Believe it or not, we’re (over) halfway through the year. I think it’s safe to say that 2020 hasn’t gone the way any of us thought it would, but there has at least been a steady stream of good music to keep us from going completely insane.
I’ve picked out ten of my top picks from the last six months below, which I’ve also collected in a handy little Spotify playlist that you can find here (or embedded at the bottom of this page).
What has been your soundtrack to lockdown life?
Top 40 Songs of 2019
10. Lightning Riders by AWOLNATION
I’m just blowing up these bridges behind me
To this day, 2010’s Sail remains AWOLNATION’s biggest single, which is a shame because Aaron Bruno has been quietly working away at some great songs in the years that have followed. The standout track from his fourth studio album is conveniently titled The Best, but as it debuted as a single late last year, I’ve swapped in the equally lively Lightning Riders instead.
9. Original Composition by Cheekface
The climate changed and I left it on read
It feels like virtually every Cheekface song features an abundance of quotable and painfully relatable lines. Original Composition is no exception, opening with the widely felt words: “I want to overthrow the government.” Vocalist Greg Katz goes on to tackle excessive waste, climate change and dying bees in this darkly comic track, encapsulating the overwhelming sense of doom that greets us every day. The most appropriate lyric of 2020 might well end up being: “Let’s see what chaos visited humanity today…”
8. Mr Motivator by IDLES
Let’s seize the day: All hold hands, chase the pricks away
I’ve only recently discovered IDLES but I’m quickly falling in love with their angry brand of music, that often packs stark commentary on our waning society. Frontman Joe Talbot recently encouraged fans to power through these difficult times using this “two-ton machete of a song.” Mr Motivator certainly lives up to its name, with enough raw energy coursing through it to get you past another infuriating/stressful/crappy day (delete as appropriate, or maybe don’t bother).
7. Claws by Charli XCX
I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you
It will take more than a global pandemic to stop Charli XCX from releasing bops. Claws comes from her home-produced new album How I’m Feeling Now and it’s exactly the kind of high-energy pop tune the world needs at this uniquely difficult moment. There’s something effortlessly charming about the chorus, which chimes in with the simple declaration: “I like everything about you.”
6. Peacefall by Purity Ring
Peace comes at dawn, but yours comes at night
I’m still working out my full opinion on Purity Ring’s latest album, but I’m absolutely glad that they’re back after a lengthy five-year break. WOMB doesn’t feature quite the same level of mesmerising originality as their triumphant debut, Shrines, but Peacefall certainly comes close to capturing that magic. There’s a sadness to this track that I find really compelling, from the vulnerable opening lines “you said the kindest thing… anyone has ever said to me,” to the desperate image of “riding your bicycle into the light.”
5. Ahead of Myself by Grouplove
Let’s do some shit we won’t remember
Ahead of Myself is a personal favourite of mine from Grouplove’s recent offering, Deleter. It’s a song that acknowledges the value of letting loose from time to time, while stopping short of glorifying alcoholism with a final verse that resembles the next morning’s hangover blues. As someone particularly prone to ordering just one too many drinks on any given night out, it really struck a chord with me.
4. Need Your Love by Tennis
Baby, you’ve got more poison than sugar
I defy anyone not to be drawn in by this song. It has an irresistibly dreamlike sound, complete with gorgeous vocals, inventive tempo changes and wonderful lyrics about unconditional devotion to someone who doesn’t deserve it. It’s the complete package and comes from the brilliant new album, Swimmer, from Colorado indie pop duo Tennis.
3. False Prophet by Bob Dylan
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
Bob Dylan’s gravelly vocals on this track convey a world weary soul with some insightful reflections on a life in the spotlight. Although it repeats the same blues riff for much of its runtime, the song never tires across its 6-minute duration. Rather, you’re hooked on every word Dylan has to say and the fuzzy guitar compliments each one beautifully.
2. The Steps by HAIM
I can’t understand why you don’t understand me
HAIM is back in a big way with their third album, Women in Music Pt. III, from which The Steps has been an early hit for obvious reasons. Not only is it an absolute tune that has the entire band firing on all cylinders, but its lyrics about a frustrating relationship are both authentic and fun to belt out in the shower.
1. I Want You to Love Me by Fiona Apple
While I’m in this body, I want somebody to want
Fiona Apple’s eagerly anticipated fifth album was well worth the wait, earning stellar reviews across the board. For me, the highlight has got to be I Want You To Love Me. It’s a prime example of her heart-wrenching songwriting style, with lyrics that cut the bullshit and go straight to the core. That same raw intensity is reflected in her vocals, while she also rocks a piano unlike anyone else can. Fiona Apple is a force of nature.