Well folks, it's time once again to countdown the Greatest of Everything for the Year. 2020 was a fun one, huh? We will see the true impact of this cultural shift for years on down the line reverberating through pop culture, but the year itself gave us a handful of true triumphs. Music is the easiest popular art to churn out in a pandemic - you can play instruments and make beats alone in your quarantined hotel. It's a lot easier than say, a feature film or television series. We had fun tracking which music videos were clearly made in quarantine and which ones were churned out from a natural backlog.
As is usual, we aren't exactly music savants around here. But we like music and had fun with this this year. We'll break down the entire industry into three big mega-genres and give our top picks. Here we go!
Pop Album of the Year:
Folklore by Taylor Swift
So, this was a tough one - I'm not sure if this is even pop or could be considered for our rock category. Tay Sway endures a lot of haters, but for all the complaints she still actually demonstrably evolves and matures as an artist and defiantly continues to find ways to break apart our expectations of her. When this surprise album dropped over the summer I listened to the entire thing back to back in one sitting. I really never do this. Each song dripped with emotion, soothing, fierce, pungent, and calming. Summer 2020 was a bad time. This was a nice relief, but never in a way that ignored the strife we were going through. I digged it from the moment I heard it and knew it would be here at the end of the year.
Top Tracks: "seven", "invisible string", and the #1 pick - "betty"
Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
Dua had a breakout year - she has of course been on the scene for years now but she finally launched herself into the stratosphere by taking over summer, as well as churning out hits in the vacuum created by a noticeable absence of other pop divas. I was skeptical putting this album on, but I found myself hooked immediately. Her singles were all excellent bops this year, but some of her deeper tracks bring the pop reckoning as well. I could listen to this on loop every day - it may not be very 2020 but it's still a worthy entry to the Pop Pantheon.
Top Tracks: "Cool", "Levitating", and the #1 pick - "Good in Bed"
Rock Album of the Year:
Summerlong by Rose City Band
I had never heard of these folks before this year, but they sound like the Allman Brothers mixed with a little Hendrix, and the Black Keys. It's all pretty relaxed rock that's still upbeat and fun. I dig their sound a lot and from the first track knew I was hooked and they'd be someone I'd be following for a while.
Top Tracks: "Reno Shuffle", "Wildflowers", "Morning Light", and the #1 pick - "Only Lonely"
Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
It's wild that Fiona Apple felt like dropping a 2020 album, but not only that, one of the most universally praised 2020 albums out there, a possibly year-defining album. I heard a lot of hype about it and was blown away when I started listening. It's full of grinding edginess and anger, but all fueled by a sense of clear righteousness over loss. It's fantastic from start to finish. It should maybe be #1. I just liked the Summerlong vibes a little better. We've put a lot of Top Tracks for this one. It's my article, I can post what I want.
Top Tracks: "Shameika", "Fetch the Bolt Cutters", "Under the Table", "Cosmonaut", and the #1 pick, "Relay"
Pain Olympics by Crack Cloud
Yeah, there were a few Rock Albums that really intrigued me this year. This is also a new artist to me, but I loved everything about this. The sound counters the soothing quality of Rose City Band, which serves to calm us down after a tumultuous year. This and Fiona are on the other side - angry righteous catharsis for all this bullshit.
Top Tracks: "Somethings Gotta Give", "The Next Fix", and our #1 pick, "Ouster Stew" which reminds me of David Byrne
Hip Hop Album of the Year
RTJ4 by Run the Jewels
Listen, I don't automatically give RTJ album of the year. Only twice - I notably wasn't super into 3. But yeah, they get the nod for overall album of the year again. This was another highly anticipated drop that I listened front to back as soon as I could - they of course released songs with a slow drip drop over the summer. I don't think you can acknowledge this year without hip hop. It was a year for social justice and revolution - personally I still don't think anything we accomplished will stick, but this was the kind of protest music we needed.
Top Tracks: "out of sight", "holy calamafuck", "the ground below", "a few words for the firing squad", and our #1 pick, "walking in the snow"
Untitled (Rise) by Sault
Sault is a musical collective that dropped two untitled albums this year - the critics have leaned more towards Black Is, which is the more lyrical of the two, but I found myself gravitating to Rise. I give in to the beats, baby. There were many politically conscious albums dropped, but few had top to bottom excellence like this. Most celebrated hip-hop this year was concentrated in singles. I can throw this on and be complete, though.
Top Tracks: "Fearless", "The Beginning & the End", "Uncomfortable," "Little Boy," and our #1 pick, "I Just Want to Dance."
So, that's it, folks. What did you think of the Music of 2020? Stay tuned - the world is ending!