Back in June I lamented the evisceration of the year in terms of music, and since then not much has changed. I just did not have the emotional energy for really investigating new music. My album list is ridiculously thin — it won’t even reach a Top Ten. However, I continued to pay more attention to individual songs, in an effort to reduce the wastage (both of money and storage space) of buying albums I rarely play. Spotify Discovery and Release Radar lists provide a rich mine of suggestions, more than I can rightly get to, and it is possible to purchase individual tracks through Bandcamp and iTunes. Of course the downside is that I end up with fewer albums on the Year End list. If that really is a downside….
So this year I will start with an individual Songs of the Year list, essentially a short-list of songs that I heard and flagged for follow-up, and then decided that I liked them enough to buy them. I used to make playlists constantly on cassette way back in the day, and I recall having some excellent ones. I need to do that more often (not on cassette, of course).
The songs here are either standalone singles, or from albums or EPs that did not make my final Album list. They are sort of ranked…I mean, I like them all, but some I do play more than others. Continue reading The Music of 2020 — The Songs→
A couple of years ago I gathered up my pile of ticket stubs, most of which I had saved from the beginning of my gig-going career, and began to organize them. The physical stubs are in an ever-expanding catalogue, and dates, bands, and venues are recorded in a document. It’s a long and interesting history, although there is a large gap in the middle, but all that is probably a topic for another post. What is relevant here is the second gap: The Year of No Gigs, the enforced global pause.
I have two shows listed under 2020: The Musical Box in January, and then the Katatonia live stream that happened in May. I decided to list it because I paid for a ticket to watch it, and it was better than many gigs I’ve seen in person, not just by Katatonia themselves, but other bands as well…once you got past the eerie silence at the end of each song.
Everything else has been cancelled, or postponed. There were some shreds of hope in the early days of the lockdown, that maybe by June there would be a return to normalcy or something close to it, but as the weeks went by it became depressingly clear that no such thing was going to happen. Tours were cancelled, postponed gigs were jettisoned, and even the gigs shifted from March to August are looking unlikely. It is probably safe to say that concerts, at least in any meaningful sense, are going to be the last things to return.
7. “The Serpent” by Sisters of…: Album The Serpent, the Angel, and the Adversary
We have reached the part of the list where the order of the top tracks almost doesn’t matter; at this point they are *all* monster, heavy-rotation superstars. So it is apropos to begin with a beast of a track from an insanely heavy album; it also illustrates the kind of stuff I have lately found to be what greases my wheels most — blistering full-on prog/black/metal/post-metal…man when that is done right, it just doesn’t get much better. And these guys do it right.
6. “YANA” by Dead Letter Circus: Album Aesthesis
The album is a bit inconsistent, for some reason Dead Letter Circus have trouble living up to their enormous potential. But this soaring alt/post-punk track never fails to give me chills. Just one of those songs I inexplicably love.
5. “Oko” by Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster: Album Wires/Dream\Wires
An absolutely epic track from a long-anticipated album; these guys can pull off some of the best, heaviest, most thoughtful instrumental post-metal out there, and this is just a taste of what they can do.
4. “Planck Length” by Au4: Album And Down Comes the Sky… (2013 release)
The album this song is from came out in 2013, but I only discovered it this year. And it is an absolute *killer* of an album, it is by far the best thing I heard this year and then some, it really is my album of the year, except I can’t make it official.
It is hard to pull a favourite track from it, I could have listed four or five, but this one snuck up on me. Industrial trip-hop about physics — and really, any song that can use “One point six times ten to the negative thirty-five” as a lyric, and make it work — well, that’s some awesome songwriting right there.
3. “Annabelle” by Sisters of…: Album The Serpent, The Angel, and the Adversary
Another track from one of the best most intense albums I have heard this year. “The Serpent” was face-melting in intensity…and somehow “Annabelle” manages to take it up a couple of skull-cracking notches from there. This is the kind of stuff that eviction notices are made of.
2. “Everyone is Everyone (and Everything is Everything)” by Au4: Album And Down Comes the Sky… (2013 release)
Yes, this album is so extraordinary it supplied two songs in the top 5 of 25. Believe me, if there were songs from 2015 as good, I’d stick ’em here. But there aren’t…or at any rate, since the album can’t qualify for Album of the Year I’m going to promote it this way. You can find my review of the album here:
I cannot get enough of this track.
1. “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire” by Riverside: Album Love, Fear and the Time Machine
The album might not be their best, but this song…!! I really cannot stop listening to it; there are days when I think it just might be the greatest song Riverside ever created. Everything comes together in this track for me: the great martial rhythm compliments of Piotr Kozieradski’s drumming; Piotr Grudziński’s beautiful and nuanced guitar themes, the organ, the bass lines, the words, the singing…man it just hits every sweet spot, it digs deep into my soul where transcendence lies. It goes beyond mere words.
14. “Saturate Me” by Riverside: Album Love, Fear and the Time Machine
The most purely prog track on the new Riverside album, just effortlessly done without ever sounding derivative or neo- or like anyone else in prog today, and probably the heaviest track on the album. And besides — this track just kicks *epic* ass live.
13. “Discovery One” by Eschar: Album Nova
A mighty track from the first album by Eschar, post-metal that is imaginative and heavy and melodic all at once, and performed with confident aplomb. Unfortunately it seems as if the videos of the Nova tracks have been removed. For a taster, here is a live version of “Monolith” from the same album.
12. “The Drifter” by Klone: Album Here Comes the Sun
This is a beautiful album, rich and atmospheric, and I could have chosen a number of tracks from it. The video is worth watching for the drum playthrough. All the members are great musicians.
This is the first year I have decided to compile a Songs of the Year list, but then 2015 has been a rather good year for music. It was hard to restrict the list to just 25 tracks; there could have been many more. Not only could most of the year’s best albums have contributed more than one, there are several songs from earlier years that I have included in the list, because I only discovered them this year, and they are too great to leave off. Most of the tracks do have associated videos, but not all of them do. I will note that when relevant.
So: starting at No. 25 and working my way up:
25. “He Is” by Ghost: Album Meliora
A great sing-along track from an album that is definitely fun and listenable but not truly “great” (at least in any real meaning of the word).
24. “Beyond Metropolis” by Shriekback: Album Without Real String or Fish
The 80s are back…in a big way this year, and 80s alternative icons Shriekback do it the best. The cleverly post-apocalyptic track “Beyond Metropolis” is the one that grabs me most from this album, but there is no video for it alone. Start at 17:33 in the link below, or listen to the whole album.
23. “Happy Returns” by Steven Wilson: Album Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Wilson does pop. Or something like that. This track does have its poignant moments, but I simply cannot muster up the interest to place it higher.