It’s a bit of an odd practice, making lists, but one I often come back to. Putting together a list of my Top Ten or Top Five X is something I find tremendously therapeutic. In a way, it’s my method of digesting something like music. I approach list-making not as a critic, but simply as a fan trying to dig deeply and methodically into something I love.
12. “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy
Okay. Yes this is stereotypical for me. It’s a chill rock tune about depression that sounds like it should be played in Buffy’s The Bronze. Whatever. I like it.
11. “Pure Cinema” by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
I admit that I started listening to this band purely because I thought they had a cool name. This one’s a smooth groove that quickly got stuck in my head. Also, as I grow up, I resonate with the feeling of wanting to find a family of one’s choosing to serve as an anchor.
10. “The Plague” (Live) by The Mountain Goats
The thing I’ve missed the most during quarantine is the ability to attend concerts. I was delighted when I stumbled across The Mountain Goats’ release of The Jordan Lake Sessions, a two-part live concert recorded from isolation, complete with their signature goofy concert banter, biblical metaphors, and playful earnestness. The (aptly named) track cited here leads off the set, and it just feels right.
9. “Heavy Balloon” by Fiona Apple
“People like us, we play with a heavy balloon.” Speaking of songs about depression. This forceful and percussive track hits hard with emotion. And, dang, Fiona can really belt it. I’ve always liked using the phrase “people like us,” a phrase I first heard used by my great uncle, when referring to people with anxiety and/or depression. At the very least, it’s a reminder to myself that I’m not the only one who carries the heavy balloon.
8. “Weird Fishes” by Lianne La Havas
I always enjoy a good cover, especially one that brings new life to a song I already love. This cover of a middle-album track from Radiohead’s In Rainbows blows the original out of the water. La Havas’ smooth-as-bourbon vocals build to resounding resolution: “Hit the bottom and escape!!”
7. “Delete Forever” by Grimes
I was a little bit surprised to hear an acoustic guitar opening this song from the typically electronic-driven Grimes. It’s still definitely an electronic song, but it has an emotional warmth to it. A great song for blasting in the car.
6. “Fire” by Waxahatchee
This one is the toughest for me to explain. I just kept finding myself humming the tune to the chorus over and over after I heard it for the first time. Sometimes songs hit me this way, sticking elusively under my skin. Going back and reading interviews with the artist about the song, I’ve discovered that it’s meant to be an ode to self-love. I like that meaning, but it’s honestly not what I love about this song.
5. “Borderline” by Tame Impala
This song is just disgustingly groovy.
4. “coney island” by Taylor Swift, featuring The National
T-Swift and The National’s Aaron Dessner teaming up to co-write and co-produce two albums this year was enough of a surprise. What’s even more of a surprise, to me at least, is how well it works. I really like the poetic flow of the lyrics: “Sorry for not making you my centerfold.”
3. “Boomer” by Bartees Strange
I’ve never heard anything like Bartees Strange. Even trying to pin down the genre is elusive. This song varies between sounding like rap, indie rock, blues, and emo punk. On my first listen I was sitting stuck with a confused look on my face, like “I don’t know what the heck I’m listening to but I love it.”
2. “I Know the End” by Phoebe Bridgers
Already being called the anthem of 2020 by many fans, what starts as a woefully lyrical folk ballad builds into a raw, primal scream. Yes, she’s literally screaming into the microphone. I feel like it echoes the range of emotions I’ve felt this year, and it re-emphasizes for me the role of music as a space for both contemplation and catharsis.
1. “JU$T” by Run the Jewels, featuring Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha
Run the Jewels’ release of RTJ4 at the beginning of June felt more than timely. Its contents are packed with wit and ferocity, even more than usual. And this song in particular adds something more to the mix: a catchy hook that feels like it belongs in the Top 40. This is no doubt, in part, thanks to Pharrell’s contribution to the track. What’s more, the song thoughtfully explores the inherent connections between capitalism and systemic racism. A true masterpiece.