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2020 Year End Best Of

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Wow. 2020 is over, at last. And yet i still feel filled with a certain existential dread that apparently goes along with a threatened apocalypse. The dread of the Coronavirus caught me off-guard.

I grew up in the 1980s and Uncle Ron promised that we would all be killed by thermonuclear fire at any time. The threat of that apocalypse was so ever-present that i guess i never really felt the dread of it. Or maybe it was that i was an immortal teenager who would, obviously, survive the nukes and then go on to carve out a new civilization among the mutants of the toxic wasteland.

At any rate: this was a year of terror. Stay inside, alone. Don't talk to people -- the virus spreads from open mouths! Scrub everything with hand sanitizer when you bring it into your home. (Even records? Should i have rubbed hand sanitizer in the grooves of new records???) Hide and hope the virus doesn't kill you.

Turns out that extreme social isolation and the threat of imminent mucous-y death are not very good conditions to try to write music reviews in. You might have noticed how empty EvilSponge has been. I have just had a hard time putting words down.

Well, conditions might not have been conducive to writing, but they certainly were conducive to listening. Music was a great panacea this awful year. And fortunately, there was a lot of great music released in 2020.

  1. Inlet by Hum. So, Hum are back. And, what's more, they have released their best album to date. This is a great post-rock record of groovy power chords.

  2. The Prettiest Curse by Hinds. Hinds are called a "garage rock" band, but i have always found them to be pop music at its finest. This record has an exuberance to it that i found very relieving during the pandemic. Plus, the songs move along at a foot shuffling pace.

  3. Social Crutch by Gold Cage. A debut record by a post-punk band from Los Angeles. Think driving riffs and thudding bass.

  4. Sentimiento Mundial by Mint Field. Mint Field are a trio from Mexico City that make dream pop. Frontwoman Estrella del Sol has a lovely voice and the band makes pretty, swirling music.

  5. Dislocation by Nest Egg. Nest Egg are a punk band. Or maybe a krout rock band. Or maybe what they do it noise rock. It is loud and distorted and the rhythms are so powerful! This is meant to be played loud, which means that often this year my neighbors had to listen to it as well. Sorry guys.

  6. Ideal Corners by Candace. Candace make mellow, slightly sad pop music in the vein of War Paint. This is another fine release from them.

  7. Omens by Elder. Prog metal that grooves and soars by American ex-pats living in Germany. I had hoped to see the at The EARL in July of this year, but of course that didn't happen. Hopefully they will tour when the pandemic is over.

  8. Dance Music volume II: More Songs for Slow Motion by Joshua van Tassel. This is an ambient record by a producer from Toronto. Nice mellow music for putting on in the background when you try not to panic from the doom that is coming to claim us all.

  9. Lapse In Passage by Mute Duo. Mute Duo are a pedal steel and drums act from Chicago. This album reminds me a lot of The Dirty Three in that it consists of long wandering songs with jazzy drumming. Very cool.

  10. Container by The Wants. The Wants make arty post-punk based around driving krautrockish rhythms.
Special Mention:

Another Flower by Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd
This was released on 4.December.2020. Four days after release, Harold Budd died from complications of a stroke and Covid-19.

This is the seventh album overall that Guthrie and Budd have collaborated on and their sixth since 2007. Cocteau Twins as a band released 9 albums (10 if you include their collaboration with Harold Budd, and why not?), so this means that Harold Budd was Robin Guthrie's second most frequent collaborator.

I have really enjoyed their previous work together, and most of it is reviewed here on the site. But this record came out so close to the end of the year, during the holiday season, and i just haven't been able to spend as much time with it as i would like. On the first few listens it is, well, a wash of effected guitar and piano painting lovely slow tunes. If you like what they have done in the past, you will like this.

Harold you will be missed.

  1. Dawn by mxmtoon. mxmtoon (she doesn't capitalize, much to my frustration) is a teenage pop singer from Oakland. She has a lovely voice and writes fun little songs. This EP was a nice diversion during the year.

  2. Landing / Headroom Split LP. This was the only 2020 release by Landing, one of my favorite bands. They have two songs here: a twelve and a half minute long deep space tryyp of wandering psychedelia and a five and a half minute rock song of grinding guitar, pounding drums, and echoed voice. Very cool. Headroom are more of a rock band, and their side is not bad either.

  3. Inner Circles by Inner Circles. Inner Circles is a goth metal act from Dublin that emailed me a zip file of this EP. That is a little unusual. But the music is nice and dark, with strong rhythms.

  4. Glitter and Gears by Annie Barker and Pieter Nooten. Annie Barker is an American dreampop singer living in Berlin. Pieter Nooten is the guy behind Dutch gothic powerhouse Clan of Xymox. Together they have crafted an interesting mellow electronic dream pop record.

  5. Vanity Metrics by Gianna Lauren. Ms. Lauren is a sort of singer-songwriter type from Novia Scotia. The emphasis here is on her voice, which is very pretty. A nice, relaxing ep.

Well, the concert industry sort of went on hold after March, but i managed to get in some shows before the pandemic got going.

  1. Om at Terminal West on Thu 27 Feb
    Hands down one of the best shows i have seen in years. Al Cisneros played some amazing bass work, and Emil Amos (who is also in Grails) did some truly amazing drumming. I could have listened to those 2 virtuoso players perform for hours! Alas, it was barely an hour and a half, but still amazing to have heard in person.

  2. Wire at The Variety Playhouse on Sat 7 March
    This was my third time seeing the mighty Wire, and the first time i have exposed the girlfriend to a live Wire show. I think she enjoyed it, and i know that i certainly did.

  3. Black Flag in Hell at The Masquerade on Tue 28 Jan
    I have a Black Flag My War shirt that i like to wear. My girlfriend's kids find the picture on it (from the cover of the album) creepy. That's the point, i tell them. Well i was wearing that shirt in September or so when the girl had hurt her knee running, and so she sent me to the Kroger to fetch supplies. And some dude looked at me as i walked by, glanced at my shirt, and said with disdain, "Do you even listen to them?" That's right, some schmuck shopping with his kids called me a poser in the middle of the Kosher Kroger at Toco Hills! I glared at him and said, "I saw them in January at The Masquerade. Good show even if Greg Ginn is the only original left in the band." He stammered an apology and i stalked off. Oy vey! The nerve of some people... And this was actually a fun show with Greg Ginn and a bunch of young kids playing those Black Flag songs i have been listening to for so long.

  4. Archers of Loaf at Terminal West on Sat 22 Feb
    There was an opener that i didn't like, but Archers were in great form this evening, even playing their two new songs. Glad to see them back at it.
Other Listening:

Working from home (nine and a half months now!) has meant that i can sit at my desk and stream music. I could never do that at the office because i work for a utility company and IT security won't let streaming media through the firewall. So this year i listened to some streaming shows, and there are two that i want to recommend.

Swimming in Sound (https://www.totallyradio.com/shows/swimming-in-sound) is the weekly radio show of Colin Newman (from Wire) and his wife Malka Spigel (from Minimal Compact). They have a deep knowledge of what is happening in music and they play from any genre. You will hear drum-n-bass, reggae, African pop, punk, folk music, The Beatles (they play a Beatles track every show), and everything and anything else. I always learn something from them, and listening to the show every Wednesday morning is a new ritual.

Mixcloud (https://www.mixcloud.com/ and they also have an app for you phone) consists of mixes made by DJs. There are so many here that i have grown to enjoy this year: Low Light Mixes, Optic Echo, A Strangely Isolated Place, Headphone Commute, and The Soul Chef's Fufu Stew. Most of these hover in the ambient genre, but there is so much here that you are bound to find something you like. And many of the mixes introduce me to other artists, leading to more records to buy...

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