Alright, so it’s 2020, and it’s time to look back on the best music from the decade that is now behind us. Most of us will simply refer to that decade as “The Twenty Tens”, “The New Tens”, “The Teens”, etc. I’ve decided to label them “The Tenny Tweens”, mostly for the delight of how that silly phrase rolls off the tongue and because I wanted a unique nickname for it after coming up with “The Ought Nots” for the 2000s, but also because it felt very much like a decade of between-ness and transition, where I ended up in a different place both personally and in terms of my musical tastes than where I started.
Anyway, before I get to the proper list of what I’d consider my favorite album releases of the 2010s, I wanted to give honorable mentions to a hodgepodge of releases that don’t really fit into the conventional album format – generally because they’re too long, too short, and/or are mostly comprised of previously released material. Plenty of songs from these releases perked up my ears and lifted my spirits over the last several years, and it didn’t feel right glossing over ’em entirely simply because the artist didn’t choose a conventional LP as their method of releasing ’em.
2019 was a weird year for me, in terms of the music I enjoyed most. A lot of artists put out genuinely great singles, only to follow them up with lackluster albums, EPs as stopgaps between albums, or really nothing at all. It’s a good thing I was following all of my favorite artists on Spotify, as well as some newer ones I was curious to hear more from, or else I might have not heard a good quarter of this list until 2019, if ever. Usually the vast majority of my Top 100 songs for the year comes from my favorite albums released that year, with some spillover from the year before. While that’s still true in 2019, it’s worth noting that nearly a tenth of my list this time comes from EPs or compilations rather than albums, and close to another tenth of the list is made up of non-album singles, that have yet to be attached to a larger collection of songs (assuming that will ever happen at all). While this speaks to the ability of many of my favorite artists to strike while the iron is hot in terms of getting new music out, it also worries me slightly where the longevity of the album format is concerned. But that’s an issue to discuss when I get to my list of Favorite Albums for the year. My Favorite Songs list, while eclectic and probably whiplash-inducing at certain points, definitely required some tough decision-making because there were so many great songs that spoke to me this year. At the end of the day, whether a song is part of a larger narrative or not, that’s really all that matters – whether the song stands out to me as unique in some way, and makes me want to keep coming back to listen to it over and over again. And everything on this list passed that test with flying colors!
As I do each year, I’ll give some insight into my reasons for picking the Top 30, and you can assume after that point that the ordering is somewhat arbitrary. Many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2019 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
Artist: Mae Album: Multisensory Aesthetic Experience Year: 2018 Grade: B- In Brief: Mae’s long-awaited comeback album is about half comfort food for those who loved their heart-on-sleeve style of high-octane pop/rock, and about half experimental/progressive stuff, not all of which fares as well as the band seems to have hoped. I’m thrilled to have them back, but wish they’d taken a little more care to make the final product a bit more cohesive.
This is the list I look forward to writing the most each year, and yet that I seem to always agonize over until New Year’s Eve arrives and I have to click the “Publish” button and freeze these opinions in time. Coming up with a good, solid list of album recommendations at the end of every year seems to be a harder and harder task as time goes by, owing to a lot of artists seeming to lose interest in the album format, perhaps putting out excellent singles or EPs, but with the full-length LP becoming almost an afterthought. Even some of the top entries here were records I got to know at least half of as pre-release singles, or as a collection of EPs, before the full listening experience was made available, and thus I regard them more as strong compilations of songs from the latest phase of an artist’s career rather than as cohesive “albums” in the traditional sense. Still, a few holdouts are doing great things with the LP format, making a case for why it’s worth roughly 40 to 60 minutes of a listener’s time to take in a collection of songs in the order presented. I think that’s an art form that is still worth pursuing, even if the state of the music industry makes it an uphill battle to keep doing so.
First on my to-do list as the year comes to a close is to list the individual songs that inspired and entertained me the most in 2018. Some of these may have come out in 2017, or in a few extreme cases, as singles in 2016 that didn’t make it onto an actual album release until more recently. Either way, it was all new to me this year, or else I heard it in late 2017 and I had a belated reaction to it. Explanations and video/audio links are given for the Top 30 – for the rest, if you’re curious, just click the review links where provided to learn more.
As always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2018 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
Not as much new stuff this month, because I am insanely busy going back through all of the albums I listened to since January in order to figure out the final placement for my best and worst of 2018 lists! Still, I found time to offer some brief thoughts on the latest from Mae, The 1975, Tennis, Jeff Tweedy, MuteMath, Trey Pearson, The Decemberists, and Mew.
Wow, did I really try to digest fourteen new albums this month? (OK, actually ten albums and four EPs, but still.) That’s a bit much, even for me. September had no shortage of intriguing releases, but I’ve actually had to save a few for October, just to make sure I have time to catch my breath after some of the Friday morning new music rituals that are now regularly stretching well into the afternoon.
Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Iron & Wine, Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, mewithoutYou, Animal Collective, Thrice, Yoav, Steven Page, Wye Oak, The Last Bison, Frontperson, Metric, Aphex Twin, and Mae.