Best Of 2020: Albums In Alphabetical Order Through February 29th
Artist 2.0 – A Boogie Wit da Hoodie – A Boogie is a master rap and r&b singer with 20 Hot 100 singles and a # 1 album, the man can write songs and the proof is he gets Lil Uzi Vert on two tracks, daBaby on another and Roddy Ricch (who has owned 2020) on the fourth, and they aren’t even the best. The problem with state of the art hip hop is it trips over songs and Boogie never does, he writes the songs and this sequel is better than the first, which was very good as well. Though the elements are the same, autotune, manufactured beats, dank samples, and hooks, there is a natural skill at writing subdued bangerz and the first six songs are as great an opening as I’ve heard all year
Good Luck Everybody – AJJ – Of the three state of the nation albums, AJJ’s folk rock horror story is the better, with a melodic yet wide eyed relentless horror at the state of the nation, the strength of the songs, the single of the year so far “Normalization Blues” especially, are in no way weakened by making their point with quiet and intense lovelines
The Neon Skyline – Andy Shauf – He’s like Mac DeMarco without the snark and with better songs, and excellent storytelling skills with intelligence, skills, and a consistent melodic sensibility
YHLQMDLG – Bad Bunny – The title translates to “I Do Whatever I Want” and includes performing in Spanish only and taking a sample from “The Girl From IPanema” and not fucking it up. The equal of Oasis, maybe even better, definitely better than that first solo album, the man is on fire as he adds trap not just to reggaeton but, more importantly, to a history of Latin pop music.
The Deadbeat Bang Of Heartbreak City – Beach Slang – Beach Slang meets Tommy Stinson on a gritty, hard hitting ‘Mats like rocker of an album which might appear to be a rip off, maybe, right? Maybe and sure it sounds maybe a little too close to the originals, but if you don’t wanna hear songs that sound like “I Will Dare” (not to mention Westerberg’s “Knocking On Mine”) what, precisely, do you want?
Always Tomorrow – Best Coast – Bethany Cosentino remains the embodiment of a certain sort of woman deep in search of her own identity and from album to album she is sure she’s found it except her SoCal songs (with help from her gifted foil Bobb Bruno who does everything else as Cosentino writes the songs and plays guitar) are bummers way too often. Always Tomorrow is her fourth album as it reflects on her new found sobriety and she again attempts to rebuild herself. It takes a couple of listens, and usually Best Coast don’t take more than one, but it kicks in as moody and yet simultaneously upbeat songs about heartache in Cali. A mix of aloneness , break-ups, and the rapture anybody who has stopped drinking feels, it isn’t as good as the towering California Nights but it is awful close, an album with the surprise multi-tracked, one woman Bangles on the amusingly named “Different Light” at the top and one bubble yum Socal rock and pop track after another another, though if you wanna go track shopping, the sublime “For The First Time” is a good starting place, and the soon come “Wreckage” is a standout out jingle jangle guitar sound (ps: my friend Larry Lachman noted the similarities between Hotel California and Always Tomorrow‘s cover typography)
Beethoven: Late String Quartets – Ludwig van Beethoven, Brodsky Quartet – six quartets, composed two years before his death in 1827, were dismissed as minor at the time but were reassessed as among his finest work. The Brodsky Quartet, Elvis Costello’s old pals circa The Juliet Letters, were made for it and don’t disappoint in the nearly four hour long work
Meet The Woo 2 – Pop Smoke -the crown prince of East Coast drill is as nasty and as violent as any og on this terrific little horror show
On Circles – Caspian – Undoubtedly some of the most gorgeous ambient by other means sonic dream landscape. It’s a little boring, though “Nostalgist” -which is the first song in five albums to feature vocals, proves they might want to reconsider their world of sonic beauty next time round
Music To Be Murdered By – Eminem – The former Slim Shady knows the pop world wants him murdering his enemies and taking on the vast majority of everybody though middle aged hasbeens whining about how the world doesn’t understand him has a very limited shelf life. Having said that, Eminem is one of the best rhymers and rappers ever, and sometimes it is all worthwhile, the end of “Godzilla” is the best speed rapping you’ll hear, the Outkasts by other means “Yah Yah” is a world class banger, and “Stepdad” -his best revenge fantasy because its enemy deserves Em’s ire. If The album was 30 minutes it would be as great as anything he has done
Tormented – Gary Wilson – a great American original, he makes everything sound off hand and amateur and it isn’t, it’s an illusion of sing song weirdness and nursery rhyme dance grooves from the maladjusted master. At his best, like this one and Electric Endicott, he is the only one who can do it
Miss Anthropocene (Deluxe Edition) – Grimes – Charli, Banoffee, Grimes: this is the sound of modern pop breakdowns. Miss Anthropocene (misanthropy -geddit, she coulda called it Annie Hall), finds Grimes calling down the goddess of our times to watch the end of the world and dance, but by ourselves, to the sound. Meanwhile, the songs are a microscope on the fall out from dating the forward thinking himself Elon Musk, and while it doesn’t connect in the one place it should, where the walls of sound meets the melody, it is original stuff and Grimes best to date
Manic – Halsey – I should never have left Jingle Ball early last year, as Halsey drops a grown up look at romantic malfeasance, and while it is nauseating to imagine she is concerned enough to use so much effort on the G-Eazys of the world, she sure knocks the world into shape and we can only hope it breaks pop
American Standards – James Taylor – The Taylor touch makes every song a soft and sweet gem of pop and with John Pizzarelli co-producing its use of acoustic guitar as the main instrument makes as much sense as Bob Dylan’s rock band rearranged Triplicates, it gives it a reason beyond the simpler one, that it will make you very, very happy.
Man Alive! – King Krule – drum and bass dub, arty sounds, downbeat croak, and lotsa depression, Bristol sound after Bristol passed, comes across like a white Tricky only much less accommodating (when I saw KK at Bowery Ballroom he performed in virtual darkness just like Tricky did on the Bjork tour in 1996). A lot of Man Alive! is bass and drums but the structures are stronger and melody lines keep emerging even as depression wrecks his head. Like the man said, if the moon could listen to music it would listen to King Krule
Miracle of Science – Marshall Crenshaw – an extended version of his 1996 album, after regaining the copyright from the dreaded Razor And Tie. Nobody’s fave Crenshaw, it felt at the time like “Starless Summer Night,” the Grant Hart song, and ten others. A lovely album but too many covers. Nearly a quarter of a century later, it is clearly as good as anything in his catalog and the addition of two new covers, as well as MC’s shaking up of the song placement, and releasing one song backwards, all works completely… what’s not to like?
Bowie Cello Symphonic: Blackstar – Maya Beiser, Ambient Orchestra, Evan Ziporyn – the best Bowie tribute so far, Blackstar rearranged for cello
græ: Part 1 – Moses Sumney – Though there is only one “Cut Me” here (guess what it’s about, I dare you), the Ghanaian-American pop artist doesn’t actually traffic in Afro-Beats anyway, his music is everything Banoffee hints around elsewhere in the sense that it is postmodernism tracking and arranging tones anchored by his gorgeous voice… at 38 minutes it is still only Part One
Ordinary Man – Ozzy Osbourne – Ozzy Osbourne’s first album in ten years, Ordinary Man, is so good I would be especially excited to see him on stage at MSG, after rescheduling from June 2019 to June 2020, except he just cancelled. He has Parkinson’s Disease. On the strength of the heavy metal plus a plethora of featured artists the 70 year old Osbourne had at least one more tour left in him, and he has gone on the record to explain it isn’t the Parkinson’s but pinched nerves that have stopped him from touring so he might make it back (he was in fine form when Alyson met him last week here). Certainly, the Post Malone song is terrific and the lead off track a thundering beauty and the Travis Scott feature proves Ozzy is more than capable of integrating hip hop into his sound. Let’s hope we get one more sighting
Meet The Woo 2 – Pop Smoke -the crown prince of East Coast drill was as nasty and as violent as any on on this terrific little horror show, and then was murdered in a home invasion
Rare – Selena Gomez – Gomez’s best album is a post-heartbreak-health scare set of fast on its feet pop-dance tracks with a point of view
Finding Harmony – The King’s Singers – King’s College Cambridge choir sounding absolutely gorgeous with full harmonies that Pentatonix can’t dream of, plus the Kesha and Ariana Grande covers just add depth and vision
3 – The Weeklings – Forget the Easybeats and Beatle covers because you knew they were going to be great anyway, and settle into the harp solo and then realize that’s the Beatles cover. Elsewhere the four piece power poppers meet garage rockers can occasionally come over more the late great Neil Innes then Lennon And McCartney, and that actually improves the tight and taut set of songs from the best at what they do (not Beatles impressions, power pop) on their best release to date
Silver Tongue – TORRES – Torres is such a romantic, and on her first album for Merge, she is electrically, by which I mean sonically, strong and boundless. This isn’t the one for her, maybe the next, but she is getting close to breaking it down and finding herself in St. Vincent land of production heaven and a wonder of love. It’s all good and “Good Scare,” which opens the album, is hard not to put on repeat, but hang around for “Two Of Everything”
Street Shots 2020: Streets of Kingston – Various Artists – Reggae with beats, lots of reggae, lotsa beats but a touch difference than dancehall
The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” (Live) – Various Artists – The acclaimed production with Eric Owens and Angel Blue is available to stream on Apple, superbly performed opera, they just simulcast it at movie houses, and it is still at the Met. Very good news they decided to release a recording of the opera