Throughout most of my young life, I did not like popular music. Growing up, my house was filled with the melodious sounds of BBC Radio 3, and very occasionally a pop song from the 1960s. However, thanks to the flourishing hipster subculture throughout my teens, and with the help of Vevo on YouTube, I finally found my popular music niche: Indie pop (yes, I am that basic). During that time, it became fashionable to have a music taste that excluded anything from the current charts – with bonus cool points if one of your favourite band members had actually died decades ago. As a result, we now live in an age where listening to the UK Big Top 40 is sniffed at, and the magnitude of your Obscurify rating is tantamount to your social standing.
So, in order to provide you with some inspiration to branch away from ~the mainstream~, I’ve compiled a list of my ten favourite songs released in 2020 thus far. This list begins with the better known of my recent listens and moves to those with only a few thousand listens; each song offering unique qualities and different vibes. Enjoy!
I think it’s safe to say that most of us won’t be getting our relaxing beach holidays this summer. Nonetheless, with Novo Amor’s breezy vocals and fluid movement in his accompanying guitar gently rippling on top of Decimal’s relaxed background beat, you’ll be transported to the seaside at sunset. As the beat steadily gathers life and the light instrumentals crescendo, you can feel the waves of sound whipping up into white horses and crashing down before you. With the vocal and instrumental talent to rival that of all the members of Bon Iver put together, Welshman Novo Amor (real name Ali John Meredith-Lacey – which is one hell of a mouthful and significantly less glamorous so let’s stick with the moniker) is sure to capture your heart. Most of his music is very chill, so is perfect to wind down to at the end of a busy day of staying at home.
Disclaimer: I may be totally biased with this one given that Amber Run is one of my all-time favourite bands, but this track from their new EP Philophobia Unplugged is simply stunning. This song’s original form, which was released in the middle of last year in the album Philophobia, is no doubt a genius mix of raw vocal emotion and trance-inducing electronic downtempo. However, what this new Unplugged version offers, that the original did not, is true vocal clarity from the group’s sensationally talented lead singer, Joe Keogh. The silkiness of his tone on top of a simplified instrumental backing produces pure, velvety magic. I highly recommend listening to this song through a speaker at full volume while staring at the stars in the early hours of the morning.
With similar vibes to the infamous Despacito, this song will uplift you and take you right over to South America with its reggaetón beat and sporadic Spanish verses. Though GABIFUEGO’s (aka Gabriel Muñoz) voice sounds a bit like a more melodic version of Pitbull’s, he has shown himself to be an immensely talented instrumentalist as the lead guitarist in the Norwegien indie-pop band boy pablo – a name that will surely pull on the strings of our St Andrean hearts (RIP 601). Irrespective of this, you’ll find it impossible to keep still while listening to this one and before you know it, you’ll be bopping around your kitchen swaying your hips like they don’t lie.
The original song was a bop in its own right: catchy choruses and a memorable base riff that underlines the whole song. In this new mix, Half Moon Run have cleverly kept all the features that made the original so enjoyable to listen to, whilst removing the artificial feel to the sound. Most notably, the synthetic echo placed upon lead singer, Devon Portielje, has been removed in this mix. This leaves clarity in the vocal line that really shows off Portielje’s honeyed voice, matching perfectly with the sweet sentiments of the song.
Best described in a cliché; this one really is short and sweet. I find it basically impossible not to smile while listening to this song. Mxmtoon’s musings on ‘days drifting slowly on’ and ‘keeping hope alive despite the darkest storm’ are so genuine and heartwarmingly sweet, much like the artist herself. Though perhaps a little cheesy, I find listening to this song particularly helpful on days when productivity is low and mild despondency with the world intensified. It gives me a bit of a reality check about the comforts of my middle-class bubble, and reminds me how grateful I should be for them.
Reminiscent of 80s dance music and harking back to the genius of Donna Summer with her equally sultry vocals, Powerdress is a perfect mix of nostalgia and trendiness. This style goes so well with the classic electronic dance beats of French Horn Rebellion that, like a vintage Patagonia fleece, are colourful, edgy and fashionable. What makes this song unique compared to other 80s EDM revivals is the electronically recreated percussion of the west-African shekere. As the name suggests, this sound is produced by shaking the maraca-type instrument, and it really makes you want to shake and shimmy along too.
With luxurious vocals reminiscent of MARINA and the angsty, haunting vibes of Billie Eilish, Lav is certainly one to look out for. According to the artist, she began her songwriting career by writing poetry as a sort of emotional outlet. This emotional outlet then evolved into something equally as deep and poignant: making damning TikToks about her ex-boyfriends. This song actually falls somewhere in between these two creative outlets, as Lav questions the self-hatred she felt after a one-night-stand. In the song, Lav delves into the constraints imposed upon her by a society that constantly aims to repress freedom in female sexuality. It’s a big yes from me to these anti-patriarchal sentiments.
This is definitely one for the mainstream-pop lover. I promise I’m not using that as an insult – if someone ever claims they’re so cool and edgy that they don’t like The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights, they’re lying. Despite the distinctive classic pop feel, the lyrics on this one are far from generic, and are actually pretty inspiring. A recurring theme in all of Allen’s music is the focus on inclusivity. They seek to provide the listener with a burst of positivity and inspiration to build up one’s own self-worth, and in doing so connect people with collective sentiments that are universal, regardless of difference in race, gender, or socio-economic background. This song in particular is uplifting in its incitement of us all to forget previous insecurities and to follow our dreams. It is some deep stuff.
This song SLAPS. I have been unable to get this one out of my head for the last two weeks. The repeated minor broken chord that descends with the title lyrics gives the song an indie-rock feel that is so reminiscent of bands like Imagine Dragons and alt-J. In this song, The Howl & The Hum manage to mix this genre with the grungy, alternative rock popularised by MUSE in the early 2000s. My theory is that this group of four will follow in the footsteps of their predecessors mentioned here, gain huge popularity, and eventually become the 20s’ answer to Joy Division. You heard it here first.
As far as musical analysis of this song goes, it is pretty much what would happen if Beyoncé (circa 2016 ~ Lemonade) set her heart on doing some early noughties’ grime. Because of this, I initially thought Selebrity, real name Shaniece Williams, would be a no-nonsense Londoner, sort of like a female Dizzee Rascal. I could not have been more wrong. During a brief stalk of Selebrity on social media, I fell down a rabbit hole about the artist’s slightly concerning obsession with terrifying plastic dolls. I wish I could comment more on the music, but after discovering her confusing and somewhat questionable vibes, I can’t really get them out of my head. Anyway, her songs are great, so she seems to be using the weird habits as her muse, at least.
I hope you found some new music inspiration in this. I have some BONUS TRACK recommendations from our very own Jamie Rees’ new EP; The Jami-EP #1. The whole EP is awesome, but my particular faves are Texts from my Ex and Extrasensory. (The editor holds that An Event is superior).