End of Year Review, Part I

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.

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