Mystery Season’s Top Tracks of 2020

Glasgow based producer and alternative electronic music aficionado Mystery Season discusses some of the best new music from 2020.

My name is Kye and I produce music under the name of Mystery Season and host a bimonthly show on Edinburgh’s Community radio station EHFM called ‘A Pinch Of Mystery Seasoning‘.

My last radio show of the year was a look back at the crazy year that has been 2020 and the musical offerings it has given us. I had a whole cast of superstar guests (including none other than DYCAL Mag’s head honcho, Freddie) send me some of their personal favourites from 2020. The result was a 2 hour radio show full to the brim with choice selections. You can listen to the result here:

However, in this article I will highlight some of my own personal favourites, in no particular order:

1. Wake Up! – ‘The Powers

The big chiefs at Spotify wrapped told me that this was my most played song of 2020. Was I surprised? Absolutely not. Since being shown this by a close friend back in March (s/o Paddy x) and I have been obsessed since. From the first pounding bass synth this was one of those tracks which I instantly clicked with and began dancing round my garden (my previous flat’s garden was the stage for many a midnight boogie during the first lockdown; with this track more often than not as the soundtrack). Released back in March on Edinburgh’s Paradise Palms Records I have been in love since. The swirling synths, the perfectly paced arrangement and catchy vocals add together to create a near perfect 3 minute slice of music. The Powers comes from the EP The Powers and the Ways of Altruistic Love which is worth a listen front to back.

2. Jockstrap – ‘City Hell’

Jockstrap are a duo from London who met whilst studying at the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Charlotte takes care of the lush string parts and acrobatic vocals whilst Taylor provides the zany production and all sorts of wacky noises. Their music blends their contrasting musical styles in a beautiful yet bonkers melting pot of varied influences. ‘City Hell‘ is the final track of their superb EP Wicked City which was released in May on Warp Records (joining the likes of Aphex Twin, Danny Brown, & Yves Tumour on the labels impressive and diverse roster.) ‘City Hell‘ is full of twists and turns and packs an almighty amount of music into it’s 5:27 minute runtime. Starting with a warped Spanish guitar part accompanied by Ellery’s sinuous vocals before descending into what sounds like demented Mario Kart music over a trap beat. On paper it sounds strange but when you listen you’ll hear the good side of strange; a territory that the Jockstrap duo seem most at home in. The song takes off into the stratosphere at the 2:36 mark with some truly massive synths bursting into the mix. I have listened to this song countless times but this part never fails to make me smile. Ellery bolsters Taylor’s production with her powerful vocals, crying out her final thoughts of this so-called ‘City Hell‘. The whole EP is a standout of 2020 and I am incredibly excited to see what they do next.

3. Very Nice Massage – ‘Dedicated To Pooch’

Very Nice Massage are the musical tag team of Chris Retsina and Zach Stolz. They make bonkers, restless music full of crazy instrumentation and some incredible samples. It is near impossible to second guess their next move as the songs are forever morphing and subverting any expectations. All of this makes their newest album Based On the Data, which came out in August on Babyrace records, an incredibly exciting and stimulating listen. There are a bunch of standouts on the album but my personal favourite has to be the third track: ‘Dedicated To Pooch‘. An ode to Chris’s very own pooch Beetle. An ever shifting mirage of a song with a fantastic refrain (and my favourite lyrics of 2020 – “When you do, what you do, you’re a very lovely dude, always like spending time with you”) the song explores a lot of areas in it’s 5:24 runtime but never feels strung out or exhaustive. 

4. SZA – ‘Hit Different’

Having had a relatively quiet past couple years (save for a couple appearances for movie soundtracks such as Black Panther and Trolls World Tour) SZA returns with the Neptunes and Ty Dolla $ign in tow for the slow burning grooves of ‘Hit Different’. The Neptunes are in part responsible for many of the early 2000 pop classics we grew up with (think Gwen Stefani, Justin Timberlake & Kelis) so seeing them link up with SZA for her first single as lead artists since 2017’s CTRL is already an exciting prospect. The track starts with the signature Pharrel 4 bar count in before giving way to minimal synths and a killer groove. Ty $ Sign’s simple and repetitive hook is an immediate earworm which is followed by SZA’s trademark buttery vocals and acrobatic runs. I often feel SZA’s musicality sometimes gets in the way of a strong simple melody but repeat listens reveal an incredibly emotive delivery of her lines. This works especially well paired with subdued beat, which is very stripped back by Neptunes standards. The video is beautiful too, featuring SZA and her colour coordinated crew dancing through a dusty scrapyard

5. Genevieve Artadi  – ‘I Hate When I Can’t Feel My Heart’

Brainfeeder is a record label home to a lot of incredibly creative musicians (Flying Lotus, Thundercat to name but two) and Genevieve Artadi is no exception. This track is built entirely from her own voice mimicking everything from drums to synths to horns. Unique to say the least but initially I found it too much. However, what really drew me into the track was the absolutely incredible bridge section around a minute in. Her airy voice (her actual voice rather than an imitation of another instrument) takes centre stage and layers of gorgeous stacked harmonies take the song to new heights before some fast and fluid chord changes (showing Artadi’s prowess as a music nerd and performer) take us back to the original motif as the song begins to ramp up the drama for the finale.

6. Henry Nozuka‘When the Sea is Quiet and Calm’

An incredibly delicate and aptly named track; Henry Nozuka’s usual tender acoustic ballads are bolstered from production by River Tiber, adding strings and his signature melancholic sound to proceedings. A short track built around a delicate acoustic guitar loop begins to build as more layers are added before truly opening up at 1:31 mark with a sea of backing vocals for the listener to melt away too. 

(River Tiber released ‘Rainbow Road/Hypnotized‘ right at the end of 2020, and is worth a special mention.)

7. Eyeliner‘Los Angeles’

New Zealand native Luke Rowell makes superbly quirky pop music as Eyeliner. With a penchant for bold and plastic sounds, his 2020 album “Drop Shadow” covers a lot of ground throughout it’s 13 tracks; all viewed through a shimmering and at times euphoric kaleidoscope. My personal favourite is the opening track: ‘Los Angeles‘. Starting with a big brash synth harpsichord which is quickly joined by playful plucked synths the track really drives along with infectious enthusiasm. The hook at 1:23 where it all comes together has yet to fail to make me smile with it’s unapologetically goofy 80’s video game stylings. Dripping in nostalgia without ever being pastiche, Eyeliner has served up another fine offering of funky fun.

8. LA Priest – ‘Rubber Sky’

LA Priest is the moniker used by Sam Dust, who, after honing his craft as part of Late of The Pier, has spent the past years refining his expansive and sprawling psyche tinged pop as LA Priest. His latest album GENE takes its name from a custom drum machine Dust built entirely himself. Unsatisfied with readily available drum machines and computer based sampling, he set out to create his own instrument tailored to his own exact requirements. What results is an album that is constantly moving in and out of time in an incredibly organic and live way. This looser approach is put to best use on the track ‘Rubber Sky‘, my favourite from the album with wonky guitars and dusty synths perfectly complimenting the driving kick drums. A short vocal bridge gives way to a thunderous synth basslines at the halfway mark; and the song plays out with catchy vocals and a searing guitar fitting their way into the lopsided jigsaw of the production.

Honourable Mentions

i) Photay – ‘Pressure’
My favourite from his fantastic 2020 album Waking Hours. Intricate grooves are perfectly complemented by lush strings all through the many twists and turns of the track.

ii) Knxwledge‘dont be afraid’
Silky production and sample flips from one of LA’s most prolific producers.

iii) Elias Mazian – ‘Nooit Meer een Einde’
A superb slice of Dutch new wave inspired synth pop.

iv) The Strokes – ‘At The Door’
A return to form for indie rocks poster boys from their increasingly aptly titled The New Abnormal.

v) Yvonne Archer – “Ain’t Nobody”
Okay, I know it’s a reissue of a cover of Chaka Khan’s classic hit, but it’s too good not to mention!

vi) Jerry Paper – ‘Cholla’
Weirdo pop with catchy hooks. Think Mac DeMarco but he’s taken too many painkillers.

viii) Ethan P. Flynn – ‘When I Taste The Pavement’
If you enjoyed Jockstrap’s ‘City Hell’ then be sure to check this slice of melancholy from his B sides & Rarities: Volume 1 Album.

ix) Earth Eater‘Below The Clavicle’
Incredibly beautiful and intense with some REALLY high notes you definitely won’t be expecting upon first listen.

x) Dinosaur 94‘Love Impaired’
Raucous punky rock goodness from Edinburgh’s favourite velociraptors.

xi) De Nachtelijke Escapades – ‘Chardonnay’
My favourite from Leiden’s favourite sons newest offering, Os28 Tapes which takes its name from the student house where the EP was recorded.

xii) Katy J Pearson – ‘Tonight’
A beautifully made and concise piece of pop with dollops of retro stylings.

xiii) GUYY – ‘STAR’
Dirty synths and brash vocals make for an infectiously catchy dance number.

You can find all of the above songs together in one handy playlist below:

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