2020: This is the Way

30 Dec

There will be so many think pieces about 2020. There will be books and series of books about 2020. At the beginning of quarantine when everything, even the air, was frightening, I thought “I don’t want any quarantine art, this is awful.”

But! The human condition is one of adaptation, and when you do decide to respect your fellow humans and stay home for a year and change, you make stuff. That’s good.

There was SO MUCH art to keep us company this year, that I cannot begin to list it all. There are 100’s of “Best of” lists out there and you may peruse them, but also I refuse to make a “best of” list because looking around at my friend circles and beyond, it became glaringly obvious that we were all coping in this pandemic-election year however we could, and most of us grabbed onto different things. A lot of what I grabbed onto was the familiar…I didn’t really seek out a lot of “new to me” this year.

Here’s what I loved.


Mary Chapin Carpenter: The Dirt and the Stars + One Night Lonely + Songs From Home

Allow me to wax poetic. MCC really showed up, and it made the year for me. Her album release of The Dirt and the Stars was pushed back a little, but in the meantime she started posting videos from quarantine and called it “Songs From Home.” With the evergreen reminder to “Stay Mighty,” we got to know her awesome kitchen, see Angus & White Kitty, and hear old songs and new songs and SONGS! While a bunch of us were cursing our internet connections and losing patience with livestreams, MCC would drop a gem or 2 or 3 a week and make things better. By the time The Dirt & The Stars dropped in August (and it is a gorgeous and true album, is how I can describe it), it felt like the exact right thing to get us through the longest summer ever. Then…THEN! We got a 2 hour long livestream from Wolf Trap (one of my favorite places that I missed traveling to this summer) in November. So yeah, that all helped considerably. I tried to stay mighty…most days I did.

A coffee cup in front of Mary Chapin Carpenter playing guitar on a laptop screen, window behind.

Taylor Swift: folklore & evermore & the long pond studio sessions

This year we learned that when T-Swift posts the caption, “not a lot going on at the moment,” she is A LYING LIAR. Being as she put out the Lover album last summer, no one was expecting new music so soon, but quarantine and what is apparently her epic workflow process made for two new albums. folklore took up a lot of my listening time this fall, and I wasn’t over that one when she dropped evermore. I won’t pick a favorite because they’re both really good records, and work together, and are interesting in that they were written in the same year sort of as one giant project. If you have Disney+, go watch her Long Pond Studio Session of the folklore album…where she gets to play the tunes with Jack Antonoff, a longtime favorite, and Aaron Dessner from The National, a new favorite. I just want a studio full of cool guitars and synths in the woods, IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!?

The Chicks: Gaslighter

I am SO GLAD The Chicks (who changed their name this year!) decided to give us this album in May instead of postponing their first batch of new music in over a decade. They really would have been warranted to wait…a comeback of that proportion usually requires a tour and whatnot, and that didn’t happen. But we’ll get to gather together soon enough, all vaccinated and whatnot, and scream “BOY I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID ON MY BOAT” together in a stadium. I am still proud that in the second to last gig I had before lockdown, Libby Koch and I learned Gaslighter THE DAY it came out and by 7 pm, got through a cover of it at Threadgill’s. Moments for the memory bank.

Kathleen Edwards: Total Freedom

Speaking of another long-awaited return, Kathleen Edwards also had what you can call a “comeback” planned after making her first album in a lot of years, and yeah, the pandemic got in the way again. BLAST! But she gave it to us anyway and what glorious record it is. Just…spin it. A lot. You’ll feel better.

MUNA+The Knocks: Bodies

This single came out in the wash of a month I like to call AprayJuember (this is to say, I forget when), but it seems like my pod buddy Shawnee and I spent an inordinate amount of time dancing to this song all summer. No regrets, only perfect pop music. Also, a brilliantly made quarantine video.

Shawnee Kilgore: Beginning at the Wilderness

Speaking of Shawnee, how lucky am I that my quarantine podbuddy put out one of my favorite records this year? This album should be spinning in your brain and ears nonstop. The songs are brilliant, and she went all the way to Maine to record it in the beforetimes, and it glows. IT GLOWS. Buy it here.

The Belle Sounds: all of them.

Noëlle Hampton and André Moran are The Belle Sounds, and also happen to be my favorite band in Austin, TX and also beyond Austin, TX. But it’s insane to me that they live here and I can talk to them, they’re so good. I pinch myself about that a lot. ANYWAY – when quarantine hit, Noëlle got to work in her home studio writing and recording and the result is 12 songs and 5 videos, released one at a time, like a slow drip of goodness to look forward to all year. What a gift from these gifted folks.

Who else is in The Belle Sounds? Emily Shirley! And Emily kept making music all year, too. Check it all out, but especially her latest, “Everyday Heroes,” written for all those frontline healthcare workers who have taken the brunt of 2020.


The Mandalorian: Baby Yoda Baby Yoda Baby Yoda. Oh, and the plot is great too.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco: Shawnee and I watched a LOT of movies this year and this one sticks out. Beautifully filmed about one of the most beautiful cities.

Dolly Parton: Dolly never went away, but her legacy is having a moment because it’s like we all woke up to the fact that she’s awesome and she WALKS AMONG US. In addition to the fact that she helped fund vaccine development, I really enjoyed this documentary about her life and music, and this podcast, too.

The Booksellers: I found this documentary to be nerdy and comforting, and it also made me want to live in a 5th floor walk up in NYC full of antiquarian books.

And More, etc.

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt: this autobiography of a fictional character but also a real anonymous person…well, it’s hard to explain, but I read it in two days and it was one of the longform things that kept my attention in the worst of the summer quarantine doldrums. So much heart from this true literary royal (and quality Lyle Lovett content to boot).

Meg Stalter: if you don’t know who Meg is, you will soon. She thrived in quarantine with her brand of character sketch comedy on Instagram. She’s brilliant. She made us giggle on a consistent basis in a time when laughing felt weird to do. SNL would be lucky to have her.

This is by no means a complete list. I can’t imagine the amount of media and art consumed by all of us this year, though that is a REALLY good reminder. In a time when it seems art and the artists are less compensated than ever before thanks to streaming and the inability to perform in rooms full of people, we have to remember what we turn to in the tough times as well as the good times. Support the arts and the artists, kids.

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