This year was full of unexpected surprises, disappointments, and more for everyone, but music was here to comfort us throughout. Here’s my list of favorite albums for the year:
- Hum - Inlet Anyone who’s talked music with me long enough has heard me express my adoration for Hum. They were the first/one of the first bands I’ve seen live. Their particular brand of space rock/shoegaze/whatever-you-want-to-call-it has always been one of my favorites. It’s been a long couple decades since their last release, Downward Is Heavenward, so I was skeptical whether this year’s surprise new album would greet these old ears the same as their earlier releases. It took a few listens for me to warm up to it, but this album is certainly one of my top picks for the year.
- OSees - Protean Threat Their name has yet another new spelling and the kraut/prog rock evolution of their sound continues. Longsuffering readers of my top albums lists will recall my love of this band, so no surprise to see them on this year’s list again (although I did not include all of the albums they released this year). This one works so well as an end-to-end listen that I listened to it a second time in a row on more than one occasion.
- OSees - Levitation Sessions Until this year, every summer in Berlin meant an OSees tour stop and a guaranteed great night out. Luckily, the band shared this live recording that serves as a decent surrogate, but you probably won’t be showered by thrown beers in your living room.
- OSees - Metamorphosed Oh, the audacity of including a third album from the same band on a top 10 list! You may not be surprised to learn that there’s a Hard Times article poking fun at the frequency of their album releases. This one is some leftover tracks from last year’s Face Stabber double album; a couple short ones and a couple extended jams doing what they do best.
- Run the Jewels - RTJ4 Listening to the hard-hitting lyrics of this album, it’s easy to forget that it was penned before the Black Lives Matter protests erupted earlier this year. That’s because systemic racism is nothing new as Mike & El-P so eloquently convey on track after track. Have you ever taken a moment to “look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar”? It’s pretty messed up when you think about it. Meanwhile, the EU has bridges on their currency as a symbol of connection, ju$t saying. RTJ also did a live stream of their performance of the entire album. Mike’s acapella verse at the end of Walking in the Snow is intense!
- Fuzz - III While there was no new Ty Segall album this year, the third release from his Fuzz side project gives us a chance to hear him play drums and sing. This time there’s a bit of Thin Lizzy-esque guitar harmonies and other new sonic elements to add some color to the Sabbath sludge they so effortlessly conjure.
- Charley Crockett - Welcome to Hard Times “Do you like sinnin’? Well, you will before you go." is all the invitation I needed to enter Charley’s classic country time machine. The Davy Crockett descendant croons about love and heartbreak while reminding us that the telephone used to play a central role in the game.
- Khruangbin - Mordecai The Houston trio has continued to explore the funk elements of their sound, which adds some swagger to any walk or cleaning session. I love the quirky adventurousness of the Time (You and I) video. And since Christmas Time Is Here, check out their version of the Vince Guaraldi song from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
- Kurt Vile - Speed, Sound, Lonely KV After enjoying 2018’s “Bottle It In” and seeing his show here in Berlin last year, I was happy to see a new EP from Kurt Vile this fall. After several listens, I learned from the All Songs Considered podcast that there are a couple John Prine songs on it, including a thought-provoking duet with Prine on “How Lucky”, which recalls a visit to places of our past and what we are lucky enough to remember (or forget). If you are not very familiar with the late great John Prine, the original versions of these two songs are a great place to start.
- Jimi Hendrix - Live in Maui As evidenced by numerous other choices on the list, I clearly needed fuzzy guitars and extended jams in high doses this year. I’ll end with yet another glimpse into the mastery of Jimi Hendrix. This release covers a pair of concerts the rock legend performed on the side of a dormant volcano in 1970. Watch some of the video to see Jimi make guitar wrangling look easy and timelessly cool. Also, laugh at the tripping hippies waving their hands in front of their far out faces.
Here’s a playlist with a song from each album, but I assure you there are many more you really should hear. Let me know if you find a new favorite or have something else to recommend!