ACL 2020 ~ The Year in Review

When we look back on 2020, we’ll be able to see at least one light in the darkness:  musicians stepped up.  This was the year in which festivals were cancelled, labels paused all physical production, and musicians recorded – and donated – more than ever before.  This simple fact has kept us encouraged throughout the crisis, and we expect the trend to continue in 2021.

The Lead Story
Let’s call this the bright side of the pandemic: given the unexpected free time, many artists were finally able to record the projects they’d dreamed of their entire lives, while others revisited back catalogs and old projects.  This resulted in a huge ballooning of submissions at our site, an average of 140/week for seven spots ~ three times the normal amount.

These weren’t just any submissions; the majority came with compelling stories.  Many artists composed music that either spoke of isolation or spoke to those who felt isolated.  Others tackled social issues, from Black Lives Matter to climate change and its effect on the fires of Australia and the American West.  Once a month, Bandcamp waived its normal fees.  Labels had fundraisers for artists.  Labels and artists alike, struggling to make ends meet, donated their share of proceeds to worthwhile causes.  Everyone seemed to chip in, providing empathy, encouragement and aid.

While the instrumental and experimental sectors of the music industry may represent only two facets, similar stories were reported across the spectrum.  Artists create; their imaginations bring something new into the world.  Who better to turn some of that imagination to hope?  In the midst of all the political turmoil, racial disparity and socio-economic collapse, we were able to visit this beautiful place for comfort, solace, encouragement and energy.  A massive thank you to everyone who makes music and/or supports it in any way; your efforts have lifted our spirits and may have even saved lives from despair.

The photo shown to the right is taken from the Touch: Isolation project, while the photo of deserted bicycles comes from BJ Nilsen’s Auditory Scenes Amsterdam.

A Closer Listen in 2020
We ended last year and began this year with a huge undertaking, compiling our picks for the Best Albums of the Decade.  We were looking forward to starting the new decade with high hopes and a clean slate.  Two months later, everything changed.  Music was always important to us, but in 2020 it became essential.  Perhaps even more important than music was the role of the field recording artist, capturing sounds that had never been heard before and might never be heard again.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be publishing our annual year-end lists, which begin with seven specialty lists, followed by seven genre lists and concluding with our Top 20 Albums of 2020.  The only chart that won’t be published this year will be our list of best film scores (due to the paucity of cinema).  After that, we’ll take a two-week break and return with our Winter Music Preview at the beginning of January.  As we enter our tenth year, we thank you for your readership and support! Wishing you health and hope throughout the holidays and beyond.  (Richard Allen)

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