CWHT’s Top 10 Albums of 2020
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
10. Taylor Swift—folklore—Republic Records
Folklore finds Ms. Swift departing from her more radio-ready style and taking more musical risks that pay off for newcomers and old fans alike. Folklore is a goth-folk album, through and through. It is made up of mostly piano and acoustic guitar, chiefly in collaboration with the National’s Aaron Dessner. There not being a pop song on the record only solidifies this as her most audacious stylistic shift to date.
the last great american dynasty
exile (featuring Bon Iver)
9. The Weeknd—After Hours—Republic Records
The Weeknd (Abel Makkonnen Tesfaye) was thought to have been content making niche stoney R&B for what seemed to be an audience of hyper-apathetic hipsters, but After Hours signals a digression from his modus operandi in that this album is enjoyable by a much larger demographic. “Blinding Lights“, (the most-played song on terrestrial radio in 2020) sounds as if it was recorded in the mid-eighties. Tesfaye showcases a mastery of his voice over the flavor of old-school synthy production best suited for not only his voice but the listeners enjoyment. The After Hours promotional run was intended to serve as a PSA cautioning against drunk driving. The Weekend isn’t just only for me you and everyone—he’s for the children.
In Your Eyes
Until I Bleed Out
8. Phoebe Bridgers—Punisher—Dead Oceans
Phoebe Bridgers' Punisher is a stunner of an album that reminds you that it's possible to fear for the future while also feeling glimmers of hope. It also makes solitude and anonymity sound alluring. "I love a good place to hide in plain sight," she sings on the title track. After four years of Trump and nine months into a pandemic, who hasn't wanted to disappear at some point? But as enticing as that is, there has to be some optimism—even if you have no faith at all. "I want to believe / That if I go outside, I'll see a tractor beam / Coming to take me to where I'm from," she sings on "Chinese Satellite." There's a chance of a better world, and listening to this album makes the sadness and anxiety of waiting for it feel okay.
I Know The End
7. Fiona Apple— Fetch the Bolt Cutters—Epic/Sony
An utterly cathartic album that has a little something for everyone. Fiona Apple’s music has always been out of step with pop music’s trends and unconcerned with setting them. Apple’s lyrical genius matches her unorthodox and thrilling approach to pop songwriting. She is in a league of her own.
I Want You To Love Me
6.Tyler Childers—Long Violent History—Hickman Holler/RCA
Long Violent History is a raw instrumental album, save for it’s title track snug at the end of the record. Tyler Childers plays out the internal argument that led him to make such an explicit and remarkable stand in solidarity. The title cut is a lament grounded in bluegrass fiddle and fundamental African import—the banjo. Presenting himself as a naive “white boy from Hickman” who once understood how the protests might feel like unnecessary trouble, Childers tastefully blends perspective at the ballad’s apex, realizing that for all the times he’d belligerently questioned authority, he’d never felt like he might lose his life.
Childers took a big chance with this project. In a liner-note esque style video, he explains that the eight instrumental numbers that precede the title cut were well-considered as stage-setters for this final, controversial act. This could very well be the new “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
Each and every, in order!
5.Colter Wall—Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs—La Honda/Thirty Tigers
It seems Saskatchewan-born cowboy Colter Wall (25) has become a contemporary country mainstay throughout the recent years. On Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs, Wall vicariously informs country-listeners of all backgrounds that he is someone to be excited about. His genuine personality bleeds through in a way that only someone who has spent a majority of their life working and taking nothing for granted can achieve. Wall breathes new life into some country standards, and treats listeners to a few original numbers as well. This ten-track ode to the themes and labors of western life is diverse and effortlessly cool, with an extra log or two on the fire for good measure.
Henry and Sam
Rocky Mountain Rangers
4. Circles—Mac Miller—Warner
How do you stay true to an artist's vision when they can't give their input? Circles works because it was intended to be released as the companion album to Mac's 2018 album Swimming—the last album the twenty six year old released before he died. Logistics aside, it's also just a very solid record.
The first and likely only posthumous Warner release from Mac is a self-aware, intimate glimpse into the mind of an artist manifesting struggle. It exudes a quiet, creeping optimism. This is lyrically genuine and often eerie. Composer Jon Brion underwent a daunting task by finishing the record up post Mac’s passing, and he absolutely aced it.
Everybody (a cover of Arthur Lee’s 1974 hit “Everybody’s Gotta Live”)
Hand Me Downs (featuring Baro)
3. What Kinda Music—Tom Misch & Yusef Dayes—Beyond The Groove/Blue Note
Weaved throughout What Kinda Music, there is an unmistakable joyful feeling of two musicians at the top of their game sparking off one another, picking up ideas and running with them – zaggnig where the other zigs, ebbing where the other flows, with Misch producing the majority of the record and both having a hand in the overall sound and feel of the record.
Nightrider (featuring Freddie Gibbs)
I Did It For You
2. Charley Crockett—Welcome to Hard Times—Son of Davey/Thirty Tigers
This is hands-down the most classically country-forward of Charley Crockett’s records to date (excluding the covers on Lil' G.L.'s Blue Bonanza). It’s been written that this album “is perhaps even more potent proof of his literal heartbreak than the scar on his chest”, referencing his open-heart surgery in early January of 2019, where pre-assessments revealed that he had a congenital heart condition where two out of three of his aortic valve flaps fused together. This is known to lead to Wolff—Parkinson—White Syndrome.
That brush with mortality undeniably fired the forging coals of Welcome to Hard Times. The recording was finished just before the pandemic hit the United States.
Mark Neill (Grammy-winning producer of the Black Key’s Brothers) envisioned “a dark gothic country record”, and Crockett, who Buddy magazine has quoted as being “the archetype of the new American vagabond”, stepped up to the plate to deliver an album like he was running out of time.
Welcome To Hard Times
Heads You Win
Mordechai is Khruangbin’s first album with vocals prominently laced all the way through. The Houston trio is comprised of members Donald Johnson (drums), Laura Lee (vocals & bass), and Mark Speer (guitar). Mordechai is packed with emotionally substantive lyrics.
"Time (You and I)" is delivered fast and appropriately so. The mantra “That’s Life” is sung in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Farsi, Hebrew, Mandarin, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Pidgin English, Gaelic, Turkish, Serbian and German.
"Connaissais de Face" is like overhearing a conversation between old friends, while simultaneously supplying some of the album’s best guitar licks.
The numbers "Father Bird, Mother Bird" and "Shida" mark a return to the trio’s instrumental nature.
"If There Is No Question" finds Lee’s voice rising and falling with the lead guitar naturally. Her voice complements Speer’s guitar and vice versa.
Pelota is a Spanish-language number that seems to be about embracing your inner demons and “having a ball” and “loving your disastrous life”. My favorite passage of the song is
“Me convertí al demonio
Quien tuve una semilla.
La semilla fue arrancada
por la ayuda de mi familia”
which loosely translates to “I converted to a demon, who had a seed. The seed sprouted to help the family.”
“One To Remember” and “Dearest Alfred” seem to be ethereal responses to a close friend.
“So We Won't Forget” employs slower beats and a wider vocal breadth. It is a bittersweet ode to the pull to chronicle life as it unfolds so as not to let it slip away before you.
Mordechai is rounded off with a nice instrumental outro. Khruangbin continues to offer something for everyone. Their instrument mastery and dynamic use of language (over 10 of them) has solidified this is as my top album from 2020.
Thank you for reading. I hope you're staying positive and testing negative.
Happy New Year!