Best of 2020 and Singles Mix

Source: cover of ‘Ultra Mono’ by Idles. The image seems to fit this year’s events quite accurately.

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”

***

See ya on the flip side, y’all.

End of Year Review IV

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!

End of Year Review III

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!

End of Year Review II

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.

***

More to come!

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.

End of Year Thoughts II

During my long hiatus from blogging this year, I thought about closing down one or both of my WordPress blogs. I don’t think I’d run out of things to say on them, just that I’d gotten repetitive, focusing on the same finite number of subjects to write about. I still enjoyed talking about music here on Walk in Silence, and about writing at Welcome to Bridgetown, but it had become a chore and a deadline assignment, and one that felt a little overwhelming at the time. Come April, I’d decided that I wouldn’t just leave the Former Day Job but distance myself from the blogs and the daily words.

I of course immediately recognized that I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted, probably had been for a long while, and this was a perfect time for me to take a long overdue vacation. And think about what it was I wanted to do next.

I’ll be the big Five-Oh next month. It’s not the age that bothers me, to be honest. Aside from the creakier joints and a bit of extra weight, I’m actually in good spirits about it. I still have a lot of years ahead of me and I’d like to think I’m ready and equipped to take them on. I’ve trained myself to think more about future endeavors and less nostalgic (and obsessively so) about what I’ve already done. A funny and unexpected side-effect of this is that I finally see my long-simmering Walk in Silence 80s college radio book project with somewhat more detachment. Which is a good thing, a very good thing, because I’ll be able to write it without once again falling into the trap of Proustian rambling. Maybe I’ll finally get that damn thing done and released in the next year or so.

This is the same with my music listening habits as well. I feel less manically obsessive about it. Sure, I’m still an avid collector and a nerdy librarian when it comes to my mp3s. But I’m no longer trying in vain to recapture the moods, memories and thoughts that come with listening to music. I experience the music again, in the present. I enjoy it. I create new moods, memories and thoughts about it. I can listen to those favorite records and mixtapes of thirty, forty (!!) years ago without my brain slipping into “it was a very good year…” mode. I didn’t forget any of the memories, I just allowed my present self to loosen my grip on them. Those memories are hard-coded into those songs and albums and mixtapes so I can call them back up easily.

Where did this come from? Good question. Most of it was due to a distinct lack of creativity on the Daily Words front, which itself was due to the Former Day Job situation. Instead of trying to write any kind of microfiction for the Daily Words, these entries ended up being an extension of my personal journal and yet another retelling of my Walk in Silence idea. It was so ridiculous and frustrating! So when freedom of the FDJ presented itself, I also chose to free myself from everything else that was holding me back: including my listening habits.

Essentially, I had to relearn how to listen.

End of Year Thoughts I

As with everyone else, I too have had a bit of a weird 2020, pandemic notwithstanding. I started the year in a foul mood due to a Former Day Job situation, a distinct lack of productivity in my writing (partly due to said situation), and on top of that, I was finally letting myself process a lot of personal issues so I could move on. We flew to New England to visit friends and family on one of the coldest late winter weeks in March. The pandemic did play a significant role in my leaving the FDJ at the end of that month, setting me off on a long stretch of unemployment on the one hand, but a renewed burst of creativity as well as a much needed mental and emotional clarity on the other.

I listened to a lot of music during that time, surprising absolutely no one. The internet radio dial (so to speak) has been permanently stuck at kexp.org, causing any commercial radio listening in the car to feel pathetic and bland in response. I’ve listened to new music on Fridays occasionally downloaded the albums I wanted. I gave my writing process — and the listening habits that often go along with it — a critical rethink as well, spending some time not writing or worrying about productivity. And after a few months, I finally allowed myself to return to the music and creativity with almost no strings attached.

It’s been a long year, and of course I’ve started this month by looking back on all the albums, EPs and singles that have dropped since January. So many release dates changed, tours cancelled or postponed, performances livestreamed. The music industry changed a hell of a lot because of the pandemic. Some of it for the worse, but some of it for the better; it caused a lot of bands and clubs to do a massive rethink in order to survive. A number of bands like Crowded House, Elbow, and even Seatbelts, utilized communications platforms normally used for business to synchronize themselves and perform in the safety of their own homes. In a dark and uncertain time, there was a cloud of determination and creativity that kept things going.

I’m not sure when this uncertainty is going to end, or the pandemic for that matter, but with certain changes in the air, some of them long-awaited and positive, we can move on and even evolve. I’m very curious as to how 2021 will treat us, creatively and productively. Things are definitely different now. The pandemic (and the election, let’s be fair) changed things just enough that I think it gave society a bit of a nudge out of its complacency and stasis. Will it continue in this manner? Who knows, but I’m pretty sure it will at least have inspired enough people to make the next couple of years interesting in a good way.

Best of 2019 and Singles Mix

It’s a few days late, but as promised, here’s my best-of list for 2019! I have KEXP to thank for pretty much all of my listening habits these last few years…after slipping between a few online and satellite stations, I found myself returning to a station I’d listened to briefly a few years ago, and realized just how much their playlist resonated with my musical tastes. So much so that when I moved back to the office for the Day Job, I found I truly missed listening to that station. [I’ve since found that I can stream the station on my phone, which I am doing only for a few hours a day so my phone data isn’t all screwy.]

This past year’s soundtrack and purchases also showed a significant change, in that there’s a lot more in terms of inclusivity as well as flavor. So many more albums and songs in different genres, different countries, different genders. I found myself listening less in terms of “this is a great writing soundtrack” and finally returning to “this is just a damn fine album/single” enjoyment. And I haven’t had that in a long time.

So without further ado…

TOP 15 ALBUMS
15. Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy
14. Hatchie, Keepsake
13. Honeyblood, In Plain Sight
12. Jay Som, Anak Ko
11. American Football, American Football (LP3)
10. Lamb, The Secret of Letting Go
9. Lemolo, Swansea
8. Elbow, Giants of All Sizes
7. The Beatles, Abbey Road Anniversary Edition
6. The Cinematic Orchestra, To Believe
5. Sleater-Kinney, The Center Won’t Hold
4. White Lies, Five
3. Drab Majesty, Modern Mirror
2. Coldplay, Everyday Life
1. Haelos, Any Random Kindness

TOP 15 SONGS
15. True Damage, “GIANTS”
14. Deserta, “Hide”
13. Beck, “Saw Lightning”
12. Boy Harsher, “Face the Fire”
11. Drab Majesty, “The Other Side”
10. New Age Healers, “Satellites”
9. Hatchie, “Without a Blush”
8. Jay Som, “Superbike”
7. Toro y Moi, “Freelance”
6. Silversun Pickups, “It Doesn’t Matter Why”
5. White LIes, “Tokyo”
4. Haelos, “End of World Party”
3. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, “Life On Mars?”
2. DJ Shadow feat. De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel”
1. The Quivers, “You’re Not Always On My Mind”

**

And of course, here’s my Singles 2019 mixtape for your pleasure…

Side A
1. DJ Shadow feat De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel”
2. Beck, “Saw Lightning”
3. Toro y Moi, “Freelance”
4. Jay Som, “Superbike”
5. The Quivers, “You’re Not Always On My Mind”
6. New Age Healers, “Satellites”
7. The New Pornographers, “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile”
8. Coldplay, “Orphans”
9. Honeyblood, “She’s a Nightmare”
10. Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen”
11. The Beatles, “You Never Give Me Your Money”
12. Haelos, “End of World Party”

Side B
1. Rudy Willingham, “Pool Party”
2. Charly Bliss, “Chatroom”
3. Sampa the Great, “Final Form”
4. The Chemical Brothers, “MAH”
5. Elbow, “Dexter & Sinister”
6. White Lies, “Tokyo”
7. Drab Majesty, “The Other Side”
8. Foals, “The Runner”
9. Silversun Pickups, “It Doesn’t Matter Why”
10. True Damage, “GIANTS”

Side C
1. Billie Eilish, “Bury a Friend”
2. Big Wreck, “Locomotive”
3. The Chemical Brothers, “No Geography”
4. Drab Majesty, “Long Division”
5. American Football, “Uncomfortably Numb”
6. Fontaines DC, “Boys in the Better Land”
7. DJ Shadow, “Rosie”
8. Beck, “Uneventful Days”
9. Michael Kiwanuka, “You Ain’t the Problem”
10. White Lies, “Never Alone”
11. Angel Olsen, “All Mirrors”

Side D
1. Holy Ship, “Mind Safari”
2. Tallies, “Midnight”
3. Roosevelt, “Falling Back”
4. Mercury Rev feat. Margo Price, “Sermon”
5. Lamb, “Armageddon Waits”
6. Beck, “Tarantula”
7. Boy Harsher, “Face the Fire”
8. Idles, “I Dream Guillotine”
9. The HU, “Wolf Totem”
10. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, “Life On Mars?”

Side E
1. Sleater-Kinney, “The Future Is Here”
2. Hot Chip, “Melody of Love”
3. Haelos, “Kyoto”
4. Deserta, “Hide”
5. San Fermin, “The Hunger”
6. Sault, “Don’t Waste My Time”
7. Hatchie, “Without a Blush”
8. Underworld, “Listen to Their No”
9. Moon Duo, “Lost Heads”
10. Cosima, “Close to You (Moonlighting)”

Side F
1. The Black Keys, “Lo/Hi”
2. Lo! Peninsula, “Another Divine Joke”
3. Malibu Ken, “Tuesday”
4. 311, “Don’t You Worry”
5. Lemolo, “High Tide”
6. Elbow, “Empires”
7. Coldplay, “Trouble in Town”
8. Black Pumas, “Colors”
9. Mavis Staples, “Change”
10. Lucy Dacus, “La Vie en Rose”
11. Mint Royale, “Show Me [The 2019 KEXP Super Extended Version]”

Best of 2018

Whew! This took a lot longer to compile than I thought. As I’d said previously, it was a banner year for great music and it was tough to narrow it all down to my favorite top fifteen albums and songs! This time I went with the albums and songs that (I believe) I not only listened to the most, but the ones I kept coming back to time and again because they were just that enjoyable. Many of them were also part of my writing session heavy rotation.

I’ve also added my silly side lists of releases that may not have hit the top spots but certain got notice in other ways.

TOP 15 ALBUMS
15. The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl
14. Eric Bachmann, No Recover
13. The Beatles, The Beatles (Super Deluxe Edition)
12. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Wrong Creatures
11. Wye Oak, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
10. Metric, Art of Doubt
9. Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
8. Shame, Songs of Praise
7. Failure, In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind
6. The Neighbourhood, The Neighbourhood / Hard to Imagine the Neighbourhood Ever Changing
5. Lucy Dacus, Historian
4. Snow Patrol, Wildness
3. Johnny Marr, Call the Comet
2. GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star
1. Bob Moses, Battle Lines

TOP 15 SONGS
15. The Damned, “Standing On the Edge of Tomorrow”
14. Arctic Monkeys, “Four Out of Five”
13. Parquet Courts, “Wide Awake”
12. The Decemberists, “Severed”
11. Sylvan Esso, “Parad (W/M)E”
10. Johnny Marr, “Hi Hello”
9. Death Cab for Cutie, “Gold Rush”
8. Local H, “Innocents (Edited for Television)”
7. GoGo Penguin, “Raven”
6. Lucy Dacus, “Addictions”
5. K/DA & Madison Beer & (G)I-DLE, “Pop/Stars”
4. tUnE-yArDs, “Heart Attack”
3. Lucius, “Woman”
2. Bob Moses, “Heaven Only Knows”
1. Snow Patrol, “Life On Earth”

BEST NON-ALBUM SINGLES AND EPS
Sylvan Esso, “Parad(W/M)E”
Failure, In the Future EP
Failure, Your Body Will Be EP
Failure, The Furthest Thing EP
Local H, “Innocents (Edited for Television)”
Various Artists, Universal Love – Wedding Songs Reimagined EP
Prince, “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
Weezer, “Africa” / “Rosanna”
Matt Nathanson, Pyromattia EP
Dave Grohl, Play EP
Live, Local 717 EP
Nothing But Thieves, What Did You Think When You Made Me This Way? EP
boygenius, boygenius EP
K/DA & Madison Beer & (G)I-DLE, “Pop/Stars”
Mutemath, Voice in the Silence EP

BEST ALBUMS TO BLAST WITH HEADPHONES
Shame, Songs of Praise
Preoccupations, New Material
Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles
Soft Science, Maps
Cloud Nothings, Last Building Standing

BEST RETURN AFTER A LONG HIATUS
The Breeders, All Nerve
Tracey Thorn, Record
Andrew WK, You’re Not Alone
Jesus Jones, Passages
Belly, Dove
Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
The Get Up Kids, Kicker EP
The English Beat, Here We Go Love
Dubstar, One
Robyn, Honey
Dead Can Dance, Dionysus
The Good, the Bad & the Queen, Merrie Land
Art Brut, Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!

BEST ACOUSTIC/REWORKINGS ALBUM
Lucius, Nudes
The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart
Beach Slang, Everything Matters But No One Is Listening (Quiet Slang)
Alt-J, Reduxer
St Vincent, MassEducation

BEST BOX SETS AND REISSUES
Wire, Nine Sevens
Bow Wow Wow, Your Box Set Pet: The Complete Recordings 1980-1984
Black Box Recorder, Life Is Unfair
The Cure, Mixed Up (Deluxe Edition)
Guns n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction (Super Deluxe Edition)
Public Image Ltd, The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart)
Various Artists, C89
Prince, Anthology: 1995-2010
Various Artists, Live Aid
Phil Collins, Plays Well with Others
John Lennon, Imagine (The Ultimate Collection)
Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine (20th Anniversary Edition)
The Beatles, The Beatles (Super Deluxe Edition)

…and that’s it! Hope everyone has a wonderful, fun-filled and rockin’ 2019!

END NOTE! I’ll be taking a bit of time off from blogging, starting in January, for personal reasons. I’m not sure how long this hiatus will last, but I’m not going to be making any scheduled posts for a while. I will try to post here every now and again, though I most likely won’t have them on any strict schedule. As always, thank you for following, and I hope 2019 treats you well!

See ya on the flip side!

2018 In Review, Part I: January – March

Originally I was going to go with a favorites-of-2018 post and follow it up with my end of year mixtape list, but while I was going over the releases this past year I found I just could not do it justice with only one post.  Yes there were that many excellent albums out this year!

So instead, I’m doing a four-part post for the last four posts of the year with an overview of all the albums, singles, and EPs (and there were surprisingly many of the latter two!), focusing on each quarter.  I’ll then follow up with my mixtape post on the 31st.  Each post is going to be pretty long, so these should keep you entertained!

Starting with Q1, January to March…

BØRNS, Blue Madonna, released 12 January.  Quirky alternapop that’s fun to listen to without being precious or cloying.

Sylvan Esso, “PARAD(w/m)E” single, released 12 January.  A single-only follow up to 2017’s fantastic What Now, it’s light and fluffy fun.

Shame, Songs of Praise, released 12 January.  Amazing and melodic punk similar to the really cool stuff you’d hear on 120 Minutes back in the late 80s   I absolutely love this album.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Wrong Creatures, released 12 January.  Their best record yet — full of power and emotion and finely tuned into great songs.

tUnE-YaRdS, I can feel you creep into my private life, released 19 January.  “Heart Attack” is up there as one of my favorite tracks of the year.  Merrill Garbus is so much fun to listen to.

Django Django, Marble Skies, released 26 January.  A strange band with an irresistibly catchy sound.

GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star, released 9 February.  Rarely does an album blow me away this completely.  Inventive jazz that infuses all different kinds of genres.  One of my favorite albums of the year.

Lucy Dacus, Historian, released 2 March.  A fantastic songwriter, I keep coming back to this album again and again.  One of my favorites of the year.

Lucius, Nudes, released 2 March.  “Woman” has to be my favorite song of the year; it’s so delicate and sparse, yet it wields so much power and emotion and the dual vocal melody is so perfect that it continues to give me shivers.

The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart, released 9 March.  A stripped-down collection of their singles and album cuts, it’s a lovely and relaxing record.  This one got some major play during my writing sessions.

The Neighbourhood, The Neighbourhood, released 9 March.  They’ve gotten bolder and more experimental with each album, and this one nails it.  

Editors, Violence, released 9 March.  One of my “I will buy anything they release” bands, they didn’t let me down.  

The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl, released 16 March.  One of their most heartfelt albums and one of their best.  So many great tracks on this one.

Meshell Ndegeocello, Ventriloquism, released 16 March.  She takes her favorite 80s soul and pop songs and brilliantly makes them her own.

Jack White, Boarding House Reach, released 23 March.  I was surprised at how great this album was!  I’m a passive fan, but this one is one of his best.

Preoccupations, New Material, released 23 March. This band gets better and better with each release.  They can switch from Slowdive-y shoegaze to Wire-y punk seamlessly.

Failure, In the Future EP, released 30 March. An unconventional release, in which four parts of a full album drop each quarter, and they pulled it off perfectly.

**

Coming Thursday: 2018, Q2!