We’ve made it, my top ten favorite albums of the year. 2020, what a shit show, huh? It sure was, but one of the things that saved it for me was the music. Despite an overall shutdown of the world there was a continuous flow of amazing records hitting my brain. And the most amazing thing was that this year was saved not by big bands and well-known singer/songwriters backed by billion dollar entertainment conglomerates. It was saved by independent record labels and independent artists. Guys and gals that for the most part do this not as a main gig, but after they get home from the 9 to 5.
If you were in my top 50, thank you for giving me something real this year. You helped me through anxiety, dread, the unknown, and just the general malaise that was this year. Your music meant something to me, and I want everyone to know that. So without further adieu, here’s my top ten albums of the year.
Number Ten : Fra Det Onde Feat. the Legendary Emil Nikolaisen
One of the biggest kicks to the gut musically for me this year was Fra Det Onde Feat. the legendary Emil Nikolaisen. On its own, Fra Det Onde is an amazing jazz record. Touches of hard bop and free form intermingled with the progressive vibes of early 70s ECM. But add in Emil Nikolaisen taking the tracks and putting them through some kind of otherworldly process and the songs go totally galactic. Like Teo Macero combined with Manfred Eicher and spectral light, Nikolaisen made Fra Det Onde’s songs into something so unique and frantic. This record is a steady blast of jazz on LSD in outer space. Utterly brilliant.
Number Nine : METZ’ Atlas Vending
Atlas Vending sees the Canadian post-punk outfit finding a perfect balance between their aggressive, ear-shattering tendencies and their more accessible nature. Strange Peace got close, but with Atlas Vending METZ sound like a band that knows what they’re doing. They’re comfortable in this space, as if they found their mutant powers and have honed them to a perfect sonic weapon. The guitar sound is a beast, while the rhythm section cements the noise firmly in front of the listener. You can’t turn away. And really, who wants to?
Number Eight : Stefan Bachmeier’s The Strange Worlds of Stefan Bachmeier
I hadn’t heard the previous releases of Stefan Bachmeier, so having them all together in this compilation feels like a brand new album to me. Capturing Komische vibes, offbeat 80s synth scores, and ethereal library music, The Strange Worlds of Stefan Bachmeier feels like coming across some musical treasure on the way to some other dimension. The previous releases were curated and remastered from the original Bachmeier master tapes by Stephen Buckley(Polypores), and here he creates a flow and mood that gives this album a classic vibe. It’s the kind of album I want to just crawl inside and explore. The analog synths remind me of the late 70s and growing up in the Midwest watching PBS and hearing Moogs and Mellotrons and modular synths as scores to shows and commercials. This album is comfort food for my ears. God bless Stefan Bachmeier. God bless analog.
Number Seven : Martin Rude and Jakob Skøtt Duo’s The Discipline of Assent/The Dichotomy Of Control
I feel like these two albums should be connected. They both feel like sides to the same coin despite being recorded months apart. The Discipline of Assent and The Dichotomy of Control feel like a double album released separately. The mixture of Rude’s jangly acoustic and tasteful acoustic bass with Skøtt’s fusion-driven drumming and ethereal electronics makes for a deep dive into Middle Eastern flavors, dystopian sci fi westerns, and desert meditations. These are two albums that need to be played in succession and allow your mind to soak in their high intentions. Not unlike anything you’ve heard before.
Number Six : Dawn Chorus and the Infallible Sea’s Liberamente
In a year where a pocket of peace and tranquility should have been a high commodity, Dawn Chorus and the Infallible Sea delivered as much in spades. Their Azure Vista Records debut Liberamente was an album that delivered gorgeous ambient and clouds of peaceful drones when both were sorely needed. If you’re at all familiar with Billow Observatory or Jonas Munk’s Minimum Resistance, then Liberamente is like reconnecting with an old friend. Simplicity is on the surface, but spend a little time with this album and it reveals depths and layers you weren’t aware of on first glance. I’ve found this record to be a source of peaceful contemplation. I would also call this a modern classical piece. The swells of sound are movements of therapeutic power. This is an album to play and lock into.
Number Five : Turquoise Moon’s The Sunset City
A “lost” album from the production/songwriting duo of Terry Ferrello and Frank Heisenberg (Turquoise Moon) from 1985, Turquoise Moon was given new life by producer Andy Fosberry with a proper mastering. The result is a shot of 80s adrenaline, neon production and pop finesse which are the recipe for The Sunset City. Imagine a cross between Miami Vice, Blade Runner, and To Live And Die In L.A and you have Ferello and Heisenberg’s vibe. This is the most fun I’ve had with an album all year. It’s a record I got completely lost in, enjoying every minute of its 80s sheen and neon soul.
Number Four : Blake Mills’ The Mutable Set
Blake Mills turned in one the best albums of the year in 2020. The Mutable Set is filled with both amazing songwriting and compositional mastery. Songs that reached back into the best of 70s singer/songwriter fare, like Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson. But Mills’ also locks into the cinematic work of Ry Cooder and Thomas Newman. He showed he could make a great adult pop album with Heigh Ho, but with The Mutable Set Mills combines all his musical prowess into one amazing record.
Number Three : Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush
Looking back on 2020 it felt like Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush came out last year. So much so that a couple months ago I was shocked to realize it had come out in February, pre-shut downs here in the US. I went back and revisted Kevin Parker’s newest opus and realized just how damn good it was. Lonerism was my favorite album of 2012, and Parker was that guy I was always excited to hear from. I enjoyed Currents from 2015, but it didn’t hit me like everything before did. Funny thing, though, is that my kids started digging on Tame Impala with Currents. They’d talk about this song or that, and Parker’s band was a bonding point for me and my two younger kids. So when The Slow Rush hit it was another spot where dad and offspring could negotiate the pop music landscape. Coming back to this record recently it solidified in me my adoration for Kevin Parker and his pop songwriting skills. The Slow Rush quickly rose the ranks with me, and Parker’s live performances of tracks this year hooked me back in all the way. The Slow Rush is an amazing record, and one I’ll be playing for years to come.
Number Two : Causa Sui’s Szabodelico
Everything just feels right with Causa Sui’s Szabodelico. The vibe is quieter and more contemplative, but don’t confuse quiet with not heavy. Despite the lack of fuzz tones and monolithic riffage, this record still ends up being heavy and heady. The four-piece from Odense, Denmark creates an atmosphere of refined contemplation and ethereal vibes. This is a percussive record, with drummer Jakob Skøtt giving the record Afro-Cuban and island grooves. Jonas Munk, Jess Kahr, and Rasmus Rasmussen fill out the sound, allowing psychedelic undertones and ambient rock sketches to lend us the right amount of surreal beauty. Szabodelico allows us the escape from reality we all sorely are in need of. Causa Sui have proven they have many sonic tricks up their sleeve.
Number One : Portals : A Komische Journey Through Outer Worlds And Inner Space
No album connected to me on a visceral level like this Behind The Sky compilation did. A collection of several artists which included Steve Moore, Ian Boddy, Lisa Bella Donna, Polypores, Steve Roach, Listening Center, Johnny Woods, and so many more, that locked into classic deep space drifts, mind melds, and 70s shag carpet basement tokes. Each artist commits to the mood set by Eric Adrian Lee’s amazing album art(though I’m sure their songs came first, which only solidifies Lee’s genius status as one of the best album cover designers working today) and as a whole Portals doesn’t feel like a compilation more than it feels like an artistic collective working together to give us the listener a true music experience. Not since something like Holodeck Records’ Holodeck : Vision One has a compilation felt so universal and complete. The space-y, Komische-heavy vibe stands throughout the double LP, giving one the feel of a hazy, summer day chill out in the mid-70s. Basement cool, lumpy couch refinement, and turntable adventures as modular synths take us out of our Midwestern boredom into the cozy deprivation of THC contemplation. Portals : A Komische Journey Through Outer Worlds And Inner Space was the magic carpet ride I so desperately needed this year.
Thanks for coming along on this album recap with me. Hopefully you discovered an album you weren’t aware of and are going to go digging into it further. If you were mentioned at all this week, again, thank you. Your music meant something to me this year. And even if I didn’t mention you, chances are I just didn’t get to spend enough time with your album. There’s plenty of records I need to get caught up on so I’m sure I’ll be posting about more albums. It’s what I do.
Okay, see you next week.