December 28, 2020
My joke about this year has been that 2020 will make 1968 look like 1954, but without the soundtrack. That’s not quite true. There has been a lot of great music this year, including full albums recorded while on lockdown (or “rockdown,” as Paul McCartney called it). Unfortunately, a lot of us where not in the mood to search out new music this year, especially when all live shows were cancelled. I found my muse in creating numerous Spotify playlists, like chronologies of Prince and The Kinks. My music highlight of the year was Beyoncé’s musical film, Black is King, released during the summer. Visually stunning and perfectly timely as the streets were filled with Black Lives Matter protestors.
The truth is that my most listened to album in 2020 was released in the summer of 2019. Lana del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell was on repeat play through the year. It’s 67 and a half minutes of epic soundscape offered endless layers of discovery. Like an arthouse film that reveals a different interpretation with each viewing, Norman Fucking Rockwell was an expansive chasm of wordplay and music pulled from the dreamworld.
Similarly, some of my favorite albums of 2020 came out at the very end of 2019 (Harry Styles, The Who). Others were the casualties of COVID (Toots Hibbert, RIP) or commenting on the meaning of it (Bob Dylan’s sweeping tome). The death of George Floyd gave us the most clear musical moment, including powerful releases from Run the Jewels and Black Thought. But nothing sounded more like 2020 than the third album by the British band Sault. Untitled (Black Is) brought the themes of being locked down and tearing down racism into a hypnotic swirl that was both backward and forward looking. I didn’t quite get the Taylor Swift album but the Sault album seemed to be the right album at the right time.
Flipping back through the new music I dug in 2020, here’s my top 20 albums of the year. I expect that, with massive vaccinations, 2021 will kick off our swinging ‘20s.
1. Sault – Untitled (Black Is)
2. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
3. Harry Styles – Fine Line
4. Black Thought – Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane & Able
5. Drive-by Truckers – The Unraveling
6. The Who – Who
7. Paul McCartney – McCartney III
8. Shelby Lynne – Shelby Lynne
9. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions
10. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
11. Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You
12. Paul Weller – On Sunset
13. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
14. Toots and the Maytals – Got to Be Tough
15. Lido Pimienta – Miss Columbia
16. Various Artists – PDX Pop Now Vol. 17
17. Pearl Jam – Gigaton
18. Haim – Women in Music Pt. III
19. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
20. Neil Young – Homegrown
And a special mention of The Chicks “March, March” single, which gave us the most needed video of the year, and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” which the girls in the neighborhood mimed endlessly this summer.