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.

New Obsession: K/DA

First off, I should say that 1) I’m quite the latecomer to K-Pop. I’ve been well aware of it, but never paid all that much attention to it until relatvely recently, and 2) I am so not a gamer, so I have little to no background or interest in League of Legends.

That said, I cannot seem to get enough of the LoL virtual spinoff band K/DA (its name of course being a reference to a player’s kills, deaths and assists), as a part of Riot Games’ plan to include more original music in the LoL universe. It features Miyeon and Soyeon from the k-pop band (G)I-DLE as well as soloists Madison Beer and Jaira Burns playing the in-game characters Ahri, Akali, Evelynn and Kai-Sa respectively.

The 2018 single “Pop/Stars” came to my attention due to a few gifs of featuring a masked Akali (the tomboyish ninja assassin) rapping in a subway car, and after falling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I found the video and was blown away by the creative animation.

Sure, they’re eye candy for the gamer boys, but damn if this song didn’t get stuck in my head on a daily basis! I’d put it on my mp3 player that I brought to the gym and found myself playing it on repeat. It wasn’t just a great video, it was a damn fine pop song with some tight production work. It sounds absolutely amazing in headphones, so I imagine it would sound great on high-end speakers as well. It ended up on my end-of-year mix and I still throw it on now and again. And yes, it got me interested in (G)I-DLE as well!

League of Legends continued to release a few more tunes and videos to coincide with their World Championship event (2019 saw the badass track “GIANTS” by True Damage, and 2020 featured “Take Over” by Worlds 2020), but apparently the K/DA track proved to be so popular that it was announced they would release more music as a virtual band.

In late August of this year they dropped the news that a new EP would be released, and released the lead single “The Baddest” soon after. And wouldn’t you know, this song got stuck in my damn head as well! While it’s merely a lyric video with minimal animation, it’s still a great track and has already gotten over a million watches on YouTube.

The accompanying EP, All Out, was released this past Friday (11/6) and it features the above song as well as the follow-up single “More”, which returns us to another high quality virtual band setting and featuring another LoL in-game character, Seraphine, as a special guest. It’s another visual feast with all kinds of eye candy but also a lot of fun blink-and-you’ll-miss-it drop edits (such as Akali causing Serpahine to bust up laughing near the end). And just like the previous singles, “More” is a hell of a fine earworm. This one’s going on my year-end mix, of course.

The rest of All Out is just as fun and worth checking out if you have the time!

Why do I not have…?

I know I often go on about how stupidly huge my mp3 collection is (and it is), but quite often I find myself reading a music biography or hear a tune on the radio and realize…why do I not have more of this band’s music? Most embarrassingly, these are often well-known bands that I just never got around to picking up, most likely because I was too busy focusing on completing someone else’s discography, or being distracted by all the shiny new releases.

So, without further ado, I am about to embarrass myself by providing you with a bit of a selection of bands and singers whose songs I am sorely lacking from my library. I really should do something

I have exactly two Sly & the Family Stone songs — the above one and ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime’. I really need to rectify that. Especially since they’re a local band!

I’m also woefully missing out on a lot of Tamla/Motown stuff too. I grew up on a lot of this stuff playing on the radio and I love it, but I guess I’ve just been so distracted by alternative rock all these years that I keep forgetting to make good on adding it.

I have maybe five or six Byrds songs, and that’s it. They pretty much kickstarted the folk rock scene of the 60s and only now am I starting to appreciate that genre and its history.

Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” was one of my favorite mid-80s pop-rock songs, and I loved his work with The Power Station…so why do I only have Riptide, a few singles, and absolutely nothing else of his?

I was far too broke to catch up on a lot of early 90s music at the time it all came out — and there was a lot I had to catch up on — so I’m sadly missing a lot of the classic riot grrl/grunge scene. [As mentioned in a previous post, I was too busy focusing on the shoegaze stuff from the same era.]

Yes, even current bands are missing from my collection! I came to appreciate bands like Against Me! only recently, so I’ve been pretty much gathering those titles when and where I can.

*

Now that I have the time and the wherewithal (and now that I’ve caught up with so many other discographies), I’ve been slowly making my way through the histories of popular music and making mental notes. Many of these are songs and albums I can stream, or find in the dollar bins at Amoeba, or borrow from the library or elsewhere.

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]”

Recent Releases, Summer 2019

Oops! I’m a month late on this, so this is going to be a slightly longer one, encompassing the various releases I’ve been raving about from June to September. Enjoy!

Silversun Pickups, Widow’s Weeds, released 9 June. Always twitchy, always off-kilter, and always amazing.

Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy, release 21 June. A rather laid back and mellow record for them, bu this style suits them extremely well.

Hatchie, Keepsake, released 21 June. One of my favorite finds thanks to KEXP, they’re good alt-poppy fun with some killer bass riffs!

Drab Majesty, Modern Mirror, released 12 July. Highly recommended if you like that 80s gothy synth sound. Definitely reminds me of Clan of Xymox.

311, Voyager, released 12 July. As said before, whenever 311 drops a record I will always pick it up. Good funky fun.

DJ Shadow featuring De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel” single, released 24 July. Another KEXP find, this has to be one of my top favorite songs of the year. It’s a fantastic throwback rap tune you’d have heard in the late 80s. Definitely a nod to Run-DMC on this track.

Jay Som, Anak Ko, released 23 August. Light and lovely guitar alt-rock topped with dreamy vocals. But not shoegaze! “Superbike” is another track that’s been stuck in my head for months.

NAVVI, 25O2 EP, released 30 August. Filed alongside HAELOS as one of my go-to bands for blissful dance alt-pop. It’s a short five-song EP, but it’s got some ace tunes on it.

Tennis System, Lovesick, released 6 September. This band reminds me of Swervedriver with their loud and dissonant shoegaze guitar crunch. Surprisingly a great listen for my writing sessions!

Pixies, Beneath the Eyrie, released 13 September. The long-awaited new Pixies record is strangely spooky this time out. I’m not too surprised considering Frank Black’s forays into weird subject matters, but the creepiness translates well in this case.

Brittany Howard, Jaime, released 20 September. The Alabama Shakes singer brings us an amazing soulful and jazzy solo record filled with blazing funky riffs. Excellent stuff.

blink-182, Nine, released 20 September. We got to see this band live at Outside Lands this year and they were just as amazing as I thought they’d be. Older and ever so slightly more mature, they’re still tight as hell.

The Beatles, Abbey Road Super Deluxe Edition, released 27 September. Of COURSE I have to have this on the list! I’ll give you all a much more detailed response to the release once I finally get my copy (it’s in the mail at this time), but from what I’ve heard via streaming, Giles Martin has remixed it just enough to improve on what is already a fantastic album. The extras are also a hell of a lot of fun!

Start!

Eric Alper, one of the music writers I follow on Twitter, sometimes throws out Questions of the Day just for fun, to get a conversation going. A while back he asked “What song has the best intro?” And of course about twenty different tracks popped up, some more obvious than usual. Here are a few tracks that contain some of my favorite openings over the years. As you can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of the Slow Reveal. 🙂

Speaking of the 90s…

That decade definitely had its share of one-hit wonders and almost-hits, didn’t it? From a former record-store-clerk standpoint, there was definitely a HARD push to get everything and anything out there to cash in on The Latest Sound. This was pretty much across the board in multiple genres. I remember the weekly visits from the distribution reps as they upsold the big names as well as the copycats and the underdogs. Some of it worked, a lot of it didn’t. Sometimes the music just wasn’t as good, but sometimes it was just luck and timing.

Here’s some tunage from the 90s that I thought was well worth the attention but unfortunately didn’t get past the first few hurdles here in the US. I’m pretty sure many of you have never heard of these, or will spark that wonderful ‘oh, that song!’ memory.

Fly-by: Relaxing

Sorry for the fake-out there, kids…Outside Lands took a bit more out of me than I’d expected. Going to take it a little bit easy this week in an attempt to get back some of my energy.

Meanwhile, have a listen to a shoegaze deep cut that pops into my head now and again. Then listen to its ambient reworking by Global Communication.

I should do an overview of both bands. Chapterhouse was a fantastic Britpop/Shoegaze band that didn’t get nearly all the love it deserves. Global Communication on the other hand may be known more for their remix work and their solo outings under their own names (Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard), but their ’73:14′ album is an ambient masterpiece.

Synthpop Has Returned and I Am Here for It

I should have seen the signs when Davey and Jade from AFI decided to plug in their old-school synths and create Blaqk Audio and have a minor hit with “Stiff Kittens” back in 2007. It’s equal parts darkwave goth and emocore and it sounds like they’d been mainlining their 80s Belgian techno.

Considering I grew up listening to the original stuff on college radio back in the 80s and loved it, I of course gravitated to the new waves of New Wave each time they splashed ashore. They may not have been giant surges, but they always tended to stick around in one form or another.

For a while we saw a number of bands with a form a lazy dreampop like Small Black, or the splashy sound of Bear in Heaven, or the cinematic widescreen of M83:

(Mad props to them for channeling Akira in this particular video, by the way.)

We’ve also seen an uptick of the synth-duo band dynamic, such as Tanlines, MS MR, Bob Moses, and Public Service Broadcasting:

And of course there’s the one-man synth performer Robert DeLong who plays every instrument himself, often all at the same time, many of them consisting of kludged-together video game consoles and joysticks:

Synthpop seems to have finally gained more ground over the last year or so, as I’ve been seeing an uptick of records by performers and bands with a love for that classic 80s synth sound. Many of them are even channeling some of the more obscure goth and darkwave bands such as Xymox, Red Flag and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry such as Drab Majesty and Boy Harsher:

I’m drawn to this sound partly because of its spot-on retro inspiration, but also because it’s exactly the kind of stuff I’d listen to during my writing sessions. I’m about to create another playlist for Mendaihu Universe Book Four (Songs from the Eden Cycle Vol 6, if you’re playing along).

Some people may see this synth sound as sterile, or just another alt-rock hybrid, but I’m here for it regardless. It’s fun, it’s moody, and it’s creative. And I’ll be honest, I wish I had the money and technical mind to buy me one of those synths and record my own stuff. For now, though, I’ll stick with grooving along to these albums on my headphones at the gym or at my PC in Spare Oom, waiting for more.