Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Countdown to 30: My Favorite Album From 2020


In a lot of ways, 2020 wasn't very different for me from any other year. I was blessed to not lose anyone to the sickness and I was working in public through the entire "lockdown" period. I found pleasure in doing a great deal more home cooking and I was able to pay off my student loans thanks to the savings plan known as "no concerts." That brings me to what is probably the biggest change in 2020, the decrease in album releases and the increase in artists playing music from home.

Tame Impala released their first album in five years, The Slow Rush, which contained "Lost in Yesterday" and "Is It True?" The Strokes released their most fun album in years, The New Abnormal. The New Abnormal contained great tracks like "Bad Decisions" and "At the Door." For me though, Eric Hutchinson finally made it to the top of my list.

Class of 98 has to be one of the coolest ideas for a concept album that I've seen in a while. Hutchinson elected to write songs for the album as though he'd written them in high school. The album's release was delayed by the lockdown; changing from April 17th to July 10th. In the shadow of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, Hutchinson elected to donate a portion of physical album and t-shirt sales to Operation Understanding, a program that helps Black and Jewish Washington DC-area high school students explore each other’s cultures, religions, and histories in-depth.

Hutchinson was able to truly channel both the sound of the '90s and the feelings of being in high school. Justin Sharbono from Soul Asylum plays guitar on the album and Paul Kolderie (producer for Radiohead, The Pixies) was brought on as producer. Sharbono was able to translate Hutchinson's ideas for guitar parts into realities. Hutchinson told American Songwriter, "Justin has this encyclopedic knowledge about the ‘90s. His pedal board was the size of a table and he just had a little bit of everything. I could give him a reference, ‘so let’s go for this guitar sound on this song’ and he could dial it up almost instantly. It was a really fun way to color the songs." Opening track "Rock Out Tonight" channels early Weezer perfectly, with a Cars synthesizer part running under it. Hutchinson sings "If you wanna rock out tonight//I can pick you up in my Ford Taurus//We'll stay out until at least midnight//or until they set a curfew for us." Hutchinson said that his rebellious energy had no place to take shape in small-town Maryland, meaning the lyrics of "Rock Out Tonight" were about as wild as things got. "Cooler Than You" tones back the Weezer influence, but still features the rhythm of "Say it Ain't So." "Cooler Than You" is Hutchinson's response to a bully who peaks in High School. He is willing to take the teasing since he knows he'll come out on top eventually. Despite the '90s influences, Hutchinson's voice makes these songs sound completely original because no one in the era was combining Hutchinson's vocal cadence or soulful style and garage-style backing. 

Hutchinson pays tribute to his late father (Royal Hutchinson) with "My Old Man." The bassline is tribute enough, but the lyrics are a heartfelt love letter to his father, who he didn't give enough credit to in his actual high school years. Hutchinson told Meaww.com, "I didn't necessarily get along with my dad in high school. We were in different places in our lives and he had different things to worry about. I tried to sing this song from my perspective back then as well as my perspective now, where I’ve made peace with him." "Ann Marie" acts as something of a ballad to a friend and friend's girlfriend he had feelings for. Whether or not the story is true is irrelevant as the specificity of the names and situations in the song make it feel real. "Lovely Lori" is another song to a crush. It sounds a little more modern than the rest of the album, but features '90s guitar and a reference to Oasis ("What's your story//morning glory?").

Hutchinson wrote "Good Things Come" for his infant daughter, but it can be applied both as fatherly advice to a child and to young adults in high school, rushing to get to the "good part" of their lives. 

The attitude of '90s slacker-rock finds itself at the forefront in "If They Don't Care (Then We Don't Either)." Sharbono plays a very cool, very '90s guitar solo on the track. The song is about teens who feel as though they have no reason not to rebel, no reason to excel in school, since no one will care if they do. The closest to rebellion the album topics get is, "Drunk at Lunch," which I don't believe needs an explanation.  

A fairly-typical lockdown dinner at the
friend house.
Green Day was an influence throughout the album, but that influence can be heard the most on the intro to album's closing track "Whether I Like it or Not." "Whether I Like it or Not" sounds the most like the '90s to me of anything on the latter half of the album, channeling post-grunge rock with Britpop guitar sounds. 

There's a hidden track too, which Hutchinson says is a prerequisite for a '90s album. I'll let you find that one for yourselves. 

2020 was a very odd year, and this album harkening back to a simpler time may have just been the perfect album for the times. No one wanted a doom-and-gloom album about the present day. Personally, I didn't have much time to get nostalgic in 2020, so I let the album do it for me. Hutchinson is an incredibly talented songwriter. I think setting this challenge for himself was a fantastic idea. I'll listen to any concept album he wants to do next. 

Final leaderboard!

Thank you to all of these artists for filling the first 30 years of my life with wonderful music.

I am so proud of myself for completing this project. This is the most I've written since I wrote a screenplay in college (not bad, considering I have a broken hand). I can't let this creative energy dwindle again, so I'm going to try to channel it into working on a multi-media album/project I was working on very slowly during 2019. I can't really explain it much better than that right now, but I'm more just excited to keep my creative juices flowing. Thanks to those of you who have read all of these articles, it means the world to me!

No comments:

Post a Comment