🎶 Notes on Notes (2020–12–30)

I don’t know if I can be alone again.

Year-end lists are a pain. They’re complicated. Sometimes there’s a clear best album that is in every writer’s top three. Sometimes albums get overlooked or underrated because they were released too early or because they were released at the same time as another really popular album. Sometimes there’s a pandemic and things get weird. Regardless, the problem remains - what is best or top? Is it the highest reviewed album on Metacritic? Is it whatever Pitchfork says it is? Is it the best-selling or most-streamed? Is it the one that people used the most in their Tik Toks? This is a challenge my friend and I always run in to when talking about movies. We’ve changed our approach to talking about our favourite movies - movies we really like watching, movies that left an impression on us, movies we ended up telling people about. I’m going to take the same approach here. These are the albums and songs that I listened to a lot. They’re the albums that I kept going back to when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to listen to. They’re the albums that I incessantly bothered a small group of friends with.

This is a long one, buckle in.

👀 Goings On About Music

Let us take a look at my favourite albums and songs from 2020. For the tracks, I’ve included some one-off songs from albums that I didn’t care for along with some of my favourite songs that were actual singles. I’ve used the In My Queue playlist to combine those tracks and highlight some of my favourite tracks from the albums listed below.

💿 Albums

  • Allie X - Cape God

    • 2020 blah blah blah time has no meaning blah blah blah. I had to look up the release date on this one because I wasn’t sure when it came out. I was hoping it was 2020 so I could include it but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I saw a different year. Allie X has been a slow-burn-like for me. I listened to the first album and was ok with it. Same with the second - though, like everyone else, thought Paper Love was a standout track. The 2018 album, Super Sunet, was my turning point. Only seven songs (plus an intro) but I really liked four of them. With Cape God, I listened to the whole thing… multiple times. Sure, there are a few tracks I like more than others, but this is an album in the truest sense. I get more value from listening to the whole thing then I do from picking out individual tracks. It’s a journey.

  • Bahamas - Sad Hunk

    • I remember really enjoying the Barchords album from Bahamas when it came out and then I missed (not intentionally) the next few albums. However when the 2018 album, Earthtones came out, I was all the way back in. So much so that I went back and listened to what I missed. This album almost feels like a part two from Earthtones. It’s still got that… funk? vibe but also has the acoustic/folk sound that I loved on Barchords.

  • Caribou - Suddenly

    • Caribou was there when I first really started getting into the indie Canadian music scene. He had already put out albums under the name Manitoba and wasn’t new, really. But his big break through coincided with my deep dive into cancon. This PhD mathematician that seemed to exclusively release albums that either win - or are nominated for - Polaris Awards was waiting for me. I know I’ve mentioned my struggles with genres before but good luck with this one. Electronic? Jazz? Club? Good. Luck. I wouldn’t describe Caribou’s music as accessible, either. You’ve got put in an effort to listen to it. Perhaps it’s because he’s long converted me to a fan, but this album went down a lot smoother. I still don’t think it’s overly accessible and if this is your first exposure to him, it might be a struggle. But it’s worth it. So is Andorra. So is Swim. So is Our Love.

  • The Darcys - Fear & Loneliness

    • I came to The Darcys with their 2012 full-album cover of the Steely Dan album, Aja. Their 2016 album, Centerfold, put them comfortably in the Bands That I Like category. There’s nothing in isolation that particularly stands out on Fear & Loneliness, it’s just a really well put together album that is, I guess, a concept album and mixes in their expected funky, thumping, fun tracks with some slower, more considered tracks.

  • Donovan Woods - Without People

    • The Donovan Woods album from 2018 might be one of my favourite albums of the decade (wait… is the decade ending now or are we already a year into a new decade? Do I need to write a best-of for the decade as well? Hmm…). It has almost everything to do with the song Next Year. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got ties to Sarnia, a city I’ve spent a good amount of time visiting. Without People gives me the impression that he’s not slowing down and is only getting better. I could be convinced that it’s a country album but I think it falls in the category of just being great music so it doesn’t matter what genre it is.

  • Holy Fuck - Deleter

    • There are three albums that, in the beforetimes when I’d spend three-to-four days per week in an office, I listened to non-stop to block out my colleagues (but never my boss, in case they’re reading). Tycho’s album Awake, the soundtrack to The Social Network, and the soundtrack to the Friday Night Lights tv show. I listened to them so much that I had to start playing them in Plexamp instead of Music.app because it was messing with the algorithm. Holy Fuck isn’t the same as a band like 65daysofstatic, there’s way more variety of sounds - and singing - in Holy Fuck than your typical Post Rock band. I love listening to Holy Fuck albums and keying in on certain sounds in songs and just listening to how they use it. I’m not an expert in their discography (I’m most familiar with their 2007 album, LP), but I’m always interested in seeing new music from them. Saying they’ve matured or changed over time implies that there was something missing… it’s more that they’ve just narrowed their efforts and focus. Deleter sounds like a Holy Fuck album but if you skipped everything in between the first album and this one, you might not appreciate their how they’ve gotten here.

  • Miley Cyrus - Plastic Hearts

    • Miley Cyrus seems to have put out enough A+ pop music over the last decade that you’d have a hard time hanging on to any pre-conceived notions about her place in the music industry or how she got here. Based on a few tracks, there’s an interesting discussion to have about the line between ripping off music and paying homage to music… it’s pretty thin and probably determined by your opinions of the artist. If you don’t hear Stevie Nicks in Midnight then I’m not sure what to tell you. Night Crawling could have been a Billy Idol b-side and, based on his appearance on the track, I don’t think he minds. I don’t really check Billboard charts and rarely look through any of the Hits playlists on Apple Music so I don’t know how well this album was received but it should easily have a half-dozen singles. I get eight tracks in before I even think about hitting the skip button.

  • Selena Gomez - Rare

    • In spite of the cancon tie-in, I never kept up with the Justin Bieber/Selena Gomez stuff but even the most casual of listeners could pick up on more than a few tracks here that are about her dealing with stuff from the fallout of that relationship. I can’t remember which Selana Gomez song was the first one that really grabbed my attention but I do know that she’s put out more than a handful of songs that I really like. I think some of this was helped along by a podcast (Switched on Pop) that examines the musicality (is that a word?) of pop music. They’ve done a few episodes on her music, but one episode covered the song Same Old Love that I particularly liked. It gave me a different appreciation for her music. Some of the music on this album is textbook pop music, but there are some others, like People You Know, that show she’s capable of more than just Top 40-style songs.

  • Taylor Swift - folklore

    • I could have put both albums here as a tie but I’m going to give more credit to the first one because of the shock value. Surprise albums are always fun. Surprise albums where the artist crosses into a new genre are even more fun. Taylor Swift released a quasi-documentary, quasi-concert movie (the long pond studio sessions) following the album and I knew that it was essentially a piece of marketing for the album… but it was still effective. I left with more of an appreciation for an album that I already really liked. More alt/indie/acoustic Taylor Swift, please. Exile might end up being one of favourite songs of all time. I’m not sure what else to say here. This is a great album.

  • The Weeknd - After Hours

    • From playing shows in Southern Ontario in the early 2010s with a no-phone policy (long before those hip Yondr pouches), to whatever echelon of success you’d have to use to describe his current status, what a ride. The original trilogy of EPs were incredible. I thought Beauty Behind the Madness was going to be his peak. Then I thought Starboy was going to be his peak. And now I assume After Hours is going to be his peak. And if it is, it’s a high peak. Perhaps it’s fitting that it’s the first album in a while that makes me feel like I’m listening to his earlier EPs.

If you’re the kind of person that needs an ordered listing, I’ll give you my Top Five Records in descending order - After Hours, folklore, Rare, Suddenly, and Without People. There, happy?

🎵 Tracks

  • The 1975 - People

    • I was all-in on The 1975 almost as soon as I heard them and, if I remember correctly, it was early. I don’t share this to measure bona fides but just to give you context in my disappointment with Notes On A Conditional Form. It wasn’t a bad album, but it wasn’t good either. It took way too long to come out, it has too many tracks (not that that in of itself is a bad thing, though), and it kinda jumps all over the place. The 1975 had such great success with releasing short EPs frequently that succinctly captured whatever sound they were playing around with but this album sounds like they recorded a bunch of EPs, put them in a playlist, added in some other random music, and then released whatever the result of hitting shuffle gave them. People is a great track, though, and the live version really captures the raw energy that the band can deliver.

  • Charli XCX - Forever

    • I can be easily influenced. It happens. A while back a podcast I listen to referred to Super Love as the catchiest song they had ever heard. I listened to it and liked it. I listened again and liked it more. Eventually I was on board Charli XCX being the next big pop star. It never really panned out but she has put a bunch of songs I’ve really liked. Her quarantine album was enjoyable but, obviously, didn’t make the cut. This track is a good one. It’s a bit messy and it has that enjoyable (for me, at least) Imogen Heap vocal effect. Two thumbs up.

  • Eminem - Darkness

    • I knew the premise of this song before I heard it and I didn’t spend much time analyzing the lyrics on first listen - they seemed pretty obvious. Later when I listened again and paid more attention, I realized how it’s written to mirror someone about to go on stage to perform. Well done. Even the music video pulls off the double meaning.

  • Georgia - 24 Hours

    • Some tracks just grab you. In spite of the voiceover intro, the pulsing music and first sound of actual singing made me snap out of a daze sitting on a commuter train one more morning. I don’t recall actually exploring any other songs from Georgia… I just left this one on repeat for a few weeks.

  • SAINt JHN - Roses (Imanbek Remix)

    • Much like the Georgia track, I didn’t go any further into the music of SAINt JHN but this track is, as the kids say, a banger. I don’t have much else to say. It showed up on a playlist I listened back to it a couple times, added it to my bucket of songs I like, and kept going back to it when I needed an upbeat track.

  • Soccer Mommy - circle the drain

    • There’s a whole group of artists that I became a fan of over the last 12–18 months. Soccer Mommy, Maggie Rogers, and Phoebe Bridgers are at the top of the grouping. I like the Punisher album from Phoebe Bridgers more than color theory from Soccer Mommy but circle the drain was one of my favourite songs of the year. The effect on the guitar and the straight-forward rhythm work well together and fit perfectly with the song.

  • Tame Impala - Lost in Yesterday

    • The first time I heard this song I was positive I had heard it before. I was (obviously) wrong but it was a trend I noticed a few times this year. Songs that sounded familiar that weren’t. Optimistic take is that some songs really are instant classics. Pessimistic take is that everything is a remix. Regardless, great song. Catchy bass line. Very re-listenable.

  • Tove Lo - Bikini Porn

    • I don’t think this song ended up on any album but I could be wrong. It’s been a few years since Tove Lo released her Queen of the Clouds album that I enjoyed start-to-finish and there’s been some hits and misses along the way since then but the vocals/synth effect that are under the chorus (“All I do is drink champagne all day”) and the way they get louder/more prominent throughout the song had me coming back to this track often throughout the year.

  • Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $sign, Sueco the Child, Lil Yachty - Speed Me Up

    • “Woah, wait what?” - you, probably. Earlier this year my older son saw the Sonic movie - IN A THEATRE! - and for the following 4–6 months this song was requested so often that it was #2 on my Apple Music Replay 2020 playlist AND I actually came to like it. It’s not that it’s some exceptional song or does something revolutionary, it’s fine, I just happened to listen to it a lot. They even slipped in a nod to Nipsy.

🎧 In My Queue

This was a lot easier this week because it’s just a collection of songs from the lists above.

  1. Donovan Woods (feat. Rhys Lewis) - Lonely People

  2. Bahamas - Done Did Me No Good

  3. Caribou - Home

  4. Tame Impala - Lost in Yesterday

  5. Miley Cyrus - WTF Do I Know

  6. Wiz Khalifa (feat Ty Dolla $ign, Sueco the Child, Lil Yachty) - Speed Me Up

  7. The 1975 - People

  8. Eminem - Darkness

  9. Holy Fuck (feat. Alexis Taylor) - Luxe

  10. Selena Gomez - People You Know

  11. The Weeknd - Hardest to Love

  12. Soccer Mommy - circle the drain

  13. Allie X (feat Mitski) - Susie Save Your Love

  14. Taylor Swift - cardigan

  15. Donovan Woods - Seeing Other People

  16. Bahamas - Fair Share

  17. The Darcys - Chasing the Fall

  18. Caribou - You and I

  19. Charli XCX - forever

  20. George - 24 Hours

  21. SAINt JHN - Roses (Imanbek Remix)

  22. Miley Cyrus (feat. Dua Lipa) - Prisoner

  23. Tove Lo - Bikini Porn

  24. Selena Gomez - Vulnerable

  25. Allie X - Regulars

  26. The Weeknd - Alone Again

  27. Taylor Swift (feat. Bon Iver) - exile

Check out the playlist on Apple Music. Check out my profile on Apple Music.

And, I guess, check out the playlist on Spotify if you have a surplus of good karma and are looking to balance the scales.