The Best Music of 2020: An Introduction

Well that sucked.

12 months ago a lot of us had an inkling that the coming year would be a pretty tumultuous one, but nobody could predict the tire fire that 2020 would be. There’s no point in going through it all, partially because to even attempt to chronicle the insanity that was 2020 would take far too much time that a lot of us, including yours truly, have. I’m sure we can all agree that it was a complete dumpster fire.

2020 was supposed to be the Summer of George. We all had huge plans. Stacey and I were all set to fly off to Paris for our first anniversary. Instead of sipping champagne in our airbnb in the Marais, a good chunk of my first anniversary was spent fighting on the phone with my soon-to-be-ex-boss over whether or not I properly booked a day off from managing our workplace all alone during a pandemic while dealing with angry white men who couldn’t believe the door was locked when this whole coronavirus thing was nothing more than “an overblown version of the flu”. By then we were two months into a crippling lockdown that forced everyone to cancel all plans and deal with the severe stress that something so unknown would bring. If I wasn’t still so angry about that day I would laugh at the huge contrast from What We Planned to What Actually Happened. We still had a lovely anniversary later in the day, but not before a hellish morning in which I had to waste a heckuvalot of time proving myself right to a bitter human being.

I have a really bad habit of not knowing how bad a work situation is until a lot of time has passed. Looking back, I’m mortified by what I went through. How in the heck did I survive the three-month lockdown, dealing with so many angry men every single day, all alone? ( A common refrain of mine in 2020 was, “No one knows oppression like a mildly inconvenienced white male.”) How did I survive working as part of a two-person unit for the summer, doing the work of four people? How did I survive the transition to a new boss, and helping him get acclimatized while at the same time maintaining the demanding pace we had to keep?

But that’s what we all had to do in 2020. Just survive. People can be pretty darn resilient, I made it through 2020 intact, and, I should not be ashamed to say, pretty happy. Things have a way of working out. Stacey and I did our very best to have some fun, whether it was a day trip, beers on a sweltering patio, great movies and music, or enjoying each other’s company. Not to mention plenty of hangs with Eddie the dog. We were fortunate: neither of us were laid off, we stayed healthy, and late in the year we were shocked by an offer to move into a gorgeous new place, one of the most desirable rental properties in the neighbourhood. At the day job, my colleague and I worked like dogs for much of the year and now we have two new co-workers, the environment is fantastic, and we’re motoring along like a well-honed unit.

Things are good, even though 2020 is still trying to ruin things as I speak. The day after we moved into the new place, our city was hit with the worst blizzard in 14 years, and since then it simply won’t. Stop. Snowing. It’s the end of November and we are completely beaten down by snow. Please stop, snow. We have had enough. And the dang second wave of the pandemic is in the process of slaughtering the Canadian prairies. After smugly declaring they had beaten the plague, the prairie provinces were ill-prepared for a resurgence, and the provincial governments still refuse to do anything about it despite pleas from medical professionals, scientists, the federal government, teachers, and those in the general public capable of critical thinking. It’s not yet the holiday season but we all know the holidays have already been ruined. It’s going to be a dark xmas, lemme tell you. There will be no family gatherings anywhere, and lots of people are going to be deathly ill.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, Neil Peart had to go and die of brain cancer. What a gut-punch for Rush fans worldwide. I still haven’t gotten over it. And then Eddie Van Halen died. Of cancer. Talk about being kicked when you’re down. Some celebrity deaths shake you to your core, especially people who made art that became very near and dear to you over the course of a lifetime, and those two tragedies were devastating.

But on the brighter side, there’s a vaccine on the way, Trump was bounced out of his toxic presidency, I’m cautiously optimistic we will be in France sometime in 2021, and we still have music. Lots and lots of great music.

I saw one concert in 2020. One! Which feels like a lifetime ago. My writing output was steady but I didn’t do anything particularly large, save for a couple of interview pieces for Decibel. I did continue to work with the Juno Awards, the Polaris Music Prize, and the Sask Music Awards, which is always rewarding. Still, although I kept my ear to the ground as much as I could when it came to new music, I constantly drifted to older musical comfort food. My most listened-to artists in 2020 were Blue Öyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Rush, Black Sabbath, Can, Kraftwerk, and AC/DC. Those artists got me through the year.

That said, I was frankly shocked when I figured out just how much new music there was that I actually enjoyed this year. I honestly thought I wouldn’t do any 2020 lists because I kept dwelling on older music, but nope, there’s no shortage of new stuff to rave about.

Because 2020 was so wacky, however, I have decided to change things up temporarily. Usually my 24-day extravaganza is neatly planned out: the ten best reissues, a list of great new LPs that didn’t make my top 20, followed by my 20 favourite tracks and albums counted down daily. This time around I will be taking a looser approach. Nothing will be ranked. Instead, each day will be themed in some way. I might write about an album, I might write about a specific track, I might write about several artists at once. You’ll see what I mean once I get going. It’ll be a merry mish-mash of music that meant much to me. If I may muse alliteratively.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy following along for the next three and a half weeks. Maybe, for consistency’s sake, I’ll rank my “official” top ten on the final day. As always, if you discover something cool here that you might not have heard before, that’s wonderful, and aside from my shameless self-indulgence, the reason I’ve been doing this for a whopping 35 years. Without music, life would be incredibly boring.

Death to fascism, Qanon, anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, “wexit”, the electoral college, the Republican party, the Catholic Church, white privilege, social conservatism, heteronormativity, patriarchies, and black metal. Trump family, Mitch McConnell, Steven Miller, Kayleigh McEnany, there’s a special spot in The Bad Place for you all. I hope you get mouth fleas. Scott Moe, Jason Kenney, Doug Ford, you are horrible human beings. Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, best of luck. Defund and demilitarize the police. Black Lives Matter. Go Habs. Up the Irons. Enjoy life.

My top ten albums of 2019:

  1. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
  2. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
  3. Opeth, In Cauda Venenum
  4. Tool, Fear Inoculum
  5. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
  6. Jenny Hval, The Practice of Love
  7. Sleater-Kinney, The Center Won’t Hold
  8. Charly Bliss, Young Enough
  9. Rammstein, Rammstein
  10. Danko Jones, A Rock Supreme

Past albums of the year (uh, please bear in mind I was sixteen when I started this):

1986: Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
1987: Def Leppard – Hysteria
1988: Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
1989: Voivod – Nothingface
1990: Megadeth – Rust In Peace, Led Zeppelin Box Set (tie)
1991: Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
1992: R.E.M. – Automatic For The People
1993: Nirvana – In Utero
1994: Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
1995: Elastica – Elastica
1996: Pulp – Different Class
1997: Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind
1998: Monster Magnet – Powertrip
1999: Metallica – S & M
2000: Yo La Tengo – …And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
2001: Bob Dylan – Love And Theft, The Langley Schools Music Project – Innocence & Despair (tie)
2002: The Streets – Original Pirate Material
2003: Manitoba – Up in Flames
2004: Arcade Fire – Funeral
2005: Opeth – Ghost Reveries
2006: Mastodon – Blood Mountain
2007: Alcest – Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde
2008: Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
2009: Fever Ray – Fever Ray
2010: Best Coast – Crazy For You
2011: Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
2012: Rush – Clockwork Angels
2013: Paramore – Paramore
2014: fka twigs – LP1
2015: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
2016: Kaytranada – 99.9%
2017: Zola Jesus – Okovi
2018: Ghost – Prequelle
2019: Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!