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Class of 2020 – The 100 Greatest Songs of the Year!

13 Dec, 2020

Playlist on Spotify at the bottom of each page.

#100-#81 | #80-#61 | #60-#41 | #40-#21 | #20-#11 | #10-#2 |#1


40. 070 Shake “Guilty Conscience”
(from Modus Vivendi)

39. Yumi Zouma “Lonely After”
(from Truth Or Consequences)

38. Drab City “Trouble Girl”
(from Good Songs For Bad People)

citattecken “Things started to go so wrong increasingly and continued to snowball. I was surviving yet felt so left behind. Suspect I was looking for a reset…”

37. Isobel Campbell “Counting Fireflies”
(from There Is No Other…)

Chris Szczech and I wrote ‘Counting Fireflies’ when we were staying at his Mom’s cabin on Skaneatles Lake in Central New York for the summer. It’s stunning there and one of the eleven Finger Lakes in the finger lakes region, which were formed by Glaciers. All the nature there is incredibly lush and pretty.

Chris recorded and mixed this song and the entire album actually. We produced it (as well as the entire album) together. I’d never seen a firefly before, so was pretty excited and found them to be fascinating magical creatures illuminating the forest and lighting up the pathways at night. Chris wrote and played all the guitar parts for this song and I chipped away structuring each distinct section in an order that felt right.

Nina Violet arranged and played all the strings on ‘Counting Fireflies’ which I loved. She travelled from Martha’s Vineyard to our cabin in Woodstock NY that we were renting, where we mixed the record and recorded Nina there too. I really dug into the lyrics for this song and pulled several all nighters whilst everyone was sleeping to chip away and explore the words, mood and feeling I was looking for.

One of my favourite things in the world to do is write lyrics and fit them into the definitive structure of a song. It’s like a very enjoyable and satisfying jigsaw puzzle for me! Lyrically I wanted to explore this questioning feeling of uncertainty in relation to the existential crisis that was happening in my life at the time. I was feeling out of control and arguably not in the driving seat of my own life. Had allowed other people to take over a bit, had given up and was freewheeling, coasting and as a result feeling really off-track and lost.

I’d always been happy to go with the flow in my life and as a result have experienced abundant good fortune and blessings. I’ve 100% followed my dreams and heart all ways but when I wrote ‘Counting Fireflies’ for the first time in my life ever I’d been following my head. It felt weird!

Things started to go so wrong increasingly and continued to snowball. I was surviving yet felt so left behind. Suspect I was looking for a reset. I was also really questioning everything that had led up to this particular moment in my life. Being on the road as a touring musician is a wonderful adventure but can also be incredibly tough and lonely at times. And I’d been doing it since I was nineteen years old.

The struggling accumulation of experiences and relationships for me had been building and stacking up to an almighty crescendo. Counting Fireflies is a brutally honest account of this time.”

– Isobel Campbell

citattecken “I read about this quote by Audre Lorde that said ‘Pain will either change or end’ and I was really interested in that idea and the idea of healing…”

36. Arlo Parks ”Hurt”
(Single)

”I wrote this song after a period of writer’s block, actually, probably in about January. I read about this quote by Audre Lorde that said ‘Pain will either change or end’ and I was really interested in that idea and the idea of healing. In moving through difficult times. I was inspired a lot by anything from the Supremes to Little Simz’s latest album to Motown music as well. I wanted to create something that people could dance to and it to be something hopeful.

The cut-up beat actually happened by accident, there was a sense of it glitching as it moved, but I really liked it and it reminded me of some of the more DIY hip-hop breaks that I’d had. It felt quite organic. It makes the listener feel involved in the music from the very beginning rather than having it just wash over them, if that makes sense.”

– Arlo Parks

citattecken “I said ’Kacey, will you play drums on a song real quick?’ and she was like ’Sure’. Jarvis was pissed, because we had already worked on it so long…”

35. Sam Burton “Nothing Touches Me”
(from I Can Go With You)

”That song went through many phases. It started as a completely different thing but all the chords were there. It was like a synth song. The melody was totally different too. I went into the studio to record it and I just wasn’t happy with it. I really wanted to make folk music but I hadn’t started doing it really yet. So I went home from the studio that night and felt down about it ’cause it wasn’t sounding the way I wanted it to do.

So I played the chords in a different tempo and then wrote the lyrics as a reaction, kind of. I felt almost like I wasn’t going to be able to write any more songs or something, it was like a period of writer’s block. I was so upset, I was like ’I need to write a song with the same chords by next morning before I go back in there’ and that’s what this ended up being.

When I put it down with Jarvis [Taveniere] it went through many phases too, it just never worked for some reason. Then my friend Kacey Johansing just stopped into the studio to say hello, she’s the one who sings on it and also plays drums and Rhodes. I said ’Kacey, will you play drums on a song real quick?’ and she was like ’Sure’. Jarvis was pissed, because we had already worked on it so long! Then we just re-recorded the whole thing all live, all the vocals and everything. And it was perfect. That set the tone for the whole record, that’s how we recorded after that. There are so few elements in the song that each one has such a voice, I think.

It’s basically a song about feeling alienated. Sometimes just from your own feelings or something. From others too. Sometimes I go through a spell where nothing touches me. I don’t know. It just feels like I couldn’t stay in love very long in a relationship or I couldn’t feel enough to write a song. Like I couldn’t feel enough by something that would happen to react in an appropriate way. Not like there was something wrong with me, but I just felt trapped in my head. If I’m doing well I feel like I’m integrated or that I have a relationship with things in a more normal way, but sometimes you fall out of sync and you lose the ability to relate.”

– Sam Burton

34. Daniel Romano “A Rat Without A Tale”
(from How Ill Thy World Is Ordered)

33. SAULT “Strong”
(from Untitled [Rise])

32. Touché Amoré “Limelight (feat. Manchester Orchestra)”
(from Lament)

31. Channel Tres “Weedman”
(Single)

30. Wargirl “Hang On”
(from Dancing Gold)

citattecken “…it was coming up with that drum loop – that you hear at the beginning – that helped us weave it all together. Usually the music comes first for us…”

29. Zola Blood “Silver Soul”
(Single)

“‘Silver Soul’ is about saying a last goodbye to a time or a place when you’ve outgrown it and you know it’s time to change. In terms of the writing process, ‘Silver Soul’ was kicking around for a couple of years before we figured out how to make it work. We tried a bunch of different versions and ideas, and it was coming up with that drum loop – that you hear at the beginning – that helped us weave it all together. Usually the music comes first for us, which in turn inspires melody and lyrics. For ‘Silver Soul’ it kind of happened the other way around – we just had some basic chords, lyrics and melody but the rest was pretty fluid. So it was fun to take a different approach.

– Ed Smith

citattecken “I guess I was inspired by modern times, with all the craziness and information we are bombarded with and the need to question our realities…”

28. Peaking Lights “Dreams”
(from E S C A P E)

“We wrote ‘Dreams’ in our studio, Dream Fuzz – now relocated from Los Angeles to our little apartment in Amsterdam. Aaron came up with the chord melody and bass/ drums, and I wrote the guitar sound melody…the vocals came last. I sing much lower than usual, at the lowest of my range, really. I have to be very relaxed to sing it. But it turned out to be one of my favorites on the album.

Lyrically, it’s loosely about the concept of dreams – the ones we have at night, the peaceful ones we have for the future, and the nightmares or feelings of fear that manifest in our subconscious… But mainly it’s about the idea that many things we take for granted or see as real, could actually be a false construct put on us by our own minds, our society or people in power…. The feeling of awakening from a bad dream when you feel relief….and also a plea for all life on earth to feel and live free from all the ways we are oppressed under false pretenses. I guess I was inspired by modern times, with all the craziness and information we are bombarded with and the need to question our realities and what is truth!”

– Indra Dunis

citattecken “I rented a room there in an old flight simulation building and brought all my gear with me. Then for a few hours a day I would disappear and do some writing…”

27. Eliza Shaddad “Same As You”
(from Sept ~ Dec EP)

“This is actually a quite unusual song for me. I was at home in Suffolk with my mom helping to look after my grandmother who’d gone into hospital. In honesty, she had dementia and been ill for a while, she had fallen and hurt herself and wasn’t coping very well with being in hospital. My mom needed support and I was there for quite a long time and I felt like I needed somewhere to work that wasn’t home, basically. I found this creative hub which is run by the bass player from Keane, Jesse Quin. He set it up on an old airfield that used to be like an army base. It’s so atmospheric. There’s old planes and all these air hangars. I rented a room there in an old flight simulation building and brought all my gear with me. Then for a few hours a day I would disappear and do some writing.

This song came out in one day in this strange isolated building. I think it’s mostly about trying to relate to people and feeling kind of separate and not able to communicate while really wanting to. It draws from what was going on with my family and relationships. Isolation, even though it seems like a boring thing to say that now, but this was a year ago! It was just a way to reach out to people. You need your space, but you also need those connections.

The lyrics are probably heavily influenced by people I listened to when I was growing up, like Jewel, Tori Amos, Skunk Anansie and Fiona Apple. The line about not being able to breathe the way that other girls do, I guess it’s just about wanting to fit in and wanting to be a part of something. Not managing to but trying.

It started out being quite grungy because it was just me recording it in that room. I made a demo of it and it’s all about that guitar pattern. I had some really simple Logic drums. This guy ‘Kyle’ is my favourite drummer on Logic! Ha ha! The sounds have names and personalities and every time I go for the same one, and then I have to battle with the producer over the drums, like ‘No, but it has to be this sound!’, ha ha!

It’s a really low-key song but I felt angry when I was writing it so I wanted the music to be kind of harsh and growly. It’s not coming from an intense anger, it’s coming from a reflective space. When it came to producing it I didn’t want it to change too much from the demo, but I think we added some really important bits. It was produced by Mr BJ Jackson [To Kill A King] in a small cottage about an hour away from here in Cornwall. That whole EP that it’s a part of was aquitted in his little place  about 100 metres from the sea.”

– Eliza Shaddad

citattecken “…be happy and stay happy, that’s always the goal. But it shouldn’t be forced. To get it right all the time, that’s just boring. When the fuck would you want that?”

26. Damien Jurado ”Birds Tricked Into The Trees”
(from What’s New, Tomboy?)

“First of all, I never sit down with the intention to write a song. It just sort of happens. I don’t give a lot of thought to what I’m singing about. When lyrics appear I just write down whatever comes to my mind. I can tell you what this one is about though, for sure. It’s about a relationship I was in for almost five years. You’re in this relationship but you don’t really feel seen. It’s like you’re there, but you might as well just be a chair, a table or a lamp. You’re just sort of in the background.

The first line, “It shouldn’t be a surprise to know I was here all along”, I feel that’s a great opening line because it’s like “you saw me as this piece of furniture”. You question why you’re even in this thing and for this long. Which took some working through getting over. Not the relationship but the fact that I was in it for so long; “man, I’ve gotta learn to forgive myself for wasting my time like this.

There’s the other line in the song too, in the chorus, where I say “To get it right all the time means it’s over”. Because I really believe that. I really believe it’s not about getting it right, it isn’t about perfection ever. The beauty sometimes is in the hard times. It’s only then that you’ll learn. Who the hell wants to be this perfect person or in this perfect relationship all the time? I don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t be happy, I think people should strive to be happy and stay happy, that’s always the goal. But it shouldn’t be forced. To get it right all the time, that’s just boring. When the fuck would you want that? We’re faulty human beings, we’re not designed to be perfect robots. That’s why I say “To get it right all the time”, that equals death and means it’s over.

It’s just a very pop oriented tune. I will say this, there’s a lot of chord changes in that song. ‘Birds Tricked Into The Trees’ is a very different song for me because guitar playing wise there are way to many chords in it. Me, I’m used to playing just three, sometimes even two chords and calling it good! There’s so many changes in the song, and again it sort of proves that if it were up to me, I’d write a different song. But that’s not what happened, the song showed up in this way and it wanted this many chords. I remember being ‘Oh my God, are you kidding me…?’, ha ha! I have played it live before and I had to stop because I couldn’t remember the progression. It’s fun to sing but it’s not fun to play!

The entire album is done with a drum machine, we don’t even use real drums on it. That was done by choice. I’ve done it on only a few songs before. On my record And Now That I’m In Your Shadow there’s a very sad song called ‘What Were The Chances’ where I use it. I remember around this time hearing a J.J. Cale album using only drum machines and I thought ‘what a cool way to make a record’. So What’s New, Tomboy? was heavily influenced by J.J. Cale.”

– Damien Jurado

citattecken “…I wanted to write a song around an unchanging bassline. I’ve always been interested in the concept of keeping certain aspects of a song static…”

25. Nation Of Language “Rush & Fever”
(from Introduction, Presence)

“‘Rush & Fever’ began with the idea that I wanted to write a song around an unchanging bassline. I’ve always been interested in the concept of keeping certain aspects of a song static and then looking at what can change around that core element, and how those evolutions change our relationship to whatever has remained constant. The bass helps give the song this relentless forward motion that I think serves the theme, which is essentially an examination of a relationship of questionable seriousness or value, and how our minds can stumble forward over themselves as we try to process these relationships.”

– Ian Richard Devaney

24. The Lone Bellow “I Can Feel You Dancing”
(from Half Moon Light)

23. Baths “Tropic Laurel”
(from Pop Music / False B-Sides II)

citattecken I had no idea how much I would need this record for myself when I was working on it. Just to put this positive vibration out into the world…”

22. Basia Bulat “Love Is At The End Of The World”
(from Are You In Love?)

“Way before I even started recording I had written an e-mail to Jim (James) saying ‘I want to make this album about compassion and empathy’. It was early 2017 so there had been a lot of major shifts, planetary and energy shifts all over the place. I had no idea how much I would need this record for myself when I was working on it. Just to put this positive vibration out into the world but also to hear and sing these songs back to myself was more important than I could have ever imagined.

I realized I had been writing all these songs with so many questions. Every single song on the record has a question in it except for the last one, which I had started initially as a bit of a mantra or meditation, a George Harrison influenced kind of thinking. Here’s a statement to choose love over fear, or over negativity, or over borders and walls. Even when it feels like the world is ending in the darkest place I’m going to promise myself that that’s what I’m going to choose. I didn’t even realize how much singing it would have that effect on me as well as that reminder. So it felt good to have that at the end after all these questions.

It’s really fun to play when it goes off into outer space in the rock section! Like I’m very insistent on this statement, like I mean it for real. Especially since we were working on it in the Joshua Tree it kind of feels like that moment of the day where everything’s quiet but all of a sudden the song has gotten down and everything goes straight off into the stars at that point. I had this idea for a crazy space rock solo at the end and that’s played by Jim. One of the benefits of having him around!”

– Basia Bulat

citattecken “ZHU suggested making something with some big opening chords and said he was imagining a festival stage and a triumphant start…”

21. Bob Moses & ZHU “Desire”
(from Desire)

“The core elements of ‘Desire’ came together in one afternoon in a studio session with ZHU. We both had a break from tour and were in Los Angeles where we had booked a studio for a few days, so we invited him down to come hang out and see what would happen with no real expectations. He suggested making something with some big opening chords and said he was imagining a festival stage and a triumphant start, and Jimmy started playing the chords that start the song. We had our Korg Minilogue with us and that’s what most of the pad and lead sounds are made with on the track, including those opening chords.

We tried to combine our aesthetics to create something new and unique to both of us, so the groove we went for was a bit more aggressive than we would typically start on our own, which complemented the triumphant nature of the chords and music. The chemistry between the three of us was great, and we just kept passing ideas back and forth for the rest of the afternoon. Both Tom and ZHU tried some vocal lines, which finally lead us to Tom singing, “I don’t want your desire, I just want to be free,” which we thought was cool but didn’t really know what it meant. We had the core of the verse and bridge melodies by the end of the day with mumbled words and left it at that for lyrics. Often when we’re coming up with melodies we get phrases out of the subconscious like that, that seem interesting but we’re not really sure what they mean yet, and we have to keep writing to figure out what we’re writing about.

Later when we were finishing the lyrics, and as the verses and bridge lyrics started to come together, we discovered that the song wanted to be about achieving your desire and realizing that perhaps it wasn’t what you thought it was when you started out longing for it. Sometimes we have to deal with unforeseen consequences that come with attaining or pursuing our desires. And ultimately we just want to be free from this never ending cycle of craving and attainment, to be free in the moment. The bridge is that moment in the song where the lyrics combine with a lift in the chords pulling you out of the cycle of repetitive longing and says, “If you feel like letting go, you’re not alone.” And the back half of the song is meant to be a musical journey free of words, free of desire, free of longing, free in the moment to just be and enjoy the ride. We’re really happy with how it turned out, and we’re touched that so many people seem to be enjoying it as much as we enjoyed making it.”

– Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance

#100-#81 | #80-#61 | #60-#41 | #40-#21 | #20-#11 | #10-#2 |#1

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