2020 was a weird year for music. Some years I’ll have a playlist for the year just packed full of albums but this year started really slow. By June, one of my favorite pop albums was the released B-sides of a 2019 album and I’d been making playlists full of singles because there weren’t a ton of albums that I was enjoying from start to finish. However, the year ended stronger than it began and I did find some gems in the rough. As some of you know, I listen to a lot of music and although I have some favorite genres I will listen to almost anything if it moves me in some way. These are the albums that I thought were the best of their genre for 2020.
Country – “Never Will” by Ashley McBride
This album spans the gamut musically from old-timey twang in “Velvet Red” to the pop infused country of “One Night Standards” and then everything in between with subjects ranging from a girl that’s going to kill her father’s mistress to the time honored stories of people making bad decisions in dark bars. The energy of this album constantly shifts but the momentum never slows down as each song nicely flows into the next one. In a year that was a bit lackluster for country albums this was one of the standouts.
R&B – “A Muse In Her Feelings” by dvsn
Canadian R&B duo dvsn doesn’t do anything groundbreaking on this album but they do lay down some solid and smooth R&B tracks. The music meanders between drip beats, classic R&B crooning, and atmospheric pads effortlessly rotating between songs so seamlessly that I sometimes don’t even realize that we’ve moved on to the next song. It’s a completely immersible experience with bass that massages and never punches.
Rap – “RTJ4” by Run the Jewels
This is the fourth album by Run the Jewels which is the combined talents of El-P and Killer Mike. Their first album back in 2013 was a masterpiece and each new album is just as good if not better than the last. While most rap is completely boring if you removed the lyrics the beats on RTJ albums are easily some of the most innovative and original. It’s all enjoyable ear candy especially with the dueling raps laid down between El-P and Killer Mike. The two are the best in the game.
Pop – “Dedicated Side B” by Carly Rae Jepsen
Ok – I’ll come clean… I’m a bit of a simp for Carly Rae. “Dedicated” was my favorite pop album of 2019. It was just pure ear candy from start to finish which is why it’s so amazing that the B-sides rather than being a collection of mediocre or awful songs that definitely should have been cut are almost on the same level as the original album. They honestly could have done a double album with the amount of great tracks they had to work with. Personally, I like that they released it as B-sides and it just shows why I like Carly so much – even the tracks that get cut from the main album are great.
Alternative - “Color Theory” by Soccer Mommy
Does “alternative” really even exist anymore as a musical category? I kept seeing this album mixed in with “rock” but if the music doesn’t get me hype to lift weights at the gym then it isn’t “rock” to me. “Color Theory” is Soccer Mommy’s sophomore album and shows that second albums don’t have to suffer from the dreaded “sophomore slump”. The music is very relaxed and paired back with smooth, dreamy vocals that blend together really nicely.
Adult alternative – “What’s Your Pleasure?” by Jessie Ware
Jessie Ware has been around for a few years and this album really feels like a re-birth for her. It’s definitely one of her most interesting albums she’s released since her debut album. The songs are disco inspired shimmers with bass and pads that start subtle and subdued which then grow in energy as parts are layered over parts. It’s a controlled slow burn with a driving energy behind it that grows in intensity without ever feeling like it might lose control.
Electronic – “Oddyssey” by Amtrac
I’m not going to take the route of defining the best album for each sub-genre of electronica because we’d be here all day. Also, Amtrac’s new album hits quite a few of them from chirpy indie dance tunes to deeper house bass tracks. It moves effortlessly from song to song and it never seems to drag even though it checks in at 68 minutes long. Check out “Radical” below and see how catchy it is.
Rock – “Morbid Stuff” by Pup / “Patience” by Mannequin Pussy
If you thought rock sucked this year you aren’t alone. With releases from Drive-By Truckers, Green Day, Ozzy Osbourne, Stone Temple Pilots, Supersuckers, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stephen Malkmus, and Pearl Jam I thought it was the 1990’s again. To be fair, Peral Jam’s “Gigaton” was the best of that crop and more interesting than most of the new bands that put out albums. Still, most of the 2020 rock albums put out were retreads that were done better years ago.
In protest, I’m nominating two great rock albums from 2019 as 2020 Rock Co-albums of the Year. Both are angry, self-destructive, completely messy albums that reek of desperation and loneliness. Both albums tell the stories of angry people caught in a downward spiral. Consider the lines from Mannequin Pussy’s “Drunk II” -
“I've been going out almost every night
I've been drinking everything I can get my hands on
I pretend I have fun”
“And do you remember the nights I called you up?
I was so fucked up I forgot we were broken up
I still love you, you stupid fuck”
I think we can all agree that’s art right there.
Or how about Pup’s “Full Blown Meltdown”?
“On the verge of poverty
And a full blown meltdown
I'm still a loser and always will be
So why change now?”
Indeed. Why change now? Suffering really does make for good art.
Metal – (GIANT FART NOISE)
Seriously, don’t even bother. Metal is in a really sad place at the moment. The last good metal album was Deafheaven’s 2013 classic “Sunbather”. The cliched tropes and musical shredding trotted out in recent metal albums have been sad, touching on all the same themes and chords that have been done repeatedly in greater and more nuanced albums from the 70’s through the 90’s. At this point, just throw on some old Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Queensrÿche, or Dio and just be done with it.
This will be my last Flappr post of 2020 so let me wish everyone out there a Happy New Year. I’ll see y’all in 2021.