What a year. Historic. COVID-19 is a global pandemic and it has disrupted life all over the world. We have lost many entertainment legends this year, including many musical giants (not all to COVID). RIP Harold Budd, Tony Allen, Eddie Van Halen, Neil Peart, Manu Dibango, Millie Small, Little Richard, Ennio Morricone, Julian Bream, Toots Hibbert, Bill Withers, and many others.
There has been a great outpouring of music during the various lockdown periods this year. I, unfortunately, have not had time to keep up because the remote nature of my job meant that the pace never dropped when everything else ground to a halt (though, really, I should count it as fortunate because I have been steadily employed and even started a new job).
Here are my favorite music releases that I heard this past year (in alphabetical order):
The Bug feat. Dis Fig – In Blue
Kevin Martin continues to explore the intersection of dancehall reggae, grime/dubstep, and melancholy/sorrow with his The Bug project, this time with vocalist Dis Fig. This alias proves to be an adaptable framework for exploring moods that have been previously explored via last year’s Solitude by Martin’s other group King Midas Sound.
Irreversible Entanglements – Who Sent You?
This group harnesses the keening, searching, soulful howl/moan of 60s Ornette Coleman and adds a polyrhythmic almost second-line bounce. The playfulness of the rhythm section offers an uplifting influence to counter vocalist Moor Mother’s gravity and political purpose.
Ka – Descendants of Cain
Understated “beats” that consist of texturally interesting loops and almost no percussion offer plenty of space for Ka’s gravelly monotone voice. The casual delivery and repetitive cadence belie his dense lyricism and labyrinthine internal rhyme schemes. Pay close attention.
The Sorcerers – In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God
There seems to be a glut of bands with releases this year inspired by the funky jazz of 70s Library Music composers and Italian film composers. This was one of the first I heard this year and it still stands above the rest to me. Recommended for fans of Surprise Chef, Magic in Threes, El Michels Affair, Calibro 35, and of course Lalo/Ennio/Nino.
Spivak – Μετά Το Ρέιβ
Smudged, deconstructed, sometimes wordless vocals over 90s-inspired ambient techno backdrops. Reminiscent of seefeel, Andrea Parker, Pan American, even a little Vibert/Simmonds.
Moses Sumney – græ
This artist was brought to my attention because a friend, Josh Finck (aka half|state aka o_t_t_i_f), is responsible for directing a slew of low-tech but visually arresting music videos for the album. Moses is a confidently weird artist. His voice is at once fragile and sure, a seductive combination.
JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland – Oscillospira
I am not at all familiar with Simon Steensland but I approached this album with great anticipation based solely on Thirlwell’s involvement (loved him as Foetus and Steroid Maximus). The music is angular, sinister, and complex, sometimes Zappa-esque, sometimes more cinema-minded Fantômas. A cerebral and cinematic instrumental journey.
Tvii Son – Tvii Son
Hiss, primitive drum machine sounds, tape echo, deadpan vocals. All the best qualities of dubby, arty 80s rock experiments are represented here.
Neil Young – Homegrown
If you are even a casual fan of 70s-era Neil Young you will not be surprised by anything on offer here, as it was recorded between On the Beach and Zuma. Classic-Neil-Young-sounding songs backed by Nashville studio musicians, along with some studio banter on Florida. Great stuff.
More Emmeline Songs…
This year I was able to continue working on my series of songs inspired by my daughter. Look for a full album release (hopefully) in 2021…