What a goddamn crazy year this has been. Between cancer, covid, and so much more, music has really been a guiding force for many this year, myself included. Below are my top 20 albums of the year, as well as the honorable mentions list, below. This lsit has everything from goth rock, avant garde metal and R&B, good old rock, hip hop and everything in between. I hope you enjoy the lost, and i look forward to hearing your thoughts!
JASON ISBELL: SOUTHEASTERN
THE KILLERS: IMPLODING THE MIRAGE
MEGAN THEE STALLION: GOOD NEWS
MR BUNGLE: RAGING WRATH....
OTHER LIVES: FOR THEIR LOVE
20 PEARL JAM: GIGATON
Over the years Seattle legends Pearl Jam have had their share of successes, critical and in popularity, but they haven't always knocked it out of the park. Gigaton is at times both inventive, exciting, and still feels like a genuine PJ record. It's seasoned but fresh, with Vedder as usual adding his signature views to biting and sharp guitar parts, and a rhythm section as good as any rock band. One song “Quick Escape'' has a very familiar sound that grunge fans will recognize, but it seems more organic and less forced, which is good. Overall the band delivers one of the best of their catalog in recent memory, and it proves that you really can just get better with age.
19 LIANNE LA HAVAS: LIANNE LA HAVAS
Even before I checked this album out I knew I’d like it. Her first release in 2015 was transcendent, and though this one isn’t quite as perfect, it’s more mature, easier on the ears, and really dives in lyrically to her mentality and thought process. “Read my Mind'' is a breezy day song if ever there was one, but it's sensual in its honesty about motherhood. Even her cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes'' can at times rival the original. Her voice just evokes so much depth and emotion in those two tracks it's hard to ignore. It’s romantic cuddle music at its best, incredibly personal and beautiful.
18 THE CHICKS: GASLIGHTER
Having not been greatly exposed to country music before meeting my wife, I never really gave these ladies a chance, mostly because I was just never exposed to it, and out of sight often means out of mind. Regardless, this family themed record, documents all the nasty dark spots of Natalie Maines’ horrible sounding divorce. It's raw in its criticisms for sure, but it's extremely honest, and the band really brings it together in a way that just connects with the listener. It's not a full blown country, more in sync with rock anthems at times then their past. Either way it works, especially tracks like the opening title track.
17 JULIANNA BARWICK: HEALING IS A MIRACLE
Rarely is a release from Barwick something that doesn’t bring me joy. The exact opposite tends to happen in fact. Time after time her atmospheric yet blossoming songs can captivate a listen to old and new. Her vocals are harmonies that intertwine themselves with the background notes. Think of a garden choir serenading you at sunrise and you'll have a pretty accurate picture of the vibes of this record. It's only 33 minutes, but it's enough to make any day better just by sheer presence. Perfect for early morning while your ears adjust, or even cleaning or work background music. She really is a treasure, you just have to discover her.
16 KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD: K.G.
On their 1700th record since 2015, Stu McKenzie and his King Gizzard cohorts continue to drill deeper down a weird but often fascinating rabbit hole that has helped cement them as one of the best rock bands of current times. The album lifts from various genres and jumbles them all together to make a sound that’s anything but boring. You can hear maracas sprinkled through songs like “Ontology” but then you get a song like “Intrasport'' which mostly feels less like a King Gizzard song and more in line with strange European dance music. Like I said, it’s a rabbit hole of random sounds that shouldn’t work but do. This 9 piece never falls to elicit excitement when they release something, but on “KG” it seems like their weirdness is finally making sense to a bigger audience.
15 MARILYN MANSON: WE ARE CHAOS
Just to show you how crazy this year has been, I'm writing about the frankly amazing eleventh album from Brian Warner, aka Marilyn Manson. Early in his career he made a name as a shocker, but lately, we as an audience find Manson turning in on himself in terms of style, making something new and exciting but often familiar much in the way Pearl Jam does, as I mentioned earlier. The album and tracks like the dark and captivating title track, or the sinister country twang of metaphorical attention with “Paint You with My Love” really shows his strength as a creator and a writer. It's often upfront and personal, in a way he often hasn’t been. Produced and envisioned alongside producer Shooter Jennings, it's a masterful return to form that should have convinced audiences he still has it, at least when it comes to making an album.
14 BIG MOON: WALKING LIKE WE DO
On their second album since 2017, Juliette Jackson and her Big Moon band members have taken a natural progression forward in the quality and craftsmanship presented on “Walking Like We Do.” The London quartet paint a picture of upbeat indie rock while also showcasing the word play and melodies that give the band an edge up on their indie counterparts. Jackson's voice is throaty while still gentle and tracks like “Holy Roller” and the gradual build of “Your Light” both show different sides of the same coin. Jackson and the rest of BM can be anything they need to be for the sake of their art, and they prove it here with an album that’s very different from its predecessor but engaging throughout.
13 SAULT: UNTITLED (RISE)
Truthfully in my eyes there hasn’t been a more mysterious band since I learned of the Knife, or maybe even Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Even then though there was at least information on the members somewhat available. SAULT is unique because of the mystery; but also because after 3 very good records recorded and released over the last several years no shows have been okayed, no interviews conducted, nada outside of records. The albums though, speak for themselves. It’s never just one thing, and often is several different energies combining into one that you quickly get used to. The rhythmic qualities remind you of a lone tribe outside of the technological world, while other moments have you feeling like you’re in a dance club, or a speakeasy. The mystery surrounding SAULT is enough to get you interested, but the funky bass lines and sultry vocals and drums will keep you coming back.
12 HAZEL ENGLISH: WAKE UP!
Some music transports you to simpler, even more glamorous times, which is to say, Hazel English and her record “Wake Up” have all those qualities. The soft light of the verses, coupled with the brightly lit chorus, make even the opening “Born Like” worth remembering. “Shaking” is a glorious indie anthem just waiting for a big enough room to matter, The album is the type of record meant to be played live, and I'm sure it will connect when it gets that chance with audiences. Hazel’s voice is smokey and a little playfully deceptive at times. It’s all about attitude in those moments, and it adds some gusto to the scene. Really excited to see where she goes, as you should be too.
11 SUFJAN STEVENS: THE ASCENSION
For longer than I can recall I’ve always loved Sufjan records, but never in that way that many others I know have. Even then, I wasn't upset when I learned of the long gestating new solo record coming out. Titled “The Ascension,” it's a densely layered electronic avant garde record, with Stevens’ low but deliberate vocals simmering just above the heavy synth tones filling up the space of sound. At 80 minutes it’s a slight commitment, but great for driving, or just zoning out on the couch, The opener “Make Me an Offer I Cannot Refuse” is great and darkly pulsating, while strangely enough “Ativan,” though dark lyrically, captivates the listener in quick burst of info that create a remarkable visual accompaniment, if you’re the type of person that enjoys that.
10 MOSES SUMNEY: GRAE
Grae, with all its perfect touches, captivates the audience in a way that few others can. It’s calmly and respectfully triumphant, but it lets you figure it out throughout its sixty-five minute runtime. Somney creates the type of album he’s been searching for since seven years ago, and the bubbling of voices under him, accompany him with vocals, drums and other instruments.
“Virile” is gorgeously elusive and extravagant, with what I believe to be a harp in some sections. It's also just got a great beat in the bridge that captivates and wows. It’s music as performance art in a way, but for Sumney’s type of art it works splendidly. Even the strange but incredibly seductive “jill/jack” track can make even the most calm person get hot and bothered. It's sensuous but also beautiful and fierce. Not to be trifled with.
9 TOUCHÉ AMORE: LAMENT
Like many I've heard the name many times over the years, but for some reason I hadn’t given this type of punk a chance. Either way, this year the record got awesome reviews, and low and behold, it's one of the better records of the year. Energy is important, but honesty counts for a lot, and this one titled “Lament” is a big hard look in the mirror. From the beginning with “Come Heroine” to the high energy wake up call that is “Limelight” all ring true, especially in a year seeing so many different cultural and health risks. Those most poignant moments come during closer “A Forecast'' where singer Jeremy Bolm laments over the loneliness during a tragedy when no one reaches out. I feel that, and have felt that, but in that moment the sadness is real, He mourns his family “not to cancer but the g.o.p.” but its fucking powerful and a beauty, albeit messy end to a true triump of a punk record.
8 HUM: INLET
One of the most endearing things about Illinois’ Hum is how evolved yet fine tuned they are in their blend of space heavy post rock. If you didn’t know any different, it would be easy to think they had only been gone a few years, not the 22 it had actually been since they had recorded an album together. Songs like the majestically heavy “Desert Rambler” live up to their supposed imagery and paint a picture of a windy sandy landscape on the edges of society. It’s densely crafted, with Matt Talbott’s shimmering shiny but distant vocals meandering and popping up here and there. This band is the reason I met my wife, and because of that they remain special to me, even if most have forgotten or are completely unseasoned in the genre. Either way, it's an excellent return to form, and with songs like “Cloud City” and the epic closer of “Shapeshifter,” it's hard not to be pumped that at least we got one more incredible Hum record.
7 IDLES: ULTRA MONO
In 42 minutes, the members of Idles, Joe Talbot(vocals), Adam Devonshire (bass), Mark Bowen (lead guitar), Jon Beavis (drums), and Lee Kiernan (rhythm guitar) dismantle the mythos of patriarchy blue bloods, the obnoxious rich elites looking down their noses and the financial crooks casually giving among us. It's volatile, combative, and exactly what music needs more of, especially during a year of potentially huge changes in our world and equality for all. “Kill Them with Kindness” is bratty and defensive but it's also a remarkable slap in the face of the less idealistic popstars. Almost like they know this is in your face with no regrets or shame. I just feel invincible when I listen to Talbot rally for the common man, and the instrumentals are remarkably heavy and combative, it's great.
6 TAME IMPALA: SLOW RUSH
At the start of the year, literally the night before my step-mom Babs passed away, my wife and I got this record. I didn't know it at the time, but yet again a Tame Impala record would be very much like my year. A slow rush of emotions, huge changes, massive decisions and plenty more unsettling news to grapple with. The album, while not the classic that many perhaps expected, is still powerful, albeit heavily produced and nuanced in its soundscapes. The songwriting is mesmerizing and beautiful, nothing new there, but the growing maturity of Kevin Parker has started to be reflected in his more precise but ultimately more groove oriented psyche-pop. It’s not perfect, but it doesnt deserve the lackluster response it's gotten from many.
5 PHOEBE BRIDGERS: PUNISHER
Ever since I was introduced to her in the summer of 2017, Bridgers has stayed on my mind and musical palette only when the darkness falls, along with the loneliness of her music. On “Punisher” she’s just as blunt and honest as she's ever been. The picture painting starts early with the planting of flowers to commemorate the death of a racist skinhead neighbor. Kyoto touches on the loneliness and regret surrounding a father who among other things has forgotten some birthdays along the way, but in this tense exchange the song comes alive, as does the optimism on the album itself. Even then, songs like the remarkably well named “Punisher” pulls at every emotion about the art of disappearing in plain sight. Over and over Bridgers gives herself to the mercy of her art, and it pays off unlimited dividends, and carries you along to see the world through the eyes of our narrator.
4 TAYLOR SWIFT: FOLKLORE
Maybe I’ll get slack for this, but I considered this, along with the next 3, all for the number one spot. “Folklore” is significant because Swift again subverted expectations with an indie dream pop, mostly solo created record during this year of the stay at home projects. Nearly every song has something positive going for it, and with Taylor reaffirming her identity in a more personal way, there’s almost no stopping her. The songs are soft, eye opening, metaphorically brilliant, and strangely closed off to a future now unsure. “Cardigan'' is a poignant yet potent reminder of the strength of being remembered after the loneliness of solitude and sadness. That type of feeling goes through “Folklore” in a way that's central and for the most part she succeeds. It's just as great with a song like ‘Exile” with Bon Iver, where she isn’t the center stage, but even that is perfectly mixed and layered. “Mirrorball” is a masterpiece; every time I hear it, I’m sucked back in. Towards the end we get the pleasing agony of “this is me trying,” which to me screams as a deep look in the mirror of perceived failures and wrongs. Its eye opening in terms of state of mind. She specifically speaks to her regrets, and in that moment, we all know what she's going through in the year 2020. Lastly, “Betty” fucking rocks and is a of classic.
3 RUN THE JEWELS 4
What a sobering record for a sobering new world. It’s as violent of a reaction as you can have in modern music, but it's a call to arms that's more than worth everyone’s time. It’s quick beated, loud and relentless, but it never fails to get its point across. El P And Killer Mike once again prove why they've been so successful, and this time they are squarely gunning for the throne, and soon they'll have it. It may have happened this year with their “What Could of Been” tour with Rage, but the excellence of the record is enough to keep re-starting the conversation. Lyrically, both members have never been better, and the time off to get even better and more experimental, both lyrically and musically, has paid off. “Walking in the Snow,” my song of the year if you’ve been keeping track, is brilliant and eye opening, but it's not the only holy shit moment. “JU$T'' is somehow more fun but more inherently evil because of how spot on it is. The smears and stains can never be undone, and plenty of people are sick of it. Both Willians and de la Rocha give inspiring and pointed verses, giving the song even more bump and energy. Even with a track like “The Ground Below” they manage to make a song picture perfect for a rabid arena crowd throwing down. By the time we get to Mavis Staples and Josh Homme guesting in “Pulling the Pin” you’ve been marveled by more logical and eye opening wordplay than a typical listener can handle, but it's critical of the masses, the world as a whole, if it's doing evil. Finally with the apocalyptic love letter of “A Few Words From the Firing Squad,” you know the stress of the situation and the direness for reflection and ultimate change. Like they say during the rtj4 team, if “you hate run the jewels you don’t love the troops.”
2 DEFTONES: OHMS
I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how to explain this album in a rational way for awhile now, but sometimes you need to just buckle in and experience something. This is where I find myself thinking about the brilliance of the Sacramento purveyors of sonic metal and ethereal soundscapes. “Ohms” finds the band arguably more in line than they've been in years. As vocalist Chino Moreno gytterly claims “I finally achieve balance,” on the assaulting open of “Genesis,” you can tell the band is backing him up one hundred percent. Each song is mesmerizing in how easily you pick up on the energy of the band. The scope is also something of a pleasant surprise. Some albums veer more guitar, while others have been more concerned with seemingly thinking outside the box and seeing what the results are. “Ohms” does both, with tracks like “Urantia” having the classic Carpenter guitar riff long time fans will notice and appreciate. But then you have songs like “Pompeji” that are heavy and intense, but wildly beautiful. Even so, the lyrics are some of the darkest, and frankly adversarial in tone that the band has ever welcomed. Chino is in peak form here. “The Spell of Mathematics” sees Moreno wailing chaotically and one moment about the dangers of trusting in mythological terms, then bathing in the musical moonlight of a densely orchestrated bridge. Even the full on attitude and smug nature of “This Link is Dead,” feels like a band reborn. The time signature is unique, and the verses never fully feel like traditional ways. But you're also so captivated by the music that you don’t really care how the information is relayed, just as long as it is. “Ohms,” an incredible album for a band in their twenty-fifth year.
1 FIONA APPLE: FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS
“Oh you mean the record with all the weird drumming?” someone told me this year when asked about whether they had heard “Fetch the Bolt Cutters'' yet. While it is true that FTBC has a lot of unconventional drums congregating throughout, the album itself is way more than just a record with non-traditional approaches. The music and ideas are fleeting thoughts, gone with the same quickness they arrived. Apple’s quiet, in the background demeanor are present here, but the real stars are the lyrics, often nonsensical, at times hilarious, but always honest. That being said, the album is personal in the traditional Apple manner, with most of the songs being auto-biograpbiucal in varying degrees. Beyond the vocals and lyrics, Bolt Cutters showcases quirky, quick paced piano work. “Shameika,” a song about the trials of being a child desperate to convey strength and coolness, is a great xample of this. Sure thing lyrics paint an intimate poryaint to the mindset of a highly accomplished musician, but the piano’s meandering excitement offers just as much to the track. Much has been made of the perfect score obtained from Pitchfork months ago, but a number is just a number, whether its me putting this at #1 or pitchfork giving a rare and converted perfect 10. The point is, how many more people ventured to listen to this because of the score, or placement on a list. Yes it might be a number, but aside from a dedicated fanbase, Apple isn’t exactly headlining mega festivals or even doing what more traditional artists partake in. Now, Fiona probably doesn't care much about all this attention, but the album is a resounding success, both on a cathartic level, but also in the word of mouth way. Everyone I know has at least listened to this record, and that's where the beauty of the perfect score comes in- way more people listen. If you still somehow haven’t at least given this one a chance, I'd recommend doing so. The music is brilliant, often challenging, but the rewards from multiple listens is worth the price. And it's with that that I give my album of the year to“Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” a difficult but often brilliant album free of the confines of mainstream albums that feels years ahead of where we currently sit.
What do you think is the best album of the year? Comment Below and let us know!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: This year has been crazy, for all of us, and I thank you for venturing this way for weird music articles. Follow us for more content at @thedeathofthemixtape on instagram, facebook and Spotify. Next year we’ll be back with weekly posts, reworked ideas, new blogs, more mixtapes on spotify, and hopefully even some interviews, as well as a possible podcast(still working out logistics on that) .Thanks for reading. See ya next year!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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