Words by Andrew Ryan Fetter
Andrew Fetter has been writing about music for over the last decade and playing in bands for even longer. In addition to writing the Head Space column, he hosts The Noise Kaleidoscope which airs Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30pm ET on 99.1FM WQRT in Indianapolis. Past episodes are archived online.
10. All Them Witches – Nothing Is The Ideal (New West Records)
As much as I enjoyed the more laid back bluesy feel of ATW, hearing All Them Witches steer back (though not completely) towards the heavier stoner rock sound they’re known for is pretty refreshing. Nothing Is The Ideal begins with that same laid back feel on “Saturine & Iron Jaw” but soon ramps up to their heaviest riffs yet. What makes this such a strong followup to ATW is they’ve learned to meld those different styles into one heavy slab that grips you immediately. “The Children Of Coyote Woman” is a nice throwback reference to their 2016 album Lightning At The Door and could have been a great addition to that album, but also fits well here.
9. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush (Universal Music Australia)
Kevin Parker is a magician. Pure and simple. His ability to make records that are simultaneously retro and futuristic baffles me. Last year we were teased on SNL with singles “Borderline” and “Paitience”, the latter of which I am kind of disappointed didn’t make it onto The Slow Rush. And you could immediately tell it was going to be a much bigger album sound wise. At its core the album is fairly basic pop, but….so what? He ups the soundscape ante each time and we’re the better for it.
8. Bob Mould – Blue Hearts (Merge)
“I never thought I’d see this bullshit again/To come of age in the ’80s was bad enough”. Bob Mould has summed up the last four years better than anybody can. Blue Hearts harnesses the energy and righteous anger filtered through damn near perfect melodic indie rock from Husker Du and Sugar, which is needed more than ever.
7. Shiner – Shadenfruede (Two Black Eyes)
The reunion I never thought would happen, but not so secretly wanted to. Ever since The Egg, I always felt there was more that Shiner had up their sleeves. As easy as it would have been to just “pick up where they left off,” no. They didn’t do that. If Shiner had remained a band over the years, this would have been their 2020 record. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of their darkest and heaviest. Between this and the new Hum record, “90’s Andrew” is quite pleased.
6. Guided By Voices – Mirrored Aztec (Rockathon/Guided By Voices, Inc.)
Even a pandemic can’t stop the mighty GBV from releasing multiple great albums in a year. With a third one still on the way, Mirrored Aztec is the one that has floored me the most, even though Surrender Your Poppy Field was great as well. Maybe it’s all the time I’ve spent writing about psychedelic music recently, but the artwork for Mirrored Aztec is what grabbed me instantly. This latest iteration of GBV has put out quality rock albums that rival some of the “classic” releases. I won’t say which for fear of retribution from our dear leader, but just know that it’s great.
5. No Joy – Motherhood (Joyful Noise)
My hat is off to Jasamine White-Gluz, No Joy’s co-founder/primary songwriter. It’s always a risk to take a “throw every idea at the wall and see what sticks” mentality with a new record. And also to go it (more or less) alone. Especially for a band with a very distinct and recognizable sound. But, it’s a gamble that paid off. Motherhood is a record that most bands could only fantasize about making. While “Birthmark” and “Nothing Will Hurt” as the first two singles give the most “familiarity”, the rest of the album still has sharp focus to it, even with twists such as White-Gluz’s sister lending death metal vocals to “Dream Rats.” And many other songs take on a much more electronic vibe, compared to the more “rocky”, noisy, shoegaze of their previous output. And yet, you can’t hear this record and think of any other band than No Joy.
4. Beauty Pill – Please Advise EP/Instant Night Single (Northern Spy)
Beauty Pill manages to become a new band with each release. Partially due to frequent lineup changes, which does add to the mystery of what they’ll do next. But also because frontman Chad Clark loves to create that same mystery as an artist. The Please Advise EP introduces Erin Nelson, both as a vocalist and as a dancer in the beautifully crafted video for “Pardon Our Dust”. And on the heels of the election, the single “Instant Night” was released, with an equally captivating video from fantastic DC artist (as well as former Beauty Pill member) Ryan Nelson (also husband of the aforementioned member Erin). The music is purely Beauty Pill, but also sounds nothing like Beauty Pill. I’m pretty sure that was (and always is) the intention.
3. Run The Jewels – RTJ4 (BMG)
How the hell did they top RTJ3? It didn’t seem possible. And yet… here we are. And if the songs themselves aren’t perfect, the guest appearances on some of these songs certainly are. Who else can pair up Mavis Staples with Josh Homme and make it just work so well? And “Ju$t” with Pharrell and Zach De La Rocha should be song of the year. Period. Plus, you can’t hate them for sampling Gang Of Four (in “The Ground Below”). So, to ask the question again, how do they top this?
2. Destroyer – Have We Met (Merge)
It took me a long time to truly appreciate Dan Bejar. For some reason, Destroyer just never clicked with me. After seeing him perform solo a few years back, I started to appreciate the way that he crafts his songs, both solo and with The New Pornographers (which to be fair, I tend to drift more towards his songs in that collective – weird, I know). After revisiting the earlier albums, I was so excited to hear Have We Met. And it’s nice to love an album of his upon first hearing it. Its dark, minimalist electronic indie-pop is good for a late night drive (or a late night in, as is the norm for 2020).
1. Taylor Swift – folklore (Republic)
I know, I know. I’m shocked too. Look, it goes without saying that it’s been a weird fucking year. So, is it really any surprise that Taylor Swift would put out a record that really doesn’t sound like Taylor Swift? I mean, she’s a badass no matter what. But this is probably one of the best albums I’ve heard from a pop artist, ever. And released in a pretty DIY way really. No promotion ahead of time, no hype. Just all of a sudden, here’s a new record. You have to at least admire that, even if you’re too dead inside to love the music.