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Best Of 2020: Albums In Alphabetical Order By Artist

 

Tell It Like It Is: The Sansu Years – Aaron Neville – Allen Toussaint guided the third Neville brother for Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn’s Sansu Enterprises and the Sansu years as it melded MOR to New Orleans soul, lots worth seeking out but how about “Baby I’m A Want You” ?

POWER UP – AC/DC – Brian Johnson still has tinnitus so even if they were touring he would be risking his hearing entirely even with earplugs and could they get Axl back?  He isn’t Vince Gill… so this album of fresh rockers called a response to the death of Malcolm Young, what it plays as is a formula perfectly returned to. If you love the Aussie hard rockers, you’ll love it

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

Only For Dolphins – Action Bronson – with dolphin sounds interspersed throughout the album, Action Bronson, the Queens chef superstar rapper, is on top of everything, every sample used, every sound spread, every rhyme, and a world where it is actual as well: where Dolphins are our brothers and sisters and the sweet rolling sound of a different way of life comes out… one of his best.

songs – Adrianne Lenker – our best songwriter whether she is solo or with Big Thief with a haunting and beautiful collection of songs, and this is a gift, that sound fragile but aren’t, they have staying power and sturdiness

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

KiCk i – Arca – At her most experimental she can lose me, at her poppiest I’m enthralled, though I may overrate the nonbinary star, all you have to do is note that Bjork is featured on a killer track that should be enough to win you over

Riquiquí;Bronze-Instances(1-100) – Arca – five hours plus of remixes of the same hyper pop electronic strangeness by one of the most interesting popstars of the year. I got through two hours

Positions – Ariana Grande – no, it isn’t thank u, next, but it is a plenty good made in isolation add of love to sex and confusion pop marionettes and various positions, including the one where you tug her ha

Just Coolin’ – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Hard bop, unreleased album from the fifties, per Blue Note: afeaturing the legendary drummer, along with trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Bobby Timmons, and bassist Jymie Merritt.” As a fan of his big band era as much as his hard bop, I love it but not as much as, say, 1957’s African vibe Holiday for Skins

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.

LAS QUE NO IBAN A SALIR – Bad Bunny – the album title translates to The Ones That Weren’t Going to Come Out and the follow up to an album barely four months old, still in the Top Ten, and among the best of the year, also follows a three hour live stream concert wherein Bad Bunny went through his closet of songs and then decided to release some in a surprise drop. A 30 minute, BB plus guests album that while not as great as his earlier three (if you include the J Balvin collab, and do include it), it is damn close. The Nicky Jam song is everything you want, the Zion And Lennox is the best on the record, or maybe the Wandel… closer to a mixtape sure, but a terrific one

EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO – Bad Bunny – it took me ages to break into this one, I had it down as a genre bending bore with not enough bangers and except for “Dakiti” but repays close listening to how Bad Bunny can end anything he wants into Latin pop and still sound like Bad Bunny, and nobody else can do it at all

Sad Hunk – Bahamas – The Canadian Singer-Songwriter is back after blowing us away with “Opening Act” in 2018, and this album, while not peaking as high, is better song from song from than Earthtones. The 39 year old misplaces his cool (on “Not Cool Anymore” for one) as the 40s beckon, and he confesses it all and the songs are so good you remain with him through the gorgeous collection. Perhaps not a leap forward but certainly a leap into his next decade

Fake It Flowers – beabadoobee – Icame a little late to beabadoobee, catching on when the Canadian Powfu rapper sampled her for one of the best songs of the year, “death bed (coffee for your head)”. There wasn’t much to catch up, the twenty year old Filipina via London had a clutch of singles, a coupla EPs, and an album, and they were the best bedroom indie to date, a strummed guitar and just beabadoobee’s lovely singing on the sad girl heart ache tracks. Her sophomore album is a full band sounding leap forward in sound though not in song craft, but if that is a complaint it isn’t really because the woman can compose great songs, and here she can also arrange them as fine indie pop gems

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?

Burden of Proof – Benny The Butcher – Like all other hip hop heads, I’ve been amazed at how many great albums Buffalo’s Griselda Records have dropped this year, and none is better than this outstanding hard rap album from one of the labels top men. Tons of features as the great rapper takes you through his past darkly

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)

Live At World Cafe – Best Coast – Released two weeks before their excellent Always Tomorrow dropped, the eight song EP opens with three songs straight off the top of the latest, and pretty soon Bethany slips in “Feeling Ok” off another great album, California Nights. Really, the duo is in good spirits and all the songs are top notch. Why stop at eight, though? Why not 20?

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

Retrospectives – Bernie Worrell – an instrumental last act from the late legend Bernie Worrell, a look back produced by Bill Laswell, Bernie keeps to his Parliament-Funkadelic material from a gorgeous instrumental “Grooveallegiance” to a psychedelic legend “Sir Nose D Voidoffunk (Pay Attention B3m)” and we do miss the three blind mice of the title but not that much.

Detroit 2 – Big Sean – his first album since 2017 is one of the best rappers on top of his game if not the zeitgeist here, the featured aren’t as good as the solo stuff except for the Nipsey Hussle featured “Deep Reverence”,” certainly the Dave Chappelle spoken word is a story everybody who loves him knows well, except for the punchline (which I won’t ruin) and the Post Malone track is killer, in the end this is one of the most consistently well written rap albums of the year

Against Empire – Bill Laswell – four legendary drummers (Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Hideo Yamaki (Japan’s top dummer) and Satoyasu Shomura (Japanese pop phenomenon), join Pharoah Sanders and  Peter Apfelbaum, and the legendary bassist and producer himself for a minimalist and ambient sound that breaks through on Pharaoh’s sax and waves of drums before quietude stills it again

Billy Nomates – Billy Nomates – signed to Geoff Barrows label, and friends of Sleaford Mods, I prefer her to SM, though not to Portishead, though she remind me of KAE more than either. Untethered from spoken word, and from post-punk, she is more like a New Wave variant for a Rock Against Sexism that never quite happened. “Hippy elite” is a great song and everything is at least very good

Rough and Rowdy Ways – Bob Dylan – sure, this is the time for our tears so where is “Hattie Carroll”? If ever we wanted Dylan past personal politics and taking a scalpel to society, this is it. When you think of Dylan’s protest songs it is clear what is missing from current protest music: artistry and poetry. Since we are not going to get it, we will happily accept his best album, filled with death and anger and brutal Americana, since Love And Theft

The Best of The Bootleg Series – Bob Dylan – Not a bad idea but Dylan is caught between too many and not enough, Volume 12 has eighteen albums worth ALONE (that’s every extant recording session from 1965-1966) … there is too much material to choose from. You say “Blind Willie McTell,” I say “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky” with the Heartbreakers: it don’t matter who loves who there is still only one of them here

Blue Hearts – Bob Mould – as we approach the Presidential Election, Mould returns with another tight as a drum set of modern rock political defiance in the midst of wherever we are. The songs are good as songs, consistent and with a backbone, and while it is too precise to exactly evoke Husker Du, it is also too raging to allow Bob’s Sugar tune chops to get in the way. That means it’s a very good album that misses the pop jones

Built to Spill Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston – Built To Spill – Doug Martsch pays tribute to Daniel Johnston with a fragile and beautiful set of covers that shine bright and easy and deep and moving, it is a shockingly excellent piece of work and a great intro to Daniel for the uninitiated

Upside Down 2020 – Buju Banton -circa Til Shiloh, with its cover of Bob Marley’s “Small Axe,” the baritone booming Buju seemed to have invented a new genre of reggae, call it Rasta Lite, and it was gorgeous. And then he went away from the sound for decades. This is similar, brilliant pop Reggae songs (how poppy? “Good Time Girl” is based upon “Blue Moon”, very tuneful and fleet footed. “Buried Alive” is one of his greatest songs

SUGAREGG – Bully – Bully is to indie rock what Big Thief is to indie folk: top of the class, Alicia Bognanno has a big voice and a big way with roundelay hooks. Her sophomore effort sees zero slump, not a sausage, the album is one excited rocker after another. Start from the top with the seriously addictive “Add It On” and don’t stop the meaty and beaty set closer “What I Wanted”. A terrific set that does what great albums do: set a mood and effortlessly sustains even as it sweats like the Replacements and jangles like Big Thief (second reference, I realize)

Dutch From The 5th – dutchavelli – catch Stefflon Don’s brother before robbery charges and street legal argy-bargies comes back to haunt the London drill rapper on maybe the best rap album of the week : a street level set of haunting sounds and dangerous raps with the backstory to make it real

Kameron Marlowe – EP – Kameron Marlowe -most of the time new country guys leave me cold, it is a long wait between Luke Combs, but Kameron could well be around that level in a year, his debut EP is just about perfect dor what it is, even his drinking song doesn’t stink

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

Bonus Trap – Cazzu – There is something going on with the second wave of Latin trap that is quite as rhymically click clacked and even more fun, especially “Bounce” -something of a masterclass in pure aural pleasure by a woman I would love to see crossover

ird 100 – Charlie Parker – For his centennial, Charlie offers no surprises here and still worth going through six hours plus of the giant who invented bebop and the use of interpolations of other songs in music (meaning he is granddaddy to 2020 hip hop). The saxophist was a musical innovator dead at 30.

Slime & B – Chris Brown, Young Thug – in case you forgot, that was Mr. Slime Season Young Thug on “Havana,” all the kudos you might need as a pop star rapper though he has been consistently killing it on mix tape after mix tape since at least 2017. This meeting of minds does both Young Thug and Chris Brown a favor, especially Brown who is too prolific to be noticed and who adds the consistency he has lost over the 57 song album before last and 42 song last one. This is much better in every way

BLAME IT ON BABY – DaBaby – more of the same and the same is great, as long as he is this poppy and on the money, as long as he flows this well and spots it out and projects a pop sensibility aimed and targeted so hard at teens, he can do it for as long as he wants

BLAME IT ON BABY (DELUXE) – DaBaby – the deluxe adds nine songs plus the #BLM remix of “rockstar,” for what is fundamentally a new album added to an old album, recorded at the same sessions and with a similar sound, both the Stunna 4 Vegas songs suggest a new superstar is on his way

My Brother’s Keeper (Long Live G) – DaBaby – a remembrance of his big brother Glen Johnson, it is a surprisingly moving and sad EP, filled with mourning and tears and loss and big brother helped DaBaby because it really seems like another skill that will leave him safe from aimless repetition

LVV the Real Rondon – Darell – He is a first rate Puerto Rican rapper who completely gets rap beats and uses them over and over again to great effect, on a slow year for Latin Urban, where so much of it seems disappoint compared to 2017-2019 (except for the great Bad Bunny, needless to add), this is a youthful and strong use off a very popular format

From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings – Dave Alvin – My only complaint about the master The Blasters rock and roots is that there are only sixteen songs, except for his cover of “Highway 61 Revisited” as a blues barnstormer spoken wonder, which is unnecessary at the very best and worse than that, the album is relentless in its greatness and an impeccable set that let’s hope is the beginning of Dave working on his catalog

ChangesNowBowie – David Bowie – There is no reason this should be growing into a top ten Bowie album, but the nine song acoustic set recorded for the BBC for Bowie’s fiftieth birthday the day before his MSG big time gig, is a wonderful thing: Gorgeous, acoustic versions of some hits and some obscurities and all of them just beyond beautiful, has there ever been a “Quicksand” this perfect, this calm, this wilful: “knowledge comes with death’s release” and death is everywhere, for once we can’t hide our minds from it

DiDi Dlicious – DiDi Champagne – Didi is part of the post-punk New York gang, a guitar oriented popster with a great voice and a fourth gear she goes into all the time. A classicist at heart, this is the sort of rock (not rock and roll) nobody plays (well) anymore, and the album is a glorious steamroller. Her licks are constantly engaging (try “Cakestand” -where did that one come from?) and the guitar plots click in a magnificent way and by “Wild Dandelions” the solo is more metal than anything else. I would love to see her on stage but till them, enjoy

Dark Lane Demo Tapes – Drake – is this it for Drake? Has he hit his Apex and is he now plateauing? The numbers here are not what you might hope for from the biggest pop star in the world. “Toosie Slide” started with a bang and then petered, beaten out by The Scotts, and the top ten Spotify songs in The US finds him with only three of the top ten songs in the US as of Sunday. Me? I don’t hear the problem, another great album doing for Drill what he did for Grime, and better than Scorpion for one

The New OK – Drive-By Truckers – They will never have another Decoration Day or Southern Rock Opera, but they will have another Go Go Boots and this excellent collection of fully formed songs might be even better. Protest has never been this strong, as their second album of 2020 takes the bad taste of their first one out of your mouth

Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa – I wasn’t crazy about the Kosovan immigrant to the UK’s first album, and she seemed manufactured on stage, and now Dua has found her footing with a set of art pop that never moves its attention from the charts and is still exceedingly valid and pleasurable, both of the singles were great and there is more where that came from

Love In Berlin – Ella Fitzgerald – taking a cha-cha-cha… a six song EP from the lost now found follow up to1960’s iconic Live In Berlin, this is the lost one recorded two years late

May Our Chambers Be Full – Emma Ruth Rundle, Thou – a great collaboration between two Goth like sludge blackmetalgaze, seven songs of skillful horror and beauty, like a decaying corpse without the stench, it repays hard listening with a road to hell… and back

Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes (Live) – Ella Fitzgerald – recorded two years after Live In Berlin, this long lost live album finds Ella at an absolute peak, capable of everything from jazz to swing (“like Count Basie Swings”)  from doo wop to the songbook; sublime singer singing sublime with humor and joy

Armed Forces (Super Deluxe Edition / Remastered 2020) – Elvis Costello – I already owned the “Green Shirt” demo on the extended This Year’s Model, and the rest of em -three live shows and demos and B sides, any Costello fan already has a handle on. Still always a pleasure returning here

From Elvis In Nashville – Elvis Presley – 1969 was Elvis from Memphis, the sessions were great and they made good albums, in Nashville the sessions (this is nearly five hours of nascent Americana) were as good though they didn’t make it into great albums and here three Presley albums (especially Elvis Country) are saved from ignominy This sets the record straight

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

Fetch The Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple – sometimes great, sometimes too strange for great, a clearly joining of Apple with other women and just as clearly Apple again deconstructing the men who she loves, clearly attracted to toxic masculinity. The percussion is excellent, I miss her piano, the songs don’t stick… what else? Using her dead dogs bones to beat drums is awful. Misandry is a great subject for rock music, one of the greatest, and she carries it well and if I was a woman perhaps I’d glom on it more strongly though I don’t think I’d misread it so thoroughly.  I just wish it was as great as I want it to be

Nice ‘n’ Easy (2020 Mix) – Frank Sinatra – The 1960 Nice ‘n’ Easy (reviewed here), arranged by Nelson Riddle, is one of his greatest albums and while I have no idea why we need a 2020 mix (except for financial reasons) we do get two outtakes from the session

Liszt: Transcendental Études – Franz Liszt, Vadym Kholodenko – Vadym is a dynamic and gifted pianist and Lizt’s studies are both simpler, more complex, and a vigorous workout as it evolved over time

2020 – Future Punx – I once saw these guys at a rave blow away every and all comers, including King of Trance Armin van Buuren, and then I lost track. So it pleases me no end to note that energy, beatiness, and badass songness is as great as I remember. If you want to get into Trance, start here

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

Weekend in London (Live) – George Benson – , a Lionel Richie without as many hits at first glance, this live one from 2019 finds the 76 year old in amazing form, “Give Me The Night,” “Turn Your Love Around,” are both here, as well as a sparkling “Never Give Up On A Good Thing,” jazz jam “Affirmation” and they all sound better than ever

Legends Never Die – George Jones – two thirds the length of Our Favorites, and between the 150 odd tracks not a “He Stopped Loving Her Today” suggesting the age of the two of them is 50s/early 60s

Our Favourites – George Jones – Sure, another collection but this is a well programmed 93 song deep dive (look at the spelling of favourites so assume va the UK) and while it has no real backstory, just all over the place, it is exactly where to start before you even begin trying to figure out Jones recorded career. When I go for George I may well arrive here

The Complete George Jones (VOL.1 – 3) – George Jones – from 1957 – 1964

The Bonny – Gerry Cinnamon – All those UK male singer songwriters, the James Blunts and Lewis Capaldi’s of the world, have been waiting on somebody who can actually do singer songwriter folk music with all cylinders and  Scottish 35 year old Cinnamon, who was meant to be opening for Dropkick Murphys around this minute, can do it it all on this collection of folk rock balladeering. “Bonny” isn’t even the best song

Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 1 – Gillian Welch – five years after volume one, “Mighty Good Book” leads the way on these sweet sounding lost but now its found tracks

Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 3 – Gillian Welch – when I first saw that we had a volume three from the luminous Welch’s backpages, I thought alright, woman, we got the point. But I have a lousy habit of underestimating Welch (a review from 2017 gets a dumbfounded A Grade here), and it is, of course,  a gorgeous folk Americana of the first order

BRAZIL305 – Gloria Estefan – a wonderful set of Estefan hits, deep cuts, and new songs with a full Brazilian orchestra

American Beauty (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) – Grateful Dead – God, that’s a shitty version of “Mama Tried”… this is Grateful Dead’s greatest album, a country rock Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, but built to be jammed to and this 50th Anniversary is a little anemic, especially because they released the demos earlier this year, but a coupla 1971 gigs where they rilled em out are fun

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

Women In Music Pt. III – HAIM – Easily their best album, this is Haim as art pop rockers, with skillful arrangements and some really great songs, opening with “Los Angeles” -maybe their greatest moment, and ending with “Summer Girl” -also maybe their greatest, and while it goes on too long, and I can count five songs I didn’t need, it is still fairly consistent. Plus, what’s with that sax all over the place?

EDNA – Headie One – UK grime never broke as well in the US as it deserved and that’s despite both Kanye West and Drake being advocates and the best new rapper of Pop Smoke adding it to drill. Headie One on his debut is a major move away from pure grime to a drill exponation. Headie One was released from prison in April and Edna (named for his late mother) is his first album (though there have been tons of mixtape). An excellent album of hard as nails drill, violent and strange and straight off the council estates in Tottenham, there are features by local hero Aitch, as well as Future and Drake

Handel Choruses – George Frideric Handel, The Sixteen, Harry Christophers – The Sixteen are the great choral, Handel is Handel… hallelujah

Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Volume III – Henry Purcell, The Sixteen, Harry Christophers – For those who didn’t go to English Public School, Charles II was nicknamed the merry, after the civil war and then the removal of Oliver Cromwell, he took the crown and steadied the monarchy, while sleeping with half the women in Britain. The Sixteen were formed in 1979 and if you are a fan of choral music, and of the great Henry Purcell, you will flip over these songs from CII’s coronation

Falling Asleep At The Wheel – Holly Humberstone – This years Phoebe Bridgers is pretty excellent on this EP, a fine lyricist and a fine way with a tune, singers are never again quite this fascinating. So while it hurts me to join the crowd, Holly is the real thing and “Falling Asleep At The Wheel” is a great song. What will tomorrow bring? I don’t really care

B.B.H.E. – Hudson Mohawke – The Scottish DJ signed to Kanye West’s label, was one of the reasons EDM came so close to world conquest some five years ago and here he has a first rate odds and sods, from already hits to unknown instrumentals that come in and out under 30 minutes, this is the future we never reached

Inlet – Hum- Twenty-two years after their last album, this is where shoegaze meets metal in a glorious and beautiful sound that is unique. A shocker for me, my metal chops aren’t all that, but there is no hyping these guys, they sound simply and overwhelmingly beautiful

The Bowie Years – Iggy Pop  – The Idiot, Lust For Life, TV Eye plus an album of alternate takes, outtakes, and radio edits, and two live albums

Love Me While I’m Here – Jackboy – with the great Kodak Black in prison, Jackboy heads up the Sniper posse with his best work to date, Broward County style OG features Kodak on “IDK”, it’s a highlight but if the beats sound trap, the sound is a pure rap sound and one of the best of the year

CTV3: Cool Tape Vol. 3 – Jaden – color me a huge fan of both Jaden and his sister (I kinda like soft like microsoft daddy as well), and as the years have gone by his skills have matched his ambitions especially on this terrific cross-genre pop album. “I Think I’m Falling For You” may be his best work to date, Justin Bieber sounds incredible as well. The entire album is the future is now lyricism for Gen Z, where love is as fluid as genres as fluid as genders , and Jaden is as likely to add on strings as autotune… a breakthrough

Covers – James Blake – At first look I thought it was “When The Music’s Over” and I recommend the electronic singer songwriter gives it a ride. But it was “When The Party’s Over” and the best Billie Eilish cover out there, add to the that the best Joy Division cover ever with “Atmosphere” and a song with no reason at all to work “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and is splendid, plus three others for a minor masterpiece. The sound, just piano basically, is something Nick Cave has been missing at this year

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.

A Written Testimony – Jay Electronica – Jay’s first album in thirteen years as his record label owner, Jay Z, best work in years and years (except for “The Story Of OJ”, okay), and while Kanye embraces Jesus, Jay and Jay shout out Elijah Mohammed and the big A itself, on a very, very strong and up against the conceptual retort to the modern age of racism. Jay E is a great rhymner, Jay Z is at the top of his powers after all that crap with his wife, and the two have cut what might one day stand as a hip hop masterpiece. And maybe not one day… ps: coulda done without the “synagogues of Satan” line from both Jays: my dad was a Hajj and he always claimed for the Jews their prophets , Jesus, Moses, as well as Muhammed. PPS: the arabic writing on the cover translates to Peace Be With You

Colores – J Balvin – J Balvin has been going from height to height ever since Beyonce jumped on “Mi Gente” three years ago. If Coleurs isn’t as great as his Bad Bunny collaboration last year, the epic Oasis, it is better than his own Vibras. Colores is a highly concentrated dose of reggaeton plus beats, each song a perfect pearl of dance plus dance melody, and while it could have used a couple more as great as “Verde,” more people could use a lesson in less is more, 37 minutes of relentless pleasure

NO DREAM – Jeff Rosenstock – he reminds me a little of the Buzzcocks, he has the loud fast plus tunefulness vibe and his fourth album is absolute great: very catchy, completely alive, right in your ear. It maybe needs one or two slightly better song -they are all at the same level of excellence, but without it NO DREAM is still a terrific buzzy life (wait till you hear “Scram1!” which coulda been doo wop in a different lifestream)

TO LOVE IS TO LIVE – Jehnny Beth – The third album of the season that functions as an extended artistic vision, along with Fiona Apple and Run The Jewels, a post-binary look at the cupidity of sex and post-punk guitar modernity. Hurt by not enough songs as great as “Flower,” that’s the only thing wrong with the Savages solo effort

BEFORE LOVE CAME TO KILL US – Jessie Reyez – the debut album of exquisitely sung mix and meet between acoustic indie vibes and r&b as Jessie works her way through songs of romantic disenchantment

Be True To Yourself – Joey Molland – Badfinger was not just Pete Hamm, appearances notwithstanding, guitarist Molland was writing material constantly after 1974. Fast forward through a typical one hit (or so) wonder career where people didn’t pay the attention he deserved, Molland releases a superb power pop, Beatle-y album filled with tunes and a consistent and beautiful array of sounds. Produced by Mark Hudson, and with Julian Lennon involved (he took the pictures of the album sleeve), this is one of the most purely pleasurable albums of the year

GIMME SOME TRUTH. (Deluxe) – John Lennon – the best thing about this 36 song dip into the catalog is Lennon’s vocals lifted up through the mix

Crooked Piece of Time: The Atlantic & Asylum Albums (1971-1980) – John Prine – I don’t see why not

Complete Mercury Albums 1986-1991 – Johnny Cash – If this is Johnny’s weakest moments, as he treads water till the American Recordings last act, it is still tremendous. If nothing else, it resurrects the legendary singers lost years

Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) – Joni Mitchell – in a recent interview with Cameron Crowe, Joni came to peace with being a folk singer in her early years… a beautiful voice, a skill with folk standards, and originals that include “Both Sides Now,” “The Circle Game” and “Urge For Going”

EP! – JPEGMAFIA – art rapper JPEG is simply one of the best, a hyper-pop weirdo who can rap well and construct songs better, the nine tracks here are loosies from the year including a “Bald” remix with Denzel Curry and newbie “Super Tuesday” and it is all first rate and while yes it is an EP, well, it is till longer than Please Please Me was… “Bodyguard” is a definition of hyperpop

Bye Bye These Are the Days – Kath Bloom – The Connecticut folkie who emerged in the 80s, disappeared in the 90s, and return in the 00s uses her harp to wonderful effect on these quiet and intense folk songs of immense beauty and complete timelessness

Smile – Katy Perry – If the complaint is that it isn’t as fresh as Teenage Dream, the reply is neither are you. It is still an EDM pop delight with the positive touch

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

Welcome to O’Block – King Von – O’Block is the dangerous tenement in South Chicago where King Von spent his early years in and out of prison, and King Von has gone from stick up telling the story for reality gangsta lovers… very real, a week after the album dropped he was shot to death

Speed, Sound, Lonely KV (ep) – Kurt Vile – it is hard to admit you’re wrong… hard, not impossible. As a never close to an admirer of the Neil Young fan, I’ve been waiting for the collection to change my mind and only discovered it once every … well once every once, this once. Still Neil Younging, of course, but with two very strong John Prine covers, a Cowboy Jack cover, and two new ones, and recorded in Nashville over four years, it is a beautifully EP with a cool country drawl. A wonderful thing guaranteed to make you feel a calming, beatific vibe whenever you hear it

See You When I am Famous!!!!!!!!!!!! – KYLE – if you think rap should sound good and be, you know fun, so does KYLE, the poppiest rapper out there and just a blast on song after song, including this entire collection of good vibes and especially “GIRLS” with Rico Nasty

Vertigo – Lil Peep -maybe his estate has figured out the posthumous new releases weren’t working and dropped this early and excellent EP to streaming services (including three videos)

Eternal Atake (Deluxe) – LUV vs. The World 2 – Lil Uzi Vert – A week after releasing Eternal Atake, Uzi adds an entire second album, LUV vs. The World 2, with features galore, and a pop sensibility that he has now proven for years and years. A great album, both of em, honor bound to be a smash hit

Emoh (2020 Reissue) – Lou Barlow -adds 8 demos to the 2005 lo fi fan favorite, making a great album even greater

Good Souls Better Angels – Lucinda Williams – at first it is just another real good Lucinda Americana country work out, and at second it still is only with more great songs than typically, some terrific garage rockers, and songs like “Big Black Train” which signify more than seems possible, and more of the same but better. A just about perfect album up there with Happy Woman Blues and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

What You See Ain’t Always What You Get (Deluxe Edition) – Luke Combs – adds eight songs, all great, Luke Combs is the Bad Bunny of country

A Nashville Songbook – Mandy Barnett – The former Patsy Cline cover artist is a first rate interpreter of other people’s works and in Songbook, from Hank Williams to Eddie Rabbit (the Rabbit song opens the album and adds a dose of country to the Yacht sound), a just about flawless collection

Stripped.Down. – Marla Mase – four song EP, two off the last one, one of each of two others, one re-recorded, all spectacular

Truth Comes Down – Marla Mase – two songs from 2016’s Miracles – Lost And Found, including a remix on “Truth Comes Down” featuring the brilliant rapper Half Pint, then she adds a song from each of her previous albums, including her ode to paranoia “Drown In Blue” (listen to it right after Tomas Doncker’s cover on last week’s Wherever You Go). Part a different way to project the title track, part catch up fast, part closing of a chapter of her life (she is currently working on a highly anticipated new album), it still has more thought behind it than any other artist out there

WE ARE CHAOS – Marilyn Manson – When last seen, Marilyn Manson was being taken out of Hammerstein Ballroom on a gurney (here) after falling off a ladder. Marilyn was clearly in the midst of an alcohol cycle he couldn’t get out of and the future looked, well, Tricky, the same way his new album sounds Tricky in its industrial wasteland pop skills. WE ARE CHAOS is his strongest collection of the 21st century, a set of arresting and beautiful people in their horror stories and encapsulating a hard earned vulnerability, Manson finally beats out all goth industrial sounds and escapes his kiddie Nine Inch Nails dead end

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 Sky,” 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 – Moses Sumney – While “Cut me” and “Me In Twenty Years” leads, nothing is left behind on this gorgeous modern pop triumph with singing to die for and a standard of songwriting that doesn’t waiver in over an hour of queer desire and intricate woven sounds for songs that deserve it. Contender for album of the year

I Am Not a Dog on a Chain – Morrissey –  For all his grumpy, Fox News watching, bad vibes, has always been a man you miss at your own risk. I Am Not a Dog on a Chain is his third album in four years, and it is as explicitly tired of growing old as you’d expect and it is beautifully sung  and beautifully produced: a widening of his sound that never seems to be wide enough

Morrison Hotel (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) – The Doors – one of the most over/underrated bands of all time but whatever you think of them there is no complaining over their out and out greatest Morrison Hotel, a pop blues hugeness with a clutch of their greatest moments of all, and here they add studio outtakes and a towering cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” as pure electric blues

Un Canto por México, Vol. 1 – Natalia Lafourcade – based on the concert performed on November 4, 2019 called Un Canto por México for the reconstruction of the Son Jarocho Documentation Center, these are recorded versions of the songs the Veracruz indie Mexican singer performed, mostly Natalia originals that sound like old school Mexicana

laiii 222 rest ooo – Omololu – the three track, 27 minute album is the debut by the”educator, african surrealist documentarian, digital griot and blx ecstatix performance artist” and I believe it entirely on this art black album of sounds that manage to remain deeply centered despite its new noise sounds and choral voices raised in protest. No fear, indeed

Stankonia (Deluxe Version) – OutKast – I saw Outkast at the Theatre of MSG when this dropped in 2000 and then I saw em again on the festival for money tour in 2014 (here) and the former was much better. This 20th Anniversary deluxe is also better, the entire album, some really good remixes, a capella versions, all of it is great

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

McCartney III – Paul McCartney – Macca’s best album in fifteen years finds him one man banding on pop and The Fireman into a relaxed and extremely enjoyable album of first class music by an aging master who can still write a killer song

It’s Just Music – Payday – the sixteen year old, red hair and freckles rapper, adds youthful pop to her songs and manages to nail it often on this mixtape that should break her on Tik-Tok if nowhere else. The songs are uniformly teen angst beauties, small but consistent and on “Techdesk” you can hear where she is going. A surprise treat

Set My Heart On Fire Immediately – Perfume Genius – Mike Hadreas is a good songwriter who moves steadily closer to the pop mainstream and away from the secondary queer pop leveling. At its poppiest, the first song, “Whole Life”, it is fantastic and addictive, and at its most morose, the second song “Describe” it is borderline ambient, and when he goes real mainstream, the third song “Without You” is baroque pop, it is worth the ride

Glass: Piano Works – Philip Glass, Jenny Lin – Composed in the 00s, recorded in 2017, seeing the light of day now, Glass’s final study of his works with the great pianist Jenny Linn. If you find Glass too esoteric, try him out here and you won’t

Dry – Demos – PJ Harvey – I thought we were going to be getting To Bring You My Love demos (and we got Rid Of Me demos decades ago), still Dry is a great album, her first four albums remain untouchables, the Dry demos are as stripped bear as possible, “Sheela-Na-Gig” remains a slap in the face

To Bring You My Love – Demos – PJ Harvey – If ever an album is worth listening to in two different versions, that album is PJ Harvey’s undeniable masterpiece and while the Demos is not the equal of the original, and the demos are certainly somewhat on the completed side, the singing alone is worth price of admission

Whole Lotta Red – Playboi Carti – On his first album in two years, the fashionista pop rapper still ain’t got much of a rhyme, a flow, or a track, but what he has is industrial strength hooks, and a way of using them over and over again till you can’t stop listening

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

Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon – Pop Smoke – Pop Smoke was murdered during a home invasion after he posted a picture of his LA mansion on his instagram feed which accidently included his address, he was 20 years old. Smoke was a deep throated rapper who took England’s drill scene, an even more violent take on grime, and brought it to New York and the US with the addictive “Gatti” and “Dior” and the “woooo” call. Without Pop Smoke New York Drill might stall the same way soundcloud rap did after Lil Peep and XXXtentacion passed (an overdose, shot dead -in case you’re keeping score at home), though there are a coupla disciples ready to take the helm and Fivio Foreign (the ay ay ay guy) first in line, as, following a coupla well received mixtapes, Smoke’s debut album Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon drops. Produced by 50 cents, the sound is Woo darkness and brutality and joined by a who’s woo of featured stars to whom 50 gives a dirty sound a clean production, jumping onto tracks after Pop SMoke’s death is my bet. Quavo shows up on three tracks, both Lil Baby and Dababy on another, and Latin pop star Karol G makes an appearance. I love the sound completely and I love Pop Smoke’s voice, but every time I concentrate on the riches bitches and glocks lyrics I can’t take em seriously. Still, this is a loss for the rap community of the first order and while one assumes there will more in vaults, this is a real album and a labor of love. Two of his best songs aren’t here, but “Dior” shows

Pylon Box – Pylon – The Athens, Ga post-punk band, who released two albums, and four singles before hiatusing for seven years and releasing an album. Their stated ambition was to release a single, play New York, appear in New York Rocker and disband, they stayed around a little longer. This originally vinyl now streaming box set is a reminder how they were one of those twisty, angular guitar bands who failed to record bad music. This includes some demos and outtake

Digging Deep: Subterranea – Robert Plant – 14 albums in 40 years of roots Americana, including a handful of hits, a wonderful refresher course

Every Bad – Porridge Radio – “Sweet” was a huge breakthrough for the UK post punks earlier this year and they maintain it with some of the strongest and most obtuse post-punk songs, lead singer Dana Margolin performs a tour de force on quietly devastating songs for the end of times

Poems of the past – Powfu – “death bed (coffee for your head)” is bedroom pop’s coming of age, a place where the songs are so strong and in the moment they break out of genre. The 21 year old Canadian is an unlikely leader but I would guess Junior High School kids adore him, indeed any arrested development person might: sweet sad songs about death and heartbreak, just six, all great, and including a remake of “death bed” featuring blink-182

some boring love stories pt 5 – Powfu – a complete master of bedroom pop responsible for one of the best songs you’ll hear this year “death bed (coffee for your head)” featuring beabadoobee and making them both stars. Powfu is a rapper but rapping isn’t everything he can do and the songs aren’t rap as we know it, the Canadian is more tune than rhythm and the songs are very sticky. Lo Fi? Whatever

Hate for Sale – Pretenders – former rock nyc editor Helen Bach swears it’s a masterpiece and she claims that Chrissie’s attitude to romance is as accurate a depiction of love from a woman of a certain age as you might hear. Me? I think she dropped all the best songs before the album was released and though it is great it still manages to be old already. The lick on “The Buzz” is killer

Sign O’ The Times (Super Deluxe) – Prince – with the exception of Bob Dylan’s The Cutting Edge, this is the best box set I’ve heard. Dylan did the impossible, he released every piece of studio material he recorded from 1965 – 966, Prince has an emptying of the vaults for the some period and dozens of new songs, for what was already one of the greatest albums of all time. Impeccable, as good as the Miles Davis box set for Bitches Brew

RTJ4 – Run The Jewels – Killer Mike and El-P – It isn’t about George Floyd but informed by the George Floyds that came before him, as the two try to lift the knee off the neck of Black Americans. Taken at a breakneck pace, the duo nail one roaring diss after another without failing the songs. A lot of highlights but “Ju$t” is huge and so is the jazzed out “a few words for the firing squad (radiation)” A perfect meeting of song and audience that defines what we listen to as an incendiary blast of full scale revolt

Wednesdays – Ryan Adams – Neil Young redux? The vibe is there on these confessionals built as a key to a door on his career, but the key doesn’t fit, His ego beaten to a pulp, Ryan mourns his brother when he is not mourning his lack of innocence

Gravity Insanity – Sam Huber – outstanding seven songs of state of the art r&b and soul that still sounds analog

Laswell/Shocklee: The Sam Huber Remixes – Sam Huber – two of the greats work with another great, Bill Laswell and Keith Shocklee bring their legendary touch to some of Sam Huber’s dance oriented r&b and soul on six flawless slice of beat heavy tracks, stick it on repeat and be creative

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

Old Time Feeling – S.G. Goodman – Americana country style and “Space And Time” is an instant classic that Patsy Cline would have been all about and nothing else comes close but how could it? It’s still a consistently, beautifully sung work that should break her somewhere or the other

Heart’s Ease – Shirley Collins – Shirley Collins is an English folk icon, now 85 years of age, carrying the tradition of the songs you imagine Alan-a-Dale playing in Sherwood Forest. Her second release since Shirley returned in 2014, this impeccable collection of English folk, including the best version of “Barbara Allen” you’ll hear, is a reminder that great songs don’t age

Higher Place – Skip Marley – a wonderful eight song EP including the H.E.R. featured “Slow Down” (there is a great remix with Wale as well), though not here), that puts Skip, Bob’s Grandson, as the only Marley capable of stepping out of the shadow

At the Moonbase – Slaughter Beach, Dog – Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald’s solo project and it is what you might expect. And that’s a huge compliment, there are few better indie bands and Jake has as strong a collection of indie rock with an acoustic background and a voice with a slight Lou Reed edge to it, that is one great song after another

Down to the Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions – Steve Arrington – Arrington’s first solo album in years and years is perfect, and also state of the art r&b, with jazz somewhere in there. And as you’d expect from a drummer, the bottom is otherworldly

Ghosts of West Virginia – Steve Earle – his best since… El Corazon! From 1997, I had a ticket to the Public to see the play he wrote the songs for and it got cancelled (of course) and I am truly bumming right now as the ten songs from the “Coal Country” not at the Public and I am sure adds to a storyline about dirt under your fingernails and true working misery. I’ve never trusted Steve’s politics more

Emmanuel – Sunday Service – Composed and Executive Produced by Kanye West, it is twelve minutes of beautiful chants and words of faith in Latin, if Jesus Is King was Yeezus meets Jesus, and Jesus Is Born was Gospel by other means, Emmanuel discharges the last remnants of pop music and finds its eternal faith

Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters – Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters – The Belly star with a gorgeous collection of covers, skim to “Dance Me To The End Of Love” and then go directly to “Days,” “Let Me Roll It” and “Kid”. And then just listen to the entire album, a real gift from Tanya and the sisters

Live From Clear Channel Stripped 2008 – Taylor Swift – If nothing else, the Big Machine release of a 2008, acoustic Taylor Swift eight song radio performance is a clear reminder that her preeminence in the pop firmament is no fluke. It also proves she was better in 2008 than she is in 2020, that she hit a height and hasn’t maintained it due to following too deeply into her pop EDM sound. Taylor was eighteen at the time of this radio concert, promoting Fearless with an  internet only live show and it stands up so well; I’ve long felt Taylor turned too hard to pop with 1989 and has lost some of her artistry, this albums seems to prove that her songs stood up without any help from Max Martin, and Nathan Chapman (who produced everything up to Red, and co-wrote “Love Story”) and Liz Rose who co-wrote her debut and half of Fearless are missed. At eighteen, Taylor comes across as fully formed, though right now she is furious that after the $300M for the Big Machine label, the new owners of the label, Ithaca Holdings, are turning pop country into money. Along with Clear Channel, every album up to Reputation has a radio commentary special edition on streaming services

folklore – Taylor Swift – as the “cabin in candlelight” version of “Cardigan” proved, much as 1989 is what happens when you add Max Martin to Swift, good things but still clearly Swift.  this is what happens when you add Big Red Machine to Taylor: good things. but still clearly Swift

Down In the Bottom: The Country Rock Sessions 1966 – 1968 – The Everly Brothers – The Everly Brothers performed some of pop’s greatest songs and those late 50s, early 60s Felice and Boudleaux Bryant are impeccable… then they all but invented country rock and I love the country though not as crazy about the rock portion

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

Getting Into Knives – The Mountain Goats – Not unlike Stephin Merritt, John Darnielle. writes songs in quotation marks, by which I mean he writes songs that are about things that they are once removed from, he is a story teller that can’t help but feel deeply ironic, that weakens his songs despite the prolific songwriter not being ironic at all. Till now, Getting Into Knives has better songs not because John embraces his songs more toughly but because his never questioned songwriting skills have reached a height where nothing can get between us and him. And, oddly, the only two songs that aren’t, are also his most sincere

It Means Fear of God – Theophobia – Theophobia are Dylan Mars Greenberg, the remarkable pulp movie director, and her childhood friend Matt Ellin, distilling their love of glam pop like Sparks and Meatloaf. On this debut three song EP Theophobia hit every spot , including the witty singalong that sounds like a 1970s saturday morning cartoon theme, “The Ballad of Miss Subways (No Social Distancing)” and the intricate swooning New Order meets Burt Bacharach inspired synth and keyboards on “Will You Love Me When I’m Dead” with its anthemic singalong “2,4,6,8, can you take me on a date?”

Pleased To Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) – The Replacements – I was never the fan of The Replacements I might have been (I disliked them on stage, which hurt my opinion) but their second best album was a must hear pop rocker which missed Bob Stinson but made up for it with a terrific collection of songs and Pleased To Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) adds more of the same with demos and rough mixes, no live tracks but a wild cover of “I Can Help” where they manage the groove with enormous credibility

Down to the Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions – Steve Arrington – Arrington’s first solo album in years and years is perfect, and also state of the art r&b, with jazz somewhere in there. And as you’d expect from a drummer, the bottom is otherworldly

The Craig Charles Trunk of Funk Vol. 1 – Craig Charles – an excellent Northern soul compilation of incredible strength and beauty, one gem after another -this is what the Who wish they had been dancing to and it is all contemporary. What a scene…

Goats Head Soup (Deluxe) – The Rolling Stones – Look at it this way: Three Albums: The original ten tracks , the outtakes (Grade: A-) and the live in 1973 owned by Bobby Keys

Hidden Treasures – Volume 1 – The Seekers – I’m not sure what the concept is. How is “The Carnival Is Over” and “Georgy Girl” hidden? 27 songs, some rarities, a great “Waltzing Matilda” and if all you get is a reminder of how good the Australian folkies were, well, what does it matter if not everything is hidden?

Live at Goose Lake: August 8th 1970 – The Stooges – seven songs in 39 and a half minutes so while this might be a harbinger of punk, it is just as much a heralding of post-punk ten years later. The essence of No New York, the skronking jazz inflections, and noise, are here as well… but isn’t it a little early to be dumping “No Fun” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” only a year after 1969? By the way, ten years ago they released an equal album from the same tour

Strange Days – The Struts – featured artists include a Stroke, a Take That, a Rage Against The Machine, and a Genesis on a glam rock extravaganza that pops your ears with pleasure as the English boys glam and ram it to give you something to feel about -it is like they are airlifted from a different time with everything The Vamps just plain don’t have

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

After Hours (Deluxe) – The Weeknd – Abel seems incapable of fallow periods, two years ago the EP Melancholy, My Dear is that perfect blue period pop sorrow and all three singles leading up to the big reveal, including smash hit “Blinding Lights” plus the Saturday Night Live performed “Scared To Live,” a song so great it is worth the fortune he must have spent sampling “Your Song” has promised a major release and The Weeknd has provided the good news. After Hours is a pop opera of sorts, connected songs about love and romance (and a disastrous arrangement) in the club late, late, late at night. 14 songs in a little under an hour and they are relentless excellent, sometimes druggy and disconnected a la Beauty Behind The Madness, sometimes a melancholy dear sadness, and sometimes Starboy tech stuff but always connected through a vision of life and music that is quiet and distraught except when he breaks through. If these are anthems of pop restructuring, they play like musical truisms nthd

Rewind (Volume 1) – Todd Terry – the 80s House DJ original tracks and collaborations from 2020, Terry had a first rate year and if EDM is where it is at, this album provides the best of it

Trapped…In the Mess We Made – Tomás Doncker & The True Groove All-Stars – from “Church Burning Down” as a horrified singalong to “The Revolution” with Regina Bonelli on back up vocals as she wails over the coda, Doncker unpacks his 2015 classic The Mess We Made and captures a zeitgeist that feels beyond our grasp. “I’m calling bullshit on the revolution…” he claims and the Tik Tok generation would get it

Moanin’ at Midnight: The Howlin’ Wolf Project (Deluxe)  – Tomas Doncker – Adds one dub version and three live tracks from three different shows, to the already No New York blues triumph adding fans everyday

Power of the Trinity…a Slight Return – Tomás Doncker & The Global Soul Ensemble – Ethiopian pop meets True Groove black rage unharnessed, is the third of the Haile Selassie trilogy. It is less an entrance to Doncker, go with The Mess We Made if that’s what you want, and more a musical simmer where black funk meets African beats and vocal deep dives, and as a truly deep dive singer Mahmoud Abbas joins Doncker at Central Park’s Summerstage back in 2012 on “Ere Mela Mala”. As an added plus, you can hear the late Lael Summer all over the album: the hope is Doncker releases a box set of all three versions and includes a live album culled from the remarkable 2012 concert

Wherever You Go – Tomas Doncker – His second album of the year (isn’t the #BLM trap working Trapped… In The Mess We Made, the political gives way to the personal with a classic rock, electric blues triumph in the time of Covid-19

2020 Vision: a True Groove Compilation – Tomas Doncker and the True Groove Artists – genre agnostic blast of energy from the likes of Marla Mase, Sam Huber, Kevin Jenkins, and much more

Wildflowers & All The Rest (Deluxe Edition) – Tom Petty – the bigger, the better

Rejoice – Tony Allen, Hugh Masekela – world music giants, percussionist Tony and trumpeter Hugh jammed ten years ago, and here is the result: a Afrobeats and AFro-pop masters at work

Got To Be Tough – Toots & The Maytals – stunning roots and rock reggae work that finds Hibbert maybe a touch raspy but for a man at it since the early sixties, he is way on top of his game here. A masterpiece? Too soon to say but absolutely everything you want from reggae by one of the greats, try the first three songs in order and go from the Stones to Marley to Chronixx while lifting from none of them. Toots dropped this, went to a hospital, and died.

Ain’t Gone Do It / Terms and Conditions – Too $hort, E-40 – Bay City bombers Too $hort and the great E-40 just did a Verzuz (the only one I’ve seen is with Jeezy and Gucci Mane, who was excellent and in a foul mood, but I may have to stream this one as well), join together for Ain’t Gone Do It / Terms and Conditions – putting both of their last albums in a 20 song extravaganza, if you missed the initial release go straight to E-40’s “Mob

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”

Lament – Touché Amoré – if nothing else, Jeremy Bohm is literate in a way metalcore isn’t, and subject matter (his last album of new material, Phase Four, was about his mother’s death from cancer) for an album that feels like a mix of genres under one banner. Go straight to “Feign” then “reminders” then “Limelight” (With Manchester Orchestra) -then start at the top on this best in class metal power barrier reef , “long night, no kissing” he claims on one song. Exactly

In A Dream – Troye Sivan – Troye Sivan is a masterful singer songwriter for teens and especially young gay bottoms, everywhere, if “Call Me By Your Name” was a pop star, it would be Troye Sivan. His latest release is the six song EP with some dream pop, some electronic disco beats, and lots of downbeat sad songs that aren’t really sad, like “STUD”

The Preserving Machine – Ultimate Fakebook – emo twenty years older and stronger

Heavy Light – U.S. Girls -coulda done with more bangers, but song for song that’ll be your only complaint on a very strong outing, almost the equal of Meghan Remy’s great breakthrough In A Poem Unlimited from 2018. “The piano classicism of “The Quiver To The Bomb” is something, almost at random, you might use to attune your ears. Maybe the Americana “Woodstock ’99”. No, wait, that first single “4 American Dollar” which seems to have escaped from a crossover disco track in 1979… hell, it all works

1978: The Year The UK Turned Day-Glo – Various Artists – Lotsa early(ish – the year punk happened for me was 1976) on a forty song sampler that will have you buying the box set, no doubt. Most of the bands we don’t know (or at least , don’t remember) and quite a few we do know and remember including The Fall, Alternative TV, U. K. Subs and more

Fully Recovered, Vol 2: A True Groove Compilation – Various Artists – Five years after the first cover album from True Groove, Volume Two has a lot to prove and for the most part does so. For the artists signed to True Groove, Grace Jones “Living My Life” replaces Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding” and changes the mood of the album, 2015 was, in part at least, a place setter for The Mess We Made, while Vol. II is a hidden in isolation request and require singalong. It is one long highlight with Marla Mase’s “Satellite Of Love” and Tomas Doncker’s sublime take on Yasiin Bey’s “Umi Says” with Kismet Lyles sublime backing vocals. And any way, where else can you hear the Queen of the blues, Regina Bonelli, cover the stones?

I May Destroy You – Various Artists – Compiled by Spotify, songs taken off the HBO show features 2020s style black and Latin pop with the occasional Daft Punk thrown in for tastes. At over three hours in length, it is as consistently excellent as these things can get and a first rate primer on this golden age of black pop. It is so good, I may watch the show on MAX

Street Shots 2020: Streets of Kingston – Various Artists – Reggae with beats, lots of reggae, lotsa beats but a touch difference than dancehall

Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 – Various Artists – following REM’s breakthrough (though they sound more like the db”s as a rule of thumb, there was an indie pop explosion that didn’t hit the mainstream, and song for song, on this compilation, you’ll be quickly impressed and bummed out that it didn’t: Byrds guitar, Scotting pop veneer, and strong tunes and strong playing -the scene that wasn’t, what a shame. It’s all terrific but if you wanna put a toe in try The Cyclops

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

JAGUAR – Victoria Monét – The queer woman of color fhas a wonderful collection of chill r&b, SG Lewis (who just got Robyn’s first vnew verse of the year) and Khalid are on one track, but mostly this is ruminations about sex and romance in a swift not rushed 25 minutes of hushed dreaminess. I guess that if co-writing “7 Rings” (not to mention “thank u, next”) wasn’t, this surely is her mother fucking moment

Saint Cloud – Waxahatchee – I saw Katie Crutchfield in Brooklyn back in 2015 and she put me to sleep, and ever since then I’ve been wary. Not any more: in any form of what constitutes a great album, Saint Cloud is a great album, 40 minutes of musical and emotionally connected pearls of songs as a trip through the States, with “Lilacs” vying for best song of the year so far on these spectacular Americana tracks. A full on, not to be missed masterpiece

New York At Night – Willie Nile – Talk about late career resurrections, Willie has been releasing an album a year since 2013 and they are all great, including this memory album (but was it when he wrote it) that takes us into the New York City if the late 1970s, intellectually, and sometimes musically

Heaven To A Tortured Mind – Yves Tumor Neon Future IV – Steve Aoki – it reminds me of Blood Orange, full on art soul with tons of stuff you just don’t expect, like the guitar solo on “Kerosense!”. This is his moment, a kitchen sink fusion r&b attitude added to art rock and ambient

Alphabetland – X – The legendary punk art band from L.A.’s first album of new material since 1993 isn’t as great as you’ve heard, the spoken word ending should be missed, and we heard the best song “Delta 88 Nightmare” last year and it was written in the 1970s, but with those caveats Exene and John are in great voice, Billy and D.J. are the great anchors they have always been, and nobody has aged just about at all with any Doe jonesing Americana jettisoned

Red Flu – Young M.A – She can really rap, she is one of the best around -it is simple as that. Young M.A. is not a part of a movement, she isn’t soundcloud or emo or Atlanta Trap. Rather, it is old school beats and backing tracks and first rate rapping about life during the pandemic

Colossal Youth – Young Marble Giants – forty years later: this is everything you need from the low key post-punk influencers, and “Searching for Mr. Right” and “Noddemix” sound as great as ever, and “Credit In The Free World” sounds as great as when Hole covered it…

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