2020 IN REVIEW: Bitter Sweet Symphonies’ Tracks of the Year

2020 beckoned a new decade, and with it a whole host of change erupted. We’re glimpsing a global population gasping for transformation, buoyed by hope with an awareness that things can get better if we speak up and challenge it to be. The musical output of this year reflected a need for comfort as well as the necessity to communicate and express all human experience.

This sense of shared existence transferred over into the music itself, with artists channelling political, personal and thought-provoking subject matter into their art more and more so: Arlo Parks’ Black Dog is a stark and compassionate opus that speaks of mental health issues, Demi Lovato’s Commander in Chief delivers an emotionally-charged interrogation of Trump’s failings, MARINA’s Man’s World pointedly contemplates the treatment of women through the ages, and then there’s Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP, which goes to show there’s still merit in expressing a provocative artistic statement.

Our End of Year review highlights some of the best underground gems and alternative releases of 2020, the Bitter Sweet Symphonies team has hand-picked 30 tracks which showcase our individual and combined musical tastes.

Track selections and reviews by Marla Geesing, Huck Hastings, Jamie Summerfield, Tom HavenCallum Mitchell-Simon and Charlotte Holroyd.

Jensen McRae – ‘Wolves’

An extended metaphor and minor key melody turn powerful in Jensen McRae’s Wolves, a story told in three chapters in devastatingly candid detail. The narrator voices a first person narrative disclosing a trio of emotionally poignant monologues, within which lie truths of the dangers of our world: the fears, anxiety and lessons learned. In all earnest the heavy subject matter is impossible to misinterpret, especially when acknowledging McRae’s delivery – raw and emphatic – twinned with her lyrics it is not hard to construe that her words hold the inevitable weight of lived experience, a vehement plea, and at some points an elegy.

This song served as my introduction to Jensen McRae, and I’ll never forget it. For a song that is centred around themes which in the past society has commonly downplayed and overlooked, ‘Wolves’ is a startling piece of power and eloquence, and it feels just as important now as it did when I first heard it. The significance of telling women’s stories is crucial – and I would like to personally thank Jensen McRae for offering up her voice to tell these stories.

Charlotte Holroyd

Flyte – ‘Losing You’

It’s easy to argue that everything Flyte releases is worthy of an acknowledgment in a list like this, and I believe this statement to be fact, especially when considering their output this year. Their sophomore album looms ever closer, and its subject dubbed “a break up album” remains all the more intriguing. Of all the songs released thus far, ‘Losing You’ sums up this message most sufficiently. The band’s Will Taylor has previously stated how the bones of this song were written years ago after experiencing a rough breakup, only to then get back together and years later for the relationship to end but with the roles reversed. Just the synopsis surrounding the song’s fruition and evolution is enough to whet the appetite, and by golly the end product is a magnificent thing.

While ‘Losing You’ centres on this solo affair of the singer-songwriter, it is a fully-fledged band number featuring a baritone guitar, acoustic and electric guitar, electric and acoustic bass, and a multiple of percussive elements (the drums are mic’d up perfectly to retain very little detail, and it sounds lush). Hats off to producer Andrew Sarlo for administrating the production with such stunning precision and craftsmanship, it all comes together to leave a lasting imprint on its listener.

Charlotte Holroyd

Low Spirits – ‘Geiger (Room Three)’

Conceptualised by Fred Macpherson (Spector) and Cavan McCarthy (Swim Deep), Low Spirits is an ambient synth-rock vehicle established to satisfy their shared desire to collaborate in the studio together. Their second release, ‘Geiger’ spurred an ambitious slew of experimentation drawn from a field recording made in the abandoned city of Pripyat in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the three-part song series features a different artist’s’ interpretation each round: Geiger (Room One) was produced by Blanck Mass, Geiger (Room Two) was self-produced by Low Spirits, and Geiger (Room Three) was produced by Jerskin Fendrix.

Each take is distinctive and bares its own hallmark, while the set dressing varies dramatically the spoken lyrics and vocals remain the linchpin of each track (even if they’re interpolated contrastingly each time). But why ‘Geiger (Room Three),’ you ask? Well, it’s the third and final edition – and it has the longest duration of the lot. This version is suspenseful but sensitively so, the most visceral and unnerving exhibition of the series. It plays with tone, pitch, atmosphere, dynamic, form and structure to create a disorderly abstraction, which acts an envisaging of sci-fi, dystopian, filmic, orchestral and emotional conveyance. Quite simply, it is frighteningly masterful.

Charlotte Holroyd

Sapphire Blues – ‘Ourselves Forgotten’

Bristling with turbulence, ‘Ourselves Forgotten’ tussles with acerbic personality and rhythmic might. The Bristolian band captures post punk in fiery fashion gearing their wares to motivate movement, one imagines a chaos of people thrashing and flailing across a venue while the trinity of Sapphire Blues belts out their tune. It’s an image and sensation so out of touch with the current climate, this is why it’s so vital that art exists, to evoke these feelings. Without it, where would we be?

There’s a heaviness immediately, a rigidity of structure that forms when a repeated bass phrase meets tingling percussion and the upfront ringing of distortion and delay. Guitar leaves its impact all over this track, despite the rhythm section’s determined and steadfast prowess, the lead just staggers a tier above with its clever weaving and clanging in pivotal parts of the progression. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. To top it off, Sam Lance Jones’ throaty wail and soulful turns add a staunch vitality to the track, urging a bizarre mix of visceral and soothing responses. And, you know, it’s also catchy as hell.

Charlotte Holroyd

Genevieve Stokes – ‘Running Away’

An artist hailing from Portland, Maine known as Genevieve Stokes is making an impression with her lo-fi dreamy pop, but it’s much more than your average indie pop commodity, her music blends singer-songwriter aptitude with emotional depth and exciting genre-fluid production.

‘Running Away,’ specifically, ties together ethereal vocal production with striking sonic texture and raw lyricism. Its ever-evolving soundscape mirrors the changing moods and conflicting feelings when challenged by the thought of burgeoning affections, lyrically it touches on the overwhelming irrationality of overthinking, the rush one experiences when discovering a strong connection with someone else, the fear of expressing your innermost thoughts to another, and also within that, the need for clarity.

The song opens with an earthy, distanced feel for a few bars before dropping into full view with a clean vocal line and a straight piano melody, the chorus drifts back into the lofty reverb of the intro until another glossy verse returns, which expands even more with flourishes of guitar, BV’s and percussion. The song is startlingly layered, a joy through headphones. For an early career release ‘Running Away’ is mightily confident – and memorable – Genevieve Stokes has demonstrated that with few instruments and a bit of thought it is possible to create something entirely unique and beautiful.

Charlotte Holroyd

Fenne Lily – ‘I Used To Hate My Body But Now I Just Hate You’

The first thing that drew me to this song was the absolute powerhouse of a title, and it is just one of many beautiful songs from the second full length release from Bristol based singer-songwriter Fenne Lily. 

It is characteristically vulnerable, yet brutal and self reclaiming in the same breath. It floats  steadily along some imaginary line with a sense of ease, all the while spilling out nuggets of personal wisdom. Whilst the sentiments and situations are specific to Lily’s relationship with herself and the world, they are universal themes of personal wealth and insecurity which we can all relate to. The song eventually opens itself up into one of the most satisfying key changes I’ve heard in a long time, which takes the song full circle, enhancing that feeling of self acceptance and ending just abruptly enough to really leave you thinking.

Huck Hastings

Tesse – ‘My Madeline’

The universe that Tom Stephens has created for his musical project ‘Tesse’ is really something to behold, and reducing it down to solely a musical project would be a disservice. Sonically, lyrically and visually, each element hangs in an equilibrium, creating a world that feels entirely self actualized.

The latest release (and his first of 2020) ‘My Madeline’ is a remarkably poignant song that is filled with the subtle sorrows of Australian suburbia. Delicate (Andy Shauf-esque) vocal melodies sit atop a bed of swelling guitars and draw you deep into its world from the opening phrase. It is rich and deliberate with lyrics that crawl into your subconscious, packing a punch that comes back to hit you when you don’t even realize you’ve noticed them to begin with.

Huck Hastings

Lomelda – ‘Hannah Sun’

‘Hannah Sun’ somehow manages to be both sparse and expansive. Floating the listener down a delicate stream of introspection into a slowly opening tsunami of sun drenched wonder. All of the music that Lomelda makes feels incredibly genuine, a voice from a bygone era and sonic landscape that doesn’t sound identifiably like anything I’ve ever heard before. This song really gripped onto me and held on to me for a long portion of this year.

Huck Hastings

Greg Mendez – ‘Freak’

I first discovered Greg Mendez through the tape label Devil Town Tapes on which he released his latest album Cherry Hell on. If you wanted to grab one, unfortunately you can’t because a bunch of lucky (smart) people snapped them all up already. It is a brilliant album and I couldn’t recommend it more.

‘Freak’ is the first track from the record and has the most beautiful lead guitar tones I’ve heard in a long time. Hushed, self-deprecating vocals trudge their way across the song, delivered with a sort of resigned slack sadness to them. It’s hard not to bring up Elliott Smith as a reference point because as well as sonically there is a similar poetic brilliance to Mendez. It is filled with that warm and profound intimacy that can only really be captured in self recorded music, as if you were sat right there next to Mendez, bearing witness to their most private of thoughts.

Huck Hastings

Carla Geneve – ‘The Right Reasons’

It’s hard to know where to start with this one. The way Carla Geneve deals with mental health, melody and wordplay… this song really is the whole package.

The main refrain, “It’s not me/ It’s not you/ Sometimes we all do the wrong thing… for the right reasons” is so universal that it feels like you’ve known it your entire life, whilst at the same time revealing a truth so powerful that it stops you dead in your tracks. This is the kind of song that songwriters wish they had written. It is stark exactly when it needs to be and rich exactly when it needs to be.

Huck Hastings

Courtney Marie Andrews – ‘Old Flowers’

Having expanded her sound experimenting with genres including gospel and soul on her last release, 2018’s May Your Kindness Remain, Courtney Marie Andrews strips away everything down to its most essential elements on this recent number.

Unlike the warm embrace that her last LP felt like, here Andrews concocts a sparse, at times eerie backdrop, ably backed by musicians Matthew Davidson and Big Thief’s Jim Krivchenia, that reflects her introspective state of mind.

Recounting the heartbreak attached to the breakup of a nine-year-long relationship, ‘Old Flowers’, taken from the LP of the same name, finds Andrews completely unguarded, digging deep to uncover a raw, unfiltered sense of melancholy rooted in an inner truth that speaks to us universally. It’s without doubt some of her finest work to date, finding Andrews in complete mastery of her artform.

Callum Mitchell-Simon

Genevieve Dawson – ‘Tight Lips’

As one of the tracks previewing her debut LP Letters I Won’t Send, London-based singer songwriter Genevieve Dawson drew us in on this enticing leading number ‘Tight Lips’. Measuring up to comparisons early in her career of the likes of Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling, Dawson’s sound, backed by her remarkable band, is both warm and expansive, with subtle texturing and a relaxed, jazz-tinged arrangement that you can’t help but sink into. Just her voice on its own brings such a sense of calm and serenity that is sorely needed following such a turbulent year.

There’s a natural, organic feel to the music, which is rooted in her lyrical framing through simple, elegant repeated refrains such as “You’re the source of the river in me” and “You’re the sea that is rising in me.

Callum Mitchell-Simon

Fleet Foxes – ‘Sunblind’

Recorded during lockdown and released with little prior notice in September, Fleet Foxes’ fourth LP Shore found a return to the joyful anthemic quality of their early material, following the bold, brooding, and sometimes divisive experimentations found on their 2017 release Crack-Up.

Central to the LP is ‘Sunblind,’ a glorious, sun-drenched number wrapped in warm, textured instrumentation and frontman Robin Pecknold’s signature vocal harmonies. This new material is a real gift, filled with life and optimism that works to soothe the collective anxieties that have built over the past year. Transcendent stuff.

Callum Mitchell-Simon

Asylums – ‘Platitudes’

Southend-On-Sea alt-rockers Asylums channelled their DIY ethos into ‘Platitudes,’ one of their most satisfying numbers to date, recalling the likes of Ash and The Cribs at their creative peaks.

Taken from their third LP Genetic Cabaret which was packed to the rafters with instantaneously recognisable tracks, they managed the feat of balancing their trademark sharply-observed social commentary alongside more introspective musings that displayed their artistic maturity.

No doubt aided by legendary producer and sound engineer Steve Albini (with credits including In Utero – Nirvana / Rid Of Me – PJ Harvey / Surfer Rosa – Pixies, you know you’re in good hands), their sound this time round packed that extra punch, the band playing with a laser-focussed tightness that only comes from years of hard graft working together as a single unit.

Callum Mitchell-Simon

This Is The Kit – ‘This Is What You Did’

Following up 2017’s Moonshine Freeze surely seemed like a daunting venture for singer songwriter Kate Stables (aka. This Is The Kit). Yet she managed it with aplomb this year with the release of Off Off On, which was preceded by lead single ‘This Is What You Did’.

Grounded by the familiar template of a banjo-led riff and Stables’ quick fire introspective musings, “This is what you get/ This is what you did/ This is what they want/ Why are you still here?/ This is what they said,” there’s soon space for a flurry of new and exciting sounds, from frenzied, angular guitar lines to rolling, hypnotic horns – you feel by the end that you’ve been taken on a real journey.

By keeping one foot in the comfort zone that fans have come to know and cherish whilst stretching out with the other into pastures new, Stables finds a comfortable space in the best of both worlds, experimenting freely whilst holding onto the truth of her artistry at the same time.

Callum Mitchell-Simon

Graywave – ‘With Me’

Coventry’s Jess Webberley is crafting some of the best 21st century shoegaze around with her Graywave solo project. With June’s ‘With Me,’ she reached soaring new heights.

With a sound drenched in reverb and delay, ‘With Me’ builds slowly with layers of intricate guitar lines and the line, “Always searching, always yearning.” Like all dream pop, there’s a sense of escapism and other-worldliness, with ghostly harmonies and chiming guitars channelling Slowdive and Cocteau Twins. There’s a lot going on here, with a musical texture that’s dense with atmospherics and yet, somehow, full of wide open spaces.

Graywave’s next single, ‘Like Heaven,’ is set for release on 18 December ahead of her debut Planetary Shift EP in 2021.

One. To. Watch.

Jamie Summerfield

Braids – ‘Young Buck’

‘Young Buck’ was the first taster from Braids’ fourth album Shadow Offering that was released in June and was a real statement of intent from the Montreal three-piece.

Braids have been honing their organic-electronic sound since 2011’s debut album Native Speaker. Formed in 2007, they have established themselves as one of Canada’s most acclaimed art rock bands and ‘Young Buck’ was a sign that they were about to take things to a whole new level.

It’s luscious, cinematic and drenched in heartbreak, packing a pop punch that is delicious in its simplicity and directness. A tale of self-destruction and numbing, singer and lyricist Raphaelle Standell-Preston somehow manages to out-Gaga Gaga.

Jamie Summerfield

Lupa J – ‘This Suburb’

‘This Suburb’ from Australia’s Lupa J came straight from the suffocating heart of the first lockdown back in the spring. The song is a beautiful exploration of being trapped somewhere but of learning to love that place and a person you’re there with, of seeing things in a whole new light.

A collision of introspective songwriting and electronic soundscape finds its perfect blend here. The relationship at the heart of the song is explored with real tenderness, but the explosion of synth and percussion towards the end demonstrates the rawness of the feelings too.

The lockdown slowed time, intensified emotions and – limiting you to where you live – made you experience it afresh, finding places you never knew existed. Lupa J felt like their body was becoming entwined with their surroundings, almost growing into the bricks and mortar. It’s like something from a JG Ballard novel.

Jamie Summerfield

Emzae – ‘THRIVE’

Derby-based emzae said that ‘THRIVE’ is an anthem for anyone who’s ever felt uncomfortable or out of place.

She’s been building a growing following over the last couple of years – 2018’s ‘Lucid Dreaming’ was a chilled, trip-hop-style minor masterpiece – but something really clicked into place with ‘THRIVE’.

It pulses with electronic life and the shadow of grey, city concrete. The bass line is pure ’80s Pet Shop Boys, there are retro handclaps and synths, and a “This is what it feels like to be free” refrain that sounds like someone who’s finally embracing who they really are.

There’s a DIY aesthetic to ‘THRIVE,’ but a growing confidence in her ability to craft sugar-sweet pop melodies while tackling darker subject matter.

Jamie Summerfield

Working Men’s Club – ‘Valleys’

In February, Working Men’s Club were the last band I saw live before, well, you know what struck. Sydney Minsky-Sargeant and his band whipped up an electro-rock storm at The Sugarmill in Stoke-on-Trent. ‘Valleys’ was perhaps the highlight of the set.

Working Men’s Club began life as a more traditional guitar band but Minsky-Sargeant says the moment he had the money to start buying synths and other electronic gear, the band started to become what he hoped they might. There are few bands fusing rock and electronic so gloriously.

‘Valleys,’ released in August and opening track on their stunning debut album from October, sounds reassuringly retro and excitingly futuristic in equal measure, channelling classic New Order, Depeche Mode and ‘90s rave while carving an aesthetic that’s the band’s alone. Stabs of keyboard and growling electronic bass give way to hypnotic lead synth lines as the song propels and unravels at breakneck speed. It’s the sound of blood pumping in your ears.

Jamie Summerfield

Griff – ‘Say It Again’

Sarah Faith Griffiths – better known as her stage name, Griff – was definitely a true new music discovery in 2020. I don’t remember where exactly I found out about her music, but once I did I was hooked.

‘Say It Again’ is a pop song penned by Griff to her friends, telling them they’re not alone. Something everyone might have needed to hear throughout this turbulent year. It’s upbeat, but thoughtful mood has you bobbing your head along while the chorus, as well as, the verse However hard it is to resist, baby/ Yeah, you gotta know this thing, it won’t last/ And I’ll remind you that the troubles that haunt you lately/ Soon they’ll just be memories in the past/ So come closer, come closer/ Oh, let me hold you now (…)” just form this comforting, fuzzy blanket around you.

Griff has been up-and-coming this year, not only through her phenomenal solo work as an artist and producer but also with whom she’s teamed up with. Not long after “discovering” Griff, I found out she was releasing a track with one of my utmost favourite duos on this planet, HONNE. ‘1,000,000 x Better’ is also this (literally) feel-good song that you can’t help but fall in love with. She’s also been featured on the track, ‘Inside Out’ by Zedd (someone who’s known for finding excellent vocalists to spotlight his songs). And just in time for the festive Christmas season, Griff has also worked with Disney’s Make-A-Wish and created the heart-wrenching ‘Love Is A Compass’ (the video will touch your heart).

I think one can safely say, Griff is one to watch and, I’m sure, will have many cool projects and music coming out in the next year, so remember to add her tracks to your playlists.

Marla Geesing

Izzy Bizu – ‘Faded’

Izzy Bizu and her voice has found a special place in my heart since hearing her duet, ‘Someone That Loves You’ with English electronic-duo HONNE back in 2016. Over the years, I would often listen to her songs off the debut album – so when finally new, fresh, hot music came out this year, I was hooked. Especially, the first single ‘Faded’ became my go-to-track of the year (Spotify did confirm this on my Wrapped List).

‘Faded’ is this really vivacious, catchy pop song that instantly invites you to sing along. Musically, it differs quite a bit to her older works. It vibes more as a slowed down ’70s-esque disco track which truly makes ‘Faded’ stand out and really presents us with Bizu’s new aesthetic.

The lyrics of the track are about a former lover and their somewhat turbulent love affair. Feeling drained and upset, Bizu turned those feelings into something fun and upbeat instead. Something that’s also reflected in the accompanying music video which just emits pure elevation and coolness, and simply screams “bye-bye, I’m over this drama,” as well as some good old dancing-the-pain-out of your system.

Listening to ‘Faded’ now, reminds me of hot summer days cycling to the lake where I’d have the song turned up on the speakers – really soaking up the small freedom of being able to be outside – or blasting the song repetitively at work to give me the energy to get through the day stuck inside. It was a song that I’d turn to when feeling drained myself and needed a fast pick-me-up track. Bizu also released a few other brand-new tracks, including ‘Tough Pill’ (a little more stripped back and reminiscent of her older songs) and ‘MG’ which branches out as ‘Faded’ did. It’s been a marvellous music year for Izzy Bizu and I cannot wait to hear more.

Marla Geesing

Sam Wills x Lia White & Brotherman – ‘Winter Reflections’

Now someone that truly deserves more recognition that he gets is, Sam Wills. An über-multitalented (in my humble opinion) musician, songwriter and artist, this guy doesn’t only make music that is addictive and timeless, but has also introduced me to so many cool new and, sometimes, not even established artists out there over the years – via the simplicity of Instagram stories.

Hosting all sorts of different fun musical challenges, Wills has been able to collaborate with other gifted people from all over the world. One of those challenges was the #SoloChallenge. The rules were straightforward: Wills had created a track, uploaded it to Soundcloud and made it available for people to download. You could then add whatever you wanted to this base track – vocals, more instruments, all options open – and then upload this to Instagram with the hashtag. Wills would choose his “favourites” and present them on a post. The Solo Challenge proved to be so successful and a shame to waste such effort, it was decided that the 2020-virus-lockdown would produce a four track ‘Solo Challenge’ EP with a couple of the people that had submitted their versions of his various tracks. Thus ‘Winter Reflections’ was born.

Mind, the completed EP came out early September and winter was still far out of sight but this song is so smooth, the titled could be excused. It has Nottingham born Lia White beautifully singing – and the Valencia, Spain-based Brotherman rapping, adding this exceptional spice – over the track created by Sam Wills.

This song came together without any of them actually coming together in a studio, only through many emails, virtual meetings and home-recordings. None of which you would notice when listening, making this whole EP something truly phenomenal. It’s a track which would pair perfectly well with a glass of red wine, while you’re cooped up in your toasty warm flat on an ice cold winter day. I truly love it and can’t help but have this song on repeat.

Marla Geesing

Thomas Ng – ‘It’s Gonna Be Okay’

It’s probably unlikely you’ve heard of Thomas Ng but this is about to change. Someone I’ve got to credit is Sam Wills (again) in aiding my stumbling across Ng. An entry, funnily enough, for the #SoloChallenge (which turned out to be ‘Winter Reflections’) – I heard his voice and was mesmerised.

Thomas Ng has released quite a few tracks this year, all of which kind of differ and showcase a broad range of styles. The track that in particular caught my attention was ‘It’s Gonna Be Okay’ (clearly, I needed quite a bit of comforting in 2020). It’s just so gentle and soothing, with a light beat and Ng’s soft and airy vocals making the line “it’s going to be okay” kind of mantra-like. It even throws in a little fun Justin Timberlake/*NSYNC reference of “bye-bye-bye” which adds to the catchiness of it all.

I can only recommend giving Thomas Ng a follow and some love on social media (in particular, Instagram) as it’s full of short collabs, covers and solo-work-in-progress. Promise, you won’t regret it.

Marla Geesing

Jones – ‘Giving It Up’

JONES, JONES, JONES. Severely underrated, this woman is just amazing. On the scene since 2014, I first came in contact with JONES’ (aka. Cherie Jones-Mattis) vocals on electro-duo HONNE’s (always a good idea to check out featured artists) ‘No Place Like Home’ – one of my absolute favourite songs on the planet.

Her debut album New Skin had many tracks that had you coming back as her vocals just have this familiar charm about them that keeps you hooked. After that, it got kinda quiet with the occasional EP and singles being released. Then, 2020 came around and JONES re-released ‘Giving It Up’. Previously presented as an acoustic track on the London EP, it got a new life earlier this year as my soon-to-be ultimate summer anthem.

The song isn’t just hyper-catchy but also has this electrifying sultry-pop vibe that compliments the sexy lyrics perfectly. A song about meeting someone new and feeling an instant connection, has never sounded so fresh and confident.

And not only is the song a masterpiece but the music video is the epitome of atheistically pleasing. You’re truly drawn to the song and are pulled back to it over and over again. I replayed this track a lot this year, as you can’t help but smile and be in a good mood when listening.

‘Giving It Up’ found a new home in the EP Camera Flash whose title track is just as cool as ‘Giving It Up’. It’s exciting to see how JONES’ style has evolved. I hope it becomes something more people will respond to and love just as much as I do.

Marla Geesing

The Hush Money – ‘Politician’

Remember when things looked even worse?

In the US, we say goodbye to the Trump administration in January. But that didn’t always look so certain. Back in March, David Ryan Harris released Maiden America, under the alias The Hush Money. Nine cover songs that paint a raw, raucous, red America. One that’s lost its identity, and cannot inspire anymore.

Covering everyone from Bruce Springsteen, to Cream, to Radiohead, Harris applies his ‘whisper-in-your-ear-sweet’ voice and contemporary folk style to a range of rock royalty. ‘Politician,’ a cover of Cream’s British blues number from 1968, sounds like it could have been written yesterday. I thought it was, until I did some digging.

This feels like real art. Reworking and reframing old standards to new times. ‘Politician’ is a timely cover for an American age we’ll never forget.

Tom Haven

Ferris & Sylvester – ‘Good Man’

Do as they say and it’ll make you a man/ Every boy should be a man.”

This feels like an important song. This is a song about masculinity in its dirtiest light. How it’s taught, how it’s done, and how it’s passed on. And what it does to everybody. Someone’s had the guts to make a song that says that it’s not right. Personally, this might be my biggest song of the year.

I am a fan of Ferris and Sylvester (I make no bones about that). I remember hearing an early version of this song at a gig. But the PA wasn’t great, I didn’t catch many of the lyrics. I liked the riff, though. Now I can have it on repeat, I hear it for what it is. It’s a creepy riff for a creepy feeling, a crying melody for a rallying cry, it’s an uneasy build for an uneasy lesson.

Ferris & Sylvester released ‘Good Man’ in October as part of their I Should Be on a Train EP. This was my top song from that release. We need more songs like this. This is important. This had to be one of my top tracks of the year.

Tom Haven

Katie Pruitt – ‘Normal’

I don’t get it… But I get it.

Katie Pruitt released her debut album back in March. A deeply personal narrative about discovering and accepting identity. A girl from Georgia, a southern state, raised by a Catholic family, attending a Catholic high school, who knows she is gay. This is an extraordinary album, for an extraordinary story.

But one track stands out. ‘Normal’ sits in the middle of the album, almost hidden. A moment of realisation and of reflection. Pruitt ponders about doing what “normal girls should,” talking to a god that she didn’t understand, feeling lost and alone.

I can’t relate to her story, but I can relate to the feeling. I’d say this isn’t just a song about being gay. This can be something way more nuanced. This is a rally-cry for misfits. It’s not a new idea (the idea that we don’t fit in,) but I don’t think I’ve heard anybody do it better than she has.

This is an important song. I don’t get it, that is I don’t know about discovering your sexuality and embracing it. But I get it, the fight to accept you’re not the same as the others. This is such an important song. The world needs more of this.

Tom Haven

Isaac Waddington – ‘Other Way’

“It’s black-and-white TV in Technicolor. It’s modern.”

I listen to music, but I also play it. 2020 has seen me fall in love with Neo-Soul and Fusion. The groovier the better. Isaac Waddington is my new kitchen soundtrack.

Waddington symbolises what I love now about Neo-Soul. A dynamic, funky ostinato on the piano, a raspy, fire-filled male voice, a patchwork of counterpoint melodies. I’ve heard them all before, but not like this. It’s black-and-white TV in Technicolor. It’s modern.

It’s also a powerful song. Keeping a picture of old times. A lover who doesn’t really love you. Wanting to run away after the gig is over. In a year like this, it feels so distant.

But that’s what makes it so powerful. It’s even further away than it was before, and I miss it all the more. It might be coincidence, but I know I love it more than ever.

Tom Haven

Wildwood Kin – ‘Wake Up Sleeper’ (Acoustic)

And when the morning has spoken/ Watch as the apathy breaks.”

When things change rapidly, it’s tempting to take time off. Recharge, refocus, regenerate. In a year like 2020, I found myself having to take a lot of days like that. Stuck with myself, my thoughts, and nothing much to look forward to.

Step in Wildwood Kin, the all-female trio from Exeter, UK. I think everybody has those songs they turn to when they need to cool-off. Something to ease the anxiety, to recharge and refocus. ‘Wake Up Sleeper’ became that song from the moment I heard it.

A folk-inspired fireside affair, I feel like I’m on a mini-hike every time I hear it. It feels warm and cosy, yet full and dramatic. I’m reminded of the journey that all of us take, and I find some motivation to drive my journey along.

I’ve never had a song touch me like this before. It’s not a boot-full of motivational nonsense. No one is telling you to “push your limits” or “find the edge.” That’s not motivation. ‘Wake Up Sleeper’ is just a nudge. A hand on the back. “You’re heading the right way. Walk on.” That’s all I needed this year. Someone to tell me to walk on. Spectacular song.

Tom Haven

Stream the full collection of songs via BSS’ Tracks of the Year playlist:

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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