2020 was a Punisher
2020 was something else, right? Beyond the pandemic and resulting economic destruction, a lot has changed — some for the better and, unfortunately, a lot took a turn for the worse, including so many needless deaths from this virus.
Small businesses, including many of the bands and musicians I love, had to re-invent themselves when they relied so heavily on in-person commerce. Curbside pickup, contactless delivery, and paid livestreams all became commonplace during this year.
As an introvert, I couldn’t help but like a lot of these changes, though one thing I can’t imagine living without is live music. I’ve been to so many concerts and seen hundreds of bands since my teenage years — the experience of seeing live music is really hard to beat. (Though as I age, standing for such long periods of time is starting to be much less enjoyable!)
One of the artists that seemed to immediately jump in to this new world was Phoebe Bridgers. In many ways it was forced, as she kicked off the promotional efforts for her new album on February 26th with her video for Garden Song — right around the time everything got really bad in Italy, New York City, and other places around the world.
Since then, Bridgers has done many livestreams, whether it’s solo on Instagram or live performances with her band on talks shows, virtual festivals, and YouTube. She certainly isn’t letting the pandemic slow down her art.
A couple of my favorite live performances were her appearance on the Seth Meyers show:
And her Tiny Desk Concert on NPR Music:
The thing I enjoy and envy most about Phoebe Bridgers is her honesty and transparency — how comfortable she is with herself, doing whatever she’s doing. She not only bares all through her songwriting, but in interviews too. With humor and introspection. It’s a marvel to witness.
When I started this newsletter I was a little concerned that modern albums wouldn’t impact as me as much as older music or as quickly as I’d need to include them in an edition. Luckily, artists like Phoebe Bridgers exist and Punisher is not only good enough to be my top album for 2020, but one of my all-time favorites.
Let’s dig in to some highlights.
I was lucky enough to score the indie-exclusive version on “red and swirly” vinyl from Revolver Records in my hometown of Buffalo. The record came with this awesome, diary-like booklet that included lyrics, doodles, and drawings that accompany each song. Reading along with each song and taking in the artwork brought me back to my bedroom in college, when I poured over the inserts of my favorite hardcore records to learn every word of every song. Such a welcome addition in 2020. I wish more musicians put in as much effort.
The best part of the album are her lyrics, which compliment 2020 really well. As she told Apple Music, the theme is: “the idea of having these inner personal issues while there’s bigger turmoil in the world—like a diary about your crush during the apocalypse.”
Musically, my favorite songs are the upbeat Kyoto, which tells a story of both loving and hating something at the same time.
A less upbeat (but more upbeat than most of the songs on the album) ICU (aka I See You), which is about a relationship she had with her drummer. The feeling of being depressed, then falling in love and hoping the person can fix you. Then ultimately breaking up after developing a codependency.
And then she saves the best for last — the final song, I Know the End. The song starts out slow and meadering, then builds and builds into the final verse and releases with the glorious cacophony of the final chorus, including horns, noises, screaming… a perfect way to end a perfect album in 2020.
Over the coast, everyone’s convinced It’s a government drone or an alien spaceship Either way, we’re not alone I’ll find a new place to be from A haunted house with a picket fence To float around and ghost my friends No, I’m not afraid to disappear The billboard said “The End Is Near” I turned around, there was nothing there Yeah, I guess the end is here
Enough of me blabbering on about how great this record is — just go listen to it already, will you?!
My Top 20 from 2020
- Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
- Saint Cloud by Waxahatchee
- RTJ4 by Run the Jewels
- Ultra Mono by Idles
- Honeymoon by Beach Bunny
- Spilligion by Spillage Village
- folklore by Taylor Swift
- Color Theory by Soccer Mommy
- Hannah by Lomelda
- Jump Rope Gazers by The Beths
- Miles by Blu and Exile
- Shore by Fleet Foxes
- Melee by Dogleg
- SUGAREGG by Bully
- Woman in Music Pt 3 by HAIM
- Off Off On by This Is The Kit
- Burst by Snarls
- Streams of Thought, Vol 3: Cane and Abel by Black Thought
- Likewise by Frances Quinlan
- A Written Testimony by Jay Electronica
What was your top album from 2020?
Musical Moving Pictures
Remember live music?
Some other Best of 2020 lists to check out:
- NPR Music’s 50 Best
- Stereogum’s 50 Best
- The New York Times’ Best Of
- Consequence of Sound’s Top 50
- Revolver’s Top 25
And I’m sure there will be a 100 more by the time I hit publish.
That wraps up the second issue! Feel free to send me feedback, questions, ideas — anything. I’d also love if you shared this newsletter with anyone you think would enjoy and encourage them to subscribe.
See you in 2021.