My 2020 Music Picks – 2020 Was Actually A Great Year for Music

While 2020 was sort of a disaster in so many ways, there was great music to listen to.

  • Fleet Foxes / Shore – Man, I loved this record and it came at exactly the right time for me, this fall. A “return” of sorts, but it sounds exactly like you’d hope it would
  • Pinegrove / Marigold – I’ve turned into a superfan, and its a little weird because it’s been years since I’ve gone this deep into one band. Their songs are the kind that grow more meaningful with each listen; their playing is subtle, and technically really good. (Side note: the last live show I saw was Pinegrove in Seattle with my son in Feb. Remember those days? )
  • Fontaines D.C / A Hero’s Death – Oh man, I love these guys. A Yeats-spouting punk with a killer band? Sign me up. The lead singer’s delivery isn’t for everyone, but I love the energy, the attitude. And, the band are players. If you liked the Walkmen, you’ll probably like these guys. 
  • Sylvan Esso / Free Love – this one got a lot of repeat playing in our house. Crazy good electronica production, with a voice that has a million emotions. Great hooks. Ferris Wheel has been stuck in my head for months. 
  • Khruangbin / Mordechai – This has been on heavy rotation while I work, I’d call it power-pointing music, but that sounds terrible. Just a terrifically chill sound, and probably the coolest band I know of. Super talented musicians and tasteful, too. 
  • Taylor Swift / Folklore – I’m not (too) ashamed to admit how much I loved the folklore record. Surprised? Sure.  But, that group or artists couldn’t miss. 
  • Waxahatchee / Saint Cloud – Just beautifully written and performed songs. In my top 5 of the last couple years. 
  • Wye Oak / Fear of Heights EP – I love how rich the sounds are on this whole record. Fear of Heights was one of my top songs from 2020
  • Disq / Collector – A bunch of super smart teenagers from Madison WI? What could go wrong. These guys might be the find of the year for me. Came out in January. Sort of like Pavement, but a little more stoned. Daily Routine was a top 10 song in 2020. 
  • Phoebe Bridgers / Punisher – My sons are embarrassed at how much I like her music, but i’m not. Kyoto is just a great song.
  • Jason Isbell & 400 Unit – Reunions – Well, just superb songs and great playing. 
  • Kelly Lee Owens / Inner Song – I fell in love with her first record, but I think I might like this one even better. Chilly/Cool electronica meets singer songwriter. Plus, the first song is a smart Radiohead cross over
  • Los Days / Singing Sand – Desert landscapes, spaghetti western soundscapes. Instrumental, but great for getting lost. Or, powerpointing. 

Also fun, but not from 2020: 

  • Nobody Can Live Forever –  This song gets stuck in my head all the time. This is from some hippy dude and it’s from 1976. You can almost feel how stoned everybody was when they were in the studio recording this. This is like the perfect driving song, for that time you’re heading home after the party with your buddies and your jamming out. We’re not here forever, you gotta love the people around you while you can, and be cool to each other. And, play your music:
  • Post Doc Blues – I think John K Samson might be the best songwriter alive right now. Or Isbell. But, this song from a couple years ago got me through the pandemic. Everybody could benefit from having the narrator be their inner voice. Bonus points for working in the word dongle and powerpoint into a  beautiful song about hope when all around us is despair.
  • Superdrag / In the Valley of the Dying Stars – This sounds like straight up power pop from 2001 and it is. This record might be perfect, front to back. If you like thick guitars, heavy drums, and superbly written pop songs, i’m pretty sure you’ll love this. My Favorite record of 2020

Camper / Cracker / Lowery

Due to a random Facebook post, i went deep, deep into a Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven hole. I’ve been listening to most of the older Camper records that i’ve loved for years and “discovering” the more recent Camper releases. The earlier stuff was both dumber and better than i remembered and i LOVED them at the time. But the more recent records are just great recordings. The songwriting is still distinctive, literate, funny and novelistic. They’re even better players now, balancing good, tasteful restraint with just enough showiness.

I kind of stopped listening to Cracker after Kerosene Hat for some reason, so i’m going through the Cracker catalog now and really enjoying getting to know the songs. New to me.

Lowery is one of my favorite writers. He’s way more than a musician; i keep hoping he’s going to turn to novellas, short stories or an autobiography.

I really enjoyed this three hour (!) podcast with two writers from the National Review (!). And the site is new to me, but you can find a travelogue of sorts masquerading as blog telling the backstory of the Camper Songs.

A Music Album You Can Only Listen To In A Forest — Pop-Up City

Such a great idea. Kind of gimmicky, but still a good way to make an artistic statement via tech.

The app works by using Google Maps to identify areas that are forests (those that are shaded a specific green on the mapping system). Then, the coordinates are sent from your phone and that is what allows you to access the album. By releasing an album in such a way the band is offering listeners a unique and multi-sensory experience of their music whilst also encouraging people to go out and spend time in nature.

via A Music Album You Can Only Listen To In A Forest — Pop-Up City.

The DB’s – Not Quite a Hit, But no Flop

Anatomy of a Flop – Measure for Measure Blog – i was 16, right after i got my drivers license, i would drive to downtown Green Bay, to the really, really rundown part, with my buddy Peter and he and i would go to a little store that rented out records. Can you believe that? Rented. Records. Good old vinyl for rent. With a wink and a nod, Stan (i can't believe i remember his name) would let me walk out the door with a clutch of discs and a smile to speed home, tape the things onto cassette, and then return the rental. Sometimes i'd round trip it in the same day and grab another record to tape. This was, very obviously – and even to a dumb-ass 16 year old – illegal. But, for the four or five months that it lasted, i got a bunch of good music.

This album by the DB's (Like This) is one of them that i loved the most. I don't remember all the songs anymore, but i bet i could sing most of them now, word for word. So, i was really glad to stumble across the link above, from the New York Times, written by Peter Holsapple. He may be better known to most of you as the trusty sideman for REM, but i'll always know him as the DB's guy.

(If you want a beautifully written, well performed, and incredibly well produced album, please do check out "Mavericks", by Holsapple and Chris Stamey. "She was the One" is the best song on there, "Angels" the hit. )

If you like this story from Holsapple, you should probably also check out Suzanne Vega's story about Tom's Diner and how she helped create the MP3 file format. Excellent writing…

New Music Obsession: Blitzen Trapper

Love love love the new Blitzen Trapper album. The song "furr" will go into the "Songs for my Sons" project.


Yeah, when I was only 17,

I could hear the angels whispering

So I droned into the words and

wondered aimlessly about till

I heard my mother shouting through the fog

It turned out to be the howling of a dog

or a wolf to be exact.

The sound sent shivers down my back

but I was drawn into the pack.

And before long, they allowed me

to join in and sing their song.

So from the cliffs and highest hill, yeah

we would gladly get our fill,

howling endlessly and shrilly at the dawn.

And I lost the taste for judging right from wrong.

For my flesh had turned to fur, yeah

And my thoughts, they surely were turned to

instinct and obedience to God.

You can wear your fur

like the river on fire.

But you better be sure

if your makin’ God a liar.

I’m a rattlesnake, babe,

I’m like fuel on fire.

So if you’re gonna’ get made,

don’t be afraid of what you’ve learned.

On the day that I turned 23,

I was curled up underneath a dogwood tree.

When suddenly a girl

with skin the color of a pearl,

wandered aimlessly,

but she didn’t seem to see.

She was listenin’ for the angels just like me.

So I stood and looked about.

I brushed the leaves off of my snout.

And then I heard my mother shouting through the trees.

You should have seen that girl go shaky at the knees.

So I took her by the arm

we settled down upon a farm.

And raised our children up as

gently as you pleased.

And now my fur has turned to skin.

And I’ve been quickly ushered in

to a world that I confess I do not know.

But I still dream of running careless through the snow.

An’ through the howlin’ winds that blow,

across the ancient distant flow,

it fill our bodies up like water till we know.

You can wear your fur

like the river on fire.

But you better be sure

if your makin’ God a liar.

I’m a rattlesnake, babe,

I’m like fuel on fire.

So if you’re gonna’ get made,

don’t be afraid of what you’ve learned.