2020 in Review Part 3: Survival Sounds

Part 1: Duos
Part 2: Covers
Part 3: Survival Sounds (You are here!)
Part 4: Jazz
Part 5: Live
Part 6: Blasts from the Past
Part 7: RVA
Part 8: 31 Favorites

It’s no secret or revelation that music has been a balm for many during 2020. (Big year for the word “balm” in general.) I think everyone had their own survival sounds this year — albums they held especially close, or turned to when things were rough. These are mine. These were the albums I’d spin first thing in the morning in an attempt to inoculate the day against stress and fear, knowing full well they’d come anyway. Day after day, this music would fill me with hope — a fleeting and irrational yet powerfully meaningful hope that I might not have found otherwise. I can’t possibly express the gratitude I owe these artists, but this list is my way of trying.

Alabaster DePlume — To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals, Vol. 1

I found out only a few weeks ago that the material on To Cy & Lee isn’t new — that this set represents the culmination of years of work and creative community building. (For more on his process and inclusive mindset, take a look at this Aquarium Drunkard interview.) To have that fact sneak up after so much listening was a jolt, but it also falls in line with the openness of this music. These tunes feel infinite, like I could keep finding new things in them forever. They make time and space seem less restrictive. Each song becomes a place to vanish into. That’s something the creators of the next album on this list know a thing or two about as well…

Elkhorn — The Acoustic Storm Sessions

A quick snippet from the review I posted back in September:

…I was so thrilled to learn that The Storm Sessions has a companion album on the way. Elkhorn has teamed up with the Centripetal Force and Cardinal Fuzz labels to release an addendum in the form of The Acoustic Storm Sessions — another pair of side-long pieces improvised at Gardner’s home studio during that fated blizzard, captured the night before the recordings that made up the original album…

If there were ever a time when we needed internal experiences that have the power to transport and connect us, this would be it. I suppose it’s ironic, then, to be so thankful these gifted improvisers were stuck in place when and where they were, but I am. Doubly so, now that we have these new acoustic sessions.

Mary Lattimore — Silver Ladders

It’s hard to put into words just how much Mary Lattimore’s music has meant to me during 2020. I’d guess that she’s second only to the Grateful Dead (looking at you, 36 from the Vault) in terms of listening time this year. I’ve spun the albums she’s released with Mac McCaughan (New Rain Duets and AVL) repeatedly. I scooped up a copy of her collaboration with Elysse Thebner Miller when a cache of copies became available on August’s Bandcamp Friday. I paid in British pounds to have her Luciferin Light cassette sent across the pond, and then spent the next handful of nights listening to nothing else. And then there’s the main event: an instant-classic of a new full-length — the first under her own name since I started exploring her output in earnest.

It could almost go without saying that Lattimore’s music has healing powers, but I want to say it loud and clear, for the whole interweb to hear, and for her to hear, should she stumble across this tiny corner of the blogosphere: Mary Lattimore is a true 2020 hero. The “music as balm” idea has become a cliché at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less true, and Lattimore’s music, which is just as daring as is it comforting, made this shitty year better. I’ll be forever grateful.

Gia Margaret — Mia Gargaret

Here’s what I wrote for my May Bandcamp Friday post:

Speaking of music that’s helping right now, I’ve found ambient music to be an essential part of my daily listening diet these days, and I can’t wait for this full album to be released. The first two tracks are meditative gems, and I could see this getting a ton of turntable time when my copy arrives.

I saw right. I’ve spun this one countless times since it arrived. “body” has been especially essential during a year in which I’ve tried to develop healthier habits while fighting the near-constant urge to interpret any off-kilter signal from my system as evidence of illness’ onset.

Joe Westerlund — Reveries in the Rift

Joe Westerlund goes deep. As the drummer for Megafaun, he carved out the pulse for an updated take on roots music — not unlike another drummer whose bearded profile bears a striking resemblance. As Grandma Sparrow, he mined the depths of some truly sublime weirdness to create the wackiest children’s album you’ll ever hear. (I wish y’all could have seen it come alive as I did here in Richmond in 2014. It was wild.) And on Reveries in the Rift, he’s plumbed percussion itself to collect sounds and rhythms that feel closely connected to the very act of being alive. It’s one of the albums I regularly reach for after waking but before making coffee. I’m a worrier by nature, but I’m not a pessimist; I’m certain of that because in that moment where I pick the first album of the day, I’m always hopeful that by choosing the right one, I’ll be setting the day off on its ideal course. In that sense, Reveries in the Rift may be the album I trusted most in 2020.

Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

Three cheers for Bandcamp, y’all! Once again, the impressively benevolent music community and sales platform is waiving its usual 15% cut to generate extra revenue for artists, so many of whom have been hit hard by the effects of COVID-19 and social distancing. The last event like this was hugely successful — $4.3 million in sales in one day — and it’s so great to see they’re running it back. Sounds like they have a couple more planned, as well — on June 5 and July 3.

Here’s a big long list of artists and labels who are participating. I didn’t manage to get a post with my own picks up last time until later in the day, so I started chipping away at this one earlier in the week. Here are a few YHT-approved ways to join in on the fun and show your support.

Rob Dobson — No Cover Covers Vol. 1

Charlottesville’s WarHen Records recently launched a series of digital singles called “No Cover Covers,” kicking things off with a great take on Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues.” Looking forward to more of these. (Volume 2 is out now.)

Also firmly on the radar: a limited cassette run of Saw Black’s Horsin’ ‘Round rarities album, which I posted about in mid-March.

Sam Gendel — Satin Doll

Satin Doll is described in its Bandcamp liner notes as (and I love this description) a “simultaneous synchronized sonic construction/destruction of well-known jazz standards.” It’s singular. It’s innovative. It sounds like the past and the future at the same time. I’ve wanted to snag a copy for a while now, and today seems like just the day to do it.

Andy Jenkins — “Far Away From Here” (feat. Erin Rae)

The age-old alchemy of masking complexity with breeziness has a worthy standard-bearer in Andy Jenkins. “Far Away From Here” seems to hang in the air effortlessly, yet the accompanying instrumental version provides a peek into the jazz-informed intricacy involved. Such a beautiful conversation between Alan Parker’s guitar and Jacob Ungerleider’s piano, echoing the A+ pairing of Jenkins’ voice with Erin Rae’s. A masterstroke of a musical still life painting here.

left.hnd — Mira

This is so beautiful. Grippingly so. I listened to this while running, and I was so wrapped up in it I don’t think I took in visual information during those eight minutes. It was like being spatially transported. The vocals and strings work together to play with your expectations for tension and release, keeping you in this perpetual state of needing the next note to happen. In terms of atmosphere, Mira makes me think about Frank Ocean. The boldness. The use of space. It’s really something. (Kudos to Calvin Brown on those amazing string arrangements.)

While you’re on left.hnd’s Bandcamp page, be sure to grab “Vessel” as well. It’s been a beam of positive energy for me throughout the last month.

Gia Margaret — Mia Gargaret

Speaking of music that’s helping right now, I’ve found ambient music to be an essential part of my daily listening diet these days, and I can’t wait for this full album to be released. The first two tracks are meditative gems, and I could see this getting a ton of turntable time when my copy arrives.

Pearla — Quilting & Other Activities

This one came out last year, but I recently got a copy and have been falling in love with it all over again. These songs stick with you in a really interesting way — hours after I’ve spun the album, specific moments tend to drift around my consciousness and resurface periodically, like vivid memories that steal you away from the moment you’re in. (Then you put the album back on and start the cycle over again!)

David Shultz — “Still Here”

Very exciting — this tune wasn’t due out until next week, but it’s a Fee-free Friday miracle! I posted about Shultz’s song “Spring Forward” not too far back, when it was time to set our clocks forward for daylight savings. More recently, I’ve been spending a bunch of time with his wonderful Rain in to the Sea album — keep an eye on Off Your Radar and you’ll find out why. “Still Here” is another bright spot — life affirming, defiant in the face of fate, and demonstrative of Alan Parker’s deep and wide instrumental skill set. (That makes two mentions of Parker in this post. Is this turning into an AP fan blog? Trick question! It already was.) If you don’t have a copy of Rain in to the Sea, I’d recommend heading to the WarHen Records Bandcamp page and snagging that as well. Just a few copies left! (Yes, this is a WarHen fan blog as well.)

Various — Sahel Sounds Label Sampler 2

Sahel Sounds is making all of their downloads pay what you want, and if you’re new to their catalog, I recommend this new sampler. Mdou Moctar, Les Filles de Illighadad, Luka Productions… so much great stuff here. (If you dig Mdou, he’s got a new mixtape of live recordings and demos out today as well.)

Thought I’d throw in a few other intriguing options, lifted directly from Bandcamp’s list of participants: