This year has been one we’ll forever remember- as unfortunate as that may be.
But even through the constant battles, we still had a few things to look forward to, like great new music from a range of artists. I’ve put together my Top 10 songs of this year that helped me forget I was living in 2020, and to ensure that I would go into the new year semi-sane.
Let’s get started, shall we?
10. Foster The People- “Lamb’s Wool”
First off, as much as I enjoy any songs I uncover from Foster the People, I’ve not once gone out of my way to take notice of their music. But that all changed with their track “Lamb’s Wool,” with its hypnotic atmosphere falsely presenting itself as a Tame Impala song upon first listen. With the pulse of a buoyant piano, wavy synths, and frontman Mark Foster’s reverb-soaked voice singing a killer hook, this song oozes psychedelic energy, radiating a vibe that hits just right. It’s one of those songs that’s perfectly linked to a midnight drive in the summer, young and carefree. Though the lyrics alone give off staring-at-the-ceiling-contemplating-life vibes, FTP poetically accomplishes what this generation have become pros at: masking our trauma with a catchy refrain and a good time. And this year, that’s all you really can do, right?
Additional Recommendations: “Walk With A Big Stick”; “The Things We Do”; “It’s OK to be Human”
9. Taylor Swift- “No Body No Crime (Feat. Haim)
For the year Ms. Swift has had, you can’t blame me for including at least one of her songs off one of her two critically acclaimed indie, acoustic albums Folklore and Evermore. She is a Nashville star after all, and as someone who lost interest after she made the jump from country to pop, I can’t stress enough how much these new albums impressed me. “No Body No Crime” has specifically made an impact; I mean there’s nothing that screams Women Power like a country anthem about murdering a cheating ex. Top that off with a feature from the Grammy-nominated rock sister-trio Haim and you’ve got yourself a winner. The song marks the story of a woman named Este who confides in Swift about her suspicions of her husband’s infidelity, before mysteriously going missing. Believing that same husband to be responsible for Este’s disappearance, Swift goes on to plot her own type of revenge. Whatever your opinion of Swift may be, I heavily encourage you to put your prejudices aside, and listen to this song with an open mind. I guarantee you won’t be dissatisfied.
Add. Recs: “Exile” (Feat. Bon Iver); “Peace”; “Gold Rush”
8. Hayley Williams- “Simmer”
Oh look! Another Nashvillian who made it big! 2020 was the year of solo Hayley Williams that came with zero disappointments. She dropped her debut album, Petals For Armor, a vulnerable compilation of songs that dive into the depths of Williams’s personal struggles following Paramore’s 2017 record After Laughter. It’s a peculiar thing for a well-known artist to reintroduce themselves to the world, but Williams does so with courage and grace, leaving a lasting impression that doesn’t go unnoticed. “Simmer” was the album’s first single, and it’s probably the best song on it, as far as individuality goes. Full of quiet rage and a smoldering buzz, Williams lures us into her dark cavern of pulsating synths and groaning guitars igniting in faint wisps of fury. Throughout the track, we get an inside look into Williams’ attempt to prevent her anger from boiling over, a test on her self-control while struggling to contain her composure. It’s unexpected coming from the upbeat-pop project Paramore gifted us three years ago. There’s no more hiding. She has something to say, and she isn’t holding back.
Add. Recs: “Sudden Desire”; “Why We Ever”; “Pure Love”
7. Del Water Gap- “Ode To A Conversation Stuck in Your Throat”
Songwriter and producer S. Holden Jaffe currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, where he finds himself inspired by “romantic encounters and dimly lit rooms.” I first discovered Del Water Gap through actress Florence Pugh, who posted a video of herself dancing to the song on her Instagram Story. I don’t usually pay attention to the songs people post, but Pugh named it her favorite song of the summer, and it’s Florence Pugh so I felt I could trust her. The track recalls the yearning one develops to be the only one that gets to touch the person they want. It’s honest and authentic- a relatable story that many people could connect to. We all crave those we’ve convinced ourselves we can’t have, even the ones that are closest to us. Jaffe grasps this type of frustration so flawlessly that I couldn’t help but play the song non-stop once it graced my ears. Give it a listen, and then give it another…. And then another…
Add. Recs: “Mariposa”; “Theory of Emotion”; “New Song”
6. Curtis Waters ft. Harm Franklin- “Stunnin’”
North Carolina-based Nepalese-Canadian producer Abinav Bastakoti – aka Curtis Waters – had his first major breakthrough back in May, all thanks to the power of Tik Tok. The track reeled in tens of millions of plays within weeks after Waters posted a promotional video to the platform that went viral, and for good reason. A combination of a clear-cut beat, dreamy lo-fi elements and humorous lyrics secured this song’s success. Referring to it as “the most elaborate dick joke of all time” Waters boasts playful confidence in lyrics such as “Used to be a hot boy but I’m straight gorgeous now/If you wanna see me you gon’ have to book appointments now.” Waters later released his synth rap-pop album, Pity Party, that unveiled a greater insight into his musicianship and songwriting. Laced with evident potential, Waters defined an unforgettable summer.
Add. Recs: “System;” “Freckles”; “Blue Mountain Dew”
5. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges- “Texas Sun”
Classic soul icon Leon Bridges and minimalist instrumental trio Khruangbin teamed up to release a four-track EP, Texas Sun, that paid tribute to their home state. In an effort to redefine the perception of Texas music, the pair blended their roots of country, soul, and R&B to create the title track, seamlessly capturing the mood of cruising Texas highways and taking in the stunning sunsets. Fittingly, there wasn’t a single time I heard this song without being behind the wheel, playing on the radio whenever I was driving. There’s always a sense of deep calm that washes over me when I hear the initial strums of the guitar, and it continues to seep further and further as the track progresses. Even though this isn’t Bridges’s usual sound, he expertly pulls it off, his voice smooth, warm, and inviting. Worries disappear and are replaced with unconditional peace- the perfect getaway from a world full of unanswered concerns.
Add. Recs: “Midnight”; “C-Side”; “Conversion”
4. The 1975- “Guys”
Another significant album dropped this year was The 1975’s. The record in question, Notes On A Conditional Form, held a total of 22 songs, and it was their final track, “Guys” that struck the loudest chord in me. Frontman Matty Healy wrote it as a dedication to his bandmates based on his impression that there weren’t enough love songs about non-romantic relationships, especially between straight men and their friends. The band have been best friends since they were 13, and it only felt right for Healy to write a song about the people that truly gave him purpose. “Guys” shows us the sentimental beauty of growing up and figuring out life with your mates, and now more than ever, we can use the reminder to be grateful for the people that have stood by us through our best and worst days. Dripped in an indie haze, Healy delivers a precious ode to the ones that know you the most, singing, “You guys are the best thing that ever happened to me”
Add. Recs: “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”; “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”; “Nothing Revealed” / Everything Denied”
3. Sunflower Beam- “Moment in the Sun”
Sunflower Beam have been around for a little awhile (since 2013), but it wasn’t until this past Fall that I was finally introduced to this Brooklyn indie pop trio where I immediately fell into an enamored state due to their wildly fresh effervescence. Like “Texas Sun” and “Disco Man” (you’ll read about that one in a sec), this track is as free-spirited as it can get, merging a groovy-pop rhythm with airy synths that stimulate a hearty frame of mind. In a statement, Sunflower Beam described the song as “finally recognizing what is important in one’s life: the people you decide to spend it with,” forgoing the never-ending distractions of pursuing a career, finding financial success, and the insistent desire to be cool. This year has especially awakened us to what really matters – human connection – and that’s what Sunflower Beam praises in “Moment in the Sun.” Because what could be better than basking in the sunshine with somebody you love?
Add. Recs: “Come for Me”; “Twentytwo”; “King Of The Dudes”
2. Tame Impala- “It Might Be Time”
Remember back on Foster the People’s track how I said this generation loves disguising dark themes with animated compositions? Yeah, this is another one. “It Might Be Time”, the third single released from the kaleidoscopic world of The Slow Rush, is about the stream of doubts our minds often love to conjure up, leaving us in a state of unsettling paranoia about who we are and what we want to be. Kevin Parker, the heart, body, and mind behind the ever eclectic Tame Impala, decided to make punching distorted drums the forefront of this track, alongside the usual reverb swamped vocal and spacey synths. What we get is a sonic reflection so mesmerizing it almost makes you dizzy with it. If you haven’t treated yourself to this trance-inducing track, well… it might be time.
Add. Recs: “Is it True”; “Borderline”; “Lost in Yesterday”
1. Remi Wolf- “Disco Man”
Los Angeles native, Remi Wolf has established herself as a quirky, funk-pop treasure, who gladly invites you into her technicolor dreamland, rent-free. I came upon her while checking out a “New Music” playlist, and it was this very song that instantly got me hooked, addicted to it ever since. The record is one of five songs off her latest EP I’m Allergic To Dogs!, and it’s made up of a rather simple arrangement – basic beat with the summertime strum of a guitar. But the last minute of the song is where Wolf effortlessly shows off her vocal prowess, a “choir” of sorts continuously chanting “Ba Da, We on Fire” until the drums are left all together for the track to resolve in a powerful end that never fails to give me the ultimate serotonin boost. Some of the most legendary songs ever made were those that traded the deep and complicated with the fun and light-hearted. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather groove with a smile than cry with an ache. “Disco Man” embodies everything 2020 should’ve been, and for that, it’s my number one.
Add. Recs: “Hello Hello Hello”; “Photo ID”; “Monte Carlo”