At this point I think we have all agreed that, as years go, 2020 is the biggest shitshow in modern history. That said, even through the seemingly constant darkness there have been bright spots - the most notable of which has been a long overdue global awakening to issues of social and racial inequalities and injustices. Another area of light that has provided me some excitement, joy, and escapism has been, as it always is, new music. Despite everything, 2020 has still managed to be a great year for music, and I think we need that music now more than ever. Here are a few of my favorite songs that have been released since January:
1. Soft Kill: "Your Very Worst (Demo)" - I do a bit of music merch design on the side, and sometime last year Tobias from Soft Kill hit me up to do a graphic for them to sell on their European tour. This was a huge moment for me, because I had already been a big fan of theirs for the better part of a decade. As far as I'm concerned, Soft Kill is one of the best current/active post-punk/dark wave bands in the world. They're also just great guys. Everything they've released has been good, including this unexpected drop of unreleased demos, Premium Drifter. This is my favorite track from that comp. Lush, layered guitars, driving bass, gloomy vocals, and enough reverb to drown any and all of your sorrows in. My favorite ingredients in a delicious sonic cake.
2. Yves Tumor: "Gospel for a New Century" - Yves is without a doubt one of the most unique, intriguing, and talented artists we have today. Everything they do musically and visually is fascinating. Truly inspirational.
3. Choir Boy: "Complainer" - I love these boys. We had a bowl party event in their hometown of Salt Lake City a couple years ago and they were gracious enough to play at it. They played this song there, which was at that point unreleased, and it was so good they made us wait almost two years to hear it again. Worth the wait.
4. 6LACK: "Elephant in the Room" - 6LACK is someone that has yet to release a bad song or album. I fell in love with his music the first time I heard "PRBLMS" back in 2016. I have a real soft spot for moody, melancholy music, and he consistently delivers that. His songs always sound very considered and intentional, and the production is continually excellent.
5. Orville Peck: "No Glory in the West" - I can't recall the last time I fell in love with a musician the way I did with Orville Peck the first time I heard "Hope to Die". I was instantly obsessed with his entire persona, as well as with the music. He's the cowboy we didn't know we needed, and probably don't deserve. I love the simplicity of this song. Great artists will always shine when everything is stripped away and there's nothing fancy to hide behind.
6. Ellis: "Shame" - I don't remember exactly how I found out about Ellis, but she is shockingly unknown and something needs to be done about that. If you're into brooding singer/songwriters I would be shocked if you didn't enjoy this song. Bonus points awarded for doing a really good cover of Taylor Swift's "Lover".
7. IDLES: "Mr. Motivator" - I hesitate to use the word "important" when referring to bands or musicians, but god damn it IDLES is an important band. The lyrics of Joe Talbot are clever, poignant, and extremely vulnerable, and he growls them over perfect, crunchy British punk. What's not to like? They're absolutely one of my favorite bands of all time. I can't wait for the rest of this album.
8. Leon Bridges: "Sweeter (feat. Terrace Martin)" - Leon is one of those musicians that is a future classic - you can tell the first time you listen to him that his music won't be forgotten. This song is a beautiful, heartbreaking statement on racism and inequality. If the lyrics don't make you feel anything you may want to check yourself for a heartbeat.
9. Bright Eyes: "Persona Non Grata" - As a former "scene kid" of the early 2000s, I was obviously a big Bright Eyes fan. When I first heard they were releasing their first album in a decade this year I have to admit my initial reaction was fear. Conor Oberst's voice is so distinct I was worried Bright Eyes had become to much of an auditory time capsule for that time, and that they couldn't live in 2020. Then I heard this song and knew I was wrong to be afraid. It's a fantastic return to their best form and makes me very excited for the full album. It's really not easy to make bagpipes sound good. Also, bonus points awarded for Conor wearing a Welcome shirt at one of their shows last year.
10. BAMBARA: "Serafina" - These guys are so good. Dark, western-tinged post-punk a la Gun Club, but make it 2020.
11. Riki: "Napoleon" - It always blows my mind when someone is able to perfectly recreate the sounds of another era but still bring something new and exciting to the table. You could time travel back to a club in 1989 and put this song on and no one would bat an eye.
12. Fearing: "Pictured Perfect" - Heavy, sullen, and beautiful. The whole Funeral Party Records roster is so good. They're really doing a lot to keep the scene alive for those of us who never got over Pornography and will forever love music like this.
13. Lil Baby: "The Bigger Picture" - I'm so amazed by how quickly people are able to write, record, and release music these days. This song is so good and so well-written. A direct result of the current protests and social revolution, released in real time in the middle of it all.
14. Turnstile/Mall Grab: "The Real Thing" - An awesome and unexpected remix of an already great song. If you ever get a chance to see Turnstile live do yourself a favor and buy a ticket.
15. Private World: "Hypnagogia" - Much like Riki, Private World have recreated the tones and vibe of the 80s with amazing precision. This song is like the lovechild of Hall & Oates and The Church - something I didn't know was possible but I was absolutely missing it in my life.
16. Phoebe Bridgers: "I Know the End" - I recently got to do a really fun graphic for Phoebe for her new album, Punisher. I was very stoked to have the opportunity because Stranger in the Alps and the boygenius EP have been two of my most listened-two albums for the last few years. It was really neat to have access to lyrics and artwork for an album from someone I'm a big fan of before it was released. Having already read all the lyrics it was rad to then hear them come to life on the actual songs. This song was a perfect way to end Punisher, and I think likewise makes for a good cap to this playlist.
I hope you enjoy and are maybe turned onto something new. Be nice to people, mask up, and focus on the bright spots.
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