New year, new mix. Gliding into 2022 with some deep house, acid, breakbeats and more. Wanted it to sound like how I feel when I hear Major Briggs’ speech to Bobby on Twin Peaks – the deep harmony, the warm embrace, the tremendous sense of optimism for the future.. all that goodness. These are some of the most pure, blissed-out tracks I’ve been looping over the past year, the kind of music that blasts away the rough edges, leaving me refreshed and feeling better about the day, if only just for the time it’s playing.Continue reading
Well, we survived another year of this pandemic and things seemed to get progressively worse and weirder as the months rolled on. But in 2021 as in every year, there’s always such an overabundance of brilliant music that I’ll never, ever get around to hearing half of it even if they stopped making the stuff after the calendar rolls over this time. But I always make sure to share the stuff that made a big impression on me, the stuff that moved me and opened my mind, the stuff I love. So here we are, with fifty incredible albums that everyone needs to hear.
Just like last year, this list is unranked. Albums appear in the order I discovered them, whether at release or months later. Except for the top ten, which appears on the last page – that’s a small group of albums that touched me just a bit deeper, spending significantly more time playing than the rest. I really can’t emphasize enough how everything here is fantastic, but I felt compelled to highlight a handful that totally ran me over in 2021, because there were definitely some artists who destroyed me in the best way possible.
But seriously, everything here is incredible and worth your time. Let’s go:Continue reading
Airborne Lagoon is a spiritual trip into equatorial mystery zones, through the healing waters of some deep forest pool, finally reaching a place of transcendence and acceptance. Reaching a save point in the depths of a long journey and feeling your whole being revived on a warm updraft into the clouds. Japanese fourth world jazz explorations, cosmic arpeggiated synth bliss, hazy dust floating in a sunbeam, chamber whispers, the sounds of birds, insects, and water, water always.Continue reading
Memory Coalition is a mix of some of the best melancholy deep house and soul melting ambient tracks that have warmed and elevated me like nothing else over this long, heavy winter. The snow’s been piling up here in Michigan like it hasn’t in years and life.. hasn’t gotten any easier than it was last year, for my family at least. This stuff is a little nostalgic, a little spacey, full of atmospheric grooves, unmoored from time. It’s the kind of music that’s perfect for when you’re feeling sad and you’re okay with that, but you still want to blend in a little taste of wonder and awe.
50 just wasn’t a big enough number to contain all the music that deserved serious attention and acclaim at the end of this interminable year. It’s a nice, round number and makes for a substantial but not overwhelming list. But I think 100 is also a nice, round number, so here we are: 50 more albums that absolutely deserve a close listen in 2020 and beyond. Please excuse the awkward title.
I’ve already gone over why this year was particularly hard for me – beyond the pandemic – in the 50 best albums of 2020 post, so I’ll just keep it brief now: I heard a LOT of music this year, as always, and I fell in love with so much of it. So many artists made a positive impact on my headspace, my disposition, my life during this trying year. This music helped me keep my head above water, helped me center myself and find little moments of grace to take a breath, step back, and start again. These albums were the soundtrack to my days, working at home, raising my son, navigating the world with a mask on and sanitizer in my pocket, six-plus feet from everyone else at all times. They filled my home while I helped homeschool my son, focused on repairs and cleanup and all sorts of things I suddenly had more time for, with nowhere to go and no friends to see for the majority of the time. They were there with me in the dark nights alone while everyone else slept, trying not to let the despair inside. This music is all meaningful and powerful and deserves to be heard by as many people as possible.
(I’ll be adding blurbs for each of these as the holidays go on, but for now I just wanted to get it out there so everyone can check out this music while they’ve hopefully got a little free time. Just picture me like this by the end)
I hope you find joy in here just as I have.
Hi. Welcome to the Optimistic Underground album of the year list. I think it’s safe to say that 2020 has been a disaster. Regardless, I feel spoiled by all the incredible music we got this year. It’s meant more than ever to me. I almost quit this blog because it felt so unimportant in the face of everything, but the music kept me going. It’s corny, but it’s true. So here we are.
I don’t want to go over a checklist of all the things we’ve got in common, beyond the pandemic. I do want to take a moment here to say that the year has taken a toll in ways that I wasn’t always prepared to handle – my father died suddenly, someone close to me tried to commit suicide, and my son was diagnosed with a medical disorder that we’re still grappling with and seeking a permanent treatment. This was on top of some health issues, sudden home schooling, and plenty of stuff that doesn’t need mention on a music blog. I’m here to share some of the best music I heard all year, because I think it all deserves to be heard by as many people as possible. I want these beautiful artists to connect with the people who will appreciate them most, and vice versa. Because despite all the hard things that have happened this year, both to myself and the world at large, I’m looking at the final stretch with warmth in my heart and a small core of confidence that, while things may not always be alright, I can definitely handle it when they get rough – and I’ll be here for my family and friends no matter what.
So, in light of how tough I’m sure it’s been for most of us – because the pandemic isn’t stomping on us in a vacuum, it’s piling on top of everything else we all have to face every day – I decided to forgo numbering the albums this year. It’s always felt a bit cruel to pit artists against each other in that way, make the arbitrary distinction that one album is better than another, and it’s been downright painful having to make those choices at the end of every year. I love this music and these people and I can’t speak for anyone’s taste but my own. It’s always been the case here, but I want to make this explicit: I don’t believe these albums are objectively the best of anything; that doesn’t exist. I do believe that everything here is incredible and touched me on some level, emotional or intellectual or physical or whatever, and I need other people to hear it too, to feel elevated and healed like I do. Because this is healing, and these albums all played a part in keeping my head above water in 2020. If it wasn’t for this music, I don’t know if I’d be in such an okay place by now.
[Update: don’t miss 50 More Best Albums of 2020]
I did include a top ten at the very end, because even among this incredible crop, there were a handful of albums that touched my soul like nothing else. They’re not ranked either. I just want to warn you and tip off the folks who have to see number one first :)
Here we go. Albums are listed in the order I first heard them:
This is my last mixtape for 2020, and that’s young me on the cover. I named it Love Will See Us Through after the ghostly refrain in the very first track you’ll hear. I think I need it to be true as much as the singer does, echoing beyond the rhythm and ambient waves. This one’s a little bit wistful house, a little bit ambient jazz, and a little bit new age dream. It’s sort of my sad dad mixtape, composed solely of music that’s helped my darker thought trains turn cathartic over the course of this year.