ABOUT | PAST ENTRIES | BEST OF 00–04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 18 | E-MAIL | RSS | TWITTER

2020 Year-End List Extravaganza

There was no shortage of excellent music released in 2020, a fortunate development given the (cough) lack of other options for my entertainment budget. I have written about my top 25 records of the year over here and provided sample songs from Bandcamp (and YouTube when necessary). No, seriously, click the link and then head back here. Here’s a large image directing you to it. You could, nay, should click on that.

Top 25 Albums of 2020

There’s an emphasis on physical media in the layout of that list, which involved photographing the labels of each album and moving my desk so that I could take a proper picture of the 25 covers on my shelf. I understand that not everyone has the same fondness for buying buried under piles of vinyl records that I do, but all of those albums are available to purchase digitally as well. No one needs a lecture about the importance of supporting artists, particularly now, so I will spare you the pontification.

I could have easily gone past 25 selections, but the display limitations of my five-by-five Kallax shelf kept the number reasonable. Hopefully you know some of them and check out a few others. If you are interested in further listening, great, here are ten-ish honorable mentions that I wholeheartedly endorse.

Beauty Pill's Please Advise

Beauty Pill / Please Advise: Starting off the year with an overdue pressing of their Sorry You’re Here soundtrack, Beauty Pill raised the bar with the Please Advise EP, adding two fantastic new songs (“Pardon Our Dust” and “The Damndest Thing”), a revelatory cover of The Pretenders’ “Tattooed Love Boys,” a reworking of “Prison Song” from their overlooked 2004 LP The Unsustainable Lifestyle, and a remix varying format to their ever-impressive catalog. Standalone single “Instant Night” should not be missed.

The Casket Lottery / Short Songs for End Times: The Kansas City band continues to skirt the line between emo and post-hardcore. Rolling over half their line-up revitalized the songwriting, and a dedication to putting the guitars first didn’t hurt Nathan Ellis’s big vocal melodies. I’ll take dynamic tracks like “Sisyphus Blues” and “Unalone” over virtually anything else from the last decade of the seventeenth wave of emo.

Coriky / Coriky: Ian MacKaye, Joe Lally, and Amy Farina could have easily kept their latest collaboration to themselves, savoring the joy of their musical chemistry during closed-off practice sessions in the basement. Thankfully they did not, and Coriky relays that honed spontaneity with songs that speak to the moment but avoid being limited by it.

Guided by Voices / Surrender Your Poppy Field & Mirrored Aztec & Styles We Paid For: Robert Pollard’s revitalized band delivers another three albums in 2020, all worthy additions to his towering discography. Each has immediate highlights, stockpiles of riffs and lyrical turns of phrase that the band miraculously hadn’t used yet, and at most one song that starts off as an irritant and eventually grows into a favorite.

Erik Hall's Music for 18 Musicians

Erik Hall / Music for 18 Musicians: Seventeen performers short, Erik Hall records Steve Reich’s classic composition on his own, giving it a very particular signature. Is it more personal? More approachable? Slightly softer? All three? Whatever the case, it’s a welcome addition to the other performances of Music for 18 Musicians in my collection, and demonstrates how such a specific, interlocking piece of work can nevertheless be quite flexible.

Rafael Anton Irisarri / Perepeteia: I dove into Irisarri’s catalog past this year, and while I very much enjoyed the brain-wiping alien landscapes of Perepeteia, I found myself returning to 2019’s Solastagia, 2015’s A Fragile Geography, and 2010’s The North Bend more often. Cursed by his own success!

Savak / Rotting Teeth in the Horse’s Mouth: Savak simply won’t stop releasing excellent music, supplementing their consistently rewarding fourth LP since 2016 with a just-as-necessary seven-inch and a lathe-cut eight-inch. It’s a simple relationship: they put records up to order, I buy them.

Shell of a Shell / Away Team: Pile guitarist Chappy Hull fronts the Nashville quartet Shell of a Shell, whose brand of guitar rock flirts with anthemic melodies on “Knock” and “Away Team,” but cannot deny their deep-rooted desire to bring chaotic strains of noise to the mix. Closing track “Seems Like” embraces the cacophony as it spirals out.

Silver Scrolls' Music for Walks

Silver Scrolls / Music for Walks: Dave Brylawski and Brian Quast of Polvo—would you like me to tell you about Polvo—team up as Silver Scrolls, which picks up where Brylawski’s superb songs on Siberia left off. There’s an easygoing charm to the measured gait of Music for Walks, but complexity bubbles under its surface.

Windy & Carl / Allegiance & Conviction: The welcome return of Dearborn’s ambient dream-pop duo, Allegiance & Conviction puts slightly more emphasis on Windy Weber’s vocals as she spins a loose spy narrative over Carl Hultgren’s ever-drifting guitars. Pour one out for the closing of their beloved Stormy Records.