by Kevin Hogan (@raditor9987)
As crazy as 2020 was for live music, artists still put out some incredible tracks and albums. Every month seemed to find a new album or artist finding creative peaks amidst one of the toughest years we have lived through. I started off with a list of 40 possibilities and had to drop some great things. In the end, these are what I found most moving and told our story of this year. So, in no particular order…...
TOPS I Feel Alive
Slowly refining their skills since their debut in 2012, Montreal’s Tops have created their strongest collection yet. It is a nostalgic record, reminding you of a time things may have seemed simpler. The title track in particular is a perfect pop escape from 2020.
Jordan Mackampa - Foreigner
This pop-funk-soul fusion is full of the deeply personal lyrics of a man searching for his place in the world. The beauty being they are so deftly written and delivered they could be your own thoughts. The recording itself is also top shelf, stirring up the ghosts of 60s soul shouters with a warmth not usually found in digital recordings.
Canada had a great year for women in music. Katie Stelmanis and her cohorts create some of the best synth-art-pop out there and have grown so comfortable in their sound it seems effortless even as they are pushing boundaries on tracks like “Anywayz” and “How Did I Know?”
Gil Scott-Heron & Makaya McCraven - We're New Again - A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven
The vocals are rough, scared with drug abuse and weariness of years in prison, but Scott-Heron’s brilliance and wordplay shine. This is a reimagining of an album released in 2010 by Richard Russell who had convinced Heron to do the project not long before he died.
Ambrose Akinmusire, on the tender spot of every calloused moment
In a departure from his normal Blue Note fare, Ambrose Akinmusire has created an avant-garde jazz masterpiece. He is pushing the boundaries of jazz and music in general like Sun Ra and Miles Davis before him.
Drain — California Cursed
As Punk becomes more and more commercialized and diluted by pop and metal influences we find Drain invoking the spirit of Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and that NYHC into an album that, at just under 23 minutes, is the essence of Punk's 2nd wave sound.
Waxahatchee – St. Cloud
Katie Crutchfield brings a fresh voice to country music even though she is no way a country artist by trade. On St Cloud, released as part of her ongoing Waxahatchee project, we go through a song cycle that loosely follows a journey of self-discovery.
The James Hunter Six - Nick of Time
There is a timeless quality to James Hunter and his band. He sticks to his rhythm and soul roots that seamlessly blend Jackie Wilson like phrasing, 50s crooners, and Southern gospel.
Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
Sophie Allison is Soccer Mommy and her sophomore effort shows an artist growing by leaps and bounds. The contrast between the dark edge of her lyrics and the bright sound bubbling underneath is pure pop perfection.
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges - Texas Sun
What do you get when you cross post-Tx Psych with smooth vocals from one of Texas’ best soul singers? The beautiful and haunting Texas Sun EP. I can only hope they explore these sounds further in the future.
Phish - Sigma Oasis
Vance Powell deftly takes the raw power of live Phish and crafts it into one of Phish’s strongest studio performances. They have a strong batch of songs with Marshall’s lyrics coming into their own. The eccentricities of past efforts are abandoned leaving the listener a chance to just revel in the band's strengths.