greetings! i write to you all now from the comfort of my apartment while trying to come up with my list of the ten best albums of this very bizarre year of ours. music plays a big and important role in my life. it’s a lens by which i decipher and learn about things. so, naturally, this year’s list is a little bit different.
coming up with 10 albums that are new to the year we are living in is in itself a challenge because it requires a vigilance that i no longer possess. on top of that, this year, with the disruption of lockdowns and the negative space of isolation, the mood was one that pulled in a lot of directions. all of that said, my list is an imperfect representation of all the great musical creativity of the year. for end of year recaps, i’d generally direct you to Pitchfork or Gorilla vs. Bear (they’re expert curators that get paid to write stuff about artists).
soooo, without anymore prefacing, here’s the list of the 10 albums that had the biggest impact on me/helped me through the year/got me most excited/and fall under my own personal definition of “best.” enjoy.
1️⃣ Set My Heart On Fire Immediately - Perfume Genius
top to bottom, this is the album that i think best encapsulates the poignance of 2020. a lot of the album tackles issues like separation, isolation, dramatically shifting moods, and the human quality of persevering with one another. there’s a video of the top track off this album below (w/ Meg Duffy aka Hand Habits on guitar).
2️⃣ Have We Met? - Destroyer
the personal connection with this album is arguably stronger than any other album. seeing Destroyer was the last thing i did in Cambridge before everything went into lockdown and i went back to stay with my parents for a stretch (before then getting back to Kansas City) (video below).
Dan Bejar and Destroyer have more-or-less narrated the last 15 years of my life. last year, spotify informed me they’re my most listened to artist of the decade and it’s for a good reason. my friend Wilson and i joke that Destroyer’s like The National for people who haven’t experienced suffering. the lyrics are darker, sharper, and have a more mature understanding of the world. the first song on the album, Crimson Tide, is a perfect song (video below). you would also be doing yourself a disservice if you read this list and don’t listen to Kinda Dark, foolssong, and The Raven.
3️⃣ Toner - PVA
technically, this is an ep but it’s a banger. i only recently discovered PVA, a London-based band that was discovered at a house party a couple years ago. i actually found this band through Sirius XMU’s segment, the Download-15 and was immediately hooked. outside of the vein of stuff that i’ve listened to historically, this album also represented a bit of a shift in my personal tastes of music that took place this year — moving away from the traditional vein of indie music and toward something that experiments with weaving different genres of music together.
4️⃣ Something New - Helena Deland
in my view, this one is probably the most underrated album of the year. i became a fan of Helena Deland through some of her singles she put out last year (she puts out a lot of singles). it is also important to note, here, that the way i came across this album was through internet-music blogging’s hippest source, Gorilla vs. Bear. they have an ongoing playlist of the best songs of the year that i periodically check out and usually wind up finding some gems. this album is no exception. for what it’s worth, this album reminds me a bit of Weyes Blood’s hit album from last year, Titanic Rising. my two favorites on this album are Truth Nugget and Pale.
5️⃣ Hannah: Lomelda
this is another artist i picked up from Gorilla vs. Bear. Lomelda experiments with folk and ambient textures. this album is a go-to for lots of the pandemic days that felt kind of empty. as far as albums on this list go, i think there are two general ways i categorize them — to borrow from Spencer Krug, there are the vast explosions and the embers. i think this album is the best of the embers. the flames are not huge and they don’t effect everyone, but these songs provided a constant warmth during a time of chaos. it’s hard to pick just a couple songs to listen to from this album, so i’m going to use my privilege as the author of this list to say go ahead and listen to all of them and find that feeling of warmth.
6️⃣ Whole New Mess - Angel Olsen
no bones about it. this album is on my list because i absolutely adore anything Angel Olsen puts out. this album particularly intrigued me because it was a companion to 2019’s All Mirrors. this album probably might not be for everyone, but i’m not everyone. Whole New Mess and Waving, Smiling are new companions worth digging into (both featured highly in my most listened to songs of 2020). Chance (Forever Love) and What It Is (What It Is) are the acoustic companions to the songs of the same title on All Mirrors and demonstrate an ability to adapt music to context. below is a blogoteque performance of Waving, Smiling that will knock your socks off!
7️⃣ Sundowner - Kevin Morby
a mainstay in my ongoing cycles of music, Kevin Morby’s latest album Sundowner takes listeners on a journey in the style of some of my favorite folk albums. taking the journey metaphor a step further, Kevin hosted a number of instagram live concerts during the early stages of the pandemic that did a lot to restore a sense of calm during the storm. this record is one that i’d go to a lot for ambling walks around town. for me, the two songs that stand out the most are Campfire (with it’s two parts that tethered together with Katie Crutchfield’s vocals) and Provisions (which is just about a perfect end to an album).
8️⃣ The Loves of Your Life - Hamilton Leithauser
i have to admit, i am only a recent fan of Hamilton Leithauser. i came upon his music through collaborations he did — one was a song with Angel Olsen called Heartstruck (Wild Hunger) and the other was an album he put together with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam. something about the tension in Leithauser’s voice and the punchiness he and his band are able to get out of traditional country sounds provides another dimension to this year’s list. Here They Come and Isabella are both really well written songs that encapsulate a twangier angst i associate with different moments of 2020.
on top of the album itself, Hamilton also did an incredible Tiny Desk concert entirely with members of his family that is really, really spectacular.
editorial note - this post was intended to be part of a longer extravaganza recapping 2020, but that became too burdensome. as the academics would say, the rest of the impact of 2020 is outside the scope of this article.