The Year in Music 2020: One guy’s opinion

Album artwork

As 2020 winds to an end, two words come to mind: That sucked.

It has been a long, confusing year full of hard decisions. Every trip to the grocery store, the blood center, and the unemployment office is saturated in a dense cloud of fear and anxiety. Too many families have felt bitter loss. My inner circle was not immune, dear reader. Not by a long shot. For a while the term “misery loves company” kept running through my head. There was callous comfort in knowing we weren’t the only ones. As the months went by, I learned to flip the script on the term’s negative connotation. Misery does love company. Not through shared sadness, but collective healing. We can all help each other through the tough times. Even if we don’t know one another there is power in our communal consciousness.

So here we are. Still navigating the pandemic. Still isolated, yet coldly connected through technology. We see our friends pay for pizza on Venmo, but we can’t eat it with them. When people see that I listened to “Goodbye Horses” from Silence of the Lambs fifteen times in three days, do they think I went full Buffalo Bill or do they realize it’s just a really good song? That reminds me. Check on your friends’ mental health. And support their small businesses.

Okay. Let’s all take a deep breath. Relax your shoulders. Unclench your jaw. That’s better. Now on to the music. As always, for each highlighted artist I try to include an official music video in an effort to keep the artform alive.

Woods – Strange to Explain

Woods has been a busy band, pumping out eleven albums in their fourteen-year history. With the most recent effort, Woods inadvertently created the perfect soundtrack to 2020. Strange to Explain is a subdued yet complex album. Each listen uncovers new depths. Lead singer and founding member Jeremy Earl’s falsetto vocals float through every song, from the otherworldly “Where Do You Go When You Dream” to the existentially questioning title track “Strange to Explain.” Other songs like “Can’t Get Out” and “Before They Pass By” highlight the substantial talents of drummer Aaron Neveu. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a drummer going Animal-style nuts in the background of an otherwise chill folk ditty (ala Rural Alberta Advantage). Thanks, guys. You made the pandemic more bearable.

If you like this, you might also dig: Rose City Band – Summerlong, BC Camplight – Shortly After Takeoff, Impulsive Hearts – Cry All the Time, Hazel English – Wake Up

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals

Hailing from across the pond in Newcastle upon Tyne, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (or 7Pigs if you’re into the whole brevity thing) play a rowdy mix of punk metal. According to the band, the playful name is a way to make sure they aren’t taking themselves too seriously. But make no mistake, they pump out seriously savory jams. At times 7Pigs evokes comparisons to Jane’s Addiction, Rollins Band, or vintage Sabbath. And just when you think you have them all figured out, they drop down into a sludge metal riff and overlay a screaming guitar solo that conjures the ghosts of sludge pioneers Acid Bath (RIP Audie Pitre). Those are lofty comparisons, but these guys have earned it.

If you like this, you might also dig: The Goners – Good Mourning, IDLES – Ultra Mono, Eye Flys – Tub of Lard, Infant Island – Beneath

Headie One – EDNA

Why am I addicted to British hip hop? Headie One’s upbringing in the infamous Broadwater Farm housing development outside of London probably doesn’t have much overlap with my childhood growing up on the mean streets of Strickler, but his music still speaks to me. After a few mixtape (and prison) releases, Headie One dropped his first full length album in 2020. Coming in twenty tracks deep, EDNA hits hard. It’s an album full of crafty trap beats and an all-star lineup of contributors, from Future to Haile to some guy named Aubrey Drake Graham. It feels like Headie One is torn between who he was and who he wants to be, but sometimes art is born of conflict. The least we can do is appreciate the results.

If you like this, you might also dig: Amaarae – The Angel You Don’t Know, Drakeo the Ruler – Thank You For Using GTL, Boldy James – The Price Of Tea In China, Ka – Descendants of Cain

Jake Blount – Spider Tales

For fans of bluegrass & folk music, it’s time we get know Jake Blount. With his debut solo album, the twenty-five-year-old phenom has thrust himself into the upper echelon of American banjo pickers. Blount has a style that sounds unconventional, but in reality the opposite is true. He is a devout student of traditional folk music, especially Black American roots. The album’s title refers to Anansi the Spider, a character based in African folklore whose stories were carried to the Americas by enslaved people. The tales endured due to Anansi’s ability to use his cunning and wits to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, a theme that resonated for obvious reasons. Spider Tales is chock-full of stellar banjo and fiddle work. One highlight is a cover of the song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” that stands up to classic versions from legendary artists such as Lead Belly, Bill Monroe, & Nirvana.

If you like this, you might also dig: The Avett Brothers – The Gleam III, Waylon Payne – Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur, Bonny Light Horseman – self titled

Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters

My intent in this space is generally to stay away from albums widely highlighted in various “best of” lists. Fetch The Bolt Cutters will undoubtedly pepper these lists. So why highlight the album here? Great question. Somehow Fiona Apple still doesn’t get the respect she deserves. People tend to dismiss her as a washed-up pop star who peaked back in the ‘90s. But here’s the deal, jack. Fiona Apple is a total badass and she peaks whenever the hell she feels like it. It’s not even fair to attempt to break down Fetch The Bolt Cutters. It’s perfect. Brilliant. You should listen to it.

If you like this, you might also dig: Samantha Crain – A Small Death, Monks Road Social – Humanism, En Attendant Ana – Juillet, Adrianne Lenker – songs and instrumentals

All Them Witches – Nothing as the Ideal

Oh, you think I’m double-dipping on the metal albums? Nope. I pulled a sneaky on you. All Them Witches isn’t your traditional metal band. ATW is a dark southern prog rock band with a proclivity for heavy blues guitar. That’s a mish-mashed mouthful of genre, but they’re a band that refuses to be pigeonholed. At this point, they probably most closely resemble Meddle era Pink Floyd. Much like my toddler, these guys do whatever they want. They close out the album with two super heavy tracks (“Lights Out” & “41”), followed by the slow, ethereal 9-minute post-apocalyptic “Rats in Ruin.” It all works. ATW feels like a band firing on all cylinders. It’ll be interesting to see which direction they decide to go from here.

If you like this, you might also dig: Kadavar – The Isolation Tapes, Paradise Lost – Obsidian, Jehnny Beth – To Love Is To Live, Cortez – Sell The Future, Cam Cole – Live Busking at Camden Town Station

Victoria Monét – JAGUAR

It’s not always a smooth transition from hit songwriter to feature artist. Victoria Monét spent the early part of her career writing songs for artists such as T.I., Ariana Grande, & Nas, but she is stepping into the spotlight with JAGUAR. One theme jumps out immediately: Monét is not shy when it comes to her sexuality. If you’re the pearl-clutching type, prepare to be offended. I don’t even own any pearls, so I’m into it. The album is hyper-sensual, but not in a gimmicky way. It elicits a feel of nostalgia by integrating elements of disco and ‘70s style funk. It’s all held together by Monét’s considerable vocal talents. JAGUAR is a confident album by a confident artist ready to step out of the shadows.

If you like this, you might also dig: SAULT – Untitled (Black Is / Rise), U.S. Girls – Heavy Light, TORRES – Silver Tongue, The Weeknd – After Hours

Sevdaliza – Shabrang

Iranian solo artist Sevdaliza had one of the most interesting releases of the year. Shabrang is an album of opposing forces. The tracks are all held together by Sevdaliza’s warbled, Ane Brun-esque vocals, but each song is stylistically unique.

There’s a Massive Attack trip hop drum beat powering “Lamp Lady.” The title track “Shabrang” would blend nicely into any of Portishead’s three classic albums. The haunting piano and elemental creativity weave an otherworldly story that is truly unique. She has invented her own genre.

If you like this, you might also dig: Alexandra Savior – The Archer, Myrkur – Folkesange, The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You

Since this is the Fayetteville Flyer, let’s finish up by focusing on local music.

White Mansion – Human

Seems like a forever since Fayetteville band White Mansion released their debut album Human. It was way back in January. In the before time. We were all so naïve and full of wide-eyed optimism. The pandemic may have nixed any plans to catch White Mansion’s captivating live show, but in the meantime Human has stayed in my regular rotation. The album has a dark synth-pop feel. Think Depeche Mode meets Type O Negative (what a great reality show that would be). Keep an eye out for these guys when the venues open back up. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Other local albums to check out: Terra Nova Kings – Third Eye Woman, TV Preacher – Pay to Pray, Vol. 1, Couch Jackets – Spud v Cancer, Rachel Ammons – No Man Band, Pallbearer – Forgotten Days

That’s it for this year. Stay safe out there. Looking forward to better days ahead and the return of live music.