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 Post subject: Harry's Top 50 of 2020
PostPosted: Fri Jan 15, 2021 12:26 am 
Acid Grandfather
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
Favorite, not "best" - age engenders humility.

A definition of electroacoustic is the treatment (harmonizing frequencies, altered timbres) of sound produced in real, not digital space. Perhaps I grow old (I wear the bottom of my trousers rolled), or I live through years of Plague, fire, and insurrections (este monstro pisa fuerte), but all the old raging noise made possible with each technological advance seems more a distraction to me now. This year the reference to the real world of real instruments was the physic I needed – even rock needed to be simple and largely indie female. Indeed there are more women artists on this year’s list than ever. The annus horribilis edged ever so closer to mirabilis by the aegis of yoni anima rising to protect – no Plague nor Autocrat is going to get my progeny!! I also turned to jazz that quotes the minimal or familiar, I turned to country music even. Less patience this year for brats or noise. Dylan should be #1 for a besotted boomer like me – with his long-term memory turning him from prophecy to inventory – but I chickened out and handed the flag to “pretty and calm” to help us through the dark night of the End Times. Awake in 2020, but with no delusion that 2021 will offer up anything other than more of that sacred and messy awareness. Less rock than ever. Virtual no attempt to chart the zeitgeist in popular measures. A high percentage of funereal music – are you never so alive but at a funeral?

1. The Time it Takes – Goldmund
I guess the category of music I buy the most of, if not listen to most, is the soothing sound of what sites like Boomkat call “Modern Classical/Ambient”, often with traditional acoustic instruments (piano, cello, harp, organ) treated and filtered and repurposed, sprinkled with distorted voices, found sound, field recordings, and presented in roughed up atmospherics. The “beauty” is grounded by foundational layers of electronics, rumbling drones and noise – but there is usually a clear core of “composition” with the phrasal shape and sonic intent of, in the worst cases, an interesting treacly movie soundtrack. This is “serious” music, often by graduates of Juilliard or Berklee – like Keith Kenniff who here offers music as Goldmund (sometimes he is Helios). And so this is a set of relative short etudes which all rollout the same; kind of a Goldberg Variations for the digital age. Each piece restates a theme, played on a piano that sounds like an old upright left out in the rain in a deserted Church’s backyard. Each then layers on new ideas and builds to something more spacious, enveloping, and lovely. Chamber music for 1) woke folk, 2) urban farmers and 3) survivors of the apocalypse. Music that was adult enough to give solace to my frazzled and isolated heart – freed from post-zoom work, driven into prayer, and doom-scrolling the plague, fires and nihilistic duck dynasty fascism. Left it playing on repeat enough to have CRSPR‘ed my aural DNA – it deserves #1 just for staying power.
2. Rough and Rowdy Days – Bob Dylan
Somehow his “lazy” technique of lists and enjambment was just the right tool for a 2020 old dusty laureate with unimpeachably ironic cultural mavenhood. Wanting to look back to look forward, so leaving the American Songbook for simple roots music was the right shift. Talk about using your recognized status to pull a rabbit out of your ass? This year, survival itself was both a miracle and in question (for the country, for him as a human artist, for the human race). Is this a soundtrack for survival or palimpsest of failed intentions? At the least he buttresses a possible comfort at the end of life with conspiracies and a wicked love for the random. The authority and bliss of his references are Whitmanesqe – like the Grey Bearded Bard he unpacks American history and promise. Yep, he verifies the promise is well broken and the history has more manifestly destined media than wild, wild nature. Pop cultural prophecy may be the only prophecy left to us. And what a hoot still in the naming. America needed Dylan to emerge from the tar in 2020. Or I did.
3. The Experience of Repetition as Death – Clarice Jensen
Just another cellist from Julliard, bows ever so slowly, and leaves echoes lasting long enough to counter the points she makes. With welling clouds of dark beauty (the minor keys more Celtic than orchestral; more pew than workshop) – you’re offered a sadness. And I guess these are motifs of sadness, of grief. But it’s pristine grief, not an addiction to grievance. In this year it scraped clean the backlog of denials in my own shelter; death is finally the mother of beauty. At least in those moments you stop long enough to pay attention. Her few notes are returned to over and over, as if the repetitive tones want to make very clear their meaning. For these repetitions are not trance-inducing, rather they are bracingly awake. Many ambient minimalists comfort with their soporific math; here the simple means to stay vigilant, to awaken. Pay attention while there is yet time.
4. Patchouli Blue – Bohren and Der Club der Gore
Slo-core, ambient doom jazz are descriptors for this German group, now well into over 20 years of producing profoundly quirky music. I suppose it could be “soundtrack” for a David Lynch film (and hasn’t 2016-2020 been all that) but the blue note is for real: the sax is a report from very late at urban night coolspots where last call has long since passed. Second set in Berlin basements before the jonesing starts. So set ‘em up Josef. Though clearly the very pace (songs slow down, stop, remember that there is more, reluctantly continue) is more than just opiate nodding off. The sad beauty of brushes on what’s snared, piano or vibraphone raindrops, and that sax as hollow, harrowed and hallowed as the Soul itself. Funereal good times.
5. Healing is a Miracle – Julianna Barwick
Good timing, eh? In the year of glooming pandemic and pandemonium, healing comes as the fragile human voice apotheosized in multi-tracked loops and effects, presenting various saving angelic choirs. This is the fourth album in which Barwick uses these voice/loop narcotics. It doesn’t break new ground (which might be why it’s not that well reviewed by some old fans), but her staying true to her mission is also comforting. I think there is a folk music under all the layers – sometimes sounding like those old Bulgarian women’s choirs, sometimes like pre-Lutheran Icelandic shards of chilling sound (Sigur Rós- Jonsi is actually one of the voices she has in her toolbox). And with Mary Lattimore also helping them in these disintegrating loops, sometimes this is like William Basinski at the cool kids table. It’s in fragments, and the gloriously performed “beauty” is cluttered and hacked apart with noise, glitches, dirty fuzz and shimmering obfuscation. The door to eternity is sometimes through the wall of sound of a sad and immense heart-world; Barwick suggests, Barwick implies, Barwick shows you she has the key in her pocket.
6. Atomic – Helen Money
A heavy-metal cello? Death cello? Like the sax, the cello’s timbre and pitch have always seemed close to the human voice to me. Sad and warm; plaintive and reassuring. Here Helen Money (Alison Chesney) stretches the cello’s tones with treatments and filters and electronic experiments which broaden the aural canvas to a world with enough noise and discomfort fit for 2020. Her compositional skills produce dense images of fog, and wind-blown moors, upside-down crosses and burning churches; but order is reimposed by a surprising harp, or the deep, deep solace of a single string on her cello. Few notes, many chances. Folk wisdom in tone and melody; rescue is always a moment away. Gothic chamber music for the drawing rooms we can never leave. Internal pain is revealed by the plunge sequestration precipitates; but the revelation itself is beautiful and new.
7. Hannah - Lomelda
I guess this was the best Big Thief offering of the year. The elegant garage-based guitar lines and strumming interweaving through, and lifting up, the effortless earnestness of Hannah Read’s singing – lyrics in a popular idiom that seem today’s version of 50s confessional poets (if Adrianne Lenker is Sylvia Plath, Read’s cool directness is more Sharon Olds). And while the lyrics and catchy melodies present the argument, it’s sealed by the instrumentation – DIY quasi-indie rock, dreamy and, while unadorned, skillfully invoking the lineage of rock music. A transmission of familiar power welcome in a year of strange dissembling. The power of (the right) three chords and (the right) Truth, sung (almost out of tune with an American crack in her voice) by someone who still holds enough belief in life to share it. Familiar at first listening, these tunes burrow closer to the heart with each repeated listening. Familiarity dissipates contempt.
8. Silver Ladders – Mary Lattimore
How is it that something that sometimes sounds like the intro to a track on a Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album is in my top ten? But often the simplicity of the harp plucked strings evokes a village in Mali, a rest in a tree’s shade at Mahabodhi Temple, sitting by a peat fire in County Mayo – more than a concert hall in Dusseldorf or Oslo. The music always suggests that the right kind of quiet is the balm for souls not sick, rather that have forgotten that peace is possible. The tempos sometimes slower than the breath of a person at rest. The nest of sound behind the plucked harp strings tell stories too. An almost inaudible hum suggests a helicopter approaching to rescue the outcast. A crescendo rumbles: approaching storms? Nuclear winter? Or are we about to slip into Silent Night? While the sound is pristine and thick at the same time (produced by Slowdrive’s Neal Halstead) it sometimes seems like a Disintegration Loops for contemplative ethnomusicologists. Intellectually honest spa music. Massages offered by a shaman. The ancestors had needs too, you know. They needed space.
9. Cantus, Descant – Sarah Davachi
Another version of my beloved “drone” that here sounds like a church organ in the Cathedral of First Cause on Alpha Centauri or an alien ritual in an old RKO B-movie. (Increasingly drawn to these electronics that could be lost soundtracks rather than psychotropic rock, noise experiments or testosterone-drug-driven club IDM). Indeed Dr. Davachi’s specialty (she holds a PhD in musicology from UCLA) is analog synths that might well date from those RKO days. She’s obsessed with these trailblazing electronics the way a guitar freak obsesses on old Gibson guitars or Mesa Boogie amps. So in the “no glitz” authenticity of these sounds that linger in the auditory background, signals coming in and out of frequency, but don’t try to be “ambient” in any way, she lets us hear knocks and bumps that sound like her kicking the synth’s box – it asks to be heard in real space, not some digital AI alternative place like so many electronics. Her minimalist compositions do move slowly, do reward the listener with increased familiarity, and even hint at melodic song – much of her quiet and quieting work seems an intro waiting for some solo to enter. Indeed she does enter as a singer at the end – but this really is best when there is less than more.
10. Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Exist? – The Soft Pink Truth
I’ve given up on “chlll/dance” ambience – its golden age long over – and you need to wade through a little of that here. But once you pay attention to what’s really here, not just what it sounds like, there is a beautiful woundedness in this mélange where acoustic piano, DIY voices, and electronics drift and bump into each other. Drums of the angels or breaking glass? Who’s to know. Whose, to know. A meditative moment disturbed by a celestial car alarm. A trance interrupted by what sounds like the neighbor getting stoned on the other side of the wall. The ethereal anchored to the human (hence, sin and grace I guess). An alien mothership hovers then moves across the screen, but there is no message discernable. It’s beauty open-ended and uncertain. A soundtrack for shelters and unknown places both. (Matmos is over 20 years old and Drew Daniel has gone from Bjork club kid to the Johns Hopkins faculty with a PhD in the study of melancholy, the author of The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance. Doctor, can you use your acoustic gifts to check my melancholy here?)
11. Music for Detuned Pianos – Max de Wardener
Sneaky morning music. Incrementalism setting up expectations where then a note a quartertone out of tune (or more) shakes up the ear. Rhythmic repetitions disintegrating into a glissando, a buzz, or silence. Sly but not slick, the British composer uses timbre, pitch, and broken rhythms to carry melancholy and alert melodies. Easy on the ear, and nourishing to those hungry for making something new with something deceptively familiar. It’s an ensemble of piano solos with shimmering and intentionally faulty resonation. Centered in the kind of post-classical chamber music reminding the listener that smart acoustic sounds composed by neurons not code may well be more timeless precisely because they are ephemeral. At least for those stamped with an expiration date.
12. 8 Kindred Spirits – Charles Lloyd
There are many great re-issues that I “disqualify” from a list like this – arbitrarily. How can you compare Thelonious Monk playing in Palo Alto 50 years ago to music made for today? Charles Lloyd is a superb re-issue, only he’s still alive and this is music from a recent concert in Santa Barbara. The Cool is not only still here, it advances its very ideas. More than ever Lloyd shows that very serious jazz can engage the intellect, can emerge triumphant from black America, because of Black America, and universally, efficiently demolish the human heart with melodic beauty. Evergreen and generous in his playing – jazz cannot be more beautiful than this.
13. A Mythology of Circles – Faten Kanaan
She’s often described as “Brooklyn-based composer”, I suppose because that locates her in some currency, some zeitgeist of hip experimentation. But I hear something retrospective or anachronistic, a “neo-classical” stew of the early 20th century in these very composed short pieces with some vintage synthesized sounds. Like Martha Graham dance-tracks, or “automatic writing” producing scores for Gurdjieff’s geometric movement therapy from an ancient cult (all this sonically invoked, with no attention paid to the conceptual structures of myth it pretends to). Or a soundtrack to John Fowles’ The Magus – a ritualistic setting for mystery and countering culture with altered states. She’s a one-woman synthesizer band creating hollow sounds, algebraic sounds, ceremonial sounds for deep thinkers with short attention spans. Or perhaps a wedding march of aliens on a Forbidden Planet. It’s all quite listenable, but this is the weirdest music that I’ve listened to with some care and interest in a long time; flavors unpeeling, revealing more with each listen. Exotic is the new normal.
14. We Are Sent Here By History – Shabaka and the Ancestors
The African diaspora (slavery) brought music to the US that became blues, jazz, and rock. Rock went to England and became the Beatles et. al. and rode in on the 60s countercultures and changed the world. But the “nu jazz” in Britain (as opposed to Scandinavian and continental “white” jazz artists) didn’t just receive jazz from America; its jazz seems directly connected to Africa on its own – perhaps because of the more recently arrived immigrant communities in the UK. But whatever the reason, Shabaka Hutchings is making music that does “quote” late 60s jazz fushion (some of this sounds like outtakes from Bitches Brew or In a Silent Way), hip hop, club music, but presents something that is fresh, African, trance-inducing, intense, and self-defining. These young Brits are marching to the sound of their own (complex, poly-rhythmic) drummer. The group, mostly born in South Africa, are rooted more in Dollar Brand than Oscar Peterson – but these are African artists claiming space on the streets of London and sound like the new decade stretching before them.
15. Constellation in Real Time – Rafael Toral
Portuguese ambient composer/guitarist produces his strongest work in decades. Plucked or hit strings/notes from a harp, harpsicord, piano, guitar sound through some computer-generated algorithm which winds up producing something sounding like New Age Twelve Tone composition. Schoenberg for aromatherapy customers. Aleatoric Eno, from the Airport or Neroli years. The framework has lots and lots of space, leaving room to calm down; an Eric Satie for a time when civilization and comity unravel. Waiting in the psychological cat scan tube to check survival odds, these singular and familiar notes dropping through space are a balm, a nostrum of sound for the darkest days of 2020.
16. Soft Landing – Sandro Perri
A chiller, more cosmopolitan version of what Blake Mills wants to be (lesson #1, hazy and mysterious vocals), with a masterful sense of melody, appealingly thick versions of his guitars, and sophisticated sonics that have a medically verified calming effect. Easy to listen to, for sure, but smart and surprising enough not to be easy-listening. Long guitar jams presented as ambient etudes. An MFA thesis in tasteful harmonics, barely revealing a tropical rootedness that can only happen in… Toronto? Best Yo La Tengo album in ages. Oh, wait…
17. Three – The Necks
While Shabaka Hutchings and others make a Nu-Jazz with world music and migrations, with Mother Africa and hip hop straightening things and e putting them in their place, and are constructing something of their own, there was a minimalist nu jazz that had been happening before. Trance-like simplifiers like the Necks deconstructed jazz. In some alternate universe these long, long studies in modal noise could be loved by jam band fans or Euro trash in Ibiza alike. But they are a trio of eccentric Aussies who run up the rhythmic tab and skip the blue note bill. Under the many, many layers of mostly acoustic sound it’s meditatively simple. White noise indeed.
18. Old Flowers – Courtney Marie Barnette
Beautiful Americana break-up album. Her achy-breaky voice like a modern heart-hurt Linda Ronstadt or Emmy Lou Harris channeling John Prine. (Barnette grew up in Arizona too – that desert country closer to Hollywood and Vine than Broadway and 4th in Nashville). Losing love is like a window in your heart… Her simple poetry of still loving what and whom you’ve lost. Simple and direct lyrics; a woman alone and stronger for it and for the forgiveness at her core. And the production so simply clear and familiar (sometimes seems like almost the rough draft for another, more commercial album) – the no-BS bittersweet sounds for this year of time passing and people passing away.
19. GoGo Penguin – GoGo Penguin
Odd that a fifth album by a band has no title other than the name of the band. But maybe it’s because this Mancunian minimalist jazz band has finally found its core identity. It’s pushed beyond its pop influences – revealing more Scandinavian cool jazz in its DNA than London-based grime and hip hop. Although the rhythms aren’t lazy, showing that fast and even complicated tempos can be dreamy too. Three instruments (drums, bass, piano), acoustic and simply recorded, create a lot of space to roam around in. More trance than dance, more less than more.
20. Saint Cloud – Waxahatchee
Every now and then she sounds like Dolly Parton fronting Sleater-Kinney. That’s something that is both its strength and its weakness. The reason it’s so good is also the reason it’s limited. Garage-folk country with refreshing nimble telling melodies. Or nylon-string riffs from a bar band more in Dublin than Nashville. Alt-corn pone. Burning slow: Quiet is the new loud. And, more than most “music” these days (music with songs, voices, harmonies, hooks) this is much, much better on listen #42 than #2. It reveals its charms as it gets more threadbare. Maybe I should actually listen to Taylor Swift? Umm…nah.
21. Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers
A thin and quiet voice (the zeitgeist’s choice these days – she’s an indie Billie Eilish) disguises some pretty assertive and challenging lyrics. Subtle production, slickly understated (string quartets? Maybe the musical nesting that Sufjan Stevens should have had) that burns with an intensity that matches the emotion just barely revealed in the voice…and lyrics. The songs are strong and adult. A maturity of sense and sensibility that rises above boygenius DIY trendiness. Rock music’s Jane Austen albeit with a grit fit for the times (“with your tongue down the throat of somebody who loves you more”)? The poignant repercussions for bad choices (one’s own and others’) are the raw materials for honest confessions of particular strengths and failures which are two sides of the same singer-songwriter coin. 2020 the year when addiction to grievance is exposed as the code of our living? Free yourself from that? Fiona Apple is in your face. Phoebe Bridges is your face.
22. Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds - Nduduzo Makhathini
South African pianist who describes himself as “a Zulu healer from a small town” has produced a music that is rooted in the past (Dollar Brand, Coltranes both John and Alice, African tribal melodies) that is universal and future-oriented. It’s music of a better world possible.
23. Die Midwestern – Arlo Mckinley
Billed as the authentic sound of some harrowed Appalachia – the real and less-self justifying Hillbilly Elegy – the suburbs of Cincy, with pill-popping ne’er-do-wells praying to a Jesus who is way too busy with other things, and more important people. His voice (John Prine’s pick for stardom before he died) is surely drenched in inebriated hard times (self-medicated corn pone) – in a sense this sounds more like a 21st century literate version of the Bakersfield Sound when country wasn’t cool. Hard-scrabble though it be, the music and arrangements are glorious deconstructions with pedal steel, fiddle and Hammond. Sometimes you need to slow down the hurt so you can actually hear it.
24. Songs and Instrumentals – Adriane Lenker
The leader of Big Thief (which produced some of the more interesting alt-rock of the last several years) uses the confessional tone of her voice, solo with only her guitar, to be even more intimate. Still unabashedly leaning in, she tells you about what being alive is for her. The poetic directness and minor-key melodies are still there, though perhaps they were even more raw and arresting with an electric band backing her. This is a folk music that burns with hurt bravely unprotected. After the brilliance of Big Thief I was mildly disappointed. Seems like this might be a holding pattern for someone both under the radar and monumentally unusual (apparently she is moving from one gender to another). A second CD of acoustic guitar is lovely but unnecessary.
25. Some Kind of Peace – Olafur Arnalds
More Icelandic beauty – like its soccer team, the ratio of Icelandic citizens to successful musicians must be world-leading. Arnalds continues with the pallet he’s used before – piano, strings, ambient atmospherics. His compositional fingerprint is also familiar, short fragments, sweet and soft melodies, so ephemeral they’re almost not there – there’s very little new territory here. Bittersweet, quiet, and vaguely spiritual. Add the vocal and it’s a Tom Yorke solo album. Or a quick-stop Arvo Paart.
26. Allegiance and Conviction – Windy and Carl
The slo-core, shoe-gaze, drone champs are almost 30 years into a career of using real instruments to build gentle layers of sound – linear and minimal melody lines resonating from one layer to another, like sympathetic strings vibrating. Indeed one could impose the knowledge that their long-time marriage frames the monumentally subtle interplay between her base and his effects-driven guitar. Ira and Georgia cover Popul Vuh. Translucent sludge? Garage ambient? Motor City transcendent?
27. Suite for Max Brown – Jeff Parker
The guitarist for Tortoise makes a case for a possible post-jazz that doesn’t absorb “other sources”, nor get too agitated, edgy, and motivated by the bop tradition. Maybe that just means that horns are melded into the arrangements, not soloists, though eschew any “band” sound. Garage jazz? Chamber jazz?
28. Interloper – Holy Wave
Deliciously ragged and disposable(recycled) rock in roll, vaguely Francophile – 60s psychedelic shards left all over the place. A kind of Lalo Schifrin rock through the lens of Brian Wilson or Beach House. Although they are from Texas not the Sixth Arrondissement. Pink Floyd for Gen Z. Feelies for Gen Alpha. Mai oui y’all. Music Ariel Pink might have made if he hadn’t drunk so deep of autocratic cadaver juice.
29. Source – Nubya Garcia
A further claim on London as the jazz capital of the world – North London ska/reggae rhythms, pushing through sophisticated arrangements, carry the blue note of the African diaspora into a brand new world music. The recombination of elements makes this sound European more than Chicago. The tenor sax, in its swinging syncopation is more relaxed than the driving challenge of similar London musicians like Shabaka Hutchings. Instrumentation even quotes a bit from 70s soul music but is relentlessly fashionable for 2020 and beyond. Respect yourself.
30. Mordechai – Khruangbin
I bought and played this in summer, sequestered in the hut as workmen in masks walked in and out of the house, the hut’s doors open… this music, latin-rhythms in a jam-band insouciance, the simple and spacious production from some iconic period of rock’s past, the comfortable vocals over hippie guitar, improvised and eternally young vocals, a soundtrack for warm air, sitting in the shade, the days long. The ease of sly syncopation of the vocals, whose Spanish lyrics and rhythm makes this light soundtrack more like a world music than Texas rock n’ roll (Mali as much as Tejano).
31. Wall of Sound: Drones, Patterns, Noises – Ulrich Kreiger
Well, given my proclivity for a sound that is stretched out long enough to fray and betray its component parts (that is a drone) and other trance-inducing auditory sleights of hand (noise, repetitive patterns) this should be even higher on the list. Multiple CDs of categorized sample-ready resources. There is selfless-self as a pose (ambient dark droning) and industrial strength no-self (this). The human behind the sound just a little too remote for this year.
32. The Great Dismissal – Nothing
Gazing at those grungy shoes still sounds big and beautiful, still rewards my rock and roll sweet tooth. But somehow the wall of sound is too clean, too pat for this year. Trying too hard to score. And in the rain of lovely guitars, the voices are too forward in the mix, and the lyrics are intelligible to no one’s benefit.
33. We’re New Again – Gil-Scot Heron (Makaya McCraven deconstruction)
A last shot (2009) at prophecy from one of the watershed creators of 20th century “soul” music; serious jazz and wordsmithing and socio-cultural poetry from his wounded and unrepentant heart – was pulled apart and re-assembled with a sound palate of hip, slick, cool and young 21st century black Britain. His voice ravaged by crack and oppression; her reproduction pumping new light and transformative anger into it.
34. Mutable Set – Blake Mills
Everything about him is quality real music with welcome nutritious value. Hence his producing so many hip, slick and cool artists. The T. Bone Burnett of his generation. The production is therefore clever, precise and deceptive. No drums and a sonic presence very intimate, close in the ears, but his guitar (his great skill) is mushed around in service to atmospherics. The songs (co-written with Cass McCombs) are insightful, if a bit expected. Folky with a splash of Malibu. Which makes it all ride on his voice. As a vocalist, he’s a great guitarist.
35. Inlet – Hum
Iconic shoegaze trailblazers return after decades with that huge muddy Fuzz and beat. This is a kind of music that used to dominate my listening, along with chimey indie rockers. Now, a “retro” or two occasionally makes the list. These churning guitars, rumbling doomy bass, and snap-sharp drumming are delicious – which joy, however, is mitigated by vocals that are way up front and very unfortunately you can understand the lyrics. If the voice had been buried to an unintelligible level, this would have been rated much higher. At very loud volumes there’s an ecstatic breakthrough. Then the voice reminds you it is just a mid-life crisis. Much more satisfying though than Ride’s “return” last year.
36. Heaven to a Tortured Mind – Yves Tumor
In my senility-adjacent categorizing, I keep expecting this to be like Dean Blunt. But the gloss to too thick, and the hybridized stew needs a bit more irony. Certainly soulful enough and the correct % of quirk, but seems like it’s a holding pattern, or an unitentionally revealed short stack of hypnotic ideas. More hypnotism, less shortage next time?
37. Man Alive – King Krule
If there used to be “blue-eyed” soul in the Brit-Pop universe, I suppose this is a “blue-eyed” hip hop… his ragged non-University accent telling you what life is like… for him. That’s probably unfair, and if it were true I’d not be that interested, but he has a jazzy inclination and the instrumentation follows that. The timbre to his voice in appealing.
38. In the Arctic Dreamtime - Ivar Grydeland & Henry Kaiser
And now presenting Grydeland in the role of Terje Rypdal and Kaiser…in the role of Henry Kaiser. Spontaneous, soaring, trance-inducing interplay between guitar ecstasy and relentless guitar quirkiness.
39. Voices - Max Richter
A serious composer with a serious purpose is minimalist and emotive enough to create high-quality ambient soundscapes that go beyond the mere cinema soundtrack. He never disappoints, though here his use of human voices (always in his toolbox) reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights produce a work that induces respect but will probably be left on the shelf while I reach for ten of his other works more challenging and more accessible.
40. Making a Seat More Open – Carseat Headrest
He coulda been a contender. He coulda been somebody. The quality of his voice (as the quality of mercy itself) is not strained – a friendly indie Malkmusian rocker hitting all the right notes. The music is casually thrown together in just the right ways – a fine setting for queer angst. All the right elements of his last “masterworks”, but he seems stuck. He could find love, get clean and sober, man-up and produce a masterpiece, or he could wind up in a mental hospital, a one-bedroom in Williamsburg, or the dust-bin of rock history.
41. Flower of Devotion – DEHD
My appetite for rock destruction needed to be at a smaller scale this year. No surging power chords, thick sludge of metal, or arcane Brit Pop – Shiva the destroyer and Hermes the Clever needed to be sheltered-in-place in the garage. Most of these songs could be Replacement covers, and a Cure/REM/Psychedelic Furs simplicity hit the spot. Or the detritus of Velvet Underground. One guitar, one drum kit, one bass, one more chance. Little DIY punks.
42. Finite Infinity – Shedir
Representative of a kind of music that used to dominate my lists. Electronic, broad brushes of experimental spacey ambience, layers under layers, and noise for noise’s sake a goal. Eventually the universe of weird runs out too. Although a placeholder for that music here, perhaps it’s unfair to ask this Italian electronic music group to bear the weight of the genre’s lugubriousness, and there is some unassailably authentic droning here, but this year my drones needed acoustic provenance. I never really did like Vangelis anyway.
43. Sufjan Stevens
One of my favorite artists delivers a jeremiad in his usual intense person-revealing frame. But in a musical context that seems bloated, boisterous and boring. His strength has often seemed like offhand brilliance, and here he mysteriously seems like he’s trying too hard.
44. Get Out the Bolt-Cutters – Fiona Apple
A major America artist, even artiste. Through a daunting and public biography, she enters a second act of an iconic career of impeccable intelligence with a cultural commentary released from the vulnerable psyche – angry, wounded, assertive. A survival poet. And this is music that I respect but can barely listen to. Clangorous, subversive, self-justifying and noisey.
45. Untitled/Unrise - Sault
I give it an 98 ‘cause you can dance to it, and the dance is angry and real. Earnest Z generation authentic black voices… lots of talking. Lots. Too many grooves interrupted with a new idea. Maybe too many cooks in the kitchen.
46. Color Theory - Soccer Mommy
As in days of old, a hit on the radio promised something. An “indie” chiming guitar and familiar chord changes and a knowing vocal. I bit. But its storyline is pretty thin. Its music ideas are facile and evaporate upon listening. Texture can’t cover slightness.
47. The Microphones in 2020 – The Microphones
A 44 minute single in which the Mt Eerie guy does a gritty imitation of Mark Kozelek’s more recent stream of consciousness confessional folk-poetry.
48. Autochre – Sign
More math electronics from the masters of same. Would rank higher, but 2020 needed soothed nerves, not filed-raw fuzz, buzz, and click-click nerves. Not a year where noise worked well.
49. Round Again - Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride & Brian Blade
Perfect, smart, straight-head jazz by young turks that suddenly are old themselves too.
50. Set My Heart On Fire Permanently – Perfume Genius
I just don’t get the love. Simpers too much, no matter what how high quality the “sensitivity” is. I guess you’re supposed to see him live. Maybe a little less Katy Perry would have helped?

    Let's take a trip down Whittier Blvd.

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     Post subject: Re: Harry's Top 50 of 2020
    PostPosted: Fri Jan 15, 2021 5:29 pm 
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    Joined: Mon Oct 25, 2004 11:47 am
    Posts: 13881
    Location: parts unknown
    Wow, we share 3 albums! Whowouldathunk?

    Lot I'd like to check out from your list....
    Bohren & de Club are favorites of mine, but Patchoui Blues did not do it for me this time around...
    Hum should be much much higher!
    and the Fiona Apple gets better with each listen....


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     Post subject: Re: Harry's Top 50 of 2020
    PostPosted: Fri Jan 15, 2021 11:13 pm 
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    Joined: Mon Oct 25, 2004 3:23 pm
    Posts: 3605
    Location: Far South of Hell
    Goldmund has often been a background to family moments, I have made so many mixes with his pieces and Richter's as well

    love Big Thief but have not made it to her solo effort, read an article about [forget where] but really interesting and fairly raw

    great read Harry, power on in 2021

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     Post subject: Re: Harry's Top 50 of 2020
    PostPosted: Tue Jan 26, 2021 9:34 am 
    Go Platinum
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    Joined: Mon Oct 25, 2004 12:09 pm
    Posts: 6424
    Location: not in the gift shop dept.
    I will check some of these out soon!

    Everyone's Invited: Sunday evenings, 7-9pm ET at
    New and old mixes:
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    My Scooby Doo/Henry Rollins mash up:

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