Other than hugging my mom, what I missed the most this year has been concerts. When I saw Soul Asylum and Local H in February, I had no idea that it would be my last show of 2020. When I worked in the music industry, some weeks I’d be at shows every night. One night, when I worked at Ryko Distribution, I saw three separate concerts (at three different venues) on one night. I saw more shows on that one night than I have in all of 2020.
The upside of all of this quarantining at home, aside from reading way more than usual, has been the bonus music exploration time. KEXP, WERS, Hot Press, Bandcamp, and Vanyaland were some of my favorite sources for new tunes. When I wasn’t reading, you could find me playing Animal Crossing while blasting music.
As someone who’s immunocompromised and spent three months quarantining when she was 12, escaping through music has been a big part of my life. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through this year without these albums (and many, many others). Without further ado, here’s my top ten favorite albums of 2020!
Top Ten Favorite Albums
10. Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison The frontman of The National released his first solo effort and it’s quite excellent. It picks up where The National’s Trouble Will Find Me left off.
9. Butch Walker – American Love Story This is Walker’s musical! Maybe someday it’ll be on the stage. For now, you can enjoy its many power pop ear worms like “Fuck It (I Don’t Like Love)” and “Everything White.” And if songs like Walker’s “Joan” are among your favorites, then your heart will break for the “Sunset Grill”-sounding “Out In the Open.”
8. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V: Together Atmospheric, ambient, and haunting. This release, along with Ghosts VI, is available for free on the Nine Inch Nails website. Go grab them both. As the description on the website says, “TWO DIFFERENT RECORDS FOR TWO DIFFERENT MINDSETS. DOWNLOAD NOW FOR FREE. STAY SAFE!” This year, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails also released scores for the films Soul and Mank. That Emmy, Oscar, and Grammy award winner Reznor knows how to stay busy. Maybe Reznor should collaborate with Butch Walker on a musical so that he can get his Tony?
7. Run the Jewels – RTJ4 Remember that feeling in college you’d get when you listened to Consolidated? That’s the buzz I get from this politically-charged album. I get goosebumps every single time I listen to “Walking in the Snow” and I hear the lyrics, “Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe.'”
6. Phantogram – Ceremony This was my go-to album when I needed a pick-me-up. Songs like “Dear God” and “Into Happiness” capture how I miss my friend with lyrics like “Take me out of this world I’m living in | Tell, tell my friends ’cause I know I’mma see again” and “Wish you could be here | No more loneliness | You’d make it perfect.” Also, it has a good beat and I can dance to it.
5. Pillow Queens – In Waiting This is the Irish quartet that’s missing from your collection. Wistful. Melodic. Shimmering. Kinda sounds like Teagan and Sara gone shoegaze and power pop. From 2:51 of “Holy Show” to its end is truly glorious.
4. Hinds – The Prettiest Curse Ah! Sweet power pop meets lo-fi garage rock. The Spanish quartet’s third album is a gem. They straddle the lines of pop and rock perfectly, and they even throw in a dash of synth-pop. It’s like Apples In Stereo, Fuzzy, and CSS had a baby and that baby is Hinds.
2. Nick Cave – Idiot Prayer This is my kitten’s favorite album of 2020. She has a penchant for Nick Cave (and also Harry Styles). Everytime we play Nick Cave, she has to jump up to the speakers and be as close as possible to them. I think she gets that from me. Whenever I’ve seen Nick Cave live, whether it’s with Grinderman or the Bad Seeds, I always want to be close to him. I think that Cave is the most brilliant lyricist of his generation. With Idiot Prayer, Cave’s lyrics seem even more poignant in this stripped down, solo live performance. Idiot Prayer was recorded at Alexandra Palace in London and was streamed globally to ticket holders online on July 23, 2020.
1. Hum – Inlet I am obsessed with this moody, brooding, sonic masterpiece. When I found myself in the emergency department because of an intractable migraine, this was one of the albums that soothed me. It’s so easy to get lost in Inlet. I was particularly drawn to “In the Den” with the lyric “Find me here on the ground and in need of you” and wishing that my partner could be by my side. But that’s life during a pandemic.
- Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
- Pet Shop Boys – Hot Spot
- Morrissey – I Am Not a Dog On a Chain (Yes. I’m just as confused as you that this isn’t in my top albums. It starts out strong and then just peters out.)
- Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Patchouli Blue
- The Rentals – Q36
- Lanterns On the Lake – Spook the Herd
- Throwing Muses – Sun Racket
- Yumi Zouma – Truth or Consequences
- Greg Dulli – Random Desire
- Jarv … Is – Beyond the Pale
- Doves – The Universal Want
- Songhoy Blues – Optimisme
- Taylor Swift – evermore (Yes. I’m just as confused as you that this is in my honorable mention section. It might even bump out one of my top ten albums! Why? Because this is basically an album by The National with Taylor Swift. Aaron Dessner of The National co-produced both of Swift’s 2020 album releases. In the past, I’ve tried to get into Taylor Swift, but had no luck. This time, I was like, “She does a song with The National? I gotta hear it.” So I did. I listened to “Coney Island” and then I listened to the whole album. And then I listened to the whole album again. And I’m in love. Particularly with “Champagne Problems.”