Saturday, November 28, 2020

2020 The Albums: Top 10



What a long strange year this has been but in trying to find a silver lining in it all, the music has been amazing. Some of the best records from artists old and new arrived making it so hard to come up with not just 10 albums for this list but editing down and selecting our Honorable Mentions. We hope these albums are not just a reflection of the era in which they were born but something to carry you over if you missed anything this year because there was just oh so much to miss and overlook. 

2020 League of Their Own Album Pick 

Here are our picks for the 10 best albums of the year:

2020 Honorable Album Mentions 

10) Dreamwife - So When You Gonna
9) Nation of Language - Introduction, Presence
8) Richard Russell - Friday Forever
7) Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony
6) Algiers - There is No Year
5) Greg Dulli - Random Desire
4) Thundercat - It Is What It Is
3) Bruce Springsteen - Letter to You
2) Fontaines DC - A Hero's Death
1) Run the Jewels - RTJ 4

Now, in long form:

 10) Dreamwife - So When You Gonna

 An exciting sophomore from a London garage trio that simply do not hold back or care less what you think of them. A thrashing and frolicking good album from star to finish that makes recalls the glory days of early 2000s garage rock but brings more substance than most new releases from bands from that era. A record that makes us miss live shows even more during lockdown because So When You Gonna sounds like it could seriously own on stage. 

9) Nation of Language - Introduction, Presence

The debut album from this Brooklyn trio is perfect. Simply put. Take everything you love about 1980s new and dark wave and give it a modern spin. As they work with Fab from The Strokes and Nick of Static Jacks, garage rock drummers known to pound this kits, gives them a whole new genre and space to play in as Introduction, Presence, is new for all listening. It feels familiar but is different, which is the best recipe for albums. 

8) Richard Russell - Friday Forever

The sequel to his brilliant and League of Their Own winning, Everything is Recorded, the XL Records owner comes back with a new solo record that has a whole different concept to it. Friday Forever is a concept record made to listen to at certain times of the night as you enter the weekend after a long night of work. Friday Forever is meant to be listened to if you work in a big city and instead of going home, you go out and starting the weekend off right by not rushing to be anywhere and letting it take you somewhere you didn't plan. With guest appearances from Ghostface Killah, A.K. Paul, Infinite Coles, among others, the album becomes more special the more you listen unlocking new levels and layers of sound. 

 7) Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony

The long-awaited debut from one of hip-hops biggest enigmas didn't disappoint. Jay Electronica's debut was finished as the pandemic was getting started allegedly after Jay-Z, who is prominently featured on the album, encouraged and pushed his close friend and mentor to finally get it done and release it. Jay-Z isn't the only guest as James Blake, Travis Scott, and various production from  Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy, The Alchemist, No I.D. bring the record to life.  

6) Algiers - There is No Year

 Rock and soul are always a good combination but when they join forces to discuss impending doom, the end of the world, and time stopping, no one could have predicted that weeks after the release of There is No Year that Algiers predicted some of the future. This album is like going to Sunday church but with the best band leading the chorus as rock and soul mix with gospel and punk to bring us one of the most interesting and powerful albums of the year. 

5) Greg Dulli - Random Desire

The Afghan Whigs frontman released his second solo album and first since the band reformed in 2012 and like everything else he has done in his career, Dulli shows just how great he is at songwriting, arraigning and evoking emotions you were not expecting to feel while listening to a rock and roll record. A powerful album filled with the things that have guided him his whole career -- passion, soul, and fury. 

4) Thundercat - It is What It Is

Nobody makes albums like Thundercat and that is probably because there is no one like Thundercat. The California bassist and producer returned with his latest acid jazz / doom pop record that is filled with irreverent and comical lyrics but also epic party anthems and in a year where we could not celebrate together, here was an album that made you want to have a dance party in your own home. 

3) Bruce Springsteen - Letter to You

At 71 years old and nearly 20 albums under his belt, what more could Bruce Springsteen have to say? Turns out, a lot. Letter To You is his best album since 2002's The Rising, which was his landmark comeback record with the E-Street Band following 9/11, so that means that endorsement doesn't come lightly. Letter to You is a rip roaring rock and roll record made in just a week during the height of the pandemic and hears the iconic songwriter coming to face his own mortality and the mortality of his band as well as the legacy he hopes to leave behind. The burning fire and desire in Springsteen's heart still burns and we thank him for it. 

2) Fontaines D.C. - A Hero's Death

The best new band of 2019 who had last year's album of the year return with a sophomore LP just as epic as their debut. A Hero's Death is a record that feels familiar but is different in scope and sound from one of the world's finest new artists. This record, unlike Dogrel, is bigger in production and sonics which is expected for a second record but not like this. Fontaines D.C. are more than just a rock band from Ireland, they are the rock band of our era and music like another pack from Dublin which formed 40 years ago, could be the voice of this generation as this record helps make the case. 

 1) Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 4

Much of America and the world woke up to the Black Lives Matter movement as they sat home to finally pay attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. As unemployment shot through the roof, a financial crisis that was supposed to happen once in a generation in 2008 happened again this year. There was much to be afraid of and much to understand and learn and take action to change. In all of that was the rally cry and anthems provided by Run the Jewels on their spectacular fourth album proving that they are the most important music artists of this generation. RTJ4 is as powerful as one would expect in size, sound, sonic, style and substance. Some of these songs were written between Run the Jewels 3 release in 2016 and present day but feel like they were written just days before the records release. As Killer Mike and El-P take headlines and history lessons from the past and prove we have not learned anything and the time to educate is long overdue but needed. They are giving today's audience what their friend Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine did to his audience in the 90's, and informing with a powerful rhythm and an in-your-face lesson you cannot avoid. Featuring guests like 2 Chainz, de la Rocha, Pharrell, Mavis Staples, Greg Nice, DJ Premier, and among others, RTJ 4 is 2020 in 39 minutes. A time capsule for future generations and a new form of punk rock for the current one.

2020 The Albums: League of Their Own



This award started long before the site was even a thought, in one publication, radio show or another. Since 2000, I have handed out a "League of Their Own" Award to an album that is made by an artist who is the most forward thinking, open minded, revolutionary musician out there today. Their accomplishments in the past 12 months have either resurrected a sound, broke down walls and created new frontiers or have totally reinvented a genre all together. The choices for "League of Their Own" have become more than just the best album of the year but the most important record to be released at that time.

2020 Honorable Album Mentions 

In the past winners have included:

2000 - Radiohead - Kid A
2001 - The Strokes - Is This It?
2002 - NERD - In Search of...
2003 - The White Stripes - Elephant
2004 - The Killers - Hot Fuss
2005 - The Mars Volta - Francis the Mute
2006 - TV On The Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
2007 - Kanye West - Graduation
2008 - Santigold
2009 - Mastodon - Crack the Skye
2010 - Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
2011 - Bjork - Biophilia
2012 - Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes
2013 - Arcade Fire - Reflektor
2014 - Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 
2015 - Kamasi Washington - The Epic
2016 - David Bowie - Blackstar
2017 - Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
2018 - Richard Russell - Everything is Recorded
2019 - King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Infest the Rats Nest

...and now to add to this ever growing list is an artist that never played by the rules and someone who rewrote them as they went along. Rules to this artist are about as important as the color of someone else's car. Rules to this artist are not only made to be broken and not followed but encourages others to do the same and follow their own path. 

Ladies and gents, the 2020 League of Their Own winner is....

 Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

In her first record in eight years and fifth as an artist, Fiona Apple knocked down every barrier, glass ceiling, stereotype, musical limit and crafted her greatest album since Tidal. Proving she is still one of the greatest songwriters of all time, what she did with such minimal instruments -- her voice, drums, piano, bass, and samples of her dog, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the force of a wrecking ball. Clocking in at just under an hour, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is a tour de force and testament to an artist who never backed down even went she was discounted by so many, only to prove everyone wrong.

2020 The Albums: Honorable Mentions


In keeping our Thanksgiving weekend tradition, we are coming out of hiatus to post our year-end music lists for the year. As 2020 was a year like no other, the music has been incredible. Here is the first of three lists dedicated to our favorites of the calendar. 

Instead of presenting everything over the course of three weeks as we did last year, we are going to just get them all out now over the course of this weekend. 

Here is our first list -- Honorable Mentions -- records that were good but not strong enough to crack our top 10. As we always do, we breakdown the list in short form and then with explanations.

2020 Honorable Album Mentions (Short Form and in No Particular Order)

- Spoek Mathambo - Tales from the Lost Cities

- Deftones - Ohms

- Sparta - Trust the River

- Yves Tumor - Heaven to a Tortured Mind

- Psychedelic Furs - Made of Rain

- Gorillaz - Song Machine

Now, in long form in no particular order. 

Spoek Mathambo - Tales from the Lost Cities

The South African rapper, producer, artist extraordinaire returned with one of the most thought provoking albums of the year. Tales from the Lost Cities makes you dance and think at the same time and no artist since The Specials has been able to pull off such a feat. A key to the world around us and is a year where travel was all but non-existent, this was a great way to escape. 

Deftones - Ohms

Moody metal plus synths plus the energy of their live shows boiled down to 47 minutes. Ohms was all of our collective rage, loss, desperation and desires of the year brought to us by a special band that get better with age and continue to push themselves for our entertainment but to get their creative juices going. This record is one that will sound incredible once we can see concerts again and Deftones will deliver on it. 

Sparta - Trust the River

In their first record in 14 years and fourth album overall, Sparta returned with one of the most underrated comeback albums in recent memory. Trust the River is Jim Ward's signature style and thumbprint but it is grown up and mature giving us a new life and new era for the El Paso band as they surge forward. 

Yves Tumor - Heaven to a Tortured Mind

The fourth album from the Miami experimental artist is their best work yet. Heaven to a Tortured Mind is as if David Bowie produced a JPEG MAFIA duet record with Tyler, the Creator. It is everything from rock, rap, R&B, and with so much soul and pain thrown in it is hard to not to be blown away by it. 

Psychedelic Furs - Made of Rain

With their first album in 19 years, the British new wave icons returned in a big way. A gorgeous demonstration that even though they were away for 2 decades that can come back strong as ever. Made of Rain is a new wave album made for the 21st century and we are all here for it. 

Gorillaz - Song Machine

The best album Gorillaz have released since 2010's groundbreaking, Plastic Beach. Song Machine is a compilation based off their 2020 animated internet series and features an abundance of artists like Peter Hook of Joy Division, Robert Smith of The Cure, Elton John, Beck, St. Vincent, Slaves, Slowthai, Schoolboy Q, 6lack and many others. This is a fun record that features like the best playlist ever assembled.

2020 League of Their Own