Yea, we know, 2020.... worst year ever.... blah, blah, blah. No concerts outside of the drive-in but tons of great music was recorded/released.
Clem Snide returned with a beautiful summer companion (with Scott Avett in tow) that'll make you laugh while you cry. American Aquarium released a monumental ode to 2020 America with bitter reflection that will leave the listener a little less-innocent. Mikel Jollett wrote a memoir with a musical companion that documents poverty, abuse and (ultimately) personal freedom. Pinegrove created a gem of a sophomore release. Christian Lee Hutson's debut (produced by Phoebe Bridgers) made for some wonderful easy listening over uneasy topics. AJJ were early to the game with their most-polished record accurately warning us that it's gonna be a bunch of bullshit too out in Sweet 2020!
Andy Shauf made an entire album about a night at a bar. Beach Bunny's "Honeymoon" offered a whole buncha sweetness. Bill Fay returned after a long hiatus with the beautifully constructed "Countless Branches". Bright Eyes reminded us that Lil' Conor is still one of our greatest storytellers. Ian MacKaye debuted Coriky. The ever-prolific Damien Jurado released yet-another collection of sad songs for old friends. Dan Deacon made a wonderful morning companion for your walks through the garden. The John Roderick powered Western State Hurricanes re-recorded some old favorites. Grandaddy recreated The Software Slump on upright piano. Wolf Parade offered another power movement (I saw them live in 2020 - remember live music?). Sylvan Esso nearly cracked the top 5 with the extraordinary "Free Love" (and an accompanying podcast). Waxahatchee made a love letter to rural America for people who will never visit. Sufjan Steven's long awaited new record is really long.
The sisters HAIM dominated quarantine from home. Frances Quinlan and Hannah Georgas brought us songs for the long lament that was 2020. Adrianne Lenker released 2 albums in follow up to last year's 2 albums and they're all good.
We lost Justin Townes Earle and so many other song writing giants in this year of misery. From misery comes art.
"Yesterday I felt so much more than I feel now... standing in the window with my heart bleeding out.. they say the world keeps turning but still I have my doubts...
Will I be remembered for the love I made or everything I stole... the sun is going down and I'll be damned if it don't look like snow.... but the heavens on me hold no guarantee"
- Justin Townes Earle (1982 - 2020)
Here are the Top 5 albums of 2020.....
El Capitan by Will Johnson
"There's no healing like moonlight, I am accustomed to this battle every night"
Centro-Matic's "Love You Just The Same" welcomes the listener in with a thumping drum beat and what seems to be a one-string walk down; perfect for my guitar playing ability. The narrator's voice was reserved, the lyrics well-thought out. Said narrator, Will Johnson, went on to play with many of song writing's favorite children all the while maintaining his humility in the dark corner of the stage. Hearing Will on The Working Songwriter alerted me to El Capitan. This record is even more subtle than his past work. It takes a while to creep into one's soul and is a careful listen. Will crafts tales of loneliness with the comfort of a campfire. Laments from small town motel windows and stories of fallen heroes all draped under the moon in an empty sky.
Folklore & Evermore by Taylor Swift
"Never be so polite you forget your power... Never wield such power you forget to be polite"
It's 2020, the world is on fire, and the last person who needs more recognition is Tay Tay Swift. The only thing that matters when evaluating music is good music. Tay Tay commissioned the production grace of The National's Aaron Dessner to build not one, but two, wonderful song books. With guest appearances from the Indie Rock elite, the subdued production highlights perfect pitch and thoughtful verse. Even the teenage balladry seems relevant while the songs build from sparse to anthemic. The pentameter of vocal flow creating hooks all it's own. No one teased Lebron James for dedicating his life to honing his craft. Here, Tay Tay puts away the over-production and auto-tune to bare what is a master of her craft creating perfection. If you are willing to put aside your bias, these records will bring the horizon a little closer (don't worry I won't tell any one). In short, if you don't like Folklore & Evermore, you don't like music.
In Sickness & In Flames by The Front Bottoms
"Good stuff is happening all around me, people are high fiving, people are freaking out"
The Front Bottoms are possibly my favorite band of all time so they are a mainstay in the top 5. If you enjoy a beverage and remember how to dance, this band is for you. TFB have the ability to make one laugh out loud and shed a tear all over the course of a two and half minute pop anthem. The youthful energy and fist-pumping debauchery veiled in a nod to learning from living make this, yet another, Front Bottoms masterpiece. We could all use some time on the floor of the concert hall right about now.....
Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
"I hate your mom, I hate it when she opens her mouth, it's amazing to me how much you can say when you don't know what you're talking about"
I love seeing an artist seize their moment. Safe to say, the expectations on Phoebe Bridger's sophomore release were monumental. She delivered with paramount fervor. Punisher is a thrill ride from song to song with perfect instrumentation complimenting Phoebe's angelic voice. The aforementioned grace hiding the soul-crushing lyrics that often make up the stories of love lost, resentment and betrayal. Singularly, you can pull twenty different verses from each song on Punisher to post on a tunnel wall. This is a simply outstanding effort from one of the best songwriters of our time.
Notes On a Conditional Form by The 1975
"I've seen your friends at the birthday party, they were kinda fucked up before it even started, they were gonna go to the Pinegrove show, they didn't know about all the weird stuff so they just left it"
Notes On a Conditional Form isn't a record it's an odyssey. A companion to 2018's "A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships", the 1975 take us through 22 songs with a synchronized narrative. In a time when many bands only release singles, this work serves to visit every corner of the human psyche. Matt Healy bares his soul with inter-personal thoughts on abuse, recovery, love, failure and the missteps of his past. Each song drawn together through keyboard interludes serving as a lesson in humility the length of a Paul Thomas Anderson film. Any of these songs standing alone will serve as a dancehall banger; upbeat and celebratory. When strung together, this album serves as a love letter to youthful exuberance as well as a warning sign to the excesses our younger spirit presents us.
Thank You for Listening! See You in 2021!