This week we’re taking a quick break from highlighting new releases to check-in on what has been released so far this year. That means that instead of a write-up about the Dalai Lama’s new single, you’ll find a list of the 20 best albums and songs that have been released so far in this raging dumpster fire of a year that is 2020.
Seeing as how in this week’s Round-Up we’re taking stock of the year in music so far, let’s see how The Best of 2020 Playlist is looking.
The Best Albums of 2020 (so far)
20. John Moreland LP5
John Moreland is a big dude with a big voice. On LP5, he expands his horizons. Moreland backs up the aforementioned big voice with bits of soul music, drum machine-created beats, and ambiance-inducing synths, creating an album that sounds haunting and low-key futuristic at the same time.
19. Mo Lowda & The Humble Ready Coat
The Philly band continues to put out inspiring rock music on their third release Ready Coat. They sound like the bastard result of a wild weekend Kings of Leon and Young the Giant once had up in the Poconos.
18. Pinegrove Marigold
Pinegrove returned from a brief hiatus to pick up where they left off, creating earnest, soul-baring indie rock with inklings of alt-country and folk-rock nibbling around the edges. Marigold doesn’t reach the heights of Cardinal. It comes closer to their 2018 album Skylight. Either way, it’s still a solid offering from a bunch of youngsters from Jersey.
17. Leon Bridges/Khruangbin Texas Sun
Texas forever, baby. Texas neo-soul singer Leon Bridges and Texas psychedelic dance/rock trio Khruangbin teamed up for a few songs on Texas Sun. Thankfully, it sounds exactly like you’d hope it would sound when the two outfits joined forces. Again, Texas forever, baby.
16. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist Alfredo
Rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer The Alchemist have worked together before; their partnership goes back as far as 2004. Yet the passage of time has been good to the duo and Alfredo is the work of two seasoned vets pooling their talents together for a smooth, tight album that also ends up providing insight into the mafia and Italian gangster culture, both the good and the bad.
15. The Revivalists Made in Muscle Shoals
The Revivalists decided to head east a few clicks to record their 2020 EP Made In Muscle Shoals, trading the friendly confines of New Orleans for the legendary Fame Studios over in Alabama. The result is the band’s version of Hall and Oates-esque neo-soul rock driven through the Muscle Shoals grinder, giving that soul music of theirs a little less shine and polish and infinitely more grit.
14. RJD2 The Fun Ones
DJ and producer RJD2’s seventh album might be his funkiest and most accessible one yet. It’s full of big beats and bigger grooves, the perfect soundtrack for whenever this quarantine life of ours might finally be over.
13. Phish Sigma Oasis
Those sneaky bastards of Phish dropped their new album seemingly out of nowhere early back in early April. My dudes announced it on Tuesday night and then released it two days later. Lengthy rollouts for albums are for suckers. Apparently so is the idea of intentionally trying to make a record as Phish seemed to almost make Sigma Oasis by accident, as they had just gotten together to jam following their Fall 2019 tour and ended up making an album. How about that, huh?
You can check out my ranking of Phish studio albums HERE.
12. Nathaniel Rateliff And It’s Still Alright
Following a divorce and the death of his friend Richard Swift, Rateliff hunkered down and recorded a solo album that is as quiet, reflective and somber as the music he puts out with the Night Sweats is bright and lively.
11. Thundercat It Is What It Is
Thundercat’s It Is What It Is is a wild album. It’s funky, jazzy, tripped out, bizarre and more. It’s also a lot of fun. The phrase ‘it is what it is’ might be a cliche, but there’s nothing cliched about Thundercat.
10. Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia
Dua Lipa dropped the dance album that our quarantine selves desperately needed. The British pop star’s second album was released on March 27, which was about a week or so after we all shuttered ourselves inside. Next to the new Run The Jewels album, it’s hard to think of another album that fit the moment better than Future Nostalgia. We needed something to take our minds off of things, something to give us a reason to move around and Dua Lipa delivered. Dua Lipa, a quarantined nation thank you.
9. Lettuce Resonate
Lettuce just keep dropping albums and each one is a funky, sonic field trip deep into the heart of that head-bopping raw shit. Resonate was recorded during the sessions for their 2019 Grammy-nominated album Elevate and while there are some similarities, the albums feel more like distant cousins than close siblings.
8. Tame Impala The Slow Rush
Tame Impala’s follow-up to 2015’s Currents was a long-time coming. Technically The Slow Rush was released this year, but Kevin Parker started doling out new tunes last year, so we had an idea what was coming. What that was was a spaced-out, grooved-out infomercial for the perks of recording in a beachfront crib in California. Sold!
7. The Weeknd After Hours
Unfortunately, no one really wants to cop to being a big Michael Jackson fan anymore but the good news is that you can easily get behind The Weeknd instead. Well, unless you have a thing against Canadians. But that’s nuts. Canadians are amazing and so is The Weeknd’s new album.
6. Fiona Apple Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Barring anything crazy happening these next few months (in music, I want to stress that I’m talking about music and nothing else because at this point, only crazy shit happens these days,) Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters will be on the top of every critics’ list of the best albums of the year. Me? Well, it definitely has the best album title, that’s for damn sure.
5. Pearl Jam Gigaton
Pearl Jam wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel on their new album, which is their first in over six years. That’s reassuring, especially for longtime fans. Pearl Jam just continues to do what they do best, put out solid rock albums that are loud on the front nine and progressively quieter and deeper throughout the back nine. In unsettling times, having something we can count on (like Pearl Jam) is especially comforting.
4. Drive-By Truckers The Unraveling
Southern grit rockers Drive-By Truckers weren’t holding back on The Unraveling. In spite of potentially pissing off some long-time fans, the band tackled everything from gun violence to the current President of the United States on their new album, a mighty fine collection of protest songs, and an even better collection of rough and tumble, shit-kicking, alt-country songs.
3. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Sideways to New Italy
The second album from Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is dynamite, a charging burst of energy in the form of what sounds like a thousand guitars, driving backbeat, and wonderfully layered harmonies. I’m going on the record now in saying that if everything breaks the right way, Sideways to New Italy could be the indie rock album of the summer.
2. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit Reunions
Some folks say that Isbell is the best songwriter out there and some folks say he’s the next Bruce Springsteen. I say that both could be true. I also say that either way, Isbell keeps putting out super interesting and engaging alt-country albums filled with a solid mix of barn burners and campfire tunes.
1. Run The Jewels RTJ4
With a country on fire and streets filled with anger and rage, people needed a soundtrack worthy of the moment. Run The Jewels delivered. Their fourth album is easily their best as Killer Mike and El-P play off each other effortlessly and give absolutely zero fucks in the process. There’s a damn good chance that when this hellacious year is finally over, RTJ4 might still be in the top spot.
The Best Songs of 2020 (so far)
Presented without comment because dude, just listen to the songs. They’re all dope. All of these songs can be found of The Best of 2020 Playlist.
20. Drive-By Truckers “Armageddon’s Back in Town”
19. Tame Impala “Lost in Yesterday”
18. Childish Gambino “35.31”
17. Green Day “Meet Me on the Roof”
16. RJD2 “No Helmet Up Indianola”
15. The Avalanches feat. Rivers Cuomo, Pink Siifu “Running Red Lights”
14. Lettuce feat. Big Tony, Jungle Boogie “Checker Wrecker”
13. Gorillaz feat. Fatoumata Diawara “Désolé”
12. Pearl Jam “Quick Escape”
11. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever “Cars in Space”
10. HAIM “The Steps”
9. Dirty Projectors “Overlord”
8. Dua Lipa “Don’t Start Now”
7. Fiona Apple “Shameika”
6. Mac Miller “Good News”
5. The Weeknd “Blinding Lights”
4. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit “Only Children”
3. Khruangbin “Time (You and I)”
2. Thundercat feat. Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington “Black Qualls”
1. Run The Jewels feat. Greg Nice, DJ Premier “0oh La La”
Elsewhere in Music…
More Bad News On The Music Festival Front
As of a week ago, it seemed like Lollapalooza was the last summer music festival still standing. They had delayed making any announcements regarding a lineup and international versions of the festival had been postponed until the fall, but the Chicago-version had been standing tall, waiting to see what was going to happen before deciding what to do.
Well, they decided and predictably, they decided to cancel this year’s festival.
“We wish we could bring Lollapalooza to Grant Park again this year, but we understand why things can’t move forward as planned,” the festival wrote on its website. “The health and safety of our fans, artists, partners, staff and community is always our highest priority.”
Festival organizers said that they are planning on hosting a virtual festival when Lollapalooza was scheduled (July 30 – August 2) that “will feature ‘performances from around the city and beyond, epic archival sets from Chicago and the festival’s six international editions, never-before-seen footage from the 1990’s and much more.'”
Virtual, kids. It’s the way of the world now.
And if you’re keeping score and have lost track, Coachella is also officially canceled for this year. Organizers have said they may try and do a smaller version of the California festival next April, but come on, at this point, who the hell knows?
In related news, The New York Times asked 511 epidemiologists when they thought it’d be safe for large gatherings such as concerts to come back. Looking for good news? You might want to look elsewhere as “64% of respondents said they’d wait a year or more to attend a sporting event, concert or play.”
Ugh. So tell me more about these virtual concerts.
And Now, Checking In With El-P
real shit i watched game thrones from episode one all the way through till the white walker king died and then walked away while the rest of the world screamed in agony at the last few episodes and i couldn’t be prouder.
— el-p (@therealelp) June 11, 2020
This Is Real Life Now
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips is no stranger to performing in a bubble. My dude has been jumping in one and performing from inside a bubble for years, often taking his bubble for walk above the crowds. So given the new limitations that bands are facing these days, Coyne and company had a leg up on everyone else.
To prove their point, the band appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert this week with not just Coyne, but the entire band, as well as the audience, comfortably residing in bubbles.
Well, it doesn’t matter because nothing is cool these days AND WE’RE ALL TRYING OUR BEST!
And Now, Something Pretty Cool
The Australian state of Victoria has put together a six-part series called State Of Music, a series that features Australian musicians giving unique performances in equally unique settings. For the final installment, the series had Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly perform in an empty Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Donnelly and RBCF performed “Deeper Water” by the Australian band Deadstar.
This Week In Thanks, I Needed That
— Sean Campbell (@Melanism) June 11, 2020
Wait, What Now?
Probably one of the low-key most amusing things to come from the past decade or so is bros who love themselves some right-wing ideology also loving themselves some Rage Against the Machine. It never made sense, but it was always kind of funny. Somethings just don’t need to make sense I guess.
This week, this bizarre love affair spilled out into the Twitterverse and it was a hoot.
So there’s this guy, Scott Castaneda, a Michigan fella who loves Rage. Apparently Castaneda only loves the music of Rage and never really paid much attention the lyrics.
“I use to be a fan until your political opinions come out,” Scott Castaneda wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “Music is my sanctuary and the last thing I want to hear is political bs when i’m listening to music. As far as i’m concerned you and Pink are completely done. Keep running your mouth and ruining your fan base.”
Rage’s guitarist Tom Morello, who the tweet was addressed to, took time out of his busy schedule to respond.
Scott!! What music of mine were you a fan of that DIDN’T contain “political BS”? I need to know so I can delete it from the catalog. https://t.co/AMpmjx6540
— Tom Morello (@tmorello) June 9, 2020
Hey, maybe Castaneda is only down with the deep cuts, the songs where Zach De La Rocha raps about well, I don’t know, anything else besides what he normally raps about?
As for Pink, I think she’ll be fine.
And We’ll End Here
this is my favorite meme I’ve seen in weeks pic.twitter.com/2HC7egforr
— ken (@kickeep) June 8, 2020
See you next week!