Top 4 Music Albums of 2020 by benpaco (2020)

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Officially, this album was inspired by T. Rex, The Fall, Culture Club, Dinosaur Jr, Bauhaus, and Cyndi Lauper. I can't say with certainty that I could actually pick out all of these influences organically, but we're left with a fascinating, twisted New Wave record that feels almost more like one of those joke "Punk gone Pop" sorts of albums. And yet somehow, it works really well for me. "Deliberate Self-harm Ha Ha" has this strange Lennon quality to the vocal delivery and acoustic guitar, while also having these glittery, grungey synths dancing all over. MGMT's last album did this really well, Ariel Pink's Pom Pom did this really well, and I think UR FUN can join these albums in a tier of pop music that's equally highly listenable and strangely inaccessible. When we finally land on the final track, there's an intro that sounds almost like they've fully abandoned the idea of being a pop record, before these synthpunky ideas meld with something very bright to form a chorus fit for Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips. Really enjoyed this listen, kept me constantly on my toes.
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2020
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5
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I started a new life in St Louis - new job, new roommates, I'm still learning everything. Yesterday, I had my first day of training, traded my CA drivers license for MO, and returned with a college friend, visiting from out of town. She had re-introduced me to Pinegrove some years ago, and we'd seen them together twice. I downloaded the album for our roadtrip into the city, but we opted to wait until we returned home for better speakers.

There, under string lights, we found refuge from the freezing rain outside. With icicles dripping and forming, branches bending, the little howl of the wind and growl of occasional suburban foot traffic, this album played out. I laid out across a couch, reading the lyrics along to the music, wrapped in my childhood Pokemon blanket, as my friend took a different couch, and a different blanket with a different era's nostalgia. I don't think there was a better setting to first experience this album.

This isn't their masterpiece, nor the breakthrough in their sound I was hoping for upon the release of "Moment" way back in October. However, at the end of the day, this is still a band I really appreciate sonically and lyrically in such a unique way that this was a great listen. It's a fitting piece of a great discography, and while a few things hold it back from the masterwork that Cardinal is - the clunky but beautiful storytelling on "Neighbor" and the frankly mediocre intro song especially - it's got some real gems. Both "Moment" and "No Drugs" sound like nothing else the band had released before, and while some of the rest of the album does start to feel like it could easily have been a somehow forgotten piece of Everything So Far, both of these help set Marigold in more unique territory. Lyrically, I also find "The Alarmist"'s bridge among their strongest moments, including a lyric that made me pause the album, turn to my friend, and say "wow, that was a great lyric", before resuming our trek through this work.

"Well, when you walk away/You still exist and I feel good knowing it"

She drove away today. I hope she is well.
Year of Release:
2020
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5
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"Rest in peace to the Information Age, those days are now long dead and gone"

In September 2018, AJJ released "Night of the Long Knives", a single I'd assumed would be the first release from this, their first real release in some years. I was excited for this release, as I'd seen them perform the track live sometime before and was really impressed by the way they handled an anti-Trump song with more than the surface level sorts of things protest music had gone into. That song's actually not here, but "Mega Guillotine 2020", the first track I heard off of this record, started to have me worried that the care with which AJJ had been writing was fading. Suddenly, I was scared this would be an exclusively anti-Trump record - something admirable but often ill-executed, and something which I couldn't help but feel would be clunky to listen to at best.

In the end, this is definitely a somewhat heavy-handed protest album, but what else could you expect from AJJ? What I was more impressed by is the musical depth they achieve here, and the genuinely broad dystopia they paint. "Body Terror Song" could easily be about any of transphobia, dysphoria, dysmorphia, misogyny, ableism, chronic disease, gun violence, war, or all of the above, and is an incredible lyrical endeavor masterfully executed with a beautiful simplicity. "Your Voice, As I Remember It" is an interesting piece here, as it glorifies the technological advances towards archival that I think are often demonized in similar projects as more evidence society is losing direct connection. "No Justice, No Peace, No Hope" features some lyrics I was equally impressed by and rolled my eyes at slightly (see especially: "The lake of dead black children that America created is getting fuller than the Founding Fathers even wanted" - a fantastic sentiment delivered so clunkily it feels more like a college open mic's Slam Poet of the Night than a professional and well loved musician). This is not just an anti-Trump album, and I think its broader fears and hopes serve it well.

To make any album about a dystopia which fails to sound dystopian is generally an intentional creative choice, and one I can admire. However, it's a herculean task to also make that album not either a total drag, a self-pity fest, or a tonally conflicted nightmare. "We Thank You For Your Service ..." was a beautiful look at how to make an impactful protest album, to paint a bleak picture of the world we live in, but not to fall for easy songwriting traps, or sound cheesy, disconnected, or defeatist.

AJJ have done some incredible things, and I believe wholeheartedly this album came from a genuine place, but there's so much schlock, so many references to tweeting or pussy-grabbing, I struggle to fully attach to it. If you didn't speak English, or couldn't hear lyrics, this is a sweet enough, semi-baroque pop take on folk punk. As is, it's an album which occasionally flexes incredible songwriting depth, and at other times sounds as clunky as my amateur attempts to review music in any interesting way.

Unlike these reviews, though, this album doesn't really overstay its welcome, and is likely one I'll revisit as a result.
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2020
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5
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There's an easy gut reaction for me to react to Miller's singing as overly cheesy or goofy. Missing any context from this album, I think it would probably have read as an attempt to do something interesting that kind of didn't work for me. This doesn't fall into a fake intimacy, just maybe an idea I would have passed on - "Blue World" probably would have seen some party play, "Surf" would have kept me interested in his next project.

But it's all we're left with. There is no next project. There is context.

As I listen back through his catalogue, I have to wonder how much Circles could have changed if Mac saw it all the way through release. I listen to soft moments like "Congratulations", or to intimate looks like "Conversation Pt. 1", or the fact that this was a guy collaborating with an absurdly wide range of Lil B and Chief Keef and Thundercat and Anderson.Paak and Earl Sweatshirt and wonder if he wouldn't have pursued some features on this record. I'll never know.

We're left with a thought, and it's not a bad thought, but for an album that is clearly intended as a unique and personal look into the mind of a really interesting individual, we instead received an album that feels almost diluted down to show him in an even more fragile state. Sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn't, and I'm left all in all thinking less about anything I just heard and more about how it came to be and what it could have been or led to.
Year of Release:
2020
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15
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Total albums: 4. Page 1 of 1

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Top 4 Music Albums of 2020 composition

Artist Albums %


of Montreal 1 25%
Pinegrove 1 25%
AJJ 1 25%
Mac Miller 1 25%
Country Albums %


United States 4 100%

Top 4 Music Albums of 2020 chart changes

Top 4 Music Albums of 2020 similarity to your chart(s)


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