2020 Musical Favorites
What a strange and horrible year. I don't need to remind anyone of the state of the world. Though this is my little corner of the internet, so I'll let you in on some of my own trials and tribulations, and the things that brought me succor.
I had two foot surgeries to try and fix my chronic planter fasciitis. One seems to have gone well, and that foot is finally showing some improvement through physical therapy and use. The other did not go as well, and has not fixed the issue. Physical therapy, steroid shots, and other treatments make little difference. What would help is losing weight. But there are few aerobic exercises besides swimming that don't impact the feet or my cartilage-free knees. Swimming, however, is unavailable to me because of the pandemic. Little Catch-22 here that's definitely been messing with my head.
2020 wasn't all frustration and exclamations and pain. I returned to playing Dungeons & Dragons for the first time in over 30 years, with a local group of young friends and a far-flung group of older buds. All thanks to Zoom. Like for many folks it's been my great connector in a year without contact.
I saw one show this year before it all shut down. A month or so after my first surgery I went with friends to the Ryman to see Opeth and Graveyard. My first Ryman show and it was a bunch of Swedish metal. Enjoyable, even if the crowd stood up instead of sitting in the pews, which meant I heard the show more than saw it as I was hobbling on a cane. Shortly after that, a tornado ripped through town taking the Basement East venue with it and bringing Covid in its wake. One of my friends contracted Covid at a tornado benefit show. Only the first to get it but as of my writing more than a dozen have experienced its wrath. No fatalities, thankfully, but several with long lingering effects.
I stepped away from the label I co-founded with Jeremy Hunt, Philip K. Discs. I'm immensely proud of the work we've done, but I couldn't continue in the way that I felt the label and the artists we work with deserved. Jeremy will continue down the path we started on together and I expect many great things to come.
As isolation grew my listening habits changed. I turned inward to familiar artists and albums instead of my usual relentless pursuit of the new. Long months accompanied by perennial favorites – Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy, Old 97s, The Replacements, The Beatles, Hawkwind, etc – with only sporadic forays into the present. I heard less new music in 2020 than any time in the last 25 years. Still, a number of records pulled me out of the past and lodged in my ears. What follows is those records.
Bad Moves - Untenable
Black Angel - Kiss Of Death
Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
Music that made me move and sing. All very different but united by the way they effected me. Bad Moves' catchy power-pop, Black Angel's big hooky goth, and Due Lipa's undeniable dance pop. Social music for an antisocial year.
BERU - Forgiveness Is Supernatural
Magik Markers - 2020
Model Home - One Year
The weirdos. BERU is a collage of dreams and nightmares. My friend Lars, who introduced me to BERU's work years ago, described the album as "Outer-space sadness warped through cinematic noise, ghost trap and soul-rattling drone doom". Magic Markers returned this year with a rock and roll record that's sweetly broken and charming and shaken. I'm so glad. Model Home is noise rap, with a perfect balance of flow and feedback and warped, broken rhymes and sounds.
Couch Slut - Take A Chance On Rock 'n' Roll
Gumming - Overripe
Sometimes yelling is caring. Especially when it's from artists operating at their peaks.
Chihei Hatakeyama - Crescent Moon
Clarice Jensen - The Experience of Repetition As Death
Mary Lattimore - Silver Ladders
Chrisitne Ott - Chimères (pour ondes Martenot)
Luke Schneider - Altar of Harmony
Mostly ambient and chill, these artists all focus on a single instrument with little to know other accompaniment. Hatekeyama's guitar, Jensen's cello, Lattimore's harp, Ott's ondes Martenot, and Schneider's pedal steel all hit similar places in my mind. Ambient but not always chill, virtuosic in control and intent, these artists let me relax in their presence. These are intimate records, rewarding attention while putting a shroud of sound between the listener and the unforgiving world.
Pinkish Black and Yells At Eels - Vanishing Light In The Tunnel Of Dreams
Crazy Doberman - Illusory Expansion
Maria Schneider Orchestra - Data Lords
[On Spotify but no other embeddable platforms. Look it up if you use Spotify]
What is jazz? Are any of these records jazz, or modern experimental composition, or somewhere in between? Don't know, don't care, genre is a crutch. Some are friends, some are strangers, all made me think about greater possibilities in music. Also, I want out send out my best wishes to Dennis Gonzalez of Yells at Eels. He's had a rough year and want to say Dennis, I hope you get well soon.
Bob Dylan - Rough And Rowdy Ways
Old 97's - Twelfth
75 Dollar Bill - Live At Cafe OTO
The Budos Band - Long In The Tooth
Old and not so old favorites, comfortable and comforting. The Budos Band's best record in a decade; ol' Bob's best record of original music in almost 20 years (I like Triplicate, the grand finale of the Sinatra recordings, more); Old 97's get back on track after perhaps their worst album in Graveyard Whistling; and 75 Dollar Bill, who releases a series of live recordings and outtakes and demos on Bandcamp, absolutely crushed me with this live set of material from my favorite album last year, I Was Real.
SIDE NOTE: I didn't include any records from close friends except for Pinkish Black and Yells at Eels; their excellent album was the exception because I wanted to share my get well message. I feel blessed that my friends include me in their music making process by sharing demos, asking for feedback, and making sure I hear the albums before their released. This year more than ever, my family of friends are deeply loved and appreciated. Thank you Aaron, Baxter, Ben H., Ben M., Chris, Cole, David, Jeremy, Jonathan, John, Luke, Micah, Noah and Zane. Much love.