2020 in music 1/1 '21
Let's start off with my album of the year: I Like Trains's KOMPROMAT. These once gloom-rockers are fucking pissed and this album is start-to-finish political criticism, from straight-up mockery of British elites to creepily anthropomorphizing social media algorithms. Their first single, "The Truth", is huge and the video is great. It is a new step in the evolution of their sound and i'd love nothing better than to travel to Europe in 2022 and attend a live show of theirs while i'm there.
Albums (alphabetically by artist):
- Compasses, Sotavento — A Venezuelan group composed music in the various national styles, with a prog/fusion bent. They earned a Latin Grammy nomination for this. Fun music and top-notch musicianship.
- Fleet Foxes, Shore — More of their pastoral sort of indie rock. Apparently their last album was considered a bit of a downer and this is a departure, tonally.
- Junebug, Too Late to Love You — The adventure computer game Kentucky Route Zero is a lovely piece of interactive storytelling that was released as five acts (the final published in January 2020), and the music by Ben Babbitt was integral to the experience. In the middle of the game, one of the characters, an android named Junebug, performs a great song titled "Too Late to Love You". Babbitt has hinted for several years that he'd make a whole album as Junebug, and it dropped in the middle of the year. The album itself is just okay, but true to the character. Really, play KRZ.
- Kaki King, Modern Yesterdays — More guitar wizardry fom King.
- Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, Not Our First Goat Rodeo — The followup to The Goat Rodeo Sessions is not quite as amazing as its predecessor, but you can't go wrong with this crew.
- Bob Mould, Blue Hearts — Bob is still pissed, but also hopeful. A return to form in my view, his best since Silver Age.
- Nine Inch Nails, Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts — Simultaneously released ambient electronica soundtracks of hope and anxiety, respectively. Still available for free download.
- Patty Larkin, Bird in a Cage — Her best since Regrooving the Dream, she sets many of her favorite poems to music.
- Pearl Jam, Gigaton — Their best since the self-titled avocado album.
- Throwing Muses, Sun Racket — Just weird, which is a funny thing to say about a TM album.
- Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn, Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn — Guzheng and banjo performing Chinese and American folk tunes. Really nice stuff.
EPs and singles: Midnight Oil's The Makarrata Project (they reunited, but just lost their bassist to cancer) is a collaboration with various Aboriginal artists, Andrew Bird's "Capital Crimes" is Bird at his most political, Venus Hum put out five new singles (plus a Christmas song) for the first time since 2009, and Elana Stone's "Permanent Limbo" is a perfect pandemic pop jewel.