Month: February 2021

Favorite Music 2020

Sadly lacking in live concerts, my favorite music-related things from 2020, in alphabetical order:

Erik Hall – Music for 18 Musicians

Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is one of my favorite pieces of music. I have eight different recordings of it in my music collection. What is distinctive about Erik Hall’s recording is that he performed and recorded it alone at home using the instruments he had available. The use of alternative instrumentation gives this version some interesting sounds and textures, and the solo recording of a piece intended to be played by 18 people together in a room is totally on-brand for 2020 (even though it was recorded in 2019).

You can buy it here.

IDLES – Ultra Mono

This album is not as consistent, overall, as 2018’s Joy as a Form of Resistance. The best songs (“Grounds”, “Model Village”, “Carcinogenic”) are as good as any the band has recorded, while others (like “Mr. Motivator”) highlight the band’s finely honed two-guitar assault but are held back by Joe Talbot’s sometimes overly didactic lyrics. Nevertheless, it is hard to think of a rock band as vital and relevant as IDLES.

You can buy it here.

Lydia Loveless – Daughter

This is an album that just feels stronger and stronger with every listen. Loveless’s stellar voice and wonderful no-fucks-to-give attitude is still on ample display here, but the real news is the growth in her songwriting. There’s not a weak song on this album, and in a just universe “Love is Not Enough” would be a massive radio hit. This is my favorite album on this list.

You can buy it here.

Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song

A gorgeous and unique blend of techno and dreamy pop. This record lulls you into a contemplative state and then the drums kick in and immediately get you moving. Energizing and surprisingly emotional for “electronic” music.

You can buy it here.

Nate Patrin – Bring That Beat Back

This is an extremely well researched history of the use of sampling in hip-hop. Starting with Steve Reich’s “Come Out to Show Them” (and I’m hooked already), the emergence of prominent DJs in NYC in the 70’s, and the birth of the Sugar Hill record label, Patrin traces the key innovators and technologies that established sampling as the engine of hip hop.

This book introduced me, an old white guy punk rocker, to a lot of great music that I had previously overlooked, including James Brown’s In the Jungle Groove, J Dilla’s Donuts, and Madlib’s Shades of Blue. But I suspect that no matter how much you know about hip-hop, this book will increase your understanding and appreciation.

You can buy it here.

Run The Jewels – RTJ4

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, anger, grief and frustration boiled out onto the streets across the United States. On May 29, Killer Mike of the rap duo Run the Jewels made a remarkable, impassioned speech in the wake of rioting in Atlanta expressing his rage and calling for action: “…it is time to plot plan strategize organize and mobilize.” A few days later, on June 3, Run the Jewels released their fourth album. RTJ4 is the sound of the summer of 2020, a searing indictment of U.S. society backed by incendiary beats and samples (including a great use of a Gang of Four sample).

From “Ju$t”:

Master of these politics you swear that you got options 
Master of opinion cuz you vote with the white collar
The 13th Amendment says that slavery’s abolished
Look at all these slave masters posing on yo dollar

From “Walking in the Snow”:

And everyday on the evening news they feed you fear for free 
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me 
Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper “I can’t breathe” 
And you sit there in house on couch and watch it on TV
The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy

Uncompromising truth, an unvarnished portrait of The United States in 2020.

You can buy it here.

This is The Kit – Off Off On

Kate Stables, the leader of This is The Kit, first came onto my radar when I saw her on stage with The National in 2019 (going to concerts, remember that?). This is The Kit sounds a bit like a 60s/70s English folk rock group with the addition of layered arrangements that sometimes incorporate horns and woodwinds. Stables’s voice reminds me a bit of Sandy Denny, which reinforces the folk rock vibe. This is a beautiful, well-crafted recording.

The songs are about dealing with loss, persevering through difficulty, and coming to terms with yourself and your powers. Stables is like the grounded friend who sits with you and talks you down when you’re freaking out.

You can buy it here.

Posted by Paul in Music