My favorite author is Charles Bukowski. He lacks a certain eloquence which is why I specifically like him. Even his poetry has an edge and dryness that sometimes goes over like a knife to the abdomen. But sometimes that is what you need, something to make you hurt, something so raw and real that you can appreciate the times that yield other results. I say this because Charles Bukowski would have been comfortable in 2020, a time when so many of us were not. I also preface with this because I just want you to know this top 10 list won’t be eloquent. 2020 doesn’t deserve clever turns of phrases that’ll make this list seem clever and witty. Frankly, 2020 doesn’t even deserve this list.
I’ve literally spent the last few months not even thinking about writing this list this year. So much of what I listened to this year was regarded as comfort music. Music that is older, music that just makes me happy, even in fleeting quick drives to the gas station. I had let my fellow Rant-Oners that I would not be releasing a typical top 10 albums of 2020 list, due to me not listening that much new music this year, which is quite true, but when I sat down to write something (literally no planning went into it this year) I realized that I did listen to quite a bit of new music. A couple of these albums deserve to be talked about as staples of this very young decade.
First off I would like to give two releases some massive credit. The first would be the 2016 release; Ruminations by Conor Oberst. This album was my most listened to album this year. In fact, back in 2016, this was my number 8 ranked album of the year, something if I were to re-order today would be much different. This album is somewhat of a dreary rainy day listen, but it’s raw and real approach to mental and physical health was something extremely comforting to me during this year that consisted of most of us worrying about our physical and mental health.
Secondly, I want to give credit to the song Summertime by Orville Peck. This was my most listened to song of 2020, as pointed out to me by Spotify. Something about this short country ballad just hit me in the right ways over the late summer and on to today. It’s just a simple short song about hoping for better days, a sentiment every human hopes for in the coming year. One last thing, I try to be inclusive of all genres of music in these lists. One thing I usually do is separate heavier music from these more universal lists just because I doubt most want to hear about the heavier sides of my tastes, but this year all bets are off. You will be getting my true list of best albums. And now, onto the show…
10) Ecostrike – A Truth We Still Believe
I won’t dive super deep into myself as a person but I have been a vegan for a little over a year at the time of this writing. It’s something I believe strongly about, and am proud of my unwavering convictions. With that said, it’s always nice when you find bands that you can feel share your ideals and Ecostrike is one of them, and coincidentally, they just happened to release an awesome album full of great 90’s XVX worship in it. It’s a quick listen but your sure to be motivated to seize the day and kick a little ass after listening to this one. You don’t have to be a straight-edge vegan to embrace the energy with this one.
9) Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
I remember several years I was with my parents and they wanted to listen to the, at the time new, Bob Dylan Christmas record. I didn’t want to say anything at the time, but I knew what I as well as what they were thinking, “the old legend sounded rough.” When I heard he was releasing a new album of new originals with a long Hurricane-style song about JFK I knew it had to be interested but was worried that he himself was being too ambitious with his own creativity. I was wrong. Dylan sounds fantastic on this record. Sure, it’s a little corny sometimes but what do you expect from a 79-year-old folk singer. He still proves that he is THE epitome of where the idea of a “singer/songwriter” is.
8) Hum – Inlet
Going into this record, I was unaware of Hum. However, I did know that it was a big deal that they were putting out their first record since 1998. Upon further dives into Hum’s history, they are a huge influence to Deftones, as well as my favorite band from literally the last ten years; Deafheaven. I knew I had to check them out. I’m glad I did. The phrase “alternative rock” gets thrown around a lot and so easily, but Hum may genuinely be the last alt-rock band that still exists. This album is one groove after another and is an excellent piece of road trip music. If you’re looking for a great rock record in the style of a way more chill Big Business, or Torche, this will hit you in all the right feels.
7) Taylor Swift – Evermore
I know, I know! Look I get it. I thought I would never include T-Swift on one of these lists. Jim from 2016 would certainly kick my ass. But look. Taylor Swift to me has always had pretty decent bops that I’d claim to listen to ironically but would secretly love. Shake it Off is one of the best pop songs of the last decade. But I have the utmost respect for somebody who is this much of an in-demand star, but still writes her own music and truly pours herself into it. When you listen to Evermore, and even Folklore from earlier in the year, you can hear that this is her, it’s not some facade that you get from a lot of other pop singers. You’re getting a real person who thinks fame is fucking weird and navigates it to the best of her ability. She loves music and it shows. Both albums from her this year were good, but I do tend to lean on Evermore just a little more. I can’t really tell you why, but both would be a valuable listen. Obviously, this will most likely take some swallowing of pride to listen to, but get over yourself, it’s just music.
6) Jeff Rosenstock – No Dream
I’ve said this before, but I won’t hesitate to say it again, and It’ll piss some people off, but Jeff Rosenstock, along with White Lung are the two acts that are keeping punk rock music alive in 2020. White Lung hasn’t released anything in a few years but Rosenstock just keeps putting out danceable punk record, after garage rock banger, after thoughtful surf rock record one right after the other. The dude is an absolute renaissance man up there with Jack White and Dave Grohl as somebody who is constantly working and delivering constantly quality material that would certainly rival his above-mentioned peers. No Fear is the fun record with a seriously politically charged message we need in 2020 that proves we can still have fun with punk rock music.
5) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
The first line of this album is, “Half my whole life is gone.” Immediately I knew that this album was going to hit me harder than anything else I would hear this entire year, especially in 2020. In 2017 Perfume Genius released, No Shape which was a perfect example of what pop music could be in the late 2010s. And then we have this release that built even more on that masterpiece. If you don’t know Perfume Genius you should because he transcends almost any genre and hits that serotonin chord that so many people need in their music with a harsh reality that we sometimes need to be reminded of, but will also comfort you in knowing that even though for a lot of us, half our lives are gone, we’ve got the ability to make the second half be whatever we want it to be.
4) Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
Delicious Americana music is something I crave but I’m rarely satisfied with what I am getting. Not the case with Katie Crutchfield’s fifth solo album as Waxahatchee. She is able to nail all of the traditional tropes that are needed to make a quality folk album but twists it within the brink of breaking to make something truly memorable. I love the fact that she isn’t trying to be anything other than her true self on this record. No bullshit and no compromises are not something you’ll hear describe a folky Americana album but it absolutely rings true here.
3) Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
I discovered Phoebe Bridgers on a Marissa Nadler radio station on Spotify. Her absolutely heartbreaking vocals from the 2017 track, Killer was something special. Not in the moment special but something that would last a lot longer than just a flash in the pan good album. 2017’s Stranger in the Alps made my top 10 albums that year, her Boygenius EP with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker was a fleeting masterpiece that I’m still yearning for regularly. Her collab with the above-mentioned Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center made my top albums list last year as well. She is consistent in delivering great music I assume she’ll be involved with my list next year as well. At the time of this writing, she’s even nominated for a best new artist Grammy, despite her being around for a while now, but when have the Grammy’s ever gotten anything right? Punisher continues her brilliance with a progression of her soft yet commanding vocal performance with touches of Sufjan Stevens thrown in. This should be listened to by all.
2) Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Remember the 90’s? I sure do, I do a podcast that pretty much exclusively talks about the ’90s. Remember that song Criminal by Fiona Apple? The music video definitely had an effect on 10-year-old me if you know what I mean… Anyway, I must admit that I completely forgot about Fiona Apple over the last 20 or so years. So when I heard she was going to release a new album in 2020, I assumed it would be like when most pop singers released new music these days. Boy was I wrong. You’ll probably see Fetch the Bolt Cutters on a lot of year-end lists and deservedly so. It’s a masterpiece. This will be talked about as a bench-mark album for years to come. If you’re expecting music like Criminal you’ll be disappointed but if you’re wanting to a musical landscape that includes jazz, spoken word, wild hollering madness, and insanely good hooks that will make you mad you forgot Fiona existed over the last 20 years. I want to compare this to certain other artists but I can’t because it is so insanely unique that I would sound like a madman to compare this to anything today. Seriously, listen to this.
- Run the Jewels – RtJ4
If you know me this isn’t a surprise. Run the Jewels has been a staple in my life since Record Store Day several years ago when my friend Mick introduced them to me. I was hooked ever since. I don’t know why Run the Jewels are so popular with so many walks of life, but it makes me happy. But nothing takes you on the sobering journey of 2020 quite like RtJ4. El-P produced some of the best hip/hop beats I’ve ever heard that are so unique to the genre yeat throws you back to a time where it was DJ and emcee and that was it. 4 isn’t afraid to talk about the hard atrocities of our country and the state of our police which should have a mirror held up to it, which Killer Mike proudly and forcibly holds with an intelligent aggression that can only suffice within his brand of swagger. This record is real, catchy, aggressive, and hard to face at times, but those words can also describe the year we had. Every time I listen I hear something new that I didn’t hear before. Nobody can touch Run the Jewels and I’m so excited to see what they do next.