Of all the years to start a decade with, huh? Remember when Australia was burning to the ground and we were on the verge of a global World War III, and it was only January 3rd? Of course you don’t, because the rest of the year was somehow even worse. The plague took center stage, of course, but let’s not forget civil unrest throughout the world, the accelerating rush of climate change, and the inevitable clown show that is a U.S. Presidential election. It may surprise you to know that there were albums released in 2020 as well, although you can be forgiven for not knowing that from your position curled up under a blanket on the couch watching CNN, Sharon Marsh style.
I didn’t forget, though, and to my surprise throughout the year I found that the quality of music released through 2020 was actually pretty good. Some artists took obvious advantage of the lockdown to record and release more music than normal; there were probably more instances of bands releasing two albums this year than previously, although I haven’t done the math on that. Either way, though: whew, what a year amirite?
#100: Torres – Silver Tongue
A mystic blend of 80s alt-pop sensibilities and early 90s lo-fi sounds, Torres finds a perfect well to draw from in the musical era bookended by On Fire and Kid A.
#99: Sepultura – Quadra
Battered, bruised, and missing the Cavalera brothers, the legendary Brazilian metal band has kept themselves alive for twenty years on sheer force of will. Quadra is the first time since original singer Max Cavalera left that the band has found chart success and it’s largely because they open up the face-melting stuff full-blast while also returning to the indigenous rhythm-making that marked Roots, their last truly great record.
#98: Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic
Magic is the first moment that Oneohtrix Point Never has felt halfway normal. Wait five years; he’ll sound completely different once again. Someone who lives within wifi network range of my backyard named their network after this act, and one day I’m going to figure out who it is.
#97: Benny The Butcher – Burden Of Proof
The Buffalo rapper’s second album was a key part of the Griselda push that drove Buffalo hip-hop into the spotlight this year. Burden Of Proof is a compressed, gritty, solidly Golden Age record full of grown-ass-man boasts and icicle stabs, as well as a laundy list of big-time guests including Rick Ross, Freddie Gibbs, and Lil’ Wayne.
#96: Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
The Biggest Baritone in Indie Rock goes solo for the first time, roping in Booker T to do the production. The result is a textured, restrained approach to the sort of songwriting Berninger brings to his day job with The National.
#95: Osees – Protean Threat
Jon Dwyer’s dayjob band had been undergoing a name reduction so severe (Spotify lists the album artists as both Osees and Thee Oh Sees, so that filthy casuals can still figure it out) that it’s likely to result in a naming singularity where the band will eventually just be O, and then a blank space, black tape or something. Meanwhile, the band’s psychedelic freak-out punk keeps getting more caustic, if that’s even possible at this point.
#94: Wolf Parade – Thin Mind
A reunion album, destined to be forgotten, BUT: for one, brief shining moment, it’s a time portal back to the mid-00s when such earnest indie rock gestures still made sense.
#93: Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess
The North Carolina indie darling released her fourth album, All Mirrors, in 2019. It was a big, sprawling album featuring a 14-piece orchestra; it also featured Olsen sounding somewhat lost among the at times bloated architecture of the record. Whole New Mess is All Mirrors as it had been originally before it was Phil Spektorized – consider it Let It Be Naked to Let It Be. The stripped down, demo nature of the album allows the intimacy to leak out in a much grander fashion than its more grandiose predecessor.
#92: Deftones – Ohms
Twenty years ago nu metal – the dirty older brother of so many regrettable hard rock movements – was at its absolute peak. Between Ozzfest and the Family Values Tour, an entire generation of teenaged boys were raised on three-chord ultra-heavy stomps and vocal lines that are cringe as fuck now. Deftones were tangentially related to that scene, but they always stood aloof to it, much in the way that Radiohead stood aloof from and superior to the post-grunge bands that they made their name with. While the “metal Radiohead” signifier is one that has been bandied around over the years, they’re a lot closer to a sort of dad-metal Weeknd: all tone and drugged-out atmosphere, shadows of lechery that play more as backdrop to the real story, which is the struggle to feel something, anything, beyond the haze.
#91: The Flaming Lips – American Head
The great thing about the Flaming Lips is that once in a while they’ll poke their heads out of whatever freak psychedelic noise experiments they’re doing and put out something that grounds itself back in those sweeping cinematic melodies they conquered the world with around the turn of the century. It’s a latter-day highlight from the band’s discography and proof that, 34 years into their career, they’re still capable of achieving heavy beauty.