Soundscapes of 2020

2020, a year of cancelled concerts, festivals that didn't happen and concert halls that remained silent. A year that confined singers, musicians and performers in their homes, studios and backyards, making the digital space their only point of contact with their fans.

By Radka Ondrackova, reSITE's creative captain

As event organizers by nature, we have a lot of compassion for that void and separation from cultural events, from spaces where we gather, and between performers and their audiences. Yet it has always been the case that artists suffering pressure, lack of freedom and hurt in all different ways would transform their ache into beauty.

We've chosen our favorite "fleurs du mal" of the lockdown. Eight extraordinary records, singles and albums released this year, most of them composed and recorded in isolation. Those songs combined make a perfect soundtrack of 2020, of our cities, of our minds. They carry the deepest emotions of this painful year shared across the globe and help us focus on what's most important in our lives.

Sufjan Stevens | The Ascension

Sufjan Stevens's song Chicago opened reSITE's last live event, REGENERATE. His album The Ascension is one of the most palpable expressions of sadness and I will pin its title song, considered by critics as “the best song he has ever written” as a very symptomatic sound of 2020.

No Time for Love Like Now — Michael Stipe

At the end of March, former R.E.M.'s frontman Michael Stipe released a new song in a long time, No Time for Love Like Now, co-written by Aaron Dessner of The National. Very symptomatic of this year: the song has been revealed as a selfie demo on Instagram, streamed from Michael’s home, a green-painted veranda which became the signature setting for most of his “public life” in 2020.

In April, Michael performed the song at the Virtual Festival for Our Planet, before being included in the @thecalltounite, a global 24-hour virtual event composed of songs, dance, meditation, prayer willing to uplift & connect the global community.

"What one thing, what single gesture, can I do today, tomorrow, to help even one person, to help lift even one person...?"
Michael Stipe

All That You Can't Leave Behind — U2

October 30th, U2 released a multi-format and remastered All that you can’t leave behind at the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the album, with an additional track, The Ground Beneath Her Feet released originally as part of the OST of The Million Dollar Hotel. Nearly 40 bonuses are included in the deluxe edition. If the music has not aged at all, everything else about this album seems surreal in the context of the moment - from the cover shot at the Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, through the legendary runway video for Beautiful Day, to - most importantly - each one’s memories of the original release. I remember the omnipresent black and white posters of this album taking over the Paris metro, as I was in my Erasmus study year in Paris. A friend of mine remembers the same visuals from London. Many of us have our memories impregnated with those songs. Memories of cities, of friends, of someone we met or something we did for the first time. And they are being sent to us, while we are Stuck in a moment...

Effects Secondaires — Grand Corps Malade

Let’s stay in Paris for a while, precisely in Saint-Denis, parisian suburbs. Slam poet and urban rapper, disabled singer Fabien Marsaud performing under the nickname Grand Corps Malade composed Effets secondaires, a song in which he shares his thoughts on the pandemic and its effects. The profit of this release has been dedicated to the Hôpitaux de Paris, Hôpitaux de France Foundation.

On December 10th, Grand Corps Malade released Pas essentiel (which stands for non essential), and continues the chronicle of the pandemic: this time, he shouts out loud a protest against the closing of all venues for performing arts and culture.

Coney Island — Taylor Swift feat. The National

A second song signed by Aaron Dessner in this list brings us back to Brooklyn. An incredibly beautiful duet of The National’s frontman Matt Berninger with Taylor Swift entitled Coney Island after the once-popular tourist sport in Brooklyn makes an anaology of a relationship that has died. Matt compared this collaboration to dancing with Gene Kelly and the song was featured on Taylor’s 9th album Evermore - her second album of 2020 and the sister follow-up to folklore released earlier this year.

The question pounds my head— What's a lifetime of achievement?
Matt Berninger

Serpentine Prison — Matt Berninger

The frontman of The National Matt Berninger (49) makes a remarkable and hypnotic solo debut, and releases Serpentine Prison on October 16, after two decades of musical career with his band. He admits he is a self-taught singer who learned by studying Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits. To become one of the most recognizable contemporary voice colors. And there is one more record of 2020 featuring Matt's "brooding baritone" which should not be left unnoticed. The National recorded the cover of Never Tear Us Apart by INXS, contributing to Songs for Australia, a compilation with all proceeds going to the bushfire relief. Maybe some of you remember that the original video for Never Tear Us Apart is one of three clips in which INXS and Michael Hutchence immortalized Prague during the winter of 1987-88, a city and country which was back then under the lockdown of an ideology, still.

Her Revolution — Thom Yorke, Burial & FourTet

Thom Yorke planned to tour concert venues in 2020 with his album Anima. Prague’s Forum Karlin, a frequent stage of reSITE's conferences, was included on his itinerary. Obviously, he had to postpone the tour. Instead, he collaborated with Burial and FourTet and released a black label vinyl record Her Revolution and His Rope in early December 2020, available in selected music shops in London. Recorded by XL Records, two songs reached music streaming platforms on the same day as Taylor’s Swift Evermore, December 11th.

Plasticine Figures — Thom Yorke

Let’s wrap the list with an earlier piano solo by Thom Yorke Plasticine Figures, performed for the first time from his self-isolation in his basement, and streamed live in NBC’s The Tonight Show in April.

Honorable mentions that captured our emotions

  • I Know Alone - HAIM
  • Exile - Taylor Swift (feat. Bon Iver)
  • Seize the Day - Paul McCartney
  • Symmetry - Maggie Rogers
  • The Lakes - Taylor Swift
  • One More Second - Matt Berninger

Every one of those musical opuses made my day, and provided some reprieve for millions of people. For many of us, access to art, diverse cultural happenings and great music is what makes our cities rich. When we will curate our music breaks for our next reSITE event (and we will!), very likely we will pick from this list, to reflect on 2020, on this sort of hyphen in our lives. Thank you to all the great artists. You are all essential. Only art has the ability to extract so much beauty from the heavy reality.

Listen to the reSITE 2020 Soundscape Playlist + Contribute:

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