This year has been hard. Like knee deep in mud that each time you moved further forward you got sucked down deeper, hard. I have been relatively lucky. I have remained healthy as have most of my immediate family. That is not to say there haven’t been moments of frustration, anger, upset, and deep heartbreak that I am not sure I will ever recover fully from.
Professionally, have been able to keep working and keep earning, and when I haven’t family and the welfare state have been my safety net. I am aware that not all of us have been so lucky. Some people’s lives really did turn to dust in 2020. I also decided to throw all caution to the wind this year and BE proper writer and journalist. Not just say it as an add on when people asked me what I do whilst looking at the floor. I like to think, because of this, my writing has become stronger, my skin has started to grow thicker, and I have been given some really amazing writing opportunities, something that may not have happened during peacetime.
Trying to pick my favourite album of the year is liking someone asking me to pick a favourite pet. It hurts. All the music I have listened to has made everything easier. It has been the one thing that has punctuated the day. It has allowed me to understand and give meaning to how I feel when the world and everything going on threatened to overwhelm me. Music has been both my life vest and my confidant in 2020. So, here is my very reluctant and tentative and ever-changing list of my favourite albums of 2020.
If folklore was Swift roaming the woods in late summer, looking inward but also starting afresh and seeing things from a pure, new perspective, then evermore is Swift looking at strangers’ hopes, dreams, loves and losses through the dark of a frosted glass of winter, and fully revelling in her ability to tell other people’s stories in a way that still hurts. folklore is about beginnings and evermore is a glass menagerie of endings and almosts. This year has felt like a year of fragile almosts’ and evermore is a perfect representation of that and all the sadness that accompanies the feeling.
Caitlyn Smith’s Supernova was released just before all hell broke loose but her album has become a staple of mine especially when I needed to lose myself in cinematic soundscapes or when I needed to remind myself to focus on the small, beautiful things. Her song ‘Lonely Together’ could not have been more apt for a year spent in isolation from the world.
Lera Lynn’s On My Own was made last year, and yes, as the title suggests, all by herself. I love Lynn’s work. From The Avenues to Resistor you can always rely on Lynn to give you poetic lyrics set to moody and dark music. In my review for Atwood Magazine I said, “Lynn feels the most settled and the most herself on this album. On My Own was born out of an experiment and trusting your instincts. A dangerous combination in Lynn’s case as the record is a powerful reminder of what women can do alone.” I even had the ultimate opportunity to speak to Lynn for Holler. where we talked about all that went in to On My Own, the evasive muse, fathers, and the thing we are all missing right now – warm-blooded human connection.
JoJo’s good to know is another album that turned up pre-pandemic. It’s short, understated but it such a mood. JoJo really takes you on a journey from self-destruction to self-awareness all through R’n’B beats and honest lyrics. ‘So Bad’, ‘Lonely Hearts’ and ‘Think About You’ are songs to look out for.
Other loves of mine have been Taylor Swift’s folklore, which though took a while to grow on me, I can now see the woods for the trees and how personal and how sad the music really is.
Also Mandy Moore’s much anticipated and absolutely brilliant Silver Landings – if you have not heard ‘Forgiveness’ or ‘When I Wasn’t Watching’ then I really do recommend you give the album a listen.
Then there’s FLETCHER’s The S(ex) Tapes, which is what the seven stages of grief would sound like set to music. “The seven stages of grief set to music; how would that look? Would it all be in black and white or would there be moments of colour? Like life, heartbreak and grief is never one shape, it shifts and morphs throughout the day. If there is one thing this year has taught us is that what we grieve is vast and complicated, and how we grieve is as personal as the arch in our eyebrow or the way we dance when no one’s watching.”
Lennon Stella’s completely unique debut album Three. Two. One. Honestly, this album was both unexpected and expected. If you have listened to Stella, you know she can do catchy pop hits, but you also know she can do alternative and introspective just as well. Her debut quite easily could have been full on up-tempo kiss-off hits like ‘Kissing Other People’ or ‘Bad’ but no. It is full of moody, vibey, ambient heavy singer-songwriter tracks, like the divine ‘Pretty Boy’, the heart wrenching ‘Much Too Much’ and the beautiful curveball ‘Weakness (Huey Lewis)’ featuring her sister Maisy Stella.
And last, but definitely not least, is Kelsea Ballerini’s ballerini, which is both a companion to her pop album Kelsea, which was released at the beginning of the year and an album in its own right. When I reviewed the album, I described it as being, “the soft cashmere jumper to the platform heels and fake lashes. It is softer but at the same time rawer than it’s poppier, slicker sister.” Kelsea is definitely the one I reach for when I need some country music to cry to.
Bonus albums that I couldn’t fit onto my list are, Norah Jones’ jazz-infused masterpiece Pick Me Up off the Floor, Lianne La Havas self-titled album, which sounds and feels like the summer we never had, Selena Gomez’s Rare, which feels like a soothing journey into self-healing, and finally Jess Gillam’s album TIME, a place where we can all go to dance.
I hope you enjoy my choices and I hope that music has provided comfort to you also in this year where killer hornets really wouldn’t have been the worst thing to have happened this year.