Welcome back to my blog for yet another year, and thank you for continuing to drop by :). For my first post of the year, I traditionally like to look back at the releases I loved from the year before and share them with all of you. I've put together a playlist of my favourites that I truly hope you will love as much as I do.
I guess the best thing I can say about 2020 is: at least the music was good! Nobody escaped the unparalleled hardship that descended last year, but I think to survive, we've all had to find small things that bring sanity and happiness into our lives, wherever we can. For me that's often, first and foremost, music.
I've stated before that the basic mission of this blog is uncovering unusual pop, but another way I could put it is that I like to find beautiful pop. My idea of beauty might be a little more off-kilter than some, but I really love the sensory pleasure of rich, resonant textures and pleasing layers of sound. The pop part to me is a certain... liveliness. I always find this combination – beauty plus liveliness – so uplifting. I think the songs I've chosen for my 2020 playlist really represent that feeling, whether they are steeped in 80s-style synths or in the traditional music of Tanzania.
Below, you'll find a list of my top 30 albums of the year, with the first 10 albums being my top 10 picks. I chose a nice rounded (and not overwhelming) number for once, and though there were many wonderful releases I discovered, I tried to stick to things I've really gotten to know and love over the year. Following that is a list of my top 5 EPs and singles of the year. Keep scrolling to find the Spotify playlist featuring one song from each of these 35 releases (minus the unavailable ones) and its tracklist. You can also click the playlist pic at the top of the post to open the playlist on Spotify, or try the link below it for more listening options (with some limitations – details after the tracklist).
The list has 30 brilliant albums, a continued testimony to the creativity and talent that is out there, often undersung. It was a year of some amazing comebacks, including superb, long-awaited returns from two of my most cherished artists, Isobel Campbell and A Girl Called Eddy. But I have to give my album of the year to another noteworthy comeback: Annie's breathtaking Dark Hearts.
The latest album from Norway's Annie is her first full-length release in eleven years, but somehow feels like something we've been waiting for even longer. It's her finest work since her debut, 2004's seminal Anniemal, and seems like a spiritual successor to it. It feels like the promise of her uniquely beautiful 2004 single, the ethereal-but-upbeat Heartbeat, made into a full album. Dark Hearts often captures that same feeling of delicate melancholy combined with authentic optimism. It's pop that is affecting and comforting, and though it strays into newly dark territory for Annie, it's never too painfully heavy. Annie draws on influences of the past in a canny and personal way, but her sense of nostalgia is never cheesy or regretful; instead it's touching and evocative. This is a mature, fully-realised pop album from someone who earnestly honours moments from her youth, who has experienced the complexities of life, yet has never lost touch with the feelings from more innocent days.
These are in no particular order except that the first 10 are my top 10 albums (also unordered). Click the album name for a Bandcamp or other link to purchase.
- Annie - Dark Hearts
- Maude Audet - Tu ne mourras pas
- Isobel Campbell - There Is No Other
- Les Hay Babies - Boîte aux lettres
- Nina - Synthian
- Dana Gavanski - Yesterday Is Gone
- Liraz - Zan
- The Galaxy Electric - Tomorrow Was Better Yesterday
- A Girl Called Eddy - Been Around
- Juniore - Un, Deux, Trois
- Winter - Endless Space (Between You & I)
- Sven Wunder - Eastern Flowers
- Witch Prophet - DNA Activation
- Michelle Blades - Nombrar las cosas
- The Green Child - Shimmering Basset
- La Preyra - OR | OS
- Jonathan Personne - Disparitions
- Nicole Atkins - Italian Ice
- Habibi - Anywhere But Here
- Julien Gasc - L'Appel de la forêt
- Soleá Morente - Lo que te falta
- Jonathan Bree - After the Curtains Close
- Star Feminine Band - Star Feminine Band
- The Yearning - Only When I'm Dancing
- Angela Muñoz - Introspection
- Slowgold - Aska
- Siti Muharam - Siti of Unguja (Romance Revolution on Zanzibar)
- Jon Brooks - Applied Music: Land & Sea
- White Poppy - Paradise Gardens
- Khruangbin - Mordechai
EPs & Singles
To qualify for this list, a release needed to have more than one song. I've added a lot of my favourite single-song releases to the bonus list at the bottom of this post.
- Lake Ruth - Crying Everyone Else's Tears
- Gaye Su Akyol - Yort Savul: İSYAN MANİFESTOSU!
- Khruangbin & Leon Bridges - Texas Sun
- Garden Gate - Postcard
- Glüme - Come Softly To Me
And now, onto the playlist! There are many truly extraordinary songs here – I'd be surprised if you don't find some instant favourites :).
- Annie - The Streets Where I Belong
- Glüme - Come Softly To Me
- Nina - Automatic Call
- Liraz - Mastam
- Gaye Su Akyol - İsyan Manifestosu
- Sven Wunder - Lotus
- Les Hay Babies - Jacqueline
- Juniore - La vérité nue
- Jonathan Personne - Terre des hommes
- A Girl Called Eddy - Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart
- Khruangbin & Leon Bridges - Texas Sun
- Habibi - Stronghold
- Nicole Atkins - Forever
- The Green Child - Low Desk : High Shelf
- Dana Gavanski - Good Instead of Bad
- Maude Audet - Les gelées de novembre
- Slowgold - Aska
- Angela Muñoz - Can I Get Your Name
- The Yearning - Come To Me
- Julien Gasc - Maracabela
- Soleá Morente - Tutti Frutti
- Star Feminine Band - Rew Be Me
- Siti Muharam - Nyuki
- Khruangbin - Pelota
- Witch Prophet - Elsabet
- Jonathan Bree (feat. Crystal Choi) - 69
- Garden Gate - Thames
- Lake Ruth - Sad Song
- White Poppy - Memories
- The Galaxy Electric - Time Slipping
- Winter - Wherever You Are
- Isobel Campbell - Just for Today
- Michelle Blades - Globitos
Note that two of my top albums, from Jon Brooks and La Preyra, are not on Spotify, so are not in the playlist. My song picks for them are Geomere and Pastorel, respectively. I've also made an 8tracks playlist that does contain these songs, but blocks the beautiful Dana Gavanski song (and you may need to use a VPN to access 8tracks, depending where you are). Some further streaming options, if you don't like Spotify or 8tracks, can be found here (Deezer, Tidal, Youtube), but note they are missing more songs, and I had to substitute some on the Youtube version. Yep, this is the confusing and frustrating world of trying to post playlists using legal services!
As I've done in previous years, I've made a supplementary playlist of things that didn't make it onto my top lists. I like to make these outtake playlists because it helps with my indecision as I'm choosing my top releases, and because I discover a lot of great stuff I think is worth hearing. I also like to dip back into these playlists later to be reminded of things I heard during the year that I may otherwise forget about.
'2020: further explorations' comprises songs from my next favourite releases (sometimes painfully, barely cut from the top list!), songs I loved from albums that weren't overall favourites, singles that have no B-sides, and various other tracks that caught my ear. Many songs here are from excellent releases I just didn't get a chance to give enough time to.
This playlist is long – 97 tracks and over 6 hours of listening! – but it's different in intent to the 'best of' playlist. I hope you'll listen to that one, which is carefully curated, in full and in order. The 'further explorations' list is more something to dip in and out of, to get a sense of what else 2020 in music had to offer. Though I've tried to give it a certain flow to make for pleasant, continuous listening if you choose to play it through, you could also just hit shuffle to randomly discover a song or artist.
Finally, I want to thank those who led me to some of this amazing music: Rhid, SteveJ, Musicophilia (thanks for both the recommendations and your generous BLM initiative), Guuz, chickfactor, Calle, Brady, and Rockfort.
Happy listening, and I hope this music brings you some comfort and emotional sustenance in these times. Please let me know in the comments what music from last year lit your fire, especially anything that escaped my attention. And I always love to hear if you've discovered a new favourite from my selections!