Albums of the year, in random order
Ebony Tusks, “Heal_Thyself” & “HDF” Our local noise-rap hype griots D-E-L-I-V-E-R on their debut LP following a decade of intense shows. Prince, “1999 Super Deluxe Edition” (2019) I spent the year absorbing this incredible set. The deluxe edition mixes have all sounded good, but this is the first to top (!) the originals to my ears. The Prince estate’s quest to separate me from my money continues apace; look for “Sign o’ the Times” on next year’s list. Dark Satellites, “May You Live In Interesting Times” At the start of the pandemic Drew disappeared into the garage, secretly banging out this bleak, Teutonic meditation on the titular curse. Fiona Apple, “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” Harry Nilsson-, Joni Mitchell-, Carole King-, Randy Newman-level songwriting for 2020, performed with Apple’s unique panache. This album will be studied. “Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up!” Run The Jewels, “RTJ4” Mike and El’s unimpeachable streak continues and expands. What is there to say, really? They’re the best, with as strong a claim to “Artist of the Decade” as anyone else.
More outstanding music, roughly power-ranked
Backxwash, “God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It” Backxwash’s beats and bars sting, swirl, and stab like no one else’s. They’re a one of one. Secret Machines’ singles, b-sides, EPs, and bootlegs (2003 – 2019) The official releases of “Live At The Garage” and “Awake In The Brain Chamber” sent me on a rewarding deep dive past the band’s LPs to uncover treasures like the Allaire Sessions and the Lizard Lounge bootleg (2006-10-27), solidifying them as a top 10 all-time band for me. Erik Hall, “Music For 18 Musicians” Hall’s solo studio take on Steve Reich’s modern classic radiates… love, I guess is the word, in all its complexity and bittersweetness. The cumulative effect of these simple lines, played with perfect rhythmic touch, quietly suggests the breadth of human experience from deep joy to raw, howling hurt. r beny, “natural fiction” & full discography r beny’s gentle tape loops and synths accompanied me for many hours reading library books like “The Starless Sea” this year. Elder, “Omens” The astral-journeying heavy psych-prog masters have become an institution, dropping their fourth straight best-in-class LP. If this is your jam, this is YOUR JAM. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, “Axiom” “What you’re experiencing tonight … is the re-evaluation … We’ve just crossed into the second century of creative improvised music … We’re re-evaluating what we’re playing and why. [Jazz] has nothing to do with where this music’s power rests. So what you’re going to hear tonight hearkens to that.”” Vladislav Delay, “Rakka” This unearthly noise, inspired by arctic wilderness, manages to sound both machine-like and alive as runaway steam locomotive drums race and stop on a dime over deep drones. Jeff Tweedy, “Love Is The King” Continuing the run that started with 2018’s “WARM,” Tweedy takes the originally pejorative “dad rock” idea and turns it into hushed, transcendent, vulnerable, and world-wise ruminations on love and mortality. Y’know, like an awesome dad. Two Minutes to Late Night’s YouTube channel One of the best Saturday afternoons of the deadly global pandemic was the one I fell down the rabbit hole after Gwarsenio and Company’s star-studded heavy metal covers of mostly-not-metal tunes. Rival Consoles, “Articulation” Finding a wintry, skittering sweet spot between the club and experimental art spaces, Rival Consoles is this year’s Jon Hopkins (serious praise). Hainbach, “Assertion” / “Light Splitting” / “Billions of Windows OST” / “Gaze Up at the Harvest Moon” The Mr. Rogers of ambient/experimental electronics had a prolific year (This is a high compliment; he is accessible and unconditionally positive on his fantastic YouTube channel) War On Women, “Wonderful Hell” This crew’s feminist metal/hardcore/punk crossover is packed with almost enough hooks to obscure their politics, but you wouldn’t want to miss the lyrics. 5/5, would smash the patriarchy again. Coriky, “Coriky” Ian MacKaye still goes pretty hard, over Amy and Joe’s monster rhythm section and gang vocals. The best possible version of “Fugazi, aging gracefully.” Pallbearer, “Forgotten Days” The boys fully synthesize all the far-flung territory they’ve been staking out since “Sorrow and Extinction” eight long years ago, reaching someplace universally heavy and aching from their roots in doom. HUM, “Inlet” A home run if you’re already a fan of HUM’s heavy ’90s guitars and clean vocals like me, maybe a take-it-or-leave-it if you’re not, and that’s OK. Bonus points for the immersive production. Aesop Rock, “Spirit World Field Guide” Looser than his previous records and scattered as the title suggests, Aes still uniquely rips. Everyone knows he has bars for miles, but his beats remain underrated. M Geddes Gengras, “The Blue Push” (2009) / “neoderealization” (2010) / “enduring doubt” (2010) / “THIS COULD BE THE LAST TIME” (2011) / “VDS I” (2011) / “PURITY” (2012) / “VDS II” (2013) / “ishi outtakes” (2014) After discovering “Ishi” a year or two ago, I went deep on M’s back catalog in 2020. Maggi Payne, “Ahh-Ahh” Composed in the mid-’80s on Apple II and early samplers, “Ahh-Ahh” is art-dance music by way of David Behrman and Laurie Spiegel. Could soundtrack a Neil deGrasse Tyson show, in the good way. Deftones, “Ohms” TFW your crowd-pleaser is also a fresh synthesis of your moody, thrashy late-career aesthetic peaks. Lotta Frank on this record, dig it. Abe’s grooves are sick, too. Brass Against’s YouTube channel Huge props to this crew, especially bandleader Brad Hammonds and primary vocalist Sophia Urista, for burning an entire COVID afternoon with their brassed-up Rage covers. Sophia is F-O-R R-E-A-L (see the “Wake Up” screams!). Selvedge, “Warm Enough” / “Hunger Stones” / “Small Guarantees” (w/ Til Willis) It’s not fair to Til to lump the collaborative “Small Guarantees” in with Selvedge’s 2020 output, but I like the breadth of this trio of LPs considered as a whole; soothing ambience, mecha-monstrous noise, and a half-nod to Neil Young. Hyborian, “Volume II” Channeling Maiden more than Mastodon through their sludgy thrash this time out (or is it thrashy sludge?), KC’s own Hyborian annihilate the sophomore jinx. Alessandro Cortini & Daniel Avery, “Illusion of Time” We have noise, we have pretty sequences, we have ambience, we have big reverbs; A & D took all the raw electronic materials I love and made a polished, cavern-sized version of them. Jessie Ware, “What’s Your Pleasure?” I’ve been trying for years to convince Cory that Ware’s music, especially the gauzy disco of this year’s entry, is like CRJ for the bake-off set. Have I finally succeeded? Bibio, “Phantom Brickworks” (2017) I’m guessing, but these seem like immaculately composed tape loops to me. Maybe they’re accidents. Either way, I’ve never heard anything quite like this set of gentle, some more- and some less-conventionally pretty dioramas. Haim, “Women In Music Pt. III” Nobody makes pop-rock like these sisters, blending ’70s and ’80s influences with honest songwriting and bleeding-edge production. Doesn’t hurt that they’re never more than a half-second from straight-up shredding. Shiner, “Schadenfreude” Like a bulldozer performing ballet, Shiner’s reunion LP lurches deftly through noise rock, post-punk, and proggy balladry. I suppose it doesn’t break any ground but damn if I didn’t listen to it thirty times and counting. Hypermortal, “Mysteries of Time” My friendly neighborhood freak-prog practitioners indulged their every whim on this one, and it worked! A Frankenstein’s monster of riffs, spazz-outs, funk, and croons. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, “WAP” It’s a bop, plus I love a song that bothered the squares so much.
Honorable mention, alphabetical
Battalion of Cloudships, “Especially The Lies”
Big|Brave, “A Gaze Among Them” (2019) Cosmic Ground, “0110” / “Apocalypse 2020 (Soil 2)” Crimson, “Raid” and Origin Text, “Self Entitled” Criteria, “Years” False Brother, “Uncanny Valley” Greg Dulli, “Random Desire” The Interrupters, “Say It Out Loud” (2016) / “Fight The Good Fight” (2018) L.U.V. C.R.A.F., “Friendship Acid” / “Hauntological Phalluses: 1984” Skeleton, “Skeleton”
Music I need to check out in 2021, alphabetical
Fleet Foxes, “Shore” Fuzz, “III” Kid Dakota, “Age of Roaches” Moses Sumney, “Græ” My Morning Jacket, “The Waterfall II” Phantom Planet, “Devastator”
Fiona Apple, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” I’m still figuring this one out. It’s a new record every time. It’s the first record in a long time that made me want to start working on new songs. It is masterful without being daunting. Epic without being inaccessible. Intricate without losing any of its charm or fun. Insightful without being preachy. Innovative and risky without being reckless. I’m glad you took yr time, Mizz Apple! Neil Cicierega, “Mouth Dreams” This is newish, so I am still delving into the rich tapestry of remixes/mashups on Neil Cicierega’s newest opus. But after just a handful of dedicated listens, I’m already in love. I don’t know if it will ever match “Mouth Moods,” but it might; each new listen gives me even more to notice and love. HAIM, “Women In Music Pt. III” I listened to it once when it first came out, then listened to it five times in a row at the end of last week. I liked it, then loved it, then put it up there close to “Days Are Gone.” They were able to get more complex with their production without losing any of the magic that made their sparser records so special. And the songs themselves, they are delicious! “Hamilton” OST (2015) I’ve had these songs recommended to me from everyone for years, but I held out until I could actually see the show. When it released early on Disney+, I committed to watching all 3-plus hours of it one day while working… and immediately started it over again. And again. And again. It hits me even harder on repeat watches/listens, so I have to make sure I won’t be interrupted. When Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.) sings “Wait For It,” it makes me feel a kind of desperate bittersweet hopefulness I haven’t felt for a very, very, very long time. Phantom Planet, “Devastator” My favorite band from high school goes on hiatus for a REALLY long time, then reforms and releases a new record. I am excited, I am worried. What if it’s boring? What if they haven’t progressed much past where they were when they paused? What if they mailed it in? I couldn’t have guessed they’d put out their best record ever. This record captures the thrilling melodies and pop craftsmanship as their first few records, the scuzzier weirder aspects of their later records, and blends them perfectly. Devastator is fudging incredible. Pinegrove, “Skylight” (2018) I dug into their discography after my friend Jesse sent me the song “Darkness,” figuring I’d like it. Well, I loved it, and it was my most played track of 2020, according to Spotify. Like Nada Surf’s “Proximity Effect,” this band found me at just the right time such that I related instantly. The songs are simple on top and rich below. Sort of like “Krang” from TMNT. Run The Jewels, “RTJ4” What can I say? Each album becomes more nuanced, more impassioned, more urgent. I’ve never felt so hyped while at the same time thinking so seriously about wealth disparity. Surfer Blood, “Carefree Theatre” This band could put out the most ho-hum record and I’d still love it based on their vibe alone. Thankfully, this is another batch of instantly hummable songs that offer a new and deeper joy on each subsequent spin. It’ll be a bit before I can properly place it among their other records, but it’s nowhere near my least favorite, and it’ll only climb.
Brock Berrigan, “Utah” – Music to drive through the desert too (while wearing a chicken mask)
Fatlip, “The Loneliest Punk” (2005) – Didn’t put this in the “Best” list because I’ve already heard it plenty before, but I rediscovered it at the perfect time. I hope Fatlip is doing well
Fleet Foxes, “Shore” – Same deal as “Crack-Up”; I don’t get it yet, but I listen and hear a lot of promising moments, and I am sure it’ll click one day
Megan Thee Stallion, “Good News” – I don’t know if I am cool enough to love this record as much as I do. It’s absolutely ridiculous and obscene and I can’t get enough
“Moana” OST, “Frozen” OST – Being a dad hath forced me to know and love these movies and soundtracks. I’m not crying, my eyes are bleeding clear blood!
Tame Impala, “The Slow Rush” – Didn’t hit me in the jornk immediately, but bloomed like a flower growing from soil of powdered Vitamin C, LSD, and CRISPY FUNK BITS
Happy holidays, all! We’ve brought Arturo Got The Shaft’s “A Life Without Fireflies” into modernity on
Bandcamp and your favorite streaming platforms. To celebrate Rob, Royce, and I recorded a very special throwback episode of The Long Play Listening Party.
Have a safe week, everyone. -Howie & Rob
“A Life Without Fireflies” on
Spotify | Deezer | Amazon | YouTube Music | Tidal | Apple Music
A new episode of The Long Play Listening Party is out, featuring Til Willis and Selvedge’s album “Small Guarantees.” Get the episode on YouTube, Instagram, or your favorite podcast platform (now including Google Podcasts!) here:
Here’s the record –
And here’s the show on YouTube –
New episode, new feeds! Marty opens up about “Heal_Thyself,” Ebony Tusks’ incredible new LP. This was a really special conversation and I hope you’ll check it out, whatever kind of music you’re into.
Subscribe to The Long Play Listening Party on YouTube, Instagram TV, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and more here:
Here’s just the music –
We have a seasonally relevant and appropriately cornball compilation you might enjoy this month.