I received an email from StubHub today.
It’s been a while since I’ve heard from them, for obvious reasons. I’m not really in the ticket buying mood at the moment. I don’t think any of us really are.
In this email they detail all that they’ve done to make virtual live events a thing, how much they look forward to live concerts and sporting events coming back, and honestly, it’s reassuring that they’re making plans for 2021. But, in reality, whatever StubHub thinks the next 12 months will look like has very little to do with what it will actually look like. I think 2020 has proven that already.
From March 2020 up to the present day, we, as a community of music fans, aficionados, concert go-ers, live event planners, DJs, stagehands, tech and support staff, marketing and communications teams, promotional agents, and certainly not least of all, musicians, have been bludgeoned every single day with the constant fact that we do not know. We do not know when the ‘postponed’ concert is going to happen, we do not know what we were going to do for money when the side-hustles laid us off and the main gigs dried up, we do not know if we are going to get sick, we do not know when we were going to be able to see our families and friends again. All of this under the veil of a incredibly contentious election year where a facist was nearly re-elected and the premeditated murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (among many, many others) by police sparked global protests that have not been seen to such a scale in the last 50 years.
I can’t imagine what working at StubHub would be like in 2020 – let alone sending out an email to music fans thanking them for sticking by them as their entire business model smolders around them. But this is a shared experience. I know deep down in my bones what StubHub is going through right now, because I’ve seen it too; I’ve lived it. We all have. We have all have had to grasp how to live, how to work, how to learn, and how to play while a pandemic ravages the lungs of our friends, neighbors, family, and in many cases, ourselves. We’ve all had to rethink and reimagine a world where a human-cheeto live Tweeting Fox News isn’t the most important thing going on today. As a matter of fact, we collectively seemed to find a very good thing to focus our attention on: how to work together to root out racist institutions in our society, all the while asking ourselves really tough questions, not about what it is to be racist, but what it is to be actively anti-racist and what that means in our own individual lives.
Look – there’s still a lot of work to do. Clearly we’re not done with COVID or Trump yet. And Black lives are still taken away far too early by police and institutions built to keep BIPOC and racialized people in their ‘own caste.’
We’re on the other side of this thing. 2021 beckons. I can feel it, you can feel it, and StubHub can feel it too. That’s what they were emailing to tell me! Sure, next year might not be “normal” but who ever wanted normal anyway? 2020 was depressing and sad, so why don’t we make 2021 weird? We will heal, we will recover, and we’ll all be able to enjoy music again like we used to. And if it’s any consolation, the parties we’re going to throw, when we’re able to throw them, are going to be excellent.
Keep the faith. Keep your ‘6’ when you’re out of doors (and wear a mask at all times). And enjoy our picks for the Best Albums of 2020.
Head of Programming, RX Music
Best Alternative R&B Album
1. dvsn – A Muse in Her Feelings
Danceable and intimate, this is R&B to it’s core. With it’s subtle production it takes repeat listens to reveal a warm and unpretentious album. The enjoyment from their first two albums, led this one to have a lot to live up to. However, the ease in which this album is listened to gives way to the absolute pull that the gravity of this LP has. Yes, this is very commercial, but it’s this wide appeal that makes this record so incredibly enjoyable. And however exaggerated the similarity to the Weeknd is, his influence does not overpower this work. This is an outlandishly great record, and is a strong and deserving showcase. – Craig Clemens
Best Ambient Album
1. Nicolas Jaar – Cenizas
Like all truly great ambient albums, Nicolas Jaar creates a precious sense of motion and space with Cenizas. Although there are no beats or hooks to catch you as a listener in his brilliant snare, Jaar’s allure is in the sonic diversions and sound that are rarely explored. This makes this one of his most compelling projects to date. The end result is music that is contemplative, slow, drifting and as always experimental, but what sets this album apart is how naturally challenging it is – often droning and noisy (sometimes at the same time) Cenizas is an emotional masterwork that remains, all at once, astonishing and meditative. – Craig Clemens
Best Country Album
1. The Chicks – Gaslighter
Somehow 14 long years since their previous LP The Chick’s lay it all out on the table in 2020. Gone are the kitschy cowgirl songs. In their stead is a strong statement of feminism and of the future of country and western music. The message is straightforward, while the music itself does not radically change the sound we’re used to hearing from The Chick’s – but that’s really why this album is so successful. Still political, and still very much country, while completely unburdened of the slings and arrows that come with being a “country” act. This album doesn’t glorify their past or present on the genre – which they have every right to do. Instead it reminds the listener that superheros are fleeting and we certainly do not have to be one to make a difference in the world. – Craig Clemens
Best Electronic Album
1. Caribou – Suddenly
This new album from Caribou sees electronica mega star Dan Snaith at his most vulnerable and soulful. Snaith’s sudden shifts from mellow vocals to collages of synth passages, warped crooning and pitch shifted samples are melded together to create a sound that’s uniquely Caribou. This album showcases Snaith’s incredible production and skill as a beat maker as well as his ability for manufacturing catchy hooks and hitting us with slick butter notes repeated just the right about of times. See the soul sample on “Home” or the chanting mixed with driving house music bass on “Never Come Back”. Although there are plenty of upbeat trance like rhythms on Suddenly, there is also an emphasis on Mellon-collie introspection through its lyrics. Snaith’s vocals on tracks like “Magpie” have us thinking of Brian Wilson while a track like “Lime” reminds us of Thom Yorke. This must listen album takes synth pop to bold and beautiful directions – Michael Primiani
Best Electro Pop Album
1. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
Just like how Vera Lynn and Creedence Clearwater Revival are synonymous with making music that was rooted in WWII and the Vietnam War respectively, this album could probably be used as a time capsule of life under quarantine. Written as a direct reaction to our current circumstances, Charli XCX put this album together all while being lockdown in her home. She premiered songs, discussed ideas and conferenced with her frequent collaborators such as producer A.G. Cook and 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady all virtually on Zoom. The result is a hyper-pop masterpiece with lyrics that reference themes of anxiety, isolation, fear and the fleeting of time emphasized by cathartic synths, booming bass, jumpy percussion and Charli’s distinct phaser-laden robot from the future style vocals. There’s an irony in the quintessential lockdown album being a future pop album. It reminds us that there is a future to look forward to where we will all feel differently – Michael Primiani
Best Folk Album
1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
This magnum opus of poignant lyricism, storytelling and dark and evocative melodies is an easy pick for the album that “got us through” the dark days of quarantine. Phoebe Bridgers wears her influences of Elliot Smith (which the title track and double tracked vocals pay tribute to) and Conor Oberst (who lends his vocals to “Halloween” and “I Know the End”) on her sleeve but weaves a tapestry of bluegrass, punk and emo all her own in creating one of the most original indie folk albums of the year. The overarching theme of this work is an honest confrontation with “the end”. Bridgers bemuses on past people, situations and relationships that have reached their conclusion throughout. Bridgers becomes one with the end on the last track as a hail of screams and a crescendo of strings perhaps signal the dawn of a new day. With all the hype from music critics, Twitter stans and even heavyweights like Lars Ulrich of Metallica and Kid Cudi in her corner – there is no end in sight for Phoebe Bridgers – Michael Primiani
Best Hip Hop Album
1. Mac Miller – Circles
Mac Miller’s post-humous album Circles is an exploration of will, compassion and life’s complicated truth – sentiments that seem heavier in thinking of his passing. The album is a testament of Miller’s maturity as an artist, both in style and lyrics. He is as open and honest as ever, diving into personal struggles with addiction, depression, and fame. Miller gets even more experimental with his sound, transcending viewers into his jazz-funk-synth-rap world. Miller was ultimately taken too soon, but his legacy of hard-hitting bars, funky-hip-hop fusion and good vibes will not be forgotten. – Lindsay Bell
Best House Album
1. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure
This album is a total escape to a world where 80’s house music and disco reign supreme. It has us missing the club, even though it’s definitely inspired us to dance around in our sweatpants like our bedroom is Studio 54. Seductive vocals and intoxicating beats across What’s Your Pleasure make it an easy contender for repeat listening. It rings the same bells as Anita Ward, has us upside down like we’re listening to Diana Ross and makes us want to don a track suit and grab an espresso like Italo-disco is still hot. Jessie Ware’s energy here is unmatched and we’ll dance to this album until we can see the morning light – Michael Primiani
Best Indie Pop Album
1. HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
The third full length album from HAIM is by far their best to date. By broadening their sound, HAIM has naturally veered off the beaten path and, as a result, produced an album that deftly strikes a balance of commercial and experimental – all the while wondering if the best is yet to come from this group. Intimate, sprawling, and instinctively breezy and affecting, HAIM takes us to a place that is dark, but they do it in a way that never let’s the momentum dip – always keeping their focus. By leaning into these lows and breaking both convention and expectation, the LA-sisters succeed with sheer brilliance with songwriting that steeped in the love of their own craft – Craig Clemens
Best Indie Rock Album
1. Doves – The Universal Want
When done well, familiarity isn’t a bad thing at all. To that end the Doves, who are back after a decade away and have proven that their blueprint has lost none of it’s former luster. Should this turn out to be their final iteration, it’s certainly worthy of a closing chapter to their careers as a unit. With ease and fluidity, the ten songs below are elevated, soulful and provides the listener with a sense that these conversations, musical as they might be, are clicking. Knowing that it might be the end may have crowded and biased the work with a wary and sad timbre, but maybe it’s the intention here? It is heavy, yes, but never overburdened. While it was certainly a long time to wait for a new (last?) Doves album, it was more than worth the wait – while also being a faithful sendoff – Craig Clemens
Best Pop Album
1. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Future Nostalgia pieces together elements of 70s Disco groove, modern dance beats and Dua’s cunning lyrics to form a stunning Pop mosaic worthy of changing the game. Compared to her other work, there is a seasoned nature to this record that displays Dua’s personal growth as an artist and individual. The album deals with the popstar’s experience of love, heartbreak and femininity – delivered in the cadence of a funky jazzercize mix! It features some of the biggest dance hits of 2020 including “Don’t Start Now,” “Break My Heart” and “Levitating,” while tracks such as “Cool” and “Love Again” reflect a softer side of Dua. Whether its shredding the dance floor or singing in the shower, Future Nostalgia is the perfect record to throw on and have some fun. – Lindsay Bell
Best Psychedelic Album
1. Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
Yves Tumor (real name Sean Bowie) hones his craft in producing a new psychedelic world on this LP that is so far beyond anything he has done prior. He channels glam rock, the funky vocal grooves of Prince, psych-indie production reminiscent of Damon Albarn, plunderphonics and the chillwave sound of the early 2010s to create an album that we find ourselves coming across something new to like about every time we put it on. It’s shrieks, flashy production and powerful guitar bits have us longing for a night on the town looking for the next fix in a bar or restaurant. This feeling is only emphasized by the amount of variety found on this album. A key highlight is the female vocal talent Bowie has recruited that make songs like “Kerosene!” and “Romanticist” really fly. This album is a little slice of heaven in a torturous time that smashes all borders and sucks you right in – Michael Primiani
Best R&B Album
1. The Weeknd – After Hours
While The Weeknd’s previous work consists of his character questioning if the excess and indulgence surrounding him was indicative of heaven or Las Vegas, this album sees him realize that he’s been in hell the whole time. As decadent and flashy as ever, After Hours sees Abel Tesfaye embody the character of a Michael Jackson entertainer that has been disillusioned by fame and decadence and fantasizes a way out of the casino he’s been lost in. Elements of new wave and dream pop are littered throughout this featureless album that sees Abel at his most forthright. Expert production from Metro Boomin and Oneohtrix Point Never (the latter shines greatly on tracks such as “Scared to Live” and “Until I Bleed Out”) put the synthesizer on a pedestal perfectly meshed with Abel’s soaring vocals – Michael Primiani
Best Synthpop Album
1. Empress Of – I’m Your Empress Of
Experimenting with new new styles and textures, Lorely Rodriguez’s third album, largely written and produced by herself, is her best work to this point. Taken directly from a catchy, colourful dancefloor this funky and vibrant record slaps hard with synth stabs and distorted reflections. Balancing elements perfectly Rodriquez takes percussion, synths, and twisting, fractured vocal melodies and produces a Robyn-like pop record from start that seems like it’s setting out to save the pop-world. – Craig Clemens
Album of the Year
…and also taking home the honor for best Art Pop and Singer-Songwriter Album of 2020:
1. Fionna Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Rarely is an album so immediately so loved and admired as Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Garnering the rare and coveted 10/10 in Pitchfork (among many other publications) critics and listeners alike were blown away by the the way that Fionna Apple dealt with the same emotional themes she always had with a lot more ferocity. Yes, it may have seemed presumptuous to place this album on a pedestal before the ravages of time give us the ability to look back at this record with clear 20/20 hindsight, but there is no doubt that this creative fearlessness combined with Apple’s triumphal accomplishment of pop-craft means that we’ll be talking about this album for a very, very long time. Bolt Cutters is at times all at once nihilistic, fragile, and a rallying cry for the voiceless. It is empathic, singular in drive, an absolutely staggering artistic statement, and above all else: a incredible pop record. – Craig Clemens
Want to sample some of the best of the best of 2020? Check us out on Spotify where we’ve put together some of the best songs from the best albums!