Top 89 of 2020: Cecilia Johnson, digital producer


Top 89 of 2020 category header - Staff Picks
Top 89 of 2020 - Staff Picks (MPR graphic)

Last February, I saw folk artist Freaque perform a song called "My Anger Is A Sun." He explained it this way on Facebook: "ANGER paired with FEAR is corrosive and destructive, but ANGER paired with HOPE is a powerful tool in a movement for change."

Like many others, I've had an angry year. I've watched stubborn systems and organizations fail pretty much everyone I care about. But as adrienne maree brown put it, "My anger, my rage, is also rooted in how much I love." And my heart has been full all year. Here are some albums I adore.

Top 5 Albums of 2020

1. Jessie Ware – What's Your Pleasure?

Like DJ Shannon Blowtorch's Pride parties, What's Your Pleasure? is grown and sexy. English singer Jessie Ware has been notching accolades since her 2012 debut, Devotion. But to my ear, this fourth album reaches a whole new level of confidence. On the title track, she breathes come-ons, her voice beckoning from across the room. James Ford's production – sleek and sophisticated – is the cocktail party around her. Meanwhile, the album cover is perfect: red lipstick, gold necklace, bare shoulder, direct eye contact.

2. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa's year has been one long campaign to make her the world's next pop megastar, and it has resulted in huge success. Back in March 2020, her trajectory wasn't a sure thing – she dropped Future Nostalgia just as the Western world entered lockdown, her hand forced by a two-weeks-early leak. But luckily, unlike her beloved but uneven debut, the album is immaculate. From the disco-pop "Don't Start Now" to the extravagant strings on "Love Again," Future Nostalgia is all killer, no filler – except "Boys Will Be Boys," the try-hard finale and an easy skip. Since March, Lipa has continued unfurling that whole megastar thing by releasing fab singles with Miley Cyrus ("Prisoner"), reggaetón prince J Balvin ("UN DIA"), and belge cool kid Angèle ("Fever").

3. Christine & the Queens – La vita nuova EP

Christine and the Queens has been singing about sorrow for years, but never so explicitly as she does in La vita nuova lead single "People, I've been sad." The song came out in February, and I remember first hearing it that week. I was on the light rail from work to a family meeting, about to trudge a mile through snow in the dark, and I thought, yeah, I'm sad, too. At least spring is coming, I figured. But we all know how that turned out. When I ended up spending spring at home, I blasted "Je disparais dans tes bras" and "La vita nuova (feat. Caroline Polachek)." "I don't give a damn," I'd shriek along. The words didn't necessarily feel true, but I felt grateful to escape inside them and this whole EP.

4. Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas

Mmm, pandemic dinners. I've been cooking (and writing about!) food a lot this year, and Lianne La Havas's self-titled is an ideal kitchen companion. At 52 minutes, it's elongated and relaxed. From the romantic "Green Papaya" to the softer last couple songs, it makes good dinner table music, too.

5. CHIKA – Industry Games

CHIKA is my Best New Artist of 2020. She raps with all the honesty and introspection of Lexii Alijai, and while Industry Games isn't always cheerful, it's certainly a joy to hear. This album's beats sound like they'll hold up well through the next 10 years; "Songs About You" reminds me of early Kehlani, while the gospel choir in "Crown" could be straight out of Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book. (I guess this isn't surprising; Norwegian producer Lido worked on CHIKA's album and Chance's "Angels.") "Balencies," a reflection on CHIKA's rising fame, is my favorite track.

To read about a lot more of the Minnesota music I've been digging this year, check out The Current's "20 Notable Minnesota Albums of 2020."

Top 10 Songs of 2020

Megan thee Stallion – "Savage Remix (feat. Beyoncé)" (for Jay and the trivia crew)
Janelle Monáe – "Turntables" (for Jade and Looch)
Gabriels – "Love and Hate in a Different Time"
Tame Impala – "Lost In Yesterday" (for Claire)
Javier Santiago – "Are You There? (feat. Taylor Johnson & Miguel Hurtado)"
Purity Ring – "stardew" (for Mac)
Ashley DuBose – "Love Tingz" (for Sean and Sanni)
UPRISING – "Are You Really Down?" (for Minneapolis)
Empress Of – "Bit of Rain" (for Emmet)
Chastity Brown – "Golden" (for Andrea)

Honorable Mentions

Koffee – "Pressure"
HAIM – "I Know Alone"
Stevie Wonder – "Can't Put It In The Hands Of Fate (feat. Rapsody, Cordae, CHIKA & Busta Rhymes)
clipping. – "Say The Name"
FPA – "Untitled"
SONIKKU & LIZ – "Sweat - SOPHIE Remix"
Kiesza – "Run Renegade"
Perfume Genius – "On The Floor"
Jessy Lanza – "Lick In Heaven"
Divaj – "Nothing Personal (feat. Rø)"

Top 3 Music Moments of 2020

100 gecs at the Fine Line

If one night could represent everything I love about live music, it'd be February 27, 2020. Hyperpop duo 100 gecs packed the Fine Line full of jacked-up youths, curious olds, and pretty much all the City Pages music staff. While machines and vocals screeched in a mosh pit of a mix, the floor surged with crowd surfing and pogo jumps. The whole show was so dumb and jubilant: exactly the kind of thing I miss in this austere Covid infinity.

Afterward, my friends and I walked down the street to catch the end of Dessa's First Ave show, a much tamer event. I caught the bus home at midnight and walked the last mile, and despite the snow, that night turned out to be one of the warmest experiences of my whole year.

Solid Foundations "house party"

I was hunkering down for a Friday evening of The Current Rewind script work when I got a message from my friend Chris. He and his friend Miguel were going to be spinning at KFAI's virtual pledge drive party for the next few hours, he said, and did I want to come hang? YES, I did. I stayed on the Zoom for most of the event, cranking out some good work while enjoying great house music. The spontaneity of it all – and the feeling of being in a dark room with a friend and several strangers – felt like a last-minute invitation to a show at someone's home.

Verzuz w/ Patti LaBelle & Gladys Knight

You know, it wasn't perfect. No one could fix Miss Patti's teleprompter. Miss Gladys doubled down on "Midnight Train to Georgia." I will never forget the long, awkward beginning in which NO ONE TOLD THE SINGERS THEY WERE LIVE ON AIR. But oh my god, if this Verzuz wasn't exactly what I needed in September. I grew up listening to Patti LaBelle, and it felt like heaven to gather with other music fans, even virtually, and watch her and Gladys Knight (and Dionne Warwick!) chat and sing. For more commentary on this weird, joyous night, please enjoy Danez Smith's ebullient tweets.

Count down the Top 89 with The Current

The Current staff's favorite music of 2020

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