2020 Albums, music business realities, etc
Hey, you. I’m sure you noticed, but in case you didn’t, it’s that time of year again: Every publication is throwing out their top album lists from the year. Top jazz albums! Top world albums! Etc! Etc!
It’s no secret that the lists are massaged, heavily, by publicists. A necessary and totally fine part of the game. Even with this knowledge, I felt stung when first reading the lists this year. With very few exceptions, not one of the albums I adored made it on. Then I realized much of my bitterness was unfounded and silly. As a label owner, I’m legitimately part of that system now. It’s my job to fix it, not gripe.
That, among many other things, is legitimately why we made Rainbow Blonde Records. I can complain, or I can celebrate when those albums I love make it on these and other lists, and try my best to give a voice to those who didn’t.
Then king Ben Williams posted a list of his favorite albums, most of which he didn’t see too. And I realized there’s a powerful option here, to crowdsource and democratize this process. To hip each other to albums we may have missed through our OWN lists.
And then it was Sunday! Aka newsletter day! A perfect time to let you know!
So without further ado, my 2020 albums:
1) Ben Williams, I Am A Man
We just talked about Ben, but I don’t have enough words in the English language for this masterpiece. Ben Williams’ seminal civil rights manifesto is in my top albums of the last DECADE, to be honest. Created organically with Brian Bender and Ben Williams at the helm. We were beyond proud to present it on Rainbow Blonde Records.
Every song is deep, futuristic and overwhelmingly human. His band is off the CHARTS. His voice is transcendent. All in all, an album worth jumping on.
2) José James, No Beginning No End 2
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I. am. BIASED. But look. Before I married the dude, I was, to use the youth lingo, a José James stan. I remain so. This album, a follow up to the album that made me fall in love with the guy, is gorgeous. It’s perfect. It’s smooth, it’s deep, it’s dance, it’s painful. It’s the best songwriting I’ve heard José do so far. I also wrote 6 of the songs, and I’m super fucking proud of them. The list of guests is expansive and INSANE.
3) Fiona Apple, Fetch the Boltcutters
Changed my life isn’t the right term for what this album did for me. It took the world and my heart by storm. Spotify told me that I spent 2,341 minutes with just ONE SONG on this album. That’s 39 hours, or damn near two days. Obviously, as a piano playing songwriter Fiona Apple is my everything. But this album, where she is grown, powerful, just… blisteringly honest? It has become my goals for every piece of music I make from now on.
Her take on female friendship on the title track, “Fetch The Boltcutters” tore through me (see Taali Talk #2 for context). I hope one day to be anywhere her level. Until then, I’m working on getting to that height of honesty, badassery, and ability to float above toxic relationships. Fetch the Boltcutters, indeed.
4) Lisa Hannigan, At Swim
I first learned about Lisa Hannigan through mutual friend Levon Henry. I found her insanely delicious video for “Knots” (have you seen it?!) and leaned in, hard, to her gentle but authoritative musical delivery.
But this new album, like Fiona’s, is just … rich. It’s evolved. It’s mature. With all the same depth, it lived as my calmer counterpart to Fiona’s album. Where Fiona’s album got me out of bed, Lisa lived with me on long drives, through crying spells. I owe her a deep well of gratitude.
5) Busta Rhymes, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God
We talked about this album last week. It is so fucking GOOD. The entire album.
It is apocalyptic. It is in honor of our times. And it is a god damn masterpiece. Busta Rhymes remains the best, and opens up space for classic and new artists throughout. Chris Rock’s voice, interwoven throughout the album in service to just what a god Busta is, is the cherry on top.
6) Becca Stevens, Wonderbloom
We also talked about Becca and Wonderbloom extensively last week, and I stand by everything I said. This album is a masterpiece. It is Becca at her very best.
7) Bab L’Bluz, Nayda!
Man. This album. I feel like the odds may be you haven’t heard it, and I’m SO EXCITED FOR YOU to check it out if so. This North African badassery is simultaneously modern and completely traditional. It pulses, it lives, it challenges. I honestly don’t know how I found this band, but they lived with me for MONTHS after I did.
If nothing else (but seriously go for the whole package!), check out single Ila Mata. A timeless absolute fucking classic.
8) Sufjan Stevens, The Ascension
Sufjan rolled out this album over the pandemic, so by the time it finally got to me as a full length I felt at home with it. It’s a lush, beat driven, synthesizer paradise. I love Sufjan for the genre bending fearless absolute badass of an artist he is, and this album gives me all of that.
9) Laura Marling - Song For Our Daughter
Laura Marling remains goals for thoughtful depth. This album was the perfect lush storytelling I needed all year.
10) Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah - Axiom
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is a renegade, a genius, the best of what our generation has to offer. He paved the way for us on how musical independence looked, and I’ve been a superfan for a long time, but this album? This album is the future. It is generous, searching and expansive. It paints as much as it sings. Utilizing the drums and percussion of legends Corey Fonville and Weedie Braimah, it transports you to another rhythmic and melodic universe. And what a universe it is. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
Ahhhh. I feel better having written that. This year was a mess, but messes really can make for the best music. Past that - Did you know that you can comment on these posts? I’ve been really enjoying hearing your thoughts. Let me know any albums I missed!
And see you next week.
With infinite love,