I literally swear by the title that I have given to this article. For me and millions of people worldwide, music is the crown of each year.
So taking into account the best of album cycles and singles, I draw our attention to the very best as the year winds down its weather beaten path.
BLUE BANISTERS by LANA DEL REY
Blue Banisters by the always elegant chanteuse finds her at her melodious best. There are really no new epithets or salutations I can employ in her case here. It’s just that after the sonic beauty of CHEMTRAILS OVER THE COUNTRY CLUB earlier this year and its lingering effect thereafter, this album ensures the quality of her understated corpus stays sacred and consistent.
Cue the wondrous use of the piano on BEAUTIFUL, VIOLETS FOR ROSES, THUNDER. Or her effortless vocal delivery on these and other standouts as the moody and entrancing DEALER, NECTAR OF THE GODS and LIVING LEGEND. The album concludes with two beautiful lullabies in the form of CHERRY BLOSSOM and SWEET CAROLINA, the latter especially intended as a gift for her newly born niece. In fact, this is a soundscape filled amicably with pure innocence and sun-speckled feelings around love. All the tracks hence warm us and leave us humbled besides the singles ( ARCADIA, WILDFIRE WILDFLOWER, title track)
For an extra dose of panache, check out THE TRIO( INTERLUDE) that marries an iconic Sergio Leone Western theme with hip-hop.
VOYAGE by ABBA
The fact that we have the iconic band members reconvening, with their musical expertise and priorities unsullied by a gap of decades, is indeed a miracle for this day and age.
DON’T SHUT ME DOWN and I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU ( now up for a Record of The Year Grammy) perfectly set the stage for nostalgia and proper acknowledgements to prevail. But almost half of the remaining album, clocking in with pithy 10 songs of minimal lengths, is a winner too. JUST A NOTION is characteristically boisterous and supported by piano notes, KEEP AN EYE ON DAN is honest and pensive while WHEN YOU DANCED WITH ME and I CAN BE THAT WOMAN carry forward with a thematic thrust on uneasy reconciliations and recollections. So the points made are earnest yet never morose or hapless.
It helps that the twinkling innocence of LITTLE THINGS brings the iconic vocal harmonies home to mark positive markers, in time for Christmas and New Year. VOYAGE thus comes full circle with its classic sound and an accessibility that modern pop sorely misses.
HAPPIER THAN EVER by BILLIE EILISH
The wunderkind rises to the occassion on her sophomore effort, none so sublimely as on BILLIE BOSSA NOVA, keeping her self- referencing aura and the soft textures of the Brazilian musical style with effortless oomph.
That sensual awakening further makes tracks like EVERYBODY DIES and HALLEY’S COMET swoon worthy, with Billie using her control on the notes and crystal clear enunciation to profound effect. An acoustic sensibility pervades on the discography here and greatly benefits her. Singles NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY, MY FUTURE and YOUR POWER have a slow burning urgency and straightforward lyrical content that further become embedded in our minds when listened in entirety with the album. She seriously displays a vocal flourish that integrates, according to me, jazz and operatic tics, honed with practice and confidence over her craft. NDA too is in her classic mould, with its creeping beat and distorted effect actually working.
The best comes on the title track that rages and retreats to a serene space, alternating between natural delineation of personal emotions with a prominent rock charge while MALE FANTASY employs the guitars formidably for an equally unforgettable melody. It is one of my favourites.
HAPPIER THAN EVER looks at Billie claim her share of artistic merit and has enough surfeit of musical gifts to charm listeners.
OFFICIAL CLIPS FROM THE PETER JACKSON DOCUMENTARY GET BACK- THE BEATLES
The FAB FOUR create, banter among themselves and give us a priceless time capsule, in some clips released as part of this year’s biggest pop culture event- Peter Jackson’s expansive documentary titled GET BACK named of course after one of the band’s best songs ever. The camaraderie is there and so is the feeling that a chance to vicariously engage with the personal side to these icons comes once in a lifetime.
LAYLA by ERIC CLAPTON
From his recent output from THE LADY IN THE BALCONY comes this obvious classic. The guitar instrumental remains as buttery smooth and iconic as ever. Thank you Mr. Clapton for this year-end treat.
TO BE LOVED by ADELE
Off her highly anticipated album 30, Adele brings her usual competence of vocals to a piano ballad that will definitely rank high in her Hall of Fame, up there with the likes of SOMEONE LIKE YOU, HELLO et al. I particularly recommend her spontaneous rendition that she uploaded on her official channel. It’s just the legendary singer in her room, singing away to glory as her phone records the beauty of her words and phrasing.
THAT FUNNY FEELING by PHOEBE BRIDGERS.
Phoebe is at it again, giving us a first hand account of everyday motions with spare acoustics and beauteous hush of her voice on this six minute odyssey through the world of quarantine. It is thus an effective chronicle of the times. Deceptively simple and instantly hummable.
CAMERA ROLL by KACEY MUSGRAVES
The air of serenity that was ever-present on GRACIAS A LA VIDA and STAR CROSSED continues to be gripping on Camera Roll. Kacey is at a stage where acceptance and letting go of the past is a choice and a necessity. She makes the most out of this personally invested, dignified meditation.
PUPPETS by LEONARD COHEN
Two years since the release of THANKS FOR THE DANCE ( an album I have loved and written about here) Mr. Cohen’s spoken word legacy is an apt symbol for the way we live, broken in fragments and looking for truth in words without alluring promises. PUPPETS is that kind of song, meditative, intense while also being pragmatic about the ‘isms’ that we find so hard to renounce.
CHRISTMAS CALLING(JOLLY JONES) by NORAH JONES
Only Norah can make the season of cheer such a charming affair. She does it with an innocent wink to her own image( cue the subtitle of JOLLY JONES) and effortless vocals intrinsic to her oeuvre. I adore this original take by her.
RISE by CALUM SCOTT
Calum Scott is a beacon of inspiration and he is at his optimistic, boisterous best on RISE, a conventional song with standard lyrics. But when he goes, ” boom- boom”, the chorus gets an instant uplift.
BITE ME by AVRIL LAVIGNE
The punk spirit of this latest single from the ageless Avril Lavigne is everything we need to herald the nearly twenty year mark since she conquered the scene and left her distinctive stamp. This song is a shot in the arm for all fans.
HALL OF FAME
LOVE IN THE DARK, RIVER LEA by ADELE
The quintessential piano ballad and the deep cut culled from personal storey of experiences respectively, from Adele’s all-out blockbuster 25(2015) need to be revived in our consciousness, to know what truly makes her a classic singer- songwriter. Both songs are unforgettable.
FAKE PLASTIC TREES and THE NATIONAL ANTHEM by RADIOHEAD
From the guitar driven amiability and Thom Yorke’s compassionate vocals on the first to the distorted effects and dense atmospherics of the latter, check these two standouts from Radiohead’s vault of standards. FAKE PLASTIC TREES, especially, is one for keeps.
EVERYBODY HURTS and LOSING MY RELIGION by R.E.M.
Who doesn’t love the deeply enriching gravitas or the unforgettable video of Everybody Hurts ? Losing My Religion is more rhythmic and the linear vocals make it particularly accessible. Put together, both come from emotionally vulnerable states.
JOHNNY B. GOODE by CHUCK BERRY
The original God of Guitar who inspired almost every artist worth his/ her salt lets it rip on this all-time chartbuster. Every live rendition proves why its electrifying standard remains unfazed.
DESPERADO and LYIN’ EYES by THE EAGLES
Hotel California has been cited as perhaps The Eagles’ certified torchbearer ad nauseam. Other standards like LYIN’ EYES or the wrenching ballad DESPERADO ( first brought to my notice with Linda Ronstadt’s transformative cover) too bear the core of melody and harmonies that make this outfit peerless. So listen to them.
NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT by BESSIE SMITH
A dose of bitter truth comes from the great soul singer whose haunting output from nearly hundred years ago remains in its prime for this listener ( and countless others, an example being Mr. Eric Clapton who has covered it memorably)
For those who have watched Queen Latifah in her award winning portrayal of Ms.Smith in the HBO film titled BESSIE like me, this song will further act as a testament to her own life.
CELEBRITY SKIN by HOLE
This is another great and effervescent addition to the Hole canon that I am discovering post DOLL PARTS and MALIBU. It is so spirited and raw.
BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY by THE VERVE
The orchestral instrumental and accessible vocals come together on a surefire classic that I’m happy to make a part of my listening experience.
HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS by THE COCTEAU TWINS
The Cocteau Twins has one of its best songs in this title. The synths and the vocals have a reverberating quality that stays with us.
HALLELUJAH (LIVE AT SPOTIFY) by BRANDI CARLILE
Brandi can do no wrong. As if Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s undisputed masterpiece did not move mountains enough for almost two decades, here we are, blessed by Carlile and her emotionally wrenching take where each word is charged with meaning and pathos.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN(LIVE) by LED ZEPPELIN
A live performance at Earls Court, England in 1975 runs the full length of this earthbound classic. We are lucky that it’s part of the band’s official channel.
COVER of STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN by HEART for KENNEDY CENTER HONOURS.
The cover of this song of songs by HEART to further illuminate the band’s Kennedy Center honour made my evening where many of the live performances mentioned here were viewed by me. To cover or inhabit this legendary number’s structure is a mammoth task. Here, it is a prime example of how a tribute is given. I bow down in reverence to this one.
FAR FROM HEAVEN (LIVE) by EVANESCENCE
Amy Lee and her piano work their enchanting spell on this recent standard commemorating a departed relative. The live version makes it immersive, with her transcendent vocals always ensuring a place in the heart and soul.
DREAM ON by AEROSMITH
This has been a song I’ve heard with profound fondness since I was perhaps ten. This live rendition with a children’s choir is a tribute to Boston Marathon victims. Its impact is monumental to bring the reality of that poignant event to our collective notice. Those vocals are searing, soulfully trenchant as ever.
WE’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN by THE CARPENTERS
Whether it’s this standard or others like TOP OF THE WORLD, MAYBE IT’S YOU and two of my personal favourites I BELIEVE YOU or TICKET TO RIDE, these ensure a treasure trove for all lovers of this genteel duo whose musical gifts are rare and elegant in reserves of simplicity.
GLORIA by LAURA BRANIGAN
How can one ever not have an electric charge overtake one’s spirit while listening to this chartbuster? Laced with points about identity and its many complex hues, GLORIA is a great 1980s number but equally timeless because of it. They just don’t make it like this anymore.
GOD IS DEAD? by BLACK SABBATH
This epic take on modern day cynicism by the great hard rock band has been one of my favourites since 2013. Ozzy Osbourne designs the verses with his pensive, sinister, utterly beguiling vocal turn and the tempo changes here with quick rapidity, with a guitar solo that cannot be forgotten easily. You must listen to it.