Saturday, July 04, 2020

Best Of 2020 (So Far)

Typically, the way I make these lists is by scanning through my posts from the year, looking at Spotify playlists, and then dragging songs or pieces into a draft playlist. If it's more than 25 tracks long, I begin the process of narrowing it down. The main criteria is not "excellence," as that's where I focus my listening and my writing, but rather more a question of survival. To what music am I cleaving in order to get through the year? In times of strife, which is a polite way of describing the shit-show garbage fire that is 2020, many turn to the music of old and I have certainly spent some time with Bowie, The Beatles, Bob Marley, and Young Marble Giants, among others. But I have this engine inside that propels me towards the new and this year has been as generous as any in that regard. I am at a loss for words to describe the appreciation I feel toward any artist who has pushed past inertia and given us sounds that nourish us. Some of them are listed below. P.S. As usual, if I've covered the album before, just click on the title for more information.

Listen as you read here or below!

1. Bob Dylan - Rough And Rowdy Ways There may yet be a shelf of books written on this almost overwhelming expression of creative fecundity. As Tim Sommer pointed out recently, the Never Ending Tour deserves its own place among Dylan's artistic achievements, but it should be noted that, like the three albums of Tin Pan Alley songs he's released since 2012's brilliant Tempest, that is an arena for interpretation rather than creation. So when he sings, "I'm falling in love with Calliope/She don't belong to anyone, why not give her to me?" in Mother Of Muses, you get a hint of the hunger he might have been feeling to get the plug back in the socket and start writing new songs. But who knows? There's a vagueness about when these songs were written or recorded. When he dropped Murder Most Foul back in April, catching the world by surprise, he coyly noted, "This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting." Coy, and the understatement of the year. These songs are all "interesting," at the very least, not to mention funny, smart, and displaying a full palette of emotions. They are also eminently quotable, from the ur-braggadocio of "I’m first among equals - second to none/I’m last of the best - you can bury the rest/Bury ‘em naked with their silver and gold/Put ‘em six feet under and then pray for their souls" (False Prophet) to the stark reality of "I can see the history of the whole human race/It’s all right there - its carved into your face" (My Own Version Of You), but while this is a wordy album, the sound of it is just as notable. Unlike Tempest, with its lapidary attention to each instrument, Dylan's production this time around often turns the band into a single unit, either dealing out blues riffs so elemental as to be platonic or creating a tapestry of delicate tones and textures, creating the perfect backdrop for his singing. And what singing, displaying nuance or power as appropriate and able to convey wit or heartbreak with masterful subtlety. Just listen to the way he caresses the words and toys with the tempo when he sings "A lotta people gone/A lotta people I knew" in I've Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You, one magical moment among many on this album. Even if Dylan weren't DYLAN, Rough And Rowdy Ways would demand your attention - but only Dylan could have made it.

2. Bonny Light Horseman - Bonny Light Horseman

3. Molly Joyce - Breaking And Entering

4. Jonathan Wilson - Dixie Blur

5. Ted Hearne & Saul Williams - Place

6. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo After last year's triumphant Bandana, I would have forgiven Gibbs for taking the year off. But he's a man on a mission, so there was no time to wait. After working with Madlib, almost any other producer would have been a comedown, but The Alchemist is fully up to the challenge of goading Gibbs to new heights. The results never fail to entertain or inspire, with the latter best represented by the most apropos lines of the year: "The revolution is the genocide/Yeah, my execution might be televised" - words being worn right now on a t-shirt at a protest near you. Gibbs once more defines the moment and it is highly unlikely there will be a better hip hop album in 2020. Maybe he should square off with Dylan and let the sparks fly!

7. Hamilton Leithauser - The Loves Of Your Life See also his charming Tiny Desk Concert.

8. Matt Evans - New Topographics

9. Ocean Music - Morsels

10. Miro Shot - Content

11. Yaeji - What We Drew

12. Jay Electronica - A Written Testament

13. Makaya McCraven and Gil Scott-Heron - We're New Again: A Reimagining

15. Aoife Nessa Frances - Land Of No Junction

16. Car Seat Headrest - Making A Door Less Open

17. Frazey Ford - U Kin B The Sun

18. The Strokes - The New Abnormal

19. Tak Ensemble - Scott L. Miller: Ghost Layers

20. Wire - Mind Hive See also 10:20, a brilliant collection of strays and older songs reimagined.

21. John Craigie - Asterisk The Universe This is primo Americana and Craigie's most assured and varied album yet. It's his ninth studio album but don't feel bad if you never heard of him - I was in the same boat, a situation I detail in my interview with Craigie in Rock & Roll Globe. It's a rich catalog, too, but the smoky production, warmly cohesive band, and sharp songwriting here should put him in front of an even bigger audience. 

22. Honey Cutt - Coasting

23. Soccer Mommy - Color Theory

24. Them Airs - Union Suit XL I was pointed towards these New Haven art punks by Tracy Wilson's Turntable Report, which has quickly become an essential filter. Led by Cade Williams, Them Airs' website is a delightful trip into their aesthetic, including a highly editorialized list of all their gear. With their own liner notes referencing both Wire and "spicy no wave sax," you should be aware of what you're in for on this spiky blast of irreverent fun. Though they've been recording since 2017 and playing out since 2018, they have yet to play in NYC. I hope to be there when it happens!

25. Nadia Reid - Out Of My Province

What's been in heaviest rotation in your shelter?

You may also enjoy:

Best Of 2019 (So Far)
The Best Of 2018 (So Far)
Best Of 2017 (So Far)
Best Of 2016 (So Far), Pt. 1
Best Of 2016 (So Far), Pt. 2
The Best Of 2015 (So Far)
2014: Mid-Year Report
The Best Of 2013 (So Far)

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