Favorite Music of 2020 (and 2019)

I missed seeing live music in 2020. I did actually make it to four concerts in January-March, the last one being on March 12, and probably a bad idea in retrospect, but I suppose shows what my priorities are. (I saw Lala Lala/NNAMDI/Sen Morimoto on Jan. 16, Hot Snakes and others at the Empty Bottle winter festival Feb. 22, The Makeup on Mar. 6, and of Montreal on Mar. 12). The story of music I enjoyed this year is mostly one of loss and change–canceled tours, musicians and venues barely hanging on, virtual performances, and a general sense of unease. Looking back, I see phases of where certain albums were particularly resonant in that period of the pandemic or in my life, and perhaps less so after that. There were a few albums from 2019 that still were really important to me to this year.

Here is my Spotify list for Favorites of 2020, roughly in chronological order for when I listened. I’m sure some things are missing, but mostly those would be individual tracks from albums I otherwise didn’t love start to finish, and I haven’t put that together.

Everything up to Sea Wolf is pre-pandemic. Some of these didn’t last for me through the pandemic, though I still like them. For example, Sea Wolf is something I listened to several times a day in the early pandemic days, and not since then. Here’s what I would call my top albums of 2020, without an order in particular.

Hilary Woods: Birthmarks

I first listened to this in January while walking across Philadelphia by myself in the dark to attend a crowded event in a bar. There are so many strange things about sentence. I didn’t like it much then because it was too creepy for me at that moment, but I kept going back. This is best exploration of pregnancy and childbirth in music I have heard. I bought it on vinyl later in the year and it benefits even more from having two sides.

Melkbelly: PITH

This is something I leaned about from Sound Opinions, and I immediately found it completely cathartic. One early listen was on a long rainy sad run on Mother’s Day, but I kept coming back throughout the year. Miranda Winters sings just how I felt so much this year. I am eager to see them in person whenever that can happen.

Midwife: Forever

While this about a traumatic event that occurred in 2018, it felt like the natural backdrop to 2020–not to mention that 2018 was a complicated year for me too. I listened a lot in May as I realized how my life was changing. “Anyone Can Play Guitar” in particular was a backdrop to thinking about all the ways that life can change without any notice.

The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers

The Beths could sing the phone book and I would happily listen, so this one was a given. Since this came out right when I was starting what turned out to be a three month stay away from home, it was so good to have this to keep me company as I missed home and what little social life I had had at home in pandemic times. What I mean by this is that I cried listening to this many times. I got a Carpark Records sticker from the vinyl record and my kid stuck it to his school laptop, so it also helped me to start a new generation of hipsters.

If you look at my most listened to in 2020 list, you will see a few 2019 records on that list, so I will mention those here.

Vagabon: Vagabon

This came out in late 2019, and was absolutely one of my favorites of 2019. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened, and this concert being canceled in the spring and then again in the fall was very sad. Lots of people love “Water Me Down” and “Every Woman”. I love those, but “Secret Medicines” is one of my all time favorite songs.

Emily Jane White: Immanent Fire

I found this for the first time this summer, and proceeded to listen pretty much non-stop after that. It hits all the points of our environmental and social degradation, and while one major theme is prior California fire seasons, it keeps being very relevant.

Here’s hoping that shows can happen again in 2021, and everyone’s quarantine records who weren’t too depressed to make music.