The Music of 2020 — The Songs

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.

 1. Steven Wilson: “12 Things I Forgot” (from the album The Future Bites)

 I expect a bunch of you (my interwebs friends) didn’t see that one coming. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to The Future Bites; the songs I heard were like “yeah that’s okay but whatever” and I moved on. But this one is just great, sounding like the best of Blackfield/pop-era Porcupine Tree; he does this kind of thing SO well. Hooky as hell, cheerful sing-along choruses — what’s not to love?


2. Lindy-Fay Hella: “Seafarer” (from the album Seafarer, a 2019 leftover)

 A very late addition to the list. A compelling, stunningly atmospheric folk-based lament from Wardruna’s singer. I can’t really get through the rest of the album but this song is absolutely killer.


3. Fish: “C Song (The Trondheim Waltz)” (from the album Weltschmerz)

 Another day, another surprise. I have never managed to understand the passion for Marillion, Fish-era or otherwise, and the occasional Fish (Derek Dick) solo effort I sampled did nothing for me at all. But while Weltschmerz is certainly a listenable album, it is too long, and I end up mostly playing this (and maybe a couple others). Bright, upbeat, a folky waltz, a needed antidote to dark days.


4. Seeming: “I Recognize You” (from the album Monster)

 Monster is a companion album to the main Seeming release (A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Atrocity), a collection of odds and sods, and it contains a few good tracks that appeared intermittently as singles. Musically indie/industrial, and lyrically an acute observation on identity and the kind of political posturing that doesn’t fool anyone, couched in Alex Reed’s typical metaphorical-discourse style. Seeming is never easy music, and this track is one of the strongest offerings by them since the album Sol.


5. Maserati: “Wallwalker” (from the album Enter the Mirror)

 A lush, expansive track from the venerable American post-rock/psych-rock outfit; I have grown out of my post-rock phase because so much of it sounds the same, but there are the occasional gems, and this is one.


6. Gojira: “Another World” (standalone single)

There is no mistaking the huge rolling metal riffage of these guys, and it is a good follow-up to Magma. Maybe a bit too Magma-ish, but nice and headbanging nevertheless.


7. Mariusz Duda: “Are You Ready for the Sun” (from a project of intermittent solo songs)

 Lightweight pleasantry, but done so well. Duda just recently topped a Latin American Progressive music award list as composer of the year, which is a skill I’ve always said (multiple times in my various reviews) he never gets enough credit for, so it is nice to see. That skill is what drives this song along, melodic and percussive prog/pop, showcasing his multi-instrumental and vocal chops.


8. Michał Łapaj: “Breathe” (standalone single)

 Riverside’s keyboard player has been taking advantage of the gig-less downtime by creating pieces that showcase his love of soundtracks and synth-driven ambient music, and there is no question of his skill at capturing atmosphere and emotion. This is a short piece of rising, sweeping grandeur, dense and climactic, the sort of thing that could only be hinted at as part of the Riverside ensemble.


9. Monkey3: “Spirals” (from the album Sphere, a 2019 leftover)

 More post-rock/stoner/space/psych etc. etc. from a Swiss outfit. I guess the trick is to not buy entire albums, but look for the killer tracks. Of which this is one. Eleven huge minutes of relentless psychedelic epicness that, once it kicks into gear, never really lets up.


10. Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster: “Truth Escapes” (standalone single, for the moment)

 One of the few outfits remaining from a few years back when I discovered post-metal and maybe indulged more deeply than I should have — but the incendiary riffs and monster heaviness keep them in my go-to list. Still waiting for the new album, btw….



 One Honourable Mention:

 Ronnie Atkins: “Real” (from the upcoming album One Shot)

 The first single from the solo album from Pretty Maid’s iconic lead singer; he’s been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, so this is probably the last thing he will ever do. It is a straightforward heavy rock song, not deviating from the formula used for PM’s songs, but with producer Jakob Hansen’s trademark wall-of-guitar sound and Atkins’ sledgehammer vocals it has a punch beyond its weight class. 


 And one from a band who is simply beyond mere lists:

 Cardiacs: “Vermin Mangle” (standalone single)

Cardiacs leader Tim Smith passed away this summer, and this song, previously unheard, was released as a tribute to him, and the fans. This is not the place to go into the details of Tim Smith’s/Cardiacs huge influence, but I will say this: there are lots of musicians who have the sobriquet “genius” attached to them, and the vast majority do not deserve it. Tim Smith did.

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