An End of Year Review 2020: Songs

Following last week’s release of our An End of Year Review 2020: Albums, it is now the time for us to share some of our favourite songs from this year. At Secret Meeting, we celebrate the music we love. Given our wide range of contributors, it would be wrong for us to try and create a list of songs that we feel is definitive. It never will be. So, instead, we have given our writers – as well as some of the artists we love – the chance to explain why they hold the affection they do for some their favourite music from 2020.

Phil Scarisbrick (writer)

One name keeps cropping up when I look at a lot of my favourite music from the year – Aaron Dessner. Not only has he produced, written on, or played on some of the best records of the year, but he has also been busy on the follow-up to Big Red Machine’s eponymous debut. The idea of a pandemic anthem is a pretty unpalatable prospect, but when BRM unveiled their collaboration with Michael Stipe – No Time For Love Like Now – it harnessed the power of love and collectiveness, without ever veering into mawkish introspection. It also reminded us that Stipe still has one of alternative music’s greatest voices.

Another Dessner produced song had a similar effect when it arrived. Taylor Swift’s Folklore was a surprise release, being announced only a few hours before it hit streaming services. Recorded during lockdown by harnessing the power of voice notes and remote recording, its highlight was the duet with Dessner’s BRM bandmate, Justin Vernon. Exile blends Vernon’s honey-like voice with Swift’s to create a slow-burning ballad that you can’t help but be moved by. The vivid imagery of the chorus hook, ‘I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending,‘ grabs the listener before Vernon unleashes his voice on a bridge that will emotionally ragdoll you into submission.

Craig Howieson (writer)

Told Slant’s Run Around The School (taken from Point the Flashlight and Walk) is sublime, wonky alt-rock with lashings of banjo for good measure. One of the prettiest tracks I’ve heard all year.

I also love Phillip Jon Taylor’s Holding Breath Contest: it’s the sound of Pavement road-tripping through the Scottish Highlands. Fantastic alt-rock from the PAWS’ frontman.

Peter Gill (2nd Grade)

2nd Grade’s sophomore album, Hit To Hit, is out now on Double Double Whammy

Everyday when I wake up & listen to this Bad Moves’ Local Radio, I’m astounded that Bad Moves can so thoroughly explore the personal tolls of systemic labor exploitation in this country with just three chords and under three minutes of literally perfect power pop. This song will probably be stuck in my head at the exact moment I get run over & die while biking to my next low wage dog-walking gig.

Speaking of literally perfect power pop… Mo Troper’s Your Boy is simply one of those songs that I wish to hell I had been the one to write. I’m actually amazed this song didn’t exist before 2020! Which is absolutely a testament to its timelessness as well as Mo’s expert grasp of classic pop songwriting that still feels fresh & new, which he has shown off again & again over the past few years

Stewart Cheetham (writer)

Atheist is my favourite track on the Phoebe Bridgers’ produced debut album, Beginners, by Christian Lee Hutson. The song is seeped in the nostalgia of childhood evoked from a visit home. Like most other tracks on the record, on the face of it, the song comes across as simple and well written – but dig a little deeper and you’ll find some very clever lyrics and most intricate guitar parts put to record this year.

For Richard Swift / For John and Bill / For every gift lifted far before its will / Judee and Smith / For Berman too / I’ve met the myth hanging heavy over you’ – I was totally floored when Robin Pecknold emerged with this lyric on the Sunblind – the first time we hear his voice on the record, and my standout song on the yet another perfect Fleet Foxes’ album.

Finally, it’s rare that a song unanimously unites my group of friends these days. So, it was surprising when a reworking of traditional folksong – that tells the story of a woman losing her lover to Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in the Peninsular War – did just that. On the opening, self-titled track from the Bonny Light Horseman record, Josh Kauffman’s production ironically conjures pictures of vast pre-civil war American landscapes, not those of 19th century Spain, but that’s the beauty of this interpretation of the song. There is something instantly infectious about the chorus, and Anaïs Mitchell’s soaring vocal line still regularly seeps in to my conscious at the most unexpected times.

Goat Girl

New album, On All Fours, is released on 29th January through Rough Trade

Holly: I really like Ethan P. Flynn.

Rosy: I really love Charli XCX’s quarantine album. I’ve listened to that so many times and that’s a big one for me. It’s kept me going. My favourite song from that would be Party For You.

Lottie: I really loved the Micachu album. Good Sad Happy Bad is probably my favourite of the year. I really like the opening track on that. So beautiful.

Rosy: And WAP!

Paddy Kinsella (writer)

Lindsay Munroe’s vocal was pained and haunting as she sang of the guilt she felt for loving someone while belonging to a conservative Christian church. I’m in awe daily of how much strength it must have taken to release such an honest song as Split into the world.

Hollan aka Anna Mannoti sung oh so relatably about loneliness and the need for connection on I’ve Been Alone. And when she asked, ‘you know?’ at the end of each verse, I thought ‘I do’, and I felt seen. She’s the best songwriter you don’t know.

Hannah Georgas

All That Emotion is out now on Brassland. You can also read our full interview with Georgas here

A new song that I’ve been listening to a lot this year is This is What You Did by This is The Kit from her new album, Off Off On

Philip Moss (writer)

Moses Sumney’s second album, græ, is an ambitious attack on the senses – featuring genre bending collaborations with the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never, James Blake, Thundercat and John Congleton. Split into two distinct parts, Virile is the first act’s anthem – questioning society’s ideas on masculinity, as Sumney channels his inner Prince.  While it is the introspective, Me in 20 Years, that anchors the second part of a very special return.

My second song is by a songwriter who is right at the beginning of her career. We’re really lucky to get to hear so much new music at Secret Meeting, but sometimes they really catch us off guard – and Zelma Stone’s an artist who definitely one to watch. Her debut EP, Dreamland, shows she is a writer who defies the point she is at in her career, and the opening song, Fly, oozes with swaggering Bond-esque splendour. Try and play it once without putting it on repeat – go on, I dare you!

And finally, when we heard Hovvdy’s Runner earlier this year, we knew, despite them not having an LP ready, that we really wanted them to be on the cover of issue 7 of our zine. It really is an encapsulation of everything that is great about the band – taking what we loved about Heavy Lifter, but with more melodic focus, and over a soundscape that is richer and more subtly nuanced than ever before.

Nich Sullivan (writer)

Michigan’s rockingest young act, Dogleg, are a case study in being in the right place at the wrong time. Their meteoric rise through indie and emo rock stardom was essentially preordained, but they couldn’t quite scale those heights this year – even though they had the infrastructure in place to do so. As a result, their debut, Melee, played a messianic role for young rock fans: this was the album that they could all get behind and look forward to seeing played live – it was the LP that offered hope against impossible odds. Nowhere is that more evident than on, Fox: the band uses the propulsive energy of agony to create a righteous swell of positivity that any pit would welcome, then for their final trick they morph it into arguably the finest minute of power pop this year. If you need to be saved in under three minutes, look no further.

Alex Brown Church, Sea Wolf’s captain and creative mastermind, seemingly never met a thought he couldn’t stretch into a few minutes of blissful melody. Frank O’Hara off this year’s Through A Dark Wood is built on the steady heartbeat of a cushioned kick drum and a chord progression that feels somehow like a memory of how the sun fell in your hometown or how the trees dropped their leaves during the autumnal civil twilight. It is at once meditative and philosophical (‘What would you have written? / Would words have even been enough?’), but the refrain the band keeps coming back to is a message both simple and profound: ‘This is love.’

Joseph Purcell (writer)

It was hard enough narrowing the album picks down to three, but deciding on tracks of the year is pretty much a nightmare, and I’m sure this list would change tomorrow. Nevertheless, I would have to say Hannah Sun (from the LP, Hannah) by Lomelda is one of my picks – a slow rolling three and a half minutes of achingly beautiful simplicity by an incredible artist.

Secondly, I would go with Zombie Girl fromAdrianne Lenker’s album, songs. She really is an artist that seems to be getting better all the time and who I was thankfully able to see with her band Big Thief in Manchester earlier this year – leaving me a night of memories that have kept me going ever since.

Finally, I’ll go with High Rise by H.C McEntire – a joyful slice of country that never fails to lift the spirits.

Chris Hatch (writer)

Picking a favourite song is a pretty much impossible task. Choices can change depending on your mood, the time of day, or what you’re doing. In a year that has robbed us of must of the things that make us happy, I’ve decided to pick the songs which have soundtracked what I’ve enjoyed doing most this year – nosegrinding and kickflipping my way around a virtual skate park on Tony Hawk… Gum Country’s Jungle Boy (taken from Somewhere), Disq’s Daily Routine (taken from Collector) and Fontaines D.C’s Televised Mind.

Dave Bertram (writer)

Where albums of the year was a more straightforward choice than it usually is, picking tracks was far from it, particularly when trying to land on two. But a couple consistently kept coming back into contention. Taken from Don’t Let The Ink Dry, Eve Owen’s beautiful piano ballad, She Says, is a startlingly piece of song writing with a stop-in-yer-tracks melancholic chorus and I could listen to Baby You Have Travelled for Miles Without Love in Your Eyes from IBreakHorses’ Warnings for days on end.

Tobias Moore (writer)

A guaranteed slot on almost everyone’s lists this year, and a certainty alongside Adrianne Lenker to sweep up at the end of year awards, Phoebe Bridgers has had a year to remember. Through innovative lockdown performances, a long awaited second album, Punisher, and marketing awash with irony, the LA based artist has been a staple amongst my listening habits, and I Know The End has played a fair part in keeping it this way. My track of the year, it seems only fitting that an artist so intentionally ironic as Bridgers could create a piece that so fittingly mirrors the shitshow of a year we’ve all witnessed. What starts off tame and morbid soon finds itself erupting into something chaotic, before abruptly falling into an eerie silence, leaving one uncertain of what the future holds. And to top it off, the calvary of screams that draw the piece to a close, for me at least, have provided me with a new favourite to sing/scream along when in the shower.

A song and an album arguably like no other. Young Jesus’ Welcome to Conceptual Beach really is a record that shows off a truly ‘original sound’. The track (Un)knowing, however, is the one that stands clear for me though. It delivers some of the most intimate, yet unnatural harmonies I have listened to in a long time, and the track is one that felt sculpted with immense precision. So the fact that when I spoke to lead vocalist John Rossiter and found out that these came into fruition through pure luck, rather than through supernatural harmonic ability, still amazes me to this day.

When it comes to songs, those that know me know how much of a sucker for mellow and somewhat depressing ambient music I am. However, this year the reemergence of an abundance of breathtaking indie releases has put a change to that. Through Held Open Door, not only did Floating Room introduce herself to me, but she wholeheartedly won me over and made me delve deep into her back catalogue. Simple and unassuming, Stoner’s vocals possess a vulnerability that somehow simultaneously keeps you reassured yet constantly on edge. The subtleties of her melodic structures show true pedigree, that when coupled with the fact the piece is such an anthem, means that Floating Room has the potential to develop a fanbase that’s truly diverse.

We’ve rounded up all our picks into one playlist which you can add to your library below. If you would like to keep up to date with all the latest New Music Recommendations, you can subscribe to our weekly updated playlist here.

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