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2020 - The Soundtrack To the Year

The Year

Well, it's twelfth night, so that's Christmas officially finished for a few months.

For everyone 2020 meant change, Changes in lifestyle, changes in how we worked, changes in our relationships. I discovered my wife could make almond macaroons. I also discovered I could eat six in one sitting. She doesn't make them any more!

It took over 2000 years to arrive, and we still weren't prepared for what it brought. While uncertainty, anxiety, instability and loss was gripped with one hand, we balanced it with a greater appreciation of small simple things such as friendship, nature, memories and music.

In terms of a soundtrack to the year, it needed to address various deeply felt moods. Unlike, say, 2012 when the soundtrack would have been one of celebration and excitement or 2016 when the loss of so many celebrities in quick succession demanded an elegiac soundtrack, 2020 brought a maelstrom of emotions affecting different people in different ways at different times. The song of 2020 was probably Happy Birthday. We sang it a lot, but mainly in the loo.

Personally, I was looking for comfort blanket music for most of the year. I wanted music that was familiar from safer times, or was capable of grounding me when negative thoughts threatened to overwhelm me. I found Erased Tapes and nu-classical music from the likes of Max Richter. When something lighter was called for I found top quality songs that hearkened back to the safer sounds of Haircut 100, Nik Kershaw, Dexys and 80s synth pop. I never found the ideal soundtrack to address the frustration of grappling with Zoom or MS Teams!

When I wasn't looking for comfort, I wanted to rage and I needed music that pandered to that. And by rage I'm thinking of all the patently bad decisions made during the year, not the failure of our wifi to deal with the demands of five working adults in the house! There wasn't as much of that it seemed to me, but I found it in the Dears, A Swayze and the Ghosts and some of the late 70s / early 80s sound of post punk.

As we entered second lockdown the same old feelings were tempered by optimism triggered by the prospect of an effective vaccine, and the reboot occasioned by moving to a new year. After all, it can't be as bad again can it?

If I'm left with one abiding thought from 2020, it's the renewed importance of friendship and positivity. That's happened through the formation of new communities, some of the finest examples of which have stemmed from the world of music. Twitter shared so many good listening recommendations. Our local Arts Centre moved on line with album discussions. Sophie Ellis-Bextor raised spirits with her kitchen disco - and raised the hopes of a million parents who thought it was only their kids who behaved like that! And Tim Burgess started a craze for listening parties that will surely continue in less fraught times. Support, community, sharing and friendship. I can't think why we didn't do this years ago.

The Music

First and foremost, I've compiled a playlist of songs that were new, or new to me, in 2020. It also includes songs suggested by Pop In the Real World members that they associate with 2020 or that helped them through it.

Some Pop In the Real World members added songs that had meant something to them during the year. I'd never heard Stormzy's 'Crown' or Master KG / Nomcedo Zicode's 'Jerusalema'. How did that happen. I love them both.

The playlist is called Pop In the Real World 2020 and can be found on Spotify or through this link:


My Top 3 albums of 2020, due to indecisiveness, actually come to 4. These are:

1. Tourists : Psapp

I haven't seen this in any other year end list which is a travesty.

Narc Magazine described it thus:

Proponents of the toytronica sound, Psapp maintain their belief that anything can be a musical instrument of worth, constructing sweet pop melodies and upbeat rhythms with everyday stuff – jars, tabletops and bicycle parts.

This is layered and impossibly addictive music. Fiona Apple made a big splash with a similar approach that Pitchfork awarded a maximum 10 out of 10 score. It's good but Psapp's album outscores it on rhythm, melody and for pure fun. The most quirky and inventive sounds I've heard for years.

2. Paid Salvation : A Swayze and the Ghosts

This album has earned its place in a number of Year End charts and was the Observer's Album of the Year.

It's melodic punk with energy, attitude, edginess and swagger in abundance. It also has my favourite line of the year, from the social media diatribe 'Connect To Consume'.

"And this is my declaration

Well, sorry Roger Daltrey, but f**k my generation."

3= Your Hero Is Not Dead : Westerman

This was a slow burner of a record that married anxiety and incomprehension with optimism. In 'Think I'll Stay' and 'Confirmation' Westerman delivered two of the strongest melodies of the year.

It's an affirmative record to return to time and again.

3= Bury The Moon : Asgeir

This album was released before coronavirus was seen to be a serious thing, but it's as if it knew what was coming.

I hesitate to use the word 'spiritual' to describe it, but songs such as 'Living Water' are reminders of the strength we can draw from our natural surroundings. 'Youth' is a reflection on happier times in the face of loss.

It's a beautiful Scandinavian record.

And that's it. The Dilbert calendar for 2020 is in the bin. 2021's new releases are heading out of the starting blocks and there is plenty to look forward to.

As they say "Watch this space"!

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