in Top Ten

Oh boy, not really in the mood to do this right now. If future generations are reading this a bunch of domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol building the other day. Christ man, what’s wrong this country? You don’t have to read this now if you don’t want to. I don’t want to write it now. Maybe you can check back in when things are ever better. If they’re ever better. Ugh.

Honorable Mention
Beabadoobee – Fake it Flowers
Osees – Protean Threat
Run the Jewels – RTJ4

10. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

Sufjan’s stripped down Carrie & Lowell was my second favorite album of the 2010s. Needless to say I was gonna be down with whatever Sufjan wanted to do next. Turns out what he wanted to do was synths. Not the fun Flock of Seagulls kind, the sad kind. That’s what I love about Sufjan. It doesn’t matter if he’s strumming on a banjo or plugging in a keyboard, he’s still the king of melancholy folk.

The Ascension is textural and echoey. It’s kind of spooky at times. It gives me the chills but the feels too. Sufjan still has one of the best voices in the genre—whatever genres this is—and he uses it well with walls of harmonies. There are a couple bops too. Sad bops, but you don’t have to be happy to dance.

9. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

I’m pretty sure Tame Impala has made the same album four times in a row. Then again, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One-man-band Kevin Parker has become the master of the psychedelic pop song. All you need is a sick bass line, Beatles-esque vocals, and a shit load of keyboards. Like so many keyboards. If there was ever an album built for outdoor festivals (RIP) it’s this one.

8. Taylor Swift – folklore

What I like about Taylor Swift is even if you don’t like what she’s doing on an album, chances are she’ll be doing something different on the next one. I’ve never listened to her early country stuff. I should probably listen to Red. It is on the 2020 revision of Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

1989 was the album that clicked for me. Insightful lyrics but catchy too. Love it. Then there was the snake album with the Right Said Fred song. Not my tempo. I didn’t check out Lover either because I hate that Panic at the Disco guy so much.

folklore is an easy album to like. The songs are intimate with rich stories and sparse instrumentation. Bon Iver and that guy from the National are along for the ride too. It’s the perfect blend of Swift’s pop sensibilities and the world of indie folk. I like to listen to this album when I walk my dog through woods. Escapism at its finest.

7. Ariana Grande – Positions

My most listened to artist of 2020. This is a fact that would mortify my teenage self. Modern me sees it as a sign of maturity. To not shun artists or albums just because they are mainstream or popular. 2020 was the year I delved into Ariana Grande’s discography and I’m glad I did. Her music is flirty and fun with one helluva voice behind it. She’s like Mariah Carey. Though I don’t remember Mariah ever being this sexual. Not that I listened to much Mariah Carey in my ripped jeans and band shirts phase.

Positions sounds like a continuation of Sweetener and Thank U, Next and even if it’s less polished than those too it’s still good time. I like that “34+35” song…. Wait a minute, let me crunch those numbers. Oh my.

6. Megan Thee Stallion – Good News

What a year for Megan Thee Stallion. She had the Suga EP back in March that launched the singles “Savage” and “Captain Hook”, she was featured on Cardi B’s sex-positive anthem “WAP”, she was even on Chance the Rapper’s Punk’d on Quibi. Remember Quibi?

On top of all that Megan released her debut studio album and it’s “real hot girl shit”. There’s no shortage of bangers. Try to listen to “Body” and not get that chorus stuck in your head forever. Good News isn’t all sexy romps though.

Megan gives power back to women on tracks like “Girls in the Hood” and “Shots Fired”. She’s spoken a lot about the mistreatment of black women in modern society after she was shot in the foot earlier this year. A lot of that heat carries over into Good News. She’s strong as hell, and on top of all that, she’s an excellent rapper with ballsy lyrics and a rapid-fire delivery. Definitely hot girl shit.

5. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

You know that feeling when you like a few songs from an artist you got into recently but those songs are spread out over multiple albums? Not a problem for me and Dua Lipa. Every Dua Lipa song I know is on this album. “Don’t Start Now”, “Break My Heart”, “Physical”, talk about back-to-back hits all on one album.

I listened to a lot of pop music in 2020 and Future Nostalgia was in heavy rotation. The bass lines on this album are sick, the songs catchy. It’s a dance album that brings together the best worlds of funk and electro pop. I mean, the title track has backup vocals from a robot! The future is here!

4. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

The 2020 timeline is blurry but for me this felt like the first quarantine album. I’m talking about an album recorded and released during quarantine with a homemade feel. how i’m feeling now is an album of crunchy synths and lo-fi beats. Charli XCX shows us a newfound intimacy on this album but with playfulness. Charli’s recent green screen music videos sum up this album well. This was (and is) an album to distract us and make us feel better when we need it the most.

3. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You

Considering the 15 year gap between 2000’s Since I Left You and 2015’s Wildflower, I don’t think anyone thought we would get another Avalanche’s album so soon. Best I can figure is the group (now a duo) got into such a groove on Wildflower there was some spillover. That groove residue congealed and now we have We Will Always Love You.

Wildflower was one of my favorite albums of the 2010s. With its mastery of samples, buoyant sing-a-longs, and guest appearances, it’s one of the liveliest electronic albums I’ve heard. We Will Always Love You follows the same format of samples and guest singers but with a different vibe. Where Wildflower felt like a party, We Will Always Love You is the after party. The melodies are more laid back. I’ve only ever listened to this album at night because that’s when it feels right.

Also, kudos to The Avalanches for crushing it with another classic music video of a big guy dancing his heart out. “Running Red Lights” is my favorite song on the album and my favorite music video of the year.

2. Dogleg – Melee

This album gets me pumped! Why wouldn’t it? Check out the music video for “Kawasaki Backflip”. These are young guys and they’re smashing shit in a garage. There’s a mid-2000s feel to this pop-punk debut. Like it could be in the soundtrack to a Tony Hawk game. Choruses are shouted over heavy guitars and drums. Ideal mosh music. This album makes me miss concerts. And like Melee I’m gonna keep this short. Next.

1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

No offense to the other albums on this list, but the battle for my number one spot wasn’t close. Which is surprising for me considering I’d never listened to Fiona Apple before Fetch the Bolt Cutters. I didn’t even know “Criminal” was a Fiona Apple song until 2014 when a two-headed Sarah Paulson sang it on American Horror Story. I thought the kind of music Fiona Apple did wasn’t the kind I’d like. I say that and yet I don’t know to categorize her music even now.

Fiona’s a pianist so my assumption for a long time was that she was pop-jazz vocalist. To be fair there is an element of that on this album. There’s also a lot of other stuff too. Fiona can tickle the ivories but she uses the instrument in so many different ways, switching up tempos and progressions. Maybe that is jazz. Maybe it’s just Fiona.

All the songs on Fetch the Bolt Cutters feel like a burst of creativity. Songs about love and depression, isolation, misogyny. A whole array of emotions painted into vivid stories. Everything Fiona sings about feels so personal and raw. Songs are assembled with whatever instruments seem to pack the most punch. Whether it be a dissonant piano part or vocals on top of an assault of percussive noises.

This is someone who does music not for money or acclaim but because they have to. You feel like you’re on a journey into someone else’s soul when you put on Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and when you’ve been locked inside all year, it’s nice to take a trip to anywhere else.