Top of 2020* ~ Top Albums & Songs

*every swear word in every language.

Apple Music Playlists:

Top of 2020 – Top Songs

Top of 2020 – Albums

Impeachment. Pandemic. Isolation. Death. Here’s my list of the top albums of the year 2020.

15 Haim

15. Haim – Women in Music Pt. III

I don’t wanna give, I don’t wanna give too much
I don’t wanna feel, I don’t wanna feel at all

P.T. Anderson directs their music videos. A wide-ranging and deeply-considered album from a trio of very talented musicians. Blessedly, they’re self-assured enough to follow their own arc.

14 Kelly Lee Owens

14. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song

The rain, the rain, the rain
Thank God, the rain

Brain music, Thoughtful and introspective electronic compositions that unfold with unhurried deliberation. John Cale makes a guest appearance!

13 SALEM

13. SALEM – Fires in Heaven

I would never claim no prophesy
‘Cause I know man too small for it
These vultures circle round the dead
And want a crown for it

It’s been 10 years since King Night, SALEM’s one and only LP was released. Since that time, the band that has been widely considered to be be the pioneers of the musical subgenre, “Witch House” have released one EP (I’m Still in the Night) a few mixtapes, and lost vocalist Heather Marlatt. Also during this time, a resilient online fan community has traded “rare” mp3s along with rumors of a return to the studio. In lat 2020, those expectations were brought to fruition with the announcement and release of Fires in Heaven, a leaner, somehow sadder, but also weirdly hopeful, collection of songs. Marlatt’s absense is a disappointment, nevertheless, Jack Donoghue and John Holland manage to conjure up a palette of sounds that is at-once recognizable as pure-SALEM, while also taking some confident steps in a new direction.

12 Jon McKiel

12. Jon McKiel – Bobby Joe Hope

In tempered glass is a sleight of hand and a look of the eye
How in spoken light I believe in a colour of another kind
I can see a deeper shade, I know there’s a deeper shade in you

Allegedly, Jon bought an old Teac A-2340 reel-to-reel tape recorder online from a seller he never actually met a few years ago, and the sale included several tapes. The first time he tested out the machine at home he discovered that one of the tapes already contained samples from an unknown source. He nicknamed it the Royal Sampler. He decided he would jam with the tape and thus was born the seeds of Bobby Joe Hope. A charming, meandering album of lo-fi found objects, it was one of my happier discoveries in a generally stupid and rotten year. 

11 Kevin Morby

11. Kevin Morby – Sundowner

God bless and pray for American daughters and sons
Try as they might to take flight with clipped wings but some won’t
Do what they want and say what they will
Nothing will cover the faith that’s been spilled
God bless and pray our American waters and suns

Kevin Morby’s latest album is essentially a treatise on his hometown of Kansas City. He paints a vision of the country that is at times intimate and also sweeping. 

10 Oneohtrix Point Never

10. Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never

Doesn’t the sky look like maps to our house?
Doesn’t the sea look so empty?
Even my dreams kissed in digital gloss
It’s my reality

Daniel Lopatin has maintained a healthy pace producing new material. I was surprised and delighted to find out that he had another entire full length release in store for us in 2020. Magic Oneohtrix Point Never is a play on the station call sign for one of his childhood radio stations. Designed to mimic a single day in programming schedule for a radio station, the album has a novel structure that is held together by a number of interstitial elements derived from a trove of sampled material.  

09 Sufjan Stevens

9. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

And now it frightens me, the thought against my chest
To think I was asking for a reason
Explaining why everything’s a total mess
And now it frightens me, the dreams that I possess
To think I was acting like a believer
When I was just angry and depressed
And to everything there is no meaning
A season of pain and hopelessness
I shouldn’t have looked for revelation
I should have resigned myself to this
 
I thought I could change the world around me
I thought I could change the world for best
I thought I was called in convocation
I thought I was sanctified and blessed
 
But now it strengthens me to know the truth at last
That everything comes from consummation
And everything comes with consequence
And I did it all with exultation
While you did it all with hopelessness
Yes, I did it all with adoration
While you killed it off with all of your holy mess

Sufjan Stevens’  1 hour and 21 minute LP The Ascension is not a frequently upbeat record. If anything, it’s something of a punishing ordeal to attempt to listen through the entirety without taking a break. Even while distracting oneself with other activities. The record projects an air of despondency, as though a master builder just put the finishing touches on a cathedral he’d been supervising construction of for generations, only to walk inside and find out that God doesn’t live there. There is a very, book-of-Ecclesiastes vibe going on, here. Sufjan’s despair is palpable, and his scorn, while spare and withering, is tempered by his gentle spirit breaking apart like a dandelion in the wind.

08 Soccer Mommy

8. Soccer Mommy – color theory

I can’t help this feeling
That irks me, that I’m falling down
From Heaven through the Earth
To Hellfire, to wear his crown

Sophie Allison’s 2018 album Clean was No. 3 on my year-end best-of albums list the same year. Her follow-up, 2020’s color theory, finds her taking a decidedly darker path. Having “arrived” as it were, at success in the music industry, she unleashed a record brimming  with cold-eyed clarity about the world, oddly well-timed to coincide with the pandemic that descended and promptly caused the cancellation of all of her tour dates.

07 Moses Sumney

7. Moses Sumney – græ

Are you dancin’ with me?
Or just merely dancin’?
Polly Polly Polly

Moses Sumney released græ in the very beginning of 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic swept the land. Coming in behind Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways, and Sufjan’s The Ascension, this double-LP clocks in at 58 minutes. Sumney’s unadorned voice is really the star of this record. Haunting. 

06 The Mountain Goats

6. The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives

Light up the sky like a comet
Make yourself want to vomit
Shine like a cursed star
Show everybody exactly who you are

I had failed to take note of The Mountain Goats’ proper 2020 release, after their Bandcamp drop of Songs for Pierre Chuvin (also excellent, and only missing from this top list because of my general apathy about putting it together). Getting Into Knives is another terrific album from the Goats. John Darnielle’s inimitable singsong style of vocals and his literary writing style continue to offer up that rare alchemy of catchy melodies and deep, spiritual musings.

5. Adrianne Lenker – songs / instrumentals

weren’t we the stars in heaven
weren’t we the salt in the sea
dragon in the new warm mountain
didn’t you believe in me?
You held me the whole way through
but I couldn’t see the words like you

Adrianne Lenker is the lead vocalist for Big Thief, a band that released two albums in 2019 that both wound up on my year-end best-of list. A prolific songwriter, she released songs and instrumentals as a double-album on 4AD in 2020. One is an album of songs (of course) and the other is a pair of lengthy guitar improvisations. A spare and elegiac album with a sense of immediacy.

04 Ben Seretan

4. Ben Seretan – Youth Pastoral

Everything’s gonna be all right
you shine a little light for me
Shine a light.
They’re holding up the sun.

An artist I had never listened to, prior to the dumpster fire that of 2020, that is. Ben Seretan’s lilting voice and avant-garde folk sensibilities conjure sun-soaked country vistas, outdoor wedding vibes, and millennial lumberjack camps. His effortless vacillation between crooning on a hilltop and filling an arena with anthemic aplomb. An artist I’ll be following with great interest from hereon out.

03 Bob Dylan

3. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

Well, I’m the enemy of treason
An enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet
I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go

A new Bob Dylan album is always cause for celebration. Ever since 2006’s excellent Modern Times, I have paid extra special attention to to the prodigious output of one, Robert Allen Zimmerman. On Rough and Rowdy Ways, the 79-year-old singer-songwriter’s talents are on full display in a laconic and effortless fashion. Clocking in at 1 hour, 11 minutes in length, it truly is an LP.

02 Charli XCX

2. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

All I’m thinkin’, all I know is
That I hope you knock on my door
Nervous energy, my heart rate rises higher, higher up
I wish you’d get here, kiss my face
Instead, you’re somewhere far away
My nervous energy will stay
I hope you realize one day
Come to my party
Come to my party

I’ve been listening to Charlotte Emma Aitchison (Charli XCX) off and on for a decade, now. She has a superb knack for crafting agile ear-worms, repeatedly bottling lighting in the form of energetic, streetwise, electronic pop. Recorded during a pandemic, this album showcases a raw talent and production prowess that she’s been honing for years.  Wall to wall jams. All bangers.

01 Fleet Foxes

1. Fleet Foxes – Shore

And with love and hate in the balance
One last way past the malice
One warm day is all I really need

Fleet Foxes are impossible to dismiss, they’ve been on my Top Album lists back in 2017 and 2011. This is the very first time they’ve taken my number 1 spot. Shore released rather late in the year in 2020, and initially, I kind of ignored it. But man, it’s such a grower, as I should have expected. Not a particularly happy album. Not a particularly sad one, either. Road trip music for a year without travel.

0-HR Karl Blau

Bonus: Karl Blau – Children of All Ages

Doorways come in all shapes and size
As they greet you with their delight
Some that swing, some that sigh, some doors are locked up tight
Some doors you would never think would open…

You won’t find this album on Apple Music, sadly. But you can get it on Bandcamp! Just click on the name of the album, above. A lighthearted, joyous album of “children’s music” that falls much more squarely in the camp of Squiggleman than it does TMBG or Donovan, Karl’s gentle vocal delivery and novel lyrics reward many repeat listens. A sleepy-time album, if you fancy that.

0. Jeffrey Lewis – 2019 Tapes (Cowardly & Brave & Stupid & Smart & Happy-Ever-After & Doomed) & 2020 Tapes (Shelter-at-Homerecordings & Pandemos)

And now here we stand and who could have guessed?
We ran out of chances and we failed our own test
Cuz all illusions have to end, let’s laugh and wake up and admit we failed to break up

Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage made my favorite album of 2019. No one does existential dread and philosophical introspection like Jeffrey does. In both of these collections, he assembles a kind of scrapbook of a psychological road trip through 2019 and into 2020, comprised of songs that touch on everything from confusion about sexual identity, to an obsession with washing one’s hands, to a plea for world peace on the heels of a worldwide pandemic. Lewis’ songwriting is all at once sardonic, incisive, filled with wit, soul, catharsis and wry social commentary without ever once sounding confident. It’s his incredibly insecure pathos that gets me every time.

Well, I screamed my way through one more dead-end day
In the tortures of the starving arts
I trashed the fifteenth song

I bashed away too long into the dustbin of discarded starts
And my programmer friend invites me out again
But I got nothing all month to be proud of
He said, ‘My friend it seems art is a sweat shop of dreams,
‘cuz art’s an office that you can’t clock out of.’
‘But that’s nice work, if you can get it.
That’s a noble
occupation.
It’s a career I would have led if the main office hadn’t lost my application.’

Honorable Mentions: 

Tame Impala, Yves Tumor, Bessie Jones, Blake Mills, Damien Jurado, Grimes, Waxahatchee, Spirit Fest, The Killers, 박혜진 Park Hye Jin, Dirty Projectors, Woods, Jessie Ware, Run the Jewels, 100 gecs, Destroyer, Matt Berninger, Jess Williamson, Cut Copy, The War on Drugs, Purity Ring & Nada Surf. 

Full list of 2020 albums (yes, I listened to *all* of these – it still is a worldwide pandemic, and also it was a leap year) :

  1. The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form
  2. Adrienne Lenker – songs / instrumentals
  3. Against All Logic – 2017-2019
  4. Aleksi Perälä – Oscillation Part 1
  5. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 1
  6. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 2
  7. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 3
  8. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 4
  9. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 5
  10. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 6
  11. Amaarae – THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW
  12. Amnesia Scanner – Tearless
  13. Andre Bratten – Silvester
  14. Arca – KiCk i
  15. Autechre – PLUS
  16. Autechre – SIGN
  17. Baauer – PLANET’S MAD
  18. Bartees Strange – Live Forever
  19. Baths – Pop Music / False B-Sides (2020 Remaster)
  20. Beatrice Dillon – Workaround
  21. Becky and the Birds – Tresslig
  22. Ben Seretan – Youth Pastoral
  23. Bessie Jones – Get in Union
  24. Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
  25. Bibio – Sleep on the Wing
  26. Bill Fay – Countless Branches
  27. Bing & Ruth – Specie
  28. Blake Mills – Mutable Set
  29. Blitzen Trapper – Holy Smokes Future Jokes
  30. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
  31. Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
  32. “Bonnie” Prince Billy – I Made a Place
  33. Brian Eno – Brian Eno (Film Music, 1976-2020)
  34. Brian Eno & John Cale – Wrong Way Up (1990)
  35. Califone – Echo Mine
  36. Caribou – Suddenly
  37. Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – Chicago Waves
  38. Carmen Piazzini – Mozart: The Complete Piano Sonatas
  39. Charles Webster – Decision Time
  40. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
  41. The Chicks – Gaslighter
  42. Chip Tanaka – Domingo
  43. Christopher Tin & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – To Shiver the Sky
  44. Chromatics – Closer to Grey (Deluxe Edition)
  45. Cold War Kids – New Age Norms 2
  46. Com Truise – In Decay, Too
  47. Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers
  48. Cremation Lily – The Processes and Instrumentals of Normal People (2020 Remaster)
  49. Cucina Provera – Tyyni
  50. Cut Copy – Freeze, Melt
  51. Cut Worms – Nobody Lives Here Anymore
  52. Damien Jurado – What’s New, Tomboy?
  53. Dan Deacon – Mystic Familiar
  54. Daniel Lopatin – Uncut Gems (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2019)
  55. Darkstar – Civic Jams
  56. Dehd – Flower of Devotion
  57. Denison Witmer – American Foursquare
  58. Destroyer – Have We Met
  59. Diplo – Diplo Presents, Thomas Wesley, Chapter One: Snake Oil
  60. Diplo – MMXX
  61. Dirty Projectors – Ring Road EP
  62. Dirty Projectors – Super João EP
  63. Dirty Projectors – Windows Open EP
  64. The Districts – You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere
  65. Dogleg – Melee
  66. Eartheater – Phoenix: Flames are Dew Upon My Skin
  67. Elrichmen – Heaven’s Mayor
  68. Ezra Feinberg – Recumbent Speech
  69. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
  70. The Flaming Lips – American Head
  71. Fleet Foxes – Shore
  72. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
  73. Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans
  74. Future Islands – As Long As You Are
  75. Galcher Lustwerk – Proof EP
  76. Glok – Dissident Remixed
  77. Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump… on a wooden piano
  78. Greg Dulli – Random Desire
  79. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
  80. Guided by Voices – Surrender Your Poppy Field
  81. Hailey Whitters – The Dream
  82. HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
  83. Hamilton Leithauser – The Loves of Your Life
  84. HEALTH – DISCO4 :: PART 1
  85. Heathered Pearls – Cast
  86. Hiroshi Yoshimura – Green (1987)
  87. Hildur Guðnadóttir – Joker (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2019)
  88. His Name is Alive – Return to Never (Home Recordings 1979-1986), Vol. 2
  89. Ital Tek – Outland
  90. Jeffrey Lewis – 2019 Tapes (Cowardly & Brave & Stupid & Smart & Happy-Ever-After & Doomed)
  91. Jeffrey Lewis – 2020 Tapes (Shelter-at-Homerecordings & Pandemos)
  92. Jaga Jazzist – Pyramid
  93. Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown
  94. Jehnny Beth – TO LOVE IS TO LIVE
  95. Jess Williamson – Sorceress
  96. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
  97. Jim Guthrie – Below Volume II
  98. Jim Guthrie – Below Volume III
  99. Joanna Warren – Chaotic Good
  100. John Hassell – Vernal Equinox (1978)
  101. Jon McKiel – Bobby Joe Hope
  102. Jónsi – Shiver
  103. Julianna Barwick – Healing Is a Miracle
  104. Julianna Barwick – Healing is a Miracle (Extended Editions)
  105. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Mosaic of Transformation
  106. KALEO – Surface Sounds
  107. Karl Blau – Children of All Ages
  108. Kate NV – Room for the Moon
  109. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
  110. Kevin Morby – Sundowner
  111. Khruangbin – Mordechai
  112. The Killers – Imploding the Mirage
  113. Kurt Vile – Speed, Sound, Lonely KV – EP
  114. LAKE – Roundelay
  115. Laraaji – Moon Piano
  116. Laraaji – Sun Piano
  117. Laraaji – Through Luminous Eyes
  118. Laurel Halo – Possessed
  119. Le Ren – Morning & Melancholia EP
  120. The Lemon Twigs – Songs for the General Public
  121. LF58 – Alterazione EP
  122. Lomelda – Hannah
  123. Lucretia Dalt – No Era Sólida
  124. Lucy Gooch – Rushing EP
  125. Lyra Pramuk – Fountain
  126. Machinedrum – A View of U
  127. Marc Scibilia – Versions EP
  128. Mark Langegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow
  129. Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
  130. Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
  131. Max Richter – Voices
  132. Max Richter & Lorne Balfe – Ad Astra (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2019)
  133. MinaeMinae – Gestrüpp
  134. Mort Garson – Music from Patch Cord Productions
  135. Moses Sumney – græ
  136. The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives
  137. The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin
  138. Nada Surf – Never Not Together
  139. Nicolas Jaar – Cenizas
  140. Nicholas Lens – L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S.
  141. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Idiot Prayer
  142. Nils Frahm – Empty
  143. Nils Frahm – Tripping with Nils Frahm
  144. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V: Together
  145. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts VI: Locusts
  146. No Age – Goons Be Gone
  147. Nordvest – Grøndal
  148. Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
  149. PAINT – Spiritual Vegas
  150. Patricia – Maxyboy
  151. Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster & Panaiotis – Deep Listening (1989)
  152. Peter Bjorn and John – Endless Dream
  153. Phew – Vertical Jamming (2020)
  154. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
  155. PLONE – Puzzlewood
  156. Porridge Radio – Every Bad
  157. Portable – The Transit of Mercury
  158. Psychic Temple – Houses of the Holy
  159. Purity Ring – WOMB
  160. Real Estate – The Main Thing
  161. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
  162. Roger Eno & Brian Eno – Mixing Colors
  163. Roger Eno & Brian Eno – Mixing Colors (Expanded Edition)
  164. Roly Porter – Kistvaen
  165. Roy Montgomery – Scenes from the South Island (1995)
  166. RUBIO – La Pérdida EP
  167. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
  168. SALEM – Fires in Heaven
  169. Sarah Davachi – Cantus, Descant
  170. Sigur Rós, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir, Steindór Andersen, Schola Cantorum Choir, Arni Hardarson, Pall Gudmundsson & Conservatoire de Paris Orchestra – Odin’s Raven Magic
  171. Skullcrusher – Skullcrusher EP
  172. Slow Reels – Farewell Islands
  173. Soccer Mommy – color theory
  174. Sofia Kourtesis – Sarita Colonia EP
  175. The Soft Pink Truth – Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?
  176. Special Interest – The Passion Of
  177. Spirit Fest – Mirage Mirage
  178. Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques
  179. Sufjan Stevens – America EP
  180. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
  181. Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams – Aporia
  182. Sylvan Esso – Free Love
  183. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
  184. Tara Clerkin Trio – Tara Clerkin Trio
  185. Taylor Swift – folklore
  186. Thundercat – It Is What It Is
  187. Tim Heidecker – Fear of Death
  188. Touché Amoré – Lament
  189. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Mank (Original Musical Score)
  190. Trevor Powers – Capricorn
  191. Tycho – Simulcast
  192. U.S. Girls – Heavy Light
  193. Ulla – Tumbling Towards a Wall***
  194. Ultraísta – Sister
  195. Various Artists – Bill & Ted Face the Music (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  196. Various Artists – Field Works: Ultrasonic 
  197. Various Artists – Ghostly Swim 3
  198. Various Artists – Unbroken Dreams of Light
  199. The War on Drugs – LIVE DRUGS
  200. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
  201. Whitney – Candid
  202. A Winged Victory for the Sullen – The Undivided Five (2019)
  203. Woods – Strange to Explain
  204. Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind
  205. 박혜진 Park Hye Jin – How Can I – EP
  206. 100 gecs – 1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues

2019 – The Year in Review – Top Albums (Ambient)

A 2019 Year in Review list of albums that primarily skew towards the ambient, electronic, experimental and instrumental. I created a separate list for 2019 because I found myself increasingly turning to such records throughout the year. Part of the allure would definitely have to be the meditative, relaxing quality of many such recordings. Another might have been simply a kick I got on, after years of only occasionally listening to the odd Brian Eno ambient masterwork. Behold, the list:

15 Ernest Hood

15. Ernest Hood – Neighborhoods

A re-issue of an album originally released in 1974, assembled from a mesmerizing array of found sounds, field recordings and proto-ambient electronic music, Neighborhoods truly evokes a memory of times past. The auditory equivalent of being teleported back to a time without the internet, cellular phones and a myriad of digital devices with screens. Unencumbered by such modern niceties, the album streams past at a laconic pace, and, not unlike Midnight Cowboy, one of my favorite films first viewed in 2019 (and celebrating its 50th anniversary), it possesses the distinct quality of being a coherent slice of life, perfectly captured in the moment.

14 Sigur Rós

14. Sigur Rós – Variations on Darkness

Consisting of two, 20+ minute long tracks, Variations on Darkness is assembled from unreleased Sigur Rós material, as well as various multitracks of songs culled from the band’s back catalogue. The music was premiered at the Nordur og nidur festival, and utilized as a soundtrack to choreographed performances from the Iceland Dance Company. Cavernous and shot through with a palpable sense of foreboding, Variations on Darkness made for a terrific soundtrack to any daily news dump from 2019.

13 Górecki

13. Beth Gibbons, The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra & Krzysztof Penderecki – Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)

Beth Gibbons is the lead vocalist for Portishead. Krzysztof Penderecki is a Polish composer whose work has been featured in films, most notably The Exorcist and The Shining. Here, they take on Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s famous Symphony No. 3. A sprawling, mournful piece of composition, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs plays like the score to the denouement of a Sam Mendes picture.

12 Kankyō Ongaku

12. Various Artists – Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990

Perhaps it is indeed emblematic of what Pitchfork deemed, “the growth of functional listening,” that I happened to compile this particular album list for the first time this year. The ubiquity of supermassive streaming libraries now virtually at our fingertips and always available for our thirsty eardrums means we can find ways to soundtrack our lives at any and every moment we wish. Kankyō Ongaku is such a soundtrack*, culled from a number of Japanese ambient electronic artists from the 1980s. This compilation is curated by Spencer Doran, of Visible Cloaks, and released on Light in the Attic Records (the very same responsible for the Lewis reissues and subsequent solution to the decades-old mystery of their provenance). Highly recommended. *The vinyl release of this album is a 3 x LP and features 25 tracks, while the streaming version is limited to only 10.

11 Steve Hauschildt

11. Steve Hauschildt – Nonlin

Steve Hauschildt, formerly of Emeralds, released Nonlin, his latest LP on Ghostly International, in late 2019. I hitherto had only a dim awareness of his work. Much like another of my favorite albums from 2019 (Floating Points’ “Crush”), Nonlin offers up a hybrid cross-section of thoughtfully-composed electronic music, leaning rather heavily on the synthesizers. An art-house Stranger Things soundtrack, if you will.

10 Nils Frahm

10. Nils Frahm – All Encores

All Encores is a collection of the contents of 3 Encores EPs released over the course of 2019 on the heels of Frahm’s excellent 2018 LP, All Melody. Representing a selection of works that are far more spare and unassuming than the baroque, multifaceted splendor of All Melody, the collection of EPs would be a fitting accompaniment to any sort of weather, be it fair or frightful.

9 Lightbath

9. Lightbath – Selected Public Works, Vol. 3

A brand new discovery for me in 2019, Lightbath is the brainchild of composer/improviser Bryan Noll. Selected Public Works, Vol. 3 collects various of his modular synthesizer performances from the past 4 years. Volumes 1 and 2 have been released only on cassette tape thus far, while Vol. 3 is available to stream online. Another EP, Vol. 4, was also released in late 2019. His work is reminiscent of Brian Eno, SURVIVE, CFCF and Oneohtrix Point Never. The soundtrack to a celestial zen garden.

8 Glok

8. Glok – Dissident

Another brand new discovery for me in 2019. Glok is the electronic alias of Andy Bell, guitarist and vocalist of the English shoegaze band Ride. A sprawling record, Dissident fuses, “synth wave and Detroit techno via a love of John Carpenter soundtracks with dissonant atmospherics and an acid throb,” and rewards many repeat spins.

7 Floating Points

7. Floating Points – Crush

Floatings Points is Sam Shepard, a DJ, musician and producer from the UK. Crush is a record I have been looking forward to ever since his debut, Elaenia, was released back in 2015. A deep and exacting record, Crush is something of a Rube Goldberg machine in album form. A musical sub-genre called ‘Braindance’ supposedly applies here. The album offers up tasty morsels in a precisely-constructed presentation format, and you can pluck any one out to enjoy. A virtual buffet that has been thoughtfully arranged and pared back to showcase a number of unique tastes.

6 Hauschka

6. Hauschka – A Different Forest

Volker Bertelmann is the name of the experimental “prepared” pianist who goes by Hauschka. Once upon a time, he was a member of a German hip-hop group. Nowadays, he has undergone an extended metamorphosis to become, more or less, a bonafide neoclassical pianist. A Different Forest is very much a straightforward affair, and requires nothing more than a simple appreciation of the unprepared ivories to enjoy. His playing on this album is expressive and warm.

5 Kelly Moran

5. Kelly Moran – Origin EP

Kelly Moran’s follow-up to her excellent Ultraviolet, released in 2018. Like Hauschka, she is a specialist of the “prepared piano,” which is a piano that has had its sound altered by the placement of various objects on or between the strings. Origin is a no slouch for an EP, clocking in at over 36 minutes in length. Here we find some brand new material, along with improvisational, proto-versions of pieces from Ultraviolet. The tapestry of mesmerizing sounds she conjures from the piano is at once both ostentatious and austere.

4 Tim Hecker

4. Tim Hecker – Anoyo

Tim Hecker followed up 2018’s Konoyo (this world) with companion piece Anoyo (the world over there). The tracks on the latter come from the same sessions that produced the tracks on the former.  Drawing upon Japanese court music style gagaku, Hecker recorded Anoyo with the ensemble Tokyo Gakuso. A voyage into the vacuum of space. Boundless and immense.

3 Fennesz

3. Fennesz – Agora

The first LP from Austrian composer Christian Fennesz in 5 years, Agora is an album of layers. Despite being recorded largely indoors with guitars, the four tracks comprising its 48 minute runtime manage to evoke an eerie spaciousness. Unlike AnoyoAgora feels like a voyage among the stars that turns out to have actually been a descent into the Mariana Trench.

2 Mort Garson

2. Mort Garson – Plantasia

Another reissue, this one from Mort Garson, a pioneer of discrete music and electronic composition. Originally released in 1976, Plantasia is a wonderful cornucopia of Moog synthesizer music, surprisingly organic and warm, and absolutely on-point as far as its central conceit is concerned (music for plants and the people who love them). 40-plus years later, thanks to projects such as the MIDI Sprout, music for and by plants feels more timely than ever.

1 Nivhek

1. Nivhek – After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house

Nivhek is a new moniker for Liz Harris, otherwise known as Grouper. This record is comprised of two long-form performances, each broken into two pieces, and originally performed as a part of two different artistic residencies: one in Murmansk, Russia, the other in the Azores, in Portugal. Taken together as a full release, now, in 2019, and clocking in at just about one hour, the cumulative result packs a mighty wallop. From glossolalia to drone to faraway bells and chimes, found sounds and malfunctioning equipment, distant footsteps and funereal abysms of sound, the album plays like a long stroll deep into the desolation of winter’s grasp. As with many of the albums I’ve selected for this new Year in Review list, it rewards patience and many repeat spins.

Apple Music Playlists:

Top of 2019 – Albums (Ambient)

Top of 2019 – Top Songs (Ambient)

 

2018 – The Year in Review – Music – Top Albums

Wait, is 2018 over already? I managed to squeeze in a whole bunch of music listening this year, soundtracking every waking minute of my life with some fresh tunes streaming off the world wide webbings, passing through some algorithms harvesting my every play, skip and replay, traversing the atmosphere, finally emitting from whatever untethered speaker setup is handy at the moment. What a world.

Without further ado, here are my top ten albums of 2018:

10 kacey musgraves

10. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

Darlin’, you take the high horse, and I’ll take the high road
If you’re too good for us, you’ll be good ridin’ solo

~ “High Horse”

Instantly wonderful. Front-loaded with catchy melodies and concepts ranging from the mundane to the holy, every touch is illuminated by Musgraves’ beautiful singing voice and distinct East-Texas twang. Hailing from Mineola, Texas, she represents a bright future both musically and with regard to the shifting, growing worldview of this generation, who must inherit the legacy of their damaged forebears.

9 anenon

9. Anenon – Tongue

Musician and composer Brian Allen Simon has delivered, “A jazz album, an electronic album, an ambient album, a classical album, an agnostic spiritual” in Tongue.

8 oneohtrix point never

8. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of

And a tower casts a shadow
Fairest when you speak
I love it when I see you
In a state of disbelief

~ “Babylon”

Daniel Lopatin returns to his Oneohtrix Point Never alias to release one of the year’s most inscrutable albums. The auditory equivalent of stirring together every medium of analog and digital recording from the past 35 years, along with a light sauté of auto-tuned vocals. Age Of rewards many repeat listens.

7 tmbg

7. They Might Be Giants – I Like Fun

We die alone, we die afraid
We live in error, we’re naked and alone
We die (Afraid)

~ “Last Wave”

Taking the highlights of their Dial-A-Song club and compiling them into a proper studio album, TMBG released a tightly-wound, anthemic album that functions just as well as a distracting and cerebral pop medley as it does as a polemic about America’s current political landscape. Death, despair and various forms of outrage fueled the Johns and propel the resulting material into the rarified air of a foot-tapping, hilarious album that is staring into the abyss the entire time.

6 mountain man

6. Mountain Man – Magic Ship

Amelia Meath, Molly Sarle and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig comprise the vocal trio Mountain Man. If the sirens from O Brother, Where Art Thou? went into a remote studio to record an album with only their beguiling voices and a dusty songbook from an Appalachian cabin, I imagine that the result might resemble Magic Ship.

5 mitski

5. Mitski – Be the Cowboy

But as it is, and it is
We’re just two slow dancers
Last ones out

~ “Two Slow Dancers”

Mitski Miyawaki’s tour-de-force followup to 2016’s excellent Puberty 2 ups the ante in every possible way. Wall-to-wall hooks, incisive songwriting chops and a preternatural prowess for expressing complex and nuanced thoughts within a head-banger make this album a huge standout for me. Approachable, warm, and yet filled with hard edges.

4 damien jurado

4. Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed

What good is living if you can’t write your ending?
You’re always in doubt of the truths you’re defending
Seeing yourself in others’ ideas, I’ll write you from somewhere
And call you from later on

~ “The Last Great Washington State”

Damien Jurado is an artist who consistently shows up in my Year-End lists of best music. His songwriting sensibilities, soft, crooning voice, and laconic, gently bouncing tempo put me in a groove that I seldom want to get out of. His latest album, and the first produced without the aid of the late Richard Swift in a number of years, finds Jurado continuing to write short stories to cut his protagonists adrift in. But it’s a pleasure cruise as much as a spiritual journey.

3 soccer mommy

3. Soccer Mommy – Clean

You’re made from the stars
That we watch from your car
And I’m just a victim of changing planets
My Scorpio rising and my parents

~ “Scorpio Rising”

A brand-new artist, to me, in 2018, Soccer Mommy is the solo project of Sophie Allison, currently based in Nashville, TN. Clean is a wistful, sad record that is constantly searching for the twinkle of light emanating from the heavens to chart a course by. Like every other album I’ve chosen for this list, it’s one that is rewards full, repeat listens. Pulling just one song or composition out of the whole seems do diminish the overall effect.

2 beach house

2. Beach House – 7

And I know you like it
So you try to hide it
And I know you like it
So I dive to find it

~ “Dive”

A number of years ago I wrote of Spoon’s album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, in essence that, like JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations, they had created a body of work that so fully established their sonic fingerprint as at once recognizable and that seems so blatantly obvious when you hear it, that it almost makes you wonder if they have to try anymore. Repeat listens will reveal that, yes, they do try very hard indeed.

On Beach Houses’s 7th LP, aptly named 7, they’ve attained this same level of mastery. As though an entire planet was just finished being terraformed by only Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, and now you can go live on it. The production values have gone up, the palette has evolved from a rural hamlet to a glittering metropolis with a full-on nightlife club scene.

1 low

1. Low – Double Negative

Saw you dancing when the fire went out
Before your breathe and barely audible
It’s more of let it out than let it go
It’s not the end it’s just the end of hope

~ “Dancing and Fire”

Low are the last musical act I ever expected to unleash the jangling, sonic avalanche of existential dread that is Double Negative. If ever there was a group whose sound seems to have cut the wagon tracks too deep to leave their path, they’d be it, in my book. Now, it seems to me that there is no group better-suited to deliver the harrowing message this one does.

Alan Sparkhawk & Mimi Parker have here repeatedly torn apart an entire album and then reconstructed it from salvage, eventually delivering the result that falls like the wrath of the gods, a thunderclap, visited with the same sudden violence and irresistible force as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, blanketing your eardrums like Pompeii. Thoughts wink out, frozen inside your mind under a layer of ash that will preserve their shape for millennia

Double Negative is a harbinger of spiritual cataclysm; invective and paean disassembled to the atomic level and then bashed against each other to create an elemental reaction. Amidst the self-immolating bonfire of ‘christendom,’ Low is conducts the cacophonous orchestra unfolding its Requiem. A shattering achievement.

2018 Albums (a complete-ish list)

  1. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
  2. Adrienne Lenker – abysskiss
  3. Adventure Time – Adventure Time: Come Along With Me (Music from the Original TV Series)
  4. A.A.L. (Against All Logic) – 2012-2017
  5. Albert Hammond Jr. – Francis Trouble
  6. Alejandro Escovedo – The Crossing
  7. Alias – Forever is Orchestra
  8. Alias & Doseone – Less is Orchestra
  9. All Them Witches – ATW
  10. Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
  11. Amen Dunes – Freedom
  12. Anenon – Tongue
  13. Arp – ZEBRA
  14. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino
  15. Ashley McBryde – Girl Going Nowhere
  16. Beach House – 7
  17. Beacon – Gravity Pairs
  18. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me
  19. Betty LaVette – Things Have Changed
  20. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine
  21. boygeniuis – boygenius EP
  22. Buffalo Tom – Quiet and Peace
  23. Calexico – The Thread that Keeps Us
  24. Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends
  25. Carter Burwell – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  26. Chaos Chaos – Chaos Chaos
  27. Christina Vantzou – No. 4
  28. Chromatics – Black Walls EP
  29. Chromatics – Blue Girl EP
  30. Chromatics – Camera
  31. Chromatics – Shadow (12 Inch Remixes)
  32. CHVRCHES – Love is Dead
  33. Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning
  34. Cobra Man – New Driveway Soundtrack
  35. Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels (Reissue)
  36. Cocteau Twins – Treasure (Reissue)
  37. Connan Mockasin – Jassbusters
  38. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
  39. Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed
  40. David Byrne – American Utopia
  41. Dead Can Dance – Dionysus
  42. Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today
  43. The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl
  44. Devotchka – This Night Falls Forever
  45. Dirty Projectors – Lamp Lit Prose
  46. David Byrne – American Utopia
  47. Dungen & Woods – Myths 003
  48. Empress Of – Us
  49. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
  50. Field Report – Summertime Songs
  51. Flasher – Constant Image
  52. Frankel – The Future
  53. Geoff Knorr – Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Rise & Fall (Original Game Soundtrack)
  54. Geotic – Traversa
  55. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  56. Goth Babe – Pacific II – Single
  57. Goth Babe – Point Mugu – EP
  58. Grouper – Grid of Points
  59. The Golden Filter – Still // Alone
  60. Haley Heynderickx – I Need to Start a Garden
  61. Hovvdy – Cranberrys
  62. How to Dress Well – The Anteroom
  63. I’m With Her – See You Around
  64. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
  65. Jeff Tweedy – WARM
  66. Jeffrey Lewis – Works by Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010)
  67. Jess Williamson – Cosmic Wink
  68. Jim James – Uniform Distortion
  69. Joey Dosik – Inside Voice
  70. Jóhann Jóhannsson – Mandy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  71. John Hiatt – The Eclipse Sessions
  72. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
  73. Johnny Jewel – Digital Rain
  74. Johnny Jewel – Themes for Television
  75. Johnny Jewel – Vapor
  76. Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  77. Josh Rouse – Love in the Modern Age
  78. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
  79. Julia Holter – Aviary
  80. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
  81. Karl Blau – Out Her Space
  82. Kelly Moran – Ultraviolet
  83. Kilchhofer – The Book Room
  84. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In
  85. Lala Lala – The Lamb
  86. The Lemon Twigs – Go to School
  87. Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
  88. Lord Huron – Vide Noir
  89. Low – Double Negative
  90. Lucy Dacus – Historian
  91. Lykke Li – so sad so sexy
  92. Max Richter – Sleep
  93. Martyn – Voids
  94. MGMT – Little Dark Age
  95. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
  96. Mount Eerie – Now Only
  97. Mountain Man – Magic Ship
  98. The National – Boxer (Live in Brussels)
  99. Neko Case – Hell On
  100. Nils Frahm – All Melody
  101. Okkervil River – In the Rainbow Rain
  102. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
  103. Oneohtrix Point Never – The Station EP
  104. Oneohtrix Point Never – Love in the Time of Lexapro EP
  105. Ought – Room Inside the World
  106. PAINT – PAINT
  107. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
  108. Paul Kelly – Nature
  109. Paul Simon – In the Blue Light
  110. Peggy Gou – Once EP
  111. Phosphorescent – C’est la Vie
  112. Pick a Piper – Distance
  113. Porches – The House
  114. Ramin Djawadi – Westworld: Season 2 
  115. Ramp – Come Into Knowledge (1977)
  116. Rick and Morty – The Rick and Morty Soundtrack
  117. Richard Swift – The Hex
  118. Richard Thompson – 13 Rivers
  119. Robyn – Honey
  120. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
  121. Roosevelt – Young Romance
  122. S U R V I V E – RR7400: LA041717
  123. S. Carey – Hundred Acres
  124. Say Lou Lou – Immortelle
  125. Sam Evian – Premium
  126. Shame – Songs of Praise
  127. Sigur Rós – Route One
  128. The Shins – Heartworms
  129. sir Was – Digging a Tunnel
  130. Snail Mail – Lush
  131. Soccer Mommy – Clean
  132. SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
  133. Spirit Award – Muted Crowd
  134. Spirit Fest – Anohito
  135. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
  136. St. Vincent – MassEductation
  137. Stryper – God Damn Evil
  138. Sufjan Stevens – Lonely Man of Winter – Single
  139. Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo in Blue
  140. Superorganism – Superorganisms
  141. System – Plus
  142. Taraval – Aardvark – Single
  143. Thee Oh Sees – Smote Reverser
  144. They Might Be Giants – I Like Fun
  145. Tim Hecker – Konoyo
  146. Thom Yorke – Suspiria (Music from the Luca Guadagnino Film)
  147. Thor Rixson – Songs from the Bath
  148. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
  149. Wild Nothing – Indigo
  150. Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On
  151. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
  152. Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love
  153. Zola Jesus & Johnny Jewel – Wiseblood (Johnny Jewel Remixes)

Swan Songs: Music for Your Final Exit – Apple Music Playlist

NPR’s All Songs Considrered compiled a user-generated list of 100 songs that people would like to have played at their memorial service / funeral / wake / what-have-you… you know… when you’re dead.

Swan Songs: Music For Your Final Exit

I recreated NPR’s Spotify playlist in Apple Music:

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/swan-songs-nprs-all-songs-considered/pl.u-JNLGsl6G6l

Some great songs on this list. Also a few head-scratchers (at least in my mind).

I also compiled a few of the songs which I think personally are most fitting for such an occasion. Apple Music Playlist (much much shorter than 100 songs) below:

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/swan-songs-joels-apple-music-playlist/pl.u-a9q0SRGoGR

 

2017 – The Year in Review – Music

2017 was a great year for music – as many musicians took up the mandate to go forth and create art that speaks to the mind, heart and soul in the face of a geo-political landscape being haphazardly ripped up by an infantile narcissist.

There were much-balleyhooed releases from Arcade Fire, Beck, Chad VanGaalen, Cold War Kids, David Bazan, Destroyer, The Drums, Fever Ray, Frankie Rose, girlpool, Guided by Voices, Jeremy Enigk, Johnny Jewel, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Kelly Lee Owens, King Krule, Lali Puna, LCD Soundsystem, Lorde, The National, Nick Hakim, Pallbearer, Phoebe Bridgers, Rostam, ShitKid, St. Vincent, Sweet Baboo, Thundercat, Vagabon, The War on Drugs, Why?, The xx, and Zola Jesus… but none of those are in my personal list of the top 15 albums of the year.

I listened to 119 albums in 2017 from almost as many different artists. Here, then, is my short list of the top 15 albums of the year:

15. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)

15 Wildly Idle

I’ll sing it to you softly, it’s so terrifying
When I hold you like a flower
I hold you like an hour glass
I hold you like you’re the only thing I love

~ Flower Glass

Hand Habits is Meg Duffy. Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) is her first studio album.

14. Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson

14 Dedicated to Bobby Jameson

Pop up goes the weasel
Bobby’s mind has thinned
And I’m the best dressed and they’re not
That sorry ’cause I never came out

~ Do Yourself a Favor

This album is named after Bobby Jameson, whose stage name was Chris Lucey. He was briefly a fixture of the protest music scene in the 1960s. His origins remained mysterious for many years, as he faded from the scene and became an alcoholic homeless bum. Eventually, he overcame the alcoholism and lived for the better part of 20 years in obscurity with his mother in San Luis Obispo County, CA, before launching a series of autobiographical YouTube posts, which he kept up until his death in 2015.

Ariel Pink is Ariel Marcus Rosenberg. Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is his 11th studio album.

13. Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift

13 The Greatest Gift

As the mystery of the cross
Asa Lovejoy lost the toss
And the fountain in the rain
Where my sorrow still remains
So I run to my friends and lovers
I lay down my life for my brothers
As I abide in peace
So will my delight increase

~ The Greatest Gift

Sufjan Stevens’ devastating Carrie & Lowell was my top album of 2015. Here, he presents a series of outtakes, demos and remixes of songs from that album, along with one or two b-sides.

The Greatest Gift could be considered to be his 13th studio album.

12. Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm

12 Out in the Storm

I hoped howling out all this truth
Would be liberating
But all the pity spills from the seams
And everyone questions the unseen

~ No Question

Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield. Out in the Storm is her fourth studio album.

11. Big Thief – Capacity

11 Capacity

What did you tell me Mary
When you were there so sweet and very
Full of field and stars you carried all of time
Oh and heavens when you looked at me
Your eyes were like machinery
Your hands were making artifacts in the corner of my mind

~ Mary

Big Thief are Adrianne Lenker (guitar, vocals), Buck Meek (guitar), Max Oleartchik (bass), and James Krivchenia (drums). Capacity is their second studio album.

10. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

10 Crack-Up

White oceans roar
A frightened fool stokes heatless fire
But if you need to, keep time on me
If you need to, keep time on me

~ If You Need to, Keep Time on Me

Fleet Foxes are Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo, and Morgan Henderson. Crack-Up is their third studio album, and first full-length since 2011.

9. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

9 Pure Comedy

There’s no one old on Magic Mountain

~ Magic Mountain

Perhaps the most politically-charged album on my top-list. Father John Misty seems to have a lot to say about the worldviews which dominate our headlines today… only trouble is, it’s pretty nigh impossible to discern his own worldview from the content of his lyrics. Ah well, music can be largely subjective and I’m not too concerned with deriving meaning from it at every turn… but when the whole point of a record seems to be to make a kind of statement, perhaps it would help to be a little more concise. In any case, this is a record which captured and held my attention.

Father John Misty is Joshua Michael Tillman. Pure Comedy is his third studio album under the moniker.

8. Fletcher Tucker – Cold Spring

8 Cold Spring

The world I long for stays hidden
Clouds shroud the gates

~ Buried on the Wind

Fletcher Tucker’s haunting, psychedelic-drone-folk album Cold Spring was assembled over the course of four years in Big Sur, CA. It is a beautiful record. See him in the album art, above? You may have to squint. Don’t take my word for it; instead, go and read Aquarium Drunkard’s excellent write-up.

7. Kevin Morby – City Music

7 City Music

Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy
They were all my friends… and they died.

~ 1234

Kevin Morby was the bassist for Woods and the frontman for The Babies before embarking upon a solo singer/songwriter career. City Music is his fourth solo studio album.

6. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream

6 Andy Warhol's Dream

I’m gonna be someone tonight

~ The Money Gets Bigger

When consistency is pitted against talent, consistency is usually going to win. Happily, in the case of Trevor Sensor, we have someone with a consistent penchant for belting out raucous, crowd-pleasing power ballads AND the talent to assemble something new from the potholes and well-worn ruts of this road-most-traveled: rock music. His gravely, muppet-esque singing voice makes every song so much more world-weary and enjoyable.

Trevor Sensor is… Trevor Sensor? Andy Warhol’s Dream is his debut album.

5. Temples – Volcano

5 Volcano

Standing up like a wild impala
Standing down like a weekend martyr

~ Oh the Savior

The U.K. has been the source for many of the world’s most storied and influential bands: The Zombies, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Who, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Clash, The The, U2, Radiohead, Coldplay (gasp!), Elbow, Keane, Klaxons, Wild Beasts, Harry Styles- the list goes on! Temples should be added to that pantheon, ’nuff said.

Temples are James Bagshaw, Tom Walmsley, Sam Toms, and Adam Smith (not the Wealth of Nations guy). Volcano is their second studio album.

4. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Planetarium

4 Planetarium

Tell me I’m evil
Tell me I’m not the name of love
Tell me I’m evil
Tell me I’m not the face of God

~ Saturn

Step aside, Gustav Holst, there are some new kids on the “music of the spheres” block. And they pray for us.

3. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

3 Turn out the Lights

Cause if you swear that it’s true then I have to believe
What I hear Evangelicals say on TV
And if there’s enough left after everyone else
Then why, then why, then why not me?

~ Happy to be Here

Julien Baker’s spare arrangements, coupled with her Sunday-morning-service vocals and raw, deeply-personal lyrics, make Turn out the Lights a powerful record.

Turn out the Lights is Julien Baker’s second studio album. She is merely 22 years old.

2. Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017

2 OKNOTOK

I won’t run away no more, I promise

~ I Promise

20 years ago, Radiohead released OK Computer. 20 years later, the album still stands as a massively influential artistic achievement. The entire extra album’s-worth of b-sides solidifies its reputation as a legend.

Radiohead are Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Philip Selway (and also- shhhh- Nigel Godrich). OK Computer was their third studio album when it was originally released in 1997. Since then, they have released 6 more proper studio albums.

1. Bombadil – Fences

1 Fences

I raise up my binoculars and
I see everything everywhere
I see detail, of that, I’m sure
But I don’t see me, and that hurts the most

~ Binoculars

Bombadil previously topped my list of albums in 2013 with their 4th studio album, Metrics of Affection. I went to see them perform at the Casbah in San Diego on June 19, 2016, prior to the recording of Fences. There, they performed many of the songs that would end up on the album. They even performed with a brand-new microphone all of the band members were pretty stoked on. Each one of them took turns on various instruments and all of them lent vocals by clustering around their shiny new mic. After the show, I chatted for a bit with band-member Daniel Michalak, who is a super-pleasant dude.  Fences came out in March of 2017 and has been playing non-stop in my car, my house and my headphones ever since.

From tender love ballads about the mysterious mathematics of love, to excoriating an American Evangelical Christian base who bought into a campaign of hatred, bigotry, naked avarice and plainspoken evil, Bombadil’s sixth full-length has it all. Laden with pleasant arrangements and plenty of hooks, the subject matter of each song can range from adorable sentimentality to withering criticism. For me, Fences is an album that never gets old.

Bombadil are Daniel Michalak, James Phillips, and Stacy Harden. Fences is their sixth studio album. It was recorded at Tiny Telephone with John Vanderslice in San Francisco.

Listen to a playlist of some of Joel’s favorite songs from 2017 on Apple Music:

https://tools.applemusic.com/embed/v1/playlist/pl.u-Vk1dtj868j?country=us

Full list of music Joel listened to in 2017:

  1. Actress – AZD
  2. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
  3. Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
  4. Aldous Harding – Party
  5. Algiers – The Underside of Power
  6. Alex Lahey – I Love You Like a Brother
  7. Angel Olsen – Phases
  8. Arcade Fire – Everything Now
  9. Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
  10. Baths – Romaplasm
  11. Beach House – B-Sides and Rarities
  12. Beck – Colors
  13. Big Black Delta – Whoru812
  14. Big Thief – Capacity
  15. Bill Benzel & Jim Earp – Mainland Style
  16. Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind
  17. Biosphere – The Petrified Forest EP
  18. Bob Dylan – Triplicate
  19. The Bob’s Burgers Music Album
  20. Bodies of Water – Spear in the City
  21. Bombadil – Fences
  22. Bonobo – Migration
  23. Briana Marela – Call It Love
  24. Chad VanGaalen – Light Information
  25. Chuck Johnson – Balsams
  26. Cold War Kids – LA DIVINE
  27. Cut Copy – Haku From Zero
  28. Cut Worms – Alien Sunset EP
  29. David Bazan – Care
  30. David Bowie – No Plan EP
  31. Derek Webb – Fingers Crossed
  32. Destroyer – ken
  33. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
  34. Don Bryant – Don’t Give Up On Love
  35. The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts
  36. Elbow – Little Fictions
  37. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
  38. Feist – Pleasure
  39. Fever Ray – Plunge
  40. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
  41. Fletcher Tucker – Cold Spring
  42. Floating Points – Reflections – Mojave Desert
  43. Four Tet – New Energy
  44. Frankie Rose – Cage Tropical
  45. Future Islands – The Far Field
  46. Gas – Narkopop
  47. Gaussian Curve – The Distance
  48. girlpool – Powerplant
  49. Gordi – Reservoir
  50. Grandaddy – Last Place
  51. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
  52. Guided by Voices – August by Cake
  53. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
  54. Hello Shark – Break Arms
  55. Hoops – Routines
  56. Jean-Michel Blais & CFCF – Cascades
  57. Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
  58. Jeremy Enigk – Ghosts
  59. Jlin – Black Origami
  60. Johnny Jewel – Windswept***
  61. Josh Ritter – Gathering
  62. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
  63. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
  64. Kathryn Kluge & Kim Allen Kluge – Silence (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  65. Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
  66. Kevin Morby – City Music
  67. King Krule – The OOZ
  68. Kraus – End Tomorrow (2016)
  69. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things 2 (Original Series Soundtrack)
  70. Lali Puna – Two Windows
  71. LCD Soundsystem – american dream
  72. Liars – TFCF
  73. Lo Tom – Lo Tom
  74. Lorde – Melodrama
  75. Miya Folick – Give It To Me EP
  76. The National – Sleep Well Beast
  77. Nick Hakim – Green Twins
  78. Nightlands – I Can Feel the Night Around Me
  79. Pallbearer – Heartless
  80. Perfume Genius – No Shape
  81. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
  82. Psychic Temple – IV
  83. Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
  84. Real Estate – In Mind
  85. Rostam – Half-Light
  86. Run The Jewels – RTJ3
  87. San Fermin – Belong
  88. ShitKid – Fish
  89. Silver Fleet – Demo
  90. Slothrust – Show Me How You Want It to Be
  91. Soley, Sin Fang & Örvar Smárason – Singles 2017
  92. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
  93. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
  94. Steady Holiday – Terror EP
  95. Sudan Archives – Sudan Archives EP
  96. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live
  97. Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift
  98. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Planetarium
  99. Sweet Baboo – Wild Imagination
  100. Sylvan Esso – What Now
  101. Temples – Volcano
  102. Thundercat – “Drunk”
  103. Tim Heidecker – Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker’s Trump Songs
  104. Timber Timbre – Sincerely, Future Pollution
  105. Tom Rogerson & Brian Eno – Finding Shore
  106. Toro y Moi – Boo Boo
  107. TORRES – Three Futures
  108. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream
  109. Vagabon – Infinite Worlds
  110. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
  111. Washed Out – Mister Mellow
  112. Wavves – You’re Welcome
  113. Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
  114. Why? – Moh Lhean
  115. William Eggleston – Musik
  116. Withered Hand & A Singer of Songs – Among Horses 1 – EP
  117. Woods – Love Is Love EP
  118. The xx – I See You
  119. Zola Jesus – Okovi

Best Tunes of 2013 – Half-Year Edition

Behold, I haven’t written a dratted thing on here for months.

I would like to remedy that with a Soundcloud (no, not Spotify or Grooveshark or Rdio) playlist of songs that I consider to be on the shortlist for the best of 2013. Put on your headphones and push play or turn up your speakers and go clean your house/office/bedroom or something.

At best, this list is a poor representation of the great material artists have been churning out this year. I hope to have a list that better represents the total scope of my interests by the end of the year. It’s hard work keeping up with this “music”- as they call it- moving across the Internet at the speed of fiber-optics.

Moon Killer

This song won’t leave my brain alone. In much the same way that Small Black’s “Despicable Dogs,” that impeccable track from their early EP, moved me, so does “Moon Killer.”

I don’t know precisely what it is. There is some kind of intricate, labyrinthine reason I am filled with a longing for that promised land. Who will go? Who will enter? Who will prepare? Who will show the rest of us how? Those who put their gifts to use. Those who labor on, honing bright fragments of the firmament into the jigsaw pieces of a sublime vision.

Never Make You Try Never Make You Try

Up in the morning & Out the door
One of mystery
One of heaven’s bored
God is lifted
She says you’re the one
Good for nothing servant of the bunch

There’s an ugly way to do things
Here’s the tools I’ve laid them out for you

Never Make You Try
Never Make You Try

Here’s the tools I laid them out for you

Touching them but don’t know how to use

I hear there’s a better way to do it
I hear there’s a better way to do it
You hear there’s a better way to do it

You want to put the work in, but
I’ll Never Make You Try
Never Make You Try

There’s an ugly way to do things
Here’s the tools I’ve laid them out for you

Never Make You Try
Never Make Your Try
One try, Moon Killer
One try, Moon Killer