Top 10 Beautiful Songs of 2020

Dazzling musical moments of an otherwise terrible year.

Nobody had a good 2020, but if you want to know who had it really bad, talk to a working musician. Already squeezed to the limits by a combination of pernicious forces, artists had their primary revenue stream cut off at the knees this year. Unable to tour (and by extension, sell merch) it was an incredibly rough year to be someone who writes songs for a living.

Arlo Parks — Black Dog

Two days before I left London for good, I got the chance to sit and have a long conversation with Arlo Parks. Things were just starting to really happen for her and she was petrified of losing momentum as touring ground to a halt in April. It was serendipitous that her next single was slated to arrive during lockdown; even without a physical audience, it managed to propel her into the stratosphere.

#1 Dads — Freedom Fighter

By now, Tom Iansek’s is a well-known voice to most Australian music fans. A perennial creator, he’s spun off his work with Big Scary into a number of side projects, but #1 Dads has always brought the goods. It’s a forum for him to indulge some of his more electronic and soulful tendencies, none better expressed than on the lead single to his much-awaited follow-up record.

Jordan Rakei — Best Part (BBC Maida Vale Session)

For some reason, this song always reminds me of my wife. It’s not that she particularly likes it, though like most songs I play enough in the house, she’s probably absorbed it via osmosis. There’s just something so rich and direct about Rakei’s cover of Daniel Caesar’s 2017 ballad. His melodic treatment in particular, and the way it’s offset against his genius keys playing. Having followed his career and watched him live multiple times I can confirm there’s nobody like Jordan in the world.

Soccer Mommy — circle the drain

Much has been said about this generation’s constant fixation with the ’90s, but nobody gets teen movie angst note perfect like Soccer Mommy. To listen to Sophia Allison is to simultaneously move back and forward in time. She imbues the songwriting brilliance of Sheryl Crow and Bic Runga while somehow managing to craft moments that sound utterly of the now.

Moses Sumney — Colouour

For better or worse, 2020 is the year the planet finally started to pay proper attention to the staggeringly talented Sumney, who has spent the last few years slowly building a devoted fanbase of indie music fans obsessed with his otherworldly voice and prodigious production skills. Releasing a double album at the height of a pandemic is exactly the sort of flex you’d expect from a guy who essentially sounds like Prince and Jeff Buckley’s love child and is as talented as both.

Christine & The Queens — Jes Disparais Dans Tes Bras

Héloïse Letissie’s surprise EP, La Vita Nuova, was perhaps one of the most beautiful releases of the year. It’s a suite of songs centred around sadness and unrequited love and what they can teach us about life. Letissie is a superbly muscular songwriter; you can feel her dancing and shimmying with every note. This song, which translates to ‘I disappear in your arms’ is at once wistful and powerful, the sort of trick you can only employ at the peak of your powers. In fact, it comes closer to Michael Jackson’s suite of ’80s records than many others, if only through intention.

Jens Kuross — Unglued

Of all the shows I saw before the curtains closed prematurely on this year, the one that has stayed with me was a tiny gig by Jens Kuross at a St Pancras church in the depths of winter. Kuross is a supremely talented, wry and self-effacing singer-songwriter who should be about 20 times more famous than he is. His arranging is Thom Yorke level beautiful and to hear him sing is to be transported to another world. There is so much emotion in Kuross’ melodies that sometimes it is too much to bear.

Låpsley — Speaking Of The End

The artist perhaps best known for her DJ KOZE-blessed ‘Operator’ made a huge splash in 2020 with her incredible new album, Through Water. Originally home to over a hundred songs, it was the product of having utterly removed herself from mainstream, a prescient move for this year. I personally couldn’t get enough of it; sumptuous and dramatic, it went heavy on rain and river metaphors as a framework for Hollie Fletcher’s unmistakable voice.

The 1975 — Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied

I will be the first to admit that I did not understand this band in the slightest until they started rolling out singles for what should have been the biggest stadium rock record of the year. Perhaps what Notes On A Conditional Form crystallised was the idea that this was a group unafraid to try everything, putting out songs like the world might end tomorrow and they didn’t want to have any regrets. Turns out they were kind of right.

Didirri — Raw Stuff

Real, hot emotion is something that occasionally comes over people, but it flows through Didirri’s veins. The Australian balladeer has impressed me for ages and 2020 was no different. Of the multiple stunners he put out during lockdown, ‘Raw Stuff’, which is equal parts John Lennon and Ryan Adams but also fantastically unique, was one of my mainstays this year.

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