2020 Retrospective — Diving Into the Most Important Songs of My 2020

Almost five months into 2021, it feels appropriate to cover the songs that made my 2020. Maybe it would have been more appropriate to do this in January, but alas, here we are. The songs in the playlist below aren’t limited to 2020 releases, rather just songs that meant something to me in 2020. I’ve loosely sequenced the tracks to create a chronological list.

Mac Miller — Good News: What a way to start the year. One of the most bittersweet and heartbreaking songs I’ve ever heard, with its impact coming as a result of the circumstances of the song’s release. Being essentially in lockdown for the past 13 months of my life at this point, I often find myself reminiscing about walking around campus and listening to music. I remember in particular walking to my film class on the day Circles came out, trying not to embarrass myself in public by getting emotional while listening to the album for the first time. Maybe not the smartest choice I’ve ever made.

The 1975 — Me & You Together Song: If you told me in 2019 that one of my favourite songs of the upcoming year would be a 1975 song, I would’ve (extremely rudely) laughed in your face. Not actually, of course. I liked some songs off of A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships well enough, but the entire album felt like a hodgepodge of cheap imitations of bands that I like way more than The 1975. While “Together Song” is wholly an imitation of the jangle-pop greats, they managed to make something that rivals the quality of those bands. The song also calls back to a time in my life that I was ashamed of not being ‘masculine enough.’ As a kid, I was so disgusted by others calling me gay because of the way I acted and the things I was into. Coming to terms with that and the way I behave has led to the person I am today, so I don’t feel attached to those moments much anymore. “Oh, it’s okay, lots of people think I’m gay / But we’re friends, so it’s cool, why would it not be?”

Andy Shauf — Quite Like You: Andy Shauf was both the first and the last concert I saw in 2020. Much more subdued and melancholic than most of the shows that I attend, but Shauf’s incredible songwriting carries the show. The arrangements were beautiful with a full featuring of woodwinds and horns. I miss shows a lot, and while I’d love to go to a show as beautiful and gripping as Shauf’s, right now I just want to stand in a pit of people and jump around a bunch.

Hop Along, Queen Ansleis — The Goose & the Wren: My discovery of Frances Quinlin’s first album Freshman Year cemented Hop Along as the best indie rock band of the 2000s, and probably of all time. While I’m a huge fan of Hop Along’s other albums, I’ve often found them overproduced, so it’s no surprise that I fell in love with a collection of what are essentially demos. “The Goose & the Wren” is easily one of Quinlan’s longest tunes, but the seven-and-a-half minute runtime is well justified. Their songwriting is unlike any I’ve ever heard. Every Hop Along song, no matter how short, refuses to stop moving and innovating. Quinlan stuffs hook after hook into every song they write, and it’s so beyond infectious. Nothing makes my heart feel full like Quinlan screaming “I LOVE YOU GUYS” at the end of the song. God.

Spanish Love Songs — Self-Destruction (As a Sensible Career Choice): In late February, right before the pandemic really started to hit, I lost my opportunity at the job that I’ve dreamt of for years after watching my brother’s success in the same position. What hurt most about the situation was watching how the actions of one shitty person can have such large consequences and cause way too many people to lose their jobs. I remember taking the train home with a friend who had quit their job because of this person, listening to this song, and trying not to feel completely defeated. “It won’t be this bleak forever — Yeah, right

Charli XCX — Forever: how i’m feeling now was the one album getting me through the beginning of lockdown. Starting off as skeptical at the quality of an album made in a matter of weeks, only to hear this song absolutely blew me away and was exciting as hell. It still holds up as a pop song for the ages, and the music video simply makes me happy. :)

Moses Sumney — Polly: I spent many nights staring at the ceiling listening to this song. Having such minimal social interactions outside my family was killing me, and this song was pretty therapeutic at that time. It’s also beautiful as hell.

Taylor Swift — Betty: There were quite a few albums that came out in 2020 that I loved, but I didn’t quite latch onto any of them like I did folklore. There’s a certain beauty to Taylor’s true return to form that I can’t exactly place, but out of all of the beautiful songs on the album, “Betty” is notably the most heartwrenching. And of course, in true T-Swift fashion, there’s an incredible key change for the last chorus to feel all the more climactic. Also, if any publications want a positive Taylor Swift review so the Twitter stans don’t come after you, hmu.

New Buffalo — I’ve Got You and You’ve Got Me: If I had to choose one song as the song of my 2020, I’d be swift to give it to this track. I’ve never quite heard a song so beautiful, a song that emphasizes the importance of human interaction as this. The simplest songs are often the most beautiful, and good lord is this beautiful. Between listening to this and Fetch the Bolt Cutters on repeat, I was in heaven.

AURORA — Exist for Love: A song sent to me by a friend who I had feelings for. At the time I was so in love with the song because of its attachment to this person, who I mistakenly thought sent this to me as an act of sentimentality. Now, many months and an awkward rejection later, the song has a different meaning of longing for something that’s long out of reach. “We are leaning out for love / And we will lean for love forever”

Nana Grizol — Tambourine-N-Thyme: Nana Grizol is one of my favourite discoveries of the last year. I have a lil’ soft spot for twinkly folk-punk with horns, and this perfectly fills that craving. A song of longing, but realizing the way that things worked out is for the best. “So tell me not to fall in love with you / And frankly my friend I think that’s the sweetest thing you do”

The Go! Team — We Just Won’t Be Defeated: I listened to this a lot as I watched America’s discriminatory infrastructure become exposed, and in some cases physically burnt to the ground. There was a genuine fear, as I believe that there was for many people, about the safety of people we care about and how the world would look if that fascist won the election. This is a song for the days where the world feels like shit and you need something to help you keep going.

Adrianne Lenker — anything: I’ve never been too big into Big Thief, but I’ve always admired Adrianne Lenker’s solo work, especially her album from a few years ago abysskiss. There’s this quiet intimacy in the plucking of guitar strings and the slightly tinny home-studio microphone that just makes her music all the more beautiful. This is the best song to come out in 2020.

The Front Bottoms — Flashlight: After years of putting off listening to The Front Bottoms for god knows why, their self-titled album absorbed me. Every song is so unbelievably catchy in the perfect way. The lyrics read like the captions on the Instagram spam account of an angsty high-schooler, but that’s certainly part of the charm. If I had heard this maybe five years ago, it would probably be my favourite album of all time. For now, it’s just damn close. “When I am sad, I am sad / But when I am happy, oh God, I’m happy”

Bladee — Girls Just Want to Have Fun: It feels like a cop-out to describe a dream-pop song as ethereal, but there’s no better word to describe this song. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is the soundtrack to all of the cold winter walks to the bus stop that I missed this year. The in-between of too damn cold and absolutely beautiful.

Charly Bliss — It’s Christmas and I Fucking Miss You: I feel the reason this is here is pretty obvious. And no, it’s not because I listened to the song 330 times over 48 hours. Christmas with my family was a happy day, though weird without my brother and his fiance, who had moved out a few months prior. The winter months are always tough for me, and it was especially tough this year.

A.G. Cook — 2021: Hoping this year doesn’t destroy me quite as much as last year.

Random musings, most likely about music. I write the Canadian Indie Rock Canon over at https://reddit.com/r/indieheads whenever I have the time.