I don’t want to dwell on the details of 2020, no one doesn’t know all one needs to know. We lost so much in 2020, from the monumentally important things like friends and family, jobs, livelihoods, mental and physical health to a sense of safety and normalcy. Starting in the middle of March, everything we knew, everything we planned for the year was locked away, just like us. The looming threat of uncertainty was a constant cloud that injected fear and dread into what were once boringly common activities. Imagine the alarming thought of having to wear protective gear to go grocery shopping in the first week of 2020, much less being told we could no longer congregate for any reason or hug our loved ones. These fears and restrictions quickly became the norm and the divisions along political and social lines expanded even more, something few of us thought possible. Personally, my mental health suffered immediately. It took all my strength to keep my head above the water and be a passable father, husband, and employee while the world crumpled. I apologize to all of you who took up baking, home fitness routines, learning a new skill or language and rolled with the quarantine as positively as possible. I was cursing you as I struggled to keep it together. I’m doing much better today due to a commitment to my overall health, but it took a minute to arrive.
For us here in the ADDICTED Music Dept., 2020 demolished us. The cornerstone of our coverage has always been live music. As a team of contributors, we truly live for live music. Apart from some summer coverage of drive-in shows, I published my last pre-lockdown live music review back on March 12 which actually spoke little of Jonathan Wilson’s lovely show and more about how I felt entering a venue to cover a show. The next day, the lockdown began what is now an unrequested normal. I recently looked at the schedule of shows that were to take place in 2020 and it was going to be a fantastic year of events. So many amazing artists were hitting the road and our calendar of coverage looked really great. I’m sorry we didn’t get to cover these shows but whenever we can again get together and rock the fuck out to our favourite music, the ADDICTED Music Dept. will be there.
Now that we are leaving the holiday season and have been gifted a few vaccines that promise to move us back to what was once normal, people are smiling again. Most importantly, people seem to have hope that isn’t just blind faith. It took a global pandemic to install true hope in those of us willing to accept it, which is one of a surprising handful of good things and thoughts that emerged from this catastrophe. And as we look back, the importance of a ‘best of the year’ list in one as terrible as 2020 was, is so much more meaningful and important. These weren’t just timewasting chunks of media, they offered cherished minutes of respite and escape from the death and disease just outside our doors. The following list is different than other years. To be honest, I hardly listened to any new music in 2020. Yes, that may be grounds to hand in my music editor cape. Instead, I relied on old favourites that acted as a security blanket. Like everyone else, I did watch a shitload of TV shows. The list below is what kept me sane in 2020.
There is no doubt that the golden age of TV that began many years ago with hits like The Sopranos and The Wire (Thanks, HBO) hasn’t wavered. Each year, we get amazing shows that are all over the map in terms of genre and content. It’s now to the point where we NEED these types of lists to find the ones that slipped through the cracks.
- Ted Lasso – Apple TV +
As a long time English Premier League football fan, I was ready for this. With a cast that featured and a story penned by Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt, I was already sold. But what no fan of this show expected was the heart and emotion of this hilarious story of an American college football coach from Kansas City hired to lead a low-level team in one of the most-watched sporting leagues on the planet. Supported by fine performances by Juno Temple, Nick Mohammed, Brett Goldstein and Jeremy Swift (for all us Downton Abbey lovers), this show was one of the few that made me wince and laugh out loud AND brought tears to my eyes, all in the same episode and often for no good reason apart from feeling attached to these characters.
- Desus and Mero – Showtime/Crave
I’m a longtime fan of these two Bronx comedians back to before their show on VICE. With a move to Showtime which promised better budgets and higher-tiered guests, I feared a loss of some of the edge that made me howl out loud on the streetcar heading to work several times a week. It took a season to really find their stride but especially after lockdown (when they began hosting the show via Zoom from their homes), their humour was more than just good laughs, their humanity and honesty made us feel a little less alone. As opposed to watching a bunch of wealthy celebs singing Imagine in their palatial homes to make us feel better, we got to watch Daniel Baker and Joel Martinez take the piss out of wealthy celebrities (plus athletes, activists and politicians) and keep us laughing through a particularly unfunny time.
- Queen’s Gambit – Netflix
Really? Do you need a recap of this show? No. You watched it and loved it or you didn’t and never will. Great story, performances, and especially art direction.
- Perry Mason – HBO/Crave
On the heels of his many years on the smash thriller The Americans, Matthew Rhys is back in Raymond Burr’s title role in a very gritty reboot of the classic 50s and 60s courtroom drama. Supported by the stellar performances by a cast almost too long to list (but highlighted by John Lithgow, Lili Taylor, Shea Wigham, Juliet Rylance, and Canada’s own Tatiana Maslany), gripping, rock-solid writing and a stunning backdrop of 1930s Los Angeles, the show recasts Mason as a hard-drinking private investigator soul-tortured by the First World War and a recent divorce hired to solve a child kidnapping.
- Devs – FX
Alex Garland’s tech-sci-fi miniseries topped many best-of-2020 lists for good reasons. As with every mentioned show, the acting and writing stand tall. As in his previous productions like Ex Machina and Annihilation, Garland builds an ever-growing tension that few writer/directors have. Through visual and sound design, the intensity of Devs folds layer over layer with each episode, telling a story that combines quantum computing, the overreach of tech companies, and an invention worth murder. All said none of this would amount to the show that Devs is without the standout performances by Nick Offerman, Allison Pill, and Garland favourite, Sonoyo Mizuno.
As I said, it was a strange year to feel so removed and distant from new musical releases. However, these were the releases in no particular order that made 2020 a molecularly-less awful year for me.
- Arlo Parks – Black Dog
If there was a single song that encapsulated the year and aimed to help, it was Black Dog. Barely out of her teens, this London-based singer-songwriter calls Earl Sweatshirt and Portishead as her main influences. While I dislike the term bedroom-pop, the moniker feels apt. Homespun and authentic are how I would put a finer point to Parks’ ultra-mellow soulful sound.
- Perfume Genius – On The Floor
I have told this story here before. I saw Perfume Genius open for Sigur Ros in Philadelphia in 2014. I relentlessly made fun of the feyness of the songs. Jump a few years ahead to 2017 when I first heard Mike Hadreas’ 4th album No Shape. It ripped me apart and I loved every tear. I guess I opened up to the music emotionally because this song’s melody is what I needed in this dark year.
- Run The Jewels – Out Of Sight
2020 music for me wasn’t just music to cry to. I think we all had some anger for what we were going through. Mad at an uncontrollable virus, mad at governments and cops that didn’t have our best in mind, mad at anti-maskers and COVID deniers, we needed a song that kicked a few fucking windows in. For me, Out Of Sight was this song. When it came on SiriusXM’s XMU, the volume went up, much to my kids’ chagrin. Tough. This cut from RTJ’s 4th full-length release features 2 Chainz and is epic in lyric. It’s a hard hitter with rapid-fire delivery from Killer Mike and El-P.
- Yves Tumor – Kerosene!
This song felt like a bit of an unrequested backdrop for 2020. Through various sources, Spotify, my fave online radio stations like Radio Paradise, BBC Radio 6, and Double J, this song would play and I would be halted to see who this was. Well, each time, it was Kerosene! and each time, it contained the guitar solo I didn’t know I needed.
5. Lianne La Havas – Weird Fishes
This is the only cover on my list and, hot take, it’s better than the original by Radiohead. BACK OFF, RADIOHEADHEADS! Lianne La Havas was an artist with whom I had a similar relationship like Yves Tumor. Songs from her 2015 album, Blood, would pop up from various sources and I’d use Shazam to figure out who the artist was or, like the old I am, wait to hear for a name. La Havas’ voice was yet another tonic to lift the year a bit. The whole self-titled album is worthy of repeated plays but Weird Fishes just jumps out at me.
I hope that despite the abject awfulness of this year, you found your own gems to shine through the gloom a bit. And now, that 2021 has arrived, here’s hoping that we somehow find a massive vein of sparkly, shiny goodness that helps put 2020 in the rearview.
From us here in the ADDICTED Music Dept. all the best for you and yours, and all of us collectively, in 2021.