Waking Up Down
The Asian-American New York-based producer Yaeji’s What We Drew mixtape, slowly became one of my releases of the year in 2020. ‘Waking Up Down’ is a song that celebrates the little wins in life, something which this pandemic year made all the more important.
Kelly Lee Owens
Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens masters the art of emotional open-hearted sentiment couched in diptych of an ambient beginning and a bruising techno outro.
Bicep’s ‘Apricots’ is built on two vocal samples. One from traditional Malawian singers recorded in 1958, originally released via the label Beating Heart, whose profits go towards supporting the ongoing music conservation work of the International Library of African Music) and a 1950’s performance by The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir.
The song is a classic shimmering Bicep song, forlorn, emotive and euphoric. It really makes you want to hear it in the dark open air of a late-night festival.
2020 was a year that Denise Chaila’s energy, thoughtful and power was present for all to see and hear. While ‘Chaila’ was the breakthrough song for the Limerick rapper, a celebration of the self in a grand tradition of pop song introductions, ‘Anseo’ (which got a new version featuring Jafaris just last week) was the track from Go Bravely that went harder. With memorable lines like “I’m your black James Bond / Anseo / Spice box, taxi by the Centra / Anseo / Sailor Moon remixed by Fela / C’est moi / I’m not a queen I’m a Pharoah sha,” Chaila asserts both herself while representing a thoroughly modern and unique Irish perspective.
The acknowledgement of wanting to see the wonders of a Japanese city and instead, aimlessly shuffling around the familiarity of a convenience shop with a preoccupied mind sets up ‘Kyoto’ a song about a disintegrated relationship between the protagonist and her father. False promises, wrong dates and the realisation that the person you looked up to as a young person is maddeningly flawed. “I’m gonna kill you / If you don’t beat me to it,” is a frank and frustrating admission.
As I wrote about the album Future Nostalgia that houses this pop hit, the compact songwriting and production nous exemplified great modern pop songcraft. ‘Cool’ is preoccupied with the “heat and thrill” of a new relationship, while looking forward to what’s to come with that person by your side.
On what was to be Mac Miller’s final album, Circles, ‘Good News’ sadly portents his death by overdose with conflicting lyrics about the futility or usefulness of sticking around in this life. “There’s a whole lot more for me waiting on the other side / I’m always wondering, if it feel like summer,” Mac mumbles as muted and detailed instrumentation lead by producer Jon Brion softens the desperation in his words.
Few can imbue yearning in lines like ‘A crown upon my head / ten lovers in my bed
But I want something more,’ than Róisín Murphy. ‘Something More’ is a disco-flecked rumination of desire that is content to let those feelings sit within a song that isn’t in a rush to conclude as it grows in stature with strings, piano chords and Murphy’s calls for “something more”.
I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby
2020 is lucky to have CMAT. The artist’s third single ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby!’ was inspired by a six-second Vine, and turns that viral short into a real lasting sentiment that trades in CMAT’s love of Americana. The song’s message of social anxiety is couched in a thoroughly magnetising vocal, a memorable chorus and the bright simple instrumentation that would almost make you gleam over darker lines like ‘I wanna stop relying on men who are bigger than me’
From Four Tet’s Sixteen Oceans album, ‘Baby’ twists an original vocal by Ellie Goulding into a sparkling dreamy club production that soars and turns like the video that accompanies it, and like the birdsong that is heard in its breakdown.