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2020 – Automation

January 2nd, 2021 · Posted by Skuds in Music · No Comments · Music

It is that time of the year again. The time when I add another track to my Spotify playlist, the one that has one song for every year I have been around. I have now added a 59th track to it, which makes me fell a bit old.

While this might have been a bit of a shitty year in many respects (and “might have been” could be a bit of an understatement) it has been another decent year for music, and it was really hard to pick out one track to represent it.Personally, I have been indoors for most of the year. I was classified as being ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ so was shielding and started working from home a good few weeks before it became mandatory. I actually feel fine and not at all vulnerable, but I guess the doctors felt that 2019’s bout of double pneumonia left my lungs a bit knackered. Working from home means having the radio on for most of the time, usually BBC Radio 6, so I got to hear a lot of new music that way, supplemented by Spotify’s new releases playlists and reviews in music magazines.

Talking of which, 2020 saw Q magazine fold after 30 years of publication. I read it on and off since it first launched and after Word magazine closed down I transferred my subscription across to Q and so became a regular reader. That subscription has now transferred to Mojo – so good luck to Mojo magazine now that it has my cursed subscription!

Q was not the only casualty of the year. Amongst the musical obituaries were a few people who were bona fide legends: Neil Peart, Andy Gill, Florian Schneider, Peter Green, Toots Hibbert and Tony Allen, for example. Also a few who brought back memories for me – Manu Dibango, Sweet Pea Atkinson and Julian Bream.

Before getting to the new music, it was another good year for re-issues and live recordings of older music. The trend for lavish, wallet-punishing box sets continued, but there were some treats at the more affordable end of the market too. The highlights for me were Toyah’s Sheep Farming in Barnet box set and the late December release of an album of Kraftwerk re-mixes: two hours of remixes, including nine versions of the Expo 2000 track! A nice complement to the volume 4 of the Soul Jazz records’ krautrock compilation series Deutsche Elektronische Musik. Another eclectic mix, beautifully presented with an informative booklet.

There were a few good live albums/DVDs/Blu Rays, many of which found their way onto Sky Arts. The various competing aspects of Pink Floyd all had live shows released – Roger Waters’s spectacular Us+Them tour, a re-mastered Delicate Sound of Thunder film/album, and the Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets Roundhouse concert. Metallica released a sequel to the S&M album and Yes had a couple of live releases, a 2003 Glastonbury set and the Royal Affair tour. Both were a bit underwhelming and unnecessary. Surely we have enough live albums of the same tracks by now?

In terms of new albums, the flow of new material from oldies continued. New albums from Jon Anderson, Michael Rother, Joachim Witt, Elvis Costello, Paul Weller, Sparks, Bruce Springsteen and Deep Purple. Also, I guess they count as oldies now, though that just makes me feel old too, Blancmange, A Certain Ratio, Erasure, Marc Almond, Wire, Pet Shop Boys and Yello. Of that lot I think I enjoyed Yello the most.

2020 also threw up a few surprise releases, comebacks and returns to form. We had Risk Wakeman’s return to prog with the excellent The Red Planet, Bob Dylans first new album for years, a surprise return for AC/DC, new material from the Boomtown Rats, Psychedelic Furs, Faithless and Midnight Oil all after long silences. And of course there was the McCartney III album towards the end of the year

The most poignant comeback of the year had to be a new album from Toots & the Maytals, released at around the same time as Toots died, but similarly there was a Tony Allen/Hugh Masekela album released around the time Tony Allen died. In both cases they were artists going out on a high.

In the rap genre there were some notable releases. Busta Rhymes released a sequel to Extinction Level Event, I was excited when that dropped but a bit disappointed by the first listen, a feeling shared with our son, who raved about the new Dizzee Rascal album E3 AF which I haven’t properly listened to yet. One rap album was a strong contender for album of the year – RTJ4 from Run The Jewels. It really is a fantastic record. Albums from Eminem, Public Enemy and the Streets were OK, but completely overshadowed by RTJ4, although I was impressed by Burna Boy’s Twice as Tall album – a contender for album cover of the year! I had not heard of him before but will keep an eye out for the name now.

The British jazz scene continued to thrive. I lose track of who is who in that scene. Everybody is collaborating with everybody else and the bands all seem to share members. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that absolutely everybody is in Ezra Collective! A good showcase for contemporary jazz was the Blue Note Re:imagined project from this year. Highlights are the Poppy Ajudha and Jordan Rakei tracks, but the whole thing is lovely.

2020 threw up some decent debut releases. First and foremost for me were Billy Nomates, Working Men’s Club and Pottery. Pottery’s Texas Drums track was a real earworm for most of the year. Another earworm was New Ferrari from Surprise Chef, who released two albums of beautiful jazzy tunes. It was also good to hear Motorik by Ghostlawns and see that the spirit of krautrock continues to thrive, in this case in a partly Welsh language setting.

There were a few artists who were not new, but were new to me and very enjoyable, like the Chats, Porridge Radio and Tom Misch (more jazz).

Apart from all that, there was an enormous amount of other good new releases. Far too many to mention. The most notable for me were Baxter Dury, Nadine Shah, Fontaines DC, Idles, Doves, Cornershop, Ghostpoet, Gorillaz, Roisin Murphy, Thundercat and This is the Kit. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released a mere 2 albums in 2020 but Jah Wobble showed Sly & Robbie levels of productivity by releasing at least 4 albums.

No albums, but some EP and single released from Little Simz and Gang of Four. I think that digital platforms are going to make it a lot more common to just release tracks instead of whole albums.

All of this has been a bit male-orientated, but many of my favourite albums were by female artists, particularly Roisin Murphy and Nadine Shah. Both albums contained three or four tracks that were strong contenders to go on my playlist to represent the year.

It was disappointing to see no new tunes from Metallica or Public Service Broadcasting. I think Metallica have been writing something for release in 2021 and I really hope that PSB have been working on something that uses clips of Chris Whitty saying “next slide please”.

With everybody being stuck at home for most of the year, a lot of musicians came up with great ways to keep us entertained and sane during the year. What kept me going were Guy Pratt’s Lockdown Licks on YouTube, Toyah & Robert Fripp’s various YouTube enterprises, the Stephen Wilson/Tim Bowness Album Years podcast, and Guy Pratt & Gary Kemp’s Rockonteurs podcast. I didn’t take part in any of Tim Burgess’ Twitter listening parties, but it gave me a warm glow just knowing they existed.

Early in the first lockdown, the one that everybody actually took seriously, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Metallica released a new film each week, which passed the time nicely.

I realised that it is quite difficult to decide what song to whack on my playlist while the year is so fresh in the memory. It was actually easier to choose for years back in the last century. Just because a song has been a bit of an obsession or earworm during the year, you don’t really know if it will pass the test of time.

Here are a few of the songs I mentally shortlisted:

  • Shortly After Takeoff by BC Camplight. A gorgeous yacht rock-tinged song. I probably would enjoy hearing this pop up in a few years.
  • Texas Drums by Pottery. I suspect this will always make me smile.
  • Incapable by Roisin Murphy. A feelgood anthem, but then it comes from an album filled with them.
  • House Music All Night Long by Jarv is. Disqualified because I had Jarv Is for 2019.
  • Might bang, Might not by Little Simz.
  • Waba Duba by Yello. Catchy as hell, but I had Yello in 1998 or thereabouts.
  • Watermelon Man by Poppy Ajudha. From the Blue Note Re:imagined project. Maybe just too timeless to represent one year?
  • He Loves Me by Brittany Howard. I love what she does. This was from her 2019 album but was released as a single in 2020 I think, so I could have included it on a technicality.
  • Ladies For Babies (Goats for Love), Club Cougar, Kitchen Sink or  Trad by Nadine Shah. I really did like her album! Four songs that were all strong contenders for the list. It would be hard to choose between them.

In the end I went for Automation by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Great band. Terrible name. I am a bit of a sucker for motorik/krautrock and psychedelia, and this song just perks me up every time I hear it. I am also very taken with Baby, Sleep by Maximo Park, but that is partly because the guitar part sounds like Automation. Every time it comes on the radio I briefly think ‘oh, its King Gizzard’ then realise it isn’t.

King Gizzard takes the playlist up to 59 songs and would take 4 hours, 41 minutes to listen to thanks to the full-length versions of Living for the City, Autobahn, I Feel Love, Papa Was a Rolling Stone and Street Life which rack up over an hour between them, but I reckon its a great way to pass an hour or four!

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