2020 Albums of the Year; Honorable Mentions

And now, all of the records that were right there. The ones that didn’t quite make it, the ones that were there at one point that got jostled around. One thing that’s as interesting this year as it was last year is that there are some albums that were ones I wanted to mention in afterthoughts and ended up heading up into the top twenty of the year. Thanks for hanging out and checking out some new music with me. Looking forward to 2021 and what may come.

Dance Gavin Dance — Afterburner
I’m Going to the Mall, Mom

While revisiting this album and trying to determine how I felt about it and where to place it on an end of the year list, I started to contemplate whether it was worth putting on one at all. On one hand, the wildly high vocals were pretty cool and the way that the band orchestrates pretty complex rhythms and effects was interesting. In theory, it had lots of things that bands I typically choose to listen to employ. However, in my mind so many of the things I felt about it had negative connotations. Sounds were too formulaic, vocals were too clean. I came to the conclusion that a lot of this record has the feeling of a brand new Hot Topic opening in The Upper Class Mall, a record that had no flaws but also no sense of creative blood, specks of saliva, depth of effort. It all felt like it was built within a safe environment with a board of executives in mind or a braintrust that had a sense of what made “Alternative Heavy Music” what it was in the mainstream. The record itself sounds like a poster on the teenage girl’s wall in the Netflix show you watch. That being said, these songs are pretty good and I found myself enjoying elements of it, even if it was in some ironic sense of the term. Is this style, or at least this record, the same kind of thing as a reimagining of “The Scene” that initially spawned it?

Check Out: Prisoner

Sevendust — Blood & Stone
Southside Double Wide

I don’t know what else there is to say about a Sevendust album other than the fact that it sounds like these guys are more than comfortable in their skin. Their first two records were phenomenal, and they had a huge hit with Angel’s Son which gave them a second boost, especially in the mainstream. This record sounds similar to everything that came after that with very safe hooks and dynamics, but still seem like they are right on the cusp of busting out some chunky, heavy riffs. When I heard this album on day one, I was stunned at how much I was enjoying it, but when I sent it to a friend who is FAR more in this numetal pocket than I am, he claimed that ‘the majority of this album blows’. Amazing. I’m not saying that this is one that’s going to stay in steady rotation, but I definitely want to give props to a band who has been doing it for decades and is still managing a fairly steady pace. Maybe it wasn’t as great as it was when I had expected less out of them, but after a couple of listens, I still think it’s a very good album to come from them.

Check Out: Dying to Live

STRFKR — Future Past Life
That Wave Sound

In a post-Tame Impala world, it’s tough to really find ways to make this style of music sound unique. That being said, there are enough dreamy echoes to be heard through the phase wall on this record to make it worth a quick listen, even if it’s only a background excursion into a light indie rock record until Kevin Parker wants to release a painstakingly intricately produced collection of tracks.

Check Out: Second Hand

Chamber — Cost of Sacrifice

Look, man. I ain’t got nothing for you on this one. If you want to hear some breakdowns accompanied by some very throwback style movie/television dialog samples, this is the record for you. There is no nuance, no interesting new accomplishments. This one is just brutally heavy, it does this particular style very well, and was such a joy to be introduced to on release day and coming back to it is such a blast. Stay out of the way of this one if you don’t want roaring, horror chords, double bass or the unironic numetal/metalcore mainstay sound. This is just a dumbest greatest, such a throwback to this being the only type of music I was constantly hungry for, and there are still times when I want to be pushed to the ugliest and most violent places. This is my ticket.

Check Out: Paranoia Bleeds

Conway the Machine — From King to a GOD
Authentic Product

This album is dirty, ugly and violent. I got put onto Conway by way of a freestyle he’d done on Sirius and utterly floored me. Checking in on this record, there is no shortage of war stories from the street, personal stories from the corner and the ambition of a man who has everything counted against him and continues to crawl forward with nothing on his mind but victory. There’s a bleak spirit all about these songs, eyes on all corners of the room and a constant head on swivel keeping eyes on what may be coming from behind. It’s such a bent perspective when so many of the albums I listen to get me to peer into different internal and external dimensions, and this record finds a way to shape gravity to this earth, to this reality and to the genuine existence that we live in. This doesn’t feel like a game anymore, this doesn’t feel like entertainment. This feels like storytelling, like leaving an enduring legacy of what goes on in the grimiest and most lethal of circumstances.

Check Out: Dough & Damani

Ellis — Born Again

There’s something about the overall sound of Ellis that has me by the ribcage. There’s an ethereal, staring-at-the-ceiling kind of monotony about it that drones on in a hazed out kind of way. Not a ton of movement and not a lot of valleys to separate it from the peaks, but there’s enough of a sound and mood employed that I really like. It’s dreary in a way that’s just composed enough to take seriously.

Check Out: Fall Apart

Varsity — Fine Forever
Torn Between Worlds

This record falls somewhere between a throwback 70s Fleetwood Mac style rock outfit and modern day Jenny Lewis hook-laden work. It excels in taking highlights from both of those pockets and putting some extraordinarily catchy tracks across the entire run of the album. From the opener to the closer, each of the songs stands out in remarkable fashion. There’s a timeless mood that pervades the album, an entire 40 minutes that passes in an instant.

Check Out: Runaway

Gleemer — Down Through
Dejected Moderna

This is a record with a journal writing voice floating throughout it. There’s introspection and observation rolling along as if on a steady track through the band’s hometown. We can feel their basement to their small apartment to their cars to their practice space. We can see the faces of the people they collide with at every local show and bump into where they buy coffee and records. This is so close to falling into the chasm that I love to feel sad with, alongside bands like Balance and Composure, bands like Citizen. It’s so earnest that there’s a fear it won’t feel genuine in two years, exactly like every page I’ve ever filled on every moleskine I’ve carried with me for a decade. This genre is a sound that I find much comfort in, and Gleemer knows exactly how to pluck the right harp string.

Check Out: Brush Back

Disheveled Cuss — Disheveled Cuss
A Summer Missed

This is a great little rock record. There are elements of early Weezer in there, that smoothed out grunge sound focusing a lot on full-bodied guitar chords and vapor wafting vocals. This feels like a hazed out drive to the beach with no eye on tomorrow, just the heat of the day and a good time in order. It’s the restraint, the way that it’s produced that makes these songs sound so distinct. There’s a black and white Ed McMahon Show kind of cellulose glossing over all of it. Something classic. The whole record has an ambience, something that sounds great to listen to front to back.

Check Out: Oh My God

Poliça — When We Stay Alive
Desolation Hymns

I haven’t been moved by a traditional Poliça record since their first, Give You the Ghost, in 2012, one that brought me out to see them live many times. There was a hypnosis there, like watching a psychic unity between an entire group of musicians. It’s those initial impressions I had of them that keeps me coming back, even if I can’t feel the same about the records in between then and now, I can feel that something is coming back. This record has a completely different sentiment than their first, but there’s an energy there that feels similarly aligned. The songs are less groovy, have less ways to move your feet along with them. Along the way, it feels like you can sink away into these songs, an experience that for me rarely occurs on records with vocals. The backgrounds hum and bubble with round synths and crackling drums, laying organic and natural beds for Channy Leaneagh’s vocals to soar and drift across them. There’s a solitude amidst these songs, something that feels counterintuitive to the thriving bond that brought me to the band initially. The album, front to back feels like an experience to engage in alone with some headphones in a comfortable place to disappear.

Check Out: TATA

Stand Atlantic — Pink Elephant
Big Energy

What a great band. These songs feel written and primed, ready to open up arena tours (if they ever come back) for a pretty broad spectrum of bands. I could see them make sense before Fall Out Boy, Paramore, or Pvris, each of them resonating well with their respective (and venn diagrammed) fanbases. Big and catchy pop-punk sound with high energy and fantastic production run throughout the record. I think there’s a bit of a lack of really big power moments for the vocals to really create a more defining identity but each of these tracks is easy to put on and a hell of a way to get a fire burning under your ass. Their songs sound enormous in a way that only big belief and dedication to the sound can convey. Never would have come across the band without a recommendation from a friend and I’m glad he passed it along!

Check Out: Like That

Wray — Stream of Youth/Blank World
Crystal Palaces

The album artwork on this record is so influential on how I see the vision that the music is meant to represent. And maybe that’s not what the entire purpose of the album cover here, or what album covers are meant to be in general. But in this case, it elevated these big synthy, groovy tracks from being heavily Cure inspired daydreams into something more ethereal and more fantastic. I see big landscapes stretching out into ice kingdoms. I feel the fog. The mist. Over time, this entire sound starts to blend into one another, creating one crystal mosaic that kaleiodscopes in and out of geometric shapes that reference and sequence with each other. It’s hard to find the meat of one song without comparing it to the flesh of another. But this one gets me into a mood, some cryogenic floating where time is spun and stretched into a hatched nest and we can get tangled in it and pick it apart. Everything seems to slow down here, just enough to examine the nucleus.

Check Out: Nebulous

Ether Coven — Everything Is Temporary Except Suffering
Serpents and the Death of Artax

A couple of things to open up with: ONE, the album title is incredible. It’s stuck in the melodramatic era of “scene” screamo and hardcore music that absolutely romanticized hopelessness, like the scrawlings on the cover of a seventh period notebook. TWO, I think the intro to this album could be soundtrack music to a scene from Red Dead Redemption. But once the momentum begins, we get a totally different vision of what this band is attempting here. It is dense and devout and solemn. I think the best way to define what this sounds like is if Remembering Never was stoner metal instead of feasting on a steady diet of breakdowns. Songs don’t convey an impact with immediacy, but rather writhe and groan like long rusted machinery waking with sentience and misery. There are long wandering stretches of austere riffing and casting eyes across deserted wastelands without a sense of solace. While records like this can often be described simply as “heavy”, there’s a little bit more here beyond just the tone of the guitars and the momentum of the guitars. There’s a weight to be carried along, trodden through and slagged across the mire. This is just a total bummer of a record, but one that will remind you again and again of any shit time you’re having, blowing on any ember of depression you were waiting to let die.

Check Out: Unravel

Knwledge — 10,000 Proof
Beat Wizardry

This little piece really flies by in under 30 minutes but explores a lot of space within. The way that the interludes swing you from one track to the next with organic interactions between what sounds like some of Knwledge’s crew makes the whole disc feel like a singular experience. Some of the tracks are simple instrumentals, ranging from treads on hallowed ground to more traditional subway ride anthems. I love the way that this feels like such an urgent record, one that had to be composed and released as it bubbled out of his mind. The tracks are direct and divided. While the tracks all have their own essence to them, there’s something about the voice of the beats themselves that has them all feeling like they’re part of the same episode, part of the same session. You can feel the movement he was on as he composed these songs and I think that sense of encapsulation really adds to the ability to descend into the zone of this one.

Check Out: dangerous[inst]

Anna Burch — If You’re Dreaming

It may come as a bit of an overstatement to say that this sounds like a solo record from Dolores O’Riordan. There is something about the range of Burch’s chosen notes and the ways that she holds them out that remind me of the Cranberries. With such stripped down melodies, there is a spotlight factor to her songs. They are messages, rolled up little parchments on bottles that float across a calm ocean with dear hopes that they’ll find their target. The record is at times overwhelmingly pointed at loves and friends and those she misses steeping me in feelings that I’m going too far into someone’s heart, someone’s stolen glance. A beautiful collection of songs.

Check Out: Ask Me To

Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher
Those Telephone Calls You’ve Missed

I really like this album. There’s a lot of talk about it throughout the year that built its legacy and I in no way believe that it will be temporary. It’s a portal into open honesty, bare emotion, and spitefully painful sad anecdotes. It took me several listens to get to the point where I found the kernel of what makes this record special, and most of that is because I am 90% lyric deaf and don’t hone in too much on what’s being said, moreso how it’s being delivered. This is one of those albums that drags you in a sentence at a time in its conversational storytelling, and that’s exactly how it got me to a place where I could follow it. I needed to take a moment at a time and hear Phoebe’s words and less the shape of them. This is some devastating stuff, a record I don’t think I could listen to a ton. But when I want to remind myself that there are valuable, important emotions to feel, this is one of the records to access. It’ll break you open. It’ll break you out.

Check Out: Kyoto



I Consume.

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