2020 was the year of the pandemic, massive lockdowns, and economic disruptions, but personally, it was the year of acceptance.
I did not listen to music as excessively as in the previous years, but I was lucky that some of my favourite artists are still releasing great music to get me through the year. My Spotify wrapped results were very much like my playlist in the first quarter of 2020, that even my most played song was “Tattoos Together” by Lauv, followed by four other songs I listened to from my pre-pandemic playlist.
My top artist of the year is still Pet Shop Boys – I think it is already the fourth year in a row now. Not only that I listened to their latest album “Hotspot”, but also to their previous releases that I include in multiple Spotify playlists. The Lightning Seeds came second, and I mostly listened to “All I Want” and “Lucky You”, hoping that one day I could play the drum part of these songs.
In general, those are my top songs and top artists according to Spotify. But of course, I have my own Top 20 of 2020..
1. NEW ORDER – Be A Rebel
Unlike those from Music Complete, “Be A Rebel” was like a song that came out from their 1993 album ‘Republic’ or 2001 album ‘Get Ready’. In the pandemic times, suggesting someone be a rebel was surely something to be careful of. Especially when their fellow Mancunians Gallagher brothers and Ian Brown have been refusing to wear face masks. But after reading the lyrics thoroughly, it seems that it has a positive vibe in general that can be applied even beyond the pandemic. After all, they said, be a rebel, not a devil
2. BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT – It’s Alright, It’s OK
Bright Light Bright Light has released yet another superb album with amazing collaborations from the LGBTQ+ synthpop and electropop scene. From the up-and-coming singer-songwriter Brendan Maclean, producer and DJ Sam Sparro, and indie-electropop band Caveboy, to well-known singer-songwriter Jake Shears (formerly in Scissor Sisters), and synthpop legend Andy Bell of Erasure.
For me, Fun City was the album of the year. Not only that it was filled with catchy songs, but also empowering lyrics that give a voice to the LGBTQ+ community. This song, for example, opens a conversation about gender identity, especially for non-binary and trans people.
View this post on Instagram
Other notable singles from the album include “I Used To Be Cool”, “This Was My House” (feat. Niki Haris, Donna De Lory, and Initial Talk), “Good At Goodbyes” (feat. Andy Bell), “Sensation” (feat. Jake Shears), “You Make It Easy, Don’t You” (feat. Sam Sparro). I also hope that “Touchy” (feat. Brendan Maclean) and the very touching track “Next To You” (feat. Mark Gatiss) will also be released as singles. I get the shivers every time I listen to Mark Gatiss speaking in this song.
3. PET SHOP BOYS – Monkey Business
To be honest, this was not my most favourite track from the album, but “Monkey Business” is a catchy tune with a touch of 1970’s dancefloor disco that makes you want to dance. In fact, there was this hashtag #MonkeyBusinessDance where Pet Shop Boys fans danced to “Monkey Business” from their homes. It really was a fun way to exercise during the lockdown, and of course, Pet Shop Boys always has a nice and rather unusual choreography – which makes me like them even more.
If you want to learn to dance to “Monkey Business”, their choreographer Lynne Page is here to show you how:
View this post on Instagram
4. GORILLAZ featuring PETER HOOK and GEORGIA – Aries
Apart from Bright Light Bright Light’s “Fun City”, Gorillaz’s “Sound Machine” was another 2020 album that featured an array of outstanding musicians, from Beck to Robert Smith to Elton John to.. this. Let’s admit that we all miss Peter Hook playing bass in a new track, something that is not Joy Division 30+-year-old song. And Georgia is definitely an all-around musician that can top the UK electropop in the future (or is she already now?). I listened to her “24 Hours” intensively in the first months of 2020, during my travels by Transjakarta bus from the office to my drum course in Pejaten – which fit perfectly since you can see her playing drums on endless loops in Spotify.
Anyway, “Aries” is definitely a track that catches everyone’s attention the first time you listened to it.
5. JESSIE WARE – What’s Your Pleasure
‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ is the latest album from Jessie Ware with disco-fueled tracks and this song is definitely one of the highlights. It gave the same sensuality and excitement the way Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder did back in the late 1970s. The album is also a “thank you” to the LGBTQ community, and you can even watch a dance version of the videos “What’s Your Pleasure” and “Save A Kiss” that featured LGBTQ dancers and fans.
6. CIAO LUCIFER – geB eM ekaM
Ciao Lucifer was one of the artists who performed at e-rasmus huis, the new online platform for Dutch Cultural Centre Erasmus Huis, last year and I was so happy to see the happy-go-lucky best friends performing again with Bandung electronic-pop creative duo Bottlesmoker. Last year, they released “?pU gniworG nevE eW erA”, a remix album of their full album “Are We Even Growing Up?” released last year. Yes, the title of the remix album is just the title of their full album spelled backward. And so are the songs – all of them are spelled backward. My personal favourite is this one, a remix of “Make Me Beg” – with electropop chiptune that I could just listen to again and again and again the whole day.
7. MOBY (feat. D.H. Peligro) – Power Is Taken
Moby is probably one of the most influential artists, in a political sense, in the past one and a half-decade of my life. And this was simply one of the reasons why. He has been openly voicing his opinions against Donald Trump’s presidency, and this song clearly does that. Featuring D.H. Peligro of Dead Kennedys on vocals, the song is a very strong political message.
We who hate oppression
Must fight against the oppressors
Power is not shared
Power is taken
8. ERASURE – Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)
Erasure is back with a new album ‘The Neon’ and it reminded me of Soft Cell’s 2018 album ‘Keychains and Snowstorms’ which had a neon theme cover. But unlike ‘Keychains and Snowstorms’ (that was basically another greatest hits album of Soft Cell), ‘The Neon’ consists of ten brand new tracks from Andy Bell and Vince Clarke. The album took me back to the mid-2000s of ‘Night Bird’ and ‘Light At The End Of The World’, with a very strong synth-signature of Vince Clarke that you can hear in almost every track. Their first single was this catchy “Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)” and it really gave me the same feeling of listening to “Sunday Girl” which I used to listen to intensively while taking the P15 Metro Mini bus from Sabang to my former office in Pasar Baru.
9. KODI JAMES – What’s On Your Mind
Kodi James was one of the artists that I found from the amazing Billboard’s Queer Necessities Spotify playlist, and it was probably one of the most promising queer artists of the year. Obsessed with Elizabeth Taylor (as his first single implies), his three singles give you 1980s sensuality and cassette tapes nostalgia.
“What’s On Your Mind” is filled with synthesisers, 80s electric drums, and new romantic saxophone sounds. It was like listening to Wham’s “Careless Whisper” and Spandau Ballet’s “True” with a touch of vocals of Pete Burns and Andy Bell.
10. TIGA & HUDSON MOHAWKE – Love Minus Zero
The first time I listened to this song back in June, I was totally hooked. I just put this song on my “currently listening” playlist, so that I could start the day feeling energised. Surely if there were no pandemic, this song would be a great hit for a rave party or something – which I would never go, but it was still nice imagining dancing alone to this song under one of those festival tents.
11. LAUV – Tattoos Together
This is the ultimate guilty pleasure of the year. I must admit I am not a big fan of Lauv, but I just could not get this earworm out of my head for the whole month of January. The video is also a funny one, which somehow reminded me of The 1975’s “Sincerity Is Scary”.
12. TROYE SIVAN – In A Dream
Another earworm that I just could not stop listening to, with such addictive beats that made me feel like wanting to jump out of my seats and dance. Just like its predecessor single “Easy”, “In A Dream” gives you a feeling of in motion, as if you were sitting in the backseat as the car was driving through the city at midnight.
13. MARTIN GORE – Mandrill
Martin Gore is back with a new single and “Mandrill” really gives you a sense of being approached by a beasty primate on a pitch-black night, although I bet mandrills are not as beasty as humans. The song has this distinctive heavy synth-bass, phaser synths, and bass drum kicks of Martin Gore that we could hear in some of his previous solo works (and his VCMG project with Vince Clarke in 2011).
14. BONOBO & TOTALLY ENORMOUS EXTINCT DINOSAURS – Heartbreak
I have been listening to Bonobo since I went to his concert in Amsterdam back in 2010, and even though I missed TEED’s performance at Soulnation Festival a few years back I still follow him both on Spotify and Instagram. So when these two electronic music producers joined forces and released “Heartbreak”, I was so stoked.
15. OORCONTACT – Lobule
Finally, the Leiden electronic improvised duo has released their first album! Released under No Hand Records, the album only consists of two songs: Vestibule and Lobule. I like “Lobule” better than “Vestibule”, although I recommend you not to listen to it in the middle of the night because you might hear some eerie sounds.
16. PAUL HEATON & JACQUI ABBOTT – A Good Day Is Hard To Find
Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott are still on a songwriting spree as they released yet another new album “Manchester Calling” with 16 new tracks. “A Good Day Is Hard To Find” is the second single from their fourth studio album, released just slightly before the pandemic hit. Since Paul could not meet Jacqui to make a music video, he gathered his neighbours to help him making the video.
17. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – Damsel In Distress
The pandemic time felt much bearable with the availability of online concerts and music sessions from your favourite artists, including Rufus Wainwright who every morning provides us with #Quarantunes #RobeSession from the comfort of his own home. Every day he played his old and new songs, including my personal favourites “Vibrate” and “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk”.
“Damsel in Distress” is one of the singles he released for his latest studio album “Unfollow The Rules”, and the guitar riff on the intro reminded me of the black cab session of his 2012 single “Jericho”.
18. BALLADS OF THE CLICHÉ – Step Out And Dance
The Jakarta indiepop band Ballads of the Cliché is back and the new single is a very catchy, happy, upbeat song called “Step Out And Dance”. It gave a fresh, new vibe when compared to their previous release in ‘Pictures’. I went to the release day of the single at Duck Down Bar Kemang in February, just a few weeks before the pandemic hit. It was a gezellig reunion filled with old gig friends where Satria played some indie hits like Rumah Sakit’s “Hilang” and Pure Saturday’s “Kosong”.
View this post on Instagram
19. JOSEF SALVAT – In The Afternoon
“In The Afternoon” was released in the second half of January and it immediately became one of the most played songs in my playlist that month.
20. TRAVIS (featuring SUSANNA HOFFS) – The Only Thing
I must admit that I have not been very excited over Travis’s new album ’10 Songs’. There was something lacking from their old formula that I could not get in this album. But this song, where they featured former vocalist of The Bangles Susanna Hoffs, gave me a similar feeling to when I listened to their ballads from ‘The Man Who’ or ‘The Invisible Band’. Strangely enough, when the first time I listened to this song, I thought it was KT Tunstall (whom they collaborated in “Under The Moonlight” of their ‘The Boy With No Name’ album).
ON THE SUBSTITUTE BENCH:
FUTURE ISLANDS – For Sure
Future Islands released a brand new album “As Long As You Are” last year, and it is still filled with all those heavy-synth and thick bass sounds as well as the strong bass-baritone vocals of Samuel Herring. However, I felt like there was nothing special from any of the singles.. I was almost put this in the Top 20, but Martin Gore’s “Mandrill” was released and so this song had to be out.
BEST ALBUMS OF 2020
1. BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT – Fun City
2. JESSIE WARE – What’s Your Pleasure
3. PET SHOP BOYS – Hotspot
4. ERASURE – The Neon
5. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – Unfollow The Rules