Published on January 22nd, 2021 | by Kim Kurtenbach1
KK’s Top 12 Songs of 2020
On the heels of the FBS Best & Worst Movies and Dave Scaddan’s thorough inspection of 2020 albums, Kim adds a succinct sample of great songs from last year.
For many years, maybe as far back as the early 2000’s, I have made a year-end “Best of” CD. I would choose 20 tracks by 20 bands, burn the discs, make the cases, and mail out 50 copies to friends. It was a creative bit of fun that I really enjoyed. But in recent years my efforts have dwindled, mostly due to the fact that the compact disc became the cassette tape faster than I could have imagined. One year I sent out a memory stick with converted mp3s. Not popular! I guess people liked the case I made for the other ones.
Well, good news: I wasn’t busy in 2020. I started to make another top 20, but it turned into a top 40. Then 60. Finally, my top 100 tracks by 100 artists. I created a Spotify list with a link that I shared on social media and could also e-mail or text directly to friends all over Canada and the United States.
What follows is a reduction to just twelve samples from that longer list, a refined playlist that runs just under one hour. The order of the songs isn’t anything. I just like the way if flows. Besides, no matter what order I put them in, you’re all going to call some of them pieces of poop anyway! Isn’t that half the fun of looking at Top Whatever of the Year lists anyway? Go on, then – get after it!
1. Describe – Perfume Genius It was going to be hard for me to hate this song from the opening chord. A sonic boom of static gives in to sedated pulses of distortion and so begins the narration, the patient, blissed-out stoner vocals of a guy who likes mopey grunge. You can call all kinds of music dreamy, but the term is perhaps especially relevant here. It literally sounds like somebody describing, in as much detail as possible, their dream from last night. It was so vivid then, and such disjointed, perplexing nonsense now. Rolling Stone magazine had a hot take on how simple the message is, but I don’t trust those guys. I prefer to consider its merit on my own, as should you. But damn, the careful balance of darkness and pixie dust on this thing is delicious like a complex entrée from your new favourite restaurant.
2. One Time Villain – Coco Seriously, get this: Coco exists, as far as I can tell, willingly anonymous and claiming “Coco isn’t a side project or any kind of project. It isn’t college kids or city kids. It isn’t siblings or lovers. It isn’t context. It’s not a game. We choose to share this music with the world anonymously because we want Coco to be solely and truly about the music. We want the songs to speak for themselves, to be received in pure form by the listener alone.” Given that context, One Time Villain sounds like failed aspirations, and the way she sings “You fingers brushing though my wings/could have been an easy thing” sounds both preposterous and lamentable.
3. Hot Like Jungle – Pottery If it were even possible, I would love to introduce the singer of Hot Like Jungle to the girl who sang the last song, One Time Villain. The best I could do is press the two songs up against each other on the list in an attempt to get them as close as possible. Debut album from the Montreal band is an exercise in post-punk experimental potions, mixing a little of this with a little of that to find modern incarnations. They also sound like they own a lot of Talking Heads records, and that’s a big plus in my book. I said, ooh that’s nice!
4. House on Fire – Plants and Animals I’m not a dancer, so I don’t know if I’m supposed to robot my way through this thing or just be a puddle of sweaty drugs, arms and legs akimbo under some pulsing lights, but the agenda of the song is clear: it’s all going to hell, so fuck it, we’re dancing. I believe on the 2020 calendar this was scheduled every other Blorfsday.
5. ohh lala (feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier) – Run the Jewels There are a lot of tracks on RTJ4 that could be in this spot, but this particular one has promises of vindication and insinuations of victory to it (see official video for more information). The album gets darker and more vulgar and cuts to the bone more than a few times. It’s a tough album for tough times and no one is doing that better right now than El-P and Killer Mike.
6. Death Engine – I Break Horses Nearly eight minutes of reflection on death, redemption, hope. But for those eight minutes, it’s as close as I felt all year to lying on a vacant starlight beach as warm, silent water comes and goes beneath my body like waves of ablution. If any of you run into Maria Lindén of Sweden, please tell her I love her.
7. Strange to Explain – Woods A very pretty song of encouragement, it just makes me want to pirouette in the slow falling snow, arms out, headphones on. Snare-drum brushes, xylophone like tiny church bells and vocals that are far from perfect but utterly, sweetly sincere. And good news! This is Woods’ 12th album in 13 years. Plenty of exploring to do.
8. Hummer – Fruit Bats A breezy interpretation of the once great Smashing Pumpkins, who have better than half a catalogue that nobody really wants to cover and a score of stuff that everyone wants to cover. For many years, SP were magnificent in ways few bands have been in their time and place. I’m making a rare exception that a cover song would rank so high in my list because this version always makes me smile. Not grin like an idiot or smile like I’m taking a selfie with Tiny Tom Cruise (wait, those might be the same thing), but like you do under the quiet summer sun when you think no one is watching you, reminiscing about something precious that’s slowly fading into the years behind you. It’s been nearly 10,000 days since Siamese Dream was released but this homage proves the song isn’t aging like the rest of us.
9. Cameo – Rolling Blackouts Costal Fever Sounds like a bunch of kids without a care in the world and one hell of a shared record collection. If it’s not to your taste, I wouldn’t be offended in the slightest. This is 90’s garage rock that sounds British but is, in fact, Australian. And specifically, I can hear something special happening: they are on the precipice of discovering themselves, and I find it interesting as hell. Check back on these guys in a year or two. They’re going to crush us all with something we can’t see coming.
10. The Wall & I – Nation of Language After years of singles and struggles, Nation of Language (Brooklyn, NY) finally got their first album released in 2020. With just three members, they do a lot with the ambient space they occupy. Pulsing, howling and crooning, the snare snaps like electric drums from a pre-digital era while simple guitar breaths warm air into the icy track. Single, low piano notes thunder in the distance like the warning of a storm that never comes. You’re going to want this in the car for your next road trip.
11. Stop Pretending – Deep Sea Diver This tune is a guided missile. Rocketing forward with searing confidence, the payload delivery is unstoppable. The igniter combustion? Jessica Dobson’s vocals. She swoons like fireworks. Ironically, the lyrics are a bold delivery of uncertainty. “Honey I don’t pretend to understand/Why everything’s falling apart!” she wails, like a desperate closing argument. Oh – huge bonus points for having a beagle on the album cover, and his howl-bark at the end of the track.
12. Everything Starts – Secret Machines For personal reasons, this one puts my heart in my stomach. It’s not Bob Dylan, but it’s Blood on the Tracks. The poor bastard. God, he must have loved her so.