Said the Gramophone - image by Ella Plevin
by Jeff

17th century drawing of the fortifications at Tangier

Taqbir - "Sma3" [bandcamp / vinyl]

The genius of punk is eternally on the move, a fugitive spirit inspiring the crabby, smart, and sensitive around the globe. My favourite new jam is by woman-fronted Moroccan Taqwacore crew Taqbir. Blasting out of Tangier, their four song EP is a furious gust of universal hardcore. A fluid phased-out bass drives the lead song "Sma3." Accompanied by gloriously distorted guitar and bouncy drums, it is as invigorating as an espresso shot after a night of restless sleep. The vocals are powerful, fresh, vital, and fueled by a surfeit of rage at hypocrisy and greed, made explicit by the Crass-level agitprop cover graphics. This crucial EP is another entry in the forever-expanding catalogue of brilliant punk from everywhere, an atlas of discontent and shredding. Maghrebi hardcore forever!

(image source)

by Jeff

A beagle sitting on a bed, partially covered by a blanket, looking tired

Bonnie "Prince" Billy - "Thick Air"[buy on bandcamp]

Until the beginning of June, Nova Scotia was under third-wave lockdown, and now we're in Phase 2 of reopening. It seems we're climbing out of the tunnel, or coming round the valley bend, or opening the shutters. I don't know, global pandemics seem to lend themselves so readily to metaphor, but in the moment none of them feel really right. Admittedly, that's pretty low on their list of negatives, but a good metaphor would have helped, as I surfed through all the different eras, all the new normals packed tightly into the last fifteen months.

The closest sonic analogue I found to the cramped feeling of second lockdown is this song from Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Cheeky clarinet, springy drums, and capacious upright bass provide a sure-footed backdrop to Bonnie's reassuring baritone. He acknowledges the "long, long time we've been shut darkly in, / Scratching for smiles, and missing our friends." But, he insists, it's almost over. And something great is coming.

In the quarter-century since I first encountered Will Oldham, the warbling kid cinematographer has been replaced by a bone-tired elder statesman, doggedly celebrating life despite all its losses and disappointments, encouraging us to look up and notice "the thick air of promise" surging by.

This song is a life-raft, a consolation. It has buoyed me countless times throughout the past uncertain months. It is the great covid song, even if it was released on 2019's I Made a Place. Most likely, it is about Oldham taking care of his parents at the end of their lives, but nothing else fits the static mood of covid year two, a time when the right metaphor has been so difficult to find.

--

It's summer now and I'm feeling Gramophone-y. I'll try to post here over the coming weeks. Hope everyone is holding on <3

by Sean

These are my 100 favourite songs of 2020: songs I love more than solitude, take-out and the immune-responses of bats.

What a hell year. What a nightmare. What an endless shit parade. 2020 was a fuckin Grand Canyon of Wretchedness and yet, and yet, it was also suffused with a sense of resilience: the sense of coming-through. We have lived inside an avalanche. We have sunk to the bottom of the sea. We have survived isolation and deprivation and loneliness and loss; we have ordered deliveries; we have strived; we have applied alcohol to our hands. We have come this far and promise me we will keep on going somehow, in kindness and in solidarity, with songs on our lips.

Said the Gramophone is an old blog and we publish rarely. Early in this year's pandemic, as monotony and worry unfurled, I began posting again. Then I stopped. I am OK, I'm writing, I'm caring for myself and everyone I can. But life got very small and it's going to stay small, I suspect, for a little while.

Except in music: in music, as in dream, there is no such thing as quarantine.

This here is the 16th list like this at Said the Gramophone: see 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.

The best way to browse the proceeding is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.

You can also download the complete 100 songs in three parts:

I have also created a Spotify playlist for these tunes. (Update: And Apple Music. Thanks Joey!) However, please pay for the music you enjoy. Giving money to Spotify is insufficient; Bandcamp is much better.

#

This list is the work of me, Sean, and not any of Said the Gramophone's other contributors. Don't blame them for my questionable taste.

If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, I hope you'll bookmark us or subscribe via RSS. You can also follow me on Twitter.

The WagersPlease read my books! I'm the author of two novels—Us Conductors, from 2014, which reimagines the story of the theremin, and The Wagers, a novel about luck, which was recently optioned by Hulu. The Globe & Mail called The Wagers "a literary fireworks display, an explosion of joke-filled energy that manages to be a novel of ideas, but one delivered as if it were a caper story." You can learn about both of these books (and get them in print/ebook/audiobook form) at my author website.

Among the 100 acts below, 39 are generally American, 27 are Canadian, 14 are British and there are five Nigerian, four South African, three Australian, two Norwegian, one German, one Tanzanian, one Argentinian, one Portuguese, one Danish and one Kiwi artist. 51 of the frontpeople/bandleaders are men, 48 are women, and at least one artist is non-binary. This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain't perfect. Here are some charts of this and past lists' demographics.

My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures.

My favourite albums of 2020 were:

  • Waxahatchee - St Cloud (listen);
  • The Microphones - Microphones in 2020 (listen);
  • This Is The Kit - Off Off On (listen);
  • Alabaster dePlume - To Cy and Lee Instrumentals Vol. 1 (listen);
  • Max de Wardener - Music for Detuned Pianos (listen);
  • Cleo Sol - Rose in the Dark (listen);
  • P'tit Belliveau - Greatest Hits Vol 1 (listen);
  • Jeff Parker & The New Breed - Suite For Max Brown (listen);
  • Crack Cloud - Pain Olympics (listen); and
  • Pa Salieu - Send Them to Coventry (listen).
I promise: all of these are fantastic.

Now, without any more rigamarole, lots of proudly mixed metaphors:

Said the Gramophone's Best Songs of 2020 - original image by Shanti Shea An
(original image by Shanti Shea An)

  1. Sault - "Wildfires" [buy]
    The central flaw—the only flaw?—of my favourite song of the year is that ends after 3 minutes and 27 seconds: that it does not last forever, an unbroken groove. "I will always care," intones the unnamed singer (understood to be the artist on this list's #5 track); the irony is that "Wildfires" is a song striving for an ending—to police violence, anti-Black racism. White supremacy seems able to survive anything, from war to protest to a worldwide pandemic. Yet the force of this track, the vow at its heart, is the promise of undoing. A dagger wrapped in velvet, a voice and a bassline, Cleo Sol's pledge that she "will always rise"—as all her numberless companions nod along.
  2. Waxahatchee - "Fire" [buy]
    From one fire to another, this one less rampant: the scorch of a river in sunset, a heart in revision. Katie Crutchfield's voice cuts through and crosses lines, vivid in ways other voices cannot be. And a groove that's so simple, just a couple of branches and a chemical reaction—watch it burst into flame. The part of this song that most gets me, the alchemy in it, is a moment around 2:14, when the drums and guitar Crutchfield's voice all seem to collide, overlapping, not quite in order, unfastening my locks like a skeleton key.
  3. Max de Wardener - "The Sky Has A Film" [buy]
    I don't know if you heard, but all this crazy shit happened this year. None of the old piano repertoire seemed sufficient—I didn't really turn to Bach or Brahms or Guèbrou. All that stuff made too much sense. Instead I listened to Kyle Gann and Max de Wardener: pieces ful of im/patience and stirring and wrong (right) notes, music like refracted light, or broken pixels, too long staring at the screen.
  4. Weather Station - "The Robber" [buy]
    The lead single from Tamara Lindeman's lustrous new album (full disclosure: i wrote the bio) is infused with a sinister, shadow-edged desire. There are shades of Talk Talk, and even Serge Gainsbourg, but Lindeman is as patient as a ruby, unburdened by the anxiety of influence. She sings in a slow, low vocal, aware of how easily her voice can hug the strings' or bassline's curve—aware of how little it takes to be tugged along, complicit, or how small a spark can catch on dry tinder and ignite.
  5. Cleo Sol - "Why Don't You" [buy]
    The year's best R&B album was by Cleo Sol, who records with the band Sault. (Judging from the name of that very secretive group, she was one of its founders.) Between Sault and her own debut, the London singer has released five albums since the beginning of 2019; an astonishing run, and while "Wildfires" was at 2020's summit, I found myself turning more often to her solo record. Rose in the Dark is tender and personal, aptly named—and "Why Don't You" shivers with feeling, a complicated feeling, closer to an Alice Munro short story than to an Usher ballad. Through strings and woodwinds, Sol narrates a relationship's worries and pitfalls, its risks and its fruit. "Remember on the weekend / I said I'd make some changes," she sings. "And you said you'd do the same thing." Plainspoken and faithful.
  6. Perfume Genius - "Describe" [buy]
    Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is like portal after portal—each song seems to contain sounds I've never heard, combinations I've never imagined, like a rewiring of human sensuality. "Describe" fizzes and reverberates like the Cocteau Twins in negative, those astral notes gone seismic and underground.
  7. Phoebe Bridgers - "Garden Song" [buy]
    The sadnesses of 2020 helped the world recognize Phoebe Bridgers—hailing her as one of the USA's great young songwriters. God knows I listened to a lot of Bridgers this year, although mostly from her last record, and I know I wasn't alone. People don't say enough about her qualities as a singer—a trusty plaintiveness that reminds me of Julie Doiron. No matter Bridgers' sorrows, no one could ever blow her away; she won't budge, she's not a pushover. She'll stand all day in the rain. And yet she imbues her voice with kindness, warmth—as if it'll all turn out OK, those wounds will heal, she'll text you on your birthday and maybe even call.
  8. This Is The Kit - "Started Again" [buy]
    Folk music that glitters like polished wood, aluminium foil, the inside of a hadron collider. "Camouflage yourself chameleon," Kate Stables sings, over iridescent horns and ticking guitars, part-Bedhead and part-Fotheringjay, before the song reaches a cliff's-edge and tumbles, head rolling over heels.
  9. Haim - "Don't Wanna" [buy]
    In a sense it's a song of forgiveness: someone's done wrong and she's willing to take them back. But it won't be easy. "I don't wanna give up on you," Danielle Haim admits. "I don't want to have to." This ain't an oath, it ain't even a pledge: it's an open window, that's all, on a brisk spring day.
  10. Mac Miller - "Circles" [buy]
    There is an unexpected flavour to Mac Miller's final album, released a little over a year after his accidental overdose death. Jon Brion—who had been working with the rapper—completed it posthumously, and the producer's fingerprints are all over the songs: Circles sounds as much like Aimee Mann's Bachelor No. 2 or Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine (both of which Brion produced) as it does Miller's prior work. Apparently these were Miller's wishes—that his sixth LP feel more Gen X than Gen Y—and to be honest, particularly in this elegiac light, it mostly works. For me, the title track is the clear standout: pensive and hopeful, the dryness of Miller's voice counterbalancing the sweetness of Brion's arrangement.
  11. Buddy Ross ft. Gabriel Delicious - "Bored Again!" [buy]
    An exultant, elastic pop song from Frank Ocean's longtime keyboardist—"Bored Again" bounces and bounces and eventually hits a chrome set of (mono)rails, powered by saxophone, moxie and additional vocals by Bon Iver.
  12. Beyoncé - "Black Parade" [buy]
    Beyoncé as orchestrator extraordinaire, marshalling brass band and gospel choir and a Timbaland-worthy beat (she and Derek Dixie are credited as producers). What I most admire here isn't the tapestry of the arrangement nor the exactitude of Beyoncé's raps—it isn't even the lilting heights of the melody: it's the play Beyoncé wove through "Black Parade," all the games and rhymes and diversions twisted through the tune.
  13. DJ Stokie ft. Loxion Deep & Kabza De Small) - "Senorita" [buy]
    Amapiano from South Africa, released at the very end of 2019. Beautifully arrayed with flute and percussion, with a gleaming house-music heart: and yet wound tight, taut throughout, the pleasures doled out with precision.
  14. Marie Pierre Arthur - "Dans tes rêves" [buy]
    I love this weird, cracked pop song. Like a bashed-up tape by an 80s chansonnière, its magnetic band semi-disintegrated. I first heard it on the radio last winter and I felt like I was having a seizure, the most petit of mals—the universe folding and unfolding, winking at us through the sky.
  15. Anderson .Paak - "Lockdown" [video]
    COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests have finally produced the kind of political music we've been promised since the 2016 US election—not just timely but frequently excellent, and gratefully received not because I Like Being Entertained (although I do) but because it's a fucking relief, maybe even a respite, to receive a song that can answer the call of the moment. It's a way for one's heart to be kept company. .Paak is dry-eyed here but his rhymes are supple, with stings hidden in their tails, and the whole song feels like work, good work, when it's getting done: check, yup, no problem—what's next?
  16. Good Sad Happy Bad - "Shades" [buy]
    What begins as a mournful dose of ambient noise emerges unexpectedly into a nearly conventional midtempo rock song. I say nearly because Good Sad Happy Bad are the newly rechristened Micachu & the Shapes—one of the most inventive bands in all of indie rock. While there's something of the Velvet Underground or Squeeze to "Shades," that would only be true if Squeeze were melting wax figures, if Velvet Underground were being reconstituted from their elemental particles. Jaunty at moments, even supersonic, there are other times when this song feels just a few degrees shy of falling apart.
  17. Antoine Corriveau - "Les sangs mélangés" [buy]
    Inspired by a text by novelist Éric Plamondon, and featuring a breathtaking English-language verse by Erika Angell, "Les sangs mélangés" feels like the closing credits of a latter-day David Lynch movie. Sinister and dreamlike, but Corriveau's fixed his gimlet eye on something literally close to him: the fucked-up relationship between Settlers and Indigenous people. "En Amérique," he sings, "On a tous du sang indien / Si c'est pas dans les veines / c'est sur les mains": "In America, we all have Indian blood; if it isn't in our veins, it's on our hands." And then as the groove staggers on, noise rolling, Angell's blazing lines—a performance that had me literally scrabbling for the liner notes, imagining it might be a rejuvenated Mary Margaret O'Hara.
  18. Charli XCX - "Enemy" [buy]
    Charli XCX's full-length How I'm Feeling Now, recorded during lockdown, was one of the few COVID albums to truly capture the feelings—the tedium and the malaise—of those earliest pandemic days. Sure, most of us are still feeling tedium and/or malaise: but there was a particular blue-black colour to March, April and May, and that hex-code is smeared across "Enemy": a bloom of sickness despite its synthpop swoon, the certainty that Something'Is Wrong.
  19. Future Islands - "Thrill" [buy]
    A ballad as slow as spring thaw. Samuel Herring sings a rueful love-song to himself, a prayer or a promise, an affirmation, his rough voice making way for the majesty of "Thrill"'s chords.
  20. Against All Logic - "If Loving You Is Wrong" [buy]
    Nicolas Jaar's music takes so many shapes—supple electronica, crushing techno, soundtracks for extra-terrestrial love stories and minerals. "If Loving You Is Wrong," released under his Against All Logic moniker, feels threaded somewhere in-between: intimate and human yet intermittently mechanized, violent even, a life that has come of age under capitalism.
  21. Mr Eazi ft King Promise - "Baby I'm Jealous" [buy]
    Nigeria's Mr Eazi writes his own "Jealous Guy": solicitous, caressing, much more sweet than bitter-.
  22. Jason Molina - "Old Worry" [buy]
    From Molina's posthumous album Eight Gates, recorded in London more than a decade ago and released earlier this summer, "Old Worry" is scarcely there—just two minutes of guitar, viola, organ and a gunshot-like drum/guitar effect. But Molina's voice is as luminous as ever, a magnolia in the night, and his lyricism is at its height: there's no other songwriter whose words feel so easily, instantly eternal.
  23. P'tit Belliveau - "Les bateaux dans la baie" [buy]
    God I love this record from this winking Acadian ne'er-do-well—whose music gambols and lurches like a mixture of Mac DeMarco, Beck and the McGarrigle Sisters. It's a twanging, cheerful, synthy lo-fi folk: weird and brilliant and utterly itself.
  24. Crack Cloud - "Something's Gotta Give" [buy]
    One of the year's most beguiling debuts was Pain Olympics, from the Vancouver-based collective Crack Cloud. Contemporary post-punk that seems so adamant, that seems to know itself so well, that you can imagine the record trembling on the turntable. "Something's Gotta Give" feels at once tender and combustible—bowed strings and cooed whispers wrapped like a garotte around Iggy Pop's neck.
  25. Camille Delean - "Idle Fever Out Of Tune" [buy]
    The Roches' "Hammond Song" is sour and perfect; this tune's sweet and burled. But both seem to extend toward a similar sky—endless and monochromatic, rippling with everything you long for or regret. An absolutely stunning tune from one of Montreal's most intriguing songwriters. "Threat of fire in a spark / Threat of dawn in the dark / Threat of fever in every room." (And whether deliberate or not, there's some of thee mightee "Safe Inside the Day" to it, too.)
  26. Prince Kaybee ft. Black Motion, Shimza, Ami Faku - "Uwrongo" [stream]
    More South African afro-house, throbbing under the ripple of Ami Faku's voice and a simple, particular guitar figure. (Here's Prince Kaybee's investment advice.)
  27. Gillian Welch - "Picasso" [buy]
    Gillian Welch's amazing Lost Songs sets—three discs of unreleased home recordings laid down to meet a publishing deadline—are full of treasures. Foremost among them is this, a simple tune of guitars + harmonica + two unhurried singers—and an utterly remarkable lyric, celebrating and bemoaning the power of art. Forget Dylan, frankly—those words! She makes it sound so easy.
  28. Pa Salieu ft Mahalia - "Energy" [buy]
    The English MC Pa Salieu is among my very favourite new rappers—a guy whom I would listen to reciting the phone book, although there are no phone books, so instead perhaps the daily COVID statistics or, much preferably, this lovely tune with Mahalia, by far the warmest moment on Send Them To Coventry, which I like to imagine as a very hard man's endorsement of self-care.
  29. Sam Lynch - "Keeping Time" [buy]
    I love the way this song unveils itself: restful, patient, like a box full of objects examined one by one. By the end you're crying, I'm crying, everyone's crying, as drums & strings & Sam Lynch's voice all do their good work. Startlingly great music by a singer-songwriter from BC.
  30. Alabaster dePlume - "Not My Ask" [buy]
    One of my very favourite albums of the year was an oddity by a London musician for whom instrumental jazz is not standard fare. Yet To Cy & Lee is a quiet marvel: miniatures with just enough scrape and skronk, just enough din, to keep away the maudlin. This is work that does for me what Satie does, at times, or Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou: calms the body, paints pictures in the air.
  31. The 1975 - "The Birthday Party" [buy]
    Although Notes on a Conditional Form was a disappointment, the 1975 are still for my money the most interesting big commercial rock band in the world. My favourite tune on the record was this—a kindly, dopey ballad, nostalgic and confessional, like if Knausgaard wrote a song for Lorde.
  32. Lido Pimienta - "Te Queria" [buy]
    It's the steel drums that get me on this one, or the joyous crossfire in the song's second half, basking in the ease of Polaris Prize-winning!, Grammy-nominated! Lido Pimienta.
  33. The Strokes - "The Adults are Talking" [buy]
    It was a great and abiding reassurance in 2020 to find that the Strokes still got exactly the same and undeviating it.
  34. Omah Lay - "Lo Lo" [buy]
    The sun-kissed ease of "Lo Lo," the loll of it, makes it seem like a time-traveler: a song not born of this year. Maybe Omah Lay's been sitting on it—waiting until it was needed.
  35. Yves Jarvis - "Semula" [buy]
    I feel like Yves Jarvis makes folk songs, or bedroom pop songs, and then gradually takes away the components. Like a game of new age Jenga: block after block after block and yet still somehow standing at the end, those little pieces of wood, gleaming in the sun.
  36. Coriky - "Clean Kill" [buy]
    I have a deep soft spot for Ian MacKaye's sweet & stubborn post-Fugazi projects, like The Evens and now Coriky. This is punk rock turned down from 11 or 3, its emotions written not in sweat + tears but pencil-scratch + breath.
  37. Land of Talk - "Diaphonous" [buy]
    I adore the cascading, fragmented grace of this song—like a wish reassembled from its fragments, memory + vision + brass + voice + electric guitar.
  38. Austra - "Risk It" [buy]
    It's been a long time since Katie Stelmanis was primarily known for her gigantic pipe-organ of a voice. With Austra, the singer's lungs became less central to her work: theirs is a music of interplay, voice/electronics, timbre/harmony, instead of pure volleying wow. I'm not sure that this has ever been clearer for me than on "Risk It"—as drum'n'bass skitters, synth-horns blurt, and Stelmanis hangs her hook on a squidged up, silken chipmunk squeak.
  39. Bad Bunny ft Sech - "Ignorantes" [buy]
    Today I played with my son in the living-room, a game of pigs and yeti, scampering over mountaintops, and as I did so I listened to Bad Bunny, because I have taken to listening to new music while we play, these days, because I can't listen to music the ways I normally do. ... At a certain point I was listening to "Ignorantes" for the fifth time in a row, like a tonic, like drinking a healthful tonic, another dose of quinine and orange juice.
  40. Plants and Animals - "Love That Boy" [buy]
    Plants and Animals play a song of peace and love but you can still hear it—the fraying nerves, the strain, everything that nags at the edges.
  41. Dagny - "Somebody" [buy]
    Dagny made what was arguably the year's best straight pop record—skittering Scandinavian synths with great drums and soaring, silver-sewn melodies. Cut from the same cloth as Robyn's Body Talk era but boy could you do worse.
  42. Braids - "Here 4 U" [buy]
    A song of bright synthpop colour, high blue sweetness and grave gold feeling, but Raphaelle Standell-Preston sings as if she's undecorated, nude: the woman at the heart of the vortex, standing before a plate of clear glass.
  43. Gil Scott-Heron and Makaya McCraven - "Me and the Devil" [buy]
    Chicago jazz man Makaya McCraven is the second artist in the past decade to release an entire record of Gil Scott-Heron remixes—a fact that speaks as much to the singer's estate as it does to his lasting influence. But whereas Jamie XX transformed Scott-Heron's final LP into a work of chill and echo, like an after-hours club, McCraven reasserts the album's downtown tumult: he makes a song like "Me and the Devil" feel pinned to the city, inseparable from it, as if its groove and brio are pouring through the streets. (While we're on the topic, McCraven's 2018 double-LP, Universal Beings, is unquestionably among my favourite jazz releases of the decade.)
  44. Astrid S - "It's Ok If You Forget Me" [buy]
    This is my list and I can include whatever I want, including a fluffy acoustic ballad from a 24-year-old Norwegian pop-star. I'm bewitched by the chorus—it's absolutely straight-ahead, even rote, but there's this slant to Astrid's singing, five degrees of flaw, which allow it to slip like an arrow through all my armour.
  45. Caribou - "Sunny's Time" [buy]
    A wriggling piano and a burnt-chesnut voice, but also that drooping sax, those levitating synths, and above all Dan Snaith's hand upon his mouse, snip/cut/crop, manipulating the tape like Glenn Gould in deepest studio, scissors in his hand.
  46. Fontaines D.C. - "Televised Mind" [buy]
    Everything's fine.
  47. Kurt Vile and John Prine - "How Lucky" [buy]
    In a year that ripped John Prine away from us, at least we have this: he and Kurt Vile singing an old song about fortune and contentedness.
  48. Owen Pallett - "A Bloody Morning" [buy]
    A literal song of shipwreck: a man named Lewis, drunken at the tiller, til the schooner hits a reef. But Owen takes us past the cataclysm into the bloody morning after—and all its sun-traced forgiveness. / A chiaroscuro of orchestral rock—gasping and seething, sumptuously arranged, with a near perfect video and a thousand tiny details. (I live for the pleading whistle at 4:00.)
  49. Tierra Whack - "Feel Good" [video]
    One minute and twenty five seconds wherein the visionary rapper Tierra Whack feels really bummed out.
  50. Fiona Apple - "Heavy Balloon" [buy]
    Apple's been holed up with her dogs, her diaries, and (in my imagination) the first Tune-Yards album. "Heavy Balloon"—and all of Fetch the Bolt Cutters—creeps and thrashes, teased on by all of Apple's crashing and the ferrous force of her voice.

  51. Shabason, Krgovich & Harris - "Open Beauty" [buy]
    You know the controls on photo software—exposure, saturation, hue? Or on recording apps—volume, gain? Imagine being able to twist each of those knobs to skew the life before you—the daylight, the evening, dream. Nick Krgovich sings in a murmur over warble and hoot; a keyboard sings a circle; a piano promises that when the ending comes it will be gentle.
  52. Adrianne Lenker - "Anything" [buy]
    Even unaccompanied, the Big Thief frontwoman is unafraid of the smallness of her voice: she lets it be as it is, strident and mouselike, sharing hopes and worries, murmuring wishes; a girl casting stones at a window.
  53. Bob Dylan - "I Contain Multitudes" [buy]
    The $300 Million Man obviously knows how to turn a phrase: but I found myself deeply charmed by "Multitudes," the way he rhymes nudes, dudes and preludes, that deadbeat grin at the end of his lips.
  54. Still House Plants - "Shy Song" [buy]
    A song that literally sounds like two songs playing at once, and indeed probably is—but the two-songs are in conversation, affinity, shining back and forth like worn-out semaphore. A band that's aptly named, with music that seems to operate along invisible lines, impossible paths.
  55. Dirty Projectors - "No Studying" [buy]
    Dirty Projectors have spent the year(s ?) releasing experiments, and this is my favourite among them: a track that brings together one part chugging garburator guitar and another part wistful acoustic sing-song. It's as if Wes Anderson were to collaborate on a project with Animal, each of them tugging for the camera.
  56. Maeta ft Buddy & Kaytranada - "Teen Scene" [buy]
    Sultry, woozy, cherry-red: imperturbable R&B over a deliciously off-centre Kaytranada beat.
  57. Marlaena Moore - "I Miss You" [buy]
    A whistling, clattering wanting—high-flying rock'n'roll produced by Chad VanGaalen.
  58. Ball Park Music - "Cherub" [buy]
    There's a little of The Shins to this tender, tart guitar ballad—that is until the ending, when the Australian musicians furrow their brows and step on their pedals and blow out all the windows for miles. (Thank you, Vinny—more of his picks here.)
  59. Sylvan Esso - "Rooftop Dancing" [buy]
    A private dance, perhaps; as gusts of sounds flutter through, scraps of whim.
  60. Madeline Kenney - "Cut the Real" [buy]
    If "Cut the Real" hadn't been recorded before 2020 it would have had to be invented: a slowly pulsing song of "bright light ... [and] mess," of quarantining with the dull voice inside your head. Kenney has a beautiful way of making an incoherent world feel more coherent, as if the fractures are part of the design.
  61. Thanya Iyer - "Always, Be Together" [buy]
    Iyer has been making music for years in Montreal, tapping a rich vein between deconstructed folk and naturalistic R&B. Her latest album, Kind, is a triumph and a culmination—it feels less like a piece of music and more like a home I want to live inside. "Always, Be Together" rustles and creaks, thrums, echoes; it's filled with solace, love and sunlight.
  62. Kathleen Edwards - "Fools Ride" [buy]
    The song's called "Fools Ride." A present-tense sentence, but the tune's about being caught out, tricked: taken for a fool's ride, possessive form. Edwards with a tale of blind love and shady business—a "red flag flying in the shit parade / a warning sign that I ignored"—yet the song gains its texture from her' choice to share the blame. Fuck this guy, this unkind swindler, but she never lets herself off the hook. The villain's gone now: the protagonist is her.
  63. ShooterGang Kony - "Jungle" [video]
    Over a flinching beat—is that Tracy Chapman? or just some synth-squirt?—Sacramento's Kony makes a case for his authority. He menaces his enemies and congratulates himself, willing always to make a joke at his own expense: "Had to earn my stripes, bitch / I'm a tube sock."
  64. James Blake - "Summer of Now" [buy]
    As someone who prefers Blake's early electronic work to his latterday ballads, I love the way "Summer of Now" gathers force: splintering from a man and his memories to something less steady, more subdivided. The present is the sum of forgiveness plus regret; we're right to fear the calculation.
  65. TOPS - "I Feel Alive" [buy]
    Title track from the Montreal band's new one—a sunny guitar-swept song whose serenity is almost, almost, almost, almost, almost convincing.
  66. Burna Boy ft Naughty By Nature - "Naughty By Nature" [buy]
    Yes, it's that Naughty By Nature, invited back by Nigerian superhero Burna Boy—for whom NbN were an early influence, a polestar. Now he gets to return the favour, letting Vin Rock and Treach cast their smiling lines over a radiant, afrobeat production.
  67. Widowspeak - "The Good Ones" [buy]
    There are those old stories of the Evil Eye—that all it takes for a curse is a compliment. I can't tell if this dark, dusty tune is a blessing or a hex, a malediction cooed through thin lips.
  68. Kiesza - "When Boys Cry" [buy]
    A lean little tune for dancing to—fingersnaps and plainsong, the nervy pleasure one-and-a-half note guitar-line.
  69. Tropical Fuck Storm - "Legal Ghost" [buy]
    Bristling, sidling slacker rock that treats its chorus as a queue: time to get your shit together, put your house in order, haunt a better town.
  70. Jennifer Castle - "Broken Hearted" [buy]
    Monarch Season's coda feels like such a gift: something placed tenderly in your hands, without any need for thanks. Just Castle's windy voice, her little guitar. A song of moonbeams coming through.
  71. Loma - "Breaking Waves Like A Stone" [buy]
    The outstanding and underrated Loma make music in the tradition of Spirit of Eden and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: fathom-deep songs in tiny reflecting pools, all echo and evocation. With piano, woodwinds and percussion, "Breaking Waves Like A Stone" shines under Emily Cross's voice, a lustre that shrugs off any shadow.
  72. Jeff Rosenstock - "NO DREAM" [buy]
    A song of the "great" American dream—in the Ta-Nehisi Coates sense, the one the USA needs to wake the fuck up from—and Rosenstock does his best to make that clamour, to raise that alarm, to rouse the sleepers with shout and crash and even a slice of straight punk hardcore. He's furious and impatient and kind and hopeful and fuckin' right as rain. (Thank you Jeff.)
  73. Marika Hackman - "Playground Love" [buy]
    I love Marika Hackman's sleepy Covers record, but I was surprised to find my personal highlight wasn't either of the Grimes or Sharon Van Etten tunes, or even "Between the Bars": it was this, a drowsy reimagining of Air's ubiquitous 2000 hit. Hackman's "Playground Love" would have never fit on The Virgin Suicides: it's too sultry, too embodied, a reminder that love is sometimes thick and sticky, not thin as wine.
  74. Nap Eyes - "Fool Thinking Ways" [buy]
    One of my favourite bands invites us on a trip to epiphany. While the verses feel dreary, like clouds are collecting above your head, each chorus is like a sunburst: bright, unmistakeable, like May in England (or maybe, in Nap Eyes' case, Halifax).
  75. Frances Quinlan - "Your Reply" [buy]
    Pure and ringing clamour from Hop Along's Frances Quinlan, whose debut solo album soundtracked much of my February, before the curtain fell. When it comes to this song I am admittedly biased: it is rare, as a novelist, to hear a song about reading a novel, but that is where "Your Reply" begins: marginalia, and a paragraph about a dead horse. Within moments, Quinlan is singing the word "website" with the genius and patience of somebody who has been doing this long enough to know all the rules and how to break them—who can sing whatever the fuck she wants, sing whatever the fuck into being, pow, zip, like a sorceress in black jeans.
  76. Agnes Obel - "Island of Doom" [buy]
    Just a light little number about watching a loved one get lowered into the ground. The Danish songwriter knows how to use her most trusted tools—glacial arrangements of piano, synths and strings; her monumental voice—but she has other tricks too: an eerie chorus effect she applies to the latter, and also a satinnier register, smooth and almost droll, that reminds me of Roy Orbison.
  77. Nas - "The Cure" [buy]
    Not sure who Nas is rapping to, here—himself, I guess, but I like to imagine it as something he texts to any other hip-hop luminary who occasionally express ennui. "The markets see you as a old-ass artist ... They just want you to switch your lanes up / so they can hate on your ass." Whenever Jay or Tip put this on, its regal trudge bluetoothing to their airpods, I hope they'll be as struck as me: by this legend's craft, his unflagging brio.
  78. Yumi Zouma - "Lie Like You Want Me Back (alternate version)" [buy]
    With this version of "Lie Like You Want Me Back," Yumi Zouma's shimmering tune gets pleasantly discombobulated: a crisscross of voices, just a dash of vinegar, in what is otherwise too sweet.
  79. Mthandazo Gatya ft. DJ Manzo SA, Comado - "Senzeni" [buy]
    There's a lot of what's called afro-house on this list, especially the South African sub-genre amapiano. This surprises me—I'm not someone who listens to much house music generally—and it speaks perhaps to this year's trouble (and its remedies). But it also comes down to the breadth and depth of this genre: a huge community of producers, beatmakers, musicians and singers who seem to take every single track as a challenge to somehow make something even prettier. My affection for the genre was carried in on the back of Sun-El Musician's (brilliant) "Akanamali," in 2017, but at this point Sun-El's just one more DJ in a "gauzy beauty" arms race, and here's the producer Mthandazo Gatya with yet another salvo: "Senzeni"'s weightless, light as air, and still it keeps its shape.
  80. Jazmine Sullivan - "Lost One" [stream]
    Five years after her last solo album, Sullivan returns with a quivering, lonely tune. It's a song full of failure, built atop a simple guitar loop, but Sullivan answers and confronts and calls out to herself throughout—as if she's finally found a way to bring herself the antidote.
  81. Muzz - "Bad Feeling" [buy]
    A song that bides is time, sitting in its stew, 'til the glory of the closing seconds, when finally the fanfare breaks through.
  82. Lina_Raül Refree - "A Mulher que já foi tua" [buy]
    From Portugal, Lina's unadorned fado music and Raül Refree's simple, consummate reconfiguration. I understand it to be true that if you stand on your tip-toes all day, your highest tip-toes, then tomorrow you will be taller. And if tomorrow you stand on your tip-toes, your highest tip-toes, then you will be even taller the next day. ... I understand it to be true that if you are safe today, all day, then tomorrow we will be safer. And if tomorrow you remain safe, then the next day safer, and the next and the next, on and on, until the day when it is impossible for any of us to be safer. We will be as safe as we can be.
  83. Taylor Swift - "marjorie" [buy]
    With a relentless forward movement, a tick like telephone poles through a traincar window, my favourite of Taylor Swift's occasionally glutinous 2020 material is this beautiful ode to her late grandmother. Nimble, confident and deeply felt.
  84. Roki Fernandez - "Nuevo Amor" [buy]
    A Spanish synth cover of David Bowie's "Modern Love"—shiny as a soap-bubble, ready to pop.
  85. The Killers - "Caution" [buy]
    With the Killers, in general, I just can't help it. It's their coyote grins, and gallop.
  86. Baba Levo ft Rayvanny - "Ngongingo" [video]
    The Swahili-English dictionary doesn't have a translation of "ngongingo," but says "ngongongo" means either "on purpose" on "freight train." Elsewhere, a relatively unreliable translation proposes "You're not alone." Listening to this magnificent, thudding tune, any of these will do—that is, as a song of reassurance or intention or barrelling high-speed transport. Baba Levo and Rayvanny's voices both seem almost fluorescent, cutting right through everything: and the everything is irrepressible, on the move, marching like a legion wherever the hell it wants.
  87. Angie McMahon ft Leif Vollebekk - "If You Call" [buy]
    One of my favourite Montreal artists joins Australian songwriter Angie McMahon for an iceflow-slow rendition of her tune "If You Call." It's a song about the afterwards of a relationship, or an afterwards, a time that tends to feel either worthless or sacred. McMahon reaches there with her voice—and there's the wurlitzer wishing too, and a little bit of whistling—as the darkness hunkers down. (Thank you, Arnulf.)
  88. Helena Deland - "Comfort, Edge" [buy]
    "You'll never make a fool of me," sings the Montreal songwriter, but it's never quite clear to me if this to the person she's wishing for or to the one she'd never choose. "Give me comfort, give me edge," she asks over studded organ and electric guitar. We all know she can't have both.
  89. Olamide ft Omah Lay - "Infinity" [buy]
    A song whose spirit is not that unlike the other Omah Lay appearance on this list (at #34): free-moving, weightless. But whereas "Lo Lo" seemed sunlit, "Infinity" is all starlight: darker, gentler, a milder reassurance.
  90. Baby Keem - "hooligan" [stream]
    "Hooligan" is darkly catchy, rooted in a sped-up piano round and an infrequent whistle hook. At certain times playful, at others times dour—and in equal parts proud and self-hating—the erratic Baby Keem is never more fascinating than when he's sullenly blurting the chorus, "Fa-fa-fa, fa-fa-fa."
  91. Lomelda - "Hannah Sun" [buy]
    Lomelda's own name is Hannah and here she's thanking and searching and shining, sun-like, over shuffle and strum, a small and kind and faithful demonstration of what a hope is worth.
  92. Keleketla! - "Shepherd Song" [buy]
    It's with the bass that this song gets me—a tumbling Western/African collaboration overseen by Coldcut and featuring artists such as Afla Sackey, Antibalas, Gally Ngoveni, Nono Nkoane, Sibusile Xaba, Thabang Tabane & no less than the great Tony Allen. The bassline isn't always there, hiding for a time under rattle and folksong and rubbery synth stabs, but my ear longs for it, goes searching, for the gentle-hearted languor at the centre of the day. (Thank you Jeff.)
  93. Jon McKiel - "Deeper Shade" [buy]
    Hop on board the loop, ride it to the terminus. Jon McKiel has a flair that reminds me of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, but Owen Ashworth would have never allowed this track's closing acoustic guitar section—glittering and wishful, unsentimental, the promise of a happy ending just around the bend. A lo-fi love-song that doesn't show its hand.
  94. Masha Qrella - "Geister" [buy]
    This is, Arnulf tells me (thanks, Arnulf!), of the German musical genre known as "Spröder Pop." Spröde meaning brittle, like a clean sheet of ice or my nerves in November. Masha Qrella has been at this forever—Jordan first wrote about her here in 2004. With age comes wisdom, a level-headed singing style that endows this flickering cybersong with a grown-up sense of scale and distance.
  95. Wizkid - "True Love" [buy]
    Compared to the trouble of "Smoke" (see #96), Wizkid's "True Love" seems like pure untroubled ease. The Nigerian singer has mild promises to make - plus the silkiest saxophone, a chorus like a sunbeam on the bedsheets, the smell of jasmine on the air.
  96. Joy Oladokun - "Smoke" [buy]
    Despite the hopeful rise of "Smoke"'s chorus, its strength—by far—is its verses, where this young American songwriter demonstrates clarity and specificity in a way that reminds me of early music by The Streets. Joy Oladokun has the kind of forward-pushing energy that makes one root for her, imagine her triumphs.
  97. Max García Conover - "Handsome Suit" [buy]
    Sturdy old chords and even a sturdy old melody—but Max García Conover has a gift for consonant and rhyme, the click of two lines as they meet. Folk-songs don't always need much filigree: it's as simple as some images, some wisdom, the metaphor of the real world made to sing. "Crazy lady shoveling the whole damn road / 3 gold deer in the hip high snow." (Thank you, Matthew!)
  98. The Weeknd ft Rosalía - "Blinding Lights (remix)" [video]
    There's an obvious lustre to "Blinding Lights," but to me the original feels paint-by-numbers. With Rosalía at least, singing in Spanish, more sparkle gets blown all over—the slightest bright disorder. If anything it's still too clean—the melody measured, each bar neatly counted—but I suspect any one of us can lend it a little mess.
  99. Bullion - "We Had a Good Time" [buy]
    Docile, futuristic pop from British producer Nathan Jenkins, co-written with Gramo-fave Diego Herrera (aka Suzanne Kraft). Jenkins' voice recalls the Beta Band or Westerman, and the bend of his melody reminds me of Connan Mockasin. Despite its burble and thunderclap, this song is all comedown—a balm, a salve, at the end of an abominable annum.
  100. The Dears - "Play Dead" [buy]
    Playing dead isn't the worst advice in 2020. Murray Lightburn didn't know that when he wrote this, when he sang it into an old microphone—but I like to imagine he knew it as he loosed it into the world, knew this advice would unfurl with a little more resonance. "Play Dead" is itself a very quiet anthem, like a power-ballad recorded in a broom closet, warmed by melody and purpose and the guitar's flickering fire. A song that's willing to take your hand, willing to break all the rules, just to lay with you.
Fin, for another year.

Thanks for reading, sorry for the broken links, please support these artists with your money. (Invest in what's important or it will go away.) Be kind to each other, take care, be brave, undo what harm you can. Whenever you're sad, my smallest advice is: let some music into the air.

Love,
Sean

by Dan

Death-Stranding_05-21-18.jpg

Jane Inc. - "Steel"

"I can finally think," the hum and the vibrating earth. Earth shifted in pillars. Pillars rearranging in patterns and letters and guts. "I can finally hear," the clouds and the piteous sky. Sky part, a place to drop in. Drop in, centered, Age of the Skateboard Teen. A pop-up epoch, one eon only. "I can finally have," the gears and the movers within. A rubbing electric ripping, hair with a life of its own. That gaze, that tube of ethereal navy throb, through which you can see your favourite thing.

Jane Inc. is power. Power on, up, and through. "Steel" is reflexive, out-of-body momentum. This is great shit.

[Pre-order]

by Sean

Yes, something's coming. 💯

by Sean
Jim Holland painting


Eleanor Friedberger - "The River (Destroyer cover)" [buy on bandcamp]

Tougher times, these days. There's something circadian about it - you're up, you're down, eventually you're up again.

"There's something circadian about it!" I've shouted this now: shouted it in an alley, at a friend six-and-a-half feet away. What a world.

"You study your braille / you listen to the hail outside," Eleanor Friedberger sings. When Dan Bejar recorded this it was shiny, sturdy, blasted by cloud-coloured light. Here now it's a doomed demo, a recording never finished or properly released. Here now it feels like a coronavirus tune, a dirge for this comedy, this tragedy, these 224 spilling seconds.

I thought I could handle repetition. I thought I flourished in repetition. Scheduled days, habit. But tonight these groundhog days are wearing me out. Not loss, grief, worry: just the ache of a groove worn down. I'm nearly a broken record.

It hailed yesterday. Why didn't I register it as a splendour? Why was it just one more thing?

You're living, you're breathing
You try to believe in, but you don't believe

I'd like it to hail inside the house.

(painting by jim holland)

by Sean

Bad Bunny ft Sech - "Ignorantes".

Today I played with my son in the living-room, a game of pigs and yeti, scampering over mountaintops, and as I did so I listened to Bad Bunny, because I have taken to listening to new music while we play, these days, because I can't listen to music the ways I normally do. The reason I was listening to Bad Bunny was because I like what I've already heard by him, but mostly because Nat likes him, and I trust her taste (with the exception of Berlioz, ai ai ai), but at a certain point I was listening not because of Nat, not because of anyone else besides Bad Bunny himself: I was listening to "Ignorantes" for the fifth time in a row, like a tonic, like drinking a healthful tonic, another dose of quinine and orange juice. This sad song was glinting in the afternoon's grey light, it was lifting my heart, it was soundtracking the swine and the snowman and the endless avalanches. I thought about the strangeness of the way a song can travel; in that way it's not like a novel, a novel can't serve so many functions. When Sech and Bad Bunny sat down to write "Ignorantes" - with their feelings heavy in their chests, heartbroken or pretending, lost in memory - they could not have guessed their song would come here to pandemic-stricken Montreal; that it would to be a comfort, a tonic, floating over mountaintops in a cloud-tinted living-room, where son and father play.

----

I hope it does you some good, too.