Best of 2020
The best releases from the worst year: it's the best of 2020!
Phoebe Bridgers doesn’t write love songs as much as songs about the impact love can have on our lives, personalities, and priorities. Punisher, her fourth release and second solo album, is concerned with that subject. To say she writes about heartbreak is to undersell her blue wisdom, to say she writes about pain erases all the strange joy her music emanates. The arrival of Punisher cements Phoebe Bridgers as one of the most clever, tender and prolific songwriters of our era.
Bridgers is the rare artist with enough humor to deconstruct her own meteoric rise. Repeatedly praised by publications like The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, The Fader, The Los Angeles Times and countless others, Bridgers herself is more interested in discussing topics on Twitter, deadpanning meditations on the humiliating process of being a person, she presents a sweetly funny flipside to the strikingly sad songs she writes. Fittingly, Punisher is fascinated with, and driven by, that kind of impossible tension. Whether it’s writing tweets or songs, Bridgers’s singular talent lies in bringing fierce curiosity to slimy and painful things, interrogating them until they yield up answers that are beautiful and absurd, or faithfully reporting the reality that, sometimes, they are neither.
Bridgers pulls together a formidable crew of guests, including the Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, Christian Lee Hutson and Conor Oberst as well as Nathaniel Walcott (of Bright Eyes), Nick Zinner (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Jenny Lee Lindberg (of Warpaint), Blake Mills and Jim Keltner as well as her longtime bandmates Marshall Vore (drums), Harrison Whitford (guitar), Emily Retsas (bass) and Nick White (keys). The album was mixed by Mike Mogis, who also mixed Stranger In The Alps.
On the album’s epic, freewheeling closer, “I Know The End,” Bridgers orchestrates wails and horns, drums and electric guitar into a sumptuous doomsday swirl, culminating in her own final whispered roar. This is Punisher in a nutshell: devastating elegance punctuated by a moment of deeply campy self-awareness.
Single LP on black vinyl in single jacket w/ matte coating. Includes euro sleeve (with lyrics) & 24”x36” poster. Download coupon also included
What do we hold on to from our past? What must we let go of to truly move forward? Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield spent much of 2018 reckoning with these questions and revisiting her roots for answers. The result is Saint Cloud, an intimate journey through the places she’s been, filled with the people she’s loved.
Fourth studio album by the Australian singer-songwriter Tame Impala (Kevin Parker). 'The Slow Rush' was recorded between Los Angeles and Parker's studio in his hometown of Fremantle, Australia. The album is Parker's deep dive into the oceans of time, conjuring the feeling of a lifetime in a lightning bolt, of major milestones whizzing by while you're looking at your phone, it's a paean to creation and destruction and the unending cycle of life.
MP3 Album: $11.49 Download
Moses Sumney evades definition as an act of duty: technicolor videos and monochrome clothes; Art Rock and Black Classical; blowing into Fashion Week from a small town in North Carolina; seemingly infinite collaborators, but only one staggering voice. A young life spent betwixt Southern California and Accra, Ghana - not so much rootless as an epyphite, an air plant. The scale is cinematic but the moves are precise deeds of art and stewardship. Sumney's new, generous album, græ, is an assertion that the undefinable still exists and dwelling in it is an act of resistance. To try to pin Sumney down on a sound - and really, on any matter - is to end up with a hand full of fog, but his genius is never allowing the set to sound like a hodgepodge. His forthcoming double album expands upon the sonic universe built in Sumney's critically-acclaimed debut LP Aromanticism and subsequent EP Black In Deep Red, 2014. The songs on græ may be divergent, like the visceral, Smashing Pumpkins drama of "Virile" and the intoxicated, outro jazz of "Gagarin." There's the kinky, ambiguous bop of "Cut Me" countered with the sweeping, amphitheater-ready "Bless Me." But there's that voice, always unknowable and penetrating, threading these pieces together: a heavenly rasp, a whale call, Miles' horn, a soulful snarl. It all works to create a paradox, keeping art and artist somewhere between any one sure thing - but surely something that demands your attention affixed and your breath bated. All of this is græ. There's probably a biblical analogy to be made about a person who just happens to be named Moses, who flees the binary, splits a massive body into two pieces, and leads us through the in-between - holy and wholly rebellious. By breaking up græ into two multifaceted, dynamic pieces, Sumney is quite literally creating a "grey" in-between space for listeners to absorb and consider the art. Not strictly singles, not strictly albums, never altogether songs or spoken word segments on their own. It's neither here nor there. Neither/Nor, if you will.
Circles is the sixth and final studio album by Mac Miller. Conceived as a sister album to 2018's full length Swimming, the album was completed with the assistance of Jon Brion, with whom Miller worked on Swimming and had been working together on Circles at the time of his passing. While sonically distinctly different than its predecessor, Circles features many of the hallmarks for which Swimming was critically-acclaimed upon its release -- Miller further realizing his singing voice in addition to rapping, live instrumentation and earnest, confessional lyrical content. Listeners will hear shades of some of the album's influences in its songs, from the T-Rex guitar tone of "Surf" to the Plastic Ono Band-era John Lennon feel of its production and the inspired cover of Arthur Lee's 1972 single "Everybody's Gotta Live." It's a momentous final entry into the discography of an artist that remains at the center of reimagining the limits of rap.
Mac Miller's family announces a double-disc vinyl box set of his albums Swimming and Circles. Swimming In Circles collects Miller's two final studio albums, which were conceived by the late artist as companion albums, into one deluxe presentation. Now, fans will be able to listen to both releases on vinyl side by side for the first time, experiencing the full narrative arc expressed across the two albums. The new box set will be available on November 20, 2020 through Warner Records.
Circles was released in January 2020 and was the most pre-added album in Apple Music history upon its release. It also debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 Chart, marking Miller's sixth consecutive Top 5 debut on the chart. The album was completed with the assistance of producer Jon Brion, with whom Miller worked on Swimming and had been working together on Circles at the time of his passing.
For Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, color theory confronts the ongoing mental health and familial trials that have long-plagued her, presenting listeners with an uncompromisingly honest self-portrait. The new album’s sonic landscape is vast and dexterous, with melodies that shimmer on the surface, but reveal an unsettling darkness with each listen.
2LP – Double Vinyl w/ 3-sides audio and 1-side etched; includes 32-page booklet
Pearl Jam will release their much-anticipated eleventh studio album, Gigaton, on March 27th. It marks the band's first studio album since 2013. "Making this record was a long journey," explains Mike McCready. "It was emotionally dark and confusing at times, but also an exciting and experimental road map to musical redemption." 2020 officially marks 30 years of Pearl Jam performing live, with over 85 million albums sold worldwide and a 2017 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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Three-time Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams unabashedly takes on some of the human, social and political issues of our day with her boldest and most direct album to date, Good Souls Better Angels. During the course of her celebrated four-decade, pioneering career Williams has never rested on her laurels as she continues to push herself as a songwriter. On Good Souls Better Angels, she has much she needs to get out. On Good Souls Better Angels, Williams changes course and chooses to forgo the personal and narrative-based songcraft that has become synonymous with her name and instead speaks to some of the injustices permeating our society. Williams recorded Good Souls Better Angels backed by her remarkable, long time band, featuring Butch Norton (drums), Stuart Mathis (guitar) and David Sutton (bass). The rock-solid unit propels the music with both fire and finesse. Good Souls Better Angels marks the first time Williams' husband/manager Tom Overby is credited as a co-writer on many of the new songs. The album was co-produced by Williams, Overby and Ray Kennedy, who last worked with Williams on her 1998 landmark album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.
‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ is Bob Dylan’s first album of original material in 8 years and his first since becoming the only songwriter to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 2016. Its 10 tracks include the three new songs released this spring: the album’s lead-off track, “I Contain Multitudes,” the nearly 17-minute epic “Murder Most Foul” and “False Prophet.”
Single Disc, 130 Gram PURPLE Vinyl, in Standard Jacket, with Poster & Sticker.
Orville is a new Columbia Records signing, and a rising country artist. This EP announces with the release of a new track "No Glory In The West. This is an addition to the previously released track and video, "Summertime". Orville appears on upcoming Diplo country album Diplo Presents: Thomas Wesley Chapter 1: Snake Oil. Orville is known for his baritone voice, strong musicianship and songs that are sincere yet bold in their storytelling. Orville has never confirmed his identity and is known for hiding his face with a fringed Lone Ranger mask.
Vinyl: $24.98 Buy
Double vinyl LP pressing - Includes Digital Download.
2020 release. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Fiona Apple. It is Apple's first release since The Idler Wheel... in 2012. The album was recorded from 2015 to 2020, largely at Apple's home in Venice Beach. It was produced and performed by Apple alongside Amy Aileen Wood, Sebastian Steinberg and Davíd Garza; recording consisted of long, often-improvised takes with unconventional percussive sounds. Rooted in experimentation, the highly percussive album resists genre categorization. While conventional instruments, such as pianos and drum sets, do appear, the album also features prominent use of non-musical found objects as percussion. Apple described the result as "percussion orchestras". These industrial-like rhythms are contrasted against traditional melodies, and the upbeat songs often subvert traditional pop structures.
Alphabetland is the eighth studio album by American punk rock band X. Released digitally in April 2020, it is their first studio release in 27 years and the first with their original line-up in the past 35 years. The release has received positive reviews from critics. Alphabetland was recorded across several sessions in 2019 and 2020 with producer Rob Schnapf, who has previously worked with Elliott Smith, Beck, and Joyce Manor.
Even though these songs date from a time when the band's only songwriters were vocalist Exene Cervenka and Doe, all tracks are credited to all four members of X and the recording sessions coincided with the individual musicians improving their relationships with one another.
Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass is the title poem of the book and the first poem I wrote of many. Some of which came to me in their entirety, which I dictated and then typed out, and some that I worked laboriously picking apart each word to make the perfect poem. They are eclectic and honest and not trying to be anything other than what they are and for that reason I’m proud of them, especially because the spirit in which they were written was very authentic. — Lana Del Rey….The recording includes 14 poems performed by Lana Del Rey accompanied by music from Grammy Award-Winning songwriter/producer Jack Antonoff.
MP3 Album: $9.99 Download
Free Love thrives on collaborative frisson—two people pushing one another into new territories with the shared assurance of knowing they’re in good company, a sort of trust fall in reverse. Yes, these 10 songs are some of Sylvan Esso’s most direct. And most delicate. And most intricate. And most urgent. Free Love carries the confidence of two people delighted to be all those things, together, at once. LP pressed on Sky Blue Vinyl.
MP3 Album: $10.99 Download
50 years following the release of his self-titled first solo album McCartney, featuring Paul playing every instrument and writing and recording every song, Paul McCartney will release McCartney III on December 11th. Paul hadn’t planned to release an album in 2020, but in the isolation of “Rockdown,” he soon found himself fleshing out some existing musical sketches and creating even more new ones. Before long an eclectic collection of spontaneous songs would become McCartney III: a stripped back, self-produced and, quite literally, solo work marking the opening of a new decade, in the tradition of 1970’s McCartney and 1980’s McCartney II. Recorded earlier this year in Sussex, McCartney III is mostly built from live takes of Paul on vocals and guitar or piano, overdubbing his bass playing, drumming, etc. atop that foundation. McCartney III spans a vast and intimate range of modes and moods, from soul searching to wistful, from playful to raucous and all points between — captured with some of the same gear from Paul’s Rude Studio used as far back as 1971 Wings sessions. And Paul's array of vintage instruments he played on the new album have an even more storied history, including Bill Black of Elvis Presley's original trio's double bass alongside Paul's own iconic Hofner violin bass, and a mellotron from Abbey Road Studios used on Beatles recordings, to name but a few. Just as McCartney’s 1970 release marked Paul’s return to basics in the wake of the biggest band break-up in musical history, and the 1980 avant-garde masterpiece McCartney II rose from the ashes of Wings, McCartney III finds Paul back on his own, turning unexpected circumstances into a personal snapshot of a timeless artist at a unique point in history.
Indie Exclusive Hand-Numbered White LP
Two 140 Gram LPs, Transparent Inner Sleeves, 16 Page 12”x 12” booklet, Gatefold Jacket, Side 4 Etching
Letter To You is Bruce Springsteen’s new studio album with the E Street Band, and is a rock album fueled by the band's heart-stopping, house-rocking signature sound. Recorded at his home studio in New Jersey, Letter To You is Springsteen’s 20th studio album, and is his first album including the E Street Band since 2012’s High Hopes and their first performances together since 2016’s The River Tour.
“I love the emotional nature of Letter To You,” says Springsteen. “And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs. We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.”
Letter to You includes nine recently written Springsteen songs, as well as new recordings of three of his legendary, but previously unreleased, compositions from the 1970s, “Janey Needs A Shooter,” “If I Was The Priest,” and “Song For Orphans.” Springsteen is joined on Letter To You by Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent, Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Charlie Giordano and Jake Clemons. The album was produced by Ron Aniello with Bruce Springsteen, mixed by Bob Clearmountain and mastered by Bob Ludwig.
The new album from Charley Crockett is perhaps even more potent proof of his literal heartbreak than the scar on his chest. After undergoing open heart surgery that saved his life, Charley says he considered calming down for “just a minute” but once he recovered he did just the opposite. He states boldly with one eyebrow raised, “I wanted to make an album that would change the entire conversation about country music.”
That album is Welcome to Hard Times , an aptly-named collection that perfectly fits these troubled days even though it was made just before the pandemic hit. The music was shaped by his heart issues and producer Mark Neill’s desire to make “a dark gothic country record.” Charley certainly knew how to deliver that. “I think you can hear that deep, dark sadness in this record,” he says, “but I think it’s the kind of darkness that will uplift others.”
Khruangbin has always been multilingual, weaving far-flung musical languages like East Asian surf-rock, Persian funk, and Jamaican dub into mellifluous harmony. But on its third album, it’s finally speaking out loud. Mordechai features vocals prominently on nearly every song, a first for the mostly instrumental band. It’s a shift that rewards the risk, reorienting Khruangbin’s transportive sound toward a new sense of emotional directness, without losing the spirit of nomadic wandering that’s always defined it. And it all started with them coming home.
The Ascension is the eighth studio album from singer, songwriter and composer Sufjan Stevens and is the long awaited follow-up to Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. One of the most acclaimed albums of 2015, The New York Times praised Carrie & Lowell as “restrained and meticulous” while Pitchfork declared it “a masterpiece.”
In the time between Carrie & Lowell and the forthcoming The Ascension, Stevens also released Oscar-nominated music for the Luca Guadagnino film Call Me By Your Name; a collaborative album entitled Planetarium with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner (The National) and James Mcalister; The Decalogue, a solo piano work performed by Timo Andres; and scored several works for ballet: Reflections (Houston Ballet) and Principia (NYCB).
The Ascension is musically expansive and sweeping in thematic scope.
Coming October 9th: Yo La Tengo returns with an EP comprised of the new original track 'Bleeding' and five covers written by Bob Dylan, Carole King, The Delmore Brothers and more. The new album includes an etched illustration by YLT's own James McNew on the disc's b-side along with original cover artwork by renowned Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. The Matador release follows the debut of Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Yoshitomo Nara solo exhibition and corresponding catalog, which includes the six new Yo La Tengo tracks along with a B-side of other musicians curated by the artist.
The Drive-By Truckers Austin City Limits performance was recorded on September 23, 2008 during their Brighter Than Creation’s Dark tour. The band lineup featured Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Shonna Tucker, John Neff, Brad Morgan and Jay Gonzalez. Lauded by fans as an instant classic and hailed by Patterson Hood as the band’s best filmed performance to date, this acclaimed recording is now on vinyl for the first time ever. Pressed on 180g vinyl, this 2xLP package features a new alternate cover printed on a high quality gatefold jacket.
Thundercat is set to release his new album It Is What It Is on Brainfeeder Records on April 3, 2020, and shares the first music; 'Black Qualls (featuring Steve Lacy and Steve Arrington). The album, produced by Flying Lotus and Thundercat, features musical contributions from Ty Dolla $ign, Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole and Zack Fox. It Is What It Is follows his game-changing third album Drunk (2017). That record completed his transition from virtuoso bassist to bonafide star and cemented his reputation as a unique voice that transcends genre. 'This album is about love, loss, life and the ups and downs that come with that,' Bruner says. 'It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but at different points in life you come across places that you don't necessarily understand' some things just aren't meant to be understood.'
The New Abnormal is the long awaited new album from The Strokes, and the band’s first album in seven years. The album was announced with the first track and video, “At The Door.”
The New Abnormal is The Strokes’ sixth studio album and was recorded at Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California, with producer Rick Rubin. The album’s cover artwork is a painting called ‘Bird on Money,’ by famed artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The Strokes are singer Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr, bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti.
'Sun Racket' is the brand new album from legendary Boston trio Throwing Muses, consisting of Kristin Hersh, David Narcizo and Bernard Georges. The follow up to 2013's 'Purgatory/Paradise' is an outpouring of modal guitars, reverbed shapes, echoey drums and driving bass set behind Kristen Hersh's well-thumbed notebook of storylines. A ten-song opus of suitably wrought tales set against a wall of sound that's at once calm and ethereal before building into glorious cacophonous crescendos. When Throwing Muses wrote their last album, they were shattered. Pieces were coming and going, elements repeating and charging the whole. 'It sounded beautiful jumping around like that'. Two-minute songs reappearing as twisted instrumentals or another song's bridge. They mimicked the effect live which kept them on their toes. Whatever was happening was already over in other words. 'Sun Racket' is the opposite. It refused to do anything but sit still. It says, 'sit here and deal'. 'All it asked of us was to comingle two completely disparate sonic vocabularies: one heavy noise, the other delicate music box. Turns out we didn't have to do much. Sun Racket knew what it was doing and pushed us aside, which is always best. After thirty years of playing together, we trust each other implicitly but we trust the music more' - Kristin Hersh And so, they continue. Business unusual. 'A ground-breaking band who changed the face of alternative music rather than follow the rule book.' MXDWN 'Pioneers of the 80s/early 90s college rock sound' Pitchfork 'One of America's finest guitar bands' The Quietus
Return to Greendale is the next installment in Neil Young’s Performance Series (#16) and features a concert (audio & on film) from the historic and unique 2003 tour supporting the release of the Neil Young with Crazy Horse album Greendale.
On the 2003 tour, Neil Young and Crazy Horse were joined on stage by a large cast of singers and actors to perform the story Neil Young wrote about the small town of Greendale and how a dramatic event affects the people living there. The ten songs from the powerful original album are performed in sequence, with the cast speaking the sung words - adding to the intensity of the performance.
The live album Return to Greendale is released on 11/6/20 in several formats: Double vinyl, a 2 CD set, and a limited-edition deluxe box set that includes a Blu-ray of the full concert, a DVD of Inside Greendale (the making of the album documentary), 2 LPs and 2 CDs.
The film of the ambitious live show captures the vibrancy of Neil Young and Crazy Horse on stage in a unique multi-media experience. It seamlessly blends together the live performance, the actors portraying each song, with the story occasionally enhanced by scenes from the Greendale - The Movie.
Both the live concert film and the Inside Greendale documentary are directed by Bernard Shakey and produced by L. A. Johnson.