Top 20 Tracks of 2020
From my favourite albums and super sweet singles…
It was a good year (for content) honestly. A lot of our favourite artists had time to sit down and write. Those who authentically reported their feelings made sure to let us know us that all of our heads are on fire. I’m talking about Imogen Heap’s Last Night of An Empire — which is just the bleakest thing this woman has written so far. I streamed it so many times it began to skip.
The bus rides to work gave me enough space to digest some of the great albums from the year. The latter half of the year offered a very erratic listening and consequently, the stretching of my musical horizons by country. This was after I saw the map below.
Furthermore, we held the maiden edition of the RW Tournament. It was a neat project. Extensively awesome. I loved every minute of it, even though I was away from it more than anyone else. The prompt led me to many interesting genres and sounds I will spend 2021 unpacking. Another thing I can tell you for sure is that I am no longer in a rush to keep up with current music.
And also that you should embrace TIDAL.
Without further ado, let us head on to the songs on the 20 from ’20. I shall limit it to one song per artist.
1. Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You) - Bombay Bicycle Club
This one feels too easy. Picking this song out to represent the album almost feels wrong. “Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)” feels breezy. You listen to it with the same effort that allows you to cut through butter with a hot knife.
Even though it is very accessible, this track still contains a lot of sounds not found on the mainstream palate. The album, Everything Has Gone Wrong, would have served to make Bombay Bicycle Club a much more commercial band, however, it has only shown that no matter how much Steadman and the troupe compromise, they still retain enough compositional sense to brighten the sounds without losing them completely. I hope this is as mainstream as they get.
Some parts of the album rubbed staunch BBC fans the wrong way. These were not discrete moments, rather, it was the basicness of the sounds in the album.
Is easy accessibility a bad thing?
Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You) lets me worship.
2. Your Light — The Big Moon
Contrary to the Everything Has Gone Wrong, picking a favourite song from this album was not easy. If the songs were good, they were good. If not for their baby teeth as a band, they would have the strongest album of the year.
One of the things I commend the four-piece band for is that they brought out an album that works. It shows growth and this usually signals an even more insane project — if their sound evolves. What I have noticed with bands like them is that the sophomore album is where they perfect their sound. Whether they grow from it, boils down to a matter of choice.
“Your Light” is one of the most balanced of tracks. It is not just the happy outlook the sound has — or spirit-lifting vibe. Jackson shows off some great potential in her vocal delivery and her range.
3. It Just Doesn’t Happen — Destroyer
The pedestrian bridge at Oshodi Transport Terminal did not have any railing until July. A little shove and you could drop from a height of about 14 metres into the raging traffic below, or the gutter filed with hard stones and gravel. My route from work took me up and down that bridge every day. But I never feared for my safety — even at night. It was in one of those nights that I confirmed that Dan Bejar is quite talented.
His writing style — writing from a steady flowing stream of consciousness — is similar to what I enjoy in Heap’s writing. If you do not know about Imogen Heap, know then that I just rendered high praise.
Have We Met is one of those albums you can play on shuffle or leave alone to do whatever it wants. One characteristic of a good album is how it makes you surrender. In “It Just Doesn’t Happen”, Destroyer takes you on a trip you would enjoy, even if you were not willing to go in the first place.
I feel strong feminine energy from Bejar. Do you?
4. Island of Doom — Agnes Obel
Myopia is the perfect album. Never has any project cemented a musician in the no-bad-song gang as fast as Myopia did for Agnes Obel. I listened to her so much, I was astonished at her Danish origins. Henceforth, I decree that she be elevated to “Mummy Agnes”
Myopia had just exactly what I was looking for — Artistic Evolution. To understand Agnes’ journey, one would need to start from Philharmonics (2010), bask in Aventine (2013) and absorb Citizen of Glass (2017).
“Island of Doom” was not chosen because it was the best song though the song does have the widest spectrum amongst its siblings. It finds its creator challenging the fringes of her abilities.
And she worked all the equations out. Isn’t God great?!
5. You’ll miss me when I’m not around — Grimes
Whether it is screaming about how hard AI has got it for us or just being dour in between the layers of electric-inspired compositions she has got going, Grimes delivers her messages and moods quite powerfully. The future is bleak. New gods have come and taken over and we know but we we don’t. Surrender, Surrender! Woe, Woe! That is all I heard.
I would admit that it took me the most time to access the soundscape of this album and even till date, it feels too much for me to unpack.
“You’ll miss me when I’m not around” is the most level headed track on Miss Anthropocene (Deluxe Edition). I find it to be the perfect gateway track.
Does Grimes know something about the future that we don’t?
6. Lamb and the Wolf - CocoRosie
Some genres of music define themselves because of the privilege of the artistic environment/pressure they were born in. While there is a sound that forms the nucleus of the genre, its peripheral musicians — which happen to possess most of the genre — are only tied to it by the social groups they have formed around this sound. This genre would then be populated by artistes who do no understand the would of the genre.
Such is the path of the musical genre, New Weird America, an offshoot of Freak Folk, a child of Indie Rock. And of all the privileged artists, CocoRosie (Bianca Leilani and Sierra Rose).
“Lamb and Wolf” is the most coherent child of this experimental project named Put The Shine On.
7. Outlook For The Future — Inventions
My main focus on this album was the song “Outlook For The Future” and I came across it through the Spotify algorithm. This is the song that alerted me to the sweetness that is Post Rock in 2020.
Each track in Continuous Portrait has its own unique texture. Of all of them, the most catching is “Outlook For The Future”. The track has a dated feel and an air of ancient wisdom about it. It gets psychedelic even.
I recalled the music of Nigeria’s 70s and wonder if William Onyeabor would rise from the dead to witness the beautiful blend of post-rock and psychedelia. Inventions have really set themselves on another level with this project.
Just behold the portrait in the album art that needs no naming. The drawing is the name.
I frequently wonder if Post Rock is really the final evolution of the rock genre.
8. All Is Dead To Me — Muzz
Even with the fanfare they got, Muzz is still underrated. Perhaps if there had not been a lockdown, their tour would have been the most packed event since Obama’s inauguration. We held a listening party for this. This was the song that put me to sleep that night.
The brilliance of this album will hit public consciousness only a year later.
9. St. Thomas’ — Orlando Weeks
The other songs in this album have a far higher probability of reducing you into a paralyzed mass of emotions. You are in safer hands with Track number 4 on another perfect album from 2020.
“St. Thomas’” stays jaunty but easily slips back into the effusive mood that is a father’s pure love for his newborn son.
Nevertheless, you are better of disregarding my recommendation and starting the album from its first track. Weeks most definitely understands that pace-time music is about the space-time continuum and nothing separates from how the fabric of the universe unfolds.
I experienced the universe through A Quickening.
10. Exhale — Jónsi
I am giving you the first track of Jónsi’s new album and there is nothing further I can tell you.
You need to hit play on what is an even more intimate masterpiece from Jónsi. I daresay it was a feat impossible to imagine before Jónsi did it.
Now we move to the Singles that struck a chord. These albums, I have not digested. Mogwai’s lead single from their album was too good to wait for. Once again, I have the TIDAL algorithm to thank.
11. Swaying leaves and scattering breath — Envy
Jubilating guitar riffs, a sweet Japanese voice sandwiched between full sound is exactly how you start a good day. This song has you covered if you would listen to it.
12. Cheater — Wilma Archer
Who is Wilma Archer? And why does he have such textured instrumentation? His pairing with Sudan Archives is a relationship to explore deeply.
There is a lot of nuance in this action-themed track that Archer presents. And even though the song is about narrowly escaping death, it bangs, crackles and pops. I think A Western Circular is going to be a wonderful album to finish.
13. Vanishing Twin — Blake Mills
You can tell that my listening this year leaned into grand and swelling compositions. Even from the younger artists, we get a lot of sounds that are ambient and yet fill this appetite quite well.
“Vanishing Twin” could have been a complete instrumental track and Mills would have gotten away with it just fine. However, in a silken smooth fashion, Mills improves upon what flavour I enjoy from Sufjan Stevens.
Mutable Set does shine, despite all the layering on top of it.
14. Phenom — Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Thao is the classic adaptable artiste whose creativity has decided that it doesn’t know any limits. If it was a fish it would step outside the water and develop lungs. I strongly believe Thao will be one of the pillars of the 20s experimental music. The praise heaped on her is not just for her “zoomreography” as seen in the video of “Phenom”, it is also in the boldness of her experimentation
Temple is one of those projects that you either accept or miss forever.
15. You Should Be With Me — Wondamagik
A lot has to be said about the Nigerian albums released this 2020. Undeniable evidence that proves Nigerian Music is awakening continues to persist — even in the least enjoyable of the albums released. FEM!
Albums were released into the Nigerian’s musical platter in 2020. I have never seen a season thus.
Wondamagik should be heard. His music certainly inspires hope in a scene people have given up on.
16. Dollars and Cents — TOBi
I stumbled onto TOBi when I found a magazine graced by a black young man. I am the target market for this music. I am also a sucker for a properly written press release. Despite going into this album with some expectations, these biases did not hamper my enjoyment of the music.
So far, TOBi has shown us his genre-bending ability which is a sure hit with any debut album. However, he may have an uphill battle deciding the kind of sound he wants to have. I suggest he purge himself of all the influences he drew from to create Elements Vol.1 so he can find himself again and deeper.
“Dollars and Cents” is a good first track. The afrobeat fusion is quite neat.
17. It’s a good day (to fight the system) — Shungudzo
Wish this song had come when the #ENDSARS protests were in full swing. Maybe I did not look for it. This is my kind of rebellion song. The sound is black, smooth and Shungduzo shows a lot of discipline.
This song could have been wilder but we bless God for musicians who do not overplay their hand.
This 3-track offering is enough to launch the career of the illustrious gymnast and philanthropist. My God, she has had a wonderful!
18. Koi— Kiln
The real truth is that I am the guy that keeps the post-rock coming at you. This with a bit of ghost pop and ambient textures that the subject of a shoegaze splash. “Koi” is the gentle of its 11-membered family. I fancy Beachglass too.
It is important to note that careful compositions like these are the work of advanced musicians who do not necessarily make music for the commerce of it. So you have to be patient with this your ear is not trained.
19. Dusk — Alice Phoebe Lou
Alice most definitely does what she wants. Her listeners like to listen to what she wants to do. We know that her sound is inimitable and we have accepted that we will never get this somewhere else, so we have no choice to stick around. The stay is enjoyable because Alice is also an excellent songwriter with a taste for spontaneity. She is quite fearless. I worry a little bit.
What is retro about her sound allows the weaving of the illusion of aged music and this results in involuntary shelving of her work amongst the classics.
How can her next project ever disappoint us?
20. Dry Fantasy — Mogwai
Going into 2021 was fairly easy, thanks in no small part to the knowledge that Mogwai would give us a new project in 2021. The date has been marked and preparations for the listening party are underway.
As Love Continues is going to be a satisfying sonic experience. “Dry Fantasy” is the announcement. My patience wears thin for the deeper sonic story these Scots are going to tell me. I hunger.