What music did you enjoy this year?

by Eszter Hargittai on December 26, 2020

If Tim Walters hadn’t asked me about music in response to the first post of my end-of-year list then I would have completely forgotten about it, which tells you how much I focused on it this year. Basically, after not listening to any music during the first couple of months of lockdown (not sure why), I realized it may do me good and I started listening to some albums from my college years (Suzanne Vega, Alanis Morissette). Later I started listening to audiobooks and that took up listening time so I have nothing for you by way of music recommendations. Hopefully some of you do so please share here. Tim, this is the thread for you. :)



Kordo 12.26.20 at 4:26 am

It’s a bit old but I just heard it recently. Metal as fuck, and pro-diversity. I dug it.



Alan White 12.26.20 at 6:07 am

For nearly the whole pandemic before I retire (in the daily sense, since I’m already retired in the chronic one), I listen to an hour or so of classical guitar. It’s so damn relaxing. I have the basics like Williams, Bream, Segovia, but through my Tunein app have been moved to download Sharon Isbin’s Latin Romances, Anders Miolin’s Villa-Lobos, Pavel Steidl’ Paganini, Virginia Luque’s All About Bach, Emanuele Buono’s Da Milano etc., Anders Miolin’s Ravel transcriptions, and various volumes of anthologies of guitar (each one about 8 hours for about 12 bucks!) via i-Tunes, besides others. For me at least there is no other kind of music as rewarding to hear before bed. Happy holidays to all–and may I add good riddance to bad orange rubbish in 2021.


CDT 12.26.20 at 6:57 am

The new Chuck Prophet was one of the year’s best. Otherwise, it was a lot of mid-to-late 80s college rock for me (Let’s Active, Feelies, db’s, Connellls etc.)


bad Jim 12.26.20 at 8:25 am

The worst earworm of the year for me was Why We Build the Wall from the musical “Hadestown”.

The seasonal music so annoyed my muse that it drove me to post ridiculous lyrics to the family text message channel, of which the mildest was “Who dressed you merry gentlemen? You know this isn’t May.”


Neville Morley 12.26.20 at 8:52 am

The one real positive of the plague for me was that a college in London switched all its music courses online, which meant that I was actually able to sign up for a couple of jazz composition courses, and my understanding of harmony and other aspects has progressed dramatically. I now even understand Wayne Shorter’s harmonic choices! As a result I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz, and it’s been a pretty good year, especially for British jazz, with great new albums from Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia. Interesting new direction – almost a melding with post-rock – from Avishai Cohen the trumpet; great album from GoGo Penguin; only slightly disappointed with Marcin Wasilewski Trio and Joe Lovano, which could happily have dispensed with Lovano.

On the more popular side, excellent records from Bohren & Der Club of Gore, Haim, Sault.


Helen 12.26.20 at 9:42 am

I recently discovered Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince Billy. Have been working my way through his oeuvre since.
Here’s a cover of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Ruben and Cherise’, heaps better than the original.


Dr. Hilarius 12.26.20 at 1:25 pm

Listening to many pieces/artists I’ve missed in the last three decades. If there is a single concert I would like to have attended it is the 2005 performance of Flemish composer Wim Mertens. Moving beyond minimalism into something more…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pybqjwf8w8s


Robert Kubica 12.26.20 at 5:05 pm

Alan White: If you haven’t listened to David Russell, be sure to check him out. He’s “ the guitarist’s guitarist.”


JakeB 12.26.20 at 5:59 pm

@Kordo —

That was awesome. Thank you very much for mentioning that. I hadn’t heard of them either. I particularly love metal bands that incorporate folk motifs, but I also saw some Opeth and of course nu-metal in there.
Responding to Eszter’s question, I think I’ve spent about half my listening time listening either to the Austrian LOTR-obsessed black metal band Summoning (which oddly I find excellent background for my work) or the German epic-hair-enviro-metal band Equilibrium. The only thing that was really new to me was Amulet’s the Inevitable War. It’s from 2013, but sounds like it’s from 1983, in the middle of the British new heavy metal wave. The first time I heard it, I got the same delight as I did out of hearing the Darkness for the first time, wondering if these guys had actually built a time machine or something.


Peter Dorman 12.26.20 at 6:29 pm

Not much jazz recently. Without my exactly intending it, this has been the year of Baroque vocal music: I’m making my way through Bach’s complete secular cantatas (Suzuki) during my workouts, and I’ve discovered the spectacular Zelenka/Viktora series out of the Czech Rep. Piemontesi playing Schubert. Gerstein playing Adès.

Still no letup in listening to and singing along with the complete Robert Burns on Linn. I happily found out that Altan continues to put out top flight Irish folk even though they had disappeared from my radar decades ago.

Hamza El Din, especially “A Wish”, came back into our lives during the pandemic.


ScrewyCanuck 12.26.20 at 7:01 pm

Joel Plaskett’s 44 has been a real pleasure, and its artwork and design (I purchased the CD) is almost as welcome.

Like others have expressed, I’m experiencing some 80s nostalgia, but I didn’t expect to find a contemporary album that seemed to tap into that mood while also commenting on the present. But Puscifer’s Existential Reckoning has been a very good soundtrack to 2020, and borrows more than a little from the what I remember as the bleak Reagan years. The video for “Apocalyptical” is at times both hilarious and chilling.


Tim Walters 12.26.20 at 7:32 pm

Streaming performances:

The Berlin Philharmonic opened up their archives for a month or so back at the beginning of lockdown, and I helped myself to their exquisite performances of Messaien’s “L’Ascension” and Crumb’s “Ancient Voices of Children.” They don’t do contemporary-ish music often enough for me to subscribe, alas.

Bellowhead is a 14-piece “big band” that (mostly) plays English traditional music (and I do mean English, not British). Their recent streaming performance on Stabal was taut, energetic, and excellent (and still available).


One of my favorite bands, Jack O’ The Clock, released not one but two albums this year. Both are archival material, but nevertheless up to their standards, and the proceeds of both are going to food banks. I’m at a bit of a loss to describe their music–their songs are generally long and complex, so they sometimes get lumped in with progressive rock, but they are completely without bombast or most of the sonic characteristics of prog. Their singer plays acoustic guitar and hammered dulcimer, but they’re pretty far from folk music or even folk-rock. The other instruments are violin, bassoon, electric bass and drums, and they’re not at all averse to slipping in a bit of musique concrete. Maybe if you imagine side 1 of Fred Frith’s Gravity being both dreamier and more rooted in Americana you’ll get a notion. Better to just check them out. Their masterpiece is Repetitions of the Old City, Part I, but you can’t really go wrong.

Cosmicomics by Lisa Mezzacappa Six should appeal to anyone who likes Italo Calvino or beautiful idiosyncratic jazz.

The new album by the Nubdug Ensemble just arrived, and I really liked my first listen.

On the electronic music side, I particularly enjoyed these:

Scanner: An Ascent
Matthias Grübel: Matters of Stability
Drew McDowall: Agalma

And since the original post asked “what did you create this year?”, I’ll mention that I released a couple of albums myself. The first is a lockdown collaboration/benefit called Shatter in Place; I asked some of the Bay Area’s finest (including the aforementioned Lisa Mezzacappa) to send me some home recordings, which I then worked into electroacoustic pieces.

I also recorded an album of melodic music under the nom de disque Shalmaneser.

And as half of Usufruct I’ll be featured in a streaming concert on New Year’s Day.


Matt 12.26.20 at 7:40 pm

Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters was a delight.


steven t johnson 12.26.20 at 8:33 pm

Discovered Angele Dubeau and la Pieta. Deeper into Glass (not yet opera though) and Zappa. In vinyl checking out Howard Hanson. Old favorites revisited frequently Leonard Cohen and Roger Waters and Danny Elfman (mostly Oingo Boingo but yes, soundtracks and Serenada Schizophrana.) Totally guilty pleasure denoting no taste whatsoever, three Wolfstone cds found in a used bin for $1 each.


Alan White 12.26.20 at 10:12 pm

Robert @ 8–absolutely! I have his “Air in a G String”. Any recommendations of other of his works or anyone else in guitar or lute (I have an Isbin Bach works for solo lute) would be greatly appreciated!


John Quiggin 12.26.20 at 11:04 pm

I don’t much like background music (in life or in movies), although I enjoy concerts and festivals when I can get to them. But there are places like gyms where music is pretty much unavoidable. A source of joy this year has been going to a gym which offers CrowdDJ, allowing patrons to pick their own music (from their large list) in place of the default offering. Broadly speaking, the older the music, the better it is for working out, but also the more limited the range of choices. I start with Jerry Lee Lewis and work my way through to the 1980s, adding in a couple of more recent finds with a decent beat.


novakant 12.26.20 at 11:20 pm

I’ve been listening to a lot of BBC 3 recently and it’s really an amazing radio station, there’s always something beautiful or interesting on.

Yesterday I heard a band called “The Divine Comedy” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Divine_Comedy_(band) and today on “J2K” I came across Matthew Halsall https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Halsall

I especially like the program “In Tune Mixtape”.

Another discovery this year was Fred Hersh.


Ingrid Robeyns 12.26.20 at 11:46 pm

Over the last years, I’ve relied on music a lot to try to counter dark moods. It was one of the few things I could do to counter the very high levels of stress and dark moods I had to cope with over the last year, plus walking in the woods whenever the circumstances permitted.
Some of you may recall I did some crowdsourcing here in this post: https://crookedtimber.org/2020/04/09/uplifting-music-please/
for good songs, some of which got included in my Spotify list: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0Q2np7kK1tDgxM2iChZFv4


Dave Maier 12.27.20 at 1:12 am

Thanks for the Wim Mertens link and for the Ravel-on-guitar tip.

As for me, I like my ambient noisy and my noise, um, ambient-y, so this year I spent most of my music $$ at bandcamp; some favorite labels there are Unfathomless, Home Normal, Dronarivm, Line, Whitelabrecs, Elevator Bath, Helen Scarsdale Agency, taâlem, Touch, Editions Eter, Faint, Seil, Eilean, and Silent. Also, towards the end of the year Francisco López dropped a twelve-hour, forty-year retrospective which I haven’t even started yet, but phew, that’ll be something. 2020-in-review podcast (pt 1) here: https://www.mixcloud.com/duckrabbit/stars-end-annex-2020-pt-1/


Ian Morris 12.27.20 at 4:17 am

i went to several minecraft shows by OpenPitPresents and liked several bands that were on the line up, 100 gecs were one of the bands that stand out the most


Uair01 12.27.20 at 5:23 am

Just a few YouTube clips that I’ve listened to many times:


Dave Heasman 12.27.20 at 11:26 am

“and today on “J2K””..

for the aid of searchers that’s “J2Z”.

Maria Schneider for me.


Dave Heasman 12.27.20 at 11:54 am

Oh and Paul McCartney – currently getting serious critical re-evaluation from a number of directions. We’ll miss him when he goes.


Uair01 12.27.20 at 11:57 am

Excuse me, I messed up the links posting from my smartphone:
1) Elam Rotem writes new Renaissance music
2) Berry Hayward plays old Spanish music with surprising percussion
3) Korpiklaani plays Scandinavian polka in heavy metal style
4) Petr Válek builds mechanical noise machines




Robert Kubica 12.27.20 at 3:03 pm

Alan @15 and anyone else interested in classical guitar: I really enjoy David Russell’s “The Grandeur of the Baroque” and “Aire Latino”. Johannes Moller and Laura Fratecelli did a nice recording of duets by Mertz. I also like Moller’s album “India”.
For lute recordings check out Nigel North’s recording of the Bach solo violin and cello music transcribed for lute, and Xavier Diaz-Latorre playing music by de Visee on theorbo and baroque guitar.
I will also put in a plug for my own recordings. My wife and I recorded the complete duets of Fernando Sor back in the 90’s, and I have two more recent albums available on Bandcamp.


CasparC 12.27.20 at 4:43 pm

Katie Pruitt with an afters of Yola.


Kiwanda 12.27.20 at 11:47 pm

@Kordo 🤘🤘 (In case emoji don’t work: too metal for one hand.) Just great.

Not so new, and you know, just songs, but, new to me, and scratching a certain itch:

MONO & A.A. Williams – Exit in Darkness

Type O Negative – Cinnamon Girl

Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

The National – Light Years

Lord Huron – The Night We Met


Alan White 12.28.20 at 2:10 am

Thank you Robert!


Martin Schafer 12.28.20 at 5:21 pm

I mostly listened to Mamamoo this year. They are a 4 person K-pop group. Three of the members are among the best vocalists on the planet and the 4th (also a good vocalist) is the best female rapper in Korea.

If you appreciate vocal excellence try I Miss You. This song is written to their fans and this performance is part of a competition show so they periodically cut away to reactions by other groups in the green room.

Alternately their Immortal songs medley. Immortal Songs is another Korean competition show where the contestants are covering songs that respected Korean artists made famous. They’ve appeared on the show 13 times and won 3 times. Only girl group to have done that. The video is from a concert.


JPL 12.30.20 at 9:50 am

These unique contributions to musical art and expressions of the irrepressible human spirit were among my discoveries this year. I hope you enjoy listening to them.

Jeanne Lee
Soul eyes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hl7fnSPx87I
Laura: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjBqKqfgOzw
When Sunny gets blue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQ2gZk0o2qI

Abbey Lincoln
Sophisticated lady: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oi_aPiBPyP4
Blue Monk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTPMXrgPe80
(I put up the live version (Abbey Lincoln begins around 3:50) because I think her
lyrics had a genuine meaning for her.)

Nina Simone
Wild is the wind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiVDzTT4CbE&t=260s

Sam Rivers
Beatrice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxMIiTW59Co

Comments on this entry are closed.