The 100 Best Albums of 2020 (#40-31)

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#40: Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight To Eternity?

Three words: Experimental Drag Opera. Cindy Lee is the drag persona of former Women singer/guitarist Patrick Flegel. The music itself is reminiscent of Women, if you took out the oddly-shaped post-punk guitars and replaced them with ghosts. It’s profoundly confrontational, despairing, and crafted out of 60s girl group pop, albeit filtered through a howling demonic essence that renders the vibes gothic and terrifying rather than winsome and dancey. Plus, the conceit neatly flips that Gladys Knight and the Pips song on its head: rather than “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine” it’s “I would rather spend eternity in nothing than to spend eternity with you.”

#39: U.S. Girls – Heavy Light

After several listens to Meghan Remy’s eighth album, it has become increasingly clear to me that a lot of it is basically ABBA, albeit ABBA that has been rendered unrecognizable through hitting it continuously with Jackson Pollock-esque globs of Springsteen, Bowie, Kate Bush, and thick 90s alterna-pop.

#38: HMLTD – West Of Eden

Flamboyantly queer English rock ‘n’ roll that is equal parts Ziggy Stardust and A Flock Of Seagulls, with some mid-period rave melted in and a bit of electroclash drizzled over top. It’s angry and surreal, driven by the absurdity of modern existence and it’s wilfully blind adherence to paths that lead to existential dead ends. Nicoletta Wylde called it an album of Millenial humour and that’s probably the closest anyone has come to nailing a description.

#37: Bananagun – The True Story Of Bananagun

The name is beyond dumb – the sort of thing a permanent bar band made up of dads would come up with – but the sound is pure vintage psychedelic funk. They’re Aussies, of course; if the name didn’t give it away, the freewheeling psychedelia should have. It’s Nuggets-era rock by way of Os Mutantes, tropical LSD music with some of the best percussion work in the entire Melbourne scene.

#36: Drive-By Truckers – The Unraveling

The Unraveling, Lady DBT’s first album of 2020, came out at the end of January, before the pandemic and (perhaps more to the point) before the spectre of mass civil unrest once again stalked American streets. The idea that such a spectre could come around again was likely no surprise to main DBT songwriter Patterson Hood, whose songs have often grappled with the frustrations of being empathetic in the South. A response to that summer of unrest would come on the next album; The Unraveling, meanwhile, was a direct address of the Trump era – religion at odds with the grift, the uselessness of that stupid phrase “thoughts and prayers”, the deadly pandemic of heroin, and the crimes against humanity being committed in the name of that flag that every second American house flies proudly. Like it’s predecessor, 2016’s American Band, it delves into the rotting heart of the American ideal from the perspective of the Southern working class. Where American Band was wary of what was to come, however, The Unraveling takes stock of what had (to that point, ha ha) happened. You can consider them bookends of Trump era America, with the next album being the Cool Zone Addendum.

#35: The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You

That the Australian duo came back after 16 years to deliver a solid album like 2016’s Wildflower was a miracle unto itself. Add in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the pinnacle of plunderphonics with another great record and you have a group that has cemented their legacy as one of the all-time greats. We Will Always Love You shows a lot of growth, as well. Since I Left You was less a record and more a collage, built out of an alleged 900+ samples. We Will Always Love You is still built around hundreds of samples, but original instrumentation is used to guide and flesh out those samples into something beyond what is typically regarded as plunderphonics. Part of this includes an even greater reliance on guest vocals than Wildflower; the lineup is staggering and at times We Will Always Love You feels more like an all-star game than it does a collection of songs.

#34: Jeff Rosenstock – No Dream

Jeff Rosenstock is the same age as me. The funny disparity in our chosen artistic fields is this: at 38 I am still considered young as a writer; at 38 Jeff Rosenstock is something of an elder statesman of modern punk rock. Having been the key player in both The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb The Music Industry!, his subsequent solo work has been fiery, passionate, and built on a solid foundation of 24 caret gold hooks. No Dream doesn’t have as massive a singalong as “TV Stars” or “9/10” from 2018’s POST-, (OK maybe “Ohio Tpke”) but it still features more singable moments per song than most anything else you’ll find out there.

#33: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Every few years a pop album comes along that destroys everything in its path and becomes a staple of radio playlists for years to come. Future Nostalgia is that album. This is by design, perhaps; the English singer’s vision for the album was to make stuff that she enjoyed listening to when she was a child, so the disco vibes that permeate the record are no accident. Consider, too that this is only her second album, and that the last song on this album shows a depth of character that is really only hinted at elsewhere.

#32: Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Honestly, this album should be awful. Just, the absolute worst. I mean, come the fuck on. Art-pop critical indie darling becomes girlfriend and muse to an eternally adolescent billionaire? They have a baby whose name is basically a coupon code for 10% off your next ink order? This should have been a terrible, overindulgent mistake of an album and it isn’t. It’s a gorgeous melange of overlapping butter-harmonies, industrial mood swings, fae pop sensibilities and this huge bass sound that vibes like a thundercloud. It treats its subject matter (the impending doom awaiting us all through climate change) a little flippantly, but she did claim in pre-release interviews to be trying to make climate change “fun, so more people pay attention” so, ok, I guess. As far as dumb things Claire Boucher says, it’s better than the time she tried to play labour relations peacemaker at Tesla, so there’s that.

#31: Adrianne Lenker – Songs

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: indie artist possessed of a gorgeous and unique voice and songwriting style suffers personal and professional setback and decamps to the woods, where they write a haunted, beautiful album dealing with their feelings. No, it’s not For Emma, Forever Ago, it’s Big Thief singer Adrianne Lenker’s first solo album for 4AD. There was a lot of heavy baggage going into it: within the last two years she has divorced; released two stellar albums with her main band; gotten into and broken up with another relationship; and had Big Thief’s European tour cut short by the covid pandemic. Rather than rest, she decamped to her sister’s property in western Massachussetts where she lived in a one-room cabin and recorded this album on an 8-track machine using her guitar, her voice, and some instrumentation gathered from her surroundings, including the needles of a white pine, the fire in the wood stove, the rain, and the insects in the forest around her.

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