The Albums of 2020

I still pay attention to album releases every Friday. There’s a Release Radar playlist on Spotify that populates first thing in the morning every fifth day of the week and that’s based on things in my library already. It’s very useful, but there are too many singles–many of them acoustic and remixed versions of songs already in my library–for it to be the go-to source for album releases.

NPR Music limits its Friday updates to albums, and the range of what it shares every week is impressively broad. If you have a lane, they’re sure to spend at least some time in it each week. But not enough. So I also check in every Friday with the reviews page of American Songwriter magazine. Landon and Marcus and Jeff are sure to send me things too.

2020 gave me a bunch of albums that I chose to stash in my “2020 Albums” playlist (below), but two albums dominated my attention disproportionately, and they’re not by artists I could have told you a year ago I would fall for: Sarah Siskind and Taylor Swift.

I had never heard of Siskind before “Modern Appalachia” came out in April. She’s spent most of her career writing songs for other artists to record and touring with headliners like Bon Iver as a backing vocalist. But the first time in played it, “Modern Appalachia” sunk it’s hooks into my ears. There is a gravity to it that felt so comforting during days that felt like they were floating away and out of control. Take a listen and see if you don’t agree (“Punk Rock Girl” is the song of the year for me).

Of course I’d heard of Taylor Swift before “folklore,” but I’m 44, so … no. I couldn’t turn it off. The songs on “folklore” are so good. “August,” “This Is Me Trying,” and “Illicit Affairs” are standouts, and I anticipated them every time I played the album, but the songs preceding and following my favorites refused to be skipped. It’s infectious without being earwormy. I played it more than anything else all year, which is telling; it wasn’t released til the year was half over.

There’s gold on this albums list (honorable mention to Ivan & Alyosha, Hailey Whittiers, Beach Bunny, Jason Isbell, William Prince, and Dave Hause’s terrific EP of Patty Griffin covers). But nothing commanded my attention like Siskind and Swift in 2020.

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