Honorable Mention 2020

@@@ Deena Abdelwahad: Dakar EP (N/A, 2020) There are four tracks on this EP and tracks 3 and 4 are full on electronic Middle Eastern dancefloor banging. Pretty epic melodies over colliding and three dimensional rhythms, it’s the shit as far as I’m concerned.

@@@ Venomous Concept: Politics Versus the Erection (Venomous Concept, 2020) First off great name for an album. A piquant blend of punk, metal, and even some post rock. Excellent excellent dirty ass bass lines, the singer traffics mostly in anger but also touches of desperation. You could bounce a nickel off the ass of this record, it’s that tight.

@@@ Flor do Toloache: Indestructible (Self-released, 2019) Awfully lush, female driven Mexican music for people with jobs who throw nice dinner parties with Sonos audio systems! You know, the elites. But don’t blame the musicians they’re just flying their flag! The sounds and the singing here are exquisite.

@@@ Stormlight: Natoma (David Norman, 2020) The drummer steals the show, followed by the guitar player on this admirable fusion of post-rock, emo, and hard rock. I’m not sure why I’m not a huge fan of the singer but it’s a matter of personal preference and these gents do rock mucho sophisticato. Especially the drummer.

@@@ Santrofi: Alewa (Outhere, 2020) This record just barely missed my best of 2020 list. There’s some incredible guitar playing as well as band playing but I was left wanting just a little bit more. It’s a very very good record but it doesn’t quite compare to Guy One’s #1 record in energy for example. That record is a gold standard for me.

@@@ Jonsi: Shiver (Krunk, 2020) This is a pretty intense listen with some breathtaking moments and others not quite so much, but Jonsi does an admirable job of evoking the epicness of Sigur Ros while using electronic sounds. He’s a very talented sound designer and arranger if he made this whole record himself. I found the fifth tune which has an Icelandic garble title to be one of the most transcendant tunes.

@@@ Shy One: Unreleased Instrumentals 2011 (Self-released, 2011) These instrumentals by a black female electronic musician from London really work for me. She gets into a compelling mix of dancefloor funk, trippy sonics in the right spots, arranging skills, and musicality. The tunes are pretty unpretentious on the surface but I find them very sophisticated and engaging. Start with Immense Mystery Involved and go from there, she hammers that nail.

@@@ Muqata’a: Inkanakuntu (SOUK, 2018) Take the hip hop looping and grooving and smash it into Palestinian/Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms. All instrumental with stretches of a fully integrated world music.

@@@ Chezidek: Hello Africa (Tad’s, 2020) Though he rocks a tad sickly sweet pop reggae flow in place he brings it on track 3, March, a protest reggae track that kills it. Also big ups for Because I’m Black and the last track Runaway from Jah.

@@@ Yves Jarvis: Sundry Rock Song Stock (Anti, 2020) If you take the Crosby, Stills and Nash vocal harmonizing thing and mix it with some space rock, and a bit of hippie rock and a wee bit of electro you get this record. It has a pleasantly narcotic effect without collapsing into all the various hippie ass bullshit.

@@@ Protomartyr: Ultimate Success Today (Domino, 2020) Bits of the Clash, a little bit of Captain Beefheart, some storytelling all wrapped up in nice Brit rock production. Off kilter but still very accessible it does well to balance some rock muscle with concepts. Very good drummer well presented here.

Best of 2020

***PRESENTED IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER***

@@@ 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.