Eric Ponce’s Top 25 Albums of 2020
by Eric Ponce, Prose Staff
Oh boy another top 25 end-of-year list and another person using self-deprecation to introduce their pretentious aesthetic preferences in listicle form. Reviews are so last millennium but music is the only good thing that happens anymore so here are some records that moved me this year. Just to save some face you should know that if there’s anything I hate more than lists it’s self-flagellation. And irony.
25. Duma Duma
Even if you’re not a metal fan, there’s still something you can find in this debut from the Nairobi duo. Fast, heavy, political, strange, it’s a treat from start to finish. Sure, there’s screaming in a language you may not understand, but maybe that’s better than screaming in a language you do understand.
24. U.S. Girls Heavy Light
Meghan Remy is back and boy is she killing it. 2018’s In A Poem Unlimited was a head-turning moment in her band’s career, but here they outdo themselves. It’s so funky and fun, you can’t help but imagine yourself drinking champagne in a club while a little voice in your head reminds you that you’re getting older every second. I’ve been singing “You can do a lot for four American dollars!” since March.
23. HAIM Women in Music Pt. III
The sisters have done it again, and it’s far better than anything they’ve done so far. Every song screams California, with catchy hooks and soaring ballads and sunshine production it’s just so good. HAIM have been at it for a while and here they prove why they’re one of the best bands doing it right now.
22. Adrianne Lenker Songs
If you don’t know Adrianne Lenker and Big Thief already, you’re doing it wrong. On this new solo effort, Adrianne shows the genius underneath all those great BT songs, stripped down and as raw as Elliot Smith. Elliot Smith is actually a great comparison: Adrianne has a weird, lovable voice, smart, emotional lyrics, and she knows how to make little nests out of her songs. She’s a genius.
21. Bad Bunny YHLQMDLG
Yes he does. This is Bad Bunny’s best collection of songs yet (by leaps and bounds), everything here is fun and cool af. Bad Bunny is such a personality, he can pull anything off with the kind of suave they have in troves in PR. He’s proven himself to be a major player in pop music: he’s forward thinking, cool, and just a general badass. I want to be him.
20. Moor Jewelry True Opera
Purists might cringe at this comparison, but this album reminded me of bands like Drive Like Jehu or the Jesus Lizard or even Fugazi, except just better. Moor Mother sings with power while Mental Jewelry beats the drums with anger and precision, it’s a perfect blend. It’s heavy but still groovy, heady but still visceral, and, as the title suggests, dramatic to the point of opera.
19. Black Dresses Peaceful as Hell
Like 100 gecs if 100 gecs had something worthwhile to say, this album is bonkers. It’s angry and psychotic and so so so fun—the songs here are as sugary as anything on the radio but you can still feel cool listening to them. Like a dumpster fire surrounded by raccoons with sweet, puerile voices.
18. Meridian Brothers Cumbia siglo XXI
Yes this album is weird but god can it make me move. The guitars are wiry and tight, the synths are plucky and bright, the percussion is like something you might hear in a preschool music room but it all works. Latin America is where rock music is being reborn, mark my words.
17. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist Alfredo
Freddie is the goat and teaming up with The Alchemist just makes him cooler. If someone says they’re a rap fan and doesn’t know/like Freddie Gibbs, they’re a poser. Anyone who listens to Freddie gets automatic credibility, and on every album Freddie again proves why.
16. Tkay Maidza Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2
This album is the future. It’s got hooks, it’s got flows, it’s got something for everyone. “Don’t Call Again” is one of the best songs of the year: it sounds like Stevie Wonder meets Lauryn Hill and yes, I mean that. Stevie meets Lauryn. If that doesn’t pique your interest, you haven’t lived life.
15. Lianne La Havas Lianne La Havas
Yes yes yes. This record is so cool you forget that Lianne is British. She sounds like Nina Simone here, Sam Cooke there, and even Rickie Lee Jones on some tracks. I’d be remiss not to mention the Radiohead cover (the best Radiohead cover of the year) but I’ll let it speak for itself (it’s fantastic).
14. Dehd Flower of Devotion
I like to describe this band as the B-52’s meet the Strokes meet early Talking Heads meet Pere Ubu but really that’s just a long way of saying they’re groovy and have great hooks. Emily Kempf yelping in the background is just the cherry on top.
13. Jessie Ware What’s Your Pleasure?
This album is everything LCD Soundsystem wished American Dream was. Not that American Dream was a bad album, but here Jessie is able to find something at the core of dance music, something universal and transcendent and just plain sick. It’s an exploration of dance music in its totality, with influences ranging from all over the place, and what she finds is that dancing is good for your soul. Every song slaps, simple as that.
12. clipping. Visions of Bodies Being Burned
clipping. are probably the most important experimental group today. They just know how to make sound into art, and here they make it terrifying while Daveed swaggers above it all. If you listen to this and like it (which, how couldn’t you?) check out the band’s live album from this year—it’s probably the most important live album ever recorded by a rap group.
11. Mac Miller Circles
This album is the reason the word “jocoserious” exists. Mac was a genius and with some songs as fun as anything he ever did and others as sad as a Jeff Buckley ballad, his skill is evident. There’s not much else to say about this album, just listen to it.
10. Destroyer Have We Met
Sure, this isn’t the best Destroyer album (q.v. Streethawk) but boy is it a trip. Dan et posse have written some of the best albums of the past few decades, and here they manage to make something beautiful out of chaos. It’s disjointed and strange and disturbing and Dan is more surreal than he’s ever been, but it all works. “Just look at the world around you / Actually, no, don’t look!”
9. Moses Sumney græ
I came late to the Sumney party but I’m glad I came at all. This album is the future. It’s as soulful as it is strange, and each song has something at its core that elevates it. This album is art. Again, this album can’t be written about so just listen.
8. Bill Callahan Gold Record
Sure, this isn’t the best Bill Callahan (solo) album (q.v. Apocalypse) but the lyrics here are unlike anything Bill has ever done. His characters are real, they are complicated and they jump out of the songs, it’s unlike anything made by any other songwriter this year. And “Let’s Move to the Country” makes this album something else entirely: this isn’t just about characters, it’s about Bill seeing himself as a character, fulfilling some kind of prophecy left by his past self. It’s incredible. I love this man.
7. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher
I don’t understand why dudes think liking Phoebe Bridgers will get them laid. Phoebe has written some pretty incredible songs in the past, but everything here is just incredible. How did she do it? She’s so moving and powerful, after every listen there’s something more to be gained. This album doesn’t make me want to hook up with people, it makes me want to understand and be understood. Fuck, how’d she do it?
6. Fleet Foxes Shore
Sure, this isn’t the best Fleet Foxes album (q.v. Helplessness Blues) but boy is it joyous. “Sunblind” was an anthem this year, and every song is a worthy addition to the Foxes’s catalogue. I skipped oceanography lecture to watch the livestream debut of this record, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
5. Laura Marling Song for Our Daughter
This album was my most listened to this summer, and considering how awful the summer was, I think you can glean just about how powerful this album is. It’s joyous and devastating, reflective, heartbreaking, moving. With an instrumental palette that would make Paul Simon weep, Laura sings some of the best folk songs since Carrie and Lowell, and with lyrics like “announce yourself a socialist to have something to defend” you better believe this album will leave you wistful and reborn.
4. Natalia Lafourcade Un Canto por México, Vol. 1
God am I lucky to be Mexican. Everything here is beautiful and full of heart. The instruments are played with the kind of gusto you can only find from people who live their music and Natalia sings over it all with power and grace. Thank god this is only volume one, at this rate Natalia Lafourcade will take over the world by 2025.
3. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
Sure, this isn’t the… oh wait yes it is. This is the best Perfume Genius album. It’s huge and emotional and beautiful, it delivers on the promise of everything else Mike has done up to this point with cinematic grandeur. I cannot recommend this enough; “Describe” is one of the best songs written in the last ten years.
2. Fiona Apple Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I noticed that the only people who got mad at Pitchfork giving this album a ten were dudes, so that made me like it even more. It’s weird, it’s operatic, it’s at the forefront of modern music, it’s everything. And there’s a puppy on the album cover.
1. The Microphones Microphones In 2020
I could go off about the instrumentation here, the thrumming guitars and the marching drums, the transcendental soundscapes but honestly the reason this is my number one is just sentimental reasons. When Phil said “I saw Stereolab in Bellingham and they played one chord for 15 minutes / Something in me shifted / I brought back home belief I could create eternity” I cried.