Welcome to the annual singles countdown here at the Finest Kiss music blog (is blog still the right term?). If you’re new here, we’ve been doing these singles countdowns since 2008. The basic rule is that it had to be released on a 7″ single to qualify, which as the years go by really limits the field. Also, it’s gotta be something I like, which narrows the field even more. Here are 30 records that I bought and loved in 2020.
1. Quivers – You’re Not Always On My Mind (Turntable Kitchen)
This song was bubbling around last year, got played a bunch on local Seattle radio station KEXP and finally got a 7″ release at the very tail end of 2019. So technically it’s a 2019 single, but this is my blog and my countdown and shipping from Australia during Covid takes longer than usual so You’re Not Always On My Mind didn’t arrive at Finest Kiss headquarters until early 2020. Quivers style of pop is close to the Catchers and the Go-Betweens with their gangling guitars, swell bass, and a contradictory chorus that is hard to forget. You’re Not Always On My Mind could have been single of the year in most years but thankfully it found me in a year when great pop songs were constant lifesavers and this one brought up my spirits on many occasions. Note, the band just released an album that covers REM’s 1991 Out of Time LP on Seattle label Turntable Kitchen that is well worth hearing as well.
2. Vicky Tafoya – Forever (Penrose)
I would like to thank Vicky Tafoya for bring back full circle in my love of girl group pop. I remember going through a phase of digging noisy feedback drenched lo-fi indie rock influenced by the Crystals and Shangri-Las. The Vivian Girls song Where Do You Run To is a prime example of this. Now that I’m older and wis…well I’m just older, I don’t necessarily need the difficult feedback to appreciate 60’s girl group pop. A perfect example of my evolution is this Vicky Tafoya single. Tafoya has been around a while, but hasn’t recorded much so I hope Forever isn’t a one-off single and that she’s just getting re-started.
3. The Cool Greenhouse – Alexa! (Melodic)
The Cool Greenhouse know comedy gold when they see it. Alexa! very humorously mocks those smart spearkers that folks can’t seem to live without. Alexa, email my credit card details to my contacts list. Alexa, open the pod bay doors. You get the idea. Cortana makes a guest appearance and the Cool Greenhouse continue to employ repetition (They are repeatedly making great records) to their advantage.
4. Romero – Honey (Cool Death)
Powerpop never made anyone rich except for maybe Cheap Trick, but don’t tell Melbourne’s Romero. Honey is a brilliant debut single. A threadbare song that sounds like it was made in 70’s with a riff written with a four neck guitar in mind. It’s about something that mysteriously went down at the discotheque with killer chorus featuring vocals that bleed just a little into the red giving it a mysterious hazy urgency.
5. The Shifters – Left Bereft (Captured Tracks)
Left Bereft sounds like it could be set in a post apocalyptic world or today. According to the band it’s “an overly simplified rabble-rouser that people who maybe use English as a second or third language can understand and maybe feel a bit of solidarity. I like to imagine drunk students in France listening to it whilst wrestling on the kitchen table.” Their Fall-ism’s abound here, but it’s so good (and Mark’s gone) that I’m just happy there’s band doing similar stuff at such a top level quality while putting their own stamp on it.
6. The Radio Dept. – You’re Lookin’ At My Guy (Just So!)
By now, the Radio Dept. can do whatever they want and I’ll probably buy without even listening first. The A-side is a cover of the Tri-Lites 1964 single. The cover brings to light a 60’s soul influence that I hadn’t really noticed before now. It’s done in their own unique style. They seem to reach deep and go for throwback to Lesser Matters with more blown out guitars that gives it a more raw and lo-fi feeling. Even when they decide to pull a deep cut from the 60’s, this group continues to keep it fresh
7. The Umbrellas – Maritime E.P. (Syncro System)
This is what I always hope for when a band releases killer songs as download only or a cassette…that someone will see fit press it to vinyl. That is what happened with the Umbrella’s Maritime EP. Released as a cassette in 2019 and then straight to vinyl in 2020! The SF band push the right indiepop buttons, taking some raw Beat Happening and adding some Small Factory and Versus. And it ain’t just the right influences they’ve got songs too, four of ’em that’ll have you wishing for more.
8. Jeanines – Things Change (Where It’s At Is Where You Are)
Last year’s Slumberland debut LP was quite something and the band didn’t waste anytime following it up with this single. It continues their brilliant Siddeleys (they covered that band’s Falling Off My Feet Again) and Mama’s & the Papas (no cover yet) inspired pop. These four songs are a little more acoustic based, but still autumnal and jangle filled to the brim.
9. Ribbon Stage – My Favorite Shrine (K)
It’s easy to forget about stuff that’s up here in the Pacific Northwest. K Records down in Olympia have been keeping the International Pop Underground going since the 1980’s. Their release schedule has slowed, but quality singles like this Ribbon Stage 7″ continue to validate their importance. My Favorite Shrine easily falls into the Dolly Mixture – Vivian Girls – Black Tambourine category of lo-fi guitar pop with melancoly vocals buried in the mix to perfect effect.
10. The Altons – When You Go (Penrose)
Daptone started up their Penrose offshoot label this year to showcase the new soul in So-Cal (Soul-Cal?) and they didn’t hold back. Vicky Tafoya is up there at number two and here are the Altons at a solid number 10. The sweet soul falsetto will slow your life down and put you in an enviable state of mind where the rat race fades away, the sun is setting, the waves are lightly massaging the sand and you are reclined with your favorite drink taking it all in. This record really will take you there.
11. Fleur – Petit Homme De Papier (Bickerton)
Cool submarine bass-line, skronky horns (or are they kazoos), and a riff that transports you into a pair of flares strutting down a sunny Marseille boulevard circa 1967. It’s amazing what a analog record can still do in digital age. Fleur isn’t French and isn’t old enough to remember the 60’s (neither am I) but it’s so good that being fooled is half the pleasure.
12. Capitol – Weathered (Kingfisher Bluez)
Ontario, Canada’s Capitol (is Toronto) take a big step forward with this single. It’s moody, soaring, hopeful and blistering. It reminds me when I heard Interpol which reminded me of when I first heard the Chameleons which reminded me of how much I love sort of thing. Weathered has a great guitar lead, a circular melody and backing vocals courtesy of Charlotte Grace Victoria(ELIO) that takes this single to the next level.
13. Doug Shorts – Money (Daptone)
Chicago’s Doug Shorts has been flying under my radar for years. Daptone smartly snapped him up and has put out a handful of his singles over the past few years. This one is steeped in 80’s Rockwell vibes. The electronic flourished beats akin to Space Invaders fuels the greatness here because Shorts has a sincere delivery with no detectable note of irony. How good is Money? I have been known to be in the kitchen belting out “I’m about that money” on repeat while flipping pancakes on the griddle.
14. Love, Burns – Gate and the Ghost (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatte)
Pale Lights’ Phil Sutton steps out and starts another band with some of the usual suspects (Kyle Forester & Gary Olson) for this breezy single. Gate and the Ghost is pretty and brilliant with a Belle & Sebastian acoustic strum and Bluebells pop sensibility.
15. Neurotic Fiction – Romance (Specialist Subject)
This four song single has lots going for it. Manic pop thrills along with slightly askew vibes that recall Pylon, Gang of Four and the Talking Heads. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all great, but Mi Mi Mi Mascota with its twangy angular jabs applies its post-punk acupuncture to my tender spots.
16. The Tubs – I Don’t Know How It Works (Perfect)
Ex-Joana Gruesome folks go all in on the strummy jangle popularized by the Chills and the Bats in the early Flying Nun days. Both sides of this single are top notch. I Don’t Know How It Works is a plaintive strummy number while the flip Silver Moon with its keyboard bit has a strong Chills pedigree.
17. Shadow Show – What Again Is Real? (Hypnotic Bridge)
This Detroit trio released their debut album on the now defunct Burger Records. It was pretty solid but not flashy. This follow up heavy psychedelic single is great. It drips with garage cavewoman vibes and creates a green haze that fills your mind with weird hallucinations. B-side is a cover of the Feminine Complex song Is This a Dream? replacing the organ with dense guitars and essentially making it their own.
18. Astrel K – You Could If You Can (Duophonic)
Astrel K is Rhys Edwards of Ulrika Spacek. Where Ulrika Spacek do prog-psycchelic rock, Astrel K is more playful and terrestrial, exhibiting some Gorky’s Zygotic Mnyci-like eccentrics that make it a fun three minute and thirty second ride.
19. Typical Girls – Typical Girls EP (Happiest Place)
This Gothenburg, Sweden trio continue the long line of great indie pop from that country that seemed to peak at the end of the previous decade with that whistling song. The standout song on this three song single is Girl Like You which definitely has some similarities in its approach with the Concretes and Peter Bjorn and John. I for one am glad pop like this is still a thing.
20. Neutrals – Personal Computing (Slumberland)
The bay area band with a Scottish accent have a similar sense of humor to the Cool Greenhouse (see Alexa above). Personal Computing is Neutrals’ ode to old tech. The song is full of funny one liners for the over 40 crowd and 20 something computer geeks about the bad old days of personal computer when programs were delivered to memory from a cassette tape. The only thing missing here is the dial up modem sound.
21. The Reds, Pinks and Purples – I Should Have Helped You (I Dischi Del Barone)
22. Archers of Loaf – Raleigh Days (Merge)
23. CB Radio Gorgeous – Mid Fit (Thrilling Living)
24. Mt. Mountain – Tassels (Six Tonnes De Chair)
25. Vanishing Twin – In Piscina! (Fire)
26. Native Cats – Two Creation Myths (Rough Skies)
27. Ghost Power – Asteroid Witch (Duophonic)
28. Tommy and the Commies – Hurtin’ 4 Certain (Slovenly)
29. Tomorrow Syndicate – Populous (Polytechnic Youth)
30. The Nix – The Highest (Moshi Moshi)