Top 50 Albums of 2020

Hello, everyone! Zack here. Welcome to another completely subjective rundown of albums I really loved from the past year. I reckon the less said about 2020 as a moment in time, the better, but everything that made it so, you know, terrible, is kind of inextricable from either the content of many of these records or my experiences with them. As a result, it may lean a little heavy on gloom, but with a few exceptions, I tried to absorb music of many genres and moods this year, and I think the list reflects that. I conclude my 2020 having heard just shy of 200 new records, many of them multiple times, and with a top 50 that I mostly worked into regular rotation at one point or another. Staying at home in basically all my free time from March onward helped facilitate that, but even so, I was shocked how easy this list felt to write compared to previous years’. Exposure really helps get the creative juices flowin’.

So much so that I even got off my ass and released an EP of my own back in June. Why did I not promote that here? Because I forgot. But it’s there, and I’d be a fool to not remind everyone it exists now before we get the ball rolling.

On that note, I typically include a cluster of honorable mentions before diving into the list proper, and that’s no exception this year, though I didn’t bother to separate these by genre. In my late fall re-listening spree, several albums that made my first draft of the Top 50 got pushed out, while others, whose highs I loved enough to revisit, didn’t quite grab me in their entirety. If they got a lot of replay value out of me anyway, they’re fair game at the start. So to summarize, our itinerary is 9 honorable mentions (in alphabetical order by artist), my EP of the year, and then the Top 50 Albums, loosely ranked by a mixture of perceived quality and how they influenced by listening habits throughout the year. Sound good? I hope so, ’cause it’s a little late to re-work this. Let’s do it.

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Top 50 Albums of 2019

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And what a wonderful year to keep this project going; my first fall outside of academia left me plenty of time to tackle it, unlike the last few years where I basically wrote 12 hours a day for a week after finals in order to hit the deadline I set for myself. An hour or two each day all through December allowed me to pace myself, and now here we are, a handful of days before Christmas, and it’s already done. Hallelujah.

2019 was also a great year for music in general. I enjoyed more albums than ever this year in terms of quantity (closing out the year with a total of 211!) and it’s also one of the most impressive batches I’ve compiled in quality since I started doing these lists six years ago. Y’all have lives to get back to and there’s plenty of reading ahead as is, so I’ll spare you an even lengthier preface. Without further ado, here are my top 50 albums of 2019…and some change.

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Top 25 Songs of the 2010s

Welcome! It’s your buddy (relative? acquaintance? stranger?), Zack. If you didn’t know or forgot this blog existed, I don’t blame you. It’s usually only used once a year. But we’re not just approaching the end of 2019 here⁠—the 2010s as a decade are coming to a close as well. Being the arbitrary list-maker I am, I tried paring down the thousands of songs I’ve heard since 2010 into a tight and concise list of 25 that still hold up good as new and are extremely meaningful to me.

The only rules? (1) No repeat artists and (2) the songs in question had to have been first released between 2010 and 2019. Other than that, everything is fair game. Some might claim that mid-October is too early a time to publish something like this, but hey, it’s not like the WordPress editor just disappears after publication. If something shakes my foundation between now and the end of the year, I can always chuck it in here with a disclaimer.

Anyway, though I shouldn’t need to say it, this is in no way whatsoever an attempt to establish some “objective” best 25 songs of the decade. My tastes in both genre and topic matter are too biased for that, and these selections primarily reflect my indie rock-centric adolescence, my appreciation for dynamic instrumental contrasts, and my preferences for lyricism about politics, community, and grief. The occasional comedy single will show up anyway.

So yeah, this list is mine by design. And while I’m eager to share it and curious what you would pick as your decade-defining 25, I won’t humor any uncivil comments. Let’s share the art we love, not shame others for having their own lives and musical trajectories. For the sake of minimizing controversy, I’ve also chosen to list these entries chronologically. Putting rankings to a crop of songs this equally valuable to me just seems futile.

And with that, I don’t have anything else to preface this with, so let’s get to it!

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Top 50 Albums of 2018

We both know why you clicked on this and I don’t intend to waste any more of your time than this long read will on its own, so I’ll keep the intro short and sweet. 2018 sure was a year, one that felt characterized by ridiculous cultural developments on a large scale yet flew by kind of fast and easily for me personally. My head’s somehow in as good a place as it’s been in years, so I gravitated towards a lot of happier mu- hah, just kidding, I binged like mad on hardcore and jammed more metal than I have in a long time.

That’s not to say I didn’t still get around to some of this year’s most lauded pop, hip-hop, and electronic music, but what successfully clicked with me was a little more of a grab bag. Regardless of what music you enjoy though, I think there’s something for virtually everyone here and I hope you all enjoy it.

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Top 50 Albums of 2017

As I sit here typing this introduction, near sub-zero temperatures and ten inches of snow await outside my window. Perfect weather to stay in and reflect on the last year. 2017 was far from great, but it did have some positives! I turned the legal drinking age (and didn’t take advantage of it), made decent ongoing progress with my own musical endeavors (new song here btw), and as always, listened to way too much music. Just like 2016, I heard approximately 150 records in full at least once and tried but abandoned another hundred or so.

Personally, I found this year less impressive in terms of standouts, but far more well-rounded overall. As I compiled this, I also noticed a few trends in my listening habits: I gravitated towards a ton of comeback records, lots of political music, more pop and hip-hop than ever before, and very little metal or experimental stuff. But that’s a good reflection of my 2017: it was near-impossible to avoid awful news, and when I sought the comfort of music, I either wanted something to help me make sense of it or lift my spirits.

Anyway, some reminders:

  • A few groups put out multiple worthy albums this year. Regardless, there will only be one entry per artist.
  • Live albums, compilations, splits, singles, re-releases etc. are ineligible.
  • I am including EPs in this list, granted they provide a full listening experience. There are still only two of them, and between the honorable mentions and the above rule, there are still well over 50 LPs actually discussed here.

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The Weakerthans – All Songs Ranked

Hailing from the Canadian prairies, Winnipeg-based indie rock outfit The Weakerthans garnered a cult following in their hometown and elsewhere in their nearly two decades together. During that time, they released four studio albums, each continuously expanding in sound and ambition from the last. From the spunky but uneven debut Fallow came the slower, more contemplative Left and Leaving, which was in turn followed by their most commercially and critically successful hit Reconstruction Site and a true jack of all trades, Reunion Tour. Each of their albums has its share of strengths and weaknesses, but all four are firmly rooted in the band’s homely instrumentation and frontman John K. Samson’s poetic, endearing lyricism.

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From ruminations about broadening one’s geographical horizons to quirkier, one-of-a-kind anthems about curling and cats, Samson and company’s catalogue is remarkably consistent. Since their ambiguous hiatus/disbandment in 2015 has left it looking like their repertoire won’t have any new additions and we’re soon approaching the 20-year anniversary of their first release, I figured it’d be worthwhile to delve into their discography in-depth, picking apart each album and ranking the band’s creations one song at a time. If you’re new to the band, allow this to give you an overview of their work. If you’re a longtime fan, don’t hesitate to tell me how poor (or good?) this order is. And if by some miracle you are John, Stephen, Jason, or Greg, then feel free to roll your eyes at this, but I’m so glad that you exist. Whatever the case, join me in running through the studio discography of some of indie rock’s greatest unsung heroes.

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Top 50 Albums of 2016

Sooooooo…2016…

The optimist in me wants to say, “Look, every year has its ups and downs and everything is relative,” but I think we can all agree 2016 will largely be remembered as a shitty year. Normally at the start of an annual post like this, I’ll kick things off with some pleasantries wishing everyone a Happy New Year and hoping it’s just as good as the last one, but in all honesty, 2017 needs to be better than last year. Its one positive was that with so much madness going on in the world, I turned to music harder than ever, and in turn ended up discovering significantly more music than I have any year before now.

For reference, I’ve been doing a year-end Top 50 Albums list in some form or another since 2013, usually hearing 70 to 90 new records a year and making do with that. For 2016, that number was closer to 150. Was the music actually better? I wouldn’t necessarily say that. But I sure as hell heard a lot more of it than usual, so it stands to reason that this would theoretically include more consistent stuff than in years past. Keeping the list cutoff at 50 squeezed things pretty tight; before this year, the bubble entries had essentially been filler, whereas this year, I had no reasonable choice but to leave off things I still wholeheartedly loved. I’m not huge on assigning numerical ratings to everything, but rest assured all the albums that remain here I’d consider roughly a 7/10 or higher, and comprise either the best of the best I’ve heard or the stuff I returned to the most.

I hope I can entice you to check out at least some of the ones you haven’t heard; they’re basically the only reason 2016 was worth the suffering.

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Top 50 Albums of 2015

2015. Man, what a year. I finally recorded two proper solo EPs, contributed my goofy nonsense to ODE Willie’s Funky Bunch, graduated high school, prevailed through one hell of a shitstorm of a first semester at college, and arguably more important than any of those accomplishments, I got my Cal Chuchesta fan art featured in a Needle Drop review. No, seriously. There it is. Ah, To Be Cal. Yessssss.

Petty lame claim to fame aside, this was a busy year for me, but I’m not really here to reflect on my personal trials and victories from 2015. It may be mid-January now instead of right after New Year’s like in previous years, but it’s finally time for my belated 2015 Top 50 Albums of the Year list! I’ll make the typical disclaimers brief:

  • There a few EPs thrown in here as well. Nothing too short though. Gotta be a reasonable length.
  • This list is comprised of my opinions and you’re all free to disagree, which to some degree I hope you do because musical taste is subjective and it’s impossible to hear everything notable that comes out each year.
  • As always, the start of the list is very loosely ranked and the closer to my #1 pick you go, the more the numerical rankings actually start to matter.

I’m also pleased to announce that this year’s list is probably my most varied one yet in regards to genre too, so hopefully no matter what style of music you fancy you’ll be able to find at least something here worth your time. It’s admittedly a little more genre-monotonous in the first half, but eh, better there than the top 25, right?

And last but not least, this is the third attempt to get this list posted somewhere, and since it’s evolved from a Word doc to a Facebook note to an unsaved earlier WordPress fuck-up, the odds are pretty high that some typos or formatting errors slipped through the cracks. I proofread this thing like a maniac, but if you catch any, please, point them out to me so I can fix them.

Anyway, enough drivel. Let’s get this thing started…

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