2020 favorites · Playlist

Favorite songs of 2020, part 1/2

Sign Libra – “Sea Of Nectar” MV

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I have a lot to catch up with but this is an interesting music year so far! This particular mix wound up having a lot of rich and moody synth-pop along with airy vocals (AKA my default mood). I love to have some variety in all of my mixes though so we also have tropical vibes, ghostly ballads and some unique fusions. As you might expect from me, I focused my inclusions on less canon artists who could use more attention.

  1. Σtella – The Race
  2. Wild Nothing – Sleight of Hand
  3. Choir Boy – It’s Over
  4. Baby Zionov – Extract From Truth
  5. Planet 1999 – Party
  6. Sign Libra – Sea of Waves
  7. Lido Pimienta – Te Queria
  8. La Roux – 21st Century
  9. Shura ft. Ivy Sole – elevator girl
  10. Christine And The Queens – I Disappear In Your Arms
  11. Hello Seahorse! – Mujer
  12. Maria Jose Llergo – El Hombre De La Mil Luna
  13. Eefje De Visser – Stilstand
  14. Half Waif – Siren
  15. Agnes Obel – Island of Doom
  16. Kelsey Lu – Morning Dew
  17. Nailah Hunter – White Flower Dark Hill
  18. Kelsey Lu w/ Onyx Collective – Where Or When
  19. Lydia Ainsworth – Diamonds Cutting Diamonds (Strings Version)
  20. Pantayo – Kaingin 
  21. Little Dragon – Stay Right Here 
  22. Empress Of – Call Me
hidden treasure

Elizabete Balcus – Conarium, 2016

art pop / folktronica / chamber pop / synth pop

More like this – Glasser’s Ring, Tess Roby, Danielle Dax

When I play this I feel I’m wandering the misty forests and castles, maybe even at Elizabete’s home of Latvia. On the other hand, her electronics morph that into a kind of vortex with their surreal, uneasy character. This is no shock since Elizabete calls her dreams a major inspiration. Not long before she sings “is the castle real?”, I’m sensing a computer behind the courtyard. Yes, this is yet another album where folklore and synths make a fascinating pair.

The same song can flip from churchy vocalizing to hectic techno beats in seconds. A simple feather-weight ballad like “Vienīgais ceļš” has me swaying, but something as flat-out bizarre as “Monument” makes me giggle. Beyond that, her lyrics go for abstract ideas like ‘following the shape of butterflies’ and forgetting her name. The memorable ‘it is not yet a forest’ repeats until the last song fades.

For all the synth shenanigans (she triggers them live with fruit) it’s the way she mixes it with her flute and distinct voice that stands out. The flute has a way of twirling around just so like a ribbon, while her voice has this deep, rosy richness. The two Latvian songs make good showcases for the latter, plus an uncommon language (“Vienīgais ceļš” again, while “Negribas Iet Gulēt” could pass for a lullaby). Like a wise mage, she’s discreet, focused; conducting some kind of research, but a song like “They’re Coming” shows her more playful instincts. With a colorful arrangement like that (flute, mallet, synth, horns) it could fit a parade.

Mix

Thinking Of Christmas Past

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Are you up to set the Christmas mood but wanting something a bit different? Here I’ve gathered songs that remind me most of Christmas season without necessarily being about the holiday: icy, magical sounds with plenty of twinkling and moods ranging from jovial and nostalgic to mysterious. As a theoretical ‘stocking’ I include two Christmas covers and three themed originals.

Track listing

camera lucida – robin guthrie / dreamers tied to chairs – ashrae fax / dazzle + il est ne le divin enfant – siouxsie and the banshees / modigliani (lost in your eyes) – book of love / cut down the tree – ice choir / world 5: snow land [kirby’s epic yarn OST] – tomoya tomita / march of the dawn – the mummers / love to stay – altered images / winter wonderland – cocteau twins / nightingales – prefab sprout / espresso – rajie / latitudes – ollano / limpidite – robert viger / la petite fille de la mer – vangelis / red wrapping paper – the creatures / christmas reindeer – the knife / virgin blue-eyed – lovesliescrushing

Photo credit: Christmas With Southern Living, 1984 https://palmandlaser.tumblr.com/post/189715654560/palmandlaser-from-christmas-with-southern-living

Top 5 Albums of 2019 (so far)

Top 5 Albums of 2019 (so far) / #1. Kelsey Lu – Blood

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art pop / chamber pop / folktronica / chamber folk

More like this – Kelsey Lu’s “Shades of Blue”, Goldfrapp’s Tales of Us, Kate Havnevik’s “Unlike Me”, Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising

As you could guess from a cellist, keyboardist, guitarist and singer who’s worked with Solange and Blood Orange, Kelsey Lu’s solo debut isn’t easy to box. The quiet cello-and-vocal reserve of her Church EP has evolved to a bolder statement with an upfront personality and a much wider palette, the electronics among the most promising. In Lu’s case, though, the album sounds like the natural culmination of what she’s absorbed over time. She isn’t going eclectic for the sake of it. Even when she goes from warm folk (“Too Much”) to a 7-minute synth-enhanced 10cc cover, she unites every sound through the gentle shivers and hums of her flexible vocals, the warm wooden tremble of her cello and a clear-cut sound design.

Blood enters with a pair of striking cello-accented folk songs, the sinister warning of “Rebel” and the uneasy sleepwalk of “Pushin Against The Wind”. In the first big shift, Lu dives into pop-ballad catharsis with “Due West”, setting her decadent vocals to a blanket of synth chords and a harp so fragile someone could’ve sewn it together. When I think it’s over, a cello pluck enters and cross-fades into what sounds like Grouper making ethereal wave in a cathedral (“Kindred”). Unlike the rest of Blood, Lu sounds truly weightless as she sings like the ghost of an opera singer, possessed yet appeased. Not long after, she kicks into 70s disco with “Poor Fake”, where the big beat+bassline threatens to start a party. And we’re only halfway in by that point.

Blood is the most a new artist has impressed me in months. Her awe-inspiring musical scope combined with such clear passion and creativity to match means there’s enough here for me to process for months, but I’m immensely curious to know what sound she’ll pursue next. Will she do more pop, guitar folk, classical cello, will it follow the steps of this album or will she do a 180? Blood tells me any of these and more could work for her.

♥︎ – “Rebel”, “Pushin’ Against The Wind”, “Due West”, “Kindred I”, “Poor Fake”, “Foreign Car”, “I’m Not In Love”

Top 5 Albums of 2019 (so far)

Top 5 Albums of 2019 (so far) / #2/3. Ioanna Gika – Thalassa

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art pop / darkwave / synth pop / ethereal wave / chamber pop

More like this Susanne Sundfor’s The Silicone Veil, Goldfrapp, This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End In Tears, The Changelings’ “Season of Mist”, Anna Von Hauswolff’s Ceremony

This new Greek artist taps into so many of my favorite things here. Thalassa sweeps over your ears with dramatic strings as Ioanna swoons like a lost 4AD siren-singer, all backed by a gothic synth pulse. A few cliched electro-beats (as on “Messenger”) dull some of the personality in this delicious fusion, but her choruses and melodies are dense enough to keep out of potential dryness. Shout-out to “New Geometry” for her entrancing chant-singing (“Hesitation / I found the answers in your / Hesitation…”) and the crumbling urgency of “Roseate”.

♥︎ – “New Geometry”, “Roseate”, “Out of Focus”, “Swan”, “Ammonite”