Favorite Albums of 2020
Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2020
- folklore - Taylor Swift
- Shiver - Jonsi
- Prisioner - Phoebe Bridgers
- Ultimate Success Today - Protomartyr
- Summer Songs - Library Tapes
- Coatcheck Florian T M Zeisig
- Welcome to Conceptual Beach - Young Jesus
- R.Y.C - Mura Masa
- Brave Faces Everyone - Spanish Love Songs
- Serpentine Prison - Matt Berninger
- Ghosts V: Together - Nine Inch Nails
- In Sickness & In Flames - The Front Bottoms
- Shore - Fleet Foxes
- The Ascension - Sufjan Stevens
- All Thoughts Fly - Anna von Hausswolff
As always, as I listen to new music throughout the year, I keep a running Spotify playlist of my favorite tracks. That playlist — currently running more than 100 songs and over 7 hours — is available here and below. I also keep monthly playlists of my favorite tracks, both old and new, that are available over on my Spotify profile.
Music as Comfort Food
The list above, while representative of the new music I listened to on repeat this year, is not necessarily an accurate reflection of my 2020 soundtrack. Let’s talk about what this year sounded like, as I found myself returning to old favorites again and again — the musical equivalent to comfort food.
At the beginning of the pandemic, by coincidence, I was reading Harif Abdurraqib’s essay collection, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us which includes a handful of essays on the pop-punk bands of the early 2000s like My Chemical Romance and Fallout Boy. This style of music, in many ways, was the soundtrack of my high school years. I hadn’t listened to these genres in fifteen years yet I found them to strangely be a perfect fit to adjusting to life in quarantine: it’s a soundtrack for being stuck in a place you don’t want to be, whether that’s high school or quarantine. These albums accompanied me walking to the laundromat or the grocery store just as the spring turned into summer. (Not quite exactly the same but there was a solid two weeks, early in the pandemic, where the new Spanish Love Songs album was all I listened to, feeling like the perfect soundtrack for the moment.)
Almost as if I was growing up again, after I burned through those albums, I found myself returning to the music of college. Without a clear working schedule, I was once again keeping hours similar to those I had in college — the most productive hours falling between 10pm and one or two in the morning. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten out of the habit of working late, but in the struggle to balance work, home, and family now that we were all under one roof together, all the time, it turned out those midnight hours were when I could get the most work done. And just like in college, it was post-punk bands that kept me company deep into the night like Joy Division, New Order, and The Cure. In additional to rediscovering how much I love these bands, I’ve also enjoyed finding the new artists carrying the genre forward like Protomartyr, Merchandise, and Gold Class. This post-punk music, in many ways, defined the soundtrack to my year
Beyond these returns to earlier musical interests, the music that carried me through this year generally fell under lo-fi shoe gaze bands, ambient tracks, and solo piano. Burial, one of my all time favorite artists, was on frequent repeat, as were perennial favorites like Low and Duster. I enjoyed returning to Brian Eno’s ambient albums and working my way through the ECM catalog.
I’ve written before how over the last few years, my listening habits have swung back to music after years of consuming podcasts. The pandemic, in many ways, solidified this shift. I found the only time I could listen to podcasts this year was while running each morning. On those runs, I tended to favor longform, sprawling interview shows1 like The Ezra Klein Show, Kara Swisher’s Sway, and At A Distance. If I’m not running, it’s now all music. And the music this year was, overall, moody, introspective, quiet. It’s the music for isolation, for being along, for disconnection. It’s music for long walks and long hours of work. Music for writing to and music to get lost in.
This is, perhaps, why Taylor Swift’s folklore, and more recently evermore, hit me just right. I’ve been an unashamed fan with increasing interest since 2014’s 1989, when she solidified her transition from country to pop. This pair of albums, both produced by Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner returns to an acoustic container but moves into something quieter, calmer, almost indie. It’s easy to discount pop music, and especially easy to dismiss Swift, but there’s a lot to chew on on these albums and I found myself discovering something new with each listen2. Even Taylor Swift, it turns out, was making music for isolation.
A surprising side effect of this upside down year was rediscovering how important music is to my life and clearly it has defined the memories I hold dear. This year, for all of us, was about revising our priorities. It was a year for deciding and confirming what is important to us and jettisoning the rest. For me, that’s easy: family, literature, cooking, writing, and, of course, music.