We’re starting the process of creating our year-end best-of lists at RIFF, which, for concerts at least, should be the easiest year-end list in human history. The process for this one goes something like this:
Did you go to a concert in 2020?
Great! Put it on the list!
For the record, I only saw three shows in 2020: KISS with David Lee Roth, the Struts and Junkyard with Danko Jones. They were all different degrees of good, but otherwise unremarkable; other than DLR actually singing well, Junkyard still being Junkyard (seemingly always on the verge of doing something mildly threatening), and the Struts putting on a good show for being a tribute band.
Nope; not having that conversation right now.
When discussing best albums of the year, I only felt qualified to mention those I reviewed – meaning the ones I’d listened to in their entirety–which meant records from AC/DC, Jeff Tweedy, Bruce Springsteen, The Struts, Fiona Apple, Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi, Bob Mould and Huey Lewis and The News.
Ever get the idea someone got put on the old man beat?
Never mind. The point was that, when not teetering on chronological death, I can’t even manage a fair top 10 list because it would include most of the records I heard. And the only ones of those nine I feel deserve consideration for those lists self-involved critics love so much are Apple’s (amazing record), Pearl Jam’s (better than average after all these years), and Springsteen’s (average for him kicks the hell out of 99 percent of everyone else’s best).
But … I did discover other records in 2020 I really liked (and didn’t get roped into reviewing). Some were actually released in 2020 and some weren’t. Admit it, the year started blurring into other years for many of us.
But 2020 produced Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown’s Pressure. It’s a very good record living somewhere between guitar rock and country that screams authentic American music. That got me listening to their whole catalog. They’re one of the few bands whose appeal should span young to the festering elderly (me) audiences.
Thurston Moore’s By the Fire was a wonderful record for 2020 for different reasons. During a year when people were desperate for the familiar, hearing Moore test musical boundaries (which is his familiar) was refreshing, ironically for its familiarity for his fans. Moore makes music that doesn’t necessarily depend on the outside world as it does on what’s in the head of the former leader of Sonic Youth.
Chronus’ 2020 record Idols hit me like a train. My friends and I often send each other extreme examples of metal bands to reminding us of how ridiculous we were as teens. I thought this was another. Then I listened … and kept listening, waiting for the punchline. At first, they sounded like some Scandinavian metal band taking metal too seriously by wearing makeup and uniforms or something. But I kept listening, and listening, and discovered Chronus is a Scandinavian metal band who takes music seriously and wears makeup and uniforms.
I just couldn’t stop listening. They’re just relentless and catchy and I’ll go ahead and say it: If loving Chronus is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
The last couple discoveries I made in 2020 were rooted in the past. The first was soul singer Charles Bradley, who died in 2017 and wasn’t even really a thing until he was in his 50s (yay for artistic achievement in your 50s!). I found Bradley accidentally watching Marvel’s “Luke Cage” on TV, on which Bradley performed. He moved like (an older) James Brown and his voice was up there with Otis Redding’s, which is the highest possible praise for that genre. Bradley had a rough upbringing and didn’t really start performing until middle age. But he did enough to make a mark, and better late than never.
And, strangely, my last “discovery” wasn’t a discovery at all. Of course, I knew Bill Haley and the Comets: rock and roll pioneer, the guy who rocked around the clock and did the first theme for “Happy Days” and whatnot. For some reason, I listened to my first Haley record all the way through and, holy cow … why he’s not talked about with the same reverence as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis is mind-blowing. Of course, Haley is usually in the conversation, but the debate should start with him. He and his band could flat out play. That will always be cool, no matter they year or one’s age.
Follow music critic Tony Hicks at Twitter.com/TonyBaloney1967.