2020 was a traumatic, exhausting year for so many of us. Music has been an escape for me for years, and this year was no exception. Below you’ll find my list of favorite releases from the year, new and renewed, in alphabetical order. I plucked a couple of my absolute favorites to spotlight at the top (also listed alphabetically).
I’ll play selections from most of these on the January 4 edition of Upside Down–tune in & look back with me.
Chronophage: The Pig Kiss’d Album (Cleta Patra)
Second proper release from this Austin via Florida band finds them once more knee-deep in catchy/strange/backwards Homosexuals-isms. Their debut was brilliant, but this one ups the ante in every way. The best mutated punk sounds of this moment.
Angel Bat Dawid: Transition East (International Anthem)
Everything she’s released so far has been great, but this low-key, meditative single highlights the best parts of her work. The minimal A-side’s multi-tracked clarinet melodies, drum machine and organ/synth performed solely by ABD was my favorite song of this year, which shouldn’t discount the brilliant ensemble B-side.
Destroyer: Have We Met (Merge)
From the Quiet Storm-looking cover image to the Art of Noise icy production, Have We Met is some kind of new high water mark for Destroyer. The pop songs are more narcotic and immediate, the oddities are more far out, and the lyrics are hilarious. An art rock masterpiece.
Tori Kudo: Last Song of My Life (An’Archives)
Live recording of his mammoth composition, with plenty of improvising and tangents around the gorgeous melody and over the course of the nearly 50 minute performance. This may be the most human, moving, and powerful music I heard all year.
Ostraaly: Misery Guests (Tenth Court)
First proper transmission from this Melbourne, Australia-area folk-rock group, centered on the songs and voice of Katharine Daly. The loose, messy guitars follow that Dirty Three/Mick Turner lineage of Australian ur-rock, but Daly’s story songs are one of a kind.
Rhyton: Krater’s Call (no label)
This trio have a number of releases under their belt, but none of them hit quite like this. Loose, playful freeform psychedelic-folk-jazz-space-funk-whatsit explores plenty of turf without losing their own identity.
Asa Tone: Temporary Music (Leaving)
Ben Bertrand: Manes (Les Ateliers Claus)
Brain Drugs: Brain Drugs (no label)
Zachary Cale: False Spring (All Hands Electric)
Jennifer Castle: Monarch Season (Paradise of Bachelors)
Cindy: Free Advice (Mt. St. Mtn./Tough Love/Paisley Shirt)
Delphine Dora: L’inattingible (Three:Four)
Matthew “Doc” Dunn: Rain, Rain, Rain (Cosmic Range)
Fortunato Durutti Marinetti: Desire (Misty Dusty)
Ghost Power: Asteroid Witch (Duophonic)
Greymouth: Telepathic Dunce (Careful Catalog)
Hello Blues Roses: Wild Nights! (Jaz)
Home Blitz: All Through the Year (Sophomore Lounge)
Iceblink: Carpet Cocoon (Moon Glyph)
Joao Lobo: Simorgh (Les Ateliers Claus)
King Krule: Man Alive! (True Panther Sounds)
Kraus: A Golden Brain (Ultra Eczema)
Mary Lattimore: Silver Ladders (Ghostly)
Loopsel: Loopsel (Mammas Mysteriska Julebox)
Magik Markers: 2020 (Drag City)
Merula: Sleep (Men Scryfa)
Sally Anne Morgan: Threads (Thrill Jockey)
Mosquitoes: Minus Objects (Ever/Never)
Oi les Ox: Crooner Qui Coule Sous les Clous (Primordial Void/The Death of a Rave)
On the Ifness: U-Udios 4 (U-Udios)
Ashley Paul: Ray (Slip)
Powers/Rollin Duo: The Nightland (Explorers)
Powers/Rollin Duo: Powers/Rollin Duo (Feeding Tube)
R. Aggs: Tape 1 (no label)
The Reds, Pinks & Purples: You Might Be Happy Someday (Tough Love)
Sad Eyed Beatniks: Places of Interest (Paisley Shirt)
Six Organs of Admittance: Companion Rises (Drag City)
Chris Smith: Second Hand Smoke (It Records)
Suburban Cracked Collective: Swimming Amongst the Dregs (A Colourful Storm)
Andrew Tuttle: Alexandra (Room40)
William Tyler: New Vanitas (Merge)
Vacant Gardens: Under the Bloom (Tall Texan)
Flora Yin-Wong: Holy Palm (Modern Love)
Admas: Sons of Ethiopia (Fredericksberg)
Jack Briece: Heterophonious Fool (Concentric Circles)
Dadamah: This is Not a Dream (Grapefruit)
Deux Baleines Blanches: Singende Drahte (Bureau B)
Alastair Galbraith: Seconds Mark III (A Colourful Storm)
Gate: Fear of Music (Fabrica)
Ippe Matsui & Aki Tsuyuko: Natsu No Zembu (All Night Flight)
Anthony Moore: OUT (Drag City)
Pale Cocoon: Pale Cocoon (Incidental)
Smith & Erickson: Blue Skies (Yoga)