Lily Kershaw ft Goody Grace – Now & Then

I first heard Now & Then performed in a living room by a piano on a hot evening in the summer of 2019 when the world was open and life seemed plenty. Even in comparably liberated times, as the LA-grown singer-songwriter Lily Kershaw tugged her fist at her chest, clinging to fading memories and singing about the grief of an unfair tryst, her voice and her melodies were at once comforting and foreboding. “Remember the rooftop parties, remember the friends …” she sang, ruminating on past gatherings while in the presence of a new scene; a reminder that moments are precious and fleeting. In 2020, Kershaw released the song as a guitar-based duet with the Canadian emo rocker Goody Grace, and its acoustic melancholy inherited a deeper sorrow amid the intense isolation of a pandemic in which a story about unrequited love felt more cruel and unnecessary. Yet the way Kershaw validates past love with such a rich and bodied melody ensures that her precious time was never wasted. Eve Barlow

Grace Potter ft Marcus King, Jackson Browne and Lucius – Eachother

Given, well, everything this year, my appetite for content that even remotely referenced quarantine was basically zero (no thank you, Love in the Time of Corona). But Grace Potter’s Eachother, written five days into lockdown and released in mid-May, is one of the few pandemic songs to transcend the limitations of rapid-response art, and the only one that made me want to lean into the ache of isolation rather than escape or muscle through it. Led by Potter’s singed alto, a prismatic ensemble including the blues-rock singer and guitarist Marcus King, the rock legend Jackson Browne and the country-pop quartet Lucius pulls the last syllable of each chorus line into a cascade of uncertainty that still looks skywards. “I don’t know where we’re going / but when the going gets tough,” they sing – a temporary resolution, both balm and bruise, melded from voices isolated at home like the rest of us. “We’ve got each other, and for now that’s enough.” The shock of early quarantine has passed, but at least for me, the hymnal, humbled Eachother will outlast this cursed year. Adrian Horton

Hayley Williams – Dead Horse (Hot Chip Remix)

The most lizard-brained response I ever have to a song I like is: good, but it’d be much better sped up a bit. Imagine my delight when British national treasures Hot Chip dialled up the temperature on a standout from the Paramore icon Hayley Williams’ excellent solo debut, Petals for Armor. Her lilting funk-reggae meander through the infidelities that bookended her first marriage becomes a tachycardic shimmy in hypersaturated shades of UKG and happy hardcore. It’s lurid, diamond-hard and tooth-achingly addictive. Laura Snapes

Tayla Parx – Dance Alone

It’s a song that exemplifies our solitary year of quarantine. In light of the clubs we couldn’t visit and the parties that were nixed, Tayla Parx somehow makes it all OK. A formidable songwriter known for helping pen hits like thank u, next for Ariana Grande, Parx gifted her solo single Dance Alone to the world in the midst of an era when that’s all we could really do whether we liked it or not. With its present-day themes, memorable melody and contagious swagger, why it never became a bigger hit when it was released this past summer is a mystery worthy of our very strange year. Listen along to its funky bass and hooky chorus and it’s simply impossible not to move along with it. Here’s hoping it builds steam into 2021, whether or not we’re all still shimmying solo. Rob LeDonne

Carl Stone – Bojuk

Like a retired dad who’s really into the new PlayStation 5 he bought in lockdown, the veteran US electronic experimentalist Carl Stone is making some of the most purely fun music of his career in his late 60s. His plunderphonic method of timestretching and chopping samples led to exquisitely beautiful work in the 80s and 90s: check out pieces like Mae Yao, Shing Kee, and the Motown meltdown of Shibucho, all thankfully reissued by Unseen Worlds recently. But where those were arrhythmic or drifting, he’s flexed an infectiously funky sense of rhythm on 2020 LP Stolen Car, where Bojuk is the highlight. I won’t say who the A-list chart-topper getting chucked in Stone’s sonic centrifuge is, lest the sample cops are watching, but her gorgeous vocals are cut to stunningly intricate ribbons over euphoric fanfares and a huge implied 4/4 beat. This is a masterful study in the recombinant and plastic nature of popular music, and way more fun than that sounds. Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Y.O.G.A – Your Devotion (SebastiAn remix)

When Lady Gaga dropped her Twitter-crashing Ariana Grande duet Rain on Me during the long pandemic summer, the common (read: overused) response was that it made its listeners glum about not being able to hear it in a club, frenzied communal dancing the only natural reaction one should have. For me it was a staggeringly bland reminder of exactly why I don’t miss clubs and it was only until recently, when I stumbled upon this devilish SebastiAn remix that I started to understand that same ache. It’s a rework of a song from Y.O.G.A, a side project started this year by Peking Duk’s Reuben Styles, and it’s a seductive, dangerous little number that takes us back to the French producer’s finest work, shifting us around in our chairs as we listen, imagining a far more extravagant setting instead. There’s something almost cinematic about it, as if it should accompany a dark, slinky horror movie directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, taking us to somewhere excitingly unknown, galaxies away from the kids party Gaga and Grande left us at. Benjamin Lee

Suuns – Fiction

This year of fear inspired a song of parallel dread from the art-noise group Suuns. The track they called Fiction – like the six-song EP that contains it, and which shares its name – was created during the lockdown. So, it’s no wonder this Montreal-based band went darker than ever this time, a feat considering their decade-long history of mixing shadowy Kraut-rock, disruptive dance music and cutting punk. While Suuns has often squeezed and blurred the vocals of frontman Ben Shemie in the mix, this time it sounds like they ran a truck over them, in the process capturing an apt sense of suffocation and confinement. But that’s hardly the song’s only tone. The synths that shudder and oscillate around Shemie’s voice, and the beats that rumble and lumber below it, have a richness that envelops. If Fiction provides an apt soundtrack to isolation, then, it also offers a refuge. Jim Farber

Henry Pope – Ngene

Henry Pope – a Los Angeles-based music producer, DJ and the founder of Baja California’s Genius Loci Fest – wrote this chakra-shaking house track while basking in the diametric ecosystems of Ecuador and Joshua Tree. Exuding the palpitating energy that house devotees have come to cherish, Pope creates complex layers of sound by playing the melodies himself on a kalimba (or African finger harp) and guitar. Though buoyant and bass-heavy, Ngene possesses both euphoria and tragedy, as the track is dedicated to Pope’s close friend and the late Kenyan visual artist Ngene Mwaura (AKA Sheepgoat), who was killed at 38 years old in a mysterious traffic accident in Nairobi last December. Since then, his brother Moses Mwaura has been fundraising to build a museum in Kenya that honor’s Ngene’s work. An aural and visual tribute to a shining soul departed too soon, all sales from the song and its eponymous EP – which features Ngene’s artwork on the cover – are being donated to Moses’s fundraising efforts. Morena Duwe