Best of 2020


@@@ Matt Wilson: Hug! (Palmetto, 2020) A straight jazz record led by drummer Matt Wilson. The recording sounds great and the sound of it pushes you further into the music. The drumming is enthusiastic and the playing is equally up to the drummer’s flow, but overall it’s how all the elements combine to make some jazz you will want to return to.

@@@ Pokey Lafarge: Rock Bottom Rhapsody (New West Records, 2020) I found this record earlier this year and gave it a fair number of spins. It’s a pretty familiar formula but he’s got it all going on here — smart lyrics, pretty great delivery and a lively band. He does this old school gent thing that I find humorous and entertaining.

@@@ Insolito Universo: La Canda Del Rio (Insolito Universo, 2018) Outstanding sonics, arrangements and energy here as Venezuelan and French energy combine for fresh ass hipster world music. Both retro and new at the same time with outstanding musicians at every position. Special shout to the organ and the bass player.

@@@ Naeem: Startisha (37d03d, 2020) This smashup of dancefloor, r&b, and hip hop might be too raw and in your face for a lot of listeners. Exquisite sonics, fresh arrangements, and lyrically it hangs out there funky and booty shakin’ in places while graphic and longing in other spots. A lot of passion here and I celebrate that.

@@@ Nihiloxica: Kaloli (Crammed Discs, 2020) This outfit dropped some blazing hot singles earlier in the year but as I was assembling my best of 2020, I see they put a full length out. It’s a blend of kit drumming, hand drumming and big washes of electronic sounds, it’s hypnotic as shit. Start with song 2 Tewali Sukali and go from there.

@@@ schoothroop: Klein Gevaarlijk Kovfal (Rebel Up, 2020) Combining old school reggae-ish production with world music-y grooves and improvised horn and flute playing creates a compelling listen. The sound of the record drew me in. Check out the track Asbest in Huis towards the end of the record and tell me that’s not sticky as fuck.

@@@ Pole: Fading (Mute, 2020) This is no set it and forget it electronic record. It’s got funk in places, a lot of space and ambience throughout; a mostly chill vibe but with small details and changes all over the place. Talk about a manicured but not uptight thing, this is it, straight headphone candy.

@@@ Tony Allen/Hugh Masekela: Rejoice (World Circuit, 2020) Add Tony Allen’s death to the list of awful shit from 2020. This came out before his passing and it’s a 2010 session that’s been reconstructed/expanded following a duo trumpet/drumming session with Hugh Masekela. The world lost one of its best drummers this year and it’s on display here.

@@@ Oh Sees: Protean Threat (Castle Face, 2020) There are a lot of rock and punk bands referenced in this record — Captain Beefheart, Led Zeppelin, a bit of Frank Zappa but the record is tied together by the drummer who is off the hook with his brisk tempos. There’s no need for Red Bull in the studio with these guys and this is no sleepytime tea action.

@@@ Alexander Hawkins/Tomeka Reid: Shards and Constellations (Intakt, 2020) A high quality free session between pianist Hawkins and outstanding cellist Ms. Reid. There are points where I wish the cello was higher in the mix but that’s because her playing is so good.

@@@ 25,000 Kittens: 25,000 Kittens (Ginjoha, 2014) Two ten minute ambient pieces dedicated to cats that have passed on to the next world. The first piece opens with ice cream truck bells and when they fall away the listener just enters into a layered ambient piece that is many things — mournful, beautiful, hypnotic etc. Just the right tempo and combination of morphs and sounds that make me

@@@ A Tiny Bit of Giant’s Blood: Gigantosaur (Jumbo Records, 2020) A simultaneous sendup/homage to glam rock. Exquisitely pornographic arrangements, they nail every detail of the over the top genre while the lyrics are quite acidic.

@@@ Fra Fra: Funeral Songs (Glitterbeat, 2020) A very relevant record for this year full of death. You can hear a bunch of genres in this music — some blues, improvised music, and even rhythmic dance music. The use of a vocal chorus as a rhythmic unit is very rare in my listening and creates a moving listen.

@@@ Gwenifer Raymond: Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain (Tompkins Square, 2020) This young woman has both techical skills and passion. She plays some trick stuff on this solo and multi-tracked guitar record but she plays hard with some mustard. A compelling solo record is not an easy thing to pull off but she more than does that here.

@@@ Homeboy Sandman: Don’t Feed the Monster (Mello, 2020) Kicking off with a stunner called Trauma, Sandman goes deep and mental on this record with retro-ish sounds. His delivery of these lyrics entrances the listener — the seventh tune ‘Shorty Heights’ is far from a throwaway tune.

@@@ Ellen Jewell: Gypsy (Signature, 2019) Jewell takes a familiar formula and elevates with smart lyrics, pointed lyrics and some razor sharp guitar playing from somebody. You Cared Enough to Lie and 79 Cents (Meow) are good places to start.

@@@ DJ Nigga Fox: Cartas Na Manga (Principe, 2020) This electronic music will keep you on your toes — sometimes chill, sometimes a lot of layers of rhythms pushing up against each other, and sort of tribal (for want of a better word) at points, sometimes undercover dancefloor. Lots of ideas well presented.

Best of 2019/Honorable Mention 2019

@@@ The Muslims: Mayo Supreme (Don’t Panic Records, 2019) Three South Asians (two female, one male) tear it out with all the energy and attitude of classic punk. Great playing, outstanding singing and lyrics. As punk as some of my favorite punk shit of all time. Favorite track: The Stew.

@@@ The Good Ones: Rwanda, You Should Be Loved (Anti-, 2019) An acoustic record by survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. It’s hard to put a non-cliche word on this music — heartbreaking is a good place to start. Simple guitar parts and beautiful singing. Start with track 2, Despite it All I Still Love You, My Dear Friend.

@@@ Loscil: Equivalents (kranky, 2019) A super engaging and slow ambient record. Meticulously layered into one giant cloud that pulls you in. The word Equivalent appears in every track title and the record has a pleasing sameness to it sonically. Something at this slow pace in today’s world is super welcome. Pick whatever track and dive right in.

@@@ Canalon de Timbiqui: De Mar Y Rio (Llorona, 2019) Similar in style and beauty (minimalist, acoustic, incredible singing) as the Good Ones record but with female singers and marimbas at the center of the record. Some folks just let the music out of their bodies.

@@@ Kelly Moran: Ultraviolet (Warp, 2019) One of the best records I’ve heard that combines electronic and improvised music. I find the blend of prepared piano and synthesizers mesmerizing to listen to. A lot of electronic music can sound overly processed and sterile and that’s avoided here. At the same time post classical prepared piano records can be a bit uptight and that’s avoided here as well. The idea of this record being a bit John Cage and a bit Tim Hecker is an apt description.

@@@ The Garifuna Collective: Aban (Stonetree, 2019) A cultural mash of Caribbean musics — places like Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. The Garifuna are a people in that region and this music is a unique mash of Carribean, Brazilian, and African influences. Rhythmically on fleek for sure with more gorgeous singing. Check out the effortless groove of the third tune Hamala.

@@@ Andre Bratten: Pax American (Smalltown Supersound, 2019) Tight, funky and minimalist techno out of Scandinavia. The distinguishing feature here is the focus of the arrangements. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on but if you listen just below casual beats are shifting and sounds are coming and receding in waves making for a subtly dynamic record. Bears up to repeated listens for sure, I have it on now for the umpteenth and I feel its freshness revealed.

@@@ Nathan Corder/Tom Weeks: Black Mamba (Wolf’s Blood, 2019) Slotted as a hardcore record on Apple Music it is a saxophone and guitar free jazz record that is accurately self-titled in the below track. Trash music in the highest sense of the word. I never really understood or got Cecil Taylor’s music but I get this. The third track, Gripped, is killer.

@@@ Wyxz: Yiy (Self-released, 2018)  Not available on Apple Music (possibly other streaming music stores)  this is both brutal, mental and cerebral.  If this doesn’t get your blood pressure up you might be dead.  Accelerated tempos, manic and jumpy ass guitar sounds, it’s Frank Zappa with a Red Bull shot into its eyeball for a quick hit.


@@@ Brittany Howard: Jaime (ATO, 2019) Much more appealing to my ears than her previous work with Alabama Shakes. Interesting sonically and arranged with more daring than 99% of today’s major label music. Just a tiny bit of jazz mind makes this stand out.

@@@ Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Polydor, 2019) A soulful re-enactment of classic late ’60s, early ’70s soul music by this British singer. Standard concious lyrics, and groomed sounds. A slight update/upgrade to these classic sounds would have put this on the best of year list.

@@@ Deafkids: Metaprogramacao (Neurot, 2019) A tad slow out of the gate it gets into it’s own definition of a wicked shred by the fourth tune, Mente Bicameral. There’s not a lot of new non-metal rock and this formula could be a way forward.

@@@ clipping.: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (Sub Pop, 2019) clipping. is sharp as a tack on this Seattle hip hop record out on Sub Pop. Sonically it leans a bit away from hip hop and more towards electro and I feel that. Those fresher sounds reframe his music as something more than standard hip hop.

@@@ Danny Brown: uknowwhati’msayin (Warp, 2019) I like Brown’s style– he’s got an odd delivery and his lyrics are most definitely left field. He’s street and quirky ass odd at the same time. I like the track with Run with Jewels and Killer Mike’s turn on the mic is a standout. I found the middle of the record to be hotter than the beginning.

@@@ Bonnie Baxter: Axis (Haisu Mountain, 2019) You have to be able to admit the chopped up nature of our present day digital reality, as well as our shattered attention spans to enter into this organic electronic music which sounds really ancient and super today at the same time. It’s raw and unfiltered like good honey. Highlight: No DICC.

@@@ Toko Telo: Diavola (Daniel Brandt, 2018) This guitar heavy folk music out of Madagascar is my best music pick for corporate stooges. It’s just straight beauty with gorgeous interwoven guitar playing and soaring vocals. Check out the third tune Zaza Samondrara for a taste.

@@@ Kaleta and Super Yamba Band: Medaho (Ubiquity, 2019) One part African blurred and mashed up with one part classic American funk (including old school wah wah guitar shredding. Check out the second song, Mr. Diva and go from there.

@@@ Bug Martin: Gutterball (Pyrrhic Victory, 2019) Starts a bit slow but it’s on the list here due to the fourth song, Hypocrite’s Rag and the fifth, Jim Rodgers’ Blues. Very well executed update/homage to lonesome classic country.

@@@ Saint Abdullah: Mechanical Flirtations (True Aether, 2019) Holding down that space where electronic music meets improvised music. Also the inclusion of Iranian music (this record is a project between two brothers in Brooklyn and Tehran) makes this a unique effort. Outside of that interesting fact the music hits viscerally, just the way I like it.

@@@ Tobe Nwigwe: The Originals (Tobe Nwigwe, 2018) A first generation Nigerian-American MC from Houston that mashes up dancehall and hip hop with an undercover African flavor to it. His microphone work is sharp and combined with his excellent lyrics he is a force to be reckoned with. His sounds are as focused as his lyrics.

@@@ Logistic Slaugher: Corrosive Ethics (Logistic Slaughter, 2016) If I’ve never heard a metal band like this I’m guessing most listeners out there have not either. It’s not about the extreme sounds of the band, it’s that the singers sounds like a pig trying to sing jazz — he bounces up and down on rhythmically over the band, it’s quite mad.

@@@ Buzzherd: Buzzherd EP (Self-released, 2019) 21 minutes of roughness. Remember kiddies it’s not about who is the roughest, it’s about how it’s all put together. I tend to gravitate to the pissed singers rather than the cavemen and that’s what’s happening here.

@@@ Oli XL: Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer (Bloom, 2019) I would describe this as sci-fi electro funk with trippy, glitched bits on top. Chopped and delayed vocal samples, slick beats and slightly dubwise sounds in the arrangement constitute the formula here. The fourth track here, Mimetic, is a highlight but the depth and space of this record works for me.

@@@ Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (Ghosteen Ltd., 2019) The sounds contained on this record are mesmerizing and superlative. However, Cave’s transformation into some sort of emotional advisor/New Age philosopher is slightly less welcome to me as an occasional annoying line pulls me out of the sounds.

Protesting Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer on year end lists!

I’m all for folks showing who they are in their music and I’m all for equal rights, racial equality, economic equality, etc, but at the end of the day I want banging music that I return to.  I don’t find that in Dirty Computer.

This track below (by Janelle Monae) meets all the requirements and the fact that this track was somewhat suffocated (read about it here) and Dirty Computer is on the year end lists as the best of this year says everything that’s wrong with the music business and the music PR, and music journalism.  Too much about the personal lives and identities of the performers and not enough on the music.

I would rather listen to 1999 and to this tune as a combination of music and politics than the restrained and detached music on Dirty Computer.