To start: I can't believe I've been writing about music now for ten years, one third of my life. In 2010 I joined my college radio station, KWLC at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, as a substitute DJ, and then hosted my own show in 2011 and 2012 before graduating. I enjoyed sharing what I was spinning on the air each week so much, I found that I couldn't stop. So I started a Facebook page, then a Tumblr, and finally switched over to this (more official) website.
I moved to Minneapolis in 2012 and jumped in the deep end right away, never looking back. Since then, I've been to more than 400 hundred live shows and probably seen more than 1,000 different bands. Between 2012 and 2016, my life was spent in 7th St Entry, in Triple Rock and The Cedar—and in random people's living rooms every month for intimate and secret Sofar Sounds shows. My constant drive was to see live music and write about it, even if I usually never got paid for it. And as I spent most of my nights in dimly lit rooms with the people who defined what became "home," I became an adult.
So as the pandemic threatens music venues and the livelihood of musicians countrywide, I think of and donate to my community in Minnesota. As racism reared its ugly head in more blatant ways than ever this spring—and on the very streets of South Minneapolis mere minutes from where I lived, and in the places I still know and love—my heart rages for justice everywhere, but most strongly for the non-white residents of Minneapolis who still fear for their lives every day. When the Twin Cities had a true reckoning in its music scene this summer, I wanted to explode. When I heard recently that City Pages had closed for good, I had to sit down. And both times this year when I found out that beautiful people in my life and in the music scene were no longer with us, I couldn't get up off the floor.
But when I saw The Current at MPR had successfully unionized, I smiled. And when I see the efforts to make Auntie's a reality, my heart feels hopeful. Bandcamp Fridays became a thing this year, giving us all a way to support our favorite artists and something to look forward to every month. And there are still so many musicians with us, making and sharing their music in a world that needs it more than ever.
I obviously don't have any cool photos or any fun stories about the lengths I went to see a show this year. I was at home in my apartment for the majority of 2020. Hunkered down in my precious and personal 430 square feet, the idea of being surrounded by so many strangers in a large, dark room with pulsing lights and blaring music—a concept that once gave me such joy—now gives me waves of nauseating anxiety. I don't know when I'm going to see live music indoors again and I'm not in a rush.
I also struggled to write about music this year. One reason is a good one: I write for my full-time day job now, about science! It's fulfilling and uses lots of my creative energy, and I don't have the need to write on my own time so much. But the bigger reason is that I've just been so consistently emotionally overwhelmed, that music has been my life raft and the sea itself, as wave after wave of life events threatened to knock me under. To write about that music felt like opening up to swallow the water on purpose, when it was already barely keeping me afloat.
Or as the editors at Bandcamp so perfectly put it: “They were the ones we kept going back to, and which kept rewarding us every time we did. They were records that felt like they reflected this moment in time, or they were records that reinvented what music could sound like or, plain and simple, they were just records that made us happy. In light of the last year: Do we really need a greater metric than that?”
Top albums of 2020
Bon Iver, move over. Novo Amor takes the crown of soft-singing, male falsetto vocals over gorgeous instrumentals with the brilliant Cannot Be, Whatsoever. Thank you to Zach for introducing me to them this spring, just in time for another album to drop this fall. Every song on this record is a work of art and together in order, they are a masterpiece that will last long past 2020. A through listen is a must, I recommend doing so not sober at least once. If you aren't immediately hooked by listening to "Opaline," something might be wrong with you. And if you haven't cried at some point after getting through "Keep Me," you might want to get that checked out.
Mxmtoon's dawn & dusk is a tough album for me to write about. On one hand, it's one of the best released in 2020, no question. Her voice is like being wrapped up in your favorite blanket, her use of ukulele is so refreshing, and her songs bloom into some of the most beautiful sounds I've heard in ages. At the same time, I found the second half of this album (released separately as dusk) right as I was going through intense grief and was subsequently, heartlessly dumped by someone only days later, all in the middle of a pandemic. So yes, this album makes me cry. This album also reminds me that music will always be there for you, to make sure your heart is still beating.
One of my favorite things about listening to new music is that sometimes I like an album so much, I completely forget to look up the band who made it. I oddly enjoy this lack of information as it makes me feel like these songs just came to be out of thin air and at the same time, have always existed. So I still have absolutely no idea who Mild Minds is, but I know that MOOD has been on repeat for me this year at home, in the car, and while working out.
Top Songs of 2020
"Enough Love," The Reverb Junkie
"Asking For a Friend," mxmtoon
"Garden Song," Phoebe Bridgers
"Pastime," Samantha Crain
"Window," Still Woozy
"Love is a Drug," Empress Of
"Karma," Riz Ahmed
"My Future," Billie Eilish
"Extraordinary Life," Gordi
"Cheesin'," Cautious Clay
"You and Me," The Magician
"Cold Water," Cut Copy
"Fool's Gold," Lucy Dacus
Fleet Foxes, Shore
Polica, When we stay alive
Riz Ahmed, The Long Goodbye
Half Waif, The Caretaker
Absofacto, Lemon Drop
Kevin Garrett, Made Up Lost Time
The Japanese House, Chewing Cotton Wool
Caitlin Pasko, Greenhouse
Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher
Lennon Stella, Three. Two. One.
Washed Out, Purple Noon
Glass Animals, Dreamland
Sylvan Esso, Free Love
Frances Quinlan, Likewise
Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated Side B
Samia, The Baby
Barrie, Happy To Be Here
Rebecca Marx was a good friend and a mentor to me in the Minneapolis music scene before I moved to Colorado in 2016. We went to shows together, she was my editor at Rift Magazine—my first ever regular, paid music writing gig in my adult life—and she heartily celebrated with me when I found out I had gotten into graduate school for journalism. She believed in me, supported me, made me laugh so much and was so honest with me about her own life and its challenges. The world was changed forever for the better by her being in it. She passed away unexpectedly in late September of 2020 at the age of 48, leaving behind her husband and two kids. The Local Current Blog was kind enough to feature my memories of her.
Leah Ottman, who performed under the name LOTT, passed away at the age of 33 in early December of 2020. She performed with We Are The Willows, Jacob Pavek, POLICA, Rogue Valley, Dessa and jeremy messersmith in addition to her brilliant solo work. Leah was really really special to many, many people. There aren't words to describe how much of a loss the Twin Cities suffered this month when she passed. I wrote about her in my "Best of Minneapolis: 2014" coverage as "master of the stage in her own right." I loved her music, her gorgeous voice, her innovative looping technique and her fun outfits, but she also had the most beautiful, caring soul. She dedicated a song to me once at a show and I've never forgotten how much that made me feel I mattered. I was lucky enough to see her perform more than ten times in my years in Minneapolis, and I'm still in disbelief that I'll never get to see or hear her again. Read more about Leah and her legacy at The Local Current Blog.