We continue our fortnight of top tens looking back at 2020 and looking forward to 2021:
Let’s be honest, 2020 was hardly a barrel of laughs for anyone. Having said that, it was a pretty impressive year for new music even with all the debilitating issues that the industry had to face up to. In our series of top tens that we’ve chosen to end 2020 with we have tried to largely represent the great and good of the year. But we are Picky Bastards, after all. Here are the music related moments in the last 12 months that left us feeling a little less that happy:
Fran: Fuck me. I was so fucking hyped. Green Man and Deer Shed tickets in my pockets. Michael Kiwanuka, Nadine Shah, LUMP, The Murder Capital, The Twilight Sad, Dream Wife, Ghostpoet. All these acts I should have been seeing while getting piss wet through in a field and drinking lukewarm but lovely beer. In case anyone hasn’t said this already, fuck COVID19. The fucking fuck.
James: Overall I felt hugely let down with New Me, Same Us. A new Little Dragon album, and a new label in Ninja Tune, should have been a match made in heaven. And for the first five songs it was. It really was. This could have been a cracking EP on the way to their best album yet. Instead we got six lifeless songs needlessly tacked on to the end.
Sam: Hurtling into 2020 with all of the positivity I could have, my most anticipated album was definitely Notes On A Conditional Form by The 1975. Some of the other Picky B’s may have you believe that The 1975 have always been terrible, but I’m not here to tell you why they are wrong. Fans were heading into an album that started with a speech by Greta Thunberg, a raucous rock call to arms in ‘People’, and an intriguing electronic glitchy pop hit in ‘Frail State of Mind’. This album was either going to be their all time best, or a total mess. Sadly it ended up as the latter, full of endless songs that go nowhere, a sappy ‘bro love’ song ‘Guys’ and a seemingly never ending tracklist. Some of the best singles of 2020 are on this record – ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’ to be more precise, but little else to make this not a massive disappointment for me.
Fran: You’ve all heard me talk about IDLES. Ultra Mono was a guaranteed album of the year contender, right? Well, no actually. I’ve been searching the annals for a time I have been so let down by so many aspects of an album, after loving the first two so much that I may well have married them if they’d asked me.
3 songs aside (‘Reigns’, ‘A Hymn’, ‘Grounds’) this felt like a band that had already run out of ideas and was now just shouting words that rhymed into a microphone. ‘Model Village’ went beyond just being a less good version of one of their old songs for me, though; its litany of stereotypes, division, and misrepresentations made me question whether I still believed everything IDLES had been saying so far. And there lay the biggest disappointment of all…
Nick: Nick Cave made the best of the situation, by recording what was apparently an amazing, career-defining, bloody annoying set of piano renditions at Alexandra Palace during lockdown.
Bloody annoying because I managed to miss that performance. I expected, like the last two projects Cave has done (20000 days on Earth and One more time with feeling), that it would be turned into a profoundly powerful cinematic experience, and it was, but then two days before the screening the second UK lockdown hit, and I was stuck with only the album version to obsess over. I was about as angry as Stagger Lee.
Fran: I have long since moved away from the music I loved in my teens and early twenties, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I still held a space in my heart for Noel Gallagher and Ian Brown. Their music soundtracked a decade of my life, after all. So it was particularly disappointing to see them prove they’re as stupid as everyone has always told me they are by spouting Covid conspiracies on social media and convincing people that there was no need to wear a mask. Just fuck off, will you? This was particularly upsetting as they are two artists who are so synonymous with the city I live in and love, but what was even more galling was when Noel suggested people should eschew masks on public transport while he was probably in the backseat of his chauffeur-driven Mercedes. Total. Dick.
Now, to avoid my mum experiencing the same levels of disappointment as I did, can you all please make sure she doesn’t find out what a total ringpiece Van Morrison made of himself in 2020…
James: The industry excuse you often hear when, for example, another festival line up is announced which is 95% men, is that “it simply reflects the music that’s coming out right now”. We all know that’s not true. Fran has very eloquently delved into the issue for us before.
While you might easily level the criticism of ‘white men with guitars’ at BBC 6Music, the station has made real efforts to diversify recently. That’s why their 2020 top ten albums list was hugely disappointing. I’m not saying they’re bad albums (not all of them anyway), but Nadine Shah being the only woman named in the whole list is really poor. Ok we have Al Greenwood (drummer in Sports Team) and unnamed guests with Sault (Cleo Sol?) but even then it’s hardly representative.
The difference is even more stark when other lists have been dominated by the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Waxahatchee, Laura Marling, Fiona Apple, Dua Lipa, Charli XCX, Taylor Swift, HAIM, Rina Sawayama, Jessie Ware, Roisin Murphy, Chloe X Halle, Taylor Swift (again), Kelly Lee Owens, Meghan Thee Stallion, This is the Kit, Adrienne Lenker, Julianna Barwick, Billy Nomates, Sevdaliza, Lady Gaga, Katy J Pearson, Lianne La Ha…
Sam: I’m definitely the only person on the Picky B’s team who gives a shit about the Grammy Awards, but I go ALL IN on awards season. This year’s Grammy nominations were looking really interesting. A Best Rock Performance category featuring only women? Amazing. Michael Kiwanuka, Phoebe Bridgers, CHIKA and Arca getting their first nominations? Amazing. The biggest song and artist of 2020 missing out on any nominations at all? Not amazing.
We’ve seen really popular acts miss out on the big categories in recent years, Ariana and Ed Sheeran come to mind, so that’s just a bit strange. But The Weeknd being excluded from every category included Pop Performance for the unavoidable ‘Blinding Lights’ and Pop Vocal Album for the equally amazing After Hours is just ludicrous. Add into that some of the bonkers choices for Album of the Year including a Coldplay album most had forgotten about, a compilation from arranger Jacob Collier, and an album that was eligible last year and somehow still made it this time, Black Pumas, and the whole thing just seems fishy to me.
Matt: Donald Glover is one of the most talented creatives of our generation. No doubt about it. Whether he is acting, directing, or making music as his alter-ego Childish Gambino I’m on board. He has not put a foot wrong in years. And the hype surrounding his music has become really intense after his critically acclaimed album Awaken my love and then the massive viral hit ‘This is America’.
So when when he surprise drops the album 3.15.20, I was a wee bit excited. On first listen I was curious. He’d taken a page from the Blood Orange playbook and made something experimental and amorphous. After many attempts to get into the album, instead of it being a new creative highpoint, it felt pretty rudderless. Devoid of hooks and lyrically weaker than his recent efforts.
I forgot this album even existed, until I looked through what I’ve listened to this year. NYC entered lockdown within a week of it’s release so there were other things going on at the time. Still that’s not a good sign for an album I’d been waiting 2 years to listen to.
Fran: This one feels almost too serious to belong on a list where we’ve largely been taking potshots at people for not doing what we wanted them to do in 2020. On the other hand, it would’ve been wrong to leave it out. 2020 and the pandemic opened our eyes to a lot of things, but it was particularly disappointing to me and many others to see the total and utter disregard with which our musicians, their crews, and the venues that host their shows, were treated by the government and sections of the general public since March.
For years, twatty politicians have tried to gain credibility by telling us they love Elbow, Florence and the Machine, and Stormzy, and have waxed lyrical about how we have the most important music scene in the history of the world. They love to bang on about it. This year they had the chance to put their money where their lieholes are. Instead, they allowed the people and places that have been propping up one of our most important industries to rot, and even had the gall to release an advertising campaign saying that they should retrain for a role in cyber. The only people in 2020 who clearly demonstrated how badly they need to retrain for another role were a bunch of white Eton boys (and Priti Patel).
And now, in just the last few days, they have laid a final kick in the ribs to an industry that is already on its knees by not including musicians and their crews on the list of workers who won’t need visas to work in Europe post-Brexit.
Stormzy said it best long before the shitshow that was 2020 reared its ugly head, so I’ll leave you with his capable words; ‘Fuck the government and fuck Boris.’