best new music: 2020

As you may be aware, 2020 was a pretty shitty year. But at least I had a lot of time to listen to music. And with nobody else around, I could replay my favorite songs 47 times in a row if I felt like it!

With the year finally coming to an end, I’ve been reflecting on my favorite 2020 releases and thought I’d revive this website / blog to share them with y’all.

Before I get into the list, I wanted to share a cool thing I recently did. I was a guest on the Will’s Band of the Week podcast! Will, David, and I discussed our top 10 favorite 2020 releases and why we loved them so much. It was a lot of fun chatting with the guys, and there’s some great music featured in this episode, if I do say so myself. You can listen to the full podcast here:

Anyhow, to the list! It’s not numbered, because I’m not into ranked lists right now and since this is my blog I make the rules. I’m also focusing on full length releases / LPs. I won’t write too much about these albums (listen to the podcast if you want to hear me yell about them!) but I hope you find a new song or a new artist that you enjoy.

And if there’s an album you loved this year that I haven’t included, please send it in my direction.

Faithfully yours,
Sarah

The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin

This was the album I listened to most this year so I’ll write the most about it. It was recorded during the pandemic – John Darnielle wrote one song a day for 10 days and recorded it himself on his cassette boombox. It’s the first Mountain Goats album recorded in this fashion since 2002’s All Hail West Texas. There’s something so warm and comforting about the simplicity of this album and that lo-fi hum and hiss. It feels intimate. It’s music for apartments, bedrooms, improvised home studios—all those small places we shelter and find comfort.

Inspired by the plight of pagans after the triumph of Christianity in the fourth and fifth century, this album is filled with references to antiquity – but you don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate the music or connect with the tales JD invokes.

I love this album because it shows how someone seized by inspiration can make something beautiful and important even in trying times with limited resources. And for much of this difficult year, these songs were a comforting refrain that I could return to again and again.

Built to Spill – Built to Spill Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston

In 2017, the legendary indie singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston asked Built to Spill to be his backing band on tour and gave them a list of 100 songs to learn. Three years later, and about a year after Daniel’s passing, Built to Spill released this fantastic album of covers. It’s really neat to hear one indie legend (BTS) interpret the work of another – highly recommend giving this whole album a listen.

Father John Misty – Off-Key in Hamburg

I listened to A LOT of Father John Misty this year. Like, A LOT. “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” and the whole Pure Comedy album felt almost TOO applicable in 2020.

But we’re here to talk about Off-Key In Hamburg – a live album where, contrary to the name, FJM is on-key and in absolutely top form. It’s everything you could ask from a live album – one of the best living songwriters and performers of our generation performing songs from throughout his discography, supported by incredible instrumentation, with absolutely phenomenal recording and production. FJM has never sounded better (and he usually sounds fantastic live) and, in my opinion, some of these renditions are better than the album versions (see “The Palace” as one example).

In a year without concerts, it was a joy to have this album to fill the space in my heart where live music usually echoes.

? and the Mysterians – We Are Not Alone – Rarities 1968-1970

I have no idea why ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE isn’t talking about this kickass compilation and dancing with abandon to ? and the Mysterians. We Are Not Alone is a collection of hard-to-find songs that were previously only available on 45s. Thank goodness somebody decided to gather these garage-rock / proto-punk gems and give them a proper digital release.

Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin – Correspondence

OK, to be completely transparent, this album originally came out in 2019. BUT: it was released on vinyl in 2020 so I say it counts!

Correspondence is a collaboration between two of my favorite Swedish pop musicians, Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin. They wrote songs back and forth to each other, like pen pals, alternating each month. The resulting album is a beautiful testament to their songwriting talents. Rather than trying to describe this album, I’ll leave it to this much more eloquent duo – give “Showering in Public,” “Hibernation,” “On the Edge of Time,” or “Failure” a listen.

The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You

This December release was a delightful surprise for me. It’s full of the samples we’ve come to expect from The Avalanches and an incredible assortment of collaborators, including MGMT, Johnny Marr, Leon Bridges, Cornelius, Tricky, Jamie XX, Karen O, and Kurt Vile. “The Divine Chord,” “Interstellar Love,” and “Wherever You Go” are shimmery, spacey perfection.

Habibi – Anywhere But Here

Habibi’s 2014 self-titled album is one I spin frequently and have recommended to so many friends. And, six years later, their followup album Anywhere But Here is equally delightful. If you like harmony-driven garage rock with a surfy, psychedelic twist you’ll love this album.

X – Alphabetland

2020 was a year when we needed punk rock more than ever and X gave it to us. Released with no warning to coincide with the 40 year anniversary of their iconic album Los Angeles, Alphabetland is a must-listen. And the album cover art (by Wayne White) is one of the coolest of the year.

Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

Sufjan’s 2010 album Age of Adz was a perfect album in my book, and The Ascension feels to me like its spiritual successor. I’m thrilled to hear Sufjan back with electronics, loops, distortion, and less sadness. We’ve got enough sadness in 2020!

Horse Meat Disco – Love and Dancing

2020 was the year I got really into house music, disco, and DJ livestreams. It was also the year I discovered Horse Meat Disco.

Love and Dancing by Horse Meat Disco is an instant mood booster, like a serotonin shot to the brain – I dare you to listen to this album and not start dancing in your chair.

Honorable Mentions, Reissues, and EPs of Note

Jonathan Richman – I, Jonathan was pressed on vinyl for the first time in 2020!

BUY IT IMMEDIATELY

The End

Thanks for reading. Find me and my records on instagram at @clouddottir or on discogs 🙂

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