The 100 Best Albums of 2020 (#90-81)

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#90: A.G. Cook – 7G

A.G. Cook – fearless leader of PC Music and creative director behind Charli XCX – dropped what is probably the most widely varied album of the year. “Album” is a misnomer, in a sense; it’s seven discs spanning nearly three hours, but in the brave new days of digital media literally anything can be an album – mixtapes, playlists, box sets. It’s a thick, distorted mixture of trance, hyperpop, acoustic country, crunching metal, throwback grunge and punk, 2-step garage, drill n bass, and experimental electronic weirdness. Also there are covers, inlcuding a messy version of “Today”, a weird take on “Beetlebum”, Taylor Swift’s “The Best Day” and an odd Strokes choice (“The End Has No End”).

#89: Tkay Maidza – Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2

The Australian-by-way-of-Zimbabwe artist is the first time I’ve been able to point at Australian hip hop and say “oh yeah, that’s some good stuff right there.” Equal parts Santigold, M.I.A. and Azaelia Banks, and a great benchmark for future work.

#88: Taylor Swift – Folklore

One of the things I’ve found about Taylor Swift is that a lot of the time opinions on her get decided upon cultural fault lines: when she was a young country songstress your opinion on her fell along the same urban/rural divide that country music fandom was predicated upon; when she became a pop star, the rockists all doubled down on their dislike of her because pop is for girls, or whatever masculine bullshit allows bands like Seether to still have careers. What gets lost in all of that is the reason for her continual success: she’s a really excellent storyteller. Folklore, one of a pair of 2020 Swizzle albums that pares down her former pop star excesses into a stark indie sound, shows off this side of her much better than previous records, especially on songs like “The Last Great American Dynasty” or the Bon Iver-guesting “Exile”.

#87: The Chicks – Gaslighter

The Dixie Chicks died so the rot at the heart of Nashville could be exposed. Fourteen years later they return – with part of their name conspicuously absent – and take square aim at leader Natalie Maines’ ex-husband on an album that continues the band’s crossover appeal as though the intervening years never happened.

#86: Nicolas Jaar – Telas

Telas is the second project by the Chilean producer (third if you count the Against All Logic set he released at the beginning of the year) and it functions well as a soundtrack for lockdown life in the Americas under the reign of Covid. Telas is the sound of closing your eyes and pushing your consciousness inward, all reverb-laden ambient, blurred-out horns, metallic soundscaping, and bursts of Latin precussion.

#85: Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death

The Irish buzz band followed up their big shiny debut with a difficult, angry second album and if you are one of the like 3 people who have been following me for a long time then you know my feelings on difficult, angry second albums (see also: They Were Wrong So We Drowned). They don’t go the easy route here and in an age of moral compromise in the face of economic reality it’s refreshing to see a rock band take that kind of risk.

#84: Khruangbin – Mordechai

The Texas trio’s first album wore its Thai psych-rock influences on its sleeve, and its second kept that going but added aspects of pre-Revolution Iranian rock ‘n’ roll. The all-important third album adds in a heavy dollop of a lot of other nationalities and styles, allowing the group to soar free of comparisons and restrictions. A party band for the entire world.

#83: Hum – Inlet

Sometimes, even when it’s been like 20+ years since a band last released an album, it’s okay if they sound like they did at their peak. This is especially true if their peak is a motherfucker of an album like 1995’s You’d Prefer An Astronaut. The grunge era is dead and gone but goddamn if Hum doesn’t still sound as shoegaze and sadcore as they did back in the day.

#82: Idles – Ultra Mono

Ultra Mono doubles down on the struggle against modern day social ills, including class struggle and toxic masculinity. Furthermore, they double down on the exhilarating post-punk that made 2018’s Joy As An Act Of Resistance such a winning listen. It would have been nice to hear the band go in a different direction, but it’s also stellar when a band finds one thing it’s good at and mines it as far as it’ll take them.

#81: Deerhoof – Future Teenage Cave Artists

Another year, another Deerhoof album populating my top 100. Consistency you can count on. Seriously, they’re easily the most underrated act of the last 20 years and it’s not particularly close, either.

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