Some Records That Released in 2020 That I Really Enjoyed in 2020 and Some Records That Did Not Release in 2020 That I Also Really Enjoyed in 2020
For the sake of restraining myself, the following list highlights 4 albums released in 2020 and 4 albums not released in 2020. Also, if you like music and use Spotify, then please support artists in more meaningful ways. Buy directly from their merch stores and please support your favorite artists and new artists alike on Bandcamp, Patreon, and more.
I don’t really write about music all that much anymore. I used to write about music on an old blog way back when, and I wrote some music news, lists, and blurbs at Paste. Music criticism has always evaded me because while I adore music, I am not a musician at heart. Plus, it all just feels so close to me so that doing the critical work of close reading music and my relationship to it sounds genuinely daunting. Shoutout to all of the great music writers out there—you’re all so uniquely talented. 2020 has been a year and here is some music that came out this year that I happened to enjoy this year, despite the hell of it all.
Albums Released in 2020:
“A Hero’s Death” by Fontaines D.C.
Released on July 31st, 2020, Fontaine’s D.C.’s sophomore album “A Hero’s Death” found me at a very weird time. I was a huge fan of their 2019 debut record “Dogrel”—it got me through a flight to Berlin and back (with layovers)—but their newest outing is very much its own beast. July 2020 was a shitty month, COVID and the general state of things aside. Between a bad job and one of the worst depressive spirals I’ve had in years, July was not for me. “A Hero’s Death” didn’t save me or anything, but it gave me space to work through my shit. Expansive songs steeped in sadness, repetition, and moods, this is a different Fontaine’s D.C. than we saw in 2019. A rapid rise to fame and endless touring seems to have taken a toll on them. They work through their shit on this record and I guess I did too.
Standout Track: “Living in America”
Living in the twilight years of an empire is like watching the slowest, most violent and depressing car crash. But it is a necessary one. This song understands that.
“Touch the Sound” by Spun Out
For the sake of transparency, I did direct one of this band’s music videos (yes, it is the one linked above). Spun Out is a Chicago-based indie rock-ish outfit that is made up of some of the best musicians in that scene. Their music eschews genre in the sense that it is indie rock inspired by dance floor tunes of the 80s, but it is so much more than that to the point where it is relatively undefinable. Each song feels thick with longing and melancholy while the tracks manage to also be infinitely danceable. From compelling choruses to layers of instrumentation, Spun Out has it, and you’ll know what it is when you give their 2020-released, debut record “Touch the Sound” a listen.
This one is a tie. Both tracks are quite different but hit me with a certain power that can only be felt through music. “Dark Room” makes me long for the sweaty, cigarette-stenched dance floors of small downtown clubs, and “Plastic Comet” recalls the immediate fallout and following trance-like melancholy of break up. Neither song is directly about those feelings, but they evoke them within me all the same.
“Fungus II” by Wasted Shirt
Thirty-one minutes of intense, angry noise was not something I’d know that I would want in 2020, and then 2020 happened. Turns out that raw, distorted anger is what I feel on an almost daily basis. I’m glad I found a record this year that reflects that through its sound if not through its lyrics. Wasted Shirt (Ty Segall, Black Pus, and co.) have created an album that is as genuinely original as it is unwelcoming. “Fungus II” is one of those records that you’ll know if you like it within 30 seconds of the first track. I don’t have all that much to say about it except for the fact that it has been an aggressive, uncompromising balm to this aggressively uncompromising year.
Standout Track: “Four Strangers Enter the Cement at Dusk”
Do you like distortion and droning, slow, and doom-laden guitars? If so, this song might be for you, but it will also push your love of those sounds to their breaking points. Seven minutes of paranoia and confusion and a tempo-shift halfway through the song that will make you stand up and clap—give it a listen.
“All In The Same Breath” by Croatian Amor
Croatian Amor is an important name. It is one of the many projects of the ever-working Loke Rahbek—one of the operators of one of the most underrated European labels of all time, Posh Isolation. I’ve been an ardent follower of the Copenhagen underground scene since I first heard Iceage in 2012, and from there my love for the music of that city branched off in many directions. Eventually, I found my way to Loke Rahbek, mainly through his involvement in the bands Lust For Youth and Vår. Croatian Amor is his most prolific project, and it speaks most to his musical sensibilities as an electronic musician who pushes boundaries as much as finds a way to play within them and still be fresh. “All In The Same Breath” is one of the best records of 2020 and one of Croatian Amor’s best albums to date. It evokes the feeling of walking along the roads in a coastal northern town on a cold, cold day. Equal parts beautiful and coldly distant, “All In The Same Breath” speaks to the gulfs in time and space that 2020 has wrought between us. Rahbek doesn’t offer any solutions to how we can get better, but maybe it is okay if we just get lost in his trances.
Standout Track: “The River That Flows In You Also Flows In Me”
Croatian Amor’s music is as self-serious as it is dryly comedic. Every emotional flourish is delivered with a smirk, but it is all earnest. There is messiness in earnestness and “The River That Flows In You Also Flows In Me” suggests that maybe the messiness is what matters most.
Albums Released Across Time:
“Floating Into The Night” by Julee Cruise
This album is probably most popular for its close ties to both David Lynch and the Twin Peaks television series. Lynch co-wrote the record and it released in 1989 around the same time as the first season of the show. But Julee Cruises “Floating Into The Night” is so much more than a tie-in piece of art. In fact, that piece of common knowledge just does the whole record a disservice. The soundscape Cruise creates in this record is as bone-chilling as it is enveloping. “Floating Into The Night” was made to be listened to while on long night-time drives or while close to someone that you love. It is a beautiful, spacious piece of disparate dream pop. Yes, I have cried to this album a few times this year.
Standout Track: “I Remember”
This song is a slow waltz through someone’s heart that is as together as it is broken. There’s nothing else quite like it.
“Colour Green” by Sibylle Baier
This has been an unfathomably ugly year so I’ve taken beauty where I can get. Sibylle Baier’s voice is about as beautiful as they get. I remember the first time I heard her song “Tonight” seven or eight years ago and how it made me cry on the spot. Turns out, most of her songs harbor similar power. This German singer-songwriter’s gift to the early 70s underground folk scene was a drop of lightning into an oversaturated puddle. Listen to this record, close your eyes, and just breathe. Everything might not be okay and they probably never will be, but that is life. Hold onto beauty if you can.
Standout Track: “Tonight” (just click the video above)
“Tonight” was the first Sibylle Baier song I ever heard and it deeply affected me. It still does. Take solace in its overwhelming melancholy, there’s a warmth to be found in there.
“Jumping the Shark” by Alex Cameron
If you know me, then you know that Alex Cameron is one of my favorite modern artists. I’ve seen him live going on 4 times now. His music is astonishing. Cameron’s music journies through the scumminess and filthiness of modern life, and while his later albums hone in on the noxious nature of toxic masculinity (listen to “Miami Memory” and “Forced Witness” now, those records could easily be here, too), his first record, “Jumping the Shark”, is probably the oddity. in his discography at this point. It is both a character study and a dive into the wide swathes of sadness to be found in those who accept vanity, lap up capitalism, and, well, he has some choice words for all of the shit middle managers and finance bros of the world. But he also approaches the sadness and loneliness of modern life with a sense of earnestness that shows that his music is scathing to those who deserve it, and he doesn’t traffic in blanket statements. We need to hold close to anyone who can make the lyrics “My husband’s at work, my baby’s in a Daewoo sauna, I hold my breath when I check, just to see that she isn’t a goner.” Alex Cameron is one of the best musicians and songwriters working today, and 2016’s “Jumping the Shark” is where it all started. The cohort of Australian musicians that Cameron belongs to includes other immense talents such as Holiday Sidewinder, Jack Ladder, and Kirin J. Callinan.
Standout Track: “Internet”
This track is simple, disparate, and unlike most of his music today, sonically. Thematically, it is as Alex Cameron as can be. He studies the mind of someone who is more than okay with living an entire life on the internet: “I call the shots, I give the green light…on the internet…on the internet…on the web.”
“Door, Door” by The Boys Next Door
Nick Cave is my favorite musician—From The Birthday Party to The Bad Seeds to Grinderman and the film scores he’s composed alongside Bad Seeds’ band member Warren Ellis (not the comics dude), his music means the world to me. But I hold The Boys Next Door in especially high regard. His first band and the first time he worked alongside guitar and lyrics maestro Roland S. Howard (rest in peace), The Boys Next Door only ever released one record—1979’s “Door, Door.” For the longest time, the LP for it was incredibly expensive but it got a vinyl re-release during this year’s record store day. I spent way too much on an original copy a little while ago, but I ordered the re-release too from a local record store—2020 has been hell on boutique stores like that, support them how and where and when you can. But “Door, Door” is an incredible album even after you separate it from the history and mythos of Nick Cave. It is an incredible Aussie-rock record, full stop. You’ll stamp your feet to it. If you skateboard, then skate to it because it just goes so well with skating, I can’t explain why, it just does.
Standout Track: “Shivers”
Cave’s voice is rarely as beautiful as it is in “Shivers”. His voice wrenches with emotion as he sings the opening lyrics: “I’ve been contemplating suicide, but it doesn't really suit my style.” As everything Cave does, this song is as self-serious, grandiose, and emotional as it is farcical. Howard’s guitar work in this track also bears mention, it hints at what was to come with The Birthday Party, and he was even a sonic trendsetter at a young age.