Thursday, December 31, 2020

Top 50 Songs of 2020


Disclaimer: I am not a professional and while I do hope to hear every song at time of release, there are some older tracks in here as always. This is more like a list of the 50 songs I fell in love with this year. I try not to overdo it with too many songs by the same artists, but everything I loved is in the Spotify playlist regardless of how many times it's the same artist. I hope you enjoy and find something you love. 

The retrospective pieces are coming, of that there is no doubt. In these pieces I suspect even a comment like "Best of 2020" will be met with the usual off-hand qualifiers, as if there is an obligation to remind everyone around us that we know it was a Bad Year. Music, always the extension of feeling and emotion, has a part to play in 2020 as well. Music, which reminds us of good times and bad; places we love, miss, hate; the lows of loneliness and separation; the highs of togetherness and achievement. Rarely are they not accompanied by music. Like most of you, I assume, I have pressed through 2020 not with a singular feeling. I have no one adjective I can use. I have felt the sting of missing loved ones in my life, the empathy for those who have the ultimate price, the anger everyone has felt towards each other, the loss of my diversions and hobbies, and the cloud that hangs over the absence of harmony. I have felt the warmth of watching my son grow from the comfort of my work from home office, I have experienced one the best and most fulfilling work years of my life, and I have stayed healthy. 

And music? Music has been there too. Music can lift and it can help you wallow. I spent time considering what the Song of the Year and Album of the Year should be, treating my selection with far more importance than it really holds. I've read other pieces by better writers than I drawing parallels between their top choices and the year it gets to win. I could absolutely pick a song for sorrow, loneliness, escapism, anything really ("Chinese Satellite", song #3, fits that bill in ways). I pick this for another reason. Wading through the wreckage, Fleet Foxes offered hope. Hope like a sunrise kickstarting a new day. In fact, when Robin Pecknold released the album, he described his desired effect for this to be "a life preserver in this ocean of bad news". On Can I Believe You, as with the rest of the year's best album, there is a sense of moving forward in the face of doubt, getting better, anticipating what is next. "Now I'm learning the ropes/Never got this close." On Sunblind, which has been at the tip of my tongue for month, Pecknold finds himself enjoying his favorite music with his "dear friends", the same whom he aches for on a Sunday night in Maestranza. Darkness is not absent here, but it's also not permanent. 

Top 50 Songs of 2020

1. Fleet Foxes – “Can I Believe You”
2. James Blake – “Are You Even Real?”
3. Phoebe Bridgers – “Chinese Satellite”
4. Sufjan Stevens – “The Ascension”
5. The 1975 – “If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)”
6. Pearl Jam – “Seven O'Clock”
7. The Weeknd ft. Kenny G – “In Your Eyes - Remix”
8. Tame Impala – “Lost in Yesterday”
9. The Killers – “Caution”
10. Ray LaMontagne – “We'll Make it Through”

11. The Airborne Toxic Event - "All These Engagements"
12. Bootstraps - "Falling"
13. Caribou - "New Jade"
14. Vampire Weekend - "Harmony Hall"
15. Soccer Mommy - "Climbing Up the Walls"
16. Fleet Foxes - "Sunblind"
17. The 1975 - "Me & You Together Song"
18. Tame Impala - "Breathe Deeper"
19. Sufjan Stevens - "Tell Me You Love Me"

20. Miley Cyrus - "Midnight Sky"
21. The Strokes - "Eternal Summer"
22. Novo Amor - "If We're Being Honest"
23. Pearl Jam - "Retrograde"
24. Noah Gundersen & Soft Sleep - "Home"
25. Surfer Blood - "Summer Trope"
26. Grimes - "Delete Forever"
27. Christine and the Queens - "People, I've been sad"
28. Oneohtrix Point Never - "Long Road Home"
29. Niall Horan - "Arms of a Stranger"

30. Harry Styles - "Adore You"
31. Hot Mulligan - "*Equip Sunglasses*"
32. Taylor Swift ft. Bon Iver - "Exile"
33. Perfume Genius - "Whole Life"
34. The Shins - "The Great Divide"
35. Taylor Swift - "August"
36. The Naked and Famous - "Everybody Knows"
37. flora cash - "I Wasted You"
38. SAINt JHN & Imanbek - "Roses - Imanbek Remix"
39. Acceptance - "Son of the City"

40. Foster the People - "Lamb's Wool"
41. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness - "Slow Burn"
42. Phoebe Bridgers - "Graceland Too"
43. Ruen Brothers - "Break the Rules"
44. Bush - "Send in the Clowns"
45. Kid Cudi - "Solo Dolo, Pt. III"
46. Purity Ring - "stardew"
47. Great Grandpa - "Mono no Aware"
48. First Aid Kit - "Come Give Me Love"
49. The Killers - "My Own Soul's Warning"
50. William Fitzsimmons - "Light Years"

Top Five Albums of 2020
1. Fleet Foxes - "Shore"
2. Phoebe Bridgers - "Punisher"
3. Pearl Jam - "Retrograde"
4. Tame Impala - "Slow Rush"
5. Sufjan Stevens - "The Ascension"

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Top 50 Songs of 2019

Disclaimer: I am not a professional and while I do hope to hear every song at time of release, there are some older tracks in here as always. This is more like a list of the 50 songs I fell in love with this year. I try not to overdo it with too many songs by the same artists, but everything I loved is in the Spotify playlist regardless of how many times it's the same artist. I hope you enjoy and find something you love. 

1. Tame Impala – “Posthumous Forgiveness”

Strap in folks, this song will take you for a ride. Tame Impala, now well-established as one of the biggest acts in rock music, are readying their follow-up to their mega-hit album Currents, and if “Posthumous Forgiveness” is any indication, lead singer Kevin Parker is about to get a lot more personal. The song is a message delivered directly to Parker’s recently deceased and estranged father, dealing with his emergence from a child who still looked up to him to his eventual understanding of how selfish his father actually was in his abandonment (“Did you think I'd never know? Never wise up as I grow?”). The lyrics are cutting, reminiscent of the no-holds-barred anger in Death Cab for Cutie’s “Styrofoam Plates”. “And while you still had time, you had a chance/But you decided to take all your sorrys to the grave,” Parker sings. What separates “Posthumous Forgiveness” from a track like “Styrofoam Plates”, beyond the terrific music itself, is the woundedness and openness of part two, bereft of the anger this time. Parker longs for a father that would have seen and loved the crazy life he ended up living (“Or the time that I had/Mick Jagger on the phone/I thought of you when we spoke”). And of course, the song includes, as the title implies, a sequence of forgiveness after all. Yes, the song hits me close as a father of a young son, I do not deny that, knowing the responsibility I have to be the kind of father and influence I so strongly want to be. “Posthumous Forgiveness” is a stark reminder of what happens when that responsibility goes awry, the damage it can cause, and why I hope to spend every year on this Earth trying to be the best father I can be.

2. Local Natives – “When Am I Gonna Lose You”

Can things be good to be true? “When Am I Gonna Lose You” is a love song, in a way, it really is. But it’s about those early stages of love when you just can’t believe it can possibly last. I tried for years to get my eventual wife to notice me, love me. I remember those early years, that sense of self-doubt so embedded that it lingers, even when things are going unmistakably right. It’s a feeling and subject matter not often explored, an insight into anxiety and that feeling that this perfect thing, this wonderful person, cannot possibly love imperfect me.

3. William Fitzsimmons – “Angela”

If you’ve heard William Fitzsimmons before you’ll be familiar with the hushed vocals and emotion in the lyrics. What you’ve never heard before is music this layered, with the guitars underpinning the background reminiscent of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games”. This musical growth combined with what is undoubtedly a heartbreaking song about, well, heartbreak (“Sometimes at night I can still hear you laying beside him/Whispering about all the hurt that you’re leaving behind”) and the holes it leaves behind (“Sooner or later we end up as fragile compartments/Tired of carrying a soul that is so far from home/I never said I was scared of eventually dying/My only fear is I might have to do it alone”). 

4. Bon Iver – “Faith”

In a fine career with top flight albums and top flight songs, it means a lot to describe something as among Bon Iver’s very best. “Faith” is there, though. Unlike some of his recent work, these lyrics are more personal and direct. The song is, as the title implies, about faith. Ever-changing, transforming, difficult faith. I think of the challenges of growing older, losing that automatic faith instilled in you as a child (“It's not going the road I'd known as a child of God”, he sings), wondering how it becomes your own and struggling with knowing if you still have it when it just doesn’t feel the same. Countless songs have been written on this topic, but Vernon’s conclusion is different than some, especially his contemporaries in increasingly unchurched, faithless world. “And we have to know that faith declines…I'm not all out of mine” is one of the year’s most powerful lines.

5. Noah Gundersen – “Watermelon”

Noah Gundersen has been a revelation for me the last two years. His latest album, Lover, is his best yet. His ability to shift from personal and nostalgic to raucous and powerful is truly impressive. “Watermelon” is the former, a painfully introspective song that looks back at life’s ups and downs and looks forward to life’s next steps. 

6. Interpol – “Fine Mess”

7. Mick Flannery – “Fool”

8. The National – “Quiet Light”

9. Lana Del Rey – “The greatest”

10. Yola – “Faraway Look”

11. Novo Amor – “State Lines”
12. Bootstraps – “Replica”
13. Charlie Cunningham – “Minimum”
14. Jimmy Eat World – “555”
15. Bear’s Den – “Laurel Wreath”
16. The Hold Steady – “Traditional Village”
17. Harry Styles – “Lights Up”
18. Kishi Bashi – “Marigolds”
19. The Head and the Heart – “Running Through Hell”
20. The Violents – “Scene Unseen”

21. Lizzo – “Juice”
22. James Blake – “I’ll Come Too”
23. Billie Eilish – “bad guy”
24. Taylor Swift – “False God”
25. Biffy Clyro – “Tunnels and Trees”
26. Third Eye Blind – “Ways”
27. Tame Impala – “Borderline”
28. William Fitzsimmons – “In the Light (Alternate Version)
29. Local Natives – “Megaton Mile”

30. The National – “Oblivions”
31. Bootstraps – “Evergreen”
32. Noah Gundersen – “God Don’t Talk to Strangers”
33. Bon Iver – “Hey, Ma”
34. Foals – “Exits”
35. Panda Bear – “playing the long game”
36. Chvrches – “Death Stranding”
37. Coldplay – “Everyday Life”
38. Patrick Watson – “Here Comes the River”
39. Grimes & i_o – “Violence”

40. MØ ft. Foster the People – “Blur”
41. Jonas Brothers – “Sucker”
42. MISSIO – “I See You”
43. Weezer – “High As A Kite”
44. Blood Orange ft Toro y Moi – “Dark & Handsome”
45. Sufjan Stevens – “Love Yourself”
46. Francis and the Lights – “Take Me to the Light”
47. Liam Ghallagher – “Once”
48. Backstreet Boys – “Chances”
49. Caribou – “You and I”
50. Local Natives – “Café Amarillo”