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Best Of 2020: Albums In Alphabetical Order Through April 30th

 

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

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

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

The Savoy 10-inch LP Collection – Charlie Parker –  from 1944 – 1948

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 –

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”

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

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

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

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

 

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