My favorite things in 2020, not necessarily (but mostly) music related.
So, if you didn’t know, weren’t aware and all that, 2020 was kinda fucked up, what I’m saying is, it was not your average year. Even though I had a lot more time on my hands than probably anyone should, I feel like I consumed less music than I would have in a typical year. Maybe it was quarantine burnout, or chemical depression, but whatever it was, it left me without a huge list of albums that I loved that came out during the year. There were things, though, that helped me get through it, and music was definitely one of those, so I’m making a list, for a music blog, but some things on that list may only be tangentially related to music, so if that sounds like a problem to you, maybe you should go ahead and stop reading.
1. Dehd-Flower of Devotion: Get a load of this guy, he says he isn’t going to write about music but he starts with an album! I saw Jason Balla in his previous band, Ne-Hi, when they opened for Car Seat Headrest back in maybe 2015. He had great stage presence and was super nice to me because I helped him look for the band’s cymbal, although I had been drinking a bit and I thought I was helping him look for the band’s “symbol.” I don’t know what the fuck I thought it would be. But they played like this reverb soaked surfy/bratty kind of punk, and it was a really fun thing to see. I didn’t listen to them much (even though I bought a record) after that because I thought that kind of see had reached its apex in like the 50s or 60s and there was no reason for me to retread that sound with my ears. Then Ne-Hi broke up and Balla formed Dehd with then-girlfriend Emily Kempf and Eric McGrady. I listened to a bit of the first album and pretty much dismissed them. I shouldn’t have, but their second album brought me back like crazy. You’ve got basic rock n ’roll stuff here again, but they’re doing something different with it. I think a huge part of the appeal for me is Kempf’s vocals, which are nontraditional in the best kind of way. Listen to “Loner” and the way she abuses simple phrases like “I got it,” and “You’re running,” and if that doesn’t move you, well, I’m sorry that you suck. The album has great songs on it; check it out.
2. Cardi B feat Megan Thee Stallion-WAP. This may be a decisive choice, but it really shouldn’t be. Right now it’s Cardi’s and (especially) Megan’s world and the rest of us are just living in it. This song was the “Fuck you” that puritanical Americans needed to hear. I think reactions to this song indicate a double standard in the way we (Americans, specifically males) think about women. If you find that the song is too explicit, I gotta ask you where you were with that bullshit when every male rapper boasted about the size of his dick and what he would do with a pussy (sorry mom. But not really.) WAP is an empowerment anthem and it’s catchy as hell. I don’t even have a wet ass pussy, but I know the words. I mean that I personally don’t have a well-lubricated vagina, not that…well, nevermind. Sure, it leaves little to the imagination, but sex is rarely subtle. Sometimes we have to get over our hang ups and just say exactly what we want.” These women don’t have a problem with it, neither should we. Oh, and Ben Shapiro is a fucking mook who has never satisfied his wife.
3. Oneohtrix Point Never-Magic Oneohtrix Point Never: I feel like this dude’s music has been an exercise in diminishing returns as he turns more and more towards his oeuvre’s inevitable residence solely in movie soundtracks. Don’t get me wrong, I liked his newest album, or I wouldn’t have included it here, but it’s kind of a partial return to form and so is not really breaking any new ground with his sound. The reason that I’m including this here though is because of an exchange that I had on Instagram because of his merch. Oneohtrix Point Never merch may be a better reason to follow him than his music; when it’s done well, it really nails that perfect area between nostalgia for the late 70s/80s and the cheesiness that dwells therein. His merch (and album covers lately) is ridiculous in the best way, like, it’s laughing at your nostalgia, but it’s winking at you too, letting you know you’re not alone. Okay, that was pretentious, but I’m cool with that. Anyway, he rolled out some new shirts and sweatshirts and hats on this website that I will not name, and that shit was expensive. I mean, even just the t-shirts were fifty fucking dollars. I’m like, who does this guy think his fan base are? We can’t afford that shit! In the middle of a fucking pandemic?? So I made a comment on the post, something about the price and how I felt I was like at a merch table at a U2 concert. Sure, kit was snarky, but I felt like it was funny and kind of justified. Well, someone replied to the comment, and it was the most hipster shit I have ever read in my life. I deleted the comment and unfollowed the page, but it was something along the lines of “These are the kinds of prices that one can expect from small batch artisan goods such as these.” When I got through reading that comment, my jeans had shrunk one size and a scarf and a fedora had spontaneously manifested on my person. I looked in the mirror and I was sporting an ironically but meticulously styled mustache that made me look like I should either be solving crimes in a Poe short story or drinking PBR at a Tame Impala show. Small batch? Artisan goods? It’s a t-shirt Trevor, it’s not handmade soap or a fucking loaf of bread. Jesus Christ. It’s enough to make a man listen to Steely Dan. Wait, no, it’s not.
4. Porches-Rangerover (bonus track): This dude has never made an album that I can sit through, but he wrote the perfect pop song for me this year. It sits somewhere between 80s new wave and 90s r & b and let me tell y’all I am here for it. Crank that shit loud and share a meaningful glance with your Quaran-Queen.
5. Empty Country-S/T: Joseph D’Agostino started with afaik, Cymbals Eat Guitars, which made an almost note perfect approximation of PacNW indie rock a la Modest Mouse or Built to Spill, and then they spent the next few albums trying to escape that, most successfully with their last album, the emo adjacent Pretty Years. For his first solo album (with various contributors) he elects to sit back and relax a bit, making a dad rock album for the 30 something set. I do not mean this as a pejorative, this album rocks, it rolls, it sways, it wails. There’s still a hint of ModMo here but he’s also incorporated some Mark Kozelek (Ew for his personality) and Neil Young and even a hint of The Wrens circa The Meadowlands. Even my basic indie bitch best friend was listening to it, and his taste is about as spicy as white people’s Thanksgiving. It’s a good album.
6. Tenci-Joy: Another single here. I bought the whole album on the strength of hearing this one, and, as a whole, it’s a more challenging and prolonged affair. I’m not saying it’s bad, because it’s not, but 6 months later this is the one that sticks with me. Tenci (Jess Shoman) does this thing with her voice that I’m feeling so hard right now, like it sounds like she’s fucking up while she’s singing, like maybe she’s drunk or off key, and it’s not traditionally beautiful, but it is beautiful. The whole “Fly fast, Kiss fast, fight (?) fast, gone gone,” made the hairs stand up on my arms, and then like her warbling approximation of reverb or echo or whatever after that lifted me too. Good shit.
7. I’m gonna put two ambient albums at number 7 just because I find that it’s hard to write about ambient albums without recycling the same words over and over and/or sounding intensely pretentious. I’ll be quick, I promise. I love ambient music, especially when I’m reading, and it’s really hard to do well. Much like Jesus Christ, I’ve waded through a lot of mediocre ambient albums so that you don’t have to. My two reccs are Imaginary Softwoods-Annual Flowers in Color and Alessandro Cortini/Daniel Avery-Illusion of Time. The first is more analog and sounds like it could be soundtracking a PBS nature documentary. The latter is more menacing and has a fatter texture. That’s all I have to say about that.
8. Listen to Freddie Gibbs. I know that his album with Madlib, Alfredo, came out this year and is getting huge press (rightly so,) but his work is amazing. He like bridges the type of shit that Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt are doing where lyricism and skill are king and the newer type stuff that’s all about sound and mood and shaking your ass. I think my favorite is Freddie, which I think came out last year or 2018, but I may just be partial to that one for its awesome recreation of an iconic Teddy Pendergrass album cover.
9. Open Mike Eagle-The Black Mirror Episode-Hey you should listen to this guy’s shit in its entirety too, he’s got that De La Soul psychedelic pastiche/self-deprecation self-aware humor down like you wouldn’t believe. Best album for my money is Hella Personal Film Festival, but they’re all bops. Not gonna lie though, his new one kind of disappointed me on my first listen, except for this song that made me laugh literally out loud. The scenario he writes about is such a vibe, it’s so real and so sad but he handles it with humor and anger. This is an amazing song.
10. Widowspeak-Money: I don’t know what I can say about except that I loved it as soon as I heard it. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it makes me wanna shake my ass.
11. A Beast-MAITA-Sad relationship song in Mitski/Julia Jacklin Mode
12. Angel Olsen-Whole New Mess: I really wanted to like All Mirrors from last year, but I just…didn’t. I didn’t hate it; it just never got its hooks into me. So, she released these stripped down versions this year, and it took me back to the spectral folk of Burn Your Fire for No Witness, my favorite Angel Olsen album
13. Phoebe Bridgers-Punisher: I just love the production on this album, it’s quiet and intimate and weird. Phoebe is a social media genius and you should follow her for humor and tasteful nudes.
14. Like, the first two songs off of the new Vundabar album, I really felt those, but the rest of the album doesn’t make an impression.
15. The Fleet Foxes-Jara: I really liked their album Shore, but it all kind of runs together. I thought it was funny a few years ago that when Fleet Foxes dropped Crack-Up, Grizzly Bear dropped painted ruins, and like one publication gave Grizzly Bear shit for daring to make another Grizzly Bear album, but they highly praised Crack-Up, which was like a Fleet Foxes version of a Grizzly Bear album. Maybe it’s only funny to me. I guess some people don’t like Fleet foxes because it’s soft, or it’s pretty, or here lately they’ve been shying away from traditional verse chorus verse songs, but I think this song is a good entry point to the album. It’s accessible as hell. Also, I thought the weird vocal hocketing at the beginning was keyboards for way too long.
16. I listened to a bunch of TikTok songs too. If you want to make fun of me, you’re welcome to go fuck yourself. Most of it is pure pop or hip hop (I legit have to thank TikTok and my girlfriend for City Girls, who I probably never would have listened to on my on. What We Doin’ is fucking amazing and hilarious.) If you’re ignoring TikTok because you’re too cool, you’re ignoring a fundamental change in the way music is being consumed, and that way lies stagnation. Next thing you’ll be doing is telling kids to get off your lawn. Sure, TikTok can be annoying, but in my opinion it’s much preferable to the toxicity of Facebook.
17. Damn, I guess I used some unintentional misdirection there at the beginning, saying that I wasn’t going to write about music then putting down almost three pages about it. I gotta keep my word, though. So, other stuff I loved:
a. Writers: Stephen King, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Laird Barron, Neil Gaiman (I reread The Sandman, and unlike most things from my past, it held up exceptionally well.) Uhhhh Carmen Maria Machado, Madeline Miller, Glen Hirshberg, Susanna Clarke. That’s just a few because I read a fuckton in quarantine. M.R. James.
b. Podcasts: All I’ve been listening to with any consistency is The Loser’s Club Podcast from Consequence of Sound. It’s a Stephen King Podcast and they talk about his books and adaptations and just about anything King related you could think of.
c. TV shows: Steven Universe, Close Enough, going back through 30 Rock
d. Movies: Jesus I’ve really been slacking on this. It’s weird because I’ve had so much time to watch movies, but I haven’t had the motivation to sit through something that passive. We watched The Lodge a while back, and I wasn’t that thrilled by it. I mean, I bought the Midsommar director’s cut but we haven’t even watched it yet. So boo me I guess I need to watch more movies.
e. Video Games: I could talk a lot about the games that I’ve played this year, but there’s really only one that I want to give any kind of ringing endorsement, and that’s Hades. What an amazing fucking game on all levels. Check it out.
Soooo…..I guess that’s it? What did you like? Hit me up in the comments if you wanna roast me or you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s to hoping 2021 will be a better year. It almost has to be, right? Right, guys? Right…..?