Wednesday, December 9, 2020

My Favorite Records Of 2020



So, how has your year been? Do anything? Go anywhere? Cough on anyone? Sell your publishing for $300 million?

The good news is you're reading this, hopefully safe and warm and healthy. Thank you.

Without further ado, here are my 18 favorite records of 2020. The first 13 are in random order because the thought of ranking them crossed my mind, which is why they are in random order. 

But, my Top 5 are indeed ranked.

Here we go.




"Good Souls Better Angels" is "Plastic Ono Band," "Raw Power" and "Blood On The Tracks" all wrapped in one naked, nasty and ferocious piece of work. The first time I listened to it was soon after listening to some Sandy Denny acoustic demos and the liner notes included comments from Linda Thompson, who pointed out more than once, how Denny was always more brilliant when the red light in the studio wasn't on. I mention this because what appealed to me while listening to "Good Souls Better Angels," aside from how relentless it felt, was how it all sounded like it was unfolding in real time, which made the record so much more intense. One of the best of Lu's career.





Once again I got totally hooked on the D'Addario kids, aka The Lemon Twigs. The brothers might just be too talented for their age. It's as if their minds are working faster than their ability to properly create what they're thinking, which could explain why the moments of brilliance are often coupled with head-scratching insanity. Still, what's good on "Songs For The General Public" is excellent. The music takes inspiration from the likes of David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, and of course, the most obvious influence, Todd Rundgren. And like Todd Rundgren, the boys just don't know when to reel it in. Still, I truly love this record and I know that a Lemon Twigs masterpiece is down the pike.



I would not call myself a fan of Fiona Apple, though there is something to love on every one of her records. "Fetch The Bolt Cutters" is the strangest release of her career. But it is also, to my ears, the most appealing. I don't know if I kept going back to it because I couldn't believe what I was hearing, or if at its heart, I heard a truly infectious and unique collection of songs. I think this record is smart and funny, and full of hooks. Just allow them to grab onto you. This record is a refreshing and welcome change of pace. And trust me, you CAN dance to it.








If you've paid attention for the last eleven years, you'd recall a few recurring complaints, with the two most recurring being "there are no songs on this record" and "no one makes records anymore." The new release from the U.K.'s Mansion Harlots has shut me up for the time being. Released just in the nick of time for 2019, which in my book might as well be 2020, "All Around A Fairground" is a collection of strong songs, even stronger melodies and big time record making. It is pop music at its finest.

A tip of the hat to Don over at the invaluable IDHAS for his wonderful write up of this record, otherwise the Mansion Harlots would have never crossed my radar. I will steal one of his lines here, as it nails my exact feelings about "All Around A Fairground"- "What does shout out here is the sheer melodic quality of the record." Boy does it ever! Rather than label the Mansion Harlots as one kind of band, I'll say this, each song evokes the very best qualities of all the music I have been loving for years, from the early days of The Beatles, to the great AM radio pop hits by The Four Seasons and The Turtles, to the crunchy pop of the Raspberries and Cheap Trick to the big vocals of Queen. I had so much fun with this record, I played it twice and then chose some random tracks just to convince myself that this was the real thing. Trust me. It is.







I always feel like I am cheating whenever I include an album of covers on my year-end list. But I quickly get over it because a song ain't nothing unless you make it a good record. I was reminded of something Jeff K said after listening to Bob Dylan's new record. "Don't know if I should listen to it or read it." I have not listened to "Rough & Rowdy Ways" since the first week of its release. Maybe a song here and there. But when I'd reach for it, it felt like homework. Some of it is brilliant, but quite frankly, it isn't any fun. I don't want to go back to it anymore than I want to reread "David Copperfield." 

The Jaded Hearts Club, on the other hand, is the most fun I've had all year.

Few records kick ass like "You've Always Been Here," the first release from this sorta supergroup. You might recall seeing and hearing their version of The Four Tops' "Reach Out, I'll Be There" on these pages a while back. If not, I've posted it again.

Matt, Graham, Nic, Miles and Sean from Muse, Blur, Jet, The Last Shadow Puppets and The Zutons respectively, plow their way through ten cuts by the likes of Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Chris Clark, The Human Beinz and The Sonics, among others. It's a relentless assault and yet somehow oozes with soul. Both Miles Kane and Nic Cester trade lead vocals, and both possess some real pipes. The arrangements are made to rock, with a juiced-up bass guitar leading the way most of the time. Even the songs you think you'd never want to hear covered again--"Money," "I Put A Spell On You" and "Nobody But You"-- offer a thrilling diversion from the deeper cuts, like Motown one shot Chris Clark's "Love Gone Bad" and an Isley Brothers single from their short life at Motown, "Why When The Love Is Gone," two of the best tracks on the record. 

It's a covers record, but I don't care. It does what it is supposed to do. It's a blast and great record making.






One way to avoid a sophomore slump is to take sixteen years in between your debut record and its follow-up. Erin Moran, aka A Girl Called Eddy did just that, and to say I have been wanting this new record for some time is an understatement. I loved that 2004 self-titled debut but the just released "Been Around" is even better.

From the title track which opens Side One, a Bacharach-David meets "Eddy In Memphis" beauty, to the more than just a nod to Chrissie Hynde & James Honeyman-Scott on "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart," to what is now and could end up being my favorite song of the year, "Charity Shop Window," a  gorgeous heartbreaker evoking Rickie Lee Jones, Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, "Been Around" is everything I could have hoped for and more.

"She saw his coat in the charity shop window/where the past lives on at a bargain price/long ago dreams find another chance to live again/memories are cheap in the charity shop window/She can almost hear if she really tries/their first hello, their last goodbyes."

Sixteen years is a long time, with the only bit of relief coming from Moran's 2018 collaboration with Mehdi Zannad on the pleasant enough "The Last Detail." People have waited less time for a kidney. But, I am happy to say, "Been Around" was worth waiting the 5,800 days. Richard Hawley's production on Eddy's debut was lush and fit Moran's voice perfectly. But Daniel Tashian's work on "Been Around" gives Moran more room to breathe, and that is why I think this collection sounds so vibrant and fresh.
"Been Around" is a big time winner.

Welcome back!



Just about everyday since March of this year brought bad news, tragedy and a feeling of hopelessness. One of the few bright spots and joys for me was and is the music of Toots Hibbert, and just days after releasing his first new music in ten years, the sweet and dandy Mr. Hibbert succumbed to COVID 19.

"Got To Be Tough" captures the last recording of this reggae pioneer, with help from another reggae legend Sly Dunbar, as well as Cyril Neville, and man behind the scenes, who also plays guitar, Zak Starkey. Toots' voice sounds better than ever, giving every song, whether a standard Jamaican groove or a funky variation, a rootsy and soulful Otis-like vibe. (Redding, not the Mayberry drunk.)

"Drop Off Head" gets things going with a feel that would make Keith Richards proud. "Just Brutal" drives along with a great call and response, and a vibe that reminds me of Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Through The Night." And "Struggle" the album closer and not a revamped version of the old Maytals classic, is a funky workout that should make even the most ardent non-reggae fans feel good.

Toots does not abandon the traditional sound altogether, as most everything in the middle is soaked in the rhythms and rhymes that made this man legendary. A great loss, but what a gift to leave us all.




I've been a Psychedelic Furs fan since the first time I heard what I thought was a new Bowie single, "Sister Europe" on my friend's boombox in the basement of his Sheepshead Bay house in 1980. In 1986, I rearranged a trip to the left coast just so I could see the Furs at the Universal Amphitheatre with support act The Untouchables. And I am one of about twenty six people who love "Book Of Days" and "World Outside," the last two and mostly forgotten Furs records. 

"Made Of Rain" is a ridiculously solid return, that impossibly sounds like both prime-80's Furs, and fresh, gracefully-aged Furs. It's a Psychedelic Furs album through and through, and if you're a fan, you should find nothing to moan about. Just let Richard Butler do the moaning for you.

You're damned if you do and damned if you don't, right? Would I have preferred an Americana record from this band? A big band album of standards? No, of course not. "Made For Rain" is none of that. But it is what Richard & Tim Butler do best: pulsating beats, texture and color, mournful melodies and epic rockers. There are keyboard flourishes and melodic runs in both the album opener "The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll" and "You'll Be Mine" that could have soundtracked your favorite John Hughes film, as well as some darker moods, as on "Come All Ye Faithful" that will evoke that very first Bowie-esque record from 1980.

It would not be a stretch to say that the Furs made the best record of their career 40 years after their debut. "Made Of Rain" is that good.







Well, it's only been a week or so since I raved about this record, but I'll save you the trouble of scrolling back. Here's what I said:

"The Explorers Club" is, as one friend put it, a "hit machine." Every song feels like a tribute to the great AM hits of the 60's and 70's. And while it's easy to dismiss it all as pastiche, the songs and production are so good, it really doesn't matter if you think you've heard it before. It's not easy to make records that so perfectly evoke the summer sounds of The Turtles, The Buckinghams, and of course, The Explorers Club's biggest influence, the Beach Boys. Try it. Jellyfish sealed their fate in pop history doing it. They just tapped different bands. 

If their debut leaned a bit too much on the Beach Boys side, at times sounding more like The Rutles doing the Wilsons, the new record plays like a more mature band who have used their time wisely, writing songs that are fresh enough to jog the memories without feeling like full on parodies. 










Some of the most popular topics on Burning Wood over the years have been the following:

A) Are the Rolling Stones still worth their exorbitant ticket prices?
B) Does Bob Dylan really have a good singing voice?
C) What the hell is wrong with Sal and why the hell does he like heavy metal?
D) Has Elvis Costello made a great record since "Imperial Bedroom?"

The answers are:

A) No
B) Yes
C) Leave me alone
D) Of course he has. He's made more great records than not.

And "Hey Clockface" is another fantastic addition to Costello's diverse catalogue of music.

No, it doesn't sound like "Pump It Up" or even "Veronica." But it is pure Elvis. He is angry. He is a punk. He croons. He even rocks, though only a little bit. It's a greatest hits of the styles he's given us over the years.

If you are the Elvis Costello fan who gave up at "Almost Blue," I can't imagine this record is for you. I've already tried my best to convince you that "Momofuku" is an overlooked classic. On the other hand, if you've embraced the changes, the brilliant acoustic country and blues of "King Of America," the sweeping pop and balladry of "Painted From Memory," the funk textures of "Wise Up Ghost," the love letter to New Orleans with Allen Toussaint "The River In Reverse" and the most recent change of pace, "Look Now," one of the best of EC's career, then "Hey Clockface" should not disappoint.

Considering the circumstances of its creation--isolation, quarantine, three cities with two different sets of musicians--this is remarkably cohesive. Costello's singing never gets over the music, and while that may be offputting to those who want to hear "Oliver's Army," the songs on "Hey Clockface" are as melodic and heartfelt as anything in his career.







Long time readers and those paying extra special attention know that the three Ultravox records with John Foxx are among my favorite records of all time, with the 1977 self-titled debut ranking as high as some of my other beloved classics.  I got off the bus soon after Midge Ure took over. Even Foxx's solo work over the years has left me cold. But the new record, "Howl" reunites Foxx with Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon who appeared on "Systems Of Romance," and it delivers in a big way.

"Howl" plays like a perfect follow-up to 1978's "System Of Romance." Underneath the industrial strength Bowie/Roxy/Eno textures, are terrific melodies and hooks. These are fresh sounding takes on the best parts of late 70's and early 80's art rock and new wave. 

If you've never been a fan of those three Ultravox records, "Howl" is probably a hard sell. But if you are like me, and have no use for the MTV-version of Ultravox, John Foxx & The Maths should satisfy what's been missing for forty years.







Man, this one was a long time coming! I really didn't think they had it in them, but X has delivered a record as classic as their one-two punch of "L.A" and "Wild Gift." This is fast and hard, and those one of a kind John and Exene harmonies are right where they need to be. I've played this one a lot, sometimes chainsmoking it because it's over so quickly. "Alphabetland" is an amazing return to form.












The Maels have been on a hot streak for almost 20 years, beginning with 2002's masterpiece, "L'il Beethoven" and continuing with a string of records that rival anything in their long respected career. In 2017, I said this about their release "Hippopotamus":

"You are either in or you are out with Sparks. I have loved Sparks since "Kimono My House" and it couldn't thrill me more to see the Maels release one of the greatest albums of their career over 40 years after that classic. Critically acclaimed, totally unique and absolutely hook-filled... if you like songs about Ikea. And who doesn't?"

Three years later and I find myself thinking the same thing about "A Steady Drip Drip Drip." This is what Uncut Magazine said:

"The 14 new songs on A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip are filled to the brim with the usual abundance of trademark lyrical zingers, tenacious earworm melodies and stylistic zigzags. It’s enough to make most of us feel irredeemably lazy and dull-witted."

Mojo too, loves it. They put it at #25 and said this:

“[The album] worked as an object lesson in how lengthy and auspicious careers can nurture risk and eccentricity rather than diluting them.”

But I wonder, is this the way to sell a record to the uninitiated? I guess it all sounds wonderful if you're okay with Russell Mael's distinct Lily Pons-ish singing voice...or Ron Mael's offbeat subject matter...or the brothers sense of humor. 

This new record works me up everytime I play it. When listening to it, I react in the same way I react when I watch a Simpsons episode or read something in The Onion. It's too good. I am stunned into silence by the genius. But that's not to say Sparks isn't a great rock band. It's not just the wit. Just listen to "Self-Effacing" or "iPhone." Or really anything off of the long list of classic records The Maels have released. The elements for hit records are in abundance, going back to their glammy Island output, or their infectious dance music with Giorgio Moroder, or their new wave hits with Atlantic. They know how to create hit records, they just do it their way, which a little bit more than slightly different than anyone else. 

You've got to start somewhere, so why not start with "A Steady Drip Drip Drip." It's appearing on many Best Of 2020 lists for a reason.  (Well, maybe not in Rolling Stone.) Give it a shot.


I had been waiting for a new Flat Five record since about 15 seconds after the debut album finished playing. "It's A World Of Love & Hope" was my favorite record of 2016. It was a collection of songs written by the mad genius Chris Ligon, turned into some of the most offbeat and melodic sunshine pop by his brother Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough, both current members of NRBQ, Kelly Hogan, Nora O'Connor and Alex Hall.

"Another World" picks up where "Love & Hope" left off in a number of ways, including another 11 songs written by Chris Ligon. And while the formula is basically the same--upbeat melodies and mostly swinging arrangements, there is something about "Another World" that seems tighter, maybe just a bit more focused.

Ligon's songs remain as dark as ever. "The Great State Of Texas," sung by Miss O'Connor, describes the last things one experiences before execution, all in a sweet lullaby, while "World Missed Out" is...well...just absolutely chilling. I won't spoil it.

It's not all dark. "Butterflies Don't Bite" is a complete joy, sounding exactly like the perfect Tijuana Brass tune if it had lyrics, and "The Girl Of Virginia," a short and sweet waltz,  sounding like a cross between a country classic and a jazz standard, shows off the brilliant harmonizing of Scott and Casey.

After the first pass of "Another World" I was happy, but wasn't quite satisfied. The Flat Five had some big shoes to fill after their debut. But by the third spin, "Another World" proved to be just as smart and in some ways, even better. I didn't think that was possible, but that's how good this band and Ligon's songs really are.







I know a couple of Bruce fans. They are friends, real dyed in the wool Springsteen fanatics who thought "Letter To You" was just okay. They were happy it came out and are happy it exists, but nothing more. But I also have friends, who like me, hear a rock solid Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band record that would push all the right buttons even without a pandemic. I'm sticking to that because "Letter To You" is still with me, after repeated spins. It is still pushing my Bruce buttons because it is a great Bruce record.

It'd be easy to say "Letter To You" came out when we needed it most. The world has all but ended, with millions sick and dying and only until a few days ago, no end in sight, and here comes a classic E Street sound with emotional lyrics and choruses built for stadiums at a time when not a single person or artist was permitted inside a stadium. Any news, any sounds, anything other than death and sickness, was welcome. But other records came out, too. And I can't think of one that made people feel what they felt and say what they said the way "Ghosts" did.

You all know the story by now. "Letter To You" recorded live and quickly, with few overdubs. You can hear it if you're paying attention. One of the missteps, the clunky "House Of 1000 Guitars," was mentioned by Bruce as his fave on the record. To my ears, it sounds like it was tossed off in two takes, if that. One of my favorites, "If I Was The Priest" was mentioned by another friend as a pointless resurrection of a song that wasn't so great in the first place. And that's the way it will always be with artists like Dylan, and Pauls Simon and McCartney, and Elvis Costello. You're damned if you do. You're damned if you don't.

"Letter To You" is a great rock record. It's a great Bruce record. And it's one of my three favorites of the year, partly because it is indeed, what I wanted. But mostly because, Bruce Springsteen knew what we wanted and gave it to us. Few artists, if any, do that at this stage in their career. 

Let's for a moment, be our most cynical. Let's all assume this was a record conceived to prey on the vulnerable. Here's Bruce Springsteen, in his Colts Neck mansion, rubbing his hands togeher like Boris Badenov, concocting some scheme to make money by writing songs and making a record, for a sole purpose to rake in the dough and pull one over on us, the desperate fans, in our time of weakness. 

Okay. Now what? 

Musically, it's still fucking good! 

If you are claiming you would have preferred something else...a folk record, an acoustic record, another "Tunnel Of Love"... well, I don't believe you. You don't have to love "Letter To You," but if you claim to be a Springsteen fan and just dismiss "Letter To You" as disappointing, I can't help you. Go listen to "Darkness."

This is probably the last record from this man and this band that will sound like this and I'm soaking it all in and enjoying every second of it...even the clunky missteps, of which there are few.


Chuck Prophet's "The Land That Time Forgot" took some time to get here. COVID delays saw the record get released one song at a time, until a hard copy finally saw the light of day months after the digital release. I checked out the first two singles, but waited until the vinyl was in hand for my ritualistic, proper spin. Worth the wait? Oh yeah!

Simply put, this is the best record of Chuck Prophet's career and that is saying something since this guy has been on some roll since 2009's "Let Freedom Ring." 

Every song on "The Land That Time Forgot" is a mini-movie, and I got lost in every one. Prophet has a way of telling a story that can be both heartbreaking and hilarious, often at the same time. And though his brand of lead vocal is of the talk-singing kind, he still writes hooks that can snag flounders.

The production on "The Land That Time Forgot" seems deliberately low key, and I'd venture to say it was a COVID recording except that the record was finished before all hell broke loose. So, let's just say timing was everything, as this record has the perfect vibe and the perfect finale in "Get Off The Stage."






I've seen Paul Weller's new record "On Sunset" described as "the most overtly soul and funk-infused" record since The Style Council. Actually, I think The Jam had more funk and soul in their frenetic, Who-inspired, three minute blasts of mod punk than anything on the Style Council records, which I always thought sounded cold, like so much of the manufactured and synthetic pop of the 80's, a few solid singles aside.

That said, I think Weller's new record is indeed full of soul, but even more important, "On Sunset" doesn't rely on style or trends like so much of his solo career. Every song within feels like it could be a single. The songs here are natural and accessible, and yes the Philly strings, occasional Tamla/Motown backing vocals and funky beats all add to it. But "On Sunset" doesn't lose its way, like some of Weller's recent work. This is a straight forward pop record as much as it is a soul record and it plays beautifully.

There are a few hints of Weller's past, like the lovely one-two of "Equanimity" and "Walkin'," the former sounding like a title theme from a mid-70's Neil Simon flick and the latter like every AM radio pop hit from the early 70's. And I can't help but think of both Oasis and The Verve while listening to the the finale, "Rockets." Still, "On Sunset" is mostly what it aims to be, with elements of Marvin Gaye, pre-MTV Hall & Oates and even a bit of Isaac Hayes wig out on the track "More."

The heart of this record beats like the heart of all those great records by The Jam and the heart of Weller's finest solo work. I love this record and it is by far, the best thing Paul Weller has done since "Stanley Road," and I love a lot of his solo records, especially "22 Dreams," "Illumination" and "Wake Up the Nation." But "On Sunset" made me do something I haven't done in ages...I dropped the needle right back on Side One as soon as it was over.

Pop? Soul? Let's just do away with the labels. "On Sunset" is one terrific record and it is my favorite record of 2020.





hpunch said...

My first thought when seeing you posting your Best Of list was," but the new McCartney isn't out yet." Then I saw your saved space for it.
Great list. it was a good year for music after all. Hard to argue with the top five ( except it's looking like Sparks will be my top choice, although I'm still waiting on about 5 new albums to get to me until I make my final decision).
I believe this is the second time Weller made your favorite album of the year. ( 22 Dreams in 2008 )


Well done Sal,

I lack the focus / discipline / imagination / ... to keep track of my listening let alone pull out a "best of" list.

Your list reminds me of some pretty damn good music this year. I will go back and listen again.


Troy said...

Great list, Sal. Thanks for sharing. I have not heard the Weller album, but will definitely be checking that out.

Here are the albums that I have really enjoyed this year. The first 4 are the tops, although I cannot rank them any further. The rest have all been very enjoyable this year:

Tom Petty - Wildflowers & All The Rest: the missing half of one of my top 5 albums of all time

Michael McDermott - What in the World: his winning streak continues, got some love from local station WXRT this year

Bruce Springsteen - Letter to You: for all the reasons you said

Michael McDermott - Stories, Lies, and Legends: Michael opened his vault with 30 years of hidden gems; this is his 'Tracks'

Margo Price - That's How Rumors Get Started
Will Hoge - Tiny Little Movies
The Jayhawks - XOXO
Louisiana's LeRoux - One of These Days
Sonny Landreth - Blacktop Run
Terrance Simien Krewe de Monifique - Ancestral Grooves

And finally, a shout-out to a song I missed when it came out a couple of years ago, but has really resonated with me this year: Turn Off the News (Build a Garden) by Lukas Nelson. In a year where watching the news often triggered anxiety for me, this was like a mantra. I turned off the news a lot. Didn't build a garden yet, but maybe in the spring...

cmealha said...

You didn't wait for McCartney and Viola? I think this is the closest we've ever been on our top picks. I'm with you on A Girl Called Eddy, Lemon Twigs, Fiona Apple, The Explorers Club, and Sparks. I tried with Elvis and Bruce but they ultimately left me wanting someone more. I understand about Dylan but I keep getting drawn to it. I did like The Jaded Hearts Club. Their version of "Reach Out..." kicked ass but my preferred covers album this year was "The Garden of Earthly Delights: An XTC Celebration". Rufus Wainwright and James Hunter also made my list.

I'll definitely check out the records on your list that I missed. Always worth the trip.

Are you going to have a top 10 singles list? That would be fun and drive you crazy, which is a win, win. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I like Adventureland, too. Kind of surprised how much new music got released this year, tho at times it felt like The Year of the Reissue. My other favorites were:

Dave Alvin - From an Old Guitar (talking about reissues)
Make More Noise - a comp of UK indie female artists from 1977-87
Keith Jarrett - Budapest Concert
Bill Laswell - Against Empire (w/ Pharoah Sanders)
Steve Wynn - The eMusic singles
The Damned - The Rockfield Files (4-song ep, Vanian in good voice)
Drive By Truckerz - The New OK (more of a Patterson Hood solo vibe)
Throwing Muses - Sun Racket
Hedvig Mollestad - Ekhidna
1000mods - Super Van Vacation
Voivod - Lost Machine-Live

cmealha said...

Just saw the space saved for McCartney III. Nevermind. (Thank you hpunch)

Shriner said...

I will need a few days to come up with my list. I knew yours was coming, but I haven't had the time to reflect on 2020.

But that Juniper record will be on my list. You've been warned. And I'm serious about that. Even John Borack loved it.

I do agree with many of your selections, though. Not sure how many (if any) will be on my best-of. 2020 has been a weird year and it affected the music I liked listening to for sure.

A Walk In The Woods said...

Nice Best Of 2020 list! I need some time to contemplate it, and also to suggest my own.

cmealha said...

... and Sparks. I'm with you on Sparks also!

Shriner said...

It was 2020. I had two distinct medical issues this year (better now) so I had a lot of time to play a *lot* of music -- mostly new stuff.

In relatively alphabetical order for the albums I played the most:

Juniper: s/t (yes, this is great and I’ll stand on that hill!. It’s dumb and goofy and I can certainly see why it’s easily dismissed, but the songs are insanely short, catchy and fun. This hit at the exact right time in mid-2020 to start to brighten the year before it got worse. “Kids On My Corner” — almost my favorite song of the year.)

Margo Price: That How Rumors Get Started (worth the hype for sure)

The Monkees: The Mike & Micky Show Live (yes, heavily spliced together, I’m sure, but if this is it, they went out with a great set.)

Nada Surf: Never Not Together (something about this band just clicks and they haven’t made a bad album)

Pretenders: Hate For Sale (short and to the point — even with the “Kid” rewrite). More 35-40 minute albums from everybody, please!!

Rumer: Nashville Tears. Just lovely.

The Speedways: Radio Sounds (Power Pop Band for the 2020s — “Just Another Regular Summer” is great and this one matches that — these guys got it!)

The Weeklings: 3 — I did not like the first two albums that much because they were too “Cavern Club”, but this one worked a lot for what is just one of many Beatles inspired bands out there.

Frank Zappa: Halloween 81 (this was fantastic — all of the shows were top notch from a band that didn’t get a lot of credit. The Halloween concert releases from the archives have each been fantastic.)

Favorite reissue: The Replacements: Pleased To Meet Me (Deluxe Edition). I can only hope they are working backward for something from “Tim” as good as this was.

Albums I need to give another spin but liked enough to mark them as contenders as they hit a sweet spot on the day I played them as I got back (mostly) into a Power Pop kick again this year as I needed something to get the blood going when it would have been easy to not to do anything:

Beetlejuice Original Broadway Cast. I’m a sucker for broadway musicals. What can I say?

Brendan Benson: Dear Life -- return to form

Chris Church: Backward Compatible

Coke Belda 4: Coke Belda 4 -- his covers albums are inspired, but his originals are top-notch

Mom: Pleasure Island

Nick Frater: Fast & Loose

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men: Downtime

Rick Hromadka: Better Days

Taylor Swift: Folklore (a surprise release that was better than it had a right to be.)

Things I haven’t heard yet that I’m curious about: McCartney III (low expectations), the new SCOTS album (high expectations). Neil Young Archives 2 ("Homegrown" was worth the wait), that Doug Fieger rarities collection with the unreleased Knack songs — and I’m looking forward to that Blondie catalog reissue with bonus tracks, etc. next year.

What disappointed me: Sufjan Stevens’ The Acension apart from the singles released before the album. Too much electronic noodling for me on songs that ran on way too long with a few exceptions to break up the monotony. And my hopes were too high for the Lickerish Quartet. Maybe I should have waited for the full album.

From your list: I thoroughly enjoyed most of the Springsteen, all of the A Girl Called Eddy, Paul Weller, Chuck Profit, and The Explorer’s Club a lot, but not enough to mention them here again. And I keep trying the Lemon Twigs, but they aren’t connecting — except I think “The One” is a really fabulous tune and surprised me as being my favorite single of the year. It’s got a terribly catchy verse and a hookier-filled chorus. What’s not to love?

Bring on 2021.

A Walk In The Woods said...

Wait... Throwing Muses had a new album this year??! Thanks for the tip, Anonymous!

Michael Giltz said...

Yea! Haven't read it yet, just glad to see it here. Like the swallows leaving Capistrano, the arrival of Sal's Best of the Year list is proof indeed that 2020 is drawing to a close. Hallelujah! :)

Michael Giltz said...

Hahaha. I jut LOVE your placeholder for Paul McCartney's soon-to-be-released truly solo album McCartney III. That is the sign of a true fan, because I also know that if it doesn't cut it once it's out, you'll say so. Someone once said a good critic is a fan who likes MOST of your work (but not blindly, and not everything). You're a good critic and I know if you're passionate about an album it's worth checking out. Thanks for the list! I had Mansion Harlots on my 2019 list because of you! Now I look ahead of the curve and that's not right. :)

ken49 said...

Great read. I certainly concur on Paul Weller. The best set of songs and creativity by anyone. For lack of a catch phrase this year for me has been about pop songs with density. You peal away layers to find great songs. Sparks, Lemon Twigs and Psychedelic Furs certainly pique my interest.

kevin m said...

In no particular order, here are my favorite albums from 2020

Bruce - Letters
Furs - Made of Rain
Girl Called Eddy- Been Around
Jayhawks - XOXO
Lucinda - Good Souls
Hothouse Flowers -Do This Thing
Sadler Vaden - Anyone Out There
Drive By Truckers -The Unraveling (though the New OK is pretty good too)
The Dead Tongues - Transmigration Blues
Monphonics - It's Only Us

Also, late date releases from Bill Joe Armstrong (No Fun Mondays) and Mike Campbell's The Dirty Knobs are getting a lot of play these days

Happy and healthy holidays to all. Hope 2021 is better for everyone!

buzzbabyjesus said...

I haven't heard any new records in 2020, and based on this sampling, these are all worth the time. This collection of songs would make a great Weekend Mix.
The song that really got me was Fiona Apple's "Under The Table". It sounds so fresh, fiercely honest, and unfiltered in every way it took top the top of my head right off.

Ken D said...

Thanks, as always, Sal, for the annual list. You never (okay, rarely) steer us wrong.

I'll just toss out three more excellent album releases, all by women:
Phoebe Bridgers's "Punisher," Waxahachee's "Saint Cloud," and Lydia Loveless's "Daughter."
These were the ones I went back to most often.

But for me, the most significant musical moment of 2020 was John Prine's posthumous release, "I Remember Everything."
Just punched me in the gut. Prine's death creates a hole in the world that just can't be filled.

jeff said...

every December you cost me money