2020 in Music: Blue Jai’s Top 5

Most years I am pretty clear about which songs constitute my Top 5 for the year – this is, after all, the only list I produce with any regularity in which the proviso is that any song included on my list has to have been released in the current year.

My problem with my Top 5 for 2020 is that when the world turned upside down (and particularly when it then turned in on itself during the first lockdown), what I listened to ended up being firmly and unashamedly rooted in nostalgia. In the face of such enormous unknowns, I sought refuge in the songs from my teenage years and before. I found myself listening to plenty of songs with fuzzy guitar riffs like Ratcat’s “That Ain’t Bad”, cruisy tunes like The Badloves’ “Green Limousine”, heading back to the inimitable groove of Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” or going back even further in time to songs like Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”.

It wasn’t accidental, and my trips down memory lane definitely helped me navigate this most troublesome of years.

But there came a point when I had to venture back onto the airwaves and Spotify Playlists I know and love, to connect with the myriad of new releases that artists, also in lockdown, have created in 2020. And from those rich pickings, I present Blue Jai’s Top 5 Songs for 2020.

“Low” by Chet Faker

Just because I feel low, right now

It doesn’t mean all that I’ve got has run out…

I suspect from the moment I heard the opening lines of this song for the first time I knew it would be my favourite of the year. Chet Faker (also known as Nick Murphy) is back, and this song could not have come at a better time. The production on this track is sublime and the lyrics somehow sum up everything about 2020 – I love everything about “Low”. More please, Chet Faker.

“Je disparais dans tes bras” by Christine and the Queens

The entire La Vita Nuova EP from Christine and the Queens is brilliant, right from the plaintive opening song “People I’ve been Sad”, as is the accompanying short film (which I’ve included above, since looking at individual songs on their own doesn’t make as much sense as seeing the entire artistic vision). I probably could have picked any of the songs from this latest offering from multi-lingual Héloïse Letissier and her crew, but I ended up picking “Je disparais dans tes bras” over the title track, “La Vita Nuova” (featuring Caroline Polachek) upon discovering it was one of the songs I listened to most on Spotify this year. If you’ve got a spare fifteen minutes – no, scratch that – find yourself fifteen minutes to watch this film, shot in the beautiful Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, and immerse yourself in epic choreography and wonderful music.

“Dribble” by SYCCO

SYCCO (which is, of course, pronounced “Psycho”, a moniker apparently inspired by all things psychedelic rather than psychotic) is a Brisbane teenager who, judging from this release, is one to watch. “Dribble” came about when SYCCO was trying to make sense of someone sleep talking, attempting to derive meaning from words that were probably entirely random. The end result is great: catchy melody, driving beat, great song. This one got plenty of airplay at our house and in the car.

“Gold Dust Woman” by Julia Holter

OK, OK…so Julia Holter actually recorded this in 2012, but she released it in 2020, so I’m going to count it in this year’s Top 5. Besides, it’s such a great cover of Fleetwood Mac’s original song that I can’t not let this one through (you can thank me later — the link will take you to audio, not video, but it’s totally worth it). Holter takes Stevie Nicks’ lyrics to an otherworldly place and I honestly couldn’t love this more. Fingers and toes crossed we get from some new music from Julia Holter in the near future; she’s a class act.

“Are You Even Real?” by James Blake

There’s a lot to like about this track from James Blake, who I think is one of the most interesting recording artists on the planet right now. At its core “Are You Even Real?” is a love song, but as with many of Blake’s songs it’s not always easy to tell upon first listen exactly what headspace he’s in: the music and lyrics don’t always line up precisely with the feel of the song. Blake’s “Don’t Miss It” (from 2019) is another great example of this – Cillian Murphy described the lyrics to that song as being “either profoundly sad or profoundly hopeful – perhaps both at the same time”, and that sums up the way I feel about much of James Blake’s music. Ultimately, however, for me one line in “Are You Even Real?” stands out, and is incredibly beautiful:

She runs her hands through my imagination…

I suspect that’s exactly what all great artists do to us when they sing and play, don’t they? And that’s as real as it gets.

So that’s my Top 5 for the year…but here’s some of the best of my nostalgic listening from years gone by to keep your toes tapping and your mood upbeat as we navigate the 2020 Season Finale.

Top 5 Throwbacks for 2020

  • “Red Dress” by the Sugababes (2005)
  • “Dancing Barefoot” by Patti Smith (1979)
  • “She Has to Be Loved” by Jenny Morris (1989)
  • “Peace Frog” by The Doors (1970)
  • “Close But Not Quite” by Everything is Recorded, featuring Sampha

(That last track is brilliant by the way…interweaving Sampha’s ethereal voice with the Curtis Mayfield sample takes it to another level).

So there we have it folks! Blue Jai’s Top 5 in Music for 2020.

Stay tuned for my Top 5 in Books and on Screen, coming soon…

2017 in Review: The Final Countdown

OK folks, here it is: the last of my Top Fives for 2017.

Today I’m shining a light on the five songs that made an impression on me this year, but unlike the Reading and Viewing lists, the songs that made the grade here HAD to have been released this year.

So without any further mucking around, and in totally random order, here’s the list — with some favourite lines thrown in for good measure:

BLUE JAI’S TOP FIVE SONGS FOR 2017

1.  Your Time by Nick Murphy.

2017 Your Time

Nick Murphy

You know that your time is something that I need to have…

This is one dark, edgy track from Murphy’s Missing Link EP — and it hooks you right from the opening line. If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere for the past few years and haven’t already encountered Nick Murphy in his former guise, Chet Faker, you’re in for a treat with this one. And if you’re not dancing (or obsessing over someone) by the end of this song, I’m not sure we can be friends. Really. Nothing personal, it’s just that kind of music.

2. Private by Vera Blue.

2017 Private

Vera Blue

Subjects in my mind, running wild, images of a parallel life…

Vera Blue’s Perennial was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2017 J Awards — and rightly so, in my opinion. She’s a powerful and interesting vocalist (I loved her work on Slumberjack’s track Fracture as well), and this song taps right into the fantastically frustrating vibe of wanting someone you can’t have, no matter how vividly you imagine it. Totally worth a listen.

 

3. Everything Now by Arcade Fire.

2017 Everything now

Arcade Fire

Every song that I’ve ever heard
Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd
And it reminds me, we’ve got everything now…

I’ll be honest — Arcade Fire are one of my favourite bands. Ever. And this song has been the soundtrack to many a morning walk along the beachfront near my home this year. The lyrics are, admittedly, bleak, but the overall sound of the piece is overwhelmingly joyful — particularly towards the end, when there’s a real festival vibe going on. In an era of information overload and fake news, I’m grateful Arcade Fire is there to critique it and turn it into something uplifting and beautiful.

4. Cloud 9 and Marryuna by Baker Boy.

2017 Baker Boy

Baker Boy

You want to be as good as me boy you better practice: step back in the power of my blackness…

So this one is a tie — I couldn’t bring myself to choose between these two Baker Boy tracks, because they’re both absolutely brilliant. These raps are a blend of English and Yolngu Matha language, and Baker Boy does Arnhem Land more than proud representing his people. He’s as good live as he is in the recording studio, and at just 20 years of age I’m looking forward to hearing a whole lot more from this supremely talented rising star.

5. The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows by Gang of Youths

2017 GOYouths

Gang of Youths

In a crowd unfamiliar, I just wanna touch a familiar face
And make friends at the parties I’ve feared the likes of an age
To be wanted with truth and make formidable love
See light in myself that I see inside everyone else I know…

How good is this band? It was no surprise to me that they absolutely cleaned up at the ARIAs this year. Go Farther in Lightness is an album packed with David Le’aupepe’s mindbendingly well-written lyrics accompanied by the driving rhythms and soaring melodies all Gang of Youths fans have come to know and love. This is my favourite track from a great album. Check it out.

2017 The Man

See? He really is The Man.

Honourable mentions go to The Killers for The Man — a song I half expect to turn up on a Peaky Blinders episode in the future because it seems (to me, anyway) to capture Tommy Shelby’s strut and sass, not to mention his complete self-assuredness. And that’s not just because I’m a huge fan of anything Cillian Murhpy does…it’s a great song. This year I also think Nick Mulvey’s Myela deserves a mention, not least because it highlights the plight of refugees in a world prone to forgetting some of the planet’s most desperate people, and — on a much lighter note — Lorde’s Homemade Dynamite is also top flight listening.

So there we have it: the last of my Top Five’s for the year. Given that I’m a veritable magpie when it comes to music and that I listen to a wide range of stuff from all over the world, I was somewhat surprised that the majority of the artists I’ve highlighted here are Australian — but that’s where I’m from, and I believe in supporting the local music scene, so perhaps it’s logical even if it does reflect a certain Antipodean bias.

Anyway, I’d love to hear what your Top Five songs were this year. Feel free to use the Comments to let me know, and I’ll be sure to give them a spin.