50 Best Albums of 2020

• • •

Molero – Ficciones del Tropico

If you wanted to know what a modern synthesizer interpretation of Werner Herzog’s masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God would sound like, you could do no better than Molero’s debut full length. This is all dark, weird utopian jungle exploration vibes, shot through with moments of startling arpeggiated bliss.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song

After three years and a slowly building hype train through the first half of 2020, Kelly Lee Owens finally returned in a more personal, more ambitious, more deeply affecting second album. Nobody else made dance music this narrative-feeling, this ecstatically sad all year, especially not rendered through such a lush, cinematic lens. Highlight track “Jeanette” appears on the Love Will See Us Through mixtape.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

Duval Timothy – Help

Help is maybe the most kaleidoscopic release of the year, a total collage of genres and sounds and moods, pulsing between warm analog synth jazz and sunken piano dirges and electrified gospel trip-hop and loads of liminal spaces between. As an evocation of Timothy’s experience in the music industry, with mental health and YouTube self-help videos, and the healing power of friendship and collaboration, it’s an incredible self portrait.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

Vestals – Holy Origin

Vestals, aka Lisa McGee, created some of the most meticulously polished dub-inflected dream pop I’ve ever heard. This album shakes with bass plunges and soars over synthscapes, her voice always in command of the neon twilit mood. This is romantic, soul searching music to dream about the future inside.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

Moor Mother – Circuit City

“No more wires digging into our thoughts, tangling our desires.”

This is the avant jazz masterpiece that tackles this fucked up year, this fucked up culture, this fucked up economy, and this fucked up life more sharply than anything else released in 2020. Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother sees through it all and delivers something that comes across first as painful but ends up the most cathartic thing you might hear all year. Fans of Matana Roberts’ scorching avant jazz need to hear this.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

X.Y.R. – Pilgrimage

Soviet era synthesizer moonscapes: this one is just two twenty minute pieces that feel more like an alien environment to explore than tangible pieces of music with recognizable structures and flow. Absolute cosmic oblivion awaits, in a really good, mentally nourishing way, inside this album.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

Romeo Poirier – Hotel Nota

Imagine the gauzy, balearic beach sound refracted through a musique concrete lens and you’re at least setting off in the right direction to approach Hotel Nota. Instantly engaging, enigmatic music here that simultaneously conjures Jon Hassell and Christian Fennesz in my brain, yet flits away mysteriously every time I reach out to grab it, bring it into tighter focus. Slippery, fluid, uncanny beauty across the board. I liked it so much that I kept trying to put this in a mixtape, but it’s so singular it just never worked out.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

Khotin – Finds You Well

Impressionistic dream beats, as laid back and cozy as a sunny afternoon in the backyard of your parents’ house in the summer – that’s the core appeal of Khotin’s music. Sprinklings of answering machine recordings, mundane moments of everyday life punctuate the lofi-tinged beat structures, as hazy and half-lidded as possible while feeling as warm as a hug from your favorite person. It may not reach the heights of his prior album, one I’ve dropped in multiple mixtapes over the years, but its ambitions seem to be aimed at simpler, more direct pleasures. Press play and lay back comfortably and let it all wash over you. Caution: Boards of Canada worship ahead!

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders

All you need to know about harpist Mary Lattimore’s new album is that Neil Halstead of Slowdive produced it, and it sounds exactly as lush, deeply felt, and intricately textured as you could imagine. This is a dramatic listen, with bright peaks and dark lulls and some truly deep dives into melancholy waters. It’s essentially magical.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

• • •

Ka – Descendants of Cain

Ka may be pushing 50 but his latest album sounds like the revitalized, highly focused rebirth of that cold sadness evoked perfectly on GZA’s Liquid Swords over twenty years ago – an album that is not only one of my all-time personal favorites, but also one of the defining statements of hip-hop. This set is just as cinematic and introspective, but comes across more low-key, short, and to the point. There is almost zero percussion here, just all elegaic strings and pianos and subtle bursts of electric guitar and Ka’s endless flow.

 

Listen on any streaming platform or buy on Brownsville.

• • •

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Top 10

16 thoughts on “50 Best Albums of 2020

  1. I’ve been waiting for this post since summer. There was so much great music this year you could certainly make another top 50
    Of different records. Appreciate your work dude

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your list, as always, is on point this year, David. You can really tell you live with these albums, and it’s reflected in your writing. I would say it was an exceptional year for ambient and experimental music, but I wonder if my opinion is heavily influenced from the difficult personal circumstances most of us faced this year. I think I actively sought out abstraction in my listening as an escape/distraction. I probably discovered more new artists than in any prior year, so there’s one 2020 bright spot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gabe. I think I’ve tended toward this music more than average for a long time, but it began with a lot of the same reasons that I’ve seen so many others getting into it in 2020, as refuge, as healing, as escape. I always want to share what’s been helping me, and it felt like this past year more people were on the same wavelength as far as music, and that’s indeed a very positive thing nestled in the trash fire of a year <3

      Like

  3. Pingback: 50 More Best Albums of 2020 | Optimistic Underground

  4. You know how there’s always this small bakery or restaurant close to where you live that does some amazing food. And in your lifetime you try many other places and some are amazing but you always have to come back to this one small place. Because it’s got nothing to prove, its not trying to sell you anything, its personal, the owners just have a great taste and are good at what they do.
    Well I feel that what you are doing here is just that. In a time where everyone wants to be big, you’re just focused on sharing something good. Thank you !

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Memory Coalition [mixtape] | Optimistic Underground

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