Hard Times, Thrilling New Music

Hard Times, Thrilling New Music

Written by Cliff Chenfeld

Hard times often produce spectacular music, and 2020 was a year in which artists responded to this disorienting year with songs of joy, insight and poignancy.

This is a thrilling era for new music, as artists create inspired and compelling recordings that often live outside of the mainstream but command a significant and passionate audience. However, with more music being released than ever before, it can be daunting to sort through the tonnage to find the most compelling new work. Welcome to Be Here Now, where we will do our best to identify new artists and songs that you’ll want to hear.

Be Here Now is for those who want to hear new music but don’t get to discover as much as they’d like. We will avoid disposable pop and the perhaps-inaccessible fringe and identify artists who are making innovative, modern recordings. Some of these contemporary artists are inspired by those from previous eras. Here is a link to a Be Here Now Spotify playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more.


The playlist features one song per artist but the chosen artists are all worth exploring further, as they have all released rewarding albums that include many other great songs. There aren’t many one-hit wonders here.

Be Here Now features many exceptional artists, including Tame Impala, perhaps the most groundbreaking act of recent years. Led by mastermind Kevin Parker, they combine psych-rock, dance music dynamics and introspective lyrics. They headlined Coachella in 2019 and released the new LP, The Slow Rush earlier this year. It’s the successor to 2015’s Currents, one of the great records of the 21st century.


Grammy-nominated Black Pumas repurpose classic soul sounds for today while a new generation of strong, unflinching female artists like Angel OlsenSharon Van Etten and Kathleen Edwards make haunting, personal, melodic recordings that linger. Bouncy, endorphin-spreading dance music is also thriving today and fresh tracks from Sault and Roosevelt encourage celebration, very much needed in the closing days of 2020.


Despite reports to the contrary, plenty of bands are making compelling guitar-based rock music, including the Strokes, whose new album is their best in years (see Copper’s review in Issue 114), the Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C., who aspire to be the only band that matters, and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, who craft punchy, compact songs that occasionally channel the Plimsouls. Considering all of the great singer-songwriters that have come before, it is remarkable how many contemporary artists are extending a genre that is over a half century old. Jason Isbell, perhaps the best singer-songwriter of the last decade, is included here as well. Laura Marling, who just turned 30, has penned deeply personal, evocative songs for nearly ten years.


Not all of today’s great music is easy to classify. Mildlife, an Australian outfit blends funk, prog, electronic and hints of jazz to create a futuristic fusion that demonstrates their virtuosity but keeps it fun and accessible. Yola is a powerhouse British singer who channels soul and country, and creates songs with huge hooks that run counter to the minimalist bent of so much contemporary music.


Here are two more bands on the Spotify playlist, U.S. Girls and Fleet Foxes:



And finally there is Avenue Beat whose song “F2020” (the “F” stands for exactly what it should) calls out this f’d up year. Over a jittery, syrupy track, they kiss off 2020 and look forward to 2021. Avenue Beat is ready to move on from this crazy year…and who isn’t? Fortunately, we have plenty of exceptional music to take with us to the other side.

Follow Cliff on social media:

Instagram: @cchenfeld
Twitter: @ChenfeldCliff

Header image of the Black Pumas courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/TenAtoms.

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