Let’s Talk About Stats: Last.Year 2020

My top 25 albums of 2020, per Last.fm. The presence of The Sea and Cake, Matt Pond, The Shins, The Real Tuesday Weld, Okkervil River and Aloha are especially unsurprising. Courtesy of tapmusic.net.

(Welcome back to Statslandia! It’s been long enough since I posted about Wrapped, so here’s how my 2020 music stats look through the more comprehensive/accurate filter of Last.fm.)

Seeing as I submitted a New Year’s Eve-based piece to Stereo Stories, like, three weeks/87 days into the absolute batshit chaos that 2021 is riding in on, it seemed fitting to continue with the accidental theme of belated retrospection. So let’s talk about Last.fm’s Last.Year, the little-known but more thorough and British counterpart to Spotify Wrapped.

I think, with 2020 being my first full year on Spotify, this was always going to be about comparing Spotify’s and Last.fm’s data, especially since all my Spotify listens are linked to my Last.fm account but the former doesn’t register the latter’s plays. And I did kind of love what Last.fm’s much more comprehensive snapshot told me about the personal soundtrack that got me through one fuckin weird year, even if it was basically as unsurprising as Spotify’s results.

Last.Year is actually an embarrassment of stats, so I’m just gonna cover a couple. In order of appearance: top five artists, albums and songs, plus final totals, new discoveries and my hilariously predictable top genres.

It’s about time I get to gushingly love on The Sea and Cake, a band I first listened to on a whim and was delighted to find out that they consistently deliver the exact sound I’m looking for, mixing ethereally layered music with sink-your-teeth-in hooks and fever-dream lyrics that go everywhere except a predictably linear forward march. Spotify is actually what nudged me toward exploring their deep discography beyond the handful of albums I own, showing me how these guys have evolved into an outfit that can deliver catchy tune after catchy tune. They do that thing I love where each album has its own charm but never really strays from the hallmarks that make Sea and Cake a band I never seem to know well enough and can’t stop loving more with every go around another album that wants to show me something new and wonderful every time. 2020 sucked in a lot of previously unexplored ways, but it finally propelled Sea and Cake to their deserved place among my favorites, and I am unendingly grateful for the wealth of spectacular music I get to enjoy because of it (seriously, they have more than a dozen albums out and they’re all magnificent).

Honestly, I’ve played both “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)” and “Bobcaygeon” more in 2020 than I’ve played some bands’ entire catalogues cumulatively, so it’s no surprise that the Canadian music gods of The Tragically Hip came out of nowhere to land here on the strength of two infinite-repeat songs alone, just as my undying love for Matt Pond as both a solo artist and foundation of what is probably my favorite contemporary band makes me not shocked at all to see him here twice.

Though I didn’t think I found my way back to The Shins as often as I apparently do. They’re a band I’ve loved since high school, and they deserve a little recognition for being among those rare few who haven’t made an album I didn’t like.

My top Last.fm albums (shown in greater detail as the album collage at the beginning of this post) were actually kind of a surprise. I listened to Bad Books’ second album like a goddamn fiend in 2019 and wasn’t at all thinking that obsession would carry into another year. But there are so many songs on it that I absolutely, whole-heartedly adore that I guess it’s not so surprising after all. And since I have this album in my car, it is one that gets stuck in my head a lot and merits constant revisits.

Anyway. 2020 remains the year of The Sea and Cake.

Oooohhhhh, Okkervil River. I love you. I love you so much and am so mad that our meet-cute was orchestrated by a Spotify algorithm — where’s the whimsy in that? Before I figured out how to get a Spotify experience configured to how I listen to music, the platform had the audacity to present me with stuff I’d never heard of but knew I’d like, starting with Okkervil River. And it absolutely was love at first listen.

They’re one of those bands where I got to know an album by playing every addictive earworm of a song on endless repeat for days as I fell in all-consuming love track by immersive track. And something about “Song of Our So-Called Friend” hit me harder than the dozenish other songs of theirs that endeared themselves to me even more than the others.

It has a lot to do with the unexpected brute force of the song’s closing lines, I think: “Although my heart started to race, now it has slowed / I’ll let it go.”

It’s actually my 2021 goal to spend more time venturing beyond my musical comfort zone, so I’m pleased at the new stuff that made it into my dominated-by-the-early-aughts tastes. 12,700 Songs forcing me to revisit music I don’t give much attention to definitely contributed to that uptick in discovering new songs to love, and it’s super comforting to know that my refusal to let age narrow my tastes actually seems to be going as planned.

Bowerbirds was definitely one of the year’s best finds; I did not think I listened to the new Dawes album as much as I did but new music was a rarity in 2020 and this was a novelty that meant a lot more than it would have in more musically abundant years. But I’m pissed that 2020 releases — and I — were denied their supporting tours.

Of all the newcomers to my musical library I met in the past year, Okkervil River was absolutely my favorite. I don’t devour new-to-me music as much as I used to, so it’s a beautiful thing when a new musical discovery just grabs me by the heart and ears and demands that I fall hard for their bounty of music and depth of emotion because we were made for each other. I barely knew who these guys were a year ago, and now they’re solidly categorized among my go-to favorites. When concerts are a thing again, these fellas from Austin better as hell throw one legendary on-the-road party because I need to see what kind of show they put on.

All in all, though, I somehow listened to less music in the year of the introvert homebodies than I did in 2019, but I suspect that’s partly because my iPod stopped scrobbling for, like, two months for reasons that still mystify me.

And finally…

… surprising absolutely no one, no matter how much I try to broaden my musical horizons, it always comes back to my comfort zone. At least Last.fm isn’t trying to make its own proprietary genre a thing, a la Spotify’s confounding persistence that Stomp and Holler exists.

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