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Twenty for 2020: Songs that shaped Iowa’s sonic landscape

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Covers of some of the albums with tracks on the year-end list: Stephanie Catlett, ‘Caught Under Glass’; Jordan Sellergren, ‘Sweet, Bitter Tears’; Anthony Worden, ‘Voilá’; Hairless Monk, ‘Monolith’; Jim Swim, ‘Softee Boy’; and Elizabeth Moen, ‘Creature of Habit.’

This is not a “best of.”

For a brief moment, I thought I would try to collect the best songs of 2020 from Iowa artists. But there are too many fantastic releases this year that are on Bandcamp, and the only way I can make a mix is on Spotify. So I’m hamstrung.

Once I let go of “best of,” I started down the path of choosing my favorite tracks of the year from the albums available, and that’s when something wild began to occur.

A certain continuity began to emerge.

It became clear that I was craving something — that all of us must have been craving something this year, for so many widely varied artists to have brought it to the table. Many of the favorite tunes that I was trying to weave together were anchored in comfort. Not peace, or even rest, necessarily. Not a lack of longing, by any means. But a deep, communal, shared truth. An acceptance, maybe. And delivered by voices, when there are voices, that you can sink into.

I let go of a few personal favorites and started to follow the thread, and what resulted is a list that I hope will carry you into the new year with something akin to hope. Or at least in the knowledge that you are not alone.

It’s been a long year, friends. Longer, perhaps, for artists than for anyone, with their ability to perform publicly and connect with their fans stripped away almost entirely, putting both their incomes and their sanity at risk. But these brilliant Iowa artists have found a way to ground themselves in their writing and offer it up to us as succor. Yes, several of these were released in the Before Times. But the newer ones are more than great tunes — they’re a reminder of what we can accomplish under even the most stringent of creative restrictions.

Thank an Iowa musician today! Buy an album, buy some merch or just drop by their social media to let them know how much a song they wrote means to you. This region is a joy and a challenge to cover, because of all the brilliance bubbling out of it. Take comfort!


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