Congratulations for making it this far.
2020 has been an absolutely disgusting year. Most of us haven’t stayed inside for this long in our entire lives. Our relationships, like new recipes from that cookbook we just opened for the first time, are getting tested. Self-reflection, for many, is no longer satisfied simply by checking ourselves out in the mirror after our morning shower (if we have the energy to take one). Even the introverts are starting to get a bit antsy. As the kids would say: “Lowkey fuck 2020”.
If nobody else has told you yet, then let us be the first to say that we here at KZUU are proud of you for getting to this point. We’re happy you’re still with us.
The end of the year is typically when most people reflect back on their lives. What do we do when the end of the year rolls around and we’ve maybe spent too much time reflecting on ourselves and our lives this year? We humbly suggest taking some time to reflect back on some of your favorite albums that have been released this year.
Need a little inspiration? Let’s get you started on the right track, and introduce you to some albums you may have missed (or want to revisit).
THE BEST ALBUMS FROM THE WORST YEAR (SO FAR)
These albums have served as our steadfast companions – a bookmark for an event or memory that happened this year in a chapter that we’re likely to not want to read again, but will always remember. However the case, we here at KZUU believe that these albums were important in some way.
Tom Misch – What Kinda Music
A fantastic collaborative effort between Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes that truly feels like a match made in heaven. This album was one of my most-played albums during the pandemic, and accompanied me through my 18-hour impromptu road trip to California to work on my very first EP. Some of the stuff is much more experimental than Geography, which is likely due in part to Yussef and Tom showcasing their Jazz influences a little more heavily. Tom’s work has been hugely influential to me over the last couple of years, as a drummer and as a music nerd, and this album is no different. If nothing else, it served as a perfect companion for the days where I needed just a little boost of serotonin, and for that, this album deserves a top spot in my favorite albums of the year.
END – Splinters from an Ever-Changing Face
An album like this may come as a surprise for many of you who don’t know about my love for heavy music. Counterparts was a massively important band to me following my tumultuous years after graduating high school, and still remains one of my favorites to this day. So when I heard that Counterparts’ vocalist, Brendan Murphy, frontlined a band that was much heavier than Counterparts, and they had just released their first full-length album, I was incredibly interested. END certainly doesn’t disappoint – their songs are heavy as hell and Brendan’s guttural vocals are a fantastic fit for this heavier style of music. This album serves as a nod to the days where just being sad about the state of the world just didn’t quite cut it, and I couldn’t be bothered with patching a hole in the drywall.
IDLES – Ultra Mono
One of the most anticipated albums of this year, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I became borderline obsessed with IDLES at the end of last year, after I watched their beautiful performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, and am kicking myself for not getting into them sooner. There is something healing about listening to a wildly passionate and aggressively political rock band (not punk btw) during a period of time in which government distrust and civil unrest is at an all time high.
Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide
Ever since the first single dropped, I was looking forward to the latest from AR, an artist I’ve respected for years in terms of authenticity and originality. It was a whole new direction in a lot of ways, a concept album about alternate dimensions and isolation, and beats with a completely different sound from his prior projects. I listened to this in one sitting at 1 AM, scribbling copious chicken scratch notes in a disintegrating journal, letting goofball wordplay and sludgy beats wash over me like a wave of Dudes Rock Black Magic. Full Throttle Lo-Fi Beats To Become A Forest Goblin. I bought the vinyl even though I realistically couldn’t afford it because I’m the Realest of Fans. God bless you, Mr. Bavitz.
Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Patchouli Blue
German doom jazz. It’s German doom jazz, everybody! I like to pretend I’m private detective Tracer Bullet from Calvin & Hobbes and do grim monologues over the B&DCOG albums. “The streets were wet with rain. Maybe blood, too. I knocked back another shot of bourbon and reached for my .45. This city is a dying animal. Criminals everywhere. Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” And such. At any rate, this is some great ambient depressed jazz improv work from a fixture of Nordrein-Westphalen underground music. Start with “Sunset Mission,” maybe take a little foray into “Black Earth,” but always come back to their 2020 release, “Patchouli Blue.” Soon, you too can smoke Parliaments and walk the rainy streets of New York City, hoping for a mysterious dame to blow into your office, with a missing statue or murder victim that only you can solve.
Clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned
I already wrote this one up in significant detail, which you can check out on this very website if you think you’re cool enough. That said, the gruesome threesome has done it again. VOBBB is profoundly original, succinctly gory and infinitely replayable. In a year filled with chaos and confusion, it’s nice to be able to contain some of that aggression and discord in 3 minute intervals, counterpointed by grisly metaphors and grimy beats. In 2020, we’re all “Looking Like Meat,” as it were.
In This Moment – Mother
In This Moment released their new album this year back in march and I ate it up. They released the album last March and I was going to go see them in concert last May…unfortunately that fell through. Anyways this album is a great album that features a lot of great songs such as “Mother” and “As Above So Below.” It also features two great covers as well such as “Fly Like An Eagle” and “We Will Rock You.” Definitely check out this album if you’re looking for some good ol’ girl power.
Against All Logic – 2017-2019
I reviewed this album for KZUU way back in March, right before the entire world turned into a giant dumpster fire. And since then Nicolas Jaar, the man behind Against All Logic, has been quite busy during the lockdowns. He’s released two additional albums under his own name, and just put out a single that marks the return of his phenomenal psychedelic rock act, Darkside. But 2017-2019 remains his strongest piece of work from the year, and in some ways the tone of the album really matches how the year made a lot of us feel. Songs like “Faith” and “Penny” feature warped techno beats which make you feel a bit uneasy, and “If You Can’t Do It Good, Do It Hard” (feat. Lydia Lunch), “Alarm”, and “Deeeeeeefers” have an apocalyptic, war-like feel to them. It’s almost like Nico was prophesizing how the world would get turned upside down on its head when he was creating these tracks.
DJ Metatron – Loops to Infinity (A Rave Loveletter)
Not much is known about the mystery man that goes by DJ Metatron, Traumprinz, DJ Healer, Prime Minister of Doom, and Prince of Denmark, among others. Loops to Infinity, an almost-literal love letter to raving and dance music in the 90s, is a blend of a wide range of styles, from deep house, to ambient techno, trance, and breakbeat. This makes it feel a bit messy and unfinished at times, but in a way that seems intentional. Many of the tracks are simply titled “Loop’92” or “Loop’97”, which are perhaps references to the year that inspired that song. This lack of cohesion adds to the strong sense of nostalgia, as if the album is made up of incomplete memories of something great. As someone who has never been to a “real” European rave, this album makes me feel like I’m missing out. As the sample in the opening track says, “Tonight we come together bound by faith, with genuine respect, and inheriting the legacy of a great party. This is not a perfect party, we are not a perfect people, yet we are called to a perfect mission.”
Osees – Protean Threat
This was one of the three albums released in 2020 by Osees (previously known as Thee Oh Sees), and I think it was the best of the three. As one of my favorite bands, they have at least ten albums that I really love. Protean Threat is fairly run of the mill for them, but it still managed to be one of my favorites of the year. The group’s weird and experimental nature is on full display in most of the songs, providing countless fun moments. It’s probably not their strongest work, but I would highly recommend it for fans of the psychedelic-garage rock sound of bands like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Ty Segall.
King Krule – Man Alive!
Alongside King Krule’s The OOZ, I have been frequently listening to Man Alive!, I’m pretty sure King Krule has been hitting the mark with a lot of listeners in this pandemic with their heavier rhythms and powerful vocal backing. Many of the songs are melancholy and slow, which make listening easy. Being a music director it can be quite challenging to find new and interesting tracks, so with that being said, Man Alive! will remain a favorite for me.
Washed Out – Purple Noon
Washed Out has me interested once more. I remember first discovering the group through a friend who was much cooler than myself (and still is) when I was a bit younger and being so impressed. With their most recent album, Purple Noon, I am once again very impressed. Washed Out kind of reminds me of cool dad music with the use of a synth, heavy drums, and very altered vocals all of which seem to make a whole lot of sense in summer…and for what it is worth, the winter too. Too Late is my favorite track.
Swim Mountain – If
If was a shorter album by Swim Mountain, but no disappointments here. In early spring through summer I found myself frequently listening to this album. I remember just cruising to this album on Alki in Seattle by myself all summer long, thinking little to no thoughts whatsoever, head absolutely empty. God bless Swim Mountain yet again.
These albums were not released this year, but they were still important to our directors in some way and deserve recognition for the value they brought.
Type O Negative – Life Is Killing Me (2003)
The 2003 release from the gothic metal band, Type O Negative. I have been listening to this band so much during the quarantine that they were one of my top artists according to my Spotify wrapped…which we know never lies and is the end all be all. Anywho, this album definitely has some great songs on it some of my favorites were “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” “IYDKMIGTHTKY (Gimme That), and “Nettie” if you need a good cry. Regardless this is a FANTASTIC album and I highly recommend you check this album if you’re looking for some oldies but good.
Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth (2005)
What year is it again? Are we in the ‘90s or is it 2020? Who knows when you’re jamming to music with your favorite loud rock music director this year. Anyways, this album by Nine Inch Nails has had some songs that really knew how I felt during this weird time. “Every Day Is Exactly The Same” I mean c’mon how more accurate can that be? Need I even say more! This is just the perfect quarantine album! This all you need to get through the rest of this quarantine.
Jack Off Jill – Clear Hearts Grey Flowers (2000)
This is probably my favorite band from the riot grrrl movement. And they’re totally underrated. I have to say though that Clear Hearts Grey Flowers, their 2000 release is my favorite album of theirs. It’s just got a bunch of bops through and through. I feel like they’re music is really fun and I wish they were still continuing to make music. My favorite songs off of this album are “Star No Star,” “Cinnamon Spider,” and their cover of the Cure’s song “Lovesong.”
Duster – Stratosphere (1998)
I’m not really sure why, but I never gave Stratosphere a listen until earlier this year. Three songs into my first playthrough, I realized that I had been missing out on something great. And by time I reached the climactic “Earth Moon Transit” I was kicking myself for not checking it out sooner, after hearing praise for it all over the internet and from friends for years. It has since become my most-played album of 2020 (according to Last.fm). It turned out that Stratosphere was pretty much the perfect album for the Covid lockdowns. Despite the lo-fi recordings, the guitars sound excellent. The band uses these incredible spacey tones to create an atmosphere that’s warm and cozy at some times, and anxious and unsettling at others. My favorite moments in the album are when it leans more on the side of space-rock, like the more mellow “Echo, Bravo”, “Stratosphere”, and “Gold Dust”, and the anthemic “Reed to Hillsborough” and “Earth Moon Transit”.
Crumb – Jinx (2019)
I first got introduced to this New York psych-rock band through an acid-brain metalhead friend of mine back in my second semester of college, before the pandemic. As such, I think I’ll always associate them with those halcyon days of fighting with my pals over who was next on the Spotify queue, sitting in a speaker-equipped gamer chair my former girlfriend bought from a Moscow thrift store, and letting Jinx swirl around me while I sipped a jack and coke and pretended I was in a William S Burroughs novel. There’s certain albums and artists that are inextricable from the experience and time in which you listened to them, and for me, Crumb is one of those artists. “Jinx” is the beginning of 2020, where my life was on track and things were, in a sense, working out. This album’s great, as is everything by Crumb. The whole listening experience is like dissolving in a bottle of Sprite, a la “Good Time.”
Michelle Zauner don’t read this…
Lila Ramani… hello.
Sleep – The Sciences (2018)
If I am ever prosecuted for liking Al Cisneros too much, I will simply face all the forces of man amassed against me and walk backwards into hell. Sleep is so good, man. There’s no other way to put it. “Dopesmoker” is already the perfect record, but 2018’s “The Sciences” just kicks that occult/Black Sabbath/eye-popping riff energy into a gear beyond third. Fourth, maybe. An immediate 5 star album for the “CBDeacon” line. Geezer Butler references, Antarcticans emerging from icebergs, plus the impeccable album art connected with the Sleep pseudo-mythology, it all combines to make this powerhouse of a stoner rock album. I bought it on cassette. That’s right. Cassette. “From the pallet walled temple, beneath the overpass….”
Lamp – ゆめ (2014)
I don’t really know why, but in the most recent months, music listening for myself has become quite challenging. I feel like I’ve been re-visiting old artists but I’m just not that into them anymore, which is a bummer. However, this Spring I discovered Lamp and their most popular album, ゆめ. I think this album deserves a lot more recognition. Every single song is noteworthy, and it stands out in the fact that it is an album that got me through 2020, quite literally-I couldn’t stop listening. A lot of their music takes influence from western pop, but it is quite hard to categorize Lamp so I suppose they would be grouped into the vast unknown that is indie. What I most liked about this album was it’s upbeat dreamy tune and cheeriness that is mixed well with a variety of instruments that perfectly intertwine simplicity and intricacy. I must recommend Lamp to those that are looking to explore pop a bit more for an easy listen, or really anyone whose scope falls in the indie category.
A playlist with all of the albums selected by our music directors can be found below.
We’re incredibly grateful for our followers, and can’t wait to get started on delivering more content for you next year. Hang in there, people. We love you, and we’ll see you next year.