At long last the 451st month of 2020 is here, and barring any new unmitigated disasters we can shortly send this complete tire fire of a year to its well-deserved exile in St. Helena (it having already escaped Elba more than once). As is end-of-year tradition in the world of critics, those of us here at The Typescript are assembling lists of the best things we’ve heard since the last time we wrote a list of the best things we’ve heard. In that spirit I present my personal Top 5 Records of 2020.
It’s been difficult to put together a best-of list for this year. I’d love to say that it’s because I’ve found so much new music that blew me away. Sadly, it’s mostly been a year of mild disappointment (once more, much of what I found that I liked this year came from the bumper crop of 2018). Like, I keep wanting a new Lisa Loeb record to be something that isn’t a snooze but they never are; HUM – possibly my favorite band of all time – at long last dropped their new record, Inlet, and I can really only give it a firm “meh”; Dream Wife’s So When Ya Gonna… just doesn’t have the spark of their first record; the latest Covet is good but not great, not a ton to distinguish it from their last one (well, the vocal track but it doesn’t particularly work even if I do like Yvette Young’s voice); HOUSE OF ZEF wasn’t the triumphant return of Die Antwoord I was hoping for; Darren Korb’s Hades soundtrack is just omfg too long; IDKHOW’s long-awaited Razzmatzz is half fucking amazing, half unforgivably boring; the Aquabats showed they almost-kinda-sorta still have it; CLEWS stubbornly refuse to put out an EP, let alone a full-length….. I could go on for quite a while here.
That said, there were some gems out there, and it got better as the year started closing out. Joan as Police Woman’s Cover Two is seriously quite good (for real, check her cover of Prince’s “Kiss”); Secret Machines and Future Sound of London both put out solid return-to-form records (Awake in the Brain Chamber and Cascade 2000, respectively); Diet Cig’s Do You Wonder About Me? lives up to the promise of their first album; Untenable by Bad Moves has a great sound and solid songs; Circe’s “Ten Girls” is one of the best single tracks I’ve heard in forever; Tanya Donnelly and the Parkington Sisters made a very interesting and high-quality record that grabs me tightly in quiet moments; Boston synthpop legends Freezepop dropped their first LP in ten years (Fantasizer) and it’s both on-brand and high quality. While all of these make the short list, they’re number six or lower – some for slight inconsistency but most because they’re just not quite better than the top set. So since I’m only tagging five, these are the ones that make the cut – in order:
5) Make a Move x Marti Fischer – The Famous Gold Watch Sessions (self released): I found Berlin’s Make a Move through the incredibly fun and silly single “Welcome to My Office” in 2018 (!). Their latest EP (with fellow Deutsch funkster Marti Fischer) rips a booty-moving smooth funk-hop that’s 100% enhanced by not understanding the German lyrics. Just a great good-time groove that manages to rhyme “Jesus Christ Superstar” with “Wunderbar!” Highly recommended for playing waaaaay too loudly in the car.
4) Tricot – 10 (Cutting Edge): The fifth full-length from Tricot is tight, energetic math-pop that engages the guitar dance of Bloc Party simultaneously with the complex rhythms of, say, Chon or Elephant Gym (or band du jour on r/mathrock). Proof positive that just because it’s mathy doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible, and just because it has pop and dance-punk elements doesn’t mean it isn’t technically skillful (and no tapping!). Plus Japanese women who are in no way kawaii. Straight up solid record.
3) illuminati hotties – FREE I.H.: This Is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For (self released): illuminati hotties’ Kiss Yr Frenemies was probably the best indie pop record of 2018 (!). FREE I.H. turns that on its head for a sound that’s two parts Bikini Kill and one part Blake Babies, aggressive and punky while maintaining a stripped-out guitar indie vibe (and some nice pop flourishes like “frequent letdown”). Certainly it’s not the record anyone thought Sarah Tudzin was going to make, but it has a moxie that most of indie is lacking these days.
2 – tie) Anna von Hausswolff – All Thoughts Fly (Southern Lord): Anna von Hausswolff + pipe organ = magic. There isn’t anything to properly compare it to. Avant, atmospheric, adventurous; All Thoughts Fly is a bold statement from a composer in her full stride. Needs to be heard to be believed.
Also 2 – tie) Songhoy Blues – Optimisme (Fat Possum): Mali’s Songhoy Blues have had a hard road, starting out as a band trying to operate under a regime that outlawed music (see the excellent documentary They Will Have to Kill Us First). Their third record takes the desert blues sound they’re known for and fuses it to a looser groove and an unbridled optimism for the future, while rejecting the bullshit of the present (“Barre” is a direct plea to African youth to be active in community and government, and replace their aging “leaders”). Licks for days, infectious as all hell. Optimisme just smokes.
1) Beach Bunny – Honeymoon (Mom + Pop): I don’t think anyone is at all surprised that I’m calling Honeymoon the record of 2020, I’ve only been raving about it since February. Catchy and confessional with huge power choruses, all floating on a sparkling production and polished musicianship. Lilli Trifilio and company have made legit the best guitar pop album in at least five years, absolutely flawless. I just need the pandemic to break long enough to actually get to use the tickets I’ve had in hand since March (also new EP Blame Game is out 1/15/21).
(And yeah, there’s actually six records on that list but I really don’t care. If you’re bothered go read Pitchfork or something.)