How can anyone name their "best (or favorite) of the year" in a challenging year?
The simple answer is that we have to. It is part of our obligation to our readers, fans, followers, haters, and so forth.
And, yes, it has been a challenging year in music and radio programming. Since March, everyone had to reinvent themselves. Air personalities have been doing radio shows from home, using Skype, Zoom, and other digital platforms and fusing them onto their respective broadcasts. Sound quality and fidelity may have not been music to everyone’s ears, but the show continued to go on.
Creating music has also changed. Although, not recording artist has a studio at home to create new sounds. Those who did pulled off some relevant tracks for our ears. Even with the latest software, peripherals, and expertise, you could have had an album on the charts right now.
Working from home may have been the way to keep yourselves safe from that blasted virus. Most of us took this opportunity to think outside the box from within our familiar four walls. Creativity is what drives us to produce some magical moments during 2020.
While pre-pandemic music was being packaged for delayed release, others took to various digital platforms to perform new material for us after we were told to stay home and stay safe. Some of this material became relevant in reflection of our mood and the situation we are in. We looked out of our windows and applauded our healthcare community and first responders for being our heroes this year. The music and everything else related to creating content videos were definitely in tune with the times.
So…what were my favorite musical and infotainment moments of this absurd year? Hmmm…
NETSKY – "SECOND NATURE" (Hospital): Could this be the album of the year? Maybe. However, Belgian DJ and producer Boris Daenen created an EDM classic by fusing soul and R&B from the 1970s with a driving Drum and Bass beat. He created his own version of Roy Ayers' "Everybody Love The Sunshine," which tells you where Daenen's influences come from. The current hit, "Let Me Hold You," is also a telltale sign of where this album gets its energy and groove. So, why aren’t you listening to this album?
SUB FOCUS X WILKINSON – "PORTALS" (Virgin EMI): In the same vein as Netsky, British EDM producers Nicolaas Douwma and Mark Wilkinson came together to produce an equally solid Drum and Bass album full of charged bangers. The 11 track album contains some creative and listenable beats, vocals, and loops. "Illuminate" was the first track I heard from this collaboration. It has not left my Apple Music library – yes, it is that good. "Enter Night" adds Heather Cameron-Hayes’ vocals with an urgent, signature Sub Focus soundtrack. The rest of the album fits perfectly with these two producers’ style and sound.
ORVILLE PECK – "SHOW PONY" (Sub Pop/Columbia): He’s an out gay country musician from Canada – one of two we’ll be talking about on here. The EP continues the old school energy of the Polaris Prize Award-nominated “Pony” with heightened production quality. The big "in" for me was his single "Legends Never Die" with Shania Twain. That song was epic! Probably the best country song of the year! Ah, but his cover of Bobbie Gentry's "Fancy" (formerly covered by Reba McIntyre) is definitely worth a listen, too!
DRAKE JENSEN – "BURN THE FLOOR" (Soaring Eagle): While the leaner Peck is riding on the wave of his major label EP, the woofier, thicker, bearded Jensen made another breakthrough in Canadian country music. It is an anti-country country song. Let me explain. It is a celebration of everything LGBT, including gender expression, with a song that could be mistaken as a disco track. Instead, it is a livelier country song that might induce some boot scootin’. While you’re at it, check out his back catalog.
PANDEMIC DJ SETS: Remember D-Nice from Boogie Down Productions? He re-emerged from years of doing DJ sets to bring some joy from the turntables onto Instagram. His live sets were broadcast on the digital platform with thousands upon thousands following them! He was followed by The Roots drummer Questlove and DJ Jazzy Jeff with their at-home sets delighting fans all over. They created escapes from the doom and gloom of the virus. While Jeff went down with his battle against COVID-19, he came back up and went to the turntables again. These were truly the stories on how music prevailed through this pandemic.
INSTAGRAM BATTLES: Speaking of that app, we were also entertained by the collaboration of various artists in a one-on-one video battle. The Verzuz account produced some epic collaborations, including Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, RZA and DJ Premier, Lil Jon and T-Pain, Teddy Riley and Babyface – to name a few. You even had the reunion of Brandy and Monica to entertain you – live on your mobile device. Even comedians got into the act. You probably missed the one between Jay Pharaoh and Godfrey on who can do the best impressions on Instagram Live. The folks behind Verzuz should be given an ovation for helping to ease the pain of this pandemic.
THE FIFTH-GENERATION "BOOMER": For 32 years, I have dabbled in making my own music. Rather, to transform a musical instrument into something more than just its appearance and tone. This summer, I bought a new LP Music Group Classic conga drum (in the Matte Sunburst finish) to replace one that had been damaged a few years back. Granted, it is not part of any infotainment system. It is, however, a muse, an inspiration, a spirit guide…you get the idea. He loves riding with me, when I can lug his 35-pound butt around. He also helps inform the content I listen and watch. He’s quite the character – just as B. B. King's "Lucille" was to the late great Blues guitarist.
WIRELESS SMARTPHONE INTEGRATION: We cannot end this year-end follow-up without including some newer and noteworthy technology behind the art. This is not a new technology, but more vehicles are adopting it than ever. Instead of connecting your smartphone with a USB cord, Bluetooth will detect a smartphone integration software to enable the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto shell to work through your infotainment screen. Combine that with a wireless charging pad, and you can simply cut the cord out of your vehicle.
In this world of infotainment, we can look back to see how we can think outside the box and create some magical moments. Whether you listen, watch, or participate, we relied on entertainment to fill the void in a down year.