Happy Hiking: My Musical Landscapes From 2020

Ray Finlayson

Like every year, there’s always so much new music that I never got around to listening to. When I start looking back on all the new albums I never got around to listening to in time for compiling my end of year lists, it bothers me I never made time to consume more – but only for like a couple of minutes max.

I’m a slow listener in many regards; I also like to give records time to unfold – especially if I’m reviewing them. After more than a decade of writing consistently (and sometimes intensely), I stopped writing for music publications midway through 2017. Between then and April 2020 the amount of new music I consumed was really low; with no obligations to write about new music, I could indulge in raking through archives of jazz music, revisiting old favourites, or just finally getting around to listening to unplayed CDs that have been sitting on my shelf for too long. This freedom was great, but I still missed writing and talking about music in depth.

Thus I was thrilled to be able to come back and start writing for Beats Per Minute again in 2020. In a year with so much more free time than usual, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so too. And thanks to putting on my Review Writing Hat™ once again, I was able to be introduced to a lot of music I wouldn’t have otherwise come across.

Some notable examples include Laura Fell, Siv Jakobsen, HESS, Saachi San, and Ellie Bleach. Music by all these people has enriched my year, and here’s a shoutout to all the hardworking PR folk who sent me great music in 2020. (As with the 2020 in general, there’s always too much new music in my inbox to consume, so apologies if I never responded to you or got around to listening to what you were offering.)

And I’m glad i’ve been able to find time for ‘other’ music. I was able to create new albums of my own music and put them out into the world for no one to listen to, but was also able to find time to dive into music from yesteryears. I enjoyed consuming the Divine Comedy’s Casanova almost religiously for a Second Look feature; exploring discographies of monumental jazz figures like Charlie Christian and Slam Stewart was so richly rewarding and educational to my love of swing and jazz music; and, of course, I became a Hamilton fanatic like so many others when an official stream of show came available earlier this year. 

For me music in 2020 was about rekindling that lost love of discovering new music. Not everything that came into my email inbox or what colleagues and friends recommended me was enjoyable to my ears, but to explore, branch out, and hear things I wouldn’t otherwise have done so is an unbridled part of the joy of music for me. With my aforementioned official hat on once more, I was also able to put on my walking boots and start exploring the jungle of new music out there. Sometimes it feels like others are ahead of me on the trail; maybe one day I’ll catch up to them, but maybe I’m heading in a different direction. It’s about the journey, not the destination, and 2020 has been a hell of a hike. 

All that said, here are some choice cuts from 2020 that I have enjoyed. Happy hiking.

Read Ray’s BPM posts here and follow him on Twitter.