PICKS OF THE YEAR

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14 Interesting Songs from 2020

Published January 14, 2021

Independent of our favorite-albums-from-2020 list, here―from various pop music genres―are our listing of the 14 songs from 2020 that we found to be most interesting. Enjoy!

1
"not a lot, just forever" /Adrianne Lenker

(released 23 October 2020 by 4AD as track 9 of Lenker's 2020 album songs / Written by Adrianne Lenker)

 

ANOTHER philosophical ditty from Adrianne Lenker avoids the big-catchy-chorus formula for songs. Instead it gives us a folk music version of minimalism that you maybe won't remember the exact melody of years from now but would definitely remember the wisdom of in relation to smiles, dog barks, sweater tears, wrens' feathers, knives on letters, or rocks bearing the weather.

2
"Holy"
/Justin Bieber feat. Chance the Rapper

(rel. 18 September 2020 by Universal Music Group & Def Jam Recordings / Written by Anthony Jones, Michael Pollack, Jorgen Odegard, Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Jon Bellion, TBHits & Mr. Franks)

 

JUSTIN Bieber as a mature irreligious religious man worshipping earthly love, with a pandemic-sorry working class-empathizing official music video to boot.

3
"Starstruck"
/Sorry

(originally released as a single on 5 November 2018, re-released 27 March 2020 by 4AD as track 4 in Sorry's album 925 / Written by Louis O'Bryen and Asha Lorenz)

 

THE obscure Sorry single from 2018 is resurrected as track 4 in the band's debut album released last 27 March. A take on female groupies and their addiction to stars, perhaps, but could also be about the small talk of western boys and their foolish antics, antiques, cutting-edge entertainment, uppers, downers and, not to forget, temper tantrums.

4
"Intro (VOBBB)" and "Say the Name" as one
/clipping.

("Intro (VOBBB)" rel. 23 October 2020 by Sub Pop Records as track 1 of clipping.'s album Visions of Bodies Being Burned; "Say the Name" rel. as a single 25 August 2020 and then 23 October 2020 as track 2 of Visions of Bodies Being Burned / "Intro" written by Greh Holger, Jonathan Snipes, William Hutson & Daveed Diggs; "Say the Name" written by Scarface, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes & Daveed Diggs)

 

HORRORCORE combining realistic college lust-love visions with clipping.'s standard surrealistic imagery for racist (and possibly also anti-racist) violence.

5
"Away"
/Oxlade

(rel. 27 March 2020 by The Plug Entertainment as track 3 of Oxlade's EP Oxygene / Written by Olaitan Ikuforiji)

 

WORLD techno's Oxlade lays out an almost ordinary love song even for present Nigeria, but it nevertheless amply expresses a desire by many citizens of the world to settle somewhere other than their own country to be free of all sorts of dictators, even as Oxlade implies he himself might end up being his wife's "owner."

6
"Drumset" and "On I Go" as one
/Fiona Apple

(rel. 17 April 2020 by Epic Records as tracks 12 & 13 of Apple's new album Fetch the Bolt Cutters / Written by Fiona Apple)

 

THESE two tracks are far from being the most arresting or the most visceral songs in Apple's new album, but we love what this penultimate album track and this final track actually cover.
    Putting aside what led Apple to write the short song "Drumset," the finished product itself offers the "drumset" in the story as 1) that material object that the male persona who left our female narrator took with him and 2) that which the "I" persona now regards as representative of "all" that that male person took away. Is this because the narrator is so attached to that music-making object that its sudden absence has made her doubly empty? Or is that drumset a symbol of his erstwhile drumming that accompanied her, say, piano music, leaving her piano music-making sans those needed drumbeats, therefore now totally sad? Or, worse, if she is indeed a music-loving woman, was that drumset bought for her by him, a symbol of his accommodation of her music-making hobby because she's in a position where she couldn't possibly buy that drumset for herself?
    Aside from this possible last picture of a woman who can't buy her own drumset, it's also sad that it's always women who want to try to save a failing marriage or romantic partnership (a kind of persistent drumming) while it's the men who often find it easy to just leave for another relationship (sometimes over a lie of a reason, therefore a different kind of drum-beating to life's fleeting flow)?
    Now, the song ends with the word "And..." What could that mean?
    Well, it's important for us to know that this track leads to Fetch the Bolt Cutters' last track, "On I Go," which talks about its narrator's "going on." If drumbeats are meant to to rush us towards something or someone, or away from something or someone, or to "prove" something to someone, in our daily routine, in this track's drumming (with new drums? her own drums? someone new's drums?) the narrator is now being led to "only move to move."

7
"La cumbia me está llamando"
/Nubya Garcia

(rel. 21 August 2020 by Concord as track 7 of Garcia's new album SOURCE / Written by Nubya Garcia)

 

A LOT of London jazz these days, which has also embraced American acts like Kamasi Washington, aren't content to peddle jazz as just music that you and I can appropriate for our restaurants' ambiance. Young British saxophonist Nubya Garcia is another major contributor to this trend, releasing in 2020 an album titled SOURCE that has tracks like "La cumbia me está llamando" (The cumbia is calling me) that won't work as mere background music in these days of immigrant-phobia coming from alt-right parties everywhere.
   The cumbia is of course a rhythm and folk dance tradition in Latin America, and in the track's case it's referring to the Colombian cumbia. But whether it's Colombian or Panamanian, in general the cumbia borrows musical and cultural elements from indigenous and African slave groups during the Spanish Conquest.
   So that's what this track is aiming its listeners to empathize with, to try and have them imagine how this tradition was applied during those times, imagine being in the thick of it as the colonizers gave their slaves an order to enjoy some rest or recreation, there along Colombia's coastline facing the Caribbean Sea.
   What Garcia's lyrics imply is a sort of flirting dance moment, and, if historically correct, might also be a tribute to her parents' coming together: her mother is Guyanese while her father is British Trinidadian.

8
"For the Parents"
/Falle Nioke

(rel. 27 May 2020 by Mahogany Sessions Home Edition on YouTube / Written by Falle Nioke)

 

AS far as we know this song is not in any of the Margate, Kent-based Guinean musician-singer's EPs.
    On YouTube, the text below this video directed by Tom Dream for the Mahogany Sessions Home Edition explains: "Captured on the harbour arm in Margate during isolation, here Falle sings a message of gratitude to his family back home. You can find Falle singing here most nights of the week normally, but lockdown has made connecting with the community impossible recently.
    "Here’s a quote from Falle: 'The song is for my parents, promising to help them and saying they sacrificed for me to go to school and learn so I will repay them. I'm singing in Fulani and Susu, two languages in Guinea. After lockdown I'm looking forward to playing outside again. I like playing on the harbour as there is a sense of freedom there. In Africa, we always play music outside around the streets, under the big trees and by the rivers when it's hot. All the kids would be around watching and listening. Anyone can join in.'
    ". . . Falle Nioke . . . sings in French and English, Susu, Fulani, Malinke and Coniagui, and plays a range of cultural African instruments to accompany his voice (gongoma, Bolon, Cassi). Since arriving in the UK two years ago, after a period travelling around West Africa singing with a troupe of musicians and learning different cultural rhythms, the 33-year old has been making music with a number of producers, including Johan Hugo, Congo Natty, Sir Was and Ghost Culture. His live solo show is a soulful performance of his own creation in a traditional African style, although he often performs with Alabaster De Plume, Congo Natty and the band Soma World."
    Kudos as well to the sound design by Ben Niblett for this video.
    [Read our review of this song and music performance in our July 2020 picks list...]

9
"Circles"
/Megan Thee Stallion

(rel. 20 November 2020 by 300 Entertainment & 1501 Certified Entertainment as track 2 of MTS' album Good News / Base-song "Holding You Down (Goin' In Circles)," including samples, written by Cormega, Roy C, Poke, Gilbert Askey, Dave Atkinson, Tone, Douglas Davis, 1995 (Producer), Curtis Mayfield, Slick Rick, Foxy Brown, Arlene DelValle, Diddy, Mary J. Blige, Nas, Missy Elliott & Jazmine Sullivan; MTS' variation of the song, including samples, written by Doug E. Fresh, Dre, Pardison Fontaine, Ricknoleon Perez, Cool, Craig Xavier Brockman, Cainon Renard Lamb, AZ & Megan Thee Stallion)

 

YOU'D say the bravery in this rap is just like any you'd find in those other female rap we're hearing today. Maybe, until you see the longish writing credits and realize that this track is a collage of sampled material, but mainly featuring the song "Holding You Down (Goin' In Circles)" recorded by Jazmine Sullivan in 2010, which itself is rich with samples.
  So, this is a variation. Not a parody, a variation, given that that record by Sullivan seems to have also inspired MTS' sampling carpentry for "Circles." The main revamp is mainly in MTS' taking the distraught emotion of that 2010 song's lyrics (addressing a subject of a dysfunctional relationship) and placing it in the more independent-woman feminist-rapper dismissive vibe that MTS (along with a few others today) is known for. But, okay, the variation does create a contrast and makes that other song old-fashioned and this new song a first-generation feminist spit of a track that seems to be priding itself on being.
  The lyrics take a jab again at the man who shot MTS in July of 2020, references backstabbers, and moans over her mama's death the previous year, all to promote her strength over these tsunamis. It's also almost a challenge when MTS satirizes those who use Instagram as their diaries in one lyric line, because this track is definitely itself a strong diary entry in the world of insta-verse-making called feminist hip hop.

10
"Music for Indigo"
/Adrianne Lenker

(rel. 22 October 2020 by 4AD as track 1 of Lenker's album of two tracks, instrumentals / Written by Adrianne Lenker)

 

SO this is a 20-plus minute stream-of-consciousness instrumental track consisting solely of acoustic guitar sad plucking and strumming improvisations collaged to become one flowing piece. As an accompanying album to songsinstrumentals' point is already laid out on this first of the album's two tracks: songs is about the devastation of the breakup of Lenker's relationship with her former partner Indigo, with that truth underlined by this collage―titled "Music for Indigo"―consisting of mourning/happy plucks and strums taken before and then after the songs recording sessions. Get it? Lenker set out to record songs to build a monument to a breakup, and the sadness at the start of the project still lingered after it was finished. Therefore, this was a collage of a track that says the songs sessions were not meant for catharsis. On the contrary, they were built to provide a record that cries but is also a constant reminder of good things that happened in the past as well as a parting gift and plea to someone to never forget. Just as this track clarifies. At the 18th-minute mark of "Music for Indigo" Lenker mutters, "I'm starting over," which is a sad utterance but at the same time healing as a promise.
   The Line of Best Fit: "As with ambient music, it’s easy to undersell the difficulty of constructing a piece of music which is tranquil rather than simply dull."
   NME: "What Lenker’s most recent work reveals is that, like the rest of us, she is trying to find beauty and appreciation in the small moments, marvelling at her surroundings while mourning the current moment."
   FLOOD Magazine: "The corresponding second album (to 2020's Songs),  Instrumentals, is even more enthralling. Instead of getting swept up by Lenker’s visceral songwriting, she showcases patience and intuition."
   Spectrum Culture: "It’s a fresh take on the Big Thief singer’s fascination with the harmony of music and environment, and a deep breath after the trauma and devastation of songs."

11
"I Hope"
/Gabby Barrett

(first released 29 July 2019, re-released 19 June 2020 by Warner Music Group as track 1 of Barrett's debut album Goldmine / Written by Zach Kale, Jon Nite & Gabby Barrett)

 

PROBABLY the year's best American country music variation on the golden rule expression.

(released 31 July 2020 by Warner Music Group / Written by Shay Mooney, Sean Douglas, Jason Evigan & Dan Smyers)

 

QUITE a unique variation on the "give it a rest" expression.

13
"Valleys"
/Working Men's Club

(released 12 August 2020 by Heavenly Records / Written by Sydney Minksy-Sargeant)

 

SO many forms of prison. It can be in the shape of an idea-less town.
   People have various motivations, interests, and hopes, . . . and a geographic valley may be a type of hindrance to a fulfillment, leading to a sense of a meaningless life or, worse, an absent God.
   Despite those lyrics, one supposes that perhaps Minsky-Sargeant is here actually celebrating his having gotten out of his prison, for he's now singing to us with the most expensive of synths. Could that be what dance-punk is actually about?

14
"Be Afraid"
/Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

(rel. 10 February 2020 by Southeastern Records and 15 May 2020 as track 7 of Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit's album Reunions / Written by Jason Isbell)

 

IN today's post-truth politics, it's only natural that a political party's decision to lie and lie in order to pave a demagogic way to power would also transform it into less of a party and more of a cult. Its members would in the process end up being afraid of the useful idiot they just empowered (through their own lying), because this mascot could in turn use their party's new communication format against them every time they think about not obeying a request of his. It seems that Jason Isbell got quite concerned with this reality that he felt he now has to "stick his neck out" and write a song about it, addressing the lyrics to these party members.