2020 really sucked for pretty much everyone, so I guess it’s not surprising that there was plenty of music in 2020 that also kinda sucked. For all that I bagged on 2019 when I noted my disappointment over its dearth of truly great records, I couldn’t come up with very many horrible ones at the end of it, either. 2020 certainly rose (sunk?) to that challenge. And honestly, I can’t even blame the pandemic for most of this crap (with one notable exception – a trilogy of exceptions, technically speaking). These were full-length, professionally recorded and released, bona-fide LPs that each artist took the time and care to put together, with the bulk of the work either being done before the pandemic, or finished remotely in such a way that the change in recording process was transparent to me as a listener. It’s just that they put most of that time and effort into making music that I found off-putting, or at the very least a dreadful bore. Some of the artists on this list have been boring me for several albums now, of course… but there are a few here whose work I’ve genuinely enjoyed in the past, and I certainly would have expected better from them. Despite all the sucky things in 2020 that I’d like to point the finger at Covid-19 and our petulant toddler of a President for, I can honestly say that neither are to blame for most of the bad albums I’m about to discuss.
The rules for this list are that each entry must be a full-length LP released in 2020 – no EPs, compilations, remix albums, etc. Some of these artists certainly tested the definition of how much material comprises an “album” – and if they’re going to put in a lackadaisical amount of effort and still call it that, I’m going to rate it accordingly. (To be fair, there are even some short entries on my Favorites list, so length alone isn’t necessarily why I’m criticizing those projects – it has more to do with the sense that they came up woefully short on interesting ideas.) In some cases there are songs from these records that I did genuinely enjoy, and I’ll embed examples where relevant, but you’ll note that I completely gave up on this midway through the list when things started getting really bad.
And with that, let’s get this masochistic train rolling!
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Dawes, Mike Shinoda, Darlingside, Collective Soul, Drive-By Truckers, Jónsi, Everything in Slow Motion, Tyson Motsenbocker, The Echoing Green, and Linkin Park.
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Flock of Dimes, Phoebe Bridgers, My Morning Jacket, Starflyer 59, Jason Mraz, Mike Shinoda, The Chicks, Father John Misty, Animal Collective, Bombay Bicycle Club, Alanis Morissette, and Wye Oak feat. The Brooklyn Youth Choir.
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.
Wow, June was a crazy month for new music. Probably because there were five Fridays. A bunch of stuff I was looking forward to dropped on June 1, and then again just yesterday on June 29. Because I prefer to have listened to something a bare minimum of twice before mentioning it here, and just for the sake of my overall sanity, I’ve decided to punt a few of those June 29 releases to July, so that I can focus more on the few that I did manage to get to thus far.
Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Sucré, Owl City, Neko Case, Father John Misty, The Flaming Lips, Dave Matthews Band, Arthur Buck, Kevin Max, Mike Shinoda, Florence + The Machine, Jim James, and Katie Herzig.
A pretty significant change to my listening habits this month is that I’m trying to be more open-minded about listening to singles aside from the albums they may or may not be attached to. I largely stopped paying attention to singles years ago, around when I stopped listening to any form of radio, because the risk of getting a negative first impression of a forthcoming album, or else being frustrated that a good song had been entirely left off of a studio album, seemed to outweigh the potential reward of enjoying the song as a listening experience unto itself. As much as I love to cherry-pick favorite tracks from albums for my own personal playlists, I often don’t discover how much I truly love those songs until I get to hear them in the grander context of a series of songs they were intended to be a part of. I’m more of an “album” guy than a “singles” guy, and that’s probably not gonna change any time soon, but since singles tend to come out so far in advance of the album these days, I figure I might as well be evaluating those songs when most of the artist’s other fans are, rather than being way late to the party when the album finally drops. I probably will still change my mind about some of these after hearing them in their “full album” context, but I think I’m patient and smart enough these days to manage expectations of a forthcoming album when a sneak peek catches me off-guard in some way.
I also finally got around to “following” a number of artists on Spotify, which I’ve discovered causes individual songs to show up in my “Release Radar” playlist as they come out. Or occasionally it’ll go back and pick one for me if it’s been out for a little while but Spotify can tell I haven’t listened to it on my own yet. This should keep me from completely missing out on new albums/singles from artists I had followed in the past but then sort of forgot about, without the hassle of having to manually look them up every now and then just to see if they’ve done anything new recently. I’ve got a running playlist of my own to keep track of these new releases and helpful suggestions from Spotify, at least the ones that seem like they might be worth repeated listens. I figure once those get released on an album and/or I get sick of hearing them on their own, I’ll drop them from the playlist to make room for new stuff. We’ll see how often I manage to squeeze that playlist into my listening habits as it evolves over the months to come.
Now, for the actual albums and EPs I’ve given a try this month. Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Mike Shinoda, Marika Hackman, Umphrey’s McGee, Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson, Belle & Sebastian, Rostam, and Charlie Peacock.