No more digital or physical ink needs to be spilled about how 2020 has been a trying, at-times horrific year that has tested all of us in a multitude of ways – we all know.
It has been amazing, however, to see how guitar players of all backgrounds, musical inclinations, and levels of popularity have risen to the occasion of this dreadful year, and provided us with a dizzying variety unforgettable riffs, solos and tunes that gave 2020 the feel of one of those terrible movies gifted with an incredible soundtrack (opens in new tab).
The last of our weekly round-ups of guitar tracks reflects this across-the-board ingenuity, with the transcendent pairing of one of pop’s biggest stars with one of America’s great rock bands, a savage, curveball-laced crusher from Sylosis, Chris Cornell’s sizzling cover of a Harry Nilsson classic, and a solo-heavy reimagining of Gorillaz’s Feel Good Inc.
So, whether you’re cooped up due to the weather or orders from the government, kick back for a few minutes and enjoy some of 2020’s final killer six- (or seven-) string offerings.
Taylor Swift & The National – coney island
Whether you’re a fan or not, Taylor Swift’s evolution from teen country phenom to chart-dominating pop A-lister to occasional rapper (when not recruiting rap’s own cream-of-the-crop (opens in new tab) as collaborators) to her latest incarnation – a weaver of hushed, indie/folk-informed mini-masterpieces – has been breathtaking to watch.
evermore, her second album of 2020, finds her working with the same crew of collaborators that brought this summer’s folklore to life – The National guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Jack Antonoff (with some additional guest spots from Bon Iver).
For the mesmerizing highlight coney island, Swift rounded up not only the Dessners, but the rest of The National with them, for a song that impeccably plays to the strengths of all parties involved.
Biting and brutally efficient with her words, Swift is in phenomenal form, her beautifully measured vocals a perfect match for National frontman Matt Berninger’s rich baritone. The band paints a stunning picture behind them, adorned with delicate percussion and piano, and intricate webs of delectable acoustic work from the Dessners.
Something about having this many masters-of-the-craft in a room together screams 'too many cooks,' but coney island's the farthest thing from it – a testament to just how singular and creatively fruitful the unlikely pairing of Swift and Dessner has been. (JM)
Sylosis – Worship Decay
Josh Middleton is a man with his fingers in multiple metal pies. When he’s not announcing tasty new signature guitars with ESP, you’ll either find him manning the lead guitar fort with British metalcore titans Architects, or fronting modern-day thrash dominators Sylosis, the latter of whom this week dropped a brand-new track.
Now, with a title like Worship Decay, it’s hard to imagine it’ll be anything other than savagely heavy. And while this presumption may be absolutely correct, the track continually throws curveballs, introducing a volley of fresh riffs to keep you on your toes. (SR)
Chris Cornell - Jump Into the Fire
Last week saw the surprise release of the late Soundgarden icon’s final album, No One Sings Like You Anymore, which plays host to a diverse range of covers from John Lennon to Guns N’ Roses and Prince.
Jump Into the Fire – a surprisingly faithful rendition of Harry Nilsson’s 1971 classic, minus the wig-out middle section – sees Cornell venture into the same kind of classic-rock territory that he flirted with on 2007’s Carry On with tracks like Your Soul Today.
Brendan O’Brien’s crisp production makes this a more successful marriage, however, as Cornell wrings larger-than-life overdrive tones from his 335, accompanied by his eternal wail. (MAB)
Renforshort - Feel Good Inc. feat Mateus Asato
When grunge-pop bassist Renforshort announced that she was teaming up with neo-soul wizard Mateus Asato for a new single, it was inevitable that something special was going to happen.
The result: a guitar-heavy reimagining of the Gorillaz classic Feel Good Inc., filled to the brim with Asato’s trademark tones and techniques, Renforshort’s dreamy vocal textures and a production value that packages it all up into three-and-a-half minutes of guitar-pop perfection.
A typically tasty solo sees Asato at the peak of his powers, hammering on and off to maximum effect and using the length of the fretboard to flex his impressively constructed melodies. The two make quite a formidable team. (MO)
Soen – Monarch
Ahead of their upcoming album Imperial, Swedish prog metallers Soen have released Monarch, accompanied by a rather ssspectacular music video. You’ll need to watch it to fully appreciate that admittedly weak pun.
Amongst its wondrous melodic and tight arrangements sit a plethora of tasty guitar lines, from its instantly hooky main riff to textured ambient cleans. At its climax, guitarist Cody Ford lets loose with a solo that’ll have you reaching for your air guitar and pulling some questionable guitar faces as you’re swept up in the shred. (SR)
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou - Hollywood
The unexpected pairing of post-rock mage Emma Ruth Rundle and sludge-metal merchants Thou yielded some of the best riffs of the year, so we’re overjoyed to hear that the collaboration doesn’t end there: a companion EP, The Helm of Sorrow, is due out in January, and Cranberries cover Hollywood is the first, punishing taste.
True, its down-tuned chug doesn’t feature any of the single-note riffs that made up the highlights of its forebear, but Hollywood is powerful in its dogged pursuit of heaviness, and stays true to Thou’s long history of faithful covers – albeit with the strings tuned way down and the gain ramped way, way up. (MAB)
Hällas - Carry On
Swedish retro-rocker storytellers and champions of epic '70s throwbacks Hällas have this week released a new video for their song Carry On – a track that featured on their third album Conundrum in a trilogy of installments earlier this year.
Driving us through Carry On with a four-on-the-floor, pumping bass part and deliciously melodic and harmonic interplays between the two guitars, the video gets up close and personal with the band, who have brought out the quirky shirts and let their hair down.
Drawing on their adventure-rock powers, the band follow a catchy chorus hook with an infectious space-rock riff that sees the guitars unite to form a duo of psychedelic greatness, complemented by the synth that transforms the classic-rock composition into an epic cosmic journey. (MO)
Jason Bieler and The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra – Bring Out Your Dead
On his second solo single, Jason Bieler – or more accurately, Jason Bieler and The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra – teams up with two players who are no stranger to the odd metal riff: Devin “Hevy Devy” Townsend and Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson.
Characteristically operatic, the trio join forces to unite Queen-esque vocal harmonies with drop-tuned metal riffage, and it works a treat. Oh, and there’s a pretty fantastic descending lead passage that’s well worth a listen in there, too. (SR)
Nighttime Boogie Association - The Path We're On
Matt Cameron is one of guitar’s great unsung talents, and you can put that down to the fact that he’s ever-so-slightly better known for his skills behind the kit with Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.
Now, the man behind the monster riffs of Mailman and The Fixer has joined forces with fellow drum god Taylor Hawkins to form – band name of the year alert – Nighttime Boogie Association.
The Path We’re On is the pair’s lead-off single, and sees Cameron handle guitar duties alongside fellow Seattlite and Melvins sludge lord Buzz Osborne, while Hawkins tackles vocals and keys.
The track’s groove is unmistakably Cameron – its shifting time signatures and syncopated measures display all the hallmarks of his sinewiest Soundgarden head-twisters, while the wide-open chords point towards a more overt ’70s rock influence. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for more. (MAB)