❉ Hindsight is 2020, as we conclude our countdown of the Top 100 tracks of the year. Happy listening!
Here’s Part Two of the only end of year pop chart that matters. It’s all based on the music I’ve heard over the past year and has involved listening to countless albums and thousands of tracks. When I looked at my original ‘favourites’ for the year, there were 273 tracks – and I’ve put off making the final cut for so long because of the vestigial, residual and actual Catholic guilt I’ve felt at saying goodbye to some of my musical friends. There’s nothing included in the list because I felt it ought to go in there, and there’s nothing in there ‘borrowed’ from somebody else’s or some other organisation’s end of year list.
I’ve had to omit some brilliant artists, and it’s with a sad heart I’ve had to say goodbye to bands and artists who’ve given me genuine pleasure throughout this ghastly year.
So, it’s au revoir to Bdrmm, Dream Wife, Frances Quinlan, Perfume Genius, Hen Ogledd, Laura Marling, Rolling Blackouts Coastal fever, The Lemon Twigs, Marika Hackman, Nothing, Pictish Trail, Catholic Action, Lanterns on the Lake, Ohmme, Charlie XCX, Alex the Astronaut, Jane Weaver, Sad 13, Plum and so many others who were in The Chart at some stage or other.
❉ One track per artist
❉ No (obvious) cover versions
❉ Nobody I know personally
Part Two of the chart is rammed with Canadians, but there’s also good support from Australia, Brighton and (quite brilliantly) Hampshire. Benny Hill would be proud.
All tracks marked (NEW) did not appear in our January to June Half Term Report 2020 chart.
Here we go!
49. Alfie Templeman – Maybe This Time [NEW]
From: Carlton, Bedfordshire
Album: Happiness in Liquid Form
Not much to report here – just a wonderful, dreamy pop single from a very talented artist.
48. Creeper – Cyanide [NEW]
Album: Sex Death and the Infinite Void
A bit Kerrang! and a bit Rocky Horror Show this one; not that there’s anything inherently wrong with either (and I love a bit of naked hoovering and feather boa-sporting as much as the next man), but there’s just a bit too much theatre (for me) in this admittedly rather splendid rock song for me to place it any higher. Mind you, I DID like the Viv Stanshall-style lyrics and flourishes such as:
Black denim under pale moonlight
Her skin is milk so pale and white
Underneath the teenage spell
Well, she’s Christina Applegate
Hopelessly beautiful in 1988
She’s my cyanide
I drink her every night
47. Liz Lawrence – None of My Friends [NEW]
Album: Pity Party
If you haven’t heard the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Zero, you’d think this would be the number one song of 2020, but if you have done, you’ll know why it’s number 47. A great pop song, nevertheless.
46. Caribou – Home
Dan Snaith’s yearly appearance in the 100 is virtually guaranteed. A fine slab of electronica, sampling and Philly (see later) strings. God bless you, Canada!
45. Torii – Forward Retreat
From: the Netherlands
Album: Return to Form
I was going to use the band’s name as an excuse for a long and predictable rant about how much I hate the Tories (the bastards), but it has nothing to do with this genuinely spiffing record, so I won’t.
Forward Retreat is gentle, lovely, wistful psychedelia at its best – and the second Dutch entry in the chart.
44. Bugjar – James Dean Death Car [NEW]
Dreamy indie is always appreciated in the list, and I’m quite taken by the sparseness and beauty of the lyrics of this paean to James Dean:
I couldn’t see from the glare
I thought that you weren’t there
We’re trapped inside of this Porsche
To Paso Robles war
Rolf is Flying.
Turn up speed wasn’t the one
To break from the setting son
And change it all.
Instead in Fairmount, Indy
Where his body now lay
A giant has become.
A simply lovely record.
43. The Jacques – I Never Want to Be Your Boyfriend
Album: Born Sore
Delirious, heavenly pop and a lovely video.
The title reminds me of something I said to a lot of prospective partners – with the added rejoinder of an ‘ed’ on ‘want’, and a comma-ed, tagged, ‘anyway’. Just to preserve my dignity, obviously.
I want to hear this song played as I’m sitting outside drinking my second beer at some Parisian or Berlin café later this summer. [2021 now, obviously.)
42. Ringo Deathstarr – Disease
From: Austin, Texas
Album: Ringo Deathstarr
A tremendous return to form from one of my favourite bands. (Although I’m also a huge fan of tribute band Petebest Moonbasealpha).
Haunting, lyrical and lovely.
41. Elephant Stone – Hollow World
Rishi Dhir’s wonderful band are back with another pop-psychedelic near masterpiece.
40. Buscabulla – Nydia
From: Puerta Rico
Husband and wife team Luis Alfredo Del Valle and Raquel Berrios perform as the not-very-pretty-sounding-in-English Buscabulla, and produce some of the most exquisite pop music you’ll ever hear. Nydia is wonderful – and sounds like a James Bond theme* as siren call.
*If James Bond themes were any good, that is. Occasionally (Dr No, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Licence to Kill) they used to be. I remember sitting through the opening credits of Skyfall (the best of modern Bond films) and thinking ‘this is an OK song’, but also thinking ‘STOP GETTING BOND WRONG!’ because of the way that Adele pronounced ‘crumble’ and ‘Skyfall’. I spent a good twenty minutes trying to get Bruce Forsyth out of my mind, and it fair spoiled my enjoyment of the curiously Sid James-visaged Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the UK’s favourite sexist ‘Licence to Kill’ murderer.
39. Sorry – Perfect
Saw them supporting Sunflower Bean last year in Liverpool and they seemed destined for great things. They’re almost there.
38. Superocean – Julia I’m Alive [NEW]
From: Portland, Oregon
Album: When You’re Around
When people tell me that they only listen to ‘old music’, I think of them sitting in their onesies, slankets, woollen bootees and tea-cosy hats. And stinking of decay. And Brexit.*
Julia I’m Alive is the sound of the joy of life**; of being aware of the possibilities of embracing all that’s good and harmonious and spiritually uplifting. A dreampop masterpiece.
*What does Brexit smell like? Stale biscuits, B.O., cheap margarine, unwanted North Sea hake and cod, and most of all, piss.
**And not Doctor Alex Garland’s The Joy of Sex which was quite openly on the bookshelves of my mate’s mum and dad’s house back in the late 70s. I remember reading this when we’d bunked off school (my mate and I, that is, and not his mum and dad – that would have been seriously wrong) and thinking “NO WAY AM I EVER DOING THAT!” and also worrying that I’d never be able to grow a beard as lustrous as the ‘man lover’.
37. Cayetana – Scott, Get the Van – I’m Moving [NEW]
Album: not what we meant by NEW KIND OF NORMAL (2020)
A tiny bit of cheat this one as it was originally released in 2015, but was re-released this year. If it had been originally released in 2020 – quite simply – it would have been number one in the chart.
Because it’s f***ing brilliant.
Such a pity Augusta, Allegra and Kelly have finally called it a day. A fantastic pop/rock band – without any of the pantomimetic/jumped-up boyband emoting of the Kerrang! School of Modern Rock.
On a different note, how cool would it be to say you came from ‘Philly’ – just like Ed Harris in A History of Violence? I’m from Anfield, and besides the unfortunate semiotic implications of the area being a metonym for Liverpool FC, how could I have impressed ‘the ladies’ by saying: “Hi, I’m Stephen. I’m from Anny”?
And on a further, different note – what is the cut-off point with men who’ve added a ‘Y’ or an ‘IE’ to their names (or had it conferred upon them by their parents) to sound ‘cutesy’? At what age will ‘Superstar Landlord’ Robbie Fowler find the extra syllable somewhat unbecoming for a man of his age, and more importantly when will he experience the Pauline moment of conversion when he realises that one human being shouldn’t exploit, or profit from another human being’s desire for a roof over their head?
And the few Philips I’ve met over the course of my life who’ve gone by the sobriquet Philly, have all been absolute c***s of the highest order.
36. Dana Gavanski – Catch
Album: Yesterday is Gone
More brilliant Canadians. A tender, wistful, yearning and quite lovely song from an outstanding album. Another artist whose British tour was postponed this year – I’m hoping upon hope that the rearranged gigs go ahead later this year. Catch is best played as the sun starts to dip on a warm summer evening.
35. Oracle Sisters – Most of All
EP: Paris 1
The Parisian trio’s best work yet. Most of All sounds like it came out of Laurel Canyon rather than some unspecified arrondissement. The song almost goes country at one stage – luckily the slide guitar actually enhances the sound rather than making me want to switch it off.
A beautiful record.
34. Occult X – Be Mine
Album: to be released
The second Nashville act in the fifty. I can’t find much about this band, but like most people (I’d imagine) ‘Nashville’ triggers off a series of stereotyped images which are so far away from this lovely lo-fi dreampop single.
A hidden gem which I’ll still be playing in years to come.
33. Other Lives – All Eyes [NEW]
From: Stillwater, Oklahoma
Album: For Their Love
An epic track from the beautiful For Their Love album. Not a good track if your lover has just left you, or if you’re feeling down or if you’re just too sensitive for this world.
The Cheeky Girls it ain’t.
32. Sault – Free [NEW]
Album: Untitled (Rise)
The mysterious London collective’s Untitled (Rise) is probably my most played album of 2020 and for many people their album of the year. Free is just gorgeous – a sinewy mixture of soul and dance beats which could have come from any number of eras, but is absolutely perfect for 2020. Just listen to the extended solo vocal towards the end of this track. Stunning.
31. Kaytranda (featuring Charlotte Wilson) – What You Need
The artist still known as Kevin Louis Celstin – and the siren-like vocals of Charlotte Wilson – with one of the dreamiest tracks of this or any year. My most-played track of pre-Lockdown 2020.
30. HANYA – Dream Wife
EP: Sea Shoes
Musically speaking, Brighton has been my favourite British city for years now. HANYA are the latest in a long line of quite brilliant bands to emerge from the South Coast’s own 2020 Laurel Canyon. Dream Wife is an effortless and haunting four minutes of high quality dreampop. Looking forward to the album and seeing them live in 2021.
29. Foster the People – Lamb’s Wool
From: Los Angeles
Album: Lamb’s Wool
Shades of Tame Impala on this frankly lovely single from Messrs Foster and Pontius:
It’s hard to look into your eyes
Knowing it might be the last time
The spaces in between our breaths
They’re singing to the infinite
One of those dangerously melancholic tracks that you (I) could imagine listening to over and over again as you (I) overdosed on mescal and absinthe in some cheap Paris lodging house overlooking the Seine. Or something.
God, I miss travelling. Damn you, Covid-19!
28. Honeymoan – Still Here
From: Cape Town
The first South African act to make the chart. Still Here is wonderful – an existential examination of the dark noon of existence. Possibly the first band to fill the void left in my musical life by the sad demise of The School of Seven Bells.
This sad and beautiful song contained my favourite lyrics of any of the songs in the Half Term Report 50:
“Living in a question mark / Time is stumbling in the dark
Waiting to complete the arc / This story blows who’s the writer
More than just to sleep and eat / Again, again repeat, repeat
What happened to a short and sweet / This one seems will never end”
27. Beebadoobee – Care [NEW]
Album: Fake It Flowers
A second appearance in the annual list for the splendid Beatrice Laus. I was really disappointed when her gig was Covided earlier this year but Fake It Flowers is a great album and (sort of) a decent consolation for my enforced gig drought. (I often feel like Larry David listening to Still Crazy After All These Years in the episode where numerous mishaps prevent him from attending the big Paul Simon concert*.)
*The concert was big. Paul Simon is notoriously little. And hates Art because he’s reasonably tall.
26. Pottery – Hot Like Jungle [NEW]
Album: Welcome to Bobby’s Motel
From the occasionally ace, wild mood/genre swings album Welcome to Bobby’s Motel (“I luv Bobby’s hurrrr!” – BTW, I’m still living in fear and constantly gluing-on false beards because of the Cilla Black fans’ still-extant fatwah), Hot Like Jungle is just beautiful. Stealing its opening chord from David Bowie’s beautiful Where Are We Now?, Pottery’s best song sounds like a gloriously-produced and arranged track from early Orange Juice. I can’t think of anything finer.
25. Soccer Mommy – Yellow is the Colour of Her Eyes
Album: Color Theory
I’ve just about forgiven Sophia Regina Allison for sending her band offstage so that she could do her solo spot when I saw her in Liverpool last year. Mainly because she has the best birthday date of all and (partially) because Color Theory is one of the best albums so far this year.
Yellow is a fantastic single – her greatest song in a short but distinguished career.
24. Andy Shauf – Where Are You, Judy? [NEW]
From: Regina, Saskatchewan
Album: The Neon Skyline
Jesus – how many Canadians are on this list? I don’t pick them deliberately or anything, and I have no predilections for Canadians per se (I mean, look at Hughie Green – what a c**t, he was). Andy Shauf is sort of an old school singer/songwriter and The Neon Skyline tells a story across both sides of its very lovely vinyl. Usually such things are anathema, but there are singer/songwriters and there are singer/songwriters (if that makes any sense in printed form). The Neon Skyline is brilliant: great songs, lyrical wit and Andy Shauf’s tales of life and love and Judy in the big city are absolutely magical. A modern Paul Simon*.
*Who hated Art because he was a hit with the laydeez, even though he simply fuzzed up the back of his scalp to make it look like he had hair.
23. Peggy Sue – In Dreams
Another band whose live absence brought back just what I’ve been missing – and the essence of happiness – in Lockdown. I’ve lived with the songs and tracks in this list for the past six months, but it’s only whilst compiling the finished version that I’ve realised that I’ve been burying such (admittedly) minor sadness as only stereotyped British people can do.
Peggy Sue are quite frankly ace, and their Motorcade single from last year was almost my number one. In Dreams is almost as good.
22. Daniel Avery – Lone Swordsman [NEW]
Daniel’s lovely and haunting tribute to the much-missed Andrew Weatherall. Ace.
21. The Beths – Just Shy of Sure [NEW]
From: New Zealand
Album: Jump Rope
NOT named after the main protagonist in Walter Tevis’s so-so chess novel or the Netflix adaptation which has encouraged over two million people to take up what Pele described as ‘The Beautiful Game’, The Beths continue their pleasing upward trajectory of wonderfulness, and are one of only five acts to have made two of the We Are Cult Half Term/End of Year Charts (we don’t rest on our pop laurels, us).
Simply a great song from a fabulous pop band.
20. No Joy – Why Mothers Die [NEW]
Bloody heck – that’s a cheery title for a song! As someone who found the death of Bambi’s mother just too much, this was such a powerful track and reminded me of that time many years ago when my dad took me to the cinema to see Disney’s heart-breaking masterpiece.
I remember I just couldn’t stop crying in the cinema, and saying to my dad:
“Why did she have to die? Oh why? Has Bambi’s mummy gone to sleep with the angels and Jesus now, daddy?”
I remember my gruff old military man father’s kindly words as if it were yesterday:
“You’re thirty seven now, lad. I shouldn’t have to be taking you to the pictures at your age.”
Anyway, a great, heartstring-tugging song. No Joy are practically a Jasamine White-Gluz solo project, now, and there’s been no dip in quality for my favourite Canadian shoegazer(s).
Motherhood is a brilliant album, as well.
19. Jessie Ware – In Your Eyes [NEW]
Album: What’s Your Pleasure?
Not the usual fare for this list, but a fabulous song, and its chorus would slip beautifully into the opening titles of the new Bond film Nobody’s Arsed, Mate – The World Has Moved On (provisional release date Summer 2031).
18. Yves Tumor – Kerosene [NEW]
Album: Heaven to a Tortured Mind
We all love a bit of Bowie at We Are Cult, and Sean Bowie (for it is he) has produced one of the best albums of the year with Heaven to a Tortured Mind. There are shades of Prince, Hendrix and even The Cranberries in this brilliant track.
17. Belako – Sirene [NEW]
From: Mungia, Spain
Album: Plastic Drama
The first Spanish band to enter the chart all those years ago (well, three years ago). If there’s any band/artist I’d like to see in 2021, it would have to be Belako. And just to prove how effortlessly talented she really is, singer Cristina Lizzaranga has decided to sing Sirene in French. A great track from a brilliant band.
16. Caveman – You’ve Got a Feeling
EP: New Sides
Despite my declared vow to do my best to avoid all-male bands, there often comes along an act and song which shows up my theory as being the utter nonsense it undoubtedly is.
Not much more to say about this apart from the fact that it is effortlessly, ineffably beautiful and brought me to tears at one of the sadder moments of this very sad year.
15. Dutch Criminal Record – 00’s Nostalgia [NEW]
Good old fashioned and very beautiful janglepop. A song about yearning, lost-love and wanting to go back to 2008. One of DCC’s (three) vocalists sings of “Salad days” and “life passing by” and in his unconvincing letter to a former lover he says:
Life got the best of me, but I’m moving on
It’s a beautifully crafted, existential crisis song about the memories of time past which should strike a chord with anyone who’s got an unexcised soul:
I don’t know why I’m up so late
I want to go back…to 2008
A C86-tastic record.
14. Hinds – Riding Solo
Album: The Prettiest Curse
A song that was born to have been released on Ze records. A bit like that old standard Mockingbird – without getting on your tits.
Possibly the most joyous song of the year.
13. Allie X – Rings a Bell
Album: Cape God
Released as a single last year, but also included on 2020’s excellent Cape God, this is further proof that those crazy electro Canadians are storming the 50 again.
An almost magical song, which – for some probably nonsensical reason – reminds me of 80s popsters Matt Bianco’s Sneaking Out the Backdoor.
12. Empress Of – I’m Your Empress Of [NEW]
From: Los Angeles
Album: I’m Your Empress Of
The brilliantly monikered, participle-dangling Empress Of’s I’m Your Empress Of is one of my favourite albums of the year. A clever melding of dance, dreampop and Hispanic rhythms, this track just burst out of my speakers earlier this year. Loreley Rodriguez tells us that’s she’s The Empress Of many times in an hypnotic opening sequence, before drifting into halting, faux-ingenue Mexican-inflected English. And whilst pretending to struggle with the English language, Empress Of declares her intentions for pop and societal ascendancy. It’s just f***ing tremendous, but I DID keep thinking about Ronnie Barker’s rubbish, stereotyped Mexican character trying to establish a lingua franca with a British tourist by shouting Bobby Haarl-e-ton! during a lull in their shared conversation. My problem, not hers. Obviously.
11. U.S. Girls – 4 American Dollars [NEW]
Album: Heavy Light
I love Meghan Remy (who basically IS U.S. Girls) so much. Her second appearance in the chart (after last year’s excellent Mad As Hell) and another act who reminds me of what I’ve missed with the dearth of gigs this year. U.S. Girls/Meghan’s gig at the Soup Kitchen in Manchester last year was just effing brilliant.
A great single!
10. Tennis – I’ll Haunt You [NEW]
I wish modern-ish bands would call themselves something more elaborate and less non-descript/quotidian – if only for my research purposes. Pottery/Crisps/Chair and Tennis are no good for Googling for pictures, and I really don’t want to have to (Virginia) wade through oceans of photos of Buster Mottram, Cliff at Wimbledon or that tennis player scratching her arse to get to something pictorially apposite of Colorado’s best husband and wife dreampop team. Having said that, nobody wants a return to The Test Icicles, They Promised Us Jet-Packs or Get Cape, Eat Cape, Fly anytime soon. I’ll Haunt You is a really beautiful dream-like song, and is one of the many hundreds I want playing at my funeral ceremony.
9. I Break Horses – I’ll Be the Death of You
An absolutely magical single from my favourite album of the year so far. It was a toss-up between I’ll Be the Death and the equally fantastic single A Prophet for inclusion in the list.
I still feel some bizarre residual guilt for my final choice.
8. Green Eyes – Boy With Apple [NEW]
More Swedish shoegaze/dreampop of the highest order. The adjective ethereal was coined for just this moment.
7. Yazmin Lacey – Not Today Mate
Album: Morning Matters
I thought this was Erykah Badu when I first heard it. It’s that good.
A beautiful, instant, nu-soul classic and just perfect for summer evenings.
Yazmin Lacey is a major talent already – and she’ll only get better.
6. Avi Buffalo – Skeleton Painting
From: Long Beach
Album: to be released
He’s always been good, but this is sublime. I saw him playing a tiny venue club in Liverpool last year and he was such a lovely fellow. Hopefully this song will propel him to the next stage.
5. Michael Kiwanuka – Light [NEW]
Michael’s Kiwanuka album was a deserved Mercury Prize winner. This is just – and I hate to use the word – awesome (in that it produces a sense of awe when I hear it) with hints of Minnie Riperton’s equally brilliant Les Fleurs and with beautiful, minimalist lyrics touching on love and oppression and deliverance. A fantastic piece of music.
4. Joesef – Think That I Don’t Need Your Love [NEW]
EP: Does It Make You Feel Good?
I thought Joesef was Hispanic/Puerto-Rican on first hearing, but I was wrong. Glasgow maybe not be as exotic as Central America, but it’s rich tradition of great music is never-ending. Only playing his first gig in 2019, Joesef’s sound is so assured, so delicate, and just wonderful. Comparisons with Amy Winehouse are certainly not out of place. A stupendous, life-affirming song.
3. Hazel English – WAKE UP!
Album: WAKE UP!
Half Term’s Number One. Quite simply a fabulous pop song – quietly urgent, uplifting and sung by an angel. If this song doesn’t make you feel just that little bit better in life, you’re probably already dead.
Nice one, Hazel!
2. Basement Revolver – Romantic at Heart
From: Hamilton, Ontario
Album: Wax and Digital
The most requested and played song at the bookshop. Heartbreakingly beautiful from the off and one of those melancholia-inducing songs I’ve been told to avoid, but it’s difficult to resist a siren call. With the risk of sounding like Jilly Goolden, whenever I hear this song, I get soupçons of Holding Back the Years, Wouldn’t it Be Good? and The Three Degrees’ Year of Decision.
A fantastic record.
1. B.C. Camplight – I Wanna Be in the Mafia [NEW]
From: New Jersey/Manchester
Album: Shortly After Take-Off
Brian Christinzio re-found his muse and lust for life after relocating to Manchester following the advice of a fan back in 2012. Two great albums later and B.C. Camplight (his recording nom-de-plume) receives the ultimate accolade of reaching the 2020 Number One spot in the We Are Cult Top 100.
I could have picked so many tracks from the brilliant Shortly After Take Off album, but this is my favourite. It’s a rare trick to perform an ironic/bathetic song with such verve and such conviction without sounding like a smart arse who’s essentially taking the piss out of their listeners as well as their intended targets. The only song that comes close to this one is Tindersticks’ deranged My Sister, and Mafia is an even better song than Nottingham’s finest.
BC loves to mix the minutiae of British life with epic American themes, and the juxtaposition of TV mafia tropes with the more mundane elements of UK life, leads to such great verses as:
I wonder if I would crack under fire
I wonder if I’m a rat
Love is being connected
I wanna feel like that
The crew and I will hang on the steps
Outside a chippy shop in Oldham
I’d make mistakes; they’d clean up the mess
We’ll play Texas hold-em and talk about religion
Rhyming ‘Oldham’ with ‘Texas hold-em’ is normally the preserve of Benny Hill, but in BC’s world-weary universe, and with that beautiful melancholic style, it just works. The deliberately silly Chippy Shop is just ace, as well.
Later in the song, DC wants to be Ray Liotta, visits Belmont Psychiatric and dreams of the life of a more ‘robust’ middle-aged Tony Soprano mafiosi:
And in the evening I’d take off my sweatpants
Adjust my chain and put on some other sweatpants
Look at my pinkie ring
This little thing
Means somebody loves me
And it’s all done straight – no winking at the camera, no aren’t I funny? telegraphing, no concession to the integrity and beauty of the huge sound of this brilliant song – from its opening Nick Cave piano to its lush, string-laden conclusion.
My favourite verse finds the Greater Manchester based minor wiseguy in full flow:
I wanna be in the mafia
I wanna push everybody down down down
I wanna put a hit out on my brain and say
“What do I look like, an asshole?
The music is epic, but the lyrics are small scale and knowing and clever and daft – all at the same time.
Like I suggested, it’s a deft mind and a brilliant musician to pull off this rare and difficult trick.
And quite often, Brian is a brilliant magician.
A worthy number one in another brilliant year for pop.
❉ Listen to all 100 tracks as a Spotify playlist. Here’s the link!
❉ Stephen Porter is a performance poet and spoken word artist. He has written for Esquire and a host of other publications and will be performing at Calderstones Mansion House (Liverpool) in January.