Well, that was a laugh wasn’t it?
Officially The Worst Year Ever (at least we could drown our sorrows and sing aloud in 2016), 2020 has turned everyone’s lives upside down and still has the capacity to do so, but we know all this.
It wasn’t just COVID-19 that caused such a year of great upheaval. In Sean Connery and Diego Maradona, the silver screen and the beautiful game lost legendary figures, so much so that we should perhaps start checking up on soon-to-be octogenarian Bob Dylan (although, given he’s now $300m richer, he’ll probably be alright). Meanwhile, in the UK the agonising, incessant stench of Brexit lingered on.
Yet while the music scene lost some legendary figures too (Little Richard, Florian Schneider, Tony Allan and Andrew Weatherall to name but four) – and was hugely curtailed by the lack of live music – as it frequently it does, it adapted and found creative solutions.
Musicians have also brought the disparities of royalty payments via streaming to the public eye; Tom Gray of Gomez’s #BrokenRecord campaign, now being discussed in Parliament Committees with Nile Rodgers and Nadine Shah arguing the case. Gigs are becoming a worryingly distant thing of the past, but the confidence of Live Nation, Michael Eavis and Melvin Benn, as they dangle the carrot of old-school live music in a few months, is a salivating prospect.
So yes, it’s been gruelling, but the food of love continues to provide nourishment and has mattered more in the dark times, as Live4ever’s Best Of 2020: The Tracks list can attest.
The dark times obviously included the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis; Run The Jewels captured the zeitgeist with almost mystic precision on RTJ4. Released in the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s murder, the line, ‘First of all, fuck the fucking law’, was among many that added prescience.
Other artists used their outlets to shine a light on the Black Lives Matter movement: so much has been written about Sault over the last few weeks (having achieved a near-clean sweep in the end of year accolades) that any further contributions are superfluous, except to say that Wildfires is angelic in delivery but heartbreaking in content. A beautiful call-to-arms and the centrepiece of the other most significant album of the year, Untitled (Black Is).
Solo artists continued to reign in the first year of this new decade. Alternative music’s new lyrical dynamo, Sinead O’Brien, inspired the imagination on Most Modern Painting through her spoken illuminations. No-one had a better turn of phrase this year. Meanwhile, on Hu Man, Greentea Peng captured a texture like laying atop cotton wool, a warm embrace put to music, and there were so many highlights to choose from on Waxahatchee’s rapturously received album Saint Cloud, but the sublime chorus of Lilacs ensured that track just about shaded it for us.
‘I’m not your fucking friend’ must go down as best opening line of the year, but I’m Not Your Dog by Baxter Dury sustained a hypnotic spell, while on Hamilton Leithauser’s Isabella the Walkman established himself as a singing-songwriting force to be reckoned with.
On the electronic side, Thalassophobia by Nicolas Bougaieff took us on a journey to the dark recesses of our minds, in lieu of a dark recess of an actual club (one day soon). The anthem of The Summer That Never Was was surely Take Back The Radio by Katy J Pearson, which fizzled and sparkled with joy and intent, while Might Bang, Might Not saw Little Simz achieve a level of direct communication that other MCs can only dream of, without losing any of her London grit. Maddeningly catchy.
Guitar groups still resonated with us though: Sludge by Squid was like prog played by punks, a maze of wah-wah guitars and ghostly backing vocals, while Ballad Of You & I (Hotel Lux) was jaunty and slovenly defiant. Peanuts by Yard Act was indie at surface-level, until surprising us with a northern monologue that John Cooper Clarke would be proud of, and elsewhere in the north west Psycho Comedy’s Pick Me Up was a galloping Lust For Life with added scouse swagger.
Arguably guitar music’s biggest success story of the year, Porridge Radio may have already moved on from Every Bad, but posterity will be kind to Lilac, while All Along The Uxbridge Road by Chubby And The Gang was an explosion of relentless pace and power, with a few slaps round the chops added in for good measure. Lastly, and categorically proving that indie music isn’t dead, Sports Team supplied the best takedown of everything young people (and society in general) are told as facts on the joyous Here’s The Thing.
On the release of A Hymn, it became apparent that Idles’ Ultra Mono was going to be something special (Teletext now has a place in all of our hearts) and like their forebears, compadres Fontaines D.C. saved a lot of lives when they were needed most with A Hero’s Death. A lockdown anthem, the repeated meme of ‘life ain’t always empty’ had powerful resonance as we faced the same four walls again and again, for hours upon end.
But there can only be one winner. Live4ever’s Track Of The Year had to go to Generation Game by The Lounge Society. Even when we were participating in Zoom quizzes or socially distanced drinks in the park, many were apprehensive about the U.S. elections in November, a persistent cloud on the horizon; ‘what will the U.S. do?’. On a broader scale, the song takes to task the behaviours of North America and how they inform the west, for better or for worse, and the five minutes still feel like an experience.
The answer to the question satisfies some but not all, meaning there are undoubtedly troubled times to come.
But as this year has proved, there will always be a brilliant soundtrack somewhere.