Sunday, February 07, 2021

Best Of 2020: Rock, Folk, Etc.

Like I've probably said too many times before, I was born in 1964 so this realm is in my epigenetic makeup. More than 60 percent of my Top 25 was from these genres, but that was only scratching the surface of what excited me. Previously covered albums are at the top and then there are a couple dozen more must-hear albums. Don't take the sub-genres too seriously, just a noble attempt to group like with like. Press play on this playlist or below to listen while you read.

Of Note In 2020: Rock, Folk, Etc.
Nadia Reid - Out Of My Province
Ocean Music x Jerome Ellis - Morsels - Note: Get the cassette; only 18 remaining!
Squirrel Flower - I Was Born Swimming
Dana Gavanski - Yesterday Is Gone
Ultraista - Sister
Wire - Mind Hive - Note: See also the equally excellent 10:20.
Porridge Radio - Every Bad
Dogleg - Melee
The Strokes - The New Abnormal
Lucinda Williams - Good Souls, Better Angels

Best Of 2020 (So Far)
Them Airs - Union Suit XL - Note: See also Doped Runner Verse, which shoots off in some interesting new directions for this combo.

Record Roundup: Songs And Singers
Caitlin Pasko - Greenhouse
The Dead Tongues - Transmigration Blues
Alex Rainer - Time Changes 
Emma Swift - Blonde On The Tracks
Billie Eilish - Live At Third Man Records

Record Roundup: In Their Prime
Michael Zapruder - Latecomers

Record Roundup: Catching Up (Sort Of)
S.G. Goodman - Old Time Feeling
Jeffrey Silverstein - You Become The Mountain
Melody Fields - Broken Horse
Boogarins - Levitation Sessions and Manchaca Vol. 1

Live And Direct
No surprise: the shutdown of concerts has led to a slate of live albums, many catalyzed by Bandcamp Fridays to devote proceeds to one important cause or another - or just to support artists who depend on the road for their livelihood. Here are a few of my favorites.

Father John Misty - Off-Key In Hamburg Recorded in 2019 with an eight-piece band and the 14-piece Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt:, this 20-song career overview finds the good Father in spectacular form. Your $10 will go to the the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund - and give you hours of pleasure.

Scott Hirsch - Hirsch and the Minglers Live at The Colony, Tulsa. March 17, 2018 Supposedly recorded on an old Teac by "Wizard," this mesmeric live set is best experienced on the home-dubbed cassette, which adds an extra layer of murk. The digital version is pay-what-you-will with 100% of the proceeds split between the Black Wall St. Times and the Oklahoma ACLU. Your generosity will be rewarded!

Stargazer Lilies - Live At Sherman Theater I've been listening to these volume-driven varlets for several years and this virtual performance recorded in November 2020 shows them now ready for the big stage at your local festival. Nine bucks gets you the album and a private link to view the concert video - put it up on the flatscreen.

Scott & Charlene's Wedding - Live At The Tote This collection, caught on a steamy January night in Melbourne finds Craig Dermody's shambolic band putting 10 years of work to rest in storming fashion. Every home should have at least one SACW album - why not make it this one?

Arctic Monkeys - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Recorded in 2018 just after the release of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, this set finds the band handling the atmospheric demands of the new material like the pros they are, while still sounding hungry on the early material. All proceeds go to War Child UK and that clear vinyl package sure looks sweet.

Frankie & The Witch Fingers - Levitation Sessions While I'm still stung by the fact I haven't seen these psych-infused heavy groovers on stage, this lessens that a bit - while providing a fine introduction to their sound.

Hamilton Leithauser - Live! At The CafĂ© Carlyle I always wanted to get to one of these shows, but the ticket price and minimum kept me away. Now I have this perfect keepsake of the loose vibe Leithauser encourages at these shows, recorded in January 2020. The cover of Randy Newman's Miami that opens the album is a perfect introduction to what is to come. The band is killer, too, with Morgan Henderson and Skyler Skjelset from Fleet Foxes on hand, along with Walter Martin, Jr. from The Walkmen. With Stuart Bogie (Antibalas) on horns and Nicole Atkins on backing vocals, the riches are almost embarrassing, but someone of Leithauser's titanic talents deserve no less.

Hiss Golden Messenger - Forward, Children and School Daze The staggering density of M.C. Taylor's songwriting catalog is well-represented by these TWO live albums, both fundraisers for Durham Public Schools students, which repeat no songs. The first is from one night at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC, and gives a good idea of the dynamics of a typical Hiss concert (I've been to a few!), while the second cherry-picks from several shows. Taken together, you get two-and-a-half hours of one of the best live performers of our time, right in your living room, and the privilege of lending a hand to public schools.

Phil Cook - Eau Claire, WI - 8​/​13​/​2016 @ Eaux Claires Festival Out of the seven(!) shows Cook has made available on his Bandcamp, I grabbed this one due to my romantic need to experience the Eaux Claires Festival any way I can. It's a great show, too, with the Guitarheels, including Ryan Gustafson of the Dead Tongues, in full flight. Pick any show at random and your $5 will guarantee a good time that's equal parts heartwarming and joyful.


Loma - Don't Shy Away Two years ago, I wasn't sure if we would hear more from this group of Emily Cross, Dan Duszynski, and Jonathan Meiburg (of Shearwater) after their debut, which I called a "compelling blend of haunting folk and immersive sonics." It seemed they were unsure as well, but interest from Brian Eno and their own motivations impelled them onward to this gorgeous collection. The folk influence is still there, but there's also hypnotic electronic gleam, even a bit of Giorgio Moroder, on this one, including Eno's work mixing the last track, Homing. With Cross's serene vocals lending consistency to the variety of sounds and structures, Loma sound ever more like a real band. Now, let's see how they do with that "difficult third album."

Tomberlin - Projections Following up the gauzy folk of 2018's At Weddings, Tomberlin displays a wispy strength on this 5-song EP of carefully augmented future sing-alongs.

Jeff Tweedy - Love Is The King Well, he told us he was low-key, so this downbeat collection contains few surprises - but still gives a good helping of what makes him one of our key songwriters. 

This Is The Kit - Off Off On Kate Stables shows the magic of Moonshine Freeze was no accident. Inventive horn arrangements spice up mesmerizing song-craft infused with the melodies of British isles ancients. Accept no substitutes - and when she says “Keep going,” you will believe her.

Lera Lynn - On My Own That title is no joke - Lynn wrote, sang, played, and produced every note. But when you fall for her rich voice and pop-rock-folk smarts, how it got made will be the last thing on your mind.

John Calvin Abney - Familiar Ground Inserting himself ever-more firmly into the clearing created by Wilco, Elliott Smith, Gene Clark, etc., Abney has given us an exceptionally well-crafted set, with many songs speaking directly to our present moment.

Chris Maxwell - New Store No. 2 There are few writers in any medium who combine cleverness and wisdom so seamlessly. Featuring the best production of his career, touching on British psych and Laurel Canyon slickness, this is a new landmark for Maxwell.

Charlie Kaplan - Sunday Although I often argue with what Kaplan deems important in his newsletter, he gets all the influences right here - from Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen to the Stones - with the added thrill of hearing someone discover their own voice.

Indie Pop

Eric Slick - Wiseacre The title implies a lack of seriousness, but Slick knows what he's doing - and he keeps the pop-soul party from Natalie Prass's last album going quite nicely. He even has her in for a duet on one track. Sweet.

Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher It took a few listens to connect the catharsis of the last track, I Know The End, to what had come before, but finally a complete album emerged, and one making a considerable leap from her first. Led by her deceptively airy voice, Bridgers crafts songs that overlay universal themes on personal experiences with wit and skill. 


Bartees Strange - Live Forever While I don't share his reverence for The National, if that was part of his path to this dazzling debut, so be it. There's more variety (and passion) here than some display in a whole career.

Matt Berninger - Serpentine Prison Despite my anti-Nationalist comment above, perhaps it's just the Dessners that leave me cold. In either case, working with the legendary Booker T. Jones has brought out a new side to Berninger, with well-shaped melodies and an all-too relatable emotional landscape of sorrow and regret. The production finds a perfect balance between Booker T.'s classicism and Berninger's avant-indie leanings. 

Historian - Distractions and Barriers In the 60's it wasn't uncommon to release two or more albums in a year, so why not Chris Karman in 2020? Take your pick from the dark propulsion of Distractions to the washy sketches of Barriers.


Carabobina - Carabobina This collabo between Boogarins bassist Raphael Vaz Costa and Sao Paulo-based engineer Alejandra Luciani delivers on the promise of "Brazilian noise pop" with serene confidence.

Cornershop - England Is A Garden Easily their best since that stunning third album, with all the bittersweet fun that implies. They have now been born for the eighth time. Or the second - you know what I mean!

Bananagun - The True Story Of Bananagun These Aussie pranksters outdo nearly everyone on this list for sheer quotient of FUN. Leader  Nick van Bakel must have a hell of a record collection.

Fleur - Fleur I may have misspoke - Fleur's updated Ye-Ye, expertly backed by Les Robots, may have Bananagun beat at the "fun" game. What the heck, get'em both!

Kol Marshall - Elemental Truths To A Funky Beat Producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Marshall concocts head-nodding grooves with touches of funk and reggae - and a much-needed dose of Walter Becker's attitude. 

Aksak Maboul - Figures 30 years later, Marc Hollander brings back these art-punk legends, joined by dulcet-toned Veronique Vincent, and for 13 tracks the results are astonishing. The next nine songs however...skip'em.

Rock ON

Andy Bell - The View From Halfway Down The first track satisfies my Ride needs more than their reunion albums, but going solo has also given Bell the freedom to explore and he lands on distant shores, finding treasure on each one.

Adeline Hotel - Solid Love The most focused collection of Dan Knishkowy's introspective indie yet, sensitively and warmly accompanied by Whatever's Clever founder Ben Seretan, et al. 

Post-Punk 4 Life

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Sideways To New Italy Two albums in and RBCF have found more passion and personality, lending their two-guitar jangle new urgency and interest, with soaring melodies and biting solos. I'm glad they stuck with it - and that I kept listening.

Fontaines D.C. - A Hero's Death Album two finds these Irish purveyors of rote retro punk embracing the beauty and darkness of post-punk to much more convincing - and even thrilling - effect.

Self Defense Family - 2020 Singles Upstate NY post-punkers get back on their singles grind and release an album's worth of great songs. Listen to my playlist, then get to Bandcamp to buy your favorites.

There's more to be found from 2020 in my archive playlist and you can keep up with 2021 here.

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2019: Rock, Folk, Etc. 
Best Of 2018: Rock, Folk, Etc. 
Best Of 2017: Rock, Folk, Etc.
Best Of 2016: Rock, Folk, Etc.

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