Monday, December 28, 2020

Favorite Albums of 2020

Sorry, but this is going to be a humbug moment. As you can see in the photo above, there are quite a few CDs on my pile of 2020 albums (about 50/50 this year). There are a few reasons for this, and at least one of them is unique to 2020 in that I bought so many records online and paid a small fortune in some cases to get them shipped. If I have to spend more than the price of an album itself in shipping costs, then I would rather pay $10-$15 for a CD than, say, $35 for a piece of vinyl.

This is a plea to the powers that be. I would almost accept the high prices for vinyl if I was guaranteed a nice crisp sound when I put it on the turntable. Too many times in the past couple of years I have received vinyl that sounds just terrible. Surface noise, pops, warps and inferior transfers seem so commonplace now I often don't want to take the risk and go the CD route instead. It's no fun to put on a new record and feel anxiety as the first chords come on... will it be alright? This should be my favorite moment of the day. Oh, and don't feel like colored vinyl is needed on my account. I don't care.

I'll save my gripes about dinged covers and bent corners for another time. That's often a postal service issue, and I know I will eventually get back to the shops when I can see the product before I buy it. All I'm asking for is more quality control when it comes to the vinyl, please. Now back to our regularly scheduled program. As mentioned on my list of favorite songs, lost albums seeing the light of day for the first time in 2020 are elgible.

1. Even as We Speak - 'Adelphi'
My favorite album six months ago is my favorite today. I was certain of this when I did my list of favorite songs last week and off the top of my head came up with a half-dozen candidates from this LP. Quality.

2. The Muldoons - 'Made for Each Other'
From the ashes of the Church Grims, one of my favorite Scottish jangle bands, arose, well, a more sophisticated Scottish jangle band... and they didn't forget the trumpet!

3. Dead Famous People - 'Harry'
Dons Savage has quite the pedigree. Her band was on Flying Nun and Billy Bragg's Utility Records. She sang lead on Saint Etienne's cover of "Kiss and Make Up" and background on The Chills' "Heavenly Pop Song." After raising son Harry, she returns with a stunning debut LP.

4. Close Lobsters - 'Post Neo Anti: Arte Povera in the Forest of Symbols'
My only beef is side 2 came from previously released EPs. The album takes you right back to 'Foxheads' as if the last three decades never happened.

5. Jetstream Pony - 'Jetstream Pony'
Indie heroes Beth Arzy and Shaun Charman are no strangers on these pages. This band had my No. 7 song in 2017, No. 1 song in 2018 and No. 1 song in 2019. Yes, you could say a good showing for their debut long player was inevitable. They kept their top-10 streak alive on my list of favorite songs this year too.

6. Strawberry Generation - 'Afloat'
The Providence band blossomed this year with a stellar EP and LP on Sunday Records. This is sunny indie pop best described as the edgy side of twee. Often when a boy and a girl share lead vocal duties, my allegiance tends to eventually favor the female, but I have enjoyed both Luk and Val at the microphone. Comparisons have been made to Alvvays and Say Sue Me, but the former has more synths and the latter is harder. I'll go with later Pains of Being Pure at Heart when Kip got all poppy.

7. Dropkick - 'The Scenic Route'
They're a little bit country (early Jayhawks) and a little bit rock 'n' roll (Teenage Fanclub around 'Songs From Northern Britain') and have somehow improved upon 2018 album 'Longwave...' and that's saying a lot.

8. The Apartments - 'In and Out of the Light'
I confessed on these pages I didn't know much about Peter Milton Walsh or the Apartments until a couple of years ago when I read Robert Forster's 'Grant & I.' That book lit a fire under me, and I have been making up for lost time. If you are already a fan, you no doubt understand a trip with Walsh is going to be beautiful, emotional and, by its conclusion, exhausting but highly rewarding. This is a true album best heard from beginning to end.

9. Exploding Flowers - 'Stumbling Blocks'
When the Beautiful Sound signed these guys this year, their sound was described in the press release as follows: "...[J]angle pop that touches on 70's-era Chilton/Twilley, mid-80's 'Splash Of Colour' scene and the early Creation sound, New Zealand guitar pop of The Chills & The Bats, hints of the Australian label Summershine Records, L.A.'s Paisley Underground, and 90's noise pop all perfectly mutated, and swirled into their own modern day hook-filled racket." I can't do any better than that.

10. The Luxembourg Signal - 'The Long Now'
Beth Arzy strikes again (on my lists this year with Jetstream Pony and the Treasures of Mexico 7")! The Luxembourg Signal are seasoned vets on this countdown and continue to satisfy with their lush and fuzzy dreampop. On the darkness scale, their third album is in the middle between the poppy debut and the somewhat bleak but beautiful 'Blue Field.' Perfect production makes this (along with 'Adelphi') the best sounding album on the list.

And the rest...

11. Candy Opera - 'The Patron Saint of Heartache'
12. Basic Plumbing - 'Keeping Up Appearances'
13. Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 - 'Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8'
14. Bob - 'You Can Stop That For a Start'
15. Wolfhounds - 'Electric Music'
16. Whyte Horses - 'Hard Times'
17. The Proctors - 'Summer Lane'
18. The Beths - 'Jump Rope Gazers'
19. Supercrush - 'SODO Pop'
20. Gary Olson - 'Gary Olson'
21. Andy Bell - 'The View From Halfway Down'
22. Nah - 'Nah...'
23. The Bell Streets - 'Monument'
24. A Girl Called Eddy - 'Been Around'
25. X - 'Alphabetland'
26. The Bats - 'Foothills'
27. The Stroppies - 'Look Alive!'
28. Lunchbox - 'After School Special'
29. Smokescreens - 'A Strange Dream'
30. Ezrat - 'Carousel'
31. The Just Joans - 'The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of The Just Joans'
32. Easy - 'Radical Innocence'
33. The Proper Ornaments - 'Mission Bells'
34. Davey Woodward and the Winter Orphans - 'Love & Optimism'
35. BOAT - 'Tread Lightly'
36. Various Artists - 'Somewhere in England: A Sunday Records Tribute to They Go Boom!!'
37. Peel Dream Magazine - 'Agitprop Alterna'
38. Paul McCartney - 'III'
39. The Psychedelic Furs - 'Made of Rain'
40. (tie) Mt. Doubt - 'Doubtlands'
40. (tie) The Flatmates - 'The Flatmates'


Charity Chic said...

Given that description Brian you won't be surprised to hear that I'm off to explore Dropkick in more detail

Walter said...

Great selection Brian. It looks like I have to explore a lot of from this list during the next days.

TheRobster said...

The vinyl market has become very lucrative, so that's a cue for the manufacturers/labels to skimp on quality and maximise their profits. Sod the consumer, all we do is keep their industry afloat so what do we matter??!?

I feel your pain Brian, I really do...

McPop said...

Great list Brian! Many of your picks are also in mine and several others I still need to check out. Here are 20 of my favorite albums of 2020:

The Bats- Foothills
Rolling Blackouts CF - Sideways to New Italy
Close Lobsters - Post Neo Anti
Smokescreens- Strange Dream
Real Estate- The Main Thing
Supercrush- Sodo Pop
Exploding Flowers- Stumbling Blocks
Kyle Forester - Hearts and Gardens
Ezrat- Carousel
The Reds, Pinks and Purples - You Might Be Happy Someday
The Beths- Jump Rope Gazers
Gary Olson- s/t
Lees of Memory- Moonshot
Dropkick- The Scenic Route
US Highball - Up to High Doh
Icecream Hands- No Weapon But Love
The Parson Redheads- Lifetime of Comedy
Eyelids- The Accidental Falls
Brendan Benson - Dear Life
The No Ones- The Great Lost No Ones Album

Happy New Year! - Matt

Charity Chic said...

Dropkick now purchased Brian!

Pop Judge said...

I know what you mean about vinyl. My opinion used to be that vinyl was great for a limited number of plays but was risky in the longer term. I usually check that a download is also available with the album if I buy it on vinyl. As per my previous comment, I agree that that the Even As We speak album is very high quality, and as you say the Luxembourg Signal album really does SOUND great, which is part of the reason that I play it quite often.

Echorich said...

Lots to explore here Brian! And how in blazes did I miss the latest Luxembourg Signal album!?! Rectifying that this very moment.

Dan Destiny’s Silver Dawn said...

Your description of the Dead Famous People LP has me drooling. I love the connections with Chills and Saint Etienne - that context is so revealing. I can’t believe it takes someone from the Pacific North West to school me on NZ bands!

I’m also getting increasingly intrigued about the Muldoons/Church Grims story. Another one that has passed me by, but the tracks you’ve posted sound great.

Have a great new year.

Brian said...

CC, You will probably want to check out the Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness too. New album out in February.

McPop, We are even more simpatico than usual this year. Still, there are a handful here I don't know. I am really close to pulling the trigger on U.S. Highball. I knew about the new Brendan Benson, but I haven't kept up with him like I did back in the day. This is the only Real Estate album I don't have. I will catch up with that one. Happy to see the Beths there. I was telling the Robster the other day I thought this once came and went with barely a whisper... at least over here. Shocking considering all the buzz of the last album. This is going to get long. I'll try to drop you a line soon. As always, thanks for the suggestions.

Pop Judge, Too many albums I got this year didn't come with a download code. Huge pet peeve of mine.

DDSD, I think both the Muldoons and Church Grims would be up your street. Not as sure about Dead Famous People, but I knew you would like the connecting of the dots with those other bands. If you do end up getting it, let me know your thoughts.

Echorich, Don't feel too bad. I just discovered I forgot an album on this list that would have been in the top half. It was an easy mistake because I assembled this list from my physical copies, and the album in question only had 200 copies (cd) and came from Spain so I settled for the download. Crap. It's the Very Most... a band I dearly love.

Walter, There are a few albums on this list I know you would enjoy. Happy New Year! Thanks for stopping by, pal.

Robster, Sorry to hear my rant rings true in your world too. Thanks again for your list this year.

Indiggy said...

Great list Brian -

Thanks for ranking the Strawberry Generation so high, it's caused me to revisit and, WOW, I brushed this off after having loved the "Recollections" EP. Not sure what I was thinking.

Sames goes for that Muldoons record. Loved "In Love Again" but never gave the rest of the record a chance.

Have you heard the Adele & The Chandeliers record? I think you may dig.

Here's to a great 2021

Brian said...

Thanks, Indiggy. Strawberry Generation was my favorite of the new fresh-faced bands I didn't know prior to 2020. The EP and LP still receiving lots of plays. I don't know Adele & The Chandeliers, but I will check them out. Always love the recommendations. Keep them coming. Take care.

BernardA said...

Love both the Adelphi and The Long Now albums. Great list overall