Favorite of 2020: Music

Favorite books will be coming out later this week. (I’ve never understood how people release these lists in like early December; there’s still a month of reading to do!) But thought I’d try something new, which are my favorite albums of the year. I am very much not a music critic, nor am I very widely-listened, but have made an effort to be more engaged.

Anyway, here are my 20 favorite albums (not in any real order, though the ones at the top are probably the ones I’ve listened to the most). There are 10 that didn’t quite make the cut, and two honorable mentions that I just didn’t have time to listen to enough.

As always, this is very much “favorite” and not “best”. I wouldn’t have any idea how to judge “best” nor assume that I had listened to enough to even begin to chip away at it.

(Links are to Spotify, but support artists by buying their albums, if you can)

  1. ALA.NI, ACCA
    1. Certainly in contention for favorite album of the year. So many styles, all driven by rich, lush vocals, which in some songs are looped and recorded hundreds of times to make it sound like an orchestra, or maybe that’s a din of birds. Some songs sound like a 50s soundtrack wrung through the dull light of the modern experience. Some sound like nothing you’ve ever heard. I was hooked from the first three seconds. 
  2. Michelle Gurevich, Ecstasy in the Shadow of Ecstasy
    1. Hmmm…how does louche, deeply funny, middle-European-seeming gypsy music about aging and desire sound to you? Gurevich explores what it means to lose love, to gain it, to get older, to be seen as older, and to still want to fuck the whole world. She is witty, both obscene and demure, and the songs are sneakily complex. Also maybe my favorite album of the year. 
  3. Squirrel Flower,  I Was Born Swimming
    1. Mature, melancholy sometimes hard-driving art-pop-rock that doesn’t quite sound like anything else. She’s neither bedroom nor anthemic nor lilty-folky. She finds her middle ground on backroads and in the corner of parties and in the strange reflections you see on puddles. My most-listened-to album of the year, if just by dint of coming out early. 
  4. Alexandra Savior, The Archer
    1. The whole album has a strange desert honky-tonk vibe, but like if that remote bar was the backdrop in an X-Files episode. Everyone’s seen strange things in the sky and heard weird noises through the air. It’s really woozy and wonderful.
  5. Agnes Obel, Myopia
    1. You have to be very much in her through-a-mirror-darkly groove to dig this, but if you are her strange tones coming from different angles, looping and droning instruments, and genuinely provocative ideas make this one to listen to as you stare out a window, seeing your reflection and the streetlights outside, remembering. 
  6. Sarah Mary Chadwick, Please Daddy
    1. Not a lot of laughs on this. Chadwick doesn’t so much sing about depression as belt out the lived experience of it. This Aussie singer opens herself up to the world with soaring and crashing songs, that veer on the edge of mocking anthems, but have such broken fragility that draws you in. 
  7. Drive-by Truckers, The Unraveling 
    1. The great chroniclers of America’s broken economy, this tight guitar-driven rage makes you feel every decision that leads to people’s lives being tossed aside so someone else can get rich. There’s nothing subtle about it, but it is excellent. Drive By Truckers are the political band that actually feels like they’ve been on the side of the road, thumb out, hoping for some redemption. 
  8. NNAMDI, Brat
    1. Strange, queer, electronic, spoken word, lush melodies, decidedly ones self. His Black Plight EP was also astonishing but this is just albums. Genre-bending stuff from a Chicagoan
  9. Porridge Radio, Every Bad
    1. British band, hard charging rock. Dana Margolin has a way of repeating phrases over and over with growing intensity that seems to change the meaning every time. There’s desperation in there, but also hope. 
  10. DakhaBrakha, Alambari
    1. Ukrainian folk meets electronica meets a drunken Polish wedding band on the Hindenburg. These are fun, wild, catchy tunes that make you feel like you’re on a different planet, or maybe ours after all the continents slam back together. 
  11. Daniel Johnston, Chicago 2017
    1. Half live, half recordings of this brilliant, sweet, outside artist who was some kind of sad genius. He warbles his soul into every note. RIP, Daniel. 
  12. Yves Tumor Heaven To A Tortured Mind
    1. I don’t really know how to describe this one, to be honest. Extremely experimental, extremely sexy, extremely arty. I gotta say I really like it. 
  13. Perfume Genius Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
    1. They make me happy on this album. There are some romantic problems, some memories of first loves who went away, some problems. There are stringy strung-out vibrations and upbeat whammers. There’s a lot on this album, and it’s all good. 
  14. Rina Sawayama SAMAYAMA
    1. A debut album, this one crosses like 25 different genres and to me really embodies what is great about music today: anyone can do anything without any labels. She can belt a poppy bit of fluff or scream with Pantera-like guitars before sliding into Asian melodies, often in the same song. Just a joy to listen to. 
  15. Run The Jewels, RTJ4
    1. Not sure what there is to say about this one. It’s the perfect album for the year. If the music was shitty and the messages were the same, it would be great. And reverse. So put it together, and you can’t do much better for this year of cleavages, where we were ripped apart, but came together onto the streets, with both anger and hope, desperation and drive. 
  16. Joan Thiele Operazione Oro
    1. I don’t speak Italian so I have no idea what any of this is about but it sort of seeped into my soul on multiple listens. 
  17. Rosemary Standey/Birds on a Wire/Dom le Nena, Ramages
    1. Modern baroque, I guess. Old guitars, various angels singing with just a hint of irony, gorgeous compositions, and the occasional unexpected cover of a modern song in the same style. Cohen’s “Who By Fire” is the perfect cover on this album. The way they sing it, it sounds like he dusted off a song that was a few hundred years old. 
  18. Torres, Silver Tongue
    1. Man, I love Torres. Every song on this is unexpected, with a climax that kind of brings me to sweet tears every time. She’s a great songwriter, under the radar, and I think at the top of her game here. Just straightforward art rock, I suppose. 
  19. Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters
    1. It’s a Fiona Apple album. Come on. It’s great, you know what it’ll sound like, and you’ll be surprised at every single turn. 
  20. Moses Sumney, grae
    1. A 30-song exploration of self. Sometimes tiresome, always revealing, always feeling just a beat off in a way that makes it impossible to turn away. This is an album I’d put on and forget I was listening to it and then realize I’ve stopped what I was doing to listen much closer. 

Honorable Mention

  1. Angelica Garcia, Cha Cha Palace
    1. Just got turned onto this one the other day but can tell it’ll be in the steady rotation
  2. Megan Thee Stallion, Good News
    1. I’ve only been able to listen a few times, but she’s even more ferocious and funny and just filthy hungry than even on WAP. Thee Stallion sees what she wants and grabs it. 

Not Quite Making the Cut

  1. Eden Abhaz, Wild Boy: The Lost Songs of Eden Abhaz
    1. Odd, odd, deeply odd recordings by a man who wrote hit songs in the 50s for other people and saved the avante garde for himself
  2. Kaki King, Modern Yesterdays
    1. Cool-ass guitar from one of our most inscrutable composers
  3. Emma Ruth Rundle/Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full
    1. Noise. Lots of loud atonal noise
  4. Mary Lattimore, Silver Chairs
    1. Harp. Lots of quiet, pretty harp
  5. Honey Gentry, H.G.
    1. A very strange and haunting sort of country
  6. Mint Field, Sentimento Mundial
    1. Lush, vibrating orchestrations that sounds like someone whispering something urgent
  7. Clara Rockmore, Music and Memories
    1. If you like old ladies playing the theremin and talking about the theremin you’ll love this
  8. Bob Dylan, Rough and Rowdy Ways
    1. This is genuinely very great, his best in forever, but it just wasn’t hitting me this year like it might have, or maybe will, in other years
  9. Toro y Moi, Causers of This
    1. All instrumentals with his trademark beats from underwater loopy reflection vibe
  10.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Never Alone
    1. 86 songs from the woman who merged the sacred and the wild to create rock. 

One thought on “Favorite of 2020: Music

  1. Thanks for all the great suggestions! Looking forward to checking these out!

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