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It is fair to say 2020 was a rough year. With a global pandemic and multiple lockdowns, we were all forced to find comfort while stuck in our homes. Everyone will have found their own way to cope but it would be hard to deny that we all turned to music for help.
For me, Ninja Sex Party’s new original album came at the perfect time. It had been a bleak year – full national lockdown, graduation cancelled, mental health in the absolute pits – and when The Prophecy came out it brought with it some much-needed laughter. As always, the songs were stupid, funny, and utterly compelling – the 11-minute odyssey of “The Mystic Crystal” was one that I kept on coming back to time and time again. I needed to hear about a guy dressed in Spandex and a murderous ninja rescuing a princess in a different dimension for some escapism from the seemingly endless lockdown we were subjected to. And yes, the song is as ridiculous as it sounds. If I ever needed to perk myself up, I’d turn on “Welcome to my Parent’s House”, a jazzy tune about the struggles of bringing a romantic interest home when you live with your parents – something that I’ve had the unfortunate experience of as well. “The Decision Part 2”, a continuation from one of the very first NSP songs ten years ago, also managed to sneak it’s way onto my top songs of 2020 Spotify playlist thanks to its catchy beat and Danny Sexbang’s amazing vocals. And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of their songs end up on my 2021 wrap-up as well.
Yeah, I’m no music expert. I listen to what I listen to and enjoy it. Sorry.
That said, the music that sustained me through 2020 has been much better quality than my past listens (e.g. 2017, the year of wall-to-wall Avicii). It really comes down to two separate but interconnected artists: Stormzy and Linkin Park.
Stormzy’s second album Heavy is the Head dropped in early December 2019. At first, it slipped through the general election noise and took me a while to discover, but once I started, I was hooked. It’s sixteen well-crafted songs of fire and brimstone – except when it’s not. Because Michael Omari is at the height of his skill in “HitH”, switching between furious satire (“Vossi Bop”, “Wiley Flow”, “Rachael’s Little Brother”), crooning melodies (“Crown”, “Lessons”), and soulful…pop? (“Superheroes”, “Own It.”) The range is astonishing, and while the slower tracks fall flat for me, other audiences will lap them up and ignore the pounding rhythms that I so love. The best bit? My younger sister loved them too, so we would go on long drives and listen through the full album or play them (very loudly) in the kitchen while our parents were out.
And in exploring Stormzy’s work, I came across one of his collabs: “Good Goodbye” by Linkin Park – now one of my favourite songs. “Good Goodbye” is the second track in LP’s 2017 album One More Light, released the same year lead singer Chester Bennington committed suicide. It’s an odd album, veering between the alt-rock of their early years and alarmingly soft pop, reflecting a vulnerable expose of Bennington’s mental health. The songs defy classification too; they are just, sort of, brilliant. Just the kind of brilliance my 2020 needed.
The distant memory of life before lockdown is dominated by the stress of normal university responsibilities and commuting to campus from town. It is almost weird that I miss the days of sitting in the Learning Zone for hours because I didn’t have enough time between lectures to go home but I still had time to kill. The soundtrack for this busy time has to be A Moon Shaped Pool and In Rainbows by Radiohead. A recommendation from a friend finally convinced me to start listening to the band as, even with their mass fame, I had never given any attention to them. I have listened to their legendary albums Kid A and OK Computer but I had never found them very conducive for work. Somehow Thom Yorke’s mournful voice in “True Love Waits” always seemed to motivate me to do one more page of the assigned reading.
Then everything stopped and lockdown began. I think carrying on listening to Radiohead could have done me more harm than good at this time. I tried to use the newfound free time to listen to albums that I had always wanted to listen to but never really felt like I had the chance. My favourite find from the first lockdown was Emily Axford’s Doomsday Diaries: A Love Song for Any Apocalyptic Scenario. The artist herself describes this album as combining her two great loves of cheesy love songs and the apocalypse to create a “real sensual, sexy and ultimately doomed time.” I don’t think I could describe it better myself. Axford’s lyrics and composition make up for the rusty production. It was the fun album I needed at the time and quickly became one of my favourites.
I was surprised to see an artist I listened to in 2016 was becoming popular at the end of 2020. Ricky Montgomery’s “Mr Loverman” and “Line Without a Hook” had become a popular trend on TikTok so his music was finally being appreciated. Revisiting his album Montgomery Ricky during lockdown two was a nice reminder of simpler times.
During 2020 I have found revisiting established favourites has been a way to keep spirits up. It’s a way to relive memories of a more ordinary time conjuring moments with friends I haven’t seen in person in months or even just reminding me of my regular day-to-day life before the pandemic.
Florence + the Machine is a band that I hold dear to my heart, and who I have listened to since their first album in 2009. They have been with me through the highs and lows of adolescence, and so listening to them gives me mixed feelings of nostalgia, gratitude and comfort.
One of these memories includes seeing Florence live for the first time when I thought my heart would burst in my chest from the excitement. The idea of being jam-packed in a concert hall with thousands of people sounds like something from a disaster movie now – what about social distancing?! We weren’t even wearing masks whilst we screamed the lyrics into the shared air! Ah, the horror of it! – but it’s a reminder of the normality of what we had before and what we can look forward to returning to eventually.
Listening to their albums also offered me comfort – you can feel Florence’s gentle and loving nature through her songs and lyrics and it has a calming effect on me. Her first album Lungs also has songs that are more fantasy-based and have an ethereal atmosphere. I’ve found it is the perfect album out of her collection if I would prefer to escape into a different world in my own head as a break from thinking about our reality.
All in all, I would recommend revisiting albums you adored in the past, as they can give you memories that cheer you up, perhaps remind you to reach out to people they make you think of and give you something to look forward to going back to in the future.
With not a lot to keep our spirits up last year, music was one of the things that I clung to for a bit of sanity throughout 2020. Spotified Wrapped at the end of the year was definitely a welcome bit of joy to say the least.
The music and artists that got me through 2020 ended up mainly being my staple choices that have also got me through the past few years, however, 2020 and the lockdown did introduce me to a more diverse range of music too. My top artist remained Hozier, with Harry Styles, Frank Ocean, the Weeknd and Pink Floyd being high up the list too. I mean the difference between Hozier’s resounding melancholic folk ballads and some of Harry Styles and The Weeknd’s more upbeat and feel-good tunes pretty much summarises the range of moods I had throughout the year.
Whilst they remained my go-to artists and songs, I definitely used the free time during lockdown to expand my music range. One of the artists I seem to be going back to a lot at the moment is Kamal (I’d recommend Blue if you haven’t heard any of his stuff yet.) I’ve also been listening to more of Arlo Parks, Jorja Smith, Joy Crooks and UMI within the contemporary R&B genre. Being fairly new to indie music, 2020 saw me in the more mainstream phase with some Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club, Circa Waves etc.
To wrap up, 2020 struck a nice balance between old and new for me. If there were 3 artists I wish I’d listened to more in 2020, it would have to be Tyler the Creator, Amine and H.E.R – but hey, there’s always this year!