Top 89 of 2020: Jay Gabler, digital producer


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

Even more than most years, my top ten list this year is less of an attempt at an objective accounting of the year's best songs than a personal account of the tracks that connected with me in this extraordinary, tragic, tumultuous year.

Dua Lipa – "Don't Start Now"

As many fans have observed, Dua did the world a solid by releasing her ironically titled album Future Nostalgia even when there were no dancefloors for her to fill. This bop even perpetuated the notion that an ex might show up at the club to see Lipa getting freaky with a new beau. Don't start Zoom-bombing me now, baby!

Ariana Grande – "love language"

It was hard to pick one song from positions – a slinky song suite dispatched directly from our horny queen's quarantine love nest – but I picked this burbling come-on that channels Tavares with its swooning strings.

Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé – "Savage"

What work looked like for a high school teacher (my partner) and a digital producer in summer 2020: Dana recording a video of herself doing a TikTok-style shuffle to this song as part of a virtual graduation celebration for her homeroom, while I lay on the couch behind her reading a Rock and Roll Book Club pick to review on the radio, live from our kitchen.

At 1980 feat. Josh Dally and Timecop1983 – "In The Air"

As an unashamed '80s nostalgia buff, I've long enjoyed vaporwave and synthwave: genres that try less to sound like the '80s than like a blissed-out dream about the imagery artists and designers promoted in that era. It's almost unfailingly pleasant, but also largely unremarkable; I wondered when a synthwave song would ever jump out as something that you could actually imagine hearing during a John Hughes movie. This year, the aptly-named At 1980 delivered, with help from fellow travelers Josh Dally and Timecop1983.

Duluth artists – "Let It Shine"

For better and for worse, this was the year we got highly emotional about fundamental civil processes: mailing a letter, casting a vote, filling out a census form. This haunting song and video from Duluth movingly dramatized what was at stake: meaningful representation.

Bob Dylan – "I Contain Multitudes"

Over half a century ago, Bob Dylan helped to disprove the notion that rock and roll was mere kids' music. At 79, he continues to embody the restless, curious spirit that's kept him from ever standing still. His unparalleled career has taken him through patches fertile and dry, but he's never lost his humor, his convictions, or his ability to tread the razor-thin line between tragic and absurd. Somehow, in 2020 we needed him more than ever...and, remarkably, there he was.

Nur-D – "One More Night"

Nur-D started 2020 as a Best New Band. He's ending it as a folk hero: providing first aid to demonstrators and live-tweeting from I-94, as well as making some of the year's best Minneapolis music, including this wistful romantic jam.

Tristen – "Salty Tears"

It's not uncommon for musicians to fall on hard times and call for help...given our country's cruel health care system, practically any artist who's not a household name is left out to dry if they ever need serious treatment. This year, though, was overwhelming: All those artists hit a wall at once, along with the venues and stores that sustained their careers. It's been a year of Instagram live concerts and jangling tip jars, which is absolutely tragic but has also – artists being artists – provided countless moments of charm and transcendence. Tristen, a Nashville singer-songwriter who has long been one of my favorites, provided one of those moments this summer with a lockdown session to raise funds for the furloughed employees of her vintage clothing shop. For me, this song, which has had a decade-long journey from MySpace demo to Sneaker Waves B-side to pandemic single, speaks to the scrappy appeal of a crappy year.

Judy Collins – "Pack Up Your Sorrows"

One of my favorite moments in Girls (yes, we're going to go there) is when Hannah gets emotional about her resurgent OCD and has to walk out on a Judy Collins cabaret show she's attending with her parents. "Honey," calls the folk-pop legend from over her 12-string, "where you going?" Maybe I like it because I saw Collins with my parents in a very similar setting (remember the old Rossi's Blue Star Room?), and maybe it's because Sweet Judy Blue Eyes has remained such a stalwart presence, with that ethereal voice, since those simpler days when we really didn't know clouds at all. This year Collins re-recorded this buoyant 1965 nugget written by Richard Farina (the husband and musical partner of Mimi Baez Farina) and Pauline Marden (the third Baez sister), and it was a balm.

Maria Isa – "Como Duele (Bomba 4 Big Floyd)"

This year's racial reckoning has been so seismic, so wide-ranging, and so impactful that the face of George Floyd has become internationally iconic. Many artists have released music sparked by his needless death, and it's all been illuminating, but I keep coming back to this pained, evocative tribute from a musician who knew him as a friend. "George helped me carry my bomba drum after many shows in Minneapolis," remembered Maria Isa. "He was a gentleman who protected our community and loved our music."

Once you've made your own list, vote in The Current's Top 89 poll, and we'll count down our listeners' Top 89 of 2020 on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Vote now: Top 89 of 2020

The Current staff's favorite music of 2020

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