Best Albums of 2020

And here we are in the nick of time, before the closing hours of 2020, to present you with the highly-subjective lists of our favourite albums of the year. We won’t pretend that 2020 wasn’t an especially horrible year for many people, but we can highlight that excellent artistry may arise despite tragedy (and it has been argued that the finest artistry emerges from tragedy necessarily). We would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading and to wish all of our readers a very happy New Year, full of love, peace and joy.

Elijah & Greg


10. Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Fiona Apple

Full disclosure: 2012’s The Idler Wheel… passed me by. In fact, I haven’t given Fiona Apple much of a listen since 2005’s Extraordinary Machine, which I found relatively underwhelming. I am grateful for venturing back into Apple territory for this record, which is the first of her five records (a slim catalogue over a 25-year career) in which she oversaw all of her own production. Without Jon Brion’s instrumental settings, Apple has produced something more primal. The title of the record comes from the television programme The Fall. In the scene in question, Gillian Anderson’s detective protagonist Stella Gibson is seeking to reach a torture victim through a locked door.

Without wanting to belabour the parallel, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is an expression of artistic liberation: ‘Fetch the bolt cutters… I’ve been in here too long’ (from the title track). Additional percussion is provided by the bashing of walls and floor of her Los Angeles home. These are accompanied by barking dogs (à la Brian Wilson), and, apparently, her deceased dog’s bones. Perhaps she is musing on her prodigal beginnings as a seventeen-year-old pop star when she sings ‘I grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill’. Whatever artistic journey she has been on, she has rediscovered a particular artistic freedom with this album.

9. Women in music Pt. III
HAIM

HAIM is comprised of the three Haim sisters: Este, Danielle and Alana. Women in Music Pt III is their third studio album and explores various personal challenges faced by the sisters as well as the sexism faced by women in the music industry (especially in the Joni Mitchell-esque ‘Man from the Magazine’). (A geeky side-note is the fact that the album cover was photographed by Paul Thomas Anderson [one of my favourite directors] at the famous Canter’s Deli in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. Anderson also directed the several music videos from the album singles.) In addition to the deeply personal lyrical content of WIMPIII (each of the three Haim sisters have expressed personal traumas faced in the period leading up to the recording of the album), this record is notable for its employment of a wide variety of musical genres. Even with (though not necessarily in opposition to) the sometimes depressive content, WIMPIII is full of momentum, harnessing the energy of 1990s West Coast pop rock.

8. The Slow Rush
Tame Impala

When Greg first introduced me to Tame Impala over a decade ago, I was enamoured with the ‘band’s’ sound. Neo-psychedelic rock soundscapes with heavily-effected drums and vocals. There was something simultaneously classic and contemporary about the sound and I couldn’t get enough of it. When I discovered that the band was actually just Kevin Parker, my mind was well and truly blown. Since 2010’s InnerSpeaker, every Tame Impala record has scratched its way into my top ten lists.

When I first heard this record, I didn’t know whether The Slow Rush would buck the trend or not. It is both very Tame Impala and very much a departure. The psychedelic and effected elements remain, but The Slow Rush, in keeping with its name, features a distinctly softer sound than previous Tame Impala records while keeping time with punchy disco beats. In the opening track, Parker sings ‘Not caring if we do the same thing every week / of living like I’m only living for me / of never talking about where we’re gonna be / of living like the free spirit I wanna be.’ As an admitted superfan of the more distorted guitar-driven, gravelly Tame Impala sound, I remain entranced with the intimate interlude that is The Slow Rush.

7. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
Perfume Genius

Michael Alden Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius has continued the trend of exploring embodied existence through song in his fifth album. Somewhat familiar narratives remain, but Set My Heart on Fire Immediately picks up on Hadreas’ decade-long musical journey from the art rock industrial ballads of his early releases, through the land of the flamboyant showman and to this amalgamation of a considerable number of musical styles and influences spanning the last sixty years of pop music. And while Hadreas persists in his exquisite lyrical poeticism, he also leaves the sonic soundscapes to complete the picture, to express the verbally inexpressible. The tone of the whole of Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is one of more confidence and earthiness (as opposed to the equally-valuable frailty and dreaminess of his previous releases).

6. songs / instrumentals
Adrianne Lenker

Since the release of Masterpiece in 2016, Big Thief has been one of my favourite bands of the last decade. This has been due primarily to the contribution of lead singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker. In both songwriting and musicianship, Lenker has been a pleasure to explore. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, she has been writing and releasing music for the last 16 years.) Having released two excellent records last year (U.F.O.F. and Two Hands), Big Thief was set to embark on a European tour when, due to the pandemic, it was cancelled (boo…). As a result, Lenker saw an opportunity to take a break from the demands of recording and touring (as well as to work through a recent break-up), staying in a small cabin in Western Massachusetts to be near to her sister. It may come as no surprise that with a creative force such as Lenker, these circumstances proved ideal for the gestation of new material.

While Lenker’s previous material is known for its lyrical honesty, Songs in particular is a further journey into her feelings, borne, was The Independent’s Roisin O’Connor puts it, ‘with complete abandon.’ The opening track, ‘two reverse’ indicates this complete abandon: ‘Lay me down so to let you leave. / Tell me lies, I wanna see your eyes. / Is it a crime to say I still need you? / Crime, wanna feed you.’

In the midst of this vulnerable outpouring of emotion, Lenker continues to demonstrate her musical confidence, albeit stripped down to mostly her guitar and vocals (and the occasional sound of falling rain). This doesn’t feel like a Big Thief album, but perhaps something better, or at the very least, something more intimate.

5. græ
Moses Sumney

It is perhaps a testimony to my own musical ignorance (rather than the opposite) that I don’t often hear an album and feel as if it is unlike anything I have ever heard before. Even albums that may catch me off-guard tend to also harbour a strong relationship to my other musical interests. Without a doubt, Moses Sumney’s græ bears little resemblance to other music with which I am familiar. This is not to say that Sumney’s influences are unrecognisable, but instead that the composition of græ is a wholly unique expressive force. In addition to the experimental melding of genres including jazz, classical, folk, art pop/rock and spoken word, græ is also an exceptionally personal record. With confidence and skill, Sumney approaches various issues close to home including immigration (Sunmey was born in California to Ghanaian immigrants and spent a number of years in Ghana as a child), race, gender and queer culture. While these genres and concepts might appear ham-fisted or pretentious on any other record, the pacing and tone of græ facilitates natural expression and is a triumph of contemporary music.

4. RTJ4
Run the Jewels

I have been a fan of El-P since 2002’s Fantastic Damage. I even loved the electronic jazz fusion of High Water (recorded with The Blue Series Continuum in 2004). When he partnered with Killer Mike for 2013’s Run the Jewels, El-P went from strength to strength. Every subsequent RTJ record has continued to impress (albeit, peppered with humour on the level of Cartoon Network’s [adult swim] programming), but none so significantly as this latest release.

RTJ4 is the quintessential 2020 record. Pandemics, although horrific in their destruction of human life, come and go. Police brutality/racism is the more enduring illness in the United States. The opening track, ‘Yankee and the Brave (Ep. 4)’ heralds the tone of the record, closing with the words, ‘Yankee and The Brave are here / everybody hit the deck / we don’t mean no harm / but we truly mean all the disrespect.’ Run the Jewels have always exercised pointed social commentary, but RTJ4 is a step up in terms of agitation and clarity of thought. The lyrics express the reality of black Americans resisting systematic racism as well as the solidary in this struggle that can be expressed by allies of the black community. In a sense, Killer Mike and El-P are a shining example of what a unified, pragmatic and socially-conscious America can be, all bolstered by the superb production for which El-P has become legendary in the field of experimental hip-hop.

3. Hannah
Lomelda

Hannah is Lomelda’s fourth studio album (although ‘Lomelda’ is Texas songwriter Hannah Read, who has been releasing music for nearly a decade, in one form or another). Last year’s release, M for Empathy passed me by. Approaching Hannah with a tabula rasa was probably the best way in for me. As it turns out, whether by nature or design, Hannah Read is one of the most unassuming contemporary musicians I have encountered. There is a profound modesty in her songwriting, paralleled by the gentleness and unmilled tone of her singing voice. Hannah feels like a series of letters that Read has written to herself (as opposed to the convention of most self-titled records). It is almost as if Read is not interested in performing, per se, but rather, expressing herself in the most natural way possible – almost as if she is singing in the privacy of her bedroom. This openness disarms the listener and draws them in to Read’s narrative. She unveils grace and beauty in the mundane and ordinary, and through this, the listener is absorbed into that transcendence.

2. THE ASCENSION
Sufjan Stevens

I resisted. I promise that I resisted. When the album’s first single, ‘America’ was released in July, I had assumed it was a one-off, perhaps a comment on the state of play in the United States, what with the ongoing pandemic and the circus of a presidential election on the horizon. (In reality, Stevens penned ‘America’ during the Carrie & Lowell sessions.) Then August brought the second single, ‘Video Game’. As soon as it was released, I listened with measured anticipation. Was this to be the sound of The Ascension? I wondered, ‘Maybe this won’t be my cup of tea…’ ‘Video Game’ was followed by ‘Sugar’ in September and then the release of the album in full. I had placed a pre-order as soon as the album was announced, but I was beginning to think that its addition to my collection would be a matter of mere Sufjan Stevens ‘completism’, rather than a treasure to be cherished.

In part, I was relieved when I didn’t fall in love with The Ascension after hearing it for the first time. In the past, every time had Sufjan Stevens released an album of new material, it always seemed to climb its way to the top of my ‘best of’ list. To be sure, I am under no impression that my end of the year lists are anything more than subjective rambles about music that I—an ignoramus—enjoy. Yet, the more I listened, the more I realised that this was a true grower. Stevens has grown tired of folk music convention (he tends to dip in and out of love with this form) and songwriting in The Ascension exercises more force and certainty (even while expressing uncertainty) than ever before. In an interview with Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic, Stevens admits that this album is ‘bossy and bitchy’. In a sense, The Ascension is less dynamic than most of Stevens’ previous releases, but when that dynamism appears, it really pays off. The Purple Rain-era-Prince-sounding ‘Death Star’ stands out especially — I could not have guessed that jingle bells would give me the chills time and time again.

1. Rough and Rowdy Ways
Bob Dylan

Here are several potentially controversial statements: This is easily Dylan’s finest original work since 1997’s Time Out of Mind. This might well be his finest release since 1975’s Desire (or, when the notion takes me, 1989’s Oh Mercy). For all of the strengths of 2001’s “Love and Theft”, 2006’s Modern Times and 2012’s Tempest, Rough and Rowdy Ways showcases Dylan’s Nobel-prize winning, transcendent and perhaps, unparalleled songwriting prowess better than anything he has produced in the last two decades.

I find only two weaknesses in Rough and Rowdy Ways. The first is a single phrase in ‘I Contain Multitudes’. In the midst of throwing out seemingly-pithy pop-culture references intermixed with more profound figures among the ‘multitudes’ he ‘contains’, Dylan offers up this cringe-worthy line: ‘And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones’. At 79, I can accept Dylan’s characterisation of the The Rolling Stones here—who were beginning to favour of edgier rock-n-roll cuts like ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ and ‘Paint It Black’ when Dylan was making his own transition to the electric guitar—but referring to them as ‘British bad boys’… I shudder even as I type the expression. My second grievance is with Dylan’s occasional dependence on cookie-cutter blues rock arrangements. Yet, even within the likes of ‘False Prophet’, ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’ and ‘Crossing the Rubicon’, his exceptional songwriting genius shines through. Thanks, Bob, for reminding me why you’re my favourite artist of all time.

Shore Fleet Foxes

Fountain Lyra Pramuk

Mystic Familiar Dan Deacon

Flower of Devotion Dehd

Microphones in 2020 The Microphones

Healing is a Miracle Julianna Barwick

SHall We Go on Sinning So That Grace May Increase? The Soft Pink Truth

Whole New Mess Angel Olsen

Fear of Death Tim Heidecker

Live Forever Bartees Strange


10. SURVIVORS EP
Tim Baker

I had originally slotted the new Car Seat Headrest album into this tenth slot, but then I realized that… I honestly REALLY only like about 3 songs on it. And so I came to the conclusion that I should instead honor this 5 song EP from my last year’s top album artist, Canadian troubadour Tim Baker. The song “Survivors” was MY ANTHEM for this year, so here’s to you Tim, for helping me to get through the lousiest year on record. You spin gold out of tragedy…

9. Born again
Ellis

Her voice is hard to distinguish from another dreamy bedroom pop singer named Clairo, but there’s something deeper in her deconversion narrative that keep this album from turning into another collection of broken heart stories. The lyrics aren’t too profound, but they’re honest, like a gauzy reflection on a #metoo world from the evangelical subculture with smashing cymbals and guitars on overdrive. I guess I’m just a sucker for a song that starts “Lately I have been romanticizing shit…” (“Embarrassing”).

8. Color Theory
Soccer Mommy

To be honest, a lot of the songs on this album sound the same to me… but the thing is, it’s such a great sound that she’s mastered. 90’s atmospheric rock with a girl-ish wistfulness (“I’m the princess of screwing up”) beneath which lies trenchant insights pulled from the wreckage of self-doubt, depression, loss, and splintered relationships. She’s like the prettiest, smartest, saddest, and angriest girl in the world at the same time, standing at the mic with a Fender Strat wrapped around her shoulders.

7. SLEEPYHEAD
Cavetown

For the first time ever, I have an album on my top ten that MY DAUGHTER Katrina turned me onto. This Gen Z wunderkind, whom his parents named Robin Skinner, wrote, produced, and played most of the instruments on the record in his major label debut and he is the most earnest of bedroom indie heroes imaginable, singing about how he hates the way he looks as an adult (“Snail”), wanting someone to tell him that they like him after he confesses his own affection (“Sweet Tooth”), and recounting how he almost killing himself at age 13 (“Empty Bed”). His double tracked vocals are charmingly lovely, he strums the acoustic minimally or grinds the electric Weezer-ly in just the right amount of accompaniment. It gives me hope for the future.

6. The Slow Rush
Tame Impala

This album had to grow on me. The dance-y vibe didn’t originally capture me as much as the sonic homages of Kevin Parker’s previous work (Beatles, 60’s psychedelic, 80’s pop, etc.), probably because I’ve never been a fan of songs that repeat a theme over and over, building and dropping out again and again. But, in the end, I had to give into the groove that this kid laid down. He’s a genius, this one.

5. Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was
Bright Eyes

This is a triumphant come back after 2011’s The People’s Key, which I found almost unlistenable. Conor Oberst may have been reinvigorated by his new muse (hint: see my #1 album) after creating the masterful collaboration Better Oblivion Community Center with her last year. His lyrics, songwriting, arrangements, and instrumentation are all back to the highest level of some of his best previous work with his long-time band. He touches on some deep wounds and finds cathartic creative power amidst the pain. Let’s hope that he stays this inspired for some time to come!

4. The New Abnormal
The Strokes

You know, I’ve never actually owned an album by The Strokes before. I mean, I knew and liked the songs that everyone did, but I would not have considered myself a fan. Perhaps I should have listened more closely. When I put this record on, I immediately connected with the catchy post-punk melodies and weary nostalgia that they were peddling. I even found myself cracking up at the melodic thievery (Psychedelic Furs in “Eternal Summer”), inside jokes (“Drums please, Fab” and “I was just bored, playing the guitar / Learned all your tricks, wasn’t too hard” in “Ode to the Mets”), and the bands coming to terms with being the old guard at this point in their career. This album brought me a lot of joy in this joyless crapheap of a year, so I thank them for that.

3. Shore
Fleet Foxes

This was the album that made me feel like everything would be okay again one day. Robin Peckhold et al were a bit obscure (though still brilliant) on 2017’s Crack-up, but it was like he was now inviting us to explore “land / Overgrown / No words, no false, no true / Water stands / Waves just pass through it / Like something moves through you.” That’s what listening to this album feels like… just the thing that I needed so much.

2. The Ascension
Sufjan Stevens

I had a listening party for this album on the night that it was released. For the first few songs, I was dialed in, willing to follow Suf wherever he wanted to take us. But then, beginning with “Die Happy” I became pretty… unhappy. Song after song began to revel in discordance, melodically and lyrically. I felt like it was a repudiation of the old Sufjan that I loved so much—his faith (“I want to be my own redeemer” and “I was acting like a believer when I was just angry and depressed”), his love of his country—though this somewhat understandable—in “America,” and his musical aesthetic (it was hard to make out any discernible natural instrument on the album—even Age of Adz allowed for the occasional acoustic guitar or orchestral part! It’s funny that the “America” B-side “My Rajneesh” was the EXACT Sufjan sound that I wanted!!). But then… I just decided to let Sufjan do what he needed to do, to say what he needed to say. And I once again recognized his genius and began to appreciate the album more and more. I may not love it as much as previous albums (I’d rank his oeuvre as follows: Illinois, Carrie & Lowell, Age of Adz, Michigan, The Ascension, Planetarium, A Sun Came, Seven Swans, Aporia, Enjoy Your Rabbit), but I will stand behind my artistic apotheosis whatever path he takes.

1. Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers

I’ve seen the Phoebe Bridgers backlash. It’s a real thing. And it’s not pretty. But to my ears, this is it. This is the best that this damnable year had to offer. She kept at it too, releasing the orchestral re-mix EP Copycat Killer and a melancholovely Christmas EP as well. I won’t say any more other than to say, “Take up and listen.” (PS. Katrina loves it too!! She dressed up as Phoebes for Halloween, which is meta, cause it’s one of the song titles on the album.)

folklore Taylor Swift (my beautiful youngest daughter is looking over my shoulder right now to make sure that I included this album on my list… heh heh)

A Decade of Bests (2000-2009)

When we first launched Lost in the Cloud in 2010, we were on a roll from our previous blog, hoping to take LITC into different territory. One thing we carried over from our previous blog was our love for lists, especially music lists. We began Lost in the Cloud with productive intentions, but life, as it can so often do, got in the way of our keeping up with the blog.

For the first six years, we were diligent in posting the lists of our favourite albums of the year, complete with short descriptions of each. In those last couple of dwindling years, our ‘Best Albums’ lists were becoming the only new material we were producing for the blog. In time, even that dropped off of our list of priorities and Lost in the Cloud went quiet.

This year, we have decided to revisit our ‘Best Albums’ lists and to even elaborate on our whole ‘Best Albums’ corpus by travelling all the way back to the prehistoric year that was 2000. This post is part one of two. With hindsight and in living with particular albums for longer, we have compiled lists of our ten favourite albums for each year from 2000-2019. Perhaps these lists will be of some interest for those who wish to walk down Memory Lane, or indeed, for those who might wonder if any of these [subjective] gems passed them by (as we have discovered from comparing our respective lists). Whatever you—dear reader—might glean from our produce, we are grateful for the opportunity to indulge in our list-making and music-listening passions here.

Elijah & Greg


— E —

  1. Figure 8
    Elliott Smith
  2. Kid A
    Radiohead
  3. The Sophtware Slump
    Grandaddy
  4. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
    Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  5. ÁGÆTIS BYRJUN
    Sigur Rós
  6. Bachelor No. 2
    Aimee Mann
  7. Winners Never Quit
    Pedro the Lion
  8. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
    PJ Harvey
  9. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
    Yo La Tengo
  10. Rising Tide
    Sunny Day Real Estate

— G —

  1. Kid A
    Radiohead
  2. Figure 8
    Elliott Smith
  3. Bachelor No. 2
    Aimee Mann
  4. All That You Can’t Leave Behind
    U2
  5. ÁGÆTIS BYRJUN
    Sigur Rós
  6. Fever & Mirrors
    Bright Eyes
  7. Heartbreaker
    Ryan Adams
  8. Rising Tide
    Sunny Day Real Estate
  9. Winners Never Quit
    Pedro the Lion
  10. MASS ROMANTIC
    The New Pornographers

— E —

  1. Amnesiac
    Radiohead
  2. Jane Doe
    Converge
  3. The Glow, Pt. 2
    The Microphones
  4. White Blood Cells
    The White Stripes
  5. Blue Screen Life
    Pinback
  6. Hot Shots II
    The Beta Band
  7. Vespertine
    Björk
  8. “Love and Theft”
    Bob Dylan
  9. The Photo Album
    Death Cab for Cutie
  10. Discovery
    Daft Punk

— G —

  1. The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads
    Lift to Experience
  2. Oh, Inverted World
    The Shins
  3. Asleep in the back
    Elbow
  4. Musicforthemorningafter
    Pete Yorn
  5. Origin of Symmetry
    Muse
  6. The Invisible Band
    Travis
  7. The Only Reason I Feel Secure
    Pedro the Lion
  8. Skyscraper National Park
    Hayden
  9. The Photo Album
    Death Cab for Cutie
  10. AMNESIAC
    Radiohead

— E —

  1. Control 
    Pedro the Lion
  2. Turn on the Bright Lights 
    Interpol
  3. Fantastic Damage 
    El-P
  4. Alice / Blood Money
    Tom Waits
  5. The Creek Drank the Cradle
    Iron & Wine
  6. Sea Change
    Beck
  7. Unfortunately We’re Not Robots
    Curl Up & Die
  8. [AB] Life
    mewithoutYou
  9. We Are the Only Friends We Have
    Piebald
  10. Give Up
    Postal Service

— G —

  1. Control
    Pedro the Lion
  2. Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
    Bright Eyes
  3. The Creek Drank the Cradle
    Iron & Wine
  4. Sea Change
    Beck
  5. The Last Broadcast 
    Doves
  6. Give Up 
    Postal Service
  7. A Rush of Blood to the Head 
    Coldplay
  8. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    Wilco
  9. Turn on the Bright Lights 
    Interpol
  10. The Seamonsters
    The Seamonsters

— E —

  1. Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State 
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. The Ugly Organ 
    Cursive
  3. Hail to the Thief 
    Radiohead
  4. The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place 
    Explosions in the Sky
  5. Sumday
    Grandaddy
  6. You Forgot it in People 
    Broken Social Scene
  7. Dear Catastrophe Waitress 
    Belle & Sebastian
  8. Monday at the Hug & Pint 
    Arab Strap
  9. Frail Words Collapse 
    As I Lay Dying
  10. Happy Songs for Happy People
    Mogwai

— G —

  1. Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State 
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. Hail to the Thief
    Radiohead
  3. Cast of Thousands
    Elbow
  4. Absolution
    Muse
  5. Final Straw
    Snow Patrol
  6. Marvelous Things EP
    Eisley
  7. O
    Damien Rice
  8. Transatlanticism
    Death Cab for Cutie
  9. Log 22
    Bettie Serveert
  10. Desprate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
    TV on the Radio

— E —

  1. From a Basement on a Hill
    Elliott Smith
  2. Funeral
    Arcade Fire
  3. Seven Swans
    Sufjan Stevens
  4. Antics
    Interpol
  5. You Are the Quarry
    Morrissey
  6. Sung Tongs
    Animal Collective
  7. Achilles Heel
    Pedro the Lion
  8. Our Endless Numbered Days
    Iron & Wine
  9. A
    Cass McCombs
  10. How It Ends
    DeVotchKa

— G —

  1. Sung Tongs
    Animal Collective
  2. From a Basement on a Hill
    Elliott Smith
  3. Antics
    Interpol
  4. Seven Swans
    Sufjan Stevens
  5. Achilles Heel
    Pedro the Lion
  6. Our Endless Numbered Days
    Iron & Wine
  7. FUNERAL
    Arcade Fire
  8. The Autumns
    The Autumns
  9. How It Ends
    DeVotchKa
  10. Turning Tide
    The Seamonsters

— E —

  1. Illinois 
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. The One Above All, The End of All That Is 
    Curl Up & Die
  3. Emoh 
    Lou Barlow
  4. Takk...
    Sigur Rós
  5. Feels 
    Animal Collective
  6. LCD Soundsystem 
    LCD Soundsystem
  7. Headphones 
    Headphones
  8. And the Glass Handed Kites 
    Mew
  9. Guero 
    Beck
  10. Surf
    Roddy Frame

— G —

  1. Illinois
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. Takk...
    Sigur Rós
  3. Several Arrows Later
    Matt Pond PA
  4. Silent Alarm
    Bloc Party
  5. Feels
    Animal Collective
  6. Emoh
    Lou Barlow
  7. Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs
    Andrew Bird
  8. I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
    Bright Eyes
  9. Headphones
    Headphones
  10. Pixel Revolt
    John Vanderslice

— E —

  1. Yellow House 
    Grizzly Bear
  2. The Avalanche 
    Sufjan Stevens
  3. Happy Hollow
    Cursive
  4. No Heroes 
    Converge
  5. Everything All the Time 
    Band of Horses
  6. Victory for the Comic Muse 
    The Divine Comedy
  7. Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards 
    Tom Waits
  8. Sing the Greys 
    Frightened Rabbit
  9. Brother, Sister
    mewithoutYou
  10. The Eraser 
    Thom Yorke

— G —

  1. The Avalanche
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. Gang of Losers
    The Dears
  3. The End of History
    Fionn Regan
  4. The Eraser
    Thom Yorke
  5. Begin to Hope
    Regina Spektor
  6. Everything All the Time
    Band of Horses
  7. Sing the Greys
    Frightened Rabbit
  8. The Cost
    The Frames
  9. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
    Neko Case
  10. Camping by the Railroad Tracks in December
    Harmony and Pollution

— E —

  1. Neon Bible
    Arcade Fire
  2. In Rainbows
    Radiohead
  3. Sound of Silver
    LCD Soundsystem
  4. Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
    The Twilight Sad
  5. Strawberry Jam
    Animal Collective
  6. White Chalk
    PJ Harvey
  7. Cease to Begin
    Band of Horses
  8. Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!
    Orchid
  9. The Shepherd’s Dog
    Iron & Wine
  10. Person pitch
    Panda Bear

— G —

  1. In Rainbows
    Radiohead
  2. Strawberry Jam
    Animal Collective
  3. Boxer
    The National
  4. A Few More Published Studies
    The XYZ Affair
  5. Wincing the Night Away
    The Shins
  6. PERSON PITCH
    Panda Bear
  7. Cease to Begin
    Band of Horses
  8. A WEEKEND IN THE CITY
    Bloc Party
  9. Voxtrot
    Voxtrot
  10. Neon Bible
    Arcade Fire

— E —

  1. The Midnight Organ Fight
    Frightened Rabbit
  2. Songs in A&E
    Spiritualized
  3. Fleet Foxes
    Fleet Foxes
  4. In Ear Park
    Department of Eagles
  5. Dig That Treasure
    Cryptacize
  6. Dropping the Writ
    Cass McCombs
  7. Microcastle
    Deerhunter
  8. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
    David Byrne & Brian Eno
  9. In Ghost Colours
    Cut Copy
  10. Rip It Off
    Times New Viking

— G —

  1. The Midnight Organ Fight
    Frightened Rabbit
  2. Fleet Foxes
    Fleet Foxes
  3. The Seldom Seen Kid
    Elbow
  4. Vampire Weekend
    Vampire Weekend
  5. Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
    Sigur Rós
  6. Dropping the Writ
    Cass McCombs
  7. Words & Music
    Aqualung
  8. In Ear Park
    Department of Eagles
  9. At War with Walls & Mazes
    Son Lux
  10. @#%&*! Smilers
    Aimee Mann

— E —

  1. Veckatimest
    Grizzly Bear
  2. Merriweather Post Pavilion
    Animal Collective
  3. Axe to Fall
    Converge
  4. Album
    Girls
  5. Forget the Night Ahead
    The Twilight Sad
  6. Logos
    Atlas Sound
  7. These Four Walls
    We Were Promised Jetpacks
  8. Mythomania
    Cryptacize
  9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
    The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
  10. Curse Your Branches
    David Bazan

— G —

  1. Merriweather Post Pavilion
    Animal Collective
  2. Middle Cyclone
    Neko Case
  3. Curse Your Branches
    David Bazan
  4. Veckatimest
    Grizzly Bear
  5. Far
    Regina Spektor
  6. Romanian Names
    John Vanderslice
  7. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
    The Low Anthem
  8. Hospice
    The Antlers
  9. Manners
    Passion Pit
  10. Goodnight Unknown
    Lou Barlow

See our lists from 2010-2019 here.

Band Evangelist, ch. 3

BEHOLD, the kingdom of heavenly music has come near!!  I come to you once again with the proclamation of good taste, so that you may keep your ears open for bands that are bearing good fruit–and I’m talking about music that will baptize you with the Indie Spirit!!

A voice calling out in the sonic wilderness…

The Dears/Degeneration Street (February 15):  The Dears are among that coterie of artists whom I will probably always follow, based upon the brilliant songsmithery of Murray Lightburn (the Afro-Canadian Morrissey), most gloriously displayed in their impeccable 2006 album Gang of Losers.  Their last outing, Missiles, was a bit hit-and-miss, but I have greater expectations for this new album based on what I’ve heard so far.  Download free song here, along with pre-order information. [UPDATE:  The whole album is streaming here!]

Bright Eyes/The People’s Key (February 15):  Supposedly, this may be one of Conor Oberst’s greatest albums, solo or with Bright Eyes (I am partial to their 2002 masterpiece Lifted).  I am going to wait to hear this when I get the physical CD in my hands (I’m old-skool like that).  You can stream the full album at NPR’s webpage.

Elbow/build a rocket boys (March 7):  Ah, there is an eternal soft spot in my heart for this band…their last album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was a masterpiece, though previous efforts have been spotty.  I have no idea what this album will sound like, but on faith, I’ve ordered the deluxe import edition on Amazon.  Not sure if there will be an American release or what…

Josh T. Pearson/The Last of the Country Gentlemen (March 29):  Pearson was the genius behind the one-album legendary band Lift to Experience (The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads was #2 on my top albums of the 2000’s).  This guy has a haunting magnetism in his voice, lyrics, composition, and instrumentation that is rare as a blue rose–I’m hoping to see him live in Scotland at the end of March as his shows are apparently life-changing.  You may get a free download of an alternate take from the album here for the simple price of your email address. [Update:  there is a version with bonus CD available on Rough Trade! And here‘s another free download.]

Cass McCombs/Wit’s End (April 12):  This guy always intrigues me–I can’t quite place his genre–it seems at moments that he belongs to another time–but I am fascinated by the unique and enigmatic work he consistently puts out.  You may check out a track here.

Low/C’mon (April 12):  Slowcore gods (they’re Mormon, so I guess that’s not as blasphemous to say) that have long been able to produce hauntingly beautiful songs with nary an excessive note in the mix.  Download the lovely track “Try to Sleep” here.

Panda Bear/Tomboy (April 12):  I’m not quite sure if this will live up to some of the work he’s done in the past & most likely cannot touch his contributions to Animal Collective‘s albums (if you’re unfamiliar with them, I’d recommend Feels & Merriweather Post Pavilion).  I’ve got the title track and it has a fun groove, if not rather loose and loopish.

Fleet Foxes/Helplessness Blues (May 3):  After all the hype died down, I found that I really did like these guys quite a great deal (as well as side projects White Antelope & J. Tillman).  From the sound of it, this is going to be lush lovely in the same vein as their eponymous LP.  Download the title track of the new album here.

There you have it, 8 amazing releases in just a few months time.  I really couldn’t be happier for the state of music in 2011 (supposedly Radiohead has a new album that should be coming out this year, as well as a new U2 album–don’t roll your eyes, and a new Coldplay album–ok, you can roll your eyes now, but I’m sure I’ll still buy it).

Any other impending recommendations that I’ve missed?

[Update:  The Low Anthem, whose previous album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was brilliantly lovely and intriguing, has a new work, Smart Flesh, coming out on February 22, which can be streamed in full here]

A modest proposal for Sufjan Stevens regarding the completion of his 50 States Project

Dear Sufjan,

The other day my friend Erin Hennessy saw you on the F train in NYC, but she couldn’t get up the nerve to say anything to you.  That got me thinking of what I would say to you if I ran into you (even though I never would, as I live on the other side of the country).  The first thing that came to mind was to talk to you about your 50 states project, which you began so beautifully with Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State and Illinois/The Avalanche.

Now back in the day (the early two thousands or so), I took your proclamation to make an album (or EP, maybe?) for each one of the 50 states seriously, even though some of my more cynical friends would mock me saying it was impossible for you to do in your lifetime (they would start with some calculations, ask your age, etc. PS We share the same birthday!).  The reason I believed you was because I saw this limitless sort of creative genius in you, and even beyond that, it was as if you were the Emersonian “Poet” for this generation of Americans–seeing and showing us the beauty and agony and the divine in the everyday, transforming the mundane into the sublime, telling us stories full of wonder and longing and brilliant details from towns like Ypsilanti and Holland and Romulus.

You made me suddenly attentive to the people and places of America: you imbued them with a magical luster simply by naming them in the midst of your deeply moving, melancholic, and rich melodies and arrangements, or by inserting them amongst such evocative mystical lines of verse:

When the revenant came down
We couldn’t imagine what it was
In the spirit of three stars
The alien thing that took its form
Then to Lebanon, oh God!
The flashing at night, the sirens grow and grow
(Oh, history involved itself)
Mysterious shade that took its form
(Or what it was!), incarnation, three stars
Delivering signs and dusting from their eyes

-“Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”

All that to say that I really, really wish the 50 states project would continue–I think it could become one of the national treasures of our country for centuries to come, a Leaves of Grass for the 21st century that American kids would listen to to understand where they’ve come from and what kind of people we are.  I heard at one point that you said the 50 states project was “such a joke,” but I would challenge you in earnest, if only for the sake of those future little kids, to reconsider abandoning this momentous endeavor.

Realizing that it might very well be impossible for you to write and record all of the albums yourself, what if you instead became the director of the project–you have set the standard quite high with your first two albums–and with the profound respect you have from your artistic peers, I honestly believe you could rally together the best artists from each state to collaborate with to make this happen, creating a kind of ark of American culture.

Here are some suggestions to begin with (I admit some may be wishful thinking) & I call on any reader to add to/better the selection of songwriters for any state (I have put brackets around bands with whom I have only a cursory familiarity & some states I have absolutely no idea about):

  • Alabama = The Snake the Cross the Crown
  • Alaska = Portugal The Man
  • Arizona = Calexico
  • Arkansas = ???
  • California = Elijah Wade Smith, Beck, Stephen Malkmus
  • Colorado = DeVotchKa, The Apples in Stereo
  • Connecticut = Rivers Cuomo?
  • Delaware = The Spinto Band
  • Florida = Iron & Wine, Aaron Marsh
  • Georgia = Deerhunter, Of Montreal, Bill Mallonee
  • Hawaii = Mason Jennings
  • Idaho = Built to Spill, Finn Riggins
  • Illinois = Sufjan Stevens
  • Indiana = Mock Orange
  • Iowa = Caleb Engstrom
  • Kansas = Drakkar Sauna, Mates of State, The New Amsterdams, The Appleseed Cast
  • Kentucky = Bonnie “Prince” Billy, My Morning Jacket
  • Louisiana = Jeff Mangum, Mutemath
  • Maine = [Phantom Buffalo]
  • Maryland = John Vanderslice, Wye Oak
  • Massachusetts = Lou Barlow, Winterpills
  • Michigan = Sufjan Stevens
  • Minnesota = Low, Cloud Cult, Lucky Wilbur
  • Mississippi = ???
  • Missouri = [Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin]
  • Montana = Colin Meloy
  • Nebraska = Cursive, Bright Eyes
  • Nevada = The Killers?
  • New Hampshire = [Wild Light]
  • New Jersey = Sufjan Stevens (?), Danielson, Yo La Tango
  • New Mexico = The Shins, Beirut
  • New York = The Magnetic Fields, Sonic Youth, Interpol, The Walkmen
  • North Carolina = The Mountain Goats
  • North Dakota = [The White Foliage]
  • Ohio = Robert Pollard, Over the Rhine, The National, Mark Kozelek
  • Oklahoma = The Flaming Lips, Kings of Leon
  • Oregon = Laura Veirs, M. Ward, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, The Decemberists
  • Pennsylvania = The Innocence Mission, Denison Witmer, Matt Pond PA
  • Rhode Island = The Low Anthem, Death Vessel
  • South Carolina = Band of Horses
  • South Dakota = Haley Bonar
  • Tennessee = Derek Webb
  • Texas = Josh T. Pearson, Ramesh Srivastava (formerly of Voxtrot), The Polyphonic Spree, Okkervil River, Devendra Banhart
  • Utah = [Joshua James]
  • Vermont = Anais Mitchell
  • Virginia = Thao Nguyen, Hush Arbors
  • Washington = David Bazan, Damien Jurado, Jeremy Enigk, Fleet Foxes
  • West Virginia = ???
  • Wisconsin = Bon Iver, Marla Hansen
  • Wyoming = ???

With the deepest respect & admiration,

Greg Stump