33 of my favorite songs from 2020, hand-mixed in an unranked fashion.
Are these the best songs from 2020? Likely not, but personally these are the tracks that most captured a mood, a time, a production tactic, or a hook that I couldn’t shake for days. In what was an undoubtedly miserable year, there was an abundance of quality music.
An epic ambient remix of the VangelisBlade Runner score from YouTuber Greendragon861. With long stretches of in-between track atmosphere and snippets of dialogue, you can strap on your headphones and be transported for two hours.
Cate Le Bon is likely one of the most daring and singular art-rock-pop musicians from the past decade. From 2009’s freak folk Me Oh My through to last year’s epicReward, her sound has been centered around an increasing clash between dissonant angular forces and killer melodies. An absolute master of the super-treble-attack guitar shred, she has consistently delivered hypnotic live shows that have made her a favorite to see live in The Time Before Covid.
Earlier this year she released an E.P. that radically deconstructs a handful of tracks from her Rewardalbum in conjunction with ambient duo Group Listening. The results are drastic in their difference from the source material, rebuilding each arrangement entirely from scratch and two containing new vocals from UK vocalist Ed Dowie. It’s a bold and creative affair. My favorite take is the new spin on the track “Magnificent Gestures.” The original version (embedded below) is a herky-jerky stomper, while the new creation (linked above) shifts the beat and melodic sequence into a four-on-the-floor crazy-man carnival loop. There’s no singing from Le Bon on this new release, but Dowie’s deadpan reinterpretations provide a relaxed vibe that differ from Cate’s siren skronk calls. The collaboration on display here – as also shown on last year’s tag team with Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox – is inspiring in her willingness to hand control over to others to interpret the material as their own, yet still providing her producer’s hat to keep the boundaries within her sensibilities.
Both tracks are the definition of incessant, but in the best of ways.
Sept 9, 2019, in The Time Before Covid, I went to see the Swedish pop outfit Hater at the Rickshaw Stop, but it was the opening act Sonoda from L.A. that was the highlight of the evening. They held the entire crowd rapt in their palm from the opening chiming notes spawned from meditation bowls through to closing with a Stereolab cover. Dreamy, slightly detached cool. Exploring their existing catalog provided a heady expanse of quiet lo-fi synth pop, with a decidedly 60’s new-wave bent.
They’ve recently released a three song short film featuring live performances and ambient scenes titled Here We Are Now. It’s earnest, lovely and weird.
It’s been eleven years since we’ve formally heard from the Friedberger siblings in tandem. Today I learned that The Fiery Furnaces released a new single, “Down at the So and So on Somewhere,” this past June. It’s easy to see why it didn’t make any big waves. Almost as a rebuke to any weighty expectations and counter to their past complex arrangements, this track is more like an extended singular strutting musical sketch over which Eleanor spits mad verse:
Trigonometry tutors often go to dance class three times a week
I can picture powder blue matches in the mirrors
You check your time warp watch in the car
While it’s admittedly lightweight and exhibits the best of their humorous side, the internal hype in me desired something a bit more meaty – but it’s good to have them back to rekindle their unique brand of fractured pop. Their records are dense, strange, and chock full of killer hooks.