2020 was the strangest year of my life. I transformed so much of myself – my body, my outlook, my tastes – and struggled with location, body image, mental health, employment ennui, isolation, and anxiety regarding the future, independent of the global COVID-19 pandemic. For most of the year I lived in a country with an attentive outbreak containment strategy. Daily life was so untouched that most days I forgot the world was in a state of emergency. A year ago I struggled to impart a notion of my linguistic wisdom to two dozen raucous toddlers. Today I’m wearing seven layers, seated at the kitchen table I ate off of for the first eighteen years of my life, floating by thanks to charitable government benefits. I’m happier where I am now. These are the records that guided me around the world and back while it tremored under the existential mass of COVID-19.
10. Playboi Carti – Whole Lotta Red [Interscope]
If Die Lit was a sugar rush then Whole Lotta Red is chugging Rockstar until your blood vessels palpate with venom and burst onto the carpet in a bubbling mass of adrenaline and Bram Stoker iconography. Playboi Carti silences any critic who deem him limited or infer he’s carried by producers with the most overstated rap performance of the year.
9. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters [Epic]
Fetch the Bolt Cutters rejects so much of good taste in pop with its clacking percussion and lyrics that bite beyond the bone and beyond metaphor and beyond imagery that you wish all pop music stood this distinct from any significant influence.
8. Pyrrhon – Abscess Time [Willowtip]
Capitalism imposes a web of vexation; of insecurity, inadequacy, deadlines, competition, lack of empathy, and corporate structure confusion. Pyrrhon put that frustration to tape and a violent, noisy, jazzy, unhinged, desecrated, but no less accurate emulsion grinds forth in the shape of a sausage lined with acid and filled with the guts of the pay pigs.
7. Honey Harper – Starmaker [ATO Records]
In 1973 country singer Gram Parsons deemed his music “Cosmic American Music,” and in 2018 Kacey Musgraves described her album Golden Hour as “cosmic country.” Honey Harper makes both look like bottle rocket science class experiments. Harper explores the far reaches of the stars with spacey production and eyes towards saloons lightyears away.
6. AKHLYS – Melinoë [Debemur Morti Productions]
Imagine waking in the middle of the night, your body stiff, prone in bed, with the face of Melinoë leering inches away from your nose. AKHLYS transpose that helplessness into an opulent atmospheric black metal horror show.
5. Boldy James and The Alchemist – The Price of Tea in China [ALC]
Boldy James was unmatched in quantity, quality, and work ethic throughout 2020, dropping four different projects with four different producers, but his peak was his surgical scrapbook of running drugs and bodies in Detroit framed by The Alchemist’s frigid, frail production. The Price of Tea in China is an ice bath of barebones beats and bars.
4. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville [Century Media Records]
Usually, pretension rots an album’s carcass but Imperial Triumphant thematically integrate condescension to emulate haughtiness. Using epic proportions and blistering time signatures compounded with a crushing guitar tone Imperial Triumphant place themselves on a pedestal as the regal above the filthy swine of the commoners.
3. Jerskin Fendrix – Winterreise [Untitled Recs Limited]
If you enjoyed the creaminess of 100gecs and found their occasional submergence into sincerity amidst their bass-boosted internet hedonism endearing then Winterreise is for you. Jerskin Fendrix recontextualizes 100gecs’ virality into an album more open-hearted, authentic, stranger, progressive and believable. He weaves a sentimental deconstruction of genre and irony while also never really being able to sing.
2. Hiperson – Bildungsroman [Maybe Mars]
Bildungsroman is a Springsteenian odyssey in its swelling moments of triumph. It trades out The Boss’s heartland rock and Americana for a Chinese story of self-growth in a way only Hiperson’s geography could produce. Bildungsroman is as morose as it is soaring, measuring the band’s post-punk roots against operatic Chinese folk influences.
1. Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald [Kunsthall]
Im Wald is the fruit of one man’s twenty year expedition through sonic snowscapes mining for humanity. It is the idealized vision of its genre, uncompromising in its scale, translating isolation into something tangible. 2020 felt like an endless, pounding trek through a snowstorm in the dead winter night. Im Wald – through its unrelenting fury – is 2020.