This year’s music in 10,000 words or less.
Lana Del Rey, Cut Worms, Dawes, and Tim Heidecker ft. Weyes Blood & The Lemon Twigs will release new albums in the upcoming weeks, so I should probably give it a little more time. They will for sure be included in this list. But there is no point in waiting if I can do it again.
Considering what music has given me this year, it would not do justice to just rank it using numbers. These tiers show how I interpret these albums/EPs and how they made me feel.
good, enjoyable and listenable.
They lack impact outside of the superficial, but work nonetheless. Were probably not close to being my favorites, but did not find me complaining about anything relevant since they know what they are.
bombay bicycle club – everything else has gone wrong
rolling blackouts coastal fever – sideways to new italy
glass animals – dreamland
john legend – bigger love
good, could be better considering the source but that’s how it goes.
Given who these artists are, their albums should have been better. Some of them told us what we already know about their artistry and ended up being nothing but a masturbatory album. Others played it safe and did not reinvent the wheel in the slightest way possible. Frustrating, but still liked them.
tennis – swimmer
childish gambino – 3.15.20
Donald Glover actually believes he is Jesus Christ and when someone becomes that unstoppable, they tend to fly to close to the sun. It is Gambino’s Yeezus, but he is not Kanye.
tame impala – the slow rush
taylor swift – folklore
I do not get the hype around this album whatsoever. We as a whole have become obsessed with whatever Taylor Swift does or does not and folklore proves it. After spending the better part of a decade focusing more on trying to get us to buy her Target bundles rather than letting her music speak for itself, she departs from that mindset and delivers what could be her most honest work yet. As is always the case with Taylor Swift, the true intentions behind this album remain to be seen. In a twist of my infatuation with her, folklore made me reappreciate reputation. At least she tried something there. At least she thought outside of the box and it is something it took me almost three years to realize. Folklore is a great album for swifties, which has some merit somehow. She is not one of the world’s greatest songwriters (yet) and there is a long way for her to keep up with her Indie/Folk contemporaries. And yet, the cultural obsession remains. So making a great album for swifties but a mediocre one for people who have been familiar with folk rock for the last decade, still has its own artistic credit. She stopped being an artist a long time ago and instead turned into a brand for pure consumption. But folklore shows dashes of artistry behind it all, she still has it. But it is tough for me to lose my fucking mind over songs with overarching stories, a Bon Iver feature, chamber pop and songs about the weather when it has been done (and much better, by more talented songwriters) since Woody Guthrie picked up a guitar.
For someone who is often heralded as the songwriter of this generation, she did not even try to reinvent any sort of aspects from folk at all. It is a lazy, folk album that would be made fun of had it not been from Taylor Swift. Imagine if the next Fleet Foxes album sounds like this. They would turn into a fucking joke! I understand that this an album of coming back to your roots, of not letting outside influences take over, that she found herself after being lost for so long, and that is always what great music is about. But no less than a month after the release date, the whole Fontaines D.C. saga happens and it still has me wondering how true my previous sentence is. I am afraid she is still willing to lose herself again for the right price, to improve her brand and get a new belt to show off at award shows. All my music friends told me that I should be used to expecting an album so frustrating from Taylor Swift, that this is who she is and there is no reason for me to expect anything better. I do not know why I don’t agree with them yet. They are right in that there is no reason for me to expect nothing but masturbatory albums, she has not come in the clutch since Red. And yet, I am here writing this. As a member of capitalized words are uncool club, I do not welcome her. It is too late to join! If you do it now, you are doing it for the clout unless you are billie eilish.
But it still is a good album and gives me hope for the future. It seems that she has realized that regurgating the guts of the music industry will only do so much for your art.
And if I am writing 643 words about it, it obviously had a profound impact in me one way or another and only good music can do that to anyone. If I care this much is because I want Taylor Swift to artistically succeed. It is what we all deserve, herself included.
daniela spalla – puro teatro
lady gaga – chromatica
the chicks – gaslighter
I have never been a fan of the Dixie Chicks’ music, but they for sure have always been a recoking force of counter-culture inside country music. Proactively protesting against the Bush administration (even if they apologized after hurting their pockets) after 9/11 is not something that a lot of folk or hip-hop artists were doing back then. And doing it even today would be controversial. The most we would get is a tweet, ala Taylor Swift/Jason Isbell. Toby Keith was the only country artist that showed any support back then. And yet, they were still called the Dixie Chicks. The irony of changing their name as a band inside the most racist music genre and release an album called gaslighter is not lost on me. It is literally gaslighting us to believe that the fact that a band called Dixie Chicks existed and was widely popular is a thing of the past, that everything has been fixed. I cannot separe this from the album, as great as it is.
king krule – man alive!
These albums were not supposed to be great and they are, either by design or coincidence. They forced us to stop seing the greatness of their authors as a thing of the past. Some of them were even turning into nostalgia acts.
bright eyes – down in the weeds, where the world once was
the killers – imploding the mirage
Jonathan Rado has established himself as Rock’s most important producer. Instead of taking over the album he is producing, he just lets the musicians have fun and find themsleves, until he has a sprout of genius and lets it flow into the music. Foxygen has a very distinct sound and musicians-turned producers often try to insert their own style into albums but Rado does the complete opposite. All of the albums he has produced have the most honest, intense and loving sound the authors could ever have. Brandon Flowers is well-known as one of contemporary rock’s biggest asshole, constantly breaking the band’s chemistry. His solo career was way more interesting that whatever The Killers were doing for the last seven years. And Rado brought everything back to form, without sounding like an album where The Killers are trying their hardest to remain relevant. It is as timeless as Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town. There is a reason why we still listen to them, as we will with Imploding The Mirage.
mac miller – circles
jarv is… – beyond the pale
This is not Pulp and does not even try to be. Jarvis Cocker has not missed a beat since then. He outgrew the band a long time ago, but it always seemed that the shadow of the 90s britpop was behind him. It even forced a reunion in 2012. The Harry Potter cameo was a nice treat for fans, the song has a Traveling Wilburys-esque magic to it by including so many figures from the early 2000s with him at the front, but that is something he would have made fun of in one of his 90s interviews. But for the first time in his solo career, Jarvis Cocker has done a True Great Album and sounds like he has not aged at all.
I hate the notions of appreciating albums until years have gone by, of seeing them as a thing of the past and not basking at their greatness as they are fresh. There is so many great music getting constantly released, and we like to remain with what we are used to. These albums break the musical canon in ways that only legends have been able to do so.
u.s. girls – heavy light
I saw U.S. Girls during the last leg of the In a Poem Unlimited tour last year. It was easy to see Meghan Remy was relutanctly selling merch before the show, while she read a book and smoked a cigarette. She did not want to have a conversation with anyone buying, but her kindness and brightness did not turn her into an antagonistic figure that night. She did not end the show early, but acted as if she had by having the band members leave the stage one by one, walking inside the crowd. Remy was the last to leave and stared at every single one of us, shaking hands and giving confusing looks, as if she was asking if we got the message of In a Poem Unlimited. If we understood how much she despises American culture, but still wants to find a way to navigate through it. As she does in Heavy Light. It is the most experimental she has ever been and pop music has never sounded like this. It is hallucinating, solemn and perfectly captures the moment where you are about to lose it, whether it is because of your own heart dealing with itself or reacting to the outside of our soul. It is a heavy album and takes multiple listens to see the genius behind it. But it so brutally honest, without a single filler or songs with repeated themes even if the album as a whole speaks about the same thing.
the weeknd – after hours
I love The Weeknd. Always have and always will. His music is a sponge made up from his own actions, and working with the Safdie Brothers obviously had a huge impact on him. It is easy to say that this album could work as the OST for Uncut Gems since Oneohtrix Point Never extensively worked on both. The Safdies directed the movie I have watched the most times and it has not even been a year since it was released. It had a deep, impact on me, it had been years since a movie could instantly claim the throne of My Favorite. Phantom Thread lingered and took me long to settle on its greatness, but Uncut Gems felt like taking a brand new drug for the very first time and becoming addicted in a matter of seconds. After Hours produces a similar feeling, and if I am gonna write about how folklore somehow reinstated Taylor Swift’s lore, I must mention how this album did the same exact thing. The Weeknd has always known what he is and anyone familiar with his music could not argue otherwise, but this album feels the most Weeknd ever. He is a pop’s savant by excellence.
dua lipa – future nostalgia
carly rae jepsen — dedicated side b
When pop music is self-aware, there is nothing like it. Few people have mastered this technique better than Carly Rae Jepsen has, but Dua Lipa came close this year. Both albums are defiant, without a drop of aiming for greatness and it is thanks to this that they achieve it. The sound is very contemporary and is exactly what pop should sound like
angel olsen — whole new mess
beck – hyperspace
blake mills – mutable set
jason isbell – reunions
orville peck – show me pony
It is so unfathomable that he still is not country music’s face. Goes to tell you how much country culture actually cares about country music. This EP has even deeper country roots than Pony and is more accessible too. For how much his contemporaries like to sing about drinking beer and hitting the road, he does the fucking same and walks the line. There is such an interesting career ahead of him. I will never forgive myself for missing half of his set with Lord Huron. I even regretted it a few minutes after walking into Lowbrow. He exhumes greatness with just one album and one EP. I usually shit on indie artists who make the switch to a big label after moderate success, but that is exactly what he needs. Columbia will put him in the spotlight and hopefully give him an international audience, as he deserves. At its core, country music is about being an outcast, a forgotten American soul who needs freedom more than anything and finds it in love and isolation. I honestly cannot think of a single artist that has captured this spirit in the last twenty years better than Orville Peck. Brad Paisley had the potential to do it, as did Luke Bryan at some point but we all know what happened. Kacey Musgraves took country music to a different route, which is revolutionary in its own way. Oddly enough, Lil Nas X did it too, probably without knowing it. “Can’t nobody tell me nothin’” is the soul of country. And Orville Peck has been doing it for almost two years. I really cannot wait for whatever he will do with Columbia now.
thundercat – it is what it is
lil uzi vert – eternal awake
frances quinlan – likewise
bill callahan — gold record
waxahatchee – saint cloud
soccer mommy — color theory
moses sumney — græe
bob dylan — rough and rowdy ways
He has had so many many faces and masks, up and downs, that it is incredible the reluctant Nobel Laureate still has it on him to make one of his best albums. There have been terrible attempts in the past and he now sounds as if someone had dug up Leonard Cohen’s vocal cords and surgically installed them on him. And he somehow embraces that! This album is Classic Dylan. You have the slight plagiarism, hatred for himself and society and hopefully reacting to his surroundings. It is the best he has been since Time Out Of Mind.
definers and soul openers
These albums touched something in my sould that I had not met yet. They defined an era in the macro and micro level. Undoubtedly the best albums of the year.
perfume genius — set my heart on fire immediately
phoebe bridgers – punisher
The Elliott Smith comparisons are tired because he never sounded like he was embracing his misery. Both of them can co-exist in the same Universe without having to compete with each other. Outside of the title track, Phoebe Bridgers took Elliott Smith’s torch and burned everything around her before writing songs about it. This album reminds me a lot of Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness. It is tough for people our age to actually sound our age. And even as Phoebe Bridgers is wise beyond her years, she ends up sounding like a messy 26-year old without anything figured out. Just like we all do. The world is ending and she knows it. But let’s at least grief our losses before succumbing to darkness, since we are all the same. We all have complicated relationships, childhood trauma, anxiety thanks to a crumbling world. Smartphones are way beyond our evolutionary abilities, chem trails are apparently a thing now and we all long for love, whether it is inner our outer. I cannot think of an album that came out in my musically conscious life that entered my psyche and dismembered it as hard as this one. It is tough to not break down every time I listen to it. But the message of this album is to not get carried away and move on, because the suffering is always endless so we might as well accept it and live our life. You do not want to become a punisher. I am trying my best not to. Phoebe Bridgers does not only own my ass, but my soul, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, narcissism, lost loved relationships, hope for a future that looks nothing but bleak and tears too. Fuck Eric Clapton and John Lennon. But it is sad that his kid died and the latter got shot.
haim – women in music pt. iii
I have been a huge HAIM fan since their EP, iTunes exclusives and festival days. My magnetism towards them was based off a strong Pure Rock obsession and they delivered that in 2011–12. Days Are Gone is what rock music sounded back in 2013 and has aged gracefully, compared to Something to Tell You. As much as I have always loved them, their music lacked something that I could not identify. The lyrics were not strong enough but that was never an issue. Chord progressions and Danielle’s voice is what has always carried them. But everything exploded with this album. It is ridiculously revolutionary, you never know what to expect with every song. The lyrics are also the clearest and most honest they have ever been and even they acknowledge the painful process behind writing them. It is stream of consciousness in its purest form. The sex songs do not feel like songs about pornographic sex, but horny feelings that every healthy adult has. The depressive songs are not about sadness, but how to deal with it. It is their most mature album. How hard it is to write love songs begging someone who keeps hurting you to not leave (or come back), instead of petty break-up anthems. The themes of their songs kind of remind me of Aerosmith in the 70s and 90s, but the fact that three Jewish sisters in their 30s can do it better than a coked up Steven Tyler is incredible. They should already be in the conversation of the Great American Bands. A dynamic song like Hallelujah had only been accomplished by the likes of Johnny Cash and June Carter, Elton John and Kiki Dee, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, John Coltrane and Miles Davis/Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus. As if writing these songs was not enough, this album also sounds like 2020 Rock. They reinvented everything and stopped the comparisons with Fletwood Mac.
a hero’s death — fontaines d.c.
An album like this only happens once every few years. If their debut did not give them the relevance they deserve, this statement about poetry and post-punk sure will do. The comparisons to Interpol, Television and Joy Divison will deservedly always be there, but Fontaines D.C. improved on everything their influences could not. Interpol got lost in translation a few years ago and turned into an act where you can always know what is next. A Hero’s Death has flashes from The Beach Boys, to Patti Smith and Nick Cave. Every song is packed with fearless songwriting and poetic justice, just to knock you down and force you to stand up for yourself. By mixing Irish and American culture as both countries did in the early 20th century, Fontaines D.C. finds intelligent prose that will fuck you up whenever you are willing to listen to it. It is a shame that Taylor Swift clouded their success in the UK, since this album is the voice that a hopeless generation needs.
father john misty – anthem+3
I no longer argue about Father John Misty. The misconceptions people have about him were brought upon by himself. He has been making excellent music under the Father John Misty name for almost a decade now and if you are not able to see the musical, lyrical and introspective genius of Josh Tillman by now, then you will simply never do. And that is ok, I guess. You have the Weird American in Fear Fun, the Ideal Husban in I Love You, Honeybear, the Comedian in Pure Comedy and God’s Favorite Customer as himself. His music demands to be actively heard, to not become the background of the mundane. No one cares as much about sending an introspective message, without forgetting about the music more than him. Josh Tillman has survived personal apocalypses time and time again and instead of trying to warn us about the consequences of humanity, he is still grieving them. He only asks us to join him in finding god through music and other people, not false idols or microwaved emotions. The new album has been in Jonathan Wilson’s oven for too long. I cannot help but think that if it had not been for the pandemic, he would’ve released it early this year with an extensive tour as he always does. Since it seems that there is nothing the MistMan can do wrong, a live album along with this EP and two singles is more than enough to get us through this drought of his music.
Bob Dylan once called Leonard Cohen the number one songwriter, with himself as zero. The magic in Cohen’s music is timeless and even with all the Hallelujah covers, no one will ever come close to challenge him in his own ring. No one but Josh Tillman. There are countless of Leonard Cohen’s covers, each having their own style and message. But Tillman took two of his deeper songs and made them better. They are not tributes, but mere reinterpretations.
Father John Misty is not ahead of his time; he is The Times. The bearer of good and bad news. Not a messiah, but an interpreter of reality. An emotional, sensitive being with the bravado of a cult leader and the charisma of a relentless child. In the year where everything has gone to hell, he does not pretend to be the voice of reason but instead tries to find it in the music that influenced his previous albums. He asks us for patience and solace in Anthem, complains to despair in Fallin’ Rain and asks trouble to simply leave us alone in Trouble. In a perfect collection of songs, One of Us Cannot Be Wrong is not the outstanding piece but the most Father John Misty one. He adds an orchestra to a quiet song, but rips his soul into it like only Cohen could. There is no vocal delivery like his. No one cares more about artistry and honesty in his work than him. A simple EP with covers that most of the hardcore Misty fans had already heard before, tells us way more about our current times that most of this year’s albums. It it is not even a question that Father John Misty is the most important songwriter of our times. Our Bob Dylan, our Leonard Cohen, our John Lennon, our Elton John, our Harry Nilsson, our Morrissey, our Elliott Smith. There is a new era coming and I have no clue what to expect. He has five perfect albums and is due for a disappointing diamond, but there is no sign of stepping down, there is no reason to doubt him. We should be more grateful for living in the times of Father John Misty. Whatever is next for him is all we will need.
run the jewels — rtj4
Just listen to it. Anything I could say about this album has already been said by Killer Mike and El-P. You either are with them or against them. I know where I stand. RTJ4 is the most hardcore album of the year, the heirs of Rage Against The Machine exceeded every expectation we could possibly have. This is a historical moment in time and it is every artist’s duty to be a reflection of it, in any way they can. If you are not an investigator of the truth, a mirror of your surroundings, then what are you? RTJ4 is the soundtrack of a revolution.
The Lemon Twigs — Songs for the General Public
On a personal level, this album is more than just one of the year’s best. I do not know if I could argue it is even better than any of the ones listed above. The Lemon Twigs are the theatre kids who are not doing it for the attention. There is not an ounce of cynicism, marketing or falsehood behind this album. It is pure joy. Every time I listen to it I feel like my life is a musical. They are the definition of camp and self-awareness. The comparisons to 60s-80s music are lazy for them, which is true. The Lemon Twigs do not sound like a band from the past, even if this album is a smoothie made up from Bob Dylan, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Wings, Queen, The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, John Prine, ABBA, The Velvet Underground, Kate Bush, Enya, and even Father John Misty. The Lemon Twigs sound like The Lemon Twigs. It is so difficult to explain them. They are way more complex than a nostalgia act like Greta Van Fleet. I was talking to a friend about their music a few days ago and she mentioned that we are quick to say how old they sound, only because they care about musicianship more than any artist right now, while still carrying a very modern style and approach. My friend is right, I cannot think of anyone that cares about musicianship more than them. It is not exactly a knock on anyone specific, I think great music can come from not being a purist. But The Lemon Twigs are doing it like people did it before, straight to tape and full of instrumenation without too much edit but driven by non-conventional key changes. They are an obnoxiously talented garage band. The lyrics are not exactly profound, but they are mature and dramatic as The Lemon Twigs are too. I do believe when they say they do not put too much thought into their aesthetic, that it is who they truly are. There is a reason they remain widely unknown, even if this album is for the general public. It is an incredible piece of art, I cannot stop listening to it from start to finish. I am so happy to be alive in the times of The Lemon Twigs.
Fiona Apple — Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Today is the five-month anniversary of Fetch The Bolt Cutters. Five months ago, I barely slept because I spent most of my night laying on my bed in the darkness, listening to this album over and over again. Dina called me crying around 2–3 a.m. and even if we had been close friends for seven years, that moment marked the beginning of a new, deeper and way more personal stage in our friendship. We both had been going through similar painful conditions and found a way to bond over this album. I probably would not be writing this if she had not been my companion for the last five months. And it is all rooted in fetching the bolt cutters.
Feltch The Bolt Cutters has been the album I have listened the most since it came out and my relationship with it is always shifting, but remains steadily close to my soul. I am trying my fucking hardest to free myself from everything that has kept me chained for so long. As must people my age, I am going through extremely traumatic experiences on a daily basis but I am not willing to numb myself. I am tired of being a shell of myself and it took this album for me to understand how much I need to reinvent myself, to be more of myself. Of course we all saw this coming when she brilliantly said the world is bullshit and we should not follow anything that the culture she is a part of is telling us to do. We should not model ourselves after anyone else but who we truly are, at our core. “Go with yourself. Go with yourself.” This is a career album that has been decades in the making. When Fiona Apple started her career as a teenager, this was already inside her mind. As we all need to, she just unraveled herself through her own eyes and turned this brilliant piece of work. This world is bullshit, and we have to break free from it.
I first listened to Fiona Apple the summer of 2012, when The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do came out. It was my most teenage dreamlike summer and even if the album did not reflect any of my experiences back then, it somehow became the soundtrack of the season. After a few months, her music was shelved in my subconsciousness and I rarely revisited it again. I knew that any Fiona Apple album would be an event, but I was too young to understand her. Not that I do now, by the way. I will get to that later.
I will never shelf Fetch The Bolt Cutters.
I remember writing during the rising hours of April 17th, that I would never forget that night. That an album like this changes lives and all the landscapes imaginable. At the time I did not know it yet, but I needed to cut so many things off my life and just learn to move on and along with all the experiences I have had since then, this album touched me more than anything. It is impossible to listen to it without feeling like my body is being possessed by a demon that only wants the best for me. That acknowledges my humanity in ways that no one has done before. Every time I listen to Fetch The Bolt Cutters, I learn something new about myself. But it obviously is not an album that is directed to me, at least not directly. As a straight man, I am the villain of this album. Most of the songs alieante me and talk about moments I will never experience. I cannot relate to Rack of His, Under The Table, Newspaper, Ladies, but I can understand and empathize with them. I have always struggle with my own notions of masculinity and the way they were imposed on me, even if I unawarely rebelled against them. Superficially, of course. I am still a piece of shit. But I am known to be a fan of people brutally disarming me, as this album always does. I never want to stop learning about myself and my place in this world.
When Fetch The Bolt Cutters is not showing me how ingrained masculine culture is, it is forcing me to face my own personal demons, the ones that I can sit down and have a beer with. The ones that have hurt me the most.
There is no distinction between Fiona Apple and her music. No fake self-promotion, no social media stunts, nothing but music and her own experience. Outside of a brilliant New Yorker profile that manages to humanize her even more, there was nothing about this album that screamed “Stream me, pls”. I do not think we fully understand how rare a unicorn like this in a world that is so driven by smoke and mirrors. This album, the process behind it and its place in the music world are The Definition of Avant-Garde. It rolls around its own unconventionality, nothing has ever sounded quite like this before. I honestly cannot think of a single artist in the last twenty years that has redefined music as strong like Fiona Apple did now. I can think of Frank Ocean as a close second, but he lacks her matureness and reflections of explorations of the inner child. How funny it is that honesty, raw expressions of the self and a radical disposition to not fall into the numbness of the human condition are considered unorthodox ways to live in the present.
On I go.