What a year. Not worth recapping, since everyone went through a lot of the same shit, but it definitely impacted the way I listen to music. I enjoy listening to music while commuting and/or driving, both of which I did significantly less. Also, the low grade trauma of *gestures broadly at the whole year* didn’t really put me in much of a mood to do anything besides hunker down and watch in disbelief. Either way, music came out, and some of it was really good! Perhaps because of the low grade trauma of a pandemic and racial unrest, I found myself listening to a lot more instrumental and shoegaze music. That also might tie into self-quarantining and not getting out as much, but either way, it impacted my top albums of the year. I’m hoping that next year’s list will be more reflective of a return to live music and be more uptempo and upbeat overall.
Is Code Orange overhyped by the media? Maybe, but you can’t take away the band’s ambition. Seeing them mutate from the Kurt Ballou-produced Code Orange Kids to dropping the “kids,” signing with Roadrunner and releasing 2017’s Forever was a journey, one that continues with this album. This time working with Nick Raskulinecz, the hardcore basis of the band sounds as ferocious as it did when they were still “kids,” the industrial edge and the breaks of melody are accentuated even more. Simply put, there’s no other album that sounded like this in 2020.
Key Track: “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole”
“Supergroup” is a term that’s thrown around too much by lazy music writers. As a onetime music writer that’s occasionally resorted to laziness when up against deadlines, I’d know! But if The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Converge and Soulfly were on tour together (which is technically impossible from a 2020 and hiatus standpoint), it’d be one of the best tours ever. The fact that Troy Sanders, Greg Puciato and Max Cavalera put out an album (2014’s self titled album, with Dave Elitch on drums) was improbable, and the fact that it was a pretty solid album even more so. It’s even more unlikely they’d make a sophomore album (this one with Converge’s Ben Koller on drums) and have the songs be better and more coherent doesn’t even make them an above average group. It makes them a supergroup.
Key Track: “Deconstructing Self Destruction”
I feel like either there was more quality shoegaze released this year or maybe just 2020 was a year that was the equivalent of washed out swirling guitar feedback. Either way, both bands released great albums that took me by surprise for separate reasons. Nothing because I’d liked them before, but for some reason, this album grabbed me more than any of their others and Hum because, well, it was a surprise overall, with their first album since 1998 coming out without any announcement. It’d been 25 years since their left-field alternative hit “Stars” had been out, and probably a decade or so since I’d thought of them. But yeah, I guess COVID-19’s unofficial soundtrack is shoegaze.
Key Tracks: “Say Less” (Nothing) and “Waves” (Hum)
07) Run the Jewels, RTJ4
No one said anything about it being top ten metal albums, right? This album brings me back to old school Public Enemy, who in their day were more punk rock than most mid-to-late 80’s punk rock bands. It’s a pure hip hop album, but the truth that Killer Mike and El-P spit on their fourth album was essentially a megaphone to 2020. Written well before the death of George Floyd and the protests and calls for reform around the world in the wake of it, it was both prescient and frustrating because it proved how little has changed. Also, any album that features Zack de la Rocha
and Josh Homme on it will perk my ears up.
Key Track: “Ju$t”
06) Unleash the Archers, Abyss
It’s pretty lame to name an artist from the label I work on as one of the year’s best, but I’d be lying to myself and anyone reading this if I didn’t. This album transcends power metal and is just a great metal album overall. Sure, the title track is a nearly seven-minute epic that’ll make you want to ride off into battle and pillage something, but “Soulbound” could be a Soilwork song, and while I was somewhat familiar with the band before joining up with Napalm a few years ago, the first time I listened to the masters of this album, I knew that it was something special.
Key Track: “Soulbound”