Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 in review

Here's a list of my top 10 favorite albums of 2020, all genres in play. An annotated version appears on Rolling Stone's aggregated round-up of staffer top 10s, a fun yearly tradition that I'm happy to be a part of.

1. Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger, Force Majeure
2. AC/DC, Power Up
3. Kirk Windstein, Dream in Motion
4. Undeath, Lesions of a Different Kind
5. Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns
6. Bob Dylan, Rough and Rowdy Ways
7. Josh Johnson, Freedom Exercise
8. Gulch, Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress
9. Erica Freas, Young
10. Mr. Bungle, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo

My yearly all-genres-in-play top 10 lists dating back to 2005 can be found here.


And here's a jazz-only new-releases list, as submitted to Francis Davis's annual critics poll — currently hosted by NPR Music — followed by my historical/reissue choices for the same poll. (Many of these records, plus quite a few more, are discussed in a year-end jazz survey I published recently via RS.) Note: I settled on this order after submitting the list above, and after I'd had a chance to do some further listening, which is why you'll find some inconsistencies re: the order (the Braufman trading places with the Douglas/Younger, for instance). There's no more inexact science than list-making — suffice to say, I enthusiastically recommend all above and below.

New Releases

1. Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns
2. Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger, Force Majeure
3. Immanuel Wilkins, Omega
4. Josh Johnson, Freedom Exercise
5. Pat Metheny, From This Place
6. Chicago Underground Quartet, Good Days
7. Eric Revis, Slipknots Through a Looking Glass
8. Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela, Rejoice
9. Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes, Heritage of the Invisible II
10. Peter Evans, Being & Becoming


1. Sonny Rollins, Rollins in Holland
2. Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe, Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions
3. Charles Mingus, @ Bremen 1964 & 1975 

My yearly jazz-only top 10 lists dating back to 2008 can be found here.


Of the albums I enjoyed this year that didn't make either list above, and weren't cited in the afore-linked RS jazz round-up, here's a few that made a particularly strong impression:

Coriky, Coriky
A quasi-continuation of Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina's Evens project, with the superb addition of Joe Lally on bass. Homespun folk-punk that feels both idiosyncratic and timeless.

Napalm Death, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
These guys impress me more with each release. Genuinely experimental, surprising and unclassifiable — not to mention ferocious — music from a band that could've long ago settled into coasting mode. For anyone who thinks they know what Napalm Death are about but hasn't checked in with them lately, this one just might be a revelation.

Bob Mould, Blue Hearts
Another artist who's somehow managed to retain the fire and the urgency that's propelled his best work for around 40 years. You hear a song like this and you know instantly that you're listening to Bob Mould; you also have no impulse whatsoever to swap it out for one of his earlier classics. This is the fifth Bob album in a row I've loved since I started following his solo career closely around the time of 2012's Silver Age.

Deftones, Ohms
I really fell hard for this band in 2020 after skirting around deep Deftones fandom for a few years. I now love pretty much every Deftones album, including the past few, and this one is absolutely earns its place in the core catalog.

Ulcerate, Stare Into Death and Be Still
Following an initial obsession, this one didn't stick with me throughout the year quite like I expected it to, but if you're in the right mood, it's a vast and imposing aural marvel. (Check out this endorsement from BangerTV vlogger Riley for a far more eloquent description than I could provide.)

Imperial Triumphant, Alphaville
A spectacularly bizarre statement from a band committed to obliterating genre divisions. Hit play and revel in the madness. 

Wayne Horvitz and Sara Schoenbeck, Cell Walk
Duo poetry for piano and bassoon. Wrote this one up for RS' "Albums You Might Have Missed in 2020" list.


Some pop songs and other singles I liked a lot this year:

Phoebe Bridgers, "Kyoto"
Morgan Wallen, "More Than My Hometown"
Miley Cyrus, "Midnight Sky"
The Weeknd, "Blinding Lights"
Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion, "WAP"
Ozzy Osbourne, "Ordinary Man"
The Kid Laroi feat. Lil Mosey, "Wrong"


And for helping to keep me sane during this most unusual of years, special thanks to: the back catalogs of Crowbar, AC/DC, Marvin Gaye, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Charles Tolliver, Khruangbin, ALL and the Dead; the individuals or teams behind the Heavy Hole, Washed Up Emo, Turned Out a Punk, WTF, Crash Bang Boom, Let There Be Talk, You Don't Know Mojack and Kreative Kontrol podcasts; Wayne Tucker & Co., who performed regularly in Grand Army Plaza this summer/fall; the Village Vanguard and Clutch livestreams; this version of Fleetwood Mac playing "I'm So Afraid" live in 1976; anyone/everyone involved in Curb Your Enthusiasm; the La Croix "NiCola" varietal; my friends/collaborators Julian Bennett Holmes and John Atkinson, who masterminded a life-saving outdoor music series in Red Hook during the warm months of 2020; and the Good Steely Dan Takes Twitter account.


So long, Neil, McCoy, Gary, Leslie, Henry, Lee, Stanley, Riley, Jimmy, Eddie, Tony, Hal and so many others.

Saturday, December 26, 2020