Favorite Albums of 2020

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

Matt Berninger’s Serpentine Prison | Photo by Amy Lordan

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.”

Nine Inch Nails performing in Mansfield, MA in 2009 | Photo by Amy Lordan

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.

Deftones at the House of Blues in Boston in 2013 | Photo by Amy Lordan

3. Deftones – Ohms Hands down my favorite Deftones album since White Pony. Some tracks are kinda thrash metal (“Urantia”) while others (“The Link Is Dead”) meander into Angelo Badalamenti territory.

Nick Cave performing with Grinderman at the House of Blues in Boston in 2010 | Photo by Amy Lordan

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.

Honorable Mention

  • 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.”

For more of my favorite tracks from 2020, including new singles by Dubstar, New Order, and Parlour Bells, check out my Spotify playlist.

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Tripp Review: The Go-Go’s

The Go-Go’s at the Boston House of Blues in 2016. Photo by Amy Lordan

By Jon Tripp

Not a ton of surprises for anyone who saw the Behind The Music, but a bunch of sweet archival footage from the band’s early days make this worthwhile. Cameos by members of Madness and The Specials were appreciated, but it would’ve been sweet to see Pat Smear show up to discuss Belinda’s brief tenure in The Germs.

Thank Goodness It’s Bandcamp Friday

What I miss the most from the Before Times is concerts. That was when we’d leave our homes and get to watch musical artists perform in front of us. IRL.

As a disabled person with a failing body, music transports me in a way that is magical and healing. And nothing beats hearing music in the flesh. Sometimes, I’d even push through all my pain and dance to my most favorite songs.

Local H on February 17, 2020 at The Paradise Rock Club in Boston. My last show.

One of the aspects of this New Normal that I find worrisome is the financial stability of musicians. Revenue from touring can be a huge part of their income. Musicians are now entering their sixth month without that income and there’s no real end in sight.

But don’t despair! There’s a way that you can help. On the first Friday of each month, Bandcamp has waived their revenue fees so that more money goes directly to artists. You can buy some tunes and help out your favorite bands at the same time.

Bandcamp started this endeavor in March and recently announced that they will be having “Bandcamp Fridays” on the first Friday of each month for the rest of 2020. If you’re not familiar with Bandcamp, it’s a website where you can buy digital music, physical music, and other merchandise. You can also stream music before, so you can check out the goods before you spend money. Typically, 80-85% of your money goes directly to the artist, but on Bandcamp Fridays, they get even more of your money.

Here are some of my picks for your Bandcamp Friday purchases:

  • Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – All the Good Times Welch and Rawlings are two of the artists I’m most proud of having worked with. They are fucking brilliant and if you haven’t seen them live, you should make seeing them a post-pandemic must.
  • The Rentals – Q36
  • Various Artists – Saving for a Custom Van Loads of your favorite musicians pay tribute to the late Adam Schlesinger in this compilation. Kay Hanley, Tanya Donelly, Gail Greenwood, Nada Surf, Motion City Soundtrack, Ted Leo, and more recorded covers to benefit MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund, which is dedicated to helping music industry and community members affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schlesinger passed away from complications from COVID-19 on April 1.
  • Sonic45 – Pills I’m always a fan of songs that remind me to take my meds.
  • Dama Scout – Milky Milk
  • Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me You looking for some female-fronted power pop? Get your fix with Diet Cig!
  • American Hi-Fi – Anywhere Else But Here A fun EP of covers by the lads. Buy it on its August 7 release date.
  • Dumb Numbers – Dumb Numbers II
  • Libido Reign – Libido Lane/Standing In Your Reign Shout out to my neighbor, Dan, for making this fun recording as a tribute to his uncle’s band.

Favorite Music of 2019

In no particular order, I present my favorite albums of 2019! For a mix of my favorite tracks, check out my playlist over at Spotify.

  • SPC ECO – Fifteen Dean Garcia of Curve’s current electro/gloom pop outfit. Spooky, ethereal stuff.
  • Melanie SandfordWonderland If you’re nostalgic for the heyday of ’90s Boston girl power, this album is for you.
  • Ladytron – Ladytron It took me a while to enjoy this album after the clusterfuck that was PledgeMusic. I lost money. Ladytron lost money. Ken Andrews lost money. Once I got past that sting, I found myself reveling in another synth-pop masterpiece from these Liverpudlians.
  • Wallows – Nothing Happens Sunny alt-rock from California. The best band with actors in it since Phantom Planet.

  • Piroshka – Brickbat Piroshka is a ’90s dream come true: Miki Berenyi (Lush), Justin Welch (Elastica), KJ McKillop (Moose), and Mick Conroy (Modern English) make up this supergroup.

  • Billie Eilish – When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? I’m dumbfounded by how much I love this album. My musical taste doesn’t usually stray so far into the mainstream. She’s worth all of the hype.
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen Another glorious, haunting release from The Bad Seeds.
  • Ex:Re – Ex:Re Ex:Re (pronounced ex-ray) is Elena Tonra of Daughter. I cannot express how much I love this album. It reaches every part of my being in a way I haven’t felt since Lisa Germano’s Happiness. This was the album I played the most this past year.

  • Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold It received mixed reviews, but I dug this album. The Center Won’t Hold feels like the trio was into Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile when they created it. Conversely, Ex Hex’s It’s Real was the best Sleater-Kinney album of the year that wasn’t by Sleater-Kinney.
  • Letters to Cleo – OK Christmas A truly excellent EP of Christmas tunes! (Disclaimer: I moonlight as their hometown merch girl.)

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    Greg Hawkes of The Cars, Diane Dupuis, Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, and Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo in November 2019. Photo by Amy Lordan
  • Harry Styles – Fine Line Go listen to “She” and tell me that you don’t like it.
  • Morrissey – California Son I feel so much conflict in my soul over Morrissey! Up until 2019, he’d been my church; my untouchable favorite! But then he wore that For Britain badge on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and he crushed my spirit. I’d love to chalk it up to Moz being contrary and “Morrissey being Morrissey,” but I just don’t know if I can. Can one separate an artist from the artist’s politics in order to still love their music? California Son, a slightly uneven covers album, didn’t help settle this quandary.
  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Watchmen (Music from the HBO Series) Ah, sweet score work from this Oscar-winning duo. Thanks for making me forget about my Morrissey heartbreak. Initially, I felt weird about watching Watchmen because I interviewed Alan Moore in 2016 and he was an absolute delight. But once I heard these two were on board, I was all in.
  • The Darkness – Easter Is Cancelled Riffs! Glorious riffs!

  • White Lies – Five Interpol, if they were British. There’s no hiding that White Lies was heavily influenced by Joy Division, but I am still a sucker for their brooding yet poppy tunes.
  • The Chemical Brothers – No Geography My dance party album of the year.
  • Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow Both Barack Obama and I approve.

Tripp Review: Make Mine Music

By Jon Tripp

Not much to see here, folks. Basically a collection of Silly Symphonies with delusions of Fantasia‘s grandeur. The highlight is probably the segment “All The Cats Join In”, a jazz-era romp that looks like it features the Archie gang and contains some surprisingly ribald humor for a Disney production… It almost feel like a “this is your kid on jazz!” PSA for parents.

Side note: steer clear of the Disney Gold Collection DVD, which is not only abridged (missing “The Martins and The Coys” segment) but also features an embarrassingly bad transfer and is artificially transferred into widescreen, cropping the top and bottom of the frame. All around, an underwhelming viewing experience.

Tripp Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

By Jon Tripp

For the first half or so, I thought, “This is the best John Wick movie!” Then he gets back to the Continental and I kinda checked out for the next 45 minutes. I know this is supposed to be the great action franchise of this generation, but I just can’t get behind it. It’s just good enough that I’ll eventually get around to watching each movie on DVD.

Rating: three stars

Tripp Review: Streets of Fire

By Jon Tripp

What even is this glorious 1980s mess?

Willem Dafoe busts up a Face To Face concert and kidnaps the lead singer (Diane Lane, apparently having left The Stains) in a scene that reminded me of the opening of Double Dragon. Rick Moranis is cast hilariously against type as her asshole manager/boyfriend. Enter Michael Paré (the Scott to Lane’s Envy), who agrees to rescue her, armed only with a shotgun that can blow up a vehicle with each shell. Also, Lee Ving is here! And Bill Paxton with a psychobilly pompadour! And the dancer from Flashdance! And Dafoe wears leather overalls, shirtless! And then there’s a rock-hammer duel! Why not!?

If you ever thought that The Warriors would be the perfect movie if only there were five or six musical interludes, or that Buckaroo Banzai would be better without the science fiction… Well, you’d be wrong both times, but at least you will enjoy the hell out of Streets of Fire.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

Tripp Review: Mary Poppins Returns

By Jon Tripp

The Royal Doulton Bowl sequence was top-notch, with the animation reminiscent of the Disney Classics of the 1950-60s, a solid chase scene, and one of the best songs in the movie (“The Cover Is Not The Book”). The ending is good, too; “Nowhere To Go But Up” could easily have been an outtake from the original — it really strives for the exuberance of “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”. And the race to Big Ben was okay too I guess. But I’m sad to say, the rest was kind of a snooze. Especially the Topsy Turvy scene, during which I did actually start to doze off.

I think it needed more Emily Blunt which is certainly not a criticism I ever expected to have… After helping out at Big Ben she pretty much disappears for the last 20 minutes of the movie.

I went in hoping to love it; came out only liking it, and that’s disappointing. Definitely not my favorite London-based children’s fantasy movie of 2018.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tripp Review: Mom and Dad

By Jon Tripp

If you ever wanted to see Nic Cage try to level a pool table while listening to Reagan Youth, and then immediately demolish that pool table while scream-singing The Hokey Pokey, then boy do I have the movie for you.

Flavors of 28 Days Later, Pontypool, and The People Under The Stairs blended with a liberal dash of grade-A Cage Rage, and a good time is had by all.

Random cameo by Grant Morrison as a cable news talking head, because why the hell not.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2