It feels trivial to sit here and write about my favorite albums of 2020, but I guess I’m trivial. There are far more important things to be talking about, I’m perfectly aware of that. I look out my window and see the same fires burning as you. I see people ignoring science and believing lies so they can justify their ignorance. I see folks continuing with their Devil’s Advocate “All Lives Matter!” arguments when they’re willful ignorance only goes to hurt those that actually see the forest for the trees.
Honestly, these problems existed before 2020. It’s just that now that we’ve been locked in at home, putting our lives on the mantelpiece waiting for the virus to pass, we’ve had all the time in the world to look at what’s going on outside of our peripheral and give the atrocities and inequities bestowed upon our fellow men, women, and children of color the proper hard look.
I’ve seen and known folks hitting the pavement in order to shed a light on police brutality and outright racist actions by those who are supposed to serve and protect and it gives me hope. I see people giving a shit. I see a corrupt and incompetent US administration finally showing wear and tear after three years of behavior that, quite frankly, had it been a democratic administration there would’ve been weekend warriors and couch pundits demanding that President’s head on a platter.
But I digress.
So instead of political rants and social change pieces I’m going to talk about music. Why? Because that’s why I started this page in the first place. I wanted to talk about music and books and film and my personal experiences. That’s what I do here. Art is where I go to escape from the alternate reality we currently live in. Hopefully we find “our” reality once again. Hopefully we can right the ship. Until then, here’s my favorite albums of 2020(so far), the year of the great sigh, in no particular order.
Love you all.
Portals : A Komische Journey Though Outer Words And Inner Space
It’s not often a compilation makes my favorite albums list, so when they do it must be a doozy. Portals : A Komische Journey Through Outer Worlds And Inner Space is just a massive collection of deep space vibes and basement stoner haze. This is the kind of record where you light up some incense, grab a pint of your favorite hoppy brew, and let the record take you on a ride. Heady synths, vintage electronics, and circuital therapy for the mind is what’s going down. So many amazing artist here, but Steve Moore, Lisa Bella Donna, Ian Boddy, Listening Center, and Nigel Mullaney all bring massive excellence on a double LP filled with it.
Wasted Shirt : Fungus II
What happens when you put Ty Segall and Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale in a scorching California home studio for an extended amount of time? Fungus II, that’s what you get. Two masters of sonic corruption and fuzz-drenched cacophony come together to make an album that Henry Rollins describes as follows, “This is Freedom Rock. Turn up the volume. Hasten your emancipation. Sonic joy awaits.” Need I say more? Get this IN. YOUR. EARS.
Jonas Munk : Minimum Resistance
Jonas Munk is a master knob turner and sonic manipulator. I’ve followed his work both in Causa Sui and on his own with much interest and adoration since probably early 2014. His guitar work is second to none, abusing a Tele like nobody’s business in Causa Sui. His contribution to electronic music is not to be ignored, either. Manual, Billow Observatory, and of course his own solo work is exquisite. His latest album, Minimum Resistance, is closer to his work with Jason Kolb in Billow Observatory, but still retains his “Big Sky”, widescreen approach to minimalist instrumental music. Minimum Resistance is Munk taking guitar music to a new level. Expanded notes, stretched chords like musical Silly Putty, all turned into these expanded tracks of ambient meditations. Two words: utterly brilliant.
Tame Impala : The Slow Rush
I hate to sound like “that guy”, but man I do sort of miss the Kevin Parker from Lonerism. To me, that album is a shining example of taking lo fi, DIY sounds and intermixing them with radio-friendly vibes. I still think it’s Parker’s shining achievement. That and Innerspeaker are all-time favorite records for me, with Lonerism being quite possibly a top ten contender. Be that as it may, I still quite enjoyed Currents, albeit with a bit less of obsessive love. The Slow Rush, however, seems to have found a perfect little middle ground where Parker can obsess over slick beats and next-level production while still retaining some of that “outsider artist” vibe. While I’m not as blown away by this record as I was something like Lonerism, I’m pulled in and excited nonetheless.
Editor’s Note: I completely forgot the record came out this year. That’s how bad 2020 has been. I forgot about Kevin Parker, goddammit!
Andy Shauf : The Neon Skyline
Andy Shauf’s The Neon Skyline is like a 70s film put to music. His tale of the folks that haunt a non-descript bar and the lives they live is poignant, fun, and engaging. Imagine something like Barfly or Tree’s Lounge turned into a musical odyssey and you’re on your way to getting The Neon Skyline. Shauf harkens back to a time when singer/songwriters wrote from the heart, and wrote like a novelist as much as a songwriter. His album The Party won me over, and The Neon Skyline has kept me wanting more.
Jake Schrock : Omnibus
I first heard Jake Schrock on Holodeck Records’ Holodeck Vision One compilation. His track “Levitation Station” was a standout among standouts. Then his Holodeck debut record, the masterpiece Tropical Depression, was my favorite album of 2018. Now we have Omnibus, a tour-de-force of Krautrock and early German electronic. The island vibes of his Holodeck Records’ debut have been replaced with the steely sheen of German music pioneers Kraftwerk, Rudiger Lorenz, and Cluster. It’s yet another reason to put Schrock high up on the list of the best electronic music has to offer.
Hunter Complex : Dead Calm and Zero Degrees
Lars Meijer continues to blow my mind. With is 2019 Death Waltz Originals’ album Open Sea he completely won me over, making my favorite album of that year. Dead Calm and Zero Degrees continues that trend. Recorded at the same time as Open Sea, Dead Calm works as sort of a Ying to its predecessor’s Yang. Though sonically connected, it carries its own vibes. It works as sort of a late night drive to Open Sea’s brisk daylight walk. Engaging, densely-layered, and artistically distinct from anything the electronic music world has to offer, Dead Calm and Zero Degrees is deft and exquisite.
Daniel Davies : Signals
Signals is such a unique record. The album as a whole was inspired by the mixed media artwork of Jesse Draxler, which is stark black and white photos cut and pasted into dystopian visions both startlingly dark and caustically beautiful. Davies captures the vast negative space that Draxler creates in his work, giving the visuals an omniscient score to be devoured with.
Blake Mills : Mutable Set
I really feel that Blake Mills is our savior of singer/songwriter excellence. Mutable Set captures the beauty of 70s singer/songwriter fare. Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman live in the work of Blake Mills here. His work has evolved so significantly from his last big record, 2014s Heigh Ho to now. Mills has expanded his musical palate to include the musical vibes of Ry Cooder as well. Paris, Texas comes to mind.
Okay, so if you haven’t listened to Mutable Set you’re missing out, that’s what I really want to say. It’s such an amazing album. It captures both classic singer/songwriter vibes as well as more instrumental, experimental work. It’s stunningly beautiful and ornate at the same time. One of my absolute favorites this year so far.
Dream Divison : The Devil Rides Out
Dream Division make that stuff called imagined soundtrack. A lot of folks have dived into that world, but only a few can do it effectively and engagingly. Dream Division does it in spades. Tom McDowell, aka Dream Division, has been making next-level synth music for a few years now, and The Devil Rides Out might be his best yet. The first release on McDowell’s own label, Library of the Occult, Dream Division’s The Devil Rides Out is a soundtrack for Dennis Wheatley’s classic 1934 occult yarn of the same name. It bubbles with dread and shadowy beauty thanks to McDowell’s deft touch with synth. The Devil Rides Out is an absolutely stunning synth record.
Kanaan : Double Sun
Kanaan return with their follow-up to 2018’s excellent Windborne, Double Sun ups the sludgy vibes and adds some Sabbath undertones to the heavy fusion soul of their debut. The power trio jams are amplified with sludgier overtones this time, mixing up both Electric Miles nods with Hendrix at Woodstock ferocity. Not to be missed.
Fiona Apple : Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Fiona Apple is an artist to be respected. She could’ve easily had a respectable career as a consistent female singer/songwriter, writing albums with both upbeat pop undertones and smokey ballads. Instead she said the hell with that and did what she wanted. What she wanted was spotty album releases that were evolutions of her art and psyche. Fetch The Bolt Cutters is a gruffly put-together sonic masterpiece. It doesn’t bow to any current trends and is instead a skeletal, sticks n’ stones collection of raw and frank songs. We’re not worthy!
Zombi : 2020
The masters of synth/drum/bass carnage have returned after almost five years with the excellent 2020. Steve Moore and AE Paterra are back as the world’s favorite horror/sci fi musical doom makers and have made a relevant, urgent record for the current times. Songs are shorter but there’s more of them. And guitar makes itself known more this time around. 2020 is the record we all need right now.
Here’ a few albums I’ve dug this year but haven’t spent a lot of time with yet, Glass Parallels’ Aisle of Light, Alone 1980s The Unknown, Sankofa Weird Summer, Miles Brown The Gateway, Caleb Landry Jones’ The Mother Stone, Treebones’ Midnight Radio, Meridian Arc Timelapse, Tennis Swimmer, and Kanaan Odense Sessions.
We’re only in July, guys and gals. We’ve still got albums from Martin Rude & Jakob Skott Duo, Ellis Munk Ensemble, Protomartyr, Rival Consoles, and hopefully more that I don’t even know about. But that list above are ones that have truly stood out and have helped even out the dread out the window. Those fires are still burning, but the music is keeping the heat at bay.
For now, anyways.
2 thoughts on “Pandemic 2020 : Favorite Albums So Far In The Year Of The Great Sigh”
I’m excited to see Andy Shauf getting some love with this latest album. I went to college with a former bandmate of his (who is also known as Teen Daze) and also with Andy’s brother, Rob. As such, I got to hang out with Andy a little when he came to town touring on his “Darker Days” material. Because of that connection, I’ve followed his music since then, and watched him really grow as an composer and songwriter.
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He’s one of my favorite contemporary singer/songwriters. Love his storytelling and writing style.