Albums of the Year 2020

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Friends, I was so close to not doing one of these this year, but my bad case of archive fever was too strong to resist. For the first time since the depressive loops of my early 2010s, I’ve really struggled with music this year. Yo-yo’d between extremely intense relations to music (listening to Grimes’ ‘IDORU’ three times in a row in spring’s post-cycle endorphin twilight, crying to Mogwai in the supermarket, thrash dancing to old Boiler Room sets alone in my bedroom, knocking everything over, basically living inside Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Garden Song’) and a very numb sense of trepidation about listening altogether. Have gone whole weeks without listening to anything except ’10 hours sounds of a meadow in june’ on youtube. Have gone whole months without noticing new releases. Music has anchored the year in strange ways. I think about the man in my block who kept singing/screaming Oasis’ ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ in the shared garden, and did this several times throughout lockdown 1.0. I was so concerned. Boards of Canada albums I fell into, haphazardly studying. The conditions of lockdown, not to mention PhD and other pressures, have slowed down my output of published music writing, but I continued to diarise my listening habits and it was a pleasure to write on occasion for GoldFlakePaint, Secret Meeting and other places on new releases from Jason Molina, Phoebe Bridgers, Katie Dey, Superpuppet, Fair Mothers, Modern Studies. As ever, you can dive into the music journo archive here.

What follows is a selection of albums I’ve managed to dip in and out of, form some kind of bond with or which otherwise stayed with me. One of music’s main attractions this year was its provision of sociality: whether through late-night Instagram DMs or seeing everyone’s Spotify listening (pale vicarious experience of sonic simultaneity as commons), running Pop Matters workshops with the inimitable Conner Milliken or losing myself in heartfelt comment sections, music was a kind of touchpoint for contact when other kinds of talk or response seemed impossible. That you could screenshare FKA twigs’ ‘Cellophane’ video and all silently hold in tears while free-writing together on Zoom, that you could send some kind of bedroom performance to a friend when words were scarce, that you could buy stuff for Bandcamp Fridays and feel like you were doing *something* for artists while our livelihoods were otherwise being stripped away by lockdowns, recession and endless government (in)decisions. That you could send lyrics in acts of solidarity. That you could sit round a fire in the Trossachs and listen to ‘Farewell Transmission’ with smoke in your eyes or be in Hackney with a heatwave and Lucinda Williams; that you could cycle past psych buskers on Kelvin Way, or lie on the floor with Grouper recordings from 2018; that you could breeze down Sauchiehall listening to ‘Gasoline’ in a world without cars; that you were lucky enough to see your cousin, Hannah Lou Clark, play The Hug and Pint before lockdown; that you could micro-analyse Angel Olsen remixes with Douglas, lamenting another postponed gig or remembering an old one; that you could walk yourself into autumn melancholy with Grace Cummings, longing for the wind and sea; that you could read Amy Key’s excellent essay on Joni Mitchell’s Blue and remember the first of January, sober as a trembling bell and listening on repeat as everything refused to wake, and wine. Admittedly, I may have missed many significant things. Tell me!

Previous EOTY lists:

2015
2016
2017
2018
2019

In no particular order:

Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher

Angel Olsen — Whole New Mess

Waxahatchee — Saint Cloud

Savage Mansion — Weird Country

Yves Tumor — Heaven to a Tortured Mind

Sylvan Esso — Free Love

Mogwai — ZEROZEROZERO

Minor Science — Second Language 

Caribou — Suddenly 

Moses Sumney – græ

Grimes — Miss Anthropocene

Open Mike Eagle —  Anime, Trauma and Divorce

Run the Jewels — RTJ4

Protomartyr — Ultimate Success Today

The Kundalini Genie — 11:11

Sparkle Division — To Feel Embraced 

Juliana Barwick — Healing is a Miracle

Arca — KiCk i

Pelican Tusk — Rhubarb’s House (EP)

The 1975 — Notes on a Conditional Form

Porches — Ricky Music

Fiona Apple — Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Martha Ffion — Nights to Forget

Gia Margaret — Gia Margaret

Mary Lattimore — Silver Ladders

Jason Molina — Eight Gates

Sufjan Stevens — The Ascension

Fleet Foxes — Shore 

Keaton Henson — Monument

Half Waif — The Caretaker

U.S. Girls — Heavy Light 

Katie Dey — Mydata

Kelly Lee Owens — Inner Song 

Eartheater — Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin

Oneohtrix Point Never — Magic Oneohtrix Point Never

Jessie Ware — What’s Your Pleasure?

Perfume Genius — Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

Field Medic — Floral Prince

Braids — Shadow Offering 

HAIM — Women in Music Pt. III

Porridge Radio — Every Bad 

Christian Lee Hutson — Beginners

Soccer Mommy — Color Theory 

Four Tet — Sixteen Oceans 

Lawn — Johnny

Lomelda — Hannah

Bright Eyes — Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

Pinegrove — Marigold

Adrianna Lenker — songs / instrumentals

Duval Timothy — Help 

The Pictish Trail — Thumb World 

Tomberlin — Projections

Tennis — Swimmer

Laurel Halo — Possessed (Original Score)

Alex Rushfirth — The Moon in the Clouds

NNAMDÏ — BRAT

Autechre — SIGN / PLUS

Superpuppet — Under a Birdless Sky

Bartees Strange — Live Forever

The Avalanches — We Will Always Love You

A.G. Cook — 7G

Being a Student Again: The First Semester

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It’s not all about realising you can get 10% off at Topshop again (although my ID photo is so bad this year I’m no sure I can brandish it in public). I didn’t know what to expect, going back to uni after a year out. It all happened so fast. Working for over a year as a full time waitress, doing 35-55 hour weeks, I didn’t really give myself the headspace to prepare myself for what uni entails. Despite knowing for several months that I had secured my place, a Masters in MLitt Modernities at Glasgow Uni just seemed something far in the distance, the uncertain plane which I would embark upon after an endless summer.

No matter how it feels at the time, summer is never endless. August was a strange old month, and horrible, tragic things kept happening around me. Amidst all that, it didn’t seem real, making my way through the infernal labyrinth of MyCampus; applying for scholarships, spending inordinate time staring at screens again, making lists of things to be done. I found myself in a room up high in the Boyd Orr building, listening to the inimitable and infectiously enthusiastic Rob Maslen give a speech about the strange history of these hallowed walls; being introduced to the university as if it were the first time all over again.

It is weird going back to the same university after a year out, especially if you’ve not gone far. I walked up the hill listening to Tigermilk feeling blissfully like a total Glasgow cliché and it was like nothing had changed at all; it was my first seminar of the semester and I felt bright and hopeful. Glasgow gifted us with a particularly gorgeous autumn, trees bronzing languidly into darkening violet as twilight fell and I was still sitting by the fountain, making notes on poetry. I tried to take walks in Kelvingrove as often as possible. Quite quickly, however, the daylight ran out. Nights drew in. Still stuck in waitressing mode, such thing as a sleeping pattern proving an elusive remnant lost somewhere back in 2015, I found myself going to sleep at 5am every night, often staying in the library till everyone on the floor had left and the lights kept going out automatically. There I was, alone in the dark in front of a dull-glowing screen (though one must note the upgrade in PCs at Glasgow Uni Library, which are much preferable). It’s easy to spiral into that maddening routine, trying to do all the reading, make notes on everything. I’ve never been a meticulous note-taker, not by a long shot, but I like to handwrite things and have a tangible record of ideas and theorists and possible avenues for further study.

I would walk home at 2am, stumbling tired-eyed through Kelvinside, hoping for a glimpse of the river, some tangible reminder of nature. How long had it been since I’d seen the sea? During reading week, I allowed myself a cheeky day trip to Arran, which felt so unreal it was almost magic. The days passed and ideas started to percolate in my head. The power of procrastination unleashed itself again. I did more creative writing in the past three months than probably I’ve done all year. I guess the more you read, the more you want to write. I sat on level 11 and watched the sunset over Park Circus, making airy, vague notes about queer temporality and thing theory on a 60p sketchpad. I went to seminars and was reminded of how nice it is to listen to people share a subject, to listen to experts talk with passion about something they must have covered a thousand times before and yet still they can find fresh things to say about it. To actually talk to said experts about such interesting topics (instead of merely serving them glasses of wine and plates of fish, as the Oran Mor waitress will often do for GU academics). Although a bit scary at first (not least because I had a screenwriter and published author in one of my seminars!), it was nice to actually have proper formal discussions about books again. Often we veered slightly off-topic, with Trump becoming the proverbial wall against which we hit our heads in frustration, but everything felt prescient, useful. I went to visiting speaker seminars with the likes of Stephen Ross, Graeme Macdonald and Darren Anderson, who talked about all manner of interesting topics: Beckett’s invention of the teenager, petroculture and the politics of space and architecture. Having been at Glasgow Uni four and a half years now, I was still struggling to find half the rooms and buildings I needed to get to.

I went to a couple of nights at The Poetry Club in Finnieston and actually read poems aloud to real humans. Got a few wee things published here and there. Went to a ceilidh. Realised that I want to do lots and lots of creative writing and really try and learn from people. Started writing music reviews for RaveChild which has been really rewarding, not least because it’s encouraged me to broaden my musical horizons and go to more gigs. Started tweeting again. I managed to go to a few Creative Writing Society workshops, wrote a collaborative sonnet and played around with tarot cards. Went to Creative Conversations at the Chapel and saw very smart and fascinating people talk about writing: Amy Liptrot, Liz Lochhead, Mallachy Tallack, for example. Developed many creative crushes on various academics.

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Necronaut: Tom McCarthy looking fit in flip flops. Image Source: Fitzcarraldo

My stress levels tend to rise in tandem with the library’s rising busyness and so I stopped going altogether about a month ago. I’ve more or less forgotten what sunlight is, except for the wee slant that comes through the window of the building in Professors’ Square where every Thursday we had our Modern Everyday seminar. I sit in bed everyday and try and write and write. I spent the first four weeks of this semester trying to read a section from The Derrida Wordbook everyday, until my brain started to melt a bit too much and I was thinking in riddles. One day I was so tired I woke up at 10.46 for an 11am seminar but somehow still made it on time, looking like something the cat had dragged in. I tried to get my head round Blanchot, and even went to a reading group where we poured over The Space of Literature and maybe I came out with some sense of the link between writing and death. I wrote reflective journals for my core course seminars and every time came back to Tom McCarty references. The man and his ideas are just so seductive.

Coming to the end of my first semester as a postgrad student, I’m not sure how I feel. I didn’t wash my hair for nearly four weeks. On the one hand, my brain feels heavier, I’m exhausted, probably much less fit; I’ve lost contact with a few friends. On the other, I’ve got ideas all the time, I’m meeting new people, I can understand a little bit of Heidegger. I’m extremely lucky to be able to study at all, especially on such a well-run, exciting course like Modernities.

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Cutlery: an everlasting source of inspiration

Things I miss about waitressing:

  1. Being on my feet all day. Coming home feeling like an honest hard day’s work has been done, that I really earned that massive block of chocolate.
  2. Gossip. Constant streams of salacious stories.
  3. The visceral fuck-strewn quality of hospitality patter.
  4. Unlimited access to coffee at the point of need.
  5. Making strangers happy through simple acts of kindness.
  6. Being with friends all day and plotting grand schemes.
  7. Minor dramas.
  8. Telling ghost stories to tourists.
  9. Having a reason to put makeup on in the morning/having a reason to get up in the morning before 10.
  10. Spontaneous drinking.
  11. That amazing post-coffee rush feeling when you know your break is due and you’ve got a good book on you.
  12. Finishing a shift and leaving it at the door for a Netflix binge.
  13. Meeting new people more or less constantly.
  14. Having actual muscles from plate carrying.
  15. Playing the game of concocting life stories for strangers.
  16. Teamwork! (which is sorely missed on an English Lit degree…)
  17. Solving completely unsolvable problems, like trying to find and polish 50 champagne flutes in five minutes, or sourcing pathologically evasive salt shakers, or convincing the kitchen not to slaughter you because your table’s arrived 45 minutes late, just in time to clash with every other function in the building.
  18. Unexpectedly deep conversations about love, life, literature, music, family, mental illness, travel, astrophysics, the ethics of illustration, Tumblr, queer theory, feminism, television, childhood memories and sleep deprivation all while polishing cutlery.
  19. The thrill of days off.

Going part-time, I still get some of these fun things, and less of the bad things. Maybe that’s a nice balance. The Christmas period is always a test for our sanity and endurance. Still, hopefully the feeling of handing in my essays will get me through the rest of the season, and if not god knows I have enough books to read to escape into! Maybe I should tidy my room first.