Hey! Top forty ! This is a nice, normal, manageable list isn’t it? Should I maybe have just limited 2020’s best songs to this workable and succinct top 40 list? What, and not mention Wock in Stock or I Don’t Know, Burn Stuff? I’m not sure I’d ever be able to forgive myself.
That’s all the introduction you’re getting, parts one and two were more than enough foreplay, there are some absolute modern classics in this final countdown, and if you’re as half as surprised as me at what comes out on top…
Maybe, I mean, I still might change it…
A very ‘Fiona Apple’ Fiona Apple song, but that is obviously entirely a Good Thing. Lyrically, it’s untouchable, with Ms Apple taking issue with dinner party conversation and refusing to be silenced (“Kick me under the table all you want/I won’t shut up…I would beg to disagree/But begging disagrees with me”). Amongst the barbed and often hilarious response to tension, she also manages to squeeze in some absolutely amazing lyrical asides:
I’d like to buy you a pair of pillow-soled hiking boots
To help you with your climb
Or rather, to help the bodies that you step over, along your route
So they won’t hurt like mine
I’m going to be really noncommittal and say that Under the Table is definitely one of the best lyrics of the year. Don’t make me choose. No, seriously, don’t make me choose, you know I’d just give it to a 1993 Manics’ lyric and ruin the legitimacy of the whole operation.#
This. This. This. Running Hot With Fate proves that when Hallelujah the Hills are in the mood they can create anthemic indie rock as good as damn near anyone else. An absolutely perfect E-Street Band homage that would even get that dead skunk that’s been decomposing in between your walls for the last three months to bust a move. Absolutely infectious, absolutely euphoric, absolutely brilliant.
Yeah, I called it ‘perfect’. I told you it was a good year. You can assume every killer track from this point onward is ‘perfect’.
Damn you, heartbreakingly beautiful pop ballads! My one weakness.
I sit and I stare at your clothes in the drawer
I cry and my knuckles get sore
‘Cause I still believe it won’t be like before
And now somehow I just want you more
And when you decide it’s your time to arrive
I’ve loved you for all of my life
And nothing could stop me from giving a try
I’ve loved you for all of my life
Sorry, I’m *sniff* going to have to take a moment…
Do-di-da-diddle-da-do-do-do-da-do… Jesus Christ, I just wet myself and ejaculated, I didn’t even know that was possible…
One of the greatest rock songs of the 90s (yeah, I said it), featuring perhaps JDB’s greatest rock God posturing performance, and absolutely blader rupturing drumming from Sean Moore. As I’ve said, I don’t want to say too much about the Manics songs, as there may be an opportunity for that soon, but, seriously, fuck me sideways, what a tune.
Do-do-da-diddle-da-do… Bollocks, it’s happened again…
Gee, thanks for spelling out that acronym, Ms Nokia, you don’t want people to not realise your album highlight spells out a dirty word. Perhaps such eager profanity is part of the reason I thought Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T) was the one song on either of her 2020 albums that I really felt was in sync with the Princess Nokia persona. Yeah, I know, it’s a ‘I’m telling you, I cannot move for all the haters!’ song, wich usually bore me to tears, but when they’re done this well I can’t help but allow it. Plus, the way she says the last word in the line “Sometimes it works out for people/Sometimes it really just doesn’t” may be 2020’s greatest throwing of shade.
My God, where do you start with Fate Is? That blast on feedback about seven seconds into the intro? The way it changes tempo and focus for the first verse? The chorus “Only reason that I did it was to find out what it’s like, it’s like!”? The way the singer’s voice cracks as she delivers the chorus? The final line “Fate is drawing back its leg to kick me”?
Every second of this amazing rock song delivers new reasons to love it.
Yeah, I know, I’m pretty sure there’s only one more to come. Pretty sure…
‘Gold Against the Soul‘ was the Manics pulling their best rock star poses, hoping to gain more traction both in the UK and the US by sounding close to post-grunge bands such as Alice and Chains and Soundgarden. Despite featuring some of the best songs of the era (fight me), ‘GATS’ did next to nothing commercially (and literally nothing in the US). By the time they were recording B-sides for the album’s fourth and final single release Life Becoming a Landslide they were obviously sick of the ineffective pandering, and recorded a jagged and furious post-punk classic that would prove extremely prescient regarding the strange and antagonistic places they would take their music on the next album.
I may well be the only person on the planet who was underwhelmed and disappointed by Rina’s debut album, where far too few genre experiments failed the land and there was a chronic lack of killer tunes*. STFU,however, is exactly what I wanted from the album, with an impetuously charismatic vocal performance hanging off an idisputably killer song.
(*right?? It can’t just be me! Name m more than one certified Banger from that album!)
“I lost my city in the night of day/Thick smoke helicopter blades…” Damn, this song though?!
If I had to answer the question ‘What kind of music do you like?’- which I honestly usually give the worst possible answer (“All sorts, really… Big fan of Oasis…”)- I’d try and explain that I like music that sounds like it has to exist, music that sounds like unseen and unknown forces were conspiring to ensure its very existence, music that sounds like the artists are mere vessels through which the universe deigned worthy of allowing to translate and deliver into our universe. Music that has a relentless propulsion and charge that seems doggedly marshalled by the Gods of fate, as if they are desperate to translate this message of metamorphic importance.
So, yeah, Temple is like that, yeah?
OK, keep it on the down low- low key, yeah, kids?- but the astonishing Rough 7 may be my favourite ever JPEGMAFIA song. And, holy shit, Tommy Genesis?! I had never heard of her before this scene stealing guest spot, but the woman’s a freaking star!
I think I’m insane, do you love me?
I think I just came, do you trust me?
When I stare hard, you get ugly
I just look away at the money
I don’t come from money but they say I look expensive
He lay me on the table with a bag ’cause I’m his pension
If you with me, won’t go hungry (Uh-uh)
If you with me, call me mommy
Fuckin’ with a ghost in my body
Pray to the pussy like, “haunt me”
Stretch marks on my skull, I wasn’t made for me at all
Cut me open with your jaw, lick the writing on the wall
Legitimately, one of the greatest and most perfectly crafted rock songs in history. A new wave rock song that it would take the rest of the world at least a couple of years to catch up to, and that predicted the prevalent rock sound for the entire next decade. The fact that it’s one of Prince’s most covered songs- Cyndi Lauper’s hit version being only the most famous of dozens– speaks to how well regarded this perfect and previously unforeseeable mixture of new wave rock and club beats is.
On Dirty Mind Prince is still having fun playing with people’s perception of his sexuality, which would continue onto His next album ‘Controversy (which opens with a song asking “Am I black or white?/Am I straight or gay”… but more about that in Necessary Evil 2021…) but was reeled back significantly the bigger he got and the more important he considered heterosexuality as part of his persona. When You Were Mine is possibly His greatest tease, directed at someone who is never gendered but Prince remembers how “I used to let you wear all my clothes, before leading to the intriguing (and somewhat shocking) line:
I never was the kind to make a fuss
When he was there
Sleepin’ in between the two of us
And don’t worry, when Prince included the song on his ‘One Night Alone… Live!‘, he properly renamed the track When U Were Mine.
You took all we had away
You’re quick to call it sick
But we’ve been damned to say
I can’t breathe, it’s a cellphone
Please don’t shoot, I need to get home
I’m on my knees begging please
Gotta admit, some of these songs aren’t as easy to make jokes about as others…
So you’re just following orders
They just keep falling on us
How many more will it last?
Why not just take all of us?
Aaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwww, man! I honestly think the person who has suffered most from Coronavirus is Lady Gaga*,as the freaking marvellous Stupid Love should have been the biggest club hit of the year. It should have been the euphoric sound of two best friends coming up on MDMA at the same time in a packed club at 2:32am on a Sunday morning, it shouldhave been playing in the background when a dozen friends dance in the living room of some unknown guy that they met earlier in te night but ad promised them that the party can keep going at his flat after the clubs close, it should have been sung aloud by a group of six women walking home at 4:21am as they celebrate their friendship and the power of affection…
God, I’ve just depressed myself…
(*I reserve the right to retract that statement. Or even deny that I ever said it if it ever goes to a court of law)
A brilliant perspective on cheating partners, that contains an honesty and inventiveness that 070 Shake has already become a master of and isn’t delivered by any other artist in quite the same way. Ms Shake goes to a party, sees that her significant other is “On another girl’s body”, all standard ‘bastard cheated on me, boo-hoo’ fare so far. However, rather than bemoaning her poor treatment, Ms Shake is actually relieved as she no doesn’t feel so bad about cheating on her partner- “I caught you but you never caught me/I was sitting here waitin’ on karma/There goes my guilty conscience”. A brilliant reversal of standard R&B tropes, and… we’ve all… been there…?
Fuck, file this under Stupid Love– in a just world House Music All Night Long would have been the soundtrack to a million house parties every weekend.
Maybe spilling over into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… Hey, you don’t wanna be the first peson to leave, do you??
Before you go
You’re goin’ nowhere with me
Before you go
You’re goin’ nowhere with me
Really, guys? This is only number 25? This absolute powerhouse of beauty, that worms itself into my very soul each time I hear it, that I want to soundtrack my entire life leading up to my death and then the very death itself? Honestly, number 24 better be a fucking killer tune…
Ah. Another fucking Manics song. Fair enough…
Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooh-whoooooooooooooooo, Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooh-whoooooooooooooooo, you’re-her go-wing nowehere with meeeee-heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey… Fuck, man, this song…
OK, last one, I promise…
La Tristesse Durera is an absolutely towering achievement of a song, and perhaps one of the band’s all time greatest compositons. Again, I don’t want to say too much (watch this space), but LD(STAS) stands out on an album more concerned with striking hard rock poses across the Atlantic, as it sounds more like a bizarre mix of funk and even late 80s Madchester music (Select magazine- sigh, how I miss thee- called it “the last great baggy single”),culminating in a unique sound that is undeniably Manics. Also, to this day, perhaps Nicky Wire’s greatest lyrics.
This… This is quite unlike anything you’re likely to have heard before…
On The Ocean of Mercy, Sightless Pit combine medieval chanting, gothic organs, voices that howl and lamenting… shit, something or other (“Farewell to the forests/And the wild hanging woods/Farewell to the torrents/And the loud pouring floods”), but, shit, if you envelop yourself in this wonderful piece of art- you may have no choice in the matter- then you too will be inconsolable. The fuck happened to all those forests?! And don’t get me started on the torrents!
Ah shit, did I fall for something here? Was The Strokes’ return just shameless pandering to old, fat and regretful saddos like myself? Are they just poking my nostalgia holes and reminding me how much better things were in 2001?
Dropped down the lights, I’m sitting with yaaaar-hoooooo
Moscow, nineten sevent ta-hooooo
Fuck, I don’t care, it worked. Shut up and take my money.
Yeah, I fell for it hard….
Can we just talk about how great a frontman Julian Casablancas is? His delivery of the lines on Bad Decisions, his falsetto here, guy is world class and I feel not enough people appreciate that.
Kid Cudi is absolutely soarin’ (is this allowed) with one of his most complete and greatest ever compositions. Most importantly, on approximately 3:47, the year’s greatest OMT moment. Don’t ask me to explain what that means again…*
(*One More Time, y’see? It’s when a song makes as if it’s winding things down, charging all glasses, ringing the bell, before- KABLAMMO!- it hits you with the chorus one more time! It’s a cheap, dirty trick and I fucking love it.
On the final track of the year’s best album, 070 Shake manages to distil the essence of all of her many talents into one sub-three minute cheat sheet of her brilliance. The sounds are astonishing, the song manages to travel from an upbeat R&B swinger to an anthemic pop classic, before flipping the mood entirely for a synth laden lament of “I don’t feel the rain, not the sun, no” before finally winding down in, sonically, the exact same place that the album started thirteen tracks previously. It’s a neat little trick and oh my God, people, it’s actually embarrassing how you aren’t all 070 Shakes obsessives right now, sort it out, yeah?
Yeah, I know, all of the deep thinkers have already conferred a long time ago and officially decreed that 21st century rock classic When You Were Mine is the greatest song from the album ‘Dirty Mind‘, but something about the opening title track is just freaking irresistible. Perhaps it’s the element of shock and intrepidity, that this was the opening track and the first time you would hear Prince’s radical update of his sound. There’s such a sense of excitement– especially for someone like me who has been working through the commendable, often inspired but too often safe soul of his first two albums for the previous 24 months- when the record opens with a Teutonic and propulsive style more closely resembling Kraftwerk and Neu! than any of Prince’s previous musical touchstones. It seems strange to say- because every song on this list has the things in the right place or they likely wouldn’t be songs- but every sound, every beat, every bass slide, every line just seems so perfectly placed in Dirty Mind. Perhaps it’s the sparseness of production, on his previous albums Prince had often been guilty of overlaying each song with another musical instrument that he can play, but on Dirty Mind everything is so deliberate and singular that you can easily pick out each and every sound that is laid on the track like they were footsteps in a dark alleyway. What a fucking piece of music, what a fucking guy.
Dee-do-diddle-oo-neow-neow-neow, bum-da-digga-da, bum-da-digga-da, bum-da-digga-da…
See what I mean?? This song had to exist, didn’t it?? Perfume Genius didn’t write this shit, as much as I love him I know he’s only human. He was woken up by electrical convulsions early one morning and found himself compelled to enter the recording studio as that seemed to be the only thing that quelled the pins and needles that seemed to be painfully extruding outward from his very brain. He recorded it in one take. The lyrics just came to him. He’s just a vessel for this shit, I’m telling you.
That’s what kind of music I’m into…
Listen, I know that Psalm One/Big $ilky were responsible for a lot of great stuff this year (this is Psalm One’s… fifth entry…? Someone count for me, I honestly don’t have time), but I feel I really need to emphasise how Baby Shower is some next level luminary heavyweight all up in your immediate vision, do you get me? Why this incredibly crafted hip-hop anthem wasn’t the crossover hit of the summer I will never know: there’s nothing to not love here! One hundred and eight views on YouTube! And a good 72 of those were mine! Like, from earlier today… When Angel Davanport explodes into her verse with “I know I’ve been traveling/None of these boys can handle me” I swear you will see God.
Can.. can we really trace all this back to Psalm One being blackballed after speaking up about the abusive and strangulating atmosphere at her former record company…? I’m struggling to find any other reason for this extemporary music to shift more units than quilted toilet paper, and if it can be traced back o that then… that’s a real God damn shame.
Fuck, man, don’t piss off Rhymesayers, they’re like the freaking Illuminati!
Firstly, I was exactly just now year’s old when I first realised it was a singular video game that Mr Stevens was talking about, up until this very moment I have both called this outstanding single ‘Video Games‘ but I have constantly sang the song in keeping with my incorrect reading of the title. Sorry, I might need to sit down, my whole freaking life just got turned upside down…
‘The Ascension‘ is… an admirable album… It’s uncommercial, it’s not designed to be easy to unpack, and it likely isn’t even designed to be loved, but it’s nonetheless a commendable and extremely worthy record. The first single though?? Absolute banger!
OK, peek behind the curtain here, having a look at how the sausage is made, looking… up the wizard’s… sleeve…? Is that the term…? Anyway, just so you know, when I continued writing this list this evening I noticed that, somehow, the absolutely motherfucking pristine Dancing had ended up being ranked as low as number twenty! That was obviously abso-cocking-lutely freaking ridiculous, and I assumed some clerical error was involved. So, I moved a song that electroshocks the butterflies in my stomach before bathing them in asses’ milk as high as it could possibly go.
Yeah, I couldn’t move it any higher than fourteenth. It was a really good year…
Yeah, him again, second song in the top twenty (with no songs from #125 to #18- PG don’t even get out of bed if he ain’t main eventing), but Describe is something else entirely. Combining that perfect Perfume sound with hints of shoegaze, post rock and even industrial, it manages to incorporate heartless and relentlessly chugging grind guitar and still craft it into one of the year’s most beautiful songs.
OK, so I had my issues with Katie Crutchfield’s latest, strange barriers to me giving my body and soul over to her as former records have compelled me to do, but ho-leeeeeeeeeeeeeee shit, Fire might just be the most beautiful thing she’s ever done. The structure is simple but heart-rupteringly effective, the lyrics seem to be ostensibly standard country music ruminations (“West Memphis is on fire in the light of day/Give me something, it ain’t enough/It ain’t enough”) but delivered in a devastatingly broken singing voice that will always reduce you to pathetic soiled particles soon to clog your air conditioning, nothing reinvents the wheel here but all together it’s somehow Earth shattering.
I may be a little bit out of touch sometimes. Very rarely. But sometimes. I’m still not 100% what a ‘Jay Electronica’ is. It has apparently been a notable thing for more than a decade, but I had never heard of it until everyone in 2020 was loudly stressing to me how long awaited this ‘Jay Electronica’ album was. “Like ‘Chinese Democracy’, you mean?” I would often respond, which would usually ensure that they would stop talking to me for the foreseeable future. I thought its rapping sounded a lot like Jay-Z, then found out that actually was Jay-Z. Then it released more stuff and I decided that I could no longer keep up and didn’t bother considering it for NE2020.
TLDR: Flux Capacitor is an absolute tune.
Riding Solo doesn’t introduce anything new to game, it doesn’t throw shapes that we haven’t previously been privileged enough to experience, it doesn’t rip up the rule book in front of a shocked and appalled crowd before announcing that an unhinged new sound will soon be the only acceptable form of music. It’s just a pristinely produced and effortlessly composed gorgeously infectious three minutes of pop/rock, and simply one of the most undeniably potent pieces of pop music released in 2020.
Oh, and, yeah, I obviously initially assumed it’d be about masturbation, like I do with every song, but I’ve since found it hard to locate concrete evidence o that within the lyrics. It’s all subtext, y’know?
Holy Monchengladbach, this song just ticks every box with its huge throbbing penis and tickles every single nubbin* audacious enough to hang as an extremity, does it not? An absolute tour de force from Sumney, far more aggresive an antagonistic than his usual sound, that ends up as one of 2020’s greatest rock songs if you’d even consider this sound to be rock music. I’m not sure there are any guitars, just loud and agitated crashes of brilliant NOISE, but Sumney creates something quite unique and ridiculously exciting.
Oh, and if you’re keeping notes, Virile actually does introduce something new to game, it does throw shapes that we haven’t previously been privileged enough to experience, and it absolutely does rip up the rule book in front of a shocked and appalled crowd before announcing an unhinged new sound that will soon be the only acceptable form of music. Probably why it’s one higher.
(*again, you have to assume, with its huge throbbing cock)
Yeah, yeah, I know, hardly the most crate diggingly left of centre choice on this list, but sometimes songs are obvious and widely appreciated because they’re absolute bangers. A collaboration between Britney Spears hitmaker Max Martin and often bloodied proud drug casualty The Weeknd still seems bizarre, but it resulted in one of 2020’s most agreed upon pop masterpieces.
The last Grimes album was… fine… pretty good, actually… Maybe the 41st best album of the year, but don’t quote me on that until you’ve properly done your research and checked the science. However, it wasn’t an era defining album, it didn’t map out a new direction for both music and human existence, it didn’t stop the spread of the Coronavirus that Grimes clearly knew was on the way, so to people used to Grimes’s talent and potential it couldn’t help but feel a little inconsequential.
When it hit though, by goodness did it hit. When this record’s beat drops at around 42 seconds, fuck me, you will have babies. Then you will rip those babies apart with your bare hands. Then you will fuck the wounds. Then you will eat them. It’s that sort of song. It wants to make you bad, make bad (and it likes it like that and it likes it like that).
The moment towards the end, around 3:16 (what?), when the backing music- maybe a synth, maybe recorded and distorted voices- dissipates into a ‘wee-ya-wee-ya-wee-ya-wee-ya-wee-ya-wee-ya…’? Splooge…
2020 was just a banner year for indie/pop/rock slices of genius that should if there’s any justice be properly considered as modern classics. If Hinds’ Riding Solo wasn’t already good enough (which, to be clear, it absolutely is), Shamir stepped away from his recent more avant garde and sonically abrasive takes on rock music by seemingly effortlessly writing an absolutely immaculate early 90’s alt rock homage. A my dear grandma would say, it’s the absolute perspiring canine’s testicles.
She’d always put ‘perspiring’ in there. I guess the fact that the testicles are sweaty makes them better. It might be an age thing. It was a different time.
Da-do-da-do-da-da-do-da-do-da-da-da… Cooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool water on my broooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow…
Listen, we all know that the latest CSHR album was a bit of a damp squib, so much so that is necessitated a drop from first place all the way down to number sixty-freaking-two. The first single released from it though? Holy mulligatawny, that’s a spicy-a meatball! It caused mild confusion at first back in February 2020, with many commentators grumpily cursing that adding minor electronic sounds to the background of your music is just the most cliched way of ‘evolving your sound’. However, Can’t Cool Me Down proved itself to be a surprisingly subtle and incredibly layered piece of music, an absolutely stunning piece of composition that immediately ranks alongside the band’s very best. Alongside anyone’s very best!
But, yeah, the album’s mostly pish, isn’t it?
OK, these final four songs were the real standouts from 2020, and on a different day, in a different mood, on a different mood enhancer, tied to a different criminal psychologist’s chair, I could have quite easily have named any of them as number one. Raw kinda ends up the loser on the day, but in a good way, yeah?
When I spoke to Don’t Do It, Neil, I told her directly what an incredible piece of music Raw is, how it’s the absolute highpoint of her artistic career thus far, and combines those two DDI,N focal points of intense self flagellation and near violent sexuality better than anything she (or perhaps anyone else) has done so far. It’s an absolute banger as well, feel like it’s important to mention that.
I was like the laziest river
A vulture predisposed to eating off floors
No wait, I take that back
I was more like an ocean
Stuck inside hospital corridors
So, so meaningful. Or, just as possibly, it means absolutely fuck all, and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar is just throwing words together like “A child coos sweet nothings to a box of fuzz” because they sound quite cool, and he was desperate for the chance to exercise his best pregnant pause in the line “I know how to blow…
…bubbles”. I don’t care, and neither should you. There’s a whole lot here to attach whatever meaning you want to, and the end product is simply magical.
Yeah, I know, used-to-almost-be-famous, semi-notable early 90s indie rocker but now more famous for being a seemingly professional Twitter curmudgeon, Luke Haines, was apparently partly responsible for the second best song of the year twenty twenty. Partly responsible for the second best song of 2020 with the old guitarist from freaking REM! Listen, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just delivering the science here. You can raise your eyebrows at its unexpectedness, but you can’t argue with the maths. Yeah, it’s maths as well. Maths and science. What, so they’re mutually exclusive??
But, my God, what an absolute gem of a song, melodically adventurous and sonically intrepid. Luke Haines must have kicked himself when he learned about Jack Parsons that, more than 30 years into his career, he hadn’t written a song about him yet. A pioneering rocket scientist from the mid 20th century, who dabbled with Marxism before the 2nd World War before settling into a simple life of converting to Thelema, the occult spiritual philosophy started by Alastair Crawley, moving with his wife Helen into a Californian Theleite lodge (which he would soon run). Then,things get weird. He separates from Helen after having an affair with her sister, Sara. Soon, Sara leaves him for (wait for it) L Ron Hubbard. It was an open relationship, this shit happens, but Parsons was keen to attract a decent replacement. He would do this, of course, with magic, what he would call ‘Babalon Working‘. In layman’s terms, he masturbated onto some ‘magical tablets’, accompanied by Sergei Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. Oh, and L Ron Hubbard was there too, as his ‘scribe’, as Parsons’s believed that he was particularly sensitive to detecting magical phenomenon.He’d get up to more sex magic with Hubbard, including plans to fertilise a ‘magical child’ through immaculate conception, before Hubbard scammed Parsons out of all his money, he performed experiments into universal consciousness with prostitutes, tried to sell rocket technology to Israel, and died in Mexico after blowing himself up, possibly accidentally, possibly suicide. I am missing a lot out.
Now, what would you prefer: that last paragraph, or:
Jack Parsons, well hung by a dipso limey
In the Pasadena moon
Of the Parson’s nose
We Got L.Ron and the O.T.O
Can you tell your wife to take off her clothes?
We’ll have a fumble
In the hedge row, baby
Y’see rocket fuel makes me horny
Terra firma kinda bores me
I wanna be up there with the angels
I wanna fall back down to Earth with the angels
It just scans better, doesn’t it? It’s also in equal parts thrilling, hilarious and freaking slappy.
That’s an adjective, right? Something that slaps a lot? Yeah…
As much of this top 10 sows, 2020 saw so many examples of artists absolutely perfecting traditional musical tropes. Hinds and Shamir produced absolutely perfect pop rock anthems that deserve to slot straight into the pantheon of greats in any world that makes sense, The Weeknd managed to own the entire year, commercially, with a brilliant unashamed 1980s homage, while Luke Haines, Destroyer and Car Seat Headrest may have been unafraid of experimentation and sonic weirdness but still operated within absolutely exceptional versions of classic song structures.
Allay by Katie Gately though, is quite unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, near choral chants in an unclear language back metallic clangs, drastic changes in tempo and pace, a ‘song’ underneath that doesn’t seem to keep hold of any melody or stick to a time signature, while over it all a ghostly voice informs us that “I am running through your streets in circles/I am jumping through your rings with wings/I am living in a womb made of dirt and dust and/I am flirting with a silent ring”. On paper, using pretty much any metric, this is a ‘weird’ song that is never likely to inspire interest from anyone who doesn’t have a Warp Records tattoo and a £250 coffee table book about the history of Norwegian Hypnagogic music that they’re just dying to tell you about. However, the most incredible thing about Allay is that Gately still manages to incorporate and compartmentalise all of these disparate and individually listener hostile elements and still create such a wonderful piece of pop music. Allay is 2020’s greatest example of commercialising the uncommercial. Oh, and also its greatest example of songwriting.
I’ll be honest, Allay wasn’t really on my mind when I started to rank last year’s singles, but as I listened to it more and compared it to the other releases of an uncommonly great year for pop singles, nothing else could touch it in terms of ambition, vision, and dang bangingness.
Congrats to Ms Gately, and congrats to you for making it to the end of this maybe 15’000 word monster. Was it all worth it? Of course it was, and your Mum thinks you’re wasting your life. Here’s the YouTube playlist, and Spotify is below (not everything is on either, unfortunately, bloody unions)