I’ve decided to take next week off for a few reasons: One, it’s my birthday on the 22nd. Two, we’ll be installing the new President (Version 46, now available with Vastly Improved Intelligence Capability) and I feel like celebrating that. And Three, I just want to get some offline creative work done and get myself caught up.
Getting a job during the pandemic has been an interesting job in itself, to be honest. I know I’m not the only one looking for remote work, and I know I’m not the only one who’s getting up there in years looking for work, either. And in the meantime, I’ve been honing my creative skills to open up that market just a little bit more.
I’ve been getting the occasional employment agency reaching out to me, whether by email or by phone, to offer various positions. Some of them have been tempting but not in the direction I want to go…and some have been a hard pass (I’m looking at you, “the hours would be 7PM to 6AM PST”). And some have been tempting but end in “we’ve chosen someone with a bit more experience”.
Still — it does feel good to get a positive connection and potential position every now and again.
We had a day yesterday, here in the US. A lot of us are still trying to process it.
Sometimes you need to escape from the noise that comes after an event like this. It’s not healthy to keep doomscrolling and tweeting and blogging when you’re already running on fumes. It’s okay if you need to unplug. Adding your own words isn’t always necessary…there’s no reason you have to prove your stance to anyone if your friends and family already know what it is. They’ll understand.
It’s still okay for you to keep posting your art or your music or your stories, whether or not you’re a pro in the field or just starting out, or even if you’re doing it to feel better. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
Being angry and being creative can coexist, whether together or separately. We all process traumas in different ways, whichever works best for ourselves. If you’re getting yelled at by people online because you’ve posted your WIP or a song or a cat gif instead of an angry screed, you have every right and reason to mute, unfollow and/or block them. You are under no obligation to have any preset level of feels about anything that happens in life if they don’t work for you…or if they make your life and health worse.
We’re all in this together. Others are already being angry for you if you just don’t have the spoons right now. Go ahead and create. Celebrate that. Find a way to process these events in your own way.
We’ll be here, together, when the dust settles again.
So the Best of Year mixtapes have been made, the top albums/songs lists have been made, and the new year is upon us. No new albums have dropped — at least none of import other than a few playlist EPs and one or two reissues — and it’s probably going to be another week or so before any major releases hit the internet shopping carts.
I’m always torn between wanting to listen to new things or reminiscing with older releases. Sometimes there will be a few late-in-the-year releases, like 2019’s Everyday Life by Coldplay or last year’s McCartney III that became favorites. But more often than not I’ll just stick with the mixtapes and the internet radio.
Quite often when I do this, I’ll stumble across a release I somehow missed over the last few years, and those are always a great discovery. I rarely have those nowadays, considering how musically plugged in I can be. In my high school and college days, I spent just as much time discovering new bands as much as I did catching up with old releases I should know about. Sometimes that will garner a download or two, or if I’m really drawn to the music, I’ll do a discography deep-dive.
So it’s not as if I’ve run out of things to listen to…I just get a bit untethered about it. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
What a weirdass year. Yeah? Let’s not do that again. Or if we have to, let’s do it without so much of the drama, okay?
ANYWAY. Here it is, the last day of the year, and I’m squeezing this post in during the last few remaining hours of the day/month/year. I don’t use Spotify that much at all so I don’t have any “this is what you listened to most” (or, to follow the recent meme, the “your playlist sucks because…”). I know I listened to KEXP the most, with the rest of my mp3 collection coming a close second. The station kept me sane, somewhat distracted, and in a calm mood for the most part, for which I thank them, especially morning DJ John Richards and midday DJ Cheryl Waters.
Do I have anything left to say about 2020? Not really. It was a year of difference and change for me and I’ve already talked about it over at Welcome to Bridgetown. Other than that…I just want to keep moving forward.
So! Here’s the top albums, songs, and a few other bits of enjoyment that kept me going this past year. Enjoy! (NOTE: I left off the YouTube links on the mixtape on the second half here, but I may edit them in at a later date.)
TOP ALBUMS: 20. Hum, Inlet 19. PVRIS, Use Me 18. Indigo Girls, Look Long 17. Phish, Sigma Oasis 16. Nation of Language, Introduction, Presence 15. Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor 14. HAIM, Women in Music Pt III 13. Taylor Swift, Folklore/Evermore 12. Sault, Untitled (Rise) 11. Pearl Jam, Gigaton 10. Idles, Ultra Mono 9. Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition) 8. Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber 7. The Beths, Jump Rope Gazers 6. Bob Moses, Desire EP 5. BRONSON, BRONSON 4. K-DA, All Out EP 3. EoB, Earth 2. Deserta, Black Aura My Sun 1. Doves, The Universal Want
TOP SINGLES 20. Deserta, “Monica” 19. Green Day, “Father of All…” 18. EoB, “Olympik” 17. HAIM, “The Steps” 16. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance” 15. Secret Machines, “3, 4, 5, Let’s Stay Alive” 14. The Psychedelic Furs, “You’ll Be Mine” 13. Sault, “Free” 12. Bombay Bicycle Club, “Everything Else Has Gone Wrong” 11. Bob Mould, “American Crisis” 10. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights” 9. Hayley Williams, “Simmer” 8. K-DA, “The Baddest” 7. BRONSON, “Dawn” 6. The Beths, “I’m Not Getting Excited” 5. K-DA, “More” 4. Fontaines DC, “Televised Mind” 3. Bob Moses & ZHU, “Desire” 2. Doves, “Carousels” 1. Idles, “Grounds”
….and more Best-Ofs…
Welcome Returns: Bands Reformed/Reactivated and Newly Recorded Stabbing Westaward, Dead and Gone EP Stone Temple Pilots, Perdida The Boomtown Rats, Citizens of Boomtown X, Alphabetland Badly Drawn Boy, Banana Skin Shoes Hum, Inlet Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP Michael Penn, “A Revival” Midnight Oil, The Makarrata Project EP The Network, Money Money 2020 Pt II: We Told Ya So!
Surviving the Pandemic: What Kept Me Going Elbow, #elbowrooms videos Crowded House, Live from Home videos Seatbelts, Session Starducks videos KEXP, Live from the Front Yard series
Box Sets, Reissues, and Remasters Depeche Mode, MODE Supergrass, The Strange Ones 1994-2008 Porcupine Tree, In Absentia (Deluxe Edition) The Primitives, Bloom! The Full Syory 1985-1992 Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie (Archive Collection) Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition) John Lennon, Gimme Some Truth (Deluxe)
THE SINGLES 2020
SIDE A 1. Secret Machines, “3, 4, 5, Let’s Stay Alive” 2. The Beths, “I’m Not Getting Excited” 3. Bob Moses & ZHU, “Desire” 4. Fontaines DC, “Televised Mind” 5. Idles, “Grounds” 6. Bob Mould, “American Crisis” 7. Pearl Jam, “Dance of the Clairvoyants” 8. Bombay Bicycle Club, “Everything Else Has Gone Wrong” 9. K-DA, “More” 10. Deserta, “Monica” 11. Cut Copy, “Love Is All We Share”
SIDE B 1. Doves, “Carousels” 2. The Psychedelic Furs, “You’ll Be Mine” 3. Green Day, “Father of All…” 4. Pet Shop Boys, “Will-O-the-Wisp” 5. Sault, “Free” 6. Hayley Williams, “Simmer” 7. HAIM, “The Steps” 8. Run the Jewels, “Ooh LA LA” 9. Nation of Language, “The Wall & I” 10. BRONSON, “Dawn”
SIDE C 1. Annie, “The Countdown to the End of the World” 2. EoB, “Shangri-La” 3. Hinds, “Good Bad Times” 4. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights” 5. Green Day, “Oh Yeah!” 6. Semisonic, “You’re Not Alone” 7. beabadoobee, “Worth It” 8. Billie Eilish, “My Future” 9. Bruce Springsteen, “Letter to You” 10. Hum, “Step Into You” 11. Cults, “Spit You Out” 12. Paul McCartney, “Find My Way”
SIDE D 1. BRONSON, “Heart Attack” 2. Secret Machines, “Everything Starts” 3. Pearl Jam, “Superblood Wolfmoon” 4. Gorillaz, “Désolé” 5. GoGo Penguin, “Atomised” 6. Hotels, “Queens (West African Peanut Soup)” 7. Idles, “A Hymn” 8. Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto” 9. Working Men’s Club, “John Cooper Clarke” 10. The Avalanches, “Interstellar Love”
SIDE E 1. Gorillaz, “Strange Timez” 2. Billie Joe Armstrong, “Kids in America” 3. Throwing Muses, “Dark Blue” 4. Hayley Williams, “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” 5. Glass Animals, “Your Love (Déjà Vu)” 6. Phantogram, “Ceremony” 7. Doves, “Universal Want”” 8. Deserta, “Save Me” 9. EoB, “Olympik”
SIDE F 1. Gerogia, “About Work the Dancefloor” 2. K-DA, “The Baddest” 3. I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME, “Leave Me Alone” 4. Holy Fuck, “Luxe” 5. The Naked and Famous, “Recover” 6. Future Islands, “For Sure” 7. Michael Penn, “A Revival” 8. Kestrels, “Don’t Dream” 9. Soccer Mommy, “Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes” 10. Supercrush, “Be Kind to Me” 11. Wire, “Cactused”
SIDE G 1. I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME, “Nobody Likes the Opening Band” 2. Secret Machines, “Everything’s Under” 3. Gorillaz, “Aries” 4. PVRIS, “Use Me” 5. Tunde Adebimpe, “People” 6. Semisonic, “Basement Tapes” 7. Destroyer, “Crimson Tide” 8. Pearl Jam, “Alright” 9. Annie, “The Streets Where I Belong” 10. Ty Segall, “Jump Into the Fire” 11. BRONSON, “Keep Moving”
SIDE H 1. Indigo Girls, “Look Long” 2. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, “Texas Sun” 3. Hinds, “Spanish Bombs” 4. The Avalanches, “Running Red Lights” 5. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance” 6. Idles, “Mr. Motivator” 7. Bob Mould, “Next Generation” 8. Stone Temple Pilots, “Perdida” 9. Phish, “Leaves” 10. Jónsi & Elizabeth Fraser, “Cannibal” 11. Death Cab for Cutie, “Fall On Me”
Whew! It’s another long one, as September had quite a few great records that dropped, some of which I had to skip due to space. This was definitely not your typical fourth quarter, as we weren’t inundated with thousands of new releases looking for a quick cash-in or a spin on the charts. In any other year, I’m sure the sales departments would be tearing out their hair because of this, but instead, we’re all running with what we’ve got, and in the process we’re getting some solid records out of it.
Throwing Muses, Sun Racket, released 4 September. I always love when Kristin Hersh releases a Muses record, because it’s always guaranteed to be weird and noisy fun!
Doves, The Universal Want, released 11 September. Another 90s fan and critic favorite returns with a surprise record that just blasts so many other 2020 records out of the park. This album contains the same power and drive of their previous albums, and it was well worth the wait. It’s one of my favorites of the year.
Sault, Untitled (Rise), released 18 September. The second of two Sault albums dropping this year, this one is slightly shorter and features more pop and radio-friendly tunes.
Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP, released 18 September. Yet another great surprise return! This is a super fun EP full of catchy melodies.
Bob Mould, Blue Hearts, released 25 September. After several loud-but-introspective records from Mould, he lets out all his anger and frustration over the current administration and the pathetic situation it’s gotten us into. A powerful record and one of his best.
Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition), released 25 September. If there’s one record I’ve been waiting for all year, it’s this one. If you thought the original 1987 record was amazing, this one provides so much more that went into making it, including tracks from the aborted Camille, Crystal Ball and Dream Factory projects, plus a complete live show.
IDLES, Ultra Mono, released 25 September. A fantastic third album from this Bristol band, one that’s no less aggressive than their previous but also inserts some surprisingly heartfelt melodies and lyrics as well. “Grounds” is in my top ten of the year, not to mention my Top Song To Crank Up Insanely Loud.
Annie, Dark Hearts, released 16 October. A lovely and dreamy record produced by Stefan Storm of The Sound of Arrows, and one that’s been playing during my writing sessions for the new projects. I definitely need to check out her back catalogue!
Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You, released 23 October. Some of Bruce’s best songs are when he’s in an introspective mood, and this year has been a perfect time for that. This record kind of reminds me of Tunnel of Love, in that it’s got some great radio-friendly tunes but also some dark and ponderous songs as well.
Michael Penn, “A Revival” single, released 28 October. We haven’t heard any new music from Penn in years, so this surprise release hits just that much harder. Extra points for being quite possibly the only rock musician to use the word “commonweal”!
K-DA, All Out EP, released 6 November. I’m finding myself drawn more and more to k-pop and this kind of genre, especially when it’s produced to sound absolutely effing amazing in headphones and speakers. This project could easily be so throwaway, yet the songwriters behind it all keep pushing out such fun sounds!
The Avalanches, We Will Always Love You, released 11 December. This quirky group releases yet another stellar record packed with cameos, guests and unexpected samples, and it’s all sorts of fun.
Paul McCartney, McCartney III, released 18 December. Like 1970’s original and 1980’s II, this is a solo record in the truest sense of the word, done on his own during the pandemic (or “recorded in rockdown”, as the teaser says…). It’s Macca doing what he loves best, experimenting with sounds and soundscapes.
Thanks for sticking around! We’ll have one more post on Thursday, this one being my end-of-year lists and mixtape track listing!
Whoops! I seem to have forgotten to post here on Thursday! That’s okay, I still have this coming week. I’ll have the last End of Year Review up on Tuesday and hopefully I’ll have the SIngles Mixtape and Best of Lists on Thursday.
Hope your holidays have been groovy! See you then!
By the middle of the year I was starting to get a little antsy. I’d stopped writing sometime in April on purpose, because I needed to clear my head. Apparently that took a bit longer than usual, as there was a lot in there that needed purging and clearing out. I was lucky enough to be able to a) throw out a lot of preconceptions about my life and my writing that were hindering me, and b) take my time finding out what does work for me. I kept myself busy by figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do from here on in. By the end of the third quarter, I’d rebuilt my whiteboard schedule and started writing again.
The Beths, Jump Rope Gazers, released 10 July. I seem to be drawn to bands from Down Under lately, and this band provided me with a really fun jangly pop record for prime summer listening. They reminded me a lot of the Boston bands I used to listen to in the 90s (and Letters to Cleo in particular).
Taylor Swift, folklore, released 24 July. This was not only a surprise release, it was a surprisingly excellent release that captured the attention of new fans, old fans, and critics alike. It’s some of her best work to date.
The Naked and Famous, Recover, released 24 July. Like many other records released this year, this is more reserved and introspective than their earlier work. The electronics, which are usually a major part of their sound, are pulled far back this time, bringing the inner soul of the songs to the fore.
Fontaines DC, A Hero’s Death, released 31 July. On the other hand, some bands chose to strip away pretense and soft edge and just come out with guns blazing. FDC’s newest is louder, angrier, and a much needed kick in the ass.
Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie (Archive Collection), released 31 July. Sir Macca’s been busy this year! First off is a lovely remaster/expansion of this great album from 1997 that’s equal parts embracing his Beatle past and holding tight to his relationship with Linda.
The Psychedelic Furs, Made of Rain, released 31 July. Their first studio record since 1991 (!!) has a rich, full sound similar to their Book of Days and World Outside records and it’s a welcome return to form.
BRONSON, BRONSON, released 7 August. This one’s on my top ten of the year list! It’s got that laid back electro groove I love (similar to Haelos and Bob Moses) that hits all the right spots. It’s also on my writing session playlist, perfect for my latest projects!
Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber, released 21 August. I do of course also love the sound of a loud reverb wash just pouring over me, and SM returns with another epic record that just soars everywhere. Another on my writing session playlist!
K/DA, “The Baddest” single, released 27 August. Again: I don’t play League of Legends, nor do I have the time or the brainspace do to so, but damn if their original music doesn’t kick my ass! I loved “Pop/Stars” from a few years back, so I’m thrilled that (G)I-DLE and co. decided to expand on this idea and release a new song, with an EP soon after!
Bob Moses, Desire EP, released 28 August. I do so love the cinematic quality this band projects, which means that they’re always showing up whenever I’m doing some heavy writing work. Give this one a listen with some good earphones and you’ll see why I love them so much.
Coming up: a return to writing and a final wave of great music!
April started with me spending some long overdue time off from any Day Job stress. My last day there had been uneventful and after I logged off, I purged every file and email I’d saved for the last several years, unplugged the laptop, and boxed it up. It was out and dropped off at the post office the next day. If I was going to embrace this freedom, I was going to do it right and with a clean slate.
I did keep my hours, though. I woke up at 6am, showered first and made the morning coffee. I kept busy by house cleaning, doing errands and catching up on long-delayed projects that I wanted to finish (or at least get caught up on). I didn’t start writing again, however. That was another stress purge and process rethink that would take just a little bit longer. But I’d return to it eventually.
And of course I did a lot of listening.
Phish, Sigma Oasis, released 3 April. One of the first rescheduled releases during the early part of the pandemic — the band felt it would benefit their fans to hear new recordings in lieu of a delayed or cancelled tour. It’s one of their most enjoyable and consistently tight records in recent memory.
Local H, Lifers, released 10 April. This band has only gotten better with age. It’s not nearly as angry as 2015’s Hey Killer but it’s just as hard and rocking. Check out the amazing album closer “Innocents”, a rerecording of their 2018 single and produced by king of loud, Steve Albini.
EoB, Earth, released 17 April. Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien’s first solo album surprised me as much as it delighted me; I’d expected at least some musical similarity to his main band (there is — it sounds a lot like Hail to the Thief in some spots), but I hadn’t expected him to lean so much on the semi-electronic ambient beats. The result sounds just a little bit like U2’s Zooropa but that’s meant as a compliment, as it’s a pleasure to listen to and get lost in.
Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor, released 8 May. The lead singer of Paramore’s first solo album might be a slightly quieter affair than her band’s hard-edged sound, but the songs are no less powerful. She’s traded volume for tension here and it works brilliantly.
Nation of Language, Introduction, Presence, released 22 May. Taking a page from 80s college rock with its soupy reverb and synth melodies (and thus screaming out this is totally something J would listen to…), it’s a wonderful album worth checking out and getting lost in. Also worth a listen is their recent standalone single, a cover of Pixies’ “Gouge Away”.
Indigo Girls, Look Long, released 22 May. I’ve long been a fan of this duo, and this particular album has to be one of my favorites of theirs. It sounds a bit like their early to mid 90s heyday (circa Swamp Ophelia, mostly) and updated to current sounds and events. It’s just as strong as their classic ’89 self-titled record and definitely one of my favorite releases of the year.
Hinds, The Prettiest Curse, released 5 June. An enjoyable super catchy indie rock record from a foursome from Madrid, Spain, they got some heavy rotation on KEXP during the summer. Also check out their really fun cover of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs”, which they released later in the year!
GoGo Penguin, GoGo Penguin, released 12 June. One of my favorite finds over the last couple of years, this jazz trio melds alt.rock grooves and techno beats into something altogether different and it sounds glorious.
Wire, 10:20, released 19 June. These guys surprise-dropped an additional album for 2020, this one featuring outtakes from their previous recent releases as well as rerecordings of classic tracks. “Over Theirs” in particular sounds even more menacing than the original.
Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher, released 19 June. She’s been showing up all over the place with other singers lately — with Conor Oberst in Better Oblivion Community Center, as well as with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker in boygenius — and she’s even recently dropped an additional EP tied in with this release.
Sault, Untitled (Black Is), released 19 June. This curious band is now four albums deep and still nobody really knows who they are, but their records are just fabulous. They’ll swing from experimental to trip-hoppy to soul and pop and back again, never quite staying in one place. One of my favorite finds of the last couple of years!
Hum, Inlet, released 23 June. One of many unexpected and wholly welcome returns to bands after an extremely long hiatus for this year, this 90s favorite vanished sometime around 2000 but resurfaced occasionally for touring purposes until they slowly built up this new release over the course of a few years.
HAIM, Women in Music Pt III, released 26 June. This trio continues with their catchy-as-hell countrified SoCal rock and it’s one of their best. They’ve expanded their sound with a harder edge and even more adventurous production.
I’ve said it elsewhere previously, I started 2020 in a terrible mood. I felt lost and frustrated primarily because I’d been corralled back into the office full-time to the Day Job. Between that terrible management decision, the time-wasting commute, and an almost complete loss of personal time for anything outside of work hours, I’d started looking elsewhere for a new job, hopefully in the city, where I could at least retain some of that precious creative time. In the meantime, I brought my mp3 players into work and plugged myself in, and stole time for writing when and where I could.
Funny how a pandemic upended all those issues a few short months later. I mean, ‘careful what you wish for’ and all that… I got my creative time back and then some, but it also derailed so many creative careers and lives as well. Musicians (and venues!) that depended on tours and performances now found themselves having to completely rethink the business side of things. Some went out of business, others got…more creative.
But for those first three months, things were kinda sorta normal, as normal as things could get at that point.
Stabbing Westward, Dead and Gone EP, released 10 January. An unexpected but wholly welcomed return from one of the 90s great melodic alt.metal bands. Still loud af, and still rocking.
Deserta, Black Aura My Sun, released 17 January. I’d been looking forward to this record since hearing the blistering “Hide” on KEXP late last year and I was not let down. It’s the best kind of shoegaze: loud, dense, and dreamlike. This one got a lot of play on my mp3 player at work.
Holy Fuck, Deleter, released 17 January. It amused me every time they played “Luxe” on KEXP, because they could only refer to the band as “Holy Eff”. This electronic band has been around for quite some time, but I’ve only gotten into them recently, and this is a great place to start.
Pet Shop Boys, Hotspot, released 24 January. Man, I remember my high school days when I thought “West End Girls” was such an amazing song. Who’d have thought this duo would stick together for so long and continue to release amazing music? We even got to see them sort-of-live during our last UK trip, when we stayed overnight at a hotel up the road from Hyde Park…where they were putting on a free show that we caught on TV!
Wire, Mind Hive, released 24 January. Another band that’s been around for multiple decades, maintaining their unique sound and remaining strong. I’m still looking forward to seeing their self-made documentary once they finally release it.
Green Day, Father of All…, released 7 February. Right about this time I was driving through the East Bay listening to the car radio and wondering why, when these local boys done good released a new, powerful and supremely fun record, the local alt-rock stations couldn’t be arsed to play anything other than songs off 1994’s Dookie. The title track is such an earworm that it still pops into my head to this day.
Stone Temple Pilots, Perdida, released 7 February. A somber release in response to the loss of two great lead singers, this goes to show that the band had a lot more creativity in them than people expected. The DeLeo brothers write (and sing) some beautiful tearjerkers here.
The Weeknd, After Hours, released 20 March. Fully embracing 80s synthpop and catchy-as-hell tunes, This was a surprise hit and one that crossed so many genres and station programming lines that you can hear “Blinding Lights” pretty much everywhere, including at Trader Joe’s. It’s a strange but really fun record to bop along to.
Pearl Jam, Gigaton, released 27 March. PJ’s later albums can sometimes be great but not quite imprint on your psyche, but this one is a fine return to form for them. It kind of reminds me of 1998’s Yield; both contain a bevy of deep cuts that have shown up on regular rotation on AOR stations.
By the end of March, things had changed considerably. Mayor London Breed had called a shelter-in-place for San Francisco, numerous companies, shops and restaurants were starting to make long-term plans or shutter temporarily (or for good). A few bands quickly gathered together to stream free or sliding-scale-pay shows on the internet, and some bands even chose to start releasing albums well before their planned drop date. I, of course, had had enough with the Day Job, left on less than cordial terms, and spent the next several months doing a lot of self-discovery and giving my creative career a massive rethink.
New music would still drop, of course, but life wouldn’t be quite the same after the end of March.