The Best of 2020

Like almost everyone else on the planet, I’m glad to see the end of 2020 rapidly approaching. All things considered I certainly can’t complain – we’ve stayed healthy and safe and are both still working. Sure, it’s been stressful. We’re getting a little stir crazy since we’ve both been working from home since March, and we had a number of events and trips cancelled, but with a COVID vaccine coming out maybe, just maybe, we can get back to some semblance of normal in 2021.

If you follow the blog at all, I’m sure you noticed a lot less activity in 2020. I’d have thought lockdown would have made me more prolific, but after something like seven years I sort of lost focus a bit – I just wasn’t sure I had much interesting left to say. I also started playing Dungeons & Dragons again (via Zoom), and that resulted in an entirely new blog that is basically a novelization of our weekly game. It’s called Defenders of Phandalin, so check it out if you’re interested in RPGs or just fantasy-style fiction.

So here’s to hoping your 2020 was safe and as sane as could be, and that maybe I’ll run into you at a record store or concert somewhere in the world in 2021.

Top 5 New Releases In 2020

1. The Ghost Choir – The Ghost Choir (Iceland)
2. Farmacia – Farmacia (Argentina)
3. The Rise of India (Deluxe Edition) – IndiaBoy & Pési-B (Iceland)
4. So When You Gonna… – Dream Wife (UK / Iceland)
5. Neyslutrans – Hatari (Iceland)

Most years selecting my favorite release of the year isn’t hard. Sorting out the rest of the Top 5 can be a bit tricky, but generally there’s one album that hits my like a lightning bolt and rockets right to the top of the list.

That didn’t happen this year. In fact, I didn’t decide on the order of the first three spots until I sat down on Christmas morning and listened to the three albums one more time, and even then it was still tough. What it came down to, ultimately, was this – not only have I played The Ghost Choir a ton, but it’s also the album I recommended to people the most often, and all those folks told me they liked it. Stylistically it reaches across categories – electronic, classical, jazz, soundtracks… there’s something there for almost everyone. It truly is an outstanding record.

Farmacia dropped on December 23, so I have only had a few days with it, but man is it killer. As always, brothers Ariel and Diego Sima stretch the boundaries and expand my mind with their electro compositions. Had this been around for a few months would it have taken the top spot? We’ll never know. My understanding is that this will be coming out in a limited vinyl release soon, so be on the lookout for that, and I’ll likely do a blog about it soon. The Rise of India was probably my biggest surprise Top 5 entrant being that I’d never heard of anyone involved in the album prior to playing it for the first time. It’s a ton of trap fun.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1. Disciplinatha
2. King Ani Mal
3. Captain Syrup
4. Latimore
5. Idris Elba

This is a bit of a mix of old school and more contemporary stuff, and it covers a wide range of genres. I feel like i didn’t listen to as much new-to-me stuff in 2020, or at least not as albums. Working from home certainly allowed me to listen to more music than ever before, but much if not most of the time I found myself playing Spotify playlists, in which case I knew almost all the music (80s metal and pop) or I didn’t know any of it (Techno Bunker). I guess the difference between 2019 and 2020 was that I was less intentional about what I played. Plus not traveling meant not exploring new record stores, and new scenes which was a major bummer. All that being said, the above are all excellent and recommended.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

1. Collection of funk/soul/jazz
2. Live at Red Rocks – Devil Makes Three
3. First Demo 12/29/80 – S.O.A. (signed by Henry Rollins)
4. Music for the Other People Place Part 1 box set
5. Is Anybody Listening? – Cell7

I was lucky enough to be gifted four huge moving boxes of 1960s to 1980s soul, funk, and R&B from a friend’s dad. There was some great stuff in here – James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Brass Construction, etc. Probably 75% of it is still in the garage, but the others were cleaned, played and moved inside. Live at Red Rocks was a fun pick-up since we were at the show a few years back. The S.O.A. demo was something I totally lucked into – Rollins posted about these on his Facebook page and on a whim I just ordered one right then and there. It tuns out they sold out in minutes, so for once an impulse buy paid off. The Music for the Other People Place box set was an interesting project in which electronic artists were given free rein… and we as the purchasers are not told who contributed albums to the collection. The Cell7 record was one I supported via crowd-funding, and not only is the album super cool, so is the amazing poster, which i framed.

Top 5 Live Shows


Yeah, we didn’t see any live shows in 2020. Because COVID and all that. Which is too bad, because we had tickets to see KMFDM and Ministry, and also had our early bird passes for Iceland Airwaves. Here’s hoping 2021 doesn’t suck as hard.

Top 5 Most Played Songs On Spotify

1. “Balls To The Wall” – Accept
2. “Beepers” – Sir Mix-A-Lot
3. “World Eater” – Bolt Thrower
4. “Speed of Light” – Alex Stein
5. “Realm of Chaos” – Bolt Thrower

We decided to get a Spotify subscription early in the year. Rest assured, I’m still addicted to physical formats and will buy them whenever possible. But there’s a lot of new stuff I’d like to just check out, plus it dawned on me that there are still a lot of classic albums that I’ve never heard in their entirety. I think it was the Music Exists podcast that got me thinking about this when Chuck Klosterman and Chris Ryan were talking about Exile On Main St. and I realized I’d never listened to it.

My list is interesting. I mean, a metal song from 1983 tops it, and perhaps even stranger, I’ve never owned an Accept album in my life. Go figure. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Seattle’s own Sir Mix-A-Lot made the list, though the fact that the track is “Beepers” and not something from Swass is interesting. That being said, “Beepers” was often requested by Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane during backyard evening listening sessions, so it made it to the Top 5. Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos is exactly the kind of reason I got Spotify, and I played the hell out of it for a few months (still looking for a reasonably priced copy on vinyl with the original cover, though). As for Alex Stein’s “Speed of Light”… I was shocked when I saw this because I have no idea who Alex Stein is. I think this track is on the Techno Bunker playlist, which would explain it because we play that one a lot.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

1. Bandcamp
2. Discogs
3. Karolina Fund
4. Direct from Artists
5. Lucky Records – Reykjavik

We didn’t get to do any travel in 2020, which sucked. We did make some visits to local area shops and have tried to do our part to help them survive all these lock-downs. But 2020 was really the year of mail order music. Bandcamp served up a number of days where all the money went to the artists, and I certainly spent a lot of time there. I also ordered a decent amount from Discogs, particularly from two sellers (who shall remain my little secret) who have some great stuff at reasonable prices and do an amazing job with their packaging and shipping. Karolina Fund is a project-funding site from Iceland, and a lot of Icelandic musicians have used it to do vinyl versions of their releases. I’ve had great success contributing to projects on the site. I also bought stuff direct from artists through their Facebook or Instagram pages. And of course I did three (or was it four?) mail order boxes from my favorite shop in the world, Reykjavik’s Lucky Records. I was bummed I couldn’t shop there in person in November, but if all goes well we’ll be there in 2021.

Top 5 Music Books

1. Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall by Tim Mohr
2. Sing Backwards and Weep by Mark Lanegan
3. Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 2 by Henry Rollins
4. Rusted Metal: A Guide To Heavy Metal And Hard Rock Music In The Pacific Northwest (1970 – 1995) by James R. Beach, Brian L. Naron, James D. Sutton, and James Tolin
5. Total F*cking Godhead by Corbin Reiff

I think I read seven or eight music books this year, and Burning Down the Haus was the clear winner, a well-written and well-researched history of the punk movement in East Germany. Highly recommended. I also particularly enjoyed vinyl-nerding-out alongside Henry Rollins with Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 2.

So there you have it kids, 2020 in a nutshell. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you in 2021!

S.O.A. (State of Alert) – “First Demo 12/29/80″ 7” (2014 / 2020)

It’s very rare that I’m the guy who gets lucky with limited releases. I’m not going to get into line at 3AM for Record Store Day and I don’t stay on top of enough label and artist social media pages to catch wind of things, so when I do end up with something super hard to get there’s a good chance I paid a pretty penny for it.

But a week or so ago, I got lucky. I happened to pick up my phone during the workday and saw a post on the Henry Rollins Facebook page announcing a re-release of S.O.A.’s First Demo 12/29/80 7″ by Dischord. That in and of itself wasn’t terribly interesting, as you can find copies of the original 2014 pressing fairly reasonably priced. What was interesting, though, is that Rollins was offering a small number of these via his website that were signed by him. I figured what the hell, clicked the link, and bought one. I didn’t think much about it until later when I went back to the page to read the entire post, and then looked at the comments – it turns out the signed version sold out in 11 minutes. I was just lucky enough to see it right when it posted and to pull the trigger on it immediately. I’m not sure how many signed copies there are, but it’s a pretty cool piece especially since I’m a big fan of Rollins’ work, especially his writing, photography, and spoken word stuff.

As for the record, S.O.A. is some pretty great early hardcore. Of the eight songs, six last for under a minute with the longest clocking in at 1:49, so you’re in and out of the whole thing in less than seven minutes. But it’s seven minutes that will blow the paint off the walls.

Captain Syrup – “Eyraland” Cassette (2019)

Get out your blender and put it on the counter. No, it’s OK, you don’t need to clean it first. A little leftover grime from those margaritas a few months ago is fine. Now put in some ice and some whiskey and some kind of non-carbonated fruit drink. Add some rock, a fistful of funk, and a dash of hardcore, blend and serve. Congrats. You’ve made a big pitcher of Eyraland.

I know, I know. Everyone wants Iceland to give us things like Sigur Rós and The Sugarcubes and Of Monsters and Men. But you know what, sometimes life doesn’t give you what you want. Sometimes it gives you filthy, funk garage rock. And when that happens you put it in the blender with a bunch of booze, get loaded, black out, and try to use your phone like an episode of CSI to piece your night together. Or a trip to the ER to get checked for SDIs.

This kinda-sorta new tape from Captain Syrup is the bomb. Funky and weird and fun and fresh and guaranteed to piss off the neighbors if you crank it up. When you want to have a good time just set your tape player to loop and hit play. Or if you’re not a luddite like me, just bring it up on Spotify, because you can stream it there too. Or better yet, kick the guys a few bucks and buy a digital copy straight from the band HERE and support the future of sleazy funk.

Jelly Bishops – “Kings of Barstool Mountain” (1988)

I scoured the internet looking for information about the Jelly Bishops. And by scoured I mean I went to Discogs and Googled. And I came up with surprisingly little information. Sure, I can tell you that one of the members was Jon Langford of The Mekons, and it appears that the 1988 EP Kings of Barstool Mountain was their only release. Basically the only other thing I could find was a 2012 review of this album posted on, of all places, Amazon, but a guy going by MrJM.

That’s basically it, as near as I can tell. All three members use pseudonyms on the jacket reverse, adding to the air of mystery. And with song titles like “Crushed Armadillo,” “Cannibals of the Highway,” and “Jelly Bishop Dance (Sword of Islam)” you just know it’s going to be weird. Oh, did I mention the picture on the jacket reverse that looks like a butchered pig head (maybe a cow?) with a cross drawn on its forehead? I mean, how could I not buy this?

I’m not sure how to describe Kings of Barstool Mountain. I guess psychobilly as close as I can do, like some mutant hybrid of rockabilly and death rock. I mean, this is some weird stuff. I feel like it’s something I wouldn’t listen to often, but then again, I’ve spun it three times already and just bought it yesterday, so I guess that says it all.