Author’s Note — It’s strange, sitting down to write this on January 1st, one day after the news of MF DOOM’s death in October. This part of the article will focus on music that got me through the year that wasn’t released in 2020; my top artist on Spotify in 2020 was none other than MF DOOM. I’ll try not to let the crushing news inflect this article too much, but it’s hard. It was just another knife twist at the end of a dagger of a year. RIP to the Masked Villain.
So, music for the year that didn’t come out this year. Consider this my personal soundtrack to 2020, one that was filled with new discoveries, in part thanks to my initiation of the Fantano Project, which had heavy influences on what I listened to, where I ventured out musically. We’ll start with discoveries, I guess, and then move on to old faithfuls, before wrapping it all up in a nice little playlist.
Dorian Electra — I’ll be quick with this one since I technically already covered them and their new release, My Agenda, in Part 1. However, Dorian Electra’s contribution to my music year in the form of their debut record, Flamboyant, is too considerable not to mention. I have Andrew Huang and Anthony Fantano, both Youtubers, to thank for bringing them to my attention. Dorian’s 2019 debut album is simply this: tight, cutting edge music of Gen Z, a.k.a. the future. Blending genres and genders so fluidly, bops like “Man To Man,” “Emasculate,” and the title track were in constant rotation for nearly the entire year and I still can’t get enough of them. The subversive, clever lyrics hone in on uses of masculinity in everyday speech, idioms, etc. and turn them on their heads, all the while backed by clean synth grooves. Catch these next year in the Old Faithful section, cuz my obsession isn’t going away anytime soon.
Death Grips — The infamous underground, industrial hip-hop duo has been on my radar for years. Indeed, since my first exposure to Anthony Fantano and Theneedledrop back in 2014, when he gave a rare perfect 10 to their album The Money Store, I’ve dabbled here and there with the group’s raw, aggressive, and undoubtedly influential brand of hip-hop, but it has never quite connected with me (with the one exception being the opener to The Money Store, “Get Got,” which has always banged). Something clicked this year as my increased interest in Fantano’s music taste led my to try again. Fan favorites such as “Guillotine,” “Takyon,” and “Hacker” were all in heavy rotation; MC Ride’s poetic yet abrasive delivery/lyricism matched with the noisy percussion and production of Zach Hill just hit a certain sweet spot I needed this year. I’m still yet to become a die-hard fan and to really delve into their discography, but their offerings so far have been inspirational enough to land them high on this list.
100 gecs — Another sound of the Gen-Z future we will someday inherit, 100 gecs have become quite popular among the young people for their zany, blistering music that is quite unlike anything you’ve heard before. It’s cartoonish, it’s bizarre, it’s fun. Between their hits “money machine”, “stupid horse,” and the album of remixes they released this year, the wild strains of the growing hyperpop movement alternately confounded and delighted me (and infuriated roommates and siblings who were subjected to them).
Thank You Scientist — I’ve cooled off on this group in recent months, but there can be no denying their hold they had on me in the first half of the year. Thanks to another brilliant Youtuber Adam Neely, I stumbled upon this eclectic progressive rock-jazz fusion band. If that sounds like two genres you either love or hate mashed together, you’re right on the money. I don’t think anyone I’ve played them for has had quite the positive reaction I have, but their blending of genres and sounds is right in my wheelhouse. From guitar to saxophone to trumpet to violin, the instrumentals on their songs are very, very tight and exciting to listen to. The vocals is where I, and many others, have some trouble. Sometimes, the timbre and pitch of frontman Salvatore Marrano’s voice is just a little too… whiny? Grating? I can’t really describe it, but sometimes it bothers me, sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, when these songs hit, it’s like jazz and progressive rock and the Foo Fighters all had a baby and it’s amazing. Biggest tracks for me were “FXMLDR” (took me forever to figure out it spelled “Fox Mulder” lol), “Wrinkle” (a nice, short little intro track), and “Mr. Invisible”.
Marc Rebillet — This is another one that’s slightly cheating, since Rebillet’s music is only a piece of my interest. I discovered Rebillet through Kenny Beats’s endlessly entertaining viral series “The Cave,” and I haven’t looked back since. Rebillet has a particular brand of music/entertainment, often accompanied by an adolescent-like sense of vulgar humor. He only makes improvised, on-the-spot music during livestreams and his talents are thus on perpetual display as he loops, harmonizes, sings, raps, all in real time. Watch one of his videos if you don’t believe me. His personality is infectious, the kind of person you always want to be around.
Clarence Clarity — Another discovery from the Fantano Project, Clarence Clarity is another rising star in the music world and his album No Now was one of my most beloved finds of the year. There are two types of songs on No Now: you’ve got the short, experimental, glitchy, ambient songs that most people probably aren’t into, and then you’ve got the glittering, intensely-layered pop jams that you just can’t resist. Songs like “1–800-Worship” and “Buck-Toothed Particle Smashers” are so. dang. catchy in addition to being bold and fresh. Additionally, Clarence Clarity did a remix of “Gone” by Charli XCX and Christine and the Queens, one of my favorite songs of recent years, and it’s perfect. It’s everything a remix should be: it stays true to the spirit and charm of the original, while putting a distinct spin that a new voice should.
King Crimson — By far the oldest on this list of discoveries, King Crimson descended from the Youtube algorithm like a angel from heaven. I was familiar with the name, the famous cover of their debut album, and the sample that Kanye West used in “Power”, but not with much else. Then “Starless” arrived and my world changed. As soon as I heard it, I ran into a room where my mother and older brother (my two closest musical comrades) and asked why no one had ever recommended this to me. The melody, the guitars, the lyrics, the mellotron, the progression and return to the theme at the end, it was all so blissfully perfect. I was instantly kicked off into a King Crimson rabbit hole and while their music has generally enriched my year, “Starless” has made a meteoric rise into my pantheon of all-time favorite songs. I love it that much. It was 7th on my most played Spotify list for the year, which would already be impressive for an eleven minute song. But that’s not taking into account how many times I listened to it on YouTube, which is… considerable. Suffice it to say, “Starless” is my true most listened to song of the year.
Other discoveries of the year include: Swans (thank you once again, Anthony Fantano), Flying Lotus, NxWorries (the collaboration project between Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge), and experimental/progressive Black Metal groups Liturgy and Krallice (Fantano again).
BROCKHAMPTON — While “Sugar” has been on my most-played list for a couple years running, I took the time to delve further into the hip-hop boyband’s discography and was reminded just how talented and rewarding it is. I’ve had several different favorite members at this point (I think I’ve landed on Matt Champion for now) and several different favorite songs. A gift that will hopefully give us more in the future.
James Blake — I’ve been a fan for a while now and, while I covered some of his 2020 releases in Part 1, his older songs “Unluck,” “I Never Learned to Share,” and “My Willing Heart” are stand-outs for this year. They’re equally haunting and catchy, which is basically all I need in music.
Wu-Tang Clan and Nas — I would generally never lump these two giants of old school hip-hop together like this, but I was blessed enough to see them in concert together back in February. (Yeah, remember then? back when live shows were still a thing? me neither.) For obvious reasons, it was a show that I couldn’t pass up and it delivered. The rest of the year has been basking in the residual glory of two of New York’s rap legends coming together on stage. Not really much more I can say.
MF DOOM/Madvillain — I’ve held off on writing this until now because I don’t know what to say. Doom’s work on MM…Food and Madvillainy is a marvel that I will be unpacking for years to come and to lose him right now is hard. Even though he was not in a particularly active phase of his career, I felt like I was finally getting into a moment of peak appreciation for all of his work. Perhaps I’ll come back and write about Madvillainy at greater length in the future, but suffice it to say that MF DOOM’s rhyming and lyrical ability blows my mind about once a day on average. From brilliant one liners to barrages of chained multisyllable rhymes (without the flashiness of a late-period Eminem, for example) Doom towers over his contemporaries with unique, dense, and artful rapping. One of the all-time greats, no doubt about it. RIP.
Wrapping It All Up
I’m grateful to music for the sustaining force of wonder, brilliance, joy, and inspiration that it has continued to bring to my doorstep, especially in a year like the one we’ve just had. Nothing validates and heals like the perfect song in a given moment. May its companionship remain constant for another trip around the sun.
A Journey Through Hell (Original Soundtrack Recording)
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Man To Man — Dorian Electra
FXMLDR — Thank You Scientist
Flamboyant — Dorian Electra
Dreaming of David — Ryan Beatty
SUGAR — BROCKHAMPTON
Starless — King Crimson
Mr. Invisible — Thank You Scientist
Computer Face//Pure Being — Flying Lotus
My Willing Heart — James Blake
GOLD — BROCKHAMPTON
Guillotine — Death Grips
money machine — 100 gecs
Bring Da Ruckus — Wu-Tang Clan
1997 Diana — BROCKHAMPTON
Accordion — Madvillain
A Picture in Motion — Waveshaper
Reach Out — Marc Rebillet
Buck-Toothed Particle Smashers — Clarence Clarity
Nothing is Safe — clipping.
Tornado of Souls — Megadeth
Figaro — Madvillain
Let’s Fall in Love for the Night — FINNEAS
1–800-Worship — Clarence Clarity
Why Didn’t You Save Me — Nicolas Jaar
4th Dimension — KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Window — Still Woozy
N.Y. State of Mind — Nas
Hacker — Death Grips
All Caps — Madvillain
Suede — NxWorries
Blood of the Fang — clipping.
Avatar — Swans
Meat Grinder — Madvillain
I Never Learnt to Share — James Blake
Shadows of Tomorrow — Madvillain
Giorgio by Moroder — Daft Punk
Far Beyond The Sun — Yngwie Malmsteen
Link Up — NxWorries
Potholderz ft. Count Bass D — MF DOOM
Ne me quitte pas — Jacques Brel
Shockwave City — Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats
Notre-Dame Est — Anomalie
Wrinkle — Thank You Scientist
Camel — Flying Lotus
Affirmative Action — Nas
Story 7 — clipping.
Unluck — James Blake
Screen Shot — Swans
Gone — Clarence Clarity Remix
Get Got — Death Grips
SWEET — BROCKHAMPTON
GOD OF LOVE — Liturgy
Lingus — Snarky Puppy