way.
If anybody rightfully deserves’ the 2010’s MVP award in music, it undoubtedly was The Weeknd. After starting the decade off with his absolutely essential trio of E.P.s self-released in 2011, his iconic brand of moody, party-the-pain-away jams would prove to be the undeniable sonic blueprint of R&B and Pop music coming into the 2010’s decade.
So, it’s particularly gratifying to watch Abel take his victory lap in the early days of 2020 and subsequently unveil his most commercially dominant era to date: “Blinding Lights” is The Weeknd’s newest goalpost in his continuing evolution from grit to glam.
The Weeknd has matured into the mainstream remarkably well -although such a transition for the singer was never guaranteed. For a good while, there was that big question-mark hanging over his head about whether his music was too skeevy and purposefully in a bad mood to actually break out of the underground and crack him into the limelight; but he has since gotten himself over the hump, wowed the haters, and our current music at large is now all the better for admitting him into their highest class. Granted, he did so in the process of having nearly everybody in the Pop world completely and unashamedly jack the sound that he popularized for himself, but he still made it there regardless.
And boy oh boy, did he make it. He is the #1 artist on Spotify worldwide. He got booked to play the Super Bowl next year. “Blinding Lights” just set the world record for Billboard’s most weeks ever spent in the top 10, people are just not getting tired of this man, and they are definitely not getting tired of “Blinding Lights” any time soon.
It’s surprising now to recollect that “Blinding Lights” wasn’t even the record’s lead single, as Abel and company seemed to really bank on “Heartless” being the album’s runaway smash. And “Heartless” was a pretty danged enjoyable song that got some good radio mileage, but I don’t think it had enough of that right stuff to fully go the distance. I wouldn’t call “Blinding Lights” a sleeper hit by any means, but it still wasn’t guaranteed to be the standout smash hit off of the After Hours album.
“Blinding Lights” is supercharged, The Weeknd sounds like he’s starring in a commercial for the Energizer bunny. Abel is just in his zone and completely feeling himself, performing with an exceptional pep in his step. Enough “pep” in his “step” where I’ll just naturally assume that he could not feel his face at all when recording this song. He even gives a big ole James Brown vocal flare-up in the pre-chorus lead in, this man is just feelin’ groovy.
The track tells you from it’s beginning that you’ll want to find something closeby to hold on to, with its Terminator 2 styled metallic synth intro that unfortunately usually gets lopped off when being ported to radio playlists. The track also has its small variations, like how he’ll fiddle around with the EQ for each verse, leaving the keyboards, this song’s star player, garbled behind Abel at times, waiting for its turn to kick back in.
“Blinding Lights” has struck a chord with many many listeners across the world, and it doesn’t take a genius to see why. At its very foundational level, it shamelessly parades itself around in 80’s clothing, which, seeing as how this is still a very good time to pull heavy from the 1980’s, seems like a wise move. Audiences still aren’t getting bored of the 80’s decade, people still talk over each season of “Stranger Things” to death and fawn over the prospect of a Wonder Woman flick taking place in the year 1984. It is very clear that The Weeknd has absolutely nothing to lose in trying out a 1980’s inspired Synth-Popish radio ditty.
The 80’s connection had been distinctly rooted inside The Weeknd’s sound from the very beginning, even if it took until 2017 or so for the 1980’s to become fully inextricable from his persona. Even though his breakthrough E.P.s were in retrospect surprisingly sample avoidant, they still had some of the 80’s decade’s favorite Alternative acts pop up in sampled form when constructing the beats. You’d get Cocteau Twins chipmunk’d on “The Party & The After Party”, and a well-placed Siouxsie Sioux sample that provides the bass boosted backbone to the two-parted title track “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” that helps flip the switch from the first leg’s tense and frenzied lockjawed tunnel vision into a positively narcoleptic slurry at its finish.
OK, so at this point in time, we’re kind of past the whole “blow and strippers” motif/template of his, because that doesn’t really play too well in minivans. Not a problem, it happens. And he’s usually observant enough to match every “Earned It” he makes with a “The Hills” for all the freaky-deaky fans. So of course this guy is going to defer to the whole “your love causes me withdrawals” thing. It’s a metaphor that Pop radio never tires of, from Ke$ha to Huey Lewis and the News.
The record also had significant input from Daniel Lopatin (better known professionally as Oneohtrix Point Never), a fascinating match-made-in-heaven collaboration stemming from when the two had a chance encounter while working on the set of the Safdie Brothers’ shout-a-palooza movie “Uncut Gems”. Lopatin was composing his modular synth Plantasia sound-alike soundtrack for the film and due to the Weeknd himself having a standout role in the movie, the two crossed paths and reconvened for the After Hours sessions.
I’ll take this spot on the list to mention that Daniel Lopatin also made an absolutely phenomenal record this year as Oneohtrix Point Never. None of those songs will appear on this list, but let it be known that it was a remarkably impressive album experience. But perhaps it was a little too cerebral for me to pick an individual song from it as my favorite, thus explaining its non-appearance on my list. What can I say? I’m too simple minded: I like it when songs rhyme the word “moon” with the word “june”, anything else is well out of reach and above my head, evidently enough.
All that being said, I can’t bring myself to call “Blinding Lights” or the larger After Hours album to be a flawless experience – I just take the good in with the not-as-good.
For all the replay value “Blinding Lights” is reported to have, the actual writing on the hook feels a little bit thin to these ears. Nearly half of the chorus being a callback to another much better song, “Blinded By The Light” (take your pick which one, either version is better than this song) strikes me as lazy, and the fact that the song he’s referencing came out in the 70’s and sounds absolutely nothing like this nostalgic track is also a head-scratcher. I also feel that the chorus could use more dramaticism in its intensity, I honestly do not believe that Abel is putting all this passion into wanting to feel his girl’s… touch. He should have upped the ante some more in my opinion, this sounds like he’s phoning it in. Especially when the chorus gets played over and over and over, nonstop on the radio, it needed the level of substance closer to that of his other radio smashes. No matter how banal and blunt, I never tire of hearing “The Hills”‘s chorus, but I can’t say the same for “Blinding Lights”, even just one year in.
And what’s the deal with him singing the word “love” as “luff”?
Whatever. Maybe this all comes across as super nitpicky, but that’s the name of the game when assessing these all-time Pop song contenders. It needs to hold up time and time again for years to come. And “Blinding Lights” mostly gets the job done, I can totally see myself getting excited down the line for when this song gets played on bar jukeboxes (whenever THAT might be).
You’d have to be not just blind but deaf as well to not get what makes this such a standout song in 2020.
For many modern listeners, SZA‘s singing just hits different than anyone else’s does. So, she wrote a whole song about it.
Lately, we’ve been seeing a way more literal application of what used to be referred to in jest as “Hashtag Rap”, which you WILL be seeing more of as this list goes on. Hashtag Rap, in it’s basic sense, is essentially the process of taking a Twitter meme and trying to write a whole song around it, no matter how trivial the source of it is. This is how you get Megan Thee Stallion‘s “Hot Girl Summer”, or Rae Sremmurd‘s “No Flex Zone”, artists running the gamut of taking fleeting internet jokes and pressing them to wax (or bouncing out digital files. We should update that phrase for modern use).
I usually tend to keep these songs away at arm’s length, the whole process, while not automatically low-effort, is undeniably low on initial creative spark. It kind of reminds me of when corporate higher-ups decided the “Where’s The Beef” lady gets to make a rap song. (Side note: have there been any high-profile rappers to write a diss track and call it “Here’s The Beef”?)
So, is there enough substance to having a whole song that centers around when it “hits different”? Well, yes and no. But I’m a nice guy, so it’s mostly a yes. Let’s start at the beginning.
Ty Dolla $ign‘s hook is, in a word, repetitive. Very very repetitive. It takes it’s 2 notes in the hook and jackhammers it into your skull. I can attribute it to adding to the song’s overall starkness by design, and when one is trying to cultivate a moody, sparse R&B vibe setter, one could hardly do better than roping The Neptunes into doing your production work. They get the job done just great here, giving a super open-ended instrumental defined by a sharp rimshot.
All of which sets the scene for SZA to deliver her beautifully sultry singing on the track. Her smokey, throaty vocals. I’ve been kind of mystified as to SZA’s absolute dominance in the R&B game since she first arrived onto the scene, but I can still see that she has more enough that’s unique about her style to make SZA an essential player to the genre, even if her footprint is sometimes more interesting than her artistry in actual practice. Drawing a straight line from Kehlani, Jhené Aiko, or Summer Walker to SZA when looking at the current R&B sound says enough about the sea change she’s set, and that’s with only one studio album currently under her designer belt. This is not to brush off some really neat tricks that SZA gets to pull out for this song though.
Like, I really enjoy SZA’s moment on “Hit Different” where she pops up the octave 4 times in quick succession. I think that’s what SZA’s specialty is, she has these little vocal spasms that are difficult to replicate exactly. Think about this for a moment, I want you to sit down and tell me what the melody is that SZA’s singing here. I’ve heard this song enough times to count over the course of this past year, I always have a good time vibing with it, but there is no identifiable through-line in this melody to follow.
I can’t say that “Hit Different” is an all-time great, or that it uncovers any kind of greater truth in the process, but it is a very pleasant tune that does its job well and is sure to please most R&B fans. And that hits just the spot for me.
“Processed By The Boys”
You’ve heard of songwriters only needing “three chords and the truth” before? That’s the legendary songwriting ethos of Bob Dylan for those unaware, and the basic gist of it is that a good message and some few tried-and-true chords alone can be enough to bring a song to greatness. Well, all them Post-Punkers out there oughta laugh in old Bobby’s face whenever they waltz along with a staid solitary one chord song. One chord and bundles more truth than anyone could ever know what to do with.
I’ll stop before I get too ahead of myself and admit that there is some hyperbole involved here, “Processed By The Boys” by Detroit act Protomartyr does have a small handful of chords in it, but it certainly does still FEEL like a one-chord dirge. The main motif is a standoffish guitar stab with the reverb dials to the max, soon met with our singer Joe Casey‘s aggressive drawl. The band knows the effectiveness on taking a cool and restricted sound and pummeling it into submission, it’s a riotous affair.
Other riffs get their moment to shine too, like that brutal post-chorus snippet that borders on Middle-Eastern in its harmony, while nearly getting drowned out by the monosyllabic wall of fuzz behind it.
I also must comment on a delightfully unique instrument addition to the song as it goes on, that is, when the band brings in a clarinet to toodle alongside the apocalyptic rock sound. I can’t really think of too many antiauthoritarian clarinets appearing in hardcore rock music, and I’m all here for it.
While the grisly singing is an exhilarating blast, the lyrics paint pictures of bleakness and pain, namely that of the future’s impending doom by the hand of the state, describing the other “them” and the “tatterdemalion uniforms” they wear.
Maybe you’re one of them too…
Let’s take a moment to assess the bizarreness of “I Hope”: the little country-pop crossover that could.
Subject matter aside, the song’s rise to prominence this year was most unusual. This song saw the steadiest, most slowest of slow burns this year compared to any other chart hit, slumming around for almost an entire year before it eventually breached the upper regions of the Hot 100. Given the unusual, almost perplexing nature of this song, it’s gradual spread seems to reflect the act of retelling a joke, or perhaps instead, passing along a story from person to person until everybody’s in on the hyucks. This is a song that is all about it’s lyric’s narrative and the one walloping gutpunch of a plot point that it sure to stick around, even if it’s dismount is questionable. Let’s get to it.
At first, the song takes the viewpoint of someone wishing an unspecified man that he and his girlfriend will have only the most greatest of experiences together. Par exemple: our singer hopes that this girl makes this man smile. The singer also hopes she makes him feel freer than he ever has been, telling his friends that he’s so happy. These are all good and fine things to wish upon someone, even selfless. If this is all the song was, it could almost warm the chillest, most remote cockles of my heart, if it weren’t so baldly lacking in any point. But the thing is: that’s not what this song is about, because there is one other little thing that she hopes for. And it’s a doozy.
“…And then I hope she cheats like you did on me” goes the chorus. Yeeouch, that is one heck of a zinger. This lead-in to that chorus was undeniably my single biggest “Wait, did I hear that right?” moment I’ve had in Top 40 music the year.
This “punch-line”, if you’re mean enough to want to call it that, works so well because of it’s music’s efficiency behind it. While this lyrical turn is unexpected, there is not a massive suckerpunch in the music that’s supplementing it. Wouldn’t one expect a clobbering EDM style drop to complement such an axis-changing meteor strike of a lyric? There aren’t the huge and obvious music cues to drive it home – the chorus lands like she’s breathing a gust of air into an already deflated balloon. You don’t get rewarded with that relieving level of emphasis, it is just presented as another measly part of the song. Life just kind of happens all around it. Maybe it’s this song’s aim at general Pop radio readiness that explains why the volume doesn’t spike up high when it gets to the chorus, but this damp squib of a reveal works entirely in it’s favor as far as I’m concerned. But yeah this is a song where your mileage may vary quite a bit.
There is actually another song that “I Hope” really reminds me of, taking this concept and running the whole nine yards with it. I honestly don’t know how well known this song is, but there’s a song I came across earlier this year called “Pray For You” from 2009, by country act Jason and the Long Road to Love. It’s a song that doesn’t announce it’s true intentions right away, it hopes that you will stick around for it’s big reveal that makes the whole song worthwhile.
Put shortly, “Pray For You” leads with a rather generic white-man’s Gospel instrumental, a seemingly uninspired backdrop that when paired with this song title had me wondering if I was going to be listening to a straight-up no subversions Christian song. I almost hit the skip button in the first twenty seconds upon hearing it, but I gave the benefit of the doubt and kept it going until at least the first chorus. The opening ramble is our singer confessing he’s having hateful thoughts towards his ex, and the preacherman says that all he can do is pray for her and let the Lord do his work, right as the music swells and hangs motionless, waiting for our singer’s reply.
The band kicks in, and we learn just what Jason was praying for.
“I pray your brakes go out runnin’ down a hill
I pray a flower pot falls from a window sill
And knocks you in the head like I’d like to
I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls
I pray you’re flyin’ high when your engine stalls
I pray all your dreams never come true
Just know wherever you are, honey, I pray for you”
I’ve long held the belief that the world needs music that screams every terrible thought that’s ever run through your head, and “Pray For You” is just about as cruel and malicious as these thoughts can get. “I pray all your dreams never come true”?!? That’s about the most sadistic thing I’ve ever heard, but I absolutely love it. I won’t engage in any of the parallels of whether praying and idle wishing in these two songs are on the same level of non-effort/non-involvement from the listener, but it still paints a picture of one who’d abstain from the dirty work themselves but will still play these mental games.
In “I Hope”, Gabby is not just wishing good things upon him that can be taken away as revenge; nah, that’d be too simple and frivolous. She is instead wishing for him to have good emotions, good times, good experiences, making good memories, long lengths of time spent that are all wasted in the aftermath of his partner’s infidelity. All those times and experiences are all meaningless now. She wants to toy with the guys emotions, just like the cheater had done with the narrator. Because that’s all you really have in these mental games you play in real life, she doesn’t ruin his possessions like Tammy Wynette would be inclined to do, but rather damages his psyche and trust, to better teach him a lesson.
Besides, most songs are fiction anyway. Living out your own little fantasies in a song that you wrote is a time honored therapeutic method, it let’s the writer imagine a self-insert for themselves in a scenario they can fully control. I can think of plenty songs where this is played straight as an arrow and the writer wants you to assume that everything actually happened as they tell is. But this is all imaginative. The lyrics to “I Hope” is the exact conversation one could have with themselves while in the shower, the long winded arguments you would fabricate with a personal enemy of yours that never materializes, but still matters a whole lot to you even if it never actualizes itself. Because there is very very few concrete actions that Gabby Barrett actually accomplishes in her version, it’s just wishing and letting events fall where they may.
I confess that I find it really really strange that so many people are apparently fine with having a “pop song” on the radio that has so much vitriol behind it, plainly exposed and unavoidable. Are your average listeners really going to get casually invested in a song that is so angry? I don’t know if this is what little Suzie wants hear on the way to her ballet recital, but here it is anyways.
Maybe that’s partially why this track is not higher up on my list, since it’s perks as a song are strictly because it’s awkward and ungainly, and I don’t think it’s a success you can really repeat twice. I don’t believe this is wholly by accident, but I certainly don’t think it’s by design either.
The whole way in which the story is being told is so bizarre to me. After repeated listens, I think it’s all of the “you” pronouns being used that really gets to me: “I hope she makes you smile”, “I hope you know she’s the one by the end of the night”, “I hope she comes along and wrecks every one of your plans”. It’s practically written entirely in the 2nd person perspective. Against better judgement, it reminds me of one of those lyrically unsure early Beatles songs, the ones where the listening audience at home are the not-so-subtle stand-ins for their lyrical open wording. The Beatles take a backseat and write songs all about being a really supportive friend. She loves you! And you know you should be glad. So, I want to thank you girl. In this wording, it’s almost like Gabby Barrett the person has no hand in the song’s narrative at all, it is purely prospective.
There are smaller things too, like, does her being a Country singer particularly add anything to this song? I don’t think so. The instrumental is as far removed from Country as it gets, even regarding modern Country radio music, and the only defining character trait that shows her genre roots is the small trail-ends of her Southern accent on key lines. I suppose the industry declares her a Bebe Rexha in the making, but I think it does little to no benefit to the music itself.
I guess I should also mention the Charlie Puth version that boosted this song’s sales, out of begrudging obligation. It’s fine, I guess. Actually it veers dangerously close to becoming a total song breaker, but whatever; not my field. The Charlie Puth version of “I Hope” makes the song seem like it’s supposed to be way more fun than it actually is. I don’t think Charlie and Gabby are buddy-buddy together in this narrative, it just feels disjointed and entirely unconnected. Charlie’s contribution to the song amounts to little more than tagging “and me!” on the coattails of an already realized song.
Back to the original, non-Puth version. And when you place that mega twist in the first chorus -exactly at 1:15 into the almost 4 minute song- there’s not a whole lot of places left to go in the remainder of “I Hope”. Getting into it, the second verse starts off normally enough, kind of going through the same motions as the first one did, but there is one huge issue. Given the nature of it being a pop song, the songwriter’s hands are tied and it has no choice at all but to go back to the exact same chorus, essentially forcing the song into a narrative with matching choruses where she cheats on him AGAIN.
I’ve heard some people find this to be a massive fault with the song, it makes it too mean, it doesn’t make much narrative sense and the such, but I think it creates an intriguing narrative regularity. The tale is made all the more sad because the rules of Pop songwriting dictate that there is only one possible place the song can end up: back at it’s backstabbing chorus. No other destination on the horizon. It uses narrative regularity in the same way a great Bob Dylan song operates. All 6 verses on Blood On The Track‘s second song promise great fortunes and newfound luck for Dylan, but a modest glance of the song’s title will remind you that everything changes with the “Simple Twist of Fate” that’s guaranteed to come. You can’t claim it’s paranoia if the songwriter really is out ta get you.
I can’t say that I’m especially hopeful that Gabby Barrett sticks around, but I do absolutely hope that I never ever get on her bad side.
Hey! I made it through this whole section without name dropping Carrie Underwood‘s “Before He Cheats” even once. Neat!
Are you afraid of what you cannot see in the dark?
One of the more unexpected sleeper acts to rise up to prominence this year was the mysterious and oftentimes obtuse SAULT.
As of this current moment, there is not a whole lot that is known about the music collective SAULT. Information on the group is rather scant, intentionally so, might I add, and there isn’t much of a traceable footprint as to who these musicians are or what their histories have been up to this point. We do know that they released two albums in 2020: Untitled (Black Is), and Untitled (Rise), which I regretfully need to inform them, means that these declared as untitled albums do in fact have titles.
Hmmm, what else is there…? We know they take influence from past Soul music, R&B, Funk, and other Afro-centric music, and much of their lyrical approach is propelled by the severe influence of the Black Lives Matter movements. Actually, it’s been suggested that SAULT’s whole public reckoning this year was fuelled especially by worldwide BLM protesting and the growing desire and extreme importance of allowing ourselves to hear black voices and black art, and SAULT fulfilled this role this year. Given the events of this year, the music-listening public was especially primed for these Pro-Black songs. This we know.
We also know they’re British. And that might be about it for now, they are at the moment pretty anonymous and the critical enamorment they’ve been seeing must have been based on just the music itself and nothing more. Which that by itself is pretty impressive, isn’t it? Last I saw, this band’s 2 albums this year were collectively ranked in the top 10 for 2020’s most positively reviewed albums, that is extremely respectable for a new act of this nature.
So this lack of information around the group would lead you to believe that we’re supposed to appreciate their music in a complete vacuum, but well that’s not quite it either. If there is but one focal point in the majority of their music released thus far, it is about expression of identity. However, I find this to be at least marginally difficult to fully appreciate when being conveyed by purposeful nobodies. I think this is a fair criticism.
“Monsters” is my favorite offering by the group thus far, not in small part because I find this song to be considerably more dynamic than the majority of their other tunes. At the absolute least, “Monsters” probably has more section changes than the rest of their repertoire to date. In my experience, SAULT is pretty prone to devising one straight, solid musical idea or motif for a song and then just hammering it into complete submission until the song either stops or keels over. If I feel the need to tap out at 1 minute into a song by them, there usually isn’t much to keep me going by minute 4:00.
This song’s identity is characterized by its overloaded circuitry keyboard sound, and its buoyant up-and-down motion found in the bass that never lets up in this song. The singer’s sighs of “They are monsters amongst us” are curtained away behind enough interesting vocal effects to leave her effectively hidden in the dark.
That said, when the singer gets to some of the breathier parts of the song she can begin to sound a little like Kristen Schaal, which can be simply disadvantageous. Unless you’re into hearing 30 Rock‘s Hazel Wassername sing a sexy song about spooky scaries.
Other neat sounds venture their way into the gatefold too, like it’s high pitched squirming sounds at its tail-end and little snippets of vocal echo that poke in. Throw in a couple hootie-hoos for good measure, and you’re left with a song you won’t want to miss out on.
Wow, so, you all really like this new Phoebe Bridgers album a lot. Like, a LOT a lot. …..Maybe too much.
I’m not 100% sure about it, but I think I can say with confidence that Phoebe Bridgers’ newest album Punisher ended the year as the most critically acclaimed album of all 2020 (well, still sitting behind Fiona Apple‘s Fetch The Bolt Cutters, but let’s be real nothing was gonna pass that). Phoebe Bridgers’ accomplishment is made all the more impressive when observing how far and wide the album’s fanbase ranged, with its appreciators coming from many different stripes of music listening preferences. Unlike her previous music, Stranger In The Alps, Punisher seems to be her full-fledged swing at trying out her most true lyricism yet, that results in the music itself to take a backseat more often than not.
On paper, going from Album 1: Stranger In The Alps to Album 2: Punisher is a pretty wide, pretty steep jump, but Phoebe Bridgers has stayed mighty busy in between her main studio albums. Who can forget that she did a half-and-half project with Conor Oberst last year as Better Oblivion Community Center, and she took part in the all-women Indie supergroup: boygenius. She’s been working hard at it, pursuing all the challenging trials and tribulations of songwriting-dom, and it looks like her hard work paid off this year when she fully stuck the landing with her second album.
I am not a fan of her Punisher album.
For starters, her earlier Stranger in the Alps album wasn’t my favorite album in the world or anything, so I was not completely crestfallen when Punisher didn’t meet up to my own expectations. That is completely fine by itself, not everybody can always enjoy every album equally, we’ll get ’em next time. But geez, I really do wish that I could take some part in all the raving and drooling that critics and audiences alike are doing for this album. I can see no reason why Phoebe would go back to her older style after this album’s success; Punisher set up a new arc for herself that I predict she will ride far out into the future. Why wouldn’t she? I guess this means that her previous Indie guitar gal slackline was picked up by beabadoobee this year, but I’m not sure if i’m fully satisfied with that as an answer.
My point is, you should probably take my opinion very very lightly on Phoebe Bridgers’ most recent music. Punisher went over extremely well with, um, practically most everybody besides myself, and I can still be happy for the great experiences and new doors being opened for her. She seems talented and has clearly worked very hard to get to where she’s at, me trying to knock her down would just be selfish. That said, I still much prefer Stranger In The Alps.
It’s hard to even put into words why this doesn’t properly scan as a spectacular celebration of songwriting to myself. Maybe Miss Bridgers took too harsh a left-turn into the confessional laurate type for me to find any footing with it whatsoever. I think her lyrics have been so much more affecting in the past when the music behind her is spontaneous, ragged, and misshapen, whereas the instrumental work on Punisher proves purely inconsequential to the larger song and acts just as a half-finished wallpaper to slap a set of lyrics onto. Maybe it’s too obvious to even say, but a major component of music should actually be the MUSIC itself. Even great lyrics by the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen still had them taking their sweet, patient time to write great chord progressions to house their lyrics, and to fine-tune their backing bands and all that jazz.
And yeesh, this album has a tonne of lyrics that desperately needed some kind of convincing chord sequence to hide within. Music is a game of illusions and sleight of hand, leaving these skin and bones words out there in the open just kind of gives the game away. The album doesn’t even so much rub me the wrong way too much really, the music is too minimal and non-existent to even truly leave me bothered. It’s more so about how it’s the absence of anything at all.
And I don’t wanna sit here wagging my finger at this beloved album, because it’ll sound condescending to those who did find the magic, -and dare I say, brilliance- to the album that Phoebe presents here. I’m seriously tempted to call this album ingenious, in spite of it leaving me completely high and dry. I’ve heard enough praise coming from people with music opinions I really respect to understand there is an angle I am just not seeing here. Like, I don’t wanna be the guy that reviews OK computer at its launch just to walk away thinking that “Electioneering” was the only good song, or something like that.
Luckily, for the Phoebe Bridgers cynics like me, there was one olive branch peace offering on the album that even I could get behind.
“Kyoto” is a beleaguered halfway point for those straggler fans like me who were less willing to accept her transition to full-on poetess. Indie Rock songs of this ilk work best when the small things mean a lot. Phoebe has a knack for writing songs about these detailed, observational behavior patterns. But instead of trying to take some thought segments and have them snowball into a larger sum of its parts, “Kyoto” takes small life happenings around her and asks you to read between the lines. On other songs from Punisher, it feels like you the listener are doing most of the heavy lifting, but it works on “Kyoto”.
“I’ve been driving out to the suburbs
To park at the Goodwill and stare at the chem trails
With my little brother
He said you called on his birthday
You were off by like ten days
But you get a few points for trying”
The lyrical musings rarely build as they rather abscess and cooly crumble away before anyone can ponder what its purpose may be (if there even is any). They feel like word-chains instead of building thoughts, decent starting points for better analogies instead of the finished shebang. Lyrically, “Kyoto” is a game of contrasts, which works a great deal better when the instrumental is actually fun and full of life instead of garden-variety afterthought.
I’m just saying that Phoebe Bridgers would make for a wonderful rambling doddering old woman someday, telling stories that go nowhere and don’t have much of a point but still sounds nice while you’re along to hear it.
“The band took the speed train, went to the arcade
I wanted to go, but I didn’t
You called me from a payphone
They still got payphones
It cost a dollar a minute”
The music itself is fantastic too on “Kyoto”, filled with high points, low points, instrumental additions and instrumental holdouts –it’s pretty great. The track is defined at its onset by some grungy guitar clodding, which not much later, is joined by a triumphant, yet suspiciously distant trumpet playing across the horizon. The right channel gives some beautiful guitar arpeggiating and there is a gorgeous Rickenbacker playing us out into the jingle-jangle morning.
I would also like to shine a spotlight onto a zonked-out and loopy interpretation of the song redone as a Hyperpop fling by Glitch Gum, which is not only totally awesome in its mere existence alone, but also illustrates what insane reach the Punisher album has amassed from its earnest and totally in-her-feelings mood ring approach.
Find some solace with Phoebe Bridgers before you change your mind.
“Be Like That” -feat. Swae Lee & Khalid
Confession: When I heard this song for the first time, it was as a recommendation from a close friend, and probably not for the reason you’re thinking. Yes, she does know that every year, I compile all my favorite new songs into a big top 100 list such as this, but that’s not why she brought this song to my attention. Me adding this song to any kind “best-of” could not be further from her intentions, actually.
Let me back up a bit. Among my group of friends, I have a fairly infamous playlist of what I dubbed to be the “Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard”. It’s a mighty fun playlist to have around, and I spend an unusual amount of upkeep to maintain it at peak hilarity and atrocity. It’s 400 songs long, and it’s description is the “Billy Madison” “…may God have mercy on your soul” speech in its entirety. It’s both my shameful pride and my proudest shame.
Every now and again, my “Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard” playlist makes the rounds among my friends, and their friends of friends, semi-routinely. It comes with laughs, fervent apologies, and lots of enthusiastic suggestions for new additions to the club. Thus, a dear friend of mine strongly suggested that I add Kane Brown‘s song with Swae Lee and Khalid, “Be Like That” to my “Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard” playlist.
And I can definitely see a few realities where this makes complete and total sense. If I added “Be Like That” to my worst songs list, it would be alongside such company as “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”, “Bury Me In Blue Jeans”, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”, and The Village People’s “Sex Over The Phone” (I will be taking no questions at this time). My friend thought that another uninspired, completely toothless Country/Rap crossover which unashamedly waters down both its respective genres in the process of just merely existing would be a mighty fine addition to my collection.
But, she wasn’t anticipating that I would completely vibe with this song instead and unironically declare it as one of my top 50 songs released all year. Heh, about that…. Sorry Erin!
I could go in super hard on a song like this if I really wanted to. Kane Brown is one of the easiest targets working this game in the music biz right now and has received no shortage of criticism. He’s Country music play-doh, completely shapeless, formless, it’s dull colors read as cheap thrills to those who don’t know any better, and it’s probably super hazardous if you ingest too much of it. Although why someone would want to willingly consume too much Kane Brown music is beyond me.
Unless I’m proven wrong in a couple years (which is very likely, might I add), I currently don’t see Kane Brown as a pop chart evil like Pitbull. He’s a broken clock of an artist who we can only hope hitches his trailer to the right ride. I can’t say that I expected one half of Rae Sremmurd, and R&B-for-soccermoms superstar Khalid to be “the right ride”, but I’ll take it.
“Be Like That” just really works. Why does this song work?
Well for starters, “Be Like That” actually sounds like a summer song… in theory, that is. We did not really have any summer songs this year because we did not actually have a summer this year, any song that provides an imaginary escape is something I can absolutely get behind.
Having a “Song of the Summer” this year was a bum deal. If you were pressed to name one, our “Song of the Summer” 2020 was either “Watermelon Sugar” which released in May of last year, or it was “WAP”, which rode high on unprecedented sexual frustrations brought on by global lockdowns. These don’t exactly scream for beach parties and bright rays of sunshine.
I have no idea if a song like “Be Like This” can stick around long enough for it to still be enjoyed by next summer, whenever that is, but I’ve got my fingers crossed. It’s got this swift, Reggae inspired oom-pah in its guitars, and this actually sounds like a song built for people to enjoy instead of to simply tolerate in between other much better songs on radio rotations. Of course it has its throttling Trap Hi-hats in the beat, but it plays really well with the rest of the sounds going on in this track. It builds a slightly melancholic party mood. (cough cough, 4 Chords of Pop.) Yeah yeah yeah, I hear it too, but it’s strengths do enough to hand-wave away this song being a 4 Chords of Pop song. 4 Chords of Pop doth not a song break.
The features are great too. It’s rather amazing how in a short span of time, any tracks that list a feature from Swae Lee has become an immediate mark of quality towards the song. Swae Lee was far and away the saving grace to the monstrously popular “Sunflower” with Post Malone, a song that you’ve probably heard every day for the last two years nonstop and has stuck around for some reason that I can’t really give any explanation for. Yawn.
There is some also uniqueness worth appreciating in how this song dances around concrete genre classifications. I’m going to just dismiss the possibility of a Country label outright, Kane Brown being a ‘country star’ is in image and branding alone and it feels laughable to even entertain this idea. But that still doesn’t leave any easy conclusions on where this song actually lands itself. To simply categorize it as Hip-Hop or Pop-Rap would be disingenuous, it has this amalgamous mishmash of sounds that I think will give it some added longevity in the years to come. And I’m not even gonna talk about whatever on God’s gray earth Breland‘s “My Truck” is. The music industry bigwigs and their quest to reverse engineer the runaway success of “Old Town Road” has already proved horrifying. If there was a worse song of all 2020 than the “My Truck” remix with Sam Hunt, then I haven’t heard it. Florida Georgia Line‘s “Beer:30” was a close runner-up though.
The title phrase leans on its “Urban Dictionary slang turned into trendy pop song hook” trick a little too much, but I totally believe that they built outwards from this starting point. Which when comparing similar approaches, this is why SZA’s song landed a considerable few rungs lower than this one. (Sorry again, Erin!)
Once you get past the superficial aspects to this song’s display, it really does have quite a lot to offer. I smile when it comes on the radio, I instinctively reach for the volume knob to turn it up. A 2020 Pop song was actually able to convey happy emotions, and that itself is astounding.
Some people don’t think it be like it is but it do.
Television rules the nation.
In honesty, I can’t say that I really buy into the Fontaines D.C. hype as of yet. To me, Fontaines D.C. is so lifeless in their song composition and performances and there’s this plain-faced lack of irony to their music that prevents them from reaching that next level of Post-Punk transcendence. The biggest sin for any Punk derived band is its lifelessness, I find it inexcusable. Thankfully, “Televised Mind” is far and away the most frenetic song on their A Hero’s Death album in 2020.
For a rare opportunity, the songwriting is substantially more meaningful in this iteration of the band for “Televised Mind”. The track kicks things off right with a galloping Iron Maiden type bassline played with a super muddy tone. Yes, it’s one of THOSE Post-Punk songs that relies mostly on one primary chord, this time having its guitars wobbling between an awkward major chord and a more familiar minor chord. It’s just a one note difference, but it gives a nice coloring and wafting, wandering indecisiveness to the band.
Fontaines D.C. also features one of the most staunchly Irish rock singers in recent memory (it’s not Bono.) who does his whole Post-Punk schtick moaning about a brain rewired through media consumption. I’ve seen some pushback against anti-television songs in modern rock music, but I still think there’s a respectable place for it. When current Post-Punk heads of class IDLES (We’ll get back to them later on this list) put out “Television” in 2018, I saw a few notable critics and online personalities bemoan the redundancies and dated purpose of decrying television, but it still rang as true to myself. Who cares if cable has gone the way of the dinosaurs, it’s about comparing yourself to the man or woman on the screen, no matter whomever it may be.
The sound itself is also one to get excited about. Ponderous guitar tinkerings from the instrument’s higher register shatter down below from a great height, while crash cymbals disintegrate into the haze. The vocals sound like a rough scratch track that just never got around to being re-recorded, as the super accented Irish singer (it’s NOT Bono!) gasps his lines into the microphone.
Beware of the slime oozing out from your T.V. set.
Fleet Foxes has paradoxically changed both a little and a lot over the course of their 4 studio albums. With Robin Pecknold now completely taking over the reigns, Fleet Foxes has gradually shifted into being a total one-man band styled affair, the kind which brings to mind what the cracker-brittle Indie band slouchers The Shins had become with the passing of each new album. That is, how The Shins had once presented themselves as a mostly equal minds, equal contributions rock band, but subsequently began hemorrhaging band members from one album to the next, greatly altering the sound on each new album. Some fans like it, it gives each studio album a different feel, but it also comes across like the Kathleen Kennedy helmed Star Wars films. I think right now, there is just one Shin left and their fans are stuck with just the bassist or someone else taking the full brunt of being “The Shins”. This is not a path I’d personally choose for Fleet Foxes to go down, but their newest album Shore leads me to believe there is only bright white lights shining brilliant to be found on their horizon.
Now, my positive experience with Shore comes with its own baggage, as I’ve had my own challenges with Fleet Foxes’ music in the past. There have been a few blockades in the way of their for me to fully give in and join the Fleet Foxes love affair.
On my favorite track from Shore, “Maestranza”, there are predictably going to be those music passages that are out of reach, but not out of sight. I’d struggle to say that this is the Fleet Foxes album that meets the listener half-way to hold their hand, as Robin never seems to feel the need to concede his music for the masses in such an obvious manner, but this new album does sound considerably more consumer-friendly than the others, easily approachable and eager to please, with an added emphasis on at-first melodies and glossy textures that go down the hatch much smoother than ever before.
This is not to paint Fleet Foxes as a “difficult” music act by any means, that’s ridiculous, but for myself, their work has always been difficult to properly pin down, always making music that’s possessed by this intangible through-line that allowed so many listeners to fall completely head-over-heels enamored with their music to begin with.
On this occasion, Fleet Foxes’ approach is distinctly floral, being marked by the album releasing on the first day of Fall this year, to create a distinctly autumnal atmosphere on this record. This translates to its sounds too, as each notes plucked on the nylon-string guitar all begin trickling down like summer rain. There are these grand and focused placements of melody, instead of devoting itself to becoming a series of deluged cavernous walls of folk guitars. Fleet Foxes’ known tendencies can’t help but sneak their way in during the bridge, with a pagan sounding series of chords falling down a sinkhole of circle of 5ths derived chords before tapping back out.
The chorus is immaculate as it subtly explodes (subtly explodes, yes that’s possible) with weaponized machinery, sputtering guitar delays and monolithic piano crashes. “Now that a light is on” becomes, ostensibly, simply illuminating.
“Channel Orange In Your Living Room”
I’ve always liked fling romantic hook-up songs where the dude is seemingly way more fixated and nostalgic about whatever piece of media was playing at the time than the romantic encounter itself. Like, he could be with a girl who is a complete knockout in the looks department, an absolute 10/10 catch, but he’ll still be way more interested in the 6 hr. long “Malcolm In The Middle” marathon playing on her TV.
That’s the charm of “Channel Orange In Your Living Room”, it playfully reminisces on the singer’s one-off great love had and soon lost, and is further about what verifiable power there is in memories made by our interpersonal connections and some really, really good music.
Channel Orange by Frank Ocean is a mighty perfect music artifact to write this kind of song about, seeing as how just about everybody in this current generation knows Channel Orange like the back of their hand and loves the album to pieces. Unlike Frank Ocean’s wounded lamb falsetto opener on Channel Orange, I don’t think Charlie Burg thinks so far ahead, and he’s certainly not thinking about forever.
The singer starts off on the right foot: “We met when I was drunk/That party didn’t actually suck”, so we can naturally assume that he is completely wasted off his gourd for the duration of the song. It’s a nice picture being painted, starting with an inciting incident of this girl jokingly ribbing our singer for babysitting his drink, making it easy to assume his drink consumption then kicked into maximum overdrive afterward and all of the events that unfold happens while he’s completely plastered. I can get behind a song like that.
It kind of puts all subsequent events into question, because although he talks about random happenings that night, he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in describing this girl he’s with. I’ll bet he has more memories of pointing finger-guns at himself in the bathroom mirror.
How convincing are the details? Was there any chance at all this wasn’t just completely fabricated? I’m talking about more than just the usual singer/songwriter fare, and the kind of details that are easily believed to be invented for the sake of a song. If a singer in his song describes his girlfriend’s dress with purple flowers on it and the heavy light shining off her auburn hair, or the tart fragrance of her mother’s borrowed perfume still lingering in the air, then it’s probably all imaginary BS. Shocker, I know but I’d presume in real life, he’d have less photographic memory of her every last detail and would instead be spending more of his time looking at …the goods.
I just can’t help but chuckle at how entranced he is on this piece of music that he’s probably heard dozens of times over, he’d rather hype up Frank Ocean instead of just singing about the girl he’s with, it’s what makes the song. It’s a little bit dopey, but that’s something that’s relatable to me: I’m absolutely the kind of guy to ruin the mood by turning on the TV, Blink-182 style. Ok, maybe that’s not entirely fair, as Charlie Burg does get quite a bit of lavish storytelling about his lady friend in there. But she gets near equal screen time to Frank Ocean’s 2012 summer jammer album, which is kind of a red flag.
At least Channel Orange is an appropriately playful and romance filled album for this sensual connection. I myself can personally vouch for the effectiveness of it, that CD absolutely was in my truck when I’m with someone that I’d want to make it with. Like, what other albums of this breed and timeframe would make for less romantic memory sakes? “Listening to Playboi Carti‘s ‘Die Lit’ In Your Living Room” sounds malignant and unpleasant.
I also enjoy the fact that this song sounds little if anything like its namesake. “Channel Orange In Your Living Room” sounds like 70’s listening by the fireside, it has a pleasant chord sequence that’s easily tidied away, this does not sound like the PBR&B sway of Channel Orange. I like when songs pull this trick. Wilco naming a light and breezy Alt-Country tune “Heavy Metal Drummer” is a stroke of genius.
For all the listener knows, the height of Charlie’s romantic getaway was as simple as them holding hands together. OK scratch that, the pair do get to share a kiss at the song’s final chorus, but my original point still stands. After this night, they part ways and don’t meet again. Easy come, easy go, but it was nice while it lasted.
Music is made for creating memories. I’d much rather hear a tale of love had and love lost that betters a piece of music in the process, rather than hear a sad tale of an album that had been RUINED by a relationship gone sour. Peach Pit‘s “Shampoo Bottles” was crushing in that respect, and it’s kind of a downer. I enjoy songs like “Channel Orange In Your Living Room” that is about making new memories and living your life.
Music sounds better with you.
“Savage Remix” (feat. Beyoncé)
-Megan Thee Stallion, Beyoncé
I don’t think anybody can actually argue against this year in music unequivocally belonging to Megan Thee Stallion.
2020 was a knockout year for women in Rap -and so was 2019 for that matter- but Megan’s rise to the top of the game was so stratospheric that it was flatly impossible to not take notice. I don’t think she needed anybody else’s help to put her over the top, but being able to secure an involved, rapped appearance from Pop leviathan Beyoncé on her song’s remix is just about as good as anybody could ever hope for.
Before we address the Beyoncé in the room, let’s just acknowledge that “Savage” was already a pretty popular cut from Megan Thee Stallion’s Suga E.P. even before the remix came to be. “Savage” was an instant favorite due to its rampant stankface beat, Megan’s virtuosic and attitude-filled rapping, and a clever nod to Janet Jackson‘s New Jack Swing classic “Nasty” in its chorus, where she wears the descriptor of “nasty” as a point of honor, seeing as she is a woman whose large and in charge. The E.P. in whole got good-ish reviews and proved to be popular with modern rap fans, but there was still something missing from it. Some kind of world-conquering, undeniable song to grab the public’s imagination. It was waiting for what the remix to “Savage” would become.
Adding Beyoncé’s new segments to the song worked absolute wonders to the song’s flow and structure. It was practically transformed into a whole different song, one that is easy to prefer against the song’s original skin-and-bones iteration. The very notion of an up-and-comer like Megan Thee Stallion being able to recruit Beyoncé for a full-on rap song guest feature sounds like it’s a joke at first. When Megan gets to humblebrag about swapping bars with Beyoncé on this track, it doesn’t even sound real. It sounds like that Eric Andre set-up where his “Jay-Z and Beyoncé” interview is actually with an Estonian dwarf and nobody acknowledges it.
But truth is stranger than make believe sometimes, and a Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion double-threat rap track works out fantastically in execution. The very fact that this collaboration between two extreme forces of personality can work on any level is something worth congratulating. Because when Beyoncé works with other names, there is almost always that fear she will eat her guest MC alive like some kind of cold-blooded reptile. She does not play well in the sandbox with others. But this one right here with Megan Thee Stallion seems like a good return on investment for them both. Huzzah.
Because when it comes down to it, both women actually have a real, palpable chemistry when performing together. For starters, both artists are Houston natives which gives the whole track a different flavor to it and gets across a shared “oomph”. Plus, they actually sound like they are working together and are completely in sync with one another, fully complimenting each others strengths and weaknesses on a track of this nature, neither one gets too much time alone at the mic to chance their verse expiring and becoming dull. I’ll assume that Megan Thee Stallion, being a southern girl, keeps hot sauce in her bag too. They should both hang out at a taqueria together sometime after recording, that sounds like good fun.
That last “Formation” reference reminds me, in the same way that Red Lobster saw an actual boom in sales after Bey rapped about it on 2016’s Lemonade, I’ve got to wonder if Beyoncé’s trendy shoutouts to how her “hips TikTok” when she dances, and her feisty threats that she might “start an OnlyFans” affected these company’s numbers. I would not be surprised if B’s verse signalled the high point of these companies’ entire sales year; the clout she has is actually terrifying.
Although Megan Thee Stallion’s explosion this year seems like it would have been inevitable, it probably was for the best that the “Savage” remix happened the way it did, because this was understandably a very shaky year to build a rap megastar foundation on.
Putting it lightly, this was not a summer for the Hot Girls. Megan Thee Stallion’s breakout hit last year, “Hot Girl Summer” already had the misfortune of being a summertime anthem that released just as summer 2019 was wrapping up, and any hopes of her doing a “Hot Girl Summer Pt. II” this year would have been thoroughly flattened when the prospect of a 2020 summer became actually impossible. I think Blackbear‘s unbelievably scummy “Hot Girl Bummer” poisoned the well early on this year too, when his broey song that was dripping in misogyny took a weird and unsolicited jab at Megan Thee Stallion’s similarly-titled track, that eventually outperformed Megan’s song. I do enjoy “Hot Girl Bummer” in spite of myself, but it’s not a listen that I’m very outwardly happy about. I would definitely not be stoked at all if it was my song that became inextricably linked to “Hot Girl Bummer”, even if it’s only connection is befuddling and tangential.
I think we also need to come to terms with the fact that Beyoncé’s funstyle side-hustle as a rapper is not going to go away anytime soon. She’s been seeing too much positive reinforcement for her to just turn back, forget, and give an opportunity for us to act like we never even noticed that she raps. At least, I was still holding out some hope that this would happen. Have we as a music buying public just fully accepted that Beyoncé is gonna keep pushing herself to be a rapper on these tracks? I know she’s made a priority of being seen this way, but how do we really feel about it?
Well, whatever. Her rapping here is really tasteful and she’s able to insert her verses with a sense of musicality that is lost on many other rappers, women, men or otherwise. While her rap voice is still “womanly”, if you want to put it like that, she still practices a menacing alto that would almost dare you to categorize it as a “southern drawl” if it weren’t coming from one of Pop’s most elite female icons.
Also, it wouldn’t be a memorable Beyoncé rap if she didn’t bring her fair share of potent quotables to the table. “If you don’t jump to put jeans on, baby, you don’t feel my pain” is an instant classic, and the beat dropping out while Beyoncé bizarrely brags about not doing crosswords might be her next “surfbort” moment for fans. Any way you slice it, the “Savage” remix is a major success and massive step forward for everyone involved (yes, even Beyoncé the rapper got a boost).
Also, what’s up with that last line at the end, were they trying to make “Stallion and the Bee” a thing? Pass.
“Running Red Lights” (feat. Rivers Cuomo, Pink Siifu)
It is nothing short of a small miracle that we’ve gotten any new material from Plunderphonics titans The Avalanches.
For years upon years, their year 2000 masterpiece Since I Left You album was built up to be a standalone art piece, painstakingly composed entirely out of crate-digging samples to create a pinpointed opus that would prove essentially impossible to duplicate. The praise it received was nothing short of rapturous. Pitchfork declared it the 10th greatest album of the 2000’s, and elsewhere, it was named the 10th greatest album in all Australian music history. Describing its construction as “impossible” is not just referring to the creative side of the process, (although that was clearly the case too) but it’s also coming from a much more practical place as well, seeing as the Australian duo got absolutely sued to oblivion and back for the sample-happy Since I Left You, leaving any prospect of a like-minded sequel to be stuck in limbo indefinitely and legally unconscionable.
The Avalanches’ LP 2 was dead in the water.
Thus, it took many years back at the drawing board before The Avalanches were able reassess and reinvigorate their style and finally release their long-awaited follow-up in 2016, Wildflower, a comeback album that marked a madly different kind of approach for them. Unlike their previous style that was steeped in an instrumental Electronica-based faction of Plunderphonics, Wildflower achieves that of a sunny side up piece of Psychedelia instead, compiling together a convincing set of forcefully smiley music daydreams all crammed through the transistor of a Mexican radio. Fans were mostly happy with it, and any worries to be had about what album number 3 would look like were quelled, if only temporarily.
The follow-up to the follow-up was anybody’s guess for how it’d turn out, but there was at least more of a concrete guideline to work with this time. We Will Always Love You was slated for release in December of 2020 this year and the final product was simply a marvel to behold: they’ve done it yet again.
We Will Always Love You is the band doubling down on their Psychedelic Soul-Pop tendencies that were the most clearly defined on their 2nd album, while still creating a larger album “experience” in just about every sense of the word. While the majority of the finalized album had a chilly Winter feel to it, most of the pre-release singles were markedly more breezy and relaxing. The guest list to the album was star-studded as it comes and full of complete headscratchers, which only fueled fan’s excitement further. Each song can pair artists together as disparate as a Johnny Marr and MGMT combo, or tagteam The Clash‘s Mick Jones with someone named Cola Boyy. In the hands of The Avalanches, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
But if there was any single featured artist to trigger some galumphing heart palpitations, it’d be the album appearance made by Weezer frontperson Rivers Cuomo. Uh oh. Scientists should probably dissect Rivers Cuomo’s brain for medical purposes, to study the way that thoughts enter and exit his mind which is so backasswards and insane, you’d think he was a renowned French expressionist painter rather than a guy in an Alt-Pop band. His name is in no way synonymous with that of a seal of quality.
That being said, I’ve long held this selfish belief that Rivers should just up and quit Weezer and become an in-demand features guy instead, it clearly suits him much better than a devoted band environment does. Rivers just makes more sense when popping up for a cameo in somebody else’s song, no matter how woefully unrelated it is to his usual style. Working in different contexts outside of his Geek-Rock gig with Weezer opens so many other doors for him as an artist, allowing any of Cuomo’s weirder than weird tendencies to become all the more endearing. I have very few qualms about equating the Avalanches Art-Pop sound collages with B.o.B‘s “Magic” featuring Rivers Cuomo, they both excel from utilizing their featured artist in similar respects.
Rivers Cuomo is a melody machine, but please take note that I can’t bring myself to call him a hook-writing messiah. A lot of his melodic impulses are so self-absorbed and removed from any larger reality that they seem to exist in their own little pocket dimension, and “Running Red Lights” is no exception. His voice gets to some interesting destinations while going down that weird diminished melody thing in the verses, it sounds really inspired to me.
The track begins with a steady progression that takes its time to let the beat build, before smacking it wide open with its admittedly awesome chorus sung by Rivers. There are, to be expected, a litany of small instrumental quirks caringly placed here and there by The Avalanches that creates a warm and fuzzy world of sound to inhabit. You’ll get some looping vocal samples from Rivers hidden in different corners of the mix, and a few pleasantly pianissimo samples just hanging around.
A repeated lyric in the song that sticks in my brain like a splinter is one that only Rivers Cuomo could ever hope to dream up.
“I’m a thundercloud
Ready to burst like Schrödinger
I’m crying in the car”
It’s pretty great in its own unique way. It brings mental images of the expanding man who both is and isn’t at moment’s notice, and is about the cans and cannot’s contained by one human or every human.
I suppose I should also mention Pink Siifu‘s contribution to “Running Red Lights”, which manages to be so glaringly anti-musical that I’ve just got to appreciate it on some level. I have to wonder how this even counts as a collaboration, so it gets some brownie points for making me ponder the very idea. Luckilly, the fuller album gives Siifu a more substantial gues feature on the (non-skit) track directly before “Running Red Lights”. There is an extra level of meaning to this verse though, as it was pulled directly from the late David Berman who sung it word for word verbatim on his very final music project, Purple Mountains in 2019. Including this quote on this album was a very touching tribute to the man and makes for an interesting addition to the song. Supposedly, the line about “pink champagne” was originally slated to be the album’s title until the Avalanches surmised that it sounded too much like a Drake album. Oh well.
Anyways, if you were worried about The Avalanches career path at any before, you shouldn’t now.
I’m seeing nothing but green lights from here on out.
“Don’t Call Again”
-Tkay Maidza, Kari Faux
Put the phone down and don’t call Tkay Maidza no more. You’ll actually be doing yourself a favor.
Tkay Maidza is one of the best Neo-Soul singers to release music this year, and her remarkable 2020 E.P. Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 is full of so many different sounds, moods, and explorations into how she really feels. Although I do like it when a work of music is able to just hang out with minimal pressure and just do it’s own thing completely drama free, I actually found her music to be at its most engaging when it was downcast and revealing like “Don’t Call Again”.
For starters, the chord sequence she picked for this song doesn’t just settle for being dramatic, they’re flat-out devastating. The chords are all vibrating together at a somewhat distressing frequency, and a lagging tempo for the band to play renders the larger work unsettling. The band is trying to play it cool, but the chord voicings give away how tense these chords actually are. If the subject matter were more severe, it could almost have the emotional proximity of Patti Smith‘s Horses closer “Elegie”.
That’s not to say that this song is a slog to get through, not at all, I still have a lot of fun with this track and all of its little instrumental interplay that it houses. The song also features a marvelous verse by Kari Faux who promises to keep it a buck with ya. Her laid-back yet vaguely confrontational flow makes her a great partner in crime to Tkay Maidza’s chronicle of breaking it off with someone. Appearing at the very end of her Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 E.P, “Don’t Call Again” has a heavy sense of finality to it, like this really is the end of the road for her.
The song eventually finds its footing once more after Kari’s verse and lands back down for one more chorus, pulling a few more punches before… nothing. Fade to black and then that’s it, quietly drifting away into the ether.
If last year was weird and this is what she came up with, I can only imagine what life experiences 2020 gave her to write about. Whatever it is, I’ll wait for it. I just don’t think I’ll keep her on speed-dial.
“It Might Be Time“
The best Tame Impala music comes from when Kevin Parker wants to make it an experience.
Sometimes (not too often though) I worry that my seemingly endless barrage of criticism against Tame Impala is not actually all that constructive at all, namely because I simply do not know what the root problem is with their music. I’m sure that Kevin and Co. probably think that ALL of their songs have incredible levels of depth and nuance and immaculate tact that is just completely unmatched by their peers, but it does not play out like that to me and my ears.
For whatever reason, their highly awaited follow-up to Currents, 2020’s The Slow Rush, was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back for many of their listeners. It was the kind of listening experience with so much bloat in its execution and foundational songwriting basis that starts to make people wonder what the band was even doing so right the first time around. The problems it has aren’t even the most fully apparent ones in the world, because at face value, it sounds like a Tame Impala record should sound, it seemingly has ups and downs where better albums would normally put them, and it still has Kevin Parker as the music’s sole constant. There really is not all that much that should separate it from anything else they’ve ever done. But it’s just not as good..
Even their ride-or-die fans overwhelmingly seem to think so, which means that I’m left here just kind of scratching my head as to what part of the formula got knocked so out of whack that even the most casual of fans can pick up on this album’s shortcomings. It is not a trainwreckord or a failed experiment necessarily, I’m sure Tame Impala will bounce back just fine with their next studio album, but the ship is starting to show some cracks in the hull that didn’t used to be there before.
Thankfully, it wasn’t all a waste. “It Might Be Time” stands heads and shoulders above the rest of the pack so much it’s not even funny, it’s a Tame Impala slam dunk.
It’d sound condescending for me to infer that the crucial difference between this song and any of their others is that “It Might Be Time” is actually about something. But I’ll say it anyway: Tame Impala writing a song with a concrete meaning in mind does actually go a very long way. There is an actual concept driving the song for a change of pace, creating a stable environment for all the other elements to congregate around.
The lyrical conceit takes its shape as the inner anxieties of an aging man turned back outward, fueled by his newly discovered insecurities uncovered by the ravages of time. In other words, ya boy Kevin is having an itty bitty tiff with a midlife crisis. It happens to the best of us. I find this to be a super compelling concept for a rock band to tackle, and I think Kevin Parker is actually able to sell the emotion behind it in a way I literally never thought him capable of.
“It might be time to face it
You ain’t as young as you used to be
It might be time to face it
You ain’t as cool as you used to be
You won’t recover”
That’s pretty harsh. It’s not a stretch to believe that all of this song’s buzzy sounds and its waves upon waves of effects are there to make his words seem like an inner monologue being had with himself, frequently getting interrupted or even fully cutting out at times. The actual song itself is admittedly really impressive too.
“It Might Be Time” is rife with countless chord changes that make you feel like you’ve continually lost the song’s footing, as if you’re in one of those zero gravity carnival rides. In this case, it’s better to just go limp and ride it out. There are several instruments that are non-instinctively moving in completely different harmonic directions, trying to wriggle their way out against each other, like a shy Kevin Parker trying not to bump into somebody in a really narrow hallway.
I see little reason to waste time in describing a Tame Impala song as having adept sound design, that’s just a given. It’s less about craft, but its more-so an immaculate structural integrity. It would be like congratulating a film produced by Happy Madison on having competent set design. Yeah that’s a nice thing for a Hollywood movie to have, but does not a good film does it make. Still though, some of the sounds on here are pretty killer, like those Kill Bill siren sounds of extreme trepidation, those are a real treat to hear once they join the party.
Although these lyrics might try and deny it, Kevin Parker’s really got nothing but time. Put on your thinking caps and try try again, boys!
Holy Smokes Future Jokes
That joke isn’t funny anymore. “Holy Smokes Future Jokes” from scruffy strummer Blitzen Trapper is a carefree burnout attitude that isn’t too far removed from that of an early to mid-period Meat Puppets album -a sun-damaged glassy-eyed marvel.
As far as I can tell, the whole batch of lyrics to this tune is a simple row of rhyming dictionary nothings. Holy ghosts and talk show hosts and the whole sort. This songwriting technique is not always a bad move in my books, it kind of insinuates a desire for the narrator to mentally distance himself from whatever else is going on inside the song or out. His vocals are a few degrees separated from the rest of the instrumental, riding a breeze far above the brushfires carelessly blazing beneath.
The beginning to the track instructs its guitars to evoke any set of spectral moans before settling into it’s familiar Father John Misty-esque lark. The drums also do a dutiful job of chilling out in the background, playing the parts with a well-behaved wrist.
The rest of the album follows a similar path as well, it’s a pretty easy one to recommend from this year. Check it out.
Can’t Put It In The Hands Of Fate
Stevie Wonder was his generation’s vocal revolutionary in socially conscious music -a harvester of positive change and sometimes biting social critiques expelled through his all-time masterful songwriting. He could dish it out and soothsay in equal measure regarding his political intentions, whether it takes form as a direct send-up like “Too High” was, or that of a broad, gentle blanket as “Love’s In Need of Love Today” which opens his Songs In The Key of Life album; an instantly recognizable song that is deeply reassuring and readily accessible to anyone looking to make change in the world regardless of which part of the aisle they stand on. But Stevie’s music wasn’t all feather-touched feelgooderies, as his razor-sharp “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” which aggressively demonized the Nixon administration had clearly touched a raw nerve with the people, allowing it to soar all the way up to number 1 on the despite its impossibly inflammatory nature.
Over the course of this past year, we as a whole have felt the need to accentuate Black voices, and many believed this was best done by elevating that of Black art. Black music especially became a large topic -more so than usual that is- as the wounded hearts took solace and pride by intently listening in to the words of those who have themselves walked the long mile. Stevie Wonder was most certainly a keystone to this specialized area of listening, and a great deal of my personal favorite songs from the emblematic musician who defined a decade in Pop and R&B music were when he cut loose and fired off from the hip. Specifically: his send-up to institutional racism and police brutality against colored minorities in “Livin’ Just For The City” is my favorite piece of music that Wonder ever put to take. Perhaps not by coincidence, it is among his most potent and direct sets of lyrics in his catalog.
Non-Black allies threw their hat in the ring too, because how could they not? I’ll try to softly pedal backwards on this one by saying that most of these songs were coming in fact from a place of solace and not just the need to place non-Black entertainment at the front of the narrative… although that certainly happened a decent amount too. That was how we arrived at KISS‘s Paul Stanley doing a limp little cover of the Five Stairstep‘s eternal “O-o-h Child”. Stanley cavorts around the sacred track with lead feet and sparkly eyes squarely locked in on his own navel. That’ll be sure to heal the heavy-hearted nation. The point is, it is harder to do better than the master himself Stevie Wonder when writing these socially conscious songs.
He released two songs this year, the other of which being “Where Is Our Love Song”, that had a strong central melody but generally fell into Stevie’s usual trap of non-specificity and using the concept of hope as a verb. Good sentiment, but not pertinent to where 2020 is right now; gray areas are largely useless and true stated intentions are our best cultural currency. Thankfully, the superior track of the two, “Can’t Put It in The Hands of Fate” leaves no wiggle room and is the direct-send up that many had been clamoring for. Stevie brings modern personnel into the gatefold too, with Busta Rhymes, Rapsody, YBN Cordae, and Chika all dropping fresh perspective onto the track. You could imagine how gleeful they were to work with a living legend like Stevie, no matter the gruesome subject matter they individually handled.
The track starts with a get-down drum track for Rapsody to lay down the master thesis of the song, that being: history will repeat itself unless us as one humanity intervene. Probably not endorsing Malcolm X’s “ballot or the bullet” mindset but rather one that’s discouraging apathy. It is a call to arms for manifesting one’s own destiny. Wonder goes gloves off for his lines, delivering some of the most cutting and no BS lyrics of his entire career.
“You say you’re tired of us protesting
I say ‘not tired enough to make a change’
You say you believe that all lives matter
I say I don’t believe the f**k you do
You say “all things take time”
I say “that’s why I’m not gonna put it in the hands of fate”
There is absolutely no waffling or “both sides are at fault” fencesitting here, Stevie leaves nothing up to interpretation. The track even makes the bold and all-important decision to directly namecheck George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two African Americans untimely fell at the corrupt hands of police brutality. Why this cutting Stevie song has not been more idolized this year is beyond me. The music is also up to snuff, with some dazzling melodica lines and a punchy but not oppressive mix.
God gave us all a spark, it is our due diligence to use it for betterment.
“Harleys In Hawaii”
I did not intend on ranking a Katy Perry song this high in 2020. Heck, I don’t think anybody could have sought out to do so, but here we are.
Seeing a Popstar like Perry crack the top 40 on a list like mine (as opposed to the Billboard Top 40 which she may never even so much as sniff ever again), might set off some red flags and sound off some alarms with the hipster Pitchfork crowd, with fun buzzwords like “shill” or “pop pandering” coming to mind. Especially when it comes from a Pop artist who is so clearly on the down and out away from the mainstream, it must be from some external non-music reason that she could do so well on a best-of list of mine. Somebody must be really bending over backwards and pulling some strings to make it happen for ole Katy Perry.
Well, no. Believe me, any spot on this list that goes to a popstar is not a “gimme” nor is it a pity handout -not least of which because I have absolutely zero interest in including any songs in my best-of list that I don’t genuinely enjoy. In fact, Katy displaced some other arguably more important and more beloved artists to get here. You will not see any entries from the Lady Gaga album, despite it getting a fairly bright reception, and Ariana Grande is also nowhere to be found on this year’s list even though I enjoyed that album more than most people probably did. This is not a blight on either artist, their music is just fine and dandy. No problems whatsoever. But this particular spot on the list going to a song from Katy Perry’s completely ambivalent and borderline irrelevant new album is all the more insane in this context.
So, where can we even begin to dissect why the notion of new Katy Perry music is such a bad idea? I can start off by saying that my passing interest in the gradual and still ongoing fall from grace she’s been experiencing since, oh I don’t know let’s say, 2015 or so, is more a curiosity of mine to gawk and prod at, it’s a purely intellectual study to me. Because I keep asking: how can someone who had seen such great heights, completely fail to capture the public’s imagination enough to stick around through the end of the decade?
SMiLE (oh yeah, her new album is called SMiLE, maybe I should have led off with that) is much too much too depressing than any Pop album has the right to be. Seeking self-help and rebounding back from tough times are modern Pop tropes, but these clichés coming from the mouth of failed Popstar Katy Perry just makes it all so impossibly sad. And her album doesn’t even have the basic decency to be absurdly voyeuristic or allow rubbernecking at any overly-revealing details, it’s practically useless to me.
So is the new album any better than Witness? I don’t know, I didn’t listen to Witness. I’m part of the problem.
When Pop music isn’t popular, it exists in a weird void space. What use is there to a Popstar who’s not popular? She can’t deflect away by suggesting that this album of hers is some brave Art-Pop experiment or an exercise in any other fringe offshoot genre, this is clear cut-along-perforated-lines Pop music she’s making here. The Pop machine is a numbers game, always has been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. If a new FKA Twigs album doesn’t pull in chart shattering sales, it’s not a ding to the artist’s credit. Tim Smith from The Cardiacs (Rest in Peace…) had on numerous occasions described his batty music for psychopaths as just being no frills Pop music, these numbers expectations clearly don’t parlay into that style of music creation. But it does for Katy.
I was 13 years old when her Teenage Dream album landed onto Target shelves like a shockwave, and whether or not I even liked the music (and for the record, I’m now pretty sure I do) it was just an omnipresent force at that point in life. Teenage Dream set the all-time record for most number one singles to come from an album, it is still tied with Michael Jackson‘s Bad. Any discussion on how good or bad the music itself is falls secondary to the absurd magnitude of her popularity at that time.
The timing of her decline is unfortunate too, as the showbiz industry has a terrible habit of disposing of women once they hit a certain age marker, and seeing as Katy became a mother this year, it might be time to make a curtain call on Katy Perry: Pop ringleader.
While I do frame this as “career arc observations” and “chart analyzing”, akin to how a stockbroker would go about it, this whole song and dance still feels a little too close to cyberbullying when I actually sit down type it all out. Afterall, I use all of this as context to praise a song by her that I actually loved this year! “Harleys In Hawaii” is a stellar song, … but it does need that extensive jibberjabber preamble.
“Harleys In Hawaii” is among the only successful attempts of hers to make “mood music”, as it is. Her namebrand wheelhouse is in big, gaudy, clobbering Pop anthems, with soaring choruses and the such, but that’s not where Pop is heading nor where it’s been these last 5-ish years. This puts her in a weird position as an artist and is the clearest reason for her apparent stagnation.
I think she was able to break out from her typecasting for this song and get behind something that is really different than her usual bag, and the good news is that the actual song itself is really really solid. The sound to “Harleys In Hawaii” is minor keyed and carried out by these belligerent acoustic guitar leads, creating a mental image of a worn down emerald that still dazzles beneath all the dirt and grime encrusted around it.
There are some pretty neat ideas sprinkled throughout this track. Like, given the title, I don’t think it would’ve been the most obvious first move, sonically speaking, to pair up the sounds of a Harley revving up with some delicate harps, but it gives off a different kind of confidence that I think suits it well. The chorus is moody and has small twists and snaps in its instrumental, it works to build up together.
As for the title “Harleys In Hawaii”, a significant part of me is glad that she’s not using this imagery to pump for music full of adrenaline, she could have gone for broke and made a terrible faux Rob Halford pop song with this same title. Think of what Miley Cyrus or Born This Way-era Gaga could do with this song title, it’d be a wreck. Instead, she keeps it 300 like the Romans, as in calm, cool, collected: triple C. Or maybe she’s more influenced by Triple Sec these days, I really don’t know.
Also, seeing as how this is a surprisingly very polarizing song both in her camp and in general music discussions, I wouldn’t hold my breath on a “Harleys In Hawaii” part 2 or nothing.
I don’t think this is a sign of what’s to come from her and I’m inclined to call it a successful mistake, but hey, some of my past favorites from Perry were of the flukey variety that basically stands no chance of being recreated. I cannot find the words to tell you why I’m so fond of her alien boinking anthem “E.T.”, but I am, and her countable attempts to rechannel its essence in “Dark Horse” and others don’t go by unnoticed.
I’ll just be thankful for what we’ve got now. I don’t see “Harleys In Hawaii” leaving my listening anytime soon, and I’m grateful for it. Strap on your helmet and let’s ride off into the sunset.
“Sold My Soul”
Would you sell your soul if you knew there was a chance for it to come back and haunt you on weekly re-runs on the idiot box? That’s the dilemma staged on Cut Worms‘ “Sold My Soul”, a braying song of freewheeling swagger that details a man finding out that his soul he sold a long, long time ago has since popped up in an episode of the national television sensation, “Antiques Roadshow”.
How much do you think Chum-Lee would have paid for the authentic Essence of Robert Johnson? Selling your soul on the “Antiques Roadshow” goes beyond just that of a humorous twist to a folklore classic -although it most definitely is that too- but it also frames itself as a quiet plea into becoming a new chapter in our country’s ever-evolving mythos. That being, our ultra-modern world of TV shows, multi-media celebrities and the like, are the storied tales of yesteryear today. It’s a slight stretch, but I think it’s a notion worth entertaining if the song is right.
“Sold My Soul” details the ceaseless, and oftentimes aimless hustle and bustle of our new age of wonders to be something that’s comparable to a modern wasteland, exploring the spiritual emptiness that’s run amok in our technological age. The track reinterprets the nitty-gritty rough and tumble of Americana living into newly spun tales of our shared existence.
This was certainly a prolific year for Cut Worms to say the least. I am reasonably well informed that Cut Worms is in fact just one guy, who uses it as his nickname moniker. His Christian name is Max Clarke, and he has made a pretty convincing personality for himself as a rambling Folkie type. For months on end, it seemed that new songs would crop up from him for week after week in 2020, and given the onslaught of songs released this year, Cut Worms definitely makes sure you aren’t wanting for more.
He released a handful of E.P.s this year -a swollen and ballooned-up handful, that is; all of the E.P.s were of considerable length and each was rocking some classic Sun City inspired 45’s singles artwork. While I’d usually walk away from the odd track I listened to here or there being pretty danged impressed, this unsavory sampler platter approach to releasing his music was a difficult one for me to embrace. Thankfully, Cut Worms would eventually cobble these tracks and more into a realised album titled Nobody Lives Here Anymore.
The standout track comes from its last leg, and it is “Sold My Soul”: a straggler Folk-ish song with a novel concept of our on-the-down-and-out narrator who finds a unique relic from his past come back to light -you already know what it is by now. It’s a classic Blues storyteller standard being given a new spin, and I find the approach to be positively inspired to say the least.
He delves into these fascinatingly fun songwritery details on what a soul would be even comprised of. Him seeing it “on display like imitation fabergé” is one interpretation I have yet to hear before, and other talks of “drinkin’ gasoline in a half price limousine” is also a real treat to behold. “Sold My Soul” was the longest song on the album, but you’d hardly notice it as it reveals itself in a remarkably natural fashion, unspooling out its tale like a charismatic granddad telling a bedtime story to young whippersnappers.
The track toddles along for a while until a new and final music passage pops up at its exiting moments, a slide guitar playing a jovial superhero’s theme as a victory. Waiting to become a hero when he strikes.
You definitely won’t want to change the channel when this re-run comes back on your telly.
Fire is bright. Fire is clean. There is always a thrill to be had in harnessing fire and burning something down to cinders… especially if it belonged to a man. Then it just gets empowering. Sorry y’all, I don’t make the rules.
Americana duo The Secret Sisters taps into something harrowing and dark in their tale of going off of the beaten path and breaking bad in the song “Cabin”, with a lyric of a man’s prized cabin and its hidden shame held inside, all culminating in some righteous arson. A guided intuition flows through their guitars and compels them into doing unspeakable actions. Well, unspeakable maybe, but they sure have little hesitancy in singing all about it.
“Cabin” takes a set of guitar chords that is already remarkably emotion-driven, and further infuses it with some kind of inexplicable magic that transforms the whole experience into something that can justifiably be described as cinematic. Their tender touch being given to the music reaches for something on its way to becoming profound, a sad hush besets the band, just anxiously waiting for the right set of lyrics to set it off.
It’s safe to say they found just the right words. Taking exacted revenge on a man who was “cruel and calloused” by burning his beloved cabin down to the ground becomes heart wrenching yet oh-so victorious for the singers. Well, I imagine it’s a lot more righteous and dignified than George Costanza accidentally burning his girlfriend’s cabin down with those Cuban cigars, but that didn’t seem very fun or intentional so I’ll just brush that example aside.
The Secret Sisters duo have had no shortage of successeses in the past already, including a decent handful of their songs having managed to stick around in some Alternative Country radio playlists. Their newest album, Saturn Return, places them up that next notch and puts their songwriting chops on full display with several excellent songs.
The ultimate stinger to their approach on the song “Cabin” and elsewhere, is in their immaculate chemistry created when the pair sing together. The Secret Sisters engage in some seriously goosebump inducing Everly Brothers styled harmonies that are ripe with friction and intertwine in a fashion that feels supremely personal and closely knit. The duo smartly give the impression of being one in the same as singers, which in turn gives the track a grander sense of this being any and every woman’s story instead of a one-time isolated incident of fantasy. The lyrical viewpoint is one of clarity, precision and onset determination.
Maybe there’s another angle that I’m not considering to this. Burning his cabin down could instead be a meditative reprieve, yeah that’s right! After all, in the Buddhist sense, it is believed that the things we own will eventually start to own you, so perhaps it’s best to just set it all ablaze and let only the skies above worry about it now. The Secret Sisters were doing this guy a favor.
The track builds in intensity as it stomps along, reaching a breathtaking peak at its finish where the full consequences begin to take hold.
Strike another match, go start anew.
“I want to be stereotyped, I WANT to be classified […] I want a suburban home”.
Post-Punk provocateurs, Bristol based IDLES, have unceremoniously returned lock, stock, and loaded barrel with their newest batch of Punk Rock noisemakers that is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. More fun than anybody dressed up in their best monkey suit that is, as IDLES’ 2020 highlight “Model Village” dismantles suburban complacency brick by brick, shingle by asbestos’ ridden shingle.
The instrumental contributions are as prickly and angular as they’ve ever been for the band, less interested in communicating great deals of harmonic information with its riffing and guns for junked textures that are as dirty to behold as they are comforting in their excitement.
Ultra Mono was recorded in Abbey Road studios, which only further fuels my belief that IDLES frontman __ listens to music well beyond his heyday or scene -he probably has some Carpenters and Minnie Riperton in his catalog, and I can almost guarantee he chimes in on the “la la la la la’s” when they come on.
“Little boxes on the hillside, and they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.”
“Don’t Start Now”
No matter how unfortunate in circumstance, there’s no denying that any Pop songs centered around “dancing on my own” have understandably risen in stock this year. There have been an uncountably high number of music zines and clickbaity listicles talking about “dance music in a year where all the clubs are empty”, and while this sentiment annoyingly completely writes off all of the hardcore bands who are also releasing great new music that’ll not be moshed to, it still is of course a major oddity in all music and Pop music especially. Pop music is extroverted by nature, synonymous with big crowds and party atmosphere. Fans of Pop music this year have soldiered on any which way, enjoying this year’s newest Pop to-be explosions turned implosions by cultivating their own private dance parties in the safety of their living rooms.
Some of the biggest “winners” of this terrible moment in history are those who released songs that can be accidentally rewired into being pandemic-centric. Probably the first example of a song taking such a new interpretation that I’ve seen this year was Dua Lipa’s Post-Disco reminiscent bop “Don’t Start Now” that took on a newer, more pertinent meaning once the lockdowns really started to settle in. That is, this pre-album single that was already making the rounds on mainstream radio seemed to take on a new relevance all of a sudden, its central lines about “If you don’t wanna see me” and “don’t show up, don’t come out […], walk away” were easy sentiments to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
The act of your song being reinterpreted to be about this awful, awful year is not something I think any artists would be necessarily pleased as punch to see happen to their music – but it can be a lateral move all the same. The most commonly cited example of such, was how a terribly mopey Country track by the name of”If The World Was Ending” suddenly took on a much more substantial weight to it this year for reasons easily imaginable, clearly not by design. Bizarre as it is, the song ended up being much better off because of it, even if the song is hacky and milquetoast.
As far as I’m concerned, songs specifically designed to be Quarantine jams have all been an absolute bust. I think apart from Luke Combs‘ light and friendly “Six Feet Apart”, each attempt at incorporating the pandemic in pop songwriting is just embarrassing at its most basic or even nefarious at its worst. While the music industry can crank out songs in reaction to real world happening quicker and more efficiently than other major industries, it will probably always come across as supremely bad taste. Did you see that trailer to Michael Bay’s COVID-19 themed disaster flick? It’s the one taking place in a Post-Apocolyptic future ten years from now (coming soon!) where COVID-19 has mutated into COVID-29 and turns everybody into deadly zombie-like creatures. Imagine how families who were torn asunder by pandemic related tragedies would feel about a summertime Roland Emmerich style blockbuster made out of their real life misfortune. Or maybe you don’t need to imagine because you’ve actually lived it.
To me, the best quarantine anthems are the ones designated so solely by happenstance. That is, those perfectly normal songs that were unintentionally repurposed into anti-COVID stances by radio programmers. That is how “Supalonely” got its moment to shine like it did, because all of a sudden, songs about extreme isolation and being a “lonely bitch” just hits different in these new circumstances.
Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” did…well, it did a full 180. It was a relic of the pre-pandemic, but it got swept so easily under the unignorable zeitgeist we are all thinking about nonstop every day now. I’d kept an eye on this song from when it first graced mainstream radio and grew far and past her previous single, the Olivia Newton John indebted “Physical”.
None of this context would matter too much if the song was ultra disposable, but “Don’t Start Now” is a very groovy and compelling piece of dance music. It wisely leads off with a big hooky opening, promising grandeur and flash. That is, until it breaks out in a dry sweat once the chorus drops, fitted with what is probably the best bass tone I have heard all year.
When extracted from its pandemic connotations, the song itself is just a post-breakup empowerment anthem, about finding your true strength and moving on, all while dancing to your own pace in your favorite dance clubs. I’ll just assume that the relationship with a woman who sings about having a whole list of new rules for the boyfriend of follow didn’t end up working out three years later.
The song features a knowing interpolation of what is probably Pop music’s all-time best “we broke up and I moved on” song, the Gloria Gaynor hit eventually turned her signature tune: “I Will Survive”, which is apparently not a one-time trick for Dua Lipa, seeing as how her other singles in this album cycle also pulled significantly from the likes of Olivia Newton John, and INXS (seriously, that “Need You Tonight” flip on “Break My Heart” is just tragic).
Dua Lipa has supposedly been the “next big popstar to come” for quite some time now, and I think her newest album Future Nostalgia finally confirmed it and put her over the top. I honestly wasn’t sure if it would ever happen. I certainly hope that her star rising high during this year won’t negatively impact her once the world again resumes its regularly programmed rotation.
If you weren’t onboard with Dua until this year, I’d say that there’s no shame in beginning to care about her now. Just don’t show up to any of her concerts any time soon.
To the attention of any Rap Game stockbrokers: I would like to place my life savings on this kid Redveil becoming a lucrative rapper sooner rather than later. Betting on any underground prospects to catapult leagues ahead is a fool’s errand of course, but I am convinced that this act has the right stuff to go very far in the biz.
Maryland rapper Redveil is a relative newcomer to the listening world, and his utterly fire rap mixtape Niagara is a highly promising warning sign of what he has to contribute to the rap game. He’s something of a double threat, he raps all these songs of course, but he also sits behind the producer’s chair for the beats, all of which are very impressive and unique to his brand of Hip-Hop. And did I forget to mention, he’s done all of this so far at the age of 16. SIXTEEN. That’s insane, he already sounds more like a fully formed artist more street smarts and actual maturity than many rappers that are double his age. Would you ever believe that Tyga is double this rapper’s age?
“5500” is a glassy eyed vibe setter, lowkey and ready to pop off at moment’s notice. The music is dense and layered, yet still feels lighter than the puff of a smoke cloud. Guest rapper Gio does a bang-up job with his verse too, adding his piece to this song’s established mood and piggy-backing off of the track’s energy that could be sliced with a knife.
The instrumental is a dreamy vibe piece, the keys are rounded off and the chords gradually sift from one to the next. It is a class in establishing feel that flows. The rapping is matured and the music itself is effective, it is fifficuly to imagine what grander heights are in the workings for Redveil.
Peep him out now and say “I told you so” to your friends later.
-A. G. Cook
Well, this album certainly doesn’t leave you wanting a whole lot more.
There’s no getting around it, A. G. Cook released a long long long album this year. Which is maybe for the best, the producer and artist who is synonymous with his PC Music brand and collaborations within and without the Hyperpop scene have led many to clamor for him to put his name to a release of solo material. For a long while, this didn’t seem to be in the cards until this year when he released 7G, an album that is 49 songs long and almost 3 full hours of music.
The best thing you can say about 7G as an album, is that it is not a punishing listen. Most every track has reason to exist and has several distinct music ideas. It’s length is the most daunting thing about it, the actual flow of the album and its variety is quite manageable once the ball gets rolling. It’s a little like how the films Amadeus and It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World are incredibly easy to watch and get sucked into, despite teir epic runtimes. For reference, my favorite Aphex Twin album is Drukqs, clearly long Electronic albums don’t really bother me. Once I’m in I’m in.
The album is seperated into 7 distinct “discs”, radically changing its approach for what sound each disc is labeled as. For example, disc 2 is the “guitar” disc, so all the tracks that center around strummy keyboard sounds or intermittent guitar plucking is wrangled up onto this disc. Elsewhere, you may get a disc full of “supersaw” violent keyboard sounds, or a disc full of what’s called “extreme vocals” that mainly centers around a bizarro collecton of cover songs. If you’ve ever wanted to hear the head honcho of PC Music try his hand at Smashing Pumpkins “Today” or Blur’s “Beetlebum, offer a radical reinterpretation of Taylor Swift’s “The Best Day”, or give a surprisingly faiithful whack at Tommy James and the Shondells “Crimson & Clover”, then you’re bound to find some fun on this album.
And yet, despite all the options I’m presented with, I picked the very first song that leads off the entire gargantuan album for my list. Because I’m a grade A schmuck like that.
The track I chose, “A-Z”, leads off the “drums” disc, and in itself gives the impression that this would be a full fledged IDM album. Which is a very exciting prospect! Most percussion on this disc falls in line with a Jungle record, with uber fast breakbeats that shuffle and flips itself around at whim. The track builds and adds so many sonic contributors, whether it be the buttery synth leads that add to the track, or the chopped fader vocalless keys sounds. Seemiingly time stretched drums tracks pan from ear to ear, and the whole foundation changes at times when underlying chord sequence make their appearance.
This album isn’t one I’d necessarily reccomend t just anybody, but if it seems interesting and it’s just the sheer length that’s throwing you off, then please just dive in. You won’t regret it.
Although “The Hum” sounds like it is just a folky lullaby at first, second, or fifth listen, it really turns out to be what is essentially a post-apocalyptic coo.
That is, it’s airy 70’s Laurel Canyon cardboard brown sound intentionally distracts you from its crushing, dark lyrics. There is little reason to pay much mind at first, the song is called “The Hum” and the chorus has no words, it’s just the band doing what they promised and sing a chorus with lips fully shut. It’s very pleasant, basic, and no strings attached listening.
I must have listened to this song around 10 full times before I eventually tuned in enough to realize oh yeah, this song is one hundred percent about a U.S. Doomsday apocalypse.
There are talks about:
“The prices rise and the market falls/The trucks go slow and the Congress stalls”
“The West is following crisis rules”
“The A.G. said he’d do anything to help the President become the king/
He hires and he fires, he appoints and sacks but he can’t figure out his income tax”,
…all of which is sung in the most intentionally sing-songy melody imaginable. It might as well be subbed out for “Nana Nana boo-boo your societal infrastructure has collapsed”.
And as for that seeimingly inconsequential non-word chorus? Well, each chorus’ hums leads off with “And the tapes go: hmmm”. They’re fudging with the tapes, this is classified info, magnets were proobably involved. Other hints are dropped too, like how a full-on censored bleep takes out a good natured pun in the last verse.
Bedouine is actually covering this song from 1960’s Baroque Pop artist, Margo Guryan, a singer most famous for her song “Sunday Mornin'”. This track never had an official release and was only found on demo compilations she put out, seeing as she only had the one album to her name before packing it up. Hearing both versions side by side, I still have to say I prefer the remake. Margo’s is very impressive and I give credit where credit is due for her writing it, but I feel as though it can’t fully escape it’s era trappings like the Bedouine version is allowed to do. Hindsight is a god given gift, and Bedouine has a better grasp at appointing decade specific sounds to their rendition of the song. Plus, their version jumps forward a full 10 years and evokes the soft 1970’s sound instead of the hippie-leaning sound of the original.
As for ‘why cover this song now?’, I feel as though there are some very obvious and easy parallels to be drawn to our current hellish real world. Lyrics about how the president tells the world he’s not a crook is not one that’s all that hard to figure out.
And when the power runs out, we’ll just hum.
On “Forever”, our Hyperpop princess Charli XCX prominently displays all the utmost nervous, twitchy human emotions delivered with all the virality of a robot being programmed to feel love for the first time.
The sound is hypnotic and devastating, likening itself to that of an avalanche comprised of faulty computer’s corrupted files.
2020 became a surprisingly opportune time for Charli XCX to release more of her brand of idiosyncratic Pop extremities. Her brash and raw album from this year, “how i’m feeling now” was billed as her “Quarantine album”, and it did a great job in encapsulating her own bizarre approach to music. Whereas the TRUE Quarantine Album of the year Fetch The Bolt Cutters was all about being locked in doors for way too long, Charli’s album sounds more at peace with her situation and makes the best of her surroundings.
The album is more in line with the forward-thinking and fizzier moments of her Pop 2 E.P., cutting back on some of the polish and glass that her 2019 self-titled album had. This is evident right from its first track “Pink Diamond”, which begins with synths that sound as though they are trying to buzzsaw through elephant bones, it is a massive undertaking.
Keyboards snarl away while Charli gets her voice to synthesize behind multitudinous shadows of duplicity, falling in a warped hall of funhouse mirrors wall of voices. This incessant, cylindrical looping of vocal fragments create waves crashing works to distinguish the meaning of what “forever” really is.
The lyrics have a darkly shark underlying bitterness to it, seemingly describing a lover’s death pact in driving off an icy December’s road into a shared watery grave, Thelma and Louise style. The song’s oft-repeated “I will always love you/I love you forever” mantra is notably less cutesy in this widened context. The heavy chested weight of their love succumbing under their own size and crashing down to a rocky bottom’s watery grave.
Like other songs in her catalog, excessive vocal manipulation gives the song a quintessentially uncanny valley flavor to it, namely from how each note is strictly deadlocked to its’ pitch centre. Charli XCX’s heavily chopped and edited sibilance turns into small tertiary waves crashing against a wall of stone, using its repetitiveness in chipping it away until there is nothing left to exist in its path.
Forever is a long long time.
“Coffee For Dinner“
What’s better than warm bodies and even warmer coffee?
“Coffee For Dinner” takes the hard times we face and focuses on the small things that keep us going forward.
Orion Sun singer Tiffany Majette plays the role of a sly seductress, opening outwards with that clearly defined sleep-deprived lovey dovey feeling. These feelings of romance don’t have their downsides however, as the track uses her signifcant other as coping mechanism in the face of harship.
It actually reminds me of Merle Haggard’s “if we make it through December”, the biggest tearjerker Christmas song that isn’t Joni Mitchell’s River. Our singer Orion Sun describes working through the tough times, assumed to be a lack of cashflow, with the help and support of a significant other. She drinks her coffee for dinner to keep warm in the cold. I think I’m allowed to find an extra suggested meaning of “hot coffee” factoring in too, but its buried in there underneath a regular lyric too. Believe me, your hornier than rhinoceroses bumpin’ uglies jams are yet to come on this list.
Including a rather knowling nod-and-wink in its chorus to The Weeknd’s dripping hard in filth bedroom thumper “Often”, appropriating his salacious rauch into something that’s simply flirtatious in this iteration.
The track bobs along in an unperturbed Nyquil daze, hanging out with some R&B guitars that beam down from the satellite.
I would say this somehow inhabits the feeling felt only in the latest of late hours at a Waffle House, where somehow the mood hits just right. In a Waffle House. Hopeless place to find love indeed.
I certainly wouldn’t mind one more cup of coffee before I go. And I definitely woudn’t mind some company to go along with it.
-Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion
Where were YOU during the great WAPpening of 2020?
It’s the sensation sweeping the nation. Kids, teens, adults, and grandparents just can’t seem to get enough “WAP” in their lives. The discourse around this song has been flatly insane. Just some of the craziest conversations I have ever seen around a song. It turns families against each other, friends become enemies, mistresses into housewives.
“WAP” is now irrefutably the raunchiest song to ever reach the #1 spot on the Billboard chart, and it is thusly difficult to not view this song as a special kind of high watermark in music history …or an especially deep crater if you are on the other side of the fence. This scantily-clad honor of raunchiest #1 was probably held previously by Rihanna‘s salacious lust romp “S&M”, a song that I probably enjoy way more than I should; it’s one of my guiltiest pleasures in Pop of the last decade. Let’s call it a shaming kink. Otherwise, maybe we’d have to go all the way back to Chuck Berry, who contributed his strictest terms only one-hit-wonder via his live recording of “My Ding-A-Ling” that proved to be a surprise smash that would reach number one: Berry’s only recording to climb the summit. Besides “WAP”, “My Ding-A-Ling” is most likely the only other song to reach number one that is explicitly about that thing you keep below your belt. And I’m not talking about a bell.
I have never found much controversy surrounding “My Ding-A-Ling” outside of it being a heinous joke. Is this part of an underlying gender imbalance? Women boast about sexual exploits on a hit song and it’s all pearl-clutching all the way. A 40+ year old man singing about his groin just flies right by unscathed. I don’t want to crumble anybody’s worldview, but I am reasonably well informed that women enjoy sex as well. Sometimes as an active participant, even if Rock and Pop music would have you believe the contrary.
As it’s been evident to you the reader, this is a good natured family friendly blog, so my hands are kind of tied in restraint for spelling out what this now infamous acronym, “WAP”, actually is. I’m sponsored by Froot By The Foot, and they aren’t the biggest fans of me talking about “WAP”. If I were endorsed by Gushers instead, that might be a different story but alas it is not the case. So I can’t really spell out just what “WAP” is, but come on. If you’ve heard or read anything about music at all this year, you already know what it is.
“WAP” is shaping up as something remarkable in that its reputation lies more than just as a goof track but has shaped into something of a landmark this year. Which I think says more of this year than it does the actual recording, but why bother making heads or tails of it when it’s inextricable from its surroundings of the year. In any better year for music (or life happenings in general), “WAP” would most likely square up only as an amusing footnote to add in the list’s post-script, a humorous little nothing of a song that while it makes me smile, would be undoubtedly inessential to the year’s larger narrative. At least, that’s how a song like this would normally work. But in a year where nothing is normal, the horndog tittering from Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion became the epicenter of political discourses and moral righteousness. Let me off 2020 I want to get off.
But is “WAP” really a song to be proud and upfront in saying that you like? I’m not totally sure, I might have had to think twice about including a Cupcakke song onto a year-end list if I was doing these write-ups before Cupcakke quit the music industry. But owning up to appreciation of “WAP” the song may almost undeniably be more respectable than the flip though, what with anyone actively trashing on WAP coming across as a sexless square.
The list of praises this song received is no short list. NPR Radio recently declared this song as their number one of the entire year of music. Can you imagine that? The best piece of recorded music in this entire year! “WAP”! That is simply amusing to me, even if it is smally understandable in a broad, cultural reverberations sort of way that NPR loves to engage in. That’s not all though, the snobby savants sitting at Pitchfork also ranked “WAP” at the number one slot in their list too, which comes off as unnerving for a completely different set of reasons.
Including “WAP” onto my list became a given at some point, but it’s placement was a headscratcher. I feel that my estimation of “WAP” is very positive and it has made a high high ranking here, but on other days, I wonder if barely ranking it inside of my top 30 is lowballing it just a titch. “WAP”‘s immediate surroundings were suspect too, as placing the song next to any others just immediately de-classifies the place up. Like, there was a brief instant where I began seriously considering placing “WAP” directly next to Bob Dylan‘s slow lover’s waltz “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”. Because that’s exactly what this year in music deserves. (“I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give My WAP To You”?)
This is also an exceptionally difficult song to discuss in a “professional” manner, mostly because my gut instinct is to just devolve back into middle-schooler cerebellum and spend the whole time suppressing inappropriate guffaws, referencing Family Guy, and periodically spouting off the word “nice”. But no, I can’t do that. I need to specifically overhaul my terminology for writing about this song that’s well beyond suggestive, there are words to avoid in this spot to circumvent being overwhelmingly cheeky. Any talks of this song being “raw”, “sweaty”, “juicy”… while are not untrue or unmitigated, will nonetheless prove to be a distraction.
So, was I as scandalized as everybody else on my first listen to “WAP”? Um, well, nope. Not really at all. Not for lack of trying, but I’ve just heard this type of song too many times already.Even though there are still countless hordes of people out there who wig out whenever women sing about their sexy bodies sexing other sexes for sexy sexocity, the subject has certainly been approached before. Gangsta Boo from Three Six Mafia has been my first reference point for absolutely filthy female rappers, but there’s also the Electro club banger from Peaches that borders on novelty track depending on who you talk to: “My Neck, My Back”. Even Nicki Minaj was getting actual chart hits and singles while being as bad as she wants to be. This really isn’t too many shades behind “Anaconda” and I have little doubt that she has album deep cuts that *ahem* go as hard as this one does.
Before all of that even, my first thought towards “WAP” was that its a silicone copy of “WTP” by Teyana Taylor. Both titles share the same word for “P”, but the other 2 letters are much more simple. Teyana’s track is about “Work[ing] this” [redacted], in a Hi-NRG rave nostalgic track. For the nonbelievers, “WTP” would make “WAP” look downright subtle.
For as new as Cardi B really is to the limelight, it feels kinda humorous to that this in at least some shape of form is a comeback single from her. I’ve tried making effort to be on the side of history that thought “Bodak Yellow” was a fantastic, impressively written song. So, I can’t blame her at all for charging full steam ahead into the mainstream and producing some watered-down Cardi lite tracks. “Bartier Cardi”, “Money”, that Maroon 5 feature -ya gotta get that bread somehow. But yeah I was worried whether or not we would again see the raunchy and debaucherous duchess of Rap we saw in 2018, who had possibly all but vaporized in a wet asphyxiation since then.
It should be mentioned that there is a nominal level in craft to the song itself, although that is barely a contender in a song like this. The rap flow both artists use are just spectacular, as both engage in some extremely cunning stunts.
This is also just a very very funny song. Frank Zappa once asked via album title “Does Humor Belong In Music?”, and the critical success of “WAP” indicates that songs probably are allowed to be funny. Just about everybody has their own separate favorite lyric from WAP. I could make a WatchMojo top 10 on the best little moments from WAP. “Make you bust before I ever meet ya”, “He bought a phone just for pictures of this [redacted]”, the Mack truck horn, it’s all just dandy.
Nearly every line is memorable and quotable (although preferably not in front of polite company), not least of which are the subversively feminist examples such as knockout line “when he asks ‘who’s is it?’ I’mma spell my name” from Megan Thee Stallion, a masterclass in reclaiming his as yours.
I genuinely think there’s a chance that going forward, this song may age considerably worse than anything from Old Town Road, the big song from last year that people are already worrying will age terribly in years to come. At very least, I can enjoy how “WAP” draws a line in the sand, most likely going to be a waymarker for just where 2020 was at.
It gave me what I wanted from both Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, and it most certainly quenched my thirst.
It’s about time for Thundercat to reap what he sows. Anybody who’s been even remotely been plugged into music made this past decade would likely know about the extensive works of Thundercat and his skills on bass, not least of which from how immediately distinctive his style is. Very few others are able to consistently keep noodling up and down every part of the neck on his features, but he gets away with it. That’s not to mention his respectable skills as a singer, providing a pillowy, undisturbed vocal performance over his beastly bass playing.
That’s not all, his own solo material is reaching new heights and has even begun to catch on with regular music-listening audiences. His musical approach is certainly different than most, but it’s rarely confrontational. His blend of theory wiz chops and vivacious sense of humor evens itself out to somewhere around the level of a Frank Zappa tune, but one of his more generally agreeable ones, like a “Dancing Fool” or “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”. His newest album It Is What It Is, which is the follow-up to his bubbly yet supremely groovy “Drunk” album, is another excellent exploration into his wonderfully unique sound carved out for himself, and standout track “Dragonball Durag” is rife with those peak Thundercat-isms we’ve all come to love.
The music is travelling at a brisk pace, always on the run. Thundercat usually brings the charm and this track is no exception. He breaks out his famous jazz falsetto that’s smooth as Persian silks, and he uses this Smokey Robinson purr to ask if he looks good in his Dragonball durag. Scratch that, he takes it a little further than that. He actually states his intentions as “Baby girl, I’mma smash in my durag”.
Alright! Having the clothing article in question be a durag from the childrens TV show Dragonball Z is pretty onbrand for Thundercat. He’s not the kind of guy to how a pretty lady just how suave he looks in his matching suit and tie, or if she’s impressed by his luxury Rolex watch. It’s a headband with cartoon characters on it. This is more his speed and I all here for it. It’s not an impossible deposition either, I can think back to when The Weeknd on House of Balloons sung about “She look bad in her headband”. Thundercat is covered in cat hair but he smells good. Now, who could resist that?
This year, Rolling Stone magazine did a whole big list of the all-time best bassists, and Thundercat was the newest artist on the list, and no, I actually don’t think it’s hyperbolic or reactionary to include Thundercat among this company. He really is that good, and his mark is indelible.
I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that Thundercat achieves a nice balance. When he wants to, Thundercat can get seriously technical with his musical prowess, but his solo stuff almost bogs itself down in its music geekitude, the making music for musicians type. But he also never leans way too much into,what I can only call “useless music degree YouTuber” music, where music theory gurus use their formidable craft for the sole purpose of making funny ha-ha youtube videos. I get that there’s no money to be made in music anymore, but watching those crazy talented guys toss off those jokey viral videos gets me a little bummed out sometimes. Like come on, a real music talent like Mark Ribellet taking the time to make music with online music critic Anthony Fantano on bass seems like an improper use of his prowess to me. But hey, who am I to pass judgement?
Where was I? The music rarely tries to be anything other than what it is, just a goofy natured good time for all.
So does Thundercat look good in his Dragonball durag? Survey says yes! He could honestly probably wear Spongebob boxers and get the same effect, it’s all about that confidence.
-Lianne La Havas
This album took quite a while in gestation, that is, five years have passed between this year’s self-titled album and her previous. I wasn’t around for the wait, but I cannot imagine any of her followers could have been disappointed with the end result. The album is simply gorgeous and masterful, the work of an artist with so much personality to give who is working at the top of her craft.
It is Neo-Soul tailor-fitted with a thinking cap on, achieving that rare balance of smarts and soulfulness. It rarely relies on samples for its instruments, each member is contributing both as a band unit and for the music itself, the lyrical approach is confessional yet universal, it is just a finely crafted work.
Apart from the release of THAT ONE OTHER ALBUM, Lianne La Havas is absolutely what I’d call my 2nd favorite album of the entire year. The tracks grow with you and expose different facets depending on when you hear it and what angle you are coming from. Despiite me at one time believing the record was front-looaded, I’ve since come around to the ___ half that closes the album out. There aren’t low points, mentally checked out songs, blemishes, it is just a solid project through and through.
In interviews, she discussed the importance on having this record be a band-in-the-studio effort, and the way she plays off the members gives it all a human tension, a tight push-and-pull like each song is its own living organism. She also helmed the production herself, and the record’s sound is unmatched by other music this year.
“Can’t Fight” comes out of the earlier honeymoon phase of the record, where Lianne is punch-drunk with her infatuations and decides to give in to the ride she is on. She has a real knack for fascinating gutiar chords to pluck around on and an immaculate siinging style, fully in control of her craft and never rids herself of the emotional content inside.
Her vocals cross the gap from its early hush, flushed, and tender vocals, eventually reaching the breaking point to where her voice climbs the balcony. The backing groove is tight as it is anywhere else on the record, leaving plenty of space for Lianne to do her thing, especiially once her double tracked vocals add into the chorus.
She ends the track with some whack-a-mole vocal harmonies, and some hidden 7th chords that loosen the ground underneath. Perhaps there is some trouble in paradise after all?
If you have not heard Lianne La Havas’ album and you are a fan of R&B music, women guitar players, exceptional studio engineering or otherwise then please check it out. Why fight it?
Real friends don’t let their friends take part in anything less than the finest. And they certainly don’t let their amigos puff on any of bammer business.
This year, Wiz Khalifa dropped a brand spankin’ new E.P. on April 20th (for… reasons.), The Saga of Wiz Khalifa, and in giving credit where credit is due, it was pretty fire. While I’m by no means opposed to getting music from the guy, I’m sensible enough to keep lowered expectations from what is in actuality a non-essential Rap release.
I’m surprised I even got around to listening to it on its 4/20 release date, seeing as I started my morning off by booting up Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, which had just released to Spotify and Apple Music that day (for…. reasons), before I then switched over another album that finally made its way to streaming that day: Acid Bath’s fuzzed-out Stoner-Rock headrush, When the Kite String Pops (c’mon now, put it together! You’re old enough to read between the lines, ain’t ya?) But luckily, The Saga of Wiz Khalifa followed a merciful 7 track format (a la Pusha T’s DAYTONA), and most each track thought out and worthy of inclusion. Which may sound like the bare minimum for releasing music to the public but hey, that’s not exactly how this rodeo works.
With “Bammer”, you know it means business from its start, as it kicks off with a classic sounding Hi NRG bass line that most certainly bumps in the whip. A lot of rappers use dignified jazz samples to help class up the joint, pun only minorly intended, but this is the type of jazzy sound that just electrifies the piece -creates a near out of body experience. It makes you think about how that good-good can make you levitate.
The clearcut knockout musical addition to this song is absolutely that moment-out-of-time sax that keeps wailing away behind Wiz Khalifa’s shades down self-assured raps. And what can I say? I like hearing him spit bars on how “only real ones roll big doinks”.
Look, I’m not dumb enough to insinuate that Wiz is breaching new grounds or anything here, he most definitely already has more than enough Joint Jamz in his back catalog as is. But “Bammer” just has this magic quality to it that amps me up and feels like it can steamroll over anyone who stands in my way.
In completing my Top 100 list, I eventually realized that there are technically three songs on this list that name Wiz Khalifa as the featured artist, which I find to be supremely odd seeing as I am not anything even close to a Wiz Khalifa super fan. I’m frankly not even sure if I could name 10 songs by the man if held at gunpoint. I think he just had a great year as a rapper that more should have taken note of.
Now, “Bammer” is not an original Wiz composition. It is actually a reworking of the underground Hip-Hop classic “Don’t Give Me No Bammer” by San Fran rap collective RBL Posse, and this was a fact that I was fully not aware of before writing this. Yikes, that’s not fantastic. I do consider this slight of information to be a misstep on my part, but it does at least raise a few points of intrigue. Because come on, tell me right now how many Rap covers you can think of? That’s exactly what I thought. I’ll try not to let this new piece of knowledge hurt my enjoyment of this song.
If you are about smoking that good Hydro on the D-low then I thnk you already know this track is for you. Guess what’s back on the menu, boys!
-Cautious Clay, Remi Wolf, Sophie Meiers, Claud, Melanie Faye
This is full stop one of the best big collaborations of the year, the featured musicians do a bangup job in making this song feel like a party that everybody is invited to.
There’s no getting around it, the core of “Cheesin'”s identity is, well, pretty cheesy. Titling the song around a slang that’s not in widespread use (at least to my knowledge, but I typically try to stay pretty plugged in to these type of things) is an eyebrow-raiising move, but the non-importance of using an obtuse piece of lingo only furthers its charm. It makes a joke out of how much about nothing this song really is, which at the end of the day, is a pretty enjoyable way to process music.
Maybe some of the slang has gone too far. I certainly hope that Cheesin’ at least has multiple definitions and isn’t what South Park has engrained it as for me years ago, (it is most certainly not alright with me if you take a slice of me if it involves cat piss like that). But that’s part of the knowing fun of it all, it’s of all these cat catch phrase rap songs are kind of silly when you when it comes down to it so having a Nothing of a phrase be the centerpiece does more good than harmonica song does this carefree and light as this one is
From information that I am only recently privy to, “cheesin'” is giving off a large, 10 mile wide smile. Cheesin’ for the camera, one of them thangs.
Maybe I should have surmised that on my own, seeing as he single art showcase is the artist’s miles of smiles. Look how happy everybody is! Don’t you want to be happy too? You probably could be if you listen to this song that they’re all smiling about. I can’t deny that it’s an exciting prospect, and one at least a liiittle bit removed from my daily, casual listenings of Alice In Chains, Radiohead, Elliott Smith, and Pinkerton (I kid, I kid… I don’t actually listen to Pinkerton), so on that basis, of splitting up my moody tunes, I enjoy the heavy injection of good vibes.
The track is a real who’s who of music’s up-and-comers. Or maybe some of these artists already came-up and are still hanging around, either way, it is just an exciting crew collab to be around.
I’ve noticed that two artists on here have already showed up on my list (that being Remi Wolf with “Disco Man” and Claud with “My Body”), so I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if the whole gang featured on here would make some incredible bops to eventually cross my path down the line. The beautiful miss Melanie Faye closes the track out with some six-string soloing, placing a neat bow on the track as well.
This song sounds like tipsy dancing under the moonlight. It sounds like staying up with your friends for hours and hours after the moon has rose. It sounds like an experience and I am all here for it.
“Snakeskin” by Rina Sawayama is an adventure. That is, it is a full-on Pop epic in three movements, all segmented into a miniature operetta (operetta… that’s like a bitesize opera, right? Like a Toblerone Jr.?)
I’d declare 2020 to be a very successful year for newcomer to the Pop game Rina Sawayama, who released her widely acclaimed debut album: Sawayama. As for my thoughts on it? It’s very impressive, yes, and I’m more than glad to get some new blood in the game like herself, -especially after hearing hot dedicated she is to the craft of Pop music at a time where many in the game are lazily raking in hits like its their birthright- but all the same, I can’t help but feel that this album just is not for me.
I don’t know what to say, except that I am just not very good with the uncut pop stuff for myself. If you can get jiggy with that straight, unwatered down Pop music then hey, more power to you, in some ways I envy you, but it’s not something that comes to me very naturally at all. I can still squeeze some marginal enjoyment from the likes of, let’s say, Britney Spears or Madonna, but most of the time it only feels like homework while I could be listening to Black Sabbath instead. C’est la vie, different strokes for diff’rent folks, yes?
So when a lot of Rina fans found that “Snakeskin” proved to be pretty middling for them, I on the other hand was able to find many amazing elemtns that allowed me to completely latch onto it in a way that I simply could not for the rest of the album. The rest of the songs do have their own quantifiable charm of course, I am not claiming they do not, but “Snakeskin” taps into something so completely different and even alien than the rest of the album does.
“Snakeskin” has an opening that is appropriately coldblooded, Rina sinnging into the still of the night over piano chords that ramp up in tension time and time again. You can sense something is seriously off here, but the track’s erratic structure doesn’t give you any time for it to sink in before switchiing to an entirely new section, barely 20 seconds in.
The gloves are off and the fight is on while Rina engages in vocals that are definitely ethnic, clearly a non-Western vocal melody that isthen crudely chopped off and looped around while the track continues to build around her vocal. The song feel switches to an impatient rhythm in 12/8 time, urgently pushiing the track forward and forward until it reaches its second movement.
As tempting as it is for me to describe every individual section in depth, I won’t, it’s best to hear it yourself and let it play out naturally over the course of a song. I absolutely need to praise the drop where the rug gets completely pulled under your feet and the slithering drums shake away, it’s mezmerising and fully satisfuing, knowing where it coomes in. Namely, this music tidbit is the most logical extension to what critics have been calling “rattling trap hi hats”, well it doesn’t rattle much more than it does here. I wouldn’t be surprised if they came up with this amazing sound effect first and backwards engineered a whole track around it to close the album.
The song keeps doing its thing before eventually winding down with a ghostly piano sounding off in a dark room, executing some super classical sounding chords through a haze of garbled studio chatter.
It’s a real delight to hear an artist shoot for the ceiling like Rina does on this song, I suppose it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but I can’t help but be amazed at the level of craft and ingenuity that goes into crafting a song like this.
Rina Sawayama could charm just about any snake, any day of the week.
“No Glory In The West”
Orville Peck is on a lonesome quest for salvation, and I kind of want to join him.
It wasn’t something I could be certain on when I first heard it, but one year after taking in Orville Peck’s debut album Pony, I still have this record in coonstant rotation. The reason I say so, was that major parts of his identity as a musician seems like it could be a fluke covering up a lack of songs to back it up. He wears a face-mask at all time to conceal his identity, he makes Country-ish music that features same-sex encounters in its lyrics, and his sound was what many claimed as a halfway between Country music and Shoegaze.
Once that whole “WOW, THIS GUY IS COUNTRY SHOEGAZE! ISN’T THAT CRAAAAZZYY?” novelty around the album wore out, you were left with an album that had a real heart of gold at every song’s center. That is why I’m so engaged and excited and enjoying this new material where the gimmickry is dropped in his bare bones song writing a performance from him that sells this song
I thought a lot of the Shoegazey flourishes on the album were overstated by people other than himself anyway. It was a good pitch to get your foot in the door, but the album had more than enough substance to elevate itself past its soniic palette.
I’ve had a bit of a year with Orville Peck. Namely, when I bought a ticket to see Orville Peck play a set at Arizona’s prestigious Van Buren, I did not anticipate this to be my absolute last chance to see any live music for what is going to be a very long time. (interesting crowd he pulls in by the way …a bizarro mix of butch macho men in ten gallon cowboy hats and denim, drag queens, metal-ish hipster guys, and more. I was the guy wearng a Hanson T-shiirt and a yellow flannel) and it was the very last concert I saw this year, right before lockdown. And when mean it was the last concert before lockdown, I mean it -when I came home after the concert, I saw that the NBA shut down its whole season and Disneyland was closing off its park, that’s when it got serious.
Anyway, Orville played most tracks off Pony but also premiered a handful of brand new songs, songs I’d imagine would have been on his second studio album if he didn’t release a stopgap E.P. this year instead. I was certain that “Summertime” would be THE song to hit it big when I heard it, but the studio version was ust alright. Nay, it was his little acoustic number when he was up on the stage by himself and small portions of the audience migrated outward to buy beer before he brought the band back on to cover Gram Parsons’ “Ooo Las Vegas” that was the standout.
It doesn’t get less gimmicky than this, it’s just a man with his guitar, a microphone, and a little song that could.
Mostly a minor chord dirge, wiith just enough major chords added for levity and promises that the road ahead still goes on. The Wild West is a hot, dead place of many characters and roles in camaraderie and the rivalries, but in between there is a lot of empty in a lot of loneliness and lonely riders hearts made for one. Doolin-Dalton said “a man could use his back or use his brains” and Orville on this song describes a fair share of column A and column B.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about how there’s “nowhere left to go and goiing’s all we know” and a repeating “there’s still no rest”. It gets you down after a while, I think someone once spoke that “every cowboy sings a sad, sad song” I think that was Frank Sinatra who said that.
The whole Show Pony E.P. is a neat ride by the way, whether it be his duet with Country superstar Shania Twain -where you can practically hear him blushing with excitement behind his velvety facemask, or his radically rearranged cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy”, later made more famous by Reba McEntire. It was a totally inspired choice of cover, and his gravelly baritone gives the song’s lyric a complete reimagining.
“No Glory In The West” takes its scrap pieces and builds something monumental out of it.
Who really needs glory anyways?
“Only She Knows”
There’s no better way to put it: “Only She Knows” by the band Loving is an acoustic guitar powered Dreamcatcher. Just enough gas in the tank to fuel the dreamy worthwhile excursions here.
Loving’s album If I Am Only My Thoughts is far and away the single most unassuming album I’ve heard this year, as there is little on paper (perhaps a bit more on rolling papers though) that would designate this as a particularly depthful music style. I’ve heard this style done time and time again, it’s a dimebag a dozen, it’s music that barely wills itself into existence and goes up in smoke as soon as you stop thinking about it(I think I’ll ease up on ribbing the band on their smoker’s delight friendly sound now).
I’m just super weary of this brand of, for lack of a better term, let’s call it: ‘vibey’ rock music. We know what I’m talking about, it’s your Mac DeMarco’s, your Khruangbin’… and your Loving’s. The band name doesn’t help matters either by the way. That band name is generic as generic gets, a second go at the drawing board would have done some favors. They sound like they’d be a band who’d take an earnest and unironic whack at singing the acoustic “Lesbian Seagull” from the Beavis and Butthead Do America movie.
Against the odds, the album is a sonic masterpiece. A masterpiece who doesn’t set its ambitions very high, granted, but there is still something worth admiiring for a band who takes the low road and paves it full of gold. I’ve used this next term before for many musics in the past but decided to save it for this group right here, so here goes: If I Am Only My Thoughts is an exquisite hammock-lounger of an album. The band takes the most meellow yellow sounds imaginable but still infuses each and every song with these little touches and effects to keep up the pace and keep interest.
In fact, it evokes the exact same world-wise cruising altitude that possessed Pink Floyd on their cusp albums from fantastical, low-rent acoustic Psych burnouts into their latter blockbuster Art-Pop heyday. This section goes out to all the Meddle appreciators from the Pink Floyd fandom. If you know you know, Meddle is the album right before they rose to the task of making The Dark Side Of The Moon (and it’s all history after that), but Meddle still has all the talent of Dark Side onwards Floyd but with bupkiss motivation to it. And I love it for that. Meddle was a verge album even if it wasn’t a clout booster for them in the public eye, but that doesn’t mean the fandom around this album is any less intense.
It is that brief twilight period in between the two eras, where the band is nearing the height of creative prowess but without the lofty scope that repels any lighthearted good-natured songwriting. Songs like “San Tropez” or “A Pillow Of Winds” would have no business existing on any subsequent Pink Floyd album.
I’d surmise that this new Loving album operates at just about the same frequency.
“Only She Knows” is a cloudy-brained song that unravels itself in unique ways. It waivers and wobbles and dips and bends and warps. It helps imagine a scenario in which Charon floating down the River of Styx was a Deadhead, you know, apart from the most literal application of the term that is. It also sounds like one of my favorite ever Elton John songs, the mysterious 2 chord guitar cycler “Love Song” from his still very underrated Tumbleweed Connection LP.
The keyboards wash over the track, coercing you to become swept away along with it.
“Mood” (feat. iann dior)
-24kGoldn, iann dior
Yeah, this is a fine time to be moody. I don’t think anybody is here to deny that.
This is 2020: EVERYBODY has been in a permanently scrunched-up face, always-rude-bad-mood mood this year. Woohoo!”Mood” is yet another new addition into a long growing series of hit songs that capture the “modern zeitgeist” but completely not on purpose at all.
This song is a sign o’ the times in a couple of ways, For example: “Mood” shows that we as a society have reached an era of shrugging chart acceptance where two virtual newcomers with an artist’s combo that barely even registers as actual name of people on first glance can fool around and fall into the #1 song in America. That’s right, I love living in a period of modern charts where two no-names with unpronounceable names can sit atop the charts for weeks on end (Yo, Mr. White I can’t even pronounce half of this!). Just reading the song title/artist combo is a small marvel in itself.
“Mood” is a very compact song, it does not allow itself the time to muck around. It’s a quick get-in-get-out highway robbery, it dips in for a nimble two verses, couple hooks and then it just cuts itself off. I can appreciate a song that does not waste my time.
Even for song of this manner, of which we are not hurting for anymore of these to hit popularity, “Mood” has enjoyed a really impressive success. This song has been sitting on top of the Hot 100 or hovering around the Top 5 for several weeks straight now, it’s a song that people just aren’t seeming to tire of any time soon.
The song is a work of two teenagers (citation needed) daisychaining several songwriting tropes into something that winds up way more charming and substantial than it has any right to be. If this were nearly any other song, lyrics whining about how “we play games of love to avoid the depression” would be a terrible, eye-rolling affair… but it’s not here. Instead, I find it very effective in how both singers use Pop tropes to help communicate very relatable and easy to comprehend emotions. When these guys sing about “the depression”, I don’t find it to be a story about personal struggle at all, but its a regularly scheduled stop along the way on a checklist of relatability in our new times. It is terribly out of his depth, but still knows that there is something vital to hitting these marks. It takes clichés and realizes how they can be parts of a valuable toolset.
There are other lyrics that are too much fun to turn my nose up at. Something about these kids taking the moral high ground and singing “I know it’s obvious, elephant in the room” is just so bellylaugh inducing to me. Indesputibly, the best two seconds on Pop radio this year is when the singer feels compelled to tell me, the listener, that he is not my dad. Phew, I was worried for a second there, so thank you. Also, is this a song about his girl being in a mood, like a bad grump mood, or is it a song about being in the mood, the bom-chikka-bow-wow mood. Is there any overlap between the two? They make a point that they are arguing in their bedroom, so it very well could turn into a different kind of mood at moment’s notice. But this is neither really here nor there, I just had to throw it out there.
And maybe it’s just from the songs in its immediate surroundings, but holy hell does it feel great to finally hear some actual guitars back on the airwaves. It’s not Eddie Van Halen riffing by any means, but seeing a brief blip where more than half of the songs in the Top 10 of the charts had actual guitars playing it, it’s relatively reassuring. It’s not just rockism on my part, songs like “Mood” are made better by guitar being on it, as this guitar riff reflects a feeling more pensive than any synth lead would have brought to the song, there’s a thin gravity from those vibrating strings against the faux backing track.
I mean yeah, this track piggybacks off of the current wave of Emo Rap guitar tinkering, but I think it turns these common tropes into somethiing new and useful.
24kGoldn teamed up with current rap superstar DaBaby on “Coco” and …it’s alright. I have absolutely no reason to believe that “Mood” wasn’t a complete and total fluke though.
I think it’s safe to say that “Mood” beat the odds and has reached that rarified hit song status that nearly everybody and their mothers can enjoy. Everything looks better with a view. Yuh!
“I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”
Who says that new American standards can’t be written In 2020?
With his delicate crooner’s salve titled “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, Dylan has added another “Make You Feel My Love” type of track under his belt, one more gentle lover’s ode to be immortalized by many-a soft piano covers and constantly wheeled out at wedding receptions. Like other Dylan songs to gain further fame in its covered forms, Adele and others were able to further articulate the classily rustic and dripping with sap sentimentality that “Make You Feel My Love” was made of at its core.
However, there is a primary difference is between “Make You Feel My Love” and “I’ve Made Up My Mind..” in that Bob’s vocal delivery is lock and key to selling this song. I don’t think it’s offensive of me to state that Bob Dykan sounds plain old on this song, ancient, like the village’s wizened old man reigning atop the mystic mountain, carrying down his word from on high.
I can’t bring myself to say that Dylan’s voice has aged into a fine wine, so I’ll opine that it ages into a sweet molasses. Bob’s chest, brains, and lungs steeping like a husky barrel of glorious whiskey. He uses his old man croak to great effect, decidedly playing into his elder statesman blues rambler persona. For anyone who’s complained in the past of Bob Dylan not being able to sing, they clearly had no idea what decades of reefer smoking and how strenous undertaking the world’s literal longest tour ever could do to his voice. However, when compared to Sir Paul McCartney and his newer music, where he is desperately trying to hide the age to his voice while he’s still to full of pride to sit down for vocal lessons, hearing Bob Dylan put it all out on display is interesting.
In 2020, Bob Dylan released Rough and Rowdy ways, it was the first album of original Bob Dylan material (one of the best political writers ever curiously decided to sit out the entire administration. I can’t help but be reminded of Rage Against The Machine breaking up before Bush Jr.s presidency), it released to rave reviews like every Bob Dylan album does, it has a butt-ugly album cover, and it is looks likely that it will be remembered as one of his major works which is very impressive for a storied career like Dylan’s.
Much like how every good to great album released in David Bowie’s lifetime (rest in peace) would be slated “his best album since Scary Monsters and Super Creeps”, Rough and Rowdy Ways was another one of “Bob’s best album since Time Out Of Mind”, which is a distressing erasure of Love and Theft which I will not stand for.
There are noticably less talks of the likes of Louie the King, or Einstein disguised Robin Hood, or sword swallowing one eyed midgets in this current phase of Bob’s career, he’s much more likely to go for nature references and imagery.
That said, there is also a remarkable sense of zaniness on the album that Bob never really put on display before, there are songs where Bob isn’t afraid to throw down some off-kilter lines about “driving fast cars and eating fast foods”, and that he’ll “take the Scarface Pacino and The Godfather Brando, mix it up in a tank and get a robot commando”. To say that either of these make more sense in their respective songs is a stretch, but I am here for it.
One of the album’s showstopper moments comes in the form of “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, which is a pretty cool sentiment in and of itself because gee, it musta taken a long time for ol’ Bobby to make his mind up!
When he decides to play it more straight, like on this song or “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)”, the lyrics take a more vaguely poetic approach. Relating Bob Dylan’s lyrics to poetry is of course nothing new, but this time he seems to really reach for generally man-of-nature lyrics and sets of words that probably make even more sense when being viewed written on paper.
This track takes its sweet, sweet time, where Bob Dylan can have several measures between where one line ends and the next begins, unlike his past rapid-fire dictionary mouth singng of years past. He has some Old-Hollywood backing singers to croon alongside him, and mellower than mellow instruments to lay the groundwork for him. His age has to be a central component to the album, there is no ignoring it. Even the entire notion of an aging rock star is an oxymoron, rock music makes no sense with growth and wisdom.
Most of rock music history is about the young singing songs about youth, and at most, speculating in fantasizing about loving their lovers when they get older. When I’m 64. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older? These ideas of aging were practically fantasy to early rock musicians, as the standard had been set early on from Rock’s greatest dying at horrificially young ages. The understood sentiment was “I hope I die before I get old” But now that the working rock class of the heyday of its music is passed that 64 Mark BenchMarker so how does that change things up?
We’ve seen this new type of age-conscious lyric crop up recently, notably when Leonard Cohen and David Bowie both released life-in-retrospective albums before their respective passings. The awkward thing is, is that Bob Dylan already made his big statement on aging on 199_’s “Time Out Of Mind”, and he’s (thank God) lived to tell the tale 30 years after. His doomer embrace of death on that album almost seems premature now. How embarassing. Leonard Cohen and David Bowie at least had the common courtesy to fully sell their respective DeathCore albums by dying afterwards.
Although Bob Dylan is the greatest American songwriter to ever live (don’t let the haters tell you otherwise, they’re wrong), Bob never really took all that much influence from the Great American Songbook as it it. Coming off the back of a decade of Sinatra covers and Standards albums, one can’t help but draw a straight line to his original material that immediately followed.
I would like to hit the ground running and yell to the world “BOB DYLAN IS BACK IN ACTION, BAY-BEE!” but I can’t. Bob Dylan comes and goes as he pleases, this is Bob Dylan’s world and we are just living in it. I genuinely think if people make too big a point of it, he’ll retreat back into his Bob-Cave like a groundhog who’s just seen his own shadow.
Still though, I’ll appreciate what we get and it’s safe to say that I’ve made up my mind to really enjoy this song.
With their surprise comeback release this year, Shoegaze band Hum decide to learn you over the power of intimidation via the overwhelming presence of time.
In June of this year, the band Hum who were still thought to be in a floating state of inactivity had surprise released a brand new album without warning, much to the total bewilderment of everybody who’s kept up with the band. Any errant speculation on what a new album by Hum could have sounded like was up to anyone’s best guesses, but luckily for myself, Inlet, leans hardest on to the band’s pure-blood Shoegaze days of music making, picking up most directly from where Downward Is Heavenward left off.
Standout epic “Desert Rambler” sculpts sensations of travel, going through breathtaking peaks and chest-pounding valleys on the track. Its mid-sections have a real eye of the hurricane effect to it, doubled down on when lyrics of “As we break for our descent upon the surface, I see settlement fires” begin.
The sound is gargantuan and impenetrable, a sonic sound to behold. When I describe this song as “monolithic, I mean in the sense of the 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith. This track’s end has a major-key keyboard chord that is happy happy so so happy that just holds itself for infinity and a day, sounding like humankind’s enlightenment above the rest of the song’s rockitude.
The darkness invites you in.
Write-up TK. Please check back later.
Ant Sanders is not a genius of love. In fact, he kind of comes across like a total doofus at it.
When it comes to singing about the emotions of love -and believe me, there are a LOT of emotions to sing about in the grand game of love- there are few emotions that are more exciting to hear sung than an artist crossedly bemoaning about a confusion and even total bewilderment of the opposite sex. Songs based around the simple teenaged frustrations, missed impulses, large emotions felt over small miscommunications. What kind of miscommunications am I referring to? Well, give me a second to talk it over.
This song “Yellow Hearts” centers around a specific culture quirk of the internet age that even I wasn’t aware of. See, this ladyfriend of Ant Saunders has been sending these subtly not so subtle hints that she wants to get next to him (use any 50’s song reference here, they are all relevant in this instance) but our clueless guy whose singing the song is left totally left in the dark like the dummy that he is. Here’s a tale for all the fellas who’s trying to do what those ladies tell us; if she sends you a metric tonne of yellow heart emojis, there’s something more to pick up on.
This might be a brash awakening to some moderately older listeners: kids these days are taking the time to write whole songs about emojis. Not only that, but these songs have sincere feelings of heartbreak and sizable emotional investment; it’s a little weird.
Emojis come in different colors, and the yellow hearts are for the ones used for someone you’d want to be more than just friends with. This probably isn’t always a thing, I don’t want anyone to go into a panic if you’ve been using yellow heart emojis in a totally platonic way, I don’t think we should start dressing in neutral colors to avoid emoji gang wars here. But it is a definite move played by this song’s girl, yellow heart emojis in her texts means she wants to Netflix and chill with you. For me, I’d imagine she went to the Kanye West school of keeping all her emojis yellow colored like Bart Simpson.
I can already imagine that some out there are perplexed to why a middle of the road TikTok Melodo-Rap song is ranked so high on this list of mine. I’ve got a terrible soft spot for this music. I think songs being made by nobodies in this new age is actively bringing music back to the people and grants a spark of spontaneity to new music that had been so desperately missing. The added benefit of newer Hip-Hop adjacent songs featuring tuneful singing and full-on melodies is a plus too. But mostly, and hear me out on this, the comeback of the >2 minutes radio single has been one of the most miraculous happenings in the music industry in recent times.
In a theory that’s sure to make me sound like a cloudcuckoolander to any rap purists or anyone who can stonefaced deny what charms can be heard in the style known as “mumble rap”, I believe that this newest turning of the screw in Pop Rap has created a popular music environment analogous to the first boom of Rock N’ Roll singles from back in the day.
For the record: this song “Yellow Hearts” is neck-and-neck in my eyes with another, probably much bigger melodo-Hop song from last year called “Roxanne” by Arizona Zervas, which absolutely 1000% woulda made my top 100 list, and maybe even top 10 or top 5(!!!) if it was released this year. It only got big in January of this year, I missed it for last year’s list, oh well. You win some, you lose the rest.
“One Night Standards”
When I listen to Country music, I can be a simple man to please. Take for example one of my favorite Pop-Country songs to come to existence this past decade: the song “Drunk On A Plane” by Dierks Bentley. The inner monologue of a song called “Drunk On A Plane” is not a guessing game, it is exactly what it says on the tin.
I oftentimes find that even just a clever song title I’ve never heard done before is enough of a job well done for me. A few years ago when I heard that the Pistol Annies have a song tongue-in-cheek titled “Hell On Heels”? I was sold before I ever heard the first 5 seconds of it. That was similar to my experience this year with Ashley McBryde’s “One Night Standards”. Now THAT is a song I’d like to hear! I’ll stick around for at least one chorus of anything that’s called “One Night Standards”.
But “One Night Standards” has the decency and wit to extend its reach much further than that. If it was just a kooky clever title to take advantage of, this song would probably land itself somewhere around number 70 or so on this list (again, I am a smooth-brained city dweller who is easy to please). Instead, “One Night Standards” is deep rooted in feelings and details.
This was a breakout year for Ashley McBryde. I think the tomatoes are finally back in the salad and women are once again back in Country radio. It’s about time too! The telltale sign that Ashley McBryde is going places, is when I started reading all these other best-of-the-year lists from various publications, and nobody could agree on what the single best song from her Martha Divine album is. Plenty sources picked the title track, which is a great time, no denying that. Others picked the women-helping-women song that opens the record, “Hang In There Girl”. I’ve seen yet another pick in its title track “Never Will”, it’s just a well rounded Country album.
Not that Ashley McBryde hadn’t seen impressive success in the industry before this year, I remember hearing “Girl Going Nowhere” quite a bit, I just think that she’s broken through the roof and is going to stick around for quite some time.
It certainly doesn’t sound glitzy or glamorous here.
“How it goes is, bar closes,
There’s no king bed covered in roses
Just a room without a view”
First off, “How it goes is, bar closes” is a fantastic rhyme, solid use of her craft right there. The song does not use hook-ups as a means of party hard celebrations, but it’s not a secret shame to be had either. It’s presented as something of a fact of life, for you the listener to draw your own conclusions. The narrative ambiguity treats the listener with respect, that we can use our own intellegence and draw our own lines.
This is not a cut and dry happy song about “gettin some!”, there’s some unsuredness and dirtiness to the whole affair. That’s not to say that this track leans into any “sleaze” persay. Ashley McBryde is a worldwide mega Country star, she has every right in the world to get some extra lovin’ if that’s what she wants. I wouldn’t blink twice if Alan Jackson were to sing the same song, there’s no reason to have double standards bring this song down. “It’s just a room key, you ain’t gotta lie to me”.
It’s glass-half-full outlook on unmarried bunking operates much like how Billy Paul’s all-time Soul great”Me and Mrs. Jones” does, primarily how the song was at the time accused of glorifying adultery, despite it instead sounding actually miserable for all parties involved. Let it be known that if I can ever draw comparisons to the heart-ripping beauty that is “Me and Mrs. Jones”, it is a mighty high compliment coming from me, it is one of my favorite pieces of recorded music ever made.
Much like how Billy Paul was a singer who in his 40’s before recording “Me and Mrs. Jones”, Ashley McBryde handles her song with a vantage point that comes with life experience, she just possesses a level of maturity that only comes through a life long lived. I don’t want to draw too fine a point on a woman’s age, my mom taught me better than to do that, but Ashley is 37, significantly well older than most Country stars take to breakout. Bluntly put, there is simply no way that a Bebe Rexha could pull off the emotional intensity of “One Night Standards.
The music itself plays partially to the concept, even if it’s slight. The guitar leads whimper and glide into the background following the chorus, and the kickdrum’s steady pulse would give off a different onomatopoeic insinuation if the dynamic wasn’t lowered so harshly. So I think there’s some intentionality there. The song all comes together so wonderfully.
Who could have thought that one night could be remembered for an entire lifetime?
Deftones came in clutch this year and took the task of singlehandedly saving 2020. That’s what I like to think at least. I can attest that their new music substantially improved my 2020, so that’s something.
Their new album Ohms is a fantastic return to form for the band coming off the back of the rather lackluster Gore that was met with a lukewarm reception. Ohms figures it out and gives fans the Deftones we want, and a bigger evolution to their sound, nearing similar heights to 2011’s fan favorite Koi No Yokan. I think the album is incredible, it is practically everything I could want in a new album by Deftones, so that’s why I was surprised to discover that this album had a relatively polarized reputation in the Deftones’ camp.
The album lights the fuse with a top 3 all-time Deftones opener, “Genesis” which is a furied explosion of a track. It was track 2 on the album, “Ceremony” that caught my ear and snared my heart however.
The guitar’s main figure is made of devilish metronomics, a mathy little guitar line that provides a sturdy, yet unstable floorboard for the song to sit atop of. Chino Moreno lays atop of it with his usual sleepy unease, drifting in and out of focus while the instrumental ramps up in its intensity.
It also has this sinewy, rattlesnaking vocal melody to draw you in. The vocal harmonies on the chorus are further apart than they’ll seem at first gander, they are moving at perfect fourth intervals away -essentially recreating the top frequencies of a power chord. Nerdy music theory talks withdrawn, the point is that this song flat-out kicks butt and starts fires in living rooms.
The band again utilizes their knack for circling in on key phrases to draw emotional gutpunches,
“So I’m leaving you tonight/It’s not fun here anymore”
If there was a downfall to the album, it’s that the mastering on this album can be sound outright hideous. I have no clue why that is, the mix itself sounds fine, the recording quality is good and the spatial seperation is all fine, it just sounds like wet cardboard left out in the rain.
The return of Deftones is a ceremonious occasion indeed.
Probably the best and most apt descriptor I’ve seen thrown around for Dogleg’s masterclass rock album Melee, is it being all gas no breaks.
Dogleg takes part in the widening wave of Emo Revival music, but does so in a way that is gratifying in its large, almost primal emotions and is still subversive in musicality. They allow you to have your cake and eat it too.
If nothing else, the album is music that is able to rock completely naturally. This album is not a chore, it is effective and invigorating. The band knows how to have fun with it all, I wouldn’t be surprised if the CD booklet automatically gave you greasy pizza fingers. The album has several shoutouts to one of the band’s biggest non-music passions: Super Smash Bros. The band had Super Smash Bros. Melee set up at their merch table with the notice that if you beat the band in a round of Melee, you get free merch. To date, they have given out no free merch. Tracks are named afteer playable characters, this album has Fox and Wartortle and an earlier E.P. has Ganon. They just seem cool to have around.
This track, my favorite from the album “Headfirst”, begins with the soft sounds of a whimpering clean guitar before fully kicking the door off its hinges. The predominant aura around this music is one of adolescent torment, and it is a compelling one.
This branch of modern Emo rock is usually at it’s best when its picking apart the dirt and flesh of its muscality. The genre takes its expected musical progressions and chooses to augment its melodies and deviate from the standard music fare. Guitar riffs that stop just short of getting to the root note. A vocal melody straining for the notes that are just out of reach. Lead guitars that deflate in the face of its narrative defeat. It revels in its hard-wired tensions cheap conveniences that are often at odds with each other.
The name of the game is catharsis: “I WILL LET YOU DOWN!” pounds the chorus, coming back time and time again with clockwork regularity (as a chorus normally does, yes. But still.)
Once rock venues return to regular and the moshpits open back up, I’ll be there smack center for Dogleg waiting to thrash around and tear it up.
Write-up TK. Check back later.
“walking in the snow“
-Run The Jewels
Needlepushers of the revolution, Run The Jewels, are never early or late in their output -they arrive precisely when needed most. Whether it be from their debut arriving at creative peaks of both pieces of the rap duo Killer Mike and El-P, or their third effort seeing a surprise early release on Christmas day (a miracle indeed), the unit jukes themselves into something that has always felt timely. Only this time, it wasn’t by choice.
The mainstay lyrics of political unrest and elevating black excellence took on new meanings in 2020. RTJ4 is a balanced concoction of lavish braggadocio and pointed furies, sometimes occupying these themes on the same track, such as the thwomping “JU$T” that features Neptunes famed Pharrell giving deft touches to the rallying cry of “Look at all these slave masters posing on they dollars”. The keg was already well set to ignite before RATM rallyman Zach De La Rocha spits a verse.
But of all the fun to be had on the record, many listeners were most drawn to the horrifically timed “walking in the snow”, that hosted one of the best verses of Killer Mike careers and had jawdropping parallels to the George Floyd murder which took place the same week as the album’s release.
“And usually the lowest scores the poorest and they look like me
And every day on the evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me
Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper “I CAN’T BREATHE.”
This is not about George Floyd directly -how could it have been? It instead was written to Eric Garner who suffered an eerily similar demise at the hands of corrupt police forces, showcasing the clockwork regularity of these tragedies.
It is worth noting that this track is one of multitudes, as the majority outside of this stellar verse is some primo party and BS rapping. Gangsta Boo reappears on an RTJ album after her salacious work on “Love Again” from their second outing, and her flow is plainly frostbitten.
Music helps. Music heals. Black art thrives in the face of real world oppression and hate. Keep writing to overcome.
How cold can you get?
Juice WRLD has made a whole rap career in re-writing his own Requiem time and time again.
My own personal history with the music of the Juice is not a very long nor storied one. But for years now, I’d catch these brief mutterings that Juice WRLD was supposedly a ridiculously talented, even prodigious artist who could freebase these intricate songs off the top of his head and score hit records out of it. THere were reports that he has a monstrous backlog of unreleased songs, a vault full of material that could rival Tupac‘s. He could roast nearly anybody in freestyles and could go off when he wanted to.
In his short time here on our Earth, I had yet to see him put these fantastic talents on display, but I did gather some telling glimpses into the myth.
There is no ignoring the elephant in the room with this track and the whole album’s very existence: it has all taken a terrible new meaning to it being released after he passed away. Posthumous albums are tough like this, especially when depression and self-medicating is the cornerstone to Juice WRLD’s entire M.O.
“Wishing Well” is a tough song to listen to in this new context, him constantly wondering about his own death takes on different levels of significance now. This is not a new interpretation to the song, as it is clearly baked into the song itself, but it is different too soon. For the same reason you wouldn’t say that Alice In Chains lyrics recieved radical new meanings after Layne Staley‘s life played out the way it did.
Let me just state that dramatic ironies in music are sorely unwelcome in my eyes. An artist’s death being “foreshadowed” in their music does not result in the piece of music becoming any more meaningful, and it can easily sound calloused to the life of the person who wrote it.
I don’t think it’s presents anything akin to a greater truth. Lennon singing “shoot me” on “Come Together” doesn’t give it any more significance, it can only be chalked up to being an odd curiosity.
For all the lyrics on Jeff Buckley‘s only completed album in his lifetime, Grace, that are about water, waves, and drowning that seemingly foreshadowed and predicted his own death, there is only a marginal part of me that thinks it could enhance the lyrical content to the album. The constant dwelling he does onn what would be his untimely undoing is disturbing, there no denying that. In any case, I would always rather have the artist still here breathing and making music than to have their music be granted extra symbolism because of how they died. It’s the cheapest thrill there is and any talks of poetic irony is too easy topic to get hung up on when discussing the music.
That’s all what I would normally say, but then there’s Juice WRLD who unflinchingly keeps tempting fate in his own songs. So yes, his death does make “Wishing Well” significantly powerful, but it’s fully a feature to the song, and on some days feels as though it was inevitable although the timing of it all was impossible to forecast.
I did see the album receive some flack for how its handlers intentionally picked out his most sadsack and post-death irony filled songs, Juice WRLD apparently has a bunch of songs in the vault that are total bangers and ragers. Legends Never Die, right down to it’s very title wants to remind you that Juice isn’t here anymore, and it does turn it into a celebration of his life and his talents.
Juice WRLD is a really compelling singer. So much so, you might not even notice that there isn’t much at all in the way of by-the-books rapping on this song, although the cadences and flow are clearly Rap inspired. You can live the life but still not be able to properly express it behind the microphone, luckily juice is able to overcome this hurtle in by a long shot
He breaks the songs reality to make it his own narrative he can write, it’s what gives him a sense of power in the world around him. If he can write a lyric or spit a bar about his life, it puts the happening in his hands.
“This is the part where I tell you I’m fine, but I’m lyin’
I just don’t want you to worry”
So to hear him spout a Lauryn Hill name check helps remind me about his music passion and probably what made him want to get behind the mike in the first place.
“Stress on my shoulders like a anvil
Perky got me itching like a anthill
Drugs killing me softly, Lauryn Hill
Sometimes I don’t know how to feel”
Juice WRLD may be gone but his listeners are still here. If his music can help out those who are still on this spinning rock in space, then I think it’ll be for the best.
“People, I’ve been sad”
-Christine and the Queens
(NOTE: This song’s written section is not finished yet. Check back later for the finalized version)
The word comes out: “People, I’ve been sad”.
I think we are done with the days of “feeling blue” or nuance. Cut the charade, the kids want it spelled out in simple English (and less simple French, but we’ll get to that) coming out and just saying “People, I’ve been sad”.
Well, that’s one way to go about it. I can’t say that I disagree with the approach though. Things suck. The world is on fire. My blood hurts.
The French-Canadian singer Christine and the Queens is a paradoxical singer by design, and “People, I’ve been sad” is no exception. Half of the song is sung in her native French while the rest is in English. She has delicate empowered vocals, but then she’ll betray herself with some of her pitch shifted vocals turned into a manlier grunt. It is all humanizing and it is all her.
If anything else, she is a disciplined singer. Her vocal control is off the charts here, I can’t help but find it very impressive. It’s hard to find “People, I’ve been sad” as much of a statement, it’s just kind of a fact of life. It’s not a reclamation either, like a Carly Rae Jepson “I feel sad so let’s have a party for one”, I don’t think this song has the enrgy to really pull itself together lile that. It’s about the dull humdrum in the background of daily life, which I think deserves a song about it.
I don’t even know if people I’ve been sad comes across as a particularly sad Song. Which might be why the blasé, it is what it is title and statement to the track is more effective and hit harder.
Christine and the Queens doesn’t really ask the questions of is she this or that but instead blue is the line by saying I am this and that. You get English, you get French you get delicate of empowered vocals, you get a pitch shifted manlier grunt. It is all humanizing and it is all her.
The music is unbelievable and beautiful, of course. Swirling keys create a mist for that one could almost see through if you strain hard enough, and the gorgeous strings that enter are great too.
Just because we feel sad now doesn’t mean we must feel sad always.
Caribou blurs that line between the found sounds that are immaculately cobbled together and the unimportant full of seams product. Caribou is the one-man music undertaking of Dan Snaith, and his music has gone through some evolution through the years. Sometimes his music leans more electronci, sometimes it veers closer to Alternative or Indie. This year’s Suddenly is one of 2020’s most standout records, being just a treat to listen to and a beyond impressive manner of constructing songs.
On “Home”, he takes those wandering fractions of thought and captures them in see-through glass bottles. He rarely if ever places his found samples and numerous fantastic contrinutions under a spotlight, it all washes in, out, and away with little dictation to what the song’s key components are. Caribou kind of leaves it up to you to decide which elements of the song aree the primary focus, and which others are just lesser contributor’s to its wall of sound. Dodging between the lines of what’s seen and not seen.
It is astonishing to hear how these sounds that are designed to be so inorganic can be blended together into something that is so natural sounding, like these sounds always belonged together. It actually sounds more like quintessential Avalances than their record did this year.
When the lyircs can’t be of the fully poeatic tyle, I appreciate when theey instead appeal to the most basic of human emotions. There is little more instinnctively compelling than a feelinng of going home. This song uses it’s very little words to its benefit.
Juxtaposing a passioned Soul vocal saample with Dan Snaith’s unimpressed mouth half shut mutterings. It almost sounds sarcastic “yeah, she’s goinng home”. See if I care.
I think the Suddenly album was unfairly forgotten on some end-of-year lists because it released early in the year, before the new importance of *broadly gestures at everything* took hold. Still though, I don’t think this is an experience you’d want swept under the rug.
Upstairs a band was playin’ and the singer was singing something about going home. And I think I liked it.
OK, it’s been a little while since we last talked about Yves Tumor.
I’m bound to drop the ball every now and again when I make these lists. Like, was I potentially too harsh on Mitski’s Be The Cowboy album from 2018 that all the critics were raving and drooling over? Yeah probably, there’s a good chance that I was more hesitant than I should have been with it, and it’s an album that’s since proven itself to have heaps of charm and I still play it with regularity today.
My biggest regret I’ve made yet with these lists, was my low low ranking of the Yves Tumor song “Noid” on my 2018 list. On my part, I felt it was a small obligation to include it on the list at all, and it only squeaked onto the list at a relatively paltry #87. Which isn’t terrible on its own -if I truly didn’t enjoy the song at all then it wouldn’t have made the list. I even placed it in front of a few other songs that I thought were really really good.
But I still underrated it.
Let me fix this right here and now, by saying that “Noid” by Yves Tumor is absolutely one of the greatest songs of the entire decade. It touches a raw nerve in a nearly unmatched manner to any other song of its time, and it hits so many marks through its songwriting, production, execution, performance, and more, that I can’t help but stand in awe at its excellence. I still find its parent album Safe In The Hands Of Love to be relatively misguided and it doens’t particularly resonate with me, but any artist who can get it so right for the course of at least one song is worthy of my continued attention.
So while I can’t speak for Yves Tumor’s subsequent 2020 album Heaven To A Tortured Mind as being BETTER than his previous necessarily, y’know, seeing as how I’m still pretty oblivious to what make his former album become enamoured by so many listeners to begin with, I can attest that this new album is much more my own speed and I can now sit proudly in the Pro-Yves Tumor camp.
Maybe I just find his experimental bent to Yves Tumor songs to be more fruitful when it’s being applied to my own understanding of Rock music,. The former album’s trudging, formless, song structures and textural oddities find some more much needed gravitas when being stacked up against what should be normally functioning music. So there you have it, it only took Yves Tumor making a “rock album” for me to give my support. I hate how predictable I am sometimes.
That all said, I have no idea what kind of rock music this is supposed to really be. It’s rock nature is mostly in song’s constructions and format, the sounds are all as alien as ever. I’ve seen some sources try to handwave this into the Glam Rock genre, but I find that to be decently unsubstantiated. I can hear audio similarities, but one doesn’t dress in flashy clothes and garish makeup over a major-key song and call it T. Rex incarnate.
“Kerosene!” is the track you’d want to hear, it is cylindric and gorgeous. It’s several oxymorons at once, simultaneously being overly polished and rough and ragged, concisely structured yet free flowing, improvisational yet meticulously planned.
These aren’t new tricks, but they get across new results. What can I say except that it’s a different ballgame when pitching to Art-Rock instead of …Art-Art.
There is a serious uncanny valley effect going on from Yves being a one-man-band. It holds that same feeling of hidden disconnect feeling from other solo records, where the “musicians” can’t really react off each other in real time since it’s one dude. I find that most one-man albums have some level of this feeling or other, even from the likes of Stevie Wonder, where I sometimes imagine him servicing a Twin Peaks-esque band of ghost musicians playing away with little regard for immediate musical surroundings.
“Kerosene!” uses this lack of interplay to it’s advantage, becoming one item to be moved around. It’s not all one person’s approach, as Diana Gordon’s co-vocals on the song are one of it’s best attributes. She completely and totally gets lost inside the instruments, wrapping her unique vocal stylings around every last music oddity, like a rocketship leaving chemtrails behind the cosmos.
Suffice to say, I am very intruiged on where the Yves Tumor experiment will venture out to from here on out. I’m hoping for a Ska album next, but I’m not crossing my fingers.
(NOTE: This song’s written section is not finished yet. Check back later for the finalized version)
You knew that once you got into the single digits entries on this list that you would see some Fiona Apple, right?
Any way you slice it, Fetch The Bolt Cutters is the album of the year. For a long while, it made history by being Metacritic’s only album to sit at a perfect 100 rating.
Cacophonous menagerie of sound, percussion filled up with metallic doo-dads.
Fetch The Bolt Cutter and most specifically “Relay” is shaped by it’s completely wacko creation methods.
In the album’s liner notes, on the track “Drumset” Fiona credits bassist Sebastian Steinberg for playing a -and I quote: “lighter on a Wurlitzer”, alongside other contributions appearing in the personnel like “metal butterfly”, “water tower”, and “chair”. For as much as Beatles fans love that Paul McCartney got a songwriting credit on the Beach Boys’ “Vega-Tables” for playing “celery” on the song, I hope that Fiona fans make similar fun of how lucky her bandmate is to play “chair” on her album. What an honor.
Fetch The Bolt Cutters is only the second album I know of where the artist records their dogs for a song and individually credits her dog’s names in the album’s credits, and they assumedly get songwriting credits for it (she’s in same company as fellow eccentric introvert Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who credited his dogs Louie and Banana on Pet Sounds’ final moments from “Caroline, No”) Believe me, when lockdown first started right around the time Fiona released Fetch The Bolt Cutters, I was staying at my parent’s house and I can attest that my family’s dogs went absolutely ape every time the title track came on. Which was unfortunate, because I must have listened to the whole album, barking dogs and all, on average 5 times a day at my peak of the album’s listening.
Anybody who personally knwos me and the music I like to create would hopefully not be surprised that I could connect and identify so strongly with this album’s creation process. For years and years of my musicianship, I prided myself on never owning guitar pedals and declaring all my own sounds to be man-made. I’ve since loosened up on this stance, but I still appreciate it in essence even if practicality has gotten in the way.
In relation to Fiona banging on metal pots and pans and the like, my own album Temperatures Rise featured recordings of me placing my guitar up to the studio’s air conditiioner unit after re-tuning the strings to the son’gs opening chord to vibrate the strings. Or taking 20 dollars in change and steadily pouring it onto a tom-tom drum while attacking it with a drumstick. I would later use one of said coins as a guitar pick for one of my guitar solos -Brian May style. Or supergluing guitar picks to a fidget spinner and strumming a diminished chord on my guitar with it (I’ll try spinning, that’s a neat trick!). O downloaded a vibrating cellphone app to press against my guitar pickups, making the guitar sound like it was breathing through an iron lung.
None of this is to brag, these feats are too little to imagine doing so, I’m just trying to outline where I’m coming from with this new album. In essence, I value the ingenuity of sound creation, let alone the kind that is well outside the realms of tradition.
Large swaths of the songs where there are no traditional instruments at all, because Fiona knows how to create harmonic interest with just her voice which is so refreshing. And you can tell there are bits that would’ve been pitch corrected on other glossier albums, where she falls off the note just enough to give it a perfect imperfection that a lot of other people parentheses possibly myself included and parentheses wouldn’t dare to truck wouldn’t dare to try let alone even think about having a cross their mind in the studio. That’s why the improvisational isn’t so random, it’s doubled down on.
It’s charm isn’t purely textural either, as she brings a refreshing approach to melodies and pitch seeing as how almost all the melodies are diatonic runs up and down unique skills for her. She comes from a piano background and it is evident where guitar players or others would not have your soul singers would not have chosen to sing at the pictures or Melody is that she chooses here
It’s central refrain of “Evil is a relay sport when the one whose burnt turns to pass the torch” is brilliant, and her adding to the message by piling on repition after repitition of the line with new vocal parts and harmonies and echoes. That’s not to mention that she wrote this line when she was 15 years old, and it’s just been sitting there in her nootebook until present day when she finally found a song to fit it.
The lyrics are damning, with Fiona speaking those terrible thoughts we hope to never share to anyone else. Feeling hatred for someone who had the gall to be raised right, or to be taught, or for not being alone. It is petty and ugly but ends with “If I hate you for hating me I will have entered the endless race” which is a sentiment that pops up a lot on this album.
But of course, the track devolves into complete chaos too, and I am all heree for it. The guitars wail and holler in the background. Fiona follows her vocal scales all the way down to the very bottom, like a captain standing on her sinking ship. The standup bass is so muddy that it’s fully subterranean.
This will not be the last time you’re going to see Fiona Apple on this list
(NOTE: This song’s written section is not finished yet. Check back later for the finalized version)
There’s a chance that we may be a bit too attached to our phones.
Don’t worry, this section is not going to devolve into a “what if phone but bad” talk, but there is an interesting connection to how much of ourselves and our personality we choose to put into our cell phones.
Rico Nasty’s collaboration with 100 Gecs’ Dylan Brady is an amazing exploration to the concept, along with being the catchiest song released all year. That “smoking so much gas I forgot to put my mask on” line in the chorus is such a brain wrinkler for me. I mean, of course I’d assume it was written for the pandemic but I can’t entirely be sure.
“IPHONE” concerns itself with our emotions and discontent with smart tech, framed with how we use our technology for interpersonal communications. “I think my phone is hacked. Why won’t he call me back” is regarding someone else’s phone as forces beyond your control, trying to make sense of world that you don’t understand.
It harkens to the ultra-classic 1950’s teen song. A missed call with our singer left high and dry hanging on the telephone line is akin to the most outspoken heartbreak. Simpler era of teenage emotion only being displayed in its most extreme form, it’s carnal and innate. emotions so tense it can be cut with a blade
Rico goes into a deluge of 2000’s tech references, talking about how her guy is on her hip like a Tamagotchi, talking about how desperately she needs my space (MySpace) and the like.
It enacts a reality of putting one’s personal sense of self into our devices. After all, one doesn’t spend such time with an everyday use item without building some trusting individual commitment into it.
I’ve got this song on speed dial.
“Janey Needs A Shooter”
(NOTE: This song’s written section is not finished yet. Check back later for the finalized version)
Springsteen it doesn’t matter when we got it it matters that we got it
Bruce Springsteen conundrum. A song from so long ago, does it get more power from age.? Less? Is it even a factor to the song? These are things that are naturally going to come up and be things worth tackling on this new album.
It essentially did not exist until this form is worth appreciating and taking
Autechre released a piece of music that this year is unbelievably good and top 5 worthy to me. Yay! That means that I now need to write out my feelings about this Autechre into words. Oh no!
Yeah, let’s cut to the chase and just reach the paragraph in every Autechre appraisal where the topics of “inaccessibility” and “difficult” are breached. As far as I am concerned, “TM1 Open” is an actual masterpiece in IDM music, operating under a geometric pulse and genuinely turning itself into something that seems to defy all logic.
Autechre actually released 2 albums this year. The first LP, Sign, was positively shocking for being the most accessible Autechre release in 20 years or so. It wasn’t 8 hours long like thei last album was, it even featured identifiable melodies and rhythms. It probably felt like making music for Barney The Dinosaur, but I really appreciated it.
They followed it up with another release less than a month later, Plus, an album that was less Ambient and to-the-point, aside from its short runtime, it was Autechre as usual. Even though I preferred Sign, Plus ended with this absolute marvel of a song.
The sounds you’ll hear in a song like this are impossible. Every single sound groans in vehicular agony. The music is flippy flippy and broken at its core, the mind boggles how actually flesh and blood humans could sit down and come up with this. Autechre’s greatness isn’t so much just because it’s robotic sounding, so much as it is remarkably inhuman. Daft Punk music is robotic. This is utterly alien.
In a great reversal, the track doesn’t build as it goes along but it instead chips itself away, disintegrating in a near real time until its very end where it all but dares itself to not exist at all.
-Lianne La Havas
(NOTE: This song’s written section is not finished yet. Check back later for the finalized version)
Weird fishes immaculate drum sound
the original was close-knit and tongue tied in composition, this newer approach is space written and has time to air out
Loose song-circle concept album. “Weird Fishes” is the impetus moment of the break-up, an interpretation that I’d never actually considered for Radiohead’s original. For a band notoriously gloomy and downtrodden as Radiohead could be, especially in their 2nd decade as a recording act, I’d always found In Rainbows to be their most unmitigatingly happy album. It’s an album for lovebirds, and one steeped in that of human connection
I don’t think my low low low ranking of weird fishes is a country and thing, I wasn’t even sure of its immaculate ranking in most Radiohead fans is heart until well after the fact that I made my stances on the song known to myself.
Most of the Radiohead covers stop pretty staunchly right at the bins, sometimes maybe OK computer one album later. There is a very steep divide and clear center missing in these covers where it’s very hard to improve on or even just tackle in a authentic way that middle stretch of albums in their career from kid a, amnesiac, to hail to the thief.
Weird fishes is not the only indie cover of a Radiohead song this year. It’s not even the only cover of weird fishes/Arpeggi that happened this year. There is this song by Kelly Lee Owens, yada yada yada. Heck there is an even a list of the top 10 covers of Radiohead from this year, it turns out that song destroying depression in an age of technological chaos and division, really brings out the Radiohead fan in just about anybody. 2020 was a good year for Radiohead fans except for the no music part but whatever.
“Murder Most Foul”
(NOTE: This song’s written section is not finished yet. Check back later for the finalized version)
A nearly 20 minute long lecture about the JFK assassination 57 years post-haste is exactly what we deserve in 2020. I want you to take that literally however you want to.
At least in my state of AZ (I know, I know), “Murder Most Foul” released mere days before our statewide lockdown occured, which couldn’t have felt more timely. The man hadn’t released an original song in upwards of a decade, and he gifted his longstanding fans with a marvel with excess fat to chew. And it was erleased at a time when most everybody had waay morer time on their hands than ever before -if there was a time to listen to a 17 minute rambling man song by the great Bob Dylan, it was exactly now.
There is the must-faceable fact that this will certainly go down as one of Bob’s landmark works of his career.
The track is lumpy and lopsided at times, and would could be tempted to claim that in a 17 minute track that every line and every verse can’t all be zingers. But I’ll reject that out of hand in Bob’s case, Highway 61’s closing everest “Desolation Row” is ten minutes and contains the single best set of lyrics in music history as far as this writer is concerned, and “It’s Alright Ma” is a karaokers worst nightmare.
I enjoy how such a marvelous prospect literally teeters the line towards absurdity in both its execution and even most basic conceptual level.
His previous longest ever track “Highlands” at least obeyed Blues verse rules, “Murder Most Foul” is amorphous and on the verge of dissipating into total nothingness at moment’s notice.
“Murder Most Foul” is greater than the sum of its parts, which sounds like concession for some songs, but a track of towering proportions is allowed to build and use the power of time as a transformative property. Domino effect, it’s greater cause is be inference. Which can be a frustrating crux to all of Bob’s work, I know plenty of Dylan deniers who simply can’t find any common ground in each song’s lyrics and are inclined to find it all smoke and mirrors.
Out of it’s specific context, lines like “Rub a dub dub, it’s a murder most foul” don’t scream at you with poignance.
I had my own coming to grips with 2020’s reality, like anybody else did. I took particular offense when I was told that this would certainly be the event that will define my generation.
As far as events that shape a lifetime, it was said after the horrific events that took place on September 11th took a whole nation by surprise, that our USA was now a country of children. The longlasting ripple effects and an end of innocence from our president being “shot like a dog in broad daylight”
Kennedy’s murder shattered a nation’s psyche, creating a butterfly effect that could never be fully dissected nor can it be simply shrugged off.
Contrasting the bubblegum teenybopper music that occured in his wake, with the grim imagery of him “Falling down like a rootless tree”
Bob Dylan turned our nation’s wounds into a decadent sprawl.
“Ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies” is how we begin our last destination for today’s ride.
Fiona just had to be my number 1 this year, there was no way around it. All the proof needed is in the song, as she leads off with a catcalling womanizer affectation with machismo and plastic chintzy charm, turning it on its heel at random intervals into an actual sincere addressal of the ladies out there. And we haven’t even gotten to the second word of the song yet.
“Ruminations on the looming effect
And the parallax view, and the figure
And the form, and the revolving door that keeps
Turning out more and more
Good women like you
Yet another woman, to whom I won’t get through”
Now that is a solid chorus.
There was no doubt of mine for what would top my year-end list.When Spotify wrangled together all my data for a year-end retrospective, lo and behold, “Ladies” was listened my most listened to song by a country mile. I walk it like I talk it, I wouldn’t place a song at number one unless I absolutely knew it deserved to be here. More than any other song, it was “Ladies” that not only continually made me think, but gave me opportunity to feel.
Which is funny, because “Ladies” is not a song that should have any practical utility at all to me.
For starters, I am not a lady, I am a 23 year old dude. This is a song that’s explicitly speaking directly to women about their relationships with men, and this is not a subject I can relate with. I am pretty clearly outside the realm of relatability on this one (and that’s ok! Not all art and media needs to be tailor made for my specific walk of life). As far as ladies in my life who have found self-validation and worth through exes of exes in relation to myself, I have very few. This is something of a preposterous concept for me to find any direct 1-to-1 engagement in.
But “Ladies” is about so much more than just romantic relationships, it is genuinely about human connection and understanding and learning how to bury the hatchet. In a year where everybody was at each other’s throats, a song with such a counterintuitive lesson of learning and understanding each other was something I needed more than I thought.
After releasing her album at random and immediately disappearing off the face of the earth again, one has to wonder about the other select times that she popped up on others’ music this year for collaborations. Like a groundhog poking out sporadically. She contributed the wandering piano for our number 2 pick on the list. And when she wasn’t working with Bob, she made one of the least expected headlines in music this year when she provided a song for Bob’s Burgers end credits. King Princess. She was even able to trace down Shameika from the samely titled track “Shameika”. Shameika is a rapper now and they connected in a song together.
It is empathy and the strive to connect and understand with our peers.
The music is immaculate too, of course. It’s almost tempting to brush “Ladies” off as the album’s weakest moment, because it is undoubtedly the simplest song on the album, harmonically speaking. Case in point, this was the only song on the album that Fiona had outside help in twriting, as the other parts of her three-piece laid down the basic chords for Fiona to write over. But I do not want to ever be so high and mighty that I can’t accept that when a chord progression works, it WORKS, no matter how to the point it is.
Fiona is tackling the inevitabilities that are out of our control, and addressing the future happenings that can be altered with a human connection with another. These are lines like “WHEN he leaves me”, it is going to happen but we keep moving forward and finding new ways to live through our lives.
There was no single moment better in any music this year than this song’s first verse, talking about that dress of hers, when it just build and builds and stacks and grows before tumbling all back down into the most quiet diversion imaginable.
“Ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies
Take it easy, when he leaves me, please be my guest
To whatever I might’ve left
In his kitchen cupboards, in the back of his bathroom cabinets
And oh yes, oh yes, oh yes
There’s a dress in the closet
Don’t get rid of it, you’d look good in it
I didn’t fit in it, it was never mine
It belonged to the ex wife of another ex of mine
She left it behind, with a note
One line, it said:
“I don’t know if I’m coming across, but I’m really trying”
She was very kind.”
It legitimately chokes me up in a way that most music does not. It reminds me of the power of emotional connection music can give and why it can make me want to be a stronger person than I currently am.
After 100 songs listed and many many words of keeping my lip clean, I think I’ll end our list with some words from Fiona herself, the very words that once got her blacklisted and now proved prophetic:
“This world is bullshit.”
“You shouldn’t model your life about what we think is cool and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying. Go with yourself. Go with yourself.”
I know for certain that Fiona’s words got through to me and to many, many others.
I hope that you enjoyed reading! I certainly had a lot of fun working on it, I’ve been looking forward to it all year ’round actually. Click below to revisit 2019 and 2018’s best-of list.
Thanks to C. Cord for drawing the thumbnail.
Here’s the link to his Instagram for original art: https://www.instagram.com/carson_cord/
Spotify for my music:
Now that we’re here in the post-script, this is where I get to tell everybody that the SECRET best songs this year was all songs released by Clown Core this year. Of course it is, everything else I wrote on here was a joke, Clown Core was your true 100 best. It’s Clown Core all the way down.
Well, it’s either Clown Core or that super weird album made by Emily Montes, a 6 year old on TikTok who released a 4 minute 45 second album this year for some unexplainable reason. Accept no false idols, these were the only two pieces of good music.
Thank you all so much for reading, I’ve already got a feeling that ’21 is gonna be a good year. Here’s where we part ways machaka, ’til next time.
You’re still here? The list is over, go home.