Words by Travis
I’m Trav, and this is a top ten list where I talk about my ten favorite releases of the year, beginning with New Year’s Day in January 2020 [ed note: this is a reference to All Your Thoughts on Pod, a podcast he cohosts]. I also sometimes play music in Lawnmower, Natural Monuments, and Rapid Eye Movement, one of southeast Michigan’s finest R.E.M. tribute bands.
10. The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form (Polydor)
I always appreciate how extra The 1975 is, and they are at their most extra on NOACF. At twenty two songs and eighty minutes, I honestly don’t know that I was ever able to listen to this album all the way through in one sitting, and probably never will be able to. However, the band continued to contribute to the growing playlist of excellent 1975 singles, which is still the most ideal way to listen to them.
9. Jessy Lanza – All the Time (Hyperdub)
This is the ideal electro-pop sound for me – incredible synth sounds played somewhat sparsely, with breathy, not quite ethereal vocals handling jazzy melodies. The album was produced by Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, who have probably always been my favorite electronic artists. The single “Lick In Heaven” is one of the catchiest songs I heard this year.
8. Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony (Roc Nation)
I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about Jay Electronica as most of his fans, but I’ve enjoyed reading about his background and learning about the context of this release. It’s alternately disorienting and captivating: “Shiny Suit Theory” is particularly adventurous and difficult to grasp; “A.P.I.D.T.A.” is a heartbreaking reflection of gratitude for time spent with lost loved ones; album pinnacle “Ezekiel’s Wheel” is ambient and dreamy, an alluring climax to an album that serves as an artistic statement from a fascinating personality.
7. beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers (Dirty Hit)
I understand that this young person became a famous musical artist on something called “TikTok” and that “beabadoobee” is her screen name/handle on her “socials.” Fake It Flowers is young people music that helps me remember what it was like to have human emotions. A significant part of the appeal of the album for me is that it’s basically tasteful emo without over reliance on the signifiers and fashion. It shares the charm of Michelle Branch’s best singles and Dashboard Confessional’s pre-Spiderman Soundtrack albums. The guitar work and production is excellent, evoking 90s Chicago indie rock bands. On top of that, these are just really well written songs with the best pop melodies of any album on this list.
6. R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages (Ruby Yacht)
Maybe the most impressive release I heard this year. Every song is densely packed with vivid psychedelic poetry. Opener “DECORUM” gives the listener a good idea of what they’re in for; the next seventeen tracks go on to mostly fulfill the promise laid out in the flowery language and jazzy arrangements of those first two minutes. The cover art credits state “rhythm and poetry by R.A.P. Ferreira” which is an apt and earned description.
5. Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind (Warp)
A collage of sample-based psychedelic indie. It’s extremely well-produced, in addition to being simultaneously sinister and beautiful, like Tame Impala in Hell. Imagery and music videos are scary. This person has clearly done drugs.
4. Laura Groves – A Private Road (Bella Union)
This sounds cliche, but it’s true: every second of recorded music from Laura Groves is a gift. This is her third EP, and first for her new label. Groves sometimes plays with Bat For Lashes, and on A Private Road, she combines that project’s textures and vibe with Joni Mitchell’s melodies and chord structures. Heavenly sounds from an ideal artist.
3. Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters (Epic)
Like many people, I was immediately grabbed by the opening piano figure of “I Want You To Love Me,” and it only got more interesting from there. The experimental percussive elements from 2012’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver of the Screw…blossom in a more fully realized way on this album’s title track, amongst many other moments on FTBC. I found Apple to be irresistible throughout, and I can’t help but think that the fearless, free-flowing delivery reflects a purity of spirit. A lot of people have said a lot of things about this album, and I don’t have any unique experience or insight into it, I just like it. Objectively the best album to come out this year.
2. King Krule – Man Alive! (True Panther Sounds / XL Recordings / Matador Records)
Making the follow up to 2017’s The Ooz (nineteen tracks, sixty six minutes) was always going to be a tall task, but King Krule made it work by creating an album that followed in a natural progression while simultaneously scaling back. The same elements are present on Man Alive!: sax, jazzy melting guitars, vaguely hip hop drum parts; but they’re applied in a different kind of meandering way that seems more personalized. I’m still not able to derive meaning from any of his songs, which feel as abstract as ever. King Krule was the only 21st century artist on my Spotify Wrapped this year.
1. Haim – Women In Music, Pt. III (Columbia Records)
The Haim sisters have always struck me as masters of their craft; the kind of artists who have spent thousands of hours learning, experimenting, pushing forward. Women In Music, Pt. III is the product of their expertise in the last fifty years of pop history. From 70s Laurel Canyon (“Man from the Magazine”) to 80s reggae-pop (“Another Try”) to early 90s R&B (“3am”), the band continues to evolve and reveal new tricks. Every part of every arrangement seems to have a purpose. This is the first time that any artist has made my favorite album of the year for a second time (2013’s Days Are Gone). I love Haim. I cried while mowing my lawn and listening to “Hallelujah” this fall.