John Wohlmacher’s 2020 Nutshell
If you feel like 2020 was just one long drag of frustration topped on top of already accumulated frustrations, be advised: you’re not alone in a year that was, for the most part, a dire mess.
Hey, remember when people said maybe the Trump era will bring us awesome political art? Turns out we got a pandemic instead! Yay. Fun: masks! and shapes and some do more than others, and some people will outright question their utility and – oh who am I kidding, this sucks…
I mean, at least we got rid of Trump, right? And a new David Lynch show just got announced, too. Maybe things won’t be so bad next year…
And hey, at least music was… really good. Sure, it took a little longer to find the really good stuff, mostly due to the lack of proper PR, little to no proper socialization that allows us to experience and communicate about musical trends as well as no concerts, but as far as albums go, a lot has happened.
I’m not sure if there’s a correlation to the social distancing, but the big trend of the 2020 was a return of Singer-Songwriter Folk music. Bob Dylan made one of his better albums, that was a surprise, and Phil Elverum returned to his The Microphones moniker and made what could be his best release yet. And – my Gott – same goes for Laura Marling’s awesome Song for Our Daughter and Eartheater’s surreal Phoenix: Flames are Dew and so on and so on. Adrianne Lenker and Johanna Warren released records with unique atmospherics that are full of strong, evocative songs, while Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers made what felt like elaborate Saddle Creek- and Arts & Crafts records-homages (and felt like each other’s evil twin), which marked a successful shift for Swift and – sadly – a bit of a bland Indie-nostalgia ride for Bridgers. And there’s also the minimalist The Faintest Hint by Ai Aso and the maximalist Shore by Fleet Foxes. There’s also the fantastic Lianne La Havas album, which manages to encompass a wide array of genres and styles into something wholly unique, while also presenting some of the best solo guitar playing I’ve heard all year.
It’s possible that our collective response to many of these records is a direct reflection of our experience of isolation and the questions that come with it – no matter if they be political, spatial or existential. If all we do for two months is drag us from bed to bathroom to kitchen to Netflix to bed, maybe the outlook and aesthetics of a lone artist picking up their instrument and fashioning something beautiful is more appealing to us than the extravagant Electropop we got used to in the last decade or so. For a generation so well used to creating home-made eccentricities, the lockdown meant neither a creative push nor an embrace of works reliant on electronics and sample manipulation. Grimes made a record inspired by her edgy (= : dumb!) political leanings and people instantly forgot about it, we got a few really good rap records which didn’t really seem to stick with people and besides a late-in-the-game William Basinski and Oneohtrix albums, I can’t remember an electronic record that made an impression with audiences, maybe besides the moderate hype the Sewerslvt album received. And WAP.
And thus, guitar music somehow managed to sneak its way back into relevancy. Protomartyr released the most politically accurate interpretation of this year, even tho it was recorded without a hunch of the political upheavals, violent protests and foreign diseases in sight. Them Airs came out of nothing and struck the hearts of our editorial with their unique Post-Punk. Oranssi Pazuzu and Imperial Triumphant released masterful psychedelic metal albums that transcend their genre constraints, while Uniform and Cindy Lee presented their distorted visions of Rock, divided into rage and tenderness. Boris, Jeff Rosenstock, King Krule, The Strokes, Ohmme and Yves Tumor all made great albums that connected with young audiences who flocked to their social media Q&As and YouTube podcasts. Never mind that mess Tame Impala released: Indie Rock is kind of a thing again, even if Billy Corgan chose to go full Synthesizers this time around.
You see? Things aren’t all that bad. And before I leave you with my personal playlist and albums of the year, let me say this: if you really are alone while reading this and feel crushed by the world, please, give a listen to Nine Inch Nail’s Ghosts V: Together and Shabason, Krgovich & Harris’ Philadelphia. Both albums carry a sense of wonder and comforting optimism that make even the darkest night feel like a summer evening.
Don’t worry: we’ll manage. Things will get better. And if you’re still alone, there’s always my twitter and instagram.
ALBUMS OF 2020:
1.: Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today
2.: Them Airs – Union Suit XL
3.: Laura Marling – Song for our Daughter
4.: Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
5.: Ichiko Aoba – Windswept Adan
6.: King Krule – Man Alive!
7.: Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi
8.: Uniform – Shame
9.: Eartheater – Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin
10.: Boldy James & The Alchemist – The Price of Tea in China
11.: The Strokes – The New Abnormal
12.: Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V: Together
13.: Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville
14.: Johanna Warren – Chaotic Good
15.: Tobacco – Hot Wet & Sassy
16.: R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages
17.: The Microphones – Microphones in 2020
18.: Shabason, Krgovich & Harris – Philadelphia
19.: Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
20.: Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight to Eternity
21.: Adrianne Lenker – songs
22.: Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind
23.: Ai Aso – The Faintest Hint
24.: Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
25.: Sewerslvt – Draining Love Story
26.: Flee Foxes – Shore
27.: OHMME – Fantasize Your Ghost
28. The Smashing Pumpkins – CYR
29.: Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM
30.: Fountaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
31.: Boris – No
32.: The Flaming Lips – American Head
33. The Homesick – The Big Exercise
Read John Wohlmacher’s BPM posts here.