A year in music*

"We’re not repeating history/Just the parts that sucked

-Ben Folds, “2020”

For every year since 2001, I cobbled together a list of my favorite albums of the year. I’d share it with friends via e-mail. Then those lists morphed into extensive posts on this blog. 

This year, I do not have an extensive list of albums, but I do have a near-three-hour Spotify playlist of tunes that caught my ear

I really loved Hum’s surprise album Inlet, as it sounds like the natural progression from Downward is Heavenward. Dogleg’s Melee shows a young post-hardcore/emo band that has a lot of promise. And an EP from a bus driver in Denton recording under the name It Me shows he should make this one-man project into a fully-formed band. 

Why did I opt out of exploring entire albums en masse in 2020? Well, my mind was on other, much more important, matters. Having the focus to devote 30-55 minutes to a new album while working or driving was difficult. I don’t think I’m alone here. 

This was not the year we expected when we were in January. As winter gave way to spring, the effects of the pandemic and highly-divisive politics were too powerful to ignore. I opted to not shift my attention onto a lot of albums when daily life got really ugly and scary. Furthermore, I did not think too much about what I wanted to say in December. (Writing this in early December, March feels like it was only a couple of months ago.) 

I lived too long being way more invested in music, books, and movies than thinking and caring about the needs of other people. It took a long time, but it came to a heavy understanding this year. As in, why should I think so much about an album when former co-workers of mine struggled to breathe in a hospital room or quarantined in their own home? 

I decided to shift my priorities for the betterment of myself this year, especially after finding out through a professional psychological diagnosis on how my brain works. Having a seemingly definitive opinion about this album or that album was low on the priority list. Caring and thinking about those affected by the virus or systemic racism was way more important than debating Bryan St. Pere’s drum sound. 

I’ll always love music and discussing it, but I don’t need to have my tastes validated. I don’t need to shove music down anyone’s throat. And I should not feel attacked if people don’t like what I champion. 

When my freelance music journalism was put on hold in the spring (for extremely understandable reasons), I focused on researching my third book and narrating an audiobook for my friend Tim. My band Caved Mountains finished recording our self-titled debut album and released it in the fall. Music was still a big factor in my life, along with reading a few books, as well as watching a lot of TV and movies with Hope. I was not afraid to confront the reality of a touring and promotion industry having to make a full stop. 

For the past 11 years, much of what I wrote for alt-weeklies stemmed from promoting albums through the touring industry. With no touring and barely any local shows to write about, I withdrew from actively pursuing new music -- relying more on Spotify suggestions and recommendations from my wife and friends. I had no mass audience to answer to, which was a relief. I felt zero pressure to have an opinion on artists I don’t care about.  

I saw the great Canadian power pop band Sloan play in March, not thinking there would come a day when I didn’t know what the next show I would see, or if my band would play a show at all in 2020. I look forward to seeing shows and playing shows someday, but not while a pandemic is still raging. When I don’t have to worry about catching a life-threatening virus from a visit to our local grocery store or touching a cardboard box, I will start to feel comfortable in a crowded venue with loud music again. 

This year has opened me up to understanding more about the human condition. Music, sports, books, and movies are great, but they aren’t everything. Especially in a year like this.