- Nathan Yoder
DC's Favorite Albums of 2020
A preface to two of DC's three 2020 roundup entries: notice that we've titled the posts "favorite" instead of "best." It's already difficult distilling a year's worth of listening down to a handful of favorite songs and albums, and then trying to slap a "best" label on one or two pieces of music feels pretty impossible. This is mostly because music appreciation is subjective, but also, like, how do you compare a longform ambient piece to a catchy pop tune? So these EOTY choices simply reflect one music enthusiast's tastes.
That being said, here is what we've landed on: 20 songs on Tuesday and 10 albums on Wednesday. The "songs" post will present favorites as scrambled in prose (because, again, ranking is hard), but the "albums" post will be ordered in a more traditional top-ten countdown. Then on Thursday, a few of final entries that didn't quite fit into those first two columns, accompanied by some end-of-the-year editorial ramblings. Some of the music you will read about and hear has appeared on this site already, but other sounds are new, so the yet-to-be-highlighted entries might get a little more attention in these posts, while others will be hyperlinked to what's already been written.
And lastly, I (Nathan here. Hi!) decided to go with honest transparency over presenting myself as above any one artist or genre. It's not a huge deal or anything, but I'd rather be genuine with my music tastes rather than cultivating some online music snob persona. That's all.
So here are DC's 10 favorite albums of 2020, from really good to REALLY good:
10. Pink Siifu - NEGRO
It's impossible to overlook this intensely chaotic, noisy, and ANGRY album released just before a summer of protests against violence perpetrated by police on Black communities. Pink Siifu delivers rap, punk, spoken word, sound collage, free jazz and everything else in what feels like an outpouring of Black rage. The slew of tracks is not easy on the ears, but it is an absolutely essential listen, especially now.
9. hakura nakamura - Still Life and Still Life II
And now for something completely different. "Still" is a pretty on-the-nose term to describe the lock-down pauses we've all endured in 2020, and these twin albums act as perfect quarantine partners. The compositions here are simple and soft, uncomplicated soundtracks to baking, reading, puzzling, or writing your representatives. As long as this pandemic drags on, music like this will be important to hold close.
8. Mat Eric Hart - Spirits & Reflections
The first album on this list to have been the subject of a previous post, you can read up on it here. Each of the five tracks feature crisp guitarwork within circular, meditative song structures. It is another record for still winter evenings.
7. Haim - Women In Music Pt. II
It was also necessary to seek joy this past year, and Haim brought it. As much as we love to uncover music tucked into the hidden corners of Bandcamp, there is absolutely a time and place for mainstream pop. Lots of times, actually. And honestly, if you don't spend a handful of your precious summer hours driving windows-down, singing along to Haim, I'm really not sure what you're doing.
6. Westerman - Your Hero Is Not Dead
The music on this Westerman album sounds so good, that the artist's debut earns a spot on this countdown for its production alone. Besides the pristine recording, a unique aesthetic comes through as well. It's hard to place. Soft rock radio? Like a different artist who throws it back to styles popularized in the late 80's/early 90's, the singer's stunning vocals occupy the forefront of each song over intricate backing melodies.
5. Hideyuki Hashimoto - breath
This was the Japanese pianist's third release of 2020, but the piece that stands out the most. It, too, has been written about already, so check it out here, but make sure to listen to it as well. It is truly an incredible hour of musical drafts, improvisations, and compositions.
4. Clem Leek - Land, Air & Sea
Three or four years ago, Clem Leek was one of a handful of artists who ushered me into the (Western) world of piano music, so here I am giving thanks. His 2020 release is fantastic, and like the album occupying the ninth spot on this list, the constructions here are short and sweet. However, as back-to-back highlights Chalk and Sea show, the composer manages to explore a good degree of sonic variation as well.
3. Ana Roxanne - Because of a Flower
This album earned a few words on our site just last month (read them here), and we haven't stopped listening since. Our love of Ana Roxanne's music seems to grow with each spin of her record, as she is perhaps the ambient/new age artist we are most drawn to these days.
2. Grace Ferguson - Voler
It was difficult to not award this album the one spot, really. Like Leo Svirsky's River Without Banks (which we loved last year), Ferguson fills her album of piano pieces with pounding maximalist sweeps, but also also spare, tender strokes. Impressively, based on studio conversations captured in between a couple of tracks, she seemed to have recorded the five songs in single takes, later adding in audio snippets. All in all, Voler plays through beautifully and will undoubtedly warrant many revisits for years to come.
1. Gia Margaret - Mia Gargaret
We loved this album when it dropped back in June, but as great pieces of music do, it grew on us even more as the year went along. Read the linked post for our complete thoughts here, but the second half of Mia Gargaret comes as close to perfection as any album can. Like the Abbey Road medley, songs bleed into each other, until the artist's voice emerges for the first time on lesson - her album's Golden Slumbers. From start to finish, it's our favorite album of 2020.
It felt unnecessary to link all ten albums above, but embedded below are numbers two and one for your convenience. Do make sure to come back tomorrow for a single, an EP, and a compilation that didn't really fit in the "songs" or albums" categories. Also, some final thoughts to close out DC's year. Happy listening!