2020 was a difficult year but in this new feature we celebrate the music that helped us get through, next up is Music Critic Lauren Ramsden

Written by Lauren Ramsden
21 year old BA student studying English Literature and History, with a specific interest in cultural histories of the body, sexuality and consent. Actress and all round lover of theatre, film, television and music.
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Images by Korng Sok

Fresh from my module on the meaning of art and criticism, I have been able to reflect a lot this semester on the art around me. As a result, I have become more appreciative for the creators living today, and nowhere is that more prevalent than in the music. During a lockdown where, around trying to revise for exams and watching an obscene amount of sexy period dramas, music can feel like an escape; a switch to sit back, close your eyes and listen. It also gave me time to search for new musicians and try to get out of my comfort zone, musically. Although some of that heeded umm… interesting results (looking at you, Japanese heavy metal), I have found artists who I have come to love and play their songs again and again, making 2020 just that little bit sweeter within my four-bedroom walls. 

‘XS’ by Rina Sawayama

The whole album, SAWAYAMA, needs to have an honourable mention, but this song in particular made me smile and dance this year. Having only heard of Rina Sawayama briefly on Twitter, I immediately dove into her new album. The 2000s nostalgia this album gave me, I cannot even begin to explain. The first album I ever got given on CD was the Britney Spears classic Circus, and Sawayama’s vocals stylise and satirise this period beautifully. ‘XS’ stands out as unbelievably catchy with a beat that forces you to hum along. The subject matter also makes me giggle, highlighted in the genius music video. The energy created by this song is exemplified further in Sawayama’s performance of it on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show, which I implore you watch ASAP. 

‘All I Do’ and ‘Rocket Love’ by Stevie Wonder 

Lockdown also reminded me of the music I had not listened to in a while. My brother started playing Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants when we were playing board games together and, after realising that I had not known that it was a Stevie Wonder album, I made it a mission to re-listen to every Stevie album over Christmas. These two songs, ‘All I Do’ and ‘Rocket Love,’ were two I continuously played back-to-back after listening to the album, Hotter Than July. The first, ‘All I Do,’ was endlessly catchy and enjoyable. This is mainly due to the chorus’ backing singing and, as always, Wonder’s soulful and passionate singing drawing the listener in for the entirety of, what could be, a repetitive song. The saxophone solo further pushes this song into underrated Wonder discography territory for me, as does its third track, ‘Rocket Love.’ After the upbeat ‘All I Do,’ ‘Rocket Love’ arrives as a slower but just as energetic song. The way Wonder wrote and sings on this record created a tension throughout that is uncontested. His use of strings further makes the song a mystical being that is endlessly enjoyable. 

‘Don’t Make It Harder on Me’ by Chloe X Halle 

Chloe x Halle killed it in 2020 with their album Ungodly Hour. This record makes me so excited for their future music and, although it was difficult to pick just one track, ‘Don’t Make It Harder On Me’ is probably my favourite. Every time I listen to this song, the pulsing R&B heart of the track makes me feel so light and happy, reminiscent of a summer in lockdown filled mostly with listening to this record whilst sitting in the garden, too hot to function. Chloe and Halle’s voices blend together seamlessly through their gorgeous harmonies, which they show off as soon as the song starts with some mesmerising vocalisations. This adds to the incredible instrumentations and heightened emotional state conveyed through yearning, frustrated lyrics. The video Chloe x Halle just released of this track further shows how amazing it will be live when they can finally perform it.  

‘My Future’ by Billie Eilish 

I will admit that I was sceptical about Billie Eilish for a while, for no reason. I had never really given her music a chance and just assumed it would not be for me. This was until I caught ‘My Future’ randomly on the radio. Tuning in about halfway through the song, just before the drums kick in, I was fascinated with the unique, quiet voice that Eilish uses which is allowed to stand out for the first minute of the song. The subtle and raw emotion that Eilish conveys through her voice is beautiful and stylistically complex in a way I have rarely heard, and I was so happy to hear it displayed front and centre. The bare first section further allows for the gorgeous and classic construction of the song to be, just, there. You can hear the jazz and blues influences worked into their signature style, a beautiful and sentimental sound which manages to be both wistful and hopeful. The beat then kicks in at around halfway, making this tune a bop as well as an emotional rollercoaster with its hard-hitting lyrics. Definitely one of my favourite songs of the year (one that was very much needed at the time it was released), and it has opened me up to listen to one of the most exciting talents at the moment. 

‘Buddy’ by Willie Nelson 

I have always loved Willie Nelson, but for some reason I found myself gravitating towards his music as a way to unwind at the end of numerous monotonous days. ‘Buddy’ stands out amongst all his songs for me as particularly heart-warming, especially as, as many other people alike, I could not see friends as much as I would have liked to. Nelson’s vocals combined only with his guitar, make this song beautifully bare, raw and emphasises the simplistic yet perfect lyrics. Nelson implores the listener, as his ‘Buddy,’ to be there during his relationship’s end and to ‘not let me start feeling lonely.’ The sentiment hits close to home at this time where many are isolated from those they love, and it is incredible how Nelson encapsulates it so simply in just under two minutes. If you have not seen your friends, or family, listening to this song feels like a much needed hug, so please listen.  

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