The emptiness of this year allotted for plenty of quality, one-on-one headphone time. These are the albums that propelled me through hours-long afternoon walks, solaced late night emotional breakdowns and above all else, got me through the past twelve months with some fraction of my sanity:
1. Lomelda, Hannah
For at least a month stretch I would wake up everyday and instinctively play this album in-full over my bedside speaker. Somehow Hannah Read’s sleepy melodies and instrumentals helped me out of bed, rather than lulling me back into a dream state.
Hannah is easily Lomelda’s strongest release, incorporating her usual cathartic songwriting with thematic continuity and subtle energy.
2. Cut Worms, No One Lives Here Anymore
I saw Cut Worms at D.C’s Black Cat a few years back, and it was as if the whole band was frozen in 1963 and just recently thawed. The rich vintage quality of their energy came from a place of appreciation and authenticity, creating a space of warm nostalgia inside both the venue and their songs. I’m convinced that Max Clark was best buds with George Harrison in a past life.
I had a listening party with myself when this album was released, sitting cross-legged on my floor with my headphones for an uninterrupted hour and a half. The twangy, folky, baroque-ness of the record soothes my soul into a sepia-toned summer afternoon.
3. Dehd, Flower of Devotion
I am forever grateful to Spotify’s Discover Weekly for gifting me Dehd. Emily Kempf’s striking vocals pulled me in at first listen, and I’ve been obsessed with the Chicago-based trio ever since.
In its entirety Flower of Devotion is an energetic masterpiece of indie new-wave punk rock, communicating themes of loneliness, longing and loss with surprisingly whimsical rhythm.
4. Squirrel Flower, I Was Born Swimming
I can’t exactly pinpoint where or how I discovered Squirrel Flower, but I became so hooked that this album accompanied me on many a nighttime car ride, usually paired with my screaming harmonies.
The cohesive imagery of interstates, cars and street lights paired with Ella Williams’ aggressively delicate vocals and strong songwriting freed me from the heavy anxiety, claustrophobia and emotional exhaustion that suffocated me in the latter quarter of 2020.
5. Slow Pulp, Moveys
The auditory diversity of this debut album is what makes it a stand out of the year. Slow Pulp combines twinkly acoustic tracks with indie emo and shoe gaze so seamlessly that it was hard to believe they were recorded by the same band. Moveys is truly a gem of pandemic-released art.
6. Mac Miller, Circles
This posthumous release hurts and heals all at the same time. Mac never ceases to amaze us with his musical, lyrical and vocal talent. Rest easy.
7. Tomberlin, Projections
I connected heavily with Sarah Beth Tomberlin’s music this year because of the themes of womanhood, faith and longing which seem to be her muse. Where her previous release Weddings is a pastoral rainy morning, Projections is a warm yet melancholy autumn afternoon.
This EP is more exploratory rhythmically than her debut, and Sarah’s relocation to NYC along with Alex G’s hand in the recording process could be responsible. Either way, I’m looking forward to following her growth as a songwriter and recording artist.
8. Twin Peaks, Side A
While we’re on an EP kick, I wanted to mention Twin Peaks’ experimental effort Side A. The crunchy indie rock band cleans up a bit on this four-track project, incorporating a jazzy smoothness and fluidity in songwriting that they hadn’t previously exemplified.
8. Muzz, ST
As a loyal Interpol fan from an early age, I’m definitely speaking from a place of bias for mentioning this one, but Muzz is without a doubt Paul Banks’ most successful and respectable side project.
His iconic baritone vocals perfectly complement the instrumental intricacy, and the whole record comforted me like a glowing fire on a chilled evening. This familiar feeling of warmth and contentment from Muzz is exactly what Turn On The Bright Lights was to my 16-year-old self.
9. Vundabar, Either Light
This album was a personal escape from my usual moody self. While I was at first disappointed by this “new” Vundabar which lacks crunchy distortion and thundering drums, this poppy surf rock vibe re-inspired my vigor for life this past spring.
10. Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher
I’ll still be that arrogant hipster who prefers Stranger In The Alps over her latest mainstream release, but even despite Phoebe hitting the big time, the sweet sorrow of this album is too good not to mention.