2020 Albums of the Year; 20–11.

20. Beach Bunny — Honeymoon
A Light In the Dark

I’ve got to say that I am absolutely guilty of taking most of my musical choices far too seriously. I want to find a record I love and sit with it and pore over all of the details and come out on the other side 50 minutes later with some new feeling I’ve discovered like some infant feeling like they’re the only one to feel joy or contemplation. I hear the final note and feel like I have discovered a new frequency in a spectrum that reflects new color. This record is not that type of record. This one is a blast. While lyrically, the content is lonely and filed with unrequited desire and the sense of being ignored, the music itself is bright and easy. Coming into the next few months, I plan on revisiting many of my favorite records from years past more readily, taking on fun listens for enjoyment way more than diving deep into the crates to discover new bands and records and staying on top of everything simply to fuel the self-perceived scholarly fire. And there is no easier record from 2020 to throw on to simply bop along with than this one right here. The yellow album cover with purples and pinks and greens that highlight it, the girl with the rollerskates, this is exactly the overarching feeling that this album gives. This album is hot weather, messy windshields and boardwalks. It feels like what Mia Wallace listened to when she was a teenager.

Check Out: Ms. California

19. Run the Jewels — RTJ4
Masters at Work

Coming from a rock background, most of the elements of songs that stand out to me the most are parts. Breakdowns, choruses, riffs, hooks, whatever it is. A lot of hip-hop stands out to me via the beats that producers throw together and sadly for me it’s less about the actual lyricism for me than it is about the style in which the MC flows over the track. I think that leaves me out of so many conversations about Top 5 Dead or Alive, etc. Maybe I’m missing the point. But when I don’t live within the culture and a lot of the clout that’s put out there is about activities and lifestyles I can’t relate to (and sometimes think is big time stupid), it’s easier for me to let that stuff fall to the background and just enjoy the music for what it is. That being said, the more I listen to this RTJ record, the more parts I find, the more relatable takes I’ll experience, and the more the entire composition stands out to me as a big record. Some of these beats are timeless, songs that have elements that make me pause and cock my head sideways like “did that just happen?” Strong example: at 1:47 on ‘holy calamafuck’, when the whole track turns on its head and goes half speed and El-P gets some time to shine in some kind of middle dimension? There are so many singular moments like that which set the record apart from so many modern rap records coming out now. These guys are vets, masters of the craft who are not only filling books with rhymes and itching to get them out, but they have a vision and they want nothing less than to go enormous. There are rarely records that come around that make you smarter by sitting through them a couple times, and while I mentioned that lyrics aren’t really my focus most of the time with enough time spent on this one, slowly I’m getting history lessons, economics courses, sociology insights. It crept in over a few spins, but now these are the messages that I’m proud to be enlightened by. This one yet another record that was good as a background listen, but got even better when it was louder or on headphones.

Check Out: goonies vs. E.T.

18. Deftones — Ohms
Affirmation

I love that even when an album from The Deftones doesn’t “meet expectations” or stand too high within their pantheon to me, it still wrecks so many other records that I’ve heard around it. The biggest thing that I have tried to focus on in the multiple listens is the commitment from Steph that he is putting forth more effort than he did on Gore. And it wasn’t until this year that I went back and revisited their library that I noticed how much that previous record lacked in terms of heart and soul. The big banner for this one seemed to be the core members of Deftones coming back together and spending time together, making music that they all believed in. If nothing else, I love that sentiment. I love growing with this band, and watching them evolve and proceed across a timeline like some kind of ancient civilization or amorphous empire. There have been so many faces that the band has worn, all of them familiar and yet each of them capable of different precipitation and climate. TWENTY FIVE YEARS after their first full length dropped, they still manage to come out with a record that is innovative, one that is representative of themselves while still taking steps forward. Not a single one of their records feels like it simply should not have happened, not one of them feels like it could have been skipped or misrepresented them. They all feel indicative of a time and place in their life as a band. This album is thick with Chino utilizing falsettos and layers and harmonies, focusing far more on his more tranquil influences than the vitriol which stirred his earlier output. The way that dense and erratic heavy parts break apart like waves and transfer to the realm of possessed and diaphanous backscatter is the kind of transformation that only Deftones can make sound natural, and there is at least one moment of style piercing metamorphosis in each track on the record. This is a banger, one that feels more like a brief coffee with an old friend who’s been gone for ages as opposed to an annual reunion, but a sense of homecoming in either sense. Glad that this one has come out and hoping that these boys make a come back for a tenth record. Deftones Forever.

Check Out: Genesis

17. Bambara — Stray
Wet Amber Asphalt

Like a novel, like an arthouse film, like an episode of Twin Peaks, I was far off base about how I felt about this record the first time I heard it. I think at the time, I had it on the counter of my store listening to it as a background piece to the retail in-between. I was able to catch elements of it, single lines here and there, and I wasn’t really getting it. The exact reason for this is because listening to this particular record in that environment is like trying to breathe underwater. The membranes don’t work that way. This record feels like a film to me. It feels like a high sheen, low light southern gothic acid trip ketamine hole. There are characters, there are settings, there are entire scenes and stretches of dialog. Even while the music jangles along with the guitars trilling and bending in the background, I feel the long stretches of silence. This feels like a Bret Easton Ellis novella directed by Tom Ford. So yeah: the way I was listening to it, all background and detached was wrong. I don’t think I would be able to listen to this record the same way if it hadn’t haunted me for days. I don’t think I would be writing about it right now if I hadn’t taken another look at the record’s cover and thought about the way the sound was closer to a painting of a jukebox than the sound that would come out of it. I came back to this record one time late at night at home and really found that it had a home within me, kept close like a secret. I came back to this record again with the lights down low and a pen and some paper and found that it lit a fire within me, running slow like a wick burning wet into wax. I think this record will be an annual revisit, something you can obsess over the way I did when ‘De-Loused In the Comatorium’ first dropped, or the way that I needed to feel the high that ‘You Won’t Get What You Want’ made me feel as it allowed a wretched vine to rot within me. Unforgettable sound.

Check Out: Stay Cruel

16. Deantoni Parks — Silver Cord
Cerebral Vortex

What an experience. I saw a few write-ups about this record and couldn’t really place what it was they were talking about. I also didn’t understand how an album from a drummer could be… what this ends up being. But after my first listen, I had to start sharing with friends. And now even doing a little bit more research before putting some words to paper, I now know he worked with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (and the Mars Volta briefly) and a lot of his body of work makes far more sense. This is an electronic album made by a person behind a drum kit. The big soundscapes that he creates encircle him in an entire environment which he plays his kit so intricately, so quickly and poetically, it’s as if he’s navigating a vehicle on a brand new planet on each track. One hundred percent, this record is best enjoyed on headphones. While listening to this one, I found myself doing a good amount of head nodding and enjoying some of the beats and some of the songs in their presented form, but there were also long stretches of music where I could not help but mentally create visual accompaniments to the trips that some of these songs take you down.Some of it feels like industrial chanting, machine humming, atmospheric trembling. I love this record. A perfect instrumental meditation. The track titles are incredible as well: TEARS IN RAIN, HOLODISK REPAIR, HEATSHIELD, OUTRANSIENT? Dope.

Check Out: Tears In Rain I

15. The Acacia Strain — Slow Decay
Sludge

I love that this record begins sounding in some way like trying to start up a terrible machine that simply won’t catch. And when it finally does it never ends. It is driven and pistoning forever and ever. No mistake should be made: this band isn’t out to write a song that you love, or to orchestrate a composition that they want you to dissect and come across some esoteric phenomena. Double bass drill into your jaw, crippled guitar tones chug in the distance as the words “It Feels Like Hell” growl again and again. Take this on your tongue like a pitch black square then sizzle and descend into the awful vision. This is a single flavored trip. You will know how you feel about this album within 90 seconds. This feels like a record that came out at a time of a very different culture which I’m not even sure exists in its purest form. A time of “mosh crews” and headbands and basketball shorts. Heavy for the sake of being heavy. One of my favorite things about these songs is thinking of sharing these with friends who love heavy parts and breakdowns and anticipating their reaction. This is truly just dummy shit, stuff I make a grotesque mean face to while listening to just to absolutely get blown back. Like watching nuclear launch test videos on YouTube.

Check Out: Solace and Serenity

14. Envy — The Fallen Crimson
The Waxing Phases

The beginning of this record starts like any other epic aggressive record might, similar to a Mastodon album, with big riffs and repetitive chunks and a roaring vocal line above it. The spoken lyrics set in over time and start to set it apart as something else entirely. And as the record progresses over hour, we’re taken on such a sonic journey that we feel as if we’ve been on an emotional gravitron. And even if you are a lyrics person, unless you are fluent in japanese, you’re going to have to do some research, or just let the raw human emotion speak to you in the universal communication of raw yearning, and desperate screaming. The band has been around for quite some time, and I believe the first whispers I had of them was when they toured with Thursday. I don’t think I really understood them back then, and as my music taste has grown and diversified, it’s started to more fully understand the artistic tilt that this band goes for. There are bands that take things further, that go far more into your guts, but this performance is no less extreme. There’s a dedication to the craft that borders somewhere around the immensity of Explosions in the Sky and intricacy of Mogwai. We’re talking big. Cinematic. The dynamics of how aggressive and how delicate the band goes really establishes how far they’re willing to go to cement their vision. These landscapes and the tools with which to destroy them.

Check Out: Dawn and Gaze

13. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou — May Our Chambers Be Full
Wicked Vision

Rundle seems to speak the language of the void. She has a connection to something darker, something more evil than offensive sins, more in line with the long term groaning of the cosmic turn of the galactic wheel. She returns this time with some of the most versatile artists in the dark music sphere with Thou backing her up like an aural army cloaked in the banners they’ve desecrated. The low vibrations on this record are simmering and occult introspections, but the record glows to me when it is tearing into the heavy and lucid parts with screams and manically drudging guitars whipping the murk. There’s a cauldron of broiling wickedness and wrong that gets stirred as the album soars with towering instrumentation alongside the powerful certainty of her vocals and the scrying vocal tears of Bryan Funck. It’s hard to pick a singular song to listen to in order to convey the sense of this record, as most of it sits together as an experience, each track setting the tone for the next, a pillar in a temple, a side of an obelisk. The weight is palpable, even when the corner turns and the musicians offer a moment of respite, you can find the suspense of the return of something darker.

Check Out: Killing Floor

12. Freddie Gibbs — Alfredo
The Smoothest

Alchemist has always been able to create settings with his beats. It feels like he procedurally generates a background ambience, main streets, side streets, alleyways, characters, store fronts. Some MCs can jump on his beats and populate the spot with a voice. Some get lost in the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood. On Alfredo, Freddie Gibbs reigns supreme as king of these streets. The same way that Tarantino rebuilt an entire era in Jackie Brown, the way that you can feel the commercials on TV and smell the leather in the cars, Alchemist and Gibbs have shaped and manifested a palpable theme, a full timeline that you can weave in and out of. This doesn’t feel like street corners and porches but instead the cars that the deals take place in, the burners that conversations buzz across. If Conway’s record this year was Juice, Alfredo is The Wire. This record qualifies on so many levels. This can be top tier background record to ride to, to get your mind loose to, to put something up in the air. This is high quality lyricism, illustrating narratives that aren’t only about the hard days but the hard times, not only about the cold crimes but the cold days on which you commit them. The production is pristine. Vocals mix at a level that raise and lower in intriguing ways, showing spotlights at appropriate times. The beats are good enough that I want to buy the record on instrumental as well. I am not in the committee to ever discuss “Top Five Dead Or Alive” rappers with. Shit, I barely deserve to watch the YouTube video and simply listen in. But this, for me, is gonna go down as an all-time hip-hop record. If this is the mood I’m looking for, if this is the genre I’m in search of… Alfredo is gonna be one of the records I pull out and it will have barely collected a mote of dust.

Check Out: Look At Me

11. Mint Field — Sentimiento Mundial
Phantom Weight

This record reminds me of some of my favorite parts of Blonde Redhead songs. The vocals are delicate and ethereal, creeping along the hallways like a ghost in a labyrinth. The songs have a dreamlike quality about them, drifting in and out of spatial reality. There are moments that feel like ticking clocks abandoned in darkened apartments followed by phases of turbulence and assertion. Each song has at least one moment within it that delivers a central nucleus which has its focus stolen by the ephemera that rests along the outskirts of it. I love the shifts on this record from gentle strumming and plucking guitars that suddenly click into a distorted shoegaze-lite atmosphere. Lastly, something that adds to the otherworldly tones of this record is the fact that the lyrics of this record are entirely in Spanish. Yet another divider between reality and another place.

Check Out: Delicadeza

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