January 23, 2021

NightraiN's End of 2020 List

Wow, what a year 2020 was! Was it even a year or a concentrated decade? What a year 2021 has been already...

Like my QCM colleagues, I was all over the map this year in terms of my music consumption and never really focused enough to organize and consolidte a true "best of" list. I revisited some old, comforting favorites, went down some seriously obscure rabbit holes, and did intentionally and accidentally find a few amazing 2020 releases. I listened to A LOT of metal, especially during socially distance running therapy sessions. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, according to my Spotify year-end recap, my most played albums of the year were the Moana, Frozen, and Evita Soundtracks -- I was stuck inside with a 3-year-old for a substantial portion of the year. When I wasn't being bombarded by Disney's finest, I did find time to enjoy, and would highly recommend, the following 2020 releases:

Algiers - There Is No Year (2020) Like most Algiers albums, this album jumps out of the speakers and kicks you in the face... or the balls... really whatever gets your attention the most. Even on the mellow-ish tracks, they bring it. The lyrics were especially timely and powerful given this past year. I get that not everyone is going to appreciate the forceful so-called "gospel-puck" sound of Algiers, but everyone should absolutely listen to it!

"I don't care if the whole world is burning, oh Lord (all men obey)
There's certain things I forgot I should fear, hey (all men obey)
Keep on screaming till your kingdom crumbles (all men obey)
It won't stop until I'm sure you hear, hey (all men obey)
I'm moaning on floor for your forgiveness (all men obey)
But here they coming, the four winds blowing
And four horses, I hear 'em coming
Sh, we're gonna start over there"

Ásgeir - Bury The Moon (2020) If There Is No Year was my kick in the face/balls album, Bury The Moon along with Blanco White's On The Other Side (2020) were my calming, mental reset albums. Ásgeir Einarsson's voice is soothing, the music can be almost trance-inducing, and although the songs sound sad-ish, the lyrics are generally uplifting. In most years, I think I would have enjoyed this album and White's On The Other Side, but not necessarily put them on a year-end list, but in this particular year their calming nature of these albums fit perfectly... plus, I did listen to a lot of metal to balance it out.

"Do you recall the things / That used to give us joy? / When our imagination / Could take us anywhere / Appearing in my mind now / Pictures from the past"

Delta Spirit - What Is There (2020) The night before the Mayor of San Francisco announced that a group gathering moratorium was going to go into effect stopping nearly all concerts and live events in the city for what now has been 10+ months, I attended the first night of what was supposed to be Delta Spirit's triumphant reunion tour. The show was supposedly sold out, but it was clear that many people elected to stay home because of the virus. It was my last true "night out" before the pandemic swept across the nation (Grubstake Diner included), so when this album finally dropped in September, I was eager to give it many, many deep listens. It does not disappoint. I love Delta Spirit, and this would have made my list in any year, but the connection to my last live show before the pandemic made it particularly special. Plus, I watched many Matthew Logan Vasquez livestreams during the summer.

"Alone, I've been on a bender for a year / Piss fit and perfectly happy to be here / Pass me the bottle, I've got nothing to defend / How good it feels to be home again"

William Elliott Whitmore - I'm With You (2020) In dark times, I often find that William Elliott Whitmore is an artist that I regularly turn to. His soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics meet the moment. He writes music about and for dark times. Great folk, Americana, bluegrass sounds on this one, but I listen to WEW because he puts your thoughts about life, death, politics, our great big social and psychological questions and thoughts into thoughtful, absorbable lyrics. With the album title, "I'm With You", WEW extending his worn hand out across the abyss and resting it on your shoulder letting you know that whatever you are dealing with, he's there with you. I believe it,

"The night is filled with wild creatures in this unfamiliar place / I take solice in the stillness / I take shelter in the empty space / I think we'll be OK ... And we're going to have to save ourselves / the cavelry ain't coming / and I know its just as well / we're going to have to save ourselves"

Alberta Cross - What Are We Frightened Of? (2020) An old flame. I watched + followed Petter Ericson Stakee's live streams and posts regularly over the last 10 months, and in many ways his commentary and songs served as a sort of soundtrack to the lockdowns. I don't know if any of the tracks like "What Are We Frightened Of?", "Find A Home Out There", and "Real Life and Disasters" were written with something like the lockdown and pandemic in mind, hard to believe they were since the album was released in June, but they fucking resonate, man.

"In desolation, we're empty and apart / We keep searching for a haven in our restless hearts."

Other Lives - For Their Love (2020) If Interpol, Arcade Fire, and Federale had a baby, that would be Other Lives. Maybe not fair to call them the "baby" since they've been around for a while, but that's the resultant sound at least. I probably have spent too much time reading into lyrics and interpreting them as a comment or critique on our current existence, but it's hard not to under the circumstances:

"Somewhere, we're laughing in faraway places instead / You'll say what you will when you know we're just hanging by a thread (Oh) / Take your time, take your time, don't lose your head"

Beach Music: Photo Ops - Pure At Heart (2020) & Cayucas - Blue Summer (2020) As we've been shut down, and outdoor time has become all that more precious, we've spent a lot more time at the beach. Cold days, rainy days, foggy days... it don't matter. Beach day, every day. But not every album plays well in that setting, especially if you're mostly soaking up the scenery in the relatively early morning or kicking the Size 1 soccer ball around. Pure At Heart and Blue Summer have been the perfect albums for all of these chill beach days. They both regularly pay mas tribute to The Beach Boys, naturally, but also have their own unique blends of dream and indie pop. From the two, "Live With Yourself" by Photo Ops stands out as a particularly poinent track during the pandemic.

Take a listen and support these dudes at the Bandcamp links above.

Hamilton Leithauser - The Loves Of Your Life (2020) I like (liked, maybe? if they are done done) The Walkmen, but I hadn't followed much of HL's solo projects over the years. But I was drawn in by the album art and track "Here They Come" when it was released in early April. I find the writing sometimes fun and funny, sometimes bittersweet and reflective, but appearly all of the songs are about specific people in his life, so, assuming that's true, the spectrum is understandable. Very listenable in all around the house settings, this one stood out during the many hours listening to music at home.

"I was a fool, I was blind / I kept my eyes shut half the time / All the lights, one by one, here they come"

Israel Nash - Topaz (2020) Among Other Earlier Releases This is not so much on the list for this particular 2020 release, but more for the fact that I listened to a very heavy dose of Israel Nash's entire catalog over the last 1o months or so.  I was WAY behind on this guitar-shredding psychedelic cowboy that blends Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Jim James, The Flaming Lips, and a number of others. But it was the song "Rolling On" from the 2018 release Lifted that really spoke to me during this moment in time... 

"I looked into the distance and in case you missed it / A thousand lights just faded out at once / Shouting from the rooftops to a ghost town all riled up / I knew I'd better keep the peace"

Very Honorable Mentions:

Sturgill Simpson - Cuttin' Grass Vol 1 & 2 (2020)
Nathaniel Rateliff - And It's Still Alright (2020)
Wolf Parade - Thin Mind (2020)
Matt Berninger - Serpentine Prison (2020)
Future Islands - As Long As You Are (2020)
The Dead Tongues Transmigration Blues (2020)
Orville Peck
- Show Pony EP (2020)

Spotify Playlists!

The Quarantine Playlist

The Apocalypse Playlist

And then this...


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