Top 89 of 2020: Jesse Wiza, digital producer

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

According to Last.fm – the spin count data website that I hook up to my Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube accounts – my most-listened-to artist was Sylvan Esso, who dropped a fabulous record, Free Love, this year. Their session in the summer was my favorite of the year; I adore this band.

My most-listened-to track was "Kyoto" from Phoebe Bridgers, followed by "Lost In Yesterday" from Tame Impala, some tracks from the new HAIM record, and an appearance from the late John Prine (admittedly not the gorgeous posthumous release with him from Kurt Vile that dropped this year – it was "Knockin' on My Screen Door").

Another conversation that really stuck with me was Adam Granduciel's interview with Mary Lucia about The War on Drugs' Live Drugs, the band's 2020 live album. Getting a peek into the intimate weaving that went into that record was such a treat. Plus, the record itself is a phenomenal snapshot of the band's touring ephemera.

Year-end lists have made me nervous ever since I started publishing them online in my college radio days. Am I cool enough? Did I find the record that would break my heart into the tiniest pieces or should I keep searching? Am I adding things just to make it to an even ten, inaccurately reflecting what I actually listened to? This year was a particularly tough one because it's a year when we've felt lost. I felt lost. I didn't feel drawn toward the light of a new release like I have been in the past; I didn't feel drawn toward much about the world at all. But there were a handful of records that picked me up off the floor and reminded me that life is worth sticking around for.

The records I fell in love with this year took me to the only place I went in 2020: the grocery store. My most problematic favorite activity is pulverizing my ears in a car with the windows down, volume turned all the way up (sorry neighbors). I missed that a lot this year, the one type of therapy that my insurance does cover with no deductible: blasting music in your car until your ears ring and screaming along. I went to the grocery store, and I walked around outside. That's it.

In an effort to fill the silence and not wear out the precious few 2020 records I could muster the energy to dive into, I also went backwards in time to a safer place, my mother's kitchen. I grew up in a loud household. There was always something bellowing from the home, whether it was a parent beckoning children or the classic rock radio from the garage, or soul hits from Mom's kitchen. Mom's kitchen was largely Motown records, plus a lot of folk and R&B from the '70s and '80s. This is where I went when I wanted a musical escape in 2020. I also went to Bob Dylan and John Prine and also a ton of old fan-uploaded videos of live bluegrass shows. I also went to a Marvin Gaye record that MPR News' Evan Frost insisted I listen to in the early days of 2020, when Covid was only just appearing in the news. I remember very clearly: One night in early January, it was snowing, and I spent a long Sunday in Spyhouse Coffee working on a project and listening to that record on repeat. Good music can warm you even when there's still many months of cold left.

Top 10 Musical Things That Gave Me Hope of 2020

1. Kurt Vile & John Prine – "How Lucky"

2. HAIM – Women In Music, Pt. III

3. Sylvan Esso – Free Love

4. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

5. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

6. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

7. The War on Drugs – Live Drugs

8. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges – Texas Sun EP

9. Humbird – "On The Day We Are Together Again"

10. Anderson .Paak – "Lockdown"

Honorary Mentions

• DoggFace208 singing along to Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" on a skateboard

• Marvin Gaye – What's Going On (Live at the Kennedy Center)

• A documentary of Earl Scruggs wandering around and playing with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Doc Watson, The Byrds, and Charlie Daniels

Vote now: Top 89 of 2020

The Current staff's favorite music of 2020


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