Oh, I know they say I should stay away
Is it wrong to say that I want you anyway?
When the vaccine’s made will we get back to harmony?
If we’re not okay, I will blame it on the pathogen,
Blame it on the pathogen, blame it on the pathogen…
Oh, I’m filling up my time with visions of you
It’s just the right time for isolation blues.
—Ondara, “Isolation Blues”
Even if I mostly gave up blogging this year, I was still listening to music and I certainly wasn’t going to let a year go by without putting up one of my most popular annual posts. If you are a long-time reader of these pages, you know that my annual music round-up usually focuses on singles, generally things with a beat. While this year I found myself drawn to more reflective material as a whole, such as the Ondara song above, I’ve mostly tried to stick to upbeat material here. May it carry you into the new year with a lighter heart.
Besides the French music I discovered in June (French Kiss, ou Comment S’Ambiancer en Temps de Crise and Comment S’Ambiencer en Temps de Crise, Part Deux), here are some of my favorite songs and videos from the past year.
Best in Broken Hearts: Dua Lipa, “Break My Heart” (Future Nostalgia). I can’t think of anyone better to get the party started than Dua Lipa. She is always just so much fun. For obvious reasons, I also really love “Fever”, which is a bilingual outing with Angèle, who I almost put in my French music posts for her “Balance ton quoi” #MeToo anthem.
Best in Break-Ups: Halsey, “You Should Be Sad” (Manic). From the beginning of a relationship with Dua Lipa to the end of one with Halsey, who makes a banger out of the shittiest of situations (though I was very tempted to put the only slightly more optimistic “Graveyard” here instead).
Best in Breed: The Killers, “Dying Breed” (Imploding the Mirage). What? The Killers are still around you say? Yes they are. I didn’t love this album as a whole, but this one was irresistible. It really reminded me of a certain kind of Bruce Springsteen song.
Best in Background Vocals: Sylvan Esso, “Ferris Wheel” (Free). Speaking of Bruce Springsteen, his Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. was apparently one inspiration for Sylvan Esso’s latest. I always love a catchy tune from Sylvan Esso but it is the sample of kids screaming “No!” in the background that makes this one an instant summer classic.
Best in Beatings: Hayley Williams, “Dead Horse” (Petals for Armour). This is one of a handful of songs that made me get most of this album. Really interesting melodies, rhythms, and lyrics.
Best in Bow Wannabes: Raye Zaragoza, “The It Girl” (Woman in Color). A recent discovery that I just can’t get out of my head. I look forward to checking out the rest of her album more closely.
Best in Blaming: This Is the Kit, “This Is What You Did” (Off Off On). There is something about the repetitive nature of the (self) accusations here that really resonated with me in this year of holding oneself and other people accountable.
This is what you get
This is what you did
This is what they want
Why are you still here?
—This Is the Kit, “This Is What You Did”
Best in Brutal Truths: Burna Boy feat. Chris Martin, “Monsters You Made” (Twice as Tall). Speaking of holding people accountable, who better than Nigerian singer and Afrobeat king Burna Boy to take a powerful statement and make an earworm out of it.
Best in Blues: Ondara, “Isolation Blues” (Folk n’ Roll Vol. 1: Tales Of Isolation). If you remember, I featured J.S. Ondara and his debut album, Tales of America, in last year’s music round-up. Looks like he has now dropped the initials and is back with a new album, one that truly speaks to our times. This song was my favorite of the bunch, though I really liked “From Six Feet Away” as well.
Best in Boredom: Echosmith, “Lonely Generation” (Lonely Generation). Another song that speaks to our time, albeit inadvertently, as both this and “Everyone Cries” are from an album recorded well before the pandemic struck.
Best in Beats: Xavier Omär, “Find Me” (If You Feel). While mostly a mellow contemporary R&B singer, this first cut from Xavier Omär’s latest album has a certain bounce that picks me right up after a rough day.
Best in Boozers: Little Big Town, “Sugar Coat” (Nightfall). It was so hard to pick just one song from this album. In fact, when I first listened to it, at one point, I turned to the Math Greek and said, “I don’t think there’s a bad song on this album” (which, if you know me at all, is something of a miracle). I think the harmonies on “Next to You” best showcases them as a group, and of course I love “Wine Beer Whiskey”, but I’ve chosen to feature “Sugar Coat” below, mostly for its incredible lyrics.
And finally we get to the song(s) that I listened to more than any other. And really, it wasn’t even close. If this one doesn’t get at least a nomination for an Oscar, I will be very, very disappointed in the Academy.
Best in Not-Björk: Molly Sandén (My Marianne) & Will Ferrell, “Húsavík” (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga soundtrack). Of course, while this works just perfectly in terms of the film’s story, you shouldn’t sleep on the toe-tapper “Double Trouble” either.
I know what some of you are thinking, Will Ferrell? Yes, really.
And I also know what the rest of you are thinking, “Play ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’!”
Ok, ok, fair enough.
And, on that note, let’s leave the hellscape that was 2020 in our rearview mirror and welcome 2021 with open arms!
For previous Year in Music round-ups, see
Unapologetic B*tch: The Year in Music (2014)
Surf’s Up: The Year in Music (2015)
The Year in Music 2015: Missing Links
Getting in Formation: The Year in Music (2016)
Shadow, Take Me Down: The Year in Music (2017)
Cowboys and Angels: The Year in Music (2018)
Bad Guys and Hopeful Gals: The Year in Music (2019)
*Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.