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.


One of those weeks

This week I’m a mover/reviewer/reader/interviewee/photographee/supervisor/tech supporter/teacher/etc. I also got the news today that my poster presentation for ALA was accepted. I won’t say what my topic is just yet, because it’s a classified secret. No, actually, it’s pretty mundane. But there are Contingencies, so I’d rather keep it to myself for now.

If you haven’t seen elsewhere, my husband has been recording podcasts for the Chicago Underground Library, with some technical direction from me. I know about things like Skype, microphones, how to work Audacity, XML, and the other things that make podcasts work from a technical point of view. He knows about art, music, community, and being funny which make podcasts work from a human point of view. His latest effort is up, and it chronicles some really interesting musical projects in Chicago, including an archive of street sounds, which is really cool.


2005: the year of the music festival

Last weekend was the Pitchfork Music Festival, which Mike and I have gone to every year. We have to been to seemingly innumerable music festivals by now, and spent much of the weekend trying to sort it all out. Nothing will be more memorable to us, however, than summer music festival season 2005.

Intonation 2005For one thing, we met in mid-June of 2005, shortly before the Intonation Music Festival curated by Pitchfork (and therefore the first Pitchfork Music Festival even though it technically wasn’t). Asking people about Intonation was my way of telling if someone was cool—I was trying to do some online dating, and this was a good way to screen people. So when I met Mike I immediately asked him if he was going to Intonation, and he said, “Of course.” I figured I would date him for a few weeks at the very least so I would have some people to hang out with at the festival. Three years later we were married, but that’s a different story. The line-up can be found here, and Sunday was the best day—I’ll never forget the Decemberists set.

Grant disapprovesThe next weekend was Lollapalooza in its new, stationary form. My dear friend Grant and I had been planning for months and months to attend Lollapalooza, for in which in March we managed to score $35 two day passes. Around the same time we were discussing purchasing these passes we were also talking about going to New Orleans for spring break, and I decided not to go because “New Orleans will always be there.” How ironic. I wouldn’t make it New Orleans for another two years, but I did make it to Lollapalooza. It was 105 degrees the whole weekend and a gajillion people, and we didn’t like all the music, but for all that, I’m still glad I went and now don’t feel the need to spend $200 on a ticket these days. The photo shows Grant’s reaction to, I believe, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, which I enjoyed. The best set was Arcade Fire, who shocked me by none of them passing out while playing, despite wearing black suits in the hellish weather.

The streak wasn’t over yet. The following weekend was Wicker Park Fest, and we went on Saturday. How could we miss this line-up?

4:00 pm Scotland Yard Gospel Choir
5:15 pm Head of Femur
6:30 pm Turing Machine
7:45 pm Okkervil River
9:00 pm Olivia Tremor Control

Besides the excellent music and good friends, this day was memorable for several awkward encounters. I happened to see someone I’d gone with an internet date with earlier in the summer, and a waitress waylaid me outside the bathroom for not leaving a good enough tip. I did have excellent reason in that the restaurant only took cash, was extremely expensive, and none of us was exactly employed at that time. Sarah and I ended up digging in our pockets for change to try to make a better tip, but I wanted to die right at that moment.

I have never gone to three music festivals in three consecutive weekends again. I mean, come on. Once was enough.