2020 Albums of the Year; 30–21.
30. Good Tiger — Raised In a Doomsday Cult
This record reminds me a lot of the awakening of bands that came about right after The Mars Volta’s emergence. Lots of prog roots, that high pitched voice that floated across the music like a will o’ the wisp across music ranging from eccentric and wild to bossa nova percussion and more latin influenced music. This record brings to mind a lot of that energy, something I haven’t heard executed as often or as well over the last several years. Between Good Tiger and Nova Charisma, I can see a push of this sound coming back and this record is such a good place to begin to represent the resurrection. These songs grow from whispers to hurricanes and Elliot Coleman’s voice is capable of selling both sizes with expertise. Performing these songs expect full commitment, full dedication and belief in the style and sound. The sound is so dialed in, produced to a perfect degree, each pop and swell set into its proper place. So smooth.
Check Out: Whatever Happened to Man’s Best Friend
29. Hot Mulligan — you’ll be fine
Sad Boy Screamin’
It’s been a long time since pop-punk really sat well in my wheelhouse. I have a lot of old favorites that define the genre for me, and every year as the younger guys (probably influenced by all of those classic records) come up, they make music that feels like I should be into it, but simply feels like repaving the same roads. It doesn’t feel ingenuine, but ultimately like I’ve seen it before. Then there are a few records that come along by some new alchemy or secret ingredient, are able to sell me on a concept that I have long written off. In 2018, it was The Story So Far’s Proper Dose. This year, Hot Mulligan came through with a gem in this record. Buried beneath the brash exterior of emotions pushed to the bring of screaming, some of these hooks on here on on a whole different level. So many times throughout these songs, I looked out into the middle of the room and said ‘are you serious?’ Great to see that some of that Warped Tour energy is still out there, and you can find way worse role models in the genre than these dudes.
Check Out: *Equip Sunglasses*
28. Khruangbin — Mordechai
I heard about this album through Twitter, from a post that the band was “coming back” with an album. The anticipation of the outlet was pretty high, and I hadn’t heard of them before so I was pretty pumped up for it. Initially, I think the songs sat in a comfortable background setting for me, settling into a calming mood that was delivering on the baseline of relaxing tunes. But the more I checked out the album, the deeper I dug into the groove and found something really special outside of the margins. The little sparkle and ephemera that’s found in between the main serving is really what gives this album a special feeling to it. The record grants a similar kind of mantra that listening to a well done jazz record can provide, giving you a passageway to a headspace that you might not allow yourself access to without finding a proper vibration. These songs place your hand on that spiritual keystone, elevating you to a different place. What’s most indulgent in this record is its timeless quality, its ability to remove itself from time’s corridor and revealing its spherical nature. This can be from anywhere and everywhere. Stare at it long enough and it becomes formless, increasing in potency across the duration.
Check Out: Time (You and I)
27. Cave People — Looking
My process, typically, throughout the year is to check out a new release (usually 2–5 a week) and pop them in an active list I have going that lists in order where I think a record will hit at the end of the year. Outside of a few highlights, I’ll typically only sit through an album once, file it away, and then come back to it around October to November and then write about it December. There was something special about this one that held a very distinct mood, a sadness that orbited it that I wanted to keep tapping into. One more hit. Just one little hit. I would start the record over again and again from the beginning, just to hear the slow deliberate notes, to hear Dave Tomaine’s dark-matter heavy vocal delivery. There is a catharsis in the hurt. The production on the guitars is impeccable, catching every burst and every longing pulse that rings out in some errant wailing note. I don’t want to say that this record sounds like Modest Mouse, but there is something about the way the vocals are delivered, spit out upon discovery, that has a very similar feeling about it. There are times when the lines seem to be coming out as if summoned out by a spirit or a serum, leaving his throat before he was truly ready to have them uttered. To add to the gutted feeling of sorrowful crooning, there are also notes of less Jesse Lacey, more Matt Berninger bassy voice which surrounds the medicine in a sort of molassic sweetness to help it all go down a little easier.
Check Out: Guilt
26. Covet — technicolor
Revisiting this record at the end of the year came at a particularly perfect time. It was the early morning after a wild row that involved the entire family, from the kid up to the grandmother. There were clear lines drawn, lots of silence to be had in the next coming days, and lots of misunderstandings, lashings out and overall tension in the mail. The opening track on this record is aptly titled ‘good morning’, and the lowly rising sound of it really set a tone for the way that I wanted my mind to feel about having to readdress and approach these coming days. There is a serenity there, lots of notes rolling out at once, but each of them with a home and a place in line. Everything was metered and placed in proper cadence with its surroundings. This entire record is a meditation on knowing when and where to utilize the ability of speed and organized cacophony and when to wield restraint and stem the tide with a less-is-more approach. This is thoughtful music, an album that helps sort out thoughts and priorities. It engaged me in the same concentrated space that it sounded like the artists themselves had to find to create it. While most of the songs are instrumental, the vocal touch on the few songs that include it is a welcome addition that never steals from the body of work, and feels like a necessary addition instead of an afterthought.
Check Out: Atreyu
25. Svalbard — When I Die, Will I Get Better?
Emotional Metalcore, By Degrees
I threw this one on without any thought of it having any range of emotional depth whatsoever. Based on the source and the album cover, I thought this was going to be straight metal, maybe a little over-the-top shredding. But man, when the doors open up on this one, there are far too many things to take in at once. There’s some of that Deafheaven level scrying guitars, walls of high range, high neck, high reverb tone. Some Life In Your Way barking and vocal delivery. And then half time paced bridges, followed by light and harmonious vocals? This album has a plan in place. It’s a full presentation. This reminds me of live shows in small standing room music halls where the band brings their own lights and smoke machine, and all the lights go out in the place and the crowd is sort of captivated, lost in the sense of size the band has created. It feels like a blindside. There are bigger things at work here for the band and I have a feeling that when they get together again to create a follow up record, be it next year or the year that follows, it will yield an enormous offering. Heavier when it gets heavy, spacier when it gets atmospheric. The band examines the absolutes of highs and lows in this effort, creating no boundaries for themselves and crafting music that suits their message updated in real time instead of trying to stay in character for 40 minutes. Some of the songs tend to run together a bit which makes it harder to consume as anything else than a full album as opposed to single songs from one to the next, though I think with the scale they’ve challenged themselves with, it makes perfect sense for this to be a good and long piece of work.
Check Out: Silent Restraint
24. Land of Talk — Indistinct Conversations
The Locket In The Drawer
For many of these other records, I can stand within the record and come out of it, like emerging from a telephone booth mid-conversation, letting the gallery know what I’m experiencing. Letting them know what I feel, what I’m hearing, why this is game worth hunting. Many times this practice is easy to me, intuiting intention, following red yarns, swelling with emotions that take the forms of familiars I merely need to introduce. But with this record, the quality of songwriting and baring of emotion is on a different plane. It feels like a connection with someone you weren’t attracted to. The chains of her music and my engagement of it seemed to be of one length but were merely missing the single link of this record. I feel like I’ve known it for a long time, or at least I’ve wanted the emotions expressed in such a way, in an album of songs of exactly this fanned out shape. There is not a summoning of a foreboding darkness, but certainly an admission of it. An icy solitude of the guitars that sit just at arms length from your ears, the eyes and guitar resting behind it, and circling. This is timeless music, a record you can revisit five years from now and still feel in the same way as the first time you heard it.
Check Out: Diaphanous
23. The Microphones — The Microphones In 2020
I am obsessed with the concept of Coffee Ideas, a term I’ve coined for any sort of wild hare that runs as fast out of your mind as you can catch it, just always out of reach unless you’ve deliberately sat down with immediacy and accomplished it. Or started it. These ideas often look back at us through a temporal mirror, always beckoning us to start it once the spirit is out of it, and our actual day has begun. They dare us to start it in some malfunctioning form of its infancy, some diluted and filtered result of the acorn which initially fell. This record feels so much like just that kind of thing, a creation that spun itself from its own genesis of creation and simply would not release its bearer, weighting Phil Elverum down with its need to be born. The nostalgia, the memory, the crystal clear recollection of memories and moments and talks and meetings he recounts is like reading an old letter found pressed between pages. A single forty five minute song that pools up like a body of water and whose vocal melodies swim within itself, an autonomous symbiotic relationship that comes out on the other side as some new stylish evolution. I can’t recommend this song/album without some kind of preface, but I do always recommend it. It feels like a film, like an audiobook, like a voice recorded diary. It feels both insane and brilliant. Charming in its banality. I love this like I love remembering the way friends’ homes used to look when times were better, the way that I love how I remember how memories of laughing or crying feels about something whose impact has never faded. This record always makes me feel like writing a letter.
Check Out: The Whole Thing Is One Track, Bro
22. Record Setter — I Owe You Nothing
That Ol’ Melodramatic Screamo Sound
I cannot specifically say what makes me come back to these records with such joy. I don’t think it’s been long enough to find a place for nostalgia there, but I do believe there is something about the screaming and wailing and ugly guitars that give me a sense that I have found something akin to home base. The manic tension building within a song structure, and then all things fade away in a single note singing out, like the guitarist just simply had to stop playing, the singer barely welping out a line or two, as if he absolutely could not continue singing at that pace, emotionally exhausted to the point of having to state his point instead of yelling it. I love it. The highs and lows of all of the greats have been this way, and when a band can come back and nail this signature sound, I am enthralled. They get me. And Record Setter sounds like they went back to 2005 and made this record to drop 15 years later. I love it. The ladder climbing style of the guitar bridges are back, the higher pitched singing vocals are in tact. This band utterly killed it.
Check Out: Sometimes
21. Clams Casino — Instrumental Relics
A Digital Bath
To be clear, this is a compilation. So the first thing to put out there is the fact that this album is not typically the type of thing I would put on an end of the year list. I struggled with it a little bit, knowing that this isn’t 2020 music. But I don’t believe that these feel like a Greatest Hits collection or anything, but rather a compilation of tracks that weren’t previously available together as part of his work. If I’m wrong — oops. I typically don’t go to instrumental electronic music. There’s something soulless about it, something that feels like the dirty work is performed by The Machine, and while the ideas and inputs are all human, a lot of it is like giving credit to the drunk uncle who lights the firework for the explosion’s captivating beauty. I can always be proven wrong though, and of course, I welcome it. On this album, there are beats and soundscapes that feel extracted in gossamer threads from Casino’s most unraveled places in his cortex. They are silky and ethereal, a massive sound board that sounds like it stretches deep and dark like the ocean. Hearing these beats grants a feeling that I imagine the awakening of some internal thought-ember that sparks when people first discover the ASMR of Lo-Fi Study Playlists. It’s nurturing, it’s invigorating. There’s a detachment it grants that doesn’t come from standard music-listening experiences. It feels natural, like this is what the world would sound like if we were the only living thing in it.
Check Out: I’m the Devil