It is once again time for my annual ode to self-importance – listing my favorite music of the past year. And what does “favorite” mean? Quite simply, music that surprised, amazed, and exhilarated me. It also needs to keep my attention in this era of LONG albums (see P.S. rant below).
But this year, “favorite” took on an even greater meaning. Much of this music would have been made during the pandemic, and making music requires highly collaborative processes. Recognizing the challenges these artists had to overcome to create their art gives me an appreciation for the final product in ways that wouldn’t be true in a “normal” year.
Santana Blessings and Miracles A collaboration album á la 1999’s Supernatural. Carlos’ accompaniment of his diverse vocalists is exquisite.
Evanescence The Bitter Truth A familiar Evanescence album with all the usual pathos but sounding fresh in unfamiliar ways.
Royal Blood Typhoons They cleverly call this album’s dance-rock sound “AC/Disco” – a perfect description. This album slaps so freaking hard.
Lilith Czar Created From Filth and Dust Say goodbye to her old emo/punk/pop persona as Juliet Simms. All Hail the Rock Queen Lilith and the best cover of Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen.
Silk Sonic An Evening with Silk Sonic Its old-school throwback sound is so perfect, An Evening… needs to be retroactively awarded the 1971 Grammy for Best R&B album, and I don’t care that the award didn’t exist until 1994.
Katy B Peace and Offerings – The ex-dance club queen turns her sultry voice to neo-soul.
NOT POP/NOT ROCK/NOT ANYTHING BUT GREAT
Kacey Musgraves star-crossed It’s not country. It’s not pop. Is it pop-country? Whatever you call it, it’s as devastating a break-up album as has ever been made.
Yola Stand for Myself She’s calling her music “genre fluid” with songs that bounce seamlessly between country soul, R&B, dance/disco, and Americana.
Amethyst Kia Wary+Strange Per Best of 2021 New York Times: “fuses folk, blues, rock.”
Charlotte Wessels Tales From Six Feet Under Ex-symphonic rock vocal legend produces a solo project with diverse pop and rock influences.
Billie Eilish Happier Than Ever Pop but pop that is foreign to any form of pop.
Chvrches Screen Violence On their fourth and best album, the Scottish synth-pop trio goes for a bigger, bolder, harder-hitting sound about the dangers of the internet.
London Grammar California Soil Vibey indie pop driven by the lovely voice of Hannah Reid.
Eli & Fur Found in the Wild Two talented Deep House music ladies.
Gorgon City Olympia Two talented House music guys.
Jessie Ware What’s Your Pleasure? (The Platinum Pleasure Edition) I’m specifically referring to the eight(!) songs added to last year’s What’s Your Pleasure? More heavenly disco.
An Adele album is more than a one-of-its-kind event, as signified by a two-hour Oprah special. It’s also a compulsion. You must buy it. You must declare its greatness. And at some point, while listening to it the first time (or more), it will make you cry (To Be Loved broke me).
P.S. My get off my lawn rant about the streaming era of music is that albums have gotten TOO [INSERT BAD WORD HERE] LONG. There are economic reasons (more songs = more streams) and technology reasons (no physical restraints of vinyl or CDs), of course. But unlike the musicians of prior years who, because of the time limitations of physical music, were forced to decide which of their songs were best, today’s artists can indulge the fantasy that all their songs are worthy, which is generally not the case.
I also like to listen to an album in one sitting. With albums commonly running sixty minutes or more, listening to music can feel like a chore rather than a pleasurable exercise. Having grown up on shorter albums, around 45 minutes is my habitual attention limit. I can find myself wondering how many more songs are remaining when I listen now, and that is something that rarely happened back in the day. It’s likely, although unintentionally, one reason why this list of faves has twelve of the seventeen albums below 50 minutes, with Santana, Billie Eilish, Eli & Fur, Gorgon City, and Adele being the exceptions. Memo to Billie and Adele: Kacey Musgraves’ star-crossed is just as deeply introspective and emotionally devastating as your albums, and she does it in ten minutes less. 😉
 One of my 2020 favorites.