Yeah, year-end lists are sorta dumb, especially given the pure volume of releases in today’s fractured music marketplace.
Probably the best one released recently is actually 50 lists, created by Lemon Pitch’s Brock Ginther to make sure each of 50 local and regional bands got their turn at CoolBlogMan’s No. 1 slot. He expertly mocks any attempt at objectivity by music writers:
“Any time a new album came out,” he writes in the fake introduction to each top 50, “it was listened to 4-6 initial times (depending on genre) and scored against our Initial Listen Rubric (ILR), which is optimized to assess these artifacts with limited contextual biases. Weeks later, each album is given additional listens (usually 5-7 passes through, depending on genre). At this phase, our staff is permitted to pursue contextual or biographical information that may aid in their assessment. For example, each employee is given a $25 iTunes gift card per week to aid in any ancestral and/or geo-scenic research. Impressions are quantized, qualitized, and weighted.”
It all hits very close to home. So, I’ll save my annual year-end introduction and just say that I personally love year-end lists.
Every year, I find something I had no idea I loved and am introduced to brand-new favorite bands. I hope this round-up of my 10 favorite tunes that Mainers released in 2020 turns you onto at least something you’ll want to play over and over and is read with the understanding there’s no accounting for taste.
Regardless, 2020 – and especially December of 2020, which was packed with important local releases and ended with the New Year’s Day drop of a resplendent new project from R. A. P. Ferreira – will go down as among the best for Maine songwriting and production. These are some fantastic songs:
“Love at Your Convenience,” The Ghost of Paul Revere — Considering the pressure the band must have been feeling, after literal years of working on this year’s “Good at Losing Everything,” this single really delivers. It has smart turns of phrase, powerful dynamics, heart-felt emotional appeal, even a gender role reversal that feels particularly contemporary with our societal moment. It’s also a powerful step forward for a band increasingly ready for the national limelight.
“Difficult,” Amy Allen — When all is said and done, Allen will be remembered as among her generation’s finest songwriters. Her four 2020 releases have a combination of variety and cohesiveness that’s truly remarkable. For my money, “Difficult” is the best of the lot, with a quirky and undeniable bass hook, a savvy juxtaposition of rhythms and pacing, and a soaring vocal turn.
“Sherman’s March,” Murcielago — Rock is hardly hot as a format right now, but Murcielago leads a bit of a local vanguard, championing its return. There is a powerful contrast here between the trippy verse, with dainty licks and piano runs, and the resounding chorus, finishing with a punishing dueling-guitar descend. And that drop in between? Exquisite.
“Jetset Johnny,” Dominic Lavoie — With a strong argument for the Maine album of the year, Lavoie’s “Wave with a Broken Arm” is as smart as it is listenable, and these qualities come together in this heartfelt and poignant piece, alternately smoothly nostalgic and sparklingly danceable.
“THREE WORDS,” Bensbeendead. — Maine’s breakout artist of the year quietly racked up huge play counts on the strength of delicate production, a sweet falsetto, and a pointed understanding of the subtle touches that delight and surprise. This piece drips with longing and the ache of regret while remaining a sneaky banger. And that descend in the bridge packs a serious punch.
“The Kind of Band that Wears Hats,” Lemon Pitch — Thank goodness this song exists. Its rolling freneticism is incredibly cathartic when played very loudly and on repeat. With its “all of us are waiting” refrain, though, the two minutes it consumes still manage to be packed with a building and prickly anticipation that gets your heart racing in a way you’re not quite sure is good or bad.
“Arizona,” Lady Lamb — Can’t say I’m sad to have Lady Lamb back in Maine. She has already created in her body of work some of the most thoughtful, dense, personal, and inspiring songs made anywhere this century. She shows off her ability here to paint portraits of her past so vivid you’d swear you lived them yourself.
“Colorblind,” Oshima Brothers — To really revel in this piece, check out the Maine Music Alliance fundraising video that features the Brothers doing this live in what appears to be their garage. It’s sublime. And the falsetto rise that accompanies “then you grab my hand” at the opening of the chorus should force goosebumps to ripple up your arm the first time you hear it. I’m not sure there’s a quiet band doing more interesting things right now.
“Here Before,” Coyote Island — Maybe 2020’s most pleasant surprise was the return of Mike O’Hehir to Maine’s stages and the breezy, Euro-inflected pop he brought back with him. His four releases collectively recall Mediterranean beaches and the California of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. This is the highlight, with a guitar solo that evokes Jeff Tweedy and vibe like your last romantic dinner.
“Yes Regrets,” The Worst — Fueled by the low-end sax of Morphine’s Dana Colley, this sounds a lot like a band coming into its own. Lead-singer Brooke Binion is a revelation, angry and passionate and sounding a lot like she would have been comfortable on the CBGB stage back in the late ‘70s when punk wasn’t quite so sharply defined yet. The mid-stage of this five-minute burn is true pathos.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].