GLW.20.14: NICK LEDDY
GLW.20.15: Desa Warner
GLW.20.16: Tony Schoenberg
GLW.20.17: Kim Dickson
1. Amber Mark - “Heart-Shaped Box”
“She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak / I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks.” Quarantine queen Amber Mark starts off my list with a self-produced, soulful, dancey R&B rendition of the classic Nirvana tune as part of her COVERED-19 series. Singing both the soothing melody and background vocals from lockdown in her bedroom studio, her homemade music video dancing in pyjamas and mask defined that early quarantine vibe: restless, heartsick, playful, worried, feeling sexy (but alone), and aching to get outside. Lockdown 1.0 or 2.0, doesn’t matter: she locked this into our hearts.
2. Robyn - ”Honey” (Avalon Emerson’s Deep Current Reroll)
This remix starts slow, the bass builds against Robyn’s earnest longing to go deeper and sweeter. Then Robyn’s “Honey” cascades over a series of slow-building breakbeats. These are drums I have never heard before: two (maybe three?) drum tracks layered in a staggered progression. It’s called a deep current reroll mix for a reason. Avalon Emerson breaks the track’s linear structure, looping back key elements. She then re-cycles Robyn’s lyrics over a diverse, almost lunar, soundscape. “Oh you’re not gonna get what you need / But baby I have what you want / Come get your honey.” This was my most listened to song of 2020. It has depth, beauty, and complexity. It can be a Panorama Bar morning, a deep focus on a document for work, or a sexy kiss goodnight.
3. Moderat - “Bad Kingdom” (Live)
This song is from 2016, but I only learned of it in 2020 (thanks Chris!). It defined early lockdown: late night bike rides through Vondelpark blasting this on my headphones without seeing a single soul in the entire park. But it’s too big a song to be stuck in one moment in time. The swooping bass and breakbeats in this live version will blow your mind. The crowd’s ecstatic applause and cheering, and the sing-along at the end doesn’t just remind you of the thrill of live performance, it’s a testament to how this song’s message resonates with our imperfect lives, even before lockdown. His lyrics presage a darkness, a gulf between our reality and our expectations: “This is not what you wanted / Not what you had in mind.” The intensity the band gives this gig foreshadows that this isn’t a normal coming of age; this is the precipice of something cataclysmic. His soaring voice wailing over the synth at end gives me goosebumps to this day.
4. Mark Ronson - “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” (feat. Yebba) (Purple Disco Machine Remix)
“Tell me baby what’s on your heart / ‘Cause I been wandering around in your dark.” This 4x4 disco house banger is best played at high volume, with plenty of room to dance and sweat. It gives you soulful vocals over a funky disco beat. Equal parts yearning and joyful, Yebba knows herself. She warns you to anticipate her loneliness, because she won’t forgive you if you leave her alone. And we would never. If you don’t put your hands up at this breakdown, there is nothing I can do for you.
5. Dua Lipa - “Love is Religion” (The Blessed Madonna Remix)
“Tell me you believe, get down on your knees / They say love is religion, so say a prayer with me / I don't wanna preach, but I'm all that you need.” Dua nailed it this year. With Future Nostalgia, she Broke our Hearts, and made us Levitate and Hallucinate. But for me the cherry on her disco pop sundae was this track from her remix album, whose original was mysteriously absent from the main album. The Blessed Madonna (formerly the Black Madonna) will have you marching victoriously into battle for Dua’s love army. She transcends our divisions with a message of love and devotion - not just to her beloved, but to the interconnectedness of the human family. The gospel choir at the end confirmed this track is this generation’s “Like a Prayer” by Madonna (Ciccone).
6. KAYTRANADA - “What You Need” (feat. Charlotte Day Wilson)
This track from one of my favorite producers, takes me back to long sunny blissed out days on the beach in Southern Europe this summer. It at first seems hot and breezy, light and easy, reassuring us about the good things in life, getting what we need. But there is an edge. Charlotte croons effortlessly over what appears to be a troubled spot in a relationship, but with vocals like that, I feel like she has to get what she wants, right?
7. Honey Dijon - “Not About You” (feat. Hadiya George)
Simultaneously evoking but distinguishing her message from RuPaul’s famous mantra of self-love, Honey Dijon emphasizes connection and community: “Can't love somebody else, until you learn to love yourself / It's not about you, it's not about me, it's about us.” Honey’s call is for liberation through togetherness. She achieves this solidarity with electrifying house beats, a splash of keyboard, facilitated by the silky lyrics of Hadiya George. It came at an important time over the summer at the height of global movements against police violence on black and brown bodies, and against a backdrop of increasing rates of violence against trans women of color around the world. Honey reminds us that our liberation is inextricably linked with one another’s - and that one place we can achieve it is on the dancefloor. Whether Battle Hymn or Milkshake, Ms. Dijon will check our egos at the door and take us there together.
8. Christine and the Queens - “Je disparais dans tes bras”
Chris gives this track her all. It opens with a sprawling, deep bass fluctuating against the kick drum and hi-hat, when she knows she is helpless in her lover’s arms, disappearing. But it is not sweet or saccharine. There’s a darkness to it - this love obliterates her selfhood - a sense she didn’t sign up for this, and that her lover does not want all of her, and that she won’t get the love she wants. As the song progresses, we sense that the love is more parasitic than symbiotic. “Pourrais-tu m’aimer? Ca j’en doubte / Quand tu prends ce que tu veux de moi / que tu n’aimes que ce que veux de moi/ et que je disparais dans tes bras.” (Rough Translation: “Can you love me? That I doubt / When you take what you want from me / You only love what you want from me / And I disappear in your arms.”)
9. Roisin Murphy - “Simulation”
“This is a simulation / This is for demonstration / This is an only illusion / This is my only delusion/ This is the realm of my wildest dreams / These are my wildest dreams / If it’s all on my veins / It’s all in my mind/ You don’t get to be unkind.” This Irish songstress gave you a rich variety of disco, funk, and deep house on this album. She seamlessly blended all the tracks together into one long uninterrupted mix, making listening so easy and so joyful, that it was my most listened to album of 2020. Starting against the backdrop of stringed instruments, the storyteller in “Simulation” (part sex siren, part Cheshire Cat) invites you in. You are about to hear her as-yet-untold story, and she declares confidently that she will make her own happy ending. The kick and the hi-hat pulse with a breathy vocal evoking Donna Summer on a smoke-filled dancefloor (THIS IS THE SIMULATION) that you navigate throughout the song, feeling, sensing your way through what she promises are your wildest dreams. Then she delivers. The beat drops and you can almost see the strobe through the smoke and the pulsing drums, all the way to the end, when the synth literally launches into the fab next track (“Kingdom of Ends”).
10. Hot Chip - “Hungry Child”
“Begging like a hungry child / Waiting like an angry ghost / Fiendish for you / Helpless in the stormy sea / Drowning in a memory / And you make it rain.” Hot Chip nailed out this banger later in 2019 but it was an anthem for me in 2020. The track opens with ethereal vocals over a pulsing 4x4 house beat, and a piano reminiscent of church - but the beat drops, and you sense this singer’s urgency, his hunger - desperate love, the kind that hurts your stomach. The female vocals later in the track give you a dialogue (a hope?) that this hunger will be satiated.
11. Georgia - “Started Out”
“We are wicked young fools, so behave now / Back in the arms of somebody who saved us / We are wicked and bold.” Georgia repeats this mantra, this manifesto, woven effectively through the synth, the drums, and the bass, bringing me back to the subversive joy and excitement of young love and 90’s rave culture. She wrote and produced this track herself, her drumming skills readily apparent. When I learned she actually is the daughter of one of the members of Leftfield, it all made sense: the beauty and hope in dance music being passed through generations.
12. Sylvan Esso - “Frequency”
Never before have I heard someone communicate so clearly and effectively that feeling - that moment - when you meet someone new and you know you just want all of them over all of you. Maybe we doubted this could still happen in quarantine. But her quiet, soothing, voice conveyed a reassuring clarity, a wisdom, in the power of things felt but not seen. In hindsight, it seems obvious that people can share an energetic frequency, a vibration, that is out of our control but destined to be in sync. The female vocals describe how this frequency was also female. This subtle queer messaging moved this song from fantastic to transcendent. The video - clearly a product of quarantine - was also divinely inspired. “She's the one, I swear to God / Her frequency, she's got a frequency / And I caught it all over me.”
13. Jessie Ware - “Remember Where You Are”
Jessie blessed us with another album full of hits (“Save a Kiss,” “Adore You,” “Soul Control,” etc.), but this one stuck out to me for its timelessness. I think my grandmother and mother would legit appreciate this song. There is an expansiveness to this genre-crossing track. She gave me 70s soul, careening through sunset blvd in a 40s convertible with a pair of leather gloves gripping the wheel and her lover’s thigh. She reminded us the heart of the city is on fire. She challenged us to keep loving on the edge of doubt, and to take her home, and we accepted enthusiastically. “The heart of the city is on fire / Sun on the rise, the highs are gonna fall / But nothing is different in my arms / So darling, remember, remember / Where you are, where you are.”
14. La Roux - “Automatic Driver”
“We can try all you like but it’s ending / I wanted to make a contribution baby / To start a revolution with you / after I waited so long to find you, why did I let myself run?” This reflective ballad from La Roux had me bittersweet skipping down the street. To me, her story evoked losses both personal and political. She gave an appreciation for having made it so far in love (of another? of country?), but it just not working out. With an electro pop vibe, the song embodied the sadness and exhaustion of the end of a long term relationship, but also (and maybe this is particular to me), ending up with the fucking catastrophe of the Trump administration, after decades of pushing for progressive change. Either way, she captures that wistful feeling of putting in all the work and failing nonetheless. In a time when the personal is political, this one hit me on many levels.
15. Washed Out - “Too Late”
Despite the title, there’s a slow growing hopefulness to this song. “I saw you there, waiting outside / I couldn’t tell if you and I’d met before tonight when I asked you for a light.” His ethereal vocals transported me to a Scandinavian summer night outside a club at 4am, when daylight has already hit, and making eye contact with that special someone and revelling in the possibility of a night once believed to be over. But on a bigger scale, this breathy synth electro pop gem is an ode to not giving up on love, even when you think you’re done dancing.
16. Hayden James - “Better Together” (feat. Running Touch) (Happiness Is Wealth Disco Remix)
Another entry from 2019 that gave us a much-needed reminder in the dystopian isolation of 2020 that we are, in fact, better together. His soulful crooning makes his adoration for his beloved clear. They haven’t committed to each other yet, but he knows it is in his future. ”No rhyme, there's no reason, change of the season starts to show / Say what you're thinking, just give me a reason / Let me know, let me know / Something 'bout this feeling, I'm never leaving.”
17. The Vision - “Heaven” (feat. Andreya Triana) (Danny Krivit Edit)
This disco house gospel anthem brought me to church, made me pray, and kept my hands up, giving me light out of the darkness, coming back for more, feeling love like I’ve never felt before. The chorus had you clapping along in praise, in communion with everyone else who has ever and will ever walk through that door. It is a timeless testimony, evoking generations of queer dancefloors: it could be at Paradise Garage, Twilo, or Glitterbox. The original of this track is excellent, and stands well on its own, but check legendary DJ Danny Krivit’s edit for a little longer version with more flair that will put you right back on that epic 718 Sessions boat party, or all the way back to one of his best Sunday afternoon sets at Body & Soul.
18. CRi, Jesse Mac Cormack - “Never Really Get There”
This track reminded us that there was no point in despair, because our paradise vision of the future was always elusive. The track starts quietly, and as the synth builds, hands clapping, his vocals rise, and then hold you for second, before the drop: “I question my devotion /Throughout an ocean of emotion/ And I repeat the motion / Step inside a commotion / Emotional, skeptical, give myself episodes / We could say it's a trend to be aiming at the sun/ But I never really get there.” But in a way, he takes us there, because we realise there is still greatness and beauty in what we have.
19. Lady Gaga - “Rain On Me” (feat. Ariana Grande)
This lightening rod anthem of 2020 galvanised the queer community around the world, dancing in the rain - joyfully shaking out the drama and the bullshit, stomping out frustration, boots down in a puddle. Gaga’s “Enigma” - with its raw vocal power - was a close second on this album, but the harmonies with Ariana and the joy-in-the-eye-of-the-storm quality of “Rain On Me” took the cake and fucking devoured it. Their sampling of French electro disco from my young club days (Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You”) made it clear they had done their homework, but when they sampled one of the most legendary funk and soul tracks of all time (Gwen McCrae’s “All This Love That I’m Giving”) they got a magna cum laude. That song deserves credit for inspiring generations to give all their love, no matter the storm.
20. Young T & Bugsey - “Don’t Rush” (feat. Headie One) (Naika Edit)
Naika proposed her own verse of this track on Instagram and TikTok - showing her raw talent and ingenuity - and she did it with a sexiness, beauty, and charm I have not seen in a while. She didn’t care about being left out of the original, and invited herself right in, mopping up the men’s verses with a sexy comeback, telling you exactly what she needed to get hers. After the men talked a smooth game about women going crazy for them, and telling the ladies not to rush, she made it clear who was in control. “And I know you gon’ be beggin’ me to stay but I don’t want no love / don’t have the time to get involved / And I don’t ask for too much / I want you to wine down my waist / Touch my body like clay.” And she did it in multiple languages: “On finira tous les deux nus sur le tapis” (Rough Translation: “We will both finish naked on the rug”). She gave me a Caribbean Middle Eastern New Yorker via Paris vibe - a diverse blend that cemented the breadth of her reach and the strength of her attraction. It’s not available on Spotify (yet) so you have to find it on her Instagram: @naikamusic.
Rina Sawayama - “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys)”
Cardi B - “WAP” (feat. Megan Thee Stallion)
Sofi Tukker, Gorgon City - “House Arrest” (Chris Lorenzo Remix)
Jamie xx - “Idontknow”
Happiness is Wealth - “Emotion”
Yseult - “Corps”
Ferreck Dawn - “By My Side” (feat. Anthony Valadez) (Extended Mix)
SG Lewis - “Impact” (feat. Robyn & Channel Tres) (See Also: Soulwax Edit)
The Vision - “Mountains” (feat. Andreya Triana)
The Shapeshifters - “Finally Ready” (feat. Billy Porter)
CamelPhat - “Hypercolour” (feat. Yannis, Foals)
Sam Smith - “My Oasis” (feat. Burna Boy)
Disclosure - “ENERGY”
Kelly Lee Owens - “Melt!”