Best Albums of 2022

With today’s posting of my Best Albums of 2022 Report, I will mark the 31st straight year in which I have publicly offered such a list, either via online or traditional print outlets. Does that make me venerable, or just old? I’m not (yet) yelling at clouds (often), so I’m going to claim the former descriptor, for now. Humor me by agreeing, yeah?

As discussed in this recent post, I usually present my annual report in late November or early December each year, on the presumption that I need to live with an album for a month, at least, before I declare it among the best things I heard over the course of a given year. I then do an update or supplement in January if I feel like I need to add anything truly notable that slipped in after that.

To provide some perspective on the choices I’ve made over the years, here is the complete reckoning of my published Albums of the Year from 1992 to 2021. (I had yearly favorites before then, obviously, I just didn’t hang them out for others to look at). I don’t quite know what I was thinking in some years, retrospectively, but I made my choices in public and I stick with them as a point of principle:

  • 1992: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream
  • 1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
  • 1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese
  • 1995: Björk, Post
  • 1996: R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi
  • 1997: Geraldine Fibbers, Butch
  • 1998: Jarboe, Anhedoniac
  • 1999: Static-X, Wisconsin Death Trip
  • 2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya
  • 2001: Björk, Vespertine
  • 2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone
  • 2003: Wire, Send
  • 2004: The Fall, The Real New Fall LP (Formerly “Country on the Click”)
  • 2005: Mindless Self Indulgence, You’ll Rebel to Anything
  • 2006: Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
  • 2007: Max Eider, III: Back in the Bedroom
  • 2008: Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
  • 2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic
  • 2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics
  • 2011: Planningtorock, W
  • 2012: Goat, World Music
  • 2013: David Bowie, The Next Day
  • 2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
  • 2015: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock
  • 2016: David Bowie, Blackstar
  • 2017: Dälek, Endangered Philosophies
  • 2018: First Aid Kit, Ruins
  • 2019: Lingua Ignota, Caligula
  • 2020: Run The Jewels, RTJ4
  • 2021: Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg

As I normally do when I post “Best Of” lists like this one, I make two notes up front before getting to the good stuff. Firstly: this is all subjective, and it’s all my opinion. But of course it is. If music criticism were objective, we’d all end up with one mutually-agreed upon list at year’s end, and what would be the fun in that? Secondly: I can only rank and review that which I actually hear in any given year, so that’s limited by (a) what I like to listen to, and (b) what I actually acquire to spin. So as omnivorous as I am, and as a person who spends more money and time acquiring music that just about any other consumable commodity, I still must apologize if I missed your very favorite album of contemporary I-Kiribati Te Buki songs, arranged for tassa drums and tenoroon and recorded in various abandoned Cold War missile silos on vintage reel-to-reel tapes. But I’ll happily read about that record on your own list, and would likely enjoy hearing it. Please do share said list with me after you post it, and you really don’t need to add a “Dude, you suck” preamble to it because I neglected your niche. It wasn’t personal. Honest.

Having caved to streaming this year, I’m going to take advantage of my enslavement to Spotify and embed links to the albums cited here to facilitate (?) your further investigations should you wish to undertake them. I think that will be easier and less likely to become broken in the months ahead than my traditional linking to Youtube or other sites and sources. Having said and done that, I’m honestly not quite sure what happens if you don’t have a Spotify account and click through these links. Can you hear them? Do they work? Does Spotify lay claim to your children and/or your soul? Or mine? Please advise. I may edit after the fact if this is a losing play for most of my readers.

Before getting to the countdown style rankings of my #25 to #1 Albums of the Year, I’ve got a few items to note about non-LP length releases, or special case LPs that didn’t make the final list, for one reason or another. First up, there were some truly outstanding standalone singles released this year, that have not (as of yet) appeared on any albums:

Then in the slightly longer, but not quite long enough, mini-LP or EP formats, there were also some grand releases this year:

Moving on to album-length releases with various asterisks, there was one late 2021 release that I missed until a month or so ago, but that I want to call out here and now for the record, and one remix/remake album of a 2020 classic that’s not quite a new release, but merits praise and recognition here nonetheless:

In summary, I think 2022 has been a great year for new music, with some COVID-era barriers to creation and dissemination of songs seeming to have finally broken for many of the artists who I most admire. Because of that wealth of new material, I actually had a Best Albums listing featuring 40 records at one point a couple of weeks back, but it seems that full text explanations for that many albums would make this article prohibitively long and unwieldy, even by my normally verbose, why write four words when you can write forty, standards. So I’m going to acknowledge these 15 Honorable Mentions for 2022’s Best Album consideration here and now, all on them on my radar screen at some point as possible-but-not-quite bests in a very solid year, then move on to the 25 finalists with a bit more text and linkage:

And with those preambles complete, we step off onward and upward to the Best Album of 2022, Says Me:

#25. Goat, Oh Death: Korpilombo, Sweden’s favorite masked psych-funk-freak collective return to the record bins this year with a stomping disc that more closely resembles their early work than it does their previous full length, the acoustic-somber Requiem from 2016. I sort of figured the title of that one meant they might be done, so I am glad to have the winner of my 2012 Album of the Year back on my list again in 2022.

#24. Souad Massi, Sequana: Algerian singer-guitarist Souad Massi spent much of the 1990s as a member of the political rock band Atakor, until her activism began reaping death threats, forcing her to flee for Paris, France in 1999. She has released eight solo albums since escaping from Algeria, with Sequana standing as the finest among them, a perfect blend of the traditional, the modern, and the sounds of days yet to come.

#23. Bret McKenzie, Songs Without Jokes: Former Flight of the Conchords member and Academy Award-winning songwriter Bret McKenzie’s first solo album is, well, pretty much exactly what it says it is. There are songs, but there are no jokes. Which is good, because the songs are great, and the arrangements are deliciously all over the place, cinematic in their scope, and occasionally a bit funny, even when not meant to be.

#22. Robyn Hitchcock, Shufflemania: Robyn Hitchcock’s first album in five years is, to these ears, the most “Egyptian Sounding” since the demise of his last long-running stable group, The Egyptians. I quite like that, and this, as I have always enjoyed the Egyptian phase of his career the most. Lots of great guests on this new disc, with rich arrangements of surreal and melancholy songs, and Robyn in fine voice throughout.

#21. Wet Leg, Wet Leg: I wrestled with where (or whether) to post this release, as half of its material actually came out as singles in 2021, with the brilliant, game-changing, instantly-ubiquitous “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream” leading the charge. The Isle of Wight-bred duo’s debut LP is a refreshing hoot, regardless of its temporal provenance, so if you didn’t hear half of it in 2021, go ahead and bump it up to, say, #5 or so. Easy.

#20. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen: Ohio native and brilliant singer-instrumentalist Brittney Parks’ sophomore release as Sudan Archives is an audaciously sprawling foray into the cool spaces that lie between pretty much every genre of music being made in America today. It sounds like nothing else because it sounds like everything else, only done better, all at once, the surprises and the fun never stopping.

#19. Bartees Strange, Farm to Table: I didn’t intentionally put Brittney Parks and Bartees Strange back-to-back when I made this list, but as I write text about their equally brilliant discs, it seems a fitting placement. Strange is a DC-based producer-guitarist-singer with a military brat background (like moi), and he mines and mixes a variety of styles, making something uniquely soulful, uniquely great, and uniquely his.

#18. Sasami, Squeeze: I included Sasami Ashworth’s eponymous debut album in my 2019 Best Albums report, describing its mellow-ish contents as “chilly, wobbly, and cool.” I expected her sophomore disc to offer more of the same, and was completely wrong in that expectation: Squeeze is a stomping, noisy, messy delight, with nary a whiff of shoe-gazing to be found within its monstrous grooves. That’s progress, that is!

#17. Wolfgang Flür, Magazine 1: Wolfgang Flür was the one member of Kraftwerk’s classic line-up who did not write songs, and who didn’t appear on all of the studio albums of his era. But he played key roles in creating Kraftwerk’s studio and stage sets, a choice collaborator who made his colleagues better. This disc demonstrates that gift, with ace guests fully enabled and empowered by their genial host and chief.

#16. Ibibio Sound Machine, Electricity: Ibibio Sound Machine are a multi-national group based in London and offering a tasty mix of skittery Afro-pop and pounding drum n’ bass styles. Fronted by the supremely talented Eno Williams (whose family’s native Nigerian language, Ibibio, gave her group its moniker), ISM make smart music you can dance to, or dance music that makes you smarter. Either way, win, win, and win.

#15. Aldous Harding, Warm Chris: Aldous Harding’s fourth album topped her native New Zealand’s charts, once again affirming in my mind the amazing musical tastes collectively shared by the Kiwis. Produced by long-time P.J. Harvey collaborator John Parish (who also produced my 2021 Album of the Year from Dry Cleaning), Warm Chris is a beautifully weird platter of delights, wonky and wonderful in equal measure.

#14. Aoife Nessa Frances, Protector: A late-in-the-year arrival from a completely-new-to-me artist, Protector is a fantastic introduction to a marvelous talent. Ireland’s Aoife Nessa Frances makes accessible (but not easy) music, with ear-worm melodies and gorgeous vocals, often somehow slightly a-kilter and awry, in the best senses of those descriptors. I need to trawl her back catalog, and look forward to what comes next.

#13. Snog, Eight Offerings for the Undead: In which David Thrussell returns with yet another amazing record framed by yet another amazing story, this one about how he went blind and dictated this album in a trance to his disciples from atop a mountain sanctuary, beneath which recording studios transformed his utterances into songs. What’s it sound like? Just like you’d imagine from that story. He’s magical that way.

#12. Clutch, Sunrise on Slaughter Beach: Maryland’s gnarliest sons are stalwarts on these lists of mine, 30+ years into their super-smart, ass-kicking career. This latest offering, their 13th studio LP, is a stormer, with nine songs spanning just 33 minutes. It arrives, it gets all up in your face quick-like, it makes your brain mosh itself into mush, it wiggles your jump and shout modules, then it rockets off, its work complete. Perfect.

#11. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love: John Frusciante’s third stint with the Chili Peppers’ unleashed such a torrent of creativity that the group released two albums in 2022 just to capture it all. I’d normally worry about such self-indulgence, but Holy Moly, this album and its successor (see the Honorable Mention list) are so chockablock with greatness that I actually and fully appreciate their need to share so extravagantly.

#10. Andy Prieboy, One and One Makes Three: I’ve long hailed Andy Prieboy as one of my very favorite songwriters of the past quarter-century or so, and he’s no slouch at all when it comes to arranging, playing and singing his songs to boot. This latest disc is a collection of songs dating back to the start of his career, and it’s great, soup to nuts; I gave it a complete review here, so check that out for more, lest I repeat myself.

#9. The Jazz Butcher, The Highest in the Land: Two Octobers ago, I sadly penned a memorial tribute to Pat Fish, The Jazz Butcher. He and his long-time collaborator, Max Eider, were/are both brilliant singers, writers, and players. The pair were working on an album at the time of Butch’s unfortunate demise. Released this year, it was a very, very good record indeed, a lovely last listen to a much-appreciated and much-missed talent.

#8. Gang of Youths, Angel in Realtime: Gang of Youths are an Australian band, fronted by David Le’aupepe. Angel in Realtime is a collection of songs penned by the singer after his father died, at which time David discovered that most of what he knew about who he was and where he came from was wrong. Poignant and powerful, filled with haunting melodies and superb arrangements. Song cycle stories seldom strike this true.

#7. Jed Davis, Failing Upwards: I may well have written more about Jed Davis on my websites than any other artist, in part because he is very prolific, but more because he is so, so, so very good. He’s been issuing a series of EPs over the past couple of years under the Song Foundry rubric (see the Honorable Mention section), plus this superb full-length LP, which I reviewed here (along with Andy Prieboy). Go read it! Shoo!

#6. The Comet is Coming, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam: British jazz musician and composer Shabaka Hutchings is one of the few artists I know who puts out as much quality music in as many different band configurations as the aforementioned Jed Davis. This one features his saxophones atop crushing electronic and live drum beats. The whole thing slams and swings in equal measure, superb within any genre.

#5. Jethro Tull, The Zealot Gene: I’m on the record noting that if I absolutely had to name a favorite band ever, across a lifetime of listening, then Jethro Tull would be it. While Ian Anderson has issued some great solo albums over the past 20 years, Tull has lain fallow as a studio concern releasing new material since 1999. Until now, that is. It was worth the wait, with this one sitting high on my list of their all-time classics.

#4. First Aid Kit, Palomino: In my 30+ of doing these things, First Aid Kit are one of only three artists (David Bowie and ‎Björk the others) who I’ve given “Album of the Year” honors twice. Which is remarkable when you consider that sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg weren’t yet born when I started publishing these lists. Their latest is yet another gem. Had it come out earlier in 2022, it might have gotten them a third trophy.

#3. Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler, For All Our Days That Tear The Heart: I’m usually leery when I hear about an actor I like recording an album, and I don’t generally pursue such side projects, but I really like Jessie Buckley on film, and I was intrigued to learn that esteemed guitarist-songwriter Bernard Butler was working with her. And wow, was it worth breaking my rule and investigating this time, as this is a truly sublime record, beautiful on every front. Buckley is as world class a vocal talent as she is a theatrical one, and Butler writes haunting melodies, which are superbly arranged within fairly simple, but very effective instrumental formats. It was this video that sold me, instantly, when I first watched it, and Spotify now tells me that’s our most played song of 2022. Such talent! Such charisma! Such joy in music! Watch it, watch it do!

#2. The Black Angels, Wilderness of Mirrors: I’ve been a fan of The Black Angels since their 2008 sophomore album, appreciating the well-crafted Velvet Underground influences within their work, loving the elements of their sound that evoke vintage Texas psychedelia of a 13th Floor Elevators and Moving Sidewalks flavor, and happy to have a bit of ’80s Jesus and Mary Chain guitar buzz in the mix, too. While citing those disparate elements might make The Black Angels sound like a pastiche act, they have always sounded first and foremost like themselves, creating a certain sonic something uniquely greater than the sum of its parts. With Wilderness of Mirrors, they’ve squared the circle of their sound somehow, being all The Black Angels they can be and then some more, making their hardest, purest, most brilliant ball of perfect sonic fuzz ever.

#1. The 2022 Album of the Year: Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life on Earth: Alynda Segarra has been issuing albums under the Hurray for the Riff Raff moniker for 15+ years, with Life on Earth standing as the eighth studio LP to carry that banner. Segarra has long mined fascinating musical and lyrical territory related to gender and racial politics, immigrant experiences, social justice and equity (or the lack thereof), and the mish-mash magic that comes when vibrant cultures collide, in art, in music, in life. As was the case this year with the aforementioned Black Angels, Life on Earth takes everything that Hurray for the Riff Raff have done, have been, and have sounded like, and makes it all bigger, bolder, and brand-new sounding, somehow transcending the canon while completely codifying its core components.

I acquired Life on Earth soon after its release this past February, and I’d label it one of those rare perfect albums where I’ve been spinning every one of its songs regularly for 10+ months, never tiring of any of them, always turning up the volume and tuning in my attention when one of them pops from a speaker near me. Segarra has been quoted as saying that Life on Earth represents a new start for Hurray for the Riff Raff, and should be considered, on some plane, to be a debut disc. The importance of new collaborator Brad Cook, who has produced and performed on some of the most genre-defining/bending New Americana/Weird Psych Folk albums of the past decade, adds credence to the narrative of this thing being not quite that thing, even though they bear the same name.

But whatever you label it, and however you number it, Life on Earth is a gorgeous, haunting, bittersweet, fully engaging, cerebral, life-affirming/life-questioning masterpiece by an incredibly talented singer, songwriter and musician. I consider it a perfect aural and lyrical document of a most imperfect time in our world, recalling what has been, observing what is now, wishing and working for that which could be, if we are strong, if we hope, if we believe in the magic of our innate powers, and in the fellowship of those whose paths we share, and in the generosity of spirit required to embrace Alynda Segarra’s “Riff Raff,” whoever they might be, wherever we might find them. This is a deeply personal album in terms of Segarra’s narratives, but it states its terms and tells its tales in ways that allows listeners to lay its lenses over our own views of the world, shifting our perspective, sometimes toward clarity, sometimes away from it. That’s a crucial component to the greatest of great art, in my mind.

Here are the videos (both also most visually brilliant) of my two very favorite songs from Life on Earth, serving as great introductions to the album and the artist, should you need that:

And with that, we close out this always enjoyable (for me) annual exercise, and start looking toward 2023’s thrills. I hope you find some sounds on this list that will rock your own world as much as they have rocked mine this year, and (as always) feel free to let me know what I’ve missed in 2022, as I’m always on the hunt for great albums, even after their open season ends.

It’s time for the collage montage scene . . .

2021: Year in Review

With Christmas behind us and a road-trip to California on the horizon this week, it seems like a good day to sit and settle up the scores for 2021 here at my website, as I normally do at this time each year, plus or minus a few days. Unless I get ambitious, or someone I care about deeply passes away soon, this will likely be the final post of the year, for better and/or for worse.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2020, I surprised myself by publishing 147 posts, the most I’d done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did COVID-driven cancellations of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Traffic was robust in 2020, too, with other similarly isolated folks seeking to fill their own suddenly-surplus time online, a trend which I explored more fully (and made future forecasts regarding) in my Coronablogus post last month. For 2021, this post is Number 120, marking about a 20% decrease over last year’s rate of production, in terms of actual new entries on the site. But even with that smaller number of entries, the overall site readership trend was positive, as shown below. (Actual numbers are  edited out, as it’s tacky to share them, and the trend line is what matters; the light-blue pipes are total unique page visits, the dark-blue pipes are total unique visitors, so both grew in 2021):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts, so there’s no easily meaningful visual comparison to make from those times. But at bottom line, the last two years have been quite good ones here, from both audience-engagement and writer-productivity standpoints, things that I most certainly would not have predicted in 2019. Of the 120 original posts this year, 57 were part of the second Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists series, which seems to be popular. I was originally thinking I’d carry it on into 2022, but after a few weeks off, I think it has run its course, and I’m going to put it to bed, for now.

As I report each year, here are the baker’s dozen most-read articles among the 120 new posts here over the past twelve months. It’s probably indicative of the fact that both my readers and I are (mostly) folks of a certain age that obituary-type posts fill such a sizable portion of the most-read roster. Our long-time heroes are leaving us, even as we contemplate our own collective mortality, especially during this, our Anno Virum. On the flip-side, I would note that two of the most life-affirming events for Marcia and I this year (our daughter’s wedding and our adventure in Grand Canyon) also made the Top 13, so it’s good that nice news appeals sometimes as well. Then there’s the odd dichotomy of having had a bit of life-affirmation by returning to our first in-person musical performance since COVID hit us, then seeing one of the artists who sang for us passing away mere weeks later. Both of those reports make the Top 13 below, as do four of the “Favorite Songs” entries. So there’s a bit of everything, tone-wise, which I suppose is just fine and dandy:

And then here are the baker’s dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2021. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on the earliest version of this website. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). Once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke, and also, once again, it continues to befuddle me, as always, why my 1999 interview with relatively-obscure guitarist Dave Boquist appears on this “most-read” chart almost every year, receiving far more hits, continually, than my many other interviews with many other far more famous artists. Go figger . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2021

TRAVEL:

We will see 2021 off, God willing and the creek don’t rise, from a condo in San Clemente, California, where we’re headed this week for a winter getaway. After years of somewhat absurd levels of travel, 2021 was quite benign for us: we only spent time in six states, as opposed to the 20+ I’ve experienced for much of the past decade. As I looked at my annual travel map, below, (I’ve pre-filled in our trip to San Clemente, with a planned stop at Joshua Tree National Park), it occurred to me (initially) that this was the first year in my entire life where I never spent any time east of the Mississippi River. But then, as I looked closer, I realized that, yeesh, I never even made it east of the Continental Divide in 2021. That’s a pretty profound paradigm shift, given my deep roots in the Carolinas, and our long stints in New York and the Midwest. If I can do so safely, I do intend to visit my mother in South Carolina in early 2022, and Marcia and I are cautiously hopeful that we may be able to consider international travel again later in the year, if we can do so with undue fear for our personal health and safety. I guess if we had to have a limited travel year, we couldn’t have picked a better place to do it from than our new home in Sedona, Arizona, as there’s plenty of stuff to do and see hereabouts, without having to fly or drive far to achieve the full experience.

RECORDINGS:

See these three earlier posts:

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2021

FILM AND TELEVISION:

See these two earlier posts:

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward into 2022, with a very deep sense of unease about the ways in which our Nation seems to be careening toward institutional racism and fascism and theocracy. It’s truly frightening to see how the will of a determined minority, intent on using every lever of power available to them (legal or otherwise), seemingly takes priority over the desires and wishes and votes of the remaining majority of the population, among which I count myself. Which is so sad, on so many planes, particularly for someone who once proudly served the Nation as a Federal employee and an active duty service member. Here’s hoping that a year from now, I’ll feel better about these things. But I doubt that’s going to be the case, alas, even if I don’t regularly write about such things here, because I don’t feel like I have a lot to add to the narrative, and it’s intellectually depressing to continually wallow in it.

On a brighter note, I’ve mentioned in passing a few times here over the past year that I’ve been hard at work on a book with long-time friend and Naval Academy classmate Rear Admiral Jim McNeal, co-author of The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy’s Greatest Tradition, which I reviewed here. Jim and I have a contract with McFarland, a publishing house based in North Carolina, to deliver a complete manuscript by the end of January 2022, with publication hopefully targeted before year’s end. If you’ve ever mucked around with the publishing industry, then you know that “instant gratification” is not in cards on projects like this one.

We finished the main-line text (about 75,000+ words) last week, and I then had the pleasure of taking the digital version of it to a local print shop, producing the first physical version of the text for compilation and copy-editing purposes. Our skilled editor is hard at work on the manuscript, per the photo below. And here’s hoping that when I do next year’s version of this annual report, I’ll be able to point you toward a purchase site to acquire our book, should you be interested, and that we’ll be (a) past the worst of the pandemic, and (b) not living in a political place that would make the most dystopian fantasist shudder with revulsion.

I don’t know whether I’ll continue in 2022 to churn out the piffle and tripe at recent levels, or whether your collective engagement with the site will continue to grow and expand. (One of the nice things about doing this as a labor of love, and not a labor of commerce, is that the thought of less traffic in the year ahead does not cause me any agita). But regardless of how all of those things turn out, I will forever be grateful to those of you who care enough to continue supporting my creative endeavors, right here and right now, and I wish all of you and all of yours the very best over the days and months and years to come!

So, did you mean “Let’s eat, Grandma” or “Let’s eat Grandma” here?

My Top 200 Albums Of All Time (2021 Update)

Having completed my Best Albums of 2021 report earlier this week, I am reminded that it has been awhile since I’ve updated my running list of most-loved albums, so I’m going to remedy that situation today. As I’ve noted for background before, I’ve been keeping lists of my favorite albums since the very early ’70s, when I was a grade school Steppenwolf fan. My tastes have evolved dramatically over the years (though I still like Steppenwolf), so I review and update this list periodically, dropping things that haven’t aged well, and adding new things that excite me and seem to have staying power.

For many years, this was a “Top 100 List,” but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt entitled to expand the roster beyond the century mark, since I’ve listened to a whole lot more music now than I had when I was a whole lot younger. I also used to exclude “Greatest Hits” and other compilation or live albums, but I’ve gotten less uptight about that, too, since for some artists, their best work may have appeared on singles that only saw long-form release via “Best Of” collections.

So here’s the update, in alphabetical order by artist name. Maybe you’ll be reminded of some old favorites and give ’em some nostalgia spins. Or maybe you’ll find something new to rock your home world. Or maybe you’ll just sigh and wonder what the hell goes on in my head to produce an all-over-the-place listing like this. It’s all good. As is the music.

  1. 54-40: 54-40
  2. Albion Band: Rise Up Like the Sun
  3. Arab Strap: As Days Get Dark
  4. Asian Dub Foundation: Rafi’s Revenge
  5. Bauhaus: The Sky’s Gone Out
  6. Bee Gees: Main Course
  7. Birthday Party: Mutiny/The Bad Seed
  8. Bogmen: Life Begins at 40 Million
  9. Bongwater: The Power of Pussy
  10. Bonzo Dog Band: Keynsham
  11. Bonzo Dog Band: The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse
  12. Bowie, David: Low
  13. Bowie, David: “Heroes”
  14. Bowie, David: Lodger
  15. Buggy Jive: The Buggy Jive Mix Tape
  16. Buggy Jive: The B-Side
  17. Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey
  18. Bush, Kate: Hounds of Love
  19. Butthole Surfers: Hairway to Steven
  20. Butthole Surfers: Locust Abortion Technician
  21. Camberwell Now: All’s Well
  22. Cave, Nick and the Bad Seeds: Henry’s Dream
  23. Chap: Mega Breakfast
  24. Christian Death: Catastrophe Ballet
  25. Clash: Combat Rock
  26. Clash: London Calling
  27. Cleveland, Reverend James: Sings Songs of Dedication
  28. Clutch: Book of Bad Decisions
  29. Clutch: Elephant Riders
  30. Clutch: Robot Hive/Exodus
  31. Coil: Horse Rotorvator
  32. Coil: The Ape of Naples
  33. Collins, Phil: Face Value
  34. Coup: Sorry to Bother You
  35. Coup: Sorry to Bother You: The Soundtrack
  36. Cramps: Bad Music for Bad People
  37. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: Déjà Vu
  38. Culture: Two Sevens Clash
  39. Cup and Ring: Cup and Ring
  40. Dälek: Absence
  41. Dälek: Gutter Tactics
  42. Death Grips: Ex-Military
  43. Death Grips: Government Plates
  44. Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo
  45. Dogbowl: Flan
  46. Dogg, Snoop: BUSH
  47. Dolenz, Micky: Dolenz Sings Nesmith
  48. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment: Surf
  49. Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg
  50. Dunnery, Francis: Tall Blonde Helicopter
  51. Eagles: Desperado
  52. Einstürzende Neubauten: Haus der Lüge
  53. Einstürzende Neubauten: Halber Mensch
  54. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Tarkus
  55. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery
  56. Eno, Brian: Here Come the Warm Jets
  57. Eno, Brian: Another Green World
  58. Eno, Brian: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
  59. Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking
  60. Fairport Convention: What We Did On Our Holidays
  61. Fall: Hex Enduction Hour
  62. Fall: Slates (EP)
  63. Fall: The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click)
  64. Fall: Imperial Wax Solvent
  65. Family: Bandstand
  66. Family: Fearless
  67. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold
  68. First Aid Kit: Ruins
  69. Fleetwood Mac: Future Games
  70. Fleetwood Mac: Bare Trees
  71. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
  72. Focus: Live At The Rainbow
  73. Funkadelic: Maggotbrain
  74. Gabriel, Peter: Peter Gabriel (III/Melt)
  75. Gang of Four: Entertainment!
  76. Gang of Four: Songs of the Free
  77. Genesis: Duke
  78. Genesis: Abacab
  79. Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
  80. Genesis: Wind and Wuthering
  81. Good Rats: Tasty
  82. Grateful Dead: American Beauty
  83. Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead
  84. Hall, Daryl: Sacred Songs
  85. Hanslick Rebellion: The Rebellion is Here
  86. Hitchcock, Robyn and the Egyptians: Element of Light
  87. Hogg: Solar Phallic Lion
  88. Hogg: Self-Extinguishing Emission
  89. Human Sexual Response: Fig. 14
  90. Human Sexual Response: In a Roman Mood
  91. Hüsker Dü: Zen Arcade
  92. Jarre, Jean-Michel: Equinoxe
  93. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon: Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
  94. Jethro Tull: Songs From the Wood
  95. Jethro Tull: Heavy Horses
  96. Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick
  97. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures
  98. Joy Division: Closer
  99. Juluka: Scatterlings
  100. Kamikaze Hearts: Oneida Road
  101. Kaukonen, Jorma: Quah
  102. Keineg, Katell: Jet
  103. Killdozer: Twelve Point Buck
  104. Killers: Imploding the Mirage
  105. Killers: Pressure Machine
  106. King Crimson: Starless and Bible Black
  107. King Crimson: In The Court of the Crimson King
  108. Kraftwerk: Minimum-Maximum
  109. Kurki-Suonio, Sanna: Musta
  110. Lateef, Yusef: Eastern Sounds
  111. Lateef, Yusef: The Complete Yusef Lateef
  112. Laurels, L
  113. London, Theophilus: Bebey
  114. Magma: Üdü Ẁüdü
  115. McCartney, Paul: McCartney II
  116. McCartney, Paul: McCartney III
  117. Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell
  118. Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime
  119. Mitchel, Joni: For the Roses
  120. Mitchell, John Cameron and Stephen Trask: Hedwig And The Angry Inch
  121. Mos Def: The Ecstatic
  122. Mould, Bob: District Line
  123. Napalm Death: Time Waits For No Slave
  124. Napalm Death: Utilitarian
  125. Napalm Death: Apex Predator — Easy Meat
  126. Napalm Death: Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
  127. New Order: Movement
  128. New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies
  129. Nyman, Michael: A Zed and Two Noughts (Original Soundtrack)
  130. Palmer, Robert: Pride
  131. Phair, Liz: Exile in Guyville
  132. Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon
  133. Pink Floyd: Animals
  134. Pink Floyd: The Wall
  135. Presley, Elvis: Peace In The Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings
  136. Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet
  137. Public Enemy: Apocalypse ’91 . . . The Enemy Strikes Black
  138. Public Enemy: What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?
  139. R.E.M.: Life’s Rich Pageant
  140. Renaldo and the Loaf: Songs for Swinging Larvae
  141. Replacements: Let It Be
  142. Residents: Animal Lover
  143. Residents: Demons Dance Alone
  144. Residents: Wormwood
  145. Richman, Jonathan: It’s Time For . . .
  146. Richman, Jonathan: Ishkode! Ishkode!
  147. Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St.
  148. Rolling Stones: Tattoo You
  149. Rundgren, Todd: Healing
  150. Run The Jewels: RTJ4
  151. Sepultura: Roots
  152. Shah, Nadine: Kitchen Sink
  153. Simon & Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence
  154. Simple Minds: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
  155. Snog: Last of the Great Romantics
  156. Snog: Lullabies for the Lithium Age
  157. Sparks: A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
  158. Special A.K.A.: In the Studio
  159. Steely Dan: Aja
  160. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam
  161. Steppenwolf: Gold
  162. Swans: Filth
  163. Swans: Holy Money
  164. Talking Heads: Fear of Music
  165. Tastee, Gay: Songs for the Sodomites
  166. Television Personalities: Closer to God
  167. Ten Years After: Cricklewood Green
  168. The The: Soul Mining
  169. This Heat: Deceit
  170. Tosh, Peter: Mama Africa
  171. Tosh, Peter: Equal Rights
  172. Tracey, Stan Quartet: Under Milk Wood: Jazz Suite
  173. Tragic Mulatto: Italians Fall Down and Look Up Your Dress
  174. Tsukerman, Slava et. al.: Liquid Sky (Original Soundtrack)
  175. Utopia: Utopia
  176. Utopia: Swing to the Right
  177. Various Artists: If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t, Please Your Soul
  178. Various Artists: The Harder They Come (Original Soundtrack Recording)
  179. Wailer, Bunny: Blackheart Man
  180. Wall of Voodoo: Happy Planet
  181. Wall of Voodoo: Seven Days in Sammystown
  182. Wasted: We Are Already in Hell
  183. Weasels: Uranus or Bust
  184. Weasels: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow
  185. Who: Who’s Next
  186. Who: Tommy
  187. Wings: Band on the Run
  188. Wings: Venus and Mars
  189. Wire: The Ideal Copy/Snakedrill
  190. Wire: It’s Beginning To And Back Again
  191. Wishbone Ash: Argus
  192. Woods Band: The Woods Band
  193. Xiu Xiu: Angel Guts: Red Classroom
  194. Xiu Xiu: Girl With Basket of Fruit
  195. XTC: Black Sea
  196. XTC: English Settlement
  197. Yes: The Yes Album
  198. Young, Neil and Crazy Horse: re-ac-tor
  199. Zappa, Frank and the Mothers of Invention: One Size Fits All
  200. Zappa, Frank: Joe’s Garage, Parts I, II and III

A very early favorite album, still on the big list, half-a-century later.

Best Albums of 2021

I am sitting here at my desk this morning in that sweet and sticky spot between various and sundry Thanksgiving and Christmas over-indulgences, while feeling a bit woozy from my COVID vaccine booster shot, received yesterday. (Get yours now! Protect the herd!) Given that weird and wobbly head-space here, it seems to be an apt time to write and post my annual Best Albums Report, both to satisfy my own obsessive list-making pleasures, and to hopefully offer something worthwhile to you, mine readers, as you build your own year-end playlists and anticipate the musical year yet to come before us.

This Best Albums Report marks the 30th straight year in which I have publicly offered such a list, either via online or traditional print outlets. Zoinks! I guess that means I’m getting old, on one plane, but I also think it means that I’ve (hopefully) gained some wisdom and perspective after doing what I do for as long as I’ve done it, such that my lists are value-adding propositions. I usually post this annual report in late November or early December each year, on the presumption that I need to live with an album for a month, at least, before I declare it among the best things I heard over the course of a given year. I then do an update or supplement in January if I feel like I need to add anything truly notable that slipped in after that.

To provide some perspective on the choices I’ve made over the years, here is the complete reckoning of my published Albums of the Year from 1992 to 2020. (I had yearly favorites before then, obviously, I just didn’t hang them out for others to look at). I don’t quite know what I was thinking in some years, retrospectively, but I made my choices in public and I stick with them as a point of principle:

  • 1992: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream
  • 1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
  • 1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese
  • 1995: Björk, Post
  • 1996: R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi
  • 1997: Geraldine Fibbers, Butch
  • 1998: Jarboe, Anhedoniac
  • 1999: Static-X, Wisconsin Death Trip
  • 2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya
  • 2001: Björk, Vespertine
  • 2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone
  • 2003: Wire, Send
  • 2004: The Fall, The Real New Fall LP (Formerly “Country on the Click”)
  • 2005: Mindless Self Indulgence, You’ll Rebel to Anything
  • 2006: Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
  • 2007: Max Eider, III: Back in the Bedroom
  • 2008: Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
  • 2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic
  • 2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics
  • 2011: Planningtorock, W
  • 2012: Goat, World Music
  • 2013: David Bowie, The Next Day
  • 2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
  • 2015: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock
  • 2016: David Bowie, Blackstar
  • 2017: Dälek, Endangered Philosophies
  • 2018: First Aid Kit, Ruins
  • 2019: Lingua Ignota, Caligula
  • 2020: Run The Jewels, RTJ4

As I normally do when I post “Best Of” lists like this one, I make two notes up front before getting to the good stuff. Firstly: This is all subjective, and it’s all my opinion. But of course it is. If music criticism were objective, we’d all end up with one mutually-agreed upon list at year’s end, and what would be the fun in that? Secondly: I can only rank and review that which I actually hear in any given year, so that’s limited by (a) what I like to listen to, and (b) what I actually acquire to spin. So as omnivorous as I am, and as a person who spends more money and time acquiring music that just about any other consumable commodity, I still must apologize if I missed your very favorite album of Lithuanian jazz-inflected grime performed faithfully in the regional Aukštaitija dialect and recorded entirely on vintage Roland TR-808s and 19th Century kanklės, though I’ll happily read about that record on your own list, and would likely enjoy hearing it. Please do share said list with me after you post it, and you really don’t need to add a “Dude, you suck” preamble to it because I neglected your niche. It wasn’t personal. Honest.

With that behind us, let’s get to the final countdown, from my #30 Album to my #1 Album of the Year for 2021. You might want to buckle up for the wild ride ahead. There’s going to be a lot of abrupt and juddering swings back and forth between various genres, styles, and techniques, some calm, some extreme, some inspirational, some soul-crushing, some wobbling at the very cusp of explainability and/or listenability. But that’s what makes for a memorable journey, right? I certainly think so. As always, I provide a link for each album to help you acquire it should you be so interested. I tend to focus on actual artists’ websites in these links, where I can, in the hopes that said artists actually earn something from your interest, beyond the spicks and specks sprinkled their ways by the various online streaming services who “serve” them (and I use that term most lightly, with my left eyebrow arched up high as I type it).

#30. Hawkwind: Somnia: How does that old Benjamin Franklin quote go? Something like “In this world, nothing is certain but death, taxes, and Hawkwind,” if I recall correctly. As in so many ways, old Ben nailed it, and this year’s offering from the Hawks is a fine one indeed. Not a lot of BLANGA here, but that’s apt, given the album’s lyrical themes surrounding sleep and dreams. It’s ooky, it’s spooky and it grooves big. Sold!

#29. Hobo Johnson: The Revenge of Hobo Johnson: Not to be all “old man yells at cloud” here, but I have little patience with suburban Gen Z tropes of the “I started writing songs when I was 10 years old, now I am 14, I understand the whole world, and deserve your respect” variety. Most don’t, frankly. But Hobo Johnson does. Super fun, thoughtful, diverse, joyous hip-hop here from a younger artist with a real back story.

#28. Silk Sonic: An Evening With Silk Sonic: I nabbed this collaboration between Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak just as I was binging Sherman’s Showcase, a loving and knowing tribute to the Soul Train shows I adored as a kid. It was a perfect moment of synchronicity, as Silk Sonic lay down the sweetest and surest soul jams here, moved and inspired by smooth sexiness of the era, with the talent to not just mimic, but evoke.

#27. The Flying Bobs: High Fidelity Virtue Signaling Party: The Flying Bobs are a new side (or successor?) project to long-time faves here, The Weasels. Featuring the songs and vocals of The Brothers Graf (Ray and Chris) and the Weasels’ rhythm section, The Bobs fill their debut disc with even more of the scabrous, stylish, and sharp fun that they have shared so generously over the years. There’s a second disc pending, hooray!

#26. Ministry: Moral Hygiene: Industrial metal mastermind Uncle Al Jourgensen has historically offered his finest works, always politically trenchant, when the GOP has held the White House. This one came out under the Biden administration, but I’m assuming it was written and recorded when The Former Guy was wobbling about in Washington, as it’s one of the best and brawniest Ministry records in a long, long time.

#25. MED, Blu & Madlib: Bad Neighbors: I know and like all of the named artists in this collaboration’s cover title, and I also know most of their featured singers/rappers, most notably the late and deeply missed MC DOOM. Together, they make super hip-hop magic, with thoughtful lyrics and fine flow amassed atop killer beats and samples. Their “Burgundy Whip” video pointed me to this one, and it’s one of the year’s finest songs.

#24. The Killers: Pressure Machine: A fine example of the ways in which a “COVID Album” can be something more than just whining about masks and social isolation. Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers went back for hunker time near his rural Utah home, taped some of his neighbors talking, and built songs around their stories. “Terrible Thing” is one of the most heart-breaking songs ever, perfect for our times.

#23. Alice Cooper: Detroit Stories: Alice Cooper (the man)’s latest disc features a prominent pair of songs with the surviving members of Alice Cooper (the band), but all of its cuts slam and swing and sweat just as you’d want and expect. Big props for Alice’s suicide hotline tag on “Don’t Give Up;” his core audience likely includes struggling men who may need to hear from their heroes that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.

#22. Aesop Rock x Blockhead: Garbology: Lyrical mastermind Aesop Rock has worked with producer Blockhead on and off throughout his career, but this it the first project cover-credited to the pair. Blockhead’s beats tend to be sparse and spare, but that’s an asset, not a flaw, here, as they allow Rock to flow like a mighty river, even when he’s spinning tales of the most mundane aspects of 21st Century life. Tasty, and refined.

#21. Genghis Tron: Dream Weapon: Experimental/electronic metallists Genghis Tron have returned after a decade-long hiatus with a new singer and their first live drummer. There’s a degree of lyrical and musical clarity here that separates Genghis Tron from the massed metal hordes, but without defusing their gut-punch impact. It’s high-quality metal that might even be playable when your non-metal friends are about.

#20. Dana Sipos: The Astral Plane: The late Sandy Denny was such an extraordinary singer, songwriter, and musician that I’m really hesitant to ever evoke her in any comparative basis. But with that as preamble, Canadian Dana Sipos most certainly evokes the restless spirit of Sandy on her latest album, a deliciously, darkly delightful collection of fine songs, playing perfectly beneath her, well, perfect voice. Sublime!

#19. Alan Vega: Mutator: Suicide front-man Alan Vega died in 2016, and his brilliant posthumous album IT (recorded with his life/creative partner Liz Lamere) placed high on my Best Albums of 2017 list. I figured that was that with regard to his catalog, so was tickled to get another Vega-Lamere collaboration a few months back, this one culled from tapes the pair developed between 1995 and 1997. Bracing, as he always is.

#18. Billy F. Gibbons: Hardware: 2021 was a tough year in ZZ Top world as bassist Dusty Hill flew away to the Great (La) Grange In the Sky. While his long-time bass tech Elwood Francis has stepped up to allow the Top to continue on its live journey, I’m not sure we’ll be hearing anything new from the band going forward, so Billy Gibbons’ solo career is crucial, to these ears, in offering what he offers, so well, and for so long.

#17. IKOQWE: The Beginning, the Medium, the End and the Infinite: There’s a really good essay to be written about which music genre has achieved the deepest global penetration, with hip-hop and metal among the leading contenders. The incredible 2014 documentary Death Metal Angola demonstrated how deeply the dark stuff had penetrated into Angola. And this album now proves how great its hip-hop culture is.

#16. Theon Cross: Intra-I: The world would be better with lots of innovative tuba players moving beyond the instrument’s stereotypical oom-pah-pah role. Theon Cross is at the cutting edge of the movement to take his instrument in new directions, with the acclaimed Sons of Kemet, and now with this fantastic jazz-hip-hop-dubstep-reggae-grime-soca album, across which he blats and rumbles like nobody’s business.

#15. Xiu Xiu: OH NO: Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart is both a restless and a prolific soul, and his albums feature most regularly in my annual best-of lists. This year’s offering featured a collection of Jamie-Plus-Guest duets, ranging from the freaky and weird through to the sweet and sublime. It was a true treat to hear Alice Bag (look her up) here, and the Liz Harris duet, “A Bottle of Rum,” is among the finest Xiu Xiu tracks ever.

#14. Lindsey Buckingham: Lindsey Buckingham: Beyond the usual yuck that we’ve all experienced of late, Lindsey Buckingham has endured a tough time in recent years, with high-profile band drama (goodbye Fleetwood Mac), health concerns, and marital issues chewing up tabloid space. Thankfully, the master guitarist-singer has responded to those challenges with his finest solo album, a shining gem of technique and emotion.

#13. Buggy Jive: You Won’t Like the Answer: Buggy Jive describes himself as a “soul rock singer-songwriter quietly uploading music from a basement somewhere in Upstate New York. Part Prince, part Joni, all Buggy.” Yes, all that, and more. I’ve followed his brilliant work for decades now, and his latest record is a fine addition to his incredible catalog, with “Ain’t Going Anywhere” easily standing as the best COVID-era video yet.

#12. Gnod: La Mort Du Sens: Gnod are an evolving collective from Salford, Greater Manchester, England (a point of interest for any Fall Fans here), who have in recent years worked from a guitar, bass, vocal and double drum line-up. They make a glorious, clangorous racket, in the best senses of all of those words, and their latest album (The Death of Sense in English) is a skull-crusher, especially the 12-minute “Giro Day.”

#11. The Body: I’ve Seen All I Need to See: The Body (guitarist/vocalist Chip King and drummer Lee Buford) are another skull-crushing band, and their 2021 entry on my list (they’re regulars here) is among the most visceral, brutal recordings of their career, amazingly enough. Electronics are to the fore here, with the proverbial needles so deep into the red that clipping and distortion are an integral part of the sonic experience.

#10. Shriekback: 1000 Books: The most recent acquisition on this year’s list, and one that I’d likely be rating even higher had I lived with it longer. The core trio of Barry Andrews, Carl Marsh and Martyn Barker are re-joined (joy!) by long-time backing vocalists Wendy and Sarah Partridge, with PiL bassist Scott Firth helping out on a handful of songs. Shriekback generally operate in one of two major modes: shouty and concussive, or wobbly and ethereal. This album leans a smidge toward the latter, making the bolder bits feel even more titanic when they appear. Super-duper lyrics throughout this one, as is always the case with the verbose and clever Andrews and Marsh, with the pair sharing lead vocals, as they usually do. A truly fine addition to their most impressive catalog, moving in new directions, while hewing to the old magic.

#9. Intercourse: Rule 36: Intercourse have been around, and have been prolific, since about 2014, but this record was the first of theirs that I tumbled to. I can guarantee you that it will not be the last, and I have been enjoying trawling their back catalog for gems, which are in plentiful supply. The Connecticut-based quartet offer a truly slamming guitar-bass-drum-voice approach, with singer Tarek Ahmed being one of those over-the-top front-man masterminds who crafts weirdly detailed and disturbing lyrics, and then shouts them like nobody’s business, while his band-mates grind out heinously brutal riffs behind him. The obvious comparison here would be to David Yow and The Jesus Lizard, and I offer that as fine praise, while also noting that Intercourse are unquestionably originals, and not mere imitators. A head punch when you need it.

#8. Jed Davis: 2021: I’ve been writing and ranting about Jed Davis here and elsewhere since the mid-1990s, most recently reporting on the series of “Three Packs” that he had launched early in 2021. Jed has continued that series throughout the year, and I’m tickled that he is releasing a compilation of those cuts as a single album bearing the name of this most, uhhh, “interesting” of years. (I got an advance copy, but you should be able to get it soon, too). The consolidated album isn’t a traditional “Greatest Hits” collection, but it does offer a fascinating chronicle of his superb musical adventures back to the early 1990s, with a stellar array of players including Tony Levin, Anton Fig, Chuck Rainey, and Jerry Marotta, among many others. Jed also earned copious plaudits for his work with Juliana Hatfield on her Blood release. 2021: It’s Jed Time!

#7. Mammoth WVH: Mammoth WVH: A confession: I loved Van Halen during their original David Lee Roth era, and being a guy who pays too much attention to the “wrong” members of bands, I was really into bassist-vocalist Michael Anthony. So when Roth returned late in the group’s run, I was happy, but then disappointed to learn that Anthony was replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, which felt like some sort of sad nepotism deal. After Eddie’s death, and with this, Wolf’s debut album out, I must admit that I was woefully wrong. Wolfgang is an incredibly talented musician, writing, singing and playing every note on this exceptional album. I love it, dearly, and apologize for any prior sniffiness on my part about him. Plus, “Distance,” his song about his Dad’s death, made my eyes admittedly misty. And that takes some doing, hard nut that I am.

#6. Paul Leary: Born Stupid: I claimed Butthole Surfers as my favorite band for a longer period of time than any other artist over the years, and I’ve long been on the record as holding their guitarist, Paul Leary, as one of my three all-time favorites, along with Robert Fripp and David Gilmour. The Surfers imploded, alas, around the dawn of the 2000s, by which time Leary had emerged as a big-time record producer. There was some social media buzz a few years back that the Surfers were reuniting to record a new disc, but it’s not (yet?) seen light of day. Thankfully, Leary finally released his own second studio album, and it’s as weird and wonderful as I ever could have hoped for, with crazy new songs and complete revisits of a few classics from his catalog, including his own overdue version of his oft-covered “The Adventures of Pee Pee The Sailor.”

#5. Mexican Institute of Sound: Distrito Federal: Mexican Institute of Sound is a long-running electronic/dance project helmed by Camilo Lara. After a few years of quiet, MIS re-emerged early this year with an utterly brilliant remix of Run The Jewels’ “Ooh La La,” taking that fine cut from my 2020 Album of the Year and making it utterly transcendent. Had Lara and company done nothing else, I’d have chalked up 2021 as a good year for them, but then along comes the full-length Distrito Federal, which made this one of their very best years ever. With bumping production support from Dan the Automator, MIS kick out the jams with ten cuts merging modern hip-hop/dance cadences with the soul-heavy, butt-wiggling grooves of Mexico’s native Mariachi, Norteño, and Banda traditions, with a bit of Cumbia tossed in for good measure. Viva!

#4. Les Conches Velasques: Celebración Del Trance Profano: The second Spanish-language album in my Top Five of the year is a product of that tongue’s motherland, with Les Conches Velasques hailing from Zaragoza. The group melds a modern electric-guitar based approach with rhythms and lyrics culled from their home country’s deep cultural traditions, coming across on some plane like an unholy merger of, say, The Fall’s spiky earlier incarnations and a seasoned flamenco ensemble. The resulting music is deeply fascinating, with angular structures seeming right on the cusp of flying apart as they careen forward, becoming all the more remarkable for holding together and resolving their structural conflicts. A truly unique testament to ways in which incongruous familiar elements can be blended into tasty magical freshness.

#3. Micky Dolenz: Dolenz Sings Nesmith: I was super excited when I read about this album before its release, being a big fan of The Monkees as a group (they all sang, but Micky’s is the voice I hear in my head when I think about them) and of Mike Nesmith as a woefully under-appreciated songwriter. We’d had the chance to see Nesmith live a few years back playing a collection of songs from his brilliant First National Band days in the 1970s, and his stellar stage ensemble was headed by his son, Christian, who produced this new collaboration. Such “looks good on paper” anticipation often results in disappointment, but in this case, the final release was even better than I was expecting, with gorgeous arrangements making the Mike and Micky partnership ever more impressive. Our first post-COVID concert was seeing the pair (with Christian Nesmith leading their fabulous band) in Phoenix. While I think Mike’s touring days are likely coming to an end, with him having wrestled with serious health issues in recent years, Micky’s voice remained a thing of wonder, so I will eagerly see him live again when I can, and eagerly look forward to his next record. There’ a bunch more great Nesmith songs out there, so I’m totally game for Dolenz Sings Nesmith 2.

#2. Arab Strap: As Days Get Dark: Scotland’s Arab Strap (a duo of Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton) were critical darlings (well, among critics who paid attention to such music anyway) for much of the late 1990s and early 2000s, impressing scribblers and punters alike with their sordidly observational lyrics, fine melodic sense, and eclectic arranging skills. The pair went their separate ways in 2006, and that seemed to be that, for a long, long time. Then in September 2020, deep in the Anno Virum, the quietly-reunited Arab Strap issued a single called “The Turning of Our Bones,” which was a spectacular addition to their already impressive catalog. It got even better in early 2021, with the release of As Days Get Dark, their first new album in 16 years, and I would argue the finest thing they’ve ever offered. As with the Dolenz-Nesmith record above, long anticipation can often produce disappointing results, or (worse) can result in critics and fans gushing fondly over inferior work, so desperate are they to not push their returned heroes back into obscurity. Neither were the case here, as all eleven of these new songs (including “The Turning of Our Bones”) are scintillating gems, easy to access on first listen, but rugged enough to stick and grow over the long horizon.

2021 ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg: There was a time when the lion’s share of artists featured in my annual “Best Of” reports would have done what they did within a then-nearly-ubiquitous and certainly-standard vocals-guitar-bass-drums line-up. But as I look at the 30 albums that moved me most in 2021, only five of my featured artists produced the bulk of that work within that idiom. I guess, on some plane, I’ve come to be bored by it, and to find it challenging to identify artists who can do something fresh and new within that stock approach to music-making.

Well, as it turns out, Dry Cleaning are a band, or maybe the band, who can and did produce something magical from the within that basic rock and roll infrastructure, blowing my mind in the process. The instrumental elements of their most fine debut album are written and played by guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard, and drummer Nick Buxton, and they are just dynamite at what they do. Their unique takes on the standard tools of rock and roll evoke the legendary likes of Wire, Joy Division, Magazine, Buzzcocks, Pylon and others of that post-punk, indie ilk who have pressed against the boundaries of their idioms, rather than being molded by them into a conformist blob.

Vocalist-lyricist Florence Shaw adds some special secret sauce to the mix, offering a conversational, deadpan, Sprechstimme approach to her superbly surreal and incongruous words, which are baffling and engaging in equal measure, accessible enough to grasp on first spin, but deep enough to reward many continued listens. (Or watches, if you’re more visually stimulated). I’ve probably played this album more than any other in 2021 (Arab Strap could be a possible contender for that title, but just because it came out so much earlier), and I still find myself pausing what I’m doing when Dry Cleaning songs come on the stereo, thinking “Wait, did she just say what I think she said? And does it mean what I think it meant? Better go hit ‘repeat’ to hear it again and make sure!”

New Long Leg is truly a worthy addition to my own personal pantheon of annual greatness, as it offers interest and engagement on so many levels, and it forges a brilliantly fresh path through a mostly-overgrown and weedy forest of similarly-configured bands, who are not and will never be as good at what they do as Dry Cleaning are at their own calling. Bravo and Brava to all involved, and I eagerly await what the future holds for this most impressive band, who I’d not even heard of when I did this report a year ago. That’s good, from where I sit. Always happy to gain new beloved artists, each and every year, world without end, Amen.

2020: Year in Review

Remember 2016? There was a lot of “Worst Year Ever” chatter as it wound to its close, four years ago this month. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Maurice White, Muhammad Ali, Bernie Worrell, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and so many other “big” names that year. We also elected President Bonespurs Tinyhands, made Brexit a sick and sad reality, watched global climate change unfold in tragic ways in real time, experienced a devastating number and impact of mass shootings, and suffered the extreme right-wing media giddily expanding its reach and impact in the aftermath of international fellow-traveler efforts to sabotage our already-sickened democracy through the infectious cesspools of social media.

It all seemed utterly dreadful at the time, and it certainly felt wonderful to wish it all good riddance come January 1, 2017. But then 2020 arrived, said “Hold My Beer,” and made 2016 look like a veritable paradise of goodness and justice and equity in comparison to the horrors that the past 12 months have heaped upon us, domestically and around the globe. If you want or need concise hot takes on why 2020 was such an ass-end of a year, I’m sure you can find plenty of them in the newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, televisions shows or social media feeds of your choice. I generally try to avoid such wallows, and I doubt that I can add anything worthwhile to that bewildering stream of chatter, so I’m not even going to bother to try. Suffice to say that 2020 was a truly shitty year on a truly macro basis for an immense number of people, and that my normal website year-end report (which follows) is offered as a diversion for the record, not as a summary of recent horrors.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2019, I posted 70 articles on this website, noting 12 months ago that “as satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the upcoming year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020.” Well, surprise, surprise, 2020 didn’t quite go the way I planned it, and I ended up writing 147 posts, the most I’ve done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did the cancellation of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Interestingly, other folks being similarly isolated seemed to have an impact on readership here, per the following trend analysis of 2014-2020 website hits and visitors (actual numbers edited out, as it’s tacky to share them; the trend line is what matters):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts. Since consolidating everything here in 2015, our Anno Virum has clearly been the most successful year in terms of readership numbers. It is nice to think that perhaps I helped some folks distract themselves, even if just briefly, from the day-to-day awfulness that 2020 has inflicted upon us. I suppose at some point I should consider trying to monetize that. Though I know from experience that turning fun/hobby undertakings into work/income ones that way usually never plays out as happily as one might expect it to.

As I report each year, here are the dozen most-read articles among the 147 new posts here in 2020:

And then here are the dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2020. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on an early version of this blog. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). And once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2020.

TRAVEL:

See this earlier post: The Roads Not Taken.

RECORDINGS:

See these two earlier posts: Best Albums of 2020 and Most Played Songs of 2020.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Yeah, right. That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2020.

FILMS:

See this earlier post: Best Films of 2020.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to our brave post-Trumpian world, hopefully one that is anchored in science, justice and truth, all of which we will enjoy from our new homestead in Arizona. At least until travel is safe(r) again, anyway. I assume that I will be back here at my desk in December 2021 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

Ho Ho Humbug Us, Every One!

Best Albums of 2020

After The Fact Note: Three late-in-the-year additions to the list below are discussed here.

Given the pending holiday season, efforts associated with moving into a new house over the next few weeks, and the fact that I’m not able to readily download and spin new music right now due to technical transitions, I deem it timely for me to post my 2020 Albums of the Year Report. This edition marks the 29th consecutive year that I’ve publicly published such an annual report in either traditional print or digital formats, so it’s a venerable personal tradition at this juncture in my life.

I usually post the report in late November or early December, figuring that I need to live with an album for a month, at least, before I declare it among the best things I heard over the course of a year. I then do an update or supplement in January if I feel like I need to add anything truly notable that slipped in after that. This is a little bit earlier than my usual annual article accordingly, but the list is not likely to change in the next two weeks, so it feels safe and apt to post it now.

To provide some perspective on the choices I’ve made over the years, here is the complete reckoning of my published Albums of the Year from 1992 to 2019. (I had yearly favorites before then, obviously, I just didn’t hang them out for others to look at). I don’t quite know what I was thinking in some years, retrospectively, but I made my choices in public and I stick with them as a point of principle:

  • 1992: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream
  • 1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
  • 1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese
  • 1995: Björk, Post
  • 1996: R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi
  • 1997: Geraldine Fibbers, Butch
  • 1998: Jarboe, Anhedoniac
  • 1999: Static-X, Wisconsin Death Trip
  • 2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya
  • 2001: Björk, Vespertine
  • 2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone
  • 2003: Wire, Send
  • 2004: The Fall, The Real New Fall LP (Formerly “Country on the Click”)
  • 2005: Mindless Self Indulgence, You’ll Rebel to Anything
  • 2006: Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
  • 2007: Max Eider, III: Back in the Bedroom
  • 2008: Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
  • 2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic
  • 2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics
  • 2011: Planningtorock, W
  • 2012: Goat, World Music
  • 2013: David Bowie, The Next Day
  • 2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
  • 2015: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock
  • 2016: David Bowie, Blackstar
  • 2017: Dälek, Endangered Philosophies
  • 2018: First Aid Kit, Ruins
  • 2019: Lingua Ignota, Caligula

As I normally do when I post “best of” lists like this one, I make two notes up front before getting to the good stuff. First, this is all subjective, and it’s all my opinion. But of course it is. If music criticism were objective, we’d all end up with one mutually-agreed upon list at year’s end, and what would be the fun in that? Second, I can only rank and review what I actually hear in a given year, so that’s limited by (a) what I like to listen to, and (b) what I actually acquire to spin. So I’m sorry if I missed your favorite traditional Cape Verdean skronk-jazz-style tabanka album recorded entirely on 19th Century double-reed woodwinds, though I’ll happily read about it on your own list, and would likely enjoy hearing it. Please feel free to share that list with me after you post it, and you really don’t need to add a “Dude, you suck” preamble to it because I neglected your niche. It wasn’t personal. Honest.

With that behind us, let’s get to the final countdown, from my #32 Album to my #1 Album of the Year for 2020. (Why 32 albums? That was just in case I decided to do this thing head-to-head, knock-out tournament style, but the ranking and writing came quickly and naturally this year, and that paired approach ended up not being necessary, though I kept the list I’d developed for it). You might want to buckle up for the wild ride ahead. There’s going to be a lot of abrupt and juddering swings back and forth between various genres, styles, and techniques, some calm, some extreme, some inspirational, some soul-crushing, some wobbling at the very cusp of explainability. But that’s what makes for a memorable journey, right? I certainly think so.

(After the fact note: Here are three additional albums that slipped in after I wrote this original piece, so are not discussed below, but deserve to be considered among the best of 2020).

#32. Dark Sky Burial, De Omnibus Dubitandum Est: Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury is one of the busiest men in rock, and it’s a rare year that he doesn’t appear on multiple hard metal albums. This record, though, is a bit of a departure for him: working with longtime Napalm producer Russ Russell, Dark Sky Burial finds Embury mining evocative ambient and electronic lodes, turning up plentiful cool gems in the process.

#31. Sightless Pit, Grave of a Dog: Kristin Hayter won my 2019 Album of the Year title under her Lingua Ignota nom de rock for her soul-crushing Caligula. Lee Buford placed high on my 2016 and 2018 lists for his work with The Body. Hayter, Buford and Dylan Walker (Full of Hell) teamed up for Sightless Pit’s debut disc this year, and their work is potent and powerful, an electro-organic scream from the depths of musical darkness.

#30: X, Alphabetland: The first concert Marcia and I saw after moving to Chicago was by X, with founders Exene Cervenka, John Doe and D.J. Bonebreak playing with a guest guitarist, as Billy Zoom was in treatment for cancer. It was a fun show, though it felt a bit like a nostalgia review. That makes the great Alphabetland, with Zoom back, a truly special treat, 35 years since the SoCal punk pioneers last released new tunes together.

#29: Wire, 10:20: Wire have appeared on lots of my year-end lists. I thought their streak was over after January’s Mind Hive, the first Wire record since 1990’s Manscape to leave me cold. But then came 10:20 in June, and it did the job for me. Like some prior great Wire records (e.g. IBTABA, The Drill), this one takes old studio songs, then reinvents them around live arrangements. A nice blend of the strange and the familiar.

#28. Duma, Duma: The first of several African releases on this year’s list, Duma are a duo from Nairobi, Kenya; their name means “Darkness” in Kikuyu. Their self-titled debut is a brutal slab of electronic noise, trans-metal riffery, and monstrous, guttural, and/or choked vocals. It’s ugly music, beautifully rendered. Duma also win the prize for best album cover photo of the year, a true gut-punch classic. Click the link to see it.

#27. Metal Preyers, Metal Preyers: As with Duma above, Metal Preyers was issued by Nyege Nyege Tapes, “a Kampala-based label exploring, producing and releasing outsider music from around the region” (per their website). This multi-national collaboration brings noise mavens from London, Chicago and Uganda together to crush skulls and take names later, using both electronic and organic sonic tools.

#26. The Residents, Metal, Meat & Bone: The Songs of Dyin’ Dog: This is the first Residents project since the death of Hardy Fox, who was officially just part of their management company, but was in reality also their primary composer. Props to the remaining crew and new recruits for holding up the side with this collection of dark songs allegedly first recorded by lost albino bluesman Alvin “Dyin’ Dog” Snow. Uh huh.

#25. Hazel English, Wake UP!: Smart art-pop with gorgeous arrangements from a native Australian now working in California. My Best Albums lists for the past two years have prominently featured a variety of up-and-coming female solo artists offering nominally similar fare (e.g. Alice Merton, Sasami, Caroline Rose, etc.), but I didn’t find as much to love in that vein in 2020, alas. It’s probably me, not you.

#24. Hailu Mergia, Yene Mircha: Hailu Mergia was the keyboardist and composer for the Walias, arguably the greatest instrumental jazz-funk band in Ethiopia in the ’70s. Mergia fled his home country’s repressive Derg regime in 1981, working as a cab-driver in Washington, DC for decades. In 2018, he re-emerged with the stellar Lala Belu, and two years later, Yene Mircha continues his late-career hot streak. Lucky us!

#23: Petbrick and Deafkids, Deafbrick: This disc is a fascinating and pummeling collaboration between Brazil’s Deafkids (featuring founding Septultura drummer Iggor Cavalera) and England’s Petbrick. Deafbrick runs a sonic gamut from pummeling tribal to pummeling electronica, with some surprisingly melodic earworms embedded atop the beats as shiny icing on the noisy, dirty cake. Play loud. It helps with the pummeling.

#22. Einstürzende Neubauten, Alles In Allem: This is the German industrial pioneers’ first major studio project since 2014’s World War I Centennial inspired Lament. While their signature metal-work percussion and shrieking vocals from front-man Blixa Bargeld feature regularly in the mix, they’re deployed in some of the most beautiful, melodic music in the group’s long, inspirational career. A truly welcome return.

#21. Midnight Oil, The Makarrata Project: Sadly, I only learned of this album after reading that Midnight Oil bassist Bones Hillman (also ex-The Swingers) had died of cancer. His final work was brilliant, as the Oils re-emerged from long semi-retirement with a fine album dedicated to celebrating indigenous Australian culture, alongside a great cast of collaborators. Inspirational fare from a band of truly good, decent people.

#20. AC/DC, Power Up: Australia again! After the wheels seemed to have finally fallen off the Acca Dacca machine a few years back, the post-1980 classic line-up of Angus Young, Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd, with Stevie Young depping for his late uncle Malcolm, unexpectedly re-united to release their best work since 1990’s The Razor’s Edge. They do what they do, and they do it well. Rock on! And on and on!

#19. Bongeziwe Mabandla, iimini: This is one of the most beautiful records I heard this year, by a South African singer-songwriter blessed with a perfectly pure near-counter-tenor voice, and great skill with lean, natural arrangements that deploy ambient background sounds as a key mix element. The lyrics are mostly in Xhosa, but the soulful sentiments expressed transcend language, so very moving are the emotions expressed.

#18. Hyperlacrimae, Yoga Darśana: I’m realizing as I write this that there are a lot of noisy duos in this year’s roster of greatness, with Hyperlacrimae representing that idiom from their home country of Italy. This one is very beat-heavy, with some killer tribal vibes, vaguely Mediterranean to Middle Eastern filigree, and world-weary English vocals buried deep in the mix, deftly drawing you into their dark fugue fatigue.

#17. Mowgan, Soya LP: Mowgan is a French producer who has specialized in recent years by infusing his house music affinities with authentic African artistry and instrumentation. His primary collaborator on this disc is Solo Sanou, a percussionist from Burkina Faso who lives and works in Toulouse. The fruits of their collaboration are joyful and juicy, uplifting the spirit while making the hips swivel of their own accord.

#16. Rymden, Space Sailors: Magnus Öström (drums) and Dan Berglund (bass) were the rhythm section for the highly-acclaimed Esbjörn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) until the tragic scuba-diving death of keyboardist Svensson in 2008. Rymden has the duo working with Norwegian keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft on a wild, genre-bending disc, anchored in the e.s.t. legacy, but then stretching its chains to their breaking points and beyond.

#15. Gordon Koang, Unity: This is Gordon Koang’s 11th full-length album, but the first since fleeing his South Sudan home in 2013, seeking asylum in Australia. Koang’s official bio opens by noting that the artist, blind since birth, is “a fountain of warmth and joy,” and that’s quite obvious in his music and lyrics. Koang is also a master of the thom, a traditional stringed instrument of the Nuer people. Very unique. Very cool.

#14. Rose City Band, Summerlong: As I write this blurb, I realize that I know absolutely nothing about this band. I saw a review of the album, sampled and loved it, play it all the time, but never went back to see who, exactly, created this beautiful blend of Flying Burrito Brothers and late-Velvet Underground flavored music. So, who is it? Huh! Turns out to be Ripley Johnson of psych-freaks Wooden Shjips! Didn’t expect that!

#13. Pottery, Welcome To Bobby’s Motel: Pottery are a Canadian quintet, but they’ve somehow made one of the most oddly USA-feeling albums I’ve heard in ages, magically blending Tejano tall tales, Talking Heads-type surrealist funk, and Devo-deconstructed angularity, with dashes of Memphis and Philly Soul atop the pile, like salsa and sour cream. This video was my intro to their wild and wonderful world. See what I mean?

#12. Public Enemy, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?: As with AC/DC above, it seemed like Public Enemy had lurched into oblivion a couple of years ago, making both acts’ returns delightfully surprising. Also similar: this is a killer album, I’d say PE’s finest since Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Black. 2020 has been such a shit year, so it’s truly great to have Chuck, Flav and crew back when we need them most.

#11. Childish Gambino, 3.15.20: Donald Glover is a stone-cold creative genius, and I will eagerly investigate anything he makes, in any of the idioms within which he works. We saw what was billed as a farewell tour for his Childish Gambino persona in 2019, so I was as surprised as anyone when a new album under that name emerged in 2020. Even better: I’d say this is his most completely rewarding record yet, every track a gem.

#10. Shriekback, Some Kinds of Light: Shriekback’s 15th album may technically be a very, very late 2019 release, but it didn’t reach the States until January 2020, so I’m counting it. Core members Barry Andrews, Carl Marsh and Martyn Barker have made their most organic album in ages, filled with strong playing, brilliantly weird lyrics, and ear-worm hooks to die for. Best since their legendary Oil and Gold (1985), I’d say.

#9. Sparks, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip: It sort of boggles the mind to consider just how long and prolifically Ron and Russell Mael have been pursuing their weird pop visions: they debuted in 1971, and this is their 25th studio release. Luckily for us, they’ve experienced a grand creative surge of late, and this album is one of their finest, offering the usual wry songs and stories, plus some great pokes into trenchant, topical themes.

#8. Moses Sumney, Grӕ: Moses Sumney immigrated to California from Ghana, and quickly earned a name (circa 2013) around Los Angeles, where various execs wanted to pigeon-hole him as a stereotypical “hottie” R&B singer. He was having none of that, and relocated to North Carolina to write this brilliant double-album of “experimental soul.” Sumney’s the real deal, and this disc proves the acumen of his creative career choices.

#7. Sepultura, Quadra: This is the best record of Sepultura’s Derrick Green era, and arguably the best thing they have done since the unbeatable Roots (1996). Quadra is framed in four sections, exploring various facets of the group’s sound, but it feels seamless and perfect. While some may pine for a “classic lineup” reunion, having Sepultura, Soulfly and Deafkids making great music in parallel seems like a win to me.

#6. Myrkur, Folkesange: Denmark’s Amalie Bruun is an accomplished singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who has released music under her own name, with the band Ex-Cops, and as Myrkur. The self-professed “black metal girl” eschews her heavier stylings on Folkesange, which is dedicated to traditional Scandinavian music and acoustic originals. It is haunting and beautiful, however you label it. Especially “Vinter.”

A Brief Note Before the Top of the Pile: Over the course of the year, the remaining five albums were ones that I seriously considered as Album of the Year candidates at various times and for various reasons. In some years, the top of the pile is an obvious choice. Take 2016, for example, when David Bowie issued an amazing album in January, then passed away. For all intents and purposes, that year’s contest was over by February. In other years, though, it’s a tough choice between many contenders. Last year was like that, and when faced with such decisions, I tend to consider how an Album of the Year fits within the spirit of the age in which it was released. So with 2019 having been the year of the #MeToo movement, Lingua Ignota’s Caligula, anchored as it was in Kristin Hayter’s experiences with sexual discrimination and abuse, took the top spot ahead of a large list of other possible contenders. It just fit the times best, and that felt right and good. Viewing my 2020 finalists through such a lens, I emerged with two particularly strong contenders, then selected the one that felt like it spoke the greatest current truth through the most accomplished creative acts. Again, it feels right and good. Here’s how it falls out . . .

#5. Napalm Death, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism: Napalm Death have had a tough run since 2015’s epic Apex Predator — Easy Meat. Long-time guitarist-singer Mitch Harris left active service, Shane Embury (mentioned above) missed a tour, and singer Mark “Barney” Greenway noted difficulties in writing and recording his vocals. That made the gap between albums the longest of their career, but as it turns out, it was all worth the wait and worry. Harris appears on Throes of Joy, but Embury went into multi-man mode anyway, offering bass, percussion, guitar and vocals, all brilliantly. Stalwart producer Russ Russell works his usual magic here, making everything sound powerful throughout, and Danny Herrera is thunderous as ever on the drums. “Amoral” is one of their best songs, and surprisingly accessible. Try it! At the opposite end of the spectrum, “A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen” is horrific and heart-breaking, a perfect example of how Napalm make the political personal, to everybody’s benefit.

#4. Etuk Ubong, Africa Today: Etuk Ubong is a Nigerian trumpeter, composer, singer and band-leader, offering an eclectic blend of Afrobeat, jazz, highlife and ritual drumming he calls “Earth Music.” Africa Today features six of his compositions recorded live in the studio with an 11-person band of players from Nigeria, the UK, and the Netherlands. The music is fiery, rhythmic and melodic, each song built around killer grooves that never wear out their welcomes. The lyrics are also incredible, offering a “you are there” peek at the troubles and travails of common folk in Nigeria and beyond, as their leaders engage in grift, racism, oppression, mismanagement and corporate cronyism. Hmm. Wonder why that resonates here? Comparisons to the legendary Fela Kuti are inevitable, given the styles offered and topics addressed, but Etuk Ubong more than holds his own, sounding fresh, not derivative, offering his own takes on the sadly intractable problems that seem to plague his nation. And equally sadly, ours.

#3. Theophilus London, Bebey: Theophilus London is a native Trinidadian who now lives and works in New York. Bebey is his third full-length album, released six years after his sophomore disc, Vibes. Around our household, this album played more than any other in 2020, getting placed on our various music-playing devices in January, and never leaving, as we never grew tired of any of it. Unlike my other four finalists this year, the politics of Bebey are mostly interpersonal, not international, with fresh jam after fresh jam raising the spirits and singalong voices, as toes tap, and hips wiggle. London self-released his latest album, and he’s filled it with just glorious, warm, engaging songs that evoke the sunniness of his native island, both thematically and musically. Guest appearances from Raekwon, Tame Impala, Ariel Pink, Lil Yachty and others add value in every case, rather than just feeling like promo verses tacked on by marketeers. In a dark year, this bright, fun record made us feel good. That’s enough.

#2. Snog, Lullabies for the Lithium Age: Snog’s David Thrussell is a conceptualist. As with The Residents (see entry above), most of his albums are released with narrative framing explanations, which often get picked up and reported by less skeptical media outlets as fact, even though they rarely are. Some notable earlier Thrussell releases have found him claiming to have written an album while living on a diet of human flesh, or having gone through gender transition, or while working on commission for the NXIVM cult. This one finds Thrussell (allegedly) working with a famed psychotherapist after six years of semi-retirement, including one year in a near-catatonic state. Take all that for what it’s worth, then listen to the music, which sounds pretty much exactly like what you would expect from an artist after such an experience, “real” or not. The senses of anomie, ennui, acedia, nihilism and despair that these times beat into us deserve a soundtrack, and David Thrussell has delivered it, with finesse and flair.

#1, THE ALBUM OF THE YEAR FOR 2020: Run the Jewels, RTJ4: George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, the video recording of his cruel and needless death sparking massive national outrage and protests. Run the Jewels issued their fourth album just over a week later, and its lyrical content and music could not have been better planned or more attuned to soundtrack the cultural convulsions of the Summer of 2020. That’s actually a sad testament to the pervasive nature of the concerns raised in Minneapolis and elsewhere, since obviously Killer Mike and El-P didn’t write this album specifically about the George Floyd killing, but the details and stories and backdrops and backgrounds that they did evoke and invoke nailed it to a T. The recurring themes of social injustice and political inequity are presented with genius-level insight and creativity, delivered via crazy rhymes, flows, toasts and stories, atop some of the finest beats and rhythms to ever grace a hip-hop inflected album. Toss in ace cameos from the likes of Mavis Staples, Zack de la Rocha, Pharrell Williams, Josh Homme and others, and you just kick things another few branches up the brilliance tree. RTJ4 is an objectively fine album that could have been a contender for Album of the Year whenever it had been released, but for 2020, it moves beyond contender and into champion stature, so perfect is it for its time, place, and audience. When great music speaks great truth, people listen. Maybe not enough people to change things, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and with a soundtrack like this one, people are going to want to march along, hopefully toward a better place. Well done, them. A worthy new entry in my long list of Albums of the Year.

My Top 200 Albums Of All Time (2020 Update)

Click Here For the 2021 Update to the Big List

Teenbeat: Best Albums of 2010-2019

We’re in a new decade this month, unless you’re one of those “Well, actually . . . ” types who wants to mansplain (and if you are making this argument, then I know that you are a man) that 2021 is the real beginning of the 2020s. I get the logic behind that argument, I guess, but I still refute the conclusion that we have to wait another twelve months to celebrate the Teens, and all the art and culture produced within that span.

Me being a music geek, the new decade (hush, I heard you the first time!) means that I feel compelled to go back through my various lists and libraries to look at the very best albums issued between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019. And then, of course, I also feel compelled to share that list with you, dear readers.

I present my “Top 100 Albums of the Teens” below, alphabetically, accordingly. I welcome your own additions, reactions and reflections, as always. And if you do not know where the title of this post came from, then check out tracks two and four at this link. Brilliance from the ’70s. Which ran from January 1, 1970 to December 31, 1979, just for the record. Stop being difficult!

  1. AC/DC, Rock or Bust (2014)
  2. Ian Anderson, Homo Erraticus (2014)
  3. Asia, XXX (2012)
  4. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone (2015)
  5. Karl Bartos, Off The Record (2013)
  6. Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit (2014)
  7. Aloe Blacc, Good Things (2010)
  8. Black Midi, Schlagenheim (2019)
  9. The Body, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer (2018)
  10. David Bowie, Blackstar (2016)
  11. David Bowie, The Next Day (2013)
  12. Action Bronson, Wonderful (2015)
  13. Buggy Jive, The Buggy Jive Mixtape (2018)
  14. Buggy Jive, The B-Side (2019)
  15. Camp Lo, Ragtime Hightimes (2015)
  16. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book (2016)
  17. Clutch, Psychic Warfare (2015)
  18. Clutch, The Book of Bad Decisions (2018)
  19. The Coup, Sorry To Bother You (2012)
  20. The Coup, Sorry To Bother You: The Soundtrack (2018)
  21. Dälek, Endangered Philosophies (2017)
  22. Jed Davis, Small Sacrifices Must Be Made (2012)
  23. Jed Davis, In The Presence of Presents, Vol. 3 (2017)
  24. Death Grips, Exmilitary (2011)
  25. Death Grips, Government Plates (2013)
  26. Devo, Something for Everybody (2010)
  27. Snoop Dogg, BUSH (2015)
  28. Doyle, Abominator (2013)
  29. Judy Dyble and Andy Lewis, Summer Dancing (2017)
  30. Einstürzende Neubauten, Lament (2014)
  31. Jad Fair and Kramer, The History of Crying (2017)
  32. The Fall, New Facts Emerge (2017)
  33. The Fall, Re-Mit (2013)
  34. The Fall, Sublingual Tablet (2015)
  35. First Aid Kit, Ruins (2018)
  36. First Aid Kit, Stay Gold (2014)
  37. FREEMAN, FREEMAN (2014)
  38. Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (2010)
  39. Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People (2015)
  40. Future Islands, In Evening Air (2010)
  41. Gangrene, Vodka and Ayahuasca (2012)
  42. Gangrene, You Disgust Me (2015)
  43. David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock (2015)
  44. Girlpool, Before The World Was Big (2015)
  45. Goat, World Music (2012)
  46. Godflesh, A World Lit Only By Fire (2014)
  47. Godflesh, Post Self (2017)
  48. Golden Suits, Kubla Khan (2016)
  49. Here We Go Magic, A Different Ship (2012)
  50. Holly Herndon, PROTO (2019)
  51. HOGG, SELF-EXTINGUISHING EMISSION (2018)
  52. Idles, Brutalism (2017)
  53. Idles, Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018)
  54. Imperial Wax, Gastwerk Saboteurs (2019)
  55. Japanther, Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart (2013)
  56. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth (2018)
  57. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, Jesu/Sun Kil Moon (2016)
  58. King Crimson, Live in Chicago (2017)
  59. King Crimson, Meltdown: Live In Mexico City (2018)
  60. KOKOKO!, Fongola (2019)
  61. Korn, The Paradigm Shift (2013)
  62. Lingua Ignota, Caligula (2019)
  63. Malibu Ken, Malibu Ken (2019)
  64. Paul McCartney, Egypt Station (2018)
  65. Melvins, Hold It In (2014)
  66. Hailu Mergia, Lala Belu (2018)
  67. Alice Merton, Mint (2019)
  68. The Monkees, Good Times! (2016)
  69. Moses Hightower, Önnur Mósebók (2012)
  70. Napalm Death, Apex Predator – Easy Meat (2015)
  71. Napalm Death, Utilitarian (2012)
  72. No Age, An Object (2013)
  73. Pere Ubu, 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (2017)
  74. Kate Pierson, Guitars and Microphones (2015)
  75. Planningtorock, W (2011)
  76. Public Image Ltd., This Is PiL (2012)
  77. Public Service Broadcasting, The Race for Space (2015)
  78. The Residents, Intruders (2018)
  79. The Residents, The Ghost of Hope (2018)
  80. Jonathan Richman, Ishkode! Ishkode! (2016)
  81. Caroline Rose, LONER (2018)
  82. School of Seven Bells, SVIIB (2016)
  83. Snog, Last of the Great Romantics (2010)
  84. Soulfly, Ritual (2018)
  85. Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld, Nerissimo (2016)
  86. Thighpaulsandra, The Golden Communion (2015)
  87. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, Surf (2015)
  88. Uriah Heep, Living the Dream (2018)
  89. Alan Vega, IT (2017)
  90. Tom Vek, Luck (2014)
  91. Vulkano, Peach Punch (2017)
  92. Vulkano, Iridescence (2015)
  93. The Weasels, AARP Go the Weasels (2013)
  94. The Weasels, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (2018)
  95. White Denim, Performance (2018)
  96. Wire, Change Becomes Us (2013)
  97. Wire, Nocturnal Koreans (2016)
  98. Wire, Silver/Lead (2017)
  99. Xiu Xiu, Angel Guts: Red Classroom (2014)
  100. Xiu Xiu, Girl With Basket of Fruit (2019)

If you like the hard stuff, then this one is a viable “Album Of The Decade” for you.