In 2020, I raged, I sunk into soft sounds...
As much as I missed people and missed touch...
as much as I quietly and not-so-quietly raged, as much as anxiety rendered me hopeless, as much as the too-big world left me feeling helpless… I still found strength in my family, friends and faith. I saw my daughter grow up day by day, got pretty good at smoking meats and veggies in the backyard, found a routine that worked for our household, intentionally forged stronger friendships (and sadly left others on hold), started this newsletter and a cassette project, made time to read books.
Every year, I try to think of a different way to present my year-end list. So over two newsletters (second part coming Wednesday), here’s how music functioned in quarantine over 2020, whether a one-time epiphany or constant listen over months. Links go out to Bandcamp where applicable.
Here’s a long, loosely sequenced playlist of my favorite music released in 2020. I’m still adding songs.
P.S.: If you're reading this newsletter via email, the list is most surely truncated. I suggest hitting the link. — Lars Gotrich
I wanted to feel triumphant
Preservation, Eastern Medicine, Western Illness (Nature Sounds): Quelle Chris, Mach-Hommy, billy woods and a killer lineup of underground rappers spitting over Preservation's groove-locked samples of Chinese records? This was made in the Lars Lab.
Accidente, Canibal (self-released): Like Bad Moves and Martha, the Madrid punk band packs brightly-splattered hooks with songs against fascism and patriarchal violence, but also offers energizing songs for the fight ahead.
Pink Siifu, NEGRO (self-released): Looks to Sun Ra, Amiri Baraka, Ras G, Death and Bad Brains — radical expressionists of Black thought and sound — to create a blasted meditation on state brutality and systemic racism.
Serpent Column, Endless Detainment (Mystískaos): Of the two Serpent Column albums released in 2020, this concentrated dose of black-metal hatred met my rage with messy riffs, nerve-wracking blasts and nihilistic screams.
Backxwash, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It (self-released): Come for the heavy metal samples, stay for a nerve-rattling treatise on forgiveness.
Lamp of Murmuur, Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism (Death Kvlt / Not Kvlt): Lamp of Murmuur's restless energy, sudden dynamic switches and swaggering rock-and-roll riffery kept me coming back to its sickening black-metal bile.
Couch Slut, Take A Chance On Rock 'n' Roll (Gilead Media): When the world spews black bile, Couch Slut spits back. Metallic noise-rock that heaves real-life horror with homunculus riffs, barb-wire discord and foaming rage.
Duma, Duma (Nyege Nyege Tapes): Absolutely nothing sounded like the Kenyan duo Duma in 2020, and yet our collective chaos sounded exactly like Duma in 2020. Cacophonous beats, whooping shrieks and blitzed drones assault every sense, unearthing unknown terrors.
v/a, Under Siege / Bajo Asedio / État de Siège / تحت الحصار (A World Divided): A vital introduction to (mostly) Mediterranean hardcore/punk. Every band here sent me down rabbit holes of micro scenes across Tunisia, Italy, Greece and Algeria.
I moshed in my home-office chair
Facewreck, 2020 Single 1 Yo, 2020 Single 2 Yo, 2020 Single 3 Yo (self-released): In the course of a year, the dumbest beatdown-hardcore band out of Pittsburg became the dumbest rap-rock band out of Pittsburgh. School's out, fools out.
Code Orange, Underneath (Roadrunner): After a couple undeniable (yet spotty) wreckers, this is the simultaneously blistering and molten liquid-metal album Code Orange was on track to deliver. Dillinger Escape Plan's avant/pop-metal experiments meet NIN aggro-anthems and Zao-level breakdowns.
Znous, Znousland 2 زنوسلاند (A World Divided): The Tunisian hardcore band plays up the over-the-top nu-metal only hinted on the previous EP, with knuckle-draggin' riffs, folkloric melodies and bark-along anthems.
I missed my friends
Psychic Temple, Houses of the Holy (Joyful Noise): I started writing a long thing about my history (personal and professional) with Chris Schlarb, going back to the Sounds Are Active message board days, and then the election kinda fried my brain. I'm gonna come back to it someday, but I'll say this: across 4 sides and 4 backing bands (?!), Houses of the Holy is the rock 'em, sock 'em, love 'em, hold 'em classic that Chris has always had in his brilliant scatterbrain of sound.
Bad Moves, Untenable (Don Giovanni): I've played in cover bands with every member of Bad Moves, culminating in the Gnarly Rae Jepsen mega band. Front-to-back power-pop gems (with dips into guitar noise and slacker rock) that'll make you smile, cry and dance.
I sunk into soft sounds
Aisha Orazbayeva, Music for Violin Alone (SN Variations): The London-based Kazakh violinist plays Bach, James Tenney and John Cage with equally demanding force, but spends a lot of time resting in silence.
Claire Rousay, Both (Second Editions): In a year without travel, I was moved by and moved into these lovingly edited travelogues as street musicians play, birds chirp, airplanes fly overhead, libraries hum and voices carry.
Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi, Fuubutsushi (風物詩) (Cached Media): We kept this CD in car all fall/winter-long. A remote jazz quartet deep in ECM's quintessential quietude, with strains of ambient music and Vince Guaraldi's playful melodies.
Sarah Hennies, The Reinvention of Romance (Astral Spirits): The piece for cello and percussion, inspired by the ever-tangling motions of a relationship, was especially close to my heart in a year spent in the shifting emotions and routines of quarantine at home.
I went back in time
Pylon, Pylon Box (New West): To me, Pylon is not only the ideal Athens band — Southern bohemia and industrial function wrapped in party music — but also punk's purest form: unlearnt, unconcerned, unlike anything.
I devoured these books
Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS by Maria Sherman
True Story by Kate Petty
The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey and Michaela Angela Davis
Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture by Grace Elizabeth Hale