A Spotify playlist is at the bottom of the page if reading isn’t your thing.
Runner Ups – I’m Not Getting Excited by The Beths, Commonly Known by People Years, Open Heart by Kate Davis, A Beast by MAITA, and Revolution by Heartless Bastards
10) Impossible Weight, Deep Sea Diver – I am disappointed in everyone for not telling me about this band sooner.
9) Love Is The King, Jeff Tweedy – In case you haven’t kept up, Tweedy is still great.
8) Deep In Love, Bonnie Light Horseman – This beautiful song has it origins in the 1800s!
7) The Low, Jonah Mutono – Add it to the list of amazing music that was created because of bad parents.
6) Blinding Lights, The Weeknd – Like everyone else, I was unable to resist this song.
5) Liffey, Pillow Queens
This Dublin band brings a punk sensibility to progressive issues. The entire album is great, but this song is a standout. We are immediately hit with a wailing guitar, which drives the propelsive song. The song is filled with violent religious references and acts as an angry and chaotic rebuke to the Catholic persecution of the LGBT community.
4) Family Still, Told Slant
This song beautifully conveys vulnerability and a longing for a familial connection. The delicate nature of the song emphasizes the emotionally-wrought and poetic lyrics.
And I probably look strong
From the outside in with my curtains drawn
Like I don’t need your love at all
I put my hand on your chest
I hope it beats when I leave you
Like a watch in the desk drawer
3) Shangri-La, EOB
Ed O’Brien, of Radiohead fame, along with his team of indie musicians created a multi-layered wall of sound that fits together amazingly well. The vocals serve as background during an extended intro, until O’Brien finally rings out with an extremely satisfying chorus. While the track shares DNA with Radiohead classics, it provides a fresh sound that everyone should appreciate.
2) And It’s Still Alright, Nathaniel Rateliff
After reaching great acclaim with his band the Night Sweats, Rateliff went back to his roots and released a subdued solo album. This song addresses his soul searching following a divorce and the loss of his friend/producer Richard Swift. Rateliff’s difficult experiences are beautifully expressed, but I fell in love with the song because of the unexpected refrain that despite everything, life is still pretty good.
1) a few words for the firing squad (radiation), Run the Jewels
Haunting strings create the foundation of the song, but as the anger builds in El-P and Killer Mike’s lyrics, the instrumententation matches the intensity until it explodes with a saxophone solo that I didn’t know I needed. They released the album early in response to the murder of George Floyd and it is easy to see why:
For the truth tellers tied to the whippin’ post, left beaten, battered, bruised
For the ones whose body hung from a tree like a piece of strange fruit
Go hard, last words to the firing squad was, “Fuck you too!”
Runner Ups – Melee by Dogleg, Changes by Neal Francis, Shore by Fleet Foxes, and In Waiting by Pillow Queens
5) Reunions, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
My most anticipated album of the year did not disappoint. I have unfairly graded each of Isbell’s albums on a curve since his breakout album Southeastern, and I have to admit that Reunions was a great achievement worthy of its own praise. Given his past work, it isn’t a surprise that the songs contain compelling short stories and that the musicianship is excellent. Isbell has become an important voice in the Americana world urging others to show compassion and contribute to the construction of a more just world. Or in the words of Isbell: “Be afraid, be very afraid. But do it anyway.”
4) The Fall of Hobo Johnson
Johnson is a dynamic talent that puts his enthusiasm and humor on display throughout this incredible album. His self-deprecation and irreverent nature create a fresh perspective. But he also crafts some genuinely insightful songs such as I Want a Dog that speaks to our unreasonable expectations for life or the Subaru Crosstrek XV that examines the image of ourselves that we project to the world. “Why does Dad have a Lambo? He was insecure about himself son, let it go.” He also proves that no topic is too large as he addresses the history of the Earth with the track You & the Cockroach.
3) Abuzz in the Abyss, Whim
Sarah Isabella DiMuzio’s band was my favorite discovery of the year featuring great indie rock compositions with memorable hooks. DiMuzio’s lyrics are clever and compel your attention. She does a great job giving each track a different aesthetic, from the reverb filled Anymore to the ochestrial New York Part One. The single Somebody Else’s Tongue shows her ability to skillfully layer instruments to turn an uncomplicated song into a banger.
2) Mordechai, Khruangbin
From afar Khruanbin was an enigmatic band with captivating and soulful singles. This album prompted me to finally learn about the band. Turns out they are a threesome from Houston…not as exotic as I expected. Regardless, the band creates an impressive blend of cultures to create a mood setting trance. Mark Speer, Laura Lee, and DJ Johnson decided to make a fundamental change for this album and included lyrics for the first time in the band’s history. The lyrics convey themes that couldn’t be achieved by instruments alone as they meditate on time and memory. While Khruangbin made many changes with this album, Speer’s virtuosic guitar remains the compelling backbone of the band.
1) Saint Cloud, Waxahatchee
Katie Crutchfield developed a new sound for her latest release. The warmer, stripped down album was a reaction to overcoming alcoholism and finding a stable relationship (with another great musician: Kevin Morby). The album features an amazing one-two punch of Fire and Lilacs, which reflect on these changes: “I’m wiser and slow and attuned.” All this self-reflection also seemed to prompt Crutchfield to examine difficulties growing up in Alabama, which are especially evident in the song Arkadelphia. But she also credits the musicians of her childhood for influencing the sound of the album and helping her express this new chapter of her life.
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