Good morning everyone! And happy Thursday!
We’re finally nearing the end of this trash can fire of a year we call 2020. And not a moment too soon.
But this also means that it is that time of year. You know which I mean. The time of the year that music writers and hack bloggers, like myself, try to come up with their lists ranking the best that the year had to offer. Many end of the year lists have already started popping up, some even as early as the end of October. I don’t blame these eager beavers for trying to rush the end of this year but I wasn’t one of those. I wanted to keep my list open, in case something brilliant was released in November* or I found an album released earlier in the year that I had missed. And it’s a good thing I did too because one album in particular came out of nowhere and snuck itself into the number nine spot just before I started writing this post.
This will mark my fourth year running doing end of year lists for this blog so I’ve pretty much got this process down to an art. Like last year, I decided to wrap things up with a final post on my favourite album on the final day of the year, and so to do that, Thursdays became the day of the week of choice for this series. As always, I am starting things off with an ‘honourable mentions’ post, this post, listing out albums 10 through 6, and will countdown my favourite five albums, one each week, for the next five.
Of course, I’ve cheated a bit with my photo at the top of this post. You may note that it shows three additional albums from 2020. These are albums in my vinyl collection that won’t appear in the list but bear mention nonetheless. I also featured two of these – Gateways Drugs “PSA” and The Exbats’ “Kicks, hits and fits” – in my Vinyl Love series over the last two weekends so go check those out too.
Despite (or perhaps because of) all the craziness going on this year, 2020 was another great one for new music. I had fears early on that the COVID-19 pandemic would have an impact on the ability of all our favourite musicians to continue to produce and release new music and that at some point during this year, the new releases would dry up. But this never happened. Indeed, the reverse seemed to be true and musicians everywhere seemed to become more productive and creative in the various states of lockdown we endured.
With all these excellent releases, I am sure I missed out on one or two so as we go through my own 10 favourite albums over the next month or so, I welcome your comments and thoughts and perhaps even your own top ten favourites in the comments space provided.
Let’s do this.
#10 The Strokes “The new abnormal”
Back almost twenty years ago, way back in 2001, New York City’s The Strokes released “Is this it”, an album often credited with reinvigorating indie rock and kickstarting a garage rock wave that would eventually morph into a post-punk revival. I’ve never thought they’ve been able to come close to the same energy that made that debut album so great and breathtaking but in my opinion, on “The new abnormal”, their sixth LP and first in seven years, they’ve come very, very close. The garage rock from the debut has given way to a new wave glam vibe but their knack for breathing new life into retro sounds is still very much alive. “The new abnormal” is indeed a temporary respite from these crazy times.
Gateway tune: “The adults are talking”
#9 Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
This self-titled release by Montreal-based Paul Kasner’s project, Venus Furs, is the album I mentioned above that just squeaked into this list at the last moment. Its relatively quiet launch back in July meant that I missed it until it received a positive review in one of my favourite magazines, Under the Radar, and the words there piqued my interest. Kasner’s perfectionist approach to this debut album has drawn favourable comparisons to Kevin Shields, Anton Newcombe, and Thurston Moore and yeah, listening to the eight songs on this neat package, you might catch whiffs of each. But you might also catch on to something else going on here: perhaps it’s a psych rock explosion that transcends space and time. A glass of wine, a rose, a special pipe, a lava lamp, and a jet pack to the next galaxy.
Gateway tune: “Chaos and confusion”
#8 Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
It feels to me like this indie rock/folk trio led by Conor Oberst has been around forever but I’ve never found myself able connect with their music. I’ve checked in on the albums they’ve released over the last couple of decades and even seen them live once (and maybe twice). I know Oberst has always been a strong songwriter and he has a legion of fans that swear by him but I actually think it took his collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers last year on their project, Better Oblivion Community Center, for me to truly appreciate his worth. Maybe it was leftover shiny and fuzzy feelings from that album that had me falling for this one on first listen but given the reactions to this being a smooth next step despite the nine year separation between albums, I went back and rediscovered that maybe I’ve been wrong about Bright Eyes all these years. I definitely think “Down in the weeds, where the world once was” is either an accidental stroke of genius or a planned mess of perfection. Maybe both.
Gateway tune: “Mariana trench”
#7 The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
I admit that I was a bit disappointed when I first heard this sophomore release from Auckland, New Zealand’s The Beths. It was another of those cases of expectations raised beyond reconciliation by the band’s previous release, in this case their fantastic debut, “Future me hates me“. Their blistering set that I had witnessed last year at Ottawa’s Bluesfest obviously didn’t help matters. However, I didn’t give up after the first listen and my persistence has paid dividends, allowing the album to grow on me exponentially with time. Yes. “Jump rope gazers” has a lot of the same energetic power pop that made the debut so buzz-worthy but also has Elizabeth Stokes and friends slowing things down and getting personal with equally rewarding results.
Gateway tune: “I’m not getting excited”
#6 The Rentals “Q36”
I discovered this year that I’m a Rentals fan! Sure I remember liking “Friends of P.” back in the day but never bothered to check out the rest of the debut album, 1995’s “Return of The Rentals”. Then, I heard their 2014 album, “Lost in Alphaville”, in passing and thought it enjoyable as well. But it wasn’t until I listened to the new album (too late to the party to get a copy of the self-released, super limited vinyl) that I finally woke up. I immediately went back to acquaint myself with the complete back catalogue of the project by ex-Weezer bassist, Matt Sharp, and it’s all excellent. If you’re not in know (as I wasn’t until recently), I highly recommend starting out with this retro futuristic concept album that smacks of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie called “Q36”.
Gateway tune: “Shake your diamonds”
*As it is, I feel like there might be at least one noteworthy album released in December will not get its due from all the list makers (myself included) because of its late release.
Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.