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#1 2021-01-17 09:39:53

Registered: 2019-09-19
Posts: 87

Top Music Albums of 2020

There is this lingering thought that has stuck around the recesses of my brain that 2020 was not really a standout year for me when it comes to music.  I think this most likely stems from having to put out a whole bunch of fires this year, so my mind wasn’t as focused on music in the way that I’d like it to be.  However, when putting this list together -- a task I initially thought would be straightforward -- quickly became daunting and messy.  A royal rumble of thoughts, colliding ‘Oh but I really like that one over this one, but this one may actually have the upper hand over the one over there that was better than that one and --” ! And well, my wires have been crossed .

So this was a deceptively good year in music for me.  And for therapeutic benefit, I am just going to focus on short blurbs on honorable mentions and my own top ten of the 2020 year.  Like I’ve mentioned in my 2019 list, my top ten is listed in a numeric order of how I’m feeling now (*wink wink*) in this moment, but the number one could be the number 7 tomorrow, and that’s just due to the organic relationship of music and mood.


Psychic Heist’s Honorable Mentions of 2020

Dan Deacon -- Mystic Familiar

The first quarter of 2020 was this sub reprise of late 00’s - 2012 indie electronica for me, with this Dan Deacon release, and later, Caribou release.  It’s nice to see both musicians have matured and aged well, bringing some earned mastery to their arrangements and production.  For the first ⅔ of this album, “Mystic Familiar,”  Dan Deacon absolutely has me in psychedelic and transcendental electronic bliss, vocally invoking a little bit of the star eyed wonder of a young Wayne Coyne in a good chunk of this album.  It’s just a damn shame that the last ⅓ of the album loses me completely, or this would have been an easy top ten.

Humavoid -- Lidless

Got this recommendation courtesy of Polly on the ol’ Discord.  This is such a solid hard rock album, with great performances, but really, it’s how those piano keys are incorporated throughout the album that really seals the deal for me, and give this album a distinct sound I drool over.

Chris Stapleton -- Starting Over

I don’t dip into the current country music scene like I would like to, and so when I do, it makes me a tad self-conscious to list a country music star who is as popular and established as Chris Stapleton.  BUT DAMN Y”ALL, this album is SO handsome and WARM, just an all around quality release that I gotta give it some rep.  Personally, while always finding Stapleton’s music inherently agreeable and acknowledging he is a talent, his albums were overall a little too breezy for me.  But here, I feel like he’s given me a release that finally brings the weight that’s been missing from his previous work.  An incredibly rich and mature release, don’t skip it because of the genre, because while Stapleton is marketed as Country, his music extends FAR BEYOND just that.

Deftones -- Ohms

While it’s not exactly a renovation of the band, it’s a re-energized one.  Here we have a fantastic release, that from start to finish, I have no real issues with or find a misstep in.  Yet it sits here in honorable mention land because --- well -- I have had my fill! And I haven’t felt much urge to go back to it after the initial two weeks worth of listening indulgence.  I know when I do decide to give it another spin in the future, it’ll satisfy.  One of those releases of 2020 that I wasn’t expecting much but surprised me.

Neptunian Maximalism -- Eons

I found out about this release just a couple of weeks ago, and am still working on digesting it’s 123-minutes runtime.  This is a gigantic monolithic album that’s difficult to categorize, but the type of album I’d been looking for all year to scratch the kind of  dark-progressive-rhythmic-droney-big sound itch that I get from bands like “Swans.”  There is A LOT to process here, and once more, still wrapping my head around.  But I love it, and it’s already rewarding the few listens I’ve spent with it.

Caribou -- Suddenly

My easy listening, can put this on in the background anytime, and just VIBE -- album of the year.  This album is SO WELL HYDRATED in its production, and a pleasurable ear-pleasing record from top to bottom. Electronic musician Dean Snaith has grown into a master for finding ear wormy hooks and grooves.  According to my Spotify, the song I list here, “Never Come Back” is my most played song of the year.  What can I say? I like to shake my ass.

Deerhoof -- Future Teenage Cave Artists

Oooooohhh, Deerhoof.  I feel bad that I have snubbed thee.  Another well established band with quite the legacy that comes out with an album that still *has it*.   This album reminded me that when Deerhoof is at the top of their game, no one else can quite do idiosyncratic art rock like they do.  A complete joy.

Open Mike Eagle -- Anime, Trauma, and Divorce

I had planned on saying that no other album this year featured a lyric that could sum up 2020 as perfectly as this one, but Polly already beat me to it in her AOTY cast with Taylor. 

So instead, I will mention that the opening track to this album “Death Parade”, is one of my favorite openers of the year.  The resentment, the anger, the twisted mess of cause and effect of a falling out -- it all just hits me hard in the chest having been down a similar road before.  I just wanna give Open Mike a hug after I listen to this.

EP OF THE YEAR: Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats -- Unlocked

So this is TOO EASY to put here, it’s not like I really listened to any other EPs this year.  This one deserves special recognition though, for not just displaying Denzel’s continuous growth in talent, but that his team up with producer Kenny Beats looks like one of those promising pair-ups in hip-hop that is bound to deliver classics.  Folks, this is an insanely rich and layered album that packs a hell of a punch for its short duration. I’m eager we get more soon.

My Top Ten

10.) The Strokes -- The New Abnormal

Beautiful Julian Casablanca’s and crew stand across from the bar and have been cat calling my top ten all year.  I had originally listed this one in my honorable mentions, but as I was doing its write-up, I realized I had a lot more to say about it than intendended, that I really kinda love this thing, warts and all. It’s been 2003 since The Strokes have released a great album, and 2006 since they released an album that felt like they at least cared -- but here we have it, in 2020, The Strokes released an honest to god full length rock album that gives a shit.  With “The New Abnormal” the band finally knows how to embrace Julian’s weirder eccentricities and it shows -- this album retains that ‘Strokes’ sound, but can now successfully branch off from it into experimental territory with it without being a half-baked mess.

And a special shoutout to Julian, because oh god, his vocals are the star of the show.  The dude swings for the fences, and succeeds.

The album is a bit of a glass cannon though.  It features some incredibly strong songs, but it also has a couple that unfortunately leave me pretty indifferent and cold (the unfortunate back to back singles “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus, & “Bad Decisions”) not to mention that the production is borderline overcooked and some songs run a little too long. 

But DAMN, when it flies, it SOARS.

(NOTE: Also, you can put album title “The New Abnormal” into well that was oddly relevant and (unfortunately!?!?) perfectly timed for this year category (along with Haken’s “Virus”) back when the album dropped in April.)

9.) The Mountain Goats -- Getting Into Knives

Time for an album that’s quiet, understated, and a slow burn -- until you spend enough time with it and WHOA can these narratives that lead singer John Darnielle tells destroy you. I am not a mega fan or incredibly knowledgeable about The Mountain Goats, and supposedly the general consensus about this album is that it’s a bit of a lesser release and doesn’t have the weight to it like previous albums … WHATEVER THAT MEANS.

My first impression of the albums first four tracks was pretty ‘meh’ but by the time I got to ‘Tidal Wave’, and picked up on that song’s gorgeous instrumentation, I was like “Wait a second, there is something here ….” And then each subsequent listen to this album has only built it’s worth higher and higher in my esteem.  It’s a collection of short narratives that require a little closer attention to the lyrics and production that slowly reveals something very poignant and life affirming. 

Even the opening tracks have grown on me.  One of those, “Picture of My Dress,” I was talking about with a friend.  We agreed that initially, we thought of it as a throw away track -- but then after a few more listens, this track about a girl who is traveling the country after just gone through some sort of bad breakup that when we end on the lyrics “But I say some prayers above the engine \ I bless everything there is to bless \Run out of gas in the middle of nowhere anyway \
Stand there by the roadside smiling” it moves my friend to tears.

The track I’ve chosen here is the closing title track.  A story about revenge, yes, but also a story about maturing.  The contemplative atmosphere about it is just SO GOOD.

8.) Run the Jewels -- RTJ4

No one is in more disbelief than I, that a RTJ album, their best in my opinion, is sitting this high on my top ten.  RTJ is my favorite hip-hop duo, a top five music act for me, and this is yet another masterpiece in their discography.  I guess it really comes down to this though -- The albums ranked higher than “RTJ4” aren’t that they are necessarily better, but that they are more surprising in a way that this one just isn’t.

From the moment I start the album, to that incredible closer,  I have to listen to this whole thing -- it is mandatory.  Thank you again RTJ for another banger, and at the right time.  Usually hip hop albums come in trilogies, and the fourth one drops off a little bit -- but nope! Not here!  “RTJ4” smacks that notion right in the mouth.

7.) Code Orange -- Underneath

HOLY COW, this album.  This album.  This album is FREAKIN FANTASTIC!  I distinctly remember the first time I listened to “Underneath”, I saw Polly recommend it on the ol’ Discord early one morning as I was driving to work and it WOKE MY ASS UP.  The confidence in the performances.  The erratic and glitchy moments.  The unrelenting adrenaline rush from every track, opener to closer -- just a perfect hard rock listening experience.

But what still gets me everytime I listen to “Underneath” is how fresh it sounds to my ears.  I might be speaking out of line here, but I feel like this album is not only the sound of a band coming into their own, but also setting up the future trend for the genre as a whole.  It’s bound to be influential.  There are just so many things about this record that leaves me breathless in how bold and competent it is.

The track I chose below is exactly the kind of track I want to listen to when I am getting through a tough part of a workout and get the extra push when I belt out “I WANNA SHOW YOU WHO I AM!”

6.) Adrianne Lenker -- Songs

Last year I dived into the work of indie folk rock band Big Thief, where they piqued my interest with critical darling “U.F.O.F.” but personally, really sealed the deal of my attention with “Two Hands.” It’s stripped back ‘like we are playing at your local bar’ production of it gave it a striking intimacy.  This year, the lead singer of Big Thief releases a solo album that is even more stripped down, but nonetheless, just as moving and even more intimate.  Adrianne is a deceptively great folk guitarist, with stories about family, relationships, love and loss during this unsettling time.

Talking with a friend about this album I mentioned that we are lucky to have someone such as Adrianne who can strongly communicate with the spiritual world and filter it’s ethereal beauty down for us to partake in.  My friend laughed at me -- and maybe you’re laughing at me -- but I’m not joking. Lenker is one of those artists who is the real deal and has ‘it’ when it comes to transporting you to another realm like only the truly great can do.

5.) Duma -- Duma

And here we have my most mind-blowing album experience of 2020, Duma’s self-titled debut. Duma is a Kenyan noise band, where members Martin Kanja and Sam Karugu bring their past experience with doom metal and bring it into the world of drum machines and synthesisers.  If you research some music reviews about this thing, I bet you there will be somewhere said that no other album seems to really capture the chaos and dread that is 2020 (and continuing) better than this one.

So yes, you can correctly guess that this is not a pleasant listen.  But it’s an incredibly cathartic one, that twists and turns into something deeply moving.  “Duma” feels like the most cohesive statement for an album this year, and though I I’ve categorized it as noise-death metal-electronic -- it’s only to give a quick idea of the sound, but really, it’s tough to pin this down because there is nothing else that sounds quite like it.

(Heads up, the video posted below goes for a strobe light effect near the end if you have a sensitivity to that)     

4.) Fiona Apple -- Fetch The Bolt Cutters

There was a moment when drafting this list up, that “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” didn’t show up on it.  Not because I didn’t love it, but because I had completely forgotten it.  This led me to believe that maybe the album didn’t gel with me in the initial way that I thought. At best, maybe just an ‘honorable mention’ after all.  Then after a reassessing listen, I was like Oh, I was very wrong.  This album is just as incredible as when I first heard it, if not better.  I’m glad I listened to “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” again, or I may have made a grave mistake by omitting it.

I have a sneaking suspicion that “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” is going to age the best out of all the albums here, and I will probably revisit it the most throughout my life.  It’s very rich, and layered, but also inviting -- which is a tricky balance to strike when you have an album that has so much to unpack like this.  You’ll be rewarded by the first listen, and you’ll continue to be rewarded with each subsequent one. 

It’s also such a cool sounding record as well (it’s the percussion that does it for me) and has such a vibrant and fiery attitude about it.  A release like this doesn’t come around that often, because ultimately, you have a master musician allowing herself to break the rules, but she also has the years of wisdom to focus and concentrate those broken rules into a creative energy so that it is wholly efficient, and not a mess. It’s a piece of work that I marvel at because it’s not only that good, but hers, and hers alone.

3.) The Flaming Lips -- American Head

The Flaming Lips are one of my favorite, favorite bands.  Technically, I’ve been listening to the Lips since the age of 7.  I’ve briefly met lead singer Wayne Coyne, and bassist Michael Ivins.  I’ve seen them live a few times.  They’ve released some of the greatest psych rock albums of the last 30 plus years.  I could easily write pages about them.

But their 2010’s output, along with some questionable public outings, was pretty depressing to go through as a long time fan. I don’t want to give the impression it was ALL BAD, it was just really shoddy. For every 2010s Flaming Lips song that I liked, there were two songs that just didn’t work for me, and it all really showed it’s ass on their 2017 release “Oczy Mlody.”  That album left me heartbroken. It was the sound of The Flaming Lips imitating themselves.  It seems like the always creative and imaginative well of Wayne and Co. had finally run dry. I suppose it happens even to the greats I told myself, But hey, not many groups are that prolific to have the string of amazing album releases that the Lips have.  It’s ok if they just don’t quite have the ‘it’ factor anymore…..

And then in 2020, they release another masterpiece.

“American Head” hit me pretty hard, but not immediately.  It’s a very mid-tempo album throughout, and if you’re really familiar with the groups music, the sound here is familiar.  But also, like my past history with all great Flaming Lips albums, it was around the fifth listen or so that suddenly the album reveals itself to me and I am utterly swept up by it.  That particular moment on this album was during the song “Flowers of Neptune 6” when Coyne sings out “Oh my God, why is it them? Oh my God, now it’s me,” and I got really shook up and started crying.  It really spoke to this awful duration of what I went through in 2020, feeling so lifeless and burned out by hopelessness.  That song, and quickly the whole album, pulled me out of it.

“American Head” is all the richer if you’re familiar with the band members' upbringing, which is excellently told in the documentary “The Fearless Freaks.”  I also felt very connected to the album because a lot of the characters and situations that Wayne is singing about hits pretty close to my own upbringing.  I know these communities he is talking about. I know these people. I know these dreams they had. And unfortunately for some of them, how their American dream turned out to be something far more sinister.

A lot to really unpack and talk about here, and again I could write pages about a Lips album, but I have to move on.  “American Head” was my most pleasant surprise of 2020 -- at once beautifully sad and life-affirming, like all great Lips records.

2.) Pallbearer -- Forgotten Days


God, this is such a spectacular release.  The level of craftsmanship here from the songwriting to the engineering is at a real high level.  I feel like Pallbearer have such a respect for the metal genre and the art of songcraft that they felt bound as a service to humanity to deliver an album as exemplary as this. 

I can’t claim to be a metalhead to the likes of say Polly or Taylor, though I love the genre, it’s not my bread and butter when it comes to knowledge.  But I can point to an album like this and say this is what I love best about the genre all wrapped up in one.  It’s those gigantic doomy-sludgey guitars that I just want to live in.  It’s the strong melodies that I can easily grasp on to guide me through.  It’s the sound of feeling empowered and vulnerable at the same time.

I can listen to this album any time of day infinitely and just sync into its gorgeous songs, structure, production, and instrumentation.  I am completely owned by it.

1.) Charli XCX -- How I’m Feeling Now

When I first heard the first single from “How I’m Feeling Now,” “Forever,” in April of 2020 I was floored and deeply in love with the tune.  I would find myself playing it back to back for long durations of time, and while I do think it’s a expertly crafted song, it also played more to my tastes what I want from a Charli XCX release -- glitchy and light ‘noise’ pop aspects with a more DIY feel that I find compliments Charli’s songwriting and emotions to a tee. Her previous album was an excellent pop album with some incredibly strong songs, but the more polished and professionally felt production took away a bit of that secret ingredient that makes Charli such a strong voice in the pop music scene.  With “Forever,” I was more assured that the aesthetic to the new album would be more of what I am looking for, and it set an incredibly high bar.

So of course when I listened to “How I’m Feeling Now” for the first time, Death Grips flavored intro song “Pink Diamond” and first single “Forever” aside, I was disappointed.  I felt like it would be destined to go in the pile of albums that open too strongly and quickly give out by song four.  For the next couple of weeks after its release I would play it in the background here and there with that same impression.  Little did I know that the songs that didn’t hit me the first few times, only needed some time to germinate.

It was in the middle of summer of 2020, and I wanted to listen to some pop music while doing yard work.  I hadn’t listened to “How I’m Feeling Now” for a little bit at that point, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt just to give it another go.  That time, when we got to the 4th track “7 Years,” it suddenly clicked in a big way and everything that followed (ok -- MOSTLY everything, even to this day I do think that this album is one track too long.), followed suit.  Let’s just say I did an amazing job with the yard that day.

Charli moves within the different styles of the modern pop scene, she does it in a way that clearly still states “This is a Charli XCX jam” and that is on every song here.  It’s interesting how this album was inspired to create something of comfort during the lockdown and released during an infant time of the pandemic in May 2020.  I wonder if it was more or less intended to be something to tide fans over until all of this passes by (Hey I can remember when there was some reports of ‘Yeah you can bet your ass COVID will be gone by August’) and not some long lasting statement on the state of what it means to live under circumstances where you can’t really see your loved ones or go out to places you regularly hang.  This album's views and mental state almost seem like an accident, because they feel more impactful to me now than they did back in May.

And oh yeah, the songs are great and ear wormy and pleasing and have established a strong settlement in my brain.  There is usually some pop hook from this album that descends from the aether and plays in my headspace at any time during the day.  Right now it's actually “Forever” that is playing.  And it’s feeling is so strong it’s tempting me to go fuck it and quit writing so I can go listen to it, and the rest of this album, again...

It was 2020 y’all, Fuck it.


#2 2021-01-17 14:28:42

Moon Pie Advocate
From: Pollyland
Registered: 2019-08-26
Posts: 162

Re: Top Music Albums of 2020

This list is straight up fuckin' fire.  Absolutely love it.

You got a 25% at best at beat me.


#3 2021-03-03 12:13:08

Lightning Edgeboy
From: Chicago
Registered: 2019-08-26
Posts: 144

Re: Top Music Albums of 2020

Ooooo thanks for writing all this out dawg, I appreciate having resources like this to poke at for new tunes

"If history is to change, let it change! If the world is to be destroyed, so be it! If my fate is to die... I must simply laugh!!"


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