This New Year's Eve Moment is the occasion for which this blog still, on occasion, exists. It is the moment of the annual "Listening Listfully" list of the music that has appealed to me over the preceding year.
In keeping with the practice of so many other, more reputable music-listers, I have abandoned any pretense of ranking this year.
What we have below is, by my reckoning, a list of 103 album-like music releases from 2020. 52 of them are listed in random order, as a sort of top tier, with commentary. The commentary frequently takes the form of embedded Twitter comments from the past year. The count is 52 because I adopted the practice of presenting them with album covers arranged in groups of four, and 52 is divisible by 4, don't you know. The first group of 52 is followed by another group of 51, arranged without further comment and in quasi-alphabetical [i.e., alphabetical by first word] order. I like the second 51 selections very nearly as much as the first 52, but one must draw lines somewheres.
All but a very few of the items on this list are available through Bandcamp, and many of my Twitter remarks were catalyzed by the laudable "Bandcamp Friday" initiative, which will continue into much of 2021. Each listing of a Bandcamp-available recording includes a link to its Bandcamp page. Buy music, please, always and frequently and particularly now. Streaming music is all right if you have bought that music first, or if you are listening once in contemplation of a possible purchase, or if you know you are never ever going to pay for that music apart from crumbs of crumbs and you are able to rationalize being all right with that. The convenience and portability of streaming services is grand and tempting, but the cumulative price is starving creators and the shedding of at least a little part of your soul. Proceed with circumspection.
That said, as a matter of foolish inconsistency, I have created a Spotify playlist of selections from most of the recordings catalogued below: "In My Mind These Are the Monster Hits"
Doug Seidel – Gornisht Helfen
This comes first, for the simple reason that I want to tell somebody! about it.
It is a "pay what you will" item on Bandcamp, and at this writing has apparently attracted maybe a half-dozen paying customers in the history of the world. [I am one of them, though that is not apparent as it displays in my own browser.] Is it the "best" of the year? Other than giving this fool pleasure with great consistency, perhaps not. You, whoever you may be, should at least give it a spin. As I have written of it on the Bandcamp site:
I've come down to thinking of this slyly pleasurable recording as, like, "Eno & Cluster in a shack in the woods making cartoon music with Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott, and maybe David Lynch."
In theory it could be yours for free, but pay the man dammit.
This I believe.
Body Metta – The Work is Slow
"Top Drawer Racket" is a descriptor I started tossing about on Twitter in 2020. This is not the first recording to which I applied the term, but it is a fine exemplar. Critic and music writer Sasha Frere-Jones fronts Body Metta, on "right guitar." On the left: Grey McMurray, whose presence always signals quality [e.g., as one half of itsnotyouitsme with Caleb Burhans]. Melvin Gibbs and Greg Fox round out the rattletrap assemblage, and all combine such that any isle of shelter or quarantine in which you may have gone to earth will be satisfyingly full of noises.
Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids – Shaman!
Speaking of #AfroFuturism and the like, the new #IdrisAckamoor, just out today, does not disappoint. Old school, in many ways, but everything old is new again in these chronosynclastic times.#BandcampFriday https://t.co/DMpDdt7xC6— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) August 8, 2020
The Pyramids' "When Will I See You Again?" is not the Three Degrees classic, but a lamentation of sudden loss by violence that resonates equally with seemingly endless swell of the late pandemic.
Mike Wexler with Synthetic Love Dream – Mike Wexler with Synthetic Love Dream
Chicago Underground Quartet – Good Days
This is the starting point for my personal Year of Chicago-centric Jazz. Each of the players on this album - Rob Mazurek, Chad Taylor, Jeff Parker, and Josh Johnson - reappears once or more below, as does producer Chris Schlarb. Any stop along that road is savory, and any combination of some or all is a feast.
Like a deftly seasoned spicy tomato bisque, this is good food. Airy street level Chicago jazz, infused with all the secret mixtures, from reputed legends Chicago Underground Quartet. Via Long Beach, attentive production and mixing magic by @schlarb. https://t.co/TUxHB66YmN— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) March 29, 2020
happy place – tendrils
Top. Drawer. Racket. The recording that first earned that moniker. Drums and guitars, and more drums and more guitars, dodging obstacles through a perilous array of meters and tunings. Rock 'em, sock 'em satisfactions galore, and smart, too. Vocals provided in part by Charlotte Mundy, who reappears in the unillustrated portion of this list with a commendable multitracked turn as all three of Morton Feldman's "Three Voices".
Psychic Temple – Houses of the Holy
Chris Schlarb produced the Chicago Underground Quartet album that triggered so much else on this list, so he is a sort of Founder of the Feast – or Leader of the List – for 2020. Here, under his performing identity as Psychic Temple, he offers a 21st Century equivalent to the double-disked, gatefolded vinyl rock extravaganzas of yesteryear, with a different set of collaborators on each "side": Chicago Underground Quartet on Side 2, contemporary L.A. rockers Cherry Glazerr [rusticating in a cabin out Joshua Tree way] on Side 1, reformed L.A. '80s American Guitarstarists The Dream Syndicate on Side 3, and East L.A. hiphopsmith Xololanxinxo drenched in Alice Coltrane chorales on Side 4. Shuffle it, play it, straight through, or pick a side: this is a true "record-record," of the sort embraced in R. Stevie Moore's 'Play Myself Some Music'.
Bec Plexus – Sticklip
"STICKLIP" by Bec Plexus is out now via @newamsterdam. I've compared it to amped up, of-the-moment Laurie Anderson and others have suggested similarities to Fiona Apple (with many many fewer words). It's itself, and exciting and heady and I'm #GonnaRecommend https://t.co/ThgHfWYdcK— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) May 1, 2020
Molly Joyce – Breaking and Entering
As we say on Twitter:
Quite apart from the rest of tomorrow's surge of @Bandcamp suggestions, @Molly_Joyce's "Breaking and Entering" will be getting its general release, and is much recommended— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) June 5, 2020
as stated in
A Girl Called Eddy – Been Around
On the too-long-between-releases front, 16 years was too long between releases for A Girl Called Eddy. My love for the oft-sad and all-sophisticated poptunes on this second album is unrelenting. If you like the Costello-Bacharach oeuvre.... #GonnaRecommendhttps://t.co/wn5g0f8Yng— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) May 1, 2020
Ted Hearne, Saul Williams –Place
More for your #BandcampFriday consideration:@SaulWilliams and @hearnedogg's large-scale, very socially engaged "Place"— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) June 5, 2020
[Still living in hope of the video version, as a substitute for its doubly cancelled L.A. performances.]https://t.co/Ul3b8YZNM2
Tara Clerkin Trio – Tara Clerkin Trio
Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
Beyond Chicago connections, another stream in the choices on this list flows from the still fermenting UK/London jazz scene, marked by incorporation of Afrobeat, dub, reggae, hip hop, and more. Moses Boyd's album arrived early in the year, and kept finding its way to my ears all the way to the end. Boyd reappears on this list as drummer in Tori Handsley's trio.
Looking back from the midpoint of a miraculously awful year, I find there's little I have listened to thus far quite so much as I've listened to this fine thing from @Mosesboyd_ .https://t.co/mLdmR2TKLJ— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) June 25, 2020
Sophia Subbayya Vastek – Lili
Entirely distanced from the news of the day, entrancing and potently beautiful, and my concluding #BandcampFriday recommendation.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) October 3, 2020
Lili Boulanger died, aged 24, two weeks before Debussy in 1918, and was I submit at least as fine a piano wrangler as he. https://t.co/7mrhRipjmK
Sam Amidon – Sam Amidon
I have not done the math, but if I ever made an Ultimate List of Listful Listening there is a fair chance that no musician would appear on it more frequently than Sam Amidon, whether as an essential element in Thomas Bartlett's Doveman or in his own name. He is a fascinating Twitter follow as well. Every Sam Amidon release is as Sam Amidon as it gets, and this is no exception [though, for the moment at least, my first choice is probably still The Following Mountain - #2 in 2017]
Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown
Repeating this recommendation for #Juneteenth Bandcamp because (1) it's a tremendous varied and groovable record, plus (2) the Max Brown of the title and cover photo is the artist's mother, and mothers have been making themselves importantly heard lately.https://t.co/VeDNJTXWUv— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) June 19, 2020
Leah Kardos – Bird Rib
This is a delicious recording.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) May 28, 2020
Thought last night that it reminded me very much of the Silver Age of Chill Music circa the turn of this Century [1998-2002 or so]. E.g., Air's "Moon Safari" or @bluestates: things of that ilk?
As good or better.@leahkardoshttps://t.co/Mg4iKC4gjN
The String Orchestra of Brooklyn – afterimage
So here we have @chriscerrone— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) January 29, 2020
& @jacob_cooper throwing down vs. Paganini & Pergolesi, respectively, and emerging victogloriorious.
I cannot get enough of CC's "High Windows". JC's fine "Stabat Mater" features @MellissaHughes, so graces & goodness abound. https://t.co/efmYbJD3Yb
Bernhard Weber, John Hollenbeck – Grids
I enthused all over this Bernhard Meyer/@john_hollenbeck set back in March but you Could Not Get The Whole Thing on Bandcamp at that time.😕— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) October 2, 2020
Well now you can.😃
Improv explorations for electric bass, diverse processories, and percussion. #BandcampFriday https://t.co/eSZ9MkSTq5
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Axiom
Recorded live at the Blue Note in New York in March, in the last days before everything shut down. There are slightly uncomfortable jokes about washing your hands and not sneezing on one another, and a characterization of the word "jazz" as "belittling and pejorative." Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah prefers "creative improvised music" – as would I, but for all those extra syllables. It is a strong set of whatever it is, with the leader frequently stepping back to allow the other members of the band to show their craft.
The Grammy nominations are always a frustrating mix, but I do enjoy seeing the spot-on "best improvised solo" nod to @cscottjazz's apotheosization of @thedavidcrosby's "Guinnevere".https://t.co/ddDARkwYm2— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 25, 2020
Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
This Year's Dylan is authentically not bad, but you have to be in the framing moodset for it, before going in, else all is lost.https://t.co/K2ZUU7q6gh— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 26, 2020
Moor Mother, Nichole Mitchell – Offering
If you want to do some representing for #Philadelphia on this particular #BandcampFriday, anything involving @moormother is to be recommended.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 7, 2020
This, just as a random example, because it also features the stupendous Nicole Mitchell @blackearthmuse https://t.co/hDOm1lJ4BQ
Emma-Jean Thackeray – Um Yang
Rangy, spiritous UK jazz, recorded one take straight to disk in Haarlem.
John Foxx & the Maths – Howl
1979 me – wut caught John Foxx, fronting Ultravox for the final time, at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, on the Ides of March – cannot recommend this – wut he's released at age 71 – enough. For your #BandcampFriday enjoyment. https://t.co/yuBysDgDHe— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) October 2, 2020
Elvis Perkins – Creation Myths
New @ElvisPerkins. The writing is lovely, the singing and production a bit less vaporous and a shade more Lennonesque than on his last. Pleasurable in much the way that the "EP in Dearland" records were. As a longtime fan, I'm digging it.#BandcampFriday https://t.co/4GNoibCeDB— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) October 2, 2020
Chad Taylor Trio – The Daily Biological
Recommended this a month ago, and repeating myself for #BandcampFriday. This collection led by Chad Taylor [drums] w/ @neilpodgurski [piano] & @briansettles [tenor saxophone] has only grown on me since. Feels like the times, much as Charles Mingus once did [mais, sans bass]. https://t.co/UwoB0p0ZTI— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) June 5, 2020
Tristan Perich – Drift Multiply
Mark Twain said Paris is where good Americans go when they die.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 20, 2020
When I go, I want to go somewhere's as I can
experience experiences like @tristanperich's "Drift Multiply"
in a room
with live performers
and live listeners.
[A post-life conundrum for sure!]https://t.co/jhDDxGisOt
Rob Mazurek– Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust
This has proven to be a sound and correct recommendation:
Pre-order time: coming later this month, an expansive spacy supersession from many of the most exciting, absurdly probative musicians in and around the Greater Chicagoland bardo.#BandcampFridayhttps://t.co/gksIddcAUL— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 7, 2020
Numinous – The Grey Land
If you hadn't already snapped it up on release, #BandcampFriday is a proper occasion to procure @Numinousmusic's "The Grey Land". Thoughtfully crafted, high, broad, and various in its musical approaches, heartening and heartfelt in its grip on the times.https://t.co/upogG8s5aU— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) December 4, 2020
Richard Valitutto – nocturnes and lullabies
Friends: #RichardValitutto has been key to @wildup and key to @gnarwhallaby, and heaven knows what else. The "Nocturnes" program he did at @CalArtsREDCAT a couple of years back is one of the most marvelous things I've heard.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) February 17, 2020
I pre-ordered. Do likewise. https://t.co/yIgeER4B61
Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith – Peradam
"The Rat"— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) September 6, 2020
Chris Kallmyer – Gimmie Mountain Language
Light and Space guitar from the great Yonder.
Smoke Fairies – Darkness Brings the Wonders Home
John Hollenbeck – Songs You Like a Lot
Third, presumably final, installment in the "Like A Lot" mythos. If you haven't been following it, you should - most particularly the soul-searing Jimmy Webb arrangements in Episode 1 - and if you have been following, you don't need me to tell you. Essential, any which way.
Hubert Dupont, Antoine Berjeaut, Steve Argüelles – Trio Kosmos
French trumpeter Antoine Berjeaut released an under the radar, groove driven album with Makaya McCraven at the tail of 2019. Here, he features in an improvisational trio with electric bass, drums, and diverse atmosphères électroniques. End result spends time mostly in zones between "Silent" Miles and Jon Hassell. Do not sleep on it.
Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
Pleasantly surprised to find that the far beyond satisfactory @Mattberninger solo debut [produced by world historical music giant @BookerTJones] is available on @Bandcamp.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) October 22, 2020
Good on @ConcordRecords, for letting that be so.https://t.co/Y2IYv5LzTX
Irreversible Entanglements – Who Sent You?
Moor Mother throwing, or tearing, every last thing down over viciously incisive free jazz. That's it. That's the tweet. That's the answer. First IE album may be even better.
James Brandon Lewis, Chad Taylor – Live in Willisau
This only came to my attention in the last moments of the year, just in time to find a place of honour on the List.
Saxophone. Drums. And on two rather lovely numbers: mbira.
The essence of improvised creative music, there for all to absorb.
This year, nothing else has so captured the actions of Focusing and Making in the Moment, as they fly, in the moment of focusing and making.
There is apparently a quintet recording coming in 2021 with Taylor and Lewis at the heart of it, and I canna' hardly wait.
Marc Sabat & the Harmonic Space Orchestra – Gioseffo Zarlino (2015/2019)
And, oh yeah, this too for Purest Etherea, as commended with good cause by @nightafternight.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 7, 2020
Drink deep and dive, slowly slowly, bubble bubble, exhale, expand, evaporate.#BandcampFridayhttps://t.co/qUMxit3NVq
Tori Handsley – As We Stand
Roomful of Teeth – Just Constellations
Wordless voices + persistent reverberation + just intonation tuning = a still spot in the churning turning cosmos.
Josh Johnson – Freedom Exercise
The "new kid" in this year's realization of the Chicago Underground Quartet, this is Josh Johnson's initial outing as a bandleader and it chugs and grooves scrumptiously.
Jacob Cooper – Terrain
Ambient art song.
Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl – Artlessly Falling
This too has proven to be a sound and correct recommendation. May also contain non-negligible quantities of Top Drawer Racket.
Mary Halvorson's scintillant #CodeGirl band, with multiple guest spots from the eternal/ineffable Robert Wyatt. If that doesn't sell you, sight unseen sound unheard, I got nuthing.#BandcampFriday https://t.co/1KT4hWHfDe— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 7, 2020
Brother’s Testament – 4:7
Sounding good today:— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) April 2, 2020
"4:7" by Brother's Testament @BrosTestament. A recommendable cuvee of UK fusion with pastoral/ruminative keyboard interludes from leader Munashe-Caleb Manyumbu.https://t.co/3kwnYydoiA
Michael Vincent Waller – A Song
Lucian Ban / John Surman / Mat Maneri – Transylvanian Folk Songs: The Bela Bartók Field Recordings
Not releasing until May 15, but the preview track is entrancing: semi-improvised jazz reversions of, as the title says, Transylvanian Folk Songs collected in the early 20th C field recordings of Béla Bartók. Make it new, as Dreadful Ezra used to advise.https://t.co/m3VCCNSV3Y— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) April 8, 2020
Tomeka Reid / Alexander Hawkins – Shards and Constellations
Cello and piano. Mostly AACM-prov, plus Leroy Jenkins' "Albert Ayler…" & a luxe take on Muhal Richard Abrams' "Peace on You".
Sarah Kirkland Snider – Mass for the Endangered
Mass for the Endangered was originally commissioned and premiered through Trinity Church Wall Street as one of a series of new mass settings by contemporary composers. Sarah Kirkland Snider writing for singers is always a fine thing, and her Mass reunites her with poet Nathaniel Bellows from the 2015 song cycle Unremembered [#2 here that year]. A beautiful choral meditation on the fraught state of the bloom and buzz of non-human life.
Ambrose Akinmusire– on the tender spot of every calloused moment
Stumped: this thing is terrific, but I cannot distill it down to tell you why. Take it on faith and listen.
Caetano Veloso and Ivan Sacerdote – Caetano Veloso and Ivan Sacerdote
Caetano Veloso's voice and guitar are as soothing a sound as exists, here joined by fluid and surprising clarinet from Ivan Sacerdote. Ted Gioia noted this one early in the year, wondering why it was getting so little attention. It's a mystery to me as well. Quietly crystalline comfort music.
Nubya Garcia – Source
A superb player [saxophone], composer and bandleader, Nubya Garcia incorporates as globe-girdling a catalog of musics – anyone for cumbia? – as anyone in London into her full to bursting full-length debut.
BEST OF THE REST - 51 More Morsels
~Nois – Is This ~Nois?
Aaron Parks – Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man
Alex Sadnik – Self Portrait Delay
Arandel – inBach
Arthur Russell – The Deer in The Forest: March 2, 1985 Live at Roulette
Bebel Gilberto – Agora
Ben Goldberg – Plague Diary
Carlos Nino & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – Chicago Waves
Caroline Davis and Rob Clearfield’s Persona – Anthems Live
Charles Mingus – Charles Mingus @ Bremen 1964 & 1975
Charlotte Mundy – Morton Feldman – Three Voices
Clarice Jensen – the experience of repetition as death
Cosmic Vibrations ft. Dwight Trible – Pathways and Passages
David Thomas Broughton – Live at the Rose Hill
David Tranchina Large-ish Ensemble – The Ogre
Gabriel Kahane, Oregon Symphony – emergency shelter intake form
Gavin Gamboa - RQM après-Berlioz
Giacomo Fiore – Catherine Lamb // point/wave
Imperial Valley – Imperial Valley
J.R. Bohannon/Ben Greenberg/Ryley Walker – For Michael Ripps
James Holden, Waclaw Zimpel – Long Weekend EP
Jon Hassell – Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two)
Jyoti – Mama You Can Bet!
Lakecia Benjamin – Pursuance: The Coltranes
Louise Bock – Sketch for Winter VII - Abyss: For Cello
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – What I Did on My Long ‘Vacation’
Maria Pomianowska Project – Sukotherapy
Matt Christensen – Mo Pussyfooting
Matthew Halsall – Salute to the Sun
Max de Wardener w/ Kit Downes – Music for Detuned Pianos
Michi Wiancko – Planetary Candidate
Morgan Guerin – The Saga III
Nichole M. Mitchell – EarthSeed
Nick Norton – Lake Village Inn West
Oliver Coates – skins n slime
Pieta Brown – We Are Not Machines (triptych)
Roberto Carlos Lange - Kite Symphony, Four Variations
Rollmottle – It’s a Miracle We’re All Still Alive
Roomful of Teeth – The Ascendant
Sam Gendel – Satin Doll
Sunda Arc - Tides
Susan Alcorn – The Heart Sutra (Arranged by Janel Leppin)
Taylor Swift – folklore
The Necks – Three
Thomas Bartlett – Shelter
Tim Munro – Christopher Cerrone: Liminal Highway
Travis LaPlante, Yarn/Wire – Inner Garden
Uncivilized – Garden
Van Hunt – fifti
X – Alphabetland
yMusic – Ecstatic Science
Photo by the blogger: Off season foyer and escalator, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles.