you can read here. Best of 2020 coming soon.
Bon Enfant – s/t. In the shittiest year imaginable, this French-Canadian slice of psych-pop brought rays of sunshine and escapism. A windows-open, first-day-of-spring classic. This list is in alphabetical order, but Bon Enfant would be at the top even if it wasn't. I've written about it here and here.
Kaytranada – Bubba (RCA). This came out in mid-December 2019, after most year-end lists were published. Why such a summer dance record would come out in December is a mystery to me, but it didn't seem to affect this Montreal DJ's upward trajectory. I wrote about it here and here.
Lankum – The Livelong Day (Rough Trade). A traditional Irish band from Dublin who approach their material like a Gaelic Godspeed, full of drones and tension and explosions. Some incredible interpretations of traditional songs ("Katie Cruel") alongside originals ("Young People," about a suicide epidemic). This is music for life during wartime. Or, say, a pandemic. "I've been a wild rover for many's a year / And I've spent half me money drinking strong ale and beer / But now for the future I must take better care / In case that misfortune might come to my share." So stay at home and drone the fuck out with Lankum instead.
Also: holy cow, this video.
Lightning Dust – Spectre (Western Vinyl). Fifteen years after Josh Wells and Amber Webber were a huge part of Black Mountain's debut album, their own project put out what might be the best record they've ever been involved in. I don't know why I first heard it and thought merely, "Oh, that's nice." The more I dove in, the more I fell in love—especially during isolation times. I wrote about it here and here.
Little Scream – Speed Queen. This took a while to sink in, but when it did—after seeing her live show at the Wavelength anniversary—I couldn't stop listening to it. I've written about it here and here.
Little Simz – Grey Area (Age 101). A fantastic rap record by this 26-year-old London woman, moving through rock, reggae, funk, disco and even orchestral flourishes ("Venom"). She slays on the mic, with charisma not unlike Haviah Mighty, but it's the music here that really gets me: sparse, lots of live instrumentation, and thriving on raw energy. I'll admit that most UK rap is a mystery to me, with rare exceptions, but this transcends many barriers.
Mdou Moctar – Ilana: The Creator (Sahel Sounds). I've never been a blues guy, never need to hear a rock guitar god record again in my life, and if I ever crave electric desert blues I'm happy to cling to Tinariwen's 2017 album Elwan. But hoooooollllly shit, I was not prepared for Mdou Moctor, to whose game I'm coming to quite late, despite that Purple Rain-remade-in-the-Sahara shtick from five years ago. This record is fiery and entrancing and a total trip. He was on tour and due to appear in Toronto in March, with Les Filles de Illighadad, no less, when the shutdown hit—dammit! A new record on Matador is expected next year.
Junius Paul – Ism (International Anthem). This Chicago jazz bassist appeared on Makaya McCraven's 2018 album Universal Beings, and this late 2019 debut solo outing compiles recordings made with others dating back years. He's a monstrous bassist surrounded by equally killer players, and this double album shifts between funk, bop and abstractions, sometimes all in one track ("Paris"). Lots of bang for one bass.
Wilco – Ode to Joy (dBpm). I haven't followed everything Jeff Tweedy and company have done in the last decade—Tweedy interests me more as a producer than as a songwriter these days—but his excellent memoir sent me back to this one repeatedly. Yes, it's a largely acoustic, middle-aged band record riding a bit of an endless bummer, but hey, that's where I'm at.
Yola – Walk Through Fire (Nonesuch). This was almost a year old (released in Feb 2019) by the time I heard it and was completely blown away. I mean, just the first song ("Faraway Look"), on the first verse and the transition to the first chorus on is such revelatory ecstasy that it's hard to imagine the rest of the album matching it. And yet she pulls it off, again and again. Yola is a British soul singer, with a huge voice, recording in Nashville with Dan Auerbach, who gives her a lush 70s country-pop sound that matches her songs and skills to perfection. These songs are so good and timeless that I can't believe they're not all covers. And "Ride Out to the Country" became a personal fave at a time in 2020 when no one was allowed to do so.