A soundtrack to a terrible year: 10 great music projects and releases of 2020

What a car crash of a moment in time this is. What little hope there has been brought to us in the unlikely progression of 2020. What is there left to say, except fingers crossed to the turn of the year? 2021 could be better and is just around the corner. Allegedly waiting for us, swinging a baseball bat. So, let´s shine some light on the horror we have all dragged ourselves through during the past ominous sequence of seasons and hope for the best. While governments all over the world failed in personal union to support their people financially, especially the weakest economic forces like small businesses and freelancing artists fought with a maximum of creative measures against the impending death of the passionate labor of love securing their livelihood. In this spirit, the music scene came up with lots of heart-warming ideas to pierce through the confused sorrow and suffering, not the least by supporting crew members, charitable actions, and naturally funding their survival. Late to the party, but walking in confident, this is solarstr1ker.blog’s list featuring 10 great music projects under the radar, which provided us with inspirational works throughout this staggering period.

Ghost Park

As this selection of honorable artists is not hierarchically structured, it shall not affect the reader that Ghost Park might be the most welcome find the author has to report, meaning vastly transcending beyond the recent time, being a true gem of experimental music undertaking. Described as inspired by absurdist literature, precisionist art, and the brutalist architecture of New York City Ghost Park introduced a new series named Framework amid July, focused on manipulated recordings of piano sessions, which was continued in September with another release. The few presented tracks per volume deliver monstrous orchestral undertones, visualizing the overbearing aura of the urban gorge in the mind of the listener, intimidating and comforting alike. It´s easy to draw a line from here to 2020’s municipal blight. Conclusively the Framework series is a pleasant addition to Ghost Park’s discography, yet not comparable to the immense quality and skills in shapeshifting genres between ambient soundscapes and indie rock proven with the preceding full-length outputs.

Potion

For all the ones who would like to experience the ghost of a person, that died on the world’s most thrilling rollercoaster fronting a band mixing jazzy math guitars and rock operatic passages linked with blast beat after blast beat rhythm set to full-automatic fire, my oh my, California’s Potion got you covered. After a bunch of released tracks in 2019 and a split with Those Darn Gnomes in July of this year, their latest EP Cemetary does not reinvent the already established and lovely irritating extreme expressionism but manifests its amenities with an increased grade of production and better songwriting forming Potion’s madness to an enjoyable kind of noise terror. Long story short, Cemetary is the definitive musical perception of our feelings regarding 2020.

Vansire

The word mellow might have been invented to characterize the following project titled Live from the Decorah Farmers Market, recorded by Minnesota’s dream-pop duo Vansire right on the spot. While most artists decided to produce and perform at their homes and other strongholds of isolation in an exemplary manner, Vansire chose to take it outside, while they could and entertained clueless passersby with a brilliant live gig, two instruments at a time, offering a selection of previously released songs. Where Vansire’s flamboyant studio releases lack rough edges, nothing is missing here. The overall sound quality is so rich in-depth and approachable on these tracks, that it’s predestined to calm people down. If someone requires a sedating effect, let singer Josh Augustine’s voice take care of it.

Mikazuki BIGWAVE

This spotlight goes out to the cute beats champion of Yokohama, Japan. Yes, the one and only ミカヅキBIGWAVE, the grandmaster of future funk production, unique upbeat arrangements, and putting the Kawaii into danceable electronic grooves. With two full-length albums, an ep in between and two singles promoting an upcoming LP Mikazuki released an unbelievable mass of energetic tracks, yet diverse in their style and delivery. Moreover, it´s not only this specific achievement attained alongside the challenges that have occurred and limited the agency of artists qualifying especially 海辺のSENTIMENTAL as a noteworthy release. 2020 left the world thirsty, hungry, and pleading for relief from stress. Something entertaining, funny, and lighthearted to free our burdened souls from a great big pile of built-up negativity. One can arguably dislike the omnipresent anime fanservice this project is based on as a whole, but it´s simply impossible to deny the uplifting vibes, motivational vocal performances, and liberating lust for life it is standing for. If there is an annual award for orchestrating good times this year‘s winner is Mikazuki BIGWAVE.

The Casket Lottery

Ensuing the past returns of classic emo rock bands like Mineral (2019, One Day When We Are Young) and The Get Up Kids (2019, Problems) another well-known and respected group of the scene made a comeback in 2020. With Short Songs For End Times, The Casket Lottery released their fifth full-length record in early November. While the rawness, instrumental progressiveness, and emotional ferocity of influential releases like Moving Mountains and Survival Is For Cowards has declined over time and the experimental appeal of 2012’s Real Fear seemingly was a singular occurrence, their newest LP embraces a straightforward and mature alternative rock sound, relying on renowned strengths like the charismatic vocals of singer and guitarist Nathan Ellis and a very present bass empowering the easy to grasp and authentically lethargic songwriting. Short Songs For End Times is a record to sing along and cry out to, empathetic, but poised enough to get you through an extra month of sticking it out.

Spiritbox

Female-fronted powerhouse Spiritbox, hailing from Vancouver, Canada, is popular for its explosive combination of spheric djent elements and hard-hitting metalcore topped by Courtney LaPlante’s (ex I Wrestled A Bear Once) breathtaking ability to fluently switch between her beautiful singing voice and devilish screams. Following a significant collection of singles in 2019 they released three stand-alone songs evenly distributed with the passing of 2020 including the very successful track Holy Roller offering a mix of electronic samples and massive breakdown-ridden rhythms. In that respect, the trios uprising isn´t a coincidence, it’s based on sheer talent and a fresh understanding of modern metal. The message is clear: People who like heavy music won´t be getting around Spiritbox any longer. And that´s the bottom line.

2077

The events that affected 2020 got us to take a look into the future and question what is yet to come. Concerning this matter the eagerly anticipated AAA video game Cyberpunk 2077 couldn’t please everyone with its fashionable, yet enforced superficial definition of a dystopian science-fiction scenario and its abrasive flashy citizens. Cyberpunk, Violence, and Speed inspired grindcore project 2077’s debut release Cybernetic Dreams published the first of March however proclaimed an intriguing counter draft that should heal the wounds of those disappointed. Dirty, desperate, and agonizing, completed with ailing vocals that range between extreme coughing and black metal like death rattling 2077 grinds in the vein of nerve-wracking paragons like Gridlink, but gets it done to create an alluring atmosphere at the same time by sacrificing a bit of rapidity for the integration of wailing melodic riffs. Is the spawning of 2077 in 2020 a bad omen? As it seems we´ll find out in about half a century.

livingwithnathan

Some songs simply need to make a comeback one way or the other. For that reason married emo/hardcore duo livingwithnathan released a new version of their track, We’ll See You Tomorrow, which was planned to be part of a compilation that never came together. Originally descending from 2018’s heart-wrenching EP Grief, which deals with the loss of a dearly loved one and offered a bewitching mix of melodic rock and harsh shouting, 2020’s take comes off with a more punk-ish and distorted sound. A short, but precious musical work, that is reminding us, how painful and haunting it can be to bid farewell, just now in times of a worldwide pandemic, condemning people to die and let go without the chance to say goodbye.

Cloacal Kiss / Wax Vessel

Mentioning comebacks there is no way to not bring up this year’s phenomenal releases enabled by Wax Vessel, an independent record label, committed to limited run vinyl pressings of remastered legendary math- and grindcore music (with no compromise!). So, one is advised to act quickly and check out some of the 27 classic albums, that WV granted us within 2020, like Cloacal Kiss’s Easter containing high-quality noise assaults on your ears, from the tight instrumental production to an unbelievable extreme vocal performance.

Army of Freshmen

There could not be a better swan song to this year than Promise provided by the pop-punk veterans Army of Freshmen in late March. After two decades of spreading fun on stages all around the world, not being averse to dive into the realms of melancholy, when it had to be done, AOF came up with three new singles following their latest LP Happy To Be A Live in 2012, beginning with 2019’s Well May Her World Go Round. Compared to Everything Is Beautiful released in February of this year Promise is declaring an equally optimistic mindset, battered by the hardships of it all, but willing to push back against the odds, getting us in the right mood to leave 2020 behind:

the same way they buried you

is the same way, they buried me too

ever after, this disaster

we’ll still be here

I promise you, I promise you

I promise you, I promise you

I promise you, I promise you

Promise by Army of Freshmen