Certainly not *all* the music, of course, but this is a list of some of the music that made it onto my speakers and headphones during 2020 through this first half of 2021.
In previous years, I’d been in the habit of writing down my favorite listens of the year in one of those End of The Year listicles like some kind of sham music blogger. I started a draft post at the beginning of this year, but never finished it, like so many other drafts sitting unfinished in my bin. Then one day out of the blue, a friend asked me if I was still making those lists (hey Boony! Sorry I’m late.).
Well it turns out 2020 was a pretty stellar year for music. Later on we were treated to some live performances online that I kind of hope continues to be a thing that happens. Here are a few of my favorite new albums of the last year.
Adrianne Lenker – Songs
Singer Songwriter from Big Thief released this stripped-down, mostly acoustic album of indie folk songs. It feels extremely personal, the writing is beautiful and expertly delivered in Lenker’s unique voice.
Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess
At times evoking Julie Cruise, this is a haunting, atmospheric album of mic’d electric guitars and Olsen’s reverb heavy crooning. It is of another time.
Ben Lukas Boysen – Mirage
Atmospheric, ambient, electronica.
Caribou – Suddenly
Dan Snaith’s first album in 6 years as Caribou, “Suddenly” was released back in February just as the outbreak was starting. It’s something of a departure featuring Snaith’s vocals more prominently. It’s less techno dance and more focused on the song-writing. It’s a superb recording and rewards repeat listens.
The Dears – Lovers Rock
Canada’s rock darlings, The Dears shipped this gem early in the year. Standout track, “I know what you’re thinking and it’s awful.”
Fleet Foxes – Shore
There’s a very good chance you’ve heard of this. It’s because it’s very good. I listened to this a bunch and it transported me to peaceful places.
Future Islands – As Long as You Are
I know. Not everyone loves Future Islands. If you do, you’ll love this.
Jeff Tweedy – Love is The King
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame released this personal solo album of alt-country songs and it’s lovely.
Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
Front man for The National breaks out and releases album of solo music. That would have been enough, really, but the album was produced by the legendary Booker T. Jones and features him on some very tasty Hammond organ solos. It’s pretty laid back, soulful and well recorded.
Nation of Language – Introduction, Presence
I’m not sure where I heard of this album, or how I ended up with it, but it was an immediate favorite. The 80s inspired synth wave, Matt Berninger-esque baritone vocals and catchy writing were ear-grabbing and continue to spend a good amount of time on my speakers. I’m really excited for their new album out later this year!
Nicolas Jaar – Cenizas
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
There were a couple of weeks or months when you couldn’t turn on a late night talk show without seeing yet another at-home performance by Phoebe in her skeleton onesie. In retrospect, they were all pretty memorable, but I think her performance of Kyoto on The Late Show was the stand-out for me, though her video for This is The End was pretty special too. I’m going to admit I listened to this album a little bit more than I should have. It was kind of perfect for the whole isolation thing, with the songs feeling like they were custom built for an apocalypse. Bridgers’ song writing is truly phenomenal.
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
It was seven years since their last album, Comedown Machine when this popped onto my radar. I’ve always had a weak spot for The Strokes’ brand of retro-cool but The New Abnormal didn’t immediately jump out at me. What it did do was grow on me to become one of my favorite albums of last year. Can’t wait for their next one.
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
The Slow Rush was a work years in the making that survived the destruction of Kevin Parker’s rented home studio during the California wildfires of 2018. Despite the setback, he and the band kept working, and reworking the songs into what became 2020’s The Slow Rush. Unbelievably catchy riffs and grooves were the result of Parker’s relentless pursuit of perfection. Brilliant.
It’s now July and we’ve made it through 6 months of 2021 and most people are crawling out of their isolation caves and making tentative returns to live beyond the COVID pandemic. Vaccination rates keep going up and borders are opening. Music made during the past year is starting to find its way to record stores and people’s speakers. And boy is there a lot of it.
The Antlers – Green to Gold
There very possibly might never have been another The Antlers album. Green To Gold is probably The Antlers’ most uplifting album to date. The title track is beautiful.
Beachy Head – Beachy Head
Slowdive’s Christian Savill reinvents himself yet again with a short album of shoegazy music.
Brad Sucks – A New Low in Hifi
Brad’s best yet. I’m still digesting this masterpiece but first impressions are EXTREMELY FAVORABLE. I’m beginning to think we should start a petition to upgrade Brad Sucks to Brad Adequate. I’ll be on change-dot-org crafting a word or two in support.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – New Fragility
Brooklyn indie rockers CYHSY are still putting out new music.. Great stuff. I have some catching up to do.
Dinosaur Jr. – Sweep it into Space
Continuing the resurgence of 90s artists, Dinosaur Jr. returns with Sweep it into Space. J Mascis reminds us why he is still a master of guitar and song writing.
Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
A sonic departure for Ms. Baker. Some great song writing and a bigger, welcome direction in production.
Kele – The Waves Pt. 1
Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke’s solo album combines ambient, soundtrack, surf and his instantly recognizable vocals to make something… unique. A surprising , rewarding listen.
Lord Huron – Long Lost
Lord Huron continues evolving his mythology on Long Lost, evoking a gothic cowboy show of some misremembered America. It’s a little weird, a little rockin’, and lots of fun.
POSTDATA – Twin Flames
Paul Murphy of Wintersleep’s second outing as POSTDATA, Twin Flames.
St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home
St. Vincent departs from her machinistic electronics of MASSEDUCTION and gives us an album of funky, soul-insired disco jams.
The Weather Station – Ignorance
What a mood on this one. It’s laid back but features some exceptional musicianship and production.
Weezer – OK Human + Van Weezer
Rivers Cuomo and band have not been resting quietly. They started recording these two albums before the pandemic, shelving Van Weezer (the rock album) and finishing up OK Human first. OK Human is a concept piece with a full orchestra, possibly harkening back to Radiohead’s OK Computer for inspiration, but with a decidedly different musical direction.
One of the highlights of the past year was watching Weezer perform this on a live-stream in an empty auditorium with full orchestra. The big band was behind plexiglass with the rest of the band out front, separated across the stage. Everybody looked like they were having a pretty good time except for Rivers who was all business. Great stuff.
Van Weezer is a callback to 80’s hair bands and features some scorching metal guitar riffs, hooky melodies and Cuomo’s distinctive voice. The song Hero has spent a lot of time in my head, unbidden, refusing to leave.
Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
Pulled from Bandcamp? I had to check my paypal receipts to confirm I wasn’t losing my mind and had purchased this on Bandcamp. I did. It’s gone.
Anyway, the followup to 2017’s Visions of a Life is a real banger. Great album. The track “How Can I Make it OK?” feature Ellie Rowsell’s incredible vocal range. Fantastic.
one more thing… After ruminating on Beachy Head’s new album, I was reminded of Beach House, a shoegaze outfit from Baltimore, Maryland of all places. They’re on Bandcamp and you should definitely get ALL of their albums. I’m serious. They’re fucking amazing.
3 Comments on “Pandemic Playlist: The Music of 2020-2021”
Wow boolean, you went full albums! I’ve been listening to a few of them already, but looking forward to digging in into your recommendations! Thanks for putting this out!!
Hey Boony! I’m an album listener by default so it made sense to list them that way. Let me know if anything stands out for you. Cheers!
I was already with you on the Fleet Foxes, Phoebe Bridgers and Strokes albums, obviously the mainstream stuff. I watched that Weezer live performance yesterday, and wow, that was really cool, hadn’t heard about it before. I really enjoyed by first listen through of Adrianne Lenker – Songs as well. My ask for you to post this list is already paying off handsomely!! Thanks again!