Photo by Spencer Imbrok, unsplash.com

The Music That Got Me Through 2020/2021

We all know from experience what 2020 was and what it wasn’t. So I’d skip the inspirational words of hardship, (un)expectancy, struggling, overcoming, and bettering ourselves this year, if you’d allow me.

Instead, I‘d like to talk about something else that I find inspirational. Something that has been with me my whole life, sets my soul on fire, soothes emotional fluctuations, and excites ideas in my mind. My love for music.

Looking at the world music scene, 2020 had actually been very productive and seminal for a lot of artists and creators. As it happens, over 1000 albums have been released in 2020, which according to Wikipedia is a lot more than the average number of new albums per year for the last 5 years (probably even more, but I only went back 5 years to compare).

My Spotify Wrapped for 2020 indicated I have spent 112,043 minutes listening to music on the app. This amounts to an average of 306 minutes per day or a little over 5 hours. Genres vary greatly so expect that in this blog post too. I often say that great music does not belong to a specific genre but on the contrary — can be found across the spectrum.

Considering all this, plus the fact that in 2020 I got invited to a few different bars and clubs in Sofia to select music (not to DJ as I believe there is a great difference between both), I think I started wrapping my mind around the fact that music means a lot more to me than to most people. I often got called a ‘melomane’ and I think I agree with that (the word “audiophile” also rings true to me). So this is why I decided to share my passion for music by combining it with my love for writing as I compile this list.

When I first started writing the article, it was January 2021 but since I’m slow to write because I juggle a lot of balls lately and it’s July 2021 already, I’ll include some sweet sweet discoveries of the first half of 2021 as well. So let’s start. Press Play. ▷

2020 Releases

In no particular order, although I’ll try to keep it chronological, here are my discoveries as it comes to tracks and albums released in 2020/2021.

  • Mac Miller’s Circles
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

Some artists leave this world way too early and Mac makes no exception here. I’ve always loved his work but when Good News was released at the beginning of January 2020, I was both grateful for being able to hear more of his creativity, but also gloomy because of the reminder of the loss the music industry suffered from Mac’s death back in 2018. Nonetheless, Good News is soul-soothing (it sort of comes as a reassurance that everything is okay), Blue World is cool and funky, Hand Me Downs is slow and melancholic. Mac Miller’s 6th studio album Circles was released posthumously and peaked at number 17 on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming his highest-charting single as a lead artist.

  • Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

If you’re not familiar with Tame Impala, I’ll just say as a-matter-of-fact that this is the psychedelic music project of Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker. I’m personally in love with a huge portion of his music — just check out Remember Me, The Less I Know The Better, Let It Happen, Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, New Person Same Old Mistakes, and my all-time fav collaboration with ZHU — My Life. So I definitely enjoyed The Slow Rush, his 4th studio album that was released on St. Valentine’s Day in 2020. Personal favorites from the album are Borderline, Posthumous Forgiveness, Is It True.

  • Kerana & Kosmonavtite
Click here to listen to the band on Spotify.

Probably a bit unexpected, but I love Kerana & Kosmonavtite. They’re a Bulgarian band with a few original songs for which I’m finding it hard to define a specific genre (they vary from ska through funk to pop/rock). Yulia Yordanova, the lead singer, is known as Kerana, while Kosmonavtite (The Astronauts — from Bulgarian) is the rest of the band which was officially formed in 2019. I had the privilege to meet Yulia during one of their live performances in the summer of 2020 and for me, she is one of the most enthusiastic, energetic, and talented singers I’ve listened to. I recommend listening to Slaba Silnost (Weak Strongness), Otlagam (I Postpone), E (Is), Tseh za sanishta (Dreams Factory).

  • Black Pumas’ Black Pumas (Deluxe)
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

Technically Black Pumas was released in the summer of 2019, but the Deluxe Edition of the album was an August 2020 child and I personally discovered the band then, so I decided to include it. The genre of the self-titled debut album by the American band is psychedelic soul and it did really well — the deluxe edition got nominated for Album of the Year at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, while Colors received two nominations for Record of the Year and Best American Roots Performance.

I’ve listened to Colors, OCT 33, Black Moon Rising, Confines, Touch The Sky an indefinite number of times.

  • Sub Focus & Wilkinson’s Portals
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

This one is DnB gem, in this case by British DJs/producers Sub Focus and Wilkinson. They’re usually not a duo, but this collaboration turned out pretty great, we gotta give them that. At first, they only released one track back in 2018, but they liked working with each other so they decided to collaborate on an album. It was released on Oct 9, even though the first single Illuminate was made known to the public back in September 2019. Some notable tracks from it, personally for me, are Air I Breathe, Illuminate, Freedom ❤, Just Hold On, Time (basically all the singles).

  • Chase & Status’ RTRN II FABRIC (Mixed)
Click here to listen to the mix on Spotify.

If I was given a dollar each time I listened to a Chase & Status track in 2020, I’d be able to quit my job. Seriously. The club scene suffered a lot last year, but places like London’s fabric made a real effort to stay connected to their fan base. In late October, following up on their last album RTRN II JUNGLE, Chase & Status released a special mix of curated raw, melodic, and energetic jungle and drum & bass tracks as a tribute to fabric. The mix consists of 44 tracks with varying lengths and is in collaboration with the emblematic London nightclub. Probably one of my favorite albums is No More Idols which was the second best-selling UK album by a British band in the year of its release and has now surpassed double-platinum status.

Furthermore, in March Maribou State also released a DJ mix through fabric, check that one out as well.

  • Netsky’s Second Nature
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

Hospital Records released Netsky’s 4th album a day before Halloween. For those of you who are disconnected from the DnB scene, I’ll just mention that Netsky is a Belgian DnB producer and musician, and funny enough, he takes his artistic pseudonym from the same-named computer virus.

The artwork might seem unusual to you, and it is. It’s actually a picture of Boris (Netsky’s real name) and his father and was taken somewhere in southern France when the producer was 7–8 years old. Apparently, his father’s music collection was a great influence on Netsky, and especially the soul genre, even though the album does not carry that soul vibe throughout its entirety. I think I’ve heard Mixed Emotions in some DnB mixes a few months back (March-April), but apart from it, other fav tracks are Let Me Hold You, I See The Future In Your Eyes, I Choose You, and of course, Everybody Loves The Sunshine which is a tribute to Roy Ayers.

Netsky’s been on the Bulgarian DJ stage a few times, the last one being at the Hippilandia festival back in 2016 and I had the pleasure of listening to him live. I actually say jokingly (but also completely seriously) that this was the night I fell in love with Drum’n’Bass.

  • CamelPhat’s Dark Matter
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

Finally some house music. Apparently Oct 30 was a busy day for a lot of artists releasing new stuff. Dark Matter is actually the debut album by the British duo CamelPhat. They have some very popular singles from it — like Cola, Panic Room or Breathe. For me personally, Rabbit Hole and Easier are very lovely tracks.

  • Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon III: The Chosen
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

Man On The Moon III was a long-awaited album, released on Dec 11, 2020. What a nice Christmas gift that was! This is the 7th album by Kid Cudi and the final piece of the Man On The Moon trilogy. The concept behind the album, as is also visible from the album cover, is the duality, the internal struggle between the rapper and his evil alter ego, Mr. Rager (or as Carl Jung would say, his shadow). The first installment Man On The Moon I: The End Of Day also has a philosophical spin — it depicts the feelings of loneliness, as well as dealing with his father’s death at an early stage. The second part — Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, was relased 10 whole years before part III.

For me, the whole album is a masterpiece, I listened a lot to it, especially Tequila Shots, Heaven On Earth, Solo Dolo, Pt III, Sad People, Sept. 16, The Pale Moonlight. But do try to listen to tracks in their original order, as the whole album is separated in 4 separate thematic acts. As the last song in the album finishes: To be continued…

  • Taylor Swift’s evermore
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

Now, Taylor Swift might come as a suprise here, but if I have to be honest I think Tay is a brilliant artist, singer, songwriter. Despite the tons of gossip and bad press, Taylor keeps going and drwas strength from her vulnerability and honesty in her work. I’ve identified with her lyrics more time than I can count. evermore was released in the middle of December 2020 and, honestly, the tunes were like an ointment for my ears and soul. This is Swift’s 9th studio album and it came out less than 5 months after her 8th one. evermore is said to be the “sister record” for folkore (the previous album). Taylor Swift writes all of her songs herself and has been a great inspiration for me during the years — how she turns her pain into art and draws gold out of life struggles. In my opinion, the album sounds like going back to her roots but fused with her pop/indie sounding style. Personal favorites are willow, gold rush, no body, no crime (with HAIM).

2021 Releases

  • Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

This Californian mermaid needs no introduction as I’m sure you’ve all fallen victim to one or two of her melancholic nostalgic sweet tunes. Her voice takes you away, while her eyes tell stories without words. Yes, I’m very poetic. Some might say dramatic. Anyway, back to Lana.

One thing that 2020 took away from me, besides office social life, is Lana’s concert from the Norman Fucking Rockwell!’s tour in Berlin on Mar 1 that got canceled just a week before that. They said it was because her vocal cords needed to rest, but in hindsight, I think we can all agree perhaps there was another reason. On Mar 19, 2021, almost a year later, came out Lana’s 9th album — Chemtrails Over The Country Club.

Besides the same-named single, I melt a bit away while listening to Let Me Love You Like A Woman and to Breaking Up Slowly (with Nikki Lane).

  • London Grammar’s Californian Soil
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

The third studio album by the indie-pop band London Grammar was a long-awaited one as it came 4 years after the previous. The release was in April 2021, although some of the singles were announced back in 2020 (for instance, Baby, It’s You was released in August ’20). One of my personal favorites is Lord It’s A Feeling, which also has a very cool DnB remix by High Contrast. I’ve long ago fallen in love with lead singer Hannah Reid’s angelic voice, so if you haven’t listened to them, please give them a try. And if you have, you know what I’m talking about. According to the band, this album was written about letting go, so let’s practice the art of letting go with our headphones on.

  • KALEO’s Surface Sounds
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

KALEO is an indie/alternative rock bank from Iceland and I love them. Probably one of their most famous songs is Way Down We Go which was featured on Suit’s Season 5 Finale and a lot of other TV series as well. In January 2020 the band released 2 singles and then in March they followed up with an announcement that a new album called Surface Sounds is coming up. The release date was postponed for a long time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but finally it came out on April 23, 2021.

Give it a shot with Break My Baby , I Want More and Backbone — heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

  • Jorja Smith’s Be Right Back (EP)
Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

I absolutely love, love, love Jorja Smith and her rnb/soul vibes. Be Right Back came out in the middle of May, just when I needed something like that. The EP (extended play) is the third one for Smith and considered a prelude to her next album. My favorite tracks from it are Gone, Home, and Burn.

If you have by some minor chance missed Jorja Smith’s art up until now, I strongly suggest you give it a go with Blue Lights, By Any Means, Come Over (with Popcaan), Rose Rouge, Peng Black Girls (with ENNY), Slow Down (with Maverick Sabre), On Your Own. God, I could go on. Just listen to Jorja.

To wrap it up, I think this article could be at least twice as long, and also there are so many tracks that I came across that are just singles, or were released way way back in time, but only made it to my playlist recently. I listened a lot to Erykah Badu, Ocean Wisdom, Arctic Monkeys, Kaytranada, SiR, Frank Ocean (omg, have you listened to his mixtape Nostlagia?), the guys from Hunger Music label (Worakls, NTO, Joachim Pastor), some Berlin DJs, some more funk and soul, a lot more deep house and tech house stuff. I even released two mixes that I had fun playing around with two consequetive Sundays (check out Messing with Lasers and Blue Sunday).

What are your music discoveries lately? Let’s swap ❤

You can find all the mentioned tracks in this playlist:

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L&D Trainer. Psychotherapy student. Coffee lover, cat admirer. Dreamer from a distant planet. Passionate about yoga, art, traveling, music that gets to my bones

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Petya Grozdarska

Petya Grozdarska

L&D Trainer. Psychotherapy student. Coffee lover, cat admirer. Dreamer from a distant planet. Passionate about yoga, art, traveling, music that gets to my bones

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