My Favorite 20 Albums of 2020 (#10 to #1)

Earlier this month I posted the first half of my countdown of my favorite 20 albums of 2020, which you can review here. Interestingly, looking back, 9 out of the 10 were fronted by female voices and the one that was not had no vocals. Hmm. Not sure what that means, if anything.

Nevertheless, to quote the late great Casey Kasem…on with the countdown.

10. On Sunset — Paul Weller. This should come as no surprise to my longtime readers, given I’m a huge Weller fan. Mr. Weller has been prolific of late, with On Sunset being his sixth studio album since 2010. This album is classic bluesy Weller, which is always a good thing. There are some special tracks and some odd, experimental ones too. It’s a solid effort, though it’s not going to rank high in the Weller pantheon. I do think the title track is one of those great Weller tunes so enjoy.


9. The End of Everything — Noah Cyrus. I’m not gonna lie, this one surprises me too. I didn’t even know Miley had a little sister, let alone one with a voice so hauntingly beautiful. The first time I heard her sing it was on a 2017 Jake Bugg track called Waiting. I loved the song and when I looked to see who that female voice belonged to I was truly surprised. Noah is only 20 years old, but her sound is really mature. Billy Ray may have been a hack, but his girls got chops.


8. Women in Music Pt. III — Haim. I didn’t think much of Haim when they first hit the music scene. I may have, just may have, referred to them as Hansen with tits. But once I let my guard down and listened I found a trio that played their own instruments, wrote their own songs, and had something to say. Kind of like Hansen. And while I still didn’t consider myself a fan, from the very first moment I heard I Know Alone off their new album Women in Music Pt. III I was all in. This album has been getting huge critical accolades since before it was released, and the Haim sisters are everywhere. They are smart, wise, and fucking talented. I was wrong. I admit it…I was wrong.


7. Swimmer — Tennis. Not since Captain and Tennille have I enjoyed a husband and wife due as much as I love Tennis. The musical couple of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley met at the University of Colorado in 2008 and have been churning out pop delights ever since. 2016’s Yours, Conditionally made my year-end list that year and Swimmer is more of the beautiful same. I’m really happy Alaina decided not to go to law school and instead chose to chase her musical dreams. The world has enough lawyers!


6. Serpentine Prison — Matt Berninger. There was never any question that the first solo album from The National front man Matt Berninger was going to make my list. What is worth noting though is just how unique and interesting this record is…it’s not just a National album without the rest of the band. It’s a beautiful album full of wonderful heartfelt songs that showcase Matt’s remarkable voice. Yes, if you like The National you’ll probably like this album. I love it. Matt could sing the alphabet and I’d be all in.


5. Gigaton — Pearl Jam. I was a little late to the Pearl Jam bandwagon, but over the years I’ve come to consider Eddie and the boys the class of the rock world and the best thing ever to come out of the 90s grunge scene. Pearl Jam makes rock and roll records. If you like rock, you have no excuse not to like PJ. Gigaton is a perfect rock album, one with a nice mix of ballads and rockers. I hope they never stop making music. I think Dance of the Clairvoyants is one their best songs ever.

4. Alphabetland — X. Has it really been 27 years since the last studio album from X? Shit. It has. I’m getting old, but apparently John, Exene, Billy and D.J. are not. I got to see X perform live late last year at the Chandler Center for the Arts (somehow it seemed like a strange venue for a punk act) and they flat out brought it. Exene can still belt it out. John still shreds. And while Billy Zoom sat on a stool while playing his signature guitar, he sounded superb and not too shabby for a 68-year-old punker. The whole band is pushing 70 but they blew the doors off the venue that night. Honestly, it wasn’t too different than the previous time I’d seen them live in the 80s on the tower lawn at San Jose State. Alphabetland is classic X. Welcome back.

3. Always Tomorrow — Best Coast. Lead singer Bethany Cosentino is everything you want in a rock star. She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s a little edgy, and she brings all her demons to her songwriting. This is the third time Best Coast has made my countdown and while I don’t love this record like I did 2015’s California Nights it’s still awesome enough to nearly top my list. I simply love Bethany’s whole vibe.

2. The New Abnormal — The Strokes. I think of The Strokes as the prototypical 21st century indie band and they have certainly been influential. It has been seven years since their last album, and folks in the industry were starting to wonder if we’d ever get another Strokes album but it finally came in April and it was worth the wait. The New Abnormal is perfect alternative rock and critics seem to agree. I simply love listening to it as every song has something to offer.

Before we get to number one, a quick word about some disappointments in 2020. I was looking forward to a few releases that just didn’t do it for me. The Psychedelic Furs released a new record that was meh. Morrissey delivered a dull record in 2020. I was excited for a new record by The Pretenders, but it didn’t do anything for me nor did the latest from Dawes, Joan Osborne, Tame Impala, Vanessa Carlton, Fleet Foxes, and The Struts. But nothing was more disappointing to me than the long awaited fifth studio album from Fiona Apple, who I absolutely love, and who never disappointed me before. I found Fetch the Bolt Cutters really difficult to listen to and despite getting critical raves I just didn’t like it.

What I did like, was my favorite album of 2020 though!

1. Reunions — Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. From the first notes of Reunions I was hooked and no album got more playing time on my Spotify account this year than this gem. Reunions is what rock and roll was meant to be. Critics and music fans around the world agreed, and Reunions topped charts in the U.S. and the U.K. In June in the U.S., Reunions topped the country, folk, and rock charts — at the same time. Is it country? Is it rock? Who cares. It’s amazing songwriting and guitar-playing and it just gets under your skin and stays there. I mean, the first song includes my new favorite artist Michael Kiwanuka. The album features the amazing Muscle Shoals, Alabama based members of the 400 Unit, including Jason’s talented wife Amanda Shires on fiddle. Jason is making music the way it should be made, songs from deep down in his soul, with lyrics that have weight, and with indifference to little notions like genre. It’s just gorgeous, heart-felt, music. Truth is, if you don’t like this album I’m not sure I can be friends with you.

Favorite Albums of 2015

I think this year was a pretty decent year for music, despite the fact that the majority of my favorite artists did not release new albums. That simply meant I looked outside my sweet spot for new music and for someone my age that’s a good thing. No point in letting yourself get stale. A lot of people my age say there’s no good music out there anymore, but I couldn’t disagree more. You just have to look, or rather listen. I suppose I could play the same artists over and over and be happy, but for me the hunt is as fun as the catch. There’s a new documentary film out this year about the history of Tower Records called All Things Must Pass. And while I have not seen it yet, the trailer reminded me of how important Tower Records was to me in my youth. I literally considered hanging out at Tower Records a night out, flipping through the rows of LPs, talking with pierced and tatted employees about the latest records, copping a squat by the magazine rack looking through copies of NME and Rolling Stone. When I worked at a record store in college I expanded my musical tastes exponentially because I was able to be exposed to so much new music.

These days, SiriusXM has become my Tower Records. I can listen to my favorites from the 80s on First Wave, the 90s on Lithium, or rock on Classic Vinyl. But more often than not I tune into The Spectrum, and in addition to my favorites I hear new music by bands I’ve never heard of…and some of them stick. And some of them become my new favorites, like The National, Phoenix, Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire. Even better, by subscribing to a streaming music service like Google Play I can listen to entire albums by new bands to go beyond the hit tracks and see if there’s more there. Or I can read about an artist on the web and give them a listen without making a commitment. Some of them turn out to be duds, but more than a few end up on my year-end favorites list. Which brings me back to my favorite albums of 2015, which consists of a nice mix of established artists and newer artists.

First, a few honorable mentions. I really liked the new Blur record The Magic Whip, especially on the heels of Damon Albarn’s amazing solo album from last year, Everyday Robots.  25 by Adele is exactly what we expected, and although for me it’s nowhere near as good as 19 and 21, it’s still Adele and it’s still wonderful. Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes is bluesy goodness. Squeeze delivered a nice little reminder of why Difford and Tilbrook will always be among the best songwriters in rock and roll history with their first new album in decades — Cradle to the Grave. And speaking of history, one of the biggest surprises of the year for me was Pete Townshend’s reinterpretation of Quadrophenia with the Royal Philharmonic — seriously, give this a listen. Kintsugi by Death Cab For Cutie is a solid (though not great) album by one of my favorite bands. Finally, while it won’t be released until Dec. 18, early indications are that I’m really going to like Cage the Elephant’s Tell Me I’m Pretty (which was produced by Dan Auerbach). And now, here are my 10 favorite albums of 2015:

10. Beneath the Skin by Of Monsters and Men —  This follow-up to the Icelandic band’s first album, 2012’s My Head is an Animal, is really great. It’s quite a bit more mellow than their debut, which was one of my favorite albums of 2012. While it’s probably a disappointment sales-wise following the huge success of My Head is an Animal (which sold more than two million copies), it nevertheless delivers the same lovely and moving sound of Nanna Hilmarsdóttir’s voice.

9. Return to the Moon by El Vy — What a happy surprise  it was when I heard Return to the Moon on the radio the first time and couldn’t believe The National had a new album out that I didn’t know about. Well, turns out it was indeed The National’s Matt Berninger on lead vocals but it was a side project not a new album by one of my favorite bands. I don’t know what it is these days, but musical collaboration seems to be on the rise. I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with Brent Knopf before hearing this album, but I’m sure glad he and Matt decided to do an album together.

8. California Nights by Best Coast — Lead singer Bethany Cosentino cited Gwen Stefani, Sugar Ray and the Go Go’s as influences for California Nights and the result is pure California pop goodness. I don’t hear much No Doubt in the album, but there’s most definitely a Go Go’s vibe and frankly a Beach Boys vibe. This is Best Coast’s third studio album and the second to make my year-end list. They are the perfect example of a band I never would have found without doing some work — and I’m so glad I did.

7. A Head Full of Dreams by Coldplay — I’m an unapologetic fan of all things Coldplay but even I have to admit last year’s Ghost Stories album was a disappointment. And I was as surprised as everyone else when Coldplay announced a new album this fall, and I was skeptical, but after just a few listens I really like it. It’s upbeat with a bit of a dance edge and has 11 really solid songs on it, especially the disco-infused title track. Welcome back Chris and friends.

6. All Your Favorite Bands by Dawes — This band from Los Angeles tend to get put in the “folk rock” category but I think they are in a category of their own I like to call “California Cool.” I probably did not coin that genre, but it fits. Think 1970s California soft rock — Jackson Browne and the Eagles. This is perfect music for cruising up the coast in a convertible, which is exactly what I was doing when I discovered Dawes a few years ago. I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever.

5. Love Stuff by Elle King — Quite the debut album from 26-year-old Tanner Elle Schneider, aka Elle King. With a huge voice and a bad-ass attitude to go along with it, King is the anti-Taylor Swift and wants you to know it. She may not be America’s Sweetheart, but she’ll be around for a long time if she keeps writing songs like Ex’s and Oh’s. I can envision dad Rob Schneider sitting up in the balcony yelling “you can do it.”

4. Yours, Dreamily by The Arcs — Released on Sept. 4 (my son’s birthday), this album featuring the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach did not disappoint. Yes, it sounds like the Keys, but if you’ve read my favorite albums lists over the past decade you already know how much I love the Black Keys. This solo project has a nice blues/soul feel that is a little less raw than the Keys, and while “Outta My Mind” could have easily been a hit for the Keys, my favorite tracks are deeper on the album, especially Put a Flower in Your Pocket. Recorded at the Sound Factory in LA, this album got a lot of plays on my stereo this fall.

3. Positive Songs for Negative People by Frank Turner — In 2013 I kept hearing this song on XM called Recovery by Frank Turner and it really grew on me. I had never heard of Turner but I listened to the whole album and really liked it. This year Turner released his sixth album and I really love it. Turner’s music is acoustic post-punk folk with a hard edge and great lyrics. I’m sure fans of his early work think he is too mellow these days, but there’s nothing wrong with being more accessible.

2. Wilder Mind by Mumford & Sons — Babel was my favorite album of 2012 and it is sure to land high on the list of my favorite records of the decade, so imagine how excited I was when the band announced it would release its third album in 2015 but that it would be more modern and would not include the banjo. What! The Mumfords without a banjo? Sacrilege! Guess what? Wilder Minds is tremendous and I think Believe is probably my favorite Mumford & Sons song ever. So they evolved. What’s wrong with that? I absolutely love Wilder Mind and listen to it all the time, and almost six months later I still turn the volume up when Believe or The Wolf comes on the radio.

1. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists — 2015 began with this gift from the Decemberists and the album never stopped delivering. Frankly, it wasn’t even close this year — this album is head and shoulders above the rest for me. I was fortunate as well to see them live early this year and they were spectacular.  Make You Better was easily my favorite song of the year, and the lesser known and hauntingly beautiful Lake Song stands out as well. The Decemberists have firmly planted themselves near the top of my list of favorite bands and I look forward to many years of new music from Colin and the band.

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