Here's a link to the playlist. The play buttons embedded here will play 30-second clips if you're not logged into Spotify in your browser, which is probably the best way to listen to the tracks while reading this article.
Welcome to the second year of these articles! I hope you enjoy these songs as much as I did.
Lost Horizons (feat. Kavi Kwai) — Every Beat That Passed
off In Quiet Moments, released December 4th, 2020
The track starts with this melodic arpeggiation that directly feeds into lovely, serene doubled vocals, with some extremely cool layering.
I won't lie, though — the thing that keeps me coming back to this song over and over is that incredibly catchy, haunting chorus. The growled-out call and response of the vocals grabs my attention — it's fascinating that something that, stripped of its melodic surroundings, would be a literal shout, blends so well into such a peaceful, floating track.
It's fun the way the verse and chorus mirror each other, eventually coming together in a spectacular refrain. That these contradictions are able to blend and flow together make this song absolutely perfect, and I'm sure around a decade from now, this song will sound exactly like how 2020 will sound to me.
Disheveled Cuss — Oh My God
off Disheveled Cuss, released June 12th, 2020
Tera Melos's Nick Reinhart has struck gold with this track, off of the eponymous Disheveled Cuss. This track is uniquely situated compared to the rest of the album, and clearly stands out as a single. There's an element of pop while still having its own sort of experimentation. That driving backbeat contrasts so well with the fun chorus effects that warp the vocals like a funhouse mirror.
Moor Jewelry — True Opera
off True Opera, released April 20th, 2020
Moor Mother and Mental Jewelry's collaborative record is a righteous, fuzzy punk; the whole thing is worth a loud listen. The title track, however, really stand out for me — it's like an anthem, belting out a hard-hitting punk, punching up the energy and the volume in a really cool way.
RUBUR — 凯洛斯 Part II
off 珀耳塞福涅的四季, released September 8, 2020
"珀耳塞福涅的四季" (translated, Persephone's Seasons) is a perfect shoegaze record. It was hard for me to pick one track which stands out, so please let "凯洛斯 Part II" (translated, Kairos Part II) serve as your introduction to the album.
The vocals dip into a lower range which fits underneath the echoing layering vocals and guitar; the crunchy chorus of guitar drone bounces off of the slightly jangling shuffle from the drums. It's just so good. This track, like the rest of the album, sucks you in — it's evocative of a sort of longing that I absolutely love for music to make me feel.
Sipper — Dance In Room Song
off Pink Songs, released January 21, 2021
I just love this drum machine, the way it layers that triple-hit on top of a quiet, but energetic backline that fits right underneath that driving bass so well. And how many singers make up this chorus of voices? The overall effect is of one that's similar to something you've heard before, but with a slight turn to every aspect of the track that grabs your attention. It's definitely a song to dance in your room to, but there's clearly something deeply sad in the lyrics as well.
And, on top of all of that, there are just these pop elements that make the track stand out — the melodic refrain which starts "I get high off, high off, feeling half alive" that fits into the song and therefore that part of my brain that engages with music so well.
Lala Lala & Baths — € € € €^^%%!!!!!heaven!!!!!!
single, released July 24th, 2020
This track's opening rustlings suggest something slightly aleatoric, an almost happy accident of rhythm and melody which are immediately built upon by digital backing and evocative, repeating vocals.
The way the mimetic function of this song is partially nudged through each repetition makes it feel like the background score to something, like a magical walk through a fantasy world that still feels utterly real.
Caroline Polachek — Breathless
single, released December 17th, 2020
"Breathless," by The Corrs, was released a little over twenty years ago now, and you are a fool if you don't think it is a masterpiece.
On the surface, you might see a lot of similarities between this rendition and the original, but from the outset, it becomes pretty clear that Polachek continues to uphold her reputation for powerful vocal performances. "Breathless" was, of course, slightly digital in its own way, with all of the turn-of-the-millennium stylings that a true pop hit from the year 2000 would necessitate. Caroline Polachek seems to have said, "okay, how can I remove the elements of this song that sound like the way pop music used to sound like and make it my own?"
After going back and listening to the original, clearly Polachek's project has worked. I love this version: it's a good song just on its own, with the added benefit of having incredible nostalgia backing it up.
春ねむり — bang
single, released January 15th, 2020
Even through my very bad understanding of Japanese, I can tell that the lyrical subject matter clearly points to this being a sinister song, reflecting the staccato, minor-key chord progression. The instrumentation is fun and energetic, almost video-game like — and, of course, we have to talk about the violent use of firearms as an element of the song, which is slightly off-putting to me.
But despite any sad times that shine through, it's an energetic, upbeat, often even fun song. Nemuri's vocals clearly stand out; they're astonishingly well acted — there's a line that she half-sings with a slight giggle, 「映えない愛でうたってやるよ」, and it's just perfect.
Lealani — Miniscule
off Fantastic Planet, released January 18th, 2019
(Note: this seems to be a remaster after Lealani broke with the original label which released the record, so the release date of this album is a little unclear to me.)
You can seriously see the edges on the soundwaves that blast out of this track. Lelani's unique vocal performance plays the perfect foil to the buzzing, smashing leads and percussion programming. There's clearly a desire to create something slightly alien here, and it makes for an incredibly fun, pop hit, even between instrumentation choices that might, on the surface, feel casually unapproachable.
The lyric content is just as lovely as the rest of the soundscape that surrounds it, juggling with concepts of identity in such a small number of lines.
Aiming for Enrike — Don't Hassle The Hoff
off of Music For Working Out, released January 10th, 2020
It's astonishing that so much sound comes out of these two folks playing live. "Don't Hassle The Hoff," in particular, is like something from a video game. It really is a great track for working out, but I have often found myself listening to it while working, and it's perfect for that.
Those guitar tones are so crisp, and though I know there's some clever looping going on, there's enough deviation between each take that the track doesn't sound muddled. The percussion is technical and fun, and it really drives the tone of each song.
What you don't get out of just listening to this one song is how well it seamlessly blends into the next one, like the rest of the album. It really is a sonic experience from start to end, and I highly recommend listening to it if you want to feel like you're gaining XP with each email you send.