2020: what a year, right?

Under pandemic conditions, without concerts or other in-person settings to share the experience of music with others, my listening became even more isolated and disconnected from whatever else was going on in music. My consumption of ambient music and other forms of beatless experimental music went way up in part because my creation of it went way up (ambient being especially to socially distanced performance conditions). Also, I taught classes on campus just once a week this fall, which reduced my commuting a lot this year — better for the environment, but worse for how much metal and techno I could play at full volume. But I needed music in 2020 as much as ever before, and it was still there to find.

 

DeradoorianFind The Sun

Angel Deradoorian climbed the mountain in search of new sounds and enlightenment. That those ended up a little krautrocky is perfectly fine with me.

 

ProtomartyrUltimate Success Today

Admittedly, the leaps forward this Detroit band makes with each album get shorter and shorter… but the same could be said for the apocalypse they narrate.

 

Nubya GarciaSource

This young lion made a defining album of the London jazz scene.

 

Kathleen EdwardsTotal Freedom

My Americana album of the year came from Canada. Who doesn’t love a redemption story about middle-aged failure?

 

HumInlet

Though I barely remember this shoegaze band from the 90s, their reunion added doom metal and other contemporary forms for a necessary album.

 

Psychic TempleHouses Of The Holy

Bandcamp album of the year: So Cal songwriter recorded with four very different groups (Cherry Glazerr, Chicago Underground Trio, the Dream Syndicate, Xololanxinxo) for a generous gift of music.

 

Lianne La HavasLianne La Havas

Come for the sensual cover of an anxious Radiohead anthem, stay for the breathy, woozy neo-soul animated by La Havas’s guitar.

 

MolassessThrough the Hollow

Dutch metal group made a meaty, unesoteric prog-metal album.

 

HipersonBildungsroman

I can’t tell what this band from Chengdu, China is singing about or what post-punk means to them, but I know the hot flush and dashed hopes of youth when I hear them.

 

Horse LordsThe Common Task

Mesmerizing rhythms and ethnoforgery from this Baltimore quartet.

 

Margo PriceThat’s How Rumors Get Started

Salty country singer brought the goods with this Sturgill Simpson-produced album.

 

SliftUmmon

French trio orbits far off galaxies with godhead stoner space rock.

 

Psychedelic FursMade Of Rain

How delightful that one of my favorite bands from adolescence returned so strong for their first album in almost thirty years.

 

Oranssi PazuzuMestarin Kynsi

I may be sounding like a broken record the way this Finnish post-black metal band keeps showing up on my list, but I guess that’s how others feel about each new Taylor Swift release.

 

The Third MindThe Third Mind

Who knew Dave Alvin had a Haight-Ashbury freak flag to wave? Inspired performance on this mostly instrumental album with Camper Van Beethoven’s bassist and their friends.

 

Idris Ackamoor & The PyramidsShaman!

Their fusion of spiritual jazz and afro-funk feels natural and so right.

 

Field Lines CartographerThe Glimmering Plane

The Blade Runner soundtrack is never far from mind (this year I made a bitchin’ Vangelis playlist), and this gave me those sublime dystopian feels.

 

75 Dollar BillLittle Big Band Live At Tubby’s

Someone released as an album the last concert I saw in 2020! Enjoy this 0:07 clip that I recorded, which helps me remember live music.

 

Nine Inch NailsGhosts V: Together

Could this be the first time NIN appears in one of my end-of-year lists? Shows the benefit of Trent Reznor’s soundtrack work.

 

High SpiritsHard To Stop

The name of this retro metal group is truth in advertising — this felt like a great collection of jock jams.

 

Landon CaldwellUnity

This is the kind of drone music I swallowed up in 2020.

 

FujitaIki

Calming instrumentals performed on a homemade, keyboard-less pipe organ.