As mentioned more times than I can count, both here and elsewhere, 2020 was a challenge of a year. We faced difficulties we'd never expected in any year and mourned losses large and small. Beyond the biggest of those, the hardest trial was the day-to-day uncertainty.
Many a bright spot existed among the negative and music was certainly one of those sources of joy, inspiration, and resistance. In that spirit, I've collected my favorite albums of 2020, as well as a list of my favorite songs. You can check out the album list here on Spotify and the tracks list here on Spotify, and both lists here on Apple Music.
Of course, many of you ask what my favorite album of the year might be. In a year with two Drive-By Truckers albums, an amazing array of songwriting, and one of the best Bruce Springsteen albums of all time, it's a little tough to choose. That being said, there's one album I'd recommend above all others, one that keeps me still regularly trying to break into NPR Music's inbox with cries of "review this!". That album is Prodigal by David Wirsig:
A full album from David Wirsig is something I've anticipated since I was first recommended his track, Sunken City. I fell in love with the entire SC EP and dug up every track he had available. In Prodigal, he has delivered on the album promise embedded in the magic of his collection of singles and EPs.
David Wirsig paints pictures with words. I use the word "paint" intentionally, as his lyrics are incredibly visual, even when he's not referencing anything descriptive. He manages to tell the most intimate of tales using images and themes on the grandest of scales, apocalypses and destructive forces of nature framing what's simple and human in all of us.
That same epic foundation gives the space for the album-spreading tale of Prodigal, focusing on the darkest of subjects while leaving enough room for hope and light throughout. The lyrical journey makes use of the most magical of soundscapes, music that would make one feel heartache and joy even without the tale of Arielle and Darian. I also find it incredible that David Wirsig both tackled the subject matter and did so with such beauty and honesty.
David Wirsig is an amazing artist, worthy of attention far beyond that of this small time blogger/podcaster. Above all others, check out Prodigal.
As goes the album questions, so goes that of the favorite song of 2020. Well, I think you know what that one is going to be. Nothing brought me more musical joy in 2020 than Ghosts from Bruce Springsteen's latest album, Letters To You.
Ghosts is the feel good song we desperately needed in response to the garbage year that has been 2020. I thought often of that tale just after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, in which a fan spotting Bruce on the street in New York City called to him “Bruce, we need you right now.” In 2020, we needed this album and especially Ghosts.
For all of us, the ghosts of 2020 are very real. I need not look far to find someone who lost a loved one to COVID-19. Even those who have managed to avoid that tragedy have suffered the fear and loss of health, of livelihood, of way of life. Ghosts is the most "Bruce-y" of Bruce songs, creating that rock and roll high in only the way the Boss can manage. For those of us left here to remember the loss, we cry aloud “I’m alive!” in defiance and we keep on dancing until the end of the set.
As Bruce said in the Letters to You documentary, "it’s one of the most important things in your life and of course it’s just rock and roll."
Cheers, all. Here's to a happy, healthy, and compassionate new year.
See ya in 2021.