The Four Horsemen of Surviving 2020
Let’s start on a downer: 2020 has been one of the worst years I’ve had in recent memory. The only real contender is 2015, but that’s not very important. Now, I’m aware that claiming that 2020 has been a terrible year doesn’t make me particularly unique; I think everyone I know would say the same. However, I do think I have a unique perspective on the year as a whole. First, some quick background on my 2020.
In December of 2019, I graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Arts Communication degree with a major in Creative Media. Because of this, my December mostly revolved around packing up the life I had lived in Tuscaloosa for the last four years. Saying goodbye to all of my friends from class, my co-workers at the fantastic Oz Music (I love you guys), and moving back to my hometown. Sometime around November, I had decided to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Athens State University. Now, for those who don’t know me, I had started out my college career as a Computer Science major at UA. However, after two years of horrible professors and even worse instruction, I decided to pursue a film degree. My thought process at the time was, “Hey, this is something I’m passionate about, and I think I have the work ethic to make it in this industry.” However, after a rough experience with attempting to direct a short film, I realized that I liked the academic side of film rather than the creative side. I can talk about and dissect movies all day; I can’t make one to save my life.
Anyway, I took January as a month to decompress before jumping into a new part-time job and classes. February rolled around and I began working as a barista at Starbucks. Yes, I’m aware of how much of a hipster cliché I seem like right now. “Oh, you have a film degree and you worked at a record store and Starbucks? Your favorite band is probably Radiohead.” Haha, very funny, I’ve never heard that one before. This has been one of the bigger negatives of my life in 2020. Working as a barista is a mentally and emotionally exhausting experience. I dislike being around people I don’t know at the best of times; to do it for six to eight hours nearly every day is utterly draining.
On the other hand, my classes were going well. Programming was clicking in a way that it never had while I was at UA. Funny how starting with the basics instead of being thrown into the deep end the first day of class changes everything, huh? Still, there were plenty of other negatives. COVID-19 hit, and with it, any chance of having anything to look forward to in 2020 vanished. On top of that, one of my best friends moved to the opposite side of the country, and most of my interactions with my friends have been over Discord since June. To say I miss living with them is an understatement. So, as someone that has struggled with depression since middle school, needless to say, I haven’t been in the best place mentally this year.
Fortunately, there were four albums that provided solace for me this year. I wanted to share them with you, and maybe they can alleviate some of the awfulness of 2020 for you, too. These albums were spaced throughout 2020 in such a way that each one comforted me for roughly a quarter of the year. Let’s see what they were, shall we?
All Time Low — Wake Up, Sunshine
All Time Low is my favorite band. Full stop. They’ve been my favorite band since my junior year of high school, and nothing has come close to removing them from that spot. So, when they started dropping cryptic teasers at the beginning of 2020, I was understandably excited. Nothing could have prepared me for the stone-cold masterpiece they dropped this year. Wake Up, Sunshine is, in my opinion, All Time Low’s best record to date. Every single they dropped leading up to the record’s release was an absolute banger, and I don’t think I’ve gone a single day this year without listening to at least one song off this record. “Monsters (feat. blackbear)” is an absolute jam, and the handful of remixes that have dropped in the latter half of the year (including the most recent one with Demi Lovato) are just as good. “Some Kind of Disaster” is a rollicking pop-punk anthem with one of the best hooks All Time Low has ever written. It’s also the second-best opening track of the year (we’ll get to the first in just a minute). “Glitter & Crimson,” the best song on the record, comes dangerously close to being my favorite All Time Low song (it can’t quite top “Jasey Rae”). If it’s not obvious at this point, this record is an hour-long injection of pure serotonin for me. I love it dearly and it’s by far my favorite record of the year.
Neck Deep — All Distortions Are Intentional
Neck Deep have come a long way since I first started listening to them in 2014. With each record, they’ve improved exponentially as a band. All Distortions Are Intentional is their best work to date. This album features the best opening track of the year, “Sonderland,” an absolute banger of a song about wondering if things can truly get better (pretty relevant for this hell-year, right?). Every song on this album is pop-punk perfection, but, in addition to “Sonderland,” two other songs really stand out. Closer “Pushing Daisies” is about living life to the fullest because “we all end up pushing daisies/and that’s the way it is.” Finally, the midpoint of the record is the song “Sick Joke.” This is the single that resonated with me the most in the lead-up to the album’s release, and the song that has remained my favorite off the album. In a year where I haven’t seen the people I love nearly enough, where I’m stuck selling overpriced coffee to people that seem to think my sole purpose in life is to get them bean water as fast as possible, where I’ve questioned a lot of things about who I am as a person, the chorus of “Sometimes I wonder/if life is some sick joke/Will I wake up and it’s over?/No I’m still here, and I’m not dead,” really got to me. I’ve jammed this song all year, and, despite what you may think given the above lyrics, it has been an incredibly life-affirming song. It makes me think that maybe, just maybe, my life hasn’t been a sick joke.
Fleet Foxes — Shore
And now we take a hard turn away from pop-punk. The latter half of the year started with Fleet Foxes dropping their fourth studio record, Shore, out of the blue. Fleet Foxes is a band that I only really started listening to when I worked at Oz in college, and they quickly became one of my favorites. While Shore isn’t my favorite record the band has put out, it’s still a remarkably deep and comforting record. “Sunblind” is a gorgeous tune where singer Robin Pecknold shares his love of some late songwriting heroes, such as Richard Swift, John Prine, David Berman, and many more. He thanks them for the art they left behind, simultaneously connecting their music to a life well-lived. “Young Man’s Game” is an acknowledgment of the futility of faking it. These two tracks are some of the most jubilant songs in Fleet Foxes’ discography, a theme that runs throughout the record. The album seems to be the result of breaking up the proggy centerpieces of previous records (“The Shrine / An Argument,” “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”) and sprinkling them throughout the record. Shore is a calming, joyful record to listen to, and it’s been in constant rotation for me since its release.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — K.G.
Finally, we’ve reached the fourth horseman of surviving 2020. King Gizzard is, in my opinion, the most interesting band working in modern rock music. Not only are they ridiculously prolific (they’ve released sixteen studio albums since 2012), but each album ranges from “pretty good” to “straight-up masterpiece” in terms of quality. K.G. is the band’s second dive into microtonal tuning, following up their 2017 record Flying Microtonal Banana. Given their entire discography, K.G. is a fairly average Gizz record (keep in mind that “average” for Gizz is better than 90% of modern rock). There are a couple of standout gems here, though. Closing track “The Hungry Wolf of Fate” is hardcore Sabbath worship at its finest. “Honey” is an acoustic jam with an earworm of a chorus. The biggest departure here is “Intrasport,” a synth-heavy tune that is the biggest surprise on the record. With K.G. being the most recent release here, I haven’t listened to it nearly as much as the other three. Still, it’s a solid record that I’ve enjoyed listening to the last couple of weeks.
A Surprise Fifth Horseman: Persona 5 Royal
Surprise! I couldn’t let the opportunity to gush about my favorite video game of the year (and probably of all-time, to be honest) pass me by. Persona 5 was my favorite game that I played in 2018. It’s one of the few games that I consider a ten out of ten. The story, characters, and gameplay are all immaculate. The Persona series tends to release an updated version of each main series game about two or three years after the original. This updated version usually includes new characters, an expanded story, and some new mechanics. Enter Persona 5 Royal.
Somehow, Atlus took the perfection of Persona 5 and made it even better. The two new characters that were added to Royal, Maruki and Kasumi, are easily my second and third favorite characters in the game. They also expanded Akechi’s story arc, taking him from being a character I really liked to my absolute favorite in the game. The story of Royal is also a huge improvement over the excellent story in vanilla Persona 5. The additions of Maruki and Kasumi help elaborate on the themes of individuality and rebellion in Persona 5, and Maruki becomes one of the best antagonists I’ve encountered in any medium. Persona 5 Royal gets the honor of being the only game to make me cry multiple times while playing it. Royal released on March 31st, about the same time that I started my self-isolation from Starbucks. This is a JRPG that takes 80 to 120 hours to beat. I beat this game three times in three weeks. That’s how much I love it.
A Bungled Outro
So, yeah! There are four records (and one video game) that have really helped me weather 2020. Check them out if they sound like they’d interest you, and I hope they can bring you some of the light they brought me in these dark times.