Top 10 Albums of 2020

Check out other best of the year content here.

10. Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”

A gorgeous, passionate, and solemn record that has really launched Bridgers to wide renown. I imagine it will be that way for a long time.

  1. Tame Impala “The Slow Rush”

Released to far fewer critical accolades than Tame Impala is used to, “The Slow Rush” took a while to grow on me, but Kevin Parker’s psychedelic pop creeped its way into being one of my favorites this year. 

  1. Fiona Apple “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” 

It took a late in the year revisit of this album to truly catch me. This has been heralded as the album of the year by many, Apple has created another astonishing work. From the chirping piano of the opening where she lays bare her desires for love to calling out abusive power mongers in “Newspaper”, Apple creates unique and powerful arrangements. 

7. Lil Uzi Vert “Eternal Atake” 

Lil Uzi Vert’s second full length is a jolt of energy, at times feeling messy, but he charms his way into your consciousness by maintaining a chaotic and almost puppy dog-like pace for over an hour. It’s a lot of fun. 

6. Porridge Radio “Every Bad”

A raw and passionate rock record that is filled with singer Dana Margolin’s repeated witticisms. It’s the kind of album that lends itself to shouting along with a crowd, a particularly unfortunate attribute this year, as the album was released the week of lockdowns. “Every Bad” contains Margolin’s deepest convictions and longings, the most harrowing of which comes in “Lilac” where she struggles through her failings before concluding “I don’t want to get bitter / I want us to get better / I want us to be kinder / To ourselves and to each other”, unleashing it at a near scream for the track’s final two minutes. 

  1. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats “Unlocked”

Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats’ collaboration only ranks this low because it may not actually be a full length album. Clocking in at 18 minutes across 8 tracks, some may consider this an EP, but I see it more along the lines of a punk album, both because of this length and the pure tenacity both artists produce here. It’s a perfect high octane rap record. 

4. Charlie XCX “How I’m Feeling Now”

The first notable quarantine recording, Charli XCX’s “how i’m feeling now” is filled with the sort of bottled energy you would expect from being forced to stay inside. It’s restless, with beats amped up to blow-out-your-speaker levels. 

3. The Chicks “Gaslighter”

I hadn’t really ever listened to the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks prior to this year, and the album’s first single “Gaslighter”, didn’t really win me over. But after listening to the album all the way through, I was hooked and don’t think I listened to any other album more this year. It’s an album filled with heartbreak, of moving on, and confronting those who have weighed you down in the past. It was a true comfort to me all year. 

2. Soccer Mommy “color theory”

Sophie Allison expands on her bedroom rock songs to provide luscious and quietly soaring explorations of self doubt. Soccer Mommy is my favorite artist working in indie rock right now. “color theory” shows Allison, who is only 23, has further progressed from her stunning debut and is set to create great music for a long time.

  1. Run the Jewels “RTJ4”

Released early to provide soundtrack to nationwide protest, the fourth LP from Killer Mike and El-
P continues the rip roaring, face smashing, and degutting hip hop the group is known for. El-P’s beats
almost invoking the feelings of the most punishing rock songs, driving forward rather than finding
grooves in which to settle. Killer Mike relentlessly offers his trademark rhymes and alliteration, in a riotous album that’s as relevant as ever.

Top 10 Albums of 2015

Penultimate list of the year! Movies will be coming soon…

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10. Carly Rae Jepsen Emotion

A lot of people were really surprised by this record, but I never really was. I championed (and still do) “Call Me Maybe” as a perfect pop song and placed it as my number one song of 2012. Emotion is a strong pop album that never made much leeway on the radio despite its catchy 80s influenced style. Jepsen is our best pop star, you all just don’t know it.

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9. Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy

A 90-minute plus punk rock opera that filters the band’s punk influences through Bruce Springsteen’s everyman representation with an added experimental edge. It certainly doesn’t have the highs of The Monitor, but it is pretty consistent from beginning to end. Patrick Stickles brain will always come up with raging rock songs, intricate and complex enough to inspire a plethora of think pieces and this is everything I love rolled into one giant album.

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8. Julien Baker Sprained Ankle

Quite the opposite of The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Baker’s debut album is quiet and sparse. There are only nine songs here, most of which only feature Baker singing and playing guitar , but boy are these tracks affecting. She has claimed these songs represent her coming out of a place of depression and abuse and one can certainly see the inner-monologue taking place. It’s an internal struggle, with Baker battling over her own soul and just when you think the darkness will overcome, grace shines through.

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7. Future Beast Mode

A lot has been written about Future being the saddest rapper to brag about drugs, partying, and sexual affairs and this has certainly been the case across his two mixtapes (Beast Mode, 56 Nights), his full length (DS2), and collaboration with Drake (What a Time to Be Alive). There’s a weariness to the way he raps, an autotuned slur, that makes you wonder if he’s really enjoying any of it. DS2 was the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, What a Time had the most hype surrounding it, but my favorite was Beast Mode which I think shows Future at his most sincere.

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6. Grimes Art Angels

On Art Angels, Grimes takes pop music and puts it through the most eccentric filter it could probably go through while continuing to be pop. It’s pure bubblegum pop, but is also very weird. Grimes takes a page out of K-Pop–electronic pop songs that are given the spirit and enthusiasm of a high school cheer team. It works surprisingly wonderful and is so much fun to listen to.

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5. Vince Staples Summertime ’06

Staples’ studio full length debut is a biographical double album about one of the most important summers he ever had. It tells the tale of Staples growing up, learning who he was, and the outside factors imposing in on his life. There are stories of adolescent love, of depression, and of extreme violence. It’s one of the most complex coming-of-age stories I’ve ever experienced. Staples is one of the best young voices making music out there and he may have just come up with a masterpiece here.

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4. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s hard to say what the best thing is that Barnett does, is it her ability to come up with rollicking rock songs? Her clever wordplay? The fact that she came up with the introvert anthem (sorry Alessia Cara)? All of these things point to why Sometimes I Sit is an amazing album. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful, it can be blasted on any road trip. Women are crushing it in indie rock and Barnett is there at the top.

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3. Tame Impala Currents

Currents shows Tame Impala at their most accessible, like Grimes their sound perfectly mixes their more experimental tendencies with mainstream pop’s aesthetic. Currents is a blend of EDM with a singer-songwriter’s vision. Kevin Parker has created dance music for indie rock kids, blending in disco and R&B influences to make an album that grew with every listen.

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2. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly

This was probably the album of the year, with Kendrick building on all the goodwill of good kid, mad city to make one of the most ambitious, sprawling, and important albums maybe ever? It’s funky, jazzy, and altogether not what you’d expect from the most hyped person in rap music. But that makes it even better, showing Kendrick as a true artist, one that pushes the genre forward. To Pimp a Butterfly was a necessary album in a year filled with racial strife and police brutality at the forefront of our national conversations. It’s celebratory of black culture, comforts all the pain, and is also deeply critical of inner-city violence. Kendrick is never what anybody wants him to be and I think that’s what makes him all the more important.

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1.Sufjan Stevens Carrie  & Lowell

While Kendrick spent time analyzing the affairs of a nation, Sufjan spends his time processing his inner-self, responding to the loss of his mother. It’s painstakingly personal, littered with references to the loss and the deep depression he went through as a result. Most of Sufjan’s work features beautiful, stripped down folk songs but these are usually places between quirky chamber pop tracks. Here we essentially get sad, contemplative Sufjan for 43 straight minutes, and as much as I love the baroque Sufjan, slowed down it is so beautiful.

Honorable mentions: Young Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too; Hop Along Painted Shut; Sports All of Something; Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper; Drake & Future What a Time to Be Alive

Pop Culture This Week: 7/12

Big week coming up!

Last week’s

MUSIC

7/17

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Tame Impala “Currents”

Tame Impala’s psychedelic rock sound has nearly made me a psychedelic fan (there’s just none enough drive to it for me typically). 2012’s “Lonerism” was a critical hit and new album “Currents” is likely to show up on a whole lot of end of the year lists. The band has slowly been releasing songs for a few months now–a strategy that seems to be working–exciting me for this record more than I ever thought I would be, mainly because the songs are really good. The music is weird and sprawling and doesn’t have much “drive” to it, but there is a catchiness and a whole lotta good songwriting that will likely make it one of the year’s best.

Chemical Brothers “Born into the Echoes”

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Electronic music that feels like it should be the soundtrack to a movie–on a sidenote, the Chemical Brothers did the soundtrack to 2011 film Hanna and both the movie and the soundtrack are really good! The new album will feature some guest spots from Beck, St. Vincent, and most importantly Q-Tip.

Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell “Sing into My Mouth”

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Iron & Wine combines with Ben Bridwell (singer for Band of Horses) for a covers album. If you’re looking for softly sung indie folk covers this is probably the album for you. Feels like something that would benefit from a fall release–purchased while standing in line awaiting that newly rereleased pumpkin spiced latte.

Ratatat “Magnifique”

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Instrumental guitar rock with electronic and experimental tinges–anyone into instrumental songs that has grown tired of local jazz radio will presumably enjoy it. In fact, it’s making good background music to write to right now.

Other: Jason Isbell “Something More Than Free”

MOVIES

So many movies this week–big, small, sequels, even a documentary sequel that all the film nerds will be treating like the Avengers sequel–it’s a breath of fresh air from last week’s Minions & Self/Less double feature.

7/15

Court

An Indian picture about a man who gets called to court, accused of causing another to commit suicide. From there it goes on to look at the court process and more largely India as a whole. It’s won quite a few awards on the international circuit and the few reviews that have come in make it seem promising.

7/16

Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser

Remember when David Spade was all the rage??? Did you think his work in Emperor’s New Groove, Tommy Boy, Dickie Roberts, and post-Jon Ritter 8 Simple Rules was exemplary and outstanding comedy??? Well you can relive that era once again by going to Crackle.com on July 16th. Yes, it will be released on a non-Netflix web site for all Dirt-heads out there. With this release it looks as if  guess VOD is the new straight to video, though it certainly seems as if this streaming-first approach is where Netflix is hoping to take movies. Maybe we’ll all look back one day at this release and remember how Crackle’s release of Joe Dirt 2 changed the movie industry forever.

7/17

Trainwreck

The new Judd Apatow venture is out to rave early reviews and really how could it not? It stars newly crowned comedy heroine Amy Schumer, the beloved Bill Hader, and the first major role for LeBron James (is this LeBron’s big eff you to Space Jam? Is Bill Hader the Daffy Duck of the movie?). It will likely have all the raunchy humor of an Apatow film matched by an underlying and not-so-subtle sappiness, combining for what will probably be the summer’s best comedy.

Mr. Holmes

There were probably enough productions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary character prior to Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch and whoever stars alongside Lucy Liu in Elementary, but the latest take on the man from Baker Street seems to be the most interesting–at least from the outset. Sir Ian McKellan stars as an aging Sherlock Holmes who is now losing the gifts that once made him so special. It’s much more a reflection on this loss than on the adventure and mystery of prior tales, but isn’t that what we want out of our motion pictures–existential reflections on aging, life, and loss? (*Checks box office scores*) I guess not.

The Look of Silence

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In 2013 a documentary came out called The Act of Killing. It was about atrocities that took place in Indonesia and followed the people who committed them, people still very much in charge and almost heralded as war heroes in their country. Critics adored its explorations of an unchecked evil and the ways that art intertwined in their lives. The Look of Silence is a sequel to that film, this time from the perspective of the oppressed. A survivor confronts those who killed his family–the perpetrators are his neighbors and director Joshua Oppenheimer is there to cover it once again. It’s strange to see a sequel to a documentary like this, especially one that was so disturbingly powerful. For this reason I don’t think critics will champion this one quite like the last, but for anyone who can stomach gruesome tales of violence these films certainly are eye-opening.

Ant-Man

Alas we get to the week’s blockbuster, the latest in Marvel side characters that will probably, eventually join together with other people from the main Marvel universe. Honestly this thing could be really bad, I mean, Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) abandoned it and critics are fairly mixed on it so far. On the other hand it does have Paul Rudd and he is unbelievably charming and probably capable of carrying it as far as his ant wings will allow him.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

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Based on a somewhat famous psychological experiment where researchers put certain people in charge of others in a mock-prison test to see what would happen (hint: not good). The film looks really gritty and the based-on-a-true story premise will probably help and hurt it, but it should be interesting.

Irrational Man

The latest from Woody Allen seems to be buried beneath all of these other great releases, which isn’t a great sign of the studio’s faith in the production. I think that’s just how it goes with Allen, he makes a movie every year, but it’s only every few years you actually go see it because he’s come up with Vicky Christina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris. This one does have Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone and is apparently some sort of murder mystery type movie?

Catch Me Daddy

Looks to be creepy, violent, and intense, but is also critically adored.

Others: Safelight, A Hard Day, Twinsters, Lila & Eve, Alleluia

TELEVISION

7/15

The ESPYS

I don’t ever think I’ve seen this award show, even when I was really into ESPN, but hey they’re on this week!

7/16

The SyFy channel has two interesting bits of programming debuting this week. The first is a Zachary Levi hosted trivia show that is trying to built off of all the rage for trivia night at the pub. The second is a comedy talk show that is focused on science fiction in pop culture hosted by David Huntsberger (from the podcast Professor Blastoff). Both sound like lighthearted fare that could actually make for fun summer programming.

Geeks Who Drink (SyFy)

Reactor (SyFy)

Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll (FX)

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Denis Leary is the star of this new show about a rock star. It seems pretty easy to guess which beats the show is going to go after (look at the title). Honestly it sounds like ground that has been tread far too often, but it is FX and with these things you just never know.

7/17

BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

7/19

Tut (Spike)

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You’ve always wanted to see a Game of Thrones style epic about Egyptian pharaohs presented by Spike TV right?

Others: Married (FX), Welcome to Sweden (NBC), The Jim Gaffigan Show (TV Land)

OOPS I FORGOT THIS LAST WEEK

Tangerine

I underestimated how much critics loved this comedy about transgender prostitutes that was shot entirely on iPhones or maybe I wasn’t sure how much my audience would be into it. Either way, this movie is going to be heralded for a while in artistic communities.

CURRENT JAM

Not much just a lotta Ghostface Killah.

MUST READ

What Every American Should Know” by Eric Liu

This piece on why Americans need to have a sort of cultural canon and why this is necessary in order to be successful. He presents the idea of America as omni-cultural and it is brilliant on so many levels.

This formerly stated that Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp came out this week, but it didn’t.