It’s been a very strange year for a lot of reasons, but despite the madness, 2020 has brought us some new, amazing music. We each decided to share our favorite albums of the year. What were your favorite albums of 2020? Share in the comments below.
Kyros – Celexa Dreams
I’ve been on a synth-pop kick for most of 2020, and so Kyros has been one of my favorite discoveries this year. They manage to combine big hooks with airy, atmospheric production to create some really interesting and unique progressive music that sounds both retro and modern. This particular album really spoke to me, as they discuss existential themes like isolation, mental illness, and the loneliness of life.
A lot of prog bands dwell endlessly on the 70s, but Kyros draws from the neo-prog of the 80s and even 90s and builds upon those foundations laid by XTC, IQ, and even Radiohead- smart, catchy, memorable prog pop. I also love that, after being labeled as “euro pop trash” by someone on the internet, they immortalized it on a shirt. That was awesome. Read our interview with Kyros here, and buy the album here.
Toehider – I LIKE IT!
Mike Mills (aka Toehider) is one of the most interesting musicians out there. His music blends heart and humor in a way that is rare. Not only is he an incredibly talented musician, but he also has an incredible, expressive, versatile voice that has made him highly sought after in the progressive music world. This album features a wide range of songs, from the cheesy metal of “GO FULL BORE!” to the epic “He’s There…And He Does That!”, to the synth poppy “wellgivit”, this album showcases Toehider’s intense and tremendous talent, as well as his sense of humor. Buy the album here, and subscribe to his Patreon here. Also, check out our interview with Michael Mills here.
Gazpacho – Fireworker
“Come closer/I’m the Lord of Pseudo-thinking”. Gazpacho has been haunting my mind since I first heard their incredible album Demon, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Their latest album couldn’t have come at a better time, as it explores the primal, impulsive, and dark parts of our brains- our id, our lizard brain, our “space cowboy”, our fireworker. It successfully borrows from the best elements of previous eras- the ambition and contemplative atmosphere of Molok, the focused song crafting of March of Ghosts, the conceptual continuity of Night, the sheer creepiness of Demon– to create truly powerful meditation on human nature. Read the full review here and buy the album here.
Elder – Omens
I’ve loved Elder since my brother first sent me the song “Compendium” from their album Lore. The riffs were so crushingly heavy, but the melodic lines were surprisingly memorable and complex. Their latest album, Omens, is likely their most progressive and psychedelic outing, but the themes of the lyrics were really fascinating in a year of so much chaos. Elder, like ancient soothsayers, were trying to warn us of our own societal collapse. The album couldn’t have been timelier. For lovers of history, philosophy and crushing riffs. Read our review here, and buy the album here.
Run the Jewels 4 – RTJ4
Hip hop duo Run the Jewels is known for their incisive political commentary and their fierce and brilliant wordplay, and their latest album, RTJ4, is no different. With the backdrop of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others, Run the Jewels hits us with their trademark brilliance with fiery tracks such as “Just” (which features Pharrel Williams and Zach de la Rocha”, the soulful and heart-rending “Pulling the Pin”, and the chilling “A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation)”, Run the Jewels did what few groups can do- they made an album that is both timely and timeless, a necessary and tough snapshot of contemporary life in America. Available for purchase here.
Lorenzo Feliciati & Pat Mastelotto – Portal
As brilliant a musical journey as any taken in 2020. The music created by bassist Lorenzo Feliciati and drummer Pat Mastelottodefies easy description or genre, which is part of what makes it great. The perfect “headphone record,” it requires no more than a dark room and the willingness to go along for the ride. (Available for purchase on Bandcamp.)
Sons of Ra – Cognitive EP
The first half of a set (the second release, Dissonance, is due in the near future), Chicago’s Sons of Ra continue to show growth in the metallic fusion world they occupy. The music is heavy and chops-driven, but also direct and to the point. The chemistry between guitarist Erik Oldman and bassist Keith Wakefield cannot be denied, and the recent addition of drummer Michael Rataj propels the band directly where they have been dying to go. The future for this band is quite bright, indeed. (Available for purchase on Bandcamp.)
Rob Fetters – Ship Shake
Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rob Fetters (The Bears, Psychodots, The Raisins) is here to remind us that intelligent pop music is still possible in the modern music era. Introspective, a little spiritual, and quite snarky at times, Fetters fires through a set of mostly up-tempo rockers that bring a smile while displaying the maturity of a man living his life with his heart on his sleeve and dealing with the consequences of doing just that. (Available for purchase on Bandcamp)
Daniel Tompkins – Ruins
TesseracT’s powerful vocalist Daniel Tompkins released an updated version of his 2019 debut album Castles, putting the “poppy” songs in a more heavy djent jacket, including heavier vocals of the man himself. This album almost functions like a bridge between more accessible rock music and TesseracT’s progressive rhythms and vigorous guitars. A recommendation for someone who’s looking for fresh, heavy music that isn’t too complicated. Available for purchase here.
Alain Johannes – Hum
Definitely not something that falls in the progressive rock genre, but it’s an album which at least deserves a couple of spins. Alain Johannes is known for his work with Chris Cornell, Them Crooked Vultures, Queens Of The Stone Age, and many more. It shows he’s an outstanding multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer and songwriter. If you’re looking for something that brings folkish singer-songwriter music to a different level, then this album should be in your collection. Available for purchase here.
Porcupine Tree – Pure Narcotic
Never thought I would write something about Porcupine Tree in 2020, but here I am, writing something about Porcupine Tree in the year 2020. They released several live recordings, demos and other unreleased material on their Bandcamp page this year, including an EP named Pure Narcotic. Five well-known Porcupine Tree songs turned into five beautiful acoustic works of art. Especially the acoustic version of Small Fish is brilliantly done. A must have for every Porcupine Tree fan!
Ihsahn – Pharos
Legendary Norwegian metal producer/vocalist Ihsahn has been a centerpiece of the black metal scene for decades, but his newest release “Pharos” shows listeners a totally new, softer side of his personality. This 5 song E.P. offers beautiful soundscapes, masterful production, and haunting melodies that will stay with you long after you take your headphones off. I highly recommend Pharos to fans of Leprous, Riverside, Anathema, and Opeth. Available for purchase here.
Haken – Virus
I’m clearly a slow learner: this was finally the year that I got into Haken, and Virus did it. Maybe that means my prog card should be revoked, I know, but this is the kind of album that lands with me perfectly. Haken has sharpened their songwriting and trimmed a lot of the excesses that made them less accessible to me in the past, without sacrificing bona fide technical mastery. And could there be a more eerie coincidence than having a viral pandemic theme in an album released in 2020? There’s no way the band (or anyone else) could have predicted this year, of course. I don’t remember this level of synchronicity since Dream Theater depicted the New York skyline on fire on September 11, 2001.
The album is enhanced by a fantastic set of music videos. Each one is vivid and perfectly captures the themes of each song, but I think “Canary Yellow” really takes the win on this. I even love the brutal simplicity of the cover. I love every aspect of this album and I’m looking forward to it continuing to grow on me over the next few years. Available for purchase here.
Trust Fund Ozu – joe.
This album floored me the first time I heard it. It’s at times hilarious, at other times incredibly touching, and it feels brutally honest. It’s sonically unlike any other album I’ve heard. If you haven’t checked out this album, you owe it to yourself to sit in a dark room with the best headphones you can get your grubby little hands on and listen to this at full volume. Then use a social security number that isn’t yours to apply for a loan to get your face re-built, as it will have been melted off by the end. Thankfully Faye provides the last four of her’s in one of the tracks. Available for purchase here.
What were some of your favorites? Share them in the comments below.