Said the Gramophone - image by Matthew Feyld
by Sean

Hello world! We're still standing. Here are my 100 favourite songs of 2021: songs I love more than sand-worms, insurrections, and successfully traversing the Suez Canal.

Said the Gramophone is an old blog and we publish rarely. Writing about these songs is a tradition now almost two decades old and at this point it feels deeply seasonal -- at the end of November I start feeling like I imagine pumpkins must feel in August; or bears as the first frosts appear. I have something to do now. A habit that's made its way into my bones.

In 2021, I listened to as much or more music than in any year I can remember. I listened from home—because attending concerts was, for a while there, plausibly lethal. Still, I bought a ticket to see Michael Feuerstack and David-Ivar Herman Düne in September, in a basement up the road, and as I whispered along I felt like I was finally waking up from something. That's because I was. And we'll all go on waking.

This year I feel more out of sync with the singles charts than at any other time I can remember. Many of 2021's most popular tunes still don't make any sense to my ears. Perhaps I'm getting old. Perhaps people clung to flimsy sounds. But you know where to find that other stuff if you want to.

What you'll find below is the 17th such list at Said the Gramophone: see 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.

The best way to browse the proceeding is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.

You can also download the complete 100 songs in three parts:

I have also created a Spotify playlist for these tunes (#18 and #62 are missing). (Update: Here it is on Apple Music, with the same absences. Thanks Joey!) Remember: pay for the music you enjoy. Now more than ever. Giving money to Spotify is truly insufficient.

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This list is my work—me, Sean, and not any of Said the Gramophone's other contributors. Don't blame them for my unfortunate taste.

If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, please don't hesitate to page through the dusty archives. You can also follow me on Twitter or read my books: I'm the author of two novels—Us Conductors, from 2014, which reimagines the story of the theremin, and The Wagers, a novel about luck, which the Globe & Mail described as "a literary fireworks display, an explosion of joke-filled energy that manages to be a novel of ideas, but one delivered as if it were a caper story." Learn more—or get the ebook/audiobook/French/Italian/Czech translations via my author website.

Among the artists below, 47 are American, 20 are British (the highest ever), 16 are Canadian (the lowest ever), and there are five Australian, three Swedish, two French, two Nigerian, two Dominican, one Belgian, one Brazilian, one Colombian, one German, one Ghanaian, one Guinean, one Japanese, one Pakistani, one Senegalese, one South African, one Spanish and one Kiwi artist(s). 41 of the frontpeople/bandleaders are men, 56 are women (the most ever?), 0 identify as non-binary, and three are mixed duos. This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain't perfect. Here are some charts of this and past lists' demographics.

My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures.

My favourite albums of 2021 were:

I promise: all of these are fantastic, and are worthy of many hours of listening.


And now, without any further rigamarole, a mountain of proudly mixed metaphors:

Said the Gramophone's Best Songs of 2021 - original artwork by Eric Metcalfe
(original artwork by Eric Metcalfe; photo by Vancouver ArtGallery)

  1. Big Thief - "Little Things" [buy]
    The thing I love about this song (incidentally the first Big Thief song I've ever truly adored, with that rose-red shimmer in yr chest) is its press. There's nothing much to it but that press—the ring-ring-ring-ring-ring-ring-ring of a guitar. Adrienne Lenker murmurs; the drums fall down and get up again; another guitar darts at the periphery; but mostly ring-ring-ring-ring-ring, a hammer that won't stop. Hammer on heart, gold on silver, relentless and shining—this life, this awful splendid life, and its ravish.
  2. Low - "White Horses" [buy]
    A song like a ruinous glitch—like a chasm that's unsealed beneath your household, your city, underneath the whole world. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker sing in stately harmony while the everything around them seethes, shudders, and yet still stands.
  3. Mia Doi Todd ft. Jeff Parker and Money Mark - "Music Life" [buy]
    There can be majesty to something natural, intuitive, true. A tune by Mia Doi Todd was one of the first songs I ever reviewed; 20 years later, the gifted singer turns her attention to the years lived in between: the rewards and disappointments of a life given over to music.
    Chances are you've got a few friends
    who burned the candle at both ends
    And every day was a weekend
    until the dark night came for them
    in a hotel or hospital room
    And now you'll be seeing them soon
    in dreams and memories bittersweet
    And in songs sung so beautifully
    Songs sung so beautifully
    Life lived so fully.
    If you give your life to music.
    Jeff Parker's guitar and Money Mark's piano crowd in like so many memories—noisy enough to put the edge on, to keep the sugar from settling, to keep the sparks all suspended in the air.
  4. Indigo de Souza - "Hold U" [buy]
    Not to be confused with Masta Ace's 2011 classic (previously), nor Gyptian's "Hold You" (#33 on my Best of 2010), this breakthrough single by the North Carolina musician Indigo de Souza plays in a joyous, nourishing space between stability and lift. It's indie-pop rich in skip and skitter, the lo-fi soar of its choruses. But the undergirding is serious, low and almost mournful—a sequence of organ notes that you could build a foundation on, or a home.
  5. Chlöe - "Have Mercy" [video]
    By far my favourite pop (or R&B) song of the year—a cheeky, sinuous debut by Chloe Bailey, one half of Chloe x Halle. Although it stumbled on the charts, I find its allure self-evident, undeniable: the contrast of (frisky) melody and (steely) delivery; Chlöe's charisma; and a production devoted to playfulness, constantly tickling the ear. A tremendous coming-out.
  6. Kacy Hill - "So Loud" [buy]
    A supple, golden-hour ballad, trained on Cyndi Lauper, Haim, and the drum breakdown from "In the Air Tonight." From one of my favourite records of the year.
  7. Ben LaMar Gay ft Ohmme - "Sometimes I Forget How Summer Looks On You" [buy]
    A birthday-cake-coloured swirl of melody, harmony, and something nearly nauseating. It's easy to imagine "Sometimes I Forget..." as two or three (or five or six) different songs, tea-time soul and spiritual jazz and Flaming Lips'-like churn, but LaMar Gay's command of musical arrangement lets it all work together as one—triumphant, emotional, absolutely unreplicable. A tour de force of tune.
  8. Skiifall ft. Knucks - "Ting Tun Up pt. II" [video]
    This is the second version of "Ting Tun Up," but I missed the first (nobody's pefect). The best song by a Montreal rapper... ever? Gleaming in a way that's hard to put into words, illuminated both by YAMA//SATO's rhodes beat and by Skiifall's rolling flow. A sound I want to settle in and dwell inside, like landscape.
  9. Tonstartssbandht - "What Has Happened" [buy]
    Like a long joke, like a heartache, like a message rolled up and hidden in a tulip shell. Hard to explain who Tonstarssbandht are, what they do, except to say that "What Has Happened" isn't shaped like anything else you'll ever hear; you've never heard this particular shade of grey.
  10. Ali Sethi & Nicolas Jaar - "Yakjehti Mein" [video]
    As much as I loved Nicolas Jaar's latest record with Darkside ("The Limit" might easily have made this list), the rarest treasure of his 2021 is "Yakjehti Mein," a luminous collaboration with the Pakistani singer Ali Sethi. A pair of poems—"Hum dekhenge" and "Aaj bazar mein pa bajola chalo"—written by the great poet Faiz and now set to music in a call for Palestinian liberation. Sethi's voice seems to vibrate at two frequencies—patient and consoling, urgent and plaintive—and Jaar's electronics move around it like jewelled clockwork. Simply extraordinary—and from a rumoured long-player still in the works.
  11. Myriam Gendron - "Shenandoah (II)" [buy]
    My son used to attend the same daycare as Myriam Gendron's children and I'd often see her outside on the street, each of us bundling and cajoling and wrangling with the stuff of parenthood. We rarely spoke. Her first record, a transfiguration of poems by Dorothy Parker, was one of my favourite folk releases of the past 25 years. Shyness then, from both of us. But also, I think, a tacit recognition of the work we were each undertaking: the wordless solidarity of our effort and our love. The American traditional "Shenandoah" is probably the keystone of Gendron's second album, Ma délire. It appears twice, as an instrumental and then again like this, translated into French. Gendron's "Shenandoah (II)" is low-fidelity, slow-motion, an expression of love and longing that seems to transcend place and time, from colonial Missouri to post-colonial Montreal; but the singer also makes a subtle shift to its lyrics, lifting the song away from the Rocky Mountains and into an expression of devotion that stretches far further, beyond any measure, to the very ends of the Earth ("jusqu'au bout de la terre").
  12. CHVRCHES - "Asking for a Friend" [buy]
    The opening track from Screen Violence—synth-pop that quivers and slams, silver-glassy, red light flashing everywhere.
  13. Wau Wau Collectif - "Mouhamodou Lo and His Children" [buy]
    A tune like the best kind of fairy tale, tender and magical, ancient and youthful, visited by a saxophone and a flying saucer. Wau Wau Collectif is a collaboration between the Swedish musician Karl Jonas Winqvist, Senegalese engineer Arouna Kane, and an array of West African and North European partners. Mouhamoudou Lo may well be the name of the main male voice; the children might be his children; I don't know, I just close my eyes and imagine them, peaceful and playful, bathed in a cosmic folk music.
  14. Katy J Pearson and Maudlin - "Willie of Winsbury" [buy]
    For six months I've been smitten, unreasonably smitten, by this bizarre, cross-pollinated rendition of "Willie of Winsbury"—a British traditional dating back to 1775. Katy J Pearson's from Bristol; Maudlin's from not-sure-where; and from an instrumental perspective they give the tune all appropriate pomp and filigree. But Pearson's more Dolly Parton than Sandy Denny—instead of singing it flat and windy, she gives the tune a shrill, urgent tremolo. The country-folk inversion is strange and sour and faintly science-fiction, as if it comes from a universe with different maps.
  15. A1 x J1 - "Latest Trends" [buy]
    A1's 15, J1's 17, they made this song for Houseparty, then TikTok, then Spotify, Youtube, worlds beyond. It's not clear how any of these platforms allow A1 or J1 to actually earn a living, however this is evidently their goal—pounds sterling, or USD$ at the minimum. "You wouldn't know this, but my heart is cold like my home is," A1 explains in the chorus. "I can't have a bitch, 'cause I'd probably lose focus." They're cold 🥶 hard capitalists singing as sweetly as lovers, K-Ci & JoJo reinvented for the gig economy.
  16. Lucy Dacus - "VBS" [buy]
    "In the summer of '07 I was sure I'd go to Heaven / but I was hedging my bets / at VBS." So begins this song about adolescence and bible school—it goes basically the way you'd think. But Dacus has the songwriter's gift of saying a lot with a little, and her doubled vocals (think Andy Shauf or Elliott Smith) lend tenderness to "VBS"' luckless, lonely, lovely thump. A song like a crucifix uncertainly worn.
  17. Amyl and the Sniffers - "Guided by Angels" [buy]
    Punk-rock from Australia: Amy Taylor snarls her salvation, pogo-ing in place as divine light pours from her nipples, her nostrils, the points of her middle-fingertips.
  18. Sault - "Bitter Streets" [more]
    Sault, the winners of 2020, didn't rise to the same heights in 2021, but they probably made more money: the group's bandleader, Inflo, produced three tracks on the new Adele record (not to mention two much better albums by Cleo Sol and Little Simz). Still, the London-based R&B collective remains one of the most compelling, prolific and consistent bands in the world. In June they released Nine, their fifth album in 25 months, and "Bitter Streets" was the highlight: an uncanny, groovy ballad; a little Gladys Knight and a little Connan Mockasin; a classic sound made contemporary, all its light dispersed.
  19. Charlotte Cardin - "Daddy" [buy]
    I'm not usually susceptible to the idea of a guilty pleasure but this song is called daddy, and it's not a tune about Cardin's father. I find the phrase inane, vaguely odious—so imagine my surprise (and reluctance): "Daddy" is by far my favourite recording of the Montreal singer's career. Never mind the lyrics, or try your best: listen instead to the melody's drift and flutter; to the band's quick, scrupulous groove. Possibly the easiest listen of the year (assuming you don't understand English).
  20. Mustafa - "The Hearse" [buy]
    Mustafa the Poet's magisterial debut album invents a new kind of sound: soft-textured folk music about street violence and its collateral damage, informed by hip-hop but only scarcely, like a common weather. "The Hearse" skirts the grandiosity of much of his other work, casting its tragedy in a pulsing, playful light. It's neither a love song nor a war song, it's a lament cast in ecstasy—the dangerous pleasure of a common fate.
  21. Goodbye Honolulu - "Cut Off" [buy]
    Full disclosure: Goodbye Honolulu's drummer is my cousin. But the family connection made me hold this song to a higher standard, frankly. "Cut Off" bounces with the ping of the Ramones, the pong of the Strokes—the kind of rock'n'roll that makes you think of drunk kisses, brickwork, and running through the streets on a rainy night. Nervy and electric with just enough sweetness, especially in its closing bars, to bring a happy ending to life.
  22. Flock of Dimes - "Two" [buy]
    Flock of Dimes remains the solo project of Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner and "Two" is the locket swinging around Head of Roses' neck. The video plays with mirrors, doubling, but the song's as much about separation as togetherness: a flower-soft synth-pop tune asking what love is if it doesn't involve subsubming the other, swallowing them up.
  23. Tokischa & Rosalía - "Linda" [video]
    My favourite Spanish pop-star lends her persuasive phonetics to Tokishcha, a Dominican rapper whose affect brings to mind an extremely intelligent little sister. "Linda" feels like double-dutch and playing catch and like putting yourself in a position where at any time a boulder might smash you to smithereens.
  24. Coldplay - "Higher Power" [video]
    I like Coldplay—except when they're terrible, which is increasingly often, but not here, on a tune co-written by Max Martin, a song that's breathless, kinetic, alive with a sincere and expansive joy.
  25. Tierra Whack - "Stand Up" [buy]
    A bone-dry beat. A rapper with one obsidian eye and one opal. Something faintly Yorgos Lanthimos about her—and not just the Favorite-inspired video. A couple decades after Missy, Whack rhymes like no one else can or would: "I am like the mayor / I am not the mayor." Someone give her a chain of office.
  26. Lisa LeBlanc - "Entre toi pi moi pi la corde de bois" [buy]
    I was quickly taken with his teaser-track from LeBlanc's upcoming Chiac Disco (the title's an allusion to the singer's distinctive strain of Acadian French and, um, the popular 1970s dance craze). Over burbling keys and strings as smooth as sucre à la crème, LeBlanc sings a lean, catchy tune about hanging around the cottage & doing jack shit.
  27. Leo Bhanji - "Damaged" [buy]
    A song like a sort of incantation—bedroom musings mumbled and deconstructed alongside samples from past, present, future: Dilla? The Noviciat des Soeurs Missionnaires de Notre-Dame d'Afrique? Metal Gear Solid? I adore the shimmer of it, the simultaneous thinness and presence, like smoke hanging in the air.
  28. Martha Wainwright - "Love Will be Reborn" [buy]
    Martha recorded her last record just up the street from me, in her own tiny venue, with musicians from the supernatural music group Bernice. There's a little of 1985 in it; and a little of 2085; but this tune is simply a song about love and its rebirth, that uncounted-on redemption; and she sings the hell out of it.
  29. Doja Cat ft. SZA - "Kiss Me More" [buy]
    Love a raunchy R&B song that begins with the words, "We hug and kiss". Love a song like the soundtrack to a mellow amusement-park ride. Love Doja Cat's alternating flows, the way she uses a change of cadence to electrify a verse. "Kiss Me More" basks in its Christmas-light glow—the kind of fun that's rare + sugared, but still essentially wholesome.
  30. Little Simz ft. Obongjayar - "Point and Kill" [buy]
    Little Simz executes this song with a clear conscience, an even stare. Her new record, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, is a massive leap forward—it lifts Little Simz to the ranks of my favourite rappers working today. Here, the 27-year-old Londoner is assisted by the Nigerian singer Obongjayar, by Inflo's clink & bass & horns, as well as by a memory of M.I.A.—sweeping like a pendulum across her flow. But the centre is hers, bright and mighty, true to itself as fruit on a tree.
  31. Falle Nioke & sir Was - "Wonama yo ema" [buy]
    This collaboration between Falle Nioke, who was born in Guinea, and sir Was, from Gothenburg, is a weightless marvel, like a waft of bergamot and clary sage. Nioke's vocals interweave across synths, woodwinds, and traditional African instruments; each repetition feels like a subtle rearrangement of the air.
  32. Ethel Cain - "Crush" [buy]
    Swathed in Floridian sunlight, draped in the flannel of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the songwriter Ethel Cain drifts in and out of phase—ghost and portent. "Crush" is either a lighting-up or a snuffing-out.
  33. Holly Humberstone - "Please Don't Leave Just Yet" [buy]
    A rainy, achey, reluctant long song, gleaming like streetlights, co-written and co-produced by Matt Healy of The 1975.
  34. Gayance - "Fruta Gogoia" [buy]
    Montreal's Gayance transforms Gal Costa's performance of "Fruta Gogoia" from something sober and nearly morose into a site of (eerie) play—a sound that's upbeat, funky, yet at the same time weirdly haunted, like a dancefloor inherited in a will.
  35. Taylor Swift - "Holy Ground (Taylor's version)" [buy]
    Taylor Swift re-recorded all of her 2012 album Red because she doesn't control the masters of the original version. This was a matter either of principle, pique, stubbornness or greed. (If it was principle, I'd encourage the singer to do more to change this practice industry-wide.) Whatever the motivation, some of the re-recorded versions are better and some of them are worse: "Holy Ground" is improved, kicked up another notch, a little of the twang swapped-out for raw stomp. I'm not sure this song benefits from a wiser singer: some mistakes ring truer when they're newer. But I hear more pleasure in Swift's voice here—she knows even better the preciousness of a song like this and its singing.
  36. Pino Palladino & Blake Mills - "Ekuté" [buy]
    A nervy, scrumptious instrumental by Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes) and Pino Palladino (one of the greatest session bassists of all time). This track features Marcus Strickland's horns, Chris Dave on drums, and none other than Andrew Bird on violin. If it were a calendar it'd be lunar; if it was a clock, it'd cuckoo.
  37. The Kid LAROI ft. Justin Bieber - "Stay" [buy]
    Like getting a tattoo of your ex on the itchiest part of your body.
  38. Madi Diaz - "Nervous" [buy]
    The buzz of a headache, the buzz of a guitar-string, the buzz of a crush and its occasionally ill-effects. Madi Diaz's voice dips and crests like a swallow that can't quit its mate, like a ball on a string just waiting to get whapped.
  39. Abstract Mindstate - "A Wise Tale" [stream]
    One of this year's oddly slept-on stories was Abstract Mindstate, an early-2000s hip-hop duo resurrected by the interest of—and production by—Kanye West. With a smart, conscious style that's leagues away from West's recent escapades, the Chicago MCs delivered a strong album filled with the kind of soul samples that made a certain bygone rap era feel so agreeable. "A Wise Tale" was the lead single and the LP's highlight—a mea culpa with a grin on its face, the sort of warning you'd ignore just to hear it repeated again.
  40. Selena Gomez & Camilo - "999" [video]
    A sparkling Spanish-language tune from Gomez (who normally performs in English) and the Colombian pop singer Camilo. Lithe and lilting, with a rhythm like the click and crackle of ice in a highball.
  41. Black Country, New Road - "Track X" [buy]
    At disparate moments cozy or skeletal, at home or alienated, horns & guitar & coos & recrimination from a British band that feels like Nick Cave crossed with Xiu Xiu.
  42. Natalie Bergman - "Talk to the Lord" [buy]
    Crooked kitchen-sink gospel, where that crookedness is the thing that gives it life. Like the twinkle of a clean plate on a dirty dish-rack, profane proof for the existence of God.
  43. Sweeping Promises - "Pain Without a Touch" [buy]
    That first riff like a stab in the back; then they keep coming, one after another, and you turn toward the knife, happy as a clam. Everything about this garage-rock tune is braided around the chorus, the title, with Lira Mondal singing like a breathless, alpine Neko Case.
  44. Anna Fox Rochinski - "Cherry" [buy]
    Quilt's Anna Fox Rochinski rides a rainbow road of twanging guitars and Mariah Carey mini-runs on the way to "Cherry"'s steady, chiming ruby of a chorus.
  45. The Goon Sax - "In the Stone" [buy]
    A call & answer in alto and baritone, happily sombre, as a guitar chugs. A song of (emotional) vampires, the way we're all hiding sets of fangs.
  46. Katy Kirby - "Traffic!" [buy]
    Katy Kirby's Cool Dry Place was one of the highlights of my end-of-year—an aching, breaking record for when the weather turned. At times just gentle singer-songwritery, almost straight-ahead, but with moments of slight refraction—whether it's autotune, twang or a swell of synthetic angels.
  47. The Limiñanas and Laurent Garnier - "Saul" [buy]
    My favourite French psych group collaborates with the French producer Laurent Garnier for a record that feels like Serge Gainsbourg crossed with Blade Runner—"Saul" uncoils with libidinous menace, lustrous trouble. "Il y a de la cruauté dans l'air (there's cruelty in the air) / à l'école (at school) / au village (in the village)..."
  48. Illuminati Hotties - "Pool Hopping" [buy]
    Like Bejar, Malkmus or Mark E Smith, Illuminati Hotties' Sarah Tudzin has a gift for phrases like gumdrops—the kind of things you just want to pop into your mouth. "Stealth makeout / breakfast take-out," she squawks. Or, later: "All rip'rs / No more skip'rs!" But the music's a long way from Destroyer, Pavement or The Fall—an indie rock much more methodical, engineered, less like an oil-painting and more like a shiny, possibly over-elaborate jet.
  49. Cleo Sol - "Spirit" [buy]
    The singer of my favourite and fifth-favourite songs of last year returns with a more serene, quietened record (the title is Mother); "Spirit" is one of its serene, slightly-less-quiet treasures. An unfolding of drums & piano and eventually horns & choir—Sol responds to loss with open-hearted, nearly lavish, abundance.
  50. Billie Eilish - "I Didn't Change My Number" [buy]
    I really like this grimly swinging Billie Eilish tune—it's a kiss-off and a threat, but most of the violence is tucked inside the chords and synth patches, like a cheerful greeting-card scratched in poison ink.
  51. Springtime - "Will to Power" [buy]
    Springtime's a six-legged supergroup featuring Tropical Fuck Storm's Gareth Lillard, The Necks' Chris Abraham, and Dirty White's Jim White (aka my favourite drummer of all time). Isolate just the piano part and "Will to Power"'s anemic, almost rinkydink—but that's like ignoring the heat as you hurtle into a star: Lillard howls like a villain at the end of a Bond movie, spittle flying, roaring about what he's done and what he's due.
  52. Third Eye Blind - "Box of Bones" [buy]
    This is my list, I don't need to apologize for anything.
  53. Sun-EL Musician ft. Simmy - "Higher" [buy]
    A South African sunrise.
  54. LUMP - "Animal" [buy]
    LUMP is a team-up between singer-songwriter Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay, who has a long-time folktronica project called Tunng. But "Animal" (and the record it's from, Animal) avoid the stale safeness that a description like that might suggest. There's instead something probiotic to this music: twitchy, alive, with a slightly carbonated tang.
  55. Wet Leg - "Chaise Longue" [pre-order]
    Powered by cute girls, a cool video, and this excellent, double-entendre-crammed single, I can't decide if Wet Leg are the next Yeah Yeah Yeahs or the next Right Said Fred. But there's no getting away from "Chaise Longue"'s sleek, sealskin appeal: a ticking clock, catchy riffs, and Rhian Teasdale's stern purr about "buttered muffins" and her lover's Brobdingnagian D.
  56. Piers Faccini - "Dunya" [buy]
    "Dunya" is a collaboration between Faccini, who lives in France, and the Algerian musician Malik Ziad. Lashed with strings and excellent, specific drumming by Simone Prattico, it's a sombre mixture of Faccini's agile, occasionally soppy, songcraft and a heavier North African influence—the sort of outstanding fusion that Faccini's label, NØ FØRMAT, has come to reliably produce.
  57. Ayra Starr - "Bloody Samaritan" [video]
    From Nigeria, a shot against the bow that ripples and pulses yet is suffused with a melancholy, nearly crestfallen, spirit.
  58. Lil Nas X ft. Doja Cat - "SCOOP" [buy]
    Clearly the best pop star in the world right now—and "SCOOP" is a gold-and-chocolate confection, a song that feels like a highly useful verb.
  59. Rostam - "Bio18" [buy]
    He credits Debussy and Ravel, but I hear the mighty Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou in the DNA of this song—an influence ne plus ultra, if you ask me. "Bio18"'s languid beauty is even and unobtrusive, rooted in Rostam's piano as well as some excellent percussion and a marvelous sax part by Henry Solomon.
  60. Wolf Alice - "How Can I Make It OK?" [buy]
    The kind of track that makes me nostalgic for heartache—makes me wish I could rent it at the store, take it as a date to the movies. Wolf Alice are one of the world's best bands, with a command of sound that is occasionally almost too much—leaves me longing for a little more fumble or flop.
  61. Jose Gonzalez - "Tjomme (DJ Koze remix)" [buy]
    There are a couple of tunes I love on Local Valley, Gonzalez's latest ("Lilla J" and "El Invento" especially), but I just can't resist the way DJ Koze remade "Tjomme," folding and unfolding it, leaving creases all over, different ways to arrange it, to hear it, each repetition like a day or a week or a month or a year, take 2, take 3, take 10, you still have time to change the final cast.
  62. Le Mav ft. Tay Iwar - "Supersonic" [more]
    Silky Nigerian pop that waits almost an entire minute before showing its hand: that's when the knock comes, brrup tup, a call anyone in their right mind would answer.
  63. Julien Sagot - "Cendre et descendre" [buy]
    A song like one of those "cartoons for grown-ups" where someone walks along a grey, night-lit street while flames gutter and flare from the stormgrates. Vive les bandits, vive les bandits! A lament and a weary joke for this land and all its greed.
  64. Sofia Kourtesis - "La Perla" [buy]
    Techno in white, off-white, eggshell, ivory, linen, alabaster, porcelain, cream, seashell. A prayer, a holiday, a clean set of sheets.
  65. Aldous Harding - "Old Peel" [buy]
    A song that's there for the taking, for the misinterpretation. Sheets of Easter, feats of Easter—hot clown and the creek is turning. It might be a spell and it might be a memoir—a Canterbury Tales for a woman who has seen too much, who learned sorcery from a one-legged lecher. (And a final thump from a blackjack down upon your head.)
  66. Tion Wayne - "Wow" [buy]
    Brutal, bounding drill music—a tune that bounces like the recoil from a pistol or a hammer.
  67. Hand Habits - "Aquamarine" [buy]
    Dusky synth-pop about the heaviest things—deception, suicide, parenthood—but glittering here, skittering, a singer who has learned to make candles come back to life just by pointing at them.
  68. Arooj Aftab - "Mohabbat" [buy]
    Glittering Persian folk-music—the production's at times too glittering in fact, like trying to see into a sequin room. But Aftab's voice is supple and steady, a bearer of feelings more complex than mere shine.
  69. Spinabenz ft. Whoppa Wit Da Choppa, Yungeen Ace & FastMoney Goon - "Who I Smoke" [video]
    For me, the most disturbing song of this year—but a tune I also kept returning to, studying like a pearl under a loupe. Yes: a celebration of gang killings built atop a sparkly "Thousand Miles" sample. It's certainly not the most gruesome tune I've ever loved, but the mixture of violence, delight and something like "sincerity" is genuinely unsettling. (Vanessa Carlton, for the record, has no problem with it.)
  70. Fiver - "June Like A Bug" [buy]
    Mystical folk-country that takes the month of June and rolls it in iridescent butterfly parts, fly parts, grasshopper parts. Sorrow and fury, acceptance and resistance, the pinch of a pin as it pierces the fabric of your shirt.
  71. TDA - "Présence" [buy]
    A clamorous industrial pop-song, like a Christmas tree made of scrap metal and gloom.
  72. Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan - "The Old Men of the Shells" [buy]
    Something seized me, and held me, in this performance of a Scottish traditional. It's the arrowlike trajectory of Polwart's voice but also, and maybe especially, the cool plainness of Milligan's piano. A song not washed in suds and flowerpetals but swept by wind.
  73. Barrie - "Dig" [buy]
    A weird northwestern grit-of-teeth—angry, needy, nearly tropical (!). Like a Peter Doig painting of a Casiotone song.
  74. Julie Doiron - "The Letters We Sent" [buy]
    A flaming arrow from Julie Doiron, one of my favourite songwriters in the world. A song of finding your heart has broken (open); of letters you may or may not decide to burn. Daniel Romano's closing guitar solo sets the end of the song alight, makes it all into tinder, filling the sky with smoke. Neil Young in cotton pyjamas.
  75. Worlasi - "Fkn Guy" [buy]
    Wry and lighthearted pop about the infuriating allure of... boys. From Ghana.
  76. Fake Fruit - "No Mutuals" [buy]
    From Oakland, California—a singer with an excellent, blunted punk shout; a band with growl and grin in their guitars; and a message to a fool who's making trouble.
  77. Big Red Machine ft. La Force - "8:22am" [buy]
    Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner and friends—or at least one friend, La Force's incandescent Ariel Engle—perform a song of moments, of impressionistic glimpses, glances, the chill of dawn and the black of night, the way a memory ties a gold cord around your heart and stays there, tightening, loosening, tightening again.
  78. Damien Jurado - "Johnny Caravella" [buy]
    The most profound, heartbreaking, thunderous song ever written about a character from WKRP in Cincinnati.
  79. El Alfa, Busta Rhymes & Anitta ft. Wisin, CJ and El Cherry Scom - "La Mamá De La Mamá (Remix)" [video]
    A transnational party track, with Busta Rhymes setting the tone up front: heavy, purposeful, playful. Not that they needed him: the mostly Spanish-language original was already a smash (110 million views), anchored by El Alfa's ejaculations and that relentless 4/4 beat.
  80. Tirzah - "Send Me" [buy]
    Like Sam Cooke crossed with an industrial-grade printing press: somewhere that's blasted twice a day with compressed air, its components sprayed down with bleach. Tirzah allows her wanting to sound rudimentary, nearly childlike—but she combines these stripped-down vocals with a clockmaker's vision, specific and meticulous, selecting whatever gear will make the song shiver.
  81. Waxahatchee - "Streets of Philadelphia" [buy]
    Waxahatchee's Saint Cloud, released last year, is one of those records that's still gaining power over me—that's looming larger & larger in the back-catalogue of my life. Katie Crutchfield released an expanded version this year, with a few covers—including this take on Bruce Springsteen's classic, a favourite tune from my teenage years, which I heard first during a classmate's oral presentation. (Her name was Ramona; thanks, Ramona!) Either Crutchfield's voice fits your heart like a key, I suppose, or else it doesn't; but I'm a flimsy cabinet.
  82. Perfume Genius - "Borrowed Light (Katie Dey remix)" [buy]
    Katie Dey shatters "Borrowed Light" and reassembles the shards—faces skew in the mirror, loom, pixellate. Tenderness remains.
  83. Ada Lea - "Damn" [buy]
    A proud addition to the tradition of songs that take place when you're having a bad time at a party. "Damn" plays like a short film; it gathers force as its chorus montages repeat. "I've had it with this place / we've all gone insane," Alexandra Levy sings—a statement we've all lived through this year, climbing the walls of our own small lives.
  84. H.E.R. ft Thundercat - "Back of my Mind" [buy]
    One of those rare places where the guest bassist really does refine the song: H.E.R.'s plaintive R&B is granted a permanence, maybe even a grace, by Thundercat's roaming counterpoint. Together they make a sound that feels like it could endure, lending itself to future trouble.
  85. Kacey Musgraves - "Justified" [buy]
    Like a pastel convertible through a West Texas evening.
  86. Wet - "Larabar" [buy]
    A melting, lonely tune, falling apart at the seams. (Every era learns a different way to come apart.)
  87. Tristen - "Complex" [buy]
    I just love the way Tristen rhymes complex with complex, the repetition fitting itself like a set of red solo cups. Tristen's Tristen Gaspadarek; she's a Nashville songwriter with a band keeping pace beside her—all of them on horses, cantering through the morning, not yet thinking about lunch.
  88. Josie Dunne - "Cooped Up" [video]
    The pop singer Josie Dunne has been rebooting her career with a year-long series of songs & videos called Tennis. Each of them offers a different flavour of Carly Rae Jepsenesque delights, and "Cooped Up" is my favourite of the bunch: eager, breezy, happy as a bluebird with its particular quarantine situation.
  89. Yuma Abe - "Omaemo" [buy]
    Sun-kissed Japanese folk, like Mac DeMarco after 10 years of office work—finally over himself, alert to his good fortune, staring happily at the flowers in the window.
  90. Ed Dowie - "Dear Florence" [buy]
    If the Gates of Heaven opened up in an en-suite kitchen.
  91. Dntel - "Fall in Love" [buy]
    For The Seas Trees See, the long-time electronica-maker (and Postal Service co-founder) known as Dntel turned his sights to traditional folk music, borrowing acapellas such as Kate Wolf's "The Lilac and the Apple Tree" and warming them, bending them, twisting them back on themselves. I couldn't work out where he got the pieces for "Fall In Love," but I love the weird, burred thing he made with them—turning a clear-voiced tune cloudy, making plainsong feel alien.
  92. Rozi Plain - "Silent Fan" [buy]
    An unsettling admiration. On this Adult Swim single, the English singer-songwriter takes the notion of the "fan," the admirer, and turns it in the light, exploring its facets, the shadow it leaves upon the velvet. There's a peacefulness to "Silent Fan," a wary readiness—the sense that Plain is up to the task—but at the same time a tremor underneath: from saxophone and even weirder things, worrying at the edges.
  93. Tuns - "My Memories" [buy]
    I suspect that almost everyone who has watched Get Back has asked themselves, "Shouldn't everyone make music like this?" The answer is no: not everyone should make music like the Beatles. But thank god Tuns do—the only Canadian indie supergroup devoted to repaving Nathan Phillips Square with a dappled Strawberry Field. "Memories" is honey-sweet and strafed with harmonies; it catches the light like a crossing-guard's gold tooth.
  94. Le Ren - "I Already Love You" [buy]
    Le Ren is steady in her heartache and bright-eyed in her wishing, her ears attuned to Nashville and to Fife (even though she lives in Montreal). Her music is clean. It's unhurried. It will hang in the air, sad and old-souled, until whenever it is it's needed.
  95. Dry Cleaning - "Every Day Carry" [buy]
    Make it to the far side of the canyon in the second half of "Every Day Carry" and you will feel like you have gulped down gasoline, the fancy kind of gasoline, Ultra Super-essence of whatever it's called, the sort of thing that makes your muscles go wiry and your eyes glow red. "I just want to put something positive into the world but it's hard because I'm so full of poisonous rage," Florence Cleopatra Shaw explains. "I just can't creep comfortably." This band—and this singer—move about like shadow people, they can slip through walls.
  96. Cate Le Bon - "Running Away" [buy]
    Imagine a Medieval tapestry. Soaking wet, because someone dipped it in the moat. Fragrantly perfumed, because somebody sprayed it with oud. And when you hold your ear up close to it? You hear the Benny Goodman Band.
  97. Twin Shadow - "Johnny & Jonnie" [buy]
    There's something fondly "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" about "Johnny & Jonnie," enough so that you wonder if it's a joke. But the lyrics say otherwise—lines about gay lovers fleeing Texas in the 70s, taking refuge in New Orleans. Maybe the joke's what they find there: a series of pratfalls and punchlines, happy disasters, true love sputtering while dub reverb fires.
  98. Liars - "Sekwar" [buy]
    The sinister squelch of an asshole ascendant: but Angus Andrew tastes his trouble; he knows what he's got isn't good for him. "All the substance seeping out / from the storeroom of my mind," he growls. "All the colours that I wanted to hold." A sound like doomed rock'n'roll.
  99. Quivers - "Radio Song" [buy]
    Maybe I shouldn't be so passionate about a cover of a 30-year-old R.E.M. song, but Melbourne's Quivers redeem it with such subtle finesse: slowing the whole thing down, infusing it with power, amputating the (many) bad bits. In their care, "Radio" becomes not just hopeful but noble somehow: "The world is collapsing / around our ears / I turned up the radio. / [Now] I can't hear it."
  100. Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul - "Thank You" [buy]
    It's not often you get a dance track so dripping with sarcasm. But "Thank You" somehow balances pleasure and contempt, shimmying backward across the room even as it rolls its eyes. The title of Adigéry and Pupul's upcoming LP seems apt: Topical Dancer. But there's nothing tedious about Adigéry's anti-patriarchal/anti-colonial techno: like with Marie Davidson, I'd listen to her renew a driver's license.
And that's 100 songs, if my counting's correct. Thank you for reading! Thank you for listening! Sorry for any broken links, please pay for the music you love. (Invest in what's important or it will go away.) Don't be strangers.

Leave a comment if you like? Tell a friend?

And see you next year.

by Jeff

17th century drawing of the fortifications at Tangier

Taqbir - "Sma3" [bandcamp / vinyl]

The genius of punk is eternally on the move, a fugitive spirit inspiring the crabby, smart, and sensitive around the globe. My favourite new jam is by woman-fronted Moroccan Taqwacore crew Taqbir. Blasting out of Tangier, their four song EP is a furious gust of universal hardcore. A fluid phased-out bass drives the lead song "Sma3." Accompanied by gloriously distorted guitar and bouncy drums, it is as invigorating as an espresso shot after a night of restless sleep. The vocals are powerful, fresh, vital, and fueled by a surfeit of rage at hypocrisy and greed, made explicit by the Crass-level agitprop cover graphics. This crucial EP is another entry in the forever-expanding catalogue of brilliant punk from everywhere, an atlas of discontent and shredding. Maghrebi hardcore forever!

(image source)

by Jeff

A beagle sitting on a bed, partially covered by a blanket, looking tired

Bonnie "Prince" Billy - "Thick Air"[buy on bandcamp]

Until the beginning of June, Nova Scotia was under third-wave lockdown, and now we're in Phase 2 of reopening. It seems we're climbing out of the tunnel, or coming round the valley bend, or opening the shutters. I don't know, global pandemics seem to lend themselves so readily to metaphor, but in the moment none of them feel really right. Admittedly, that's pretty low on their list of negatives, but a good metaphor would have helped, as I surfed through all the different eras, all the new normals packed tightly into the last fifteen months.

The closest sonic analogue I found to the cramped feeling of second lockdown is this song from Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Cheeky clarinet, springy drums, and capacious upright bass provide a sure-footed backdrop to Bonnie's reassuring baritone. He acknowledges the "long, long time we've been shut darkly in, / Scratching for smiles, and missing our friends." But, he insists, it's almost over. And something great is coming.

In the quarter-century since I first encountered Will Oldham, the warbling kid cinematographer has been replaced by a bone-tired elder statesman, doggedly celebrating life despite all its losses and disappointments, encouraging us to look up and notice "the thick air of promise" surging by.

This song is a life-raft, a consolation. It has buoyed me countless times throughout the past uncertain months. It is the great covid song, even if it was released on 2019's I Made a Place. Most likely, it is about Oldham taking care of his parents at the end of their lives, but nothing else fits the static mood of covid year two, a time when the right metaphor has been so difficult to find.

--

It's summer now and I'm feeling Gramophone-y. I'll try to post here over the coming weeks. Hope everyone is holding on <3

by Sean

These are my 100 favourite songs of 2020: songs I love more than solitude, take-out and the immune-responses of bats.

What a hell year. What a nightmare. What an endless shit parade. 2020 was a fuckin Grand Canyon of Wretchedness and yet, and yet, it was also suffused with a sense of resilience: the sense of coming-through. We have lived inside an avalanche. We have sunk to the bottom of the sea. We have survived isolation and deprivation and loneliness and loss; we have ordered deliveries; we have strived; we have applied alcohol to our hands. We have come this far and promise me we will keep on going somehow, in kindness and in solidarity, with songs on our lips.

Said the Gramophone is an old blog and we publish rarely. Early in this year's pandemic, as monotony and worry unfurled, I began posting again. Then I stopped. I am OK, I'm writing, I'm caring for myself and everyone I can. But life got very small and it's going to stay small, I suspect, for a little while.

Except in music: in music, as in dream, there is no such thing as quarantine.

This here is the 16th list like this at Said the Gramophone: see 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.

The best way to browse the proceeding is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.

You can also download the complete 100 songs in three parts:

I have also created a Spotify playlist for these tunes. (Update: And Apple Music. Thanks Joey!) However, please pay for the music you enjoy. Giving money to Spotify is insufficient; Bandcamp is much better.

#

This list is the work of me, Sean, and not any of Said the Gramophone's other contributors. Don't blame them for my questionable taste.

If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, I hope you'll bookmark us or subscribe via RSS. You can also follow me on Twitter.

The WagersPlease read my books! I'm the author of two novels—Us Conductors, from 2014, which reimagines the story of the theremin, and The Wagers, a novel about luck, which was recently optioned by Hulu. The Globe & Mail called The Wagers "a literary fireworks display, an explosion of joke-filled energy that manages to be a novel of ideas, but one delivered as if it were a caper story." You can learn about both of these books (and get them in print/ebook/audiobook form) at my author website.

Among the 100 acts below, 39 are generally American, 27 are Canadian, 14 are British and there are five Nigerian, four South African, three Australian, two Norwegian, one German, one Tanzanian, one Argentinian, one Portuguese, one Danish and one Kiwi artist. 51 of the frontpeople/bandleaders are men, 48 are women, and at least one artist is non-binary. This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain't perfect. Here are some charts of this and past lists' demographics.

My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures.

My favourite albums of 2020 were:

  • Waxahatchee - St Cloud (listen);
  • The Microphones - Microphones in 2020 (listen);
  • This Is The Kit - Off Off On (listen);
  • Alabaster dePlume - To Cy and Lee Instrumentals Vol. 1 (listen);
  • Max de Wardener - Music for Detuned Pianos (listen);
  • Cleo Sol - Rose in the Dark (listen);
  • P'tit Belliveau - Greatest Hits Vol 1 (listen);
  • Jeff Parker & The New Breed - Suite For Max Brown (listen);
  • Crack Cloud - Pain Olympics (listen); and
  • Pa Salieu - Send Them to Coventry (listen).
I promise: all of these are fantastic.

Now, without any more rigamarole, lots of proudly mixed metaphors:

Said the Gramophone's Best Songs of 2020 - original image by Shanti Shea An
(original image by Shanti Shea An)

  1. Sault - "Wildfires" [buy]
    The central flaw—the only flaw?—of my favourite song of the year is that ends after 3 minutes and 27 seconds: that it does not last forever, an unbroken groove. "I will always care," intones the unnamed singer (understood to be the artist on this list's #5 track); the irony is that "Wildfires" is a song striving for an ending—to police violence, anti-Black racism. White supremacy seems able to survive anything, from war to protest to a worldwide pandemic. Yet the force of this track, the vow at its heart, is the promise of undoing. A dagger wrapped in velvet, a voice and a bassline, Cleo Sol's pledge that she "will always rise"—as all her numberless companions nod along.
  2. Waxahatchee - "Fire" [buy]
    From one fire to another, this one less rampant: the scorch of a river in sunset, a heart in revision. Katie Crutchfield's voice cuts through and crosses lines, vivid in ways other voices cannot be. And a groove that's so simple, just a couple of branches and a chemical reaction—watch it burst into flame. The part of this song that most gets me, the alchemy in it, is a moment around 2:14, when the drums and guitar Crutchfield's voice all seem to collide, overlapping, not quite in order, unfastening my locks like a skeleton key.
  3. Max de Wardener - "The Sky Has A Film" [buy]
    I don't know if you heard, but all this crazy shit happened this year. None of the old piano repertoire seemed sufficient—I didn't really turn to Bach or Brahms or Guèbrou. All that stuff made too much sense. Instead I listened to Kyle Gann and Max de Wardener: pieces ful of im/patience and stirring and wrong (right) notes, music like refracted light, or broken pixels, too long staring at the screen.
  4. Weather Station - "The Robber" [buy]
    The lead single from Tamara Lindeman's lustrous new album (full disclosure: i wrote the bio) is infused with a sinister, shadow-edged desire. There are shades of Talk Talk, and even Serge Gainsbourg, but Lindeman is as patient as a ruby, unburdened by the anxiety of influence. She sings in a slow, low vocal, aware of how easily her voice can hug the strings' or bassline's curve—aware of how little it takes to be tugged along, complicit, or how small a spark can catch on dry tinder and ignite.
  5. Cleo Sol - "Why Don't You" [buy]
    The year's best R&B album was by Cleo Sol, who records with the band Sault. (Judging from the name of that very secretive group, she was one of its founders.) Between Sault and her own debut, the London singer has released five albums since the beginning of 2019; an astonishing run, and while "Wildfires" was at 2020's summit, I found myself turning more often to her solo record. Rose in the Dark is tender and personal, aptly named—and "Why Don't You" shivers with feeling, a complicated feeling, closer to an Alice Munro short story than to an Usher ballad. Through strings and woodwinds, Sol narrates a relationship's worries and pitfalls, its risks and its fruit. "Remember on the weekend / I said I'd make some changes," she sings. "And you said you'd do the same thing." Plainspoken and faithful.
  6. Perfume Genius - "Describe" [buy]
    Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is like portal after portal—each song seems to contain sounds I've never heard, combinations I've never imagined, like a rewiring of human sensuality. "Describe" fizzes and reverberates like the Cocteau Twins in negative, those astral notes gone seismic and underground.
  7. Phoebe Bridgers - "Garden Song" [buy]
    The sadnesses of 2020 helped the world recognize Phoebe Bridgers—hailing her as one of the USA's great young songwriters. God knows I listened to a lot of Bridgers this year, although mostly from her last record, and I know I wasn't alone. People don't say enough about her qualities as a singer—a trusty plaintiveness that reminds me of Julie Doiron. No matter Bridgers' sorrows, no one could ever blow her away; she won't budge, she's not a pushover. She'll stand all day in the rain. And yet she imbues her voice with kindness, warmth—as if it'll all turn out OK, those wounds will heal, she'll text you on your birthday and maybe even call.
  8. This Is The Kit - "Started Again" [buy]
    Folk music that glitters like polished wood, aluminium foil, the inside of a hadron collider. "Camouflage yourself chameleon," Kate Stables sings, over iridescent horns and ticking guitars, part-Bedhead and part-Fotheringjay, before the song reaches a cliff's-edge and tumbles, head rolling over heels.
  9. Haim - "Don't Wanna" [buy]
    In a sense it's a song of forgiveness: someone's done wrong and she's willing to take them back. But it won't be easy. "I don't wanna give up on you," Danielle Haim admits. "I don't want to have to." This ain't an oath, it ain't even a pledge: it's an open window, that's all, on a brisk spring day.
  10. Mac Miller - "Circles" [buy]
    There is an unexpected flavour to Mac Miller's final album, released a little over a year after his accidental overdose death. Jon Brion—who had been working with the rapper—completed it posthumously, and the producer's fingerprints are all over the songs: Circles sounds as much like Aimee Mann's Bachelor No. 2 or Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine (both of which Brion produced) as it does Miller's prior work. Apparently these were Miller's wishes—that his sixth LP feel more Gen X than Gen Y—and to be honest, particularly in this elegiac light, it mostly works. For me, the title track is the clear standout: pensive and hopeful, the dryness of Miller's voice counterbalancing the sweetness of Brion's arrangement.
  11. Buddy Ross ft. Gabriel Delicious - "Bored Again!" [buy]
    An exultant, elastic pop song from Frank Ocean's longtime keyboardist—"Bored Again" bounces and bounces and eventually hits a chrome set of (mono)rails, powered by saxophone, moxie and additional vocals by Bon Iver.
  12. Beyoncé - "Black Parade" [buy]
    Beyoncé as orchestrator extraordinaire, marshalling brass band and gospel choir and a Timbaland-worthy beat (she and Derek Dixie are credited as producers). What I most admire here isn't the tapestry of the arrangement nor the exactitude of Beyoncé's raps—it isn't even the lilting heights of the melody: it's the play Beyoncé wove through "Black Parade," all the games and rhymes and diversions twisted through the tune.
  13. DJ Stokie ft. Loxion Deep & Kabza De Small) - "Senorita" [buy]
    Amapiano from South Africa, released at the very end of 2019. Beautifully arrayed with flute and percussion, with a gleaming house-music heart: and yet wound tight, taut throughout, the pleasures doled out with precision.
  14. Marie Pierre Arthur - "Dans tes rêves" [buy]
    I love this weird, cracked pop song. Like a bashed-up tape by an 80s chansonnière, its magnetic band semi-disintegrated. I first heard it on the radio last winter and I felt like I was having a seizure, the most petit of mals—the universe folding and unfolding, winking at us through the sky.
  15. Anderson .Paak - "Lockdown" [video]
    COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests have finally produced the kind of political music we've been promised since the 2016 US election—not just timely but frequently excellent, and gratefully received not because I Like Being Entertained (although I do) but because it's a fucking relief, maybe even a respite, to receive a song that can answer the call of the moment. It's a way for one's heart to be kept company. .Paak is dry-eyed here but his rhymes are supple, with stings hidden in their tails, and the whole song feels like work, good work, when it's getting done: check, yup, no problem—what's next?
  16. Good Sad Happy Bad - "Shades" [buy]
    What begins as a mournful dose of ambient noise emerges unexpectedly into a nearly conventional midtempo rock song. I say nearly because Good Sad Happy Bad are the newly rechristened Micachu & the Shapes—one of the most inventive bands in all of indie rock. While there's something of the Velvet Underground or Squeeze to "Shades," that would only be true if Squeeze were melting wax figures, if Velvet Underground were being reconstituted from their elemental particles. Jaunty at moments, even supersonic, there are other times when this song feels just a few degrees shy of falling apart.
  17. Antoine Corriveau - "Les sangs mélangés" [buy]
    Inspired by a text by novelist Éric Plamondon, and featuring a breathtaking English-language verse by Erika Angell, "Les sangs mélangés" feels like the closing credits of a latter-day David Lynch movie. Sinister and dreamlike, but Corriveau's fixed his gimlet eye on something literally close to him: the fucked-up relationship between Settlers and Indigenous people. "En Amérique," he sings, "On a tous du sang indien / Si c'est pas dans les veines / c'est sur les mains": "In America, we all have Indian blood; if it isn't in our veins, it's on our hands." And then as the groove staggers on, noise rolling, Angell's blazing lines—a performance that had me literally scrabbling for the liner notes, imagining it might be a rejuvenated Mary Margaret O'Hara.
  18. Charli XCX - "Enemy" [buy]
    Charli XCX's full-length How I'm Feeling Now, recorded during lockdown, was one of the few COVID albums to truly capture the feelings—the tedium and the malaise—of those earliest pandemic days. Sure, most of us are still feeling tedium and/or malaise: but there was a particular blue-black colour to March, April and May, and that hex-code is smeared across "Enemy": a bloom of sickness despite its synthpop swoon, the certainty that Something'Is Wrong.
  19. Future Islands - "Thrill" [buy]
    A ballad as slow as spring thaw. Samuel Herring sings a rueful love-song to himself, a prayer or a promise, an affirmation, his rough voice making way for the majesty of "Thrill"'s chords.
  20. Against All Logic - "If Loving You Is Wrong" [buy]
    Nicolas Jaar's music takes so many shapes—supple electronica, crushing techno, soundtracks for extra-terrestrial love stories and minerals. "If Loving You Is Wrong," released under his Against All Logic moniker, feels threaded somewhere in-between: intimate and human yet intermittently mechanized, violent even, a life that has come of age under capitalism.
  21. Mr Eazi ft King Promise - "Baby I'm Jealous" [buy]
    Nigeria's Mr Eazi writes his own "Jealous Guy": solicitous, caressing, much more sweet than bitter-.
  22. Jason Molina - "Old Worry" [buy]
    From Molina's posthumous album Eight Gates, recorded in London more than a decade ago and released earlier this summer, "Old Worry" is scarcely there—just two minutes of guitar, viola, organ and a gunshot-like drum/guitar effect. But Molina's voice is as luminous as ever, a magnolia in the night, and his lyricism is at its height: there's no other songwriter whose words feel so easily, instantly eternal.
  23. P'tit Belliveau - "Les bateaux dans la baie" [buy]
    God I love this record from this winking Acadian ne'er-do-well—whose music gambols and lurches like a mixture of Mac DeMarco, Beck and the McGarrigle Sisters. It's a twanging, cheerful, synthy lo-fi folk: weird and brilliant and utterly itself.
  24. Crack Cloud - "Something's Gotta Give" [buy]
    One of the year's most beguiling debuts was Pain Olympics, from the Vancouver-based collective Crack Cloud. Contemporary post-punk that seems so adamant, that seems to know itself so well, that you can imagine the record trembling on the turntable. "Something's Gotta Give" feels at once tender and combustible—bowed strings and cooed whispers wrapped like a garotte around Iggy Pop's neck.
  25. Camille Delean - "Idle Fever Out Of Tune" [buy]
    The Roches' "Hammond Song" is sour and perfect; this tune's sweet and burled. But both seem to extend toward a similar sky—endless and monochromatic, rippling with everything you long for or regret. An absolutely stunning tune from one of Montreal's most intriguing songwriters. "Threat of fire in a spark / Threat of dawn in the dark / Threat of fever in every room." (And whether deliberate or not, there's some of thee mightee "Safe Inside the Day" to it, too.)
  26. Prince Kaybee ft. Black Motion, Shimza, Ami Faku - "Uwrongo" [stream]
    More South African afro-house, throbbing under the ripple of Ami Faku's voice and a simple, particular guitar figure. (Here's Prince Kaybee's investment advice.)
  27. Gillian Welch - "Picasso" [buy]
    Gillian Welch's amazing Lost Songs sets—three discs of unreleased home recordings laid down to meet a publishing deadline—are full of treasures. Foremost among them is this, a simple tune of guitars + harmonica + two unhurried singers—and an utterly remarkable lyric, celebrating and bemoaning the power of art. Forget Dylan, frankly—those words! She makes it sound so easy.
  28. Pa Salieu ft Mahalia - "Energy" [buy]
    The English MC Pa Salieu is among my very favourite new rappers—a guy whom I would listen to reciting the phone book, although there are no phone books, so instead perhaps the daily COVID statistics or, much preferably, this lovely tune with Mahalia, by far the warmest moment on Send Them To Coventry, which I like to imagine as a very hard man's endorsement of self-care.
  29. Sam Lynch - "Keeping Time" [buy]
    I love the way this song unveils itself: restful, patient, like a box full of objects examined one by one. By the end you're crying, I'm crying, everyone's crying, as drums & strings & Sam Lynch's voice all do their good work. Startlingly great music by a singer-songwriter from BC.
  30. Alabaster dePlume - "Not My Ask" [buy]
    One of my very favourite albums of the year was an oddity by a London musician for whom instrumental jazz is not standard fare. Yet To Cy & Lee is a quiet marvel: miniatures with just enough scrape and skronk, just enough din, to keep away the maudlin. This is work that does for me what Satie does, at times, or Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou: calms the body, paints pictures in the air.
  31. The 1975 - "The Birthday Party" [buy]
    Although Notes on a Conditional Form was a disappointment, the 1975 are still for my money the most interesting big commercial rock band in the world. My favourite tune on the record was this—a kindly, dopey ballad, nostalgic and confessional, like if Knausgaard wrote a song for Lorde.
  32. Lido Pimienta - "Te Queria" [buy]
    It's the steel drums that get me on this one, or the joyous crossfire in the song's second half, basking in the ease of Polaris Prize-winning!, Grammy-nominated! Lido Pimienta.
  33. The Strokes - "The Adults are Talking" [buy]
    It was a great and abiding reassurance in 2020 to find that the Strokes still got exactly the same and undeviating it.
  34. Omah Lay - "Lo Lo" [buy]
    The sun-kissed ease of "Lo Lo," the loll of it, makes it seem like a time-traveler: a song not born of this year. Maybe Omah Lay's been sitting on it—waiting until it was needed.
  35. Yves Jarvis - "Semula" [buy]
    I feel like Yves Jarvis makes folk songs, or bedroom pop songs, and then gradually takes away the components. Like a game of new age Jenga: block after block after block and yet still somehow standing at the end, those little pieces of wood, gleaming in the sun.
  36. Coriky - "Clean Kill" [buy]
    I have a deep soft spot for Ian MacKaye's sweet & stubborn post-Fugazi projects, like The Evens and now Coriky. This is punk rock turned down from 11 or 3, its emotions written not in sweat + tears but pencil-scratch + breath.
  37. Land of Talk - "Diaphonous" [buy]
    I adore the cascading, fragmented grace of this song—like a wish reassembled from its fragments, memory + vision + brass + voice + electric guitar.
  38. Austra - "Risk It" [buy]
    It's been a long time since Katie Stelmanis was primarily known for her gigantic pipe-organ of a voice. With Austra, the singer's lungs became less central to her work: theirs is a music of interplay, voice/electronics, timbre/harmony, instead of pure volleying wow. I'm not sure that this has ever been clearer for me than on "Risk It"—as drum'n'bass skitters, synth-horns blurt, and Stelmanis hangs her hook on a squidged up, silken chipmunk squeak.
  39. Bad Bunny ft Sech - "Ignorantes" [buy]
    Today I played with my son in the living-room, a game of pigs and yeti, scampering over mountaintops, and as I did so I listened to Bad Bunny, because I have taken to listening to new music while we play, these days, because I can't listen to music the ways I normally do. ... At a certain point I was listening to "Ignorantes" for the fifth time in a row, like a tonic, like drinking a healthful tonic, another dose of quinine and orange juice.
  40. Plants and Animals - "Love That Boy" [buy]
    Plants and Animals play a song of peace and love but you can still hear it—the fraying nerves, the strain, everything that nags at the edges.
  41. Dagny - "Somebody" [buy]
    Dagny made what was arguably the year's best straight pop record—skittering Scandinavian synths with great drums and soaring, silver-sewn melodies. Cut from the same cloth as Robyn's Body Talk era but boy could you do worse.
  42. Braids - "Here 4 U" [buy]
    A song of bright synthpop colour, high blue sweetness and grave gold feeling, but Raphaelle Standell-Preston sings as if she's undecorated, nude: the woman at the heart of the vortex, standing before a plate of clear glass.
  43. Gil Scott-Heron and Makaya McCraven - "Me and the Devil" [buy]
    Chicago jazz man Makaya McCraven is the second artist in the past decade to release an entire record of Gil Scott-Heron remixes—a fact that speaks as much to the singer's estate as it does to his lasting influence. But whereas Jamie XX transformed Scott-Heron's final LP into a work of chill and echo, like an after-hours club, McCraven reasserts the album's downtown tumult: he makes a song like "Me and the Devil" feel pinned to the city, inseparable from it, as if its groove and brio are pouring through the streets. (While we're on the topic, McCraven's 2018 double-LP, Universal Beings, is unquestionably among my favourite jazz releases of the decade.)
  44. Astrid S - "It's Ok If You Forget Me" [buy]
    This is my list and I can include whatever I want, including a fluffy acoustic ballad from a 24-year-old Norwegian pop-star. I'm bewitched by the chorus—it's absolutely straight-ahead, even rote, but there's this slant to Astrid's singing, five degrees of flaw, which allow it to slip like an arrow through all my armour.
  45. Caribou - "Sunny's Time" [buy]
    A wriggling piano and a burnt-chesnut voice, but also that drooping sax, those levitating synths, and above all Dan Snaith's hand upon his mouse, snip/cut/crop, manipulating the tape like Glenn Gould in deepest studio, scissors in his hand.
  46. Fontaines D.C. - "Televised Mind" [buy]
    Everything's fine.
  47. Kurt Vile and John Prine - "How Lucky" [buy]
    In a year that ripped John Prine away from us, at least we have this: he and Kurt Vile singing an old song about fortune and contentedness.
  48. Owen Pallett - "A Bloody Morning" [buy]
    A literal song of shipwreck: a man named Lewis, drunken at the tiller, til the schooner hits a reef. But Owen takes us past the cataclysm into the bloody morning after—and all its sun-traced forgiveness. / A chiaroscuro of orchestral rock—gasping and seething, sumptuously arranged, with a near perfect video and a thousand tiny details. (I live for the pleading whistle at 4:00.)
  49. Tierra Whack - "Feel Good" [video]
    One minute and twenty five seconds wherein the visionary rapper Tierra Whack feels really bummed out.
  50. Fiona Apple - "Heavy Balloon" [buy]
    Apple's been holed up with her dogs, her diaries, and (in my imagination) the first Tune-Yards album. "Heavy Balloon"—and all of Fetch the Bolt Cutters—creeps and thrashes, teased on by all of Apple's crashing and the ferrous force of her voice.

  51. Shabason, Krgovich & Harris - "Open Beauty" [buy]
    You know the controls on photo software—exposure, saturation, hue? Or on recording apps—volume, gain? Imagine being able to twist each of those knobs to skew the life before you—the daylight, the evening, dream. Nick Krgovich sings in a murmur over warble and hoot; a keyboard sings a circle; a piano promises that when the ending comes it will be gentle.
  52. Adrianne Lenker - "Anything" [buy]
    Even unaccompanied, the Big Thief frontwoman is unafraid of the smallness of her voice: she lets it be as it is, strident and mouselike, sharing hopes and worries, murmuring wishes; a girl casting stones at a window.
  53. Bob Dylan - "I Contain Multitudes" [buy]
    The $300 Million Man obviously knows how to turn a phrase: but I found myself deeply charmed by "Multitudes," the way he rhymes nudes, dudes and preludes, that deadbeat grin at the end of his lips.
  54. Still House Plants - "Shy Song" [buy]
    A song that literally sounds like two songs playing at once, and indeed probably is—but the two-songs are in conversation, affinity, shining back and forth like worn-out semaphore. A band that's aptly named, with music that seems to operate along invisible lines, impossible paths.
  55. Dirty Projectors - "No Studying" [buy]
    Dirty Projectors have spent the year(s ?) releasing experiments, and this is my favourite among them: a track that brings together one part chugging garburator guitar and another part wistful acoustic sing-song. It's as if Wes Anderson were to collaborate on a project with Animal, each of them tugging for the camera.
  56. Maeta ft Buddy & Kaytranada - "Teen Scene" [buy]
    Sultry, woozy, cherry-red: imperturbable R&B over a deliciously off-centre Kaytranada beat.
  57. Marlaena Moore - "I Miss You" [buy]
    A whistling, clattering wanting—high-flying rock'n'roll produced by Chad VanGaalen.
  58. Ball Park Music - "Cherub" [buy]
    There's a little of The Shins to this tender, tart guitar ballad—that is until the ending, when the Australian musicians furrow their brows and step on their pedals and blow out all the windows for miles. (Thank you, Vinny—more of his picks here.)
  59. Sylvan Esso - "Rooftop Dancing" [buy]
    A private dance, perhaps; as gusts of sounds flutter through, scraps of whim.
  60. Madeline Kenney - "Cut the Real" [buy]
    If "Cut the Real" hadn't been recorded before 2020 it would have had to be invented: a slowly pulsing song of "bright light ... [and] mess," of quarantining with the dull voice inside your head. Kenney has a beautiful way of making an incoherent world feel more coherent, as if the fractures are part of the design.
  61. Thanya Iyer - "Always, Be Together" [buy]
    Iyer has been making music for years in Montreal, tapping a rich vein between deconstructed folk and naturalistic R&B. Her latest album, Kind, is a triumph and a culmination—it feels less like a piece of music and more like a home I want to live inside. "Always, Be Together" rustles and creaks, thrums, echoes; it's filled with solace, love and sunlight.
  62. Kathleen Edwards - "Fools Ride" [buy]
    The song's called "Fools Ride." A present-tense sentence, but the tune's about being caught out, tricked: taken for a fool's ride, possessive form. Edwards with a tale of blind love and shady business—a "red flag flying in the shit parade / a warning sign that I ignored"—yet the song gains its texture from her' choice to share the blame. Fuck this guy, this unkind swindler, but she never lets herself off the hook. The villain's gone now: the protagonist is her.
  63. ShooterGang Kony - "Jungle" [video]
    Over a flinching beat—is that Tracy Chapman? or just some synth-squirt?—Sacramento's Kony makes a case for his authority. He menaces his enemies and congratulates himself, willing always to make a joke at his own expense: "Had to earn my stripes, bitch / I'm a tube sock."
  64. James Blake - "Summer of Now" [buy]
    As someone who prefers Blake's early electronic work to his latterday ballads, I love the way "Summer of Now" gathers force: splintering from a man and his memories to something less steady, more subdivided. The present is the sum of forgiveness plus regret; we're right to fear the calculation.
  65. TOPS - "I Feel Alive" [buy]
    Title track from the Montreal band's new one—a sunny guitar-swept song whose serenity is almost, almost, almost, almost, almost convincing.
  66. Burna Boy ft Naughty By Nature - "Naughty By Nature" [buy]
    Yes, it's that Naughty By Nature, invited back by Nigerian superhero Burna Boy—for whom NbN were an early influence, a polestar. Now he gets to return the favour, letting Vin Rock and Treach cast their smiling lines over a radiant, afrobeat production.
  67. Widowspeak - "The Good Ones" [buy]
    There are those old stories of the Evil Eye—that all it takes for a curse is a compliment. I can't tell if this dark, dusty tune is a blessing or a hex, a malediction cooed through thin lips.
  68. Kiesza - "When Boys Cry" [buy]
    A lean little tune for dancing to—fingersnaps and plainsong, the nervy pleasure one-and-a-half note guitar-line.
  69. Tropical Fuck Storm - "Legal Ghost" [buy]
    Bristling, sidling slacker rock that treats its chorus as a queue: time to get your shit together, put your house in order, haunt a better town.
  70. Jennifer Castle - "Broken Hearted" [buy]
    Monarch Season's coda feels like such a gift: something placed tenderly in your hands, without any need for thanks. Just Castle's windy voice, her little guitar. A song of moonbeams coming through.
  71. Loma - "Breaking Waves Like A Stone" [buy]
    The outstanding and underrated Loma make music in the tradition of Spirit of Eden and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: fathom-deep songs in tiny reflecting pools, all echo and evocation. With piano, woodwinds and percussion, "Breaking Waves Like A Stone" shines under Emily Cross's voice, a lustre that shrugs off any shadow.
  72. Jeff Rosenstock - "NO DREAM" [buy]
    A song of the "great" American dream—in the Ta-Nehisi Coates sense, the one the USA needs to wake the fuck up from—and Rosenstock does his best to make that clamour, to raise that alarm, to rouse the sleepers with shout and crash and even a slice of straight punk hardcore. He's furious and impatient and kind and hopeful and fuckin' right as rain. (Thank you Jeff.)
  73. Marika Hackman - "Playground Love" [buy]
    I love Marika Hackman's sleepy Covers record, but I was surprised to find my personal highlight wasn't either of the Grimes or Sharon Van Etten tunes, or even "Between the Bars": it was this, a drowsy reimagining of Air's ubiquitous 2000 hit. Hackman's "Playground Love" would have never fit on The Virgin Suicides: it's too sultry, too embodied, a reminder that love is sometimes thick and sticky, not thin as wine.
  74. Nap Eyes - "Fool Thinking Ways" [buy]
    One of my favourite bands invites us on a trip to epiphany. While the verses feel dreary, like clouds are collecting above your head, each chorus is like a sunburst: bright, unmistakeable, like May in England (or maybe, in Nap Eyes' case, Halifax).
  75. Frances Quinlan - "Your Reply" [buy]
    Pure and ringing clamour from Hop Along's Frances Quinlan, whose debut solo album soundtracked much of my February, before the curtain fell. When it comes to this song I am admittedly biased: it is rare, as a novelist, to hear a song about reading a novel, but that is where "Your Reply" begins: marginalia, and a paragraph about a dead horse. Within moments, Quinlan is singing the word "website" with the genius and patience of somebody who has been doing this long enough to know all the rules and how to break them—who can sing whatever the fuck she wants, sing whatever the fuck into being, pow, zip, like a sorceress in black jeans.
  76. Agnes Obel - "Island of Doom" [buy]
    Just a light little number about watching a loved one get lowered into the ground. The Danish songwriter knows how to use her most trusted tools—glacial arrangements of piano, synths and strings; her monumental voice—but she has other tricks too: an eerie chorus effect she applies to the latter, and also a satinnier register, smooth and almost droll, that reminds me of Roy Orbison.
  77. Nas - "The Cure" [buy]
    Not sure who Nas is rapping to, here—himself, I guess, but I like to imagine it as something he texts to any other hip-hop luminary who occasionally express ennui. "The markets see you as a old-ass artist ... They just want you to switch your lanes up / so they can hate on your ass." Whenever Jay or Tip put this on, its regal trudge bluetoothing to their airpods, I hope they'll be as struck as me: by this legend's craft, his unflagging brio.
  78. Yumi Zouma - "Lie Like You Want Me Back (alternate version)" [buy]
    With this version of "Lie Like You Want Me Back," Yumi Zouma's shimmering tune gets pleasantly discombobulated: a crisscross of voices, just a dash of vinegar, in what is otherwise too sweet.
  79. Mthandazo Gatya ft. DJ Manzo SA, Comado - "Senzeni" [buy]
    There's a lot of what's called afro-house on this list, especially the South African sub-genre amapiano. This surprises me—I'm not someone who listens to much house music generally—and it speaks perhaps to this year's trouble (and its remedies). But it also comes down to the breadth and depth of this genre: a huge community of producers, beatmakers, musicians and singers who seem to take every single track as a challenge to somehow make something even prettier. My affection for the genre was carried in on the back of Sun-El Musician's (brilliant) "Akanamali," in 2017, but at this point Sun-El's just one more DJ in a "gauzy beauty" arms race, and here's the producer Mthandazo Gatya with yet another salvo: "Senzeni"'s weightless, light as air, and still it keeps its shape.
  80. Jazmine Sullivan - "Lost One" [stream]
    Five years after her last solo album, Sullivan returns with a quivering, lonely tune. It's a song full of failure, built atop a simple guitar loop, but Sullivan answers and confronts and calls out to herself throughout—as if she's finally found a way to bring herself the antidote.
  81. Muzz - "Bad Feeling" [buy]
    A song that bides is time, sitting in its stew, 'til the glory of the closing seconds, when finally the fanfare breaks through.
  82. Lina_Raül Refree - "A Mulher que já foi tua" [buy]
    From Portugal, Lina's unadorned fado music and Raül Refree's simple, consummate reconfiguration. I understand it to be true that if you stand on your tip-toes all day, your highest tip-toes, then tomorrow you will be taller. And if tomorrow you stand on your tip-toes, your highest tip-toes, then you will be even taller the next day. ... I understand it to be true that if you are safe today, all day, then tomorrow we will be safer. And if tomorrow you remain safe, then the next day safer, and the next and the next, on and on, until the day when it is impossible for any of us to be safer. We will be as safe as we can be.
  83. Taylor Swift - "marjorie" [buy]
    With a relentless forward movement, a tick like telephone poles through a traincar window, my favourite of Taylor Swift's occasionally glutinous 2020 material is this beautiful ode to her late grandmother. Nimble, confident and deeply felt.
  84. Roki Fernandez - "Nuevo Amor" [buy]
    A Spanish synth cover of David Bowie's "Modern Love"—shiny as a soap-bubble, ready to pop.
  85. The Killers - "Caution" [buy]
    With the Killers, in general, I just can't help it. It's their coyote grins, and gallop.
  86. Baba Levo ft Rayvanny - "Ngongingo" [video]
    The Swahili-English dictionary doesn't have a translation of "ngongingo," but says "ngongongo" means either "on purpose" on "freight train." Elsewhere, a relatively unreliable translation proposes "You're not alone." Listening to this magnificent, thudding tune, any of these will do—that is, as a song of reassurance or intention or barrelling high-speed transport. Baba Levo and Rayvanny's voices both seem almost fluorescent, cutting right through everything: and the everything is irrepressible, on the move, marching like a legion wherever the hell it wants.
  87. Angie McMahon ft Leif Vollebekk - "If You Call" [buy]
    One of my favourite Montreal artists joins Australian songwriter Angie McMahon for an iceflow-slow rendition of her tune "If You Call." It's a song about the afterwards of a relationship, or an afterwards, a time that tends to feel either worthless or sacred. McMahon reaches there with her voice—and there's the wurlitzer wishing too, and a little bit of whistling—as the darkness hunkers down. (Thank you, Arnulf.)
  88. Helena Deland - "Comfort, Edge" [buy]
    "You'll never make a fool of me," sings the Montreal songwriter, but it's never quite clear to me if this to the person she's wishing for or to the one she'd never choose. "Give me comfort, give me edge," she asks over studded organ and electric guitar. We all know she can't have both.
  89. Olamide ft Omah Lay - "Infinity" [buy]
    A song whose spirit is not that unlike the other Omah Lay appearance on this list (at #34): free-moving, weightless. But whereas "Lo Lo" seemed sunlit, "Infinity" is all starlight: darker, gentler, a milder reassurance.
  90. Baby Keem - "hooligan" [stream]
    "Hooligan" is darkly catchy, rooted in a sped-up piano round and an infrequent whistle hook. At certain times playful, at others times dour—and in equal parts proud and self-hating—the erratic Baby Keem is never more fascinating than when he's sullenly blurting the chorus, "Fa-fa-fa, fa-fa-fa."
  91. Lomelda - "Hannah Sun" [buy]
    Lomelda's own name is Hannah and here she's thanking and searching and shining, sun-like, over shuffle and strum, a small and kind and faithful demonstration of what a hope is worth.
  92. Keleketla! - "Shepherd Song" [buy]
    It's with the bass that this song gets me—a tumbling Western/African collaboration overseen by Coldcut and featuring artists such as Afla Sackey, Antibalas, Gally Ngoveni, Nono Nkoane, Sibusile Xaba, Thabang Tabane & no less than the great Tony Allen. The bassline isn't always there, hiding for a time under rattle and folksong and rubbery synth stabs, but my ear longs for it, goes searching, for the gentle-hearted languor at the centre of the day. (Thank you Jeff.)
  93. Jon McKiel - "Deeper Shade" [buy]
    Hop on board the loop, ride it to the terminus. Jon McKiel has a flair that reminds me of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, but Owen Ashworth would have never allowed this track's closing acoustic guitar section—glittering and wishful, unsentimental, the promise of a happy ending just around the bend. A lo-fi love-song that doesn't show its hand.
  94. Masha Qrella - "Geister" [buy]
    This is, Arnulf tells me (thanks, Arnulf!), of the German musical genre known as "Spröder Pop." Spröde meaning brittle, like a clean sheet of ice or my nerves in November. Masha Qrella has been at this forever—Jordan first wrote about her here in 2004. With age comes wisdom, a level-headed singing style that endows this flickering cybersong with a grown-up sense of scale and distance.
  95. Wizkid - "True Love" [buy]
    Compared to the trouble of "Smoke" (see #96), Wizkid's "True Love" seems like pure untroubled ease. The Nigerian singer has mild promises to make - plus the silkiest saxophone, a chorus like a sunbeam on the bedsheets, the smell of jasmine on the air.
  96. Joy Oladokun - "Smoke" [buy]
    Despite the hopeful rise of "Smoke"'s chorus, its strength—by far—is its verses, where this young American songwriter demonstrates clarity and specificity in a way that reminds me of early music by The Streets. Joy Oladokun has the kind of forward-pushing energy that makes one root for her, imagine her triumphs.
  97. Max García Conover - "Handsome Suit" [buy]
    Sturdy old chords and even a sturdy old melody—but Max García Conover has a gift for consonant and rhyme, the click of two lines as they meet. Folk-songs don't always need much filigree: it's as simple as some images, some wisdom, the metaphor of the real world made to sing. "Crazy lady shoveling the whole damn road / 3 gold deer in the hip high snow." (Thank you, Matthew!)
  98. The Weeknd ft Rosalía - "Blinding Lights (remix)" [video]
    There's an obvious lustre to "Blinding Lights," but to me the original feels paint-by-numbers. With Rosalía at least, singing in Spanish, more sparkle gets blown all over—the slightest bright disorder. If anything it's still too clean—the melody measured, each bar neatly counted—but I suspect any one of us can lend it a little mess.
  99. Bullion - "We Had a Good Time" [buy]
    Docile, futuristic pop from British producer Nathan Jenkins, co-written with Gramo-fave Diego Herrera (aka Suzanne Kraft). Jenkins' voice recalls the Beta Band or Westerman, and the bend of his melody reminds me of Connan Mockasin. Despite its burble and thunderclap, this song is all comedown—a balm, a salve, at the end of an abominable annum.
  100. The Dears - "Play Dead" [buy]
    Playing dead isn't the worst advice in 2020. Murray Lightburn didn't know that when he wrote this, when he sang it into an old microphone—but I like to imagine he knew it as he loosed it into the world, knew this advice would unfurl with a little more resonance. "Play Dead" is itself a very quiet anthem, like a power-ballad recorded in a broom closet, warmed by melody and purpose and the guitar's flickering fire. A song that's willing to take your hand, willing to break all the rules, just to lay with you.
Fin, for another year.

Thanks for reading, sorry for the broken links, please support these artists with your money. (Invest in what's important or it will go away.) Be kind to each other, take care, be brave, undo what harm you can. Whenever you're sad, my smallest advice is: let some music into the air.

Love,
Sean

by Dan

Death-Stranding_05-21-18.jpg

Jane Inc. - "Steel"

"I can finally think," the hum and the vibrating earth. Earth shifted in pillars. Pillars rearranging in patterns and letters and guts. "I can finally hear," the clouds and the piteous sky. Sky part, a place to drop in. Drop in, centered, Age of the Skateboard Teen. A pop-up epoch, one eon only. "I can finally have," the gears and the movers within. A rubbing electric ripping, hair with a life of its own. That gaze, that tube of ethereal navy throb, through which you can see your favourite thing.

Jane Inc. is power. Power on, up, and through. "Steel" is reflexive, out-of-body momentum. This is great shit.

[Pre-order]

by Sean

Yes, something's coming. 💯

by Sean
Jim Holland painting


Eleanor Friedberger - "The River (Destroyer cover)" [buy on bandcamp]

Tougher times, these days. There's something circadian about it - you're up, you're down, eventually you're up again.

"There's something circadian about it!" I've shouted this now: shouted it in an alley, at a friend six-and-a-half feet away. What a world.

"You study your braille / you listen to the hail outside," Eleanor Friedberger sings. When Dan Bejar recorded this it was shiny, sturdy, blasted by cloud-coloured light. Here now it's a doomed demo, a recording never finished or properly released. Here now it feels like a coronavirus tune, a dirge for this comedy, this tragedy, these 224 spilling seconds.

I thought I could handle repetition. I thought I flourished in repetition. Scheduled days, habit. But tonight these groundhog days are wearing me out. Not loss, grief, worry: just the ache of a groove worn down. I'm nearly a broken record.

It hailed yesterday. Why didn't I register it as a splendour? Why was it just one more thing?

You're living, you're breathing
You try to believe in, but you don't believe

I'd like it to hail inside the house.

(painting by jim holland)