Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Zrbo's Favorite Songs of 2020

Hey, remember last year how I began my Top 5 with a sarcastic jab at the craziness of that year? Yeah, little did I know that whatever craziness happened in 2019 (does anyone even remember anymore?) was like an amuse-bouche of what was to come in 2020. But look, here we are, and if you're reading this, you survived! So while you're here and still living, sit back and take in Zrbo's favorite songs of 2020.

5. Pet Shop Boys - "What Have I Done to Deserve This"

Let's begin with a 2020 confession: I kind of enjoyed staying put at home this year. As the pandemic reared its head and we were forced into our homes, I was somewhat grateful. I had only recently begun working a swing shift job that required me to work late into the evenings and I was missing my family and social life. Suddenly I'm being told to go home and work normal hours with almost zero oversight and not much to actually do. That, and I was doing financially well for the first time in a long while. I was kinda, actually, enjoying myself. I looked around at my situation and found myself asking: "What have I done to deserve this?"

Yes, this song is 33 years old, and yes, I've had it on CD for 20 years and knew it well, but damn if this song didn't get stuck in my head this past spring. And I feel somewhat embarrassed that I didn't even realize until this year that the backing vocals were done by Dusty Springfield. The MP3s that I ripped from that CD didn't convey that there was anything special about this song. I had just presumed that the backing vocalist was some studio vocalist the Pet Shop Boys had pulled out of nowhere, like a performer from 20 Feet From Stardom. Hell, even the official Youtube video doesn't communicate that she's anyone of importance. But holy hell, did this song ever lodge itself into my brain in the early days of lockdown and it stuck there until sometime in the summer. What did I do to deserve this song?

4. KMFDM - "Bumaye" (dub)

What do you do when you've been putting out industrial music for 36 years and you're stuck in lockdown? Why, you make a dub album of course! Yes, in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty, industrial music stalwarts KMFDM put out a reggae album. Okay, it's dub actually, but I went and read up on the difference between reggae and dub, and frankly, I'm still not quite sure I fully understand the distinction.

Okay, actually this whole situation isn't *quite* that strange. KMFDM have put out a few dub remixes occasionally throughout their career, and one of their biggest early hits, "Godlike", features what sounds like a Jamaican man repeating the refrain "Black man/white man/rip the system".

It's a chilled out take on KMFDM, and that little bit of background radio at the outset lets you know this was created under the doldrums of lockdown. Ideal for lounging around the house on another day where nothing ever happens. Personally, I think this dub version is better than the original.

3. Jessie Frye feat. Timecop1983 - "Faded Memory"

Who the heck is Jessie Frye? I can barely find anything about this Dallas based artist outside of a small handful of interviews from some hometown outlets. I know that though "Faded Memory" came out in 2018, the album it's featured on only came out this summer. It's also a bit strange that her videos on Youtube have a nice, professional look to them, but outside of this song, they all have a meager number of views. Is she like some sort of regional-based pop artist or something? Do those exist? Someone's throwing a lot of money at Jessie and not getting much in return it seems.

Anyhoo, "Faded Memory" belongs to the niche musical genre of 'synthwave', which tries to capture the sparkly magic of 80s synth-pop, but tends to all end up sounding the same to my ears. "Faded Memory" is what you might imagine listening to in 1987 as you drove around in a convertible corvette with your girlfriend, the wind in your hair, on your way to the make-out spot on the hill overlooking the city. It's easy, it's breezy, and it's incredibly easy to digest (the chorus is simply the same three words repeated). But in a year full of stress and anxiety, I found it simple and kind of relaxing.

2. The Eternal Afflict - "San Diego"

I've probably heard this song while dancing in a club before, but it didn't capture my attention until this year. There's so much to love about this song. First, it begins with these synthesized strings and a piano that give the false impression that this is going to be some sort of electronic chamber music piece. Then, the unmistakably German accented announcer pleasingly announces the name of the band, sounding like he's about to introduce some delightful Von Trapp Family cover group that you would take your grandma to see. Finally the song proper begins and the, uh, "singer" starts, ahem, "singing" in a way that sounds like they're being delivered by some barely comprehensible slurring German recovering from a massive hangover after a weekend of binge drinking. I mean, this guy had such a terribly memorable night (or more?) in San Diego that he wrote a whole damn song moaning about it. It's a great piece of early 90s industrial dance. All I'm saying is that if I were a club DJ in San Diego, at the end of the night I would end my set with this song, with the final yell at the end of the song serving as perfect punctuation for the night.

1. The Birthday Massacre - "One"

If you've been keeping up with this blog you might remember how I wrote that I discovered Canadian goth rockers The Birthday Massacre this summer. I immediately became entranced by their easily digestible take on pop infused goth rock, and I've continued to explore their nearly two decades worth of output.

I stumbled upon the song "One" fairly soon after I discovered the band in early July, and I quickly fell in love with it. Here's a song about the slow inevitability of death, and when combined with a video featuring the band performing to an empty music venue, provides a perfect summary of the year 2020.

The song opens with a twinkly synth and then just slams into the soaring main riff, the one I cannot get out of my head. I like lead singer Chibi's deeper, more mature sounding voice she debuts here. I don't know where she found it, because her typical voice usually oscillates between creepy-little-girl and teenage emo punk rocker. I also dig the guitar bridge after the second chorus. It's short but powerful. I also appreciate how, after the bridge, the song just effortlessly slides back into the chorus one more time.

Meanwhile, the video features the male band members dressed up like some sort of lounge act, the men's vests giving them the appearance like they might also be the ones bringing your car around after the show too. Then there's Chibi's look. From the dress, the shoes, the tattoos, to the hair and makeup, she has achieved the look of apex goth-punk princess. Seriously, I am just completely infatuated with this dress she's wearing (where does her dress actually end?). If I am ever reincarnated as a woman, I swear I want to look as magnificent as Chibi does in this video.

And that's it. My favorite song of this long, awful year of 2020. See you again next year.