The Fortnightly Playlist, 2020 Favorites Part 2 (1-10)

So here’s this playlist of my featuring my favorite albums of the year. You could stream it 24/7 for a month, and each of the artists might get a cheeseburger out of it. Seriously though, if you find an artist that you love, then support them! Buy the record! Go to a show when those become a thing again! I hope you enjoy this music, and thanks for reading things I wrote and listening to music I compiled this year. I hope you found artists and albums that you connected with here. One of the things I love doing is fitting in a lot of different styles, and still making the playlist flow from song to song. It’s a challenge for me, and I think it keeps it interesting and enjoyable to listen. In terms of challenge, these 10 records were definitely that. I did my best to make them fit together, and I think that it represents the Fortnightly Playlist pretty well. You’ll notice I don’t really have much negative to say here. These 10 albums may not be for everyone, but for their styles and what I found in them… I think they’re near perfect records.

10. Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers
Beautiful country/folk ballads with a voice that reaches straight to your heart. Old Flowers is an album that came from a long relationship ending, and the heartache, confusion, persistent love, and hindsight perspective all come through loud and clear. Andrew’s voice is gorgeous, but made more powerful by the material that she’s felt deeply. When she sings, you feel it. The warm instrumentation is a masterclass, and the arrangements are flawless.

9. Marlowe – Marlowe 2
It’s 3 years in a row now that a L’Orange project has found itself in my top 10. 2018’s Marlowe landed at #3, last year’s Complicate Yourself With Violence was #4, and this year there was considerable excitement to see he was going to be rejoined by Solemn Brigham to make a 2nd Marlowe record. L’Orange uses far different source material from many other DJs. Older, dustier jazz and blues are employed, and there is a narrative of sorts created by samples from old radio theatre. Solemn Brigham is a raw, unpolished rapper, and I love how this fits together with L’Orange’s production. There’s a genuine feeling to it. It’s as if he’s hearing the beat being created, he’s writing his rhymes and then rapping himself breathless… there’s this urgency you get from Solemn. Some reviews I’ve seen note this lack of polish as a negative, but I find it to be irresistibly genuine.

8. Loma – Don’t Shy Away
Jonathan Meiburg has been a feature of this blog since it began. Back in 2016, I was very much taken by Shearwater’s album, Jetplane & Oxbow, and it’s been a record that has stuck with me since. When Loma began as a collaboration of Jonathan Meiburg, Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski, I was immediately drawn in by particular tracks on their self-titled first album in 2018. This year, when I heard “Half Silences” on the radio while driving, I knew it had to be them. This album has built well on their foundation, and I found myself listening to favorite song after favorite song… the entire album is just that good. They have a gift for making things simple and intimate, while also feeling grand and atmospheric. The vocal melodies are full of hooks that keep you engaged. Start-to-finish, a beautiful album.

7. Songhoy Blues – Optimisme
The story of Songhoy Blues is something I find incredible. When displaced from their homes in Northern Mali by a jihadist group, and driven south to Mali’s capital, Bamako, this group of refugees formed the group to create music they felt captured the spirit of their homeland. Optimisme is now the 3rd album from the group, and it finds them broadening their sound into hard rock territory while retaining the Malian rhythms and the vocal stylings that hold their music firmly in their desert blues roots. If you haven’t yet seen this video ( of them performing on the banks of the river in Bamako this year for a radio broadcast for KEXP in Seattle, then stop right now and watch it. They perform even for no live audience with an incredible passion and intensity. This group is on my must-see list when live music returns. As a guitarist, their riffs are irresistable. At this point, I’d also like to mention how much I like the cover art on all 10 of these albums.

6. Joshua Burnside – Into the Depths of Hell
This record is something of a stylistic chameleon. Close, intimate chamber-folk at much of its core, but building to big, orchestral blasts of electronic crescendos and woven throughout with atmospheric, found-sound sampling. The Northern Irish singer-songwriter, touches on numerous lyrical themes in the record, and a number of them are dark musings. Apocalyptic visions, suicide, dysfunction and tragedy all rear their head through the record, but all appearing amid beautiful composition. This is a record that you can listen to start-to-finish on repeat and keep getting more and more from it. The variance in orchestration is a journey in itself. Guitar, banjo, piano, horns, cello weaving together creating entirely different feelings from song to song and moment to moment.

5. Joensuu 1685 – ÖB
Shimmering, sparkling synth landscapes, ringing guitars, crashing cymbals, and reverb-drenched vocals create a grand sound in this album. The record is actually built from the bones of an album the band had been making back in the late ’00s. A hiatus found frontman, Mikko Joensuu, releasing an incredible solo trilogy (Amen I, II, and III), and while Markus (Mikko’s brother) and Risto (also named Joensuu, but unrelated) played in the post-rock band, Sinai. So these songs cover a long time period. Some date back to ’09, and some as recent as ’19. That said, it impressively still comes together as a cohesive whole in spite of all ground covered in the bandmembers personal lives and in their relationships with one another.

4. Gabriel Teodros – What You Leave Behind
It’s been quite a year for Gabriel Teodros. He took on a weekday DJ show (, 5-7 AM PST) and has been a big part of my continuing musical journey this year, his home burnt down this year as he and his partner lost nearly all their possessions, and then there is this incredible album. Each morning since this summer I have begun my day with Gabriel’s words and playlist (usually coming in somewhere in the middle of his radio show), and it seems now that it would be inevitable that I’d begin to connect with the perspectives that he shares on this record. “Every Scar” was a standout for me as I listened to it more. It wasnt’ the first song that I found myself obsessed with, but it was one of many that stuck with me once it hit me. “I fell out of love before I knew what it meant, and I lived on the bus when I couldn’t pay rent” are striking opening lines, and it’s just one example of numerous moments on this record that I found myself thinking on at length. Sonically, Gabriel has a dusty, lo-fi approach rooted in classic soul & gospel music, and leans on laid back beats. He has a calm yet gripping voice. Soulful guest vocals feature on several tracks, and most notably for me is Jennifer Johns performance on “Hold Ya Head”.

3. IDLES – Ultra Mono
A pure, punk rage with a message of unity and love. IDLES 3rd record continues in their now established tradition, but with more focus than ever on making the record sound perfect. I saw an interview of guitarist, Mark Bowen, noting that there were particular sonic markers that they were not hitting on 2018’s Joy is an Act of Resistance that they were determined to hit on this record. In particular, it was in the drum sound. If you haven’t heard this record, then you may not know that the drums… sound… massive. Apparently, the kit was set up in a brick-walled room that for the recording, and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard drum sounds that hit so hard as they do on this album. They are absolutely killer. Add to it that the songs in this body of work had a steady, brutal punchiness to leave you feeling battered. You won’t find a better punk rock album than this in 2020, or if you do then I want to hear it.

2. Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight
“But that was then and this is now, I tried so hard not to let you all down, It’s an impossible weight.” The chorus of the title track, appropriately, acts as a centerpiece for the record. Feeling the pressure of expectations, not so muchon the superficial level of needing to please fans with an album (although, maybe that is there a bit), but much more on the interpersonal level of meeting what your closest relationships expect of a person. How one should be. This song and this album resonated loud and long in our current political climate at a point when many of us feel our lives feel imbued with division a turmoil. Jessica Dobson wrote many of the song from dark a dark place personally, and after/during a stretch when she found it difficult to find any joy in making music. There are a variety of sources for her subject matter, and to build a cohesive album from this is truly impressive.

1. Moses Sumney – Grae
Initially, the album was released in two parts, and with the second the physical double album was made available. By a twist, this album focused on struggles with feelings of isolation suddenly became an album very well suited for this year in particular. The first part being released in February and the second in May, many of us were realizing how “islanded” we were, and perhaps how we had been more islanded before than we had known. I primarily listened to this record in vinyl form, and it shaped how I listened to it. I began to think of the double-album in terms of four movements with each side of each disc. When I listened to it, I found I often listened to the final side two or three times. This is why I’ve chosen to close my playlist with all three tracks from this fourth side. It is essentially a longform version of “Bless Me” with the preceding track a conversational spoken word piece hitting home the album’s theme, and the final track, “before you go” acting as a coda to “Bless Me”.

Joensuu 1685 – Hey My Friend (We’re Here Again)
Moses Sumney – Virile
Loma – Breaking Waves Like a Stone
Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight
IDLES – Grounds
Songhoy Blues – Badala
Marlowe – Future Power Sources
Gabriel Teodros – What You Leave Behind
Joshua Burnside – And You Evade Him/Born in the Blood
Courtney Marie Andrews – If I Told
Deep Sea Diver – Shattering the Hourglass
Loma – Given a Sign
Gabriel Teodros – If They Come For Me In The Morning…
Moses Sumney – Colouour
Courtney Marie Andrews – Ships in the Night
Joensuu 1685 – Light in the Heart of Our Town
Songhoy Blues – Barre
Marlowe – Small Business
IDLES – Kill Them with Kindness
Joshua Burnside – Noa Mercier
Joensuu 1685 – I’m In Paradise
Loma – Half Silences
Joshua Burnside – Driving Alone in the City at Night
Courtney Marie Andrews – Together or Alone
Gabriel Teodros – Every Scar
Marlowe – Preach Honest
Songhoy Blues – Dournia
Deep Sea Diver – Eyes Are Red (Don’t Be Afraid)
IDLES – A Hymn
Moses Sumney – and so I come to isolation
Moses Sumney – Bless Me
Moses Sumney – before you go

The Fortnightly Playlist, 2020 Favorites Part 1 (11-25)

As I do each year, I’ll begin with a disclaimer about my year-end list. I don’t think it is possible to engage with music (or any art) in a purely objective way. This isn’t a “best albums of the year” list. It is my favorites. It’s what I engaged with most, and became works that meant something to me. We approach art with all of our own baggage, who we are, what we are going through. Your list, undoubtedly, is different from mine, but maybe something here also resonated with you. I’d love to know what your favorites were this year whether similar to mine or different. Next week I’ll be adding part 2 which will be my top 10. Enjoy!

Trying out Deezer! Here is a link to the playlist there!

25. Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2
Damn if we didn’t need an album like this in 2020! Busta is a Hip-Hop legend at this point, and 2020 felt like it needed is fast-paced, aggressive, powerful voice (not to mention it felt like we were in an extinction level event). It’s hard to talk about this album without putting the focus on “Look Over Your Shoulder”. As Busta put it in an interview on The Daily Show, “it became clear we were sittin’ on a different type of gem”. Both Busta and Kendrick put in a monster verse, and the samples of young Michael Jackson chopped up and tying the whole thing together is a stroke of genius.

24. Blimes and Gab – Talk About It
Where I live this album was a big deal. Being from the Seattle area, and Gifted Gab being a local artist had something to do with it perhaps. Gab has collaborated with San Fransisco’s Blimes Brixton on a couple singles over the past few years, but this is the first full-length project from the pair. For me personally, “Sacred” and the title track are the standouts here.

23. Smokey Brights – I Love You But Damn
Another local release here! I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Smokey Brights perform a couple times in the last few years, and they are a joy. This was one of the more lighthearted releases I engaged with this year, but still with the Smokey’s genuine touch.

22. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
As with the Busta Rhymes album, there are certain artists and albums that land in the right time and place. This was a year for Run the Jewels, and you could tell they knew it. El-P and Killer Mike came striding into 2020 knowing full well they’re album was going to be a touchstone. This one will be on a lot of top album lists this year, no doubt.

21. SAULT – Untitled (Black is…)
SAULT had 2 albums last year, and 2 again this year. They came out of seemingly nowhere, and there is still a lot of uncertainty about who is behind the project. What is known is that each album has been timely and profound. Black is… was their first release for the year, and as an additional treat there is a nice appearance from Michael Kiwanuka as well.

20. Andy Shauf – Neon Skyline
Andy Shauf is an artist that I’ve known since way back. I think the first time I saw Andy live must have been in 2008 or 2009. He played several times at the small bible college both I and his brother attended. I am sort of blown away seeing the artist Andy has become now, and the music he is making. It is oddly rewarding to see an artist whose homemade album you bought back in the day now playing on Jimmy Kimmel and making an album like this.

19. Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?
Xaviar Amin Dphrepaulezz is an artist who has had an incredible journey to this point. His first record deal was signed back in 1993, but a near fatal car crash led to the record company terminating the contract. It was a long recovery, and he quit making music entirely. He returned in 2014, and his 2nd and 3rd record after his return each bagged him Grammy’s for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Major standout songs on this record are “Chocolate Samurai” and “How Long?”

18. Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
Donald Glover does what he wants. Rumors had been that the Childish Gambino name would be retired, and since have THE song of 2018 there appeared to be no news of anything different from that. Then as lockdowns began hitting in the US and many other parts of the world, 3.15.20 appeared. The title was simply the date it first appeared on his own website, and most of the track titles were just the run-time they of the album in which they appear. For all the unknowns there was a lot contained in the record, some lush pop music blended in with artsy stylings. Less funk and psychedelic than had previously been included on Childish Gambino works, but still very clearly something uniquely Childish Gambino.

17. Throwing Muses – Sun Racket
Somehow both atmospheric and intense, the latest offering from Throwing Muses felt like the brooding, dark, alt-rock album that I needed as we entered an Autumn that was about to last 10 years. The opening track, “Dark Blue”, was certainly a highlight, and one of my favorite songs of the year. This is their most concise work in a while, and it may be among their best.

16. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
At this point, any announcement of new music from Sufjan would cause significant buzz, but with a massive lead single over 12 minutes called “America” it seemed to garner some attention. In terms of the sound, the album has a fair amount of similarity to Age of Adz, but with intimate moments throughout.This is something Sufjan has mastered. He can have this huge, complex and dense sound, but with these moments where it doesn’t feel so intimidating.

15. Pearl Jam – Gigaton
Forever and always my favorite band. As many will say of their favorite band, a new record is difficult to form an opinion of immediately. This record has some highlight tracks that fit so well in the Pearl Jam catalogue. Soaring, anthemic choruses that are tailor-made to have a stadium singing along, and a message laced with a dose of righteous punk rage.

14. SAULT – Untitled (Rise…)
Yep, the second SAULT record ranked a bit higher for me. Rise turned a little more hopeful, and built more on their broad sound incorporating rock, soul and roots. I connected more with this collection of songs than any of their material to-date.

13. Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling
I always look forward to a new Drive-By Truckers album, and this was no exception. Cooley and Hood trading vocals, and the band sounding tight. It seems each record is a highwater mark all it’s own. While American Band was, for me, their best work, but this is a fitting follow up. They quickly got another release out this year with The New OK, which featured some new songs as well as additional songs from the sessions for this album.

12. This is the Kit – Off Off On
This album was so close to being in my top 10, and it really is a beautiful album. Kate Stables’ writing is better than even on this one, and sonically I found it reminded me of Sufjan Steven’s state albums. The varied instrumentation with horns, sax and banjo may play a role in that.

11. Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow
Lanegan has a gift for making dark songs sound so good. I read his memoir this summer, and I found out why. What a dark and difficult book that was. It certainly gave insight into the entrapment of addiction, and you can see why the phrase “survivor’s guilt” comes up in his interviews sometimes. Straight Songs of Sorrow continues his lengthening run of releasing a new album every year, and what’s more significant is that he continue to push boundaries with his music.

Pearl Jam – Who Ever Said
Drive-By Truckers – Grievance Merchants
Fantastic Negrito – Chocolate Samurai
SAULT, Michael Kiwanuka – Bow
Childish Gambino – 35.31
Blimes and Gab – Talk About It
Smokey Brights – I Won’t Lie 4 You
SAULT – Fearless
Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar – Look Over Your Shoulder
Sufjan Stevens – Run Away With Me
This is the Kit – Was Magician
Andy Shauf – Thirteen Hours
Mark Lanegan – Daylight in the Nocturnal House
Throwing Muses – St Charles
Run the Jewels, Josh Homme, Mavis Staples – pulling the pin
Busta Rhymes – Don’t Go
Fantastic Negrito – How Long?
Blimes and Gab – Sacred
SAULT – Wildfires
SAULT – Free
This is the Kit – Slider
Drive-By Truckers – Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun
Mark Lanegan – I Wouldn’t Want to Say
Pearl Jam – Seven O’Clock
Throwing Muses – Dark Blue
Childish Gambino, Ariana Grande – Time 
Run The Jewels, Zack de la Rocha, Pharrell Williams – JU$T
Sufjan Stevens – America
Andy Shauf – Changer
Smokey Brights – Shelter Me

The Fortnightly Playlist, December 6th, 2020

Here we are…December. This will the last business-as-usual playlist of the year. There are some late albums dropping still, and those often don’t get the attention in the albums of the year melee as they don’t get the chance to build what other records have. Things take a few listens to really get going. This will be a mix of late 2020 records, and early singles from what’s ahead in 2021.

Northern Irish singer/songwriter, Joshua Burnside, first came to my attention a couple years back when I saw a piece written about a music festival there featuring several local artists. His 2018 EP, All Round The Light Said, was enough to let me know that I’d want to pay attention. His new full-length album, Into The Depths of Hell, is a beautiful work of art. He incorporates a number of different styles in his music, and complex crafting in each song.

I’ve included a few holiday songs this time around, and I always look forward to finding good arrangements to combat the tired box-store playlists that inundate us every year. In particular, Phoebe Bridgers new cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” really struck me this week. To be honest, I wasn’t all that familiar with the song, and I’m so glad that this new version of it has brought it to my attention.

Other favorites in this edition are Oumou Sangare, The Hold Steady, Eddie Vedder, and Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio.

Phoebe Bridgers – If We Make It Through December
Brigid Mae Power – Head Above the Water
Joshua Burnside – Driving Alone in the City at Night
Eddie Vedder – Matter of Time
Gabriel Teodros, Jonathan Emile – Nothing
Buendia – Espejo
Tune-yards – nowhere, man
Aesop Rock – Gauze
Erik Blood, Envy of Denmark – What Happens on Friday
Loma – Don’t Shy Away
Oumou Sangare – Mali Niale
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – Call Your Mom
Walter Smith III, Matthew Stevens, Micah Thomas, Linda May Han Oh, Nate Smith – Cowboy
Alicia Keys, Brandi Carlile – A Beautiful Noise
Black Pumas – Christmas Will Really Be Christmas
The Hold Steady – Family Farm
Mourn – House, Hold
Quivers – Country Feedback
Joshua Burnside – And You Evade Him/Born in the Blood
The Young Evils – For The Moon
Sharon Van Etten – Silent Night