Monday, December 7, 2020

My Top Ten Albums of 2020

 While the world around us went to Hell, I used a constant influx of awesome music to stay sane. There were A LOT of great records this year, here are my favorite ten.

Manuel Gagneux has proven he's not going anywhere, and on Wake of a Nation - an EP with a more robust run-time than some albums - he's begun to shift his work from clever Alt-History to a poignant contemplation on current global events to chilling, heart-pound results.

I've never cared too much about RTJ's other albums - none of it's bad, but none of it is irreplaceable to me - but THIS! Partially because of when it dropped, partially because of how it dropped, partially because they refuse to participate in all the Hip Hop tropes that make me skeptical of the genre, and especially because it's just that good. Killer Mike and El-P can both rhyme like madmen - a lost art if you do a quick who's who of the 'name brands' of rap at the moment - and on top of it, they can actually do so eloquently on pretty much every urgent topic of the day.

Two years ago, when I fell in love with Ms. Rundle's music, it never would have dawned on me how well it would mesh with Thou's. Imagine my pleasant surprise then when the first track from this album dropped. To Thou is one of those "Beautifully brutal" bands that transcend any genre or classification for me, and something about their stoic sonic textures meshes perfectly with Emma Ruth Rundle's dark, contemplative musings.
The most 'balls out' record I heard this year. Infinitely repeatable and perfectly balanced between hooking you and punching you in the goddamn face.

I can't even believe the range on display here. One might have thought Greg Puciato's first solo record would have come out sounding a bit like Black Queen and DEP in a blender.

One would be perfectly incorrect. This is... an evolution not many metal frontmen could ever pull off. I remember the days when I could see Mike Patton's influence on Greg Puciato. Now I only see his own personal creative resilience. 

Recontextualizing so many different sounds from Heavy Music's last twenty-five years: I hear Alice in Chains, I hear Fear Factory, I hear Bungle, I hear Slipknot. Only, that's not all I hear. I also hear a template for a band that sounds like none of those things exactly and nothing like anything I've heard before. And I want more.

The first Bungle album in twenty years is a redux of their demo - which I never gave a shit about listening to even at my most rabid Bungle fan stage - and it's being re-worked and performed with Thrash Icons Dave Lombardo and Scott Ian? There was simply no way this one didn't make it onto the list. Also the best concert of the year, although of course, there haven't been any concerts since about three weeks after I saw them, so that may be slightly skewed.

This band reminds me so much of the kind of bands I couldn't get enough of in the late 90s. I loved the first Exhalants record, then they went and deepened their sound into this and I had to do a double-take. These guys are for fucking real and I will follow them to the ends of the Earth. Which, incidentally, might not be that long to follow them for, but still. 

Another band that just can't do anything wrong. The Deftones continue to push the edges of their sound in unexpected directions, and while there's no mistaking this for anything but a Deftones record, ain't nothing wrong with that at all.

And actually, as my friend Jacob pointed out, there is at least one passage that could easily lead one to believe the tracks had unexpectedly rotated over to a Vangelis song.

I guess I needed some beauty in my life this year, and Fleet Foxes Shore definitely qualifies as the most beautiful new album I heard in 2020. 

It was a weird year, and some of these records I didn't even listen to as much as you would think for them to make such an impression on me. But I've begun spending a good deal of time on narrative podcasts and audiobooks, as well as a fixation on a lot of music that predates 2020. Maybe then, the less-listened to entries on this list won their spot by making such a large impression in so few listens? 

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