Steve's Favorite Music of 2020
A List

Boy what a year, huh? Okay, let's get on with it.

Favorite Albums
1. Hum - Inlet
2. Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters
3. Kahil El’Zabar - America the Beautiful
4. Snarls - Burst
5. Little Wings - Zephyr
6. The Mountain Goats - Songs for Pierre Chuvin
7. Fluisteraars - Bloem
8. Deerhoof - Love Lore
9. Katatonia - City Burials
10. Adrianne Lenker - Songs and Instrumentals
11. Laura Marling - Song For Our Daughter
12. Jeff Rosenstock - No Dream
13. Keiyaa - Forever, Ya Girl
14. Kaatayra - Toda Historia pela Frenta
15. Wye Oak - EP
16. Blake Mills - Mutable Set
17. Future Islands - As Long As You Are
18. Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi - Fuubutsushi
19. Necrot - Mortal
20. Nicolas Jaar - Cenizas
21. Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2
22. Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin kynsi
23. Johanna Warren - Chaotic Good
24. Gaytheist - How Long Have I Been on Fire?
25. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full

The Annual Short List Of Albums That Are Unquestionably Excellent, But Are Too Intense, Long, Difficult, or Otherwise Exhausting To Listen To On A Level Which Would Lead Them To Become My "Favorite"
1. Fiona Apple - Fetch The Boltcutters*
2. The Microphones - Microphones in 2020
3. Armand Hammer - Shrines
4. Ka - Descendants of Cain

* Yes, I know that I also put Boltcutters on the regular list—all the way at #2 nonetheless! I know! But somehow that album belongs on both lists. It's unequivocally a masterpiece of an album, and I enjoyed the hell out of it when I listened to it over the first few days of its existence. It blew up in the culture at a time when we needed it, and it was a profound cultural experience. And it slaps. And yet, in the months since, with everything that's gone on in the world, I just feel like I can't go back to it. It already carries such a deep, weird, intense significance, that I don't know when or how anyone can go back to it and just give it a casual listen, singing along. It's weird man!

Favorite Songs:

1. Shamir - “On My Own”
2. Snarls - “Walk in the Woods”
3. Pure X - “Middle America"
4. Kahil El’Zabar - “America The Beautiful (Instrumental)” + “America The Beautiful”
5. Jeff Rosenstock - “Monday at the Beach”
6. Jeff Rosenstock - “Ohio Tpke”
7. Johanna Warren - “Rose Potion”
8. Little Wings - “It’s Only”
9. Destroyer - “Crimson Tide”
10. Katatonia - “Heart Set to Divide”
11. This Is the Kit - “Coming To Get You Nowhere”
12. Hum - “Shapeshifter”
13. The Beths - “I’m Not Getting Excited”
14. Moses Sumney - “Cut Me”
15. Wye Oak - “Walk Soft”
16. Fiona Apple - “Fetch the Boltcutters”
17. Adrianne Lenker - “Anything”
18. Jessy Lanza - “Anyone Around”
19. This Is The Kit - “This Is What You Did”
20. Run The Jewels - “Ooh LA LA”

Best Guitar Chord

1. Pure X - "Middle America"
If the first 10 seconds of this song was the entire album, it would probably be my album of the year. Just play it on repeat for a while, it's all I need.

Dont Shy Away

I'm gonna post my Favorite Albums of the Year list tomorrow or the next day. Loma probably won't be on it. Sorry, Loma. But if you come back to me in, say, 4 months, I'd bet this would squeeze its way on, maybe somewhere near top half even. What I mean is it hasn't fully connected with me yet, but I can feel that something's there. It's just buried a bit and needs some time. Especially over another shitty few months of the shitty world and the cold air and hopefully some snow. Yeah, some snow would move this thing up to at least #7.

Toda História pela Frente

Lo-fi bedroom Brazilian rainforest black metal melted and deconstructed past the point of psychedelic and damn near back to where it started. If that sounds good to you, welcome.

Forever, Ya Girl

Lo-fi bedroom Erykah-Badu-ian neo soul melted and deconstructed past the point of psychedelic and damn near back to where it started. If that sounds good to you, welcome.

Ambrose Akinmusire
on the tender spot of every calloused moment

Y'know, I don't usually like trumpet jazz. They're just so shrill. Except for Miles Davis, but that's fucking obvious.

Anyway Ambrose Akinmusire is trumpet jazz, but I actually like it. He kinda plays like Miles though.

The Mountain Goats
Getting Into Knives

With the (glaring) exception of Songs for Pierre Chuvin, the Mountain Goats first full length album of the pandemic and a glorious return to the lo-fi tape deck recording of his early days, I could use the same boilerplate format to review this second album of the pandemic as I could with every Mountain Goats full length of the last, oh, 10 years. In short: {Album title} isn't bad by any means, but it lacks the energy of Darnielle's best work. Still, I think it might at least be a little better than {previous album}, but I'll have to sit with it for a while before I have any stronger feelings. {Steve then sits a little longer but ends up with no stronger feelings and never really returns to the album once the next one is released.}

Songs for Pierre Chuvin though. Fuckin rules.

Adrianne Lenker
Songs and Instrumentals

Big Thief is on an untouchable run in the last couple years, and apparently this includes their lead singer's solo albums. I listened to this album (well, the songs album at least) once, and by the second listen I knew every song. I don't know how she does it.

Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi
Fuubutsushi (風物詩)

This isn't the best jazz album of all time. Or the best jazz album of the year. I don't think it will make my top 10 albums of the year, maybe not even the top 20? There's nothing particularly profound about it, no boundaries being broken, no new musical voice that demands to be heard. I can't hum any of its melodies, I can't remember which track does what, or which is my favorite, and as of this moment I don't even remember the name of the ensemble that composed and performed it.

Still, Fuubutsushi is one of the most genuinely calming collections of music I've ever listened to. Just absolute laser-focused tranquility, every beat of every track. Start with some ECM jazz, a little Eno-level ambient chording, balance it out with some light chamber string work, sprinkle on some ethereal field recordings, and the occasional jingle of hand chime percussion. It's almost too much, leaning dangerously into farmers market yoga meditation CDs, or the in-store music at MUJI.

But fuck that, I love MUJI.

This is the Kit
Off Off On

French post-indie-prog-jazz-folk. Saxophones and banjos and French accents. And jams.

Kahil El'Zabar
Kahil El'Zabar's America the Beautiful

There's still hope for this country, and this album is proof.

Future Islands
As Long as You Are

There's absolutely nothing about this new Future Islands album that makes it any different than their last two or three. When I heard the advance singles, I could only shake my head and sigh and admit that, after the bummer that was The Far Field maybe I was done with Future Islands.

And then it comes out and I listen to it in full, and it might actually be their 2nd or 3rd best album! I can't account for it, I can't point out what makes it stand out. It just works. The songs are "better," the vocals are "feeling it". Whatever any of that means. I've already listened to it more than I ever listened to Far Field, maybe more than Singles and On the Water. Sometimes it just works I guess.


Guess what kind of music these guys play?


Deerhoof released a new album in which they cover and melodize songs (and poems and drones and excerpts and process experiments) by Ornette Coleman, J.D. Robb, Voivod, Earl Kim, Knight Rider, Raymond Scott, Mauricio Kagel, Eddie Grant, Gary Numan, Stockhausen, The Beach Boys, Gerald Fried, Pauline Oliveros, Kermit the Frog, James Tenney, Silver Apples, The Police, Kraftwerk, John Williams, Morton Feldman, Sun Ra, Parliament, Asha Puthli, Ennio Morricone, Milton Babbitt, The B52s, Sofia Gubaidulina, Vinicius De Moraes & Baden Powell, Dionne Warwick, David Graeber, Derek Bailey, William Hanna & Hoyt Curtin, Anthony Braxton, Gyorgy Kurtag, Eric Siday, Igor Stravinsky, Caetano Veloso, Luigi Nono, Krzysztof Penderecki, John Cage, George Brecht, The Velvet Underground, and Laurie Anderson, and it shockingly—although not really shockingly because this is Deerhoof we're talking about—works. Honestly I'd already put it in the top 5 of their catalog.

The Microphones
The Microphones in 2020

The Microphones in 2020 is a beautiful personal essay in the form of a beautiful personal 40 minute song in the form of a beautiful personal 1 track album. Like much of Phil Elverum's recent beautiful personal output, it deserves an award and I'll never listen to it a second time.


I've never really enjoyed Boris before. More than that, I've never even really understood Boris. Who are they? What are they doing? Is it drone? Is it noise? Is it metal? Is it electronic? Is it a band? Or a person? Do they only collaborate with other artists? What's the deal with Boris?

But then they put out this new album NO, and answer all my questions with very little room for confusion. This is a metal album by a metal band, hard stop. Okay well maybe not total trad metal, it has bits of hardcore and maybe some noise and punk in there, but not unlike the Oozing Wound album from last year (which I loved), this is just straight up nasty riffage. Crushingly intense. Not terribly intricate, but limber enough to make me wonder why they'd just been doing drone shit all those years. Or maybe they didn't? Did they? What were they doing that whole time?

10.16.2020 - by Steve
Pastrami QueenManhattan
Pastrami sandwich

Holy shit I forgot to write about Pastrami Queen! Yikes. This goes all the way back to the "early days" of the pandemic—which simultaneously feels like years ago and just weeks ago—back when everything sucked but was still somewhat novel rather than being the full-on idiotopia that we currently find ourselves in.

Everyone knows Katz's, and I know I've raved and wept about Katz's on this site, or maybe to your face. And Katz's is indeed beautiful. I've also maybe typed one or two posts about other pastrami-heavy Jewish delis around town, how they've been disappearing for a couple decades, how there are still a handful still hanging around, blah blah blah. Well the one that seems to get the most attention outside of that (beautiful) place is Pastrami Queen.

Compared to its big competition downtown, Pastrami Queen is practically invisible from the street. It looks like it could be just about any other random shitty deli—cheap sign that was seemingly just put up a few years ago, bad logo that was probably designed by someone in Power Point two decades ago, and the space itself isn't much more impressive. It has a bit of an old school feel, but it's mostly just a quick take-out counter and fridge full of drinks. It's not nearly the spectacle that Katz's is.

But that's not really the point. The point is that their pastrami sandwich is damn near as good! And almost as expensive! I finally had an opportunity to stop in sometime back in May or June, when I finally decided to brave the pandemic and bike up through Manhattan. That's a whole other blog post—the whole island was such a weird unsettling ghost town for a couple months there. But anyway I got my sandwich, sat outside and ate it on a construction barrier, and enjoyed the hell out of it.