Staying close to home, I listened to a lot of music in 2020. This list comprises my twenty-favorite albums released this year. I hope you find something to love!
01. Bob Dylan — Rough & Rowdy Ways (Columbia)
Note: Dylan’s six-decade career and back catalogue speak for themselves. If you are not familiar with his music, “Blood On The Tracks”, “Desire”, “Slow Train Coming”, and “Infidels” are some of my favorite titles among his infinite list of classic records. This new album features a master lyricist at the height of his powers and a band stocked with best-in-the-business musicians.
RIYL: Bob Dylan
Link: Pitchfork Review
02. Angelica Garcia — Cha Cha Palace (Spacebomb Records)
Note: A brilliant album of hybrid-rock featuring dynamic vocals, a wide range of genres, and first class production. Cha Cha Palace is a latin infused melting-pot-of-music that seamlessly blends full-on-rockers, with ballads, and Reggaeton beats. Garcia’s energy, her introspective songwriting, and this album’s unapologetic fusion of styles made this one of my favorite releases of 2020.
Link: NPR Tiny Desk Concert
03. Rose City Band — Summerlong (Thrill Jockey Records)
Note: Ripley Johnson is in three bands that I listen to. Moon Duo plays psychedelic pop music. Wooden Shjips plays experimental drone rock. Rose City Band is classic country with a modern sheen, tasty guitar licks, and lush melodies. While each of these bands is different, Johnson’s distinctive-melodic-guitar-style is the common thread that elevates each of these projects. Instruments including lap steel and mandolin enhance this album’s traditional country vibe.
Link: Summerlong on Bandcamp
04. Widowspeak — Plum (Captured Tracks)
Note: Guitar-driven-dream-pop with spare arrangements, beautiful melodies, and tuneful female vocals.
RIYL: Breezy dream pop, Fleetwood Mac circa “Bare Trees”
Link: Plum on Bandcamp
05. Floating Action — Outsider Art (PIAPTK)
Note: Floating Action (Seth Kaufman) is one of my favorite contemporary musicians. His dub influenced mountain music is both unique and consistently evolving. Kaufman’s in-demand status as both a touring and studio musician are signs that his historical efforts to keep a low profile may be coming to an end. When new fans discover his music, Floating Action’s significant and consistently excellent back catalog is going to bring a lot of new fans into the fold. The band’s show in August 2020, from the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC, was one of the highlights of my Covid-summer.
RIYL: Lo-fi blue-ridge-mountain rock, folk, and dub.
Link: Outsider Art on Bandcamp
06. Eyelids — Accidental Falls (Jealous Butcher Records)
Note: Eyelids play melodic rock with Beatlesque harmonies and lyrical guitars. They are what you may call an indie-rock super group. Band member’s resumes include stints with The Decemberists, The Minus 5, Stephen Malkmus & The Jiks, and Guided By Voices. Having Peter Buck of REM in the producer’s chair adds to the album’s indie-rock credentials.
RIYL: Teenage Fanclub
Link: Eyelids’ website
07. Country Westerns — Country Westerns (Fat Possum)
Note: This debut album from Country Westerns features guitar-bass-drums-Americana-rock-music with a side-order of dive bar grit. I have read reviews that compare their sound to ’90s band The Replacements. That analogy does not quite fit for me but I can see how someone could make that connection. The band ends this album with a cover of The Magnetic Field’s “Two Characters In Search Of A Country Song”. Nice!
08. Gia Margaret — Mia Gargaret (Orindal Records)
Note: Throughout 2020, when I needed to disconnect from the world outside, this 27-minute gem was one of my favorite places to go. These down-tempo soundscapes are achingly beautiful. The mixing of elements, including electronics, analog instruments, samples of spoken word, and sounds from nature, give this album an organic feel that transcends boundaries. The fact that this Chicago native has almost 400,000 monthly listeners on Spotify speaks to the fact that this record has found a significant audience.
Link: Mia Gargaret on Bandcamp
09. Household Gods — Palace Intrigue (Self-Released)
Note: The fact that four musicians went into the studio in January 2019 to record this album and that two of them passed away by the summer of 2020 is tragic. Both drummer/guitarist Lauren K. Newman and bassist Vern Ramsey (previously of 90’s band Unwound) are no longer with us. That this album — which is the first for Household Gods — exists is truly a gift. It is clear that a lot of care and work went into this record’s production to make sure it was a worthy send-off to Newman — who passed before the album’s release. Mission accomplished! #rest-in-power #unwound- repetition
RIYL: Steve Fisk, Bob Weston, Unwound, David Pajo, Slint, Pullman
Link: Lauren K. Newman
Link: Vern Ramsey
10. Ann Margaret Hogan — Honeysuckle Burials (Downwards)
Note: Honeysuckle Burials by Ann Margaret Hogan is an absolutely stunning album of down-tempo instrumental piano ballads. I confess that I do not typically listen to instrumental piano music. With that caveat, I urge you not to sleep on this record. This is a really beautiful collection of songs.
RIYL: Beautiful music!
11. Las Kellies — Suck This Tangerine (Fire Records)
Note: Las Kellies are an Argentinian band that excels at creating a party-ready fusion of punk, funk, and dub. Their sound features angular guitars, in the pocket bass lines, propulsive percussion, and girl group vocals. The album has a vintage sound that hits all the right notes.
RIYL: ESG, Tom Tom Club
12. El Ten Eleven — Tautology (Joyful Noise Recordings)
Note: The album that is Tautology was originally released throughout the year as three separate and distinct releases. At the end of the year, the band and label packaged all three (I, II, III) into a single 21 track release comprising almost two hours of music. This project’s ambitious concept was to create three distinct albums — each influenced by one of three stages of life. Tautology I represents the exuberance of a teenager, Tautology II takes us through the more-measured phases of adulthood, and Tautology III is a contemplative reflection on the later stages of life. Created by a duo of Los Angeles based musicians, this instrumental album combines guitar, bass, fretless bass, sampling, heavy looping, effects pedals, and both acoustic and electric drumming.
Link: Tautology on Soundcloud
13. Sunwatchers — Oh Yeah? (Trouble In Mind Records)
Note: Sunwatchers are a Brooklyn based band that plays instrumental experimental music. The band’s myriad influences include rhythms, melodies, and instrumentation from Ethiopian and Thai cultures as well as free jazz and punk rock. This unique fusion and the band’s obvious desire to innovate make this one of the most exciting bands of the year. Their show in Atlanta, at the end of February, was one of the last live shows I saw prior to the lockdown. It was truly a beautiful cacophony of sound. They also released a second album in 2020 titled “Brave Rats”. That album features a cover of Sonny Sharrock’s song “Blind Willie”.
RIYL: Experimental music. Ethnic free-jazz punk. Sonny Sharrock.
Link: Oh Yeah? on Bandcamp
14. Goodie Mob — Survival Kit (Goodie Mob Worldwide)
Note: The original members of Goodie Mob reformed in 2020 and released my favorite Atlanta-rap record of the year. In an age where hip-hop albums are often bloated with everyone-and-their-cousin getting a verse, this album features only three guest appearances. That the three are Chuck-D, Big-Boi, and Andre 3000 speaks to the fact that Goodie Mob chose quality over quantity. Each of those appearances are memorable and among the album’s best tracks. Fortunately, the rest of the album is left to the members of Goodie Mob with beats and production by Organized Noize. Welcome back:-)
RIYL: Old-School-Atlanta-Hip-Hop, Outkast, Organized Noize
Link: Goodie Mob on Instagram
15. Lawn — Johnny (Muscle Beach Records)
Note: I do not know much about Lawn but I like their back story. One guy from Nashville and another from Venezuela move to New Orleans, find a drummer and start a band. The best thing about this record is its lack of pretension. It is honest guitar-bass-drums-indie-rock without a lot of gloss.
RIYL: The Clean, Flying Nun Records, Alt-Rock
Link: Johnny on Bandcamp
16. Coriky — Coriky (Dischord)
Note: Anyone who has listened to the seminal punk band Fugazi will instantly recognize the voices of Ian MacKaye and Joe Lally of Coriky. The guitarist and bassist make up 2/3 of both bands and this new project, with Amy Farina on drums, does not fall too far from the Dischord tree. This is contemporary-punk played by celebrated OG’s of the east- coast punk scene.
RIYL: Fugazi, The Evens, Dischord Records
Link: Coriky on Bandcamp
17. Felt — Felt 4 U (Rhymsayers Entertainment)
Note: This throwback-rap album ends up being my favorite hip-hop album of the year. I guess that should not come as a surprise. Rhymsayers Entertainment, based in Minneapolis, has put our some consistently great music over the years and all three contributors from this project (Murs and Slug on the mic with production by Ant of Atmosphere) have a celebrated history with the label. This is the forth release from Felt but the first in eleven years.
RIYL: Old school rap. Murs. Slug. Ant. Atmosphere. Rhymsayers Entertainment. Dope rhymes, beats and production.
Link: 4U on Bandcamp
18. Los Compleaños — Aqua EP (Self-Released)
Note: Brooklyn’s Los Compleaños blend South American and Caribbean rhythms with electronic beats, analog percussion, and horns to produce a unique latin-fusion.
Link: Aqua EP on Bandcamp
19. Budos Band — Long In The Tooth (Daptone Records)
Note: I would file Budos Band’s instrumental jams under “modern-big-band music”. The eight member group is based in Staten Island, New York. Their sound has elements of jazz, rock, afro-soul, and funk. This is the band’s fifth album in 20- years and it is clear from their collective output that they are more concerned with quality over quantity. The fact that “Long In The Tooth” was recorded in only 8-days is a testament to the fact that these guys know what they are doing. Their ability to capture a large band playing live-in-the-studio gives this album the dynamic energy of a concert.
20. X — Alphabetland (Fat Possum)
I have been a fan of the band X from the very first time I heard Exene Cervenka’s and John Doe’s voices in glorious harmony. In my opinion, their pairing as vocalists is one of the best in the annals of rock music. While the band has done plenty of touring in recent years, this is their first new studio album since 1987 and the first with all the original members in 35-years. I am happy to report they have not missed a beat. This record fits in nicely with the best of the band’s releases from the 1980’s. Sonically, the band is in fine tune and thankfully have done little to change or augment their sound. Why mess with something so sweet? Billy Zoom’s guitar licks are clean and tight and just about perfect. DJ Bonebreak continues to keep the beat. Lyrically, the band covers familiar ground but also demonstrates an effort to make this collection of songs topical and relevant. The album’s last song titled “All The Time In The World” clearly has the band contemplating the end of an incredible 40-plus year run.
RIYL: Old-School-Los-Angeles-Punk-Rock played by four of the originators of the genre.
Link : Alphabetland on Bandcamp
A mix by HipHopPunkRock, featuring one song each from the albums on this list, is available on Spotify.