The Top 50 Albums of 2020, Albums 30 — 21

Across the Margin continues its rollout of the Best Albums of 2020 with albums 30 — 21…

The Top 50 Albums of 2020, Albums 50 — 41

The Top 50 Albums of 2020, Albums 40 — 31

30. Perfume Genius — Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

Perfume Genius’ latest album, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, is dripping with raw and uncensored emotion. It’s a powerful album to behold and hauntingly beautiful in its scope and execution, from the microscopic to the meta. Singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas has gifted us another sublime encapsulation of his continuing transformation as an artist on this latest album, and arguably presents his strongest work so far. The listener, set adrift on a roiling sea of swirling emotion, whispered confessions, dreamy instrumentals, and energy-flecked lyrical currents is sure to be moved by this lofty amalgamation of songs. There’s a sprawling inner palette to be found on Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, from joyous celebration to the healing power of love to the burdens of the corporeal form, and what is gained by listening is a truer understanding of the human condition, told from the perspective of someone who has experienced it more than most.

Essential Tracks: “On The Floor,” “Without You,” “Jason,” “Describe.”

29. Yves Tumor — Heaven To a Tortured Mind

The fourth studio release from Yves Tumor (Sean Bowie), Heaven To a Tortured Mind, is brimming with emotion. Beyond that, it is rife with gooey, thick funk and all-embracing soundscapes that aren’t always easily described. The reason for that is Tumor’s musical stylings are persistently experimental, a fusing of cerebral soundscapes that invoke feelings and emotions on an extremely visceral level. In Heaven To a Tortured Mind, Tumor lays his soul and spirit bare across musical landscapes that often fell familiar, yet are also paving the way into the future for soul, rock, and funk music. While that might appear to be a bold claim, it is visionary artists such as Tumor that are forging music onward as displayed across the twelve absorbing tracks on Heaven To a Tortured Mind, one of the most innovative albums of 2020.

Essential Tracks: “Gospel for a New Century,” “Asteroid Blues,” “Kerosene!.”

28. Chris Forsyth — Peoples Motel Band

It is extremely infrequent when we include an EP or a live release on our year end countdown, as the inclusion of these heightens the already stout bounty of releases found in any given year…but exceptions must be made. This year, that honor is awarded to guitarist extraordinaire Chris Forsyth’s live album Peoples Motel Band. Recorded on September 14, 2019 before an enthusiastic hometown crowd at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, Peoples Motel Band captures Chris Forsyth playing with Garcia Peoples (#33 on this countdown) as well as the tremendously talented drummer Ryan Jewell re-imagining songs from his excellent studio albums with a fiery zest. While the entirety of this release is captivating and exemplifying to the talents of all the extraordinary artists teemed onstage that evening, we cannot help but point you directly towards the pedal to the metal, driving rocker that is “Dreaming in the Non Dream,” an absolute scorcher of a rendition. 

Essential Tracks: “Dreaming in the Non Dream,” “Tomorrow Might As Well Be Today.”

27. Porridge Radio — Every Bad

Porridge Radio, the British indie rock band formed in Brighton in 2015, is our latest obsession. The pointed angst and fierce passion that radiates from each and every track off their latest album, Every Bad, is a cathartic, intoxicating shot in the arm. Porridge Radio is fronted by vocalist, songwriter and lead guitarist Dana Margolin, and the band is rounded out by keyboardist Georgie Stott, bassist guitarist Maddie Ryall and drummer Sam Yardley. Every Bad is a mammoth step forward for Porridge Radio sonically, where their once minimal sound has been dramatically impassioned. Every Bad is also deeply contemplative as exemplified by the opening track “Born Confused,” where Margolin asks “What is going on with me? / And maybe I was born confused / And baby, I was born confused / So I don’t know what’s going on,” and then further in the album within the dreamlike “Pop Song” where she croons “And where was home to you? / And where did you feel safe? / And where was home to you? / What kind of place?” While uncertainty and a searching for oneself, for home, persist at the heart of the album, Every Bad is a confident album, one displaying a band who are finding their foothold in a sound, and of a might, of a band who will continually soar to new heights.

Essential Tracks: “Sweet,” “Nephews,” “Born Confused.”

26. North Americans — Roped In

Easily the softest, and most melodic, entry into the countdown, the instrumental duo of guitarist Patrick McDermott and pedal steel player Barry Walker latest release under the moniker North Americans, Roped In, is a dazzling work of art that is settling and altogether cleansing. While often sparse, the ambient sonics and gentle picking coalesce into hypnotic complex webs of melodiousness. The album features contributions from William Tyler on guitar and Mary Lattimore on harp and while haunting at times, and entirely gorgeous through and through, we have yet to find a better album this year to set the tone while relaxing, cup of coffee and book in hand, on a lazy Sunday morning.

Essential Tracks: “Rivers That You Cannot See,” “Furniture in the Valley,” “Good Doer.”

25. Gunn-Truscinski Duo – Soundkeeper

Listening to the fourth album from the Gunn-Truscinski Duo entitled Soundkeeper is akin to a religious experience. For to get lost in Brooklyn-based guitarist Steve Gunn and drummer phenom John Truscinski’s latest is satiating to the soul and inner spirit. Throughout the 72 minute album, each song flows wondrously into the next, cascading like a river that weaves through psychedelic open aired landscapes. Soundkeeper was recorded between 2018 and early 2020 in Brooklyn, NY and Western Massachusetts, and is an album that invokes deep feelings born of gentle ambience and of patience. Soundkeeper is as calming and warm of an experience you can find in album form, and even in moments where the intensity is turned up (“Gam,” “Pyramid Merchandise,”) there is a steadiness and beauty that we just cannot get enough of.

Essential Tracks: “Soundkeeper,” “For Eddie Hazel.”

24. Fontaines D.C. — A Hero’s Death

The Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C.’s latest album, A Hero’s Death, has been rightly nominated for a 2020 Grammy for Best Rock Album, as they continue to be the most talked about UK band of recent years. Coming a year and a half after the release of their critically acclaimed album Dogrel, their sophomore effort is a master collection of slow and forceful rockers, capturing rather manically, and at times lovingly, the excitement of being young and wild. On the song’s opening track “I Don’t Belong,” lead singer Grian Chatten repeatedly sings “I don’t belong to anyone / I don’t wanna belong to anyone.” The words act as a mantra to the album, lulling the listener into pondering their own significance in the world. The heady and introverted “A Lucid Dream,” a dizzying and dream-like anthem, pulls the listener in with its intoxicating flow, offering up a delightfully sonic representation of the angst and self-destructive tendencies of youth. On  “A Hero’s Death,” a fast-paced rocker masquerading as a series of life lessons, Chatten sings repeatedly “life ain’t always empty” between bursts of unique lyrical perspectives. “Don’t get stuck in the past,” and “Sit beneath a light that suits ya” and “Sink as far down as you can be pulled up” are amongst a few of the songs well crafted observations. Taken as a whole, A Hero’s Death is a striking and triumphant album and reads like an instruction manual to surviving adolescence, yet way more deep and inward looking than you would expect from such a talented group of young musicians. The album flirts with psychedelic and dreamlike intervals mixed with periods of intensity and angst. In the world of A Hero’s Death first you’re high and then you’re low, you’re blue and then you’re gray, you’re on the ground, flailing in the mud and then you’re tripping from trail to tribulation, full-on with the knowledge that the anchors of adulthood are always there ready to take hold.  

Essential Tracks: “A Lucid Dream,” “A Hero’s Death,” “I Don’t Belong,” “Oh Such A Spring.”

23. Fleet Foxes —  Shore

On their latest album, Shore, indie folk band Fleet Foxes have forged a work of art that is warm, bright, and inviting, beckoning the adventurous listener to come along with them on a journey filled with gratitude, happiness, and celebration. Kicking off the album is the song “Sunblind,” a truly magical example of indie folk taken to its zenith, dazzling the listener with its jubilant celebration of life and the role art has to play in its affirmation. Delightfully, the warm and pleasant vibe keeps expanding on Shore, rolling across the album like an undulating wave. For anyone struggling with the pitfalls of a life lived in quarantine, this album is a refreshing response to these dark times, splashing around imagery, tones and harmonies that serve to satisfy even the most fatigued of souls. There’s the soaring vibrancy of “Can I Believe You,” or the poetic imagery within songs like “Featherweight” and “Maestranza,” which play well with the album’s title and further indulge its nature-flecked vibrancy. Shore isn’t all happiness and joy however, for it does possess darker themes. There are subtle acknowledgements of our mortality to be found within its fold, with lyrics like “one more day is all I really need,” and “Oh devil walk by / I never want to die” sprinkled throughout. But what Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold teaches us about life and death on Shore is that we should not shy away from such distresses, and instead understand that there is a certain freedom to be gained by an acceptance of our fate. These rhythms are only natural, like calm cool waters lapping at the edges of a sunlit ‘shore’. 

Essential Tracks: “Can I Believe You,” “Sunblind,” “Young Man’s Game,” “Maestranza.

22. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist — Alfredo

In hindsight, it was only a matter of time that Gary, Indiana native and rapper Freddie Gibbs received a Grammy nomination as he did this year for his work on the album Alfredo. Freddie has been consistently releasing jaw-dropping albums at a steady clip since his debut album ESGN in 2013. This year found Gibbs, lauded for his work with the legendary producer Madlib, working yet again with another seasoned and extremely talented producer in The Alchemist (known for his work with Mobb Deep and Dilated Peoples), and the pairing manifested itself unsurprisingly a match made in hip-hop heaven. Alchemist’s beats are fantastically diverse, bouncing from straight boom-bap thumpos to airy, psychedelic reverberations and beyond, yet always fitting to Gibb’s powerful lyricism. On Alfredo, Gibbs puts on a master class in rap, spitting fire alongside fellow rappers such as Rick Ross, Benny the Butcher, Tyler, the Creator, and Conway the Machine. Freddie is, simply put, one of those best rappers doing it, and Alfredo is another hard-hitting classic that now resides in Gibb’s phenomenal and stout catalog of terrific albums.

Essential Tracks: “1985,” “Scottie Beam (feat Rick Ross),” “Frank Lucas (feat Benny the Butcher).

21. Nels Cline — Share The Wealth

Legendary New York jazz and rock guitarist Nels Cline, now a full fledged member of Wilco, released his third album with Blue Note Records this year. That album, Share the Wealth, is his edgiest and most adventurous offering on the famed record label yet, one rife with mesmerizing sonic escapades. The dynamic double album features ten vitalizing and unique songs including the impressive single “Beam/Spiral” and a remarkable version of Caetano Veloso’s “Segunda.” Nels Cline is hands down one of the most gifted guitarists we have ever beheld, with an ability to shred with the ferocity not meant for mere mortals. On Share The Wealth, those talents stand front and center and are bolstered by an expanded edition of his long-running project The Nels Cline Singers featuring saxophonist and punk-jazz iconoclast Skerik, keyboard marvel Brian Marsella, bass powerhouse Trevor Dunn, longtime collaborator and drummer Scott Amendola, and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista. Capturing why Nels Cline is so special is something that isn’t easily done in the studio, yet Share The Wealth flaunts Cline’s genius tremendously.

“Essential Tracks “Princess Phone,” “Segunda,” “Beam / Spiral.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

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