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.
#20: (Sandy) Alex G – House Of Sugar
Irrepressible, off-the-wall, and more than a little absurd, indie musician (Sandy) Alex G has made a career out of two things since dropping his debut in 2014: being as prolific as Ty Segall and being even more willing to play whatever the hell has come into his head in the last five minutes. House of Sugar marks his first album not put together in his bedroom but it keeps the manic, playlist-on-shuffle feel of his previous music. There’s just MORE of it – more instruments, more voices, more ideas.
#40: Billie Eilish – When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Teen pop phenoms are almost always obnoxious – Donny Osmond and Justin Beiber were both awful in their own special ways. 2019’s teen pop phenom, Billie Eilish, manages to avoid this through the virtue of being really ridiculously good. Someone online – I forget who – called her ASMR pop and there’s a lot to that, really. Her style is like she took the mic into her closet and whispered her darkest secrets into it; these Whisper confessions were then laced over solid arrangements that both embrace and subvert pop conventions. An insane debut for a 17 year old, and a harbinger of big things to come.
#60: Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
Hot Chip have put out their fair share of mediocre songs, but they’ve somehow avoided putting out a bad album. A Bath Full Of Ecstasy follows in that tradition; it presents a series of solid dance floor grooves that have the usual dark concerns laced under it – abandonment, the absurdity of existence, uncertainty of faith. Like the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode before them, Hot Chip have always known that there is more to the club than escapist bliss.
As far as years to end decades on, you could do worse than 2019. You could do better, of course; both 1969 and 1989 were world-shakers when it came to music (among everything else). But it’s not like 2019 was 2009, when the best album came out in January and everything else was just sort of okay after that. It wasn’t 1999 either, when we were mired in nu-metal and rap-rock, hip hop was still stuck in it’s Gucci-vacation mode, and jazz was still something for old people to tap their toes to while they were waiting on the final heart attack. That year gave us Woodstock ’99, and the less said of that the better.
Rock ‘n’ roll didn’t fare very well throughout the decade, depending on your perspective. A lot of it’s best moments were pretty underground; mainstream rock is a horrorshow that can be best encapsulated in that Billboard chart of the best rock songs of the decade that has numbers one through three occupied by Imagine Dragons. Hip hop, though, has progressed rapidly and weirdly through a strong experimental phase, the haters be damned. The comeback of jazz is in many ways the story of music in the teens, or the tens, or whatever we’re calling this past decade. There will be a number of entries in these three categories and more on this list, of course, but it’s good to take these final entries and use them to take stock of where we’ve been. For many artists, taking the decade challenge is extremely instructive, especially for the one sitting at the #1 spot this year. This is true of many of the artists in the top 20, several of whom were forging names for themselves in the underground in 2009, and others who were at a career crossroads back then.