Welcome back. Part two of this epic journey through the albums that mattered most(to me) in 2020. Here we’ve got 25 through 11. After that it’ll be my top ten favorite records of 2020.
I do realize these lists are rather arbitrary to most. Maybe it seems like a self-importance trip or something. But to me it’s a revisiting of a year. The songs that hit me hard, the albums that hit me hard, and the album covers that hit me hard. And of course the artists that hit me hard. It’s a re-examination of my year, and the music that soundtracked that year. And not only am I going back to revisit those albums, but I’m giving the moments throughout the year another look. It gives me a good starting point for some serious self reflection. What I liked, what I’d like to change, and how do I go about making next year better. The music is an integral part of that reflection. And of course this is also a means to share what I loved and hopefully it gets someone who happens along these posts an album or two to explore they may not have otherwise.
Anyways, here 25-11.
Number Twenty-Five : Jake Schrock’s Omnibus
I love the musical world of Jake Schrock. He locks into this analog sound thanks to his exquisite collection of analog synths and drum machines. But the tools are only half of it. You’ve got to know what to do with those tools in order to make something engaging and long-lasting, and Jake Schrock is what I’d call an electronic music journeyman. His 2018 album Tropical Depression felt like island music on another planet. Robotic bossa nova rhythms interplay with old school hardware melodies to give us something so unique and all-encompassing that it became my favorite album that year. On his newest, the Komische-heavy Omnibus, Schrock docked his steely boat for the shores of Deutschland. Omnibus tips its hat to cats like Rudiger Lorenz, Bernard Szajner, Cluster, and Kraftwerk, giving us a fantastic trip into the heart of 70s German electronic music. Cool, steely, and restrained just enough.
Number Twenty-Four : Rival Consoles’ Articulation
Ryan Lee West’s musical project Rival Consoles continues to impress me with electronic albums that sound organic. Their synthetic nature converts into something tactile; something you feel as well as hear. On his latest opus Articulation, West links back to 2016s Night Melody, at least sonically. West plays with time signatures, structure, and shape and how it affects melody. I’m sure West is probably smarter than me, so I’ll just say the album has a constant flow. The rhythms in these tracks dictate how the melody plays out. Movement isn’t just a construct, but the conductor. It’s a stunning and intellectual work that goes to prove the significance of Rival Consoles’ plays in electronic music history.
Number Twenty-Three : Secret Machines’ Awake In The Brain Chamber
It’s been 12 years since the Texas’ Secret Machines released an album. It may have been a long wait for us fans, but it was a much longer 12 years for the two remaining members, Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza. Brandon’s brother Benjamin, former member and of the band School Of Seven Bells, died of cancer in 2013. It took several years, but Curtis and Garza found themselves back at Secret Machines, which led to Awake In The Brain Chamber. The songs are still big and thunderous with touches of Krautrock, Bowie, and their classic “space rock” sound. It’s a welcome return, and one I hope isn’t temporary.
Number Twenty-Two : Com Truise’ In Decay, Too
Seth Haley’s long-running musical project Com Truise continues to evolve and shape into something leaner, tighter, and more direct. But there’s a special place in my heart for his 2012 collection In Decay. For me it works as a straight up follow-up to his debut Galactic Melt. So to have In Decay, Too drop it felt like a gift from the music Gods in this crazy year. Even Com Truise’ “odds n sods” are next level, and work that any other artist would’ve gladly put on a proper LP. Most of the tracks have that classic CT sonic boom low end, like sci fi krunk with the right amount of melody. Haley does it yet again.
Number Twenty-One : Hawksmoor : Methods of Dreaming
Hawksmoor, aka James McKeown, made an outstanding bit of heady synth soundscapes with Methods of Dreaming. Songs built from moog, soft synths, tape loops, guitar, and bass conjure free-floating in a stranger’s subconscious. Intellectual glitching in analog fever dreams, Methods of Dreaming is the soundtrack to your next acid drop and sensory deprivation tank adventure. Truly stunning.
Number Twenty : Dream Division’s Beyond The Mirror’s Image
Tom McDowell’s long-running musical project has built an impressive library of heavy synth songs that range from moody horror vibes to deep space Komische dives and even Italio prog psych. The man can pretty much do anything at this point. On his newest release, the rock-centric Beyond The Mirror’s Image, McDowell takes Dream Division into Giallo territory. Guitars, drums, synth, and touches of the macabre make for an engaging listening experience.
Number Nineteen : Zombi’s 2020
Leave it to Steve Moore and AE Paterra to take back a little ownership from this year. Remember it for the pandemic? Protests? Isolation blues? Political shitshows? No, let’s remember 2020 for the fact that it’s the year of the new Zombi long player. Not only that, but they named the album 2020 just to make sure you’ll remember it for what you should. This is the tightest and most concise Zombi album yet with some amazing tracks built around the bass/synth/drum blast of Steve Moore and AE Paterra. If you haven’t heard this yet, what your waiting for?
Number Eighteen : Ellis Munk Ensemble’s San Diego Sessions
San Diego Sessions is the culmination of a couple jam sessions between Causa Sui’s Jonas Munk and a mind-blowing crew of southern California’s finest in the psych community. Beer buzzes and ocean breeze highs are abound on this record as Munk goes full improvisational jams with the likes of Brian Ellis; as well as members of Astra, Psicomagia, Monarch, Radio Moscow and Sacri Monti. Frizzle-fried guitars intermingle with keys and fusion-like rhythm sections that bring to mind everything from Santana to Allman Bros to Band of Gypsies to Jack Johnson-era Miles. It’s one hell of a spin. Just don’t forget to chill the brews.
Number Seventeen : The Nels Cline Singers’ Share The Wealth
On Nels Cline’s latest with The Nels Cline Singers he reaches deep into both his jazz and experimental roots, making one of his most engaging albums for the Blue Note label. A mixture of long, expansive tracks that play with space, dissonance and repetition, while also giving us beautiful payoffs with this amazing band he’s put together. He expands more on the rock band aspect of this crew, even more so than he did with 2010’s Initiate. Share The Wealth satisfies many musical appetites.
Number Sixteen: Salvatore Mercatante : The Foundations of Eternal Sin
A late drop in 2020, but made quite an impression right away was Salvatore Mercatante’s The Foundations of Eternal Sin. Low key, subtle synths that hover just above the surface, his compositions are like a low fog hanging over water. The mood is dark but never dour, as Mercatante has made an album about losing oneself and the journey to find what was lost. It’s a subtle electronic album that feels like essential listening. Such a wonderful end of year surprise.
Number Fifteen : Proto Droids’ Cybernetic World
Proto Droids’ Cybernetic World is a electro funk party, man. It’s one groove after another, spurting oil like champagne and getting all the chromed-out hips gyrating a full 360 degrees. Neil Hale(he of Correlations/The Relations) dives deep into the retro-futuristic dance grooves while keeping things steely cool. Spun Out Of Control was on absolute fire this year by releasing interstellar vibes like this, and Cybernetic World was the record I would throw on when the pandemic was getting me down and I had one pint too many and just wanted to strut about the living room, frightening the family. Damn, is this a killer record.
Number Fourteen : Protomartyr’s Ultimate Success Today
The Detroit post-punk four-piece continue to floor me with their aggressive-but-poetic music. Casey and company capture the vibe of Gang of Four and Pere Ubu while rolling their sound in plenty of the Motor City’s grime and attitude. I don’t know, Protomartyr is a band I’ll love and continue to support till they say stop. Ultimate Success Today is another constant spin in my head. It should be in yours, too.
Number Thirteen : Oneohtrix Point Never’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
Daniel Lopatin’s latest sounds like a weird radio mix piped in from some alternate reality. Songs interspersed between distorted, wobbly radio spots, as if you’re listening to some alien radio on a late night drive through the city. At first the album seems a little spotty and hard to lock onto, but then it just clicks. Lopatin’s songs are as strong as ever, with “Long Road Home” and “Lost But Never Alone” being standout tracks. The weird ambient pieces in-between continue to establish Lopatin’s production prowess, while his songs show his continued march to pop dominance.
Number Twelve : Jonas Munk’s Minimum Resistance
On Jonas Munk’s latest album he seems to boil down his songs to their very essence, giving us ethereal clouds of sound that almost feel like mere thoughts of sound. Ideas conjured in the ether and given electrical significance and circuital forms, which lead to dream-like landscapes. This album felt like a warm blanket covering a shivering soul this year. A therapeutic listening experience when such things are needed most.
Number Eleven : Justin Pinkerton’s Aak’ab
There’s something very inviting about Justin Pinkerton’s Aak’ab. Maybe it’s the album title that puts me in mind of a favorite Genesis album(Abacab), or maybe it’s just that the music is so warm and all-encompassing. Terry Riley and Morton Subotnik vibes are alive and well here, giving the records a very 70s vibe. But the music here transcends eras, really. What Pinkerton has done with Aak’ab is to make an electronic album that feels classic, refined, and highly intellectual. It’s a heady album, but one that feels almost child-like at times. Aak’ab grabbed me, and continues to hold on tightly.
There you have it, numbers 25-11. Anything on here you going to to check out? Hopefully something tickles your fancy.
Friday, folks. My ten favorite albums of the year of our Lord, 2020. Tune in and hear about the records that I spun the most and dug into my subconscious the most. See you then.