This was most certainly a bizarre year, especially for music. From mid-March going forward, there were pretty much no concerts or live shows – with some clever and rare exceptions. Fortunately there was new music, thanks to bands being remote and learning to embrace an updated form of recording together. Or finishing an album before the pandemic lock down.
So with that, I give you my list of the top 10 albums released in 2020.
Nine Inch Nails “Ghosts V and VI”
– With all of the movies scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross the last many years, they were able to make time for a new album. Actually two new albums – Together and Locusts. Continuing the GHOSTS album format 12 years later, these two mostly instrumental albums were made available for free on the official NIN store. Between the 23 songs across both albums, there are a couple of standouts. One is the last song on the Together album called “Still Right Here” which ends up being a calmer take on the song “Right Where It Belongs” as the closing track on 2005’s “With Teeth” album. From Locusts, there is a more haunting sound on many of the tracks like “Just Breathe” and “Run Like Hell”. While not the industrial sound many are familiar with, these are great albums for a year filled with pandemic mayhem.
The Strokes “The New Abnormal”
– Coming seven years after their last full length album, this new release is all sorts of classic Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr sounds, mixed in with some familiar snippets from other alternative songs like the Psychedelic Furs chorus from “The Ghost In You” in “Eternal Summer” and the chorus from “Dancing With Myself” by Generation X (Billy Idol) in the song “Bad Decisions”. Although I do hear some “I’ll Melt With You” by Modern English in the song, as well. Overall, a nice collection of new songs by a band I’ve liked for years.
– Blancmange, which is pretty much Neil Arthur and other musicians, last released a new album almost two years ago. I’ve been a fan of this UK synth band since the early 80’s and even after Stephen Luscombe left the band and Neil continued on to carry the Blancmange name. Since 2013, there have been 7 albums of new material. Mindset brings us 10 new songs, which have similar construction to the songs off 2018’s “Wanderlust”. Standout tracks are “Clean Your House” and “This Is Bliss”. There is the throwback to original 80’s sound in “Insomniacs Tonight” which gives us long time fans a blast from the past.
Foster the People “In The Darkest Of Nights, Let The Birds Sing – EP”
– Mark Foster and his band last released a full album three years ago, which was their third full album release. Since then, they have been releasing songs every so often, which I have promptly purchased from the iTunes store. Two of those songs “Lamb’s Wool” and “The Things We Do” are included on this 6-song EP. The newer songs “Walk With A Big Stick” and “Cadillac” have already gotten some decent airplay on SiriusXM Altnation in the 3 weeks it’s been out. Easily one of my favorite bands in the last 10 years.
Tame Impala “The Slow Rush”
– I totally missed seeing this band live at Austin City Limits in October 2019, opting to watch parts of Thom Yorke’s set and most of Guns N Roses set. I regret not seeing Tame Impala as there were a couple others who did at ACL 2019, a few months before “The Slow Rush” came out. Since the album came out, it’s been one of my most played. Highlighted tracks include “Borderline” and “Lost In Yesterday” and the more popular “It Might Be Time” which reminds me of a Supertramp song. Hoping to see them live next year when they tour again.
The Psychedelic Furs “Made Of Rain”
– 29 years later, we get new music from the Psych Furs. And it’s very much welcomed. An incredible set of new songs that retain the standard sound that the band had brought on with the “Mirror Moves” album. Standout tracks like “You’ll Be Mine” and “Don’t Believe” are instant likes and have that well known vocal rasp of Richard Butler. Then we get a nice throw back to “Sister Europe” in the song “Come All Ye Faithful”. It is obvious they have never forgotten their roots. If you think they have not made anything great since “Pretty In Pink”, listen to this album. You will be impressed.
– Not quite the length the Pysch Furs went between albums, but 27 years is still a long time for the four original members of this Los Angeles punk band to go between their last release in 1993. Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake toyed with making new music for the better part of the last 20 years. And the wait was worth it. Songs like the title track, “Free” and “Water & Wine” are all great songs with that standard harmony of vocals. I finally got to see X a couple of years ago here in Salt Lake City after missing them multiple times over the years. To have new music from them in this crazy year was very much welcomed.
Pearl Jam “Gigaton”
– This is one of those 2020 albums that came out just as the worldwide pandemic hit. There was a tour ready to go and then….. all shut down. But after each listen, I am so grateful this album wasn’t delayed. I bought the CD from my local record store Graywhale here in Salt Lake City and it sits with all of the other Pearl Jam albums I own. The songs have that grunge sound that is familiar to the Pearl Jam fan, but there are some differences to several of them. Like the first single “Dance Of The Clairvoyants” which to be honest, took a few listens before it sank in. Continuing in those differences, is the song “Alright” which is easily the best song on the album, in my opinion. If it’s standard Pearl Jam songs you are looking for, try “Superblood Wolfmoon” and “Take The Long Way”. The album cover is a photo taken by Paul Nicklen, which gives way to their theme of this album of climate change. And the final song on the album “River Cross” was in the documentary “Rebuilding Paradise”. Experimental, but really really good.
Marilyn Manson “WE ARE CHAOS”
– Anyone that knows me, knows that pretty much anything that Marilyn Manson has made musically, I like it. And it most likely ends up being on my top 10 end of year lists. This new album, produced by Shooter Jennings, is different. But it’s brilliant different. And the song construction is familiar. As are the lyrics… “we are sick/fucked up and complicated/we are chaos” from the lead single “WE ARE CHAOS” (all songs are intentionally in UPPERCASE). Every song on this album is well constructed, expertly written and with great performances by Manson and Jennings. Highly recommend you listen to this one.
And now, for my top choice of album that came out in 2020….
The Airborne Toxic Event “Hollywood Park”
– Just three original members of this band remain: drummer Daren Taylor, lead guitarist Steven Chen and lead singer Mikel Jollett (pronounced joli-eh) after Anna Bulbrook left the band in the fall of 2019. In 2015, Mikel’s father died and he went into a seclusion. For almost 5 years, nothing new musically came out of the band. They toured, but against their first 5 albums of hits. Then late 2019, Mikel announced a book and album of the same name. The book and album are companion pieces about his early life raised in a cult, his father’s struggles and their relationship. The songs on this album tell a story and are pretty much great on their own as Airborne songs. The band members supported Mikel with this duel project of a book and musical storytelling.
– Since I first discovered TATE (the acronym fans gave the band), they have made music that I’ve listened to many times over. The songs on “Hollywood Park” are just as great as previous songs on previous albums. Standout tracks for me are the title song, the somber “Brother, How Was The War?” and my favorite “The Common Touch” with the chorus “And we fall and fall and fall and fall/With our heads soaked up in alcohol”. The first single was the strong “Come On Out” starting out with that heavy bass line provided by Adrian Rodriguez, band member since 2014. I have the book, but have not read it yet, but need to after a couple dozen listens to this album. There was no question that this album would end up on this list, but ending up at the top was the icing on the Airborne cake.
And sometime my album choices don’t always match what my readers like (I’m lucky to get a couple of matches), so if you have something to add, speak up below in the comments below. Give me a shout out on anything you like on my list. What I might have missed this year, I can always go listen to see if it would have made my list.