Well folks, it’s that time of your once again where I look back on the wealth of music that I have listened to over the year and try to separate out a Top 20. Since I spent such a long time deciding on top albums from the rest of the decade, the number of albums that I’ve listened to this year is reduced compared to last year. My diving into the world of podcasts didn’t help either.
This year, as this post takes such a long time to put together and write-up, I am going to be limiting myself to one paragraph an album rather than droning on and on. I’ll still be doing my top tracks though, as that’s always fun.
So many people have raved about the two albums that Big Thief put out this year and whilst, yes, U.F.O.F. has ended up on my countdown, it still feels like I’m missing out on something that so many other people have found here. As it is I find both of these albums to be beautiful pieces of folk music that are great to reading a book to. U.F.O.F. just happens to do it a lot more for me. Maybe, like Margo Price’s debut, these albums will haunt me and continue to grow in my estimation. I listen to tracks like ‘Terminal Paradise’ and can really see that happening.
Top Tracks: Cattails, Betsy, Terminal Paradise
This album is responsible for getting the phrase “my three-legged pig” stuck in my head for a full month. It’s such a clash of noises that, at times, feels like the initiation rites to some sort of rural cult. It’s also an album that is such a mindfuck at times that, if I am in the wrong mood, rubs me completely the wrong way. When I am in the right mood, it’s like a firecracker has been set off in my imagination that cannot help but spin off bizarre and contradictory mental images.
Top Tracks: Pumpkin Attack On Mommy and Daddy, Girl with Basket of Fruit, Normal Love
I’ve been a fan of Miranda Lambert since she released ‘Kerosene’ way back when (God knows how I came across it) and a new album by her is pretty much guaranteed to end up being somewhere in my Top 20. Wildcard is another solid entry into the Miranda Lambert canon and sees her trying to redefine herself within her present rather than looking to her past. She’s been through a lot of heartache and it does continue to show here. She taps into her fears on the beautiful ‘Settling Down’ and, on other tracks, it feels like she’s getting back to the old humorous that I got to love back in the days of Revolution and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Top Tracks: Settling Down, Fire Escape, Mess With My Head
Gay cowboy music sung by a man with a beautiful classically trained baritone that wouldn’t be out of place in Twin Peaks. I picked this album up as a bit of a curiosity of having an openly gay man sing country music – ended up with mood that has become a meme between myself and one of my co-workers. It’s an example of why it’s dangerous to start with the best track, it took me a long time before I could get to the meat of the album as ‘Dead of Night’ kept having to be played that second or third time.
Top Tracks: Dead of Night, Queen of the Rodeo, Roses Are Falling
There are times where you pick up an album as the artist died soon after releasing it and people are sad not only for the death but also because of the promise of the work recently left behind. This is how I came to listen to ‘Margaritas at the Mall’ on a summer day when I was struggling with some R code. I’m a real sucker for this kind of folk rock with Illinois style brass instruments and Purple Mountains is full of it. One day, I’ll need to investigate the back catalogue.
Top Tracks: Margaritas at the Mall, Darkness and Cold, All My Happiness Is Gone
How many albums can you say are out there by someone with a PhD into their work on the intersection of music and artificial intelligence? On her previous album Platform, Holly Herndon appeared to have a more a view that technology is coming after us, but with Proto comes her embrace as she introduces the world to “Spawn” an artificial intelligence that she’s training to sing and features across the album. It’s such an extraordinary thing to hear and, with tracks like ‘Evening Shades’ we can hear how an intelligence like this can be trained. This woman is a genius and I cannot wait to hear more from “Spawn”.
Top Tracks: Eternal, Frontier, Evening Shades
Whilst Sweetener may not have had much of an impact on me outside of ‘No Tears Left To Cry’, there was an immediate one with thank you, next. I am not sure if it was the internalised homophobia talking, but this because a bit of a guilty pleasure listen for me this year – despite it being one of the highest acclaimed pop albums of the year featuring the track that broke my hear the most from 2019: ‘ghostin’.
Top Tracks: ghostin, thank you, next, bloodline
Back when I wrote about My Woman I talked about how I felt a bit late to the Angel Olsen support party. Well, I’m well and truly there now – even if the album cover looks like an Adele pastiche. Then again, I get how a new sound requires a new image, and All Mirrors is a definitely departure from her rockier last album (which I rediscovered in a big way earlier in the year). She’s gone and done her take on a dark lady Kate Bush album and it’s such a gorgeous mood as the colder months move in.
Top Tracks: All Mirrors, Summer, New Love Cassette
Carly Rae Jepsen is one of the many acts that is proof positive that it is sometimes better to not win that reality show you are on. She has written down and sung some of the best acts of feel good pop of the last few decades, hell her leftover track ‘When I’m Alone’ was what first got me interested in K-pop. Dedicated is her taking a more sophisticated take on pop which, whilst not as immediate, has been a good friend in the kitchen during my long world cooking adventures.
Top Tracks: Real Love, Now That I Found You, Julien
An fka twigs album always takes a while to properly settle in my brain and reveal all its gifts. I know that, a few months into 2020, I will wonder how I didn’t end up placing this album higher. So much has happened to her between this and her last album, from the breakup of her engagement to surgery – and it’s a pain you can especially hear on album finisher ‘Cellophane’. She shattered and managed to get her pieces beck together in a beautiful dark experimental album that only she knows how to make.
Top Tracks: Fallen Alien, Cellophane, Holy Terrain