Category: Best of the Year Playlists

PuR’s Best Albums of 2020 !

This list probably bears no resemblance to any of the Best Albums lists you’ve seen so far. But just so you know, my picks weren’t inspired by my wish to be a contrarian; I wholeheartedly believe these to be the some of the best full length album listening experiences of 2020. And while they span several genres they are linked by one particular quality, specifically, their devotion to melody, their hook-filled songs, their proper tunes. And so this list is less about “grooves” or “beats” and more about the twists and turns that with a little luck, will induce butterflies or cause spontaneous swooning.

When I was young and had to invest my entire allowance to purchase a single album you better believe I squeezed every bit of life out of each one I managed to acquire. I would play my precious handful of LP’s over and over, beginning to end, wearing down their grooves to unlistenable crunchy nubs (as well as ripping the seams of their inner sleeves from sliding them out so frequently). This complete immersion in a small pile of vinyl is how I came to know every John Oates song on the Hall & Oates albums. It ensured my intimate familiarity with the Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland tracks on The Police LP’s. “The telephone is ringing, is that my Mother on the phone !”, Andy scream-screeched on Synchronicity… and I gladly accepted that aural abuse because I’d ridden my bike to the next damn town to buy that album with my meagre savings and was doggedly hellbent on getting my money’s worth. I even exchanged my 45 of “Every Breath You Take” because there was a scratch on the b-side ( “Murder By Numbers” fact fans) and there was no way I was going to accept that only $1 of my $2 purchase was playable. And so I endured another treacherous bike ride on an unpaved road next to the highway because I had a right to my f*cking b-side.

Excuse me Mister, side 2 skips…

Even as our collective listening habits have evolved over the course of the streaming era, there is still something genuinely rewarding about immersing yourself in a whole album. Settling in, spending time, looking it in the eye and really listening to what it is saying, willingly buckling in for a long journey of the sort you experience from a good book or movie. While I am an undisciplined Soundcloud addict and enjoy the glorious high I get going from song to song, auditioning and discovering within it’s never-ending stream of new anthems, I also find it completely exhausting. The river never stops, the blood never staunches. And I worry that if I don’t keep up that I will potentially miss the “greatest song I’ve ever heard™” ( private note to self: you’ve already heard the greatest song you’re ever gonna hear, by the time a person turns 20 they have generally heard it and it’s really time you accepted this, jeezus). And truth be told, having to trawl through stuff that isn’t awesome to find the diamonds can sometimes be a drag.

Well, I self-admitted myself to an album listening recovery/rehab program over this past (horrific) year. I am officially trying these days, which is to say I now make a concerted effort to listen to whole albums just like the olden days when I had no other choice. And know what, based on the stuff that’s surfaced this year, it’s been 100% worth the effort. Yup, I may well have taught myself something about the virtues of patience.

And with that I now offer you the PuR picks for the Best Albums of 2020. The most consistently hypnotic-melodic and enveloping pieces of work from the past (hell) year. Not a bunch of disparate songs all working as individuals competing to be the one piece of spaghetti that sticks to the wall but real, genuine albums. I truly, truly hope you find something to fall in love with. Here we go…

Ane Brun: After The Great Storm

Ane Brun: How Beauty Holds The Hand Of Sorrow

No you are not seeing things. Wondrous Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun really did release 2 albums in 2020 ( in October and November, boom). They were her first offerings of new music since 2015, the time in between marked by the passing of her father, illness and the lack of inspiration both situations and just plain life itself engendered. The contents of both albums were written by Brun during a 3 week flurry in the summer of 2019 and the plan was to release the songs as an old school double album. But Brun had a rethink during the 2020 lockdown and decided to divide the set of songs in half, categorizing and breaking them out by “mood”.

The first release, the electronically tethered After the Great Storm alternately sounds like a classic ’60s Motown album recorded during a particularly frigid winter (think the seminal Supremes track “Reflections” ) and Kate Bush’s painterly latter day masterpiece Aerial. Which is to say it’s full of infectious songs brimming with unbridled emotion that clock in at an average of 5 minutes…so basically it’s end to end gorgeous. “Honey” is a stunner, a pop-tastic, icicle strewn anthem of reassurance (oh lord, if only it had been alive for Martha and the Vandellas to do back in the day but we can dream right ?). Other highlights include “Feeling Like I Wanna Cry”, all swelling synthetic swooshes rising from the ashes of despair and the heartbreakingly haunted wintry soul ballad “Fingerprints”. And if you are hungry for a twirl on the dancefloor, the mesmeric pulsating swirl of “Take Hold Of Me” is here to soundtrack your moves.

How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow is a more delicate affair, featuring skeletal piano and guitar backdrops and the soulful otherworldly voice of Brun pushed up front and center. There are songs that sound as old as time ( hymnal, gothic and poetic “Closer”, “Last Breath” and “Meet You At The Delta”) as well as straight up nods to now (a stunning and stark piano version of After the Great Storm’s chugging dynamo “Don’t Run And Hide”). And the absurdly handsome pair of “Gentle Winds Of Gratitude” and “Trust” score perfect 10’s on the swoon meter, all hazy heat and dizzying headrushes.

The Wall. Songs In The Key Of Life. Blonde On Blonde. Double albums were once regarded as the grandest statement a musician could make. It showed you meant business artistically, that you were f-ing serious. And having been exposed to their epic gatefold grandeur at a vulnerable age, I still perceive them that way, and continue to fetishize their all-consuming bigness, the commitment they required to create and the time required to listen to ’em …which is why my preferred (deranged) way of listening to both Brun albums is to stuff them into one playlist and pretend I’m listening to a double album called After The Great Storm How Beauty Holds The Hand Of Sorrow. And so go on, give in and let Ane Brun lead you on an extended existential pop journey; she knows what she’s doing.

 

Tenille Townes: The Lemonade Stand71aBQy3d4kL._SL1200_

The Lemonade Stand is Canadian country singer-songwriter Tenille Townes’s third album. She’s toured with Miranda Lambert and comes from a similar sonic place…which is to say there are some pop-like flourishes here and there but her songs never veer too far out of the hometown of Country. Townes’s voice is just plain super fine, with hints of Lambert, Maren Morris and yes, even a little Dolly. The Lemonade Stand is Hallmark card sentimental, occasionally silly, supremely sticky and fascinatingly cynical. “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking)” is a direct message to God, a relentlessly melodic passive aggressive query pondering why bad things happen. It’s freakin’ great…as are the punchy “White Horse”, the lush “The Way You Look Tonight” and heart-squeezin’ “The Most Beautiful Things” ( and there’s more). If you need further convincing to listen, please know that the album was produced by Jay Joyce who was at the helm for albums by legends Patty Griffin ( including her brilliant Flaming Red) and Emmylou Harris as well as modern day country megastars Eric Church, Brandy Clark and Ashley McBryde. It is a damn fun ride.

 

Bibio: Sleep On The Wing

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My ongoing fascination with ’70s pop duo Seals & Crofts continues to baffle me. A few months ago I wrote a bit about how I had finally gotten past my fixation… but as it turned out I was only on hiatus; a mere month after bragging how I was done, I was back to breathing in the fumes of “Summer Breeze” and worshipping the “Diamond Girl”. While Bibio aka Stephen James Wilkinson is British and his admitted influences reflect that and include things like the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake, all I can hear in Sleep On The Wing is, you guessed it, Seals & Crofts. It’s melodic acoustic ramblings bear a peculiarly striking resemblance to the sort of thing you’d hear soundtracking an American ’70s Afterschool Special or PBS kids show. It’s evocative, transportive and ridiculously pretty, all hazy summer days, fireflies and bicycles ( and with it’s 28 minute running time is as fleeting as childhood itself). And so while Bibio didn’t necessarily experience those aforementioned ’70s era American touchstones he somehow manages to evoke them here; Sleep On The Wing is uncanny and utterly charming.

 

Jonathan Something: Cannibal House Rules

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Jon Searles is Jonathan Something and Cannibal House Rules is an unabashed love letter to the neon sound (and soundtracks) of the ’80s. It’s full of endlessly lush and evocative synthpop storytelling and is the perfect backdrop for all the fantastical zombie populated, blood-soaked love stories with ambiguous, sequel ready endings you could ever want to daydream. As someone who “teen-ed” in the ’80s, hearing this thing was like stepping straight into a time machine (or in my case, an eternally shitty Ford Granada); amongst other things, there were hints of “Let’s Dance” era Bowie ( “Power Moves”), Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” (“Firestarter”) and Howard Jones’s earnest balladry (“Cake World”). It’s a veritable panorama of endlessly sweet and reverential nods to the glossy synthesized pop universe of the era. And so, if you feel like stepping away from the current mayhem ( yeah you do), slip on some headphones and let Cannibal House Rules cosmically transport you to 1984, to a suburban 7-11 parking lot at 2 am, where you can enjoy your Big Gulp™ whilst reclining on the hood of your car under a bed of stars, while you figure out how to stop the zombie apocalypse, save the world and get the crush of your dreams to fall in love with you.

 

Le Pie: A Room Of One’s Own

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” I step into the ring and take my best swing! I look up to the clouds and scream it out loud!” Yes girl, YES. The debut album from Le Pie ( of Sydney, Australia) is an epic collection of fantastical pop heartache, a lovelorn diary that is equal parts dreampop, Ronettes, Shangri-La’s, Siouxsie, Liz Fraser and Sinead. It’s full of gorgeous, painfully cathartic girl group laments with a beating Rock heart. There are so many great songs on here it seems unfair to call any out but okay, anthemic opening track “Circles” and the runny mascara’d “If Misery Loves Company” are particularly, ridiculously glorious.  A Room Of One’s Own makes crying into a pillow feel positively heroic.

 

Bonus Cuts !

I also want to acknowledge a couple of big name albums that you will likely notice on some of the other 2020 best of lists out there. Both of the titles that follow have been written about in a far more eloquent and succinct manner than I’m remotely capable of,  which is why I’m basically sitting this one out, but please know they are extremely luscious and worthy of your time :

Fleet Foxes: Shore

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Shore is a gorgeous, transportive coastal and emotional travelogue, a marriage of classic Beach Boy-esque shuffle to Milton Nascimento’s classic 1972 album Club Da Esquina 1. It’s the sonic embodiment of a truly noble, romantic red/orange/yellow sunset.

Owen Pallett: Island

Island_Owen Pallett

Composer-multi-instrumentalist Owen Pallett’s 5th solo studio album Island has a slightly complex backstory you can read about in this interview from earlier in the year. But you don’t have to know anything to appreciate it’s regal, airy, emotional classical/folk/chamber pop. Cryptic mystery and beauty abound on Island.

 

Look I made something for you ! I’ve assembled a playlist featuring highlights from all the aforementioned albums so you can digest things a bit easier. Check it out below and listen on shuffle for added enjoyment!

Best Albums of 2020 Highlight Playlist:

PuR’s 50 Best Songs of 2020

Saturday morning at 5 am was awoken by FDNY banging on all the doors of my east village NYC building & telling us to get out asap. It was one of those just the clothes on your back situations. We hustled outside to see 2 buildings engulfed in flames including the 128 year old Middle Collegiate Church only one building down from us. Burning embers were falling like snowflakes everywhere. It was terrifying & sad. Sat in the nearby shelter for a while worrying if my neighbors & myself were gonna lose everything. Blessedly FDNY got things under control & we were able to go back home after hours of non-stop worry. There was still a lot of destruction but the people were okay. It could have been even worse…but everyone’s still here.

This is not how I intended or ever imagined I’d present the PuR 50 Best Songs of 2020 Playlist but you know, the experience was so utterly in keeping with this nightmare of a year we are all trying to survive.

I wrote the stuff below before all that happened & in some ways it feels overly romantic & trivial but at the same time maybe it’s more meaningful now…right, so now I offer the original intro to the joy that is the PuR Best 50 Songs of 2020 Playlist written about a week ago …

One night in mid-November, I was putting together a playlist for this very blog at a time I was admittedly feeling kind of emo. Shit was seeming particularly overwhelming, sad & futile. I hit play on a random song & suddenly some internal wire was tripped & boom, just like that I was crying. Oddly, my first thought was not about a specific problem…it was that I couldn’t believe how something could sound so good, so gorgeously alive in the midst of the misery. It was a song I’d never heard before by an artist I didn’t know. It was a weird & powerful moment. Hey, it’s okay to roll your eyes. In regards to what 2020 felt like I know how on the nose that anecdote sounds…but it happened just like that. Fact is through all of 2020’s mayhem, there were still things being created, fussed over & invented, there was still plenty of dreaming happening, artists still made wondrous & crazy art.

The mission of the Picking Up Rocks blog has always been the same, to shine a light on the best music regardless of label affiliation or level of fame or social media presence or genre or perceived coolness because WHO CARES. A great song is a great song. And whenever I stumble upon a great song I want to share it no matter if it was born in a garage, someone’s bedroom, a state of the art studio or a freakin’ garden shed (dammit)!

And now we present PuR’s 50 Best Songs of 2020. You can listen on Spotify or Soundcloud but should note that since a few songs are not available on both platforms they are each a tiny bit different ( just think of it as an approximately 3 song bonus each way). You can not only hear the track that inspired all the aforementioned waterworks, Gilah’s “Better Young” but a bunch of other truly gorgeous & wonderful songs. Mostly I hope you discover or rediscover something that embraces you equally as hard & fills you with love & hope even if it’s just for a minute.

THANKS TO ALL THE ARTISTS & CREATORS OF THESE WONDERFUL SONGS, YOU ARE THE SUN

Listen on Soundcloud:

Listen on Spotify:

PuR First Quarter Favorites⚡️!

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That bird up there is a Great Argus & it is by far the BEST bird I’ve seen in person in 2020 ( they have one at the Bronx Zoo) but I digress…..PuR is a very small & somewhat silly blog, so small it wouldn’t even qualify as a pin prick on the pinkie finger of Pitchfork…but I still get genuine joy from sharing new music & writing ridiculously self-indulgent essays about old “uncool” music  that require the patience of a saint to actually read all the way through. In other words, I love doing this.

In light of what is happening right now, in all the misery & uncertainty, it seems even more important than ever to say thank you & show some love even in the tiniest ways. With that in mind I wanted to shine a light on some of the most brilliantly wonderful songs & artists that have surfaced over the first quarter of 2020. I hadn’t planned on doing this, didn’t occur to me until last week but this stuff is medicine & I’m grateful it all exists right now. Hopefully you’ll discover ( or rediscover) something here that’ll warm your heart for a minute. Rock on y’all⚡️

🔥PuR First Quarter Favorites🔥

SONGS (in no particular order):

Talker: Personal Space

Talker aka Celeste Tauchar released an excellent EP titled Wax this year & “Personal Space” is an unadulterated highlight. A melodic marriage of vintage grunge, Julien Baker style crescendos & Avril Lavigne’s forever banger “I’m With You”, it’s a real stunner.

 

Clea: Soft Blow to the Head

If “Soft Blow to the Head” had been born in 1994, it would’ve been played in an endless loop on both MTV & the radio & would likely have found it’s way into a good old Gen X film soundtrack. It’s a sweet jangle with a defiant core & a bit of Belly, smidge of Sundays & ounce of Cardigans embedded in it’s memorable melody.

 

Laveda: L

“L” sounds like a tranquilized, dreampop version of the Smashing Pumpkins “1979”, it’s hazy, hooky & just so languorously lovely.

 

HEBE: Out Of Sight

Bit of a vintage Zero 7 vibe to this sweet pop groove that explodes into something special when it hits the bridge; things get quiet, HEBE’s lustrous voice hovers over a spare backdrop & then it’s boom, boom, boom hands in the air for a semi-manic all too brief coda.

 

The Satellite Station: Phantom

A theme song for driving in circles in an empty parking lot at 2 in the morning feeling alone, alone, alone, the type of thing there can never be enough of, especially if they’re as fine this.

 

Eliza Shaddad: Pure Shores

It seems wrong to exult this cover of All Saints 2001 megahit “Pure Shores” as the finest Eliza Shaddad has to offer since her original stuff is so freakin’ good…but gotta love how she toughened it up, turning the electronic pop anthem into a vintage 90s alt rocker with a sweet Liz Phair/ Juliana Hatfield vibe; it’s just sublime.

 

Snowgoose: The Making of You

Sandy Denny, the late legendary vocalist of Fairport Convention & Fotheringay as well as incredible solo artist in her own right, could make traditional centuries old folk songs sound like pop songs & pop songs sound like traditional centuries old folk songs. Glasgow’s Snowgoose make music that is cut from that same glorious cloth. “The Making of You” is regal, rustic & handsome & hearing a band doing songs in this vein, this well in the pop-infested universe of 2020 is revelatory.

 

Charli Adams: Cloverland Drive

Adams is a truly gifted country singer and songwriter & this evocative reminiscence brings to mind peak Trisha Yearwood namely 1993’s “The Song Remembers When” & it don’t get much better than that.

 

ALBUMS:

Ellis: Born Again 

One of the more striking characteristics of Ellis’s debut album is how nearly every track starts off quietly standing in the corner then invariably erupts into either a wall of stirring shoegaze or a melodic twanging tearjerker…which is a very roundabout way of saying there isn’t a single weak track on it and it’s a total treasure.

 

Steve Reidell: Duke (40th Anniversary)

Steve Reidell of Air Credits, The Hood Internet & Black Moth Super Rainbow covers nearly every track from Genesis’s pop-prog masterpiece from 1980, Duke with complete, unabashed love. The fact that it even exists is wondrous enough but that it has the audacity to be as good too, well, that’s just a beautiful bonus.

And for the millionth time, Phil Collins Genesis > Peter Gabriel Genesis

 

And lastly, my favorite video:

HULA are a super duo featuring Bktherula & Hook & this is an unbelievably simple video, created by the digggers that so perfectly suits & celebrates the song ( & HULA themselves), it’s impossible to separate the 2. Whoever chose the mall setting is clearly some kind of super genius 🙂

 

PuR’s Top 50 Songs of 2019 !

hearty bird

The mission of Picking Up Rocks has always been the same, to shine a light on the best pop music regardless of label affiliation or level of fame or social media presence or perceived coolness…because who cares. A great song is a great song. And whenever we stumble upon a great song ( and there were a lot in 2019) we want to share it with you no matter if it was born in a garage, someone’s bedroom, a state of the art studio or a freakin’ treehouse !

Did that sound angry ? I swear it’s unintentional, guess I’m just weary of seeing the same songs mentioned on every year end list. Look, I genuinely like Lil Nas X, Lizzo and Billie Eilish. But know who released songs as good as theirs this year ? Kingsbury, Whitelands and The Hails. It’s okay if you haven’t heard all of them because that’s why we’re here, to both celebrate them and maybe introduce you if you haven’t.

I have listened to thousands upon thousands of songs this year because I am a crazy person who is always looking for a song to alter and upend the daily grind. Culling the master list down to the 50 best has been both nightmarish ( because there were lots of goods) and revelatory ( had forgotten just how good certain songs were) but we did it ! And so here they are, PuR’s TOP 50 SONGS OF 2019 ! 50 awesomely wonderful tracks by some equally wonderful artists all neatly arranged for you to listen on Soundcloud or Spotify ( links below). It’s my sincerest hope that you’ll discover something or someone within in who rocks your life and makes you swoon or at least say fuck yeah repeatedly.

THANKS TO ALL THE ARTISTS FOR THESE AWESOME SONGS, YOU ARE THE SUN.

Soundcloud:

Spotify:

PuR’s Top Songs of 2018!

Thousands of songs were released into the world this year. Here are our 66 favorites.

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I know what you’re thinking. Oh no, not another one. The barrage of “Best of the Year” lists is making you sick. You think they are boring and are all filled with the same predictable choices. And… I see your point. You’d think with the thousands upon thousands of songs that get released every year there would be more variation. And okay, while there are a few things that we can universally agree were GOOD this past year, like say the boygenius EP, or Tierra Whack’s “Whack World”, the contents of these lists can appear kind of samey after you’ve perused a handful, especially from the bigger online publications. Yes. That is true. I agree with you…but I live in hope. No matter how samey they seem to get after even reading through 2 or 3, I am one of those people who takes the time to do it anyway. Not just so I can talk shiz about why a particular record should or shouldn’t be there ( mostly the latter), but also because maybe, just maybe, I’ll stumble upon something I haven’t heard before. There’s usually at least one exceptional oddball lurking amongst the familiar picks on these lists…but okay, wouldn’t it be way cooler if we lived in a world where these lists didn’t look anything like one another? One where there was no consensus on what was “good”? Where all the picks were all as weird, personal and WTF as they could possibly be? Imagine how deep the discovery rabbit hole could get then. Okay, that is probably an f-ing insane nerd thing to say, but we’ve gotta follow our hearts around here. And with that as our driving force, here is the official PuR Top Songs of 2018 Playlist! It contains 66 heart-swellingly beautiful songs, each of which has been at the top of the charts here at PuR at some point over the past 12 months, which is to say they aren’t in any particular order. Also the “66” has nothing to do with Satan. It’s just that 100 songs always feels like way too much and whittling the list down to 50 proved to be an impossible task.  Or maybe it was Satan being a wise guy, it’s been that kind of a year. Anyway I truly hope you find it weird and maybe wonderful and that you stumble upon a song you have a deranged yet passionate affair with or at least discover an artist who gets you.

And THANKS to all these wonderful artists for all of these kick ass beautiful songs. Don’t stop. And THANKS to you for reading this far now or at any point during 2018. You are all songs of the year. THANK YOU.

Hear it on Soundcloud:

Hear it on Spotify:

  • Please note while each list is 66 glorious songs long, they are slightly different as not all songs are available on both streaming services ( just a few !)…which means you should check out both so you don’t miss anything !

PuR’s Top Songs of 2017 !

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I’m not going to rant about what a great/bad year it’s been in music because really every year, since lord knows when, there have been brilliantly, wonderful, and transcendent songs being born into the world, as well as, you know, less than transcendent ones, and to qualify a year as “unparalleled”, or “bad”, or “disappointing”, well, it’s all pretty subjective, and yes, I’ll save you a seat here on the fence next to me.

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” Round numbers are overrated…or I’ve decided they are for a minute”

Okay, there are an odd number of tracks because I opted for honesty over cleanliness but I aspire to like a perfectly round number of songs in 2018 ( editors note: good luck with that). And also these songs aren’t ranked in any particular order…and there aren’t a lot of mega-hits in the conventional sense ( except in some magnificent alternate universe light years away in which case all these songs were # 1, for a day each at least). And a bunch of these artists haven’t “blown up” quite yet so to speak, which makes it a real joy to exult them here, from amongst the millions of others. And hey, did also include a few standout tracks from some of the bigger names we already know, and maybe love, so it’s one big authentic “Rocks” overview of 2017.

I was going to write a line about each song, but that seemed insane, and so I’ll just leave you with this : within this list are songs to enhance any daily activity including crying, staring out train windows, pondering existence, plotting a better 2018, performing manual labor, or screaming your head off.

Lastly want to say love to all these ridiculously wonderful bands for making these ridiculously wonderful songs: you all rule. And one more thing, thank YOU to anyone reading/listening, or in anyway acknowledging this very, very small blog. I’m gonna keep going even if there’s only one of you because dammit, it’s worth it. THANK YOU !

* The lists are slightly different as not all tracks are offered on both Soundcloud, and Spotify i.e. just a tiny handful of difference, mostly the fact that the established tend to be  only on the Spotify, while the up and coming tend to be mostly on the Soundcloud, so try ’em both. Okay, go turn it up !

Soundcloud: Best of 2017 ! Right Here !:

Spotify: Best of 2017 !: