2020 was a pretty incredible year for quality albums. We’ve sailed through ninety eight other examples of this fact in the past few weeks. Yeah, I know, did I do a top 100 this year? No, I did a top ninety nine because I’m freaking gangsta. Hmmm, imagine if I’d remembered to list Ariana Grande’s last album? It might have cleaned it up a bit. Ah well, no harm no foul. If you’re wondering, it would have finished arooooooouuuuuuuund… 74th. Despite the raised competition though, despite a high placing on 2020’s list being more difficult than in most recent years, there was still only ever really one record that I ever really imagined finishing top.
070 Shake is Danielle Balbuena, a 22 year old Brooklyn native of Dominican decent who has stealthily being climbing up the Necessary Evil chart in recent years. Her unmistakable, tranquil voice that seems to have been digitally uploaded from the uncanny valley and wears the scars of the distorted transition, had obviously been used recently to add certain sparkle to hip-hop tracks that nothing else was ever going to be likely to be able to do. She appeared on Pusha T’s Santeria,the 37th best album of 2018, offering a haunting and seemingly otherworldly Spanish language segment that the listener assumed would have taken all the talent of producer Kanye West to make sound quite so idiosyncratic and mystifying, not realising that was just what Shake’s voice sounded like. West was similarly enchanted by Shake as I was- as anyone would be, enough to have her guest on two tracks from his own (unfairly maligned, really freaking good) solo record that year, the twelfth best album of 2018, on album highlight Violent Crimes and of 2018 highlight Ghost Town(the 13th best song of the year).
Firstly: what up brothers and sisters? Put you’re hands in the air, yeah? Like you just don’t care, yeah? Can I get a ‘what what’? Respect the flex of Necessary Evil 2020! We might have finished Necessary Evil 2015 by the 13th December, but that was beginning to feel like a much missed byproduct of a far simpler time. We didn’t finish Necessary Evil 2016 until November the 5th. Of 2017. Necessary Evil 2017 didn’t come all over all of your apathetic and disinterested eyeballs until the next year again, but at least had the grace to finish by April the 8th of 2018. Necessary Evil 2018 got so close to finishing in the year it was referring to, eventually wrapping up January the 3rd of 2019. And God fucking damnit Necessary Evil 2019 managed to bow for applause just one day into 2020. This year!! Baring an absolute calamity, Necessary Evil 2020 will somehow be finished before even Christmas, as we enter the final post on December 23rd and- holy shit!- I might get to relax and enjoy my festive period for the first time in five years!!
Grief will affect everyone in different ways. And, hey, what other year have we been forced to face silly, unbiased mortality more than 2020? Firstly, there is no intimacy league table with an imaginary line drawn across it- nobody who was less than this close to you can properly affect you. Oh, and they need to be bipedal animals with recognisable hands and a proven ability to use those hands to manipulate tools, so no excessive mourning for your pet dog passing away. But I guess if you have a pet gorilla or chimpanzee who dies, that’s covered so you’re allowed to grieve for that. Aw, man, imagine having a pet gorilla just hanging around the house, like a big hairy flatmate. And then that gorilla dying! I’m getting sad just thinking about it. And maybe crows are covered. You can mourn your pet crow dying. But the fact is, every death has the potential to affect you, and the arresting smack of mortality will smack you hard even if it’s an old schoolfriend who you haven’t seen in decades or somebody you’ve never even met, even an existence that you had no concept of occurring before it was snuffed out. A human life, an existence you know as being full of thoughts and dreams and opinions and love and hatred just suddenly being stopped isn’t easy to get your head around. You might laugh, but even the death of Prince in 2016- a person I have never met, a person who I’ve never even been close enough to spit on, a person with less than no concept of my existence- hit me hard and played a part in my mental downward spiral that led to Necessary Evil 2016 starting ten months late. Hey, here was a living, breathing, organic thing that was doing stuff– stuff that affected my life– and now that thing is no more and that stuff is going to stop. It’s actually pretty fucked up.
(*or should that be semenal?? No. No, ‘seminal’ is the correct spelling. I just checked)
After his firsttwo albums, all things considered, Prince was really nothing special aside from an admittedly talented performer with the nice little gimmick of being able to play a lot of instruments. Aside from taking a little detour into filthiness with Soft and Wet and proving his rock chops, if only briefly, with I’m Yours, his first album was deserving of little more than a polite applause for the ability on show. His second album, although technically superior in almost every sense, containing his first hit in the heavily disco influenced I Wanna Be Your Lover and, to me, his first stone cold classic in When We’re Dancing Close and Slow* , it was actually frustrating to listen to 40 years later with the benefit of hindsight and knowing exactly what this talent would one day become. There was close to nothing to these albums, they were more often than not box ticking genre albums. Where was the invention? Where was the subversion? Where was the star quality? There was next to no clue where Prince was about to take his sound, his image or his provocativeness.
Oh, so she uses proper capitalisation on the album cover, but not in the official stylisation?? Seriously, Charli, what the WTF?
There is no better artist in recent times at embracing the everything than Charli XCX. Her genius has always been to encompass pretty much every facet of modern pop music and modern sound into bite size chunks and serving them up for the aimed consumption of literally every single person on Earth. She has always liked to do this through bridging as many connections with as many people as possible. She is an insanely public artist, connecting to all of her fans on every social platform and ensuring that they are always explicitly aware of how important they are in whatever success she has, leading to live performances that can feel more like a mass therapy session mixed with the prelude to the greatest mass orgy all thousand people present have ever experienced mixed with the purest exhibition of Arthur Janov‘s treatment of primal screaming. She’d also do this by collaborating with as many other artists as she could, ensuring that so many of her fans were introduced to slightly more challenging acts such as Cupcakke, Dorian Elektra and Tommy Cash. You have to imagine that Charli hugs each and every person she passes on the streets and tells them that she loves them, and to never stop being awesome. It makes every trip to the Post Office last about an hour and 45 minutes. For this most hyper-interactive, hyper-communicative, hyper-compassionate and hyper sharing artist- one who thrives on the maddening stimulation of modern life- to suddenly find that you’re not allowed to meet with anybody and, really, shouldn’t even leave your freaking house might have come as a defeating blow, like if you’re a My Little Pony fan and the government suddenly announced all swastikas were now illegal.
Yeah, you know how JPEGMAFIA’s album was just a collection of singles from the previous year? Well, Burial sees that effort and raises it by releasing a collection of singles and EPs from the better part of the last decade. Might have made sense to split the two albums up on the list. This list isn’t about aesthetics and sensible ordering though. It’s pure science. And if the science states that they should be placed next to each other, perhaps both fitted with a secret microchip so Bill Gates can track their movements, then who are we to argue?
Sigh… I’m going to have to start with an embarrassing confession. I know, many of you reading this already think all the things I write are shamefully embarrassing, but this is a distressing mark against my musical knowledge which, come on, up until now was unimpeached. In November of 2019, roughly a month before this collection came out, I wrote this:
Oh my God! The top twenty! If you’re interested in a bit of insider knowledge, this has been the most difficult list to write yet, it’s caused way more stress in my personal life than any before it, and it’s getting harder and harder to defend as a humungous drain on my time. This may well be the final countdown I do. Unless you all start giving me money of course. Just leave the bank notes in a burlap sack near the aqueducts, as per usual.
Hinds released their 2016 debut as an amazing idea for a band but frustratingly without the tunes to back up their sizeable identities. Their second album, 2018’s ‘I Don’t Run‘, was a welcome and marked leap up in quality, with the band obviously coming on leaps and bounds as songwriters and performers. This improvement has continued at such a pace that, with the release of their third album this year, they can legitimately noe be considered one of the greatest indie rock bands in the world.
Yeah, this post is going to be a little shorter, just so you know.
‘Waterfowl’ is a pretty perfect rock album. I spent an inordinate and unnecessary amount of time just now trying to decide which subgenre to place it under, but it’s such a varied and ambitious record that it near enough encompasses all of them. It dabbles in punk, takes brash detours through folk rock and indie, skids its way through shoegaze and math rock, and even chooses to dabble in post-punk and grunge. I ‘reviewed’ it back in February, then because I don’t think I’d properly got across how good the album was, I wrote another post in March just to make sure I was clear how freaking good this record was. Come on, if there was any 2020 album you don’t need further convincing of its quality, it’s this one. It’s actually quite worrying how much I have to spoon feed some of you people. Sort your lives out.
Luke Haines is always going to earn a place on this list. Aside from his near legendary cantankerousness these days best evidenced through his Twitter account now that he doesn’t sell anyway near enough records for any journalist to want to bother talking to, but he might actually be one of the most influential and important British music artists of the last 30 years without anyone really noticing or caring (least of all Haines himself). Unfortunately, a lot of that influence and importance isn’t really valued in 2020, like Haines has spent a large part of his career building up a collection of several billion Yugoslav Dinar. His previous band, The Auteurs, didn’t just release the greatest album of 1996, but are widely considered to have been the first Britpop band and their 1993 debut ‘New Wave‘ is considered the first album and perhaps the ultimate example of the genre. Unfortunately, crowing about an artist’s importance to Britpop in 2020 is like raving about one of the most important engineers ever because of their revolutionary idea to build houses using asbestos. People are unlikely to share your enthusiasm, and will likely debate whether it should be considered a ‘good thing’. Regardless of the nonsense that Britpop quickly descended into though, it still can’t be denied that Haines played a central part in solidifying the importance and artistic/financial viability of British guitar music at the beginning of the 90s, and without him we may never of had… erm… what British guitar band are they nowadays? Royal Blood. Without Luke Haines we may never have had Royal Blood. Can you even imagine? But, yeah, he doesn’t care, he’s happy enough by ow (all relative, of course) releasing extremely decent but lower scale and borderline comedy solo albums.
If you’ve ever read this blog- like at all, you ingrate philistine- you know how I spend roughly 40% of my time elucidating how special Katie Crutchfield’s musical project is. I am very much a Waxahitcher, which is a term I’ve just made up for the sort of Waxahatchee fan who’s dedicated/deluded enough to invent a term for the level of insanity that their fandom warrants. She made the most important album of 2013 to me, which, yeah, I didn’t admitat the time, but respect the retcon!