Here’s the music that sustained me during this absurd dumpster fire of a year. I hope you find something new to dig. Best wishes for a peaceful, healthy, and music-filled 2021.
Favorite 2020 Releases
- Pillow Queens – In Waiting
A brilliant debut after two brief EPs – I can’t stop playing it. It’s full of thoughtful lyrics and earworm melodies that won’t leave my head. I love that my two favorite records of the year are by young bands from Dublin.
- Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
A fantastic follow-up to 2019’s Dogrel, my favorite record of last year.
- GoGo Penguin – GoGo Penguin
The fifth straight strong release from a band that was once described as the midpoint between Aphex Twin and The Bad Plus. They’ve become one of my go-to lists for both pleasure and relaxation.
- The Psychedelic Furs – Made Of Rain
Their first new release since 1991 and they have absolutely not missed a step. Don’t write this off as a lame comeback record.
- Bill Frisell – Valentine
I love Bill more with every passing year and he’s a big influence on Ghost Man On Second. This has become my favorite of his – he and his trio mates are so in sync.
- Pottery – Welcome to Bobby’s Motel
I was blown away when I saw Pottery open for Fontaines DC in Columbus in 2019. This is their first full-length after a great EP and it is a blast.
- Billy Martin – G U I L T Y
A vibey instrumental record by drummer/percussionist/composer Billy Martin (of Medeski, Martin, & Wood). He’s become a big influence for me over the past year.
- Tony Allen & Huge Masekela – Rejoice
Tony Allen, the father of the Afrobeat groove (he died this year, sadly), with trumpeter Hugh Masekela, the father of South African jazz. It’s a light, joyful record.
- Jarv Is…(Jarvis Cocker) – Beyond The Pale
I don’t know how to describe this record other than to say it feels influenced by Bryan Ferry and David Bowie, and I dig it.
- Sault – Untitled (Rise) and Untitled (Black Is) [two releases]
Sault is a mysterious British collective that mixes disco, funk, and R&B, focuses on black social issues, and doesn’t interact with the media. It’s a non-stop groove.
- Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’
- Bryan Ferry – Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974
- Dave Douglas – Dizzy Atmosphere (Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity)
- Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
- Gregoire Maret, Romain Collin, Bill Frisell – Americana
- Mark Brasington – The Deep End
- Mike Tittel – Sleeping In
- Norah Jones – Pick Me Up Off The Floor
- Plastic Ants – A Soft Escape
- Public Practice – Gentle Grip
- Redman, Mehldau, McBride, and Blade – RoundAgain
- The Third Mind – The Third Mind
- Tropa Magica – Tripiando al Infinito en Mi Recámara
Favorite new-to-me records I dug this year that weren’t 2020 releases
- Neil Cowley Trio – Spacebound Apes (2016)
This record gets a special call-out as it was one of my most-listened to records of 2020. It has become a favorite, a go-to for any mood.
- Robbie Robertson – Sinematic (2019)
This would have made my 2019 best-of if I’d heard it in time. Fantastic record.
- Karen O – Lux Prima (2019)
Thanks to bandmate Andy Hittle for the heads up on the this and the Jay Som records.
- Jay Som – Anak Ko (2018)
- Malian Musicians & Damon Albarn – Mali Music (2002)
- Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka (2019)
- Shopping – Why Choose (2015)
- The Bad Plus – Never Stop II (2019)
- The Good, The Bad, & The Queen – Merrie Land (2018)
- Harry Styles – Fine Line (2019)
Some favorite livestreams
This is the saddest part of this list. Usually, it’s called “A good year of shows” – last year’s list included Public Practice and Heavy Rapids in Edinburgh, Herbie Hancock and Herbie Hancock/Kamasi Washington in Dayton, and Fontaines D.C. and Pottery in Columbus. This year, it was all virtual.
- Mark Guiliana on Patreon
- The Bad Plus in Knoxville (via Big Ears festival)
- Nils Petter Molvær and Elephant9 from the Norweigian Digital Jazz Festival (also via Big Ears)
- Rob Fetters – Fetters Is Cheap: BYOB & Snacks
- Mark Brasington on Facebook
Favorite musician moments
Studying with Mark Guiliana, one of my foremost drumming and composing heroes, was the absolute highlight of 2020. Ghost Man On Second only got in two shows this year – one just before the pandemic started and another in December. Writing and sharing the stage with my creative, thoughtful bandmates – Mike Fair, Aaron Zlatkin, and Andy Hittle – will always be a thrill.
Reading about music
- Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever – Will Hermes
- Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture – Grace Elizabeth Hale
Most plays by artist (via Last.FM)
This list is so telling of what kind of year it was. I listen to most of these artists for comfort or relaxation in addition to musical pleasure and inspiration. Miles and Coltrane are so high in part because I play them nearly every night while going to sleep (‘Round Midnight and Ballads, respectively). It was definitely a year for seeking comfort in my musical equivalents of a bowl of tomato soup on a wintry day.
- Miles Davis – 1,293
- John Coltrane – 1,039
- Neil Cowley Trio – 759
- GoGo Penguin – 728
- U2 – 677
- Calexico – 556
- Los Lobos – 555
- Bill Frisell – 498
- David Bowie – 379
- Robbie Robertson – 375
- R.E.M. – 365
- Sting – 344
- Bob Marley & The Wailers – 331
- Sonny Clark – 330
- Bill Evans Trio – 319
- Mark Guiliana – 218
- The Psychedelic Furs – 212
- Pillow Queens – 204
- Thelonious Monk – 200
- Fontaines D.C. – 198
- Get the Blessing – 196
- The Police – 188
- Van Morrison – 186
- Pell Mell – 181
- Billy Martin – 173